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Passenger—"The Way That I Need You"
(feat. The Once)
Please don't go misreading me,
I'm not saying you've been misleading me,
Just not needing me the way that I need you.
With many thanks to my beta readers, Amanda Warrington and AnnaKnitsSpock. Amanda and I spent hours on skype refining the structure and content of this story, and it literally wouldn’t be what it is without her insight (the first draft was half the length of this, and a mess). Anna kindly continued Amanda’s editing, and I offer gratitude to her for her comments especially on the last half of the story. Hugs and kisses to both of you, my friends!
***
It was that awkward time when one year shifts into another, a time of celebration, of traditional holidays with family and friends, as well as a time of reflection on the year that had been, and making resolutions for the year that was yet to come. The Enterprise had been lucky enough to be allocated a week of shore leave on Skylar, and the crew embraced this with gratitude as they had completed several grueling missions back to back before their arrival.

Lieutenant Nyota Uhura walked down the main street of the city, taking in the gravity-defying architecture of the Skylari. She marveled at their culture: so sophisticated, erudite, liberal. On her stroll through the central district she noticed that art galleries were almost as common as cafés and espresso bars on Earth; she passed dozens of enticing tiny philosophy spots—eating and drinking establishments advertising metaphysical conversation with the resident philosopher at any hour of the day or night. She had so far enjoyed the high chic atmosphere, relishing the culture it exuded. It was also clearly a technologically advanced society, judging from the many museums she'd seen; the Skylari offered all sorts of collections for viewing and observation.

There was one museum listed on the guide app which caught Nyota's eye: the Museum of Possible Futures. Well, that was how she translated the words associated with the building; whether it really meant "possible futures" in Standard was soon to be seen. She was aware of the Skylari's Gift of Perception. One in two Skylari was born with the ability to See the outcomes of current choices and decisions. It was intriguing to her that they should have a museum dedicated to this ability.

Although The Enterprise had been in orbit for the last three weeks conducting negotiations with the planetary leaders to enter the Federation, this was her first non-working visit planet side. With the negotiations having concluded, the crew had been invited to take their leave here before returning to patrol the nearby Klingon border.

According to the interactive map on her communicator, she still had to take a left turn, walk three blocks and turn right, turn left again… But while she'd always prided herself on her ability to read maps, she had to confess she was lost and was now in a part of town decidedly off the beaten track. She walked on, cautiously confident, continuing to follow the directions on the map.

Her communicator adamantly demanded that she take a route through an alleyway. Feeling distinctly unsafe, her Starfleet training kicked in. Now on high alert, she reached for the small phaser she'd slipped into her boot. While the Skylari were a peaceful people, prior experience on too many worlds, in too many cities left her with the knowledge that alleyways were the same the galaxy over: places where the trash and refuse of society accumulated, the seedy reality belying all advanced societies. Not only that, this was a planet close to Klingon space, and therefore in dangerous territory.

It didn't matter how strict a planet's security was; spies, rogue traders and pirates, and other riff-raff who worked the black markets of the galaxy always managed to slip through a planet's security-net, gathering in backstreets and alleys just like this. As a Starfleet officer, Lieutenant Uhura was aware of her need to be alert, in spite of the (official) inhabitants' friendliness. With that in mind, she crept cautiously along through the alley, phaser in hand.

The alleyway turned a corner and abruptly opened out into a wide square which was busy with the rough and tumble of market trade. Nyota dropped the hand which held the phaser and tucked it back into her boot, taking in the raw and seething mass of sentient beings and animals in the square, the almost carnival-like arrays of fruits and vegetables, and handmade goods offered by stall-holders. Over in a corner was a shrine of some sort, with people pressing in to present offerings to the Skylari deity.

Then she looked more closely: this market had the quality of squalor, the stamp of poverty, and the atmosphere of depressed desperation wreathing around it, carried by the odors and stenches of the food vendors' carts. It was greasy, slimy with muck, and unpalatable.

Nyota left the shelter of the alleyway and started across the square as her communicator instructed. She must have been noticed almost immediately as she was still getting her bearings, concerned that her communicator was not connecting to the ship's global positioning system accurately, when a young child hopped into her way.

"Please, lady," the child of about eight Terran years begged, her hair ragged, her cheeks smeared with something unnamable. "I'm hungry, and have nowhere to sleep." The child's eyes welled with tears.

Moved with compassion, Uhura reached into the pouch at her waist containing her valuables, and handed the child a Skylari coin equivalent to a fraction of a credit. No sooner had the child bounded away in delight than six others, plus a legless old man on a rolling board came out of nowhere, crowding around her with similar tales of woe. Momentarily stunned, she found herself giving out coins before her decision-making faculties could kick in.

She walked on, and as she continued to cross the square, the press of the poor, the beggars, the ragamuffin children with dull, hopeless eyes, continued to grow: a foreign lady with money to give away had come to their ghetto—a soft target for their game, she thought as compassion turned to resentment. The crowd pressed up against her. Locking her pouch she began to push her way through the crowd, the realities of broken Skylari lives becoming increasingly horrific. As she went, she felt burning anger rise in her gut, and indignation.

How could such an advanced society tolerate such misery and grinding poverty? How was it possible that the shanties running like sewers off the square she was crossing were tolerated alongside the weightless architecture and intellectual sophistication for which the Skylari prided themselves? Her anger was accompanied by a sense of betrayal; at no point had the Federation representatives been shown this flip side of Skylari society. Instead they'd been led to believe that Skylar was a Utopia, its social problems long resolved satisfactorily. Now she'd seen the naked truth. And a question revolved in her mind: why hadn't the Skylari given these no-hopers the skills they needed to rise above their current condition? She thought of the famous adage: Don't give the beggars food to eat; teach them to grow it/farm it/make it themselves. Give a man a fish, and he'll ask for another; teach him to fish, and he can feed himself for a lifetime. This was precisely why Nyota's donations to charity supported educational initiatives in poor areas of the Federation.

Her indignation rose too. These days there was no excuse for poverty, what with technology and what it was capable of. She knew from what she'd seen and experienced on her home planet that those who were poor or homeless, hungry or destitute, were so largely because, in her view, they simply weren't applying themselves or trying hard enough to change their situation in life. Or, perhaps they'd made poor choices, and were now paying consequences for their actions which other upstanding members of society shouldn't be forced to finance. Uhura's own childhood hadn't been exactly wealthy or easy. She'd had to work incredibly hard to get to where she was now. If she could do it, so could these people. Especially on a planet with all the advantages Skylar had.

Reaching the edge of the square and breaking free at last from the mob of unwashed bodies, she ran for several blocks and found herself at last back on the main street. She stopped for a moment, catching her breath, feeling rattled, and contemplating whether to return to the ship.

But no. She was on shore leave, and she was damned well going to enjoy her time here. She needed something to exfoliate away the experience she'd just had, something to make her feel… suave and sleek once more. Nyota looked down at her communicator again, located the Museum of Possible Futures now not far away, and determinedly set herself on course until the impressive façade of the building loomed before her.

Cocking her sunglasses back on her head, she entered the enormous rotating plastiglass doors to be delivered into a foyer advertising the museum's current exhibits. She was greeted by an usher, and directed to insert her credit chit into the relevant slot to gain entry. After this, she was free to wander and absorb the museum's offerings.

Off to her right was an exhibit of traditional Skylari clothing, promising a glimpse into future fashions, which could be interesting. It was entirely logical that the Skylari should have an exhibit, here in their Museum of Possible Futures, displaying the trends fashion was likely to take over the next ten years. But while Nyota was a shopaholic when it came to clothes and shoes, seeing the future of clothing didn't appeal to her in this moment.

Instead, she turned to her left, and found herself wandering into an exhibit featuring holotechnology and future possible applications in civil, aviation, space, education, and several other fields. There was a holosuite—already in use at Starfleet for training purposes, although this one was far more refined and advanced. An assistant was demonstrating for several Enterprise engineers how holo-imagery could assist in expediting solutions to problems which had plagued the engineering field for centuries.

Scotty would love that, Nyota thought with a smile, although right at this moment he was no doubt being dazzled by the secrets of Skylari engineering; one of the Skylari had invited the Chief Engineer to view their remarkable and unusual hydraulic methodology. She had tried to persuade him to come with her today as she explored the city, but the Scotsman had had stars in his eyes at the mere descriptions of Skylari technology, and she had learned it was best to leave the man to what gave him contentment.

Shrugging a little to herself, she turned a corner to be faced with a glass door. Intrigued, she entered a small, dark room lit only by a single light source in a corner. Beneath the light stood an elderly Skylari male.

"What is this room?" she asked, wrestling her tongue around the Skylari sibilants.

The man smiled an almost toothless grin at her. For a moment she wondered why he was working here, and whether he was part of the exhibit; the man was so wizened and grizzled in appearance that she questioned whether he was too frail to be staffing an exhibit.

"It is the room of Truth. All who enter must be prepared to have revealed to them the deepest truths of their being."

"Right," she said uncertainly.

"You are one in whom the Truth shines."

"Uh, thanks. I think."

The man held a green gem out to her, about the length of her hand. She took it from him, and as their palms touched, the room and the man disappeared.

***


Nyota felt the blast of dry heat whip at her uniform skirt as the hatch on the shuttle opened. She allowed a moment to adjust from the cool shuttle interior to the atmosphere of New Vulcan. To be fair, it was the middle of the hottest month of the year, and this was the equatorial region (and hence, an arid area) of the planet; she could expect no less.

She reached for her sunglasses, lowering them against the glare, wrapped the scarf over her head with its ends cast over a shoulder, picked up her travel case, and stepped onto the tarmac. No point being a sissy about the heat of this part of the planet. She would be here for two years, which would be plenty of time to acclimate, and find more temperate places to stay.

"Greetings, Nyota."

She looked up to meet the eyes of an elderly Vulcan, eyes so similar to those of…

No! She would not think about that.

"Hello, Spock." She almost choked over the name.

In spite of his age, he bent to retrieve her larger suitcase, which had been deposited a short distance away by one of the shuttle crew.

"I regret the circumstances which have brought you here," he said quietly and with great dignity. "I grieve with thee."

"Please don't, Spock. I'm not going to think about it. It would be illogical to dwell on what happened." She attempted—and failed—at introducing levity.

He nodded solemnly as he led the way to his air car. "It is always best to live in the present, in the now, with an eye on the future," he agreed, opening the trunk and stowing her luggage.

"I'm going to put it all behind me, go forward from here as if it never happened," she declared as she fastened her safety restraint.

"As you wish," Spock murmured, offering her space.

And she took it, staring silently out the window of the car as Spock guided it through the city and out towards the hills. In this new and unfamiliar environment, Nyota allowed herself to feel lost, to wonder, now that she was no longer among the crew of the Enterprise, who she was. Had she so subsumed her identity into… other people… into her marriage that she had lost sight of who she was?

Her mind drifted during the long drive to Spock's house, and she remembered…

***


Nyota looked up from the latest paper she had been working on to greet her husband as the door of their quarters parted. She couldn't resist the thrill of desire as his presence drew closer to her. It was overwhelming that she should be so hot for this man she had bonded with just three months earlier. In fact, the connection between them felt slightly surreal. Then again, who knew the effect of a Vulcan's pheromones on his mate better than she? Or perhaps it was the bond they shared, which, while it usually gave her only a general awareness of Spock's existence, seemed to glimmer the closer Spock was to her?

Spock’s dark masculinity hovered over her, and she scented his musk, mixed with the spice of his skin.

"Good evening, Nyota," he greeted, and she tipped her face up for the short but tender kiss he offered.

Nyota smiled warmly at him. "Adun t'nash-veh," she responded, holding out two fingers, which he met briefly with his own, his pupils suddenly dilated. And she watched as his control exerted itself once more, bringing his arousal in check.

How she loved his face, with its strong lines of jaw and cheekbone, his winged brows tapering towards the pointed pinnae of his ears. She loved to trace his earlobes up to those points, had catalogued his responses to her touch.

Spock's ears. It was one of the first and most striking things she'd noticed back at the Academy. Nyota had always wanted to touch those ears, an intimacy Spock had permitted only after they had formed the preliminary tel, the prelude to bonding. And given their mutual interests, that had been a most logical thing to do in the days after the Battle of Vulcan, a necessary stabilization for Spock's mind as he came to terms with the loss of his home world and mother.

Despite forming the preliminary tel, Spock had allowed no intimacy. He claimed that his preference in these matters was to do with the nature of Vulcan bonds and their relation to the expression of sexuality. But Nyota thought it more likely that Spock was shy and prudish about bodily things, whether by upbringing or culture or both. And while he had the mental training and discipline of Vulcans, he could sometimes display a startling lack of self-awareness, related, she thought, to the way in which he drew a division between his human and Vulcan heritages. In any case, she had been prepared to wait, finding Spock's idiosyncrasies about physicality endearing. So they had delayed engaging in sexual intimacy until Spock's Time arrived. Fortunately for her that wait had not been long; many Vulcans were experiencing disruption in their natural cycles owing to the loss of their home world, and Spock was not spared the vagaries of his people's biology. They had bonded fully, if somewhat unexpectedly, in the fires of Spock's pon farr and for the first time, they began to explore the physical side of their relationship. It was something she was still getting used to.

Nyota watched as Spock went through to their sleeping area, removing his uniform tunic and pants, and slipping into a casual robe.

"Spiced tea, hot," he ordered the synthesizer as he pulled on some soft lounging boots.

"You're back late," she commented.

"The Captain invited me to play chess this evening after we debriefed today's star-mapping undertaking. I did not believe it polite to refuse his offer."

Nyota was aware how intensive surveying this uncharted sector of the beta quadrant was, as her own department was also working at fever pace, having picked up several transmissions in unknown tongues. She nevertheless felt a twinge of concern. Back even before they had bonded Nyota had sensed a change in Spock. It was around the time of Jim's death in the warp core and his miraculous resurrection. After that event, Spock had begun spending more time with Jim. Fair enough: the man had just died and been returned to life, after all. And Nyota knew enough of Spock's background to know how lonely he had been throughout his life. It was a healthy thing for Spock to pursue friendships with other people. Besides, it was vital to the efficient functioning of the ship that the Captain and First Officer share a rapport; the friendlier the two could be off-duty, the better their performance on the bridge was likely to be. And that made for greater job satisfaction and harmonious working relationships amongst the whole crew.
She suppressed the feeling of unease about her husband’s relationship with the Captain, rose, and went over to him as he collected his tea from the replicator. She reached up to touch his cheek. "It's alright, Spock. You need to have people in your life other than me."

Spock leaned into her touch, his eyes momentarily shutting in appreciation.

"I am grateful, my wife," he said, opening his eyes to look at her intently for a moment. He cradled his tea, and moved past her towards the sitting area.

As she watched him go, the feeling of concern rose again. Over the past four weeks, Nyota had noticed subtle changes in Spock. She wasn't sure what that signified, or what would come of it. Perhaps it was nothing. Perhaps since becoming joined to him physically as well as mentally, for all her rational protestations to the contrary, she was experiencing jealousy at the thought that her husband's attention should be diverted from her. Perhaps she was simply imagining it. Perhaps it harkened back to some of the uncertainty and doubts about their relationship she and Spock had half articulated before the pon farr came upon him suddenly, forcing the issue. No. She dismissed this, dismissed all of her misgivings. Spock was a Vulcan. Vulcans do not lie, and therefore, she reasoned, Spock would be honest with her if his own circumstances changed in any way.

She should have known, then.

***


Six months passed in mostly the same way, a pattern of sorts forming in their life together. It was difficult, between the demands of their positions, their out-of-hours commitments, and the friendships they had cultivated, to find time to be together. The Captain required Spock's presence for one thing or another at least three times in a shift cycle well into the evenings. Their days off rarely coincided—and although Spock as First Officer was responsible for rostering, they both agreed it would be singularly unprofessional to structure the lives of the others in their departments around their own wish to be together. They made the best they could of the time they shared, sometimes making music together, Spock on his lyre while she sung, or simply talking about everything and nothing, or exploring the dynamics at work on the ship, idiosyncrasies of human behavior Spock found intriguing and at times bamboozling. Sometimes they both had work to do, and sat companionably absorbed in their individual projects.

All that was satisfactory. But while their friendship at one level continued to blossom, intimacy was more problematic. Nyota vividly recalled Spock's hesitancy, his reluctant embarrassment about the raw physicality and total loss of rational thought pon farr entailed. Nyota had found the demands of Spock's Time deeply erotic, and as for the emotional connection—nothing in her experience had ever come close to that. Even to attempt to describe it defied words; the closest she could liken it to was to seeing herself in a translucent mirror, behind which Spock was standing, and there, where their images overlaid one another, there was also transparency of what the other was thinking and feeling. In contrast, she was now barely aware of the bond they shared, conscious of it primarily when Spock's emotions and thoughts were intently fixed on her. She missed the intimacy and eroticism of that Time; since the satiation of the primal urges of the plak tow Spock had refused to meld with her. He had offered no explanation for this, and Nyota was reluctant to ask, contenting herself with physical intimacy.

After the pon farr was over, Spock had been insatiable with curiosity to explore sex in many of its permutations, approaching their encounters with thorough scientific methodology. There was something plastic and unreal about Spock’s approach to their intimacy. At one point she'd even wondered whether he'd been keeping notes, although given his eidetic memory it was likely every moment they'd spent together had been catalogued and sorted in his mind. It hadn’t been nightmarish, exactly. Though compared with previous relationships she’d had, the whole situation was strange to her. Now, Nyota would have been happy to have even that disciplined study; lately their lovemaking had become increasingly sporadic and somewhat perfunctory and… vanilla. In most cases, Nyota had been the one to initiate the encounter.

She wasn't sure what to make of the changes. Was it something to do with Vulcan hormones fluctuating? Was it Spock's biology balancing out now that the hiatus of the Time was past? While the fading of the "honeymoon period" was well known on Earth, Nyota had no idea whether something similar was normal for Vulcans. It wasn't as if there were a whole lot of resources to refer to, given the extreme privacy with which Vulcans guarded their secrets, even in the wake of their home world’s destruction.

Before they'd been bonded, Nyota had emphatically told herself that if it were true that Vulcans only mated every seven years, she was more than prepared to accept the fact she would have to wait for Spock to want her. Nyota had known years ago, soon into her acquaintance with Spock, that she wanted him for herself, and so had set out with determination and achieved that aim. But now she was beginning to realize, with some self-deprecation for her naïve credo, that she hadn't fully understood the deep emotional and genetic differences between humans and Vulcans. Waiting to have sex for seven years? Fine. She could do that. What was infinitely worse was having sex without the emotional connection she, having once experienced it, now desired, and sharing time together in friendship without deeper, more intimate touch from her husband.

The problem was that she had no idea how to broach the subject with Spock, sensitive as he was about his biology. This was awkward, as well as feeling… unusual. She felt she should be able to at least talk to her husband about their intimate life together—if not because they were bonded, at least because before they were lovers they had been close friends.

In spite of his initially voracious desire to explore sex, Spock still insisted on keeping the lights low or off altogether when they engaged in intimacy. He preferred to sleep fully clothed—although, Nyota reminded herself, as a desert-bred creature Spock felt the cold acutely. So wearing pajamas made sense; another reminder of the many fundamental differences between them. What puzzled her greatly was the fact that Spock would usually dress and undress to the level of nudity only in the fresher. Changing a pair of pants or a shirt for a tunic was one thing. But he didn't like either being naked in her presence, or Nyota being naked in front of him. She thought this bizarre, given that there was nothing of each other's bodies they hadn't seen, touched, felt, or manipulated in the time they had been bonded. If she had to speculate—and in melancholic moments, she did—she suspected that part of Spock's prudery was connected with shame and the need to control emotional responses, even in his most intimate relationship.

Certainly, there had been no issue with their mutual nakedness or seeing each other intimately during the Time. The way things were now was a change from what had been, and it had steadily grown worse since the fires of the plak tow finally burned to ash in Spock's blood. She wondered if this change, and the weird attitudes that went it, were Vulcan cultural norms or something unique to Spock. Who would know? Possibly Spock's mother Amanda, but she was long lost to the crumbling black hole of Vulcan's destruction… Nyota had no idea, and not only would it be a gross violation of Spock's privacy to ask another, but who could she turn to, in any case? It was likely both that Spock wasn't conscious of the change (and if he did acknowledge it, Nyota was sure he'd come up with a "logical reason" for it), and if he were, that he himself wouldn't know whether it was a peculiarity unique to him, or common among his species. Spock had, after all, left his father's world before completing the Venlinahr training expected of Vulcans in their mid-twenties, and had had very little interaction with adult Vulcans since. There were so many unknowns, so many grey areas, so many no-go zones between them: fissures she was discovering, deep cracks in their relationship, differences in expectations which extended to a subconscious level.

At times, Nyota felt these uncertainties as a leaden weight in her being, and as a heavy cloud fogging her mind. She wasn't a person usually given to living in a state of angst. Yet somewhere in the course of the last four years, she had chosen to love Spock. And now she found herself repeating that mantra to the aching, rocky depths within her which ground together.

***


The pattern abruptly and bizarrely changed. About nine months after their bonding, Spock returned to their quarters one night later than he usually did from his evenings with the Captain. Without so much as a word of greeting, Spock charged into their quarters, came up suddenly to Nyota, who was on her way to recycle a cup and saucer in the replicator, and grabbed her from behind, one hand slipping beneath her uniform skirt, into her underwear and pressing with a finger into her still-dry slit, and the other closing over her mouth, stifling her shout of surprise. She dropped the cup and saucer, alarmed and initially fearful. And yet she admitted too that her heart was pounding with more than the need to fight or flee, and in the moment Spock had grabbed her she had felt a thrill of anticipation, excitement, and arousal.

Giving in to her secret fantasy, and melting in hope that perhaps in this deliberate action she would also find a deeper emotional connection with this man, she surrendered to being turned around. Like a mad thing, Spock tore her clothing and bra away, all except her boots, and proceeded to give her a rough fucking bent almost double on her back on the desk. She hung on for dear life, herself tearing off his blue science tunic in the heat of passion as she clutched at his back. All too quickly she came in what was one of the most powerful orgasms of her life. She even blacked out, coming to awareness only gradually. Feeling fucked out and sore but sated, she couldn't help the stab of disappointment that Spock had immediately fallen into a deep slumber, partially clothed, his softening organ still within her. She struggled to push his dead weight away, and then guide his unsteady feet over to lie him down on the bed. After stumbling to the bathroom, cleaning herself, and tidying away the ruined clothing, she gently undressed her husband and tucked him into the cocoon of blankets on his side of the bed before getting in herself. By the time she'd woken in the morning, Spock had already risen, dressed and left their quarters for the day.

