Twice is Coincidence by JackHawksmoor
Summary:

Once is happenstance, and three times is enemy action. Kirk and Spock meet his counterpart again, and nothing is ever the same. Pre-slash, so far...


Categories: Works in Progress Characters: None
Crossover Fandom: None
Genres: Kirk/Spock Pre-Slash
Other Languages: None
Specific movie: None
Story Type: Action/Plot
Trope (OPTIONAL): None
Universe: Abrams Universe
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 12 Completed: No Word count: 54486 Read: 189332 Published: 12/16/2009 Updated: 04/01/2016

1. Chapter 1 by JackHawksmoor

2. Chapter 2 by JackHawksmoor

3. Chapter 3 by JackHawksmoor

4. Chapter 4 by JackHawksmoor

5. Chapter 5 by JackHawksmoor

6. Chapter 6 by JackHawksmoor

7. Chapter 7 by JackHawksmoor

8. Chapter 8 by JackHawksmoor

9. Chapter 9 by JackHawksmoor

10. Chapter 10 by JackHawksmoor

11. Chapter 11 by JackHawksmoor

12. Chapter 12 by JackHawksmoor

Chapter 1 by JackHawksmoor

“Will you stop-” Kirk paused, to throw up. While he was distracted, McCoy hit him with another hypo, this one in the shoulder.

“That should help with the nausea,” the doctor said, sounding rather self-satisfied. Kirk responded, wittily, with a groan.

“Well, it's your own fault,” McCoy snapped. “Of all the idiot things to-you know you can't even handle half the things on the approved list for human beings, and you go off and drink some strange alien concoction, without even checking it first?”

Kirk had checked it, and tried to explain that, but it mostly came out as a longer groan.

“Well, even if that's the case,” McCoy continued, somehow managing to understand him, “you have to make allowances for your system! Do you know what happens to you if I give you a simple Retinax V injection?”

“Tranya,” Kirk managed, earning him a strange look. He offered a weak smile. “Not Retinax. It was tranya. I checked on that much.”

McCoy, alarmingly, seemed to swell in place. Thankfully, he was cut off before anything could explode.

“Doctor McCoy, is the captain-” Spock began as he entered sickbay, and then paused, startled by something or other.

Kirk, soaked in sweat, half-naked and hanging over the edge of the bio-bed, turned his head.

“Oh, thank god,” he groaned. “Help me.”

McCoy, liberally splashed with the inside of Kirk's stomach, made a faint growling noise.“I swear, if you don't quit your whining, I'm not going to be responsible for what happens.” He hit Kirk with another hypo, and Kirk flinched with a sharp sound of pain.

“Doctor,” Spock said, looking vaguely alarmed, “are you quite certain all this is necessary?”

“Look, don't tell me how to do my damn job, and I'll return the favor,” McCoy popped off. He patted Kirk on the shoulder. “That last one was for the itching. You should be feeling better in about five minutes.”

“I don't have any itching!” Kirk snapped.

McCoy tilted his head and looked to one side in a kind of 'oh-well' expression. “Yeah. That'll be along in about five minutes, too.”

Kirk watched him go with a flabbergasted look on his face. Spock stepped close to his bed, eyebrows high.

“I'd bet money he doesn't really have a medical license,” Kirk muttered, shaking his head.

“Captain, we have received a transmission...” Spock began.

“Spock, “ Kirk sighed, cutting him off. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I really need a shower,” he explained. And a nap. And a change of clothes, because his were covered in vomit. Because he was in sickbay, so it better be something dammed important.

Spock straightened, looked down briefly at the unpleasant puddle next to the bed.

Then, slightly quieter, “sir, we are on course for our scheduled rendezvous, but we have received a transmission from Beta Antares IV.”

Kirk got very serious, very fast.

“That's the Vulcan colony,” he said, and Spock tilted his head in agreement, his eyes sliding away. Spock looked pretty sneaky, for a Vulcan.

“There is an emergency at their power station, and they are requesting assistance,” he continued.

Kirk's heart sank right down to his toes. Though, on some level he couldn't help but think...Of course it was a problem with the power station. What else could it be, right?

Spock, the Elder Spock, had been using his illicit skills from the future to do a lot of judicious meddling, as far as available technology for the Vulcan colony went. The power station was his latest project.

He'd sent Kirk a packet not two weeks ago going on and on about power ratios and the volume of surface water available...He'd sounded almost excited, for a Vulcan. And if Kirk could trust that his growing feel for his first officer's moods applied just as well to the older Spock, then Kirk would say the Old Man had been downright giddy about the challenge.

He liked the older Spock, he liked him a lot, and Kirk had a sudden wicked hunch that whatever trouble was going on, he was right in the thick of it.

And speaking of Spock getting himself into trouble, he couldn't help but notice a slightly devious expression on his first officer's face.

“Spock,” Kirk said slowly, suspicious, “did they use their emergency beacon?”

Spock examined the monitor above the biobed as if it was fascinating. “It was an ordinary transmission, sir,” he said carefully.

Not a terrible emergency, then. Probably about moderate on a scale of 'oh shit we're gonna die'. He tried not to think about how much trouble the older Spock could probably manage to get himself into with a moderate emergency. Bones and Spock both insisted it was him who had a death wish, but Kirk had noticed a definite tendency for Spock to attract mayhem all on his own.

“You know,” Kirk began, reluctantly-

They were headed into a very delicate diplomatic situation, a juicy assignment which they had just earned by cementing talks with the First Federation over cups of tranya. An assignment that really couldn't wait for anything less than a serious emergency.

“Yes, sir,” Spock replied immediately, cutting him off and glancing up at him. Of course Spock knew, he had the regulations memorized. Which begged the question, why had he bothered to ask?

Kirk paused, digesting that, and thinking about the look Spock had just given him.

“Is there another ship within range?” he asked, knowing the answer was 'no'.

“No, sir,” Spock replied, and gave him that look again. Not pleading, Spock wouldn't, but...Kirk narrowed his eyes at him, not out of anger, just trying to figure him out.

“Is there something...are you asking me to ditch our orders and go anyway?” he asked, for clarification. Spock straightened, lifting his eyebrows and looking mildly affronted.

“Our orders are quite specific, captain,” Spock said, as if it was Kirk who needed convincing. That expression on his face...kind of I-need-you-to-understand-this. “Therefore, there would be no logic in my making such a request.”

Kirk's expression cleared, and he gave Spock a friendly, fond once-over.

“Which is why you need me to decide to do it on my own,” Kirk said, leaning back on his hands.

“Captain,” Spock began, his eyes widening, and Kirk could hear the denial like Spock had beamed it directly into his brain. He held up a hand, to stop him.

“Relax.” He eyed his friend with a slight smile on his face, somewhat bemused. Spock didn't know anything about his alter ego (suspicions maybe, since he wasn't stupid, but Kirk had never spilled the truth). Even without that knowledge, Spock had family on Beta Antares IV. Not to mention a definite interest, just being a Vulcan, in the colony's survival.

Kirk stared at the floor for a moment, weighing consequences. He would get into trouble for this, the question was, how much? Kirk glanced up at Spock, who was despite his Vulcan heritage, pretty obviously tense about what his answer would be. A corner of Kirk's mouth twitched up, and he turned, rolling over and stretching his arm to smack at the comm unit on the wall.

“Kirk to Bridge, Lieutenant Uhura?” he called. There was a pause, and then her acknowledgment, sounding somewhat surprised. “I hear we got a signal from the Vulcan colony's emergency beacon,” Kirk said, noting Spock twitch out of the corner of his eye.

“Captain,” Uhura said reluctantly, “I have...no...”

“Lieutenant,” Kirk said, rolling the word around in his mouth with enjoyment, “I am sure that there are any number of malfunctions that could occur in our communications systems that could cause us to make a very honest mistake. That is really too bad, because if there was no emergency signal, then our orders would require us to continue on to pick up our diplomats, and we would be in a lot of trouble if we didn't.”

A beat of silence.

“Ah, yes...yes...just let me...” silence. Some slightly frantic scuffling sounds. Then, very softly, under her breath but still just loud enough to be picked up “I could-no, that's not...wait. Yes-” then, louder, “yes, Captain, we-” she paused. “We do have a transmission. An emergency transmission. From the Vulcan colony, sir.”

“Excellent,” Kirk said, shooting a glance Spock's way. His eyebrows were somewhere near his hairline.“I mean,” he corrected himself, “what rotten luck. Mr. Sulu, plot a course for Beta Antares IV, warp six.”

“Aye, sir,” Sulu responded promptly, sounding slightly strangled, as if holding back a laugh. “That puts us there in...twenty minutes, sir.”

“Good enough, Kirk out.” He turned back to Spock, itching absently at his shoulder. Spock was giving him an extremely warm look.

“Should Starfleet Command realize your error was deliberate-”

“I'll deal with that if it happens. Which it won't,” probably. He eased himself over to the end of the bed, somewhat gingerly put his feet on the floor, and stood up. He waited, but no terrible waves of nausea showed up to cause havoc. He took a deep breath and straightened up, scratching absently at the back of his neck, and noticed Spock had moved in closer, as if to catch him if he wobbled.

He looked like he wanted to thank Kirk. Of course he couldn't. Wouldn't be logical, thanking Kirk for nothing. Seeing as ducking orders and running off to rescue the Vulcans was entirely his own idea. Kirk smiled at him, warm and knowing, and clapped him on the arm. Spock inclined his head, looking very pleased with himself.

“Twenty minutes gives me enough time for a shower, at least,” Kirk said simply, moving casually away from any dangerous, sticky, emotional stuff. He glanced around to see if Bones was in sight, amused when Spock moved to cover his back, on guard for any sign of the Doctor as if he was a Romulan trying to get the jump on them. He wasn't anywhere Kirk could see, so he scooted his ass out of sickbay quick, herding Spock along with him.


Twenty five minutes later Kirk stepped into the transporter room, having lagged slightly behind on the bridge. The engineers were already on the pad with the requested equipment. Spock wordlessly handed him a landing party belt/communicator/phaser combo and Kirk strapped it on, walking over to where Scotty was laying out several little metallic signal boosters.

“Now,” Scotty began, handing him one, “these'll help with the pattern interference with all those heavy minerals in the water. Though, why they chose to build the great bloody thing under a lake is beyond me-”

“Mr. Scott, as you well know, the efficiency is greatly improved-” Spock started, but Kirk cut him off.

“Enough, Spock. As long as they work.” He gave Scotty a reassuring nod, snatched up the remaining booster, and handed it to his first officer. Then he leaned over the console.

“Bridge? Any luck with my,” he glanced at Spock. “ah, question?”

“I'm sorry, sir,” Uhura replied. “I can't get anyone who seems to know. It sounds pretty chaotic down there.”

Kirk tapped his fist on the console once in frustration, then turned away and stepped up on the pad, ignoring Spock's curious look. He nodded at Scotty.

“Hang on, this may be a wee bit rough...” Scotty warned, and even the sound of the transporter was different, as if it was straining somehow.

He landed in a clear area after feeling oddly stretched during transport. Kirk immediately stumbled as the floor shook underneath him, hard. The lights failed overhead, then flickered on again, much dimmer, and Kirk got a good look at what was around them.

“Hell,” he said, adrenaline dumping over his head, pouring directly down his spine. If this wasn't a serious emergency, he'd like to know what was. A bank of computers along the wall was sizzling and arcing voltage impressively, and if it was impossible for a bunch of Vulcans to run around in a panic, then they were doing a pretty good impression of it.

An older, slightly graying Vulcan skidded to a halt in front of them, and almost succeeded in not looking surprised to be suddenly faced with a half-dozen Starfleet officers. Kirk stepped out in front of his men.

“We're from the Enterprise,” he said, “we're here to help.” It was a good line, slightly ruined when the floor shook again. The ceiling, which was about fifty feet above them and carved into solid rock, dumped a dusting of ceiling particles on them all in a slightly alarming way.

The Vulcan blinked dust out of his eyes. “A Starfleet vessel?” he asked.

Kirk traded a glance with Spock.

“We've been talking with your Elders, they gave us a list of things you needed,” Kirk said. The Vulcan looked behind him at the small pile of equipment they'd brought along. There was no other reaction. “You didn't know we were coming?” Kirk asked doubtfully.

The Vulcan shook his head. “We've lost primary communication-” A panel blew off the side of a nearby console, and Kirk flinched. He pulled out his communicator, eying the chaos around him. He thought he spotted a crack in the ceiling.

“Scotty, we're going to need you down here,” Kirk said, his voice a warning, and stopped when the communicator made a less than encouraging cracking sound. “Scotty?” he ventured, altering the frequency slightly.

He looked over at his first officer, who was already reaching for his own communicator.

“Spock,” he said, and said nothing else. Spock nodded, understanding perfectly. Kirk turned back to the older Vulcan in front of him.

“Can you use any of this?” Kirk asked, gesturing at the equipment, having to raise his voice over the noise.

“Yes,” the Vulcan said, leaning closer and raising his voice to be heard. Another rumble, more bits of ceiling on their heads. The Vulcan wiped his eyes. “Come with me,” he almost had to shout.

“Hang on,” he said loudly, and turned to his men. Spock already had the panel off his communicator, and was fiddling with the innards. He looked up when Kirk turned to him, and shook his head slightly.

“Interference, Captain, too heavy,” Spock replied.

Kirk stepped close so he could keep his voice down. “What about our boosters?” he asked.

“Unknown,” Spock began, “but knowing Mr. Scott, I would not assume they are inoperative until proven otherwise.”

Kirk laughed once.“I'll be sure to let him know you said that. It' ll make his week.”

He stepped back to face the engineering detail and raised his voice. “I want you to follow this guy here,” Kirk shouted, pointing at the graying Vulcan, “provide whatever assistance you can, and keep your pattern boosters on you. If things get bad, you signal a beam out, clear?”

Nods and assent all around.

He turned to Spock, touched his arm.

“You too, Spock, do what you can,” he said. He grabbed a piece of gear.

“What about you, sir?” Spock asked loudly, his voice slightly hoarse. Kirk only smiled, as if he hadn't heard, and stepped up to the graying Vulcan, pushing the equipment into his hands.

“I'm looking for someone,” he said, leaning close so he wouldn't have to shout, “A friend of mine who's working on this project. He's older than you are. Spock? Do you know anyone named-”

“The project coordinators all went down to try and re-route the water to relieve some of the pressure,” the Vulcan replied loudly, “But we haven't heard anything from them.”

Kirk got a sudden, clear sense of things rapidly spiraling out of control. 'Things fall apart, the center can not hold...'

“Where?” He shouted. The Vulcan pointed at a lift on the far end of the massive room they were currently in. He then pointed at the floor. “All the way down,” he said loudly, then glanced back to see if the engineers were ready, and took off at a pretty good clip for an older guy. His men scrambled to catch up, and Kirk took off toward the lift.

“Captain,” Spock shouted, breaking off to follow after him. Kirk didn't stop, and unfortunately, neither did Spock. He caught up, grabbing Kirk's arm, “Captain, where are you going?” He was wearing that slightly alarmed expression that meant he was afraid Kirk was about to do something ridiculously dangerous. Kirk thought he might have picked it up from Bones.

Dammit, Spock I'm trying to safeguard the timestream here-

“Down,” he said, and flashed him a quick smile. “The project heads are supposed to be on the bottom level, but no one can get a hold of them.” And your captain has a very solid, slightly spooky hunch that there's another Spock down there who needs his help.

“Ah,” Spock said, looking briefly relieved. “Then I shall accompany you. With your permission.”

Kirk sighed. Of course he would.

“Come on,” he said, shaking his head. He might be wrong, after all.

Chapter 2 by JackHawksmoor

Six months ago, James T. Kirk had given in to his curiosity about Spock-from-the-future.

There had been a moment, on an away mission where everything had gone wrong, when Kirk had once again come face to face with the reality of knowing more about his own future than anyone should. He'd been forced into a fight with some huge native man in order to keep Spock from being killed due to McCoy's big freaking mouth, since apparently, having green blood in that culture made you a demon. Kirk managed to get the drop on the guy, and was walking over to untie Spock. And Spock...looked at him. Spock looked at him, for just a moment, the way Spock-from-the-future had looked at him. It was exactly the same expression. As though Kirk could do anything. As though he was some mythic hero given life. It had stopped Kirk dead in his tracks, shoved a chill right up his spine.

Kirk started wondering, after that day, just what the extra-devious-Spock-from-the-future was up to. Just how close was his future going to be to the elder Spock's alternate one? It had seemed so unlikely, when he'd insisted how incredibly close they would be... and now Kirk knew better, and it was making him pretty damned interested in what the older Spock might have to say. Uhura had been collecting lots of information about the colony, every scrap of news she could find, for their Spock. It wasn't hard to get her to share, and when he had discovered what a busy little bee the elder Spock had been, Kirk couldn't resist giving him a little poke. The news was that extra-devious-Spock had just received the go ahead for the new power plant, so Kirk sent him a brief, congratulatory note.

Congratulations from an old friend. Good Luck- James T. Kirk, Captain, Enterprise NCC 1701.

He'd received a response several hours later, and had been surprised that it was a live feed. Expensive, for a civilian. Then the elder Spock came up on his personal viewscreen, and he hadn't looked devious at all. He seemed, instead, slightly guilty and deeply anticipatory. As if he'd struggled with himself for a while over whether or not to respond to Kirk at all. As if logic, this time, had not won out.

This Spock cared about him so damn hard it practically leaked out of the viewscreen. His Spock (and he really should be careful not to get too comfortable with that term) was a good friend, possibly his best friend, but the older Spock...the way he looked at Kirk...it was something to see. Like this Spock had gotten a genie wish right out of the bottle, and that wish was Kirk. Like he was something to stare at in wonder, and Spock didn't give a crap who saw him do it.

Kirk had pestered extra-devious-Spock a bit about sharing more of the future knowledge he had, but from the elder Spock's reaction, that was expected. He'd said no, but from the look of him, Kirk suspected that if he'd pushed for it, Spock would have given him damn near anything in his power, timestream or universe be damned. That particular 'no' had a 'yes' behind it. It was sort of sobering to have that kind of influence over somebody.

The older Spock just kept staring at him, obviously pleased as punch, watching every little thing Kirk did. A smile or a nod of his head...as if Spock was seeing the other Kirk, and finding that he compared favorably. Sobering, and definitely weird. Less weird than sharing space inside of the older Spock's head, but still...

They hadn't talked long, but afterward Kirk found himself writing the older Spock now and then, for no particular reason at all. It was slightly humbling knowing there was somebody out there who had so much faith in him. It was troubling to think that particular Spock didn't really have anybody in this universe. Kirk had kind of wanted to keep an eye on him.

Kirk waited as the lift dropped, and thought about that. The older Spock had almost smiled at him, a couple of times.

Kirk set his jaw and glared at the lift doors, willing them to open.

Instead, there was a rumbling noise, and a sharp jolt. Kirk stumbled but kept his feet as the lights flickered. Spock, his first officer Spock, threw out an arm to catch himself on the wall of the lift, and there was a sickening lurch. Kirk was thrown to the floor, Spock landing on top of him, and Kirk flailed instinctively as he felt the lift slip into free-fall.

They were, luckily, only feet from the bottom level. The noise was impressive, the lights failed entirely, but it didn't do much more than knock the wind out of him. That was mostly because Spock was on top of him, and was a lot heavier than he looked.

“Are you all right, Captain?” Spock asked, shifting his weight quickly. Kirk had to take a moment to convince his lungs to accept air again. When he finally managed to inhale, after a long moment of struggling, Spock was already reaching out, his hands smoothing over Kirk's chest. Carefully touching the area he had hit. Kirk let out a desperate wheezing sound as he got air in.

“Yes,” he managed, knowing the way he sounded put the lie to his words, “fine,” he added, more firmly. He thought that he felt a feather-light touch of a hand at his head. Just for a second, then gone.

Spock make a little exhalation, almost a 'tssk' sound, and Kirk had to choke back a snicker.

Sometimes, he could swear, it was like Spock and Bones thought he got himself hurt on purpose...

“You think you can get these doors open?” Kirk asked, rubbing absently at his chest as he pushed himself up on his knees. He had firsthand experience with how strong Spock was. It was at least possible. Shuffling sounds as Spock crawled over to the lift doors. Then, a creaking, groaning noise. A thin sliver of light opened in front of Kirk, casting Spock in silhouette.

It was a pretty seriously impressive feat of strength. A moment later, they both spilled out onto the lowest level of the power plant.

The first thing Kirk noticed was the noise. An incredible roaring sound, like the wind while driving a convertible with the top down at a ridiculous speed. Or water...a lot of water. There was a chilly, sticky humidity in the air that seemed to suggest it.

The hall was clear. It meant they got a good view of the carnage when they stepped out into the main room.

A good portion of the ceiling had caved in. There were three bodies that he could see...all very obviously dead. Kirk stepped forward, and Spock ran his tricorder over them, though even Kirk could tell there was nothing they could do for them. Two men, and a woman. None of them the older Spock.

Kirk's hadn't realized he had a knot in his stomach until it loosened. He must be somewhere else...evacuated, maybe. Safe.

He glanced over at his first officer, who was staring at the bodies.

He could almost feel Spock's thought. Three more Vulcans dead. Three less survivors than there had been. Silently, Kirk reached out and touched Spock's arm. Spock lowered his head and said nothing.

Kirk looked out over the room. There was a massive chasm in the floor, running the length of the room. Water was channeled through it, streaming through from a damming mechanism along one wall. The water level was obviously far too high- there was a bridge spanning the ten-foot gap that had been half torn away just from the pressure of the flow, and water was splattering on the floor and equipment around it.

Kirk wasn't sure...maybe the Vulcans had come down to try and cut back the volume, the Elders had indicated they had received some record-setting precipitation over the last two days...

His eyes followed the line of the bridge, to the far end of the room and its banks of computers, cables arcing up and over the water, joining them to the computers on the levels above-

There was someone lying on the ground over there.

Kirk went cold.

He was running. He was running flat out, because somehow he knew, as soon as he set eyes on that body on the floor. He skidded to a halt in front of the creaking, swaying bridge. He looked at it for a moment, feeling a weird twinge of fear.

“Spock,” he called. Then, louder, clenching his fists, “Spock!” The old man lying on the floor moved a little, but Kirk was almost positive that he hadn't been heard. The roar of the water snatched his words away almost instantly-he could barely hear himself.

Spock, his first officer, caught up beside him, and he was pretty nearly sure he hadn't heard anything, either. Timestream safe so far...

Kirk put a hand on the rail and stepped onto the bridge, clenching his teeth as it sagged under his weight, dragging lower in the water. The current caught it at the bottom, swinging the structure out a foot or so, away from the side and toward the center of the water. Kirk heard metallic groaning and tearing noises, and a hand on his wrist jerked him back, just as the bridge was eaten by the water, ripping free of its moorings.

Kirk was yanked back into Spock's arms. He stumbled, watching the bridge disappear. Kirk looked up into Spock's eyes for a moment, squeezed his arm once in gratitude. Spock nodded.

Kirk turned back to look at the older Spock. The bridge collapsing must have caught his attention, because he'd lifted his head, and was staring right at Kirk. The expression on his face was almost the same as the one he'd worn when Kirk had first set eyes on him, in a cave on Delta Vega.

James T. Kirk...how did you find me?

Wonder and trust and amazement. As if hope itself had just walked in through the door wearing his clothes. There was blood on the older Spock's face, and after a brief moment, he had to drop his head, as if it was too much effort to keep holding it up.

Kirk swallowed, tasting rage. It boiled up as it did whenever he felt the cold eyes of impossible, of failure, of 'no other choice' on the back of his neck. When Kirk failed, people died, and it had always been that way. There was a wide, rushing press of water between him and the older Spock. Someone who trusted him. Who believed in him. The universe was trying to take Spock from him, to take more that it had already taken, to take everything from him and god dammit it had always been that way-

Kirk smiled, baring teeth.

You can't have anything else of mine.

With a snarl, Kirk pulled his phaser from his belt, flipped the setting to kill and fired at one of the sagging computer cables strung overhead. It burned right through, and the cable swung free. Kirk took a flying leap to catch it, and without a thought, threw himself out over the water.

He almost thought he could hear his first officer's alarmed cry, before it was just him, the empty air and the roar of the water. It sprayed his face and dampened his uniform. He blinked hard to clear his eyes and stretched as he swung out over the other side. Kirk hooked a heel over the twisted remnant of a railing, stopping his motion enough for him to slide down the cable and stumble to his feet. He tied the cable with a quick jerk to the rail, glancing over at his first officer on the other side. Spock had his fists clenched, his face a stone mask, revealing nothing.

Kirk turned from him, and ran to the elderly Vulcan crumpled on the floor.

He rolled him over gently, wincing in sympathy. “Spock,” he said urgently, cradling him close. He could see now that something had hit the elder Spock in the head, hard. One whole side of his face was swollen and bloodied. He blinked up at Kirk for a moment as if he wasn't entirely clear what was going on. Then his eyes widened as neurons connected, and he reached out.

“Jim, you...” Spock's eyes fluttered. Kirk took his hand, gripping it firmly. “you should not have...”

“Easy, Spock,” Kirk soothed, already fumbling at his belt. “You just hang on.”

“I am not capable of completing the sequence,” he gestured with his free hand vaguely at the bank of computers. “This room...removing the flow control...it will fill with water, and relieve the pressure. You must-”

“I got it.” Kirk said firmly, pulling out his communicator.

“I am pleased you are here,” Spock said. He shut his eyes, squeezing Kirk's hand. “It is...more than I ever expected...”

Kirk reacted instantly to the way he spoke.“You're not going to die,” he snapped in a steely voice. Spock opened his eyes at the vehemence in his words, and to Kirk's annoyance, his expression was that I-am-seeing-someone-else look. He looked fond and indulgent underneath the blood and the swelling.

“Jim, I can not get across, and you can not carry me.”

Kirk used his thumb to activate the emergency recall button on the pattern booster clipped to the side of his communicator. Spock's tunic was the type that wrapped around him, and Kirk tucked the communicator neatly inside the fold of cloth in the front.

“You're right,” he said, releasing Spock's hand.

Spock had a moment to look surprised, before the transporter effect glittered over him. It felt like it took longer than it ought to, but there was no mandelbrotization, no drippage or pattern ghosts left behind that might signal a botched beaming.

Kirk stood up once he was gone, and went to the computer the older Spock had indicated. It was a familiar system, and the correct programs were already running, but frozen, which might explain why they needed to physically come down to input the commands. Or maybe there was some security here that kept anyone from accessing this panel from different levels. That part of the problem didn't matter for Kirk. The computer was designed to monitor water flow, and it already knew there was a problem, and even several ways to try and fix it. Kirk just needed to bust through the overrides and tell it what to do. It took him five minutes to get his bearings and manage it. Spock could have probably done it in one.

He told the computer to give him fifteen minutes, but was stopped when another shudder went through the complex, shaking the floor and causing another small ceiling collapse about ten feet away from him. Kirk shortened the delay to seven minutes, and told himself he'd just have to hurry.

He didn't have another pattern booster, so he'd have to get back to the turbolift. It was trashed but there was an emergency hatch in the ceiling. Kirk would have to climb. There might be a maintenance ladder in the shaft. Might not. Either way, he only needed to make it up one level, and shut the turbolift shaft doors behind him. Kirk was pretty good at freehand climbing, he wasn't too worried.

Seven Minutes. Go.

He stepped away from the computer and ran to the spot he'd tied the cable, jerked it loose, his eyes on his first officer. He wondered, briefly, what his odds were of getting Spock to use his booster to get the hell out and leave Kirk behind to make his own way.

Kirk eyeballed the swing he would have to make, noting that this time would be more difficult, because the place where Spock stood was a little higher than where Kirk was at. Spock waited for him, lining himself up to make the catch, and Kirk watched him clench and unclench his fists.

Kirk had a suspicion his odds were really good...at getting neck pinched sometime in the next seven minutes, and ending up passed out on the transporter platform while Spock made his own way out.

Spock was not all that great at freehand climbing.

Kirk jumped off, curling his body up to get more momentum out of the swing. A random surge of water caught at his feet as he swung over, stealing some of his forward movement. He tensed as he was knocked to one side, the arc of his swing changing, he didn't think he was going to-

Spock reacted, grabbing onto the twisted remains of the railing and leaning far out over the water, his hand reaching. He looked like he would force himself to fly if that was what was necessary to get Kirk back safe. Kirk lunged for that hand, their fingers brushing for a heart-stooping moment. Spock grabbed him hard enough to hurt, and heaved.

The water crashed over Kirk's head, and he slammed into the wall of the channel. He let out a sharp cry as something, maybe a portion of the bridge supports, maybe part of the railing, dug into his side. He felt a couple of ribs go, and then realized, when he tried to inhale, that he couldn't breathe. He was too low, the water was over his head-

Spock-

Then his head was higher, above the spray and he sucked in a desperate breath, grateful even though it hurt like hell. Spock pulled him up out of the drink like a particularly reckless fish. Kirk realized, vaguely, that he was cutting his hands on the railing as Spock helped him over. Spock must have too, there was green blood everywhere.

Ground. He was on the ground. Kirk knew this because it was about two inches from his face. He coughed hard, and then groaned, curling up, wincing over his ribs. Spock was leaning over him, his hand feeling gently at Kirk's newly broken ribs, the other smoothing his hair back. It was an intimate, comforting gesture, and Kirk relaxed under it, thinking idly about-

Kirk shot to his knees with a gasp, his hand clutching at the front of Spock's uniform.

“Seven minutes,” he managed, trying to use Spock as leverage to pull himself to his feet. He gestured wildly, vaguely at the damming mechanism in the wall- a massive thing of gears currently locked on standby. Spock followed the gesture, and his eyes widened.

He grabbed Kirk under an arm and yanked him to his feet. Kirk was pleased when he only staggered a little, and then they were both running. Spock kept him upright the whole way, an iron grip on his left arm.

The turbolift doors were still bent and jammed open, and Kirk leaned on them heavily as Spock reached up to remove the emergency hatch on the ceiling of the turbolift. The running lights in the shaft looked like they were still functioning, which was good, but Kirk could not see if there was a ladder or not.

“We will have to climb,” Spock said, tense.

“Ladder?” Kirk asked. Spock looked as if he would rather Kirk hadn't asked. He didn't say no. He didn't have to.

“I will help you,” Spock began seriously, almost managing to hide the edge of desperation in his voice. Kirk looked down. Spock's hands were more torn up than his were. Spock would have trouble with that climb even without the handicap.

And Kirk...he took a breath, felt the stab of pain along his side. He'd known as soon as he felt those ribs snap that he wasn't going anywhere.

“Spock,” Kirk said gently. An admonishment. He meant to go on, to tell Spock that he needed to use his pattern booster and get out while he could. Spock knew it, too, by the tight, unhappy expression on his face.

They were interrupted by a grinding sound that vibrated the floor. The roar of the water increased alarmingly. Kirk looked back down the tunnel, his heart dropping. That was the end of their seven minutes-

He was half expecting it, but it was still largely luck that he saw Spock move out of the corner of his eye. Kirk pivoted his shoulder away from the neck pinch, snatching at Spock's wrist and holding it out. It took damn near every ounce of strength that he had, and he winced and panted into Spock's face, but did not let go.

Spock paused for an instant, as if he was deciding whether to continue and physically force Kirk to submit, or if he wanted to try and talk a little, to better trick him later. While he did that Kirk darted in with his free hand, plucking quickly at Spock's communicator. He wondered, with a slight flash of guilt, if there was some rule about tricking the same person twice in one day. Even though it was, technically, two different versions of the same person.

“Sorry, Spock,” he said, and meant it. “Not this time.” He stepped back, and Spock looked down with a flash of panicked understanding. Kirk had activated his pattern booster's emergency signal. Kirk figured, given the fact that he'd been taken down by that neck pinch quite a few times, that Spock was owed a rescue-under-protest or two.

Then Spock lifted his head, and Kirk had a split second to be sorry for even thinking something so flippant. Spock stared at him, and Kirk was honestly shocked by the agony on his face. The roar of the water sounded...very close, and Spock looked at him as though the thought of never seeing him again was a lot worse than the thought of drowning alone at the bottom of a power plant.

If Kirk had ever thought that the older Spock was the only one who loved him, he was a bigger idiot than even Bones had ever accused him of being. He opened his mouth, already hearing the musical chime of the transporter starting, meaning to say...to tell him...

Spock reached out and snatched him close in an embrace so tight Kirk could almost hear his ribs scream. He stiffened in agony, and then froze, realizing that the sound of the transporter had continued to gain resonance.

He's trying a tandem.

Terror. Real, raw, heart-stuttering terror. He'd seen the tapes, Starfleet made every cadet watch them, the horrors that could occur trying to tandem without a positive lock on both patterns. A transporter accident begging to happen. There wasn't a worse way to die-

But he could see himself already shot through with the shining transporter patterns, and Spock was too strong for him to break away in time.

Spock had made a choice, Kirk realized with a pang, tightening his arms to return the embrace. The chance to save them both was worth more than Kirk's certain death, no matter what the cost might be. Kirk pushed his face into Spock's neck, as if it was the last thing he might ever do.

If it wasn't, he was going to kill Spock for this.


