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VI.

Spock of Vulcan does not understand the entirely non-Vulcan concept of partying.

He has been told, by various well-intentioned humans or other species, that it is a crucial part of maintaining a state of pleasant emotional/mental wellbeing in most sentient life forms – but as the idea of being dependent upon such a pointless pastime in order to remain functional has little to no appeal to any true Vulcan, he dismisses the concept as he does all else which is alien to his precisely ordered physiology: as unnecessary, and therefore unimportant.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk, a peculiarly fascinating human to which he is still acclimating, evidently believes otherwise. The man has gone from asking, to pleading, to coaxing, to finally the time-honored human act of blackmailing, in order to get his reluctant First Officer's agreement to attend the celebration of their Chief Engineer's birth being held below decks later this evening. Spock is not pleased with this persuasive human's irksome ability to throw Spock's own words back in his face.

"Look, you know how hard I'm fighting to get you instated as full Commander, Mr. Spock," Kirk is saying, arms folded across his chest and sandy brows knitted with intensity. (1) Spock briefly marvels at the human's entire obliviousness to the fact that he is craning his neck to look up at his First Officer, an act which is usually intimidating to most humans shorter than his Vulcan stature.

But then, Kirk appears to have no clue when he is being intimidated, by friend or foe. The intense self-confidence is a great strength in such a starship commander, and also a great weakness. Spock is not certain yet which of those is more prevalent in this particular being.

"And one of the requirements for you to receive your full Commander's stripes is to mingle with the crew of this ship," Kirk continues, and though his features are stern his tone is gentle, understanding. "If you cannot tolerate two hours' worth of communication with other species on such an even playing field as a human’s birthday party, Spock, then that is not going to appear favorable on your official record."

Spock is, of course, aware of this; and he is even more aware that Kirk is above all, a just and fair commander. The captain will continue to fight for his status aboard ship, but he will be completely honest in doing so against the near-fully human Admiralty, very few of whom see him as capable of becoming second-in-command of the Federation's flagship.

"Captain, I –"

Kirk makes a sort of strangled noise in the back of his throat, shaking his head with a small wry grin. "Don't look at me like that, you know I can't stand against it." Spock has no idea to what the human is referring, but Kirk does not elaborate, only continues, voice becoming more stern. "I will not back down over this, Mr. Spock. I expect you to report to Rec Room Thirteen along with my other senior staff tonight precisely at 1900 hours. Do I have to make that an order, Science Officer?"

The use of his technical title, rather than the as-yet undeserved 'Commander' which Kirk usually dignifies his station with, is not lost on him.

"Negative, sir." He, Spock of Vulcan, reduced to obeying a human's desire for increased social interaction! His dignity has already suffered since becoming intertwined with this unique human's brand of captaincy, and the prospect of an evening spent among half-intoxicated crewmen and officers does not promise to be at all pleasant.

Kirk immediately relaxes, however, at his acquiescence, and those ridiculously penetrating eyes glint with a bit of surprise; no doubt, the captain was expecting a lengthy diatribe on how illogical it is to celebrate a birth-date.

"Scotty'll be tickled to death that you're coming, you know," Kirk continues blithely, as they move toward the turbolift, he en route to the Botany Lab and Kirk to the Bridge. "You two are the only old-school officers who stayed aboard at the captaincy switchover, aren't you?"

"We are," he replies, as the lift opens. They step inside, in oddly perfect sync, and grasp the directional handles simultaneously. "Science Deck," he adds, after Kirk has placed his own verbal command for the Bridge. "Mr. Scott refused to be parted from his engines, and I saw no logic in leaving a satisfactory posting aboard the ship bearing the most advanced scientific equipment and laboratories in the Fleet."

Hazel eyes dance sideways at him, as the lift slows to leave him on Deck Nine. "Not regretting that decision yet, I hope, Mr. Spock?" the human teases, a soft lilt in his voice.

He lifts an eyebrow, strangely compelled to return the captain's half-serious jest in kind. "Ask me again after tonight's…undertaking, sir," he replies dryly, and the door shuts behind him on Kirk's sudden laughter.

This human will be the death of his Vulcan dignity, he is quite certain.

Oddly enough, the experience promises to be…quite fascinating.


Chief Engineer Scott has always been kind to him, from the time he signed onto the Enterprise as a very young Science lieutenant straight out of Starfleet Academy, and Spock supposes he does, by virtue of fair retribution, bear an obligation to return the favor by attending the man's birth-date celebration. This alone would not necessarily be the trial it promises to be, were it not for the fact that the captain has, admittedly cautiously, approved the moderated use of non-synthehol for officers not on alpha shift duty the following morning, and that the Starfleet dress code has been waived for the informal occasion.

The former, has nothing to do with him, as he cannot become intoxicated by the alcohol content of anything suitable for a human to consume in large quantities; but the latter, is something with which he is highly uncomfortable. Spock has worked aboard the Enterprise for nearly twelve years, and in that amount of time has never worn attire other than his uniform save for one occasion a few years back when he was injured on an away mission and forced to remain in Sickbay scrubs for three days. (He is, however human the emotion might be, relieved that Starfleet rescinded their temporary uniforms, handed out in bulk before the shakedown cruise of the newly-refitted Enterprise; he had never been so close to the emotion of pleasure as he was to re-don his Science blues after being forced to wear a decidedly nauseating shade of officers' gold during the shakedown.) (2)

But he understands, from what little he has gleaned of human interaction, that to appear at Mr. Scott's gathering in his uniform would engender a divide between him and the informal crew, the exact situation which Captain Kirk has instructed him to avoid if possible. The problem is, that he owns very few articles of clothing which are not his uniform or the equivalent thermal wear that he dons on most days to keep warm aboard this specist-temperate ship. And those which he does possess that are non-Starfleet issue, are decidedly Vulcan; will that not also engender a spirit of division in the same manner a uniform would?

He vaguely suspects that he might be overthinking this; but he will most certainly suffer in silence before asking a human to aid him in his choice. Kirk has not yet earned that confidence, not by any stretch; fascination does not necessarily equate to trust.

In the end, he reluctantly decides upon wearing the Vulcan equivalent of formal-wear; a simple, flowing black tunic over trousers of the same rich material, trimmed at the edges in silver shot with threads of shimmery blue. The look is proper without being ostentatious, and hopefully none of the crew will realize the costliness of the robes and thereby extrapolate the truth; that his clan, albeit at the moment slightly estranged from him, is one of the wealthiest in all of Vulcan. That is yet another wedge he does not desire to drive between himself and these humans, nor does he wish them to melodramatically romanticize his status as the equivalent of a vrekasht Vulcan prince. (3)

A curse drifts from the joined bathroom. Evidently the captain's valiant struggle against his hair is still ongoing; and having no wish to become part of yet another undignified conversation on that topic, he leaves his cabin and heads down to the Engineering Deck, where the members of their Engineering division have appropriated Rec Room Thirteen as the location for Mr. Scott's gathering.

After thirty minutes, all has gone well thus far: Engineer Scott appears to be both genuinely shocked and pleasantly surprised at his appearance, Spock has spent an agreeable twenty minutes discussing temporal anomalies and their effects upon the warp flux capacitator with Lieutenant Masters, and he is beginning to minutely relax in the hope that the evening will not be as unpleasant as he has anticipated – when his tranquility is shattered by the appearance of the one human against whom he has developed an almost instant antipathy.

Lieutenant-Commander Leonard H. McCoy, their newly-instated Chief Medical Officer, is, to use a human metaphor, going to be a thorn in his side; this much he can discern already. The man is rebellious, insubordinate, and bears a bizarrely contradictory official record, with as many reprimands as commendations for bravery outside the line of duty, as well as a few scientific recognitions for laudable accomplishments that entirely bely the human's annoying tendency to poke fun of Spock's logical nature and Vulcan ancestry whenever the fit strikes him. How the human became the most competent xenobiologist in his field is entirely beyond Spock's comprehension, as McCoy appears to have no diplomatic skills whatsoever even against his own species, much less toward any which is alien to him.

How Spock is going to tolerate the man for five years, is an entirely different, but no less incomprehensible, matter.

McCoy skeptically gives him what he believes humans call a "once-over" while downing his second cup of suspect fruit beverage, and he braces himself for the onslaught of borderline-xenospecist remarks about his Vulcan attire and its 'inhuman' connotations.

He is never more relieved to see and have physical contact with a human in his life, than he is when a gold-and-green blur claps him on the shoulder as the captain breezes past, giving his CMO a friendly elbow that makes the doctor curse, nearly spilling his drink all over his Sickbay scrubs.

"That's a waste of good punch, Jim!"

The captain's mischievous grin is reflected in the crystal bowl as he helps himself. "Lighten up, Doctor; this is a party! And you know you didn't have to wear the uniform?"

"You try coming off fifteen complete physicals and psych evals and see if you feel like changing clothes for a birthday party," McCoy grunts, finishing off his drink. "And on that note, you're next on my list, Commander," the human adds, jabbing a bony finger at Spock's chest. "You really tellin’ me you never had a complete evaluation in eleven years aboard this flyin’ tin can?"

Spock ignores the human's tirade, and increasingly dropped consonants due to the effects of the ‘good punch,’ with practiced ease. "I was never in need of one, Doctor. I do not succumb to your human illnesses, nor have I ever been in a position to be seriously injured, due to my status as Scientist aboard a primarily exploratory vessel."

Behind them, Kirk takes a tentative drink of the frothy mixture and promptly chokes, eyes wide as he stares down into the cup's depths. "That is not what I meant by approving 'slight alcohol consumption,'" he finally proclaims, glancing dubiously around them at the increasingly raucous humans packed into the rec room.

Spock's left eyebrow dutifully follows the right into his hairline. "I would suggest in future you monitor your subordinates' interpretation of orders more closely, sir."

The young captain's face flushes slightly in embarrassment (though that was not his intention, certainly), but it is their resident physician who interjects with an indignant, "Now look here, you pointy-eared stick in the mud!"

"Bones –"

"Just a minute, Captain. Mr. Spock, it's none of your business what orders the captain gives or how they're interpreted!"

