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A vicious right hook connected with his jaw, splitting his lip and making him bite his tongue. Blood rushed down his throat; the boringly familiar sweetened taste of metal sank in with a rasped gulp of air. He didn’t see this one coming. This guy was good.

 

There was no time for him to take care of it, as he dodged another blow before launching an attack himself. Maybe that was true, maybe the guy really was half-Klingon. He was also high on dust, and that made him far more dangerous.

 

Taking this stuff was illegal. Taking this stuff was illegal anywhere else, but here, in the dungeon of the most insidious nightclub on Malex IV, nobody cared. That was why those weekly fights were so profitable, that was why half the sector came to watch, despite Federation interdicts and possible complications from the police. That was why they paid a great deal to be allowed in.

 

No rules.

 

It wasn’t necessary to kill one’s opponent to win the match, but if it happened, nobody cared. The proprietors had their ways of smoothing things over with the authorities. Besides, governor Nica himself was rumored to visit the top matches. Incognito, of course.

 

Friday nights were scheduled for the most anticipated matches. Anyone could challenge the resident champion, but not anyone was allowed to. For Friday night, it should be someone special.

 

There were other forms of entertainment, of course. Upstairs, in the official territory of the club, there was the booze, the girls, the boys, and the show. Friday nights were also solo-musician’s nights, because the men who came to watch the fight didn’t come alone, and their companions liked the guitar player. In fact, they liked him just as much as their partners liked the fights, and the nightclub’s owner had long run out of curses. He could make a fortune for selling the right to spend a night with his musician, but he couldn’t make him agree to it. Which was damn shame, as the queue of interested females and sometimes males was never ending.

 

The half-Klingon, or whoever he was, was fast. His appearance was long anticipated, and the stakes for the match were incredibly high, even for this place. For the resident champion had been known to never lose.

 

Jim Kirk was a fighter all his life. Not that he dreamed about it, or planned on it. It was something life kept throwing at him, as if testing his endurance, and he kept taking. He fought for food on Tarsus. He fought for his brother’s life. He lost that fight and swore then that it would be the last fight he’d ever lose, but he lost his next one in prison. The Federation didn’t have quite so many rehab colonies then as it did now. Prisons were prisons. Flesh was flesh and everyone wanted a piece.

 

There were rules though, in prison. No killings. No reporting abuse. No staying alone. He was bad at that last one. Keeping a personal bodyguard came with a price he didn’t want to pay. He paid for his arrogance. There were more fights. And when he served his sentence and was deposited on the newly established colony, there were even more fights.

 

He was from Iowa, he grew up on a farm. He thought he could maybe try to settle down. He had no actual family left, at least no one who’d care to admit they were related to a despicable criminal, who got in jail because someone died in a bar fight. That the someone was trying to rape a girl and had about a half a dozen friends who showed up to help was of no consequence to anyone. The girl said it was all a misunderstanding. And by that time, Jim Kirk had a police record at least as tall as he was. They said he was too smart and heavy-handed for it to have been an accident. No one believed him.

 

It was supposed to be an agricultural colony. The community leader needed strong young men to build things, and he was willing to overlook their colorful pasts. For six months, Kirk dubbed wood, cut stones, worked in the heights imbricating roofs. Then, the community leader decided that his daughter had poor taste in men, and that he couldn’t forgive Kirk his past after all. He was asked to leave. His contract was torn literally to pieces, and the house he was building for himself and his future family was passed to another man, without so much as a word of acknowledgement. He had gotten drunk then for the first time in a year. He was thrown out of the bar and off the planet without once coming to consciousness.

 

The Orions paid well. He was captured as a slave, but his master liked him too much to make him work. He won his freedom in a poker game. If he’d lost, he’d pay for it with his life. He managed to obtain a pilot’s license and stayed on Orion, smuggling goods. They paid well, and he needed money. But when they found out he was helping some of their captives escape, they instituted a hunt for him. He lost his ship, and they were still after him. But they had to catch him first.

 

The half-Klingon landed a hard blow in his solar plexus, and Kirk sank to his knees, gulping for breath, reveling in pain. It felt good to be hurt so badly. All his life they were telling him he was worthless, that beatings were all he deserved, and he was finally starting to see their point.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Zenkur, who mouthed something at him. That’s right, he was supposed to throw the match or he’d die. They cornered him this morning, Zenkur and his two tamed gorillas he kept for bodyguards. Throw the match or fucking die. They placed too much money on his opponent to lose.

 

Too bad he didn’t believe in losing.