 

End Notes:

Author's Note:

To those who asked, no, Kirk hasn't been informed of Spock's encounter with Spock Prime in the hangar deck at the end of the movie. It seems in character for Spock to do this. Regular Spock is still devious, even though he isn't quite in the same league as extra-devious-Spock-from-the-future. Yet.

Chapter 3 by JackHawksmoor

He didn't exactly hold his breath, but the moment he felt himself solid and real and not turned inside-out or missing important pieces, he got extremely lightheaded, as if he had been lacking air for quite a while.

Kirk was dripping on the transporter pad, and Spock had him in a death grip. While he considered fainting in relief, he took half a step to keep his balance, slipped, and ended up on his ass, tangled up with Spock. Spock managed not to land on him this time, which was good because the jolt to his ribs from the fall was more than sufficient all on its own.

Gritting his teeth and gasping with relief and pain and relief, Kirk reached up and grabbed Spock's head with one hand. He slid his fingers behind those pointed ears and yanked Spock close. Spock went still, his eyes widening slightly. Kirk let out a breath of laughter close to his face, a great swell of affection making him want to kiss him full on the mouth, or strangle him, or both.

“You,” he said breathlessly, “lunatic...” he couldn't keep a little twinge of admiration out of his voice. He slid his hand up the back of Spock's head and got a light grip on his hair, giving him a little shake, the gesture fond and affectionate. He was grinning fit to bust, and Spock was looking like he was right on the edge, desperately trying to keep hold of himself, because there were other people in that transporter room and he didn't want to embarrass himself. He gripped Kirk's arm tightly, obviously wanting to say...something. He opened his mouth, but glanced toward the rest of the room, and closed it without speaking.

Kirk turned his head. Other people.

“Scotty,” he said with a laugh, rolling over a little to see him better. When he did, his smile widened. Scotty was white as a sheet, both hands on his head, fingers raking through his hair. Kirk was pretty sure he was doing it because his hands were shaking. “Good job,” he said warmly, and started to push himself up. Spock moved to help him.

“Aye,” Scotty said weakly, and laughed a little. “I can't believe that worked.”

Both Kirk and Spock froze in place, and looked up at him.

Scotty chuckled, his terror fading in the pleasure of a new skill acquired. “I've never seen that work even in simulations,” he said proudly. “You're sure you're no hurt? No bits out o' place?”

Kirk exchanged a glance with Spock. Spock's eyebrows were high.

“I think we're fine,” Kirk replied, getting to his feet. He decided that he was going to pretend this hadn't happened. He really didn't want to know how close he'd just come to running out of luck. “What about our people?” he asked.

“Ah, Mitchell, Chopra and Sanders beamed back a few minutes ago,sir, but Izquerido passed his booster off to a Vulcan woman who got a wee bit banged up.” Kirk frowned, and Scotty continued quickly. “Sanders said Izquerido got out when they evacuated, I was about to look for him when I got Mr. Spock's signal.”

Kirk nodded. “Go ahead, then,” he said, touching his injured side gingerly, before he realized that his hands were still bleeding, and he was getting blood all over himself. Of course, there were smears of green on his uniform, too. Kirk looked up, meaning to get a better look at Spock's hands, and realized that both Spock and Scotty were looking at him in concern. Kirk realized he was hunching over a little, and quickly straightened up.

“Are you sure you're all right? I can call Dr. McCoy-” Scotty offered.

“No-”

“Yes,” Spock interrupted. Kirk shot him a betrayed look. Spock didn't falter. “The captain is injured.”

“Spock,” Kirk said, annoyed, as Scotty called down to sickbay. Spock gave him an innocently puzzled expression that somehow conveyed 'kiss my ass, captain' very effectively. Kirk would have gone on, but just then-

“Bridge to transporter room one,” Sulu's voice. Kirk leaned over and acknowledged the call, eying Scotty with a frown. Scotty held up both hands as if to declare himself neutral in the war between 'keep Kirk safe' and 'let Kirk do his damn job'.

“Sir,” Sulu replied, sounding relieved. “Lieutenant Uhura has been getting some traffic that's worrying us.”

“Uhura?” Kirk prompted.

“Yes, sir,” she replied quickly. “The Vulcan elders can't confirm anything, but I'm getting a lot of stranded transmissions. It's all garbled really badly, but it looks like they're coming from inside the power plant. I think there's still people trapped inside.”

“Checkov, scan for life signs.” Kirk said quickly, then turned to Scotty. “Can you get a lock on anything down there?”

“Sir, I have nothing for certain, only ghosts. But I am thinking there would not be ghosts if there were no people there,” Checkov said over the comm link.

Scotty shook his head with a frustrated sound. “I can't get anything clear enough without one of those wee boosters.”

Kirk blinked at him. “Can you beam the boosters down? They're not stupid. If they can see them, they'll pick them up.”

Scotty stared at him. Spock gave him a look that gave Kirk the idea that he'd just done something impressive.

“Well,” Scotty, said quietly, looking vaguely embarrassed, “I don't see why not.”

“Mr. Spock?” Kirk said with a smile, gesturing inclusively at the transporter pad. Spock raised an eyebrow and inclined his head politely before removing his signal booster and stepping away to place it on the pad.

Scotty beamed it down, and Kirk went around to stand behind him, to better see his screen. He put a hand on the back of Scotty's chair, eyes glued to the shifting ghostlike patterns, too weak to get a lock on.

“Come on,” Scotty encouraged the screen. “You'd think with those ears, they'da heard it materialize.”

A nurse came in, looking businesslike. Blond. He couldn't remember her name. Luckily, Spock was directly in her line of sight, and his uniform was just as bloody as Kirk's was. Spock glanced her way. When he saw who it was, very subtly, he twitched. Not quite a wince, but it made Kirk actually turn and look at her. Now that he thought about it, Bones sent her a lot when Spock was around.

“Oh, Mr. Spock, your hands!” she exclaimed, suddenly not all that professional. Kirk raised his eyebrows. Spock looked...well, he looked a bit dismayed. Kind of like he was bracing himself.

She bustled over quickly, scanning him and looking worried. Spock glanced over at Kirk as if he was looking for help.

Kirk's eyebrows shot up.

“Nurse Chapel, it is the Captain-”

Kirk stiffened and gestured with an exclamation, thoroughly distracted as the screen twinkled cheerfully. Transporter Lock Achieved. Scotty made a similar sound of triumph, and Kirk clapped him on the shoulder. Scotty flashed him a wide smile.

Kirk watched the transporter beam solidify with a grin that fell off his face as soon as he realized what he was looking at. The beam faded, and the Vulcan on the pad collapsed bonelessly to the deck. Kirk darted out from behind the control panel, seeing Spock already lunging for the injured man, Nurse Chapel at his heels.

“Sickbay, medical emergency, transporter room one,” Kirk shot off, and then stopped. The pad was wet. Not the one he'd used, the one the Vulcan had come in on. He pivoted his head. The Vulcan was...

Soaked. Pale. Drowned.

He whirled on Scotty, thunder in his eyes.

“All the pattern boosters you have on you,” Kirk demanded, extending his hand. Scotty looked at the pad, and his eyes went wide. He fumbled frantically at his station for a moment, then tossed Kirk three little metal lifesavers. Kirk caught them and ran to the transporter, tossing them onto the pads. The Vulcan's leg was still on the-

“Spock, get him off the pad,” Kirk snapped. Spock jerked his head up, frowning sharply. He took two seconds to assess, and then shoved at the Vulcan man's body, making Chapel squawk with indignation. He then pulled the pattern booster they had already sent once out of the Vulcan's cold dead hand, and tossed it on a vacant pad. The Vulcan must have grabbed it just as he went under...

Kirk had opened the gates to relieve the pressure. Flooding the lower levels. He'd done it with his own hands.

“Get me those ghosts, Scotty,” Kirk ordered. Scotty gave him an incredulous expression.

“Captain, if they can't get to the boosters on their own-”

“Wide range.” Kirk said crisply. “Beam up everything in a seven foot radius of each booster. I want every transporter room we have manned and searching for survivors. Take your best guess on where to beam the boosters, and bring up everything.”

Scotty made a strangled sound.“Jim, we'll only get pieces of them.”

Kirk took a single step towards him, tight as a violin string.

“It doesn't matter,” he said with vicious intensity, pointing at the drowned Vulcan on the deck.

They're dying now.

“Aye, sir,” Scotty relented, sounding slightly faint.

“Spock, help him,” Kirk snapped. Bones burst in though the door, techs in tow. He cast one sharp look at Kirk, before turning to the more obvious emergency.

“Kirk to bridge, Mr. Checkov, I want you in transporter room two thirty seconds ago. Mr. Sulu, we are attempting to rescue the trapped Vulcans, I want you to coordinate with the transporter rooms to help pin down those ghosts.”

A chorus of 'yes, sir's.

“Sickbay, this is the captain. I want emergency medical assistance ready at every transporter room immediately,” Kirk added, and glanced over at Doctor McCoy.

On the deck, the drowned Vulcan suddenly expelled a gush of water, and coughed hard. Spock, at Scotty's side, froze, staring down at the now living Vulcan survivor. Kirk knew exactly what he was thinking.

They had a chance, if they were quick enough.

“Bones,” Kirk said urgently, darting in as the Doctor stood up. The techs headed for the door with the stretcher, and Kirk caught the Doctor's arm, earning him a questioning look. “How long have we got, to bring them all up?”

The doctor frowned.

“How many-?”

Kirk shook his head. “I don't know. A lot, if we're lucky.”

Doctor McCoy pressed his lips together in a thin line for a moment.

“The water's cold, we may have as long as a few hours. It's hard to say. Everyone responds differently. I may have problems, if there are too many of them, with equipment and manpower. I've only got so many doctors and regen machines. I can get warm bodies in there to help from other departments, but I need skilled people.” McCoy shook his head, looking tired.

The transporter shimmered to life, and they both froze. Kirk tensed, and got a protest from his broken ribs. Well, he wasn't about to waste McCoy's time with that now.

A wall of water roughly the size of the entire transporter pad twinkled to life. Kirk tightened his grip on the doctor's arm, and braced himself.

The water gushed out as soon as it was free of the transporter effect, pouring into the room, splashing against the walls, and sweeping Nurse Chapel entirely off her feet. She wasn't the only body in the water. An elderly Vulcan woman sprawled face-up at his feet, and over by the console-

“Oh, my god,” Bones croaked.

A foot. Just a foot.

Bones shot him a look of horror, shook his head, and knelt to see to the woman. Kirk stepped over to help Chapel to her feet, and found his voice.

“That means you know where the next one needs to go, Scotty,” he said, his voice bracing and calm as he handed the Nurse the scanner she'd dropped. “Keep going.”


Three hours later, McCoy called up to the bridge from sickbay to tell them to stop. Kirk had to cycle everyone who'd been manning a transporter off shift with orders to relax and recover. The...pieces...were the hardest, on everybody. Only Spock stayed on. Only Spock actually managed to convince Kirk that he was alright enough to stay. Kirk even ordered Scotty to stay the hell away from the engine room.

Scotty went down to Beta Antares IV to help the Vulcans, instead. The man found joy in his job, so Kirk let him help, with the idea that it would at least be a little more relaxing than his usual work.

Four hours after that, Kirk was interrupted from a crisply logical disagreement he was refereeing between Scotty and several idiot Vulcan engineers. The argument had been going strong for twenty minutes. Kirk was just at the point where he was starting to regret indulging his chief engineer at all, when he got a second call from Bones, this time with a survivors list.

“That one patient you wanted to be kept informed on?” McCoy added, sounding too weary to be gruff.

Kirk's chest tightened. “Yes,” he said. “How is he?”

“Not good. Not doing as well as he should be, anyway. I'll let you know if anything changes. As soon as I get a minute.”

Kirk didn't thank him. He'd already signed off.

Kirk didn't leave the bridge right away. He finished moderating the argument between the Vulcan engineers and Scotty, which took over an hour, deflected two strident calls from Starfleet with innocent confusion and made certain Uhura had all the records and logs fixed so they would both have their asses covered when the hammer came down. Starfleet was still thinking they were late to their next assignment, and when they sorted out the no-doubt confusing response Kirk had sent them about the imaginary emergency that was now under control, Kirk was expecting to have to do at least a little fast talking. As he was pretty damn good at fast talking, he figured his odds were better than average for coming out unscathed.

After all that, just about the time that Spock's concerned glances in his direction were turning vaguely mutinous, he finally stood up from his chair with a wince he almost completely managed to smother.

Spock appeared at his side like magic. Kirk had already insisted Spock stop by sickbay, with promises that he himself was soon to follow. Spock had a clean shirt on and the cuts on his hands were sealed up nicely. He looked pretty good for someone who'd been on his feet for fifteen hours. Kirk smiled at him.

“I'll be in sickbay,” he said, and paused, startled. Spock looked relived as hell, and Kirk had to think about just how long ago he'd made that promise to go to sickbay. Three hours ago? He couldn't remember. He shot Spock an apologetic look. It wasn't just for making him worry.

Kirk was going to sickbay, but not for the reason Spock thought.

“You have the con, but let me know if we get anything else from Starfleet. The next one should be a nasty one, and I'll need to field that call myself.”

Spock acknowledged with something close to satisfaction in his voice, and Kirk squashed a tiny tendril of guilt.

He stopped at his quarters and changed his uniform. Bones wouldn't let him keep a dermal regenerator for personal use; The doctor had some ridiculous notion that if he did, Kirk would just never go to sickbay. Kirk did, however, have some antiseptic wound-sealer, which was much crappier but at least kept the wounds from bleeding and usually held up alright as long as the wound also got wrapped. Kirk also had gauze wrap in his quarters, so he took a few minutes to see to his hands, more to keep from getting hassled than anything else.

Bones had enough on his plate without worrying about Kirk. He'd walked around with much worse than a couple of broken ribs before.

Sickbay was just about as bad as he had expected it to be. There were a lot of Vulcans in those beds, a lot of alarms going off and not enough doctors and nurses to go around. Some of the Vulcans had parts missing, and all of them were on ventilation. Pretty horrible. Kirk had seen more awful things, but it wasn't pleasant by a long shot. He caught a nurse and got directions briefly, letting her go to tend to her patients.

The elder Spock was off in a quiet corner, a little private area with only two beds. Spock looked smaller, somehow, than he had when awake. His face was still swollen, the beginnings of a shiner thumbing a smudge of green just under his eye. Even unconscious, he looked tired. Old. He'd lost weight, since Delta Vega.

He'd done so much for the Vulcan colony in such a short time. Kirk hadn't realized Spock was buying that at his own cost.

Kirk stepped forward slowly, his eyes flicking up to the monitor above the bed. His readings were low. Even if Bones had said nothing, Kirk would have been able to tell just by looking at him that there was something wrong.

Kirk looked around, grabbed a chair and pulled it over to the side of the elder Spock's bed. He sat, leaning casually against the frame of the bed, examining the changes in the older Spock with unapologetic scrutiny. He didn't look like someone recently injured. He looked like someone at the tail end of a long illness. After a moments hesitation, Kirk reached out and took his hand.

“I should have paid attention,” he said softly, under his breath. “I know already how you like to blame yourself...” he trailed off, startled, when Spock moved his head, as if he were trying to listen to something far away. “Spock?” he asked hopefully, leaning closer and squeezing his hand.

The elder Spock said something, his eyebrows drawing together in a sharp V. He muttered something in his sleep, looking distressed. His fingers twitched where Kirk held them. Kirk stood up, leaning over the bed a little, his eyes searching the older Spock's face.

“Spock,” he said again, his voice insistent.

Spock spoke again, but Kirk caught it this time. “Captain,” Spock breathed.

Kirk squeezed his hand, hard. He was pretty sure the older Spock didn't realize where he was. When he was. “Yes, I'm here,” Kirk said anyway. He figured he was close enough to the Kirk who was being requested for that to qualify as true.

Spock turned his head toward Kirk's voice a little, his eyes still shut. He paused, as if the small movement had exhausted him.

“The ship,” the older Spock said then, his voice hoarse. It drove a spike of ice right down Kirk's spine, realizing where the older Spock was, in his own mind. How many times already had his Spock come to in sickbay with that question on his lips? As many times as Kirk had, certainly. How many more times until the thought became so much a part of him that eighty years later it was still the first thing in his head when waking after being injured?

“Safe,” Kirk replied, his voice thick. He knew how much relief could be bought with that word.

The older Spock's hand tightened on his. “Jim...” he managed.

“I'll stay,” Kirk soothed. “I'm right here.”

The older Spock relaxed, all at once, like air whooshing out of a balloon. He sighed softly. Kirk was there. He was safe. Kirk had to take a breath and rein in the storm of emotions that thought threatened to unleash. Spock was a touch telepath, after all. Instead he waited quietly, and noticed, with some surprise, that the elder Spock's readings were improving. His baseline was slowly rising toward the range marked as normal.

He'd been there maybe twenty minutes before a nurse stopped by to check on the older Spock. It was Chapel, and Kirk turned and gave her a smile, covering a strange twinge of annoyance, as if she was interrupting something private.

She had lost a good portion of that cool professionalism, had quite a few more hairs out of place than she'd had earlier that day. She recognized him, giving him a nod and a weary flicker of a smile. Then her eyes caught on the hand Kirk was still holding. Her eyebrows went up, eyes widening slightly.

Kirk felt weirdly embarrassed, but did not remove his hand. Her eyes strayed to the monitor above the bed, and she suddenly looked interested. She took a few steps toward the bed, pulling a scanner out of her pocket and running it over the elder Spock's body.

A smile flickered to her lips, a real one this time, and she looked at him as if she was seeing something surprising.

“Whatever you're doing,” she said, her voice warm, “It's helping.” She put a hand out and touched his shoulder.

Kirk's eyebrows went up, and he glanced up at the elder Spock's face. He looked relaxed, like somebody who was getting the first good night's sleep he'd had in a while.

“I guess even Vulcans can benefit from a little human touch,” Chapel said, sounding oddly wistful. Kirk glanced up at her face, and realized what was going on with her and Spock. Either Chapel was tenacious as hell, or Bones was taking the 'I'm going to annoy Spock' thing to a whole different level.

“He is rather like our Spock, isn't he,” Kirk said with careful casualness, watching her face carefully.

Chapel blushed.

“I suppose so,” she said quietly. Chapel had no clue as to the elder Spock's identity. As far as she was concerned he was probably just an old Vulcan that the Captain knew somehow. Chapel likely didn't even know his name was Spock. So the blush was...interesting.

If it was Bones who kept throwing Chapel at his first officer whenever he called down to sickbay, Kirk was going to put his foot somewhere Bones wouldn't like. She was sweet. And she liked his first officer, something Kirk could identify with. Kirk heard an alarm go off, and Chapel looked away.

“Stay as long as you like,” Chapel said, distracted, giving his shoulder a squeeze. She moved off, hurried and tired and still pretty hot, and just possibly in love with his first officer. Kirk flashed on the 'save-me' look Spock had shot him in the transporter room when she'd arrived, and felt bad for her.

Spock's fingers twitched in his hand, and Kirk looked down at him, surprised. He glanced up at the panel above the bed, saw his readings floating steadily in the normal range. Spock's hand tightened over his, and he tensed. Kirk looked down, saw the slight shine of his eyes opening and smiled.

“Hey,” Kirk said gently. Spock lifted his eyebrows, his eyes fixed on their linked hands. He looked vaguely disbelieving.

“Jim,” he said, as if just to make certain he wasn't dreaming. His eyes strayed to the braid at Kirk's sleeve. “Captain,” he corrected himself.

Then he met Kirk's eyes, and smiled.

Kirk stilled, momentarily stunned. It was obviously, unequivocally, a smile. Kirk snatched at his scattered thoughts, his face softening in delight. Spock had a nice smile. Kirk had...he'd never seen it before.

Spock looked quietly pleased at Kirk's shocked reaction. He looked down again at Kirk's hand in his, as if he was staring at a present he never thought he'd get. Kirk cleared his throat as if he hadn't just been completely mentally derailed.

“You all right?” he asked.

“Functional,” the elder Spock replied, sounding so much like his Spock, Kirk had to force himself not to snicker. “Though,” Spock continued, looking amused, “it is fortunate that I stopped calculating probabilities where your actions are concerned, otherwise your uncanny ability to appear when you are most needed would begin to make me believe in luck.”

Kirk let out a breath of laughter at that. “Well, the other me couldn't have been all bad, if he managed to wear a Vulcan down off probabilities,” he replied. “But since he's not here, and you are every bit as good at getting yourself into trouble as my first officer is-”

Entertainingly, the elder Spock looked vaguely outraged.

“-Then I suppose I'll just have to employ my,” Kirk gave him a highly amused look, “'uncanny abilities' to watch out for both of you.”

Spock inclined his head, his expression soft. “You have always been vigilant in watching over those people you see as being under your protection.” His voice was careful, as if those words meant more than they seemed to. “Though I trust you shall not find it necessary, in my case, in the future,” He added.

Kirk went quiet, surprised. The way Spock said it...He thought, suddenly, of that moment standing beside a roaring press of water, with the elder Spock lying injured and out of his reach. For an instant, he tasted that huge, helpless rage that always drove him to act, that forced him to push when anyone else would give up, because god help him, the universe had taken enough from him, and would never take anything else.

He wouldn't have thought he had that in common with his counterpart. Kirk knew, he remembered with crystal clarity where he got it from, and for a moment he was sorry, he was so damn sorry that much evil could have existed in one universe, much less two.

Then he looked up, saw Spock empathizing for all he was worth, and remembered that he was a touch telepath.

Kirk removed his hand. Spock looked slightly crestfallen.

“I...understand...” Spock began, so gently he didn't even sound Vulcan anymore. Kirk eyed him, the line of his shoulders that was sharper and leaner than it had been even six months ago. The aching sympathy in a tired, familiar face.

“Then what the hell are you doing?” Kirk asked bluntly, putting his cards on the table. If he understood why Kirk had to protect him, then why the hell wasn't he looking after himself?

Spock blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“Don't insult my intelligence,” Kirk said, knowing he was angry because this Spock knew, knowing he was trying to find a reason to be angry at the older Spock because then he wouldn't have to be angry that Tarsus had happened at all. “You look like hell.”

Spock lifted an eyebrow, and Kirk got the abrupt impression that he wasn't fooling anyone.

“My thanks for the observation,” the older Spock replied, his voice very dry.

Never let anyone say a Vulcan couldn't have a sense of humor. Kirk's mouth twisted, and he swallowed the anger, pushed it down until, sometime in the future, he needed it again.

“What I want to know,” he said, more calmly, “is why. I've been keeping up with your progress at the colony. You've been moving at a phenomenal pace.” He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Almost superhuman.”

“Captain,” the elder Spock said quickly, “As you know, I am not human.”

Kirk gave him a sharp look. “Even Vulcans aren't indestructible.”

Spock's eyes widened a little, and he swallowed hard. Kirk wondered, suddenly, if this was the first time somebody named Kirk had called him on his bullshit.

“If I didn't know better, I'd say you were punishing yourself.” He folded his arms casually. “Ridiculous, I know, for a Vulcan to act so illogically.” He drew the last word out deliberately.

Spock looked away. He pressed his lips into a thin line. Then, with a sigh, “Jim, it took me many years to understand this. I am Vulcan,” he shook his head slightly, “but logic isn't everything.”

Blasphemy, for a Vulcan. Dammit, but he really liked this Spock.

“Spock,” he began, his voice intense, “you can't blame yourself for what Nero did to Vulcan.” Even though he knew firsthand that Spock was an expert at blaming himself for everything.

Spock looked up at him, and there was a whole universe of missed opportunities in his eyes. It hurt just to look at him, and for a moment it brought back all the misery Kirk had felt from him in the cave on Delta Vega. Every ounce of anguish Kirk had seen in his mind.

“Jim,” he said softly, sadly, “we both know, I am responsible-”

Kirk reached out, unable to bear it, and grabbed his shoulders.

“For no actions but your own,” he said with all the force of two years as the captain of the Enterprise, as a man who had faced gods down and lived, as the boy who had refused to lay down and die.

Spock looked like he had just taken a punch. Something...those words...or the way he had said them...Spock was giving him that I-am-seeing-someone-else look, but he was actually listening now, and with a twist of intuition, Kirk decided to use it.

“I think,” Kirk began quietly, “that my counterpart and I are similar enough that we both would take the genocide of peaceful people pretty personally.”

Spock looked abruptly alarmed. Apparently Spock hadn't thought of it that way before.

Kirk nodded. “Thought so.” He tightened his grip on Spock's shoulders, leaning close. “Then listen to both of us. This isn't your fault.”

Spock's face twisted slightly, but Kirk didn't stop.

“My father died because of Nero. I'm involved. And I'm telling you,” he shook his head, “this isn't your fault.” Kirk was speaking as frankly and earnestly as he had possibly ever spoken in his life.

He didn't get, right away, why his eyes were suddenly stinging, why his chest was tight like he couldn't breathe. Then he realized; Spock had tears in his eyes. And Kirk was feeling it. It was like some wispy-faint echo of that meld on Delta Vega, except different, because it wasn't just anguish and loss he was getting. There was something else, something bigger, huge and...and warm...and...

Spock reached up, bracing himself on Kirk's arms as if he was all that was keeping him anchored in the universe.

God, it was like the sun...bright...it was...

“Thy-ya,” Spock said softly, wonderingly. Or something close to thy-ya. Kirk was distracted by that great, knowing, warm feeling. He wanted to wrap himself up in it, roll around in it. It was coming from Spock, something to do with...thy-something.

He was going to ask. His face had already formed a question. He was going to ask what Spock meant. Or possibly, what was that awesome thing he was doing-

“Captain...” a strangled exclamation from behind him. Kirk turned, unthinking, and there, at the entryway to the alcove, stood his Spock. His first officer Spock.

His first officer was as far gone in a cold rage as Kirk had ever seen him.

End Notes:

Author's note: To those curious, yes Spock Prime was saying t'hy'la. Kirk didn't know that, though. Vulcan as a language can be hard to make out, for a layman.

Edit: Also, for those who'd like a dvd extra, here's a picture of what Scotty saw just after Kirk and Spock beamed up:

http://i616.photobucket.com/albums/tt242/davincis_girl/star trek/Spocksreturn.jpg


Chapter 4 by JackHawksmoor

Kirk reacted immediately, his heart sinking shockingly fast. He'd thought he still had some credit in the bank with Starfleet from the Nero thing. He'd really thought he could get away with this little side trip to Beta Antares IV without getting himself into trouble. It didn't look like that was the case...Starfleet had to be gunning for his head for Spock to look that pissed.

Someone must have been spectacularly insulting...probably Admiral Komak.

He straightened away from the elder Spock, glancing to one side and blinking hard, shoving the warmer, trickier emotions of the moment away. When he looked up and stepped forward, smooth and calm and captain of the Enterprise, he was met with a slightly surreal sight.

Both Spocks were looking at him with sharp regret on their faces. It was the same expression, aimed at him from two different angles, like a cracked mirror. Spooky. He didn't know for certain the reason for either look, but he was pretty sure they weren't wearing the expression for the same reason.

Kirk stepped up toward his first officer, his brain running wildly ahead of him.

Jesus, did they take the ship from me?

“Mr. Spock, report,” he said, as if not bothered at all.

Spock slipped his hands behind his back, his face going carefully blank. “Admiral Pike is waiting to speak with you, sir,” he replied calmly, as if he hadn't been standing there a minute ago looking like he wanted to kill someone with the pure power of his pissed-offedness.

Kirk blinked. “Admiral Pike?” They wouldn't have had Pike call him if he was screwed. They would have Pike call him if they wanted to influence him, or keep him in check. It was a holding move, not a checkmate, so what the hell was up with Spock? It wasn't like Pike to be insulting.

Then, his Spock glanced over at the older Spock. Just a quick, brief glance, that communicated quite elegantly something very, very obvious that Kirk had missed.

Kirk stared off in the distance for a moment, and let out a slight breath of laughter. His ribs protested, and he stopped quickly. Spock, his Spock, gave him a questioning look.

“I had to order you to sickbay,” he said to his first officer. Spock looked at him like he'd just grown a second head.

“Sir?”

The older Spock, he couldn't help but notice, looked slightly guilty. Kirk turned to him.

“You lied to me,” he said with disbelief. The older Spock's eyebrows went up.

“I may have-” the older Spock began to bullshit, not even bothering to waste time asking Kirk what he had supposedly lied about.

“Big fat liar,” Kirk interrupted.

The older Spock gave him a look that was vaguely pitying. The 'look the poor human just dribbled on himself' expression. Kirk gave him a wicked, uncaring grin. He shot an accusing glance over his first officer's way.

“And you,” he continued. “why didn't you say anything?”

“I...” Spock began, looking concerned about Kirk's sanity, “...am not certain...”

“Spock,” Kirk said patiently, “If there is one quality that you have, that any version of you has, it's curiosity. If you had no other information at all, you knew I was acting like he-” he pointed at the elder Spock, “mattered to me. You never asked me why. You didn't come down to sickbay to try and figure him out. Which means you already knew who he was, and why I was willing to risk my life over him.”

Kirk gave him a hard look. “I was still trying to keep you from realizing who he was, but you already knew. Why didn't you tell me?”

Spock raised an eyebrow. “You did not ask.”

Very slightly, the elder Spock winced.

Kirk stared at his first officer for a moment, his mouth twisting in annoyance. He wished, abruptly, that Bones was there, so the doctor could call him a cold-hearted son of a bitch.

“I see,” he said coolly, because Bones wasn't there. The elder Spock was looking at his younger self in a way Kirk couldn't quite catch. Some brief, silent communication...did the elder Spock shake his head, just a little? Kirk couldn't tell.

He glanced at the elder Spock, as if to ask him 'and you'?

“Jim,” the elder Spock began gently, the soft tone of his voice making his first officer snap his head up and stare, “It was imperative that you become captain of the Enterprise. Had I further involved myself, that would not have occurred.”

Kirk's mouth twitched. “Tell me, did you get to be this devious by watching me, or all on your own?”he asked.

The elder Spock tilted his head. “I have always been open to learning new things,” he replied demurely. Kirk laughed lightly, careful of his ribs.

“I'll keep that in mind,” he replied, then turned to his first officer, who was staring intently at his older counterpart, as if taking notes. “Mr. Spock, I believe we are keeping the Admiral waiting.” He gestured Spock on ahead, and then followed him out, giving his older counterpart a warm look and a nod.

“I'll see you later,” Kirk told him. The older Spock looked a hundred times better than he had when Kirk had first laid eyes on him. No matter what else had happened, Kirk would at least call that one a win.

His first officer, however, seemed to be much less happy about it. Kirk still was very curious about the baldfaced fury he'd seen on his Spock's face when Kirk had first looked up and seen him standing there in the alcove. Granted, Kirk had practically been holding the elder Spock in his arms at the time...

Hmm.

Kirk had a brief, bizarre thought, of Spock coming in the room like a girlfriend and catching Kirk making out with his brother. Pretty close to his brother. Pretty close to making out. It was a deeply weird thought, and Kirk eyed his first officer doubtfully as they walked down the hall.

He was totally expressionless. Something kind of stiff in the way he was walking. Spock was definitely acting pissy.

Kirk put it aside for the moment, heading toward his quarters instead of the bridge. Minor triumphs of the day aside, he was tired, and he was hurting, and sleeping with broken ribs promised to be a trying experience. Kirk just wanted to go somewhere he could actually stop hiding how lousy he felt. He didn't say anything, but Spock came along without comment, walking beside him the entire way as if he'd known immediately where Kirk would go.

Kirk settled down behind his desk without even a slight wince and flipped on his terminal. He got one look at Pike's face and realized he probably should have hurried.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, sir,” he said immediately.

Pike, looking annoyed, folded his arms over his chest. “Oh please, go ahead, if I'm keeping you from something more important,” he said, his voice heavy on the sarcasm.

Kirk winced slightly. Not a checkmate, he reminded himself.

He launched into his report, and soon found himself on the wrong side of some tough grilling. Yes, he knew the Enterprise was supposed to be picking up Federation diplomats. Yes, he understood how important it was to get them to the conference on time. No, he did not have an idiot for a communications officer.

“Sir,” he said quickly, before Pike could go down a path he didn't like, “I am responsible for the actions of the crew under my command. If there is going to be any fallback from this, I expect it to come down on my head, no one else's.”

He felt Spock move slightly, from where he stood at Kirk's back, and Pike glanced over Kirk's shoulder to stare at him briefly.

Pike turned his eyes back to Kirk, looking somewhat rueful. “I thought you might say something like that.” Pike occasionally had a way of looking at Kirk like he was dissecting him from the inside out. He had apparently decided to get in some practice. Kirk had to fight not to squirm.

“Tell me something,” Pike said, dropping formality and leaning forward towards the screen. “I keep asking myself...” he smiled slightly, “exactly what kind of monster did I make, when I decided to throw you two together?”

Pike knew. He knew damn well Kirk had bucked orders, and he knew who Kirk had done it for.

Kirk dropped the formality too, leaning forward in his chair carefully to avoid twinging his ribs. “It was bad, sir,” Kirk said quietly.

Pike blinked, his face darkening slightly.

“You're sure-”

“They'd have used that beacon, if they'd known how bad it was,” Kirk said. “I had a feeling...and I think you agree with me, that intuition is part of being a good captain.”

“So is following orders,” Pike replied, but he said it so mildly, it was hardly a rebuke. Kirk stared at him and said nothing.