"It is my business, Doctor McCoy, as at least temporary First Officer of this ship," he replies without breaking stride, ignoring the arm-flailing indications of human temper and the captain's weary sigh, now buried in the depths of his drink. "The safety of the ship and her captain are the primary responsibility of each member of the command chain – as you should know, Doctor, being fourth in that chain yourself. An immense responsibility which I am still at a loss to understand, given your entire lack of respect for authority, not to mention the concurrent lack of what I believe you humans call a 'bedside manner.'"

"I'll show you beside manner, during that physical you owe me!"

"One which is totally unnecessary and therefore may be disregarded under a superior's officer's discretion, Doctor."

Blue eyes flash icicles in his direction. "In matters of medical science, I outrank you, thank you very much! Just because you're a Vulcan captain's pet and can get whatever you want –"

"All right, that's enough! Both of you," the captain finally interjects with a scowl, physically interposing himself between his subordinates with an upraised hand. "Bones, he's your superior officer, so give him some respect. Spock, Doctor McCoy is human, so give him some diplomatic tolerance!"

Spock belatedly realizes that interested heads have turned their direction at the escalating voices, and feels a pang of regret that such a scene was made, however harmless it might have been intended. This incorrigible human simply disrupts his tranquility as no other he has ever encountered! In three months, he cannot recall a single conversation which did not devolve into an argument of truly galactic proportions between himself and this fiercely human doctor.

"My apologies, Captain," he says quietly.

"Spock, stop apologizing." Kirk shakes his head, and with a gesture of frustration throws back the rest of his punch with an almost violent enthusiasm. "Just, both of you – learn to work together, or reassign yourselves. I'm not going to have anything on my ship that even resembles bigotry or xenophobia in any form, no matter how much I want to keep both of you. Is that clear, gentlemen?" The words are light, but the tone holds a diamond edge of danger.

McCoy blinks at him over Kirk's head in something that resembles shock, and then stares down at his boots. "Geez, Jim," the doctor mumbles at last. "I didn't mean –"

"I don't care, Doctor," Kirk snaps, uncharacteristically sharply. "Learn to work with him and report to him, or I'll have you transferred." McCoy's eyes widen at the unusual threat, but the human wisely stays silent. Kirk half-turns Spock's direction, a warning glinting in his eyes. "And that goes for you too, Commander," he warns. "You'd better prove to me you can command humans, or we're both going to have a lot of explaining to do to the powers that be."

"Aye, sir." Spock is Vulcan, and shame is an emotion a Vulcan thankfully does not feel. For this, he is grateful, as otherwise he might be thoroughly wishing he were elsewhere at the moment.

"Honestly, it's like babysitting my nephews all over again," Kirk mumbles under his breath, as he shakes his head and disappears toward the punch bowl once more. (4)

This leaves him and the human healer glaring at each other across a meter of duranium flooring, ignoring the crewmen who carefully skirt around the perimeter in hopes of not becoming collateral damage if something explodes within. Spock suspects McCoy feels much the same as he does; rather like a cadet having just been chastised by an Academy professor – one who is considerably younger yet more mature, obviously, than one's self.

"Huh. Yeah, okay, that probably wasn't necessary…" McCoy's highly informative response to the silence is, after all, less of a threat than their previous conversation, and as a diplomat's son Spock knows to accept an olive branch when it is offered.

"I concur, Doctor."

McCoy frowns suddenly, and cocks his head in quizzical discomfort. "Y'know I don't mean anything by poking at you bein' Vulcan, don't you?"

Spock's eyebrow inches upward. "I do not follow."

"Look, Commander," and the other eyebrow follows suit in surprise at the sudden respect in the title, "I yell at everybody, and I give everybody a hard time. You're just easier than most because…well, you're just easier to pick at. It's nothing against you personally, understand."

"You are implying I am simply an easier target to bully, due to my mixed heritage, Doctor?"

The utterly horrified look that crosses the human's expressive face is, Spock is certain, quite genuine; possibly the man simply does not realize how he appears to an outsider – an outworlder. At any rate, the doctor now looks quite ill, rather than belligerently annoyed as he has been.

"Is that really what you think of me, Mr. Spock?" McCoy asks, uncharacteristically gentle.

Spock shifts his stance, the Vulcan equivalent of shrugging. "I do not know what to think of you, Doctor. I merely observe and interpret facts. This you should know, as a scientist yourself."

McCoy frowns, elbow resting in the opposite hand as he taps one finger absently against his mouth. "And the facts are pretty damning against me, aren't they," he says at last, looking unaccountably weary.

"I am unaccustomed to dealing with a human of your…most volatile nature, Doctor," he attempts to explain, and has the feeling that he has only made matters worse when McCoy glares incredulously at him.

"And how's a statement like that any more bigoted than me sayin' it's impossible to talk properly to a Vulcan?" he demands, and Spock is blindsided by the sudden realization that, in actuality, perhaps they both are in the wrong here.

He bows his head in acquiescence, shifts back into the loose folds of his tunic in an instinctive gesture of withdrawal from the field of battle. Some of the ice melts slowly in the physician's sharp gaze, and a silence falls, only slightly less uncomfortable than the one before their unresolved discussion began.

Then McCoy's eyes fall on the silver embroidery at the wide sleeve of his tunic. "What's that say?" he inquires, genuinely curious. "It's High Vulcan, isn't it?"

"It is, Doctor. It is the name of my Clan, and the symbol of my House."

"And those?" The bony finger which had been in his face a moment before gestures to the symbol and words inscribed at the right shoulder of the tunic.

"K'lalatar prkori k'lalatar prnak'lirli," he enunciates slowly, feeling a slight twinge of amusement at the disbelieving look he receives over the complicated syllables.

"Yes, and we don't all speak in tongues, so what's that mean?" McCoy asks dryly.

"Your Federation has come to translate the phrase as Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, Doctor. It is the motto of my people, and one of the founding principles of the United Federation of Planets, brought by the founding Vulcan members of that organization centuries ago."

"Huh. 'Magine that." Blue eyes glint ruefully up at him, before the doctor leans over to snag another cup – two cups? Spock raises another eyebrow at the human's tolerance levels – of punch from a passing crewman's tray. The young man splutters only briefly before scurrying away, obviously choosing wisely to pick another battle this night.

Spock only barely restrains a twitch of discomfort when the doctor nudges his hand with one of the cups, and it is the self-preservational desire to panicpanicgetthehumanaway more than understanding that makes him hastily accept the drink.

"Well, let me be the first to introduce you to an old-fashioned human tradition, Mr. Spock," the doctor declares, raising the cup and touching it briefly to his own. "A toast, Commander, to…whatever the heck you said just now."

Unaware of the proper protocol in such situations, he stares blankly as McCoy cheerfully drains his cup, and only realizes his error when the doctor rolls his eyes in a gesture of hopelessness and saunters away to accost some other unfortunate being.

Spock regards the retreating human with bewilderment and then, realizing with dismay that only forty-five minutes of his promised two hours have passed, throws Vulcan dignity to the winds and downs the drink in one long swallow. He looks up to see Captain Kirk staring at him, eyebrows raised, and he feels his ear-tips begin to burn.

"Don't worry, Mr. Spock," Kirk reassures him with a grin and a pat to the arm (he has no time to spare thought for why this human's touch does not immediately engender the same reflexive reaction that McCoy's does). "He's enough to drive anybody to drink, sometimes. But at least your night can't get any more awkward than that?"

It is only then that Spock realizes he (and the captain, but the captain is most likely accustomed to such) is being stared at by at least two dozen crewmen and women, all in varying stages of partial intoxication, and nearly all of them with something akin to interest…or is that the more intense emotion of desire? Then one (extremely brave, or extremely drunk) lieutenant from Hydroponics actually winks at him over her shoulder, and the discomfiting suspicion becomes a certainty.

The captain either does not notice the stares they are receiving, or does not care (more likely), only shrugs off the attention as he does everything else, with that slightly self-deprecating tolerance which just barely prevents him from appearing horribly arrogant to those who do not know him well. Kirk makes some inane comment about them 'cutting a dashing figure' while out of uniform, and Spock makes a private resolution without further delay.

He will do whatever it takes to earn his full commander's stripes, as there do exist at least a few regulations against any such…advances, when it comes to the top two ranking officers of a Federation starship. (5)

Humans. He will never understand them.

Chapter Text

V.

Spock of Vulcan does not fully grasp the human concept of panicking.

Panic is an instinctual response in most sentient beings, usually triggered by some traumatic experience or event; however, such a response can certainly be controlled through the Vulcan Way. Were it not for his own flawless Vulcan control, he too might succumb to such an emotion, given that the cause is certainly sufficient. As it stands, he is grateful for his mental shielding and thought processes, as they prevent him from indulging in that extremely human emotion.

(It does not help his state of mind when Dr. McCoy merely smirks at him in that infuriating way of his, and informs him that 'the Vulcan equivalent of freaking out is still freaking out, Commander.')

Captain Kirk has been quite busy the last three weeks, engaged in year-end crew evaluations. Together with his senior command staff, Kirk has spent the better part of every day performing the in-depth examinations which are required of every crewman at the end of every fiscal twelve-month. These are highly important evaluations, and every crewman understands that his career path is greatly dependent upon his performance in those year-end reviews. In consequence, this time of year is more stressful than most for many of the crew, and the burden of the final evaluation is a highly taxing workload for the command chain of any starship. And along with the fame of being the Federation's flagship, comes a continual stream of young, hopeful applicants whose only chance of coming aboard is to replace a crewman who does not meet the evaluation standard which Kirk upholds relentlessly.

Because of this, it does not necessarily raise any warning flags to either Spock or Dr. McCoy's medical staff, when the captain visits Sickbay halfway through the second week, complaining of a persistent headache and muscle spasms. Such is normal, McCoy reassures Spock upon his inquiry, for any human when engaged in such a high workload. He is well aware that the captain suffers from infrequent headaches even during so-called 'dry seasons', and so it is not unusual for his discomfort to be severe enough that he actually seeks out medical aid rather than simply dealing with it himself, as is typical.

Nevertheless, Spock makes a mental note to keep a careful eye upon the human to whom he promised his total loyalty shortly after his recent, disastrous mutiny to rescue Christopher Pike. Kirk forgave his offense with the same compassion he extends for the difference in their cultures; and while Spock was indeed given a thorough dressing-down and a warning that such an act will not be tolerated in future, he counts himself lucky to not only be permitted to remain at his post, but to continue as if he has not betrayed the trust of the one human whose opinion he actually values. His offense was unforgiveable, and had he not a previous loyalty to Christopher Pike after eleven years of service he would never have even contemplated such a betrayal of Jim's trust; however, what is done, is done. The captain has forgiven and apparently forgotten his treachery – and Spock will never again step out of line behind this remarkable man.