 

Uhura came over after they left. Brought him dinner. She was a part-time chorus girl and part-time bartender. She didn’t even like him much when she was high, and when she wasn’t she liked him even less. He didn’t like her either. For him, to like someone meant to want them, and he couldn’t bring himself to want her. He didn’t know why. She was appealing. She never left the club alone, but none of them cared for her.

 

Kirk knew. He spent too many nights searching through the whole fucking city, looking up every stinking corner, digging in the gutter, breaking into the dens where he wasn’t at all welcome but where everyone was too far gone to care, until he would find her, drunk, high, screwed, beaten, raving and asking for more. She fought him sometimes, had bitten him once, and there was a night when he found her not breathing. He blew the air into her lungs until he was blue in the face, and then she came to and vomited all over his boots. He held her head, preventing her from choking, then cleaned her up and dragged her home. Her home, the dirty room in the nearby hotel. He didn’t have a corner in this city, not even after a year.

 

Kirk didn’t know why he was doing this. He liked her singing, but he didn’t like it that much. She tried to tell him her story once, something about an abusive parent and a failed pregnancy. He only shrugged; he didn’t really care. In a place like this, everyone had a story, even the musician.

 

He was there, too, stringing his guitar for the night, when Uhura came to Kirk.

 

‘He’s gonna kill you, you know,’ she said, nodding after Zenkur. ‘He wants you off the planet, says you’re ruining his business.’

 

‘How d’you know?’ Kirk asked, not particularly interested. He wanted off the planet. He was staying as long as it would take him to raise enough money to buy a ship. He wanted a ship, badly. He might even never make port if he got one. But he wasn’t there yet.

 

‘Jen slept with one of his friends from D-Street. She heard.’

 

Kirk frowned over his steak. ‘Jen?’

 

‘You slept with her last week, why do you think she’d care?’

 

‘I thought it was Mag.’

 

‘It was Jim, actually,’ Gabriel, the bartender, cut in, pouring Kirk his coffee. ‘Don’t you remember shouting about never having done someone with your own name?’

 

Kirk shrugged, unimpressed. ‘Do I usually remember what shit I was onto the night before?’

 

‘Oh, what the fuck does it matter, Jim?’ Uhura snapped in disgust. ‘Zenkur wants you off the planet, it’s a done deal. You have to throw the match or he’ll kill you.’

 

Kirk glared at her. ‘I don’t throw matches, Ny. He’ll win if he’s better. That’s it.’

 

‘Besides, I’ll throw him out if he loses,’ Gabriel said. ‘So eat and sleep and don’t screw anyone in the middle, you’ll need your strength tonight. Oh, and Kirk.’ He shot a malicious look at the guitarist. ‘Get him to play something else, would you? Those fucking gammas are putting me to sleep.’

 

‘You know he doesn’t take orders.’

 

‘No, but he’ll stop if you ask him, so ask him,’ Gabriel drawled nastily. ‘He earns me money, but I swear, sometimes I just wanna break his scrawny neck.’

 

‘I thought you wanted to do him first.’

 

‘He does,’ Uhura said. ‘But it’s never gonna happen. Jim, listen—’

 

‘Shit, Ny, if you can’t let me eat in peace, why’d you bring me food?’ Kirk snapped in disgust and stood up.

 

He walked towards the darkened stage, pausing a moment to watch the musician. Kirk didn’t have a crush on him, but he could see why other people did. There was something mesmerizing about his sparse, liquid movements, something distinctly alluring in the darkness of his features. Not to mention that most people liked to break an enigma, and this one seemed to be unbreakable.

 

‘Hey, Spock,’ Kirk said quietly.

 

There was no acknowledgement to his presence or his words, though Kirk knew that the Vulcan was aware of both. He wasn’t surprised, though. Firstly, because he was way too long used to it. Second because Spock didn’t ever speak. At all.

 

Kirk pulled up a chair and sat in front of him.

 

‘Do you know the Moonlight sonata?’ he asked the bowed head.

 

Uhura laughed softly, and for once, there wasn’t a hint of sarcasm in her voice as she addressed him.

 

‘God, Kirk, you’re pathetic. Everyone knows the Moonlight sonata. But I never expected you to know.’

 

‘Hey, I wasn’t always a jerk,’ he said, to his surprise, without bite.

 

‘Could have fooled me.’

 

Kirk sighed. Spock continued to tune his guitar as if no one else was there.

 

‘He won’t play for me, will he?’

 

‘No,’ she said. ‘He doesn’t play for anyone. It’s just something his hands do.’

 

‘How does he even... I mean how does he even remember how to play? He has to know the notes, for God’s sake.’

 

She bit her lip and shrugged.

 

‘Maybe he does remember. Maybe he’s rewriting the universe’s best musical anthology as he goes. It’s Spock, you know. One can never be certain.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Kirk nodded, watching the long fine-boned fingers pulling the strings softly, concentrating as if nothing else even existed. ‘Yeah, I know.’