Sometimes, he thought. He didn't really have to say it- Pike had been a starship captain too, not that long ago. Pike sighed and rubbed at his face.

“Because of your failure to arrive as scheduled, the Excalibur is being re-routed to pick up our diplomats. You'll be pulling her survey duty of the Talosian system. Six planets and a sun, if you think you can keep out of trouble long enough to get through them all,” Pike said, his voice dry.

Kirk sat frozen for a moment. That was all? Not even a 'shame on you'? Just 'here's a crappy assignment instead of your previous awesome one'?

“I always try, sir,” Kirk said smartly.

“Somehow I doubt that, Captain. Mr. Spock, I'm counting on you. The Enterprise needs to do good work and keep her head down for a while. See if you can't keep Captain Kirk from making more problems for himself.”

Spock moved again, behind him.

“Sir,” Spock said, “given the nature of starship duty, I am uncertain of my abilities to satisfy you on that account.”

Pike snorted, shaking his head.

“One hell of a monster,” he muttered to himself, but he was smiling when he said it, so Kirk smiled back. “You've got forty-eight hours to wrap things up with the Vulcans and move on to your next mission, Kirk.”

“Thank you, sir,” Kirk said, and meant it.

Pike smirked at him. “Just take care of that ship,” he said, and switched off.

Kirk let out a large breath, and then wished he hadn't. He winced, hunching over a little.

“Captain?” Spock said sharply, from behind him. Kirk moved to wave him off, to insist he was fine, but twisted the wrong way and actually had to stop, breathing shallowly for a moment. Kirk gritted his teeth, knowing he was blowing it, and shoved himself to his feet dispute the pain.

He turned to face Spock. “I'm all right,” he ground out, trying desperately for normality.

“I believe you are incorrect,” Spock said, stepping close to take his arm, which Kirk had to admit he sort of needed at that point. He was sweating and couldn't quite catch his breath. Spock looked alarmed.

“Spock, its nothing-” Kirk choked off, because Spock reached down and put his hand firmly against Kirk's broken ribs. Kirk doubled over like he'd just taken a punch. Crafty Vulcan didn't miss much...

He heard Spock calling sickbay, and managed a groan in protest.

“Jim,” his voice was strained. Spock was pulling at him, and suddenly Kirk was on his bed, and Spock was tugging at the hem of his uniform shirt, looking worried as hell for a Vulcan.

“Dammit, Spock,” Kirk paused to breathe, swatting at his hand. “I'll be all right! You didn't need to-”

“If you will not take the most basic steps to care for yourself, then I must,” Spock said sharply.

Kirk stopped, and really looked at him. He was so obviously concerned that Kirk started to feel like an ass. Kirk let out a shallow puff of air, and relented. He reached down and carefully lifted his shirt.

Spock sucked in a sharp breath.

“You are in need of medical attention,” he said quietly, suddenly very tense.

Kirk shook his head tiredly. “I'm afraid it's just not that easy, Spock,” he said.

Spock was very, very carefully running his hand over the bare, exceptionally bruised skin covering his broken ribs. Kirk knew he looked like somebody had taken a baseball bat to his side, and it didn't feel all that much different than if somebody had.

“I do not understand,” Spock said, his hand pausing on its path over Kirk's skin, as if to gently warm the injured area with his fingers.

“Bones is busy, and I-”

The door whisked open, and Nurse Chapel hustled in.

“-Oh, for god's sake,” Kirk finished, under his breath. He was going to find a baseball bat all right, and beat McCoy over his big fat head with it.

“The Captain is injured,” Spock said to her sharply, “As I indicated to you earlier.”

Kirk winced, and it wasn't because of his ribs.

“Spock,” he said, displeased, and Spock subsided, stepping back so that Chapel could get close to him. She cast a quick, unhappy look at Spock before leaning close to him, running her scanner. Her face tightened in shock.

“Captain, how long-” she stopped, sputtering slightly. “This is hours old! You were, you were in sickbay, I was right there, and I-” She glanced again at Spock, and this time looked desperately guilty. “I'm sorry, sir, you're right, I should have-”

“Nurse Chapel,” Kirk said firmly, cutting her off. “I was there too, and I don't remember saying anything to you about it. So stop with the guilt. I'm not an easy patient.”

Chapel blinked several times rapidly. “Let me just get you something for the pain-”

“What's your first name?” he asked kindly. She paused, surprised.

“Christine,” she replied.

Kirk smiled wearily. “Christine, you are going to want to check my files very carefully before you give me anything, unless you want to kill me accidentally.”

Spock's eyebrows went up, and Christine frowned. She pulled out a pad, and started scrolling. Kirk waited with grim expectation, watching Chapel's face without surprise as she continued to page through his medical files, her face showing a growing disbelief.

After a few moments, she lowered the pad, defeated. Kirk gave her an apologetic look.

“I've never seen anything like it,” Chapel said, wide eyed.

“Is there some problem?” Spock asked.

Chapel turned to him, looking nervous. “I can't do anything for him.”

“I beg your pardon. Perhaps I am misunderstanding some form of humor,” Spock said, sounding slightly dangerous.

“He's red flagged for everything. I can't even give him a basic opiate. Doctor McCoy needs to supervise anything I could give him that might help.” Chapel paused. “I can use the bone knitter without painkillers but that would be excruciating-”

“I'll pass on that, thanks,” Kirk said with half a smile. “I've actually had to do that before, and I'd rather not repeat the experience.”

“I could...I could get you an aspirin, sir,” Chapel said timidly.

Spock looked appalled. Kirk let out a careful breath of laughter.

“I've got some in the nightstand, thanks.” He glanced up at his first officer, who looked as though Chapel had just threatened to stitch Kirk up with a thread and a needle. “It's all right, Spock, I'm allergic to everything. Bones can give me some of this stuff but he's got to monitor me the whole time, and mix in some perstatisone or epinephrine depending on how it goes.”

Spock looked down briefly. “You were aware of this previously.”

Kirk gave him a very mild look, and nodded. Spock slipped his hands behind his back, looking slightly sheepish, which was a hell of a thing to see, on a Vulcan.

“Doctor McCoy is currently in surgery,” Spock began, glancing quickly at Chapel.

“The last eight hours,” Chapel said, suddenly looking very tired. “And another eight to go, most likely.”

Spock exchanged a glance with Kirk, and he saw that Spock understood now. Kirk wasn't about to drag Bones off a dying Vulcan to come babysit his ass just because he was uncomfortable and couldn't handle something as simple as codeine unless he was hooked up to seven different machines.

“Is the captain's life in any danger?” Spock asked quietly, studying the deck.

Chapel frowned. “Not...well, he could cause himself a serious injury, if he moved wrong he could-”

“I know how to move with broken ribs, nurse. I've been doing it all day,” Kirk said smoothly, sensing that the tide had turned his way. More or less.

She chewed her lip briefly. She really was sweet- how she survived working with McCoy was a minor mystery of the universe.

“I wouldn't like him to be alone tonight, just in case he moves in his sleep,” she said definitively. Kirk couldn't help but notice she was talking to Spock, not him. Spock nodded, and glanced at him. Kirk made an 'I give up' gesture with his hands, and Spock quietly indicated with his head that he and Chapel should continue the conversation by the door. Kirk smiled to himself. He'd rather be left on his own, but if his options were Spock and his quarters or Bones and Sickbay, Kirk was pleased as punch to be staying where he was.

His two nightingales talked quickly, Chapel giving Spock instructions, and Kirk had a moment to wonder with amusement how it was that no one asked or questioned exactly who would be staying with the captain, as if the answer was too obvious to mention. Then Chapel exited, leaving behind her medical scanner, and Spock came and stood in front of him, hands clasped behind his back.

“You did not wish to distract the Doctor from his work without good cause,” Spock stated.

Kirk met his eyes, surprised at the gentle expression on Spock's face. “Pretty much,” he replied.

Spock glanced down. “Earlier I suggested that you were reckless in regards to your own health. I see I was in error. Your logic was sound.”

Kirk gave him a sympathetic once-over. Spock never handled it well when Kirk got himself hurt. He looked a bit subdued over the fact that there wasn't really anything he could do.

“It's all right Spock,” he felt a smile start to creep over his face. “I find it's almost always beneficial to be underestimated.”

Spock looked briefly disheartened, though that hadn't been Kirk's intention.

“My...counterpart...knows enough not to oblige you in that fashion,” Spock said, and it wasn't a question.

Kirk's eyes went wide. Was he nuts or did Spock just pull a 'you-like-him-better-than-me'? Kirk opened his mouth, but didn't immediately speak.

Spock turned his head sharply aside, and Kirk could see his self-recrimination like Spock had just pulled it out of his pocket.

“My apologies,” Spock said quickly. “I did not mean-”

Kirk reached over and caught him by the wrist, effectively silencing him.

“Yeah, you did,” Kirk said bluntly. He took a close look at how quietly unhappy Spock seemed to be, and got the impression that he was fairly mortified with himself. It was sometimes difficult to tell with Spock; it had taken Kirk a little while to grasp the translation of body language. Small cues were the key-the way he was standing, the tension around his mouth. It was also easy to misunderstand. Kirk watched him now, and began to think-

Perhaps he'd misunderstood what was going on here.

He pushed himself carefully to his feet, and took a step inside Spock's personal space.“Why don't you tell me what's on your mind, Spock?” Kirk asked gently.

“I merely was...unaware you and my future self had become,” something in Spock's expression changed, but for the life of him Kirk couldn't tell what it meant, “close.”

“Hard to share space in someone's head and not be close,” Kirk replied with a slight smile that faded into surprise at Spock's strong reaction.

“You entered into a mind meld with Ambassador Spock?” Spock said, stiffening. His eyes raked over Kirk, as if checking for some hidden injury. “Are you certain?”

Kirk had no response to that. What did Spock expect him to say- 'oh, wait, now that I think about it, we didn't'? Spock was obviously expecting a response, though, so...

Kirk stepped closer.

“He touched me,” he raised his right hand up toward Spock's face, “like this.” Kirk did not actually touch him, but let his fingers hover.

Spock twitched slightly, catching his breath as Kirk's hand neared his face. Kirk watched his pupils dilate, wide and black.

Kirk tilted his head, angling himself a little closer without actually stepping forward.

“And I could see,” he continued, his voice quieter, “everything he had seen. Everything he was. Just for a minute, we were one person. And I wasn't afraid.” Kirk watched Spock's breathless reaction with sharp eyes. Spock leaned forward a little, just barely, and Kirk was startled by the sudden certainty that Spock wanted to press his face against Kirk's fingers. Throw them both into a meld just to see what happened.

Kirk dropped his hand and stepped back, feeling strangely shaken, as if he'd just done something amazingly reckless. Spock shut his eyes and looked, briefly, as if he was in danger of toppling over on the deck. Kirk stared at him, not sure if he was reading something into Spock's reactions that he shouldn't.

“You...” Spock began unsteadily, then cleared his throat slightly and continued. “You did not question the fact that I could remove Captain Pike's location from a Romulan's mind. You have suggested I make an attempt to mind-meld with another sentient being no less that five times during the past two years. The ability is not common knowledge. I should have questioned the source of your familiarity.”

Kirk smiled faintly.

“Nobody's perfect,” he said, and cut through the bullshit. “Your counterpart didn't pick up on the fact that I was injured, either, you know.”

I don't like him better than you.

Spock looked doubtful, and Kirk gave him a don't-be-stupid look. “I wasn't kidding about being a lousy patient. Bones isn't always annoyed just for the hell of it.”

Spock regarded him for a moment. Kirk could almost see the gears turning.

“Given the level of enjoyment the doctor seems to take in his own abrasiveness, I find that difficult to believe.” He said, deadpan. Kirk had to look close to see the amusement in his eye.

Translation: I accept your reassurance.

Kirk opened his mouth, and left it open. He let out an amazed breath of laughter, and paid for it. He hunched over, wincing, and Spock made a quick, concerned motion in his direction.

Kirk held up a hand, and he stopped. Kirk looked up at him ruefully, getting his breath back.

His Spock did not smile at him. He did, however, look very pleased with himself in Kirk's direction. Another few years, maybe, and it might be a smile.

“Captain, I believe you should sit,” Spock advised. Kirk was halfway there already, and sank back down onto the bed. He was suddenly, weirdly, thoroughly glad Spock was there. There was a lot of heaviness waiting in the room...all those Vulcans they hadn't saved. Kirk had set off the flooding that killed them with his own hands, and somehow, having Spock in the room made that thought a little easier to push aside.

“Thanks. For staying.” Kirk said, not bothering to try and fight with getting his shirt off. If he didn't know better, he'd say from the reaction on Spock's face that Spock was pretty damn happy to be there. Kirk would have to remember this for the next time he got his ass handed to him. Spock tended to let logic slide a little when Kirk's safety was on the line. If all it took to make Spock feel better was to let him hover a little bit...well, then Kirk wouldn't mind sacrificing a little privacy.

“Wake me if Bones calls,” Kirk gave Spock a hard look, “but don't call him.”

Spock inclined his head, looking innocent and trustworthy. Kirk narrowed his eyes at Spock.

“Should you need urgent care, “ Spock explained, “I will of course-”

“Fine,” Kirk said, holding his hands up in surrender. Spock looked smug.

Kirk went to scoot back, and to his embarrassment, needed help. Spock was right there, though, so he was all right. Spock's hands were warm and when he leaned close Spock's pupils went wide, eating up the brown of his irises. Kirk did not think he had...ever...noticed that happen before today. With Spock. He supposed it could be something other than what it looked like. But Spock was staring at him with an expression that was hard to misunderstand, and for a moment Kirk thought he might...

If anyone had told Kirk he would be thinking this about Spock six months ago he would have laughed in their faces. Kirk thought about how warm his hands were, and wondered, for just a second, how it would feel to have Spock pressed up against him all over.

Probably pretty nice.

“Goodnight,” he said quietly, tense. The energy of the sudden possibility hanging between them could have run the impulse engines for a week. Spock was close enough to blink in reaction when he exhaled. Kirk watched Spock swallow, hard.

He sat back. “Goodnight, sir,” Spock replied, pulling his hands away from Kirk in a manner that seemed to suggest his hands were against the idea.

Whether he had intended to or not, in Kirk's estimation his first officer had just put an offer on the table. And Kirk had no idea what to do about it.

End Notes:

Author's Note: If somebody can spot the easter egg in this chapter, I'll write it.

Chapter 5 by JackHawksmoor

Kirk woke up sometime during the night, feeling like he'd crawled up out of a very dark, very uncomfortable hole. For a minute he actually couldn't breathe it hurt so damn bad...and then he shifted a little on the bed, swallowing a groan, and it was better.

It still felt like there were big pointy sticks in that hole, but there was nowhere else to sleep, so...

He looked up, maybe a second later, maybe an hour, and Spock was standing over him, looking pretty unhappy about it.

“Haven't had anybody tuck me in for a long time,” Kirk managed, his lips twitching. His throat was scratchy.

“Jim,” Spock said quietly, “please allow me to call Doctor McCoy.”

Kirk frowned, squinting up at him. “Spock, I'm really tired,” he said, raw exhaustion stripping him of anything but honesty. He lifted his head and looked around blearily. “How long have I...?”

“Six hours and thirteen minutes,” Spock replied promptly.

“What...what's wrong?” he tried, for a moment, to hold back the vast wave of exhaustion that was poised to crash over him.

Spock looked drawn. “You have been...somewhat vocal in your distress,” he replied, his voice shockingly soft.

Oh. Shit. Sleepwhining.

“Sorry, Spock, I didn't know,” Kirk said, embarrassed. He hoped he hadn't been too pathetic about it. “I'll be fine.”

Kirk was absolutely soaked in sweat, but the thought of what it would take for him to have to deal with that was enough to make him desperately want to lay back and just escape it by sleeping. Getting up, taking his shirt off, walking to the bathroom-gah. Better just to...

Spock was sitting next to him. Spock was sitting on the bed, which was pretty extraordinary. It didn't really bother him, either. That was pretty extraordinary, too.

Kirk gave him a sleepy, questioning look, realizing that Spock was one of the few people on board that could get away with something like this. Spock had his hand on Kirk's arm, which was possibly what had woke Kirk up.

“Doctor McCoy is out of surgery,” Spock said quietly.

“Hmm,” Kirk said, hearing him without processing the words for a minute. He was warm, and his ribs didn't hurt too bad and Spock was there...he felt fuzzy and content, and briefly resisted the return to rationality. Spock's thumb moved slightly over the back of his wrist.

Kirk had a stray thought, that maybe he should get off the bed, or get all the way onto it.

“How,” he began, and paused, his brain rebooting. How long had he-

“Six hours and forty-seven minutes,” Spock offered, doing a good job of mindreading without mindreading. Kirk wondered how many times he'd half-woken up through the night and asked Spock that question. “Nurse Chapel called from sickbay,” Spock explained.

Kirk blinked at him, then looked around at the lack of angry doctors in his room.

“She called up here before telling McCoy anything?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “That woman has a death wish.”

Kirk moved to sit up. His body abruptly remembered that it had been smacked around pretty good yesterday, and nearly everything gave a silent howl of protest at the movement. Kirk grunted and froze. Spock reached out and helped to pull him upright. It hurt, and Kirk gritted his teeth.

Spock watched him closely, and once Kirk had relaxed away from pain, he spoke up.

“I requested she do so,” Spock said simply.

Kirk frowned. He gave Spock a hard once-over. “Well, of course she would, if you asked her,” he said.

Spock had the good grace to look slightly abashed. “I was not attempting to take advantage of her...attachment to me,” Spock added, standing and stepping slightly away from the bed to give Kirk room to get up.

“If you say so,” Kirk replied blandly, swinging his legs over the side. Spock gave him a sharp glance, but Kirk ignored him. He took a careful breath, and braced himself.

“Okay,” he said, holding out an arm. “Let's do this.” Spock hauled him upright. Kirk managed, through sheer force of will, not to yelp.

When they got to Sickbay, Bones was already at a low boil. Kirk was half expecting the doctor to be busy chewing out Nurse Chapel, but she was nowhere to be seen. Self-preservation, possibly. The doctor was waiting for Kirk, hypo in hand, and when he walked through the door McCoy's face darkened like stormclouds on the horizon.

“Jim,” he exclaimed, rushing forward, and Kirk abruptly realized from the look on his face that he'd scared Bones this time. Though he couldn't imagine why; Kirk wasn't actually all that bad off. Bones gave him a hypo full of something that stung nastily, and turned his scowl on Spock, as if his first officer was to blame for the doctor's mood.

“The captain has been with me the entire evening. I remained with him in his quarters under Nurse Chapel's advisement,” Spock supplied quickly. His voice softened. “He was in no danger.”

Kirk glanced at him in surprise, then over at McCoy.

The doctor was looking at Spock's face as if he was searching for something. He must have found it, because he relaxed.

“The whole time?” he prodded, and Spock, amazingly, nodded obediently, saying nothing further.

“Well,” Bones sighed. “All right then.” He eyed Kirk for a moment. “Shut your mouth, Jim, you'll attract flies.”

“That's it? I was expecting a rout,” Kirk said, startled. Spock and McCoy exchanged a glance. Kirk wondered, suddenly, just when the two of them had entered into a conspiracy against him. Well, he supposed that technically, it was for him. The keep-Kirk-alive club.

“Spock wouldn't let anything happen to you,” Bones said simply, giving Spock a measured, approving glance. It startled Kirk enough to put him off his guard, and Kirk felt the words touch some warm core of certainty inside him, making it turn and shift in its sleep.

I know that, whispered some small voice from the depths. It was the briefest reaction, and Kirk shoved it aside like something dangerous.

Kirk started grinning, reaching for careless levity in self-defense.

“Didn't know you cared, Bones-” Kirk began, but cut himself off sharply. Bones aimed a brittle, black expression right at his head like he was sighting down the barrel of a phaser, and Kirk was abruptly reminded that sometimes his attitude hurt people.

“On the table,” the doctor said roughly.

Ah, hell. He really was an asshole, sometimes...

Kirk looked over at Spock, mentally giving himself a beating. Spock's face was utterly expressionless. The doctor had turned away, toward the bed, and Kirk took two long steps to catch up to him.

“Bones,” Kirk began gently.

“Spock,” Bones said loudly, surprising Kirk, “You'd better stick around to hear this.”

Kirk looked and saw that Spock, sensing an impending private and probably embarrassingly emotional conversation, had tried to slink out the door. Spock stopped and gave the Doctor a considering look. He approached the two of them as if he'd really rather not.

Bones looked angry, but not just at Kirk. Actually, he looked pretty guilty about something, which was weird, given that Kirk had just acted kind of dick-ish. Weirder than Bones getting scared when there was no need to.

“What's up with you?” Kirk asked, frowning.

Bones scratched the back of his neck and looked at the floor.

“Chapel had the wrong information,” he sighed. “On your medical file. The information wasn't correct. You...ah...you probably could've taken a couple of the painkillers on the list just fine.”

Kirk frowned at him, narrowing his eyes. He'd been in sickbay in the line of duty plenty of times. Bones always said-

“And how,” Spock began, the suddenly dangerous tone of his voice making Kirk whip his head over to stare, “did she receive this erroneous information?”

The doctor's lips pressed into a thin line. “I put it there,” he said.

“What?” Kirk snapped. Bones had told him, had told him repeatedly-andeven back at the academy, the doctors there had nearly stroked out every time he walked (staggered, was carried) through the doors, there were so many things he couldn't take- so what the hell...

“I'm not sorry,” the Doctor snapped right back, “And I'm not going to change it.”

“Explain-”

“Explain that,” Spock and Kirk spoke at almost the exact same moment, briefly eyed each other, then went back to glaring at McCoy in their own respective ways.

Bones looked from Kirk to Spock, and let out a long breath.“Your system is so damn finicky, Jim. You could take a lot of things that I've red-tagged for you, but I'm not willing to risk it, not with your medical history. I don't want one of my nurses giving you something and shoeing you out the door so you can go into anaphylaxis and die in the hallway. I know you. You won't wait around in sickbay on a 'maybe'. You don't wait around in here even when you think it's a matter of life and death!”

“The captain of a starship-” Kirk began, meaning to talk about the fact that most of the time he was actually needed to do his job, not sit around and get coddled in sickbay.

“Is not required to forfeit his health,” Spock interrupted him.

Kirk looked over at him in surprise. When he saw the expression on Spock's face, he realized that at some point during McCoy's speech, Spock had switched sides.

Bones spread his hands. “I've pretty much made it a policy to always have them call me as soon as you walk through the door needing something done...it hasn't ever been a problem.”

“You shouldn't have done this, Bones.” Kirk said quietly, eying Spock. Spock looked oddly fierce, and Kirk was weighing the odds of him winning this argument against both of them and not liking what he found. “Not without talking to me first.”

“I know,” Bones said, as Kirk was still speaking. “I know,” he snapped, once Kirk was done. He let out a breath. “I do what I can,” he said simply, shaking his head. “I do what I think is best so I can keep your reckless, idiot ass alive, and I'll be damned if I apologize to you for that. This has saved your life more than once. It's worked, Jim.”

“Until now,” Kirk replied, his kneejerk reaction to being managed more than enough to put starch in his voice.

McCoy paused, his expression fighting between guilt and anger. “Until my head nurse, the first officer, and the captain all conspired against me to keep me in the dark...yes,” he said, giving Kirk a defiant glare.

Spock raised an eyebrow, looking down at the doctor with an expression of mixed exasperation and affection.

Kirk took a long breath, some of his anger loosening, the knots relaxing their tension. “Bones, we-”

“Kept things from me. For my own good,” Bones said pointedly.

Kirk stared at him for a long moment. He looked down, his jaw working.

“All right,” he said finally. “All right.” His head shot up and he pinned Bones to the wall with his eyes. “But Bones-” he began dangerously, and paused, silently promising terrible things.

“I talked to Nurse Chapel,” McCoy replied quietly, and slipped his hands behind his back. “This kind of mistake won't happen again.” His voice was soft.

Kirk figured that was as close to an apology he was likely to get.

Bones looked up, and eyed him with an unspoken question.

We good?

Kirk nodded, saying nothing.

Spock shifted slightly beside him. “If you gentlemen are now in agreement, I-”

McCoy jerked his thumb towards the door. “Spock, out. The captain's got a date with my bone-knitter.”

Spock paused, glanced briefly at the doctor's face. Bones nodded, met his eyes, and looked away.

If Kirk didn't know, better, he'd swear they'd just thanked each other.

“Captain,” Spock said, inclining his head gracefully.

“Thanks, Spock,” Kirk said outright, because unlike the two of them, he wasn't insane.

Spock didn't smile. He looked very pleased, though.

A few more years, Kirk thought. He might just get to see that smile. Kirk stared after him when he left.

Someone cleared their throat, and Kirk turned to look. Bones gave him a wide eyed hey-are-you-an-idiot look and waggled the bone-knitter he was holding in an eye-catching way.

“Sorry to interrupt?” McCoy said, his voice dry.

“Uh,” Kirk said, and hastily started to struggle out of his shirt. “Right.” It took him a minute to get out of the offending piece of clothing without really, really testing his pain tolerance.

“Chapel's a good nurse, you shouldn't give her a hard time about this,” he said conversationally, his voice muffled by the shirt. Quickest way to calm the air between them was to act like it already was calm. Kirk yanked the shirt free of his head with a sigh.

“She's got a good head on her shoulders, she just usually doesn't have to contend with a bullshitter of your caliber,” McCoy said absently, running his scanner over Kirk's heavily bruised side. “Can't blame her for that...This must have been fun to sleep on,” he added, and that guilt was back on his face.

“She's into Spock.” Kirk was curious to know if he needed to give Bones hell about that particular situation, and kind of wanted to wipe that unpleasant expression off the doctor's face. If Bones didn't know, Kirk would be pretty impressed with her tenacity. He could sort of see Chapel's point, though. Risk/reward ratio being what it was.

“Oh, well, who isn't?” McCoy said, and Kirk gave him a wide-eyed look, startled. It took him a second longer than it should have to register the heavy sarcasm in the doctor's voice, and he smiled to cover it.

Bones stared at him for a moment, and blinked several times rapidly. He looked like he'd just swallowed something too big for his throat.

“Right,” the doctor said, and cleared his throat, patting the examination table. Kirk hopped up without further comment.

Bones slipped him something during the process that knocked him out cold, which at this point he had honestly sort of come to expect. He woke up an indeterminate time later, ache-free and well rested for the first time in a while. Kirk lifted his head.

Spock, the older Spock, was standing there. He was looking down at Kirk with a quiet intensity of affection that was impossible not to respond to. It was like standing in the sunlight. Kirk found himself smiling without even thinking about it.

“Good morning,” the older Spock said politely.

Spock making small talk? Good god, Bones would have a stroke.

“Yeah,” Kirk replied with a grin. “Guess so.” He pushed himself up, swinging his legs over the side. He gave Spock a once-over.

“You look better,” he said. A lot better. Spock had a pretty impressive shiner, but he was up and dressed. He looked...there was something different about his face, about the way he was carrying himself. Calmer? Not quite so...haunted.

The elder Spock tilted his head slightly in acknowledgment, a gesture Kirk knew very well.

“I am pleased that you are recovered,” Spock replied delicately, the look in his eyes and the inflection in his voice saying quite clearly that the older Spock wished that Kirk hadn't tried to hide his injury from him. There was no anger, nothing but a quiet disappointment that was ridiculously effective at making Kirk feel like an asshole.

He was struck again at the unusual differences in this Spock. The elder Spock was terrifyingly good at getting to Kirk, as if it was a skill this Spock had spent a lifetime perfecting, and now knew so well he almost didn't even have to try. It should have pissed Kirk off. It was sort of scary that it didn't. Kirk wasn't sure if he was capable of getting pissed at this Spock. He was too good at being a person Kirk couldn't help but like intensely...and this Spock wasn't even trying.

Kirk tilted his head, thought about it for a second, and then went for broke.

“There's something you haven't told me,” he said, his voice friendly enough. He lifted his head and caught the older Spock's eye with a particular force of intent.

Spock frowned just slightly, his eyebrows coming together. “There is a great deal I have not told you,” he allowed, sounding puzzled. His eyes lingered on Kirk's expression.

Kirk reached out, grabbed him by both shoulders, and pulled him in.

“No,” he said. Spock's eyes were wide and about three inches from Kirk's. His thighs were pressed up against Kirk's knees. “There's something you haven't told me, Spock,” Kirk repeated quietly with all the force of a shout. His voice was heavy with innuendo.

My Spock appears to want to have sex with me. What do you know about it?

The older Spock looked down at how close the two of them were to each other, and swallowed hard. He lifted his eyes again, and Kirk saw immediately that this Spock knew exactly what he was talking about. For an instant he felt something, some faint echo of triumph- ha! It wasn't his imagination! -but it was snuffed out quick by how obviously shaken the older Spock was.

Maybe this wasn't a good thing. Kirk's stomach gave an unpleasant lurch, and Kirk let go of him. The older Spock didn't move away. He stayed quite still for a moment, then angled his head and looked over at Kirk with obvious, screaming, tentative uncertainly.

“My counterpart desires...” Spock lifted his eyebrows.

“Oh, yeah,” Kirk said quietly.

The older Spock let out a breath, looking concerned. Not exactly promising.

“You didn't,” Kirk said, and it wasn't quite a question.

Spock gave him a look, one eyebrow coming up sharply. That one expression let Kirk know with crystal clarity how utterly incorrect and blindingly stupid the last sentence out of his mouth had been. A kind of my-god-have-you-a-brain-in-your-head look. Kirk had seen his Spock favor Bones with that look more than once.

Spock glanced away. “It merely appears that my counterpart has fewer fears to overcome than I did,” he said quietly, almost to himself.

A corner of Kirk's mouth curled up unto a smile. “Fears? You?”

Spock gave him a gentle, self-depreciating expression that seemed to express quite well just how much he enjoyed the fact that Kirk cared enough to tease him. Kirk didn't exactly want to kiss him in that moment. But he did have a sudden urge to move forward, to get closer, to grab him up and smother him with the sudden massive surge of affection he was feeling.

The older Spock met his eyes, and saw that, and went still. “Fascinating,” he said softly, wonderingly.

Kirk shrugged, not sorry. Hard to be sorry when Spock, any Spock, was looking that happy. He hopped off the examination table, and Spock took a step back so they wouldn't actually be stepping on each other. It kind of looked like a reluctant step back.

“Got any advice?” Kirk asked lightly, feeling warm.

The older Spock's mouth opened, just a little, and he stared at Kirk for a second without speaking. Kirk gave him a questioning look.

“The...differences, are sometimes surprising,” Spock said quietly, looking at him with a strange mixture of disbelief and regret.

Kirk thought about that for a second before speaking. “Differences,” he repeated carefully, then leaned back against the table, looking aside. “Spock, do you know what I would do about this if you weren't here?”

The elder Spock eyed him uncertainly.

“Nothing,” Kirk supplied the answer with quiet sincerity. Spock narrowed his eyes slightly. Kirk gave him half a shrug. “I've got a ship to run, and you're my first officer.” Kirk smiled faintly, and corrected himself. “He's my first officer. And my friend. I'd be a fool to risk that. Besides,” he added, folding his arms casually, “even if Spock does want me...I don't think he wants to want me.” Kirk tilted his head. “So, does that sound very different from something your me would have said?”

Spock barely smiled at him, actually looking a bit sad. “Not as such,” he replied quietly. “Your position is quite logical, given the situation.”

“That might be. However,” Kirk added, and Spock lifted an eyebrow, “You are here, and I can ask for advice. So I'm asking.” Kirk's lips twisted into a smile. “Like you said, logic isn't everything.”

For a moment, Spock's eyes were warm and appreciative. Then he paused, looking away, his expression turning doubtful. “I can only speak to my own thoughts, Jim, but the first time I was presented with...a similar situation,” Spock's face tightened, as if the memory was a painful one, “I was unprepared for the emotions I would have to confront. I reacted...less than positively.”

Kirk eyes flicked down for a moment, and then back up.

“And the second time?” he asked with a slight smile.

The older Spock lifted his head in surprise. He looked at Kirk with dawning amazement, as if he was something rare and wonderful and desperately yearned for. Kirk had looked up at the stars as a child with an expression like that. Kirk felt a rush of warmth squeeze his chest, and he had just enough time to realize just how dangerous this Spock actually could be to him; Then the older Spock met his eyes, and they both froze at the sudden, electric tension.

Not the right Spock.

Almost as if by agreement, the elder Spock moved back, and Kirk mirrored him. The older Spock stepped around to the other side of the examination table, placing it between the two of them. Kirk leaned on it for a minute, taking a deep breath.

Shit.

“Okay,” he said, a bit shaken. That was...unexpected.

The older Spock looked startled, and pleased, and a bit sheepish. The expression was, Kirk found, a little dangerous to look at just then. This Spock was not the Spock he wanted to be going on with. But he was close enough that Kirk was starting to get a little alarmed about what his reaction to his Spock was going to be.

“So,” Kirk began again, “as you can see, chemistry isn't a problem.”

Spock lifted an eyebrow, as if mildly offended by the idea. “Indeed not.”

Kirk snickered to himself.

“Jim?” a disbelieving voice from the vicinity of Doctor McCoy's office. Kirk whipped his head around and was fervently, get-down-on-his-knees relieved to see that Bones wasn't standing there watching them. Instead there were footsteps, and Bones poked his head out of the doorway.

