Title: Minds Over Other Matters
Characters: Spock, Kirk, various
Genre: Gen, H/C, Humor
Word Count: 17,800
Rating: T for themes and movie-level language

Warnings/Spoilers: Vague spoilers for AOS movies, spoilers of sorts for TOS episodes Mirror, Mirror, Amok Time, and Empath, but no knowledge of those episodes necessary to understand this fic. No lack of mental consent between main characters, warning for brief and non-graphic lack of that with a minor character in the very last section. Also, I do acknowledge the Spock/Uhura movie relationship, though I write only gen fic so it's only more than referenced in Section II.

Summary: Five times a mind meld with Jim Kirk worked just fine, and one time where it really, really didn't

A/N: I've rebooted several TOS episodes here and likely unconsciously thrown in a hodgepodge of other TOS elements because that's where my original heart lies, so anything you recognize likely does not belong to me. The rest of this nonsense does.

VI. First Contact, or They Should Put Warning Labels on These Things
V. Wonder Twin Powers Activate, or I Told You Not to Touch That Plant
IV. Transporter Malfunctions 101, or Mirror, Mirror, on the…Parallel Universal Transfer
III. The Vulcan Death-Grip, or I Am Not Your Personal Knockout Artist, Doctor
II. Matters of Biology, or Ménage à trois. Ish.
I. It's Your Funeral, or We're All Mad Here, And I Did Try To Warn You, Sucker

VI. First Contact, or They Should Put Warning Labels on These Things

He likes to think he's always had a fairly open mind.

Pun intended, in this case.

In his defense, this has not been your usual senior year, and not your usual year-end stress. The powers-that-be really weren't joking when they said they were foregoing final examinations because surviving the Battle of Vulcan pretty much meant that they had passed year-end psych evals and were cleared to graduate – he suspects that has more to do with eighty percent of the 'Fleet being wiped out than any real academic prowess – but he can't argue with the facts. He had a taste of being Captain for a little while, there; and he's not quite sure he really wants it, after all. Not like this.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, Starfleet doesn't appear to be giving him the option. He isn't surprised at the orders (offer, ha) he receives, because he's been a casualty of politics from the day he was born. They need recruits now, badly, and he's the natural face for the recruitment posters; a loose cannon to explode onto the impressionable scene of post-crisis life attracting more youth to the uptight ranks of Starfleet, and a convenient scapegoat if something goes wrong. Someone they can blame for failure without ruining what's left of their reputation by throwing his less-than-stellar one under the shuttlecraft without a moment's hesitation.

That's not to say, he isn't still wanting to scream with excitement (and just a little terror) over the whole thing. Six months ago, he'd have been happy to just land a navigator posting in deep space; and six weeks ago, he'd have been happy to be permitted to graduate – now, they're giving him the flagship, and whether it's due to desperation or not he doesn't really care about the reasons so much as the fact that he has her.

The Enterprise.

He should be out celebrating with Bones and Sulu, or at least tracking down some of their friends and doing whatever it takes to win them over as prospective members of his crew, but there's something more concerning he needs to take care of, something that's been hanging over his head since they returned to Terra, broken and bleeding, from their close call with Nero. There's no way he can take over a starship without understanding what's going on, and definitely no way he can command his own crew while still getting unexpected mental flashes of one which is definitely not his, and yet seems to be – in another lifetime, another broken reality.

To say that Spock – the old one, he hasn't seen his Spock in like ten days – is shocked to hear the news, is an understatement.

"Do you mean to say –"

"Yeah," he says dryly, arms folded, as he glares through the vid-screen at the elderly Vulcan's lined features. "Emotional transference, my ass – what the hell even was that?"

The weary figure before him looks down for a moment, sighing, and then glances back up, looking…ashamed? That, he wasn't expecting.

"I am afraid I must ask your forgiveness, young one. I had…made assumptions, which were obviously premature." Dark eyes soften with what looks like sadness, though he still isn't at all used to seeing emotion actually visible on a Vulcan face. It's just weird. "What I did, I did under the impression that you fully understood; and obviously, I was in error. That makes my actions inexcusable."

"Uh. Okay? I'm not like, mad at you or something, I just want to know how long it's going to be before I stop seeing some weird technicolor version of your reality playing in my head when I daydream?" The ambassador looks strangely uneasy, like he's committed some crime, and he wonders if maybe it's a cultural faux pas in Vulcan society, to mind-whammy someone if they don't know exactly what's going to happen.

"Jim, a mind-meld, or mind-fusion to use the technical term, must be a consensual action between two parties. I…assumed, that you were already at least aware of the act and its consequences, and that your hesitation was due simply to being disbelieving of my true identity."

"Wait, so you thought I was already used to letting someone screw around in my brain, I just was hesitating because I didn't believe who you were?" He blinks, mystified. "Even if I did know who you were, I still wouldn't let someone just poke around up there for no reason, even Spock. Especially Spock, actually."

"And in that, you have a crucial difference between our universes. I did not foresee this, and made incorrect assumptions based upon my own universe."

He sighs, scrubs a hand over his face. "So I probably should have stopped you, and you should have asked more questions, but you need to stop looking so freaked out, because I'm not, like, triggered or something, okay? God, you guys have to make things so complicated."

A faint twitch of amusement softens the aging Vulcan's features. "You are far too forgiving, Jim. A trait you share with my own universe's version of yourself."

"Yeah, well, we can't all be perfect. And speaking of – seriously, should I still be seeing bits and pieces of stuff I know isn't my life but feels like it is?"

"I would have expected that emotional and mental connection to have worn off by now, yes." Spock's eyebrows draw together in a gesture he's already come to recognize as the Vulcan equivalent of a frown. "Have you had a brainwave scan performed since returning to Terra?"

"Yeah, we all did, it's standard for a post-mission psych eval. And Bones said nothing was out of the ordinary. He wants to kill you, by the way. For, and I quote, 'knocking stuff loose up in there,' so steer clear of the Medical wing when you visit for the commencement ceremonies."

Spock's eyebrow inclines a fraction. "Fascinating. Perhaps there are more similarities between our universes than I had at first supposed."

"I'll take your word for it. So you have no idea if this is normal or not, this mind-meld backwash I'm getting?"

Spock looks equal parts repulsed and amused by the terminology. "I have little experience in such matters, Jim. However, unless the images prove unduly disturbing or increase in frequency or intensity, I would not be alarmed."

"Okay. But if I get killed on an away mission because I'm distracted by something you shoved into my head, I'm not going to be happy."

The elderly Vulcan's lips twitch suspiciously. "Nor will I, Jim. I take it from your expression, then, that your Starfleet has made you an offer of a posting in space?"

"Mmhmm." He grins, unable to keep the expression off his face. "You'll never guess."

"I shall not make the attempt." Ha, he knew Vulcans did roll their eyes – now he just has to catch his Spock at it. "My congratulations, Captain."

It sounds so amazing, said like that.

Now, if he could just get his own Spock to say it.

Like that.

He never tells either of them, that he relentlessly denies thirteen stellar applications for the Enterprise's First Officer posting due to nothing more than those strangely compelling memory-flashes of a fascinating future he desperately wants to make a reality.

After all, that would be cheating.

V. Wonder Twin Powers Activate, or I Told You Not to Touch That Plant

He likes to think curiosity is a crucial character trait not just relegated to the Science division of Starfleet.

After all, where would any of them be if humanity in general were not a curious race, and where would any starship be without a captain who did not have an innate desire to explore the unknown, to make the decisions others would never dream of making, to go boldly where others fear to go?

And apparently, to prove Murphy's Law correct at every possible opportunity, case in point, quod erat demonstrandum, ad nauseum.

Bones just says he's a damn fool idiot, but he'd like to think there's more to it than that.

"How many times have you listened to that green-blooded walking database of yours warn an entire away team not to touch something until it's been scanned for toxins?"

"To date, Doctor, one hundred and thirty-four times."

Way to have my back, Spock.

That is not my primary function aboard this ship, sir.

"Knock it off, both of you," Bones warns, glancing up at the bio-monitors overhead. "You got something to say, you can say it out loud."

Make me.

Spock sighs, a human habit he has found too satisfying to entirely relinquish as unVulcan.

"I said out loud, Jim!"

"What do you want me to say, Bones? It was a freaking flower, for God's sake – how was I supposed to know it was going to make me and Spock's esper ratings go haywire?"

"The fact that it started spraying spores everywhere when you both got close might have been a clue," is the dry reply, delivered over top of the medical scanner being tossed resignedly onto the desk nearby. "And you, you got Vulcan reflexes," he adds, scowling at the placid figure sitting on the second bio-bed. "You could've ducked, instead of trying to push this idiot out of the way first!"

Spock regards him with deliberate supercilious boredom, and Jim sniggers.

"Don't you give me that look! It'd serve you right if you two are stuck in each other's thought-waves for the next month!"

He's gonna have an aneurysm in a minute.

Not a desirable outcome, Captain. Despite his less than pleasant bedside manner, his terrorization of the Enterprise medical staff at least maintains a level of competence which might be difficult to replace on short notice, this far into deep space.

Yeah, nobody else wants that job.

Due in no small part to your frequency in requiring its services.

Pot, kettle.

Despite Spock's not being entirely familiar with the phrase, Jim receives a flashing mental sensation of what is unmistakably a Vulcan expletive meaning colossal idiot.

"I give up," Bones mutters, and chucks a hypospray unceremoniously at his head. "Take that if the headache keeps up, otherwise get outta my Sickbay. I got two hundred things to do before that ambassadorial party beams aboard later."

"Don't have to tell me twice." He slides off the bio-bed and scuttles out the door, followed by his First with surprising alacrity.

Spock gives him a sideways glance as they enter the turbolift, and he can sense the growing discomfort arising from this unexpected lack of boundaries they will likely be dealing with for the next twenty-four hours.

"Look, be honest with me, Spock. Is this going to be a problem? Because I can send you on a stellar cartography mission in the Galileo or something for a few days until it wears off, if that'll help," he says seriously.

Spock grasps the directional handle and directs the lift toward Deck Nine, Ship's Stores and Requisitions (no doubt to make sure everything's in order for their guests later), and while he appears as expressionless as ever, Jim can sense the gratitude through their bizarre telepathic connection. "That is unnecessary, Captain. Though the interim period would be made less intrusive were you to make some attempt to not, metaphorically speaking, voice your every thought as loudly as possible."

"Uh, given that I have no idea how I'm doing that, it's not like I can really turn down the volume, Spock. I've always had a vivid imagination."