 

Spock had good days and bad days. On his good days, he would actually look at the person who was talking to him. On his bad, he would act as if the world he was seeing in front of his eyes was drastically different from what everyone else was seeing. That was why Gabriel didn’t fire Uhura, despite the drugs, the booze and the rest of it. She was the only one capable of communicating with Spock on his bad days. Or maybe not communicate, but get him to do what he was supposed to be doing. Mainly, wear the proper outfit, sit on the stage, look pretty and play the damned guitar.

 

Kirk shook his head, as Spock started a slow-building flamenco rhythm. The Vulcan was having more good days now than he used to, but sometimes he would still slide into this ‘nobody-home-call-back-later’ mode and cease all outward interactions.

 

Spock’s story was actually the one Kirk wanted to hear, but for a long time it was impossible. He admitted to mostly not giving a damn, but the curiosity was a dog, and he sometimes had to heal for days before he could reenter the fighting. Uhura finally told him, after he pulled her out of yet another disaster. For when Kirk didn’t do it, Spock did, and that one time they had actually intersected.

 

‘He was in Starfleet, you know,’ Uhura told him the next morning, after Kirk spent a monstrous night, between not allowing her to drown in her own toilet and keeping off the police.

 

‘No way,’ Kirk said, astounded and a little disgusted.

 

He hated Starfleet. A bunch of thickheaded prudes and idiots, who were never there. Never. Not when Kodos executed innocent people, not when those fuckers murdered Sam, not when Carol’s transport was caught in the ion storm and no one, no one was fucking there to help them. She was pregnant they told him afterwards. Well, no shit. He hated them.

 

‘He was,’ Uhura nodded, laughing and reaching for another weed-stuffed joint.

 

Kirk didn’t ask what was in it this time, he simply snatched it from her hand.

 

‘Hey!’

 

‘Tell me. What happened to him?’

 

‘It was some away mission or something,’ she said, eyeing the roll-up with a pout. ‘He and his CO got stranded. Everyone thought they were dead and stopped the search. They left him, can you imagine that?’

 

‘Fuckers.’

 

‘Yeah. Anyway, Romulans found them.’

 

‘Christ.’

 

‘Yeah.’

 

‘How did he survive?’

 

‘I don’t know. His CO died one week into it. And Spock, well, he’s just… Fuck, I don’t know, Jim. They say they do this thing with their minds, you know? When they use you, they don’t just—”

 

‘Yeah, I know. I heard.’

 

‘Well, it’s true. He hasn’t talked ever since then. Must be some brain damage. They dumped him on some mining colony as payment for the dilithium. Imagine that.’

 

‘I’m not sure I want to. How’d you know so much about him? If he doesn’t talk? And why does he care for you? I mean, I know you don’t sleep with him, so how come?’

 

She looked away for a moment. He wanted to laugh, because a sudden streak of modesty was nothing but ridiculous coming from this woman. And yet, she was embarrassed. In a moment, he found out why.

 

‘I... helped him once,’ she said, staring at the ceiling. ‘When he was dying... you know. I helped him. And he, well, he did that mind thing, and I saw things and kinda, well, knew him then. He’s not what he seems to be. But nobody fucking cares.’

 

Kirk shook his head. ‘Why’s he here? Doesn’t he have a family?’

 

She frowned. ‘I don’t think so. I met him three years ago, on Toriam. We were having this double act till we settled here. He played, I sang. Nobody ever came looking for him. And I don’t think he wants to go back. After everything, I don’t think I’d want to, either. Give me my roll-up back.’

 

Kirk threw it expertly into the trash bin. ‘I don’t want you to suffer brain damage.’

 

In a week after that, Kirk came to the club early. It wasn’t open for the public yet, and the staff was only just filing in. He spotted Spock sitting at one of the tables, trying to assemble a puzzle. Kirk walked over, watching. It was a simple puzzle, elementary geometry. Kirk remembered he used to have one of those as a child. It got boring after the first three times. Too simple.

 

The Vulcan was staring at the puzzle in deep concentration. Kirk had never before seen any expression on his face, but just then he was frowning and biting his lip a little. He reached for a piece with his hand. It was the wrong one. He realized it halfway through and set it back, his frown deepening. He then reached for another, and it was a wrong one again. It was a pitiful sight, as he tried again and again to solve the puzzle that three-year-old children cracked in a minute. For a moment, his face assumed a haunted, pained expression, as if it hurt him physically that he couldn’t remember and couldn’t figure out the solution. He reached for another piece, and then simply dropped his hands to the table and closed his eyes.