Kirk appears to be merely tired as they continue the crew evaluations, however; perhaps a bit more so than usual, but that too is only indicative of the time of year. Spock does what he can to relieve the burden of the technical paperwork, leaving the captain with only the evaluations to do, and he also sees to the crew's brief shore leave, docked as they are around the industrial center of Starbase 65-A. The crew evaluations will determine which of the crewmen disembark here to transfer to other ships, and how many crew slots they will then be able to fill from the pool of ever-eager young cadets, ensigns, and lieutenants who wish to test their skill aboard the Federation's flagship.

While Kirk is spending a good fourteen hours a day seeing to the year-end evals, Spock is equally busy with the minutae of his new post. While he has been performing as full Commander and First Officer for many months, he has only just received his stripes; and now, as a full Commander, it is he who must answer for much of the ship's operations, and he who will receive the censure if requirements are not met. He does not mind the added responsibility, for he is perfectly capable of performing to standard and well aware of that fact; but at the same time, it does add hours of inspection duty into his already hectic week.

He blames this additional workload for his tardiness in identifying the problem, though he is aware that there is really no excuse for his negligence. No man, not even Jim Kirk, is a good enough actor to deceive a Vulcan who is giving his full attention; this is Spock's fault, and no one else's.

Spock has had no real indication that the captain is feeling at all unwell until this morning, when, apparently unable to rouse the captain by comm-link, Lieutenant Uhura contacts him while he is performing an inspection tour down in the science labs, telling him in confidence that she is concerned for Kirk's welfare. The ship's computers specify upon his inquiry that Kirk is indeed in his quarters, but he is not responding to hails from either the labs or the Bridge, and when Spock arrives on Deck Five, the captain's door shows still Security-locked from the previous night.

Spock immediately overrides the locking code, to find that the bed in Kirk's small sleeping alcove is empty, and the captain himself is slumped over a pile of PADDs on his desk, head on one arm, apparently fast asleep. Repressing a twinge of human exasperation (this particular scenario happens far more often than is healthy, when the captain feels he is falling behind in workload), Spock moves to the desk, intent upon yet again waking the exhausted human and helping him orient himself for the day.

It is only upon trying to shake Kirk awake and eliciting no more than an unconscious murmur in response, that he realizes Jim is most certainly running a dangerously high fever, and probably has been for some hours, since no one knows for how long he has been unconscious. At the least, the captain has been at this desk most likely since the time Spock left him still working around 1900 hours the previous evening.

Incapable of doing more, Spock moves the captain to his bed and promptly comms Medical. Within minutes Kirk is escorted to Sickbay, where their Chief Medical Officer grumbles for a quarter-hour about being roused from sleep after just having crashed following delta shift duty, though he at least is at the same time performing tests with the expertise that Spock has come to recognize as the irascible human's sole saving grace in such situations.

The results are not encouraging; it is an uncommon, quick-acting virus originating in the Antares system, and obviously someone has brought it back aboard with them from the Starbase below. McCoy immediately recalls his entire Medical staff and sets them to divide and conquer the rest of the crew with an antibody-triggering treatment, as the vaccine for this will take at least three days to reproduce properly aboard ship, then quarantines the captain without further ado. High fever, possible hallucinations, muscle cramps, headache, vomiting, the doctor tells him as his people move with all the swiftness of the experts they are. Kirk is in no serious danger, but he will most definitely be miserable for a few days, until the virus runs its course under the prescribed treatments.

Spock sends out orders to temporarily recall and halt shore leave parties until the vaccine has been developed and the crew inoculated, and then stands by helplessly, barely noticing when a nervous nurse tells him there is no vaccine which is compatible with his alien physiology, but that he probably is immune to the virus due to the differences in his blood markers. Finally, McCoy returns, and appears to be surprised that he still remains in Sickbay, a full two hours after finding the captain unconscious in his cabin.

"If the idiot had come to me when he first started feeling sick, during the forty-eight hour incubation period, I could've given him the antibody treatment immediately to help him fight off the worst of it," the doctor says, scowling in the direction of the quarantine cubicle. "Instead, he somehow gets past both of us with a dangerously high fever and other symptoms that you or I should have seen days ago!"

Spock is well aware of his failings in this area; despite the captain's unusual ability to power through pain or illness, he is not that good of an actor. Had Spock not been too busy to pay much attention to the human, he might have seen the signs before now, and been able to spare the man this new trial.

He returns from his (highly illogical, and yet it exists) self-recrimination, to see McCoy looking at him expectantly. Obviously he has missed something.

"Doctor?"

"I said, are you off duty now, Mr. Spock? Because if you are, then you'd better suit up, because I for one have to get more than two hours' sleep or I'm not gonna be of any use to anybody today. It’ll take us at least forty-eight hours to get that vaccine produced, and that’s all of us working in shifts with every piece of tech I have in Lab Fourteen."

"Suit up?" he repeats blankly. He can certainly be 'off-duty' now, as he did not have Bridge duty today and he pulls a double shift most weekdays – but what bearing has that on anything?

Another step, well into his personal space, and a pair of frighteningly fierce blue eyes glint daggers at his head. "My office, Commander," McCoy says, in such a level, even tone that it is far more worrisome than his usual shouting. The doctor spins smartly on his heels and heads for his office, not bothering to see that Spock is actually following, and once the door has closed behind them the human points a thin finger at a chair before his desk.

"Sit. And don't pull that I prefer to stand crap with me, Mr. Spock; I am gonna sit, and I'm not gonna put a kink in my neck starin' up at you."

Spock sits.

McCoy leans forward, elbows on the desk. An air of utter weariness clearly shows the human's need for sleep. "Look, I'm gonna shoot straight with you, Commander," he says, and Spock becomes unaccountably uneasy. "I dunno what it is you and Jim have got going on between you, and I dead sure don't need to know particulars, because it's none of my business."

Horrified down to his Vulcan core at every single possibility to be extrapolated from such a sentence, Spock's eyes widen of their own accord. "Doctor, I assure you that –"

"Oh spare me, Spock." The informality is not unusual for this particular human, though the faint grin relaxing the physician's lined features certainly is. "I know how he looks around to find you first, whenever he comes in a room. I gave him a headache pill to stave off a migraine when he spent four hours arguing with the Admiralty about your command status, and let him vent to me for another hour after you stole this blasted bucket of bolts and nearly got yourself court-martialed for it. And, Mr. Spock," McCoy adds dryly, "I've seen the way you look at him. Vulcans have no emotions, my sainted aunt."

Spock has never before felt this particular, uncomfortable warming sensation creeping up his neck; he wonders if this is the human action of blushing.

"All I'm sayin', Commander," McCoy continues, blithely ignoring his growing discomfort, "is that if you intend to make a friend out of Jim Kirk, then you've got some things to learn. And, I'm not gonna stand by and let him burn himself out tryin' to make one out of you, if you aren't willing to return the favor."

"Doctor, as you said moments ago, this does not fall within your purview as Chief Medical Officer," Spock manages to say with a perfectly calm expression, a remarkable feat.

"So transfer me," McCoy retorts, with very little sincerity. "Love to see how you explain that command decision to your precious captain when he wakes up."

Spock feels a twinge of human frustration – this human is particularly adept at producing that annoying emotion – and quashes it in favor of ending the conversation with less embarrassment than has been elicited from him thus far.

"What, precisely, is your point in this highly emotional conversation, Doctor?"

McCoy jerks a thumb over his shoulder, smirks at his growing unease. "Suit up, and get your green-blooded behind in there, Commander. Rule Number One: Jim hates isolation, including quarantine. It'll give him nightmares when he has a fever even more than the drugs will. And friends, Mr. Spock, do what they can to make unpleasant situations bearable."

"You are implying that –"

"C'mon, Spock, I am way too tired to start one of your Vulcan-in-denial conversations. I said get in there, and don't think I won't know if you weasel your way out of it. 'Night, Commander."

Spock stares, dumbfounded, as McCoy flips him a terribly sloppy salute and leaves the room, yawning. Obviously the doctor thinks he has finished this conversation, and is intent upon returning to his quarters.

He exits the office as well, noting that the nursing staff eye him warily – no doubt under orders from their peculiar Chief – and peers for a moment into the isolation ward, at the solitary figure sleeping restlessly within, brow wrinkled with pain and fatigue. If McCoy is correct (and, however annoying the man may be, he is certainly more well-informed of the captain's personal information than Spock himself is, at this time), then there is only one logical course of action.

The EV suit is bulky, and not constructed for someone of his height and slender build, and it is nearly impossible to work the tiny buttons of a data-padd using the insulated glove attachments. The inability to perform at peak efficiency, as he had hoped to do by bringing paperwork into the isolation cubicle with him, becomes more apparent as the hours pass. He will be quite far behind, by the time this day is over. (Not to mention that he must finish the captain's work as well, since Kirk is going to be totally incapacitated for at least forty-eight hours.)

However, the look of bewildered delight on Jim's face when he wakes up, to find his First Officer silently completing belated crew evals next to his bedside, does make the illogical action a somewhat equitable trade.

Chapter Text

IV.

Spock of Vulcan only vaguely comprehends the human concept of down time.

As he has said to the well-meaning humans with whom he serves aboard the Enterprise, in his culture to rest, is to rest – to cease from activity; not to engage in alternate activity which is equally or more physically exhausting than that which is everyday. While he does recognize the value of variety, and the occasionally stepping back from a mental problem in order to gain alternate insight into its intricacies, he does not understand why humans seem to be unable to gain their own mental balance through meditation or a similar technique.

No, these humans apparently require stimulation in order to maintain a pleasant mental state; hence the concept of vacation, and shore leaves. Neither of which hold any interest for him, a Vulcan scientist. He has taken exactly twenty-one days of leave since he began his journey in space fourteen years ago as a young Science lieutenant; seven of those days, to attend a scientific conference regarding a breakthrough in preliminary transwarp beaming studies; and two weeks of leave just last year, taken to accompany Captain Kirk on an extended bereavement leave, first to Earth to see his young nephew into his grandmother's foster care, and then to Vulcan, in an effort to help the grieving young human recover from the deaths of both Sam Kirk and Edith Keeler in rapid succession.