They never once addressed the incident, and the new status quo continued. Spock would return from his evenings with the Captain, and then engage in rough sex with her. At first this was something she welcomed; it was a darned sight better than the missionary-style, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am encounters of recent months, and somewhere in her mind she began to associate connection with Spock with mild violence. But even this began to weary her; it was one thing to be fucked up against a bulkhead once in a while. Constantly? Not so much. She began to observe Spock carefully until she couldn’t bear the unrelenting forcefulness any more.

After three weeks of this, she waited for him, stopping him from taking his usual course the moment he came through the door. Blocking his way resolutely, she halted him with both hands on his chest. The lust-blown dark eyes looked at her in incomprehension for a moment, and then cleared.

"Alright, Spock," she began. She reached a hand down to the hardness in his crotch, causing the half-Vulcan to jump. "Care to explain why you keep coming back from Jim's quarters with a raging hard on? I mean, I'd like to think that you were eager to see me. But this has been going on now for three weeks, and I've had enough. Something changed, and I want to know what."

"Nothing has changed, Nyota," Spock said, his voice hitching, attempting an even tone, and failing. He continued to breathe heavily.

"Yes, it has, Spock. There's no point denying it."

When he gave no response, looking away from her, she gentled her approach.

"Look, if you'd only tell me, I'm sure we can address whatever's going on. Together."

Spock pushed past her, walking away towards their sleeping area. He stopped on the threshold, linking the fingers of one hand in the mesh screen separating the bedroom from the rest of the cabin.

"Jim has been showing me Earth holovids," he ground out.

"What sort of holovids, Spock?" Nyota asked suspiciously. Again no answer. "Are we talking… action flicks, dramas, romcoms…? Erotica?"

Spock moved into the room, sitting on the bed to pull off his boots, again in possession of all his faculties.

Nyota followed him into the area, exasperated. "Spock, have you been watching porn with Jim?"

Now he looked up at her with a defensive light in his eyes. "Negative. Jim has been introducing me to art films."

"Some of which are close enough to porn to tread a fine line," she said, concern filling her as she sat down beside him on the bed. "Look, if you're finding you're interested in that stuff, I'm open to exploring it with you. Only, this is something you should be exploring with me, not Jim. You are married to me, not to the Captain."

Spock rose abruptly. "It is illogical for you to exhibit signs of possessiveness, Nyota. It is not a competition."

"Oh come on now, Spock. Be honest: it's always been a competition between Jim Kirk and me for your time and your affection." She quirked an eyebrow." My understanding of the way these things work—both from a human and a Vulcan perspective—is that as a married couple we're supposed to want to explore our sexuality together, with each other. If you're doing that with someone else, that constitutes unfaithfulness."

"Your insinuation is wholly inaccurate. You are mischaracterizing the relationship between the Captain and myself. At my request, he agreed to introduce me to a variety of film genres, and has been doing so."

"Really, Spock? Is that really all it is? You spend three, sometimes four nights a week with him. You come home and fuck me into the mattress without so much as a 'by your leave'. The rest of the week, I'm lucky if I get you to myself one or two nights. And when we do get time together, lately you've been preoccupied and distant, and haven't wanted to do the usual things we do together, or wanted to make love. I feel like I'm running uphill in this relationship. Alone." She drew closer to him, knowing from past experience that the best way to discuss things with Spock was to put aside emotion, and argue logically. "Who did you marry nine months ago?"

"I married you."

"I recall clearly what I was told before we were bonded, what the expectations were of a Vulcan's mate. And I know that your father gave you a similar discourse. The defense and protection of a bondmate is to be your chief priority, for his life will depend on your faithfulness," she quoted. "That's what T'Pau said to me, Spock. And she also said, Spock has been trained since his earliest days to respect and honor the one who will succor him in his Time. It is logical always to put first one's bonded mate. Seems to me, as your bondmate, that logic and tradition are on my side in this. I am the one on whom you can depend, and your job, logically, is to honor and respect me, whatever your relationship to the Captain."

Nyota rubbed her hands up Spock's biceps, over his shoulders, to cup his face—that face whose contours she so loved. His hands reached up, and gently removed hers, holding them between their bodies.

"Nyota," he began softly, "in spite of the fact that you do not sense through the bond more than the awareness of my continuing existence, it is the nature of the bond that it would recoil most unpleasantly should either of us be unfaithful. I do not intend to betray the commitment we made."

For a minute they looked at each other. Nyota warmed at the declaration, but it also worried her immensely, a sharp prickling of foreboding chasing at the back of her mind. Such things once denied often proved to be the truth.

"I believe I have further work to complete in the labs tonight," he announced, and put his boots on again.

Nyota watched in stoic silence as he left their quarters. She stared at the closed doors, unsure whether she had won a battle or begun the trajectory which would lose the war.

***


The rough sex stopped after that. But if anything, things were worse. In the weeks that followed, Nyota developed a series of chronic headaches. It was gradual, at first a general throbbing which happened on the nights when Spock was absent from their quarters, spending time with the Captain. Her sleep was interrupted, and she often woke to an empty bed with a pounding head. The headaches were less intense on the nights Spock slept beside her, but as her temples hurt even at times when they were together, she couldn't directly link it to Spock's absence or to his being with Jim.

In desperation, and because it was becoming increasingly difficult to focus on her work, Nyota went to sickbay to be checked over. It appeared to be stress, and Doctor M'Benga had given her pain medication and a prescription for regular massage, relaxation therapy, and rest. Those things certainly helped to some extent. But they didn't cure the problem, which continued to worsen. A week later she reported to sickbay again. This time, a neurological scan showed clearly that the bond, faint though it was in her psi-null brain, was the source of the trouble.

She confronted Spock, unsure what the painful throbbing of the bond signified.

"Spock, in the last month my headaches have worsened. Doctor M'Benga said it’s the bond which is behaving badly. He'd like to see both of us to check that everything's in working order."

He looked at her for a moment, nodded, and turned back to his PADD. "I shall schedule an appointment."

Nyota rose and went over to sit closer to where he was seated on the couch. "Spock," she said carefully, "is there something I should know? Last time we talked, you said I'd know, that either of us would know if the other had been unfaithful because the bond would respond negatively…"

Spock put his PADD down on the side table with a clop. When he turned his eyes to her, his brow was furrowed.

"I have nothing to report at this time, my wife."

"Are you sure?"

"Vulcans do not lie. You know this. Are you questioning my integrity?"

Nyota sighed and sank back into the cushions.

"No. It's just that the headaches are much worse when you spend extended time with Jim."

"I have no explanation for this," Spock responded, "and I regret that you are experiencing discomfort. Perhaps Doctor M'Benga will be able to enlighten us as to its cause." He reached for the PADD. She stretched a hand to cover his and he stopped.

"Spock, I know you don't know a great deal about relationships. Among humans there are different levels of unfaithfulness, of which actually going all the way with someone is just the last step. Sometimes there's such a thing as emotional unfaithfulness."

"As a Vulcan in full control of emotion, that is not a relevant line of enquiry," Spock declared, shaking off her hand and tapping the PADD to bring the screen back to life.

"But you're half-human, too. And I know you have emotions and just how deep they go, Spock. I'm your bondmate; I've seen it. What if the bond is doing what you said it would because you are developing strong feelings for the Captain?"

"If you will excuse me, I have work to do. This is not a productive discussion."

"I want to talk about this," Nyota insisted.

"I do not." Spock rose. "I shall make an appointment for us to consult with Doctor M'Benga at a time when our off-duty hours next coincide. I believe I would function more efficiently were I to take this work to my office in the science labs."

And with that, he was gone, leaving Nyota to her frustration, and with a bitter taste in her mouth.

From that day, the headaches dramatically lessened, although they never entirely disappeared. Doctor M'Benga spent a great deal of time in their interview with him speculating about the nature of Vulcan bonds from his experience training on Vulcan-that-was, but he had nothing of consequence to say about their situation. Only a healer, he said, would be able to give concrete guidance. He recommended a comm. call the next time the Enterprise was within range of a healer. That would prove to be weeks away, given that the ship was at that time patrolling an area of space far distant from Federation communications relay stations.

Nyota suspected from the muted feel of the bond that Spock had erected shields or somehow blocked the bond. But being psi-null, there was no way of knowing, and she was weary of pushing him only to find herself beating her head against a brick wall. She found a hard and bitter resentment growing like a cancer in her heart, and it began to affect her relationships, not least of all, with the Captain.

After the conversation with M'Benga, Spock took to spending more time with the Captain. He claimed that this was because in the course of mapping uncharted areas there was a lot to debrief when they sat down together. Or it was crew performance time, when they discussed the people recommended by the department heads for transfer, promotion, or commendation. Or it was some other crisis which required Spock's attention.

As a result, while she always strove to be the consummate professional at work, she nevertheless found it difficult to relate to the Captain during working hours, and avoided James Kirk like the plague outside of duty. Their relationship had never been cordial; now it turned frosty. Every time he laughed or cracked a joke she internally rolled her eyes, picking apart each action he took to analyze his failings and immaturity. There was a part of her which still believed Spock should be Captain. At least he had the discipline and didn't make rash decisions on a whim. And, as Captain, Spock would have been able to keep the childish whims of James T Kirk on a tight leash.

As far as she could tell, the Captain saw her as an obstacle to be overcome. She could see in the playful and determined look in his eyes that he had set his sights on Spock, and was every bit as determined as she had been back at the Academy to win him over and bind him to his side, to acquire the Vulcan for himself. She occasionally caught him gazing at Spock as he bent over the scanner with what she read to be a gloating lust. It sickened her to the core, and filled her with fury and indignation. What right did he have to steal her bondmate from her, let alone gaze on his back with lecherous intent? He was nothing but a slut after all, and Spock merely another notch to chisel on his bedpost.

She began, in her spare hours, to cogitate ways of winning her husband back, strategies to convince him that James Kirk wasn't the best thing since sliced bread after all, but just an overgrown child with a penchant for risk-taking. What disturbed and worried her was that one of these days, that foolish idiot would take her Vulcan with him. And she couldn't stand the thought that Spock would follow Jim willingly into rank danger, while all but ignoring her own needs as his bondmate.

In the meantime she was always unfailingly polite, if cold, to her Captain, ignoring his needling and blatant play for Spock. She would perform her role impeccably, irreproachably, so that there would never be cause for him to complain about her performance. Perhaps at some point he'd put his foot in the noose, and who'd be laughing then? At least if he performed like a monkey, she would be the consummate professional, and she wouldn't be taken down with him.

Nyota was to discover just how shaky a foundational resentment and a sense of superiority was for one's identity. The illusion she had built of her own innocence and righteousness came crashing down the day the ship received an emergency response hail.

Three thousand Epiphanian colonists had been evicted from the planet on which they'd settled, forced out by rebel Klingons who wanted the planet as a base. The planet had nine moons, all rich in raw materials—perfect for constructing a fleet of ships. The Epiphanians were a peaceful people, gentle and living in harmony with the natural environment on this colony world. They'd been there fifty years. At news of the Klingon invasion, those who could fled to the ancient ships they'd kept in working order for short space flights between the planet and its moons. Others weren’t so lucky, slaughtered by the invaders like hunted targs. What ships managed to lift out of orbit of the planet were fired on by the Klingons. A handful escaped: in all, they estimated no more than a thousand were left alive. And now the flotilla of rickety ships was struggling with inevitable engineering problems.

The Mayday call had been from a ship with a space-inverter fusion chamber (the Epiphanians' equivalent of a primitive warp drive) close to overload. If it blew, it would likely take several ships with it, ships which had gathered around another ship whose space-inverter was barely functioning at all. And those weren't the only problems the raggletaggle group was experiencing: the ships had not been stocked with food or other supplies. They were desperate.

The Enterprise dropped out of high warp and immediately it was a case of all hands on deck to address the crisis. Nyota's board was filling with messages—ship to ship, internal Enterprise communications, all carrying vital and immediate crucial instructions. She turned all her focus on her job, dealing efficiently (she thought) with the comm. traffic.

"Lieutenant Uhura!" the Captain bellowed.

Nyota turned in her seat, her heart thumping as she faced the thundercloud that was her Captain's face.

"Where the fuck have you been for the last five minutes? The Epiphanians are requesting a response to their last call for medical assistance. What's our status?"

She looked down at her board, holding back tears of fear and distress, and she was shocked at what she had missed. The message had come in five-and-a-half minutes ago. Somehow in the fog of things, she'd overlooked it. She immediately made the call to medical. In the background, the Captain hurried her.

"Come on, Lieutenant. There are people dying over there; they can't wait all day."

She disconnected sickbay. "Acknowledged, Captain. Medical reports ready to transport teams as required. Triage on standby, with extra space allocated in loading bay three and rec rooms 5 and 6 on Deck 7."

"Alert the lead ship."

"Aye, Captain." She turned back to her task, forwarding the message to the Epiphanians as instructed. "Epiphanians acknowledge, and request medical teams to beam to the leap ship. Engineering team C has managed to neutralize the inverter drive about to overload, although it means that drive is all but useless now."

"Good. You're relieved of duty." The Captain gestured for Uhura's assistant to take over, who shrugged at her apologetically. "I can't have a distracted officer on my bridge, Lieutenant, especially in a crisis. I will call you for a discussion of this when the current situation is over. Until then, you're on report."

"Yes, sir," Nyota said, not meeting his gaze, biting her lip to hold back her overflowing emotions. She felt about as tall as a toadstool, her own mortification at her failure further amplified by the Captain's rebuke, as she entered the turbolift and made her way to the quarters she shared with Spock. And what hurt most about the whole thing was the fact that Spock hadn't even looked in her direction, attempted in any way to ascertain her state, or taken other action to see that she was alright during the incident.

Spock didn't return to their quarters that night, and Nyota wasn’t really expecting him. He, and Nyota guessed the majority of the senior staff, were running to try to keep up with the demands of the crisis. Thankfully, the Potemkin and the Victory were en route and scheduled to arrive in the next five hours to offer assistance to the colonists and shepherd their fleet to nearby Deep Space 6, given that their home world, Epiphania, was 30 light years distant.

While the ship buzzed with frantic energy, Nyota replayed what had happened on the bridge over and over in her mind. How had she managed to miss that particular call? She was appalled on so many levels at her failure; it wasn't like her to miss that kind of thing, even on her worst days. And how had it happened when she'd had her full attention trained on the board?

She felt stressed and distressed at the thought, feeling as though she were crawling out of her skin in an attempt to mentally reconstruct the incident. An entirely futile activity and one which had her brain on a wearying treadmill of cause and effect. In an effort to calm her racing thoughts, she paced the cabin restlessly.

It wasn't for another twelve hours that operations began to shift back into a regular pattern for the Enterprise. Nyota logged her report, and promptly received the summons to see the Captain. She arrived at briefing room 3 to find him still perusing the document. She stood at attention waiting for him to finish.

"At ease, Lieutenant." She half expected him to ask her to sit. But it would be just like him, she thought, to treat this as an opportunity to make her squirm.

"The only explanation you offer in your report for your failure on the bridge during the Epiphanian mission is, and I quote, 'personal circumstances'. What would those, specifically, be, Lieutenant?"

She opened her mouth to say something in reply, but no sound came out. Nyota clamped her mouth shut, blinking back unexpected tears. She was not going to cry in front of the Captain. She was not going to give him any opportunity or weakness to exploit. Instead, she drew herself together, biting down on the gush of emotion.

"Look, Uhura. Failure to respond adequately under pressure is at least an admonition," the Captain said, his face twisting wearily around anger and frustration. "And I don't like putting permanent marks in my people's records. It reflects badly on you, on the ship, and especially on me as its Captain. Starfleet affirmed our postings—you know that. But Command is looking directly at us, just waiting for us, for me, to screw up. I can't afford for that to happen, and neither can you." He paused, but continued when Nyota failed to respond. "This isn't like you. Doesn't matter what we might think of each other; one of the things I always admired about you is that you're dependable in a fight."

Anger lashed through her and cracked the air like a whip. "It's kind of hard to be yourself when you're being undermined by your CO. Sir." She felt horror at what she had just heard coming from her own mouth.

"Excuse me?" Kirk's eyes widened.

"Can I speak off the record?" Kirk nodded reluctantly, suspiciously. "What are you doing to Spock? What hold do you have on him that I don't, that he spends almost every waking minute with you—and that's still not enough? What gives you the right to introduce him to pornography when you know that's going to affect our marriage?"

Kirk looked indignant. "First of all, I haven't been introducing him to porn, so let's just make that clear for the record. Secondly, if you and Spock are having problems, that’s none of my business."

“Really? He’s your best friend.”

“Yeah, but he’s never talked about… you know.” Kirk waved a hand.

"And why would he?" Nyota demanded, in full flight. "He's fascinated by you, intrigued with your every move. But you. You," she said, pointing a finger at the Captain, "you are the one with the power in the relationship. You should know better than to string him along. And, you should have more awareness, more insight. You should know that your actions have consequences. And you should be the one putting boundaries in place."

"You're making Spock out to be some kind of innocent, as though he couldn't make a decision to save himself," Kirk said through gritted teeth. "And I resent what you're implying."

"Well, he was."

"Oh, come on, now! That's—" Kirk remonstrated.

"Anyway, that's beside the point. Whatever game you think you're playing with him, as his wife and bondmate I find it unacceptable."

He said nothing to this, looking down at the stylus he was twirling between his fingers. Nyota wondered what was passing through his mind. He looked so much like a small boy who'd been caught doing something he knew he shouldn't do, feeling a fleeting remorse as he was reprimanded. She couldn't help a stab of sweet vindictive satisfaction in her gut.

Jim looked up at her, his blue eyes flashing. "Whatever issues you're having, I don’t care, and I don’t want to know." He leaned over the desk a little way. "But I will say this: it's obviously affecting you." He pulled back and tapped the stylus on his PADD. "So I'm ordering you for a full psych eval."

"What? I tell you that Spock's relationship with you is interfering in our marriage, and you send me off to make sure I'm not crazy? Hysterical?" She waved her hand before her in a gesture of disbelief. "I know you're an overgrown child, but I would never have taken you for a misogynist."

"That's enough, Lieutenant!" The Captain stood. "You are this close to insubordination. The reason you're going to have your mind examined is that you are the Chief of Communications aboard this ship. And I need you to be functioning at peak efficiency. I don't give a shit what it is that's causing you issues: sort it. Consider this a warning."

"And what about Spock?"

There was no response to her question. For long moments Nyota stood there, fuming, her eyes boring into the man before her, her heart beating wildly, and her mind racing. She also had to face the logic: for once the Captain was following protocol. She'd failed in a crisis, couldn't account for what had happened, and so due process kicked in. Simple. She chewed her lip, deciding whether to cross a boundary.

"I'll be placing an admonition in your file. Dismissed." The Captain didn't look up from his PADD. She continued to stand there, ignoring his order.

Another minute passed, and with it her anger drained away, to be replaced by a heavy tiredness. This didn’t feel right; in another reality they might be friends, united by their connection with Spock. Fighting with Jim, feeling angry with him like this, didn’t sit well at all. She supposed there was nothing to be lost by taking another tack. She sat carefully on the chair opposite the Captain. He looked up, raising both eyebrows.

"Jim," she began, an ameliorating tone in her voice, "I don't have an issue with your friendship as such. But whatever's going on, it is affecting us. Affecting me, as my failure demonstrated, and as you've pointed out, enough that it's impacting my work—and you have to believe me, it's not deliberate." Nyota leaned across the table, pleading."I'm asking you to cut back on the time you spend with Spock, and that you invite him over less."

Kirk looked down at his lap, his lips pursed, reluctance written in his body language.

"I'm not making any promises," he declared eventually, his attitude stiff and unyielding."On this ship, Uhura, we can't afford to let personal relationships get in the way of work. If you believe you're going to be further compromised by this, I'll have to either move you to a less critical role, or remove you from duty altogether. If it weren't for the fact you are bonded to my First Officer, I'd also be considering transfer. I don't want to do any of those. Because no matter what you might think of me, or I of you, you're the best in Communications that there is, and I want you here, on this ship."

"Thank you, Captain." Nyota stood.

The Captain nodded, and she left the briefing room.

***


The Captain must have spoken with Spock, because Spock began to spend less time with Jim, and more of his off duty hours with Nyota. It was… different, being the focus of Spock's intent. Flattering. But also, it felt right. At last she was the centre of his attention, as it should have been all along.

They went for evening strolls in the arboretum. They enjoyed leisurely dinners. They talked as they hadn't talked in nearly twelve months. Nyota felt she truly had her friend back, and given that they were again engaging in intimacy, she was delighted and pleased to have her lover restored to her. Spock only went to Jim's quarters one night a week, and seemed happy to comply with Nyota's wishes when they were together.

There was just one problem: Spock was also distracted, and his PADD went with him wherever he went. He guarded it, and more than once Nyota caught him flicking the image to something else so that she wouldn't catch sight of what he had just been looking at or doing on the device.

A couple of times she saw him taking the PADD into the bathroom and wondered why he'd taken it in with him. Perhaps he was following lab results, something he couldn't leave even in order to take care of biological business. Perhaps it was some vital point in ship's operations that couldn't wait. She shrugged it off, allowing it to be whatever it was.

One morning she hit the button to open the door, still half asleep, only to find him, of all things, jacking off while looking intently at his PADD. Spock had been too lost to sensation to notice her entry.

"Spock! What are you doing?"

He didn't respond, his orgasm overtaking him right at that moment. At the illicit intrusion, his focus and poise was cast off balance, with the result that semen jetted over the wall of the bathroom instead of into the toilet.

"Nyota. I do not see that that is any of your concern." He pulled up his sleep pants with all the dignity a Vulcan caught in the act could muster, and pushed past her into the room, beginning to pull clothing out of drawers and the closet.

"It's just that—" she began in response and then stopped. No, she didn't need to be uncertain about this. "I have no problem with you jerking off; most human males do it, sometimes several times a day…"

"I am not human."

"Of course not. But you are a male who's only recently, in the scheme of things, discovered his sexuality. I'd expect this, and you don't need to be embarrassed about it."

"I do not feel—"

Nyota waved a hand and Spock clamped his mouth shut. "You know what I mean. I'll even help, if you like."

A beat. "That will not be necessary." He passed her again, returning to the fresher.

"Why, Spock? That's part of the deal, being married." She narrowed her eyes. "This is about the PADD, isn't it. What were you—"

The door of the bathroom swished closed, cutting off her words.

"—looking at?" she trailed off, frustrated again. She ground her teeth together and for the first time wished she wasn't dealing with the Vulcan equivalent of a teenager (which, considering his sexual and physical maturation process and the long life-span of Vulcans, was true in Spock's case) who was just discovering he had parts that were fun to tug on.

Was it worth pressing him further concerning his reluctance to talk about his masturbatory choices? It wasn’t really the fact Spock was masturbating which bothered her, but the subterfuge, the cagey behavior associated with it. But while Spock was being evasive, things were in balance right now, and she was much happier, better able to focus on her work, having been given a clean bill of health by Doctor McCoy. Sometimes it was best to pick the battles worth fighting, and to let sleeping dogs lie.