Is that really a grimace, or just the mental image of one? "So I have observed. In great detail, during the past six-point-three-four hours."

He frantically casts his memory back, trying to think if he's been daydreaming about anything that could make for decent blackmail material should his First Officer be so inclined after this event is over, but comes up blank. The doors of the lift open on Spock's faintly amused expression, and he exits with only a raised eyebrow.

Let me know if Kalov doesn't have everything in order, so I can stall with the Gra'aitians, he mentally yells after his First, and receives a very clear sensation of Obviously in return.


Ferrying diplomats to and from other planets is not a part of the job any of them enjoy, but it has to be done, especially since they're one of only six functional starships of any intimidating size with defensive weaponry left after most of the 'Fleet was decimated after the Battle of Vulcan. The Gra'aitians are at least an easy-going species, given to much partying and boisterously cheerful, a sharp contrast to that batch of cranky Tellarites they'd had to take to Alpha Ceti IV last month under medical quarantine. The Gra'aitians get along great with his crew, who love any excuse for a party, and he is more than happy to allow the festivities, provided they don't get out of hand and endanger the workings of the ship.

That is, until it becomes (painfully) obvious that one of their civilian guests is actually an intergalactic bounty hunter, come aboard disguised as a Gra'aitian technician - with the specific purpose of picking off the only crewman aboard who is currently a member of an endangered species.

Having been able to dispatch the overconfident bounty hunter with wicked-fast reflexes and then a nerve pinch for good measure, Spock is more surprised than hurt despite a nasty knife wound that almost took off one of his ears.

Jim is just pissed.

"Sir. You can't jettison a Federation prisoner, even in an escape pod, sir," Giotto explains calmly, blocking that particular Engineering control board with a bravery that far outweighs his hazard pay for this maneuver.

"Are you telling me what I can and can't do, Mr. Giotto?"

"Yes, sir." Giotto swallows hard, and casts a look nervously over one shoulder for reinforcements. "Sir, we're in the middle of deep space, traveling at warp four. It'd be different if there was a class-M planet nearby, but there's not."

"Do I look like I care, Mr. Giotto?"

"Uh. No, sir. But there's regulations, sir, and –"

"You are dismissed, Lieutenant." Spock's calm voice from behind them appears to bring a wave of pure relief over the man's features, and he bolts for the nearest exit without another word. Jim watches his Security chief's boots disappear around the corner, and folds his arms: less a show of belligerence, more hiding the fact that his hands are starting to shake slightly with the receding rush of adrenaline.

"You should be in Sickbay, Mr. Spock."

"I was. Until I perceived through this…connection, that you were terrorizing the head of our Security division."

He scowls at the surveillance screen, where he can see the bounty hunter in the brig's highest security cell, nursing a neatly-twisted arm and sullenly glaring at the locked door.

"Your anger is extremely disproportionate to the offense."

He half-turns on one heel, eyebrow raised. "He tried to assassinate the First Officer of the Federation's flagship, Spock. A prominent Starfleet scientist, and – not trying to be insensitive, here, sorry – but one of a now endangered species. Those are Federal crimes, not just planetary crimes."

Spock nods in acceptance of his quick apology, and also in recognition of the seriousness of his anger. "Nevertheless, as a representative of that same Federation, you must exercise the diplomatic restraint required of such a representative."

He rolls his eyes and elbows his First as he passes, waving a hand dramatically over his head. Seriously, you'd think Spock had a death wish or something. It would be amusing, if it weren't starting to worry him. "Yeah, yeah. What are they going to do, fire me? Come on, before Bones sends out a search party for you."

He never tells Spock that he slid down three flights of Jefferies ladders and ran like half a mile of corridor trying to get there when he could tell through their connection that Spock was being attacked.

Because after all, it was kind of cheating.

IV. Transporter Malfunctions 101, or Mirror, Mirror on the…Parallel-Universal Transfer

He likes to think that by this point they've seen it all, but this is a new one.

He had no idea Vulcans even could grow facial hair.

Provided they actually make it back to their own universe, he is so going to have a girls' night with Uhura and tell her all about it. She'll probably think it's hot, although he thinks it's just freaking creepy.

Bones is, of course, absolutely no help whatsoever, mostly because he's scared out of his mind and a terrible actor – the one feeds off the other, round and round, a sure death sentence in this universe. Mind you, he'd never dreamed they'd encounter a universe more twisted than theirs, and somewhere out there Destiny is laughing her ass off, he's pretty sure.

They've been stuck here for twelve hours, and he's already fought off two crew-women and three crewmen, for everything ranging from political revenge to romantic advances, and it was only the fact that the last one wasn't wearing a face he remotely recognized that allowed him to finally lose patience and make a pretty nasty example of the young lieutenant that shut down any further attempts, at least for today. It turned his stomach, but it kept both of them from becoming casualties of a world even darker than theirs; and he knows better than anyone, how terrible choices have to be made sometimes by those in power.

So far, he thinks probably only Spock suspects anything unusual is happening aboard this ship, and even Spock can't prove anything – but one wrong move, and he's fairly sure this universe's version of his First Officer won't blink an eye about knifing him in his sleep.

Lucky for him, they'll be off this ship before he has time to try.

"How much longer?" Bones asks, pacing a tight circle in the cramped Sickbay. Dark and almost depressing, this Enterprise's medical wing is obviously built for business (or torture, he wouldn't be surprised) rather than comfort.

"Less than forty minutes until the ionic interference matches the readings from when we were beamed aboard," he murmurs absently, scanning the ship's reports.

He's been keeping a close eye on the primary crew's transponders over the last hour they've been holed up in here, because if there is a whistleblower it will likely be one of them. Spock appears to still be on the Bridge, Sulu and Chekov as well, Lieutenant Masters in Primary Engineering, Scotty in Secondary Engineering, Giotto in Stores and Requisition, Uhura's…in Secondary Engineering, like right on top of Scotty? He doesn't want to know.

"You actually think you can rig that transporter to beam us back down before someone realizes what's happening?"

"We don't have a lot of choice, Bones," he snaps, tense with unease. Something feels off, and he can't put his finger on what. He knows by now, after so many trials by fire, to trust his gut – and his gut is telling him to run like hell.

"I don't like it."

"That makes two of us, Doctor. Let's just hope Spock and Scotty have figured it out on our end and can filter that interference enough to beam us back through the universal corridor, or we are going to spend a very, very unpleasant next few decades as prisoners of this Galactic Imperial Empire or whatever they call themselves."

McCoy shudders, glancing at the chrono on the wall. His single run-in with a very ferocious Nurse Chapel (Loving the eye-patch, Christine) in this universe had been quite enough motivation to make sure this attempt succeeds. Jim grins privately at the remembrance, because she had actually been quite friendly. Very friendly. Obviously this universe's McCoy had occasional…fraternizations with his staff.

That would put a whole new spin on 'casual Fridays.'

"Okay, twenty minutes left. We should get going just in case we get stopped on our way to the transporter room," he decides, starting to delete his electronic trail.

"Right." Bones pockets a couple of hyposprays, shrugging when Jim cocks an eyebrow at him. "Heavy sedative, we might need 'em. I got no problem holdin' my own in a fair fight but I'm no match for some of these young idiots in armed combat, not ashamed to admit that."

"Good thinking. Okay, I've erased everything I can that could incriminate us from the last twelve hours. Let's go. And stay behind me, you remember how Chekov jumped me in the lift this morning."

"Psycho kid."

He shakes his head, and moves toward the Sickbay doors – just as they open.

Not good.

That's why he kept thinking something wasn't right – Spock's transponder hadn't been moving around the Bridge like everyone else's; it had been entirely stationary.

Obviously, they'd been had.

He hears McCoy's curse behind him as the single phaser he'd managed to steal is deftly twisted out of his hand with a roughness his own First Officer would never have used; he'll be lucky if his wrist isn't broken.

Time for Plan B. Or C, or whatever they're on now. Plan D for Don't Die in the next ten minutes?

"Please tell me you're going to be a bit more original in your assassination attempts than Mr. Chekov was at least, Mr. Spock," he drawls, not letting his panic show in his tone.

His eyes dart from the doors to any other possible exit, coming up entirely blank. Even if they could get to them, McCoy's shoulders are too broad for the ventilation shafts, and the only other door in the room is to the inner office – which has no exit, if this Enterprise's schematics mirror theirs.

Spock appears vaguely amused. "I have no such intentions, Captain. If you are, indeed, Captain Kirk."

Ah, so there is logic somewhere inside that frightening, menacing presence. Perhaps this is a Spock that can be reasoned with.

"I am," he answers, arms folded. Spock is obviously unaccustomed to being unable to intimidate humans, for he appears to regard him with that same air of detached respect his own transmits, when he stands his ground despite the height difference, weaponless but undeterred. "Though I think you've probably realized, not the one you are accustomed to seeing in this uniform," he adds, meeting the piercing gaze squarely.

Spock's eyes darken.

"Is that supposed to frighten me?" he inquires, and turns back toward McCoy, who is staring at him like he's gone insane. "Seriously. You need a new shtick, Spock." He gives the physician a gentle nudge. "Get to the transporter room and I'll meet you there, Bones."

McCoy glances up dubiously at the blue-uniformed figure blocking his path.

"You appear to be a reasonable being, Commander," Jim continues, returning his attention to this frightening mirror version of his First Officer. "And an excellent leader, one who obviously doesn't need to serve under a human in this Empire. So why do you?"

Spock turns back toward him, eyebrows raised in obvious curiosity. He allows McCoy passage, likely out of disregard for the man as a threat. For a moment Jim's afraid Bones is going to try something really stupid like sneaking up on the Vulcan with a hypospray – it won't work, the dosage isn't high enough and he's not quiet enough – but at a stern look he only nods. Lips pressed together in a thin, unhappy line, he darts out of the room, scooping up the discarded phaser along the way. McCoy is, despite his protests to the contrary, a competent officer who will obey orders when they count the most; and Jim has never been more proud of him. If he doesn't make it to the transporter room by the time designated, McCoy will leave alone, and at least one of them will make it back. Granted, he'll never forgive Jim for this, and that's the part the captain hates, but it has to be done.

"I'm waiting, Commander."

"I am content to utilize my station for my own purposes. As captain, I would not have such freedom aboard the ship or in a scientific setting."

"Ah. Quite logical."

"Indeed." Those dark eyes narrow, boring into his soul. "How you have thought to question this, when my own Captain has not, is a matter for concern."

He smirks. "What makes you think he hasn't, Commander?"

"He would have had me transferred immediately, or at least the threat removed through assassination."

"Are you so sure about that?"