Neither had been a particularly joyous time, nor full of what he knows humans call 'R&R.' They had both been entirely necessary instances of leave, productive and time well-spent. He does not grasp why one would take time from important activities and waste it upon non-productive pursuits.

And yet, somehow, he finds himself preparing to beam down to a crowded spaceport on the planet Rigel IX, in the company of the captain and Dr. McCoy. In his defense, he was not aware that the captain had also invited their Chief Medical Officer when he finally agreed (meaning, he lost the chess game and therefore the wager involved) to accompany Kirk on an evening of leave, before they must beam back up to the ship to oversee repairs with Chief Engineer Scott for the remainder of their stay in orbit.

Now, Dr. McCoy looks no more thrilled than he to discover that the three of them will be beaming down together. Spock suspects the night will certainly be memorable, trapped as he is in the company of two humans who, by all reports, heartily endorse the occasional libation from the strictures of command. He is mentally prepared, thanks to a double meditation session, to endure the worst through which he might be dragged tonight, and he can only pray to the Ancient Ones that should his companions decide to follow up on their more…carnal, desires tonight, that he is permitted to make his escape rather than offend one of the spaceport's young hopefuls.

It is bad enough that the lieutenant on duty at the transporter is quite openly staring at him, obviously never having seen him in attire outside his usual uniform. Slightly discomfited, he adjusts the hem of the silvery tunic and black walking cloak (a gift from his mother, brought when she and Sarek were escorted to the Babel conference aboard the Enterprise), and ignores Dr. McCoy's smirking when he notices the starry-eyed young lieutenant at the console.

Thankfully, he is saved from further humiliation by the abrupt and slightly ungraceful entrance of Captain Kirk, who skids into the room out of breath and grinning at his officers like a child caught running in the corridors of a museum.

"Sorry," the man chirps with entirely too much enthusiasm for the outing ahead, "Scotty had some last-minute questions about the plasma vent repairs. We good to go?"

McCoy gives the captain a sour look as he ascends the transporter pad, and then jerks his head in Spock's direction with an eyeroll. "Why don't you just get matching t-shirts down at the spaceport and be done with it?" he asks dryly, gesticulating between them both with one hand and adjusting the strap of his satchel with the other (he refuses, much to the captain's amusement, to leave the ship even for shore leave without a full medical kit, given the troublesome history of her commanding officers and their luck while off-ship).

Spock closes his eyes in further mortification, for his well-intentioned but highly embarrassing mother had brought 'a present for Jim' when she came aboard as well, knowing as she did that Spock had made few friends in his lifetime and therefore the captain was somewhat special by anomaly alone. This is the first off-ship and therefore non-uniform opportunity to present itself, and Kirk has obviously decided to wear the lightweight tunic to the planet below, since it is high summer on the planet's surface and most of their normal shipboard clothing is, in fact, rather heavy.

Spock has ceased to wonder at the fact that Kirk does not look out of place in the alien attire; part of this particular human's charm as a starship commander and diplomat is his ability to heartily embrace any and all cultures. Jim has the remarkable ability to shine like a star in whatever milieu he chooses; he does not need the emerald glimmer of lightweight Vulcan silk to do so now. He represses a twinge of private amusement at the sight of the captain staring incredulously down at himself, as if it had simply never occurred to him to don a plain button-down and trousers as McCoy is currently wearing.

The doctor in question only rolls his eyes, and flaps a hand at the transporter technician, who is now unabashedly ogling his commanding officers. "D'you mind, Lieutenant?" McCoy drawls, and smirks as the young man blushes to his ear-tips.

Jim half-turns, gives Spock a sheepish shrug, and mouths what looks like a totally insincere apology as they disappear in the shimmer of a transport beam.


Spock is fully expecting to be summarily dragged to the nearest drinking establishment, but he is quite astounded to find that the captain apparently has nothing more exciting planned than strolling along the spaceport's boardwalk, artificial ocean to their left and various shops and souvenir stands to their right.

He is still not optimistic enough to hope for a museum visit, but is pleasantly surprised at the compromise he anticipates happening, when Kirk utters an exclamation of delight and promptly disappears through a doorway, leaving himself and Dr. McCoy looking at each other awkwardly outside.

"I blame you, just so y'know," McCoy grumbles, as they follow the captain into the vintage bookstore. "I wanted a good non-replicated meal and a few drinks with a friendly young lady, but nooooo. We get stuck in the next best thing to a library."

"I can hardly be held responsible for the captain's affinity for ancient Earth literature, Doctor," he protests, more out of habit than anything else. "Captain Kirk himself has stated on more than one occasion that he has always been an omnivorous reader, the habit stemming from his days at Starfleet Academy." (1)

"True, true. 'S why he was bullied quite a bit there, he always has been more in favor of brains over brawn." McCoy muses, only half-aloud. Blue eyes dart sideways at him, and he raises an eyebrow uncomfortably. "Explains a lot."

"Doctor?"

"Nothing, Mr. Spock. Nothing at all."

This, Spock highly doubts, but he certainly has no desire to have the human elucidate further. And besides, they have already lost the captain amid the smell of leather and the brittle rustle of paper, hidden deep within the towering shelves.

"We're never gonna get him out of here," McCoy mutters, scanning the titles nearest them with vague interest. He espies a small table and chairs over in the corner by a window, and settles into the nearest one with a tolerant sigh. "Say, what do Vulcans read about in their spare time, Spock?"

Spock sits opposite the doctor with well-founded wariness, trying to ascertain if the question is sincerely inquisitive or merely a setup for yet another cultural disagreement. However, the curiosity appears to be quite genuine, and so he responds in kind.

"The subject matter varies, Doctor. For each adult, chiefly scientific studies and historical documents; though there is a set requirement of galactic literature for every Vulcan child during his formative years. Selections of various genres, including some of your ancient Terran literature, are included in every Vulcan child's upbringing. Language is a crucial component of diplomacy and scientific understanding, and it is only logical to develop a galaxy-wide sense of the various species which inhabit the planets within."

"Well, that's logical enough. So what do you Vulcans consider to be classic Terran literature for your kiddos?"

"Your Dante and Shakespeare, among others," Spock answers readily, for that much he remembers from his slightly human-biased upbringing. "I recall also reading much of your Charles Dickens, regarding the more fictitious side of your literary history."

"Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, even a Vulcan kid," is the mild response, and Spock refrains from showing his amusement.

"In that, Doctor, I am quite alarmed to say we agree." McCoy's eyes widen, and a crooked grin appears. "My mother had quite different views on what reading material was appropriate for children."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning my young childhood was considerably unbalanced in favor of your typical Terran children's literature. My father thought it quite illogical."

"I just bet he did." McCoy's grin has softened slightly as he grows thoughtful. "It's interesting to me, Commander, psychologically speaking, how influential are those ways children spend their childhoods, reading or otherwise. Look at Jim, for instance – he was reading chapter books before he was five years old, and you can tell it's benefitted his strategic thinking. Most kids were so wrapped up in vid-games at that age, you can immediately tell during brain evals which ones had parents smart enough to at least balance that with education."

"Indeed."

"How do you think it affected you in comparison to traditional Vulcan kiddos, having a human mother who saw that you were at least introduced to her side of childhood?"

The directness of the question makes him slightly uncomfortable, but as this is possibly the longest conversation he has had with this particular human without it devolving into a battle of insults, he believes McCoy is genuinely curious; and to satisfy curiosity is merely a logical action.

"Learning of your Terran childhood fantasy-worlds, and learning how human children sometimes view those worlds as a retreat from reality into a safer realm of fantasy, served to clearly illustrate the differences in our cultures, Doctor. It was…completely alien, to me," he answers honestly, and certainly does not continue into the also honest fact that it thoroughly fascinated him as a Vulcan child. "While I grasped the concept, the potential allure of such fantasy-worlds, it never seemed logical that one should permit one's self to lose his sense of reality by retreating completely into one such world."

He has the doctor's full and totally curious attention now, and for the first time realizes that possibly, his people have done themselves a disservice by simply refusing to discuss themselves with outworlders. Surely many of the misunderstandings between their species could be satisfactorily explained, if one took the time to see past the frustrating illogicality of humans.

"That's…actually very intriguing, Mr. Spock," McCoy says, eyes gleaming with what Spock recognizes as a scientific thirst for exact knowledge. "So Vulcan children are not taught to exercise what you view as an illogical part of the brain – that of imagination, or make-believe?"

"In some sense, that is correct, Doctor. We are a scientific species; and as imagination is crucial to any unknown science we do utilize that creative aspect of the mind – but to imagine simply for the…"

"Joy of it?" McCoy supplies, and Spock nods.

"Simply for that reason, holds no scientific purpose and therefore has no use in our culture. That is why a Vulcan makes a flawless exploratory vessel commander, but a human is by far the preferable choice to be a Federation starship commander. You humans use your imaginations for unscientific purposes, and are able to create paths of thought and action which a Vulcan simply is incapable of seeing."

"Huh." The doctor shakes his head, tapping a finger thoughtfully against his lips. Leaning casually against the nearest bookcase, he glances up suddenly, eyes glinting. "Have you ever thought about writing that theory up as a scientific treatise for one of the interspecial medical journals?"

"…Negative, Doctor. My scientific work aboard ship is usually classified, under Starfleet order; I have little opportunity for outside publication, and certainly have never considered the idea under a medical field."

"Well, you should," the human declares, and Spock is totally taken aback – both by the idea, and by the fact that they have now had a complete and intelligent conversation on cultural difference without one single barb being thrown at the other's species. "I have an outlet to publish medico-scientific research, Spock, and there's a huge dearth in the field for the psychological differences in various species, mainly through a lack of data. Your people aren't very forthcoming with medical or cultural knowledge, Commander."

Spock is curious now, as to just how influential this volatile human is in Starfleet scientific circles. "I was given to understand your doctorate was in xenobiology, Doctor?"

McCoy grins sheepishly, a sincere expression of smugness if he is any judge. "One of my doctorates, Mr. Spock. The others are in xenosociology and psychology."

Spock's eyebrows inch upward of their own accord. How is it then, that so intelligent a human can irritate him, a Vulcan, like no other in the galaxy?