Another three weeks passed, a month. And then there was the night she discovered the truth. They'd both been working on their PADDs for some time after the evening meal, when Spock reached over and started to fondle Nyota's thigh. He was hard and eager, and she just as willing. As often happened, after he came Spock fell asleep, snoring between her breasts. Thinking it incredibly endearing, she gently shifted him until he was lying on the couch and she was free to tidy up, when she saw the PADD, its image still glowing. Thinking it was malfunctioning, she picked it up—and all thought immediately ceased.

The image Spock's PADD was frozen on was of their Captain, lying belly-down, naked on his bunk wearing only a Santa hat, his lips wrapped around an enormous dildo in the shape of a Vulcan cock. It was obscene. It was disgusting. It was so like Jim, galactic slut that he was, or had been while at the Academy. It was—

—so out of character for Spock. The feeling of wrongness which had plagued Nyota for months, hovering just out of sight in the back of her mind, came to the fore once more—

It was so obvious now that she thought back over the last month. Almost every time she and Spock engaged in sex it was after he'd been looking at his PADD. The PADD in the bathroom and Spock masturbating to images on it—it made sense. He'd been looking at pictures of his Captain, his "friend". Which, she supposed, the Captain had sent to him.

Liquid fire burned in Nyota's gut, fury of a kind she'd never before experienced. She felt used and abused. She wasn't prepared to be Spock's convenient sex toy, to be whipped out to service his needs and put back in the closet.

From that day on, Nyota refused Spock's advances. Let him whack off in the bathroom, in his office, in a science lab, alone. Or meditate it away. Or whatever he needed to do. But in spite of her anger, she stopped short of confronting Spock again, stopped short of giving the ultimatum, him or me. Nyota knew this was because she was afraid; she feared the fallout, the ramifications, the pain and anguish of actually knowing the truth, rather than living on suppositions.

Spock must have realized something had happened to cause the change in Nyota's behavior. But if he did, he never mentioned it. He instead began to spend more time in the labs or in meditation on the Observation deck, and less time with her in the emotionally charged atmosphere of their quarters. From time to time, Nyota wondered at her husband. Was he being genuinely thick-headed? Was he, like she, wishing to avoid an emotional confrontation? It would have been logical to talk to her, to inquire why she refused to sleep with him. But then, Nyota thought, this avoidance was the act of the guilty; Spock must have known that what he was doing was wrong—and yet chose to do it anyway.

In the meantime, Nyota sought out some psychological support from the medical team. With regular counseling she was managing to keep her work life and personal life in line. In fact, she was finding the sessions incredibly useful in being able to identify patterns in the way she engaged in relationships. She was more clearly able to see what was going on for herself, including the dynamic established early in her relationship with Spock, and which had been troubling her, of her association of rough sex with affection and emotional connection. She was beginning to accept, had to accept, that she would never have her husband's undivided attention. The question was on what terms she was prepared to accept that minimization of her expectations.

And Nyota did not want to face the answer to that question.

***


When there was no progress for another month in the stalemate between Spock and herself, Nyota decided to try the Captain again. She made the appointment this time.

"Come," he called, and she entered his quarters.

"Jim, I need to talk to you off the record."

"Alright," he said, taking another sip of his Saurian brandy. "Do you want some?"

"No, thanks. I'll get straight to the point. About five weeks ago I discovered Spock was looking at pictures of you. Naked."

"What?" Jim ogled at her.

"Did you send those pictures to him?" Nyota demanded.

"What?! No. No, of course not." Some realization dawned, followed by embarrassment. "Unless he found old pictures of me taken at the Academy."

Nyota rolled her eyes. Honestly. And trust Spock to find it; he was a genius at finding obscure things others thought lost in galactic cyberspace.

"It's kind of funny when you think about it; I thought I’d managed to catch all those photos Janice posted over the interwebs."

"I'm not laughing," she snapped back at him. Typical. Of all people, Jim Kirk would manage to piss off an ex with an axe to grind.

"Well, whatever you think, I didn't send anything to him of that nature. You know that would breach protocol," the Captain said defensively. “And, whatever you might think of me, I’m not trying to undermine your relationship.”

Nyota paced the small room for several moments. She stopped, leaning on the back of the chair opposite Jim's. "Spock's been dreaming of you, too, calling for you in his sleep."

"Right." The Captain had the grace to blush.

"Is there something I should know about why he might be doing that?"

"Not that I can think of. I thought he was spending more time with you."

"For a time, he was. Now he's been taking himself off to the labs."

Nyota sat down in the chair heavily. There was an equally heavy silence.

She leaned forward. "Jim, I am going to ask you a question, once and for all. And I want an honest answer, because I'm sick of living on half-truths and lies."

He nodded.

"I've noticed the way you look at him, the way you flirt with him. I see the way he looks at you. I’ve counted the hours you spend together. Of course, you have to be together on shift and on missions. But you also spend a lot of downtime together. In the beginning, I even encouraged your friendship, because Gods know Spock needs friends."

Jim cocked his head to the side, obviously wondering where Nyota was going with this. And then, with a mix of trepidation and vindication, she dropped the bombshell:

"Are you in love with Spock?"

Nyota watched the shades of different emotions and reactions chase themselves across Jim's face.

"He's married, bonded to you. Surely the question is—"

"Answer the question: are you in love with Spock?"

Jim was tongue-tied. "It's not as though I would ever—"

"Are you in love with Spock?"

"—I'm not like that."

Silence as Nyota waited, allowing the atmosphere to pressure the man into a straight answer.

He rubbed his face. "Yes. No. Maybe. I've wanted Spock since I laid eyes on him at the Kobayashi Maru trial. Ok? "

She sat back with a sense of grim satisfaction. At least it was out there; at least she now knew it unequivocally.

"But I'm not a marriage breaker." He paused. "Though if Spock were ever to be single, I would definitely be the first on his doorstep," he said, looking at her directly.

"Right." She rose, needing to go, needing to be out of the enclosed space. Nyota was aware she’d forced the answer out of him, which was treading the fine line of professional misconduct, but this answer if anything justified her concerns. "Thanks for… being honest."

She spent the rest of her break pacing the decks until she managed to find her equilibrium.

At the end of her shift when she returned to their quarters, Spock was waiting for her. She could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

"Oh. Spock." She proceeded to remove her boots, shake out her hair and change into something more comfortable.

"You violated my privacy, Nyota, by taking our intimate life to the Captain." His tone was deathly calm, laced with a roiling anger that didn’t break the surface. "Between bondmates that is unforgivable."

She turned to face him, her own rage breaking free. "Perhaps you should have thought of that before you jerked off to an image of your Captain. An image which you clearly went searching for, because Jim told me he’d tried to locate and destroy them years ago—and you know his capability with computers. Perhaps you should have thought of that before you violated me by becoming aroused looking at pictures of him before we had sex. You know, Spock, you're unbelievable. You really are."

"It is obvious to me that there are issues in our relationship."

Wrongness. The whole thing felt off kilter to Nyota, and for a moment she wondered if she were seeing double before the world settled once more.

"No shit, Sherlock. I've only been trying to tell you this for months. What suddenly makes you want to talk about it now?" Nyota roughly pulled on some comfortable shoes.

"Nyota," Spock began.

"What?" she said in annoyance, straightening up and pushing her hair back into order.

"Nyota, will you please sit down beside me?"

Ungraciously, she plopped onto the bed.

"It was inappropriate for you to share that information with Jim."

"I didn't know what else to do with it, Spock. You've been all but unapproachable; and with things between us being the way they've been, I had no idea what your response would be. The last two times I've tried to talk to you about this, or about anything to do with our relationship, the bond, whatever, you've shut me down. I was worried you might lose control. And I am this close," she held up two fingers about an inch apart, "to pulling the plug on this relationship. I love you; always have, always will. But there's only so much I can live with. And in my view, there's only room in this bed, in this relationship, for the two of us," Nyota explained.

"You do not understand," Spock said, his voice agonized.

"So help me to understand, whatever it is. I'm here; I've always been here for you. What is it, Spock?"

"James Kirk is t'hy'la to me."

Nyota's eyes widened as comprehension kicked in. "The ancient warrior relationship? Friend, brother," she swallowed, "lover?"

"Affirmative."

"How long have you known?"

"Since… Khan." Spock's head was slightly turned away from her.

"I see."

"It was not an issue until…"

"Until the pon farr when your sexuality awoke." Nyota paused, searching her mind for what she remembered of Vulcan mythology and legend. "But in ancient times, wasn't it the case that even warriors in a t'hy'la relationship sometimes still had wives? In other words, neither bond need exclude the other?"

"That is a logical conclusion. Yes."

There was a lengthy silence. Certain things clicked into place in Nyota's mind.

"This is why you had doubts about us, back before we were bonded." There was a sickening, leaden feeling in her stomach. Spock didn't reply, his eyes still downcast. "Spock, why didn't you say something?"

He looked up at her now, his brow furrowed. "I shared a tel with you. It was logical, when the fever… eventuated… to pursue the course already laid out."

Another exquisitely awful pause.

"Does he know?" Nyota queried.

"I have not told him. Not yet," Spock said. "Nor anyone apart from yourself. It was unexpected for me to discover that I am… drawn to both of you." Spock looked up at her, beseeching. "I have spent many hours meditating, attempting to bring that which I feel for both of you into logical synthesis. I have failed. I ask your forgiveness for my behavior in these last months."

Anger still twisted, dangerous and taut within Nyota. But it was impossible to stay angry at this man. In some ways, so like a small boy, still naïve about the ways of adults, sexuality, and intimacy. The anger softened into frustrated exasperation and something approaching empathy, in some ways in spite of herself.

Nyota put her arm around Spock's hunched shoulders. "And I'm sorry for running to the Captain." For a minute, two minutes, she rubbed comforting circles on his back, before her own needs sharpened into perspective. The anger might have morphed, but there was still something about Spock’s explanation, something which, had he not been Vulcan and not given to duplicity, she would have suspected as being more focused on self-pity and garnering sympathy than about the reality of the situation.

"Spock, I need to clarify something about this. The ancient t'hy'lara had warrior-shield brothers, but where they had wives, their wives took precedence, did they not?"

"There is little information, Nyota. Much was lost at the time of the Awakening when our people had almost annihilated themselves and there was need for intensive procreation. And of course, of the little evidence remaining, much was lost in the Va'Pak. However, it is my understanding that the one to whom the warrior was bonded at the Time of Mating took precedence."

"Then why were you jerking off to pictures of Jim? If I take precedence as your mate, surely that means I should be at the forefront of your mind whenever sex is on the agenda—in any form."

Silence.

"Tell me that you love me more than him." She was grasping at straws, she knew.

"I cannot tell you that. I do not know what love is."

"Love is putting someone else's life ahead of your own. Love is… when you make choices in the best interests of the other, and not yourself."

Another long silence.

"Nyota… I shall… attempt to put you first."

It was not the unqualified commitment she wanted to hear, and Spock’s suppositions based on what seemed to her to be sketchy knowledge at best of now-lost texts seemed flimsy at best. She wasn’t convinced Spock was as fully aware of himself and his ability to keep the two relationships in their appropriate perspectives as he claimed. But it would do—for now.

"I hope you will, Spock, because I'm not willing to let go of you without a fight, and I’m doing my utmost to make a success of our relationship. I will give you space to explore what it means for you to be t'hy'la to Jim, and I will support you. But we must agree that I, as your bondmate, take precedence here. It's him or me, Spock."

Spock very seriously and intently raised his hand toward her, two fingers joined, and she met them with her own.

***


It was by no means an easy path, in spite of the new understanding and agreement between the pair. The first time they came together after their discussion—two nights later—they had been engaged in foreplay for at least half an hour, and Spock had already brought Nyota to completion twice before they both gave up on stimulating him. In spite of the Vulcan control of the autonomic system, Spock simply couldn't become erect.

Spock's dysfunction continued. Nyota was disappointed; Spock attempted to explain it away, claiming fatigue and overwork. She was beginning to suspect that he may no longer be sexually attracted to her. The possible ramifications of that thought were too horrible to contemplate, and so she buried it in denial. After all, there were some nights Spock was aroused, and there was no pattern she could determine as to how this was so—and nor did Spock admit or describe what may have assisted him to achieve that state.

There were emotional issues too. Spock continued to be distant from her, and instead of the distance decreasing as they spent time together becoming reacquainted, Nyota noted her husband's gradual withdrawal with distress.

Nyota felt she was reaching the limit of possible ways of fixing her marriage. For a couple of days she toyed with the idea of pregnancy. The instinct to bear a child in order to convince a mate to stay was strong in her—and, she realized, would be the apex of dishonoring Spock. To say nothing of it being unfair to the potential child, not least because a hybrid, part-Vulcan, mostly human child would be a challenge to carry to term, and would require much obstetric medical interference to ensure survival. To undertake a pregnancy of that nature, to bear Spock's child, would mean the full cooperation and willingness of both parents, supporting each other. And she knew in the depths of her being that, given the way things were, she was not willing to take that path. Having a child with Spock would also put severe limits on her career. It was likely that she would have to leave the Enterprise in order to raise the child on New Vulcan, given that it was still unacceptable to Starfleet to have children on board with their serving parent(s). She dismissed the idea with regret, for there was still a small part of her which had looked forward to bearing Spock's child.

In idle moments she wondered listlessly what other avenues were open to her. Was there any possibility of her and Spock finding another position, somewhere far away from the temptation of James Kirk? As she trawled through the Starfleet positions-vacant webpage, an advertisement caught her eye. The Fleet was looking for officers willing to take a two-year secondment to New Vulcan. Engineers, linguists, medical personnel with appropriate experience, scientists with specialties in computer design as well as biology: all were being sought to assist with the rebuilding of the Vulcan people. As an incentive, the ad promised swift advancement in rank and special honors in the record of any who applied and were received for the program.

No, she decided with a sigh. In the first place, she'd worked hard for this coveted position as Chief of Comms on the Enterprise, and had worked hard to keep it since the mission began. In the second place, it was unlikely, she thought, that Spock would want to leave space. Her finger hovered over the ad, intending to consign it to the trash, but for some reason, instead moved it to her "keepers" folder. Something about that opportunity called to her, in spite of everything. Maybe as a last resort…

In spite of their mutual resolve, Spock fell back into the habit of seeing more of Jim, coming home later and later, and being less communicative with Nyota. Nyota found she had no energy to continue fighting an uphill battle, and so simply accepted the situation as the new status quo, finding a new baseline and resolving to work from there and not allow her relationship with Spock to color her whole life.

But even this détente couldn't last forever.

The Enterprise was sent on what should have been a diplomatic mission to the planet Eliensis II, and which Nyota had pieced together from the reports and the scant communications she fielded on the bridge during the away mission, turned into a massive clusterfuck. The Captain beamed down with three security personnel, one of Nyota's best linguists, and Mr. Scott—the last two because the Eliensian language was an unusual one, their vocal cords producing flute-like tones and their communication a step away from music; and because the Chief Engineer wished to see the fabled waterworks.

From the garbled account of her staff member, it appeared that one of the security ensigns had offended the Eliensian Council within three minutes of their arrival. Each Eliensian existed in a symbiotic telepathic relationship with large bird-like creatures. When the Council members' ire rose, the birds collectively attacked the Enterprise representatives. As these companion birds were the size of a large human male, the away team had stood little chance: two of the security staff were gutted, their hearts torn out before a phaser could be drawn, Mr. Scott had a gash in one thigh which had narrowly missed a major artery, and the Captain… The Eliensian leader's bird-friend had dug both claws into the Captain's chest, deep enough to wrap around ribs as the bird placed its head alongside the Captain’s.

The first that those on the ship knew something was wrong was when Spock, who had still been in the transporter room double checking readings, abruptly stood up stiffly with a distant look on his face (or so the transporter chief reported to Nyota), and practically demanded immediate beam-down. Nyota had watched the limited footage captured by her staff member; had watched as the Vulcan immediately leapt into the fray, wrapping both hands around the bird's neck and apparently sending the full force of his telepathic awareness through the connection. The bird was paralyzed, and in consequence, the Eliensian's leader collapsed.

Spock called for beam up of the injured—for some reason only the linguist had escaped harm. Nyota had rushed to the transporter room, anxious about the condition of the man with whom she still shared a bond. On materialization, Spock was found bent over the Captain, both hands on his psi-points. Nyota witnessed this with horror, taking in the great gashes in the Captain's flanks, the blood everywhere—and her husband, still locked in a deep meld, presumably in order to stabilize the man. She felt the bond as though it were twisting and turning painfully in her mind, the full force of Vulcan emotion directed not at her, but at the Captain: Spock's worry, his fear of watching the human die again, of losing this precious one. So compelling were those emotions that Nyota felt them almost as her own, and she couldn't help the tears flooding down her cheeks. The tears were also for herself, for she now saw the writing on the wall as far as her relationship with Spock was concerned.

The medical staff had swiftly moved into position, McCoy insisting that Spock move away from the Captain so that they could get him to surgery. The Doctor had held her back from going over to her husband, the effects of the meld still unknown. The Vulcan had followed the anti-grav gurney in a daze, and as far as Nyota knew he'd spent the rest of the day in sickbay. She herself had had her hands full interpreting the readings her linguist colleague had taken, and working on the communications report with her. She'd also had to inform Command of the immediate results of the mission, as after such a disastrous encounter it was unlikely the Eliensians would receive another Federation delegation for many years. All day she worried, struggling to concentrate, wondering what Spock was up to with the Captain. Was he out of surgery? Had they melded again? The bond continued to cause great mental pain, and it was obvious to her that Spock's attention was focused solely on James Kirk.

She felt a surge of rage at the thought of his betrayal. Spock had refused, pointedly refused many times, to meld with her. And yet in this instance he had had no compunction whatsoever about joining in a deep meld with his Captain, albeit to save his life. In the first place, he’d thought nothing of risking himself to save Kirk, putting himself in the line of danger. It was a regular thing: Spock insisted, against protocol, on accompanying the Captain on away missions. But melding? To Nyota, that was an intimacy associated with pon farr, with bonding and marriage. It was abhorrent to her that Spock should lavish on Kirk what he refused to give to her, the one who should warrant such vulnerable closeness.

Then again, at least the truth was now emerging with sharp clarity. Spock’s refusal to meld with Nyota initially may have been because of his own preconceptions about the nature of Vulcan bonding and marriage. But lately there had been a double reason not to allow her into his mind. If his attention and attraction were turning completely towards Kirk and away from her… she would have seen that which he had clearly denied and minimized to himself for too many months. Spock obviously hadn’t wanted the scrutiny, hadn’t wanted to expose his underbelly for her to reflect back to him that which he didn’t want to acknowledge.

Frustrated, and with a headache threatening to develop into a migraine, at the end of shift Nyota gave up on the noise of the bridge and retired to her quarters to finish compiling the reports. She was still deep in her work, yawning, her eyes smarting with the effort of staring into a screen for hours, when she felt something wrenching inside her. She stood, and abruptly fell to her knees, feeling like someone was splitting her with an axe like a log, or as if someone were running her through with a halberd and twisting it so that she writhed. She clutched her torso with one arm, nausea rising in her gullet, her other hand coming up to the back of her head where it felt as though her brain was being sucked out by some alien creature. The pain was intense and sharp, her body and mind brittle, frozen in shock.

She trembled as a hand reached up to tug at the point of her ear, gasped roughly at the desperation in the blue eyes of the other and at the strength of her own yearning. She felt her weight shift as she climbed onto the biobed, reaching above to switch off the monitors with an unconscious gesture, her full attention on the body of this one beneath her and with the primal desire to claim and find oneness with him. Together they pushed the sheet away, with abrupt and swift movements lifting the hospital gown covering the golden torso. Oh! He glowed golden and ripe as she rubbed her fingers over his breast, feeling the slide of muscular pectorals and the delicious intake of breath when palms connected with nipples.

She needed him, needed him in her now. Needed him in her mind, needed his haven. She took her own organ in hand, coating her fingers with the natural lubricant which oozed so plentifully in her great desire, and used it to pry open her own virgin entrance. The one below her on the bed bit his lip as he watched, and the penis rising from dark gold curls dribbled onto the firm stomach in expectation.

Holding herself up on one hand, she shuffled up the bed to position herself over the desirable rod. Unable to hold back any longer, she impaled herself, ignoring the tearing of something in her mind, and the anguish of the other it was tethered to, in the pursuit of this heaven. She arched back, enjoying the fullness with tightly-clenched eyes as that human flesh probed her depths and bumped the pleasure-node within. This! This was what she had desired all her life: to be plundered, taken, claimed, and filled by this golden one. T'hy'la!

She opened her eyes and straightened to bend forward over the one on the bed, reaching a trembling green-tinged hand towards the human's psi-points. Yes! Yes! Now! He nodded, and she projected her mind through the connecting energy points—

— and there was twisting as of a snake impaled on a spike, at the same time as the world whited out in unknown twin super-novae of pleasure…


"Oh," she said softly, and Nyota's heart broke definitively. She passed into unconsciousness with a sigh.

***


She blinked open her eyes, the light in the room dim.

"Are you alright, Nyota?" the dark voice asked softly. Once, not that long ago, its tone would have warmed her, stirred longing in her loins. But instead now she felt nausea and revulsion and the voice grated.

She sat up abruptly, her head reeling, something deep within throbbing unpleasantly. She held a hand to her forehead for a minute as her emotions surged.

"You!" she accused, flinging both legs over the side of the bed and making as if to stand.

"Do not rise, Nyota. I do not wish—" Spock began.

Her fury boiled over, propelling her to her feet in spite of the unsteadiness which made her sway and grasp the headboard to stay upright.

"Stop right there! I don't care what you wish. What you want, what you wish no longer matters to me, you two-timing, cheating bastard!" She launched herself at the Vulcan with flailing fists. Strong hands grasped her wrists and held them still until she realized what she had just attempted. She stepped back and the Vulcan let go.

"Well," she said, panting, her voice ice and fire, "I guess you've made your choice."

"Please, Nyota," he begged, ameliorating. "Please understand…"

"Understand what?" She laughed hollowly, derisively. "At least I now know what you meant when you said I'd know if you'd been unfaithful by the way the bond behaves. Can you feel how much it's hurting, pulsing?" She advanced on him, getting right up in his space, nose to nose. He did not react. "All these months I only ever experienced it as a vague awareness. And now it's like there's a beaten animal moaning in agony in the back of my mind. You can't tell me that for you it's not infinitely worse. Well, I hope it's fucking worth it, Spock. I hope that letting Kirk fuck you was worth the pain it's causing you."

"Forgive me. I was not thinking…"

She stared at him deliberately, wishing she could punch him, hit him, slap him—anything to discharge the overflowing fury and hurt and pain at what he’d done.