"Far more certain than you appear to be."

"And I think I'm probably more qualified to answer that question, now aren't I?" He cocks his head, watching the confusion play across this mirror version of Spock's face. "Maybe, just maybe, you should try picking a side, instead of playing both, Mr. Spock. You might just surprise yourself, what you can accomplish in this war of yours, with an alliance built on more than just a common enemy."

He refuses to back away, refuses to maintain the safe distance he probably should as this version of his First advances on him, threat clearly written in every line of his body. In this world, this darker, harsher world, any sign of weakness is a death sentence – and he does not quite know if Spock lives by that code here or not.

"Your faith is your biggest weakness."

"Empires have been built and fallen on nothing more than faith, Mr. Spock."

"A foolish human sentiment. And one you will likely regret."

"Oh, without question." He sets his jaw and tenses, because they are down to mere minutes now and he has to get to the transporter room – likely through Spock, not around him. "But not today, Commander. I think we both know you aren't going to stop me from walking out that door."

Danger glints predatory in those dark eyes, and for the first time, he doesn't see so much as a glimmer of his own First Officer – his friend – in there, anywhere.

"You seem far too certain of your own fate, Captain, in both this and your own universe."

"Let's just say, I have more faith in my crew than you apparently have in yours." He raises a hand in warning, as the menacing figure advances. "That means I won't hesitate to eliminate a threat to their safety if necessary, Commander."

Spock's lips tighten in a thin curl of amusement. "I believe the phrase you humans are so fond of employing is, I would like to see you make the attempt, Captain."

He sighs; he tried, at least. "Have it your way, Spock," he says, shrugging, and as this version of his First Officer reaches for him he drops to the floor in one smooth, practiced motion, twisting as he lands in a deft move that immediately hooks his legs around the Vulcan's ankles, wrenching sideways with enough force that he slides in a half-circle across the durasteel flooring. There is a sickening sound of grinding bone and ligament, and then the more alarming thud of skull against bio-bed, and he rolls to his feet – all without stopping the motion, a matter of seconds.

"Honestly, Spock, not even one punch? You showed me that move yourself, after that incident with the Romulan Commander last year," he mutters, feeling a little sick inside at the sight of so much green blood puddling underneath the dark hair. Even if this guy's not his own First, even if he'd likely put a knife in his back the moment he turned it without a second thought…it's still eerie, and he can't help but think he's probably unleashed some majorly bad karma.

But he's still breathing, so Jim at least hasn't entirely altered the destiny of this mirror universe by killing a crucial figure. And if this version of him and Spock are even friendly, at least this universe's Jim Kirk won't return to a dead First Officer. Hopefully. Spock doesn't look good, though.

He shivers and turns away, scooting around the bio-bed to the desk comm.

"Sickbay to Transporter Room," he says, voice lowered into a weary murmur.

There's a brief delay before the channel opens with a slightly static buzz, followed by a hushed "Jim! Get down here, we only got like twelve minutes left before the window closes!"

"Update the coordinates I'm sending you for the transporter, we're going to cut it really close. I'll be on my way in five."

"You get on your way now!"

"I will in a minute, I have to do something first. Kirk out."

He needs to at least stop the still-flowing head wound and ward off shock, that should stabilize the poor guy enough that he can unconsciously enter a healing trance – he can't just run off back to his own universe knowing he left Spock lying in a foreign Sickbay possibly bleeding to death, even if he is a highly dangerous version of his Spock.

He's probably going to regret this, but he'll regret it more if he doesn't at least do something.

A thermal blanket and anti-coagulant patch kit are easy enough to find, but a hypo of the only pain reliever he knows doesn't turn a Vulcan stomach takes a precious minute or two to locate in the mess which is this universe's McCoy's drug stash – it's a good three or four minutes before he comes skidding out of the inner office with his prizes, nearly tripping over the edge of the blanket in his haste.

And walks right into the business end of a very pissed-off Vulcan nerve-pinch.

By now, he has reflexes to twist away just enough to avoid complete unconsciousness, but he sees stars as his head collides with the wall. He has the presence of mind to not fight back, which is likely the only thing that saves him a broken arm, as Spock's head injury is obviously impairing his thought processes. The items in his hands are taken in slowly, one by one, and then the look flicks back to his face, eyes dark with confusion.

"Overreaction, much?" he quips weakly. The hand pinning his wrist to the wall beside his head tightens painfully, and he winces. "Look, you didn't give me much choice. I have to get off this ship and you weren't going to let me, were you?"

"You had ample time to do so during my period of unconsciousness, yet you did not. Why?"

He clears his throat, tugs futilely at the grip pinning him against the wall, considers landing a kick to the Vulcan's injured leg and a well-placed knee, and sighs resignedly when he realizes he's pinned too securely, and wouldn't be able to do more than twitch before Spock knocks him out for good.

"Because I didn't want to just leave you here if you were seriously injured, Spock. That's…not how I roll. That's not who we are. Not in my world, anyway. If that weakness costs me everything now? Well, at least I can die knowing I did the right thing."

Spock stares at him for a moment, as if trying to judge his sincerity (or his sanity) by sight alone, but then the look darkens, and a sliver of fear wedges its way into his already waning confidence.

"Uh…so, look –"

"I require a more thorough explanation." The words are a clear command, not a request, and he barely has time to register the intent behind them before the hand that's not pinning his good arm to the wall is coming at his face in an all-too-familiar gesture and he really freaking hates these surprise mind melds, has he said that lately?

The complete shock that flits through his nerve endings doesn't originate in his brain, and he rolls his eyes. Spock thinks he's clever with this approach, apparently; he has no idea Jim has been here, done this, got the coffee mug, etc.

He doesn't appreciate his life history being examined and poked at like a particularly lurid library book, but it's not exactly painful, just annoying. And it apparently is by turns amusing, horrifying, and fascinating, if the emotional transference is any indication – something which is vehemently denied across the mind meld the minute the thought occurs to him.

But it's his own relationship with his crew, particularly with his own version of Spock, which seems to draw the most attention, and which seems to cause a mental stumbling block that enables him to finally throw up a rudimentary mental shield around the more personal memories – he has no desire to relive Tarsus with a secondhand witness, thank you – and give this mirror-Spock a firm human boot out of his head.

"And that's as far as you go, Commander," he mutters, shaking the cobwebs out of his brain with a grimace. "You get the information you wanted?"

Spock shakes his head slowly. "Negative. I now have more questions than I had previously. However, I see the necessity of facilitating your return to your own universe, and returning my captain to ours. As only four minutes remain of that possible time window, I would suggest moving this discussion to the transporter room with all haste."

"You read my mind. Literally." He tosses the thermal blanket and heads for the door, rubbing his forehead. "And if we don't make it in time, you and I, Spock? Are gonna have a little talk about boundaries."

They do make it. Barely. And Spock gets all his questions asked. Barely. They make it back to their own Enterprise through an intense ionic storm, safe and sound. Also barely.

He never tells his First Officer that he's now mind-melded with two other versions of him, so hey, if the guy ever feels like popping in for a visit, why the hell not, he might as well make it a holy trinity.

After all, it kind of feels like he cheated on his own Spock.

III. The Vulcan Death Grip, or I Am Not Your Personal Knockout Artist, Doctor

He likes to think his pain threshold is pretty impressive, definitely a cut above the average.

That's nothing to brag about, really, because it's only as it should be; in battle there's exactly zero time for starship captain pity parties and everyone knows the first rule in the command track is to never show weakness to your subordinates. He's pretty proud of the fact that he's performed diplomatic negotiations while bleeding all over the floor of the rendezvous location, directed a battle over a warring planet while apparently suffering from Rigellian fever because someone (looking at you, Chekov) can't keep his hands (still looking at you, Chekov) and other parts of his anatomy to himself while on shore leave at one of the seediest spaceports he's ever seen, and on one very memorable occasion retaken his ship after it had been taken over by some very daring and very stupid Orion pirates, with (literally) both hands tied behind his back.

Desperation is half the battle, and between his high pain tolerance and Starfleet crisis training (and the best crew in the entire 'Fleet) they've built quite a formidable reputation these last few years since they re-launched from Yorktown; enough that there's little question in anyone's mind that they'll be given a second deep space mission if they want it.

However, because he has the ability demanded of all starship captains, that of ignoring one's own health, injury, and/or pain if the safety of the ship and crew is threatened, on the odd occasion that he does go down he apparently does so in truly spectacular fashion.

Case in point, this disaster of a Second Contact mission. Someone's head is going to roll in Starfleet Command, he's pretty sure, because Spock is tactless enough when he's pissed and he's pretty sure Sulu and Nyota are one wrong communication from just nuking the entire native population, now positioned as they are on the Bridge and trying to make sense of what's happening on the planet below.

Poison, the assassin's weapon of choice in negotiations. Deities of the universe save them from underdeveloped cultures. Why they even bother anymore to send him on these missions when he's either allergic to something on the planet or someone tries to kill him basically every time, he has no idea. He has little doubt that the next generation of Starfleet captains will be obeying a very different set of regulations on the books due to his own hazardous history with away missions, through very little fault of his own. The universe just has it out for him, and seems to have been that way since the day he was born.

He's actually pretty grateful that they decide to bring McCoy along this time, needing his expertise in xenobiology over evening discussions with the native population, because his overly suspicious nature catches on even before Jim's throat closes up that something's not quite right, and it's that more than anything else which probably saves him from having to be intubated right there on the floor of the Great Hall, since their transporter signals are being blocked and all medical facilities and supplies seem to be lodged firmly in the Dark Ages.

That would be bad enough, but basically old hat by now; he's unfortunately scared everyone too many times with his wacko immune system over the years, and he's become a well-known enough figure that half-assed attempts on his life now are basically commonplace. That, they can deal with - were it not for the fact that the Councillor's aide apparently decides that a concentrated hadron blast at close range will be added incentive for them to leave the planet. Like, stat.

Still trying to breathe through the pain spreading down his sternum from Bones's hastily-administered anti-tox hypo, he doesn't even see the glint of the disruptor until it's far too late.

He's still in mid-air, too shocked to even cry out, when the Hall explodes with movement and shouts of alarm. Security from both the natives and his own people tackling the aide, too late. A clatter and blur of blue as Spock drops his communicator mid-sentence. Uhura's voice trails off in a tinny squawk of concern as she's scooped up by an alert redshirt, who proceeds to shout Captain down to what sounds like the entire quadrant as he hits Spock's arms and then the ground, not quite as hard as he expected. The world goes hazy, watery-soft and cold for a moment.