His thoughts must be betrayed on his face, for the human laughs. "Never thought I'd see the day where I actually managed to surprise you, Spock," McCoy says, grinning. "Why d'you think the Enterprise doesn't have a ship's counselor, like every other constitution-class starship in the 'Fleet? Jim said he didn't want one, told the powers that be that he'd rather that position be reallocated to extra Science personnel, since I'm over-qualified to be Ship's Counselor."

"Indeed." This is surprising news, certainly. He has never really considered the fact, never needing a counselor himself; but it does explain why McCoy works far more hours than the rest of his staff, and why the captain appears to prefer speaking to him more than anyone else over matters which must weigh heavily upon his mind.

"So…if you're interested, we could put together something that – " The doctor is cut off by the sudden reappearance of their captain, who staggers up to their table with a truly impressive stack of books, over which his eyes are barely visible.

"You are not buying all those," McCoy splutters, as the items are dumped unceremoniously on the table in front of him. "Where in the world are you gonna put them?"

"I'll make room," Kirk replies cheerfully, hooking an empty chair with his foot and dragging it over. He plops himself down between his subordinates, fairly beaming at his literary discoveries. "And they're not all for me. So, you two call a truce yet? Bonding over some obscure diplomatic treaty or something?"

Spock is about to answer, when he sees the volume at the top of the stack of books. It is a tale he has not heard in several decades, and he lifts the book without thinking, turns it in his hands to see the back cover and the shimmering gilt-edged artwork that he remembers viewing as a very small child.

When he looks up, it is to see that Jim is staring at him with unabashed curiosity, and McCoy is only grinning yet again – bearing a disturbing resemblance to the drawing of the feline occupying the place of honor on the cover.

"That was the first book Sam ever bought me, when I was little," the captain says, his voice softened with memory. "The drawings used to creep me out as a kid but I loved the stories. My copy fell apart a long time ago, and I've never seen a replica quite like the original until now." He reaches out a finger, and gently traces the whorls and spirals of the calligraphy on the front cover. "I'm sending it to Peter," he adds after a moment, and Spock can clearly see the pain that is still buried deep inside at the captain's past losses.

"I believe this was the second volume of Earth literature my mother read to me as a very small child," he suddenly finds himself volunteering the information, despite not intending to so bare his privacy in such an abrupt manner. Jim has that effect upon him, he has found to his chagrin, and there apparently is no counteraction capable of withstanding that force.

The sudden sparkle of mischief in the captain's eyes causes him to not regret the action this time, however. "Really? You, a baby Vulcan, trying to understand Jabberwocky and un-birthdays?"

"It was…highly disconcerting," he admits, and for some reason does not feel insulted when McCoy laughs aloud.

"You said the second volume of Terran literature your mother introduced you to – what was the first?" Kirk inquires curiously.

He glances downward for a moment, feeling that horribly human instinct of blushing beginning to creep up his neck.

"I'm sorry, Spock. I wasn't trying to embarrass you," the captain says quietly.

"Captain, embarrassment is a –"

"Oh, stop it." Kirk smiles, and pats him on the arm. "Though I doubt it could be any more mortifying than my first book was," he continues ruefully, shooting a glance at an entirely too interested Dr. McCoy.

"What, did someone give you a princess pop-up story?" the doctor drawls, smirking. “You should’ve been flattered, Jim.”

"No, I wouldn’t have cared about that!"

"Well, what was it, then?"

The captain's face turns an interesting shade of crimson, and mutters something in a tone so low that only Spock can hear – though the words do not make precise sense to him, so there is no advantage in Vulcan hearing.

McCoy, however, is grinning wickedly. "Come again, Jim, I didn't catch that."

"I said it was one of those centuries-old Golden books; you know, the ones that used to come in a boxed set for kids?" Kirk says reluctantly, blushing again. "The only one that made it past my toddler years to where I remember being read to, was The Pokey Little Puppy."

Spock is thankful they are apparently the only occupants of the bookstore, because the doctor bursts into a howl of laughter that would certainly have them thrown out of any library.

"It's about a roly-poly little dog that doesn't get anywhere on time, Spock," Kirk finally takes pity on him and explains, all the while glaring at his CMO, who is still cackling, slumped in his chair with a hand over his eyes. "I was a chubby little kid, and apparently had a hard time waking up in the mornings. It was used as a lesson by my parents, because it was apparently so appropriate. Sam didn’t let it drop for weeks."

Spock does not fully understand the doctor's continued amusement (or Kirk's mortification), but he suspects McCoy's pleasure is derived more from being given private information about the captain, than anything else. To entrust another being with a potentially embarrassing anecdote is to give that being power over one's self; it is the ultimate expression of trust in a relationship, this much he has learned in his life among humans.

And it is considered to be bad form and worse diplomacy, to not return such gestures in kind.

"The first story I can physically remember hearing before my nightly sleep cycle was an old Earth book called Goodnight, Moon," he says abruptly, giving himself no time to rethink his decision.

The doctor stops laughing and gapes at him, wide-eyed, but Jim grins from ear to ear, fairly lighting up the whole alcove with glee. "Are you serious? I loved that book as a kid, Spock!" he exclaims, almost childlike again in his enthusiasm. "But Vulcan doesn't have a moon, does it?" (2)

"It does not," Spock agrees, secretly relieved that it is apparently not such a shocking, horrifying thing to humans as the heretical book certainly is to Vulcans. "That is why I remember it; the very premise of the story was most illogical, on Vulcan."

McCoy snorts, but the sound is more amused than annoyed. "So you thought it was illogical because there's no moon on Vulcan – not because you're saying goodnight to inanimate objects? That's not illogical?"

"Bones, play nice," Kirk warns, though his own eyes are dancing with mischief. "Mr. Spock, you are full of surprises."

"Indeed, sir."

The captain grins, and scoots his chair back from the table. "I'm going to go pay for these and have them beamed back to the ship – then we can go get that steak dinner you're still grumping about, Bones. There's a vegetarian bar at the restaurant, too, Spock. Be back in a few."

He stares in surprise as the captain scoops up his books and darts away, though by now Kirk's consideration for his preferences should not be the surprise it always is; Spock is simply unaccustomed to humans thinking about cultural differences as this particular human does constantly.

Nor is he truly surprised later that night, to find himself the dubiously proud owner of a very dog-eared but still quite legible paperback copy of Goodnight, Moon.

No doubt his yeoman must think him to be quite insane, when she tidies up his cabin only to discover that little gem amongst his shelves full of Vulcan poetry and dissertations about warp physics.

But it is only logical to keep a gift, after all.

Chapter Text

III.

Spock of Vulcan is only just beginning to understand the human emotions of fear and hope.

The incident in question is not at all amusing, despite how it sounds when they finally compile their initial report. No one seems to fully grasp the gravity of their predicament, the impossibility of the Enterprise remaining at full efficiency during this incapacitation, the inconvenience to his personal life and his mental shielding…the utter horror of the situation itself…

To his left, Jim winces. "Boy you think loudly, Spock," he says, not unkindly.

He stiffens, yet again having forgotten the horror in which they are currently embroiled. "My apologies, Captain."

"You've got nothing to apologize for, Commander," the captain points out reasonably. Poor guy, this has to be a nightmare for a true telepath, especially one of such a private species. "This whole mess isn't anyone's fault but mine, I suppose, if we have to blame someone. Not even McCoy knew the planet's psionic field would short out both Vulcan and human physiology like this, and I should have figured out what was happening a long time before it did."

"Blaming yourself for something over which you have even less control than I, as a psi-null human, is illogical, Captain."

Assignation of blame is indeed impossible, save perhaps to the crew of the original scout ship. Obviously, the sentience of the planet itself had not been discernible by the limited scanners in the long-distance shuttlecraft, and this has come to be a problem for them now. Evidently the planet, as yet unnamed but assigned the generalization Planet M-256, is itself a sentient being, quite aware of the life-forms which inhabit its coasts and oceans, and living in perfectly tranquil symbiosis with those inhabitants. The Enterprise had been dispatched with all information available, to make a First Contact – but that information had not indicated that the planet itself was a very powerful telepathic being, whose innate and unshielded psionic field soon proved to wreak havoc on both the ship's systems as well as upon certain members of the Enterprise crew. A few odd officers with high esper ratings had been struck down with bouts of dizziness or unconsciousness at their approach, but were now functioning at normal capacity.

Not so with himself and Captain Kirk.

"That's the understatement of the century," Jim mutters as he scans through their preliminary report for Starfleet, and Spock knows that he said none of that aloud. The captain continues without looking up, however. "Medical is saying they can't tell how long this…mind-reading ability, will last, though it should be filtering down now that we've withdrawn to a safe distance from the planet. In the meantime…"

We shall be absolutely miserable, Spock thinks with understandable gloom, and promptly wishes he had not, as the amused look he receives shows clearly that Jim can still hear his thoughts as loudly as he could while the planet was in range.

"In the meantime," Kirk enunciates, still smiling – he is taking this far too lightly, in Spock's entirely logical opinion – "in the meantime, I will attempt to not think too illogically, Mr. Spock. I can only promise to try."

The captain is turning his best pleading look up at him, the one Spock is well aware humans call the employment of 'puppy-eyes,' and it is ridiculous how much the sight lessens his frustration with the entire situation.

Jim gives him a smug grin, then, and Spock realizes that it is not just direct thoughts which they can pick up from each other; obviously their emotions filter through as well, as they are the impetus for many thought processes.

That hypothesis is truly alarming, and he can almost feel the blood rushing from his face. This is a breach of privacy which is any Vulcan's worst nightmare, the invasion of control and violation of one's innermost thoughts being the highest of offenses in Vulcan culture.

Jim looks suddenly sick, as he picks up on Spock's instinctual revulsion. "Do you think it could be better with distance, Spock?" he asks soberly, all amusement vanished under the mental onslaught. "I can get you in a shuttle headed out of the system within ten minutes, and we can rendezvous next week somewhere in the Cerulean system."

"From what reports and initial experiments my Science and Medical departments have been able to produce, the problem is not the distance, I fear, Captain, but rather the personnel involved. While the psionic energy did affect certain crewmen in minor ways, no other members of this crew are in the same unfortunate predicament as you and I."

Kirk nods slowly. That's right, nobody else aboard has complained about being able to hear anyone else's thoughts…why us then?