“I can't believe you're still here," Bones began, before he'd even got a good look at Kirk, "You usually disappear, unless I've got you strapped down. Hell, sometimes even if I-” His eyes moved to the elderly Vulcan standing across the examination table from Kirk, and McCoy stopped, looking embarrassed.

“Oh. Hello.”

“Good morning,” the older Spock said politely, looking like he was enjoying himself immensely.

The doctor looked at the Vulcan as if he'd grown another head. “Good morning,” he replied automatically, obviously startled.

“How are you?” the elder Spock asked, and started to look really amused, which didn't do much for the doctor's equilibrium.

“...Fine,” Bones said warily. Kirk couldn't really blame him-Vulcans didn't normally do polite. It was sort of eerie.

“We're just talking, Bones. If he's clear to go, we can both get out of your hair right now,” Kirk said. He gave the older Spock a questioning look.

"I should return to the power plant and assist in the repairs as soon as possible," the older Spock replied.

Kirk gave Bones a charming smile. "What do you say, Doctor?"

Slowly, as if his brain wasn't quite functioning correctly, Bones nodded.

Kirk could almost hear the the thought in his head- could sudden politeness be considered a symptom of something in a Vulcan? Bones made a not-very-subtle 'I want to talk to you' motion with his hand.

The elder Spock met Kirk's eyes, and Kirk had to really work at it not to laugh out loud. Spock was messing with Bones, and enjoying it. Kirk stepped over to the doctor, and the older Spock went to wait by the door.

The doctor leaned close and lowered his voice. “Jim, do you know him?”

Kirk glanced toward the Vulcan in question. “Indisputably,” he said with a slow smile.

Bones lowered his voice further, though Kirk was sure the elder Spock could hear every word. “Is he always like that?” the doctor asked, glancing toward the door and looking concerned. “I think he might be smiling.”

“You know...I think he is,” Kirk replied, choking down a laugh and giving the doctor's arm a pat. “I wouldn't worry about it.”

End Notes:

Author's note: T'Keid won the easter egg challenge, so blame her that you now have to read my version of 'The Cage', only since it's Kirk, there will probably be more flirting. And yelling. And shirt-tearing. So, better all-around, really...

Also, for those who'd like a dvd extra, here's a picture of what Scotty saw just after Kirk and Spock beamed up in Chapter 3:

http://i616.photobucket.com/albums/tt242/davincis_girl/star trek/Spocksreturn.jpg

 

Chapter 6 by JackHawksmoor
Author's Notes:

-special thanks to Peachly, my super-awesome beta



Kirk woke up in a jail cell with the casual annoyance of someone who'd spent a good portion of his life breaking into and out of jail cells just like it. He lifted his head and his lips curled in a tight, tense smile of recognition.

Welcome home again, now how the hell am I getting out of here?

He was lying on a cot, and the place was clean, which presented at least a possibility that he was in a civilized jail, and not somewhere he had to worry about his impending beheading. Hell, he even had a blanket. He lifted it off himself, bemused. Very civilized; wouldn't want him to get chilly. Of course, civilized jails were a lot harder to get out of. It was a trade off.

He had a headache, and his first brief thought was that he'd gotten trashed and had been put up for drunk and disorderly. It was a knee-jerk reaction, though, and he pushed the thought aside, finding it slightly disquieting when the thought resisted.

Kirk pictured clearly the inside of the cells in the closest jail to his mother's house, and the despair the image brought was like an icy wind on his face-

Kirk blinked, shaking his head a little, fighting off a sudden faint twinge of nausea as his headache spiked. He hadn't been that drunk since before he'd been given the Enterprise. Besides, they hadn't been on shore leave, they were on assignment.

Talos IV. They were seeing to survivors from a ship that had crashed almost twenty years ago. One of them, the girl...the cute blonde girl had set him up, led him away to an ambush...and whatever this was.

Kirk should have known better, should have been more suspicious. He could tell, when they left Beta Antares IV, just from the look on the elder Spock's face that something was up. Spock had known something about the Talosian system, had known it wouldn't be just a routine assignment. Kirk should have pushed the elder Spock harder about it...

Kirk stood up, looking around with interest. The walls were gray stone, gone ragged at the edges as if the room had been cut into solid rock. A hallway outside, but no forcefield.

He stepped up to the barrier, steeled himself in case it was rigged to zap him, and tapped on it.

Nothing. A muffled sound. Transparent Aluminum? He pushed on it. It had a very slight give to it.

He looked out into the hall, could see quite a few other cells, most of them occupied. Though it looked like there was an unusually large variety of different species here...the Talosian system was supposed to be a far-off backwater, it was sort of strange. Maybe this was less a jail, and more a zoo. That would be nice. Zoos had a lot less security than jails.

The elder Spock had known this would happen; Kirk had seen it on his face.

Don't think about me.

It was the message the elder Spock had sent, the one clue he'd given as to what was going on.

Kirk sighed. At the very least, he trusted the older Spock not to get him killed. Whatever was going on, it was probably essential to the timestream. Or something.

There was a lift of some kind off to one side of the corridor, and down the hall it looked like it branched out, taking a corner Kirk couldn't see. He wasn't entirely surprised when someone turned that corner and started to approach- even with rudimentary technology, most jails had surveillance of some kind. It was humanoid, large head for the body frame, wearing some kind of metallic cloth in a long robe. This culture might have modesty rules, or maybe it came from a colder climate region.

The lift doors opened, and four more of the beings exited, all wearing identical silvery robes. A uniform, then, probably. His jailers. One of them had some kind of necklace on, the only distinguishing item that any of them were wearing. That one stepped forward, another staying close beside him.

Kirk took half a step back from the glass and smiled charmingly at the necklace wearing guy. Or girl, possibly.

“My name is Captain James T. Kirk, of the Starship Enterprise. We are on a peaceful mission. We came to your planet because we received what we believed to be a distress signal from one of our ships.” Kirk's eyes flicked back to include the silent, impassively observing crowd of silver-robed aliens watching him. “Can I assume that was arranged by you?”

Interesting. This specimen is marginally more intelligent than expected, given how easily his ship was lured here with a false message.

Kirk blinked. The sentient hadn't moved his mouth, but his voice had echoed clearly in Kirk's head, even though it was pretty obvious necklace guy was talking to his companion. It was not the first time Kirk had experienced telepathy. Betazoids were something else...He was surprised by how difficult it was to push the memory aside once he'd thought of it. As if it was suddenly sticky and hard to manage. Kirk's headache throbbed in a disturbing way, pulsing rapidly, out of time with his heartbeat or anything else. As if something was...

It is irrelevant. See how he is only now beginning to suspect our ability to influence his perceptions? Our powers of illusion are beyond his understanding.

“Then try explaining it to me,” Kirk butted in, firmly squashing any further thoughts, since these people would be able to hear them anyway. Betazoid protocol, keep your mind on the basics. They both looked at him for a second as if they were actually seeing him. “Listen, if there's something you want, tell me.” Kirk spread his hands, smiling in a boyish way that he'd found to be attractive to a wide cross-section of races. “Maybe I can help you.”

The two closest to the glass, necklace guy and his friend, looked at him as if he'd just done a trick.

Kirk tried again. “I am the representative of a Federation of planets, an organization that helps each other, and protects each other, sharing ideas and knowledge. You brought us here deliberately. There's something that you or your people need-”

A highly adaptable creature. I believe he will be quite suitable.

“Look,” Kirk began, growing annoyed. His crew wasn't going to passively look around for him forever. Spock was in command; he'd make trouble for these people.

See now, he will attempt to threaten us with the power of his ship.

Kirk shut his mouth, narrowing his eyes. “All right, I get it.” Kirk folded his arms and leaned casually against the barrier. “Why is it that so-called superior races are always so deliberately insulting? Do you guys have a club?”

Both aliens looked startled. They glanced at each other.

We are not-

Kirk temper ignited and he pounded the glass with his fist, one sharp rap against the barrier. Necklace guy jumped a little, startled. “Then at least tell me why you've put me in here!”

It was interesting, that he jumped. Kirk shouldn't have been able to surprise him.

They were silent, save for a strange kind of...rustling sensation in the back of Kirk's mind, an unpleasant ache behind his eyes. They were picking through his head. After a moment, they all turned and filed back towards the lift.

Dammit, Kirk thought. How the hell was he supposed to understand any of this if these creatures wouldn't do anything but talk over him?

Necklace guy paused at the lift door and looked back at him. He regarded Kirk carefully for a moment.

You are here to save us, James T. Kirk.

Kirk narrowed his eyes against his first reaction to that, knowing these things were already in his head, and had to know just what to say to him. The lift door shut behind them, leaving Kirk alone.

Kirk sighed. The next time he saw the older Spock, he was going to deck him. Spock had known about this, and said nothing. Kirk had hoped the older Spock's refusal to help meant that whatever-it-was wasn't going to be too bad. Now, sitting in a cell, he started wondering if Spock had failed to take into account a differing timeline, and how that might affect how badly he was fucked right now.

The last time Kirk had seen the elder Spock he was actually hunting for his Spock, and found the two of them together. Kirk thought briefly of this, wanting to go over the older Spock's reaction again, and was mildly surprised to find himself unable to detach from the thought. It was a momentary feeling, though, a minor struggle on the surface before he was pulled under so fast he didn't even realize he was drowning.

They were overdue to leave Beta Antares IV, and Scotty had been having a little bit of trouble rounding everyone up. Spock was one of the missing people in an area of interference that kept his communicator from functioning. Kirk had gone looking for him the old-fashioned way. He asked around.

Kirk found him, eventually, on one of the upper levels. He was kind of surprised that Spock, the militantly punctual individual that he was, would ever lose track of time. Then Kirk saw who he was with, and understood.

Kirk paused as they came into view, startled by his own reaction. They were standing almost in mirror of each other, heads bowed slightly, talking earnestly about something. Both showing that bright spark of avid interest that occasionally lit Spock's face up when he was faced with something particularly challenging or unexpected. At the sight, a quiet voice from inside spoke up warmly without Kirk's permission.

Ah, my two favorite people.

Kirk gritted his teeth and took a deep breath. The two of them together...he didn't stand a chance. Then the older Spock looked up and saw him, his expression brightening. The younger Spock looked up a second later, saw the two of them looking at each other, and pressed his lips together in a thin line, his eyebrows drawing down pensively.

Kirk straightened, firmly squashing a chicken-shit impulse to turn tail and run like hell. Starship captains were made of sterner stuff. Instead he walked up to them, ignoring the knowing and somewhat sympathetic expression on the older Spock's face, and addressed himself to the object of his search.

“Spock,” he said to his Spock. Then he paused and turned, a flicker of amusement at the situation causing one corner of his lips to turn up. “Spock,” he said to the older Spock, his greeting exactly the same in tone and inflection. The older Spock's eyebrows went up, and Kirk gave up and let a smile break through.

“If you'll excuse me, sir, ” his Spock said tersely, and Kirk glanced over at him, surprised. His Spock looked tense and pretty desperately unhappy for somebody who wasn't generally expressive at all. He moved to leave, and Kirk blinked, putting the pieces together.

“I could, but then I'd just have to find you again,” Kirk replied.

Spock frowned slightly, his eyes flicking over toward his counterpart. Kirk very deliberately did not look at the older Spock.

“I thought-” Spock said softly without thinking, and stopped himself when he heard the emotion in his own voice.

Kirk could tell without looking directly at him that the older Spock was very carefully examining the floor.

“It's eleven hundred hours, Spock,” Kirk prompted him gently. “You're late.”

Spock opened his mouth, but didn't speak for a second. “I see,” he said then, his face going entirely expressionless in a way that just seemed to scream embarrassment. His first officer straightened. “My apologies, sir.”

“I'm sure I can manage to overlook it,” Kirk said mildly.

“You are disembarking?” the elder Spock asked.

Kirk gave him a smile. “We'll be out of your way momentarily.”

“If I may see you off?” he asked, slipping his hands behind his back.

Of course-

Kirk stopped the thought from exiting his mouth, an idea presenting itself. He turned and regarded his first officer for a moment.

“Spock?” Kirk prompted him, an open expression on his face that said quite clearly he was making it Spock's decision, not Kirk's.

Spock picked up immediately on the implications of that. Kirk watched the tension drain out of his Spock like someone had let the plug out of the bathtub. His Spock flicked his eyes over toward the elder Spock. Kirk didn't look, but he imagined, from his Spock's reaction, that the elder Spock was giving him a Vulcan version of an I-told-you-so expression.

“I...have no objection,” his Spock replied, sounding relieved and gratified.

They had found the spot on level one that seemed to be, for whatever reason, the clearest and least dangerous area for the transporter to get at, and said their goodbyes ahead of time. There usually wasn't much time for them once the techs got a transporter lock- the area was too finicky for the techs on the Enterprise to wait. Spock wished himself luck, which delighted Kirk, and gave Kirk the more traditional Vulcan farewell, to which Kirk responded awkwardly and probably inappropriately, which seemed to delight the elder Spock. Good feelings all around.

Then they started the ridiculous process of trying to find the exact but shifting location that would actually allow their communicators to punch through the interference and contact the ship. It involved standing at various points, and shifting in increments until the sweet spot of the hour was found. Scotty had to stand on a chair the first time they'd tried it- but after the unfortunate (horrifying) events involving the partial transportation of the Vulcan survivors, nobody wanted to take any unnecessary risks.

Kirk usually gave it five minutes before losing his patience and flipping the emergency signal on his pattern booster. It did have the unfortunate tendency to scare the crap out of whoever was stationed in the transporter room at the time, though.

“It might be beneficial to mark the floor,” the elder Spock commented, after watching them fail at it for a few minutes.

“Tried that, but the sweet spot keeps moving around,” Kirk said, frustrated. “Though it's something you might want to address in the future, if something goes wrong again.”

“The odds of that are-”

“Probably a lot better than they would be if a certain Vulcan I know wasn't involved,” Kirk cut in, glaring down at his uncooperative communicator.

Spock, his Spock, gave him an affronted expression.

“I believe, Captain, the same could be said of you,” the elder Spock replied mildly. “I do hope that your next mission is,” he paused, “Uneventful.”

Kirk smiled gamely. “Now, what's the fun in that?”

“Captain,” Spock called, the tone of his voice communicating clearly that he had a signal and Kirk needed to get his ass over there. Kirk obliged, standing very close, but not quite stepping on his Spock, and signaling the ship.

“Don't worry, Spock. We pulled survey duty. The Talosian system, nothing special,” He said with a grin, having to raise his voice a little over the chime of the transporter.

The older Spock reacted instantly, as if Kirk had poked him with a stick instead of simply named a system.

The smile fell off Kirk's face.

He might as well have said 'Yes, I thought I might book a trip on the Titanic, maiden voyage, largest ship in the world; should be a great vacation.'

For the briefest second, the prevailing emotion on the elder Spock's face was panic.

The instant, the instant Kirk felt himself solid on the pad, he snapped his head around to look at his Spock.

“Did you see-?” he asked.

“I believe we should attempt to contact him, for further information,” Spock said crisply, his face grim.

Kirk stepped over to the transporter console, giving the tech on duty a nod, and leaning over his station to call the bridge.

“Aye, Captain,” Scotty acknowledged, “we're warping out of the system as we speak.”

Kirk frowned, exchanging a tense glance with Spock. “We're leaving the system?”

“Just left, sir.” Scotty paused, eying Kirk's image. “You did say we were to leave immediately, once all were aboard, sir, seein' as we were running behind. You and Mr. Spock were the last ones up.”

Kirk started nodding before Scotty was through talking.

“Yeah, that's all right, Scotty. Just get me communications, will you?” Kirk glanced over at the chronometer, “Is it...Evens, now?”

“Evens, sir, aye,” chimed in a female voice. Blond, from sciences, occasionally moonlighted on communications because she was working on her doctoral dissertation with Uhura. They were more than likely going to publish a paper together, if Spock's opinion was anything to go by.

“I need to get a hold of someone back on Beta Antares IV, and I'm pretty sure it isn't going to be easy,” Kirk said, his voice crisp.

Kirk called repeatedly without response. Two hours later, he sat in his command chair, looking at the elder Spock's written response to his urgent inquiries.

No, Jim. And then, almost as an afterthought, Don't think of me.

That was all. Kirk had stared at the note in annoyance and uneasiness, until his Spock had come over to check on him.

His Spock read the message, looking confused. Their eyes met as Spock handed the pad back, and Kirk gave him a 'beats me' expression.

“Perhaps our mutual friend believes his continuing influence to be inadvisable,” Spock said quietly.

It hurt Kirk a little to think about the older Spock trying to pull away from him. It was...logical, he supposed. If the older Spock's goal was to see him grow into that other Kirk, to become some kind of legendary guy, he'd need to get there on his own. Earn it, or it wouldn't be real. It would just be Spock, whispering the answers in his ear as he went along. Still hurt, though.

Didn't take him long to get under my skin, did it?

Kirk bit back a twinge of annoyance, shoved the feelings aside hard. His Spock was right there, standing next to him, and saw too much as usual. He looked a bit disheartened, as if Kirk had just whispered to him everything he was thinking.

Everything he was...

Kirk looked around with a shiver, at the bridge, at the officers at their stations. He wasn't supposed to be on the Enterprise. He'd beamed down, he was-

Kirk hissed in a sharp breath and stumbled back against his cot. The edge of it hit him behind the knees and he sat down hard, shaken, the headache behind his eyes pounding away like it was trying to free itself from his head.

Powers of illusion.

Oh, Christ. They were getting to his memories. They could see whatever he thought of, not just individual thoughts but whole events, and use anything they saw...arguments, friendships, security codes, the existence of time travel...

Don't think of me.

Kirk went cold. It was exactly what he'd done. The elder Spock had known-

“I am an idiot,” Kirk groaned to the empty room.

He thought -no, don't think about- or that, either. Self control was going to be the word of the day, and he was-

-Standing next to a deep channel cut into the floor, water pouring through a damming mechanism set into the wall. The floor rumbled faintly under his feet.

The Vulcan Colony. Again. Well, self-control had never been his strong point.

Kirk snapped his head around, half hoping to see his cell somehow, if he moved quick enough. There was nothing, there was no one. Bodies on the floor, but no Spock.

That was weird. Why would they edit his memories? Why take out Spock, if they wanted him to believe this was real?

“Please!” came a feminine voice from behind him, sounding desperate.

Kirk turned and looked, honestly shocked to see a girl who didn't belong there come running out into his memories. She was blond, and dressed in a Vulcan style. He'd seen a few non-Vulcan civilians working at the cultural center, but nobody at the plant, and certainly not-

Blond. The blond girl, the hot one he'd seen on Talos.

“You!” he exclaimed, as she ran up to him. His voice gained a bite of accusation. “You set me up!”

She waved her hands as if to shove the words aside. “We don't have time for all that, we've only got seven minutes!”

Kirk blinked at her, gave her a doubtful look. “I know,” he said. She started tugging on his arm, trying to pull him back the way she'd come, towards the turbolift.

“Come on!” she said, almost crying in panic now. There was more rumbling, and the ceiling dropped some dust on their heads. The blond flinched. Vera? Vina. If that was really her name.

Kirk reached out and grabbed her.

“It's not real,” he said, as if speaking to a child. “It's not real, it doesn't matter.”

“It's real enough,” Vina said, gripping his arms tightly. “We'll feel it, we'll feel every second of it,” Vina broke down for a second. “I can't-not again-drowning is so much worse than you think-” Vina stopped, fighting with her own voice. “Please, please not again.”

Kirk realized suddenly, with a trickle of horror, that you could die many times in many different ways in an illusion, and wake up every time to die again.

“Can you climb?” he asked, grabbing her hand.

Chapter 7 by JackHawksmoor

“I can try,” she said, her voice uneven as Kirk yanked her along after him.

'Try' was probably not going to be good enough, but for the moment Kirk pushed the thought aside, a little uneasy knowing every stray idea in his head was probably being both observed and analyzed by a planetful of telepaths.

He was going to have to do things on the fly. React as he went along. Planning was pretty much useless, and for just a second, he smiled to himself. Seat-of-your-pants tactics had never been a problem for Kirk, but outwitting someone who knew what he was thinking was another order of difficulty entirely. The challenge was going to be...interesting.

They got to the turbolift, which was jammed open as it had been before, the door still warped by someone the Talosians had ripped out of this memory intentionally.

Kirk thought, just briefly, of the stark pain on Spock's face the last time he'd stood in this spot, just before they were both beamed up. He thought of Spock's desperate, obvious devotion, and then got angry at himself for giving that memory to the Talosians to see.

Kirk looked back at the girl who they'd given him to replace Spock. Whatever she saw on his face made her drop his hand and take a step back.

“Come on,” Kirk said, all business, and stepped into the lift without her. He popped the emergency hatch, needing to stretch and go up on his toes to do it. Kirk turned to Vina, who was still hovering uncertainly in the doorway, and gestured impatiently for her to come closer.

“I'll boost you up,” he said. She bit her lip and did as he said without comment. She was light-it wasn't a problem. Her hands gripped his shoulders tightly for a moment, and then she was scrambling up, the material of her dress clinging and giving him a pleasant view of her ass, even if the skirt was too long to let him see anything more. Vulcans and their sensible clothes...

Kirk crouched, swung his arms and jumped up, catching the lip and muscling himself up through the opening. Once his head and shoulders had cleared Vina tried to help him but he shook his head, changing his grip and shoving himself up until he could comfortably sit on the edge.

It was a bit of a tough-guy move, and Kirk knew he'd looked strong as hell doing it. He also knew Vina had watched him rather appreciatively, and gave her an easy, confident smile. It would take less time to find out what he needed to know, if she liked him.

She brightened a little.

“It's not too far,” she said hopefully, looking from him up to the doors cut into the shaft about ten feet above them. She walked over to the wall and Kirk watched her, not moving from his spot. She touched the rock, looking hesitant.

“I don't think I can climb this.” She looked up at the doors marking the next level. “Could you climb up and lower something I can grab onto?” She glanced over at him. “You're strong, you could pull me up.”

Kirk tilted his head. Not a bad plan. “Yeah, I could do that,” he said, as though debating what he might have for lunch.

She narrowed her eyes a little. “I don't understand.”

“I just think we should talk,” Kirk said easily. “So I'm fine to wait here until you're ready to.”

Vina stared at him with her mouth open for a second. “You-you're crazy we'll-” she gestured toward the hatch Kirk was straddling, “We'll both drown-”

Kirk eyed her. “I'm willing to bet money we won't.”

“It's the same-” Vina said, raising her voice, panic creeping in at the edges.

“Except we'll both be alive at the end of it,” Kirk interrupted with a firm certainty he wasn't entirely sure he actually had. “Listen, if you want me to get you up this shaft before we drown, then have a seat, and talk to me.”

Vina gave him a look that told him quite clearly just how breakable she was. This was somebody whose sanity wasn't as solid as it ought to be. She sat down, though.

Kirk smiled at her. Gently, with this one. “Tell me about our friends, Vina.” He gave her a questioning look. “Vina, right?”

Vina was looking at him as if he was the crazy one. “Yes,” she said.

Kirk waited expectantly. Vina gave him a pleading look.

“I can't. They can punish me, don't you understand?” she asked.

Kirk tilted his head. “What, by trapping you in a hole until you drown?” he asked dryly. Vina blinked at him, looking appalled.

There was a deep grinding sound, a vibration that Kirk felt in the metal under his hands. Below him, the roar of the water increased by a hell of a lot.

“Ah,” Kirk said. “There goes our seven minutes.” He gave her a significant look.

Vina looked like she was really likely to burst into tears.

“Our friends know what's going on. They're listening right now, so if they really had a problem with us talking they'd stop us. Right?” Kirk reminded her.

“I suppose they would,” Vina said softly, glancing nervously through the hatch at the floor of the turbolift below them. Checking for water? He turned his body toward her, leaning forward a little.

“So...why are we here?”Kirk asked. He figured they had at least a few minutes before they had to worry about getting wet.

Vina looked, for a second, like she very much wished he's started with a different question.“They need us,” she said, and stopped. She glanced up at his face as if checking for something. God, she was a skittish little thing.

“Their race is dying. Their mental abilities were supposed to be their salvation, they developed them to help survive underground, but it was like a trap.” she gestured, nervously, with her hands. “They just sit there, you see, just...just living in memory, other people's memories that have been left behind in the thought records. They don't really live themselves. They don't even remember how their machines work anymore, they just know which buttons to press.”

Kirk thought, just in passing, that she talked like someone older than she looked. Of course, she could be older-he wouldn't know, not in this place. Maybe she was just over-educated by older people. It also seemed like she knew these people a lot better than a simple prisoner ought to. Kirk took everything he knew, and everything he guessed at, and formed a picture out of the puzzle pieces.

“Huh. So what, they want us for...” Kirk shook his head, “Breeding stock?”

Vina looked startled.

“Yes. That...doesn't bother you?”

“I've been to some weird places. Besides, I had a sneaking suspicion.” Kirk smiled a little, then added almost to himself, “They replaced Spock with you.”

“What does that mean?” she asked, with a pretty little frown.

“That they wanted me to like you,” Kirk replied, because there wasn't much of a reason not to say it out loud, once he'd thought it. He stood up, brushed off his ass, and offered her a hand. He didn't really want her to look down and see the water now covering the floor of the turbolift. She seemed like the type for hysterics.

Vina looked like she had expected the grilling to go on a lot longer. She took his hand, though, and when he pulled her up she covered his hand with her free one, keeping him from pulling away.

“Do you?” she asked, looking at him hopefully.

Kirk paused, surprised. He remembered, abruptly, just how long she'd been here without any real human company.

“Sure,” he said, earning himself a brilliant smile, which made him feel a little better about putting her on the spot.

Kirk turned from her, meaning to get a lay of the climb ahead of him, but the shaft melted away, leaving him standing in his cell again.

Huh. Mission accomplished, apparently.

He was alone in the cell, which he hadn't expected. Maybe they were trying to keep up his interest in the girl? They'd want him to think about her, maybe worry about her.

Necklace guy was standing on the other side of the barrier, watching him in a deeply creepy way. Kirk's headache had faded out in the dream, but it was back now, and it was rapidly reaching alarming levels.

“You're not very good at making friends, are you?” Kirk said casually, rubbing at his temple with a wince. “Maybe it doesn't come up too much, with the knowing-what-everybody's-thinking thing.”

Necklace guy said nothing, but looked over toward the wall. Kirk turned his head, and saw that on the floor there was a stupid-looking cup with liquid in it.

Kirk stared at it for a second.

“No, I don't think so,” he said. He turned to look at necklace guy. “Not thirsty, thanks.” He wasn't about to start getting comfortable here. Not to mention Bones would lose his mind if Kirk tried to consume some strange crap on some strange planet without scanning it first to see if it would kill him.

It is nourishment. It will not harm you.

“Oh,so now you want to talk,” Kirk observed. He leaned forward, towards the glass. “No thank you.”

You will expire if you refuse nourishment.

“I'm not planning on being here that long,” Kirk said, because there was no point in not saying it when his brain was already screaming it. “I'm going to convince you to let me go.” He smiled, charmingly.

That is unlikely.

Necklace-guy didn't look impressed. But he had responded, which was an improvement. It was almost, like, a conversation and everything.

“It's not, it's logical,” Kirk replied, a faint smile tugging at his lips as he used the borrowed word. “Hey, if you want me to have sex with that girl, I can do that. No problem. But it's a stupid idea.” Kirk leaned against the barrier, folding his arms and continuing to talk as if necklace-guy was already a friend, and not somebody who still needed convincing.

It is doubtful with your limited intelligence that you could offer any other assistance to us.

Still talking, good.

“Insulting,” Kirk said, as if calling him out for castling when it wasn't allowed. “I haven't said anything at all about the head, have I? Or the shiny dress. You should be more polite.”

A cold silence. Then,

Perhaps.

Kirk smothered a smile and got to work. “You people need help, your whole species is in trouble. I'm a starship captain, I can do a hell of a lot more for all of you than just sleeping with some girl. You're telepaths, you know I'm not lying.” Kirk stepped back from the barrier and spread his arms in an open gesture. “Look in my head, if you don't believe me. The Federation can help your people, and you don't have to kidnap me to get them to do it!”

Necklace guy stared at him, then tilted his head a little, his eyes straying for a moment.

Kirk could feel a hundred somethings picking at his thoughts, running fingers through them until Kirk was shivering and narrow-eyed, fighting hard against the urge to throw up all over the barrier. His head felt like it was about to split wide open.

Necklace guy's body language shifted a little, his eyes darting over toward Kirk. Done looking, apparently.

“Tell me I'm lying,” Kirk dared him, briefly pressing a hand to his head. The pressure helped, a little.

Necklace guy didn't look very happy, and Kirk wasn't sure how to take that.

You will consume the liquid, or you will face punishment.

He moved his lips that time, even though the voice came from his mind and not his vocal cords. Kirk's hopes wilted a little.

'Superior' races, he decided, were the worst. Too proud to ask for help. Too arrogant to think of anybody else as a person but themselves.

“I'm not going to,” Kirk said firmly, and dropped into the water.

He flailed, for a moment, before he realized that he was totally immersed. He couldn't see...he looked around but there wasn't enough light, and it was cold-

He had no idea where he was, how deep he was. He had no idea which way was up.

Oh, those bastards...

Kirk looked, because he had to. Because there was always hope. But when his lungs started to burn and he had to stop swimming because it took all his concentration not to give in and gasp for air-

It wasn't real. It wasn't real-

His body finally mutinied, and the water was ice cold against his tongue going in- and he howled, the sound muffled and terrible as he thrashed, desperate, desperate-

This is death-

Vina was right. Drowning was much worse than he'd thought it would be.

He fell onto the floor of his cell, went right down on his knees, gasping for air, stunned and shaking.

You will consume the liquid.

Kirk didn't quite grasp the meaning of what was said immediately. He heard the words but he was too consumed by the idea that he wasn't actually dead. It had felt like dying-

Kirk looked up, saw the necklace guy, who actually didn't look all that pleased with himself, and Kirk's brain finally presented him with the meaning of the words he'd just heard.

“So I give in or I get the stick again, is that right?” Kirk finally managed, coughing a little, even though his throat was dry and he didn't need to. A psychological cough.

Yes.

Kirk started to smile. His mouth curled up into what he'd been told was a horrible, dangerous expression that wasn't funny, not at all. He snickered, then started to laugh. It hurt his head to do it, but he did it anyway.

“Better men than you have tried that, buddy,” he said hoarsely, flashing teeth.

Better men than these idiots had devoted serious time to breaking him, had made a study out of the task, and hadn't fucking managed it. Tougher men. Scarier men. He felt the Talosians tug at the thought, digging around for the memories, trying to pull him under.

There are worse things, in the dark corners of your mind, that can be used against you if necessary.

“I'll just bet,” Kirk snarled cheerfully. “Oh, sweetheart, I'll just bet you there are.” He shoved himself up to his feet. “But I'm thinking you'll be coming with me, won't you.”

Necklace guy looked a bit uncomfortable.

“You all like to poke around inside other peoples memories. Well, I've got a lot to poke around in,” Kirk began, his eyes shining unpleasantly. “I've seen some shit you wouldn't believe. Ancient civilizations, oceans of mercury, trees that can speak to each other-” he smiled widely, “can you imagine? They sing at night- it's amazing. There's a moon near Rigel that had an ocean freeze solid during the middle of a naval battle a few hundred years ago- the temperature dropped and it just froze up right around the ships. They're still there-you can walk out on the ice and see them, some of the cannons still unfired.”

Necklace guy's eyes were wide. He almost licked his lips. Kirk was waving the carrot in front of his nose, and Necklace guy knew it. Kirk could feel the rest of them back there in his thoughts, rustling through them, hungry for those places, those experiences. Like fucking addicts.

“But no,” Kirk said pitilessly, “You want to go visit hell with me. And you'll feel it too, won't you.” he glanced up. “All of you.”

Necklace guy twitched a little.

To a degree.

“Then come on, lets go,” Kirk said roughly. “But I can call you stupid again, and it's not rude, it's just truth. Because I lived through it once already,” he accentuated the words with relish, “and nothing you could show me could be worse than it was when I had to live through it and know it was real.”

You will-

“Not. Eating,” Kirk said, smiling insolently. He thought of Bones, briefly, as he braced himself, thinking he was paying the man back with interest for any time he'd ever been careless and almost fucking died from stray peanuts or olives or gluten or strawberries or-

He was standing in a forest. Moss under his feet, branches swaying overhead. The wind was sweet and sharp. The moons were glowing brightly in the night sky, and the trees were singing to each other. Kirk's headache was gone. In fact, he felt great.

“What is this place?” Vina asked him, her voice hushed.

Kirk wasn't all that surprised to see her.

He looked up, through the tree branches. The sky in this section of space was really something to see. Two moons, one of them glowing a dusky purple, and the Skyhorse Nebula, bright blue and seeming to rear up over the horizon, chasing two stars. It was huge, filling up almost a quarter of the night sky, the swirling variations of gas outlining a celestial mount and its rider. Locals called it 'the great hunt'.

Undisturbed by their presence, the trees around them continued their song. It sounded like nothing on earth. The closest thing he could compare it to would be standing in the entryway of a theater with a stringed orchestra playing inside. Far off and intricate and unconcerned with the realm of everyday things.