Sound filters in, patches and pockets of sparkling familiarity in a void of rushing blood-filled dizziness.

"…our apologies, Commander…idea that Shioma harbored such…full extent of our laws…"

"…Enterprise. Spock to Enterprise. Requesting emergency…"

"…et a signal through, sir…"

"Work with me here, Jim." Now that one he recognizes, that's Bones, and he sounds…


"I dunno yet, give me some room to work."

His hand clenches on something soft.

"I've got him. Get that signal cleared, I don't care how you do it. I need transporter capabilities and I need 'em now."

"Understood, Doctor."

His head shifts, and fire ignites suddenly in every nerve ending throughout his entire midsection. When the sparks stop dotting at his vision, he blinks slowly and finds himself staring up at the hazy vaulted ceiling far above. Someone's shoved a couple cushions under his feet and there's what looks like an embroidered tapestry thrown over his lower body – he really hopes one of his people didn't yank some priceless artwork off the walls here, that's really not necessary.

"There you are." Bones looks like he's trying to smile but his eyes are scared to death, not a good sign. And he's doing something in the vicinity of Jim's stomach that really freaking hurts. "Next time, when someone points a disruptor at you? Duck. Moron."

"Noted," he rasps, and glances around as best he can without moving. Looks like his Security force took care of the would-be assassin and are now negotiating with the worried-looking Councillor. "Ship?"

"You've been out about ten minutes, we're still trying to get a signal through. Spock's trying to figure out where the jamming device is originating from. Uhura's about to just drop a photon torpedo on the whole block of government buildings if we can't find it soon and I don't think Sulu's gonna stop her."

He laughs, and then gasps as what feels like molten lead sears through his midsection.

"Stop moving!"

"Y'think?" He exhales in a shaky, shocky breath, and hopes he isn't really crying, at least not where his Security force can see. Speaking of. "Anybody else…get hit?"

"No. Just you. Might as well paint a target on that gold uniform." Bones's face blurs for a second as the ringing in his ears increases. "Jim. Jim! Come on, kid, stay with me."

Wow, it must be bad; Bones hasn't called him that for months, not since his last birthday.

Bad doesn't begin to describe it, though. It feels like his entire lower body has been dipped in acid, and he can't tell if that's from the poison or the feeling that his internal organs are melting away. He's never felt anything this painful before, with one notable exception that he really doesn't want to think about right now because the feeling is eerily similar, that crawling, burning sensation of internal organs and his very cells being slowly eaten alive. Radiation burns are without question some of the nastiest injuries in existence.

At least this time he knows he's (hopefully) in no danger of dying, and he isn't trapped behind a transparent aluminium door barely able to see his crew falling apart, watching.

Small favors.

"Easy, Jim." A rough hand on his forehead, stilling the shaking that seems to have started up pretty much everywhere. He exhales in a slow, controlled breath, that shatters halfway into something more horrifyingly like a sob. "I know it's bad, just breathe through it. Soon as we can get back to the ship, the worst should be over, I promise."

He's never encountered a disruptor before, and now he knows why the Federation has outlawed them; they're a barbaric weapon, meant to cause maximum pain and damage.

"Shhhh. Stop movin' around, you'll make it worse."

"God, Bones, can't you knock me out? Please?"

Sympathy shines soft in McCoy's eyes, but he shakes his head firmly. "Not when you're still this close to shock, Jim. Everything I have reacts pretty badly to that standard anti-tox I gave you for the poison. Sorry."

"Rather have…a reaction to something." He can taste blood, and can only hope it's because he probably bit his tongue against the pain – if he's coughing up his throat lining now? That's not good.

"Well, I wouldn't, because if you're already in shock that could stop your heart," is the retort, though there's only weariness behind the tone, not real irritation. "You're not gettin' anything stronger, Jim, I'm sorry."

He lifts one finger from its clenched position in McCoy's pant leg, and hears a brittle laugh overhead.

One of his men – Tomlinson? Thompson? He hates when he can't think straight, he knows his people better than this – skids suddenly to a stop beside them.

"What." McCoy doesn't even look up, from whatever it is he's doing – Jim doesn't want to know, the idea of someone messing around with the half-melted remains of his insides makes him want to throw up more than he already did.

"Sir, Mr. Spock located the jamming device and it's been…disposed of. Problem is, the ionic storms are screwing with our transport signals and Mr. Scott still doesn't recommend transporting through them. He's recommending a shuttle, sir. Sirs. Captain?"

He wants to laugh at the poor guy's cluelessness, but that would be bad for the Captain Image he's supposed to be maintaining now that he's no longer a starstruck kid who won the best ship and crew in the fleet by sheer luck and not much else. He's earned that chair now, and he intends to keep it, thank you very much. (That's if he doesn't die on this planet he can't even pronounce correctly because nobody can actually say that many consonants in a row other than Uhura, and he thinks maybe his mind is drifting a little because he can't quite focus on what Bones or this Security dude is saying and he thinks he can be excused drifting away just a little.)

"Then why are you still standin' here, boy? Get the damn shuttle down here now!"

"Yessir! Right away, sir!" Scrambling footsteps indicate a strategic retreat, and he grins up at the paneled ceiling.

"What're you laughing at." McCoy's eyes cut toward his face, then back to the tissue regenerator in his hands without skipping a beat. "Shut up and concentrate on regulating your breathing."


"I swear, Jim, one of these days –"

The effort of trying to relieve the tension costs him, because he really probably should try to control his breathing; those techniques can actually help with pain management, that's First Aid 101, but he can't seem to really concentrate right now with what feels like a thousand tiny knives slicing at his insides.

Bones's eyebrows knit as Jim's fingers tighten by degrees on his pant leg, but he continues with his work, eyebrows set in a thin, hard line.

"Don't pass out on me, kid."

"Not making any promises," he manages, through a clenched jaw.

"I mean it, Jim. That'd be dangerous with your blood pressure where it is."

He blinks rapidly, trying to focus on something other than the spinning ceiling. "Like I said," he murmurs. "Not promising…anything."

"Jim!" A sharp slap sends fire racing along tortured nerve endings, radiating painfully from his face. Eyes fluttering, he blinks again at the ceiling and wishes it would stay still, because it's really hard to tell reality from surreality when it does that.

A soft swoosh of air, somewhere beside them.

"Thank God. Look, I need you to keep him awake."

A hand on his face, ice-cold but incredibly gentle. "Would it not be more merciful to allow him unconsciousness, Doctor?"

"He's slipping into shock, Spock. A point-blank disruptor blast is one of the worst ways to die, and I got no intention of letting him do that. But if he goes into severe shock here before I can get him onto the Enterprise, we could lose him."

Spock's voice is a fragile thing, strangely soft and distant. "Unacceptable."

"Y'think? Now keep him awake so I can triage!"

"'M awake," he mumbles, because somebody needs to throw the poor guy a bone before he really freaks.

Heh, throw Bones a bone.

Okay, he pretty much needs to pass out now, or get some of the good drugs.

"Prove it. I wanna see those baby blues, Jim, c'mon."

His response is a particularly colorful Vulcan curse that causes his new pillow to shift slightly, and Bones snorts, not even looking up.

"I'm betting you did not teach him that."

"I did not."

He slits his eyes open further and manages a grin at the silhouette that hovers between his blurry vision and the ceiling. "S'prise."

Spock's lips twitch, though the worry lines around his eyes don't go away.

The regenerator bleeps angrily from somewhere near his spleen and a sudden flash of agony streaks upward like a flash-burn. Lungs spasming as the oxygen is driven from them at the convulsion of pain, he chokes on a breath that isn't anywhere near enough and then wishes he just hadn't started breathing at all, when the movement jostles every raw nerve ending in his entire body.

"Nngh, Bones…"


"Look, these things weren't meant for wholesale emergency operations on humans, they're only meant to heal cuts and scrapes on away missions! You get gentle, or you get him alive!"

He finally manages to inhale, struggles to open his eyes again, and though they're pretty hazy it looks like Bones is almost as white as the emergency aid kit one of the Councillor's (non-murderous) aides has timidly set within reach.

"Just a couple more minutes, and you'll be stable enough to transport to the shuttle."

"Take…your word for it." He starts in surprise as cold fingers skim his face, eyes flying open again – damn it, he is really trying not to pass out here – and only then realizes they're gently brushing away the tears of pain that had accumulated and started rolling down his temples.

Well, that's embarrassing.

"Aw, hell, Jim." McCoy sighs, glancing worriedly over his head. "Is it really that bad?"

"I'm good," he manages, though it'd be more convincing if the ceiling wasn't spinning in a lazy loop-da-loop overhead.

"Shuttle preparing to land in ten, sir," Thomason – Tompkins? – yells from across the room, where he's guarding the perimeter and fielding Scotty's status updates.

The thought of moving is enough to make him break out in a cold sweat.

"Doctor, if I might make a suggestion?"

Bones finally puts away the instrument of torture and reaches for the antiquated medikit, hands steady despite the worried twitch of his eyes upward. "Shoot, Commander."

"With your permission, Captain…there is a technique, utilized in Vulcan medicine, which is capable of minimizing or masking pain in the body."

He re-opens his eyes, because at this point he'd literally take a phaser stun to the head if it meant blissful unconsciousness from this – anything less is a bonus.

Bones looks highly skeptical, and also a little freaked. Granted, that's a pretty normal look for him, but still.

"And that's done, exactly how? I never heard anything about it in Starfleet med journals."

"We do not discuss the technique with outworlders, Doctor. It is accomplished by targeted re-direction of neural impulses, directly at their reception."

Bones blinks, hands stilling with a bandage half-unwrapped. "You mean, in the brain itself? Are we talking a telepathic block, here?"

Spock nods solemnly from somewhere over his head. "It is a rarely-used technique, only permitted in the most extreme of circumstances, but it is medically possible by use of a shallow mind-link. At the least, the nerve receptors which transmit pain to the brain can be muted, to slow or even stop those impulses from reaching their destinations."

"That sounds like a load of –"

"Do it," he interrupts abruptly, drawing both their attentions to him in surprise. "If that's an offer, Spock, please. Do it."

"Now listen here! Jim, you have no idea what that could –"

"Please." He isn't too proud to beg at this point, and maybe it's that uncharacteristic fact that silences Bones's protests.

His First gives him a curt nod, settling into position, and then seems to hesitate.

"Spock?" He has the feeling Spock is, well, nervous – that he isn't in the habit of doing this, and probably this is his first time or at least close to it. "If this is…too personal…"

"I would not have offered if I did not intend to follow through, Captain." Spock-speak for shut up and let me do my thing, so he opts for shooting Bones a reassuring look instead.