 

Kirk remembered then that it wasn’t the first time he saw the Vulcan at a table during his off hours. He just never paid attention before, but it was clear to him now that Spock had been trying to solve this puzzle for weeks. Stubbornly attacking it again and again, without being able to discern the unlocking pattern.

 

Kirk didn’t know what made him do it. He didn’t consider himself kind or charitable. He’d laugh his ass off if someone told him that. He smashed people’s noses for looking at him the wrong way. Because he could. Because it made him feel better for an instant. And because they sometimes were capable of fighting back, and those were the best kinds. Those kinds could make him feel pain. And pain was the only thing he could still feel. The only thing that reminded him he wasn’t dead yet. If he hurt, he lived. He didn’t know how it ever could be another way.

 

He didn’t know what made him do it, but then he rarely gave a damn about his motivations. He walked over to the table and pulled up a chair. The Vulcan’s eyes snapped open and he stared at Kirk in alarm, reaching to clear the table and go. Kirk caught his hand and gestured with his other for him to watch.

 

He didn’t solve the puzzle. With his gestures, he tried to explain the principle with which it could be solved. He was being watched raptly, and halfway through his explanation, he was interrupted, still in complete silence. Spock eyed the pieces intently, and then he finally picked another one, the correct one, and put it in place. He looked up at his unexpected assistant as if seeking approval, and Kirk nodded, grinning at him. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so pleased with himself as when he watched Spock finishing the puzzle with growing confidence.

 

The weirdest part, though, was when it was finally solved. Spock’s face closed, then he suddenly stood up, messed all the pieces again before Kirk could even protest, and walked away abruptly, as if chased by the devil. Kirk didn’t see him the next day. It wasn’t surprising, as the next day was the day after the match, and as it turned out to be a particularly nasty one, he was laying semi-conscious in Gabriel’s spare storeroom in the dungeon, nursing several broken ribs and groaning.

 

The next day, as a friend of Gabriel’s who was a decent sawbones who had lost his medical license because he was prescribing extra drugs patched him up, Kirk decided to leave, even though he still felt like shit. To his unpleasant surprise, his path was blocked by Spock.

 

‘What do you want?’ Kirk asked the Vulcan rudely. All he wanted was to get out of that place, curl up in some dark corner and drink himself to oblivion. He wasn’t in the mood for puzzles.

 

The Vulcan touched his hand, gesturing for him to follow. Kirk cursed, but went. He was tired and frustrated, and didn’t hesitate to say so. He couldn’t help a growl when the entered the large room where the matches were usually held. It still stank of his blood too much for Kirk’s taste.

 

Spock led him to a viewer at the wall and pressed playback. To Kirk’s annoyance, not only was it the recording of his nearly lost match, but it was stuck at the moment when the Andorian he fought had stunted him thoroughly with an unexpected blow. Kirk thought he had been humiliated enough the first time around, and had no wish to watch it again.

 

Spock stopped him from leaving. He pointed at the frozen Andorian on the screen then at Kirk and then at himself. It took Kirk a moment to catch on, and then he laughed out loud.

 

‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’ he managed, looking at the Vulcan’s determined face. ‘Me to fight you? Fuck, you are crazy. I’m afraid to knock you over with my breath, never mind that blow.’

 

But Spock was persistent. He continuously prevented Kirk from leaving the room, pointing at the screen and then the both of them again and again, until Kirk finally gave in.

 

‘All right, fine, I’ll do it. Don’t come running for mommy afterwards.’

 

Very half-heartedly, he started at the Vulcan, loosely imitating the blow his last opponent had used so successfully. Kirk didn’t quite know how it happened, but a moment later he was on the floor, yelling, nursing the recently healed injury. The Vulcan seemed unaffected by his display, waiting patiently for his flood of curses to subside and for Kirk to get back on his feet. Kirk stared at him, not quite believing it had happened.

 

‘Again,’ he said, and the Vulcan nodded.

 

After he was thrown the third time, Kirk stood up grinning.

 

‘All right,’ he said, sneering. ‘Explain.’

 

Between Spock being a decent instructor, and Kirk a quick study when it came to hand-to-hand fights, he put the Vulcan on the floor the second time they tried.

 

‘Cool,’ Kirk said. ‘Anything else you want to show me?’

 

And then it happened again. Spock’s face became even more impassive, he turned around on his heel and left, without a backward glance. Kirk shrugged, repeating the move in his head yet again. It turned out that being kind to idiots did have its advantages.

 

He didn’t figure out the pattern until it happened for the second time. This time, it was Kirk who had finally found Uhura, after four days of tedious search. She was in bad shape, having caught an infection from a poorly refined dose of crack. When Kirk brought her to her hotel room, he bumped into Spock, who didn’t look his best himself. He looked more like a zombie than Prince Charmed, and Kirk imagined Gabriel wasn’t too happy.