"That much is obvious."

With a curious sense of calm born of anger, she went to the closet and brought out a travelling bag, which she began to fill with clothes.

"Nyota," Spock began, his tone tense with pain, "you do not understand the pull, the draw of his mind."

"Oh, I think I do. He shines golden, his katra calls to you," she mocked with a simper, not stopping her assault on the wardrobe. She viciously and efficiently thrust her clothes into the open bag. “Oh, I know you didn’t say that just now, but I’ve heard it in your mind. It’s what you can’t even say aloud. Because you know what it means.”

For a moment he watched stupidly. "What are you doing?"

"I'm leaving, Spock. You've made your choice. I can't be here with you anymore."

"I still do not understand. The warriors of old were able to maintain both their wives and their t'hy'la."

Nyota stopped, leaning forward. "Well, genius. I'm not Vulcan." She tapped her chest with one hand. "And I'm not into threesomes. I'm not interested in sharing you with him. You belonged to me! I thought I made that perfectly clear the last time we talked about this."

"Please, Nyota. Cease your activity. Can we not discuss this?"

"No. It's a bit beyond that, don’t you think?" He looked back at her, stupefied. She fixed him with a disbelieving gaze. How had he been expecting her to react? Did he expect her to simply go along with his behavior, his decisions? She felt nauseous at the thought, anger again rising like a flooding tide.

The horrific memory coalesced before her mind's eye. "I saw it, Spock. I felt it as he fucked into you. I felt your desire to join minds with him." She shivered, then opened her eyes in realization. "You violated me! In sleeping with him, you violated me, Spock! Your mind sucked my awareness in through the bond. I felt, I saw… everything." She crumbled now, collapsing to sit on the end of the bed, one hand over her mouth.

"Nyota. Aduna," Spock tried for placation again.

"I think I'm going to be sick." She raced into the fresher and spasmed over the toilet bowl. When the last shudder had passed she sat back on her heels, shaking and wiping the back of her hand over her mouth.

"Let me help." Spock had followed her in, and now reached a hand towards her.

"Don't you fucking touch me! Don't touch me, you bastard!" she screamed. He backed away. She dragged herself to her feet, and he walked backwards, hands before him as if she were a dangerous wild animal. "Don't you ever touch me again!"

Without another word, she stuffed the last of her clothes into the bag and zipped it up, still trembling uncontrollably. She turned to him.

"After I saw you materialize in the transporter, still in the meld with him, I knew. Before that, I was going to give you one last chance, and suggest we take the offer of the two-year secondment to New Vulcan and leave this mess behind, try to re-establish our relationship properly, perhaps with the assistance of healers. But I don't think that's going to happen."

"It was never a possibility. I cannot leave the ship. I cannot leave… him. His being calls to my own. My… control… is rendered void by his presence." Spock shrugged in helplessness.

"Then there's nothing left between us for me to believe in. I clearly can't compete with that level of connection. Don't misread me: I'm not saying you ever tried to mislead me about any of this. It’s simple: you don't need me the way that I need you. Or the way that you so obviously need him." She bent over to pick up the bag. "I want the bond severed as soon as possible."

"I shall ask the Captain to set a course for New Vulcan in order to have the bond annulled as soon as he is medically cleared for duty."

"Good. See that you do."

He straightened, resigned. "It is the least—"

"Damned straight it is."

She turned on her heel and marched out the door without looking back. She made it as far as her quarters before she collapsed.

***


She woke to the sounds of a biobed beeping its data above her, and the face of Nurse Chapel hovering with a concerned, compassionate look. Christine conveyed the medical information she needed to know: Nyota had been found in her quarters, unconscious. Medical scans indicated mental and psychic trauma, which Doctor M'Benga had ascertained as a direct result of the violation of her marriage bond.

"Nyota, have you thought about pressing charges against Commander Spock for this?" Christine asked her. "Doctor McCoy's been on my back about it; you know how he is. He was thoroughly disgusted with the Captain for allowing it to happen—and in his sickbay, at that. There's not enough brain-bleach in the world to—" She broke off when she saw Nyota's reaction.

Nyota shuddered. At the moment she agreed with McCoy. "There's no point, Christine," she said, with a feeling of defeat.

"I saw you when you came in here. That's not nothing. Your husband should be held to account for what he's done."

She rolled over slowly. "What exactly am I supposed to accuse Spock of? He was unfaithful to me." She shrugged. "So are many people who are married. It's hardly a court-martial offense."

"Ok, so if I were married to another human and he slept around behind my back, there would be lots of ill-feeling and psychological ramifications. But at least it wouldn't actually wound my brain, or cause trauma to my psyche." The nurse fussed around with the intravenous drip and other apparatus at the head of the biobed.

"Christine," Nyota said, the urgency she felt coloring her voice. "I am not going to bring charges against Spock for this. What happened was between us. It won't be happening again. I… I left him. We're going to have the bond severed."

Christine's blue eyes widened. "Oh. I'm so sorry, Nyota. I always thought…"

Yes, well, Nyota thought, there was no way the Nurse could ever have truly known Spock the way Nyota had. But then, she wondered, had she herself ever truly known the man? Or had she loved and wanted an illusion, a projection of her own desires?

"Still," the Nurse said disagreeably, "I would've thought he could've waited at least until you'd been separated before he jumped the Captain."

"Agreed," Nyota grunted. Christine turned to face her, and took her hand in both of her own.

"You hold in there, Nyota. Now, Doctor McCoy has ordered you to rest here for the next 24 hours. I'll go bring you something to eat, alright?"

It was going to take a long time for her to heal from this. She had loved Spock, and it hurt so much to know that it was over. It was a relief to Nyota now to know she at least had the support of Christine Chapel, Doctor McCoy, and Doctor M'Benga.

***


Spock kept his distance from her. He must have informed the Captain of some of what happened, because Nyota was reassigned to beta shift—and right at the moment that suited her fine. She knew, from the comms traffic, that Kirk's request for a detour to New Vulcan had been denied. They were instead on course for Starbase 18, where they would dock for a week while the engines were overhauled before being sent out to patrol the Neutral Zone between Federation and Tholian space.

So far, while the bond twinged from time to time, Nyota gathered Spock had restrained himself from any form of intimacy with the Captain since the incident in sickbay. Meanwhile, whispers and rumors about the spectacular ending of Nyota's relationship with the First Officer had travelled swiftly around the ship. To her surprise, there were a great number of people who came to her and offered support and sympathies. It was interesting—and heartening—that unfaithfulness and adultery were still seen as taboo, although there was something concerning in the level of discord this was creating among the crew. That their commanders were capable of such behavior was scandalous. Most, Nyota gathered, while sympathizing with her, shrugged and went on with their duties; these things happened, relationships broke down, and it was inevitable that it would happen from time to time among a crew of 430. But there was a significant number, about 15% of the crew, who had applied for reassignment on reaching Starbase 18. There was always a transfer of crew at extended layovers, especially before dangerous missions. But that number? It was hard not to associate the statistic with recent events.

For the time being, Nyota resolved to remain on the ship, in spite of some of her friends' arguments.

"Lassy, think aboot it," the Chief Engineer exhorted her over a late-night hot chocolate in the mess hall. Scotty had acted protectively towards Nyota, more loyal to his "wee bairns" than to the ship's commanders. He expressed indignation at the way she had been treated."Hoo're ye gonna cope wi' seein' those two on the bridge every day? An' this gossip? It'll be weeks before it dies doon."

"I know, Scotty. But I've worked really hard to be here, and I'm not going to let his actions dictate mine."

Scotty grimaced at her with respect in his eyes. "Well, you're a brave lass, that ye are."

"Maybe." She shrugged. "If it becomes untenable, I've got something in the pipeline." She didn't mention the advertisement she had open in the web browser on her PADD. But Scotty understood. He tapped the side of his nose knowingly.

"Whatever your decision, ye'll have mah support."

She smiled, her first genuine smile in days, at the Scotsman's warmth.

"Thanks, Scotty. That means a lot to me."

Her resolve to remain on board the ship was tested after their arrival at Starbase 18.

Nyota, for once, decided she had no desire to visit the Starbase. Instead, she went to the commissary for lunch on their second day of loading supplies. After ordering a ham and cheese toastie with a side salad, she sat down to watch the holovid which was streaming a local news program. There was the usual rubbish about celebrities, athletic heroes, the latest scores on galactic intervarsity sports of various kinds. But in the middle of the bulletin her head jerked up when breaking news was announced.

She watched, horror and nausea filling her as the Captain of the Enterprise and his First Officer appeared on camera as they stepped out of the shuttle—holding hands. Of course the cameras zeroed in on the pair's joined hands, and the commentary was all about rumored Vulcan practices and sex habits. The picture flicked to a spontaneous press conference the pair walked into.

Nyota couldn't believe what she was seeing and hearing.

"Can you confirm at this time that the two of you are, in fact, engaged in a relationship?" one reporter asked, his microphone hovering over the pair.

The Captain responded. "I'm sure Mr. Spock would agree with me that it is logical to pursue that which is of mutual benefit."

"Commander Spock, rumor has it that you've been bonded to a woman, your own Communications Officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, for the past twelve months. What will become of her, given your intention to bond with Captain Kirk?"

Nyota seethed, unable to decide whether her heart was being torn to shreds or whether she was being born anew. Unlike this… this entirely uncharacteristic (for a Vulcan) public exhibition, her relationship with Spock had been forged in the secret fires of the blood fever, hidden from public view as though sex and mating and reproduction were utterly shameful things, obscured by tradition and ritual. As though Nyota as a Vulcan's mate were something for Spock to be ashamed of. Now her husband—the bond was still there, attenuated and weak, yet to be severed—was declaring his attraction to males, that his previous relationships had been "errors of judgment which he regretted", and naming the man beside him t'hy'la.

As a communications officer Nyota could understand exactly what the two were doing. By creating a huge public scene and having it broadcast across the Federation (and into subsidiary news services), they were assuring a huge popular base of support. They were doing this most likely to ensure Starfleet was not swayed by Vulcan interference, should the High Council refuse to acknowledge the relationship; the payback for the Fleet was that recruitment was likely to increase exponentially for a time after the announcement, Fleet now being perceived as friendly to beings of any and all sexualities and genders in various permutations of relationship arrangements. While, if they were bonded, the policy of Starfleet was to keep bonded pairs together, with that kind of endorsement, there was no way the brass would be able to give the pair less desirable assignments in the future without the swell of public opinion flowing against them.

It still cut her to the quick to hear her relationship with Spock, her sacrifices and self-giving, rendered null and void by his words. And to be denounced so publically… It was just as well she had decided not to go down to the Starbase for leave. Nyota emphatically didn't need her broken heart plastered on the front of every Federation celebrity zine as "the reject".

It seemed most of the ship had seen the news broadcast, or heard about it second hand, by mid-afternoon. The CMO commed her, concerned for her mental health and fuming, disgusted by the antics of "those two knuckleheaded idiots". Christine Chapel dropped by her quarters later that evening with a bottle of vodka and a basket of chocolate balls. And the following morning when she had run into the Chief Engineer on her way to the bridge, Scotty again offered his commiserations and sympathies. He promised he would give the Captain and First Officer a piece of his mind about what had happened; Scotty was a straight-down-the-line sort of fellow who didn't involve himself in situations unless and until there was a major issue of injustice—and then he was like a terrier until he saw a solution. As he walked away, Nyota felt the stinging in her heart ease just a little, knowing that at least her friends aboard the ship were willing to go in to bat for her.

The Enterprise remained in space dock for another five days. The Captain and Spock returned to the ship the day after the press conference, and remained in seclusion. Nyota didn't know, and didn't want to know, what they were doing; there was no disturbance around the bond, so at least whatever they were doing, it didn't involve intimacy. She was surprised by this; perhaps Spock had more integrity than she'd given him credit for. Or perhaps he and the Captain had realized their error in hurting her, or had noticed the antipathy of their crew to their actions. Lying low was a good strategy, she concluded.

She was on duty on the second-to-last day, performing some tests on new comms equipment in one of the linguistic labs, when a call came through from the Vulcan Embassy on Earth for Spock. After hearing her alpha-shift subordinate routing the call to Spock's office in the science labs, she rubbed her filthy hands on her work apron and put down her tools. She excused herself for a bathroom break and went to one of the conference rooms where she silently tapped into the call, ensuring that she could see both incoming and outcoming visuals without them seeing her.

"Spock, this is unacceptable," Sarek was saying in a tone that would brook no argument.

"On the contrary, Father. I must dissolve the bond with Nyota; another has supplanted it."

"That is not possible," Sarek demurred.

"I have discovered t'hy'la."

The older Vulcan's eyes narrowed in censure, a withering look. "Yes. I have seen the news reports. Your Captain, James Kirk, is a completely unsuitable individual—"

"And yet, it is so. I have informed him of the tel, and he has agreed that once the link to Nyota is severed, we should be joined."

"What of the biological imperative to reproduce? What of the rebuilding of our people?"

"What of it?" Spock countered with indifference. "There are methods for two males—"

"Expensive, invasive procedures with low success rates."

"—and in any case, I understand my counterpart has been most generous in his contributions to the sperm bank."

"Spock." Sarek fell silent, clearly shocked by what he was hearing. "I confess, I do not know you. You have always identified as Vulcan; as Vulcans we place tradition, the needs of the many, before the needs of the few or the one. We honor those who are our mates. What you propose dishonors she who is your wife, to say nothing of disgracing our Clan and House. As if you had not already disgraced yourself by such a public display on the Starbase. The Council will not accept this."

"Nevertheless, it is necessary. The Captain requires orders to change route towards the colony; hence the request for this call."

Sarek was silent for so long Nyota wondered whether there was interference in the transmission.

"Very well," he said coldly, leaning forward to tap something on a PADD. "I shall see that New Vulcan issues a request to Starfleet for the Enterprise to bring the next supply run, which is due in a month's time. Know, Spock, that should you go ahead with this disgraceful disregard of what is right, in spite of your identification of Kirk as t'hy'la, as Head of House I shall have no option other than to relieve you of your responsibilities as Heir, which involves disownment, including the rescinding of any stipends and emoluments you receive in that capacity. I further suggest to you that, in light of the public nature of the disavowal of your bond with Nyota Uhura, and the repudiation of your obligation to contribute to the survival of our species, the Council is likely to exile you in perpetuity."

"So be it." Spock held up the ta'al. "Live long and prosper, Father." He terminated the connection.

The following day, the Enterprise received her new orders. They were not to head directly to the Neutral Zone, but were to pick up and convey supplies to the Vulcan colony. Along with the new orders came a packet of communications, among which was one from Sarek to Nyota. She could hardly wait until shift end to take the disk to her quarters and open its contents. It was a letter, the first page an official certificate of disbondment for her to sign after the deed was done, and another from Sarek.

Dear ko-fu, she read, touched by the familial endearment. Sarek had always had a soft spot for her. She smiled fondly through sudden tears, feeling warmth towards her father-in-law.

Dear ko-fu,

I wish to convey my sincere regret at the actions of your husband and bondmate.

He has ever been illogically stubborn, as his mother would have said. He also has a most importune propensity to show emotion in inappropriate ways. I sincerely regret the public way in which he announced his disbondment and intention to bond with his Captain.

He has been informed that should he proceed with severing your bond and taking another to mate, he shall be disowned and disinherited. Please be advised that as the one dishonored by his request and the obvious circumstances surrounding it, you shall continue to be entitled to the appropriate support from the Clan and House.

Could I commend to you the program offered by Starfleet for officers on secondment to New Vulcan? Should your position aboard the Enterprise become untenable, please be assured that you shall be well cared-for in my House.

Sarek

Vuhlkansu Ambassador to Earth

Head of Surak House


Sarek's letter, and the words he'd spoken to Spock which she had illicitly overheard, warmed a cold place deep within Nyota. It was good to know her father-in-law saw her point of view, and shared her befuddlement at Spock's actions. The gesture of support Sarek offered was generous and kind-hearted—as she knew Spock's father to be. That Spock had never been able to experience the softness of Sarek was regrettable, but not ultimately her problem.

Nyota allowed herself a reverie of sorrow and grieving over Spock. She had loved him. She also felt hurt, crushed by the way he'd treated her in these last months. She was also troubled by how much of herself she had lost. Jim had been right when he'd inferred she'd lost her edge. Determination to survive and succeed tempered the sorrow. There was only one way, and that was forward. Her resolve hardened.

***


For all her resolve, in the three weeks between their time at Starbase 18 and their stop at Starbase One to pick up supplies for the New Vulcan colony, Nyota found herself increasingly discomfited.

For one, there was a great deal of tension on the bridge. Captain Kirk and Spock were keeping their distance from each other, maintaining professional boundaries. Both had become aware of the dissatisfaction among the crew, and of their siding with Nyota. Another significant portion of the crew were disembarking at Starbase One in response to the infamy generated by the pair's public announcement. By the same token, they were picking up a complement of crew who were in various permutations of unusual relationships. It would bring a very different dynamic to the inner workings of the crew, and in the short term, some destabilization.

Nyota didn't like the negativity associated with these changes, nor that she had unwittingly been made a centrifugal force for their advent. She was also finding it difficult to continue as Chief of Communications, given that at the moment she couldn't summon the wherewithal to work with her commanding officers; she found the atmosphere on the bridge during alpha shift unbearable. No amount of counseling and instilling of professionalism helped with this. Yet it was also difficult to continue a coordinating position when she was assigned to beta-shift.

Overall, she wasn't the only one reflecting on the toxicity of the atmosphere on the ship; Leonard McCoy had a voluble argument with the Captain in which he revealed his intention to disembark in protest over the Captain's recent decisions. Christine had told Nyota that James Kirk's expression had closed in angry defeat, nevertheless determined and set in his course. It was an epic end to a friendship, and Nyota wondered what the fallout of that would be long-term; it was no secret that McCoy balanced Jim's hot-headedness in ways Spock couldn't. He was also a gifted doctor, and would be extremely difficult to replace. Nyota wasn't sure she wanted to be around to watch the consequences for the ship's commanders and crew.

Nyota had greatly coveted the position she held on the ship. But with its infrastructure crumbling and the dramatic alteration of personnel, it seemed that the finely honed team they'd become in the wake of Nero and Khan was disintegrating, the end of an era before its time. The question was, would this advance her own career aims? Did she want to remain to become part of something new, something different and unexpected, something, perhaps, she hadn't signed up for? What was more, with the changes in staffing, there would be a greater number of people aboard in relationship structures unfamiliar to her. She was the last person to be homophobic; quite the contrary. Nyota believed people should be free to express themselves sexually or otherwise in whichever way worked for them, as long as the relationship was consensual. The problem was her own baggage, and the inevitable fact that there was an undeniable culture associated with non-heteronormative relationships. Given how wounded she still was, Nyota didn't feel she could adapt to such a cultural change aboard ship.

She felt deeply uncomfortable, and wrestled with hating her own perceived weakness. She struggled not to berate herself for her failure to hold onto Spock, her failure to fight for him. For all her protests about being open to different forms of relationships, the fact that for herself she'd been unable to accept being part of a three-way partnership rankled. Other people could live in polyamory. Had she lacked courage? It would have been one thing for Spock to have a spiritual connection with Jim Kirk as his t'hy'la. But it was another for that to become physical, as the bond had proven. No, Nyota's values, she discovered, were that a romantic relationship should be between herself and one other. She wasn't prepared to share. Was she therefore selfish? Was taking the step she was about to take a manifestation of selfishness?

No, she told herself. There was great empowerment in being able to step away of her own choice in order to further her career, and hopefully make a difference to the galaxy in the process. Well, maybe not to the galaxy, but certainly to this struggling remnant of Vulcan-that-was. There was comfort to be had in that she had stood on her principles, and strength to be derived from the fact she was about to take action. It didn’t stop the feeling that this was surreal. The thought of leaving the Enterprise felt strange, as though she were taking a fork in the path which hadn’t been there before, or should not be there. Each time the feeling surfaced, she suppressed it; there was no point in second-guessing herself.

A day out from Starbase One, she'd made her decision, and accordingly made an appointment to see the Captain and First Officer.

They met in a briefing room. The doors parted to admit her, and she stood at attention.

"At ease," the Captain said, bidding her sit.

She handed the PADD she carried across the table to the First Officer, who showed it to the Captain. "I wished to give you notice of my resignation. I have also completed the paperwork requesting a reassignment to the Starfleet base on New Vulcan, to help with the rebuilding effort there.”."

For a couple of minutes the two perused the forms. "This appears to be in order," the Captain said, his face devoid of expression.

"It has become clear to me that I can't stay here."

"Has it?" Kirk sighed. "You're not the only one," he muttered bitterly.

"So I gather," she replied. And then couldn't resist a dig: "What else did you expect when you did what you did at Starbase 18?"

Spock pointedly kept his eyes on his hands in his lap. Kirk wiped a hand across his face.

"You told me you've wanted Spock since you laid eyes on him at the Academy." Spock looked up at this point in astonishment, first at Nyota, then at Kirk. "Perhaps you will come to find that the having is not so great a thing as the wanting." She turned on her heel to leave.

"Lieutenant, wait," the Captain's command halted her, and she turned back, knowing she had the upper hand here, with nothing to lose. He would hardly stand in the way of her going to join the colony. She had reasoned that, while she'd dreamed of being the CCO on the Enterprise, the job on New Vulcan would see her advancement to full Commander, and a swifter path to Command. And Nyota admitted that without Spock in the picture, her dreams had taken new dimensions: there was nothing in the way for her to strive for her own command of a ship, if that's where life took her.

"It doesn't seem right that things should… end this way." Surreal. In another reality, she felt, they would never have let her leave the ship. This was… not… Nyota shook herself mentally. It was what it was, and she couldn’t be distracted now of all times.

"Really, Captain?" she raised a brow. "It’s a bit late to regret the situation now. I warned you; I asked you to stop. I asked both of you to stop seeing each other. But you, Kirk, you can't resist the urge to manipulate him. And you, Spock, you're drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Mark my words, Kirk: one day you're going to live to regret the way in which this relationship you're beginning with him has come about. And has he told you that unlike a marriage bond, the t'hy'la connection cannot be undone once made? Has he told you that?"

She turned back to Spock. "Have you told him? About the cultural expectations of being bound mentally to a Vulcan? What's going to happen when he sees you groveling in the dirt like a mindless animal, when your Time comes upon you again?" Her eyes flicked between them.

"Uhura," the Captain began to remonstrate, but then fell silent. Spock said nothing.

She folded her arms, waiting.

The Captain tried to find words, and ended up running his fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry." He shrugged diffidently, more bashful rather than apologetic, Nyota decided, like a little boy sorry but not sorry about stealing forbidden candy.

Spock still said nothing, looking fixedly ahead as though Nyota weren't even there.