Something in his expression must convey his desperation, because the physician shakes his head, worrying at his lower lip, but returns to his own thing without another word.

He blinks slowly just in time to feel a gentle finger-trace on his face, and then –


He vaguely wonders if his Spock is more careful, or just better at controlling mind-melds, because this is waaaaaay more pleasant this time around.

A flitter of what can only be Amusement tingles at the edge of his consciousness, but he can't tell if it's at his possessiveness over his own Vulcan or the mental image of the old one just blithely emoting all over Jim's poor human brain.


Said brain still hasn't quite registered that it needs to shut down now, or at least take a backseat, because his head is spinning and all his thoughts are spinning away with it, and he's just a little tiny bit terrified at the idea of someone screwing around up there when he can't really do anything about it even if he wanted to because he can't even hold his head up right now – he doesn't like the idea of being helpless in general, and this? This is just flat scary, period.

Now that – that there, is Horror, no question about the emotion, and Spock is crap at hiding them here, what do you know. It's oddly reassuring, and he finds himself slowly relaxing. Some part of him realizes this is one of the extremely few people he would trust absolutely while vulnerable. Relief.

They really have come a long way in these intervening years, haven't they?

Exasperation. Nostalgic annoyance. Pride. He can see now why this is such a revered ability in Vulcan culture, because it's actually really nice to be able to sense someone's feelings like this. It's like wrapping his brain up in a warm blanket of Belonging, of Home.

Surprise, masked rapidly by Impatience taps gently at his muddling thought-processes, and a phantom flash of pain reminds him of why they're doing this in the first place.

He sends one feeble flicker of apology for the (likely psychotic) nature of whatever Spock's going to encounter in the mine-field which is his brain, and finally just lets go.


He comes to when they're preparing to dock with the Enterprise, blinking his eyes open to a world that is surprisingly tolerable, and blissfully calm.

Spock's fingers drop from his face in surprise, and Bones lurches forward with a hypospray at the ready, only to pause as he lifts a hand.


"Captain, I had expected you to remain unconscious until transferred to Sickbay." Spock looks…nervous?

"Not necessary, Commander." His voice is raspy from the poison's abuse, but everything is at tolerable levels now. Relief floods every cell in a swamping wave of cool, peaceful calm, and he exhales, relaxing at last. "Mr. Spock, you deserve a commendation for performance above the call of duty."

Spock's eyes look a little pinched, and Jim hopes that the process didn't hurt him too badly – he knows the transference has to work at least a little both ways – but he appears less tense at the words, and the genuine gratitude which fuels them. Bones still looks skeptical, but weirdly enough he seems to be watching both of them with equal concern; obviously, whatever had happened had been enough to convince him.

"I am…gratified, that the procedure was successful, Captain."

"Successful." He shakes his head ruefully. "Spock, I think you saved my sanity down there."

"He probably saved your life too, Jim." Bones very carefully does not look up from the data-padd he's using to remotely send information to Sickbay so it will be ready when they dock, and Jim feels a pang of guilt at the fact that he looks like he's aged five years in the last few hours. "Your vitals were dropping so rapidly at one point I…well. You won't hear me knocking that Vulcan voodoo again, not for a long while. Y'did good, Spock."

"Indeed." Spock looks rather pleased with himself, and it's freaking adorable; he obviously has no idea his emotions are still that close to the surface after such a mental feat.

"Docking procedures commencing, Commander," one of the men calls from the front of the shuttle, and he closes his eyes with a smile.

He still can hardly believe what he saw in one unguarded glimpse before that strangely beautiful mental connection was broken, just enough of a sneak peek past all the walls and all the barriers and the rhetoric and everything else. Who knew, that a Vulcan could feel so deeply? Their lives have become so intertwined it is almost dangerous – to lose a part of this would be a void he could never fill – but until now, he had not quite realized just how very much, Spock feels the same.

He never tells Bones that Spock's feelings extend to him as well, because they're by far the best entertainment to be had aboard and they need to learn to play nicer.

And after all, that would kind of be cheating.

II. Matters of Biology, or Ménage à trois. Ish.

He likes to think that over the years, they've become a family, this strange crew of his.

Granted, a slightly offbeat, more than slightly dysfunctional family: but a family nonetheless, complete with every type of weird and amazing and lovable and hateable family member that could possibly be encapsulated therein. Even Starfleet Command seems to agree with him, since they're more than halfway through their second mission and have been given the go-ahead for a third, provided his senior command crew are all united in their decision to stay aboard.

So yeah, a family – without question, the best one he's ever had, although they don't have a lot of competition in the genetics department. But he learned long ago that family really has nothing to do with genetics, species, race – family is something else entirely, and he's been lucky enough to have one, this past decade.

But this? This, is not okay. This, he should have been told about, like, years ago, not have to find out like this, when it could very well be too late. That three of his senior staff – his inner circle, those precious few – have been keeping a secret like this from him does not sit well, even if he understands the reason has nothing to do with him. Personally, it's really none of his business, and professionally, there's yet to be any danger to the ship.

That doesn't mean it still doesn't rankle somewhere deep inside, ugly and dark and distrustful like he hasn't felt in years.

But he is not the child he once was, or the hot-headed young man he became in deep space; he listens, and he considers, and he asks a few questions, and he listens some more.

Finally he leans forward, hands clasped before him on the table, and keeps his voice calm, even. "How much time, exactly, do we have, gentlemen?"

"Unknown." Spock's voice is no different from the norm, but he can see the unusual flush of fever on his First's face now that he looks for it – usually so pale, it's a concerning shade of jade.

"Not enough, Captain," Uhura says finally, with a pointed look across the table. Her eyes are flashing with concern and what looks like frustration. He has no idea what this even means for them as a couple, so he's taking one thing at a time here; dealing with them as crewmen is far easier at the moment. "Less than a week? Spock?"

"I have no frame of reference for this."

"You have your culture's history, make an educated guess! Ponfo mirann." She shakes her head, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Sometimes I could just…ugh. Why do you have to make everything so impossible?"

He stares for a moment as Spock gives his fiancée a glare that could strip tritanium alloy, and refrains from whistling. That would only draw more attention to the metaphorical ice-daggers which are stabbing across the table between them.

"Save the domestics until we're done here, please," he interjects, with more bite than is really warranted, given the situation.

Bones kicks him under the table but he ignores the warning, eyes still on his First, who is now staring at the floor, duly chastened.

"I need numbers, Commander. Speculate."

"Lieutenant Uhura is likely accurate in her assessment, sir."

Well, that's just fantastic. They are at least ten days from New Vulcan at warp five, the fastest safe travel speed.

"And if we don't make it in time?"

"He'll be dead, Jim," Bones interjects curtly, despite Uhura's flinch. "You gotta do something."

"If I had been aware this might be a possibility, I might have been able to before now!"

Uhura's eyes flash in a rare show of defiance. "With respect, Captain, it really wasn't any of your business."

"I'm not saying it was, but I could have kept us near major trade routes at least! Trade carriers usually have shuttles equipped with faster warp engines than a starship this size has! Now, we're not even within a hundred thousand parsecs of a Class-M planet, much less any travel routes!"

He sees comprehension dawn on their faces, that he isn't just jealous (much), he's frustrated at the unnecessary risks they're now all going to have to take unless he wants to lose his First Officer to something none of them can control.

"I just…" He stops, scrubs his hands over his face slowly, and exhales his frustration. This is not productive, and he cannot afford to behave like this, with a crew dependent upon him now and edging ever further into uncharted space. They've lost too many people in the last few years; he's not going to lose another one if he can help it, to something like a…biological imperative, is that what Spock's calling it?

"Why can't you…" He's trying to be delicate here, but he's fast losing patience with Spock's non-answers and he has zero tolerance for Bones's silence. Uhura, he has sympathy for she's his best bet. "…Why do you have to return to New Vulcan, Spock? Can't…" He gestures vaguely between his two subordinates.

Spock's ears turn a darker shade of green, and he glances up briefly at Uhura before dropping his gaze back to the table.

"It is not possible."

"There are other factors involved, Captain," she says flatly, and that is absolutely no clarification. God, does he have to get a crowbar to pry answers out of all of them? "I apparently am not sufficient for the purpose."

"Nyota, that is –"

"Spare me, Spock."

Hurt, then, not anger. He files that knowledge away for later, because he really does not want to lose two of his command chain over this, and they have a fantastic thing going on – it would rupture their entire family dynamic aboard if their relationship imploded now. Everything else is secondary; he has to salvage this.

"But –"

"I have said all there is to say upon the matter. Captain."

Wow, now there's a chill he hasn't felt since, well…since probably their first meeting, so many years ago. It's like a wall of ice has just slammed down, and he has an almost physical urge to shiver. Bones only watches them in silence, eyes worried, but refuses to take a side, to explain anything – doctor-patient confidentiality, no doubt. Or that's the excuse he's giving.

Okay, if that's how they want to play it, he will play – there's a bigger problem right now than just the dynamic of his command chain.

He reaches over and hits the comms button on the table's single console.

"Engineering, Scott here."

"Mr. Scott, how long can our engines sustain Warp Seven if we shut down all non-essential systems?"

He sees Spock's eyes widen at the suggestion, and Uhura looks a little frightened – that is a highly unsafe cruising speed, but it's the only chance they have of getting back into charted space in time.

To his credit, Scotty doesn't sound fazed in the least, but his response is guarded, cautious.

"Well, sir. I wouldnae advise such a thing, sir. I must warn ye, as per the specifications outlined in –"

"How long, Mr. Scott."

"Four days maximum, sir, no more, before I'd have ta cool her off a bit. After a wee break, we might be able to start her up again at that speed, but I wouldnae advise it and we could easily rupture some crucial conduits."

"Make the necessary arrangements and prepare to shut down all non-essential systems. Contact Mr. DeSalle and inform him I will be relieving him in ten minutes and taking responsibility for the change in course and safety overrides."

"Oooh boy. Aye, sir, right away."

He closes the channel and swivels his chair back toward the table. "I'll be on the Bridge, gentlemen," he says quietly, and leaves them staring after him.


Two days pass. Starfleet Command all but has his head on a platter for abandoning their next mission, medical emergency or not – especially one which supposedly necessitates their return from uncharted space. This will set them back weeks in their long-term mission, weeks they did not have to spare, and it throws a planetary government into a tizzy over the fact that there will now no longer be a Federation appearance of starship strength at the inauguration of their new President.

God, he hates politics.