 

Spock took Uhura from Kirk without any kind of acknowledgement, not even a nod, and slammed the door in his face. Kirk was too tired to even yell at him, so he left them alone. He was angry, though, as he had no place to sleep that night, and her carpet sounded just about fine by that point.

 

Screw that, he didn’t need anybody’s mercy. Not even if it was a loony Vulcan and a slut who didn’t care for him that night. Nobody ever cared for him anyway. Not since he was a sweet little boy with a stack of golden curls, helping his mom run the farm.

 

He found a woman with a kennel before he even took thirty steps from the hotel. He fucked her through the mattress and she didn’t even notice he was stark raving mad with fury. Not that she’d care, either way. In the whole goddamned city, there wasn’t a single person who’d care. It wasn’t a nice place. And they weren’t nice people.

 

Spock gave him his second lesson the next day after Uhura returned to the nightclub’s stage. This time, Kirk didn’t question him and was rewarded by not one but three highly useful moves he’d never encountered before in his fight-filled life. This time, he got it. What Spock was doing was a ‘thank you.’ He asked himself about how strange it was that the Vulcan who got stuck with childish puzzlers was apparently a closet martial arts master. He asked himself, shrugged and moved on.

 

Spock was consistent. The lessons repeated every time Kirk found Uhura when Spock couldn’t. One time it happened after Gabriel tried to hook Spock up with one of his clients and went a bit too far. Kirk intervened by grabbing Spock’s arm and tugging the Vulcan with him, ‘He’s taken, Gab, piss off!’ He threw in his night’s earnings for it, too, and he didn’t care. They spent what Kirk privately labeled as the stupidest night of his life, drinking coffee (Spock didn’t touch his, but who cared) and talking, which meant that Spock was silent as usual and Kirk couldn’t shut up.

 

He wasn’t drunk, but he felt drunk, coffee being his only true addiction, apart from violence. He talked about random things as they came to him; his past, his present, the childhood that he barely believed happened to him and not someone else. There was no telling if Spock was listening, he wasn’t even blinking much, never mind showed any other reaction.

 

But he sat there all night, and watched the human, and after Kirk was finally done, they walked into the dirty backyard, covered in broken glass, and Spock took him to school with a whole sequence of blows and blocks. There wasn’t a corner of that backyard that hadn’t seen Kirk’s face, or a wall he hadn’t been slammed into, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind because after Spock was done ‘showing off,’ he showed him every single one of those blows and blocks, and only left when he made sure Kirk got them.

 

Two months later Kirk killed a man. It was a fight to cap all his previous experience, and it was kill or die in the end. He barely made it. By the time he finished his opponent off, there was no thinking involved. Not even in prison, Kirk had ever been beaten so thoroughly, so cruelly. He couldn’t walk. His eyesight didn’t return for four days. He had seven bones broken and knit. He couldn’t take a breath without gasping in pain, and that was one lasting injury that wouldn’t go away. He was always short of breath ever since, just a little, but noticeable enough.

 

Gabriel told him not to show up for a couple of months, while he was dealing with murder charges. Kirk considered, seriously considered not coming back, but in the end decided he should. He still needed money. And he didn’t want to crawl away with his tail between his legs, beaten.

 

He came back. He found out Uhura had managed to pull through a detox program, something he’d been trying and failing to make her do for months. Kirk entered another match and won. All seemed to be as it was. Then Spock came and offered him another lesson.

 

‘But, Spock, I didn’t do anything for you this time,’ he argued, incapable of understanding why. He never told Spock he’d be doing what he was doing anyway because he chose to, because after everything that had happened to him, he was still that stupid. Because he fought for that girl in that bar and it got him in jail. He’d likely do it again because he couldn’t help it. He never told Spock this, because as superior a fighter as Kirk considered himself, he never missed a chance to learn a new trick, and Spock was an inexhaustible source of them. But this time something made him speak up.

 

‘I haven’t earned it,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to.’

 

Spock looked at him for a moment. Then he reached out, almost timidly, and stopped short of touching him. His hand hovered over Kirk’s collarbone, one of the seven bones that had been broken. His arm. His hip. His chin. Kirk was standing stock still, staring at him. Spock wasn’t there when the fight was on, he never was. No tape could have shown him that much. Yet he pinpointed every injury, every abused limb, every particularly strong bruise, with frightening accuracy.

 

Spock dropped his hand and repeated the mute gesture, which Kirk came to translate as ‘Come with me.’ He shrugged and went. If Spock was feeling generous, who was he to stop him? But in the end of the lesson, he couldn’t help but ask again.