"I would imagine the problem stems from my own minor telepathic ability, and you simply being the...individual aboard who is most attuned to that mental wavelength." Illogical, and a scientific improbability, but after the things they have seen in the last four years, surely this is not impossible. "That is the only hypothesis I have been able to form on the subject, Captain. It also explains why I was, at first, able to vaguely sense Dr. McCoy's emotional state on some level; that, however, has faded in the last twelve hours, most likely because we have never been attuned to the same level as you and I, Captain. Therefore, the connection was nowhere near as strong."

Seems logical enough.

"Indeed, sir."

Whoops, I didn't say that out loud, did I. Kirk clears his throat. "I hate that I'm going to probably be shoving a whole bunch of unnecessary business into your head for the foreseeable future, Spock. If I could stop it –"

"I am aware you would, were that possible, sir. As it is not, there is nothing to be done but to continue as best we can." For as long as we are able to, without incapacitation.

"And you're having no success in shutting me out, through any Vulcan technique?"

"I am able to…you would term it as muffling the thoughts, Captain, but I am unable to block them out altogether. The intense psionic backlash from the planet's consciousness has, at least temporarily, rendered all my abilities to shield useless." The thought does actually frighten him, human as the emotion is; this is a laying bare of anything and everything he holds most private and sacred, and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it.

Jim looks vaguely alarmed, no doubt at the verging panic which is shamefully seeping through their connection, but Spock rather believes the cause is sufficient; any telepathic being would be wary of such a situation, a violation of every principle by which he lives.

"Look, maybe I should test the theory at least – maybe it will decrease with distance, and I have to go back to the planet to continue First Contact negotiations anyway," Kirk says, brow furrowed worriedly. If it's that bad, I definitely don't want him down there having to keep it together and fend off my thoughts at the same time. "Perhaps if you remain here, on the Bridge, the distance will at least lessen the effects."

"Regulations state that at least two members of the command chain be present in any First Contact negotiations. As Mr. Scott is attempting to repair the damage done to the ship's circuitry by our encounter with the telepathic field, and as Dr. McCoy is by far the least diplomatic individual aboard …"

Hey, he's darn good at what he does. Just…negotiating isn't what he does.

"I entirely agree, Captain," he answers dryly. He realizes now, after the initial onslaught of panic has passed, that the invasion of Jim's thoughts is less painful than he had anticipated. They are barely an annoyance, if that; not at all invasive. In fact, were he not aware of the accompanying emotions behind them, they would feel…almost natural. That is logical, as he and the captain have always been rather similar in thought processes.

"Well, that's good at least," Kirk offers, with a small smile of relief. "I was afraid your head was going to explode the next time I bang my elbow and swear, or something." Lord knows I might give him a seizure next time I get ticked off at the Admiralty…

Were their predicament not such a liability to themselves and the ship, Spock might almost find it amusing, how the human is now slightly more disturbed by the idea of their sharing thoughts than Spock himself. Jim's all-too-human exaggeration of the situation is almost…endearing.

Kirk gives him an odd look, which leads him to the chagrined conclusion that he just projected that, quite loudly, into the man's head.

"Yes, okay, let's just pretend that didn't happen, Mr. Spock. Speculation regarding ship's business, is this liability going to handicap our command performance?"

Spock is quite happy to move on, and ponders for a moment. "I do not believe so, sir; we are not in the midst of a danger zone, in which we might need to be free of distraction. I believe with some effort on each of our parts, we will be able to satisfactorily perform our duties as usual."

And of course, like so many other missions during which they prematurely speak thus, their optimism is proven drastically wrong.


"That's a negative, Commander. I don't want you anywhere near that planet – we're at minimal beaming distance now, and you're about to go down, don't pretend that you're not." The captain's eyes glint with that dangerous stubbornness that is so frustrating to Spock's more logical thought processes. True, he is struggling to maintain any semblance of control when in such proximity to the dangerously powerful entity below – but to send a human, a psi-null human now even more vulnerable, into such a situation without any protection? It is unthinkable, what could happen to an unprotected mind.

"Spock, look – I'm not having any problems right now, and the planet never has been actively trying to communicate with us," Kirk says reasonably. "There's no reason to think it has malevolent intentions; it's literally just too powerful for you to get close to when your shields are already in pieces."

That is highly embarrassing; he had hoped that the destruction had been hidden well enough that Kirk would not be able to tell just how badly off he is.

"Why on earth would you be embarrassed about that?" the human demands incredulously, and the warmth of fond amusement floods his mind suddenly, a violation so startlingly pleasant that he takes a physical step backward out of pure reflex. "You're basically being tortured here, unable to repair the damage until we can get far enough out of orbit that you can begin to heal – why would you be embarrassed about taking one for Starfleet?"

"A Vulcan should be able to remain at least functional in this situation, sir," he replies, eyes downcast. Evidently, his skills in the Vulcan Way are lacking, as he is certainly not functional, not by any stretch. Kirk is correct; even at this minimal beaming distance, the pressure of the planet's telepathic field is wreaking havoc on his controls. Just the thought of having to beam down into physical contact with such a powerfully telepathic entity is enough to make him feel physical illness.

The captain's face shows clearly that he can still hear exactly what Spock is thinking. He steps across the distance separating them, and hesitantly places a hand on Spock's arm.

"I need someone on the Bridge who knows what they're doing in case of a First Contact gone wrong anyway, Spock," he says sincerely. "I trust no one else with my ship. It is only logical for you to remain here now that repairs are nearly finished. I'll take Scotty and the team with me, and we'll be back before you know it."

"At least take Lieutenant Carstairs from Hydroponics with you, Captain. He has the highest esper rating among the crewmen currently aboard the Enterprise. You will most likely not be able to sense if the planet attempts to make mental contact, but he might at least be able to give you warning before serious mishap occurs."

"Our canary in a mine shaft, eh Mr. Spock?" Kirk nods in agreement. "I will do so. You don't think I'll be able to sense something going wrong down there? I can still hear you loud and clear, twenty-four hours later." No signs of it letting up anytime soon…I sure hope he can last long enough for us to get this thing done.

"I do not know, Captain." One can only hope that Kirk will, indeed, have warning should something go wrong on the planet below. Spock very much does not like the idea of sending a group of unprotected humans down to such a potentially hostile planet, whether the entity is benevolent or not. Such absolute power is, by mere definition, dangerous. "I do not like it, sir."

Kirk's eyebrows twitch. "Aren't likes and dislikes a little illogical, Mr. Spock?" he inquires, eyes twinkling.

"Sir, this is a most serious matter –"

"I know, I know." Guess it's not a joke in any way to him, I should take it more seriously if it will ease his mind. The hand squeezes his arm briefly, and then releases him. "I don't like it any more than you, Spock, to be honest. I'm pretty picky about who I let rummage around in my head, you know."

"I am aware, sir."

"Okay, well. Let's get this over and done with, so we can get you to a safe distance and try to fix you up, all right?" Kirk moves to the comm-unit and gives a quick order for landing party duty. "Hopefully this First Contact will only take a few hours, and we can be on our way. I'll keep you informed."

"Most likely without intending to," is his dry rejoinder, and as he exits the briefing room Kirk's laughter floods his mind with warmth, slightly easing the pain of this constant violation.


Performing at peak capacity on Bridge duty is second nature to him by this point in their five-year mission; he has come far since those days when a shuttle crew barely offered him the obedience his position deserved, and none of the accompanying respect. Jim Kirk is, among other things, an extremely good teacher. Even functioning at normal capacity while there is an unprotected away team below on a First Contact mission, is not so difficult for Spock now as it might have been years ago.

Accomplishing this while he has Jim Kirk's inner monologue speeding through his thoughts like a runaway freight carrier, however, is an entirely different matter. One reason he has always been fascinated by Kirk's abilities as a starship commander is the fact that the few glimpses he has had of the captain's mind, have indicated it is a place of brilliantly-colored intensity: beautiful chaos, disorganized structure, and a perfect study in anarchic paradox between emotion and logic. The landscape of such a mind is so vastly different from his own well-ordered, black-and-white school of thought as to be utterly fascinating – and as a pure gratuity, Kirk is possibly the only human who understands him enough to not be revulsed by Spock's fascination.

However, his appreciation for Kirk's unusual mind is fast losing its allure, because the man simply will not stop thinking. And not about the mission, no; Jim is mentally categorizing the contents of his to-do list for tomorrow, wondering if Dr. McCoy has stopped blocking his meal card from producing waffles at breakfast, admiring the fiery hue of some flower on the planet below, warning his Security force to stop touching things they have no scientific readings on yet, wondering how the ship is doing above them, making a mental note to affix a forgotten postscript to their last report to Starfleet, wondering if Scotty has moved the still in Engineering since Spock's last surprise inspection, conjecturing on the likelihood of Lieutenant Kalov in SS&R managing to smuggle out their last batch of contraband before they reach the next 'Fleet checkpoint – and all this, within the same sixty-second span of time.

Honestly, these humans! Spock does not understand how they do not go mad, so disorganized are their thoughts. They can run several trains of thought in different directions simultaneously, while none of them have any bearing on the topic at hand. The most nonsensical of details can trigger avalanches of thought which are in no way pertinent, and their brains simply are not orderly, as a Vulcan's mind is. It is a completely alien way of thinking, and while it is quite intriguing, at this point it is becoming more of a nuisance than anything else.

Spock sighs, signs off on another report, and returns to his borrowed chair on the Enterprise Bridge. He wearily sits through Kirk's lengthy mental debate regarding the merits of changing the crew rotations mid-year as a way to prevent cliques and build a sense of family among crewmen who would not otherwise socialize, a passing remark and a flash of fond amusement on how all of Spock's Science lieutenants sound exactly like him when they give a report, a brief contemplation of the strange dream Kirk had the night before, and a fleeting and then more serious thought, about the possible sexism behind the Starfleet uniform policy.

This is shortly followed by a lengthy and totally unrelated tangent about the captain's activities on his last shore leave on Risa, which is entirely too much information. Spock hopes his blushing is not as obvious as he suspects it is, and finally he decides enough is quite enough.

Jim, might you not at least attempt to keep your mind on the mission at hand, he pleads – yes, at this point he is reduced to that pitifully human action – silently, even as he conducts another skim of a fuel consumption report.

Oh, gods, you were listening to all that, weren't you.