“I think,” Kirk said slowly, “it's an apology.”

Vina eyed him for a second, looking confused, before the scenery distracted her.

“They're singing,” Vina said softly, craning her neck. “It's so beautiful...”

“Yeah,” Kirk sighed. “It was.” They'd been stuck planetside without the Enterprise for two days. Bones had fixed up a little girl's arm, and Spock had gotten on his case about it. Prime Directive and all that. Kirk had dragged Spock out of the tent in the middle of the night, supposedly to get recordings of the tree-songs, but actually just to get the two of them to stop bickering at each other. Kirk had walked right through this area with Spock.

He shook his head a little, wondering if he was ever going to understand these Talosians. Maybe they hadn't known that when he said he wouldn't drink their crap, it was also because he shouldn't drink their crap. Maybe they didn't bother to look any deeper into his thoughts, to see that they just might be killing him. That was worth noting.

Vina stepped over toward a nearby tree. There were several branches hanging down just in reach. She lifted her hand.

Kirk came up behind her quick, catching her arm by the wrist. “Careful,” he warned. “You'll scare them.”

Vina gave him a wide-eyed look of apology, pulling her hand back.

“Sorry,” she said with a quick, nervous smile.

Kirk patted her arm and stepped back. He eyed the area thoughtfully for a long moment before sitting down. The silvery moss was soft and cool and felt nice between his fingers when he leaned back on his hands. It covered almost everything under the trees. Spock had spent more than an hour going over it with his tricorder, picking out little samples. Kirk had sat almost exactly where he was sitting now, watching him, listening to him get excited over what he found. Apparently the moss wasn't just one type of organism, but many, existing symbiotically. There were a ton of possible medical applications for it, and when they'd finally gone back inside the tent, Spock had offered his readings up to the doctor like a peace offering.

Kirk could see signs of people off to the left. There were little spots of firelight glowing through the greenery. The village they'd stayed in should be there, unless the Talosians had messed with his memory.

Vina looked in that direction, longingly. The wind blew her hair. It was platinum in the moonlight.

“Lets go look at that,” she said, looking happy for the first time since he'd met her. Kirk sort of hated to break the mood.

“Go on, if you want. You'll like it,” Kirk encouraged her.

Vina looked down at him with a frown. “You're not-?”

“It's not real, Vina,” Kirk said firmly. “It doesn't matter.”

Vina gave him a look that told him that she had a pretty good idea where he was going with this, she just didn't want to believe it.

“It is real,” she insisted. “It feels real, that's what matters. Come with me! We can live together here, if we want. We can live anywhere, anywhere you can imagine. The best dream you've ever had can come true here.”

Kirk thought, suddenly, of the delighted look on Bones' face when Spock had handed him his tricorder, and all the samples he'd spent so much time getting. Of the quiet look they'd exchanged, neither one apologizing out loud, and not really needing to.

Kirk sighed.

“Vina, the best dream I've ever had was the one the Talosians took me from,” he said. “I want to go home, to the Enterprise. I can't make a difference down here-”

“You can make a difference to me!” Vina pleaded, looking alarmed.

“At the cost of what?” Kirk demanded sharply. “How many of my people are the Talosians going to take? All of them? The Federation can't afford to lose another starship, especially not the Enterprise, not now. We've got a responsibility to protect lives, and I can't just-”

“It's not your job to save everyone-”

“It is my job!” Kirk snapped at her, pushing himself to his feet. “It's the only job I've ever actually given a shit about, and it's the only thing I can't do here.” He was shouting, and she was looking like she was about to cry again. He took a deep breath and lowered his voice.

“So, if you want to, go on and enjoy what I remember of this place. But I saw it when it was real, when seeing it actually meant something,” he said sharply, shaking his head, “and I'm not going to ruin that by dicking around in an echo of it.”

Vina's face snapped shut like a door closing, like he'd just extinguished any hope she had left in the universe.

A second later, the memory faded away, leaving them both standing in the cell again. He guessed their friends didn't like the way the conversation had gone any more than Vina.

Necklace guy was standing there watching them, of course. He looked more unhappy than Vina.

“Hey there,” a smile flickered over Kirk's lips, “sweetheart.” Kirk tilted his head. “Having a bad day?”

Necklace guy (or Sweetheart, as the case may be) didn't blink at the nickname. He looked miserable and vaguely guilty, and stayed that way.

Your offer to help us was sincere.

Kirk lifted his chin and looked down at him. “Yes,” he said, deadly serious. They could bring in people, geneticists, scientists, if the Talosians no longer knew how their machines worked then the Federation could send people to help figure it out. “The Vulcans are...” were, “...are,” Kirk repeated, shoving the thought aside, “some of the best geneticists this side of the galaxy.”

Sweetheart eyed him morosely.

And despite the recent destruction of one of your hearth worlds-

Kirk gritted his teeth, hating telepathy for a moment.

-You would still send my people what help you have left to spare?

Cooperative advantage. A brand new, highly advanced technology.

“Absolutely,” Kirk said. Starfleet would foam at the mouth for the chance.

Sweetheart looked up, expectantly. Kirk got the definite impression that he was talking to someone not in the room. The whispering at the back of Kirk's mind grew in intensity, and Kirk's headache split wide open. He put a hand out on the barrier and retched.

Vina made a helpless sound and stepped close, putting her hand on his arm.

“Haven't you eaten anything?” she asked anxiously.

Wordlessly, Kirk shook his head, not sure what the hell she was talking about. Vina stepped away, quickly came back. She shoved the stupid-looking glass of liquid in his face. He noticed, blearily, that it was a different color than it had been. Green now, instead of blue. The gluten-free version, maybe? Kirk shoved it away, and Vina gave him an exasperated look.

“Don't be like that. It helps. It helps with the-” she touched her temple, “-the pressure, the whispering.” She offered it again, hopefully. “Please? You could damage yourself terribly if you don't.”

It was weird, Kirk decided, hearing a hot girl talk like somebody's grandmother. Kirk looked from her, over towards Sweetheart. He was watching the exchange with obvious anticipation. Kirk looked him in the eye, and shook his head, speaking to Vina without looking at her.

“Sorry, Vina. Can't do that.” If they insisted on keeping him here, they were going to have to figure out a way to keep him alive without his help.

Sweetheart stepped forward. He even leaned in a little bit.

I regret this must occur.

Kirk's stomach tightened. Now they were getting to it.

“I? Or we?” he asked. An expression of personal regret, or just general civility?

I.

Interesting, Kirk thought.

He didn't get any more time to consider that, though, because he heard someone start to beam down right behind him. Kirk whirled, and sure enough, two forms were solidifying, not three feet from him. Spock, and...Jesus, was that Evans?

“No!” Vina shouted, suddenly looking furious. “No, it's not fair, you didn't give me enough time!”

Lieutenant Evans, blonde and slim, her complex makeup artfully done, looked totally befuddled.

“Captain,” Spock said, glancing around once and stepping toward him, unflappable as always. “Are you injured?”

“I'm fine,” Kirk said, ignoring the throbbing in his head. “Don't take this the wrong way, Spock, but what are you doing here?”

Spock's eyebrow went up, and he glanced at the bald, silver-dress-wearing alien watching them. “My last memory was of being on the bridge, sir, attempting to ascertain your location.” His eyebrows came together and he blinked, a faint expression of discomfort darting across his face. “Though, given their obvious mental abilities, I could not discount the theory that I only believed I was on the bridge.”

A smile flickered across Kirk's lips. Trust Spock to be ten steps ahead of where he reasonably ought to be. Kirk looked at Evans expectantly.

She spread her hands. “I was in my quarters, Captain.” She looked doubtfully over at Vina, who was livid, and then over at Sweetheart, who was looking rather resigned. “What's...going on?”

“That is an excellent question,” Kirk said conversationally, turning toward Sweetheart.

“You don't need them, you don't need...her,” Vina snapped, shooting Evans a venomous glare. Kirk was pretty sure Vina was speaking to Sweetheart, and due to that, he had a sneaking, unpleasant suspicion as to what Evans was supposed to be there for, at least.

If you do not find the current female to your liking, you may find this one more pleasing for breeding purposes. She finds you very acceptable in this regard.

Evans' eyes widened, and her face went scarlet. Both of Spock's eyebrows shot up high. He looked vaguely scandalized.

Kirk gave Evans an apologetic look. She shut her eyes like she wanted to melt into the floor.

Kirk almost hated to ask, but...

“And Mr. Spock?” he ventured, looking over his way. He was surprised to find Spock frowning at the wall, discomforted, almost like a man with a toothache. As Kirk watched with rising alarm, he winced and touched his temple.

“Spock?” Kirk asked, stepping towards him. He touched Spock's arm.

This one is here to insure your obedience.

Kirk tensed, turned to stare at Sweetheart with something icy grabbing hold of his heart. “What do you mean?” he demanded.

Sweetheart stepped toward the glass, and that guilt was back.

Don't, Kirk thought.

You have great affection for this specimen. His gender and breeding make him undesirable for our purposes, however, he is still useful to us. You have an unusual determination in the face of punishment, James T. Kirk. This presents us with difficulty. This specimen will eliminate that difficulty.

Spock was hunched over a bit, wincing, his hand pressed to his forehead. Kirk stepped forward, moving to gather him close without even thinking about it. Kirk had a good idea of what was coming next. Spock probably did, too. Kirk wasn't the only one familiar with monsters.

They both knew what a monster could do when he wanted something, and someone was standing in his way. Kirk had met his share of them over the years but for some reason, in these situations, he always thought of Kodos' face first. He wondered if Spock thought of Nero.

Sweetheart flinched. When he spoke again he moved his mouth as the words echoed in Kirk's mind.

He will face punishment in your stead.

Whatever pain Spock was dealing with ratcheted up a notch, if his reaction was anything to go by. Spock's control cracked a little, and he let slip a small, choked gasp.

“No,” Kirk ground out.

Spock vanished.

Kirk made a desperate sound, and took a step forward. Spock was gone. He clenched his fists, his temper snapping with a fraying of threads.

They had known how to get to him. They were telepaths, they'd known exactly what would hurt Kirk the most. It was practically written on his face. Who had Vina replaced in the memories they'd replayed? Not just in one memory, but two. Every thought Kirk let slip out had betrayed him.

Don't think of me, the elder Spock had said. Don't think of me.

Chapter 8 by JackHawksmoor

Kirk took one step toward the barrier as an angry but rational individual. By the second step forward he was a flaming core of rage that only looked like a person. The third step he used as momentum to smash his fist against the barrier, right where Sweetheart's face would be, if Kirk could get to him. Sweetheart jumped back, eyes widening. It confirmed one of Kirk's suspicions, but at that moment he didn't much care.

"Leave him alone," Kirk snarled. If there hadn't been a barrier, Kirk would have beaten Sweetheart until he stopped moving.

Sweetheart swallowed visibly.

I regret-

"Don't you dare," Kirk said in a low, deadly voice. "Stand there, and tell me you're just following orders." He pointed aggressively at Sweethearts face. "If you can do something to stop this, then you have to do it."

Kirk noted, vaguely, that someone had come up on his right. He supposed it was Vina, and glanced back...but it was Evans standing there, wide-eyed and looking frightened.

Not of the Talosians. Of her Captain, her superior officer, loosing his shit in a hostile situation.

Kirk took a breath and clamped down ruthlessly on the urge to strangle every last big-headed idiot on this planet. He needed to be calm. In charge. Captain Kirk.

I am not my own man any more than you are, Captain.

"Don't even bother," Kirk said through his teeth. "I know exactly who you are now." He smiled, thinly. "We've met before."

He thought of Kodos' face. Kirk thought of him deliberately. They called him 'The Executioner', now. He'd killed over 4,000 colonists on Tarsus, when the food supply had given out. Kirk remembered the way he'd looked in his high-necked tunic, standing in front of those he'd chosen for death. Grim and noble. He'd given a speech, to the condemned. A speech. Like he was fucking Abe Lincoln or Zefram Cochrane or something.

Kodos had said, in his own grand way, how sorry he was. How this was the only way to save the colonists who were most worthy from starving to death. Better some to survive, than none at all. Better for him to choose the best of the people to live, than to leave it up to chance.

Most worthy. Best.

Kirk remembered, very carefully, very deliberately, the exact color of the eyes of the officer who'd saved his life. Big brown eyes, like good chocolate. The officer had pulled him out of the line, yanking him off the trail and shoving him down into the spreading pile of bodies. Jim never did find out why that soldier had picked him to save, over the others.

Kodos had promised to give every colonist's body a decent burial, in recognition of their noble sacrifice. There were a lot of bodies, thousands, and it took a long time to bury them all. So Jim waited, among the dead. It wasn't safe enough to run.

Kirk could feel the Talosians, right there with him in the back of his head, but they were shoving at his mind differently now. As if they wanted him to get away from this memory. Move onto something else, something more pleasant.

There were other kids in the line, confused and crying, some of their parents already dead. Jim was too old and too smart to be confused. He was shaking so hard the soldier almost had to drag him. His feet just wouldn't work right. Jim skinned a knee as the soldier shoved him down. For a second, he thought the soldier had just pulled him aside to rape him. He had a wild, half-formed idea of playing along until he could get a chance to hit him and run.

"Don't move," the brown-eyed soldier whispered instead, sweating and scared. "Play dead."

Jim couldn't resist lifting his head a little to watch the man run back to the others. Jim had been living alone in the woods for weeks, ever since the soldiers had found where he was camping and killed his friends. It had been a long time since an adult had tried to help him. It had been a long time since an adult hadn't tried to kill him.

He listened to the sounds of people dying for a while, trying to tell himself that there was nothing he could do, that he was just lucky not to be dying with them. Then he covered his ears and pushed his face in the dirt and tried not to make any noise as he cried.

He could never save them. He could never save anyone.

He was laying between an old man and a little girl. The little girl's face was really close to his. Every time he opened his eyes he could see her, looking at him.

She was even younger than him, a redhead, with freckles on her nose. Her lips turned up naturally a little at the corners. He tried not to wonder what had been wrong with her, what had been 'less than optimal' about her that had landed her on Kodos' list. He tried not to think about the hole drilled into her forehead with phaser fire. It was hard enough not going nuts every time he heard someone walk by, thinking he was about to be found, about to be shot. He shut her eyes after a while so she would quit staring at him.

He waited for hours, until both the little girl and the old man started getting cold beside him. Jim was so terrified for so long, he got used to hearing his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest. Long enough that he started to think more about making Kodos and his people pay, instead of running and hiding. Once there were less of them around, and Jim could sneak off into the woods. He'd kill them, he would, somehow he'd make them pay for this how could anyone...how could anyone...

Jim laid his head on his arm and made himself stop. He wasn't any good at crying quietly anymore. Not since he'd been left alone in the woods. Any time he did he just wanted to howl. Crying quiet hurt worse than not crying at all.

He wondered if any of the other soldiers had taken kids away from the line, and hid them. He didn't know...he didn't know if that made it better or worse. Why him? Why not the girl with freckles on her nose? She looked nice. Like she had been nice. Before she died. Why not Josh or Maria? They'd both been shot and cut up when he'd found them. Little Liam, too, and he was almost a baby. They'd been way up in the hills, nobody would have said anything if they'd just let them go. Nobody would have noticed. They weren't even stealing food any more-there wasn't anything to steal. All cut up. Why...why-

Jim had to stop thinking for a while, after that. He was sick of thinking.

Kodos came through twice. The first time Jim was too surprised to even move. By the time he realized who it was Kodos was out of reach. The second time Jim almost jumped up-he was nearly close enough to get to. By that point the hate he felt was almost bigger than the fear. Jim could have bashed his head in with the rock by his hand. He could almost hear the sound it would make.

He didn't, though. He was never sure why.

Jim was sneaking away, stumbling through the strewn bodies towards the trees, when Starfleet finally arrived with help. Too late. It was a like a nightmare, walking through the dead. Some of them were looking at him. Some of them were looking at the sky, like they were still hoping for someone to come along and save them. Pleading with their eyes, like they didn't know they were already dead.

The transporter effect was loud and suddenly seemed to be coming from everywhere around him. Jim tripped, surprised by the materializing men in uniform, and put his fingers right through some guy's eyeball when he threw a hand out to break his fall. He pulled his hand out, fingers covered in this...fluid.

Vitreous humor. He knew that now.

Kirk's deliberate, rather vicious recollection was interrupted when Sweetheart turned and fled. He almost ran toward the lift, not looking back.

Kirk watched him go with a sick kind of triumph, curling his hands into fists to stop them from shaking. If this was the cost of getting himself and his crew out of this alive, reliving some fake echo of a hell he'd already lived in, he'd pay it laughing. He'd already been to that hell when it was still alive and snarling and able to kill people he loved. This was nothing.

"More where that came from, Sweetheart," he said softly, blinking as the pain in his head actually made his eyesight wobble a little. His headache was reaching a level that made him kind of hungry for unconsciousness.

"What...did you do?" Vina asked, timidly.

Kirk barely glanced at her. "Don't worry about it." He relaxed his hands, and was relieved when they didn't start shaking again. This was nothing, he assured himself. He looked down at his fingers. They were dry. It hadn't been real. It didn't matter.

"I've never seen one of them run like that," she said softly, almost to herself.

"They've never had to go up against the captain," Evans said stoutly, as if they'd called down the wrath of god or something. Kirk shot her a mildly startled glance. Vina gave her a look like she'd like to see Evans horribly mangled in a shuttlecraft accident.
Kirk didn't care for that.

"Vina," he said as a distraction. He touched her shoulder, sort of indicating she step to one side with him, as if to have a private word. Vina obliged, looking pleased.

"They can't read our thoughts when we're angry, can they," Kirk said, sideswiping her.

Vina looked up at him in surprise, her face quite clearly telling him he was right on the money. She froze, as if realizing she'd just blown her chance to lie.
Good to know that she'd planned to.

Kirk gave her a knowing expression. His nose was running, which kind of ruined the moment, and he sniffed a little. The action sent a spike of pain up the back of his right eye. He stopped, opting to wipe at his nose instead. He glanced down and blinked, wiped at his nose again. He was bleeding. That was...a little ominous.

Vina let out a breath with something like exasperation, apparently not noticing that Kirk's headache was maybe starting to get serious. "They can't," she admitted. "But it doesn't matter. You can't keep it up, it's too hard to stay that angry."

Kirk gave her a grim look. "Vina, with the right motivation, I can burn for a thousand years." Kirk glanced at Evans. "Nobody kidnaps my crew and gets away with it." Evans set her jaw, looking less scared and more determined. Kirk turned from her, pleased.

"The question is," Kirk continued, taking Vina's hand, "are you with us, or with them?"

Vina was honest enough that she didn't answer right away. She opened her mouth, paused, and shut it, frowning to herself. She glanced down at his hand on hers.

"I-"

Spock suddenly rippled into view, giving everyone a shock. Kirk took one look and lunged towards him as he crumpled, almost managing to catch him. They went down on their knees together and Spock sagged, clutching at his head and hiding his face.

Kirk heard him say...something. He thought...Kirk felt a chill. He thought Spock had said 'mother'.

Kirk gritted his teeth. He would kill them. He would kill them.

"It's all right," Kirk began, trying to get Spock to look up. "It's over, it wasn't real, it-" Kirk happened to glance down, and his words choked off. There were droplets of green blood on the floor.

"Spock," Kirk said with dismayed intensity and grabbed for his chin, leaning in close. Spock looked up for a moment, his face tight with pain he was struggling to hide. His nose was bleeding. Kirk removed his hand and found blood on it, and after a quick moment of alarmed investigation saw with horror that his ears were bleeding, as well.

Spock clutched at his shoulder with one hand, obviously struggling. "I can not-" Spock flinched, shutting his eyes briefly and breathing hard. "The noise-"

"Vina!" Kirk snapped, and she was at his elbow in half a second. She looked horrified, her eyes locked on Spock. "Is that liquid they left us safe for non-humans?"

"I don't know," Vina said, shaking her head, wide-eyed. "I've never seen their minds hurt anything so fast."

"He's a Vulcan," Kirk said. He continued when that got no reaction, his voice almost a snarl. "He's a touch telepath," he said, as if Vina was an idiot.

Spock dropped his head, sort of leaning forward like he was using his whole body to cradle it. He made a faint pain sound, his face hidden, and Kirk gathered him close, his thoughts turning dark and dangerous.

"Oh, god," Vina said, and actually wrung her hands. "He's too sensitive, they shouldn't have brought him, they had to know...why did they bring him?"
Kirk knew. He let himself get fucking enraged about it.

Evans went and got the glass, knelt close. She offered it to Kirk, looking at Spock with a sympathetic expression.

Kirk looked down at Spock for a moment, then then back at her. He shook his head, gritting his teeth against the sick feeling in his stomach. Kirk hated them for a moment, with every scrap of passion in his possession. For using Spock as a tool. Using him as if he wasn't worth anything, when he was worth...was worth everything...

He hated them, because for just a few minutes, he was going to be entirely like them.

Kirk reached out and cupped the back of Spock's neck, leaning in close to his ear. He spread his fingers out intimately, possibly obscenely, over Spock's skin. Touch telepath.

"Listen to me," Kirk whispered, furious enough that he was having trouble with concrete sentences. "They can't hear you thinking if you're angry. They used your mother. Used her, and they'll do it again, and again, until you can't think of her any more without thinking about them. Are you going to let them do that? Your thoughts, your..." Kirk paused, "emotions, used for their pleasure?"

Spock still had a hand on his arm, and Kirk stopped speaking when the grip got too painful to bear without flinching. He'd been giving Spock a lot more information than just what he was saying. The Talosians might not be able to read him when he was pissed, but Spock didn't have that problem. Kirk was counting on it.

Kirk backed off a bit, and Spock met his eyes with an expression of cold fury Kirk recognized and had an entirely reasonable reaction to. It was like staring at a tiger. His heart started to pound with the adrenaline dump and he swallowed hard.

Between the two of them, a race of people whose powers were impotent in the face of rage were utterly, utterly fucked.

Spock nodded very slightly, looking murderous. Then Spock made a choked sound and fell to the floor, arching his back and clutching at his head in agony. Evans gasped, and Vina even gave a little scream.

"Spock," Kirk said, sounding anguished. He looked up at the ceiling, fury burning him up from the inside out. "You're killing him," Kirk said loudly. "Is that what you want? Is it?" He snapped his head around, pinning Vina to the wall with his eyes. "Vina?"

"No! I-"

"If you can call them, then do it," Kirk was shouting. It felt really good. "He's dying!"

Vina clutched her hands together close to her chest, and nodded, too fast. She looked up and spoke to the ceiling. "Help," she breathed softly. "Oh, help, please help." Spock groaned loudly, and she flinched, blinking tears down her cheeks.

One of the Talosians, not Sweetheart, came tearing around the corner down the hall towards them. The lift doors opened a second later, and Sweetheart stumbled out, looking agitated.

Most importantly, the barrier blinked out. It re-formed behind where Kirk was kneeling beside Spock, cutting off Evans but leaving Vina, Kirk, and Spock free. It was probably a mixture of illusion and reality-there was a slight lip around where the barrier had been, the transparent aluminum had probably just retracted up into the ceiling. Some kind of hidden mechanism. It was the new barrier that Evans was now pressing her hands against that was probably entirely illusion.

The cell was set higher than the corridor floor, and both Talosians scrambled up quickly, their eyes on Spock. Kirk clenched his hands until he felt the sharp bite of his fingernails cutting into his skin. The desire he had right then for them to come closer was like good whiskey in his mouth.

The one who was not Sweetheart had some kind of strange instrument in his hands, and was pointing it at Spock before he'd even got close enough to touch him. That one dropped to his knees quick but Sweetheart stayed a step back, turning to look at Kirk, reaching out to reassure him as if they really were friends. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Spock reach up toward the Talosian tending to him, lightning-quick. Sweetheart was crouching down and took his arm, as if to pull him away a little.

Hey, buddy.

Kirk hit him in the face. It was a quick pop, since Kirk couldn't afford to telegraph anything, so it didn't have as much force behind it as Kirk would have liked. Sweetheart still went down like he'd been axed, an almost comical look of bewilderment on his face. Then Kirk was on him like a rabid dog. He hit him at least three, four times before Kirk even stopped to think about it. About twice more than he had to, by the look of the guy. Talosian blood was thick and dark, like red wine. Kirk was crouched on his chest, knees on Sweetheart's upper arms, dropping his fist over and over. Sweetheart tried to fend him off clumsily with one reaching hand, and Kirk dropped an elbow with a grunt of satisfaction. Sweetheart's head snapped to one side and he went limp.

The Talosians were positively howling in the back of his mind, and for a moment he felt dizzy with the level of pain his head was currently putting out. It didn't feel malicious- it felt like they were in agony. Maybe...any pain felt by one of them was shared by all of them? His nose started to drip onto Sweetheart's silver dress. Kirk straightened a little, panting, and realized someone was actually howling- it wasn't just in his head.

He looked up, and when he saw what Spock was doing, abruptly understood why the Talosians were completely losing their shit.

Spock, you magnificent bastard.

Kirk had planned on taking a hostage. This plan was much, much better. Kirk had assumed Spock had given the Talosian a nerve pinch. Quick and effective, considering the rudimentary plan Kirk had tried his damnedest to transmit to Spock in the few moments he'd touched him.

Instead, Spock had melded with the Talosian. Dangerous, crazy, and if Kirk knew anything about mind melds-and thanks to the elder Spock he did-it would be scarily effective. The only thing was, could Spock take the strain?

Vina was a complete mess, wailing and clutching at her head. She managed a step towards Spock and the Talosian he was linked to, fumbling, trying to separate them.

Kirk stopped her.

"Oh, my god, what..." Vina sobbed, grabbing desperately at his shirt, "what is he doing he has to stop doing that-"

Kirk looked down at Spock with something like pride. "Emotional transference is an effect of the mind meld," he said softly. Some small part of him was furious and nearly sick with the thought of what this could do to Spock's mind. The rest of him couldn't help but admire the sheer audacity of the idea, and knew that if Kirk had realized the possibilities, he probably would have ordered Spock to do it himself. The Talosians were currently discovering exactly what it felt like to be one of their specimens.

He knelt down to get a better look at Spock's face.

Mind melds weren't the same animal as what the Talosians used. It was a hell of a lot more intense, for one thing. And it wasn't just seeing the other person. Or experiencing their memories, for that matter. It was like two people becoming one. Kirk had seen everything the elder Spock was, because for a moment, they'd been the same person. Hopes and dreams. Memories. Moral codes. Emotions.

God, so much emotion. Vulcans felt things hard. Just a minute or two of that had been enough to tear Kirk up inside, and he'd known with aching certainty that Spock had been trying with everything he had to be gentle with him. Kirk wasn't sure how tightly the Talosians were connected to each other, but from the horror and anguish they were putting out, he was willing to bet that they were all getting at least a piece of the experience.

These people liked to watch. They didn't seem to care for it when they were forced to participate.

Spock's nose was bleeding freely, his face slightly blank, but still managing to convey the fact that he was in a lot of pain. Kirk waited tensely, holding Vina off. He would know. When it was too much. He didn't...somehow he would know.

"Please," Vina sobbed, fighting against his restraining arm. "Enough. Can't you see it's enough?"

Spock's expression flickered slightly, and Kirk watched a blood vessel burst in his eye.

"Yeah," Kirk said abruptly, and reached out quick. One hand on his shoulder.

"Spock," he said firmly, taking his arm by the wrist with his other hand. "Spock!" Spock's expression didn't change. Kirk watched the spot of green in his eye grow like a new star swelling on the bridge viewscreen.

Fuck it. He pulled Spock's hand away from the Talosian's face. Spock still didn't react, looking dazed and very...not-there. With a growl of frustration Kirk raised his boot and kicked the Talosian roughly back, away from Spock. The Talosian's head hit the wall, and Spock went limp in his arms.

Spock's head lolled back bonelessly against his shoulder. His eyes were rolled back and his mouth was open- for a second Spock looked like a corpse, and Kirk had to viciously shove down an icy trickle of pure panic.

He snapped his head around to look over at Evans. The barrier was gone. He looked over at the Talosian Spock had melded with, saw that he was curled in on himself, sobbing almost silently. Sweetheart was pushing himself off the floor, bloodied and broken-looking. His nose was at an angle, and he had a vicious split over one eye.

Leave.

Kirk tensed, his arms tightening around Spock's shoulders. Did he mean-?

Sweetheart wiped at his mouth and met Kirk's eyes.

Just go. Now. Take your people and leave this place. You are not suitable. You are dangerous.

Kirk took a breath, staring into Sweetheart's rapidly purpling face. He felt, strangely, as though he'd just kicked a puppy.

"Evans, Vina, we're leaving," Kirk said, adjusting his grip on Spock. Spock was stirring, grasping blindly at his shirt. Kirk grabbed his wrist and pulled Spock's arm over his neck. Kirk staggered to his feet, pulling Spock upright. Spock made some small effort to support his own weight, his head sagging low.

Evans darted in close, taking his other arm. Kirk gave her an approving look, then turned his head to stare at Vina. She was hovering by the wall, looking stricken and lost.

"Vina?" he prodded, his voice kinder. "I think these guys are abandoning the experiment. Something tells me you should get out while you can."

Vina opened her mouth, and her face twisted as if she was going to start crying again. She ducked her head, nodded at the floor without speaking.
Kirk let out a breath, then looked boldly over at Sweetheart.

"We could use a guide out," he said simply.

Sweetheart stared at him.

This way. He turned, not waiting to see if they were going to follow.

Sweetheart led them though a maze of hallways, eventually leading them to another lift. Evans was breathing hard by this point and Spock was gritting his teeth, struggling to keep moving his feet. Kirk pushed him back up against the lift wall, taking the whole of his weight for a moment and earning himself a grateful look from Evans.

Spock frowned and shook his head slightly, as if to dislodge the voices of the Talosians in his mind. Kirk could hear them himself. Not a chorus any more. It sounded like someone had put their hands down on a set of piano keys randomly without looking. A jarring, conflicted, off key mishmash. Individual notes coming in late. Some dropping out entirely.

Whatever Spock had done, it wasn't sitting well with them.

It hurt to hear. Kirk felt like someone had beat him over the head with a club. He had a steady flow of blood from his nose. He had to keep spitting it out.
Spock looked worse, though.

Kirk leaned close, almost resting his forehead against Spock's. "Hang on," he breathed, his hands kneading gently at Spock's shoulders. "A little longer." Spock shut his eyes, barely nodded. The hair from Spock's bangs brushed Kirk's skin.

Spock took a breath, as if forcing himself to concentrate. "Captain," he whispered.

Kirk glanced up at him with a question on his face. Spock looked at him, their proximity making the simple eye contact surprisingly intimate. Spock glanced over at Sweetheart, then back, his expression crystal clear. Kirk caught his meaning like he had absorbed it through his hands. Spock had seen them from the inside, and Spock didn't trust them.

That was less than encouraging, but they didn't have much choice at the moment. Maybe this was just another trick- either way, this was the plan they had. Kirk nodded, glancing down to cover it and squeezing Spock's shoulders slightly. For a moment Spock's breath was warm on his face.

Kirk straightened up, turned to see Vina staring at him as though she'd just had a revelation she didn't like. Evans was giving her a stern look, as if she thought Vina was in danger of doing something stupid.

The lift stopped, so he never found out if she would've. Sweetheart shoved himself away from the wall and walked slowly out onto the planet surface. The lift was cut into the side of a rock face, so Kirk and Evans had to concentrate on picking their way down to the ground without dropping Spock. When they finally made it down, Sweetheart was sitting wearily on a rock, as if he'd used up every last bit of his energy leading them there.

Kirk looked around at the inhospitable landscape. Dirt and rocks and sky, with a few scraggly plants clinging to life here and there. The Talosians had set up the illusion of a makeshift camp with crash survivors here. It had looked like a lousy place to get stuck even when the Talosians had used their powers to make it seem inhabited. He looked up at the cloudy sky, as if somehow he'd be able to reach the Enterprise just through wanting. He glanced back at Sweetheart, slumped on the rock.

Kirk gave Evans a pointed look, stepping back. She nodded, bracing herself, and Kirk stepped away from both her and Spock, walking over to Sweetheart.

"I need to get Spock up to the Enterprise," Kirk said firmly. Sweetheart looked up at him, and Kirk had to squash a twinge of sympathy. Sweetheart looked beat to hell, and Kirk had been there before.

Silently, Sweetheart held out Kirk's communicator. Kirk had worn it on the away team, but it had been missing since he woke up in the cell. Kirk didn't know where Sweetheart had been hiding it-maybe he'd just used illusion to make sure Kirk wouldn't see it.

Sweetheart's hand was shaking.

Kirk took the communicator, moved to step away. He stopped. "I'm sorry," he said. He wished it hadn't gone down like this.

It didn't have to be this way, he thought.

You were our last hope, Sweetheart responded, spreading his hands a little, almost as if he was trying to explain.

Kirk pressed his lips into a thin line, looked down at the sand under his feet, and decided to take a gamble. He glanced over at Spock and Evans, and to his surprise, Spock was already staring at him. There was a look on his face like he could smell Kirk deciding to do something dangerous.

Kirk was going to have to have a talk with Bones, if he made it out of this in one piece. He was ruining that Vulcan.