He fields the calls, answers the scathing memos, all rote by now and barely even noticeable after the horrors they've seen – a pissy admiral is nothing by comparison to some of the madmen he's encountered. He's threatened with everything from demotion to court martial, and knows none of it will stick because the outcry would be insane. The HR nightmare when it's leaked that the medical emergency is Vulcan would completely trash Command for years to come; they can't afford to let him not go to the aid of an endangered species, and everyone knows it.

That doesn't mean it still doesn't suck, having to deal with the fallout.

Bones has tried to talk to him, but he pleads double duty shifts and a migraine, which isn't entirely inaccurate since Spock is on medical leave and he's told Uhura to take it too, even if that's unofficial so it won't go in the official records. He spends sixteen hours a day on the Bridge, hoping the ship won't fall apart as she screams through space with a non-existent safety margin, and prays they make it back to charted space in time, back to New Vulcan.

What will happen when they arrive, he still doesn't know. And at this point, he supposes it doesn't matter; if he was supposed to know, they'd tell him. He can do his job, regardless, and perhaps this is a good lesson for all of them in not making any one man – one Vulcan – so indispensable that it takes three people to replace him on the Bridge, because those ensigns are so annoyingly not Spock that it's driving him up the wall every time one of them asks a question.

Another day passes.

On the fourth day, they lose two of the dilithium crystals.

The ship skids out of warp at a dangerously high speed, slewing around on a ninety-degree angle as it is yanked by inertia from its warp bubble. They are hurled into space at a speed that nearly sends them nacelles-first into a nearby star, but for the swift action of Chekov and Sulu, who somehow manage to keep their seats when the rest of the Bridge lose theirs.

Jim blinks the red spots out of his vision and gets back to his feet with the assistance of Riley, the comms tech who is subbing for Uhura this shift.

"All right, sir?"

"Yes, fine, Lieutenant. Thanks." He staggers back to the command chair and looks at the viewscreen. "Where are we?"

"Charted space, Captain, but…" Sulu turns to face him, and after all these years he can tell when the news isn't good, just by the look. "Sir, even at normal cruising speed, warp four, it would still take us another four and a half days to get to New Vulcan."

"I have the feeling we don't have that time or that speed available," he mutters, and depresses the comms switch in his chair-arm. "Scotty, did you break my ship?"

"Noooo, sir! I told ye we couldnae stand that speed for long, essential systems only or no! We've ruptured two of the dilithium chambers and the crystals are completely kaput, sir! It'll be no more than warp one for the rest of the journey, there's nothing that can be done about that!"

He can almost feel the blood draining from his face.

"That's not acceptable, Mr. Scott. Find a way to boost that speed and report back to me."

"But sir!"

"Kirk out." He shuts off the comm and leans on the chair for a moment, forehead in his palm, trying to think.

"Captain." Sulu's voice, and he looks up to see the young pilot leaning forward to get his attention. "Sir, we're proceeding on course at the fastest speed possible, and there's nothing on an intercept from here to Alpha Centauri. If you'd like to…get some rest, I wouldn't mind logging some more hours in the chair."

Sulu's in command training right now, and has almost met the qualifications for Lieutenant-Commander, only lacking a few more hours and three away mission commands to qualify. But that's not what he's really saying, and Jim loves and hates him for it.

"Well, far be it from me to stand in the way of your training, Mr. Sulu." He gestures grandly to the chair, and the young man smiles, moving past him up the dais. "I will be in…I have no idea where I'll be, just comm me."

"Aye, sir."

He has to find some way to break the news to his First Officer that they've just signed his death certificate a few days early – and to tell said First's fiancée that she's never going to marry that idiot Vulcan she loves to hate so much right now.

This job sucks.


His thinking is to get the worst of it over with first, so he goes to find Uhura – only to discover that she's actually waiting for him in his cabin.

Okay, he's seen weirder things, but not in his cabin; Spock's the only one who ever even comes in here other than Bones, and Spock never does when Jim isn't in there too. This is an unheard-of act of self-entitlement and he'd really be a little pissed if it wasn't obvious that she hasn't moved from his small couch since she entered and that she's been waiting for him.

And crying.

Well, this will be fun.

"I came through," she says by way of explanation, indicating the shared bathroom between his and Spock's cabins. "There are enough rumors going around the ship as it is. I figured there was no point in starting another one if it was unnecessary."

Ah. That made sense.

"You've always been one step ahead of the rest of the crew, Lieutenant." She smiles briefly at the sincere praise, but it falls away as he sits in the chair angled beside the couch. "So…why are you here?"

"We aren't going to make it back in time to save him, are we?"

He should have known they would both figure out the problem, especially since she can still access reports, not officially being on medical leave.

He sighs, looks down at his clasped hands, elbows on his knees. Finally he glances up. "No. We aren't."

Her lips tighten, and she looks away for a moment.

"We tried, Nyota," he says softly. "I'm sorry. And we're still trying – I sent a few messages out to connections I have along our route, if someone has a faster ship that can get to us then we might have a chance. But…"

"It's a long shot."

"It's a really long shot. And while we specialize in long shots…"

She laughs briefly, but it's a painful, almost hurt sound; and he just wants to give her a hug, forget the fact that he's still a little angry that they hid this from him for so long, none of his business or not – he thought after all this time he could have been trusted with the information. Maybe he's not the only one on this ship with major trust issues, maybe it was just too personal, too embarrassing…maybe it just doesn't matter anymore, not really, because they aren't going to make it back in time, and he is just as terrified as she is right now.


"Jim, seriously. It's been almost ten years."

"Sorry, Nyota. I just – I don't know what you want from me, with this. I like solving problems, you know that's what I do; but if you don't give me anything to work with…"

She sighs, aimlessly tugs on a strand of hair. A few years back she'd tried a new style, cutting it short and curling it, and he'd privately thought it was smoking hot – but Spock had hated it, in his own silently logical way, so she'd gone back to the ponytail. He'd had to explain to a clueless Vulcan one night that that was clearly human love, because she took crap from no man and if anyone else even looked cross-eyed at her they'd likely end up slightly damaged during weekly sparring practice.

Those dark eyes now fix on his face, and he can see uncertainty there.

"Look, I get that this isn't the most comfortable thing to talk about, but…come on, Nyota. If I'm going to – going to lose my First Officer, my friend, then I deserve to know why. And how."

She swings her legs off the couch to face him, knee to knee. "You know about as much as any of us did, until recently."

"Okay, so what happened recently."

"Nothing, really, just a scare a few months ago – which we should have taken more seriously, a warning." She sighs. "He's so damn stubborn, Jim. And he can fool even me, when he really wants to. Sometimes I think you're the only one he can't quite get past."

"Does that bother you?" he asks quietly.

She laughs, and he can tell it's genuine enough. "No, actually, he needs someone who can call him out on it, and I'd rather it not have to be me. Granted, whatever thing you guys have going on can be a little weird sometimes, but as long as I know you have no intentions of horning in on my territory, we're fine."

He wrinkles his nose on pure reflex, because, just…no.

Also, even if there weren't warnings about the dangers of fraternization in the ranks, he would never do something to endanger the structure of his command chain. The ship is too important. His people are too important. A decade ago, he might have been that foolish – but now? Now, they all have seen too much, lost too much; they know how precious what they have, is. He would never gamble that.

Nyota regards him silently for a moment. "But this is going to kill him, Jim," she whispers. "And I can't do anything about it."

"What exactly has to be done? You need to tell me, maybe I can help."

She shakes her head. "You can't."

"How do you know?"

She sighs, and leans back, long legs stretched out wearily. "Spock told you the basics."

"He said there's a Vulcan biological imperative to seek out a mate and complete a mating bond every seven years. Why the hell his clock decides to start when we're in the middle of deep space is just our crappy luck, but it did, and on one whopper of a time-table, too. I get why we have to return to New Vulcan to complete whatever mystical traditions they have, it would be disrespectful not to, with them still being an endangered culture, and I'm assuming that the whole dying thing is related to the biological part of it, not some cultural aspect."

She cocks her head in interest. "That's actually more than I thought you'd grasped from that nonsense he word-vomited at you."

He grins. "I'm pretty well-versed in Spock-speak by now."

"Well, it's accurate. But incomplete. When Vulcan children are eight or nine years old, depending on their emotional stability, they form a mental bond with another child, a compatible mate, Captain. It's that mate which they are supposed to meet during this Time, and that bonding which is supposed to complete the ritual."

"Wait, what?" His eyes widen. "So Spock's been cheating on a Vulcan girlfriend all these years with you? What the –"

"Oh, for pity's sake, Kirk, chill. His parents decided not to bond him with another Vulcan child, primarily because his mind is so incompatible with another – because of his hybrid physiology, is the reason he was given by the mental healers."


"That actually probably saved him a lot of grief when Vulcan was destroyed," she adds softly, "not having to deal with a broken mating bond, even if it was just done as a child for most of them."

How awful would that have been. His horror must show on his face, because she pats his arm before continuing. "Lucky for him – and me – his parents decided that wasn't a good idea, and let him choose his own path."

"So…wait. If he doesn't have this mate waiting on New Vulcan, why the hell did I just blow out half my engines trying to get there before he goes psycho on us?"

Her jaw tightens. "Because an unmated Vulcan must return to accept a mating bond from any willing and unmated female, if he desires to survive the blood-fever."

He stares at her.

"I'm not happy about it either," she says dryly.

"Are you freaking serious! I am going to kill him!"

"See, that right there? Why we didn't tell you."

"But – how can you be so calm about it? Can't you do anything to stop him? Why can't you, uh, make him an offer? Or are there rules about it having to be done on New Vulcan?"

"It does, but I could." She seems sad, somehow, not angry – and he doesn't understand why. "Believe me, I already looked up the legalities of ancient Vulcan rites, Kirk. I had no intention of giving up without a fight."

"Well then!"

"The only way for me to do that is to accept a challenge in combat from whichever of the Vulcan females is also attempting to, as you so elegantly put it, make him an offer."

"I'm not seeing the problem here. You can kick anyone's ass on this ship, up to and including Spock's."

She smirks, and kicks him lightly on the ankle. "Maybe. But I can't do this."


A patient sigh. "Because it's a fight to the death, Kirk. And while I have zero intention of dying in that combat, I can't justify killing a member of an endangered species either. Spock would never forgive me, and I'd never forgive myself as a Starfleet officer."

He stares at her for a minute in silence, and then leans forward, shaking his head.

"He doesn't deserve you, you know that?"

"Oh, believe me, I know." She snorts, but it's more a sob than anything else, and before he even realizes what he's doing she's crying into his shoulder, mourning the loss of something never even fully realized.