A quick rush of mortification drenches his mind immediately, followed by a sheepish apology which in turn produces the unaccountable mental urge to laugh at the human's embarrassment.

I realize it is difficult for your human mind to set itself so strictly upon one train of thought, but if you are capable of making the attempt, it would greatly ease my work here, he returns, with a hint of amusement.

I want to die now, I really do.

I sincerely hope you have no genuine plans to do so.

Hope? Mr. Spock, you are adopting some positively human speaking patterns.

Perhaps your inability to control your own thoughts is, how do you say it – rubbing off on me. Sir.

And he does sarcasm too! He receives a vague impression of a grand sweeping gesture to accompany the projected thought, and feels his lips twitch in amusement, much to the mystification of the yeoman who takes his PADD back after a signature.

"Status report, Mr. Sulu." Status, Captain?

"All systems normal, Mr. Spock. No interference on any wavelength from the planet below. Constant scanning of the landing party life-signs continuing as you ordered, sir, and there have been no variations in any of their bio-signatures."

"Excellent."

Finally reaching what appears to the main city right now, Spock. As the original scout ship said, the natives are vaguely humanoid in appearance, though at first examination there appears no visible biological difference between the male and female of their species. Judging from what little they’ve said introduction-wise, I'm not sure they even grasp the concept societally, though that is a subject better suited to the xenosociology teams. They seem to use the same non-binary words for every being, or at least that’s how the universal translator is translating it. Something to keep in mind for Communications when they beam down. Our guide sent to meet us seems to have taken great pride in showing us the scenic route to their capital. It is a beautiful planet, Spock, mild and temperate – and highly intriguing, that such a sentient entity as a whole planet is fully aware of the beings living upon it and is perfectly okay with that…

Indeed. Are the communicators still unable to signal?

Yes, we've been trying steadily to send up a status report for the last quarter-hour to you, but apparently the telepathic field is knocking out our transmissions. Nothing ominous about it, just annoying. Scotty said it's perfectly normal, just likely to last until we beam up again. Carstairs also says he's fine, not picking up anything strange. We just aren't going to be able to use the comms while we're down here.

At least subjecting myself to your mental commentary will give us indication of events on the planet below.

Taking one for Starfleet, Mr. Spock. Just be glad I'm the one invading your brain, and not Bones.

His instinctual horror at the idea must filter through, for he hears the light warmth of Jim's mental laughter, before the man returns to a – somewhat subdued, now – commentary on the progress of the First Contact team.


Three hours into the mission, and things are progressing smoothly (other than this disconcerting ability to read Kirk's thoughts, and vice-versa).

He can only hope, in every sense of the word, that this time of good fortune continues.

Of course, being the U.S.S. Enterprise and, by extension, the ship with the highest casualty/disaster rating in the Fleet (the humans call it bad luck, but Spock knows it is merely fatal misfortune due to circumstance) – because of this, it should not be a shock when the mission suddenly turns into a nightmare. One of his worst nightmares, human as the act of dreaming is; he has before had them, and most likely will have similar ones for years.

But this – this is far too close, strikes far too deep. He will rarely forget the moment that Vulcan control shatters under the onslaught of human fear.

He is finishing up notes for Science Lab Eleven on his portable research PADD, while still occupying the command chair on the Bridge. Kirk's commentary has faded, after informing Spock they have reached the capital city, to a sort of white noise, which only indicates that the captain's mind is busily engaged in conversation with someone; a good sign, as he is responsible for the diplomatic negotiations with this unique people. Despite the peacefulness of the mission so far, Spock does spare a few notes in a sidebar to addend to Kirk's report for Starfleet, recommending that a team for Second Contact be far more carefully chosen – possibly Betazoid, or at the least humanoids trained in basic mental shielding techniques, and with an accompanying bio-medical team as a precaution.

However, there have been no indications that the planet below intends them any harm; the telepathic field hums at the edge of their sensors, but has not fluctuated during the hours they have been in geosynchronous orbit.

It is a total surprise to him, therefore, when a flash of sheer panic suddenly shatters his thin mental shields, knifing straight through as if they were not even up at all.

His PADD clatters to the deck, drawing the attention of a startled Bridge crew. He places both hand at his temples in an effort to concentrate, ignoring Lieutenant Uhura's concerned questions. For a moment, there is nothing, only confusion and, which is more concerning, a sense of intense pain – and then, the captain's voice, slicing straight through the chaos in an unmistakable tone of urgency.

Full reverse thrusters! Get my ship out of here, Spock!

We are still able to beam you up, Captain –

Don't you dare drop those shields, Commander! Get the ship out of range now!

His head jerks upright, to see the crew looking at him with concern. "Shields to maximum and full reverse power, Mr. Sulu, any course. Take the ship out of orbit immediately, completely out of range from the planet’s field."

Sulu is an excellent officer and pilot; he knows better than to question an order, however out of thin air it may appear to come. "Aye, sir!" They are already moving away from the planet before Spock completes the sentence, its green-and-blue topography rapidly fading in their viewer.

"Further orders, sir?" Chekov's voice breaks through the cloud that has descended upon his mind, as he tries to filter out the chaos bleeding through from the captain's end.

"Divert all remaining power to shields and initiate full stop when we are clear of the planet's telepathic field."

"Meester Spock, are you all right, sir?"

"A moment, Ensign," he manages, barely, to not snap, and vaguely registers Uhura comm-ing Medical, specifically Dr. McCoy, behind him.

Jim's mind is clearly in panic mode now, but he cannot grasp any clear thought to know what precisely is occurring. Spock is afraid to mentally call out for the captain's attention, knowing that if he is engaged in some sort of dangerous conflict that distraction could be fatal – but this not knowing, this ability to hear and feel the pain and the confused panic from the landing party's end…

He would rather sit through another session with the Klingons' mind-sifter, than be forced to endure this uncertainty, this waiting. Behind him, the turbolift door opens, and McCoy's grating voice followed by the whirr of a portable medical scanner suddenly distract him for a moment. He meets the physician's worried gaze only seconds before Jim's voice suddenly knifes into his head once more, brittle with urgency.

You were right. The planet, it is too powerful...not malicious, just…unaware of its own power. Something's gone wrong with the negotiations, Spock, the whole landing party collapsed before Carstairs even got a word out...

The thought fades out with another flash of pain, and his fingers tighten on the arms of the chair. He suspects his own link with the captain is responsible in some way for the human not immediately succumbing under the entity's powerful telepathy; for that much, he is grateful, as he would spare Jim that violation at all costs. But no link, however powerful, can stand forever, and the danger to the landing party is now at a Priority One emergency.

Captain. Jim. Focus on my voice for a moment. If I lower the ship's shields, will the psionic force attack the minds of everyone on board? Is that why you ordered the ship away?

Yes. No…I don't know, Spock. I can't – Another flash of panic, and a stabbing phantom pain that takes up residence behind his right eye.

Jim. Are you still under attack? Where are the landing party?

Still under…yes, under attack. Fighting it but I don't think…I don't know where they are now. The elders seemed to take their collapse as a sign we weren't 'worthy' and so they weren't very happy that we claimed to come from a stronger society…they mentioned something about deception but I don’t see how, we hadn’t even gotten to any explanations of the Federation yet…

Deities of the galaxy save them from underdeveloped species. He sometimes wonders why the Federation bothers trying to contact such superstitious and many times hostile peoples. Obviously this planet holds some mineral deposits or some other such attributes which the Federation wishes to claim before the Klingons do, otherwise they would not have been instructed to make a First Contact without an official Starfleet ambassador.

Jim's next few words are coming far too rapidly, as if the tactician within is trying to get as much information out as he can.

If you drop the shields, the whole crew will be in the same shape as the landing party. Under no circumstances are you to drop those shields, Mr. Spock. Understood?

Understood, sir. The pain is intensifying now, and he is becoming literally afraid for his captain; if the human has stood for this long under a psionic attack and is still conscious, he cannot imagine how hard he is fighting to remain so, or what damage he is causing to himself. Jim, are you injured, outside the mental attack?

…don't know, Spock. The words are fainter now, the pain more intense, and he tries to ignore the clenching feeling in his throat.

Are you still within the capital city?

There is no answer, only confusion, and he clenches the armrests so hard they creak in warning.

Jim? Jim, concentrate upon my voice. Can you tell me where you are?

There is only a whirl of confusion, not helped by the worried tones of Dr. McCoy distracting him to his left. He focuses every sense he possesses, trying futilely to grasp at any fleeting thought the captain has; but as they slip through his mental grasp like water droplets, he is unable to feel anything but the pain, the confusion, until suddenly –

Like a flame extinguished, his mind goes utterly silent.

Jim!

There is no answer, not a sound nor a word nor so much as a twinge of feeling.

The void left behind is a horrifying vacuum made of painful shadows, deathly silence, the absence of the light and warmth that has lingered there for the last forty-eight hours – there is nothing, as if a candle has simply been blown out.

Shields in tatters, he manages to raise his head even as he lists dizzily forward, and finds himself leaning heavily on their Chief Medical Officer.

McCoy's eyes are darkening rapidly with concern, and for once the human is not complaining about being in such close quarters with him – in fact, he vaguely realizes that the doctor is basically holding him in his chair, paralyzed as his limbs seem to be for the moment.

"Spock. What in the name of heaven just happened?" McCoy asks directly, holding his arms in a vise-like grip.

He blinks slowly, attempting to at least clear his mind of the horrible emptiness therein. "I do not know, Doctor," he manages at last, before the pain finally overwhelms his fragile management. The shreds of his mental shields soon fall into the void like the rest of him.


"Tell me again why you can't just go in with guns blazing and get them out?!"

"One, because this is, despite the situation, still a First Contact mission. Two, because it is unclear whether the inhabitants of the planet actually hold ill-will toward the landing party, or if they are merely following an instilled religious credo. The Prime Directive is still in effect here, Doctor, as the First Contact negotiations were initially unsuccessful. We must proceed with caution."

Spock accepts the medicinal capsules he is handed without question or examination, as they can only help at this point to alleviate the headache and nausea which is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. McCoy's eyes widen at his lack of protest, but Spock pays the human no mind.

"Third, if the power of the planet is sufficient to take down the entire landing party without so much as a struggle, then certainly no human will be able to stand before its force should it be directed at that individual. We would be risking madness or even death of totally defenseless crewmen, Doctor."