 

‘Why, Spock? What d’you want for it?’

 

Spock looked at him, a deep searching look that Kirk didn’t understand. Then Spock shook his head and made a curt gesture with his hand, the translation of which was universal, ‘Nothing. No gratification required.’

 

Kirk nodded his understanding, but couldn’t let go still. ‘But what if...’ he struggled for words. ‘What if I want to?’

 

Spock’s lips curved very slightly, which was the closest thing to a smile or even to an expression Kirk had ever seen on his face. He shook his head again, more determinedly this time, and left. For a moment, Kirk felt numb.

 

For the first time since he was thirteen, someone had done something for him without wanting anything in return.

 

Granted, it came from an idiot who got his brain all messed up and probably still struggled with first grade mathematical equations, but still... He couldn’t shake off the feeling that Spock meant it. From the depth of his demented mind, he extracted the conscious wish for this one individual to be safe. Or at least safer. It felt odd, and it felt awkward, it felt freaking crazy as hell. Yet Kirk caught himself asking the imbecile kind of question. Will he do it again?

 

Well, he thought as he stared into the dilated, completely mindless eyes of his current opponent, now he’d probably never know.

 

The only good thing about fighting against someone high on dust was that sooner or later, the effects wore off, and it left the person weak and disoriented. If Kirk could hold on for that long, if he could stay on his feet until the dose was out, he had a fighting chance.

 

He wiped the blood out of his eyes and aimed a vicious left cross at the half-Klingon’s side. Judging from the growl it extracted, he didn’t miss the kidney. He knew very well the condition his own body was entering now. The final stage of exhaustion when no amount of pain was enough to keep his consciousness from slipping. The receptors had been on overload for so long that they almost stopped sending signals to his brain, and when they would cease it completely, he’d pass out in the lack of information from his body.

 

He needed to hold on. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Uhura in the crowd, and it surprised him a little. Then he caught sight of Zenkur again, just as Kirk sent his opponent flying, with one of his recently acquired skills. He didn’t even plan on doing it, his body did everything for him. Usually, it took years for the moves to become instinctive, and for a split second of half-clear thought, Kirk wondered if Spock did more than showing him how to do them, if he had somehow imprinted them directly into his mind.

 

The match was over before Kirk realized it was. Suddenly the crowd was cheering, and he looked down to see the half-Klingon lying motionless in the center of the improvised arena. Kirk himself was down on all fours, barely capable of rising and sneering to proclaim his victory. He saw no familiar faces in the crowd this time.

 

They cleared out swiftly. It always happened this way after a match, nobody wanted to risk being caught for longer than absolutely necessary. Kirk found himself staring into the mirror above a dirty sink, trying to clean up. But his hands were shaking, and he kept missing his face. He knew there was someone with him, but he didn’t care. There was a hand on his shoulder, pushing him, and he felt he needed to comply with what that hand was demanding. It guided him to a bunk, and he sat down, leaning against the wall. Only then did he look.

 

Uhura. She stood a moment, gazing over him, disgust and something else, something he couldn’t discern, lurking in her eyes. She injected him with something, probably painkillers. He wanted to tell her she didn’t need to bother, he was feeling pretty numb as it was, but he couldn’t summon enough strength to say it. He closed his eyes, vaguely aware that she was cleaning him up, washing away the blood and applying something smelling suspiciously like antiseptics to his injuries.

 

Kirk’s mind was steadily becoming clearer, and he realized that those weren’t just painkillers she’d given him, but obviously some kind of stimulants as well. Kirk didn’t know why she was here. Usually no one helped him after the match, unless he was unconscious and needed to be carried away. He was normally left alone for the better part of the night, to lick off his wounds all on his own.

 

Uhura was long finished, he realized. She was simply staring at him now, her eyes lingering on his chest and torso, lips trembling slightly. Kirk knew he wasn’t a pretty sight. His body had been being mutilated for years. There were hardly ten bones in it that weren’t broken at one time or another. The bruises on his skin would fade, but some of them were so old that they never faded completely. And then of course there were the scars. Old and even older and brand new. Poorly treated. Telling a horrific tale each.

 

Ugly.

 

He grabbed her shoulders roughly, meaning to push her away, to stop this demeaning scrutiny. But he never got there, because she lifted her eyes to meet his, and he saw that she was crying. No, not crying. Weeping. For him. He didn’t know if his own mother had ever had the chance to do that.

 

Uhura turned away abruptly, wiping her eyes. She reached for his shirt that he had taken off before the match and handed it to him, not looking at him again. He pulled it on, wrapping the ends around his waist clumsily, his fingers still not deft enough to deal with the fastenings. She helped him, working the clasps upward, when suddenly they both stilled.