Damn it, he was supposed to marry them in just six months – this can't be happening.

"If I was just mentally compatible, it would never have escalated this much." The whisper is close to his ear, the words despondent, heavy with dread.

He freezes, and then pushes her gently until he can see her face. "You mean if you form a mental bond with Spock, it would negate some of this?"

"Supposedly," she says, clearing her throat. She scoots backward, looking slightly embarrassed at the lapse in control. "The mental portion of the mating bond is supposed to function as an anchor, to control the blood-fever so as to not endanger either of the parties involved. But – I'm not mentally compatible with him. We tried soon after the Battle of Vulcan, and it landed both of us in Starfleet Medical with minor brain trauma. We were advised not to try it again."

"Did you try again, when he…started feeling weird? That scare a few months ago, you mentioned?"

"Of course. It was even worse that time, we had to go to McCoy – that's how he ended up finding out the whole story. Mental incompatibility is excruciating, even dangerous." She shakes her head. "I can't help him, and we both know it. I am, frankly, surprised that it wasn't a deal-breaker for our relationship, given its importance to a traditional Vulcan marriage."

Well, they always have been anything but traditional, but that's beside the point.

He taps a finger against his lips. "This…mental bond-thing, what is it, exactly? It doesn't like, make you able to eavesdrop on people's thoughts or something, does it?"

She rolls her eyes. "No, Kirk, it has no specifically targeted mystical powers. It's more just a sense of awareness, a knowledge of the other person's moods, feelings. Sometimes it's been said those involved can feel the location of the other party but I doubt we'd ever have been able to get that far anyway, with Spock's unknown physiology and abilities. But I probably would have been able to sense this was happening far before it got this bad, even helped him control things until we could get to New Vulcan at least."

"So…it's not specifically a marriage bond, just more a mental anchor, like you said? A sort of sixth sense, not a romantic thing?"

"Yes, Kirk." She stares at him, eyebrows raised. "Does it matter?"

He glances at the door to Spock's cabin, and for the first time feels a ray of light break through the fog of despair that has clouded their every move for the last week. It makes him almost giddy with hope, because this?

This he can fix.

"Oh, it matters. Trust me, it matters." He vaguely hears her squawk of indignant confusion as he barges through the bathroom's sliding door and into the cabin beyond. "Yo, Spock! Sit your ass down and gimme your opinion on threesomes!"

"Oh my God, Kirk, what is wrong with you." Uhura's half-whimpered laugh behind him tells him she hasn't quite grasped what he's proposing, and Spock's look of bewildered shock will keep him entertained for days.

Bones is going to have a cow, but that's a minor detail. And it serves him right, anyway, for keeping secrets.


"This was your idea, remember."

"Not helping, Bones." He slugs back the shot, and shudders as the bitterness burns through his throat and probably dissolves most of his stomach lining. "What in the seven moons of Orion was that. And was it alive?"

"Uh. You remember that night Scotty said not to come down to Secondary Engineering until he gave the all-clear?"

He eyes the physician over top of the glass. "Yes? Something about a coolant leak?"

"Well." McCoy toasts him with the bottle of clearly homemade booze, grinning as he pours another liberal dose. "Here's the results of that 'coolant leak.'"

He drops his head on the table with a dull thunk. "How did he even construct a still in Engineering without the components showing up on the requisition reports? Never mind, I don't want to know."

"Plausible deniability, Jim. Plausible deniability."

"Ugh." He finishes off the second shot, and nearly loses his dinner, lunch, and last night's snack. "Okay, that is just vile."

"Oh, yeah." McCoy smirks. "But you're on medical leave too until the lovebirds come up for air, just in case you drop into a coma or have an aneurysm or something, so drink up, Captain sir."

The aneurysm is looking more and more appealing. He can feel his cheeks heating up, and not from the alcohol.

"You okay there?"

"Uh, yeah." He clears his throat. "Spock's gonna need to teach me how to shield this thing, I think."

McCoy's eyes widen over his glass. "You mean you're getting –"

"Not like, tri-D pictures or anything, but yeah, there's definitely emotions going on there. Jesus. You may need to knock me out, Bones."

McCoy's cackling can be heard on Deck Fifteen, and he hastily pours another glass. It's going to be a long three days.

He never tells Spock, or Uhura for that matter, that he was broadcasting quite that...vividly, those first few days. He has to get his blackmail material from somewhere, and they were piping it right into his head.

So after all, it's not technically cheating.

I. It's Your Funeral, or We're All Mad Here, and I Did Warn You, Sucker

He likes to think that they're making progress, as sentient beings in general.

That across the galaxy, the Federation is forming alliances, spreading peace and kindling new relationships which will benefit all species, making new scientific discoveries which will advance all races. That deep down, there is inherent good in all beings, and it only remains to find it, to draw it out by means in which they have all become adept, after so many years as expert diplomats in these uncharted stars.

And then they meet a group of self-righteous weirdos like this bunch, and that ideal goes out the airlock faster than a leaking plasma vent.

Why it's always the human race which is getting kidnapped and/or experimented on, he has no idea – maybe they're just seen as weaker by every other race in the galaxy – but he's getting really tired of having to bust his people out of alien prisons and off pirate ships and everything in-between.

Granted, these Minarans have evidently decided to switch things up by kidnapping him instead of his crew, which only shows they have a basic grasp of the ship's command structure and absolutely no freaking idea what they are getting into.

He's just glad they stopped snapping bones for fun after the second day and decided to move on to something less likely to get them vaporized once Spock breaks that door down. Which he really kinds of hopes is sooner rather than later, because while he has a pretty decent pain threshold, dangling from archaic chains by a dislocated shoulder and what he suspects is a broken wrist (now that one was his own doing, trying to escape, he can't blame them for that), well…he's not as young as he used to be, and he likes to sleep in his own bed at night.

What good is this bond-thing, anyway, if Spock can't tell he's in pain and getting pissed off that it's taking so freaking long and where the hell are his people anyway and oh god, he's getting hysterical and that's really embarrassing take a deep breath.

Needless to say, they won't be recommending this particular planet as a likely candidate for an alliance with the Federation, nor will they be coming back for a Second Contact mission.

He lifts his head as the door opens, stabbing a painful beam of light into the back of his skull, and around him the area brightens into that same weird chilly glow he's seen every time they enter. He still can't tell where it's coming from – might be from the aliens themselves, might be from some unseen light fixtures somewhere. Might be from the concussion, too, come to think of it.

"Captain." The leader (Jim has taken to calling him Butt-head in his mind just for lols, because their skulls really do look like that, and if that's xenophobic then sue him, okay, the guy broke all five of his left-hand fingers and smiled while he did it yesterday) says solemnly, as if greeting a colleague.

"Your hospitality sucks," he mutters, wishing he had more force behind the words. But there's only so much that can be done when you haven't had so much as a drink of water or more than an hour of sleep (passing out doesn't count) in the last three days.

"Your suffering has a purpose, Captain."

"Well, huzzah." He rolls his eyes, and tries to stop his head from rolling after them. "Glad to be of assistance. You do know my crew is going to burn this place to the ground when they find me, right?"

He takes a mean pleasure in the uneasy glances exchanged between them.

Butthead Two says something in their native language, to which the leader shakes his oversized head emphatically.

Jim grins, feral and blood-stained. "Already being a problem, are they?"

Butthead the First turns to him and frowns. "Your ship will leave this planet, or you will suffer further."

"Well, you may be half right." He leans back against the wall, trying to look casual. He likely looks just drunk on pain and half-conscious, but at least he tries. "But if I were you, Butthead? I'd start running. Like, now."

The alien glares murder at him, and he smiles; now he's made them angry, and that's good. Up until now, it's been all cold science, detached curiosity and experimentation. Emotion is dangerous, and emotion makes mistakes – he has learned that well enough over the years.

"Don't like that, do you?"

"Foolish human." He starts as the looming face suddenly lunges forward, only inches from his own, and tries not to flinch at the sensory memory of pain from days not long past. "Your defiance is admirable, but foolish. You will now surrender your remaining will-power to us."

"Uh, I'll pass." He doesn't like the look in their eyes now – he's seen that before. They may not be as stupid as he had been gambling on. And based on how expertly they carried out those torture sessions? Maybe pushing them wasn't the best idea.

"It was not an option, Captain. We require docility to complete the experiments, and while we had originally intended to permit you your own free will, your resistance has now become a liability to us."

Not good. Some crawling feeling is blaring a red alert klaxon loudly in the back of his mind, that weird creeping part of his brain that is supposedly where Spock's been trying to teach him how to mentally shield his thoughts.

"Not to be rude, guys, but you really have no idea what humans are capable of, do you? We won't just stop being independent thinkers, just because you tell us to. And you haven't done so well in the torture department so far, now have you?"

Butthead Two steps forward, setting down a small device on the nearby table. It hums suddenly with an unidentifiable energy, washing over the room briefly. His hair stands on end as he strains to see, but he isn't able to turn his head far enough, and he really, really hopes that isn't a psionic dampening field because if it is?

He's in big trouble.

"We have no such need of further physical persuasion, Captain. We have discovered that your species has no telepathic abilities; it will be a simple matter, therefore, to override your own thoughts with ours."

He can basically feel the blood drain from his face into his boots, because that? That is not good.

That sounds really, really not good.

"It is a relatively simple process, one we have used on much weaker species over the ages," Butthead Two continues with a horrible amount of cheerfulness. "Had we been aware that your species was equally weak in that regard, we would not have resorted to such crude physical methods of persuasion during the first part of your captivity."

He tries to control his breathing, and sends a flash of panic careening back toward that place he hopes Spock can sense. If they can do what they say they can do? The whole ship could be in danger, and he wants it out of here ASAP, with or without him.

But hell if he will go down without a fight, thank you very much.

"You seem awfully sure of yourselves," he observes, after taking a deep, silent breath to calm his racing heartbeat. He's been trained for this, all Starfleet officers have. Granted, they really have fallen down in the non-physical torture training department, and that's something he will be bringing up in the next intra-planetary 'Fleet meeting (assuming he's still around), but he's been trained for this. There's no possibility they will get Federation secrets from him, not without a fight like they've ever seen, and there's no way he will give them any ammunition against the Enterprise – he'll die first, and that's actually a pretty good possibility.

If he's lucky, maybe he'll take one of them with him.

Both Minarans look up in surprise. "But of course we are confident," Butthead One replies, puzzled. "Why would we not be?"