"Is that all you have to say? Spock?"

Spock looked at her distantly, like a deer caught in the headlights, and shrugged a little.

Nyota turned on her heel and left without looking back, heading to sickbay for her exit physical without regret.

***


The comm. came through three days before their arrival at New Vulcan. Nyota was in her quarters, packing. The personal effects she’d transferred from the cabin she’d shared with Spock were still packed, which was just as well. While they'd been stationed at Starbase One, she'd also taken the opportunity to pick up a few things she'd had in storage on Earth, things she would need for a planet-side assignment.

The comms. officer on duty buzzed down to let her know she had a live-time communication,, and transferred the call.

"Nyota Uhura," she called as the screen of the terminal flashed on. She was folding an outfit into a packing box.

"Lieutenant Uhura."

She stopped still in surprise, and turned to face the terminal. "Yes?"

She couldn't believe it: on the screen was an elderly Vulcan whose appearance she recognized. "What do you want?" she asked coldly. Spock in any form was not a welcome sight to her right now.

"First of all, may I offer apologies for the actions of my younger counterpart. I trust you will not hold his deeds against me." The old one raised an eyebrow, such an endearing gesture.

Nyota's hostility softened a little. She reminded herself that she'd only seen and interacted with the Elder a handful of times, and that it was illogical to punish him for another's misdeeds. "I'm sorry. You're right," she admitted, sitting in her chair. "You're not the same person."

"No, I am not. I am contacting you on behalf of the Vulcan Council. I understand you are being assigned as part of the secondment team working on the colony. You have been allocated to certain project areas under my direction. Believe me, your presence and abilities will be valued, Lieutenant. There are great needs among my people."

The pain in the old Vulcan's eyes was almost tangible. He was so like, and yet unlike, her Spock. She imagined she would be able to work alongside this one.

"I would like to invite you to dine with me at your earliest convenience after your arrival on the colony."

"Thank you," she replied. She might as well get to know her new boss in an informal setting. This Spock was far better adjusted than the man to whom she was still—but not for much longer—bonded. Still, she felt wary. How would it be to leave one Spock, only to work so closely with another? Granted, they were different individuals. She wondered just how different they were.

"And I wondered also: have you organized accommodation for your arrival?"

"I was planning to check into a hotel, and then look for somewhere more permanent. Why?"

"I would be most pleased to be able to offer you a place to live until you locate lodgings. You may be aware that housing is at something of a premium, even for those of us who have crucial responsibilities." The old Vulcan raised an eyebrow.

She paused for a moment, considering. The Elder probably had a point. She felt torn between berating herself for yet another naïve assumption that she could swan in and expect to have accommodation provided, and suspicion of the Vulcan’s motivations. On the other hand, she did need somewhere to sleep, even if only for a night or two until she could make other arrangements. Pragmatism won out."That's a very generous offer, Elder. And one I will be glad to accept."

He nodded, but his eyes shone for a moment before turning sympathetic. "I understand you are to have your bond with my counterpart dissolved on your arrival here. Having endured such an experience myself, albeit in a different form," shadows hovered around his face for a moment, and Nyota wondered what stories he had to tell, "may I offer you my sympathies?"

"Thank you," she replied softly, the reluctance to trust wavering in the face of such graciousness.

"And also, while I shall be your immediate superior, I should also like to be your friend, if you would permit it. Here on the colony we have found it unnecessary to retain strict lines of authority in a traditional sense." His lips quirked a little in humor.

Tears welled in her eyes. Part of the deep emotion she felt was because the Vulcan speaking to her now was in many ways Spock as he should be. She recognized this as something for which she'd been hoping in her failed relationship with his young counterpart, something for which she had longed. She held no illusions about the possibility of an intimate relationship with the elderly Vulcan. But his offer soothed a disquieted corner of her soul.

"Thanks, Spock. You have no idea how much I appreciate that. It's a comfort to me to think I'll have an ally, a friend…"

He inclined his head again, his eyes blinking shut briefly in a gesture of recognition.

"You're most gracious, you know?"
"Age has its privileges," he quirked.

"Well," she stopped. "What title should I use for you? In your own time you were an Ambassador, weren't you?"

"I was, and am. But I would prefer that you call me Spock."

"Okay, Spock," she smiled through her tears. "Knowing I'm having dinner with you will give me something to look forward to. And… you should call me Nyota," she ended almost shyly.

"I also shall anticipate our repast. Until then, live long, and prosper."

The transmission ended, and Nyota sat, smiling softly to herself. It felt as though this new chapter that was about to unfold held more good, more blessing, than she could have imagined. After the misery of the last few months, it was about time. It felt good to hope again.

***




Thirty years later

Nyota leaned against the doorframe, enjoying the evening breeze. She watched the stars as they twinkled in their mantle of night, the sky cast a deep purple by the twin moons of this world. They still called to her; their call had never ceased. It was just that, she reflected, the call to stay here had been stronger. Nyota admitted she'd fallen in love with New Vulcan, something she'd never expected the day she transported from the Enterprise, bag in hand, with the grim duty of facing the severing of her marriage bond.

She shifted the mug in her hands and sipped her tea. Far out across the valley a shavokh called, its cry echoing off rocky outcrops and cliffs further away. She smiled. It was good to hear the bird's call; the predator was one of the success stories of animals from Vulcan-that-was which had been introduced on this planet. Now there was a healthy number of wild birds—among the many species which had been replicated and bred here in the specially terraformed landscape.

Nyota sighed in contentment and wondered not for the first time how this all had come about. Her intention when she'd arrived here had been to do her two-year secondment, and then pursue promotional opportunities. On leaving the Enterprise, she'd set her sights and determination on captaining a starship. Ha! How little she'd known then! How little she could have expected the fulfillment of the work she embarked upon, or the relationships she formed here. She discovered that, while she would always be ambitious, always strive to be the best in whatever field she took on, ambition wasn't everything. Ambition—to be on the Enterprise, to acquire Spock—had brought her unhappiness and pain. She learned the lesson, working among the lost generations of Vulcan-that-was, that there was so much more to life. Ironically, the enrichment she gained being here had also led to incredible success and notoriety across the Federation—greater, in some ways, than she could have achieved with a flagship. She knew that, once she turned to dust, she would leave a living legacy that would be remembered for centuries on many Federation worlds, long after the names Kirk and Spock and Enterprise had been consigned to history.

She sipped her tea again, relishing the breath of wind on her face, and allowed it to carry her into memories of the past.

The severing of the bond, in the end, had been perfunctory and no-nonsense. The healer, T'Lar, who carried out the procedure, made her disapproval of Spock's decision palpable. But no healer could refuse the request for assistance. And given the damage to Nyota's mind, T'Lar agreed that their connection should be severed.

It had been an awkward thing: waiting together in the sterile, pokey consultation room. T'Lar's cold fingers rested on Nyota and Spock's psi-points, with barely a whisper as her cool presence slipped into Nyota's mind. Gently, the healer went to work first on Nyota's side of the bond, pulling out its roots one by one, cauterizing them, and then healing the wounds left behind. At least she would be able to function without getting headaches.

T'Lar had entered Spock's mind too, presumably carried out a similar procedure. She beckoned Kirk, and without any finesse or ceremony, she joined their minds. There were no ritual words as there had been at Nyota's bonding to Spock; no ritual, no public signification of their union. It was, after all, a shameful thing by Vulcan standards, for Spock to publically repudiate his bondmate, and take another.

Once the new bond with Kirk was confirmed, Spock’s family and Clan completely disowned him in response to his disgraceful behavior before the galactic media. Only the fact that it had been he who saved the Elders in the katric ark on the day of Vulcan's destruction prevented him from being exiled from his people completely. Nyota felt some vindication, even now, that Spock had not been able to visit New Vulcan in thirty years. She still vividly recalled the heavy cloud of disgrace which had attended him and his new bondmate as they left the healers' rooms.

She herself had had to remain behind, for the dissolution of the bond was both painful to her and caused extreme fatigue. Those first few days in the hospital had been awful. She'd felt such numbness settling in around her heart. In some ways, she mused, she'd never fully recovered from her bonding to Spock, her heart damaged and jealously guarded. That hadn't stopped her loving or making deep friendships with others.

Sarek had bonded again to T'Soth, and there were three children under the age of seven filling the house. Nyota had quickly forged a connection with T'Soth, not least because she fulfilled the role of doting aunt to the three children, and was willing to assist with the fourth when it arrived. As Vulcan Ambassador to Earth, Sarek spent stretches of several months at a time on Earth, and then on New Vulcan in order to be with his young family. Nyota knew T’Soth had valued her assistance at the times Sarek was off-world; and the support they offered each other was mutual.

It was interesting: T'Soth was a woman of deep understanding and compassion, not at all hung up about Vulcan tradition. She was comfortable with the expression of emotion, albeit still controlled—which she explained by telling Nyota about the ten years she had spent working with humans in a medical practice. T'Soth was a healer by training, and a gifted one… which was how she'd met Sarek. For the last thirty years, whenever she was planet-side Nyota had gone to dinner at Sarek and T’Soth’s place once a week, and had seen his family grow to ten children, the youngest of whom now were well on the way to adulthood and the oldest of whom were having children of their own. T'Soth remained a close confidant.

She remembered with sorrow and warm love her friend Elder Spock. He had been so quick to welcome her, to help her settle in, to heal from her ordeal. His spirit was gentle, soothing, and his humility a wonderfully refreshing thing after the younger Spock's arrogance. In many ways he'd been the soulmate she'd yearned for. Not, of course, in the sense that he and his Jim had been. But it was certainly a friendship of mutual admiration which ran deep.

Spock and Nyota had discovered quickly that they shared a passion for seeing the youth of the colony thrive, and together ran a number of projects, not least of which was assisting children made orphans in the destruction of their home planet to find words and other ways of expressing and working through what had happened to them. Six months into the work, she'd had to admit that it was also a form of therapy for her, the children giving so much back. And there, working with her, alongside her, was the elderly Vulcan. That didn't mean it had been comfortable living with him, given their working relationship and his similarity to her ex-husband. Within two months of her arrival it became clear she'd need her own space, and so she moved out with his blessing and assistance into this spacious villa on the edge of the then-fledgling city.

He'd stood by and supported her as the success of one development project led to another. From a small, Council-backed project, and largely due to her and Spock's combined talents, a Centre for Child Communication and Development was established, with Nyota feeling completely out of her depth as its first director. Spock had insisted she fill the role instead of him, in spite of her begging; in his view, she required the experience in order to advance her career. And he, he said, was already a worn-out shell.

Nyota secretly thought him a cunning old coot; in those first three years, she’d struggled with depression and anxiety, with feelings of having been rejected in the aftermath of Spock’s choice of Jim over her. Putting her mind, her heart, her soul into the Centre, and into the personal and professional development she needed to complete in order to run it, gave Nyota an outlet and focus.

She completed a degree in childhood studies through one of the Federation's online universities, and found herself reveling in the role. So successful did the model become, with departments for research and development, curriculum, psychology, and so on, that she decided to request indefinite leave from Starfleet. The Admirals, seeing the vitality of the work she was doing, and all sorts of potential the research and development associated with it opened up, agreed to allow her commission to remain open. Nyota had been pleased she hadn’t had to fight for this; it felt like the ultimate vindication to be recognized in such a way, and went a long way to healing some of the wounds and disappointments attendant on having to abandon her original dreams aboard the Enterprise.

After fifteen years as the Director on New Vulcan she found herself packing her bags to go and assist in establishing three similar centers on other foundling worlds. T'Soth, having borne Sarek ten children, all of whom were then of school age, took over her work as Director on New Vulcan, freeing Nyota to become the CEO.

She was glad she had made it back in time to farewell her old friend. Spock, frail and full of years, fell ill while she was establishing the learning centre on Patroclus V, and she returned to New Vulcan.

It was like it was yesterday that she had taken in the gaunt, pallid face as he snoozed in the sun on the balcony. Like a giant cat, she remembered with a fond smile, soaking in the sun's warmth.

Nyota went over to the sleeping Vulcan, now seeing the oxygen tubes running from his nostrils to a tank beside the sunbed. She sat on the edge, and gently brushed the hair from his eyes, tucking it behind a pointed ear. He stirred.

"Nyota," the rumpled voice rasped.

"Yes, it's me. They told me you're not well, and that you're not long for this world."

There was no use hiding the truth; he was a Vulcan, and Vulcans faced the approach of death logically.

"No." He coughed, a rattling sound as he almost sat up, bent double in the effort to breathe. Nyota rushed to assist him and he fell into her arms as she held him through the spasm.

"Pneumonia?"

He nodded, wiping his mouth with a trembling hand before lying back against the pillows with a sigh. "Owing to my underlying condition, there is nothing further to be done." He panted a little until his breathing regulated itself again. But it was a struggle, she could tell.

Over the next hours she assisted him in the smallest tasks: shuffling back inside (a trip which exhausted him), settling him in the lounge, and then in bed. And he spoke to her of his life's journey. He painted a verbal picture of his Jim, of their adventures and misadventures; shared with her things she was sure he'd never spoken of to anyone since coming to this universe. When words were no longer possible, he indicated the desire to meld with her, one she responded to with a mix of sadness, willingness, and reluctance—she hadn't shared a meld for twenty years, not since that one pon farr in which she had bonded with Spock. This was a far different experience, the old Vulcan's mind hazy, much better controlled, and yet more emotive. She saw imprinted on Spock's katra the attenuated bond to his t'hy'la, stretching out like a gold and silver path among the stars to a place shrouded in shadow.

She was still in his mind, and observed when his life force left his body, beginning the journey along the shining path to join his beloved.


Tears fell down her cheeks now, and she offered them without shame or restraint in the memory of the finest being she had ever had the privilege to know. She hoped that he and his James Kirk were now together, wherever that might be.

Elder Spock’s death had shaken Nyota. It triggered memories of her early days on New Vulcan, and the pain and numbness through which the old Vulcan had accompanied her. He’d understood the anguish of a broken bond; she’d not comprehended how far his understanding went until that final meld. For unlike Nyota, Spock had chosen to live with the heartache and longing rather than seeking out the procedures she’d endured. Granted, the circumstances were completely different: Nyota’s bond with Spock had been relatively new, barely fully settled, and was terminated forcefully, while Spock’s had lasted decades and was strangely attenuated for many years before his bondmate died. (He’d never told her the full story, but this is as much as she’d gleaned from what he had shared with her.) In any case, in the aftermath of Spock’s death, Nyota had returned to the healers for more therapy, having discovered issues not yet resolved.

Through the years, the sense that there was something unreal about her situation, her experience with the younger Spock, her friendship with the Elder, even her successes and achievements, persisted. She’d written it off many times as her fears and insecurities. In the aftermath of Elder Spock’s death, the wrongness or sense of things being surreal had struck her again, forcefully, and it had taken two years to re-establish her equanimity. These days she didn’t pay it much notice when it cropped up, satisfied with her life and her lot.

She cast her mind back over the last ten years, during which she had established a network of seven Centers for Child Communication and Development. These centers were now prospering and flourishing, and helping many thousands of children.

Nyota had decided it was time to pull back on the constant travel, and reactivated her commission with Starfleet, taking up a teaching position at the new Academy on New Vulcan, in the area of linguistics and communication, with the rank of Commodore to recognize her experience. She could now be involved to a greater degree (or so she thought) in hands-on linguistic research, and less in administration. (She laughed at that now: the last five years had been endless academic administration which took up at least 60% of her time.) Being settled back on New Vulcan also meant Nyota could be closer to her nephews and nieces—Sarek's children and grandchildren to whom she was Ko-kuk Nyota.

Standing in the doorway, looking out at the night sky, she reflected that all in all she was satisfied with her life, and had no regrets whatsoever about leaving the Enterprise. She still occasionally felt sadness about what had happened. But she'd developed a backbone of steel—she'd learnt an awful lot about dealing with people in her time of running the CCCD collective. And she also liked to think that now that she was well into middle age she had a greater self-awareness.

Interesting. She'd spent the last thirty years working mostly with children and young people. (All the cadets coming into Starfleet were so young. How had she ever been that young? And the horror that the Fleet's flagship had been entrusted to mere babes as they had been back then… She shook her head in fond disbelief at her own past.) Nyota had always wanted children. A small part of her even now mourned that the opportunity was long past. But she had also worked with a great number of children who were severely damaged, whether by the experience of losing a planet or a parent, or through abandonment, and many other tragic and sad circumstances. There had never really been time for romantic entanglements. And anyway, she thought to herself, had she not had many children? Had she not made a greater contribution by choosing to channel her creative life-force into making the lives of thousands of children happier?

Indeed. Nyota had no real regrets. It was a life well-lived. She closed the doors, returned her mug to the kitchen, and prepared for bed.

***


The next day it was a great surprise to Nyota to receive an urgent communication out of the blue from Starfleet Medical. She was just entering the office having delivered a lecture that morning, to be greeted by her assistant, whose face bore a grim if puzzled expression.

"It has been piped to your terminal, T'Sai," T'Lora said respectfully.

"Thank you, T'Lora."

Curious, she sat down, pressing the button for playback as she did so. A woman's face appeared on the screen, wearing the red uniform with green undershirt of the medical division.

"Chief Medical Officer Durham of Starfleet Medical, San Francisco. Professor Uhura, I do hope this communication reaches you. You are the last hope we have; Captain Spock has you listed as the last person to contact on his next-of-kin list."

Nyota's heart began to pound. This didn't promise to be good news. In an instant, all of the mixed feelings she'd thought done and buried for thirty years came to the surface.

"You may be aware that Captain Spock was critically injured during his last mission. I cannot go into details now; we'll be happy to give you a full briefing should you be available to discuss the case further. Suffice it to say that Captain Spock has been medically discharged from the Fleet. Regretfully, Captain Kirk, his bondmate, is unavailable and not responding to our messages, his father refuses to take our communications, the Vulcans want nothing to do with him, and he literally has no one else in the galaxy to turn to. He is not mentally competent to make his own decisions, and we have in any case been unable to communicate with him, owing to the extent of his injuries. We're at a point where decisions need to be made about his future care, and you know what can happen in these cases.

"The thing is, Professor, I did my internship under Doctor McCoy on the Enterprise. I studied Captain Spock's physiognomy closely. I would hate to see him committed to some institution where he'll just rot away. He doesn't deserve that.

"If you are available to respond, you can call me at the comm. code enclosed in this packet. Durham out."

The transmission ended.

Spock, hurt? Where the hell was Jim? Nyota was intrigued. She quickly calculated what time it would be on the west coast of the North American continent on Earth, and dialed the code.

"Melissa Durham," the receiver said, picking up the call.

"Commodore Nyota Uhura. I received a transmission from you about Captain Spock?"

The woman's face resolved into relief. "Professor, thank you so much for returning my call so promptly. I'm being pressured by the higher ups to draw a line under Captain Spock's case. Is there any chance you'd be able to make a trip to Earth in the next week or two?"

"Doctor Durham," Nyota began, but was stopped by the wave of a hand.

"Melissa, please."

"Nyota," she smiled shortly. "It would be useful if you could outline briefly the nature of Spock's injuries." Nyota was still smarting a little in astonishment that Spock had listed her as a contact on his next-of-kin list, albeit clearly the last on that list. She wondered what had motivated him to do such a thing.

The doctor's face crinkled in a grimace. Nyota took in the deep blue of her eyes, and the honey-gold hair which was shot through with the first signs of grey. "It's not good, Nyota. The mission is still classified. However, he was captured by hostile forces, tortured using a mindsifter for several weeks, was left for dead in an explosion at the prison camp when his captors fled our forces. And that's not the end of it. Turns out there was some microbiological agent in the atmosphere which preys on neural tissue. The Enterprise medical team was able to stop its progress, but not before massive damage was done.

"Spock lost his right leg below the knee and his left arm, both crushed beyond repair in the explosion, which also caused a brain injury. Because the brain injury involved lacerations to his prefrontal cortex the microbiological agent contaminated the area. He is unable to speak, and we have not been able to determine the extent of his understanding, or his psychological state. The Vulcan Embassy, because of Spock's questionable status, has refused to send a healer to assess him, in spite of even the ambassadors getting involved."

Nyota felt the cold sensation of shock as she listened to the horrific narration. "How long ago?" she asked softly.

"He has been planet-side with us for approximately four months."

"Four months!" In spite of the manner of their separation and parting, her heart went out to the man she had once loved and with whom she had for a short time shared a bond.

"And before that, the Enterprise had him in their sickbay for about eight weeks. Look, Professor. I'm sorry about this, but I have a meeting scheduled with the brass."

"I will see what I can do about at least coming to visit and assess the situation. I'll have my PA comm. you the details of my travel plans once they've been arranged."

Melissa Durham grinned. "Thanks, Nyota. You've got no idea how much this has made my day."

Nyota ended the call and sat back in her chair. Given all that had happened, it was an irony, and somewhat surreal that Spock had been thrown back on her care. And she had mixed feelings about it. But Nyota was not lacking in compassion, and so she decided she would indeed make the two-week journey from New Vulcan just to inspect Spock's condition. At the same time, she pondered. This man, she recounted, had treated her abominably, and since the bond’s severing she’d never felt like she’d ever fully recovered. She had worked so hard to get over what had happened, to move on—and her current life was a testament to surviving and thriving. Nyota owed him nothing at all. So why even get involved?

She didn't have an immediate answer to that question. She sighed and reached for the pile of PADDs in her to-do tray. Kaiidth, as the Vulcans would say. It would be what it would be.

***


It was so strange to be back on Earth; Nyota hadn't been here in more than twenty years, and she now understood uniquely how Vulcans must experience her home world with its pale, warm sun and blue seas. Nyota took in every moment, breathing with some relief the fresh Earth atmosphere with its green, earthy scents. It made her want to run onto the nearest patch of grass, cast off her shoes, and revel in burrowing her toes in its fragrant earthiness.

Instead, she turned to attention reluctantly to the building she was headed for, climbing the steps to the utilitarian grey and plasti-glass exterior of Starfleet Medical's HQ. Melissa Durham met her in the foyer.

"Thank you so much for coming, Commodore." She shook Nyota's hand eagerly. "If you will please follow me?"

Nyota went with her, exchanging pleasantries about her trip and the beautiful weather. As they wound through the complex, taking first one elevator, then twisting through several winding corridors, down in another elevator, then across a gangway between two towerblocks to another elevator, she quickly lost her sense of direction, the disorientation contributing with her travel-lagged state to a rising anxiety she hadn't felt in years.

"Please," she said as they stepped out of the lift, reaching for Durham's arm. "I need to stop for a moment." Nyota panted, leaning on her thighs.

"Oh dear! I am so sorry. Here, sit down," the CMO offered, ushering Nyota into a comfortable chair just outside the elevator. "I'll get you some water."