End Notes:

Thanks to Peachly, who made this story better than it was.

Chapter 9 by JackHawksmoor

"Kirk to Enterprise," he said, a flicker of warmth rising up in his chest. He wasn't sure what to do with the feeling, so he ignored it for now.

"Captain!" Scotty's acknowledgment was almost joyous. "I was starting to worry I wouldn't be hearing from you again, sir."

"Can't get rid of me that easy." Kirk paused, glanced over at Spock and Evans. He turned away, lowering his voice. "Listen, Scotty. Lock on to my signature. When I call for beam up, get everyone else out of here immediately, but give me a ten minute lag time before beam-up. I need ten minutes, no matter what Mr. Spock says when he gets there. That's a direct order. Understood?"

"Aye," Scotty replied, sounding rather grim and resigned. If there was one person on board the Enterprise who could plant his feet and tell Spock to stuff it, Scotty was that person. He'd do it apologetically, but he wouldn't be moved, not once he had Kirk's orders.

"Good. Stand by." Kirk snapped the communicator shut and took two steps toward Spock and Evans before Vina stopped him. He wasn't really surprised.

"I'm sorry," she said, and bit her lip. "I can't-" she paused, and shook her head. She looked fragile, and sad. "I'm not going with you." Her eyes slid over, looking at either Spock or Evans with a flash of bitterness. "There isn't really any reason to, now."

Kirk looked down at her and nodded slowly, certain now of something he'd only suspected. "You don't actually look like that, do you."

She put a hand up, and touched her hair with a small, sad smile. She shook her head. She looked very sweet, for a moment. Kirk touched her shoulder and kissed her cheek. She went still and shut her eyes, and Kirk had to wonder about how long it had been since she'd been kissed.

He pulled back and turned from her towards his crew. Spock was staring at the ground, looking uncomfortable. Evans was looking at Spock curiously. They both appeared about ready to drop. He stepped close.

"Scotty, two to beam up," Kirk said, and shoved the communicator at Evans. She was startled enough to take it, and he smiled to let her know it was all right.

Spock's head shot up, though it looked like he was having trouble focusing. "Captain," he managed.

"Sir," Evans began, earnest in her concern.

A second later, they were both gone, a faint sparkle of energy fading behind them.

Kirk looked up at the sky for a moment. He still couldn't see the Enterprise.

He turned around sharply on his heel. Both Vina and Sweetheart regarded him with near-identical expressions of wariness.

Endgame. Kirk put his hands behind his back and walked leisurely towards them. He had no real plan, just a vague idea of what he was going to try.

He had to try.

Vina took a step toward him."You aren't staying," she said, a question on her face but not in her voice.

Kirk tilted his head as if conceding a point. "No," he said. "I just want to talk to you-" he glanced left, "-to both of you, before I go."

Vina glanced back at Sweetheart, looking slightly doubtful. Sweetheart looked like he was almost past caring. His face had really started to swell up.

Your hopes are unfounded, James T Kirk. I will not be swayed by anything you might say. Our powers would corrupt you, as they have all of us. You cannot save us without destroying yourselves, and we would not trust you to try. You are violent and dangerous.

Kirk stared at him. "I think you're just pissed because I hit you."

Sweetheart gave him a sharp, accusing look.

You enjoyed it.

Kirk stepped over to him, folding his arms and trying not to smile. "Yeah," he admitted. "Yeah I did." He leaned close, his voice going deadly serious. "You shouldn't have brought Spock into it."

He wouldn't have said it that way if Spock or Evans had still been there. He wouldn't have said it like that if he wasn't standing in front of somebody who'd know he was lying if he said he was just upset about his crew getting snatched. Sweetheart knew anyway. No point in not telling the truth.

"That was vicious and wrong, and you know it," Kirk said calmly. "You brought him here to torment in my place. A whipping boy, to keep me obedient. Because you knew I cared about him."

Sweetheart looked down and sighed.

I did not agree with that.

"You didn't stop it, either," Kirk replied. He turned, lightning-quick. "What about, you, Vina? What do you care about? Them?" he jerked his head toward Sweetheart. "Do you care if their race lives or dies?"

Vina glanced at Sweetheart, caught off-guard. "Yes," she said quickly, then paused and nodded slowly, her eyes unfocused. "Of course. I mean-" she looked up at Kirk, "they aren't always like this, you know. They can be kind. I wouldn't want them to die. Not even after..." she paused. "I wouldn't want them to die."

Kirk gave her a warm expression, and nodded once. She smiled faintly in return.

"So," he said briskly, as though summing up an argument in court, "I care, and Vina cares. What I want to know is, why don't you?"

Sweetheart almost glared at him.

You think-

"You know exactly what I think. I think that if all you've got is a million-to-one chance, then you take it with a smile. I think that if you've got no chance at all, then you make one, out if thin air if you have to," Kirk said with honest intensity. "Do you people want to die?"

No. But we are unwilling to destroy anyone else. We required a small breeding supply of your species, a stable genetic base to draw from, to enhance our own. There are...drives...that we have lost. If your species were to understand our technology, you too would fall. Illusion is too much of a temptation.

"Because it's obvious that you've done such a bang-up job so far corrupting me. I've seen what you can do. I'll take reality. You're overestimating the attraction of your gift, and dooming your race in the process. Hardly the actions of a highly advanced and intelligent race," Kirk said earnestly.

Sweetheart was obviously less than impressed. Maybe he should have eased up on the flattery a little.

You have used up half of your ten minutes. The remainder can be spent in silence.

Kirk let out a breath in frustration, his mind shifting tracks, trying to find some way-Kirk froze, and then started to smile. Sweetheart, obviously following him, suddenly looked interested.

"How did it feel, when I was beating on you?" Kirk asked quietly. Vina shot him an appalled expression.

Sweethearts eyes widened slightly, knowing where Kirk was heading. Even more telling was the sudden silence from the chorus of mayhem in the back of his head. The off-key mishmash of disturbed Talosians silenced itself, as if something had caught their eyes all at once.

Kirk leaned down. "Your illusion powers are perfect. There should be no difference between what you make and reality, right? No difference. No possible reason to choose life over fantasy. Nothing to keep us puny humans safe. So was it what you were expecting it to be? You have to have things like that, recorded in your-" he glanced at Vina "-thought records, right? Was it everything you'd imagined it would be?"

Vina covered her mouth with her hand, but Sweetheart just looked surprised. Kirk touched his shoulder.

Say it, he thought.

No. Sweetheart's mouth moved as he thought the words into Kirk's head. He looked stunned. It was nothing like what I expected. I was afraid.

"Afraid," Kirk said, rolling the word around his mouth. "That I would kill you. Afraid of more pain."

The Talosians not present were murmuring to each other. At least he thought they were.

Yes.

Kirk leaned close. "Kind of exhilarating, wasn't it?"

Sweetheart looked at him with his eyes wide, and didn't deny it.

Kirk squeezed his shoulder. "Real emotion. Real danger. Real risk. And that was just a beating." Kirk leaned a little closer. "Imagine what sex is like." He straightened up a little. "Or love. Or grief." he paused. "Friendship. Trust." His voice went soft. "Amazing thing, reality. It means more because you can lose more. The choices you make matter."

You do not believe your species is in any danger from us. Sweetheart said it like it was a revelation. Sweetheart said it like he was starting to believe it.

Kirk looked at him soberly. "Humanity was reminded not too long ago just how dangerous the universe can be. I'm sorry, but you aren't all that scary."

Your homeworld was threatened with destruction.

Vina looked at Kirk, startled. Of course, she wouldn't know.

Kirk could only imagine the images the Talosians had probably pulled out of his head. Nero's massive ship deploying its drill, a giant red ball in a clear case, the blooming cracks in the Enterprise's hull as a black hole sunk its claws into her- he didn't know, all he could feel was the growing pressure of their undivided attention.

"Yes," he said instead.

You fought to save your world, your species, from destruction, even when there seemed to be no hope.

Him and Spock fighting on the bridge, maybe. Or the minute after they'd first beamed over to the Narada and realized they'd landed in the middle of a crowd of freaking Romulans.

"That's what you do," Kirk replied.

'It'll work, Spock...'

He thought, suddenly, of the faces of the dead, back on Tarsus. Empty eyes raised to the sky, waiting for someone to save them. Someone that would never come.

Sometimes, Kirk thought, if you don't act, no one will.

"You don't have anything to lose but your pride," Kirk said with heartfelt sincerity. "Is it worth that much? Let Starfleet send a ship here. We can trade. Knowledge and technology. The worst that can happen is that we can't do anything. But if we can...isn't it worth the risk?"

Sweetheart looked to one side, as if he was talking to somebody not present. Kirk's heart clenched in his chest about a second before the hammer came down on his thoughts.

He went right down on his knees this time. Kirk might have even blacked out for a minute, he wasn't sure. The sheer weight of all those minds...his throat closed up and he shut his eyes as someone dropped a shuttlecraft on his head.

He looked up...he was flat on his back, and Vina was kneeling beside him. She had an expression on her face that made him wonder what he looked like.

Above her, Sweetheart stood, looking down at him with a swollen and bloody face, as if he'd been waiting for a while for Kirk to wake up.

We accept your proposal.

Good news. Kirk didn't think he had another ten minutes in him. Bones probably wouldn't have let him off the ship again anyway.

Send your ship. We will be hospitable. Sweetheart paused, his eyes moving over Kirk's face. Kirk didn't even try to get up. He was pretty sure his brains would spill out of his head if he tried.

You will need medical attention, Sweetheart said soberly. And then, Ah. As if something...

Kirk heard the transporter start to resonate around him, and tried to smile at Vina.

"Good luck," she said.

"You too," he replied. Or tried to. He wasn't sure what actually came out. He was laying on the transporter pad, though. He was pretty sure. Maybe he just told Bones good luck. That would work, too.

He looked up into a nurse's face and tried to get up. Pleasantly, his brain remained inside his skull.

"Captain, No! Sir, you need to lie down."

One of McCoy's junior doctors showed up in his field of vision, and tried to shove him flat again. Kirk fended him off, looking around the transporter room with a sinking stomach.

Bones wasn't there.

"Where's Spock?" Kirk asked, his stomach twisting. Bones had left without making sure he was all right. That meant-

"Captain, I'm sorry about this-" Someone hit him with a hypo full of something that would have stung nastily if he didn't have a mind-bending headache to compare it to.

"What happened to Spock?" He demanded, grabbing somebody's arm. An arm-shaped object, anyway.

"Dr. McCoy took him to surgery, sir. You're going to want to lie flat, I just gave you something to drop your blood pressure-"

Almost as if in response to that, Kirk suddenly felt like he had a lot of space inside his head, and the floor was abruptly tilting away from him. Kirk collapsed back onto the floor like he'd been swatted, his vision going black.

He woke up in an extremely unpleasant way. Kirk opened his eyes and found that his head was restrained, a sensor frame erected around his face, blocking his view of the room. He'd had several wicked and amazingly vivid nightmares. Free-fall towards Vulcan as it died, heavy one Sulu and light two parachutes. Waking up in a pod on Delta Vega. They were so vivid that when he woke up, for a second he thought that he'd been tricked, that he was still down on Talos IV and would never be able to trust his eyes again.

He lifted his head enough to see the room, his heartbeat skyrocketing- but it was just sickbay, ship's 'night' by the look of the lighting. Quiet time. It was exactly as he would expect it to be, and he felt a chill snake its way up his spine. There was no way to tell, by just looking, whether any of it was real.

He could feel a tug at his hairline as he moved. He laid back down and reached up, gingerly. The skin at his hairline was tender, from his forehead all the way around the backs of his ears. He winced. They'd had to scalp him, which meant that somebody had been examining the inside of his head a lot more literally than the Talosians. He looked out of the corner of his eyes at the only other person in the room.

"Spock," he said. On a table similar to his own, about six feet away, Spock stirred slightly in his sensor frame.

He felt around the outside of his own little cage of technology for the release catch and activated it, ignoring the chirping alarm that activated when he pushed himself up onto his elbows.

He tried to sit up and got dizzy immediately. He started taking deep breaths. They were keeping his blood pressure really low for some reason. He rolled to the side instead of sitting straight up, getting into a seated position but staying slumped forward, keeping his head low. Then he took a breath and held it, closing his throat and tightening his abdominal muscles. Forcing blood up to his brain.

He lifted his head. He didn't black out. Kirk didn't have much time, so he just went for it. He put his foot on the ground and just launched himself at Spock's bed, with some vague hope of at the very least catching himself from falling on Spock's bed frame.

He almost made it, going down on his knees next to the bed.

Spock's eyes opened wide and confused from beneath the sensor cage. He was stronger than Kirk, and his cage was a little bulkier.

"Captain-"

"We can't know if this is reality, or just another illusion," Kirk said roughly, knowing Spock would follow him. "But you can do something I don't think they can fake." Kirk leaned close, watched a grim understanding light in Spock's eyes. Spock looked around with cool suspicion at everything in his field of vision, as if he might be able to spot some discrepancy.

They could still be in a cell, right now, and they would never know unless the Talosians made a mistake. But he didn't think they could fake a mindmeld.

He didn't think...

The door slid open, and Bones stopped in his tracks, his eyes going wide. It certainly looked like Bones.

"What the hell are you-"

Kirk's eyes darted down to share a look with Spock, and found that Spock was already reaching out to touch his face, his eyes dark and determined.

He felt it, a second where Spock's fingertips touched his skin, warm and dry. A brief moment of...something...building, like the sound of a warp engine revving the ship up from sublight to warp one.

And then, Spock was with him. For a second, he couldn't breathe for relief. This Spock had never melded with him before. If the Talosians were very smart, maybe they could recreate what Kirk had felt in the meld with the elder Spock.

But they hadn't. This Spock, his Spock, felt different. The elder Spock's thoughts had flowed through Kirk's mind effortlessly, as though he'd done it a thousand times. A steady, practiced hand on the rudder, guiding his way through a strange and star-filled sea.

As a contrast, it was very obvious that his Spock was working hard in unfamiliar territory. There was a sense of some real effort being made, as though whatever Spock had expected of Kirk, he'd been surprised. Wind tore through golden, jagged hills, kicking sand up into Kirk's face. The view was harsh and strange, but given the circumstances, utterly heartbreaking. There were rumblings under his feet- gravity distortions, but nothing harmed him. He wondered if here, Vulcan was always dying.

The emotions were staggering. Spock functioned as his first officer with a brilliance and grace Kirk occasionally marveled to see. It did not change the fact that beneath the desperately necessary and occasionally too-thin layer of everyday life, there was a grief wide enough to swallow a whole world.

Kirk recognized it.

'Yes', from Spock. Sound in this place could be very strange. There were other things, behind the word. Some Kirk could catch, some he couldn't.

He already knew, though. He...understood how it could be. When a person had to face real tragedy, when someone had honestly lost more than anyone should have to, it left a kind of mark. Kirk could always spot it in other people, that huge imprint that loss left behind. Spock knew. Spock could see it in him, just like he could see it in Spock.

Spock didn't know what had happened. Even now Kirk shied away from the memory, but Spock could still see that Kirk was the same. It was nice, sometimes, not to have to explain how it made him feel...when he really couldn't. Nothing he could say about it would make someone understand. Nothing Spock could say, either.

They were there, together, and in that moment they saw the piece inside of each other that was exactly the same.

Being understood was sometimes almost better than being loved.

'Yes,' again. The barely audible whispers behind the main push of Spock's thoughts sounded almost identical to what Kirk had heard with the elder Spock, the first time. Underwater echoes...There was a sense of something in Spock that was communicating with Kirk on a level he wasn't entirely able to access. Like a flicker of something just out of the corner of his eye that he couldn't catch, no matter how fast he turned his head. Those whispers he knew, even if he couldn't quite understand.

Kirk hadn't realized the older Spock had made such an impression-the joining had been brief and painful, full of high emotion. But he could tell what part of Spock felt different, and what was the same. Was it comforting or creepy that some part of a person never changed?

Kirk, surprisingly, felt a tiny pinpoint of jealousy well up. It was distracting, and the way it looked here...utterly bizarre. There were whispers of half-formed thoughts behind it, and Kirk felt himself leaning in, straining to understand. It was maddening, almost intelligible but not quite...

Spock broke away, like he was afraid of what Kirk might discover if he stayed too long. Kirk could taste the fear sour on his tongue, and Kirk heard the distress amidst the whispers of near-thought.

Kirk didn't stop him, though he had a strange feeling that if he wanted to he could. Spock had as much right to his own secrets as Kirk did to his. Besides, they had their answer. If this was an illusion, it was so good Kirk wasn't certain it could be broken.

Spock pulled his hand from Kirk's face, and Kirk got tackled.

"-irresponsible thing I've ever seen in my life," Bones growled, grabbing him under the arm and yanking him bodily from Spock's bed. Kirk head started spinning nicely, though he struggled a little on general principle when McCoy started to haul him back to bed. Kirk had to push aside the feeling that it was kind of weird to be alone in his own head again.

"Spock," McCoy snapped in response to something Kirk didn't see, "You get up off that table and by god I'll see you in restraints." Kirk tried to look but Bones shoved him back onto the bio-bed and spoke to someone he hadn't even realized was in the room.

"Nurse Chapel," he began, and Kirk glanced around for her, startled. "If he tries to get up again, I want you to sit on him."

She was standing on the other side of Spock, and flushed absolutely scarlet at McCoy's words. Spock stiffened on the bed, and Kirk noticed the room develop a tilt. Kirk caught his breath, tightening his abdominals again to keep from passing out-

McCoy smacked him. "Stop that," he said. "Your blood pressure's low for a reason. Now lay down."

"Why?" Kirk asked bluntly as he complied. McCoy busied himself replacing the sensor cage around his head for a moment.

"You had," McCoy paused and frowned down at whatever he was fiddling with. "A more than decent-sized bleed in your brain and-" he jerked something, and Kirk heard a click, "The strangest perforation pattern in the sheaths around your brain. It was like somebody had gone in there with hot needles-tiny holes everywhere."

Kirk glanced at Spock.

"Yeah, Spock, too. Evans, as far as we can tell, is totally unaffected, but I've got her under medical surveillance anyway-"

"Doctor," Spock piped up, having heard everything, "Is the reason for this related to the necessity for the captain and myself to be...encased in your machinery?"

"Hey, yeah," Kirk added, frowning. It was unusual. He'd had head injuries before-

McCoy grunted. "I was getting to that. Funny thing," he said. "You two seem to keep popping up aneurysms; as far as I can tell, for no reason at all. I got the rigging out-" he patted the rack around Kirk's head in a fatherly fashion, "-so I can get a better look at it as it happens, if it happens again."

Spock made some crack about the situation not being all that funny, but Kirk wasn't entirely paying attention. He had a sudden sneaking suspicion he knew what was going on.

"Spock," he said, "Did you have nightmares?"

Spock paused for a telling second. "Indeed, captain." Just by the tone of his voice Kirk knew Spock was following him precisely. "Fascinating."

Kirk reached out towards the wall-it was a bit of a stretch, given his largely immobilized head.

"Wait a minute, what are you-"

"Ship's business, Bones. Kirk to bridge. Scotty, are you there?"

"Aye, captain," Scotty replied, sounding delighted. "How are you feeling, sir?"

Kirk glanced at Bones. "Never better, Mr. Scott. Tell me, have we left orbit?"

If they hadn't left yet, he didn't doubt that the Talosians had wondered why. Sweetheart had called humans dangerous. Kirk could see him deciding to double-check their heads for any devious plans, if the Enterprise had not done what they'd expected it to do.

Scotty paused. "No, sir. Not yet. I wasn't real clear on the, ah, diplomatic situation, if you get me, sir."

Kirk smiled. "That's kind of a long story, Mr. Scott, but suffice to say we're clear to depart. I think the natives were expecting us to leave immediately, and they might be getting a little curious about the hold-up."

"Not a problem, sir."

"Thank you, Kirk out." Kirk switched the call off and grinned at Bones charmingly. "Congratulations, Bones, we're cured." No more curious Talosians poking around their thoughts, no more aneurysms.

"Really," McCoy said, his voice very dry. "Well," he widened his eyes and gestured grandly at the door, "by all means go, I'll hand you your medical license myself on the way out."

"That is quite illuminating, Doctor," Spock chimed in. "I had suspected the process of acquiring a medical license was more simplistic than generally believed."

"Yes, well they'll hand out pointed ears to anyone, so I wouldn't be so dammed smug," McCoy returned smoothly.

"Bones, I only meant that once we're clear of the system, the Talosians won't have any reason to check our brains, so the aneurysms should stop," Kirk explained.

McCoy stared at him for a second. "Are you just stringing random words together? Because if you are that's a new symptom."

Kirk sighed. "No. Look, if we don't have any other episodes, how long before we can get out of here?"


Ten hours later, Kirk was changing into his uniform. He couldn't find his shirt. The yeoman had brought him a whole uniform, he was sure of it-

"Captain," a voice from behind him. He looked, and saw Spock standing there already dressed.

"Spock, is Bones letting you go?" Kirk had thought Spock would be there for at least another hour or two.

Spock tilted his head slightly, and without moving his face somehow gave the impression of being extremely put-upon.

"As much as I might desire that, unfortunately the Doctor has several more tests he wishes to run." Spock shifted slightly. "At this point I am somewhat dubious as to what additional knowledge he could possibly require."

Kirk gave him a sympathetic expression. "Do you want me to bust you out of here?"

"No, he does not," said a voice from beyond the doorway, sounding annoyed.

They both glanced that way, but Bones must have been busy with something, because he didn't barge in.

Spock stepped close and lowered his voice. "I regret that you will have to make an incomplete accounting to Starfleet. I shall have my preliminary report on the mission sent to you as soon as I am free to do so." He glanced at the doorway.

Kirk wondered why Spock had wandered in here. To tell him something he already knew? That wasn't like Spock. "I...look forward to reading it," Kirk said, because he really wasn't sure what to say.

Spock lifted an eyebrow, and gave him a look that clearly said Kirk wasn't fooling anyone.

Kirk shrugged. "Okay, so no I don't." He admitted. "I'll hate having to go through it. Once was enough."

Spock looked away. Kirk hadn't asked him any details of what the Talosians had shown him. He didn't think Spock would spare himself anything in the report, though.

Spock reached out and offered him his gold command tunic. Kirk hadn't even noticed he'd been holding it. He moved to take it, but Spock didn't immediately let go. Kirk paused, startled, and gave Spock's face a close examination. Spock noticed this, and lowered his eyes, looking pensive.

Kirk glanced down at the shirt, then back up. "Spock?" he waited a minute. "Something on your mind?"

"I should like to take the opportunity to-" Spock began softly, his eyes fixed on the deck. He stopped, and his eyebrows drew together sharply. He shook his head, just barely, as if having some internal argument with himself. He looked down at his own hand as if surprised by what it had done, and released Kirk's shirt, stepping back.

Kirk followed him. He didn't say anything about it, but what they'd both seen in each other's mind was sort of hovering there between them. It was going to be a lot harder to get anything past Spock now. Unfortunately for Spock, that went both ways.

Spock glanced up at him, and Kirk lifted his eyebrows silently, encouragingly.

"I am...most pleased that you are not permanently damaged, Jim," Spock said, his voice quietly giving the words a startling amount of warmth. Bones would have had a field day-it was gutsy of Spock to talk about it here.

That, or he was more shaken up than he was letting on. Spock hated it when Kirk jumped into danger first. Especially if Kirk pushed Spock aside to do it. Staying behind to talk to the Talosians had been risky. Actually, if Bones was to be believed, it had almost killed him.

Kirk smiled, honestly touched.

He still meant to brush it off, to make light of what they'd just done. It was easier that way. But Spock was looking at him. Spock was looking at him like he knew exactly what Kirk was thinking.

"I would not like to lose such a highly efficient captain," Spock added, lying outrageously. The tone of his voice was a dead giveaway; Spock was giving him an opening to be dismissive about anything serious either of them might be feeling. It was unspeakably generous of him to do that, and Kirk had to fight with a brief, alarming impulse to kiss him.

Being understood was better. Sometimes.

Kirk reached up. He slid his hand over Spock's shoulder, his fingers brushing the side of Spock's neck. Touch telepathy...well, he'd stop when Spock asked him to. He rested his hand there as if he was bracing the both of them. The silent expression of affection lit something marvelous in Spock's eyes.

Kirk eyed him knowingly, leaning pretty far into his personal space. "I'm glad you're okay, too," he said.

Spock gave him an entirely reserved look that spoke pretty loudly to how pleased he was. It was nice to see it on his face. He bowed his head slightly, sort of leaning into the solidity of Kirk's grip on him. It was a subdued but unmistakably intimate piece of body language, and however uncertain Kirk was about where whatever-this-was with Spock was leading, he couldn't deny how dammed happy it made him.

Someone made a small noise from behind them. A little, dismayed kind of...exclamation.

Both he and Spock turned to look, pulling away from each other as though they'd been caught doing something else. Telepathy or no, Kirk would have bet real money that what was going through his mind was the exact same thing as what was going through Spock's.

Not McCoy, anyone but McCoy...

Somebody must have been listening, because there was no one there. He'd swear to his dying day that Spock sighed in relief.

Spock turned back and they shared a look. Kirk realized in that second that they'd formed a club of their own. The keep-Bones-in-the-dark-until-we-figure-this-out club.

Kirk threw him a charming, slightly wicked smile and pulled his shirt over his head.

Bones leaned in through the doorway, mercifully late. He looked sort of confused.

"What are you two up to?" he asked.

Bones couldn't have been there. He wouldn't have run off, for one thing. Kirk exchanged a glance with Spock. Spock had a marvelous poker face.

"Nothing," Kirk replied, pleased with how mystified he sounded.

Bones eyed him. "Hmm," he said. "Well, get out of here, you're upsetting my staff. Spock, you're with me over there." He gestured over one shoulder with his thumb.

Kirk gave Spock a sympathetic look, and deserted him before Bones changed his mind.

Almost a full shift passed before he received the call he'd been waiting for since he'd woken up in sickbay. Kirk had already sent off his report to Starfleet. Spock's report was literally in his hand, delivered right to his captain's chair by a yeoman, but he'd avoided reading it yet. It was actually kind of nice to be interrupted, though it did mean he had to leave the bridge. The message was private, and the conversation libel to get ugly, considering Kirk's current mood about who was calling him.

It was a live feed, but the caller had waited. When Kirk flipped the switch to turn on the viewer in his quarters, the elder Spock peered back at him patiently.

Kirk smiled.

"Spock," he said, his voice silky smooth.

The Spock on the screen straightened bolt upright, his eyebrows coming together sharply. He looked abruptly and thoroughly alarmed.

Kirk's smile broadened a little, his eyes dark and dangerous with tightly leashed anger. The elder Spock tilted his head slightly, as though he hoped a different angle might show him a different expression than the one Kirk was currently wearing. He looked like he'd suddenly found himself facing the wrong end of a phaser, or stepped through his front door to find a lion waiting inside.

This Spock really was smart about Jim Kirk.

Chapter 10 by JackHawksmoor

"I trusted you," Kirk said quietly, intensely.

"Jim," the elder Spock began weakly, looking unusually nervous for a Vulcan. "I do not know what-"

Jim pounded the desk once, sharply with his fist. Spock almost flinched.

"I trusted you," he hissed.

The older Spock blinked, and because, even though he was old, he was still Spock, he caught up faster than he had any right to.

"The Talosians would not have harmed you-"

"The Talosians almost killed us!" Kirk shot back. "Did you ever think, did you ever stop to consider that things will be different this time?" Spock's eyebrows shot up high. "That maybe a massive temporal anomaly might just cause a couple of hiccups in the timestream?" Kirk demanded.

"They were hostile?" Spock asked, looking about as incredulous as Kirk had ever seen him.

Kirk sat back in the chair a little. "You nearly died, Spock. Bones didn't even wait for me to beam up to get you to surgery."

Spock looked down, his eyebrows drawn into a sharp V.

"I...do not understand. When Captain Pike was-"

"What?" Kirk breathed. Spock briefly looked as though he very much wished he'd kept silent. Kirk's lips parted a little, his eyes unfocused. He laughed lightly, unpleasantly. "Oh, my god. It wasn't me." He pinned Spock to the wall with his eyes. "In your time. It wasn't even me," he said, emotions swelling toward outrage. "You...arrogant...idiot!"

Kirk covered his face briefly with his hand, laughing in a slightly unhinged manner.

"I can't believe I didn't see it. You have no idea what you're doing." He let his hand drop, looking up to see Spock getting progressively more alarmed. "You're just making this up as you go along." His voice darkened toward rage without increasing in volume. "I trusted you. With my life. With my crew's life. With my ship. And you're just guessing?" His last word was almost a snarl.

The elder Spock blinked several times rapidly, and looked down at his own hands.

"It has been," he paused, and had to clear his throat. "It has been expressed to me before that my 'guesses' are generally," something changed in his expression, some deep-seated emotion rolling quickly under the surface and vanishing. "Extraordinary."

Kirk stared at him, a chill going right up his spine. A sudden, thoroughly creepy hunch. It was undeniably unfair of Spock to use Kirk's own words against him, particularly when Kirk hadn't even said them yet.

"And who said that?" Kirk asked, pretty sure he knew, but hoping, somehow-

Spock looked at him, lifting his eyebrows just slightly and tilting his head to the side.

You did.

"Spock," Kirk said, helplessly. He didn't want to feel for Spock right now. He wanted to be angry, dammit.

"If I may explain?" Spock asked quietly, dropping his eyes. It was a request, and pretty meekly made, by Spock standards. Kirk listened to him, and had a surreal thought that he could utterly destroy Spock if he wanted, just by turning away from him now.

Kirk let out a breath as his chest tightened uncomfortably. My god, this Spock was so dangerous.

"Yeah," he said, softly, defeated. "Go ahead."


The fields that surrounded the farm belonging to the captain's uncle were ridiculously lush with golden grasses. Panicum Vigatum, Soghastrum nutans, common T. aestivum once cultivated, but now left to grow wild in the dark Iowa soil. The sky above was wide open and comfortably unobstructed. Spock had long grown used to the color, though on occasion the difference inspired a dull ache that had to be controlled.

There were many other worlds. None would have a sky quite like the one he had lost.

An ache, quickly managed.

The Enterprise was docked at the moment, somewhere above the blue sky, receiving supplies and personnel. Most of them would be cadets, fresh from San Francisco. Spock should be aboard as well, completing his work. They had a mountainous task ahead of them, if they wished to make their departure date tomorrow. It was complicated by Captain Kirk's sudden absence. Spock had not complained-it was common knowledge, human beings required leave time in order to remain productive, and Spock was all too aware how little of it the captain allowed himself.

Spock had no right to complain, and at the time, no real grounds for concern. His captain was not required to share his leave plans. It was true that he generally made his destination known, but he had no obligation to inform Spock of anything.

What had passed between them after the mission on Talos IV did not necessarily mean there would be any change in their daily interaction with each other. For a Vulcan, the content of their meld had been somewhat...intimate. Kirk was human. Spock had thought he understood. It was becoming clear he did not.

Indeed, if there was any trend in the captain's behavior after their shared thoughts, it was to pull away from Spock. He was unsure...perhaps his emotions were clouding his perceptions. Seventeen days. Too small a sample to draw a conclusion, as Kirk's behavior had not deviated from the norm in any clear and measurable fashion.

He had made four separate calls to Spock's elder counterpart.

Spock relaxed his fists. He squashed both the line of thought and the threatening emotion behind it. Calmly, he turned up the path toward the front of the house.

After the captain had left- without speaking of his plans- and once Spock had become very deeply involved in the tasks he had taken up to ensure Jim could set them down to relax, he had received a disconcerting call.

The captain had asked him to come. Kirk had requested he ask no questions, waste no time, and deliver himself onto the surface within the hour. Perhaps not to return until they were ready to depart. Spock had been...concerned. Jim Kirk did not compromise the effectiveness of the smooth running of the Enterprise. Not without reason. There seemed to be nothing probable that could qualify.

Nothing in his behavior had signaled a difficulty until now. Nothing except Spock's own illogical and unfounded expectation, that there would be some acknowledgment of what had passed between them, what each of them had seen in the other. An acknowledgment that did not come.

That, and four calls.

Left without much choice, Spock brought together the remaining officers on board and divvied up the most pressing tasks between them. The captain had asked him to come.

Aurelan, the captain's sister-in-law, was an athletic-looking woman with an almost Vulcan directness. She had obviously been told to expect Spock to arrive, and invited him in immediately.

Spock followed her into the house.

"Sorry," she said. "Jim's gone out back with Sam, but if you want to sit down they'll be back shortly. Mr. Cogley's already been here for hours, but he doesn't ride."

Spock frowned slightly. He knew nothing of this man.

"I do not believe-"

"Just leaving, Aurelan, just leaving," A small balding human male walked toward them, carrying some form of satchel. He also possessed an inordinate amount of paper that he was attempting to hold in his arms. His clothing was disheveled, and he appeared rather pitiably absentminded in his demeanor, glancing about the floor for anything he might have dropped.

Aurelan smiled at him, looking charmed as they exchanged goodbyes. Exuberantly, Mr. Cogley kissed her on the cheek. He turned toward Spock without altering his demeanor.

Spock attempted to look unapproachable.

"Mr. Spock, I presume," Cogley said expressively, apparently undeterred. "Sam Cogley. Attorney at law. Your Captain has told me all about you. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of each other."