"Uh, because you got no idea what I have going on up here?" He rolls his eyes ceiling-ward, and regrets that when pain shoots through his skull. But he continues, drawling, "Humans are not your average 'weaker species,' as I'm sure you've discovered. We live, we love – we feel, deeper than many other species do, that's common intergalactic folklore. And by extension, our trauma runs deeper than many others do, as well."

Maybe that was the wrong thing to say, because that's predatory curiosity, not wariness, sparking in those weirdly huge eyes.

"It's your funeral, boys. But I'll warn you, it isn't pretty in there."

"You are attempting to, how do you humans put it – put a brave face, on the situation? Admirable, but ultimately foolish. Now."

"You sure you want to screw around up there? One hundred percent sure?"

The alien looks at him for a moment in exasperation, then suddenly grabs his head in both massive hands.

He swallows, and closes his eyes. Forces a feral grin to his lips, and tosses a mental gauntlet down.

Then come and get me, sweetheart.


Spock blasts the door down thirty minutes later.

Uhura drops both Minarans with two well-placed phaser stuns before they even realize what's happening, and sends another ruthless shot into each just for good measure while they're out cold.

Damn. He shivers, and not just from shock.

A squad of red-garbed Security men and women swarm the room after them, fanning out with military efficiency and searching the rest of the place for further threats. He vaguely registers one of them reporting back to the ship and someone – Bones, he thinks, but his ears are still ringing strangely – is yelling back through the communicator from somewhere to his left.

He's still blinking slowly, trying to process what he's seeing, when Spock suddenly looms out of nowhere right smack in front of him.

He jumps, slamming into the wall behind him, and sees his First's lips tighten in what looks like a dangerous combination of anger and worry.

"Watch his shoulder, Spock." Uhura, somewhere to his right, and it looks like she frisked the Buttheads for the key.

A soft giggle. "You actually nicknamed them, Kirk, really?"

Well, he had to do something to keep from going nuts, didn't he?

Spock carefully helps him lower his bad arm – well, his worst arm – and supports him when he sways that direction at the return of blood flow to the dislocated joint. He shivers again, because everything is just a little too…everything.

"Captain. Jim?"

He tugs a little frantically at his other wrist, still caught in the chain over his head, and why isn't he down yet?

"Hey, hey! Calm down, Captain. I'm trying."

A quiet curse, and the chain rattles, jostling his broken fingers. He bites back a yelp, and tastes blood.

"Sorry. There we go, easy…Spock, catch him!"

Look, he can't help it if the last few minutes were hella scary, and nobody should have to fight off some wack job alien in their own mind, and even if he knows he probably scarred the Minaran for life he's a little bit freaked right now, okay?

It's only when he's staring unseeing at the blue weave of a science uniform that he realizes he's basically clinging to his First Officer like a frightened child, and he's actually been saying all this crap out loud, because he can actually sense that Spock is just as scared as he is – this thing works two ways, after all.

He feels a light brush of fingers through his hair, and shivers again. Uhura's voice, quiet and understanding.

"McCoy's about to murder the transporter tech if we don't clear him to come down now. I'll beam back up and let him know what to expect, okay?"

He feels rather than hears Spock's quiet agreement, and a moment later the fuzzy hum of a transporter beacon signals her departure.

He manages to exhale, more shakily than he'd like, and steps back, biting back a curse as his broken hand falls away from between them.


"Do not apologize." Spock's eyes are burning with anger. "You have been subjected to a grievous assault."

He glances at the half-conscious Minarans, who are being guarded by an alert Security duo, and returns their frightened looks with a grim, dark smile. "I gave as good as I got, Spock. Didn't I, fellows?"

They glance away, looking pale and nauseated. Yeah, he's got some real baggage up in there he threw at them – and it serves them right.

Spock still looks two steps short of murdering someone, but at least there is humor – and pride? – in his expression. "I sensed as much, Captain. An unorthodox approach, but I commend your defensive instincts."

"I warned them. Only a total idiot would try to screw around in Jim Kirk's psyche." He shakes his head. "They had no idea what they were dealing with."

Spock's look darkens. "Neither did you," he says, and the danger in the tone spells Very Bad Things for the idiot in Starfleet Command who sent them here.

He sighs, and wishes he had a good hand to pat Spock's arm with. "I never doubted you'd find me, Spock. I'm just glad your timing was impeccable, as usual."

Spock's unhappy response is cut short by the hum of the transporter and the subsequent whirlwind arrival of McCoy, whose ear-splitting outrage seems to dumbfound the Minarans more than Jim's mental trauma had. Their almost creepy fascination with the man makes his skin crawl, and he's more than glad he was abducted alone for this one – who knows how Bones would have handled something like this.

He tolerates the fussing with minimal eye-rolling, swears loud enough to amuse his Security team when his finger-bones are reset, and then apparently decides to pass out with spectacularly dramatic flair when Bones relocates his shoulder without warning mid-sentence.


"I freaking hate you."

"I know." Bones dodges the swat with a deftness that comes of years' experience and adjusts the last bio-monitor overhead, rolling his eyes all the while.

"I could demote you to a waste recycling barge in the Delta Quadrant, you know."

"Try it, kid. You'd be begging for me back within a week, and we both know it. And Chapel ain't takin' any of your crap so who exactly do you think is gonna be better than me at my job?"

He scowls, and wishes his arms weren't both immobilized so he could fold them – his image is being seriously hindered by these ugly Medical scrubs and the dual slings that are a little too reminiscent of a straightjacket to be comforting.

"Your brain-scan came back with minimal damage, and none of that was irreparable, so provided you follow my orders and stay off-duty for a week, let me do some regenerative therapy and don't try anything stupid, you'll be fine. Now, headache and general injuries – give me a scale of one to ten, Jim."

He glares at the mention of a week off-duty, because no way in hell is he staying here that whole time, but that's an argument for a day when Bones doesn't look like death itself is, if not knocking on the door, at least trying to parallel-park out front.

"Six," he mutters reluctantly, after a minor stand-off that gets him nowhere.

"Nine, copy that," Bones mutters, adjusting a hypospray.

"I said –"

"I know damn well what you said, and I know what that means, so you shut your mouth and let me do my job!"

Man, he really did scare everybody. His jaw shuts with a snap, and he remains silent as the painkiller floods through his bloodstream with a rapidity that's actually very soothing.

"Sorry, Bones." He glances up after a moment, and tries to make the words as genuine as he feels.

The man sighs, and sits for a moment on the edge of the bio-bed, rubs a hand wearily down his face. "Not like any of this was your fault, Jim, stop apologizin'. I just…" He looks up, eyes haunted. "Thought by this point, we'd be a little more used to this kinda thing. You know?"

"Yeah." He does, actually. And there are days, like this one, where he wonders if maybe a third mission isn't a good idea – if maybe they are all becoming disillusioned with this life as a whole, if maybe it's time to let a younger, more hopeful generation take their place.

And then he remembers that no one else would have been able to find and rescue him today, and that no one else would likely have survived to warn Starfleet to steer clear of that star system from now on.

They are still doing good out here, and they are still needed.

Just the same, he would never want someone to stay aboard, just because they felt like they had no other option. And he really hasn't come out and said that, not yet.

"You know…you have the power to scrap our third mission, Bones," he says quietly, and keeps his tone carefully neutral. "It's dependent on the primary command team agreeing to be recommissioned together. If you retire, or transfer, we all go different ways – and maybe that'd be for the best."

McCoy stares at him for a moment in surprised silence, and then slides off the bed with a snort. "You're an idiot, Jim," he says over one shoulder, putting away the used hypospray.

"I am not!"

"You are. A well-meaning, lovable idiot, but an idiot." Behind them, the doors to Sickbay open and a familiar figure enters. "Wondered how long it'd take you to wander down here. When exactly did you plan to tell him we'd all already signed the recommission, Commander?"

"What?" he splutters, leaning forward to glare at his First Officer, who merely raises a complacent eyebrow back at him.

"When the moment was right, Doctor. Am I to assume you decided that moment was now?"

"You assume correctly!" He gestures as wide as he can with his splinted, slinged fingers. "Would have been good to be informed!"

"Consider yourself informed. Sir." Spock's deadpan prods a laugh out of McCoy, who finally shuts off all but the basic bio-monitors on the bed, knowing how Jim hates their loud beeping when he's stuck in Sickbay.

"There, now you got no excuse to get some rest, and before you try it, I locked your access codes out of the computer so you can't get any work done for the next forty-eight hours." Bones jabs a gentle finger in his chest. "So sleep."

"In a minute. Spock, report?"

"We are proceeding out of the Minara IV system with all haste, Captain. A warning beacon has been placed in orbit around the planet, warning starships to not approach within the range of the Minaran transport beam, although when we departed the Minarans seemed still in shock from their encounter with you, Captain; they may likely not be inclined to perform such an experiment again in the near future. Starfleet Command has been apprised of the events which occurred on the planet and is only awaiting the appending of the official medical report."

Spock glances toward McCoy, who nods. "Workin' on it, but you can tell them he'll be out for a week with no lasting damage."

The lines of tension around Spock's eyes soften in what he knows is relief. "I shall inform them accordingly. Many of the crew wishes to extend their sentiments regarding having you back aboard, sir."

"Back at them," he murmurs, blinking sleepily. Bones's best painkillers tend to do that, unfortunately, though that's better than the one that makes him loopy and waaaay too talkative. "Let 'em visit tomorrow, yeah?"

"Of course, Captain, provided they are courageous enough to brave the uniquely confrontational ministrations of Doctor McCoy."

Bones ignores him with the ease that comes of years' practice. "We'll see how well you behave, Jim. Lights, ten percent."

"I behave," he grumbles into the soft darkness. "Most of the time."

A snort. "Uh-huh. Last time you were in here you had Sulu distract me in my office while you disabled the bio-bed alarms and let yourself out."

"Yeah." He grins in remembrance. "That was awesome."

"All right, enough talk now. And you, get – you can see him tomorrow."

"As you wish, Doctor. Captain."

"Hey, Spock." He lifts his head for a second as the taller shadow turns to leave. "I don't say it enough, but…thanks. For coming after me."

"It would be most inconvenient for your crew to sign for another mission only to be deprived of an efficient captain, sir."

He snorts into the pillow. "Love you too, Spock. Now get back to my Bridge."

He can sense the warmth in the back of his mind – more vivid now, maybe that's a side effect of the trauma? Not a bad one, though – as his First departs, and Bones shakes his head at their antics.

"I don't even wanna know why you guys work as well as you do. Who'd've thought it, Jim."

He smiles, unseen, because he did. He just never told anyone.

After all, that would have been cheating.