Nyota's mind was a blank. All she could think about was why on earth she was here. And she reminded herself again that her interest in Spock's condition was professional. At the age of 59, Spock was still young by Vulcan standards. Nyota was wondering, depending on what his condition would turn out to be, whether could she apply the same communicative strategies to a severe adult case as to that of children? If so, there was incredible potential for the expansion and development of her network of centers, and several papers' worth of research and findings that could be published. Yes. She was here for professional reasons. There was no reason that the past should intrude. It wasn't logical.

By the time Durham returned with the water, Nyota was feeling much improved, her breathing under control.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes," Nyota nodded. "I was a bit dizzy and disoriented with the route we took to get here. And the travel-lag… I'm not as young as I used to be." She looked up at Durham. "We are here, aren't we?"

"Oh, yes." Durham gestured beyond the lobby towards another doorway. "Through here is the rehab ward for neurological disorders. Spock is waiting for you."

They rose, the CMO leading Nyota through the doors into the rehabilitation ward, past the nurses' station and several therapy rooms, to a large room at the end of the ward with windows offering a 270-degree view. The sole occupant of the room was propped up in a bed-chair facing the west window, away from the two women.

Nyota's heart began to pound.

"Captain Spock?" Durham asked, peering her head around the edge of the bed. She came fully into his line of sight, and stood straighter with satisfaction. "Today is a good day. We told him you were coming, and while his expression hasn't changed, we got the sense he was looking forward to it. Captain Spock, Commodore Uhura is here to see you."

It was time. Nyota walked warily around the bed-chair and came to stand on the other side of it to the CMO, closer to Spock's feet.

She couldn't believe it was him, from his appearance. He looked nothing like the man she had last seen leaving the clinic on New Vulcan hand-in-hand with his t'hy'la. She wondered again: where was Jim? Why wasn't he here by Spock's side? Putting that thought aside, she stepped closer to take in the sallow cheeks, covered in patchy stubble the nurses hadn't managed to shave completely, the greasy texture of his skin, and the dark smudges beneath his eyes. And his eyes—they were dull and lifeless.

"Hello, Spock," she said. "It's Nyota. Do you recognize me?"

Was that a flash of recognition? For a moment, she thought there was a spark of awareness… She had to try.

"How possible would it be to move him to New Vulcan?" she asked the Chief Medic of Starfleet.

***




Six weeks later

Nyota walked through the rooms of her house, checking that the ordered modifications had been carried out according to plan. As she inspected the place, she thought about the first time she'd done this, and about her Old Friend, now long gone. She stopped, lost in reverie, remembering the first dinner at Spock's modest house.

"Salad?" Spock asked her, offering a frosted glass dish containing lettuce and other vegetable matter.

"Thank you," Nyota replied politely, looking at the salad without relish. There were pink bits of… something she didn't recognize. She felt a pang of strangeness, of being out of place and away from "home". Tears sprung unbidden to her eyes.

"Is all well?" The old one didn't miss anything; so much more perceptive than—

She refused to finish that thought. There was no logic in making comparisons.

"Yes, thank you," she eventually replied to Spock's query.

They ate in silence, as is the custom of Vulcans, but it was an uncomfortable silence for Nyota, and she found she didn't have much appetite after all. Spock finished his meal, and dabbed his mouth with his napkin. Nyota continued to move the contents of her plate around with a fork.

"I would say: it will get better with time. But I suspect platitudes would not offer comfort."

"No," she said, keeping her eyes on her plate. It occurred to her she was being unaccountably rude. "I'm sorry," she rushed, looking up at the old Vulcan.

"For what?" Up went the eyebrow. She smiled sadly in response: so like—

"No! I'm not even going to—" She stopped, not meaning to say all that aloud.

"Nyota, I regret what has happened between yourself and my counterpart. You do not need to hold back on my account; you have my full support. Of this I have already assured you."

"And I am grateful, Spock. Don't get me wrong."

"No," he agreed.

Nyota took a deep breath. This was about her being strong. She allowed that she was going to feel the full gamut of grief in the coming days.

"I am angry. But you know what, Spock? I'm determined that I’m not going to let my relationship with my ex-bondmate shape my life from now on. I don't need the official, Vulcan Council's prohibition on even speaking his name. To them he doesn't exist; to me—he'll always be a part of my past, I can't change that. He's not a part of my future. I have to…" She shook her head.

"Nyota, I deeply admire and respect your strength. It is no easy thing, walking away from hopes and dreams, even if it is logical to look to the future. If there were any advice I would offer you, it would be this: allow whatever will be to be, not merely in what happens for you from now on, here on New Vulcan, but also emotionally."

She smiled at the old man. "Thanks, Spock. And I trust you'll hold me to that."

"I will be here, Nyota Uhura."


He'd become her bedrock in so many ways, a foundation she was able to build her new life around. Had he known how much his solid friendship had meant to her? How she missed the Elder now, and wished he were here to help pick up the shattered pieces of his younger counterpart's life! At the same time, it was because of the Elder's encouragement, and the way in which he'd fostered her development, that she had the strength of character and will to do what she would need to do in the coming months. There was some poetic full-circle at work, that the Elder Spock's care should benefit the younger Spock in a roundabout way.

Again the wrongness struck her, quickly stifled. There was also irony at work: she could not have known or guessed then that her former bondmate would ever be part of her life again. Yet here she was, about to share a home with him, whose name she hadn’t been able to bring herself to say for months after that painful severing. She would never lose the scars deep within her soul. But they no longer caused her pain, and she’d long ago learned the power of forgiveness—for her own sake more than Spock’s. After all, if it hadn’t been for that excruciating experience, all that had followed in the last thirty years would not have happened. And in some ways, Nyota was sure, what she had achieved since she had stepped off the transporter pad and onto the sands of New Vulcan thirty years ago, was a far greater contribution than she could have made serving in active duty on the Enterprise. She was satisfied with, and proud of, her achievements.

Nodding with approval at the alterations that had been made to her house, she took out her communicator and signaled the medical team to beam down with their patient.

"Welcome to your new home, Spock," she greeted after they had materialised. There was no response in the dull eyes. Had she imagined the spark of recognition the day she'd walked into his room at Medical? A shadow of misgiving passed over her awareness: was she doing the right thing in bringing him here? She shook her head to dispel the doubts and led the way into a bright, comfortable room which opened onto the deck. It had been set up with a proper medical bed complete with sling, and a corner of the room had been converted to a wheelchair access bathing area.

She let the medical team settle him in the bed; it had been a long journey and Spock fell asleep immediately. The medical staff departed except for one nurse, leaving Nyota alone with Spock. She watched him as he slept.

It had been such a shock to see him in the state he was in. But she'd also known in that moment that she needed to follow her instincts. Where Spock had been rejected by his bondmate, Starfleet, his people, someone had to want him, had to take responsibility for caring for him. Spock, it had to be remembered, had made a vast contribution to the galaxy: through his research, his heroic actions, his leadership. That, in Nyota's opinion, shouldn't just be thrown away because the man himself was an invalid.

The doctors had been unable to get a Vulcan healer to assess Spock's condition on Earth. The response of the Vulcan Embassy baffled Nyota; they claimed Spock was no longer a Vulcan citizen, though to her knowledge his exile had never extended so far. She suspected Sarek even still was pulling the strings behind the scenes, but she'd had no difficulty arranging passage for Spock to the colony, perhaps because she was so well known and respected. Oh well. The Embassy healers were obviously prevented from assisting Spock. But she had just the person in mind, and she suspected Spock's stepmother would be only too willing both to assess Spock and to intercede with Sarek on his behalf. T'Soth was coming to see Spock tomorrow, after both he and Nyota had rested from the journey.

Once again, as she sat watching Spock sleep, Nyota asked herself why she was doing this. She owed Spock no debt. She had no guilt or regret about leaving him or about the dissolution of their bond. She didn't think she was inclined to a martyr complex, nor did she have any need to prove to anyone what a saint she was in contrast to others.

Nyota knew from her work with traumatized children that the brain was a remarkable thing. While, from what the Starfleet Medical staff had said, Spock's neural tissue could not be rehabilitated, so many times she'd observed as the brain compensated and found new ways to solve old problems. Granted, that had been mostly with children. But that spark of recognition she thought she'd caught in Spock's eyes when she'd entered the room that day at Medical gave her hope that even if miracles weren't possible, perhaps with time, patience, and persistence, she'd be able to get him to a point of being able at least to indicate his basic needs.

Yes, that was it, she decided, the reason why she’d chosen to get involved. Compassion. She had learned a great deal about compassion in her work, and perhaps her heart had softened over the years to make her more empathetic. A noble thing, to take an invalid in out of compassion.

And she knew it wasn’t the whole truth. If she really examined herself, deep down she knew other things lurked: some kind of vindication that her words to Captain Kirk had proved prophetic—that building their relationship on the foundation of unfaithfulness and dishonesty would doom them. And if she was honest, a tiny part of her had never truly, completely, let Spock go. It wasn’t as though she had any desire to reunite with him. But perhaps in this small way, in the face of his mate’s abandonment, she had him, fully hers, the battle lost, the war won, after a fashion.

Nyota shook herself to rid her mind of such reflections. She laughed internally. The simple truth was: Spock had a need, and she had the means and availability to help, thanks to her connections, background, and experience. She was sure the research she’d be able to complete focusing on Spock’s brain injury and recovery would further what she could do to for others. And now he was here.

And so she had taken a leave of absence from her position at the VSA, hired a team of tradespeople to modify her home on New Vulcan, and put a bomb under Starfleet's HR department to provide twenty-four hour nursing care for Spock. The Fleet owed him that at least, if his life had been ruined in the line of duty.

She rose from the chair and stood by Spock's bed, gently taking his right hand in hers and squeezing it companionably. Tomorrow would determine the pace of her life for the coming months. Hasten the dawn.

***


T'Soth arrived in the late afternoon, having left her work at the centre a little earlier than usual in order to stop in at Nyota's place.

"Greetings, ko-mekh," Nyota said warmly. "Thank you so much for being willing to do this."

"He is my step-son, and although I have met him only once, blood is thicker than water. No child of Vulcan, even he, should be abandoned." She stopped, and Nyota met her eyes. They were in complete agreement and concord on this.

Nyota nodded, and turned to lead the healer to Spock's room.

"The alterations are quite considerable, Nyota," she commented as they passed through the house.

"Yes. But I'd rather he was here than anywhere else. This way, we'll be able to track any progress he makes minutely."

T'Soth nodded, and Nyota opened the door into Spock's room.

"Spock? I have brought T'Soth to see you."

Spock was awake, but didn't acknowledge their entry.

TSoth went straight to the bedside, and took Spock's hand in hers. "Spock, you know I am a healer. I would like to touch your mind, and to examine it." There was a small movement of Spock's eyes, but no other response. T'Soth looked up at Nyota.

"You are his kin. Do you give your consent?"

Nyota nodded at the formality, and T'Soth immediately aligned the fingers of her free hand with Spock's psi-points.

For what felt like hours but was most likely only minutes, Nyota watched as the Vulcan woman concentrated intently. A couple of times her fingers shifted to nearby points on Spock's face, deepening the meld, or changing its direction. Nyota had witnessed enough such melds to follow what the healer was doing. T'Soth's eyes opened and her hand gracefully left Spock's face to fall to the bed. It was obvious that the meld had tired her, but she wasn't ready to leave her patient yet.

"Rest, Spock."

Amazingly, Spock's eyes fluttered shut at T'Soth's suggestion, and he began to sleep more deeply than Nyota had witnessed yet. She and the healer quietly left the room.

"You look like you could do with a cup of tea. Can I make you one?"

T'Soth nodded and slumped into a chair at the table. After a moment she straightened, closed her eyes, and Nyota knew she was reaching for her meditative disciplines. Respectfully, she went about making tea for them both as quietly as she could, in the traditional way: with a real kettle on a stovetop. This way, the water took a good fifteen minutes to boil, and she knew the healer required this time to restore her depleted energy. Nyota also prepared and laid out some refreshments: kreyla and fruit she knew to be T'Soth's favorite.

The kettle whistled, and Nyota poured the water over the fragrant leaves, enjoying the steam as it rose in tendrils from the surface. She turned towards the table, carrying the teapot, and observed the healer's eyes open and focused.

"Thank you, Nyota," T'Soth said as she sat, indicating the food as she took a chunk of kreyla.

"You're welcome, T'Soth. It's the least I could do for you."

The healer grimaced slightly. "There is little that I could do for Spock today; any rehabilitation will take months. It is reprehensible that Sarek refused to allow the Embassy staff, or any other healer, to attend him. It has been many months since the damage…" She bit off and chewed a piece of bread thoughtfully.

"What's the diagnosis?" Nyota asked, and reached for the teapot to pour the tea into their mugs.

"The human doctors were unable to determine whether Spock's lack of response was due to neural damage from the biological agent, or for psychological or telepathic reasons, largely because Spock was unable to speak or communicate. There is nothing wrong with his telepathy, or with his autonomic systems. The area of his mind affected is the one to do with speech and language, and motor control. His cognitive functioning is impaired, but I am confident that can be vastly improved."

Nyota nodded.

"The complicating factor is that, at first, the only way of communicating left to Spock was via his bond. But his bondmate rejected him, rejected his damaged mind. And so Spock gave up," T'Soth continued.

Nyota thought to herself that the mere rejection by his bondmate would be enough, given the hopelessness of his condition, to send Spock into a downward mental spiral. She could well see him, after a period of great frustration in being unable to communicate, giving up on the endeavor.

"His telepathic ability returned only slowly, and is now in full working order, although he has not attempted to use it, partly because of the disconnection between other parts of his awareness. Effectively, when his mind was attacked, his awareness fragmented. It was a matter of reconnecting the disparate parts. I have done so. Although I must add, Nyota, that any progress he makes from here will be up to him. Parts of his mind have atrophied; it will be a journey of re-learning for him, often painful at that."

"Right," Nyota said, nodding her agreement.

"At first, his communication will likely be through touch. He will also need to be guided into several healing trances over the coming weeks as his development progresses, in order to stimulate growth of hitherto undeveloped areas in his brain. He may manifest remarkable gifts previously unknown."

They'd seen that before in some children with brain injuries. A child who had been an avid musician before her accident became a gifted linguist thereafter, although unable to perform music with the degree of skill she had previously. Another had lost the ability to speak in words, but could perform complex mathematical computations instantaneously in five simultaneous dimensions. There were many other examples.

"I am concerned about his future. He is a fully functional male. From what I was able to determine in the meld he has approximately three and a half years before his Time is upon him again. He needs his bondmate."

"I know, T'Soth. I imagine he needs him on many levels. Medical was unable to determine Kirk's whereabouts."

"This is a dishonorable thing to happen to Spock, after the manner of his parting from you."

"Indeed." Nyota stopped, and sipped her tea reflectively. "It's curious: I don't feel anything about that anymore except regret. It could have ended differently."

"What is, is," T'Soth murmured, and sipped her own tea with gratitude.

***


Nyota's faith proved well-founded. With care and attention and deliberate therapy, Spock’s capacity to respond improved over the next six months. T'Soth, who visited regularly to check on Spock, suggested that the discipline of controlling emotion still remained at a subconscious, non-cognitive level, so Spock's emotions weren't all over the place. Communicating these thoughts and emotions was another matter.

Thanks to T’Soth’s discovery that Spock’s telepathic ability was intact, Spock was able to work at conveying ideas through touch. This took several months, as it was a new thing for him to communicate telepathically; Vulcans were trained not to communicate through touch as it invaded the privacy of the one touched. T’Soth encouraged Spock to move past the inhibition. But it was still an inefficient method of communication. In a meld it was possible to speak; in touch-telepathy ideas, impressions, urges could be conveyed, but specific words and abstract concepts were difficult.

Once he was able to communicate, he was also able to begin meditating again, albeit in a simple form. And that was extremely necessary as he began the overwhelming task of coming to terms with his current condition. Nyota suspected that the reality hadn't sunk in for him; that this was not a temporary state, but the way it would be for the rest of his life.

Spock picked up quickly that Nyota and T’Soth were studying his responses, and gave wholehearted consent to his participation in their research. And already it was paying dividends; Nyota had been studying telepathic communication after trauma for thirty years, and only now, through observing Spock, was she gaining answers to questions which had plagued her throughout that time. Her studies had mostly been of children, and it was of great assistance that Spock was an advanced, adult, telepath.

It also meant they were able to adapt existing technology to meet Spock’s specific needs. Four months into his stay at Nyota’s place, technicians installed a translator pad. This greatly motivated Spock’s physiotherapy.

That first afternoon after the device had been installed, Nyota watched Spock’s fingers shaking with the effort to control the pad. She remembered with sadness how those same elegant digits had danced over his science console, had deftly altered electronic devices, had, for a short time at least, given her great delight.

The words were slow to come, electronic and tinny.

“Thank you. Nyota.”

She looked up at Spock’s face. What a difference a few months had made! His eyes were alive again, bright with intelligence, if marked by a pain the depth of which she couldn’t begin to guess. Nyota reached out and gently squeezed Spock’s wrist, leaving his fingers free to type.

“You’re welcome,” she said with a smile, withdrawing her hand.

“Thank you for… this. Taking care of me.”

“I was hardly going to let you rot away in a facility somewhere.” She bit her lip. Had she said too much? She still wasn’t sure what Spock felt or thought about the fact that his father’s disowning of him held true in spite of Spock’s condition, or Jim’s notable absence.

Spock didn’t seem to pick up on her self-censorship, or if he did, he didn’t comment. “Thank you. I am grateful.”

Nyota nodded, and suggested they try one of the games, a logic puzzle the older children she’d worked with had enjoyed immensely.

Neither she nor T'Soth discussed the inevitable: that Spock's life was time-limited should his mate not return to him. Well, so be it: Nyota determined to stand by him as long as she was needed, or as long as he had. She vowed to redouble her effort to locate James Kirk.

The new touchpad opened new possibilities for therapy, including games, puzzles, and, once those were mastered, more advanced mathematics problems. Among the suite of games were strategy and word games, the first of which had always come naturally to Spock, and for the second of which he was developing an affinity.

Every day Nyota set aside a couple of hours to spend with Spock, whether talking with him so he could practice using his touch pad, or playing games of one sort or another. Sometimes the physiotherapist had left exercises for him to do which required a second person, given that he was unable to stand or move around on his own.

Nyota would read to him for hours—read anything. His favorite books were the old classic stories from Earth, and pre-Reform Vulcan literature.

Unexpected friendship and companionship sprung up. She now understood how the friendship between Spock and Jim Kirk had developed. While Spock would never be the person he’d been before his injuries, it was impossible not to admire his mind, and to appreciate the elegance of his thinking. Nyota found that while attending to Spock gave her great satisfaction, as well as exacting a toll, his simplicity and warmth touched a place in her long cold and dark. In fact, from her close contact with him, Nyota thought what had happened to him, while tragic, brought out the great beauty of soul which had always been his birthright: a true combination of Vulcan and human where neither half fought the other.

Seeing Spock’s development, Nyota set out to determine what had happened to Spock's recalcitrant bondmate. She began with Leonard McCoy, whom she tracked down to a country town in his home state of Georgia, south of the Atlanta metropolis. Just as he'd promised, he had hung out his shingle, and was still practicing as a GP in a town which had changed little since the early twenty-first century

Nyota drummed her nails on the desk as she waited to be put through. Presumably the galactic net was not as fast in the tiny town of Butler as it was elsewhere.

"McCoy's surgery," a tinny female voice answered, as Doctor McCoy's receptionist came into view on Nyota's screen.

"I am Commodore Nyota Uhura—" she began.

"Just a minute please, hon." The receptionist put her on hold. Five minutes later the screen clicked on again, only after Nyota's ears had been assaulted with the worst "on hold" music and screensaver she'd ever endured. "What can I do for y'all?" the woman asked in a broad southern drawl.

"I am Commodore Nyota Uhura from the New Vulcan Starfleet Academy. I would like to speak with Doctor McCoy."

"Well, now. I could fit you in for a twenty-minute consultation on Friday next week."

"I'm sorry, that won't be good enough. Could I speak with him now, please?"

"The doctor's a very busy man," the woman huffed, her brow creasing. "I'm sorry, hon, but he's booked out between now and next Friday. That's the earliest you could speak with him."

"You don't understand. I am calling from New Vulcan," Nyota emphasized in frustration. "This is a long-distance, inter-galactic, very expensive call. I do not wish to see the Doctor; I wish to speak with him."

"Oh!" The woman's eyes widened. "Just a moment, hon."

This time, she was obviously so shocked by such a comm. call that she forgot to put Nyota on hold. She therefore heard the exchange quite clearly.

"There's a high falutin' woman wantin' to see ya', Doctor McCoy. Calls herself Commodore?"

"I don't want no Starfleet brass rootin' around. Tell her to piss off," the doctor's grumpy rumble came from behind the wall.

"She's purty insistent, Doctor. She wants to speak with you, not see you. Cos' she's on New Vulcan."

Nyota would have laughed at the inflection if she weren't so frustrated. There was no response to woman's report, so she shuffled back into view.

"The doctor's busy, ma'am, and can't talk right now. Maybe you could call another time?"

The receptionist made as if to shut off the call.

"Wait a minute, please. Tell him it's about Spock, Captain Spock."

Reluctantly, the receptionist dragged herself over to the door again. "Doctor McCoy?"

This time, Nyota could see the door open in the far corner of the screen. "What?!"

"The lady says it's about Captain Spock."

Nyota watched the doctor's face straighten out from its crumpled state.

"Patch her through then, Janice. Hurry up now, don't make the lady wait."

The harassed woman came back into the picture. "Puttin' y'all through now. Have a good day, hon."

With relief, the picture finally resolved to the inside of McCoy's surgery.

"Now, just you remember to keep putting that ointment on, and remember—"
"—A hypo morning, noon, and night, and don't let the bedbugs bite!" a boy's voice chorused.

The doctor grinned. "You go on now, Jimmy. There's a good boy. Have a good day, Mrs. Cratchit." He rose, and by the sound of it, saw the pair out. The door closed, and Leonard McCoy flopped back into his chair.

"Hello?" He rubbed a handkerchief over his face.

"It's been a long time, Doctor McCoy," Nyota said. The hand on the doctor's face stilled and then gradually revealed his eyes.

"Nyota Uhura!" He grinned broadly. "Well, I never. Commodore, eh? Good for you! I heard you've been doing amazing things all these years with the little hobgoblins on the colony."

She gave him a withering look, which only made the man's grin broaden with mirth.

"It's good to see you, Commodore. What's makin' you call an ol’ country doctor like me?"

"Sounds to me, Leonard, like you're living it up in peach country."

"You better believe it! No more of the darkness and disease of space for me. No sirree. Happy as a lark here in downtown Butler."

She smiled softly. "I'm happy for you." Then her face sobered.

"So what can I do for you?"

"It's about Spock."

The man's face darkened.