Spock squashed a flash of displeasure.

"I do not see why," he replied coolly.

Cogley let out a bark of laughter.

"I know you don't," he said, seeming quite delighted by Spock's statement. "I know." He shook his index finger at Spock knowingly and nearly dropped several papers. He caught them, barely, and continued as if ending an entirely different conversation. "Have a good evening, I'll be in touch."

Spock watched him exit and was forced to wrestle with a stab of outright annoyance.

"He's quite a character," Aurelan noted, sounding amused as she shut the door behind him.

Spock raised an eyebrow and stared at her silently, somewhat less amused. Aurelan cleared her throat.

"Well. This way, you can wait-" The hallway opened up into a sitting room with large windows facing the rear of the property. "-Oh," Aurelan finished. Out one of the windows two men were clearly visible approaching the house on horseback.

Spock glanced at her.

"Yes, go on," she said briskly, and gestured toward a door set into the rear of the house. "Don't spook the horses."

Spock stepped out behind the house hesitantly, not because he was in any way uncertain of his reception-there was a sense of ease in their interaction now that led Spock to suspect that Kirk would accept his approach nearly anywhere-but because of how oddly, utterly human the object of his errand appeared here.

The thought was quite illogical, and yet for a moment it caught him completely flatfooted. Kirk was dressed in civilian clothing, laughing and riding beside a slightly older individual that was, by the similarity of their appearance, a close relation. His brother Sam, in all likelihood. Spock already knew his captain was an occasional horseback rider; He was merely caught off guard by how...natural Jim looked. As though he belonged in this place, under blue skies. At home.

So human. So-

Spock blinked, and set his jaw. Foolish of him. Of course his captain was human. He never thought otherwise. The captain had merely become familiar enough through close association to seem less strange. As the doctor had. And his mother. The captain was quite a different being than he was. This was his home planet. Foolish. Foolish to think that merely because Jim seemed so at home on the Enterprise, that it was the only place he could appear that way. The only place he felt that way. To assume that Jim was in any way the same as-

Spock did not feel any more alone standing in the golden grass behind the house than he had earlier. It would make no logical sense. He was, in fact, surrounded by more people, not less.

Jim looked up from laughter with eyes piercing and familiar, as if he could hear Spock's illogical musings. Blue eyes, like that sky.

'...the only home I have left.'

His eyes were not laughing. He spoke something to his companion, pulling his horse up short. He did not look away from Spock as he did it. He and his fellow rider were far enough afield, and the wind was wrong-Spock could not hear what was said. Kirk's companion turned in his saddle to stare in Spock's direction, but Spock did not tear his eyes from Jim to look. He felt oddly pinned by Kirk's gaze. The look in his eyes was slightly unnerving, sober and considering. It was as though-

Spock took a deep breath and curled the fingers of his right hand, loosely.

It was as though Kirk had touched him, somehow, despite the space between them. As though he could see what Spock had seen, and had put a hand on him reassuringly in response.

I am still here. I am still me. Relax.

Very slightly, very illogically, Spock nodded. Jim smiled at him, and it reached his eyes.

Jim had brought him here to speak with him. Some deep point of tension Spock had not consciously registered loosened and began to uncoil. There had been something amiss. Whatever decision, whatever choice needed to be made, Jim had made it. Spock was quite familiar with the look of Captain Kirk on the far side of a tactical decision.

Relief was an emotion, and therefore unnecessary.

Jim turned to his companion, and after a brief discussion, they continued toward him. Spock considered a moment, and moved forward to meet them.

Jim's eyes regarded him with ready affection as he approached, and once again, Spock chastised himself for his own lapse in reason. Of course the captain was human, Spock thought with warmth, sliding his hands beside his back and lifting his chin as they drew closer. It was, in fact, essential to his character.

Spock glanced up at his captain's riding companion, and was startled by the expression of flat hate that the man was leveling at him. The contrast to the captain's attitude was stark. While he was unused to such...blatancy, Spock was accustomed to occasionally being found objectionable by his mere existence, and looked away without reacting.

"Sam," Kirk said, as if he had noticed, and was displeased.

Sam said nothing, and Kirk sighed. He stopped his horse several feet away from Spock. The animal turned its head to the side and regarded him curiously with one large dark eye. It flared its nostrils and stamped its feet, as if somewhat unnerved by what it found.

Kirk patted the animal's neck soothingly. "None of that," he said, not without affection.

"I can take her in," Sam offered, as if making peace, "If you want to talk to your-" a dark look, not quite hate- "friend."

Kirk narrowed his eyes slightly, an unfamiliar, pinched look of indecision on his face. He seemed, for a moment, very young. "Yeah," he said then. "Yeah."

He dismounted the horse as if it was a relief to do so, and Spock stepped forward to walk beside him, as always.

"Thanks, Sam," Kirk said, without looking back. Sam did not reply, and it seemed to Spock as if something in their brief interaction weighed heavily upon him as they walked away. Without speaking of it, Spock moved closer, until their shoulders just barely brushed as they went.

Kirk started and looked at him with wide eyes. Spock carefully continued to study the scenery as if he had seen nothing. Kirk's expression softened, his shoulders relaxing.

It was curious that the natural, polite Vulcan reaction to emotional slips always worked so well to set him at ease.

"Captain, if I might ask, the reason you requested that I-"

Kirk brought his hand up, a signal to wait. He turned, pivoting where he stood, his other hand reaching to grip Spock's arm. Kirk was looking back with sober suspicion towards Sam's retreating form, though he was already too far away to overhear with human ears without amplifying equipment.

Spock glanced between them, his eyebrows drawn sharply together. He was concerned with Kirk's sense of underlying suspicion. The captain actions were growing increasingly peculiar, and Spock began to doubt the cause of it was anything remotely routine.

Kirk turned back around and Spock lifted an eyebrow significantly.

Spock would very much like an explanation. Kirk responded by gesturing with a jerk of his head the direction they should go, his hand sliding away from Spock's arm.

Spock dipped his head, forcing down the now too-common distaste he felt when Kirk either declined or ceased to touch him. The reaction...It was not yet becoming a problem. To control. Spock simply found himself quite...pleased...to be touched by Kirk. He found the affection it implied made it oddly easier to function. He had not had many friends. It was...it was pleasant. He often found it pleasant.

He might have blamed the meld they had shared. He certainly slept better afterwards. But while he was confident that the intensity and resonance he had discovered within Kirk's mind had not helped, if he was open with all the facts he was forced to admit that he had felt this way for some time. 

Spock did not think the captain had noticed. He perhaps touched Jim too often. Casually, in passing.

Spock did not think the captain had noticed.

The echo of himself he had seen in Kirk may not be responsible for his increasing distraction, but that particular discovery had been plaguing his meditations for many nights. Seventeen nights, precisely. A man entirely different from him, who nevertheless seemed to be carrying around a rather large piece of him. He could not place, could not categorize the sensation of white hot joy and seething terror the knowledge seemed to bring forth.

Spock had possessed no reason to disbelieve the advice his future self had given him. He simply had not understood what it would mean for him to follow that advice.

"I take it Mr. Cogley left?" Kirk asked.

"Indeed. He seemed to believe we would have need to meet again in the future," Spock said, eying Kirk curiously.

Kirk made a noncommittal noise. "Mr. Cogley is...a man of many talents," Kirk added. Spock raised an eyebrow. Kirk glanced at his face and smiled as if he saw something there, which was somewhat disconcerting. "Don't underestimate him, Spock. He's an ally worth having."

"I was not aware any were needed," Spock said.

Kirk said nothing, but glanced back.

"Moreover, your brother is no longer in auditory range," Spock continued.

Kirk gave him a very mild look, and made no comment. He was not entirely concerned about the people physically present, then. Interesting.

"It's not you, by the way," Kirk said, brushing his hand through the waist-high tops of the grasses. Spock blinked at him, and realized he was most likely speaking of his brother's curious hostility. Kirk nodded vaguely at Spock's chest. "It's the uniform."

Spock lifted his eyebrows slightly. "Illogical, as you yourself wear the same uniform."

Kirk let out a puff of air through his nose.

"Believe me, he's well aware." He gestured with one hand, toward a small dip in the landscape, shaded by a large tree. The lower branches grew nearly as far out laterally parallel to the ground as the tree was high. Quercus alba. White Oak. "Over here."

There was a small area under the tree obviously set up ahead of time. The grass was tramped down and two tree stumps were set on-end as though for makeshift seating. More obviously, there was a liter-sized silver beverage container, and some small electronic device he could not clearly see.

"Coffee?" Kirk asked, sitting down.

"No, thank you," Spock said cautiously, stepping closer, but declining to sit. Kirk noticed, and pressed his lips together in a thin line. He reached over, and switched the device on. Spock's eyes lingered on it. "Mr. Scott has been here," he observed.

"Briefly," Kirk allowed. He rubbed his hands together. "Spock, we've been through a lot together. But I have a feeling this...this one is going to be a little tough on you. So you might want to sit down."

Spock took a step forward, reining in a strangely triumphant feeling of anticipation. "Captain," Spock began, then, taking account of the surroundings, re-evaluated. "Jim. What is the situation?"

Kirk spread his hands. "There isn't one." He leaned forward a little. "Yet."

Spock's eyebrows came together, just slightly.

"I've been talking to the other you," Kirk said.

Spock swiftly managed the flare of jealousy that darted through his thoughts. It was unVulcan, and foolish.

"I had a thing or two to say to him about what he left out about what was waiting for us on Talos IV," Kirk added.

A flash of satisfaction, which Spock found himself a bit slower to suppress.

Kirk shook his head, looking at Spock with piecing eyes. "And you know what, Spock? It's a stupid idea, leaving things out. It almost got us killed." He leaned forward. "And it gave me an idea."

Spock tilted his head, a swell of alarm stilling his thoughts.

He could not- he could not possibly mean- he could not possibly be so reckless.

Spock was looking at James T. Kirk, and in recognizing this his alarm ratcheted up several notches.

"I am uncertain what you mean," he said, more because he hoped he was mistaken than because he did not know. The immediate consequences to the timeline would make the task impossibly complex and suicidally dangerous. Reckless was a mild word.

"I mean we cheat. Spock tells us more about what would have been our future-not a lot, just the parts where we might just have a hope in hell of saving some uselessly lost lives. I mean we- you, me, and Scotty-" Kirk curled his lips in a small smile, "-form a little gentleman's club in our spare time. Time being the operative word."

"Captain," Spock began, sounding slightly strangled to his own ears, "I strongly...resist such a proposal. Surely you realize how dangerous such a plan is. Any information he could give us would be almost impossible to use effectively now that our path has been altered. You can not hope to be able to predict how events in our timeline have already changed, will continue to change-"

"Spock," Kirk said, standing and holding up one hand, "calm down."

Spock raised his eyebrows high at the captain's mistake. "Captain, I do not believe I am-"

Kirk touched his arm, which was desperately pleasant, and perhaps, entirely unfair of him. Spock subsided. Kirk gave him what might have been, for a more susceptible species, a warm and charming smile.

Entirely coincidentally, Spock felt his shoulders relax by a minute amount. It was, quite simply, a little easier to function. There had been times, during the past two years, when that had been a precious thing. At times, the loss of Vulcan had been...difficult.

"I'll explain," Kirk said. He gestured for Spock to sit.

Spock sighed, and sat down.


"I have, over the course of my lifetime, been a participant in a significant number of temporal anomalies," the elder Spock began, his image on the screen reminding Kirk very strongly of his Spock giving a lecture in the briefing room.

"How many is a significant number?" Kirk interrupted.

Spock did not blink. "Eleven separate instances involving me as a principal at a temporal break, six further events in which I was involved peripherally."

Kirk leaned forward, fascinated. Spock was giving him details. This was different.

"What were you doing?" he asked, incredulous. Seventeen sounded like a hell of a lot.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "In nearly all cases, attempting to survive."

Kirk snorted. When he looked up, Spock was looking relived. Kirk folded his arms, any last wisps of temper tamping down.

"All right, Spock, continue," Kirk prompted.

The elder Spock inclined his head. "I have thus had more experience than most, and after some consideration of the temporal events and the results as I have experienced them, I have formed a rudimentary hypothesis concerning the mechanics of time travel as it pertains to the traveler. I believe it may help to assuage some of your concerns."

Kirk gave him an encouraging expression.

Spock held out his hands in front of him, his long fingers still graceful, even with great age. "When one is considering moving through time, it is most accurate to regard it as a fluid. Like a river, with currents and eddies. When a point has been changed, not only do the changes ripple outward, but there is an immediate effect on the current, so that further time travel to that point becomes both easier and more likely. Whirlpools and eddies form at weakened junctures, making the resultant spacetime turbulent and unstable enough that the likelihood of further temporal activity in that area approaches 100 percent."

Kirk frowned. "You're not suggesting some kind of...self correcting impulse inherent in the timestream, are you?"

Spock gave him a slightly surprised, but very pleased expression. A kind of I'd-forgotten-what-this-was-like expression.

"I had not said any such thing, no," Spock replied, his tone of voice saying quite clearly that he'd been just about to.

"Spock," Kirk began, "That's a little..."

"Jim," Spock shot back, "I did not look for you. But I found you, on Delta Vega. In the whole vastness of the universe I found the one man who would be best able to eliminate Nero, and begin to bring the timeline back toward where it should be."

As he spoke, Kirk lost the doubtful look on his face, and started to look pensive.

"There are times," Spock added delicately, and it was eerie, it was like he was chiding him, ending a discussion they'd had a hundred times before, "when calling it 'luck' is no longer sufficient."

Kirk felt the words like the point of a knife, and he took a sharp breath. He knew, abruptly and whole cloth, exactly how that 'discussion' between the elder Spock and the other Kirk had gone. Knew what the other him had said. Knew why he'd said it. He assumed that in many respects his counterpart had to be very different from himself, but in that moment he felt a kinship that took his breath away.

Kirk was never as comfortable as Spock was with not being in control of his own destiny. The emotions tangled up in the reasons for that were tangled and red. Like sitting alone in the woods crying, a child left behind with the corpses of his friends.

So calling it anything other than luck was wandering into dangerous territory, as far as he was concerned.

Spock was looking at him with that I-am-seeing-someone-else expression on his face.

"And this is relevant how?" Kirk asked, his voice tight.

Spock's voice was patient. "It is relevant because there is reason to believe that events in the timeline will tend to arrange themselves naturally in a manner that will bring this reality closer to the state it would have been in if things had not been altered."

"You think you can predict events?" Kirk asked, raising his eyebrows.

"No," Spock admitted. "There are an infinite number of variables. However, I am in a somewhat unique position, and I may be able to anticipate outcomes in certain situations. Moreover, there are several...incidents that are quite likely to occur unchanged because they were put into motion before Nero altered the timeline, and the likelihood of recent events affecting them are slim."

"Such as the Talosians?" Kirk prompted, narrowing his eyes.

The elder Spock nodded his head, looking down. "Indeed," he said, his voice very low. "My error was in not better preparing you, but I feared they might learn too much from your mind if I was direct."

Kirk worked his jaw for a moment. "It worked out all right," he said, finally. "Spock's fine now, and the Talosians accepted diplomatic contact, but it could have been ugly..." Kirk trailed off, because Spock was staring at him with his mouth open. "What?'

The elder Spock cleared his throat delicately. "They have...they have agreed to open contact with the Federation?"

"Yeah," Kirk replied. And then, because it was called for, given the look on his face, "Spock, what is it?"

Spock looked down at the table and expelled a breath. It was almost, almost a laugh. "Jim, in the history of the Federation, the Talosians have never agreed to open contact with anyone." Then, before he could even decide how to react to that, Spock continued. "I understand I am no longer a part of Starfleet and hence it is a breach of protocol, but I would," he paused, and his hand flexed on his desk, "very much like to read that mission report."

Kirk stared at him for a second. "Pike, you said?" he stated, after a moment of thought. His stand-in for the last mission, in the other universe. Who hadn't done so well, apparently.

It was oddly disturbing to think about. Almost like it shouldn't be any of his business. Like walking in on someone having sex. He couldn't stop a sneaking bit of competitive curiosity, though. Captain to captain, Kirk couldn't help but wonder what he and Pike had done so differently.

"I had not considered how little you like to lose. I should have realized that either the Talosians would have to break, or you would." Spock looked pensive as all hell. "You were correct- I was arrogant, and I put you in grave danger."

Kirk sighed, then gave him a searching look."Well, next time you'll know, more information is better."

Spock's eyes shot up to meet his, startled. "Jim?"

Spock never missed much, and this Spock missed even less where Jim Kirk seemed to be concerned. Those two words, 'next time' might as well have been a poke in the stomach, by the older Spock's reaction to them.

Jim inclined his head. "It's an idea," he said. He spread his hands and shrugged. "I mean, these," he eyed Spock, nodding, "these predicable events you're talking about. What were you planning on doing the next time one crops up?"

Spock blinked at him, raising his eyebrows a fraction. He hadn't expected Kirk to ask him that question.

Kirk stomach dropped. For just a second, the look on Spock's face-

Quickly, the elder Spock lowered his eyes and started to bluff, but Kirk already knew damn well what the answer was.

"I...had not considered-" Spock began, lying his ass off.

"No," Kirk said sharply, and Spock looked up at him, raising an eyebrow. Kirk was reminded, by the hint of challenge in that expression, that he was not this Spock's superior officer. Just a friend, albeit one he was habitually and temperamentally accustomed to deferring to. A fact Kirk was more than willing to take advantage of, especially when the Spock in question was acting insane. "I am not just going to stand by and let you commit suicide running around trying to save the universe on your own."

He did not clench his fists. Or do anything else to outwardly show the tiny shiver of real fear icing up his spine. This Spock probably knew anyway. He already knew how much Kirk hated it when the people he cared about were put where he couldn't protect them. Worse, this Spock knew why.

"I do not believe I stated my desire to do any such thing," the elder Spock said carefully, his eyes lingering on Kirk's expression.

Damn him.

"Spock," Kirk said, kind of outraged that he was still trying to bluff his way through this. "This is something I would do. How much did you pick up from me? Do I have to fire my first officer to keep him from losing his mind too? Because believe me, one James T. Kirk at a time is more than enough."

Spock studied his hands for a moment, relenting. "I hold the knowledge of future events. If there is any responsibility to act on this knowledge, it is mine alone."

Responsibility.

Kirk tapped the desk with the tips of his fingers.

"Uh-huh," he said, flatly. He looked very hard at the weathered, well-lined face in front of him on screen.

'Jim, we both know I am responsible-'

"Captain, the incident with the Talosians has demonstrated clearly that any attempt to use my knowledge to alter events is at best life-threatening. I can not ask you to-"

"To what, Spock? Risk my life? Or take up your penance?" Kirk asked sharply.

Spock straightened on the screen, and said nothing.

After a moment, "I can not ask you to risk the Enterprise."

Kirk took a breath. Ouch. The penance thing must have hit home.

"I didn't say anything about the Enterprise," Kirk began, watching the elder Spock's eyes narrow just a little. "And you don't have to ask," he said mildly, after a moment, throwing Spock a tight smile that probably told him very well how much Spock's last comment had stung. "I'm volunteering."


"You have...agreed to aid my counterpart without use of the Enterprise?" his first officer repeated, sounding faintly strangled.

"More or less." Kirk gave him an easy smile. "Well, I couldn't speak for her, any more than I could speak for you." He paused, then finally continued after seeing the look on Spock's face. "All right, whatever it is, just say it."

"Captain," Spock began, sounding appalled. Then, "Jim... I believe any possibility of your survival should you accept this course of action has entirely disappeared. Attempting to alter the course of history in a starship is foolhardy at best. Attempting it without one is to invite death."

Kirk folded his arms and nodded as if Spock had just given him a course correction. "Suggestions?"

Spock blinked at him. He gave him a very hesitant look.

"Do I have to drag it out of you?" Kirk asked, lightly.

"I would suggest," Spock said, and paused. He pressed his lips into a thin line. "Limiting your interaction with my counterpart in the future."

Oh, really?

"Let me get this straight; You don't trust yourself?" Kirk asked, taken aback.

He did not like the complete absence of expression that met his question. In Kirk's experience of Spock it suggested that no, Spock didn't really trust himself, and not just in the counterpart-from-the-future kind of way.

"What possible motivation would be enough to get you to lie about this?" Kirk prodded.

Spock glanced at him in a very interesting way. In a way that suggested that he might be enough, all on his own. "I could not say," he said then. "If you are asking when I might personally find it logical or expeditious to lie, I have no answer for you. There are too many variables. But to allow yourself to become a pawn when there is no possible winning move, or indeed any real strategy-"

"Spock," Kirk chided, "I'm surprised at you. You think you'd start a game of chess without any strategy? You think I would?"

You think I'd play a pawn if another piece would do the job better?

Spock had the good grace to look slightly abashed.

Kirk put a hand out and set it on Spock's arm."You trust me?" he asked, perfunctorily.

Spock gave him a look, that suggested he was an idiot for asking. "Certainly," Spock replied.

Kirk tilted his head. "I trust him," he said, a corner of his lip curling into a smile.

Spock's eyebrows came together pensively. He looked away.

"And Mr. Cogley would be another...piece on the board?" Spock asked.

"More or less," Kirk said, watching him with sharp eyes. "He'll be setting up some things that I can't do. Or shouldn't do. I've also got a spooky new program on my personal computer that's going to start vomiting up special chunks of information if," Kirk tilted his head, quoting,"'certain distinct circumstantial parameters are met.'"

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "That is somewhat vague."

Kirk shrugged. "He said something about a botany bay. I don't know. But if I'm in sickbay out cold and my computer starts flashing and spitting out timestream-compromising material, for god's sake don't sit on it."

Spock glanced slightly to one side. "If you are attempting to colorfully suggest I act on what I find immediately, I will do so." His eyes fastened back on Kirk's face. "However, if my counterpart wrote the program installed on your computer, it is highly likely I can retrieve the information from it directly, given enough time."

Spock looked almost eager to bust into his older self's little present.

Kirk sighed. He didn't care for Spock's growing dislike of his elder counterpart. He didn't even know what to do with the psychological implications-Bones would be doing cartwheels if he knew about it. He'd probably write a paper and stick copies up in conspicuous areas of the ship the next time Spock got on his nerves.

Kirk had a pretty good idea why Spock was acting this way, though. He felt bad about it.

Hell. I need to fix this.

"I'm sure you could," Kirk said gently, his tone of voice obviously confusing Spock. "But," he added pointedly, "we were talking about trust."

Spock blinked at him, caught off guard. Then,

"I...can not see any way such a plan could be successful without use of the Enterprise," Spock said hesitantly.

Kirk squeezed his arm. "And I can't fake a reason to take her where she isn't supposed to be without the help of my chief engineer and my first officer." Spock shot him a startled look, raising an eyebrow. Kirk shrugged and sat back. "Like I said, I didn't want to speak for you."

Spock looked down at his feet. After a moment he straightened, taking a deep breath. "Where, and when, would we take her?"

End Notes:

 

 

Ha! You thought I was dead! Well, I was only resting...after a prolonged squawk. Buckets of thanks. BUCKETS. (Shaking, sloshing sounds) You see these buckets? Filled with thanks. Some glitter as well, and possibly a tinyBones fell in there, too. (sloshing sounds now sound angry, accompanied by high-pitched cursing) And I'm dumping these thanks right over Peachly's head. For being such a good beta(watch out for Bones- he bites). I'm getting some on OrangeSea too, who bribed me with artwork to finish this chapter. (Bless her practical little heart).

Chapter 11 by JackHawksmoor

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Everyone got up to file out of the briefing room, but Kirk stayed seated.

"Spock," he said pleasantly, and nothing else. Spock, who had risen to his feet with the others, paused, sliding his hands behind his back.

Nobody looked twice. It was way too common for the two of them to linger after a meeting. Once the last person had left, Spock stepped over to the door and touched the panel, locking it.

"Computer, whitewash," Spock said simply. There was an answering chirp. "Code alpha six two." Another burbling chirp, in a slightly different tone. Spock turned to him and without any change in expression at all managed to convey a sense of smugness. It was not easy to trick a starship into ignoring you.

"Mr. Spock, you would make a very efficient spy," Kirk said. Spock did change expression then, and the smugness got quite a bit more noticeable. Efficient was always an excellent word to use when shamelessly flattering a Vulcan.

Kirk swiveled the chair to one side and kicked his legs up onto the seat of the chair next to him, crossing them at the ankles. He folded his arms across his stomach.

"Is Scotty solid on his end?"he asked.

"He assures me that to anyone who might come looking, our engine failure will appear entirely accidental," Spock replied.

Kirk frowned. "He didn't actually crack a crystal," he said, a sliver of worry creeping into his voice.

"No, sir," Spock said quickly. "He should have tests completed within the next hour that prove the dilithium only appeared cracked."

"That'll be an interesting report to read," Kirk said dryly, scratching his chin. He eyed Spock with a spark of amusement.

"Your hydroponics experiments coming along?" Kirk asked.

Spock had an unusual set of tests going on at the moment on an extremely odd type of plant life. It had some very specific light requirements that needed a good bit of equipment to provide. The complexity of the testing was compounded by Spock's insistence that the lighting equipment be lightweight, mobile, and easily removable. Kirk had been getting some informal reports that some of the staff down there may be considering violence, particularly since Spock rejected their first two attempts at building light emitters. The first time was understandable, because so much visual light had been included in the spectrum of the emitters that anyone who entered the lab would have been blinded, or would have needed heavy goggles. The second rejection, the rejection that had driven the head of the lab into Kirk's office pleading for sanity, had been because the emitters did not possess their own individual power sources.

Lieutenant Bills, the head of the lab, had nearly been tearing his hair out over that one. Kirk himself had to admit individual power sources weren't exactly necessary for operating efficiency, since the plants they were lighting weren't exactly apt to get up and run away. He'd been forced to have a quiet word with Spock about discretion.

It made the situation kind of awkward. Spock didn't really care about plants. Those emitters were going to be useful, though, if the information they'd received from Spock's elder counterpart was accurate.

If Spock had some experiments going on, there ought to be a reason, even if it was for his own curiosity. If he was overworking his staff, that was one thing. If he was driving his staff up the wall and past all reason for something that was simply for his own private curiosity...that was something else entirely. Lieutenant Bills had actually made an informal report. He had come to the captain. Once that had happened Kirk was pretty much forced to take some kind of action.

Spock had put him in a delicate position. Spock was following Kirk's orders-Kirk had to reprimand him anyway. He supposed it was amusing that he more-or-less had to order a Vulcan to be nicer.

Starfleet did not, as a habit, check the computer recordings unless something alerted them. There were too many ships, and far too much recorded material. But if they thought something may have happened, it was there to find, unless it was wiped, or the computer could be convinced to look away and whistle at the ceiling.

Kirk was sure they were doing the right thing. They were trying to save lives. He trusted Spock. Both Spocks. He was also sure he, his first officer, and his chief engineer would get locked up if Starfleet ever found out what they were doing.

Spock straightened, as if in silent memory of Kirk's rebuke. "The equipment is serviceable, should it be required for use on a landing party or," he hesitated, "aboard ship."

Kirk frowned at that.

"Despite the efforts of the hydroponics technicians to the contrary," Spock added, tilting his head. If Kirk didn't know better, he'd say Spock sounded a little annoyed.

Kirk let out a breath of laughter. "We all have our crosses to bear," he said, sympathetically enough. He was actually talking about those poor unknowing techs in hydroponics. Kirk was determined that the conspiracy they were undertaking be as minimally misery-inducing to his crew as possible. According to Bones, getting a Vulcan to be congenial was a momentous undertaking, similar to Hercules labors. Apparently, all it took with his first officer was for Kirk to express clearly just how disappointed he was that Spock was not up to a task he'd decided was important.

"There should be no difficulty constructing orbital arrays, should they become necessary," Spock said. "Mr. Scott has made certain we have all the necessary components, and I have taken the liberty of designing several different models." He paused. "If you would like to examine the-"

Kirk held up a hand. "I bow to your expertise, Mr. Spock. Any last minute concerns before we enter the system?"

Spock lifted an eyebrow, and seeming to take a cue from Kirk's relaxed stance, stepped forward and stood behind the chair Kirk's feet were resting on, placing his hands on the back of it.

"If you mean, aside from my concern about the less than ideal quality of our information?"

Kirk sighed. "From what your counterpart said, there wasn't much left of the Theta Cygni system once those things were done with it. He doesn't have intel to give. But we know they're going to hit Ingraham B in 2264...they've gotta be building ships by now." He smiled, gentle and chiding. "You want to wait until they get to Deneva?"

Spock gave him a look that gave Kirk an entirely warm feeling, right back to his spleen, possibly.

Of course not. Of course not.

They almost shared a smile. They shared something.

Spock cleared his throat lightly. "I still am unsure why you have not informed Doctor McCoy. His help, particularly in this situation, would be valuable."

Kirk widened his eyes. "Valuable," he repeated, in a oh-my-oh-me tone of voice.

Spock gave him the 'I pity the poor human' expression. "Doctor McCoy, regardless of his many faults, is the chief medical officer of this vessel."

Kirk smiled, but it faded quickly. He sighed. After a second, he swung his legs down off the chair.

"This is the test run, Spock," he said. "If everything goes pear-shaped here, then we'll know this is something that can't be done safely." He smiled faintly, shaking his head. "If you think you had a problem with the idea of playing with history, that's nothing compared to the stack that's going to blow when Bones finds out." He looked away. "You can manage the parts of the tests you'll need to fake yourself. I'd like to not dump the moral implications on his head if I don't have to."

Spock made some small motion, and when Kirk turned back to him he was a little surprised at how quietly sympathetic Spock could manage to look without really changing his expression.

"There is no guarantee things will go smoothly. It would seem prudent to have some backup in place to alert him of what needs to be done, should you or I become incapacitated," Spock said delicately.

"Then Scotty can tell him. Or if everybody's dead, I've got a program on my computer set to run for him." He smiled a little, though it came out more like a grimace. "He'll go there to get it- I talked to him about it." He glanced down. "I told him it was my last orders if anything ever happened to me. He loves that sentimental stuff."

Spock gave him a doubtful look.

"Trust me- when I told him about it, he hugged me. Right in the middle of his office."

Both eyebrows went up.

"He's a secret softy, I'm telling you." Kirk watched Spock getting a little uncomfortable and smothered a smile. "Nothing wrong with a hug between friends, Spock," he added earnestly.

Spock got a little...alarmed-looking for a second, and Kirk dipped his head and covered his mouth with his fist.

Kirk coughed into his hand to cover the laugh, and cut Spock a break. "Anything else?"

Spock let out a breath and leaned his weight on the chair a little. "We have had four months to prepare for this. However I am nearly certain that our preparations will, in real life application, prove that we have not considered all the factors."

Kirk leaned back in his chair again, crossing his legs. "That's life versus theory, Spock." He smiled slightly. "But I'm glad you're with me."

Spock looked at him carefully, searchingly for a moment.

Kirk went still, and lifted his chin a little, silently daring Spock to make something of it. Spock had known ever since the meld that Kirk cared. It was pretty pointless to try and hide something from somebody when they'd seen the proof otherwise in your head firsthand. But he'd been going out of his way since they'd formed their little conspiracy to make the affection he had for Spock a bit more plain in his actions, as well.

Instead of looking quietly horrified or offended like a Vulcan probably ought to when confronted by such blatant human emotion, Spock warmed up noticeably, seeming quite pleased with himself. Kirk smiled at Spock in the way that occasionally, when Bones was walking with them, made the doctor stop dead in the hallway.

Kirk wasn't sure why, but it settled Spock to see how much Kirk personally valued him. It was strange. Oddly un-Vulcan and insecure, two words Kirk would generally not use to describe Spock. He hadn't seen anything like it in Spock's older counterpart. Perhaps Spock would outgrow it-or learn to hide it better.

Well. A little reassurance was easy enough to give.

"Even if I were inclined to do so, as your first officer and your co-conspirator, I could hardly be elsewhere." Spock paused and met Kirk's eye with a level of open affection that Kirk probably would have found unbelievable at some point in his life. Spock shook his head in an understated manner. "I am not so inclined."

There was a very slight roughness to Spock's voice at the last, though he was speaking quietly.

Kirk did a little warming up himself, wondering with surprise if he'd just received something along the lines of a Vulcan love declaration.

He didn't really have a plan for this thing with Spock. But he had a leg up on the other version of himself, in that he knew that however much Spock might care for him, he was probably not going to handle it all that well the first time Kirk made a move. Other him hadn't waited long enough. Or he'd waited too long. Kirk couldn't exactly throw stones. He wasn't all that good with emotional entanglement himself. It was a problem, but it was an interesting problem.

"However, I must point out that you were," Spock began rather delicately, his voice cutting through the warmth that had settled between them, "incorrect in your earlier statement."

Kirk shot him a questioning look.

"You stated that Doctor McCoy would have a moral issue with what we are doing, and implied that I suffered similarly." Spock eyed him. "You are mistaken. My concern was with odds alone. I have not hidden the fact that they are not promising. The," he paused and frowned slightly, "morality of what we are about to do was not a factor in my initial reluctance."

Kirk gave him a small smile. "No qualms about playing god?"