 

Upstairs, Spock was still playing, despite the fact that his audience was long gone. Only his choice of melody seemed odd. Instead of virulent Andorian rhythms from earlier, he was now playing Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata.

 

Kirk knew what it meant the moment the first notes registered in his mind. Judging by the look of pure horror Uhura had given him, she knew what it meant, too. He pushed her away, not gently.

 

“Get out of here. Quickly, run.”

 

She stumbled backwards into the darkness, and Kirk hoped she’d make it out before Zenkur’s henchmen entered. He wasn’t optimistic about his own chances. After the kind of beating he had just endured, the best he could hope for was to stay standing while they would do their job. For some reason it seemed important.

 

They came in, silent and determined. One started for Kirk, while the other watched. Energy weapons were prohibited here, but those two didn’t need them. Still, Kirk had his mind set on delivering at least one blow before going down.

 

The man reached for Kirk’s throat, and instead of grabbing his hand instinctively, Kirk reached for his neck with both his hands, clasping tightly, pressing. He knew he wasn’t going to win that contest, but he was determined to do his absolute best. Suddenly, a whirl of motion entered his peripheral vision. There was a high-pitched scream, and then the pressure on his throat was lifted abruptly. Completely fazed, Kirk watched for a split second, before he realized that Uhura had jumped his offender from behind and was now pressing her long nails into his eyes. Blood was streaming down his face, and he was yelling in pain.

 

His partner moved to intervene, but Kirk stopped him, delivering as hard a blow as he could master. Screams and growls were coming from behind him, but he didn’t have the time to watch, as the other man started for him again. He slammed Kirk into the wall, making him see stars for the tenth time that night, and Kirk knew that he wouldn’t regain his bearings fast enough to deter him again.

 

As it turned out, he didn’t have to. A pale long-fingered hand descended soundlessly on the man’s neck and snapped it like a stick. He was as dead as they got, Kirk knew that instantly and instinctively. And as he stared into Spock’s dark eyes, he realized that the Moonlight sonata he was still hearing was playing now under his skull, a peculiar mixture of sounds, half of them Spock’s guitar, the other half his mother’s piano.

 

They moved together towards the other one who finally managed to throw Uhura off and was now trying to grab at her blindly. Kirk caught his arm and directed his motion firmly into the nearest wall. The sharp sound of bone being cracked was self-serving. Spock helped Uhura to her feet, and for a moment, the three of them simply stood there, trying to take in what had happened.

 

“Anyone need to pack?” Kirk asked hoarsely.

 

They both stared at him and then shook their heads simultaneously.

 

“Then let’s get out of here.”

 

They exited through the backdoor and slipped into the lightless Malexian night. Kirk chose the direction, and the others followed, without asking any questions. He led them through the overly familiar labyrinth of narrow streets and passageways, until they were standing at the private entrance of the spaceport.

 

“What are we doing here?” Uhura hissed, frightened. “We can’t steal a ship, they’d kill us!”

 

“We need to get off the planet,” Kirk snapped. “And in case you’ve forgotten, Zenkur sent his people to kill me, so I’d say he owes me one.”

 

“His yacht it in there,” Uhura whispered. “But how do we get in?”

 

“I don’t know,” Kirk said. “He doesn’t trust people when it comes to his property. His security system is all automatic. If we could disable it...” he murmured, examining the terminal of the lock closely. “There’s a trick I once saw on Orion, but we’ll have to move quickly after that, ‘cause I’m pretty sure it’ll raise the alarm.”

 

He reached for the lock, but a hand on his arm stopped him. Surprised, he looked back at Spock and had no trouble reading him this time.

 

‘Let me.’

 

“Spock, no offense, but you can’t even do basic calculus,” Kirk shook his head. “I’ve a better chance...”

 

Spock pulled him away from the door silently, and Kirk suddenly felt too tired to argue. He didn’t believe he could make it either. Did it really matter which one of them screwed up?

 

Still, he held his breath, because something in the way Spock studied the panel was almost too confident. He exchanged a bewildered glance with Uhura, as they both watched the Vulcan starting to input commands at such a speed that they weren’t able to read them.

 

“Fuck me,” Kirk uttered, watching as one level of defense after another showed a green light. “How does he... how does he...”

 

Uhura only shook her head, her eyes wide with fear and adrenaline. Another moment, and the gates were opening. A soft feminine voice bid them welcome.

 

“Good evening, Master Zenkur. Would you like for the pre-launch sequence to start on the Zoliya?”