"Don't look like that, Leonard. What he did is long in the past. He's in some serious trouble."

She went on to tell the story, the doctor's face falling into a harrowed and weary expression.

"Spock's making good progress on learning to communicate. But he's on borrowed time unless we can find Captain Kirk. That's why I contacted you. Have you heard from him at all since the Enterprise dropped Spock back on Earth?"

McCoy looked down at the surface of his desk, chipping away at something with reluctant agitation. "No, I haven't heard from him directly in thirty years." He looked away at something behind the screen. "But I do keep in contact with Christine Chapel."

"Oh! How is she?" Losing contact with Christine Chapel was one of the things Nyota had regretted.

"Doin' well. She's a proper MD, CMO of the Saratoga now. She told me word was Jim basically took one look at Spock after his accident and buggered off. She saw M'Benga at a conference, and he told her what happened. I mean, he never went to see him again in the whole time they were en route to Earth. And when he got back here, Chapel said he'd volunteered for a top secret mission with a great deal of risk and danger. No one knows where he is; probably out somewhere in the far-flung reaches of the galaxy. Typical, really, running off with all guns blazing, taking stupid risks, where angels fear to tread. That's Jim Kirk. You would've thought he'd get some maturity as he got older, but obviously not." McCoy huffed. "I can't believe he'd just abandon Spock like that. On second thought," he said, tapping his chin, "maybe I could. It's a typically childish reaction. And we all know Jim's always been the classic id."

"No kidding."

"To be honest, there's a part of me's glad: Spock's got what he deserved for the way he dumped you for that overgrown child. Run after the child, and he’ll keep running away from you. That's the way of it."

It was difficult for Nyota to navigate the bitterness of McCoy's words. She eventually choked down her own mixed feelings.

"Leonard, it's been really good to talk to you, to see you again after all these years."

"Yeah," he raised his brows. "Wish it were under better circumstances, but there you are. You're a saint for taking him on, you know. I wouldn't have done it if I were you. I mean, as a doctor I'd have to. Hippocratic Oath and all. But still… After what he and Jim did to you…"

"I'm no saint, Leonard," Nyota confessed. "I'm doing it as a project, to see whether adult Vulcan brains can respond to the same treatment we give children."

McCoy looked at her in astonishment before he processed this information, and his brow cleared. "Well. Good for you. Might as well use it as a learning experience. Ha. The irony is, Spock would probably have been happy for the research to be done, if it could benefit the wider colony. Back when… Well, you know what I mean."

"I do," she nodded.

"So much for 'in sickness, and in health'," McCoy scowled sourly. Nyota agreed wholeheartedly.

"Well, I've got patients to tend to," the man said testily.

"And I need to get back to things here. Thanks for talking, Leonard. Take care of yourself."

"You too, Nyota."

The comm. went dead, and Nyota clicked it off. If it were true that Kirk had got himself posted on an undercover mission, there was no knowing where he'd ended up, or even if he were still alive. Nor would there be any possibility of getting a message to him.

She sighed and slid down in her chair. When the Fever came, it would be up to the singing of the bond to call Jim to his mate's side. If that didn't happen, Spock would die. Kaiidth. What would be, would be. She held off on sharing these reflections with Spock.

***


Nine months into his time living with Nyota, her team managed to develop a device to interpret Spock's telepathic signals, a chip which could be implanted, and which relayed the thoughts to a speaker-device. This was proving to be a great improvement over the previous communication devices they had trialed.

He'd just finished a physiotherapy session with the resident nurse on duty, and was being lifted back into bed when Nyota entered the room.

"Hi Spock. How did it go today?"

Looking at Nyota intently, the mechanical voice asked emphatically, "Where is my bondmate? Where is golden-haired Captain blue-eyes male-glowing? JIM?"

She looked at him sadly.

"I'm so sorry, Spock. I don't know where Jim is. He's somewhere out there," she gestured with one hand towards the ceiling, the stars. Should she tell him about her conversation with Leonard McCoy?

"Clarify. Why he is not… with me."

"I can't answer that, Spock. I'm pretty sure that deep down he'd want to be here with you."

"He is not here."

"No, I'm so sorry. I've tried to make contact with him. But…" She bit her lip. Should she reveal this? "He was sent on an undercover mission by Starfleet."

"He is not coming?"

“I’ve tried everything to locate him, Spock. I commed Doctor McCoy, and even he didn’t know where Jim’s gone.” Nyota grasped Spock's wrist gently in an attempt to communicate her sincerity. "I don't know where Jim is, and I don’t know whether he will come to you. But you know, we can hope."

"Hope. Is not… logical."

"Maybe not. But you never know. Humans do change their minds. Maybe he will change his."

"Jim." Spock sighed, allowing his hand to slip away from Nyota’s, and turning his head away, closing his eyes.

Nyota felt through their connected hands Spock's remarkable acceptance, so final, that Jim, his treasured and cherished mate, was not likely to come to him. She left the room, locking herself in her bedroom to deal with her conflicted emotions. She cried for an hour.

Later that night as she was on her way to bed, she went into Spock's room to check on him. He was shuddering, lying on his side and facing away from her.

"Spock!"

She came around the other side of the bed and saw that he was weeping, heaving great, silent sobs. He was not in complete control of his emotions, hadn't been since the events which had so altered his life. But he'd not been this distressed before; always the subconscious, subliminal control was there, as T'Soth had observed. Now it seemed to have broken.

Alarmed, she went around behind him, crawled up on the bed to sit behind him, and took his body in her arms, cradling him to her chest and holding him tight. For a while she rocked him, humming a half-remembered lullaby. When he began to still, she resettled him on his pillow, lying down beside him so they were facing one another. Nyota lifted Spock's right hand to her own face, and their minds slipped together.

Jim has rejected me, the way I am now. He is not coming.

Pain throbbed through their joined consciousness. And Nyota felt she had little to offer in the face of such betrayal and loss. Yet for all of that, Spock didn’t hold Jim’s decision against him. All at once, Nyota admired Spock’s integrity, while feeling a spike of anger that he wasn’t more upset over his bondmate’s desertion. Fresh tears broke down the Vulcan's face. Nyota wiped them away with her fingers.

In all the months she'd spent helping him, tending him, Nyota couldn't help developing a new affection for Spock, and her friendship with him grew. T'Soth had been correct: as his brain rewired itself, new areas of his personality had opened up. In some ways, he reminded her ever more strongly of the Spock who had been her "old friend". It was partly in memory of him that she felt a barrier come down and tears starting in her own eyes.

"Oh, Spock. He may not want you now. But he's going to regret that choice. In any case, you have me. I know I'm not him; have never been and could never replace him. But I'm here." She pushed light in a gentle, supportive ball of energy towards his aching, searing mind.

So lulled, Spock eventually drifted towards sleep. Nyota held him through the night.

***


After that, Spock's resolution set. He indicated his wish to Nyota to develop, to do the very best he could. She found it astonishing that he accepted his disablement so resolutely. Yes, there were days at a time when he was lost in dark depression. But most of the time Spock was eager to push and push his body and mind to see improvement.

And his effort paid off. Spock was eager to participate in and further Nyota’s research, if in the long term it would benefit others. In the second year of his time on New Vulcan, one of the techniques employed was surgical, to implant new neural tissue in certain areas and so bypass damaged nerves. Remarkably, this was successful, and Spock was gradually regaining some muscle control to the point he could move his arm and roll himself over in bed.

Spock began dictating simple log entries using his translator. Nyota and her team thought this great therapy, and encouraged Spock to think aloud, to develop his thoughts, as this too would stimulate new neural pathways in the brain.

Using his communication devices, Spock dictated numerous communiqués to Jim. Nyota sent every one on his behalf, from his personal mail account. There was never a single reply. She'd tried not to read them. There was one in particular which caught her eye (and broke her heart):

Beloved (Ashayam) Jim,

I am working hard at physical therapy and can move my arm. I wish I could hold you. Nyota reads to me. Last week she began The Lord of The Rings. My warrior-king, brother-lover Aragorn, you are. Estel. Star of hope. He who ranges the stars.

Nyota has cared for me. I am grateful.

Do not worry. I am well.

I cherish thee. I will always cherish thee.

You are my friend,
t'hy'la. I have been, and always shall be, yours.

Spock.


***


Life had resumed a comfortable pattern revolving around Spock's needs and Nyota's work. She had almost forgotten the sword of Damocles which hung over Spock's life-thread. After three years, it had been easy and convenient to forget, caught up in the daily rhythm: breakfast together, games and talking or reading in the evenings. Nyota enjoyed the new depths of Spock’s personality, and felt in some ways she’d regained her Old Friend. The friendship she felt wasn’t one sided, either; over time, Spock became a confidant, and developed a capacity to listen which she’d never encountered in anyone else. Funny, how this person, someone who had once broken her trust but was now broken himself; funny, how he now was best able to read her heart, to understand and help her to understand what was going on within her. It was nice, after all the years of rigid self-sufficiency, to be able to let her guard down—almost unreal after the way Spock had broken her trust.

In turn, Spock trusted her with himself. Over the weeks he told her more about his childhood, about his feelings for his mother, his anger, sorrow, disappointment with his father—more than he’d ever shared with her in the time they’d been friends, or in the course of their relationship.

“You know, Spock,” she said one evening as they sat on the veranda admiring the stars, “part of me wishes we’d had this conversation years ago, when we were dating. Perhaps if we had, what happened could have been avoided.”

Spock didn’t respond and silence lapsed between them, filled with the sounds of the evening as animals settled for the night and the New Vulcan equivalent of crickets whirred in their mating cocoons.

“Should have, could have, would have.” Nyota sighed. “What is, is. Kaiidth. We can’t go back.”

A pause.

“I am sorry, Nyota.”

“What for? Are you still worried about spilling the tea yesterday morning?”

“I treated you with disrespect and contempt when we were bonded. I am sorry for the way in which our relationship ended. I cannot begin to comprehend the pain I must have caused you in choosing Jim. I continue to be humbled by the fact that you have cared for me these last two years, given me hope, the ability to speak again, to think again. I do not deserve what you have done for me. Please forgive me.”

Nyota’s heart was pounding through Spock’s speech, an unusually long one for him. She’d longed for many years to hear an apology, an acknowledgement from Spock of the pain he’d caused her. And here, out of the blue, it had happened. It had really happened. She thought carefully for a moment about her response.

“My whole life was affected, Spock. I would never have left the Enterprise if it hadn’t been for what happened. I had to surrender the dreams I’d had. And I’ve not been the same since the bond was severed; that much is just being honest.”

“I’m sorry,” Spock said again, looking down at his lap. Nyota could feel the shame rolling off him.

She rose, and came to kneel beside Spock’s recliner-chaise.

“Thank you for your apology; it’s something I longed to hear for years. But you know what, Spock? If it hadn’t been for the whole mess with you and Jim, I would not be here today, would not have done the things I’ve done, been able to make a difference in the small ways I have by being here and doing this research. I’m proud of my achievements, and I don’t regret for a second the choice I made to leave my old dreams behind.

“And anyway, who knows what kind of mate I would have made you? It’s possible I would have made Jim’s decision too: I was selfish and self-centred, and it took the agony of being separated from you, and of setting up a new life working with the truly disadvantaged and suffering, for me to learn compassion and to put aside my prejudices. It’s quite possible that, had our relationship not ended in the way it did, we wouldn’t be here today.”

She leaned towards him and gently kissed his brow.

“In any case, I forgave you years ago. I had to, for the sake of being free. And I forgive you now, so that you can be free too.” A weight she’d not been conscious of carrying lifted from her shoulders. She couldn’t help the mild euphoria which replaced it.

Spock’s hand found hers and squeezed his gratitude gently.

“To be honest,” she continued, “I’m a bit embarrassed. Do you remember I said, ‘The having is not so great a thing as the wanting’?” Spock nodded. “I don’t want it to be true. I hope Jim returns to you.”

***


The conversation on the veranda proved prescient, and not in a way Nyota welcomed. A few weeks after their discussion there were signs of Spock's hormones fluctuating and changing. When the first signs of imbalance appeared, Nyota once again tried every means at her disposal to contact Jim and beg him to come, with an ever-increasing sense of desperation. There was no response. The healers examined Spock, and determined that with a bond that strong, there was no way they could break it, and even if they did manage the feat of breaking a t'hy'la link, there was only a 1% chance Spock would be able to bond with another. In other words: there was no way out of this.

The healer who had delivered the news departed. Nyota sat down on the bed beside Spock, who was staring at the wall.

“I’m so sorry,” she murmured. “I wish I could help you.”

Spock looked at her in astonishment. “After… everything? You would offer… this?”

She shrugged. “To save a friend’s life? Absolutely.”

“But the bond is still strong and cannot be broken.”

“So the healers say.”

“And he… Jim. He is not coming.”

Nyota paused for a moment. “No. It doesn’t appear so.”

Something locked together in Spock’s being: resolution, resignation, an acceptance of fate. “Then I face death.”

Nyota had witnessed Vulcans die in the throes of an unconsummated pon farr. She had some idea of the humiliation that awaited Spock, the agony and torture and madness he would have to pass through. As a cultural memory all Vulcans carried, he knew it too. And she couldn’t help but be amazed at his equanimity in the face of what the future inevitably held for him. The long held-at-bay sense of this being surreal intruded again.

She took his hand. “Not alone. I’ll be with you. Until the end, Spock.”

He closed his fingers tightly around hers.

In the days that came, before Spock’s rationality was eclipsed, they spoke of the future. Of Nyota’s hopes and dreams. Of what Spock wanted done with his remains. It was odd to make plans when Spock was still so vibrant and alive, more so than he’d been up until this point. And there was irony that only now he was going to die was he truly alive.

Following Spock's remarkable example, Nyota arrived at a place of acceptance. Not a day passed without him expressing gratitude to her for her companionship and care, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Given his disability, the progress of the pon farr was rapid and savage. His movements greatly restricted, there was nowhere for Spock to escape, and no way for him to discharge the pent up emotion, the wild throbbing of the fever in his blood. Instead of the usual gradual set-in over a six month period, in the space of four weeks he went from relative stability to the raging fires of the bloodfever. Nyota and the medical team did what they could for him. But they were not what he needed most—his bondmate.

After seven days, the torture was finally drawing to an end. Spock lay quietly on the bed, breathing shallowly. Nyota bathed his forehead with cool water, hoping to bring some physical comfort and relief. She wanted to fight for him. It was hard to watch a friend die like this. In her tired, frustrated state, she felt angry at Jim. Why couldn’t he be here? It wasn’t right!

This time, the feeling of her whole existence being out of alignment, off kilter, unreal, could not be banished. It was simple: Spock should not be dying, maimed and abandoned by his bondmate. Nevertheless, she rigorously reminded herself of Spock’s acceptance. There was nothing she could do about the situation except to offer her support as Spock fought on.

It was truly horrible that he should meet his end this way. She thought back over what she knew of his life, of his time with her, of what she knew of his exploits and triumphs and defeats since she’d left the Enterprise. No one deserved to die this way. Yet, she supposed, Spock wasn't the first Vulcan and wouldn't be the last to perish in this biological rhythm. That didn't at all negate the horror, or her anger and sorrow.

In the cold midnight hours, Spock’s anguished dark orbs opened.

"Spock?"

He searched weakly for her hand. She quickly grasped his between her own and listened attentively with all that she was as he communicated in images his gratitude for all she had done. He showed her the darkness descending, merciful, a veil, and his longing for it to be over… And something else…

Without words, he spoke.

He is… waiting.

"You mean he died?"

He is there, beyond. Thank you… for giving hope…

Nyota supposed that made sense—she had insisted time and again that Spock would be reunited with his Jim. She had surprised herself at both the level of conviction she held about this, as well as her own willingness to encourage him towards that hope. But then, in that final meld with the Elder Spock, had she not caught a glimpse of the moment of union between another Spock and his Kirk in that beyond space?

Nyota, thank you. I… regret… the ending. Forgive… bless… before the void…

"Of course, Spock!" she said aloud. "I’ve already forgiven you. Go into what's next in peace. No more regrets," her tears were falling freely now.

And then the connection faltered as he fell into unconsciousness. She didn't let go of him until the rattle stopped, the last sigh shimmering as whatever consciousness had been Spock of Vulcan passed into the life beyond.

For long minutes after that she held the body of the Vulcan, clutching at it in sorrow and desperation, barely able to believe that this was the second time in her life she had held a Spock as he expired and went to join his bondmate in the beyond. Abruptly, her emotions boiled over, her sense of the injustice of Spock's death, her grief for both him and for his older counterpart, and her general exhaustion from weeks of watching by Spock's bedside. She howled until her throat was raw and her face swollen with weeping.

The nurse found her, sleeping beside Spock, in the early dawn hour.

Of course, she insisted on a proper traditional Vulcan funeral. T'Soth, Spock's medical team, Spock's half-brothers and sisters, Doctor McCoy, and other unexpected people attended. Even Sarek did the courtesy of attending—and Nyota was struck by the fragility of Sarek's mental state. She'd become quite an expert at reading Vulcan expressions, and she saw Sarek fighting for control. It was fitting, she thought, her own emotions numb as she followed the funeral bier up to the high places. There, a pyre would be made, and the body burned, its elements returned to stardust.

In the days after the funeral, a shuttlecraft of unknown origin was found by a Vulcan science vessel floating only three parsecs away from New Vulcan. Its sole occupant, Captain James Kirk, was deceased, apparently from natural causes. It looked like Jim had, after all, left the cover of his mission in a last-ditch attempt to reach his bondmate, answering the call in his blood. But he ran out of fuel: so close, and yet so far away. It was a sad, silly, tragic end. Surreal. Wrong. She hoped that somewhere in the cosmos or beyond this reality and all realities, Spock and Jim had found their way to each other with no barriers to full union.

Nyota used all the influence at her disposal to claim the body of her former Captain and arranged a funeral for him also, with full military honors, in the Vulcan style. He too had no living relatives to perform this function for him, and so it fell to Nyota to walk behind the bier for the second time in a month. And having done so, she watched the flames transforming his matter back into its elements. When they were cool, she collected his ashes and carried them home.

The next few months prompted a great deal of reflection for Nyota. She found herself ruminating on the lives of those who had gone before her, and thinking about the changes she'd noted in herself. She was, for the most part, at peace with herself, her direction in life, her achievements, and at peace with her past. Elder Spock's faith in her, that she would become a strong leader, had been justified and proven many times over. And hell, she'd achieved what many jilted spouses couldn’t: somehow, she'd found the wherewithal to take her ex-husband into her home to care for him.

She would never have been able to do that when she'd first left the Enterprise, too full of bitterness and anger. That had taken years to fully deal with, and it had left its mark: Nyota never did commit to another serious intimate relationship. She'd fallen into the trap of subjugating her identity to the idea of a relationship with Spock, and had allowed the relationship to disempower her by identifying as Spock's bondmate rather than Nyota Uhura. Given she'd set her sights on him when she was still in her teens, she'd hardly had time to grow as a person in her own right. Spock had become the centre of her universe, her goal to get him and then to keep him. She'd predicated her identity on her ability to capture Spock and to be his bondmate. Now, she reflected, that was an unhealthy outlook to take into any relationship, and in doing that she'd deprived Spock of the freedom to be himself, and had lost herself in the process.

Her journey here on New Vulcan had been about discovering who Nyota Uhura truly was, and about living into freedom. She had learned the value of independence, as well as interdependence. She had learned to let go of her arrogance, her perceptions of her own importance and centrality—her experience with the elder Spock and her work with the children of Vulcan had achieved that. She had learned she was a woman of strength and great ability, capable of managing others in a way helpful to their development. And she had learned she was a person who could balance her past and her future, who could overcome pain and distress in order to show a depth of compassion, and who was no longer afraid of other people's difference. Through caring for Spock in these last months, she had truly learned to embrace the alien other—whether within her or in the lives of those around her. For these changes, she was grateful; she believed herself to be now a better person, mature, balanced in a way she hadn't been on that day she had beamed down to the colony to have her bond severed.

Nyota was satisfied with the results.

***


Starfleet had sent a swift scout ship for her, and now, as scheduled, they were at the pre-designated coordinates she had insisted upon visiting en route to Earth. Soon-to-be Admiral Nyota Uhura stood with a collection of officers on the observation deck, gazing at the nebula before them, seed-bed for so many new stars forming almost as they watched. The rainbow spectrum of colors reflected off every surface in the room, dancing around the watchers.

"Admiral?" an ensign tapped her shoulder. She handed across the silver tube, approximately 30cm long and 10cm in diameter, shaking herself a little.

"Relax, Ensign. It's still Commodore." She smiled, patting the man's hand delicately.

"Yes, sir," he answered stiffly. "I shall see that this goes in the photon torpedo launcher myself."

"Thank you, Ensign. Dismissed."

She waited with the others until the launching bay signaled readiness. The boson’s whistle blew, and with it came the call to attention. The torpedo carrying its precious load of human and half-Vulcan remains arced into the heart of the nebula, incinerating in a flash of brilliance.

In that moment, Nyota felt a peculiar sense of motherhood, the rebirth parallel to her own renewal in the last thirty-odd years on New Vulcan. She watched as stardust returned to stardust in an incandescent flame. It was appropriate, she thought, that this should be the final resting place of Spock of Vulcan and Captain James Kirk, together among the stars. And in a place where from the suffering and pain of what had been, perhaps something new and beautiful could be born.

***


Nyota blinked unsteadily, looking around her. It took her several minutes of great disorientation to realize that she was standing in the middle of a space surrounded by exhibits in the Skylari's Museum of Possible Futures. She looked down at the green diamond-shaped gem in her hand. Gone was the room she had entered—it felt like thirty years earlier—and gone was the old man. Her face was wet with tears.

She looked around her, feeling as though her mind were crumbling under the weight of the trauma she had just experienced. And then her body followed suit.

An attendant noticed her fall, and came to her assistance. "Ma'am, are you alright?"

She shook her head, too stunned to cry, overwhelmed.

"Let me help you up." The Skylari lifted her up and set her on wobbly feet, guiding her over to a seat against a wall. "There. Sit down for a moment."

"Where did he go?"

"Who?"

"The old man, the one in the room who gave me this?" She opened her palm to reveal the green gem, which no longer glowed. The Skylari's eyes widened.

"You have been visited by the Prophet," she murmured.

"The Prophet?"

"Yes, yes. You are highly favored, to be chosen to experience the Prophet's Word."

"More like blasted apart." Anger now filled her, and indignation. These experiences should come with health warnings. "That was really unfair. I walked into that room, exploring the exhibits, and…" she lacked the words to continue. The Skylari looked at her with a mix of awe and incomprehension.

"The experience of the Prophet's Word is always one which has a deeper meaning to be sought out. All is not as it appears on the surface."

"Where is he?" Nyota insisted. "I want to speak with him!"