"We are making a choice given the information we have. Were we to decide to do nothing, that too would be a choice, of no less effect." Spock tilted his head. "We are not the people we might have been. Our reality has changed. We have changed. I do not see the logic in clinging to some ephemeral obligation to a future that can not possibly transpire. If any sort of Prime Directive applies, our loyalty must lie with our own reality, not another's."

"The 'Humphrey Objection', but from the other side," Kirk said, thoughtfully. He didn't say, 'I think you just don't like your counterpart'. He definitely didn't say, 'I think you don't like your counterpart because of me.' Kirk had been captain of the Enterprise for two and a half years now. That job meant gaining a certain sixth sense about walking into dangerous situations. Accusing his first officer of being jealous of himself seemed, to Kirk's instincts, vaguely suicidal.

Or at least, far too bizarre a thing to attempt sober.

Spock stared at him. Like he'd started stripping or something.

"You," Spock began, and Kirk tried not to be insulted at how damned impressed he sounded, "are speaking of Kripke's objection to David Lewis' counterpart theory."

Kirk swung his chair slightly. "Modal metaphysics," he confirmed, picking idly at the table. "Earth philosophy's early opinion on alternate worlds."

"The papers in question are antiquated," Spock said, eying him with obvious curiosity. "May I ask why they have occupied your interest?"

Kirk dropped his shoulders a bit and gave Spock an exasperated expression. "Spock, my life has been intimately affected by that particular subject, antiquated or otherwise. I caught up on my reading."

Spock tilted his head and nodded, though he still had that funny look in his eye. Kirk imagined he might look something like that if he were to walk into his quarters and find Spock waiting there naked. Surprised. Aroused. It was amusing to see that on Spock, especially given the reason.

"Then you agree with my interpretation?" Spock asked.

Kirk raised his eyebrows, looked to the right, and said nothing. Spock was getting close to an area that had been making him uneasy for a while.

"Captain?" Spock said cautiously, looking puzzled.

Something in Kirk relaxed. Hell, if anyone would understand, it was Spock.

He put his elbow on the table, and propped his head on his hand. "Sometimes, when I'm talking to your counterpart," as usual when his alter ego was mentioned, Spock lost any good humor he might have had, but Kirk continued anyway, "I can almost see who it is he's expecting to answer him." Kirk looked away, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. "We're alike," he said. "I didn't expect..." he shook his head, not really talking to Spock anymore, "I didn't expect that."

Spock was staring down at his hands, and had gone very still. As soon as Kirk got a look at him he thought he spotted trouble.

"You feel a connection to my elder self?" Spock said, his voice absolutely bereft of any emotion whatsoever. As if this question was extremely important, or meant something else, something that Kirk didn't understand.

"What?" Kirk responded. "No. Well..." he eyed Spock, who was looking at him very intently indeed. "No," he settled on, to be safe. "I meant mine. The other me."

Spock's eyebrows went up, and his shoulders relaxed.

"I can tell sometimes when your counterpart talks to me, he's not talking to me." Kirk smiled, a little. "It's sort of like seeing the outline of somebody. The way he expects me to act."

Spock leaned forward; He was interested.

"And he's not that far off," Kirk admitted. He tapped his fingers on the table. "This timeline has branched off. That man, that other captain of the Enterprise, should be a stranger to me. We had different lives. But..." he looked away.

"Jim?" Spock prompted.

"It's too easy to know what to say to your counterpart sometimes, even when what he's saying isn't exactly for me," Kirk said.

Spock eyed him keenly for a moment. He then stepped gracefully to one side, pivoting his hand on the back of the chair so it swung out to receive him as he sat down. Spock rested an elbow on the table.

"It disturbs you, this similarity," Spock said, "because it seems to indicate a lack of choice in the path of your life."

Kirk gave him an even look. "You think so," he said.

Spock raised an eyebrow and pressed a single finger to his lips in a thoughtful gesture, his elbow still on the table. "You have failed to consider a possibility."

Kirk eyed him, narrowing his eyes slightly. "What possibility?"

Spock looked at him for a moment with a rather gentle expression. "That your character is such that it is unlikely for you to choose to be anyone other than yourself."

The words startled him, darting in and touching him someplace soft and unguarded.

He hadn't thought of that.

Kirk uncrossed his legs, leaned back in his chair and regarded Spock rather fondly. "And what gives you that idea?" he asked.

Spock tilted his head as if surprised by something. "Captain, certainly you are aware there are some constants in every universe?"

Kirk laughed out loud, because Spock was actually teasing him and that rated some honest delight. "Yes, but I never considered myself one," Kirk said after a few moments, still grinning.

Spock looked entirely too pleased with himself. "You may wish to mark the time and date. I believe you have underestimated yourself."

Kirk swiftly squashed an abrupt and surprising desire to kiss Spock full on the lips. He shook his head instead, leaned back and ran his hands through his hair. "Maybe," he said lightly. "I just wish I had your conviction. I'm not so sure."

"Conviction is not a quality I have often found you lacking," Spock said, raising an eyebrow.

Kirk was silent for a moment. When he spoke his voice was thoughtful. "You know the problem with the 'Humphrey Objection', Spock?" He looked up; Spock was watching him with the slightest hint of a frown on his face.

Kirk continued, his voice gaining intensity without upping in volume. "It says, to prove that two doppelgangers in two similar universes are two discrete individuals, you tell one of them that something he succeeded at turned out badly for his near-identical counterpart." Kirk's eyes lifted, fixing on Spock's face with blatant meaning, "If he doesn't care, they're individuals."

Bummer if he does care, though. Or, say, drags his hundred-and-a-ridiculous-number-of-years old ass across a ball of ice full of monsters and compromises every principle he's ever had to help fix it.

Spock face tightened, and he looked away.

"Does that sound like," Kirk's voice broke in a laugh, "anyone we've met?"

Spock's eyes were fixed on his hands. "No," he said quietly. There was a long pause. Spock's eyebrows drew together sharply. "Jim, I do not share your concern, because having met my counterpart..." He glanced up at Kirk, his gaze intense. "We are not the same."

"I know," Kirk replied, because that at least was true, and because this had somehow become intimate and close and he wasn't going to lie now. He must have spoken too fast. Too something. Spock reacted immediately and negatively. It was muted; This was Spock, after all. Kirk could tell, though.

Spock straightened a little, drawing his shoulders up, and turned his head away, looking at the wall as if he'd just been reprimanded. Or smacked.

Kirk let out a breath, wondering why in all hell there were these pieces of Spock that were so fragile, and who had done it, and what for. He knew that Spock and Uhura hadn't lasted long after Nero. Looking at Spock going cold and distant, he wondered if maybe she had hit a few too many of these brittle hard edges, and bounced.

Kirk reacted by possibly over-reacting. He leaned over, sliding his arm over the back of Spock's chair, until it looked and felt like Kirk had thrown an arm around him. Kirk stopped when he was about three inches from Spock's face. And then, probably obscenely, he rested his hand on the table right next to Spock's. Touching him, in fact.

I'll stop when you ask me to...

Spock actually twitched at that one. He turned and met Kirk's eyes. Spock's pupils were blown wide.

"I know," Kirk said gently, and lifted his hand from the table to press two fingers against his forehead significantly. He gave Spock a meaningful look. Kirk had, after all, shared head space with both of them. If anyone ought to know the differences between them, it was him.

Realization softened Spock's expression. "Of course," and the faint sound of relief in his voice made Kirk suddenly want to shake him.

Almost at the exact same moment, there was a warning bong from the computer. Kirk glanced up, then back at Spock. They shared an instant of shared feeling. A kind of mutual brace for what was headed their way. Briefly, Kirk touched his shoulder.

"Come on," he said, jerking his head towards the door. Spock followed, looking pretty satisfied with life for someone who knew how dicey the odds of the situation ahead of them was. Kirk paused at the threshold. He turned to Spock expectantly.

Spock gave him a questioning look.

Kirk spread his arms, widening his eyes. "Hug?" he said, mischievously.

Spock straightened sharply, his face tightening. He then gave Kirk a truly and utterly withering expression. It was impressive. Bones would have found it impressive.

"Computer, whitewash complete," Spock said crisply, and released the door, stepping through it with an air of suppressed exasperation that was both undeniable and pretty funny.

Kirk strolled after him. Bones was standing by his chair with his arms crossed, pretending like he hadn't been waiting on Kirk. He gave Kirk's clothes a once-over that made Kirk wonder, with some amusement, exactly what he'd assumed they were doing in there.

With this in mind, Kirk stepped up beside his CMO with a gleam in his eye.

"Bones," he said, his voice low, "you know, Spock?" He leaned closer, lowering his voice further. "Not a hugger."

Bones jerked away from him like he'd tried to put his tongue in Bones' ear.

"My god, you're like a child," he huffed, looking disgusted. But he glanced in Spock's direction, so Kirk sat himself down in his chair, his own small entertainment accomplished. He called it fair for all the many small and large embarrassments he'd suffered at the doctor's hands over the years.

"Captain, we're dropping out of warp in ten seconds," Sulu said calmly, helpfully, from the helm. What had happened to their engines was inconvenient, not dangerous. The Theta Cygni system was technically inside Federation space, after all.

Kirk turned his chair and looked at Spock. Spock was already staring at him, and nodded.

"Engineering. Scotty?" Kirk said, his voice controlled. From beside him, Bones frowned a little.

"Aye," Scotty said, and then, when he realized he should probably say something else because other people were listening, "I can still get us to warp five, but no more, not without those crystals, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Scott," Kirk said, and switched off, because they were dropping to sublight. He narrowed his eyes. The system looked innocuous enough, but then again, they were unexpected.

"Hailing frequencies," Kirk prompted. Uhura affirmed behind him, but for several long moments there was only silence. No one home.

"Lieutenant Uhura?" Kirk questioned without turning. He heard her working her board.

"I'm not picking up any transmissions, sir," she said, and he could hear the frown in her voice. "I may be able to pull out local government frequencies, just a moment."

This was a first-wave colony world. No one had been out to visit in a while. It wasn't surprising they didn't have a red carpet waiting. If Kirk didn't already know to suspect something, he probably wouldn't.

He turned in his chair, and looked up at Spock. Gave him an expectant look.

"There is no inner-system small ship traffic and very little activity on the surface," Spock responded.

"Life signs?" Kirk asked.

"Within expected parameters, Captain. Simply...very quiet."

"Sir," Uhura said. He gave her a go-ahead expression. "I have...something," she said, unhappy with the imprecision of that. "It is definitely some kind of public broadcast, audio only-"

"Let's hear it," Kirk prompted.

Uhura reached for a switch over her head, and a loud, steady, and somewhat grating sound suddenly filled the bridge. Kirk listened for a moment, then glanced at Spock. Spock's head was tilted slightly, a look of concentration on his face. He met Kirk's eyes and shook his head. Nothing he recognized. Kirk silently signaled Uhura to cut the sound.

McCoy stuck his finger in his ear and wiggled his hand, making a face. "Sounds like an alarm," he said.

Kirk looked up at Uhura. "Could that be it?" he narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "Some kind of emergency broadcast system?"

"If it is, it's awfully primitive, sir," she replied.

Kirk paused. Then he crossed his legs and gave the order he'd been itching to give since the second they'd dropped out of warp. "Shields up," he said, as if he was still half-ambivalent about the idea, or working off a hunch. "Bring us in to standard orbit. Scan for anything unusual on the surface."

"Sir," Sulu said a moment later with a frown in his voice, and Kirk felt something like triumph swoop in his stomach. "It looks like there are several massive quarries dug near the settlements and..." he turned in his chair, glancing back at Kirk, "it looks like they're building ships, sir."

Kirk threw a look over his shoulder at Spock, swinging his chair around a little. Their eyes met with the electric force of a single shared thought. Spock's elder counterpart had been right. He'd been right about what they were going to find here.

Spock blinked and looked down at his board, breaking the moment. "Confirmed, sir. At least three vessels. They appear to be in the midst of constructing rudimentary warp drives for at least two of the three. This would seem to suggest they are not merely for inner-system traffic."

"Huh," Kirk said, clenching his fist on the armrest. "Weird. They may have made their way here before more modern technology, but they have ways to contact us if they need transport. They're not alone if they don't want to be."

"Maybe there's something down there they want to get away from," Bones said, crossing his arms and hugging himself slightly, a dark expression on his face, as if he was imagining already any number of horrors running amok below them.

Kirk glanced at him. There was more than one reason why he liked to have the doctor up on the bridge. There were times when he was cautious just by nature when no one else would be. Starfleet liked them wide-eyed and fearless. Kirk needed Bones sometimes for contrast. To remind him when to be nervous.

Even if he didn't already know something was fishy, he might have paused when he saw Bones spooked.

Thank you, Bones.

He stood up and hesitated a second, still staring at the screen. "Spock, you're with me, we're beaming down. Have a security team meet us in transporter room two." He took a step, and almost ran over his CMO.

"You might need a doctor down there, Jim," Bones said, looking dead serious.

Kirk leaned back a little, raising his eyebrows. Not that it was a bad suggestion-it wasn't-but Bones had offered. Bones hated strange planets even more than space travel. He didn't offer very often.

Of course, given the casualty and injury rates on their last four planetside missions? It was just possible Bones had resigned himself to reality. Kirk would feel worse about it-and he felt bad enough-if he didn't have the best survival rating of any crew in the fleet at the moment. It still apparently wasn't good enough to keep Bones from worrying.

Kirk gave Bones a small, rather tight smile and touched him at the crook of his arm, nodding at the turbolift. "The more the merrier," he said.

End Notes:

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Author's Note: For anyone who cares about 'The Humphrey Objection' and the philosophers who were arguing about it...you are all monsterous geeks. How marvelous. It's all accurate (Okay, I may have summed it up a bit), and you can google it if you like to chew on dry theory and large words.

There is an episode here, but I almost hesitate to mention it, since the TOS fans around these parts are legion...oh, go on then. Guess this episode first, win a prize. (I didn't say it was hard, after all)

Chapter 12 by JackHawksmoor

After the death of Nero, Spock began to be troubled by dreams.

He often found control troublesome in those first unpleasant moments after waking. He also experienced headaches, as though the telepathic centers of his brain had taken the memory of psychic overload as real pain. He craved contact in those moments, the isolation of his thoughts in his own mind nearly unbearable. Due to this, Spock was quite grateful he experienced the dreams while in the privacy of his quarters. He was also fortunate in that Vulcans did not require as much sleep as human beings.

After one particularly difficult week of severe migraines and a strange, tearing ache in his own mind, Spock was forced to reconsider asking for help. The unpleasant emptiness drove him to seek out company with any of his shipmates that would allow him to linger close without suspicion. Spock knew at that point he could not hide his impairment much longer. A long evening spent talking with Nyota, or even playing competitive games against Captain Kirk was entirely satisfactory and even beneficial to command crew cohesiveness. However, when Spock found himself willing to lurk outside sickbay simply so he would not need to be alone with his own thoughts, he broke down and sent a message to his father at the Vulcan colony.

Sarek's response was both reassuring and disappointing. Spock was not unique in his mental disturbance. Indeed, many Vulcans were suffering more severely than he was. However, there was a consensus that this was a normal reaction, and except in the most extreme cases, should be dealt with privately through personal meditation.

Spock doubled his meditation time, and when that failed to help, he simply slept less.

However, the Enterprise was not well known for operating according to anyone's expectations, and shortly thereafter Spock found himself in a situation where his new difficulty became impossible to keep private.

He was bound, hanging upside-down in a small hut on a small world orbiting Beta Trianguli IV. One of the natives threw a considerable amount of water on the hot coals and quietly burning leaves in the corner, producing an improbable amount of smoke. The native then left very quickly, which was somewhat concerning. Beside him, tied as tightly as Spock was, the captain started to cough.

Spock did not precisely recall falling unconscious. He remembered dreaming. That sound, that vast telepathic scream ripping through his mind had just begun to splinter into real pain when he felt himself shaken. For .7 seconds he was actually insensible-shaking, the ground was shaking-

"Spock."

Spock looked over into blue eyes. There was a hand on his arm. His head ached monstrously but Jim's fingers were curled around the bare skin of his wrist, his thoughts pressed oddly close but not intruding. The feeling was like tasting water after walking for a week in the desert. Spock wanted to grab at them. The impulse was sudden and alarming. He suppressed it.

"Captain," he said, only a slight roughness to his voice betraying any distress. Jim looked him over once with careful, considering speculation. He nodded and released Spock's arm. Spock did not make a single motion to indicate he desired anything contrary to this. He had regained control of himself. It did not take long for them to escape.

It was, perhaps, a coincidence that he found himself beginning to respond in an inappropriate manner to the Captain's proximity around this time. A confusing inclination for his touch and nearness.

While he desired an end to his difficulties, Spock had begun to accept that there was very little Spock could do about it. His meditations had not proved useful. The dreams did not seem to be fading with time. Spock was considering, as a final resort, speaking to Doctor McCoy about it, when something changed.

He melded with the Captain.

The union of their thoughts had been quite shocking to him in many ways.

It had been...anything but what he had expected. It was as though he had found a portion of himself, residing within another being. There were many differences between them. And yet a portion of Kirk's mind mirrored his own almost perfectly.

The next dream he had, when the ground began to shake and he ran toward his parents home, the sand tore through the air, almost blinding him. He tried to cover his eyes, stumbling, and pitched forward, already feeling the pressure of a billion thoughts moving in.

A strong hand caught his arm and levered him to his feet. Gasping and dazed, he looked up into Jim Kirk's face. The look on his face was warm and bizarrely confident, a spot of calm in a world destroying itself around them.

"I got you," he said, and for an instant the memories of Spock's meld with him were so clear it was as if Spock had touched his mind again. Close and bright and full of energy, pushing everything painful aside. A taste of water after a week in the desert. Spock woke, startled.

That desperate ache of isolation was still there, but his mind was refreshingly clear of pain.

Since that moment Spock suspected he could not trust his own logic. Not where Jim Kirk was concerned.

Despite his suspicions, he found that he had significantly underestimated just how correct he was.

 


 

Kirk tensed the moment the transporter beam dropped away. That smell. He knew that smell.

Beside him, McCoy cursed, his expression sour. Of course, a doctor would know in a second. Less familiar with the scent of decomposing bodies, both Spock and the security team looked over at them in curiosity and concern.

Even Bones was staring at him in surprise. "You smell that?" he asked. Kirk started nodding while he was still speaking.

"Can you scan for it?" Kirk asked.

Spock was staring at both of them, drawing close. "Captain?" he questioned, his voice low.

McCoy had his medical tricorder out, muttering to himself.

"Decomposition. Something dead around here." Kirk paused and inhaled, then wrinkled his nose. "You never forget that smell."

"Captain," McCoy said, earning himself Kirk's full attention. He didn't get a whole lot of 'Captains' out of Bones. "About a quarter mile that way," McCoy said, gesturing into the wind that was blowing the smell their way."It looks like a mass grave."

There was one of those sudden horrible silences that signaled an away mission had just gone to shit.

Kirk nodded calmly. He had been on a lot of goddamn away missions.

"Phasers," Kirk called, like he was announcing the weather. The security team was trying very hard to look like they weren't twitchy and spooked. They scrambled to comply with a touch of overeagerness, and Kirk made a note to himself to keep an eye on them.

He gestured in the direction McCoy had indicated with his own phaser. "It looks like the locals may not be as friendly as we hoped." Kirk flashed a brief, rather grim smile, false enthusiasm making his voice turn almost jaunty. "Let's investigate."

He glanced over at Spock, the smile melting from his face the instant everyone turned away. Spock was scanning with his tricorder, but his eyes were fixed on Kirk's face. The quiet concern was palpable. Kirk touched his arm, a quick brush of his fingers as he walked past Spock to take point. He felt Spock relax almost instantly. Spock nodded without looking at him, just a slight movement of his head.

Spock had a transmitter on his belt, and it was currently live. Theoretically, if their information was accurate, nothing that the older Spock had told them to expect to find down there should be able to get within 20 feet of Spock without burning to a crisp.

They walked through the fields and the scrub brush toward something probably horrifying, and Kirk thought that it would be a pretty nice planet if he didn't know for a fact there were evil flying pancake monsters of suicidal agony lurking around somewhere. The sun was out with blue sky and everything.

He was the one leading. Nobody commented that he kept them in the warm, bright areas away from the shadows under the trees, even though it was much more likely to get them noticed.

The sun was hot on the top of his head, and on his shoulders. He caught Bones, with darker hair, rubbing at the crown of his head. If they spent too long walking in the sun they would need a break.

The grass was long, and tugged at Kirk's thighs in a familiar way. It reminded him of summer afternoons spent walking with Sam when he was a boy. It reminded him of the smell of horses, and the look on Spock's face when he'd been waiting outside his uncle's house and Jim had come in from the fields. Like Jim Kirk was the only safe thing, the only spot of calm in a world gone crazy.

At the moment Spock was walking just off to his right, looking centered and calm and completely sure of himself. Kirk would rather Spock always appear that way. He was aware that was probably an impossibility, given the path their lives had taken.

A few insects, irritated by their passing, buzzed up around them, and Spock batted one away from his tricorder screen. He looked quite cool and unaffected by the heat.

Unfortunately McCoy also had his medical tricorder out, and while it didn't have the broader tuning that Spock's did, it was apparently enough to spot something Kirk didn't want him to see.

McCoy scowled. "I think there's something coming from somewhere." He looked at Kirk for a moment, then turned and pointed his tricorder at Spock. McCoy pointedly ignored the dry, almost pitying look Spock was giving him, no doubt at the lack of precision in his word choice. "It's coming from Spock. And it's messing with my damn readings."

Kirk actually had his mouth open to speak, but Spock beat him to it.

"This is tricorder number x531790b," Spock said, gesturing slightly with the tricorder in his hand, as if that settled everything.

"So?" Bones asked.

Spock looked down at the tricoder as if he found it offensive. "X531790b has developed a minor fault. A fact which I informed the quartermaster the last time I had the misfortune of choosing this tricorder for a landing party. Evidently it has not been corrected."

"Hmmf. Well I guess that's what you get for relying on technology." McCoy gave his medical tricorder an irritable look and tucked it away.

Spock had just lied his ass off. Not a second of hesitation. It was slightly terrifying and weirdly hot to watch. Kirk stared at him. He was aware he was not being smooth about it when Spock noticed him. Spock lifted his chin and raised his eyebrows slightly, suddenly looking like he was a lot happier about his day.

"Oh for god's sake. I want to walk with Marple," the doctor muttered, shaking his head in that way that seemed to imply his life was just one long chain of idiots.

Kirk gave him a sharp look. He was about to say something- because he could let Bones slide with a bit of attitude but not too much attitude- when Marple himself started waving. He was standing out far to their left, guarding their flank and almost out of sight behind a small hill and some bushes. Kirk waved back and started to head over that way.

A moment later Kirk's communicator went off. Kirk answered it, frowning. They weren't scheduled for their first check-in for another four hours.

"Captain!" He could hear a lot of static on the line, which was strange.

"Sulu, I can barely hear you," Kirk said, adjusting for minor atmospheric interference but not getting any improvement.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Scott says there's something in the soil, some kind of mineral, we're getting heavy interference, we won't be able to maintain contact with you much longer."

Kirk frowned to himself, noting out of the corner of his eye that Spock had started scanning the aforementioned dirt.

"Can you still beam us out?"

"I'd rather not, sir," came Mr. Scott's voice. "If you want to head back to your beam-down point I could try there, or I could try and beam down boosters to your location."

"After last time, I'd rather nothing beamed in inside of anyone, Scotty. I want everyone back in one piece."

There was a cough on the line. Then, "Aye."

"There's something else, sir," Sulu said, "we have incoming ships. Two civilian vessels, unarmed but not responding to hails. Light craft, only a handful of people aboard each."

Kirk stiffened. "They're approaching the Enterprise?"

"Aye, sir."

Kirk hunched over his communicator slightly, his voice adamant. "Do not lower our shields under any circumstances, understand?" Sulu agreed, and started to ask questions Kirk didn't have answers for. "We're going to continue our mission here, try and figure out what's going on, but do not let those craft board my ship, do you got that? We'll check in on schedule." He switched the communicator off.

"Well great, now what?" Bones asked, resting a fist on his hip like there was only so much crazy landing party bullshit he could put up with.

Kirk cast an eye over the field and pointed. Marple was jogging toward them.

"A road," Marple said, sweating and eager. Kirk was going to have to risk giving everyone a break in the shade soon.

It was running parallel to their general heading, so they followed it. Kirk was familiar with what a mass grave was like, and what was needed for it. Which meant he was surprised when the road dead-ended directly off the edge of a canyon.

The smell was worse, and even from far off they could see there were large birds in the sky.

Spock stepped up beside him, his eyes raised. "Carrion birds," he observed.

Kirk worked his jaw and did not react to that. "Lifesigns?"

His tricorder whirred. "No living beings of significant size other than ourselves within a mile, sir."

Kirk let out a breath and clenched both hands into tight fists. "Okay, let's see what the birds are eating," he said, as if it was nothing. He could feel Spock's look.

He really didn't want to see Spock's face right at that moment. He didn't want to see the restrained concern he knew was there. Kirk wouldn't be able to resent him properly at all. So he glanced at Bones, which was a mistake. Bones looked worried as hell about him.

Fuck it, Kirk hated everybody.

They stood at the edge and looked down. There were more bodies than Kirk could count. It was a good sized canyon-it looked like they had just been chucking the bodies over the side without any concern for them afterwards. They'd obviously been doing it for a while.

"I don't understand," said Henricks, who was lovely to look at and a delicate blue Kirk had previously associated with his mother's painted ceramic figurines. She didn't flinch at the sight or the smell but she was scowling a little. "Why would they do this?"

Kirk glanced over and found himself staring at the doctor. McCoy's eyes widened a little once he got a look at Kirk's face, and Kirk didn't really want to think about why. Bones turned away after a second and started gently explaining to her and everyone else all about hideous plagues and the evil horrible vastness of space that wanted to kill everybody and also (historically speaking) what a giant monstrous pain in the ass it was for sick people to keep digging holes in the ground to bury other sick people.

Kirk listened with half an ear. They would have to get down to the bottom somehow. Bones would need one of those bodies for proof and specimens.

They were folded over and under and on top of each other, way down there. Kirk could remember what it had felt like, climbing over bodies piled up like that.

Spock was standing right beside him, so close that for a moment their fingers brushed. Kirk turned to look at him, surprised out of thought. He couldn't remember seeing Spock move.

Spock was looking down, his expression thoughtful. "Sir," he said, and pointed, "look."

Kirk turned his head, the texture of the rock fooling his eye. Once he looked again he saw what Spock meant. There was a path, cut into the side of the canyon, though it wasn't immediately clear where it would end.

They exchanged glances. "I'd guess under two miles," Kirk said, tracing the length of the trail with his eyes. "Worth a look."

Spock paused thoughtfully considering the length they would have to walk. "3 kilometers," he corrected. The captain gave him a brief look containing some amusement.

"Close enough," he said, and clapped Spock on the arm before turning away. "We need to get down there," Kirk announced, louder. McCoy immediately started to argue, worried about transmission and disease vectors.

Kirk gave him a mild look. "Can you tell from up here how these people died?"

There was a pause. McCoy let it stretch, fiddling with his tricorder. "No," he finally admitted, unhappy with his readings and the situation and probably Kirk and all of Starfleet.

Kirk raised his eyebrows. "Then we're going."

He took the lead, but once they actually reached the spot where the path began to wind down and they could see how iffy it looked, Marple made a firm play for the point position.

The trail was narrow and crumbly and after about 10 minutes it switched back, cutting into the face of the cliff where it changed directions. The angle of the slope around them got even steeper as they walked on. Kirk paused, leaning over, trying to get an idea of the lay of the land. If the path narrowed much more they wouldn't be able to continue. Marple and Hendricks had mountaineering training in security, and Spock had been manic about learning rock climbing after the incident on New Vulcan, but Bones wouldn't be able to handle trekking through talus down the side of a canyon.

Spock stepped up discreetly beside him as he leaned out to look. Not nervously, never nervously. Kirk pulled back, carefully not staring at where Spock was rubbing the fingers of his right hand together, as if he wanted to grab Kirk's arm and pull him away from the edge. It was too rocky-Kirk's view was blocked of the trail ahead. He was more amused than disappointed.

Kirk smiled at Spock and opened his mouth. There was a laugh there, some small comment to put him at ease. 'Why Spock, I didn't know you cared' or something. An engine sound, coming from above them, struck him mute. Marple was talking up ahead and Kirk grabbed for him silently, pointing up. Behind him everyone went quiet, listening intently.

"Spock?" Kirk prompted softly.

Spock leaned close, eyes on his tricorder. "An industrial vehicle of some kind," He whispered. "Power cells. Two life forms. And-" his eyes widened "Get back!"

A body slammed into the side of the cliff just above where Marple was standing, and then careened off into the canyon, spewing shards of rock over their heads. Marple flinched and stumbled, and Kirk shoved him back up against the canyon wall just in time for another body to crash right onto the edge of the path they were standing on. Kirk just managed to swing out of the way, and then realized in a sickening instant that he'd over balanced.

Kirk's feet slid out from under him and he saw Spock lunging for him with horror growing on his face. Kirk clawed at the edge as it crumbled, thinking that it would be all right, that he could count on luck one more time-

Spock threw himself out, reaching into empty space as Kirk started to fall.

Their eyes met for just an instant, and Kirk saw everything he needed to see in the complete desperation on Spock's face. Kirk saw the future in his expression, saw him tossing himself after Kirk into thin air like he needed to be punished for something.

Shit.

Jim's hand slid right past Spock's fingers as Kirk dropped into the canyon.

"Spock!" Bones was screaming. Was Spock fighting? Did Spock fall?

Kirk tumbled down the side of the loose, rocky cliff, bouncing painfully. He accidentally caught a boot on a solid outcrop of rock and almost catapulted himself into space.

Shit, shit-

He landed wickedly hard on one shoulder, threw an arm out, and dug his fingers into the scree as best he could. He saw another outcropping of evil-looking solid rock and he lunged for it with one hand as he rolled by. The stone bit into his fingers as he was wrenched to a halt. The loose rocks he was falling with continued on down in a kind of mini landslide, pelting him. He hung there a moment, gritting his teeth, trying to breathe as shallowly as possible as a cloud of dust rolled over him. He coughed.

He could hear shouting from above him. More than one voice. But no other sounds of rockfall. Spock had to be up there still, and yelling. Well, someone was yelling. The people above them chucking corpses had to have heard them- this could get much worse very fast.

Painfully, he pulled himself up, smearing bright red blood all over the rock. He could feel the skin he'd peeled off his fingers, something like a flap of flesh on his palm digging into the earth. He patted at his waist, but his belt was empty, everything lost somewhere in the fall. It was force of habit anyway- his communicator was useless down there. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, figuring they didn't have anything to lose at this point. His voice echoed back at him, garbled and strange. The voices from above went quiet. Kirk shouted again. He couldn't understand what they were saying up there, but it sounded like a fight to him. What was Spock doing with his crew? Kirk trusted him to handle this shit…

He wiped at his face with the back of his hand, squinting at his surroundings. There was a deep seam in the rock above him, and an overhang that shaded him and hid the landing party from view. He thought maybe there could be something climbable off to the left, but his hands were pretty much meat at that point. A long, tricky climb back up wasn't something he was looking forward to, but he didn't much like where he'd landed.

He had a weird feeling about the place. The smell was a lot worse down there. At first he thought that was what was making him uneasy, but then he realized he could hear a faint noise, like a buzzing noise. Once he noticed it, all the hair on the back of his arms went up. He took a step forward to be sure. The sound was coming from the cleft in the rock.

Kirk started to reach for his phaser, remembered he didn't have it. A split second later he realized something was moving in there.

"Oh," hell… he said, slumping for a brief second as the realization hit him of how much more deeply fucked he was than he'd originally estimated.

 


 

Spock was too late, and Kirk fell away. Away from Spock, quite literally slipping through his fingers.

His face-it was if he knew. It was if Jim knew Spock would not save him. His mother KNEW he would fail her-

"Spock!" He was dragged back. There were too many hands, and Jim was gone, out of reach. Spock whirled on the voice in a rage, grabbed two handfuls of fabric, and slammed an unresisting body back against the side of the cliff.

People were shouting. Someone pulled at his shoulder. McCoy, crushed up against the rocks under his hands, yelled at them to get back.

"Are you trying to kill yourself?!" McCoy demanded. Spock's hands tightened for a moment on the fabric of the doctor's tunic.

Then, from above, utterly forgotten in the shock of the captain's fall, another corpse was thrown over the edge at them. It hit the path several feet from where Spock and the doctor were standing and tumbled off into the air in a grotesque way.

"Down!" Spock said sharply, throwing his body weight against the doctor. McCoy cursed at him, but remained safe from harm.

Spock looked up, wary, shielding his eyes. A humanoid figure was looking down at them from above. They began to shout at someone out of sight. Their face was twisted in an expression of anger...or pain. Spock struggled for a moment with a violent, furious desire to inflict that pain himself. If the captain was dead...

He could not be. It was illogical to assume. He could not be dead.

The doctor was looking at his face, his eyes huge. Spock turned to his left, saw the rest of the landing party with varying expressions of fear on their faces. He stilled himself, fighting with sudden shame. He had responsibility.

"We must go," Spock said. "Now."

 

End Notes:

what the hell, I hate an unfinished story

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