 

Zenkur’s yacht, Kirk realized, astounded and shaken. There was no way the computer would continue to take him for Zenkur once he spoke. He looked at Spock questionably, and the Vulcan nodded in affirmation.

 

“Uh, yes,” Kirk said, freaking out. “Yes, absolutely, start that sequence.”

 

He was expecting anything—a forcefield coming down to detain them, a squad of guards, a plain simple phaser blast. Instead, the computer voice chimed just as pleasantly.

 

“Pre-launch sequence activated. Proceed to landing pad two.”

 

Still hardly daring to believe that wasn’t a dust-induced dream or a hallucination of his finally beaten beyond any sense brain, Kirk rushed towards said landing pad, the other two at his heels.

 

They got admittance with no trouble. The yacht was beautiful. Kirk had seen it once before as it was landing, and was utterly enthralled by its slender grace. Usually it took five to six people to man it, but after they had gotten this far, Kirk wasn’t about to let a small consideration like that stop him. He activated the helm control panel and didn’t even blink as Spock slid down next to him into the co-pilot’s seat.

 

There was no describing the joy that coursed through Kirk at the feel of this beautiful ship responding to his commands. The computer opened the hangar doors, and he took the ship out, knowing that by now, Zenkur might be aware of what was happening. But it didn’t matter. Even if they were shot down from orbit, Kirk didn’t think he could find it in him to mind. He was flying again, he was free again, and as the glowing light of the planet surface dissipated, he felt more and more elated. Drunk even, on his sudden sense of freedom.

 

He couldn’t even remember how Uhura talked them past the orbital control. Something about Zenkur being ‘too tired, you understand’ and a very important meeting and a number of promises. She played her role so well that Kirk himself half believed her and only remembered the truth as she turned back to him and winked.

 

“She’s all yours, Jim.”

 

He grinned.

 

“Right. You two might wanna grab a hold of something.”

 

They didn’t stop until they had put at least three star systems between them and Malex IV. Kirk laughed softly, as he allowed the beautiful ship to drift lazily for a few minutes.

 

“We have to pick our destination,” he said, turning to face the other two. “There’s no sign of pursuit yet, but they’ll send someone sooner or later.”

 

“I think I’ve seen enough of the Federation to last me a lifetime,” Uhura said, eyes still shiny from the night’s events. “There must be something better out there.”

 

“I agree,” Kirk nodded. “If they send Starfleet after us, I don’t wanna make their job easier. Spock?”

 

The Vulcan inclined his head curtly once.

 

“Right then,” Kirk grinned. “Beta, Delta, Gamma?”

 

“It’s your pick, Jim,” Uhura smiled. “I’m pretty sure we’ll have no trouble finding trouble anywhere.”

 

“Thank God, your name isn’t Cassandra,” he grunted. “I wonder what our top speed is, though. I’d really love to take this baby for a ride.”

 

“That would b-be warp t-ten, Captain.”

 

Kirk had never before been so slow on the uptake. He wondered for a moment why the computer was suddenly stuttering, and then remembered that the computer’s voice was feminine, while this one definitely wasn’t. But it was only after Uhura gasped that he finally caught up with what had happened.

 

“Spock...”

 

They both stared at the Vulcan aghast.

 

“Spock, you...”

 

“...you said something.”

 

“God, Ny—”

 

“Jim, he—”

 

“I c-can t-talk, yes,” Spock said, glancing from one to the other, looking every bit as incredulous as them, and then smiling, very slightly, very softly, but for real.

 

“Oh, my God!” Uhura laughed in delight.

 

And then she spun out of her chair and launched herself at him, hugging him, and laughing, laughing, unable to stop. It was maybe a split second before Kirk joined her, closing his arms around both of them and laughing, too. Very awkwardly, very hesitantly, Spock hugged them back.

 

It was a moment of absolute happiness, and Kirk closed his eyes, drinking it in to the last drop. He was once again in his old schoolyard, chasing his elder brother. He was on Talian, kissing Monique in the rain. He was at home, back in Iowa, and his mother was playing the piano for him, as he watched her, mesmerized.

 

He opened his eyes in the cellar of Gabriel’s nightclub on Malex IV, watched two of Zenkur’s henchmen descend the dark stairs, and knew that he was too weak to fight. There was no Uhura with him, and the sounds of Moonlight sonata were streaming through the ventilation pipes downward, Spock’s playing ever precise, ever emotional. Ever idle.

 

Kirk closed his eyes again, and for a moment, two realities merged in front of him, and he couldn’t tell which one was genuine, which one he should hold on to, and which one to let go. He asked himself which way he wanted it to be, in the split second between life and death.

 

He opened his eyes, looked at the truth and recognized it. It was long familiar.

 

And it was enough.

 

 

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