"He is not here. He does not appear on demand. He comes and he goes, and never visits the same place twice in a hundred years. And in any case, he will not speak to those to whom the visions are given. The visions are for your own rumination. You must decipher the meaning."

"I don't understand," she said, the memory of what had just been swelling up again and threatening to overcome her awareness. "I have to…" She rose, and pushed past the Skylari. She had to get out of this place, had to run, had to get somewhere familiar… Before…

She clutched with desperate mental fingers to her sanity. Reeling, she began walking, then running, all the while reminding herself: she was not in her late 50s; she had never been bonded to Spock; she had not just watched him die horribly, maimed and tortured. Nor had she just buried him and her Captain in a nebula. So absorbed was she in trying to regain her equilibrium that she ran directly into someone.

It was Spock.

Of course, it would have to be Spock, who was standing on the footpath, right in her path.

For a moment she looked at him through wet, heartbroken eyes, seeing superimposed the shocking image of his death-mask, and experiencing the curious sensation of questioning, Is he alive? Is the one I thought dead, somehow miraculously alive? How is this possible? while at the same time reassuring herself that yes, Spock was alive; he'd never died. And the confusion: It was so real! Did Spock die? How was he alive now, here, real, tangible, solid beneath her fingers?

Too late she realized she was fisting her hands in his casual sweater.

And then she flung all caution and taboo to the winds and threw her arms around a startled Spock's neck to cling tightly and allow the tears to fall copiously in her distraught state.

"Nyota?"

"Oh, Spock. You're here. You're really here."

He tentatively wrapped his arms around her in an awkward gesture of comfort.

"Hi, Nyota," came a cocky voice. And then a moment later, "Oh—Should I leave you two alone for a moment?"

Spock put his hands on Nyota's waist and gently pushed her away. "It is alright I believe, Jim."

"Nyota, is everything okay?" her Captain asked, drawing closer, closing the circle, concern filling his voice. Nyota never cried; this was unusual, and of course he would wonder what had upset her so badly.

She made an attempt at drying her tears.

The Captain handed Spock a small bucket with three scoops of the ice-cream, a treat for which the Skylari were famous, and then bent to lick his own which was beginning to melt in the hot sun.

"We were just going to go over to the park to eat our icecreams. Do you want one?" Jim asked Nyota quietly.

She nodded. "That'd be great, Jim."

"What do you want?"

"You know what I like."

He nodded, and disappeared back inside the Skylari equivalent of a milk bar. Nyota and Spock began to wander slowly over to the park, which was curiously empty of other Starfleet personnel. She was grateful for Jim's tact in leaving her to compose herself momentarily.

"Are you well, Nyota?" Spock asked, his voice full of concern for his friend.

"I just had an odd experience." She outlined the story for Spock, without giving great detail—it was still too overwhelming to analyze closely.

"What's this about Spock dying?" the Captain asked as he drew level to them and handed Nyota her icecream.

"It's not funny, you asshole."

"Hey, lady, I'm not laughing," he said, throwing his hands back in a gesture of denial. Nyota scowled at him.

"I was just telling Spock about my trip to the Museum for Possible Futures."

"Oh yeah. I heard that's an amazing place, lots of weird trippy things to do."

Spock and Nyota both raised eyebrows at him.

"What?"

"It just so happens I experienced one of those 'weird trippy things' and it was horrible," Nyota explained, handing Jim the green jewel.

"Nice rock." He handed it back.

"Jim, it was awful. Spock and I were bonded, only he cheated on me with you, and rejected me unconscionably. And then years later, you abandoned him because he was maimed after being tortured by Romulans, and you both died in the fires of pon farr because you couldn't get to help him in time."

Jim stopped still and looked at Spock. Nyota's gaze flicked between the two, her eyes widening.

"That's never going to happen," Jim avowed with conviction.

"Can you guarantee that?" Spock asked quietly.

"What? Listen, Spock. In the first place, there are no logical circumstances under which I would abandon you. You could be a vegetable hooked up to life support and I would give all this up," he waved a hand towards where the Enterprise hung in orbit, "to care for you."

Nyota felt a pang of poignant, tangled emotion which was hard to parse.

"That is not the desire I have expressed. I would wish for you to continue with your life, your destiny."

"You are my destiny, Spock! Don't say that!" Jim turned away slightly, stopping short of stamping his foot.

"Jim," Spock said gently, reaching for him with his free hand and turning him. Jim looked at Spock with haunted eyes. Nyota was definitely the third wheel here—yet the exchange had a rightness about it. Compared to the vision she’d just lived, this was the greater truth: Jim and Spock belonged together, and in this reality there was no shaking their already tried and tested commitment to each other.

"Tell me, then. Would you abandon me if I were maimed, broken beyond repair?"

Spock's eyes darkened. "Never."

"Then don't you ever the fuck tell me to let you rot in some out-of-the-way old folks' facility, okay, on some mistaken idealism that I should continue my destiny." He stabbed his ice-cream with his spoon and swallowed a mouthful of hurt with it. "And in the second place, I still don't get why you think pon farr is such a big deal. I was perfectly fine last time."

"Fine has variable definitions, and it does not include broken tibia, a hairline fracture in a clavicle, deep lacerations to back and thighs, and multiple internal tears."

That was way too much information. Yet the fact these two spoke so openly of their intimate life in front of her was testament to the esteem in which they held her: a trusted, close friend who would guard their secrets. It couldn’t be more of a contrast to her recent experience. She reeled a little from the disjuncture of it, allowing the conversation to wash over her while she processed her thoughts.

"So we had rough sex. Whoopideedoodah! And the broken tibia and fracture to my clavicle were my own stupid fault because I over-balanced. It had nothing to do with you."

"Jim, you were bleeding. Your red blood… Your life-blood… it covered me. I thought I'd… killed you."

Jim drew closer to the distressed Vulcan, touching his hand. "I can't believe you're still hung up over that. Surely you've seen in our melds since the Time exactly what happened from my perspective."

"It doesn't change anything. It would be best for you if you were far away the next time…"

"No fucking way. Spock, help me understand what part of the word bondmate you don't want me to be. We share a bond. A BOND, Spock. You know what that means. Our lives are woven together; I asked for that, I consented to it. So did you. And we share a bond so that we are together in everything that happens in life—pon farr, Romulan attacks, temporary or permanent disablement, floods, fires, high water… Klingons, Starfleet brass… Besides, you told me we're t'hy'la to each other. Doesn't that mean standing by one another? Isn't that what you want? You're the one who asked me to bond with you."

Spock was persistent. "It is possible that there could be logical reasons for you not to—"

Jim whirled on him, suddenly wrapping his whole body around his mate, making sure they touched skin to skin in order to intensify the connection between them. "I'm yours; you're mine. End of story."

Spock looked like he was going to say something, but thought better of it, and instead held Jim close. Nyota took another scoop of her icecream with intense focus.

The bondmates separated, and the trio continued their stroll beneath the trees, enjoying the afternoon shade they cast and the breeze which was just tickling the branches above them.

"So what else was weird about this… whatever it was? Alternative reality? Dream?" Jim prompted.

"It was real, Jim," Nyota replied. "Well, it felt real. I'm still trying to remind myself that you and Spock have been together since Khan; that it was you, not me who was with Spock during his Time four years ago; that I've been in a relationship with Scotty for the last twelve months—and happily so; that you guys, along with Leonard, are my best friends, and that you're not a rival, Captain… It was just so real."

"What was it supposed to be, anyway?"

"I went into the future of holography exhibit, and there was this little room off to the side, and an old man who handed me this gem. He said that the innermost workings and true character of a person would be revealed. Afterwards, the attendant at the entrance called him 'The Prophet' and suggested I'd need to interpret the experience; that all was not as it appeared on the surface." She shook her head. "I don't know. It's been a weird morning all round. I got lost trying to get there. And you know how the Skylari are so technologically advanced and claim to have eliminated poverty? Well, let me tell you, I found myself in this marketplace, full of squalor. Poverty? Wow. It was horrible enough to rival any twentieth century Earth's third-world country: sickness and disease and foulness everywhere, desperation in the eyes of beggar kids. It made me really angry that the Skylari have been lying to us, proclaiming their advancement, yet they can't share it with these poor people. I mean, what is that about?"

"It is possible that you have misunderstood the situation, Nyota," Spock suggested.

"How?"

"This morning Jim and I explored a number of the Skylari temples."

Nyota looked at Jim. "It wasn't my idea," he demurred. "Spock was fascinated by the signs of religious observance he'd seen around the place. What did you call it, Spock? 'A curious synthesis of the main tenets of several old Earth traditions, embodied in ritual reminiscent of the Axetulian Age on Triaxellus III, with overtones of logic worthy of Surak'?"

"Affirmative. Although, having had conversations with the resident Seers I have altered my analysis of the origins of Skylari faith."

"Okay," Nyota commented, taking another scoop of icecream.

"They do not talk much of it, for it is a private experience unique to each individual—which also explains why the information is not in our databases, at the request of the Skylari government."

"That smacks to me of hiding something," Nyota protested with a hint of cynicism; politics were the same throughout the galaxy.

"On the contrary: it is a rite of passage through which all Skylari must pass in order to achieve the next stage of enlightenment. From what the Seer shared with me, for a season of their lives, each Skylari takes up an ascetic practice: the renunciation of ease and technological advancement. They must live as their ancient ancestors did in order to reconnect with their origins, and to develop gratitude and appreciation for the gains they have made over the last two millennia. It also fosters compassion: for the parts of themselves not yet reconciled, for those who are different from themselves, and for the collective of society, the commonwealth."

Nyota considered this. It explained much. "But there were people there who were truly desperate. And many of them looked diseased or maimed in some way. I don't know, Spock. It had a sense of permanence about it, and surely, if this is an experience they all go through for a time before returning to their normal way of life, those children who crowded around me wouldn't need to beg?"

Spock nodded, entering full science-officer lecturer mode. "You may recall that one in two Skylari have the gift of Sight. It is through this ritual that it manifests. The ability to see future possibilities must, for the Skylari, be founded in compassion, and the realization that the satisfaction of the ego is not the object of life. Not all Skylari find the ascetic experience easy. Those who have the Sight become able to endure, simplicity stirring the gift and compassion apparently strengthening it. Those who lack the Sight still complete the experience, because it shapes their character and creates a unity in the broader society. But, according to the temple Seer, the ascetic discipline is more difficult for them.

"It is interesting. The concept of ascetic practice is common through many religious expressions: Buddhism, the Christian religious orders, and certain mystery religions of old Earth; the willed renunciation of power and wealth by the Halkans; the pietism of the Grissals of Formarl V; and many others spring to mind. It also has resonance with the Vulcan practice of kolinahr, hence my curiosity. When I explained to the Seer that Vulcans had a parallel ascetic discipline to the Skylari, she was most interested in further conversation. Otherwise, I doubt my questions about their religious practice would have been answered."

"That puts it into perspective somewhat. I suppose it makes sense that the Skylari's ability to See would develop through meditation or prayer or embracing a particular religious discipline." Nyota began putting pieces together in her mind. "And in order to maintain an egalitarian society, everyone would have to go through the same process. The Skylari know they need to understand that material goods are not the be all and end all; the accumulation of wealth isn’t going to make one pure; the pursuit of power and ambition is ultimately empty—it's all part of their philosophy."

"In taking the detour you did, you inadvertently stumbled over what, for them, is an intensely private and personal path," Spock confirmed.

There was a silence as they walked, in which Nyota continued to make connections between Spock's description and her experience. Something awful occurred to her.

"Oh, that's horrible!" Nyota exclaimed.

"What's horrible?" Jim asked, licking his spoon.

"If what Spock says is true, and I walked into the middle of a bunch of people enduring a difficult and testing religious ritual, then it must've been like putting a feast in front of someone who's fasting. You know, a symbol of all that they had, albeit temporarily, renounced. What if my presence there has thrown them off their path?"

"You cannot know that, Nyota," Spock replied.

"So much for the Prime Directive," she quipped in response.

Spock allowed her observation to fall for a moment before speaking. "The question I would ponder is the connection between the experience you had in the marketplace, and the vision you saw in the museum. Given the words of the attendant at its conclusion, it appears what happened may contained a message for you. A gift from Skylar, if you like."

It was so typical that Spock would ask a searching question. That was one of the things Nyota valued about him, that as her friend he was constantly prompting her to look more deeply at the world around and within her.

"Well, Spock," she began, and then stopped. It felt… vulnerable, to be sharing these thoughts she'd barely even processed or acknowledged to herself. "In my heart of hearts, have I been pining after you? Did I really feel jilted when we broke up? But that can't be right. Because I've never had a problem with you being with Jim; hell, I practically pushed you into it. I mean, first of all, unlike in that alternative reality, you were never a blushing virgin with me," Jim choked and sputtered on his icecream, "and we had plenty of intimacy before we broke up. I never had any complaints in that department."

"Too much information," Jim muttered. The tips of Spock's ears were vivid green, and Nyota knew she was crossing all sorts of boundaries here, albeit with a niggling sense of payback for their earlier conversation. Nevertheless, the words just kept spilling out. If you couldn't have this kind of conversation with your best friends, who could you have it with?

"Secondly, I just could never see you treating me the way you supposedly did in that reality, Spock. It's just not you to treat anyone like that."

He raised an eyebrow speculatively.

"I'm not going to go into it. Maybe another time. In any case, I honestly don't believe I've ever regretted either our relationship or ending it, because, let's face it, we've both gone on to other things. And what we have now is exactly what we need."

"Agreed," Spock nodded. "I also have no regrets concerning our relationship to date. And I am grateful for your encouragement and support in pursuing my bondmate." Again, Spock looked at Jim with an expression Nyota imagined communicated all the dirty things Spock was going to do to his mate later. She bit back an embarrassed grin. "Who requires pursuit regularly because he has a penchant, it seems, for 'doing the dash', as humans say."

"What?" Jim protested, ever the innocent.

"I believe I found a coil of rope and some restraining equipment in the bottom drawer of the bedside table in our hotel room."

"Ok, ok, ok!" Nyota said, putting both hands up. "I really, really don't need to know."

"My apologies, Nyota."

"Yeah, go on," Jim chimed. They resumed their stroll.

"After things ended for us in this other reality—and they ended spectacularly, let me tell you, with Federation-wide announcements the two of you made, and Sarek disowning you, Spock—I settled on New Vulcan and became involved in setting up a network of centers researching and developing ways of helping traumatized children cope with and communicate about what they'd experienced. It was a wonderful job, and I was good at it, respected throughout the Federation. I set up centers on several other planets. And I was proud of my work."

"I can totally see you doing something like that, Ny," Jim commented. "You were at the Museum for Possible Futures, so maybe that's in yours?"

She shook her head. "Maybe. But I've worked hard to get where I am, and even if you guys were total bastards, I'd be more likely to apply for a transfer to another ship."

"Don't you dare do that! Ever! No other Captain in the Fleet's allowed to lure you or Scotty away. I need you on the bridge," the Captain declared."And his fetish for the ship's innards in Engineering."

She continued. "Anyway. I don't think that's it. Or not all of it. You see, I think the real test was when I heard that Spock had no one left in the galaxy, and Medical was about to shunt him off to some facility where he'd rot away. But I came and collected him, and then cared for him in my home until… Well, until he died in the fires of pon farr. The experience ended shortly after that, with the day I emptied your ashes in space."

They walked in silence for a while.

"Both psychology and scientific research have determined and confirmed that what sentient beings dream about, and the visions they see, are manifestations of their subconscious. The people we dream about—or I should say, the people humans dream about, are aspects of themselves. Perhaps the answers lie for you in that field," Spock suggested. "Further, given your specialty in communication and linguistics, there may be material to be gleaned by conducting a symbolic analysis both verbal and visual. Additionally, Doctor McCoy may be of assistance."

"Actually, those are good ideas, Spock."

"I recognize that you have colleagues who would perhaps be better qualified in the linguistics field. However, if there is anything in which I am able to help you…"

"Thanks, Spock," Nyota grinned at her friend. "I think I'd rather it was you than them. But let me go and think about it myself for awhile. I'll let you know."

She'd finished her icecream.

"Well, I'm done. I'm going to go and sit for a bit by the lake and process it all some more. See you boys back at the hotel?"

"You bet," Jim quipped.

"Perhaps we could meet for dinner?" Spock asked.

"That'd be nice, Spock. I'll see what Monty's doing, and whether he could possibly be pried away from the fascinating hydraulics of the Skylari."

Jim laughed. "Good luck with that."

Nyota reached up and kissed each of them on the cheek. "I love you both, you know," she said. "I'm so glad you were there, and that I ran into you."

"Yeah," Jim replied, hugging her. "Likewise." He turned to Spock, who had just disposed of their icecream cups in a nearby recycler. "Catch me if you can?" His blue eyes sparkled with mischief and he took off at a jog, with Spock in feigned reluctant pursuit. The last Nyota saw of them was of Jim being caught and pressed up against a tree to be kissed into submission by his mate. Or was it tickled? Just as well it was an arbor, and therefore out of sight of the rest of the park. She couldn't imagine Spock being willing to engage in such public displays where there was any risk of them being caught.

She decided in the end against sitting by the lake, and instead turned around, following a path which lay through a formal garden complete with a box-hedge labyrinth.

Nyota simply couldn't shake the disorientation of the experience. It wasn't a dream or a vision. It was as though in the space of minutes she'd lived a lifetime, a lifetime of memories she would carry with her for the rest of her life: the pain, the joy, and the satisfaction. As she walked the labyrinth—a metaphor that did not escape her attention—she pondered Spock's advice, and what he'd told her and Jim about Skylari faith. He had a great deal of wisdom, that man; it was something she treasured about him, part of the air of mystique he carried with him. Of course, that might well be his Vulcan ancestry, the alien Otherness of him. Or it could be that he was more in tune with the heartbeat of the universe because of his discipline of meditation. Nyota found in Spock a rock of dependable solidity. Yes, his advice was once again sound. So what did the symbols in the experience mean?

One thing was certain: it confirmed Nyota's conscious sense of self. It suggested that she didn't have to define herself by anyone else's expectations, and nor could she be squeezed into a mold any person might try to force on her. That was a big part of the reason why she and Spock would never have worked; she had always been strong and independent, a woman who charted her own path. It was this very stubborn independence that Scotty admired and respected so deeply. And it was why Scotty was good for her: he gave her the space to be herself, just as she worked with and aimed to understand his attention to detail and extreme commitment to his art.

She came to the centre of the labyrinth and stopped. In the course of her walking, her racing mind had calmed, and the turbulence of her recent adventure had stilled. What was her innermost truth?

Nyota remembered the feel of Spock, incapacitated and dying in her arms. An insight flashed into her consciousness. She had the capacity to care tenderly for even the most extreme, alienated parts of herself; there was hope, because she was on the journey of integrating the wild, animalistic tendencies in her psychological DNA; the darkness, the light, and the in-between.

Something Spock had said flittered through her mind. He'd mentioned the relationship between the Skylari's ability to See, compassion, and the balancing of the parts of the self. Perhaps this experience had been about achieving something similar for Nyota: to balance her ego-driven ambition, her super-ego, and her id. In the vision, hadn't McCoy said something to her about the James Kirk of that "reality" being a classic id? Realization began to dawn: it had been in walking away from the tiresome tug of war between her ego, id, and super-ego, and in grounding her identity in interdependent relationships with others that she'd come into her own, developed greater compassion, and been able to make a difference in the suffering of the galaxy.

More than that: at all times, she would act with compassion and integrity towards herself as well as other people, even where failure had occurred. If she could forgive failure in herself, she could forgive failure in others. She had, in short, come face to face with self-acceptance, and hadn't flinched from embracing it.

She began the slow walk out of the labyrinth feeling as though she'd been reborn. There were aspects of the experience which would haunt her, and it would likely take months to decipher every inner message of the thing. She looked down for a moment at the green jewel in her hand, a concrete reminder, a token, a souvenir, a badge. And she realized that there was something she needed to do, because the experience had changed her.

A wave of dismay pulsed through her. In all this self-talk about the value of compassion, and the truth that the Skylari embraced poverty as a spiritual discipline, Nyota’s prejudices had crumbled. And she now realized just how obnoxious her earlier perspective had been. She was chastened, and vowed never to make judgments of others’ choices, or of the structuring of other societies she encountered, again. If nothing else, this experience had taught her that no one can, at first glance, know the motivations others have for their choices in life, or the circumstances which have shaped those choices. Nyota was acutely aware, as she continued to process her “possible future”, that her intemperate assumptions about poverty had effectively dismissed the spiritual quests of an entire people. Who was she to judge, when the motivations of her own heart were mixed? She resolved to practice compassion, to truly listen—not just to the words and body language of others, but to them as people with stories of their own.

At the dawn of a new year, it had been oddly apposite, this whole sojourn on Skylar. Nyota lifted her head, greatly encouraged and confirmed. The year ahead promised many exciting adventures. And Nyota Uhura knew that no matter what she and the Enterprise crew faced, they would do it with determination and integrity.

She closed her fingers around the green gem, and set her course back towards the square where she had encountered the beggars. She'd learned something about the Skylari through this experience, something which couldn't have been conveyed in words, or in any diplomatic exchange, something which was fundamental to their identity and culture. Perhaps this was the reason why she had been selected for "The Prophet's experience". In allowing her to come face to face with the depths of her own story, perhaps she was being given freedom to see something of what the Skylari valued philosophically…

As she filtered what Spock had told her, as well as her experience, she concluded that the Skylari revered charity, believing that every person had the ability to enhance themselves by giving to others. Being an advanced society they had unlimited resources to which, they had claimed, every Skylari had equal access; there was no restriction on who could advance themselves. Nyota realized that there were other reasons why this ritual would be important to Skylari society, profound reasons for this particular ascetic way of poverty and deprivation when they had unlimited access to technology and wealth. Not least of which was the witness such a life offered to those like her who were blinded by prejudice. She thought of the venerable traditions of religious orders on the various planets she'd visited, people who chose to live a life of poverty in the service of others. Those beggars in the square… She quickened her steps, wanting to find the place again, to experience it with new eyes, to engage with the people who were living a transformative life.

For there was something else she had learned, both about herself, and about the Skylari, which she pondered as she searched for the square of beggars. Life was incredibly precious, fragile, and transient. The purpose of existence was to make the lives of others better: to love others, in word and deed. Perhaps the elder Spock had embodied that best in her vision. Nyota wondered how he would respond to the story, and made a note to share it with him—and a meal—next time the Enterprise visited New Vulcan.

She found the square with its inhabitants, and was again quickly noticed as the children pressed around her. They clamored, as they had before. But this time, she gestured for a moment of quiet, and moved towards the back step of a house in the alleyway, where she sat down. A child climbed into her lap, and two others crammed onto the steps, eager to sit close to her.

"My name's Nyota. Will you tell me your stories?"


FIN
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