The physician's eyes darken. "You saying the landing party's in that bad shape, Mr. Spock?"

"I am saying, Doctor, that I simply do not have sufficient data to make an informed command decision," he replies, sighing quite openly now that his mental controls are all but non-existent. "We have no way of knowing what precisely happened, and I now have no way of ascertaining details of what has already occurred."

"And Jim?"

"The captain may be merely unconscious, or he may be dead," he says quietly. "Those are the only three explanations for the sudden absence of our mutual…handicap."

McCoy looks at him for a moment, and to his surprise the human does not make a move to attack him in any way, verbally or otherwise. Spock suspects, much to his dismay, that he most likely is an open book to this man, now that his shields are in shreds and his Vulcanity all but nonexistent. He can only hope his desperation does not affect his command performance, for this First Contact, as well as the safety of their landing party and the ship, now depend solely upon him.

With a weary sigh, the doctor sits on the edge of the desk, looking down at him. "So…what you're basically telling me, is that we can't drop the shields to beam them back without risking the ship."

"Correct, Doctor."

"And if a crew takes a shuttle out to the planet to do a recon, we risk them becoming mental vegetables or worse, until we know what we're up against."

"Also correct."

"But the landing party was fine for a while, Spock; you told me Jim said they only went down after something went wrong with the negotiations," McCoy points out. "I think you'll find quite a few crewmen willing to take the risk of a covert mission, if it means saving the landing party."

"They may be, Doctor; but I am not willing to permit them to take that risk. Dr. McCoy," he continues, hand upraised when the human begins to protest, "the Captain's last order was to keep the ship and her crew out of danger. Until I know what we are dealing with, I intend to follow that order to the letter."

"And how, exactly, do you intend to find out what we're dealin' with, then?"

"That is why I came to you, Doctor."

"Came to me, my eye – you basically fainted up there on the Bridge. I'm the one that carted your skinny green-blooded behind down here and pumped you full of stimulant against my better judgment!"

Spock ignores the diatribe, a well-practiced art by this time in his relationship with this most volatile of humans. "In the absence of Engineer Scott, it falls to you and I, Doctor, loathe as I am to ally with you in so unscientific a venture, to engender a feasible solution which will successfully block the planet's telepathic field from my own mind. Your studies in neurobiology are at the forefront of their field, are they not."

McCoy looks slightly taken aback that he even knows about the doctor's research. What does he think was Spock's immediate reaction, after the incident last year with his brain literally being re-implanted into his cranium by processes unknown?

"They are that, Mr. Spock…but protecting the brain from outside influences? That's more your area of expertise than mine. I don't know how it would work, outside a neural dampening field." McCoy rubs his temples uneasily. "I need time, Spock."

"We do not have much of that commodity, Doctor."

"Spock, you're basically asking me to take away one of your senses! It's not just blocking your mind from outside intrusion, that's easy enough with a targeted neural inhibitor, and maybe a physical isolation shield around your head if it comes down to that." The human frowns, obviously thinking rapidly. "But you're a Vulcan; we're talkin' touch telepathy, here. I don't think I can totally block that, by any means known to medical science!"

"Then I shall simply take care in what I touch on the planet, Doctor."

McCoy is already typing into a medical program to hypothetically match Spock's recorded brain-signature with neural inhibitors which they either currently have or can synthesize rapidly, and only spares him a sour look over the top of the computer monitor.

"You have one hour, Doctor, less if possible."

"Then shut up and let me concentrate!"

He pointedly raises an eyebrow as the human's fingers still for a moment. McCoy favors him with a glare which could metaphorically melt duranium.

"I hate you, just so we're clear on that."

"Quite, Doctor."


At precisely one hour's expiration, it is a most ridiculous assembly of medical science and extremely dubious engineering which finally passes for their solution to the problem at hand.

"Scotty owes me a bottle of Saurian brandy when he gets back, I can tell you that much," McCoy mutters grumpily, as he adjusts the sensor net Spock has donned over the undercover version of the Starfleet uniform; which merely consists of a solid black tunic rather than the easily-seen primary colors. The sensor net is a lightweight mesh of black aluminium, invisible unless the light strikes it directly. It is not precisely the best camouflage, but it is the best they can do on such short notice with the resources they already have aboard.

"Now, the sensor net should, in theory, absorb or deflect all types of energy which travel in wavelengths back at their source, just like a deflector dish does on a starship, Spock," McCoy continues, concentrating on the final tweak to the programming. "That means sound waves, light waves, all of them, in addition to brainwaves; I can't tweak it finely enough to distinguish just brainwaves. So you may have wonky hearing for a while if it decides to deflect instead of absorb, I dunno."

"The purpose of this net being…?"

"It's a backup plan, Spock. I don't trust the neural inhibitor I gave you, because your hybrid physiology's basically a loose cannon when we don't have time to experiment. You could get down there and the inhibitor could not work at all because the psionic field knocked it out. I can only run so many simulations through the mainframe, there’s literally no guarantees here."

"I see." Spock ignores the grumbling in favor of examining the sensor net to his satisfaction. "And this?" he queries, gingerly lifting the helmet-like device, which looks vaguely familiar.

"Making do with what we already have," McCoy replies, a wry grin tugging at his lips. "It's basically a modification on the kit we suited your body up with when your brain got hijacked last year. What Scotty and I'd made was a suit and headgear that stimulated the proper nerves in your brain to in turn cause your body to move. With this, I've reworked that headgear to deflect all neural impulses except those originating in your own head. In theory, it should work to keep anyone else’s brain away from yours. I’ve calibrated it against the readings we have for the planet’s field, and we’ve not seen any changes in the readings since we’ve been here; but there’s no guarantee it can’t fluctuate at will. So don’t make it angry, understand?"

Spock examines the device, and finally nods. "This should be sufficient. Well done, Doctor."

"Mm-hm. You're gonna look like an idiot, but you should be protected from any wanderin' brainwaves, planetary or otherwise. And seriously, Spock," the doctor adds, pausing with one hand on Spock's shoulder, "you're putting up a good show, but you're in no condition to be taking on a telepathic entity. Don't take any of this off, you hear me?"

Spock nods solemnly, for he is as dependent upon this human's medical and scientific expertise in this area as the captain usually is upon his First; there is no alternative, and if McCoy's jury-rigged protection fails him then he will be yet another casualty in this unexpected battle.

"I will use caution, Doctor."

"You do that. And I'm warnin' you – you've got six hours before I tell them to hang Jim's orders, we'll be dropping shields and beaming you all back aboard, then hightailing it out of this system without a look back."

"Dr. McCoy, that is –"

"It is a risk I'll take, Mr. Spock," the physician flashes back, eyes blazing, "because you and I both know Jim never leaves a man behind! I may not be on the command track but I know procedure as well as you, Commander. And I know what both of you would do."

Spock is silent, for at this point there is nothing he can say which will change this peculiar human's actions. McCoy is, unfortunately, the leading commanding officer aboard the ship in his and Mr. Scott's absence; and while Lieutenant Sulu is currently in charge of the Bridge, it will be McCoy whose orders they follow, and McCoy's responsibility in their official report for failure or success.

He resolves to not allow it to come to that, and waits patiently for the doctor to finish adjusting the protective headgear which they hope will mask his presence long enough for him to ascertain what has happened, while at the same time protecting him from any effects of the psionic power that apparently felled their landing party.

Lieutenant Kyle looks at him and his odd costume strangely as Spock enters the hangar bay and boards the Galileo II, but the young man wisely says nothing, and if he laughs he does not do so while Spock is still able to see through the viewer window as the bay decompressurizes.

Within seconds, the Enterprise falls far behind his ion trail, and he sets his sights to the planet below, hoping – again, that cursed human emotion – that he is not too late.


In the end, it is absurdly simple how easily he is able to ascertain facts and in turn diplomatically care for the misunderstanding. A relief, truly, for rarely has a mission gone awry been resolved with so little conflict – and even more rarely, has such a disastrous First Contact been turned into a fruitful alliance for the Federation.

Spock is pleased, in addition to being surprised, that his diplomatic skills are apparently sufficient to turn the situation around (the fact that he has the chance to explain his protective gear to a very interested native scientific council aids immensely in that negotiation). The natives of the planet are shocked to learn that there are beings in the universe who do not communicate solely through their minds, and that it is a taboo in many cultures to do so without permission.

It was not the planet, after all, which incapacitated the landing party – but rather the entire collective consciousness of the three houses of government, before whom the landing party had been brought to present the Federation's case for an alliance. Spock spares a few moments of intense gratitude that Dr. McCoy's hastily-constructed equipment is certainly performing its purpose; were it not, he would by this time be in even worse condition than the landing party. As it stands, he is able to remain strong and perfectly alert, protected from the collective telepathic consciousness being projected at and around him.

Captain Kirk had never even gotten the chance to explain himself, because the instant negotiations began, the population of councilmen immediately took it upon themselves to view the true intentions of the landing party by the equivalent of a telepathic invasion. This society apparently has never even heard of the concept of telepathic shielding; it is a complete novelty to them, being in such symbiotic development with an innately telepathic planet. Now, when the gravity of such an offense in Federation society is carefully explained, Spock is gratified to see the natives' attitudes completely change. In their culture, it is apparently highly offensive to prevent someone from seeing into another's mind, and when the landing party simply collapsed but Kirk remained, fighting valiantly to keep them out, they had seen it as the worst of treachery, and had acted accordingly to protect themselves against what they saw as an outworlder infiltration. It is the typical humanoid reaction to fear of the unknown; an underdeveloped reaction, but a natural one.

Spock refrains from any outward expression of his instinctual horror and – yes, it is an emotion, and the cause is sufficient – anger over this, for it is obvious no harm was meant by the natives. It is at its heart a mere cultural misunderstanding, and therefore no one was truly in the wrong.

And yet, if what they say is true…if the captain fought so hard against the invasion, instinctively knowing what was happening when the less attuned humans had simply lost consciousness under the onslaught…the damage could be considerable.

But Kirk is alive, that much Spock gathers before the negotiations have even started. Armed with that knowledge, he can continue, and continue he does – until the treaty has been signed, and the negotiations completed to Starfleet specification, in preparation for a Second Contact mission by a more informed ambassadorial party.

Then, and unfortunately only then, can he see to the state of the landing party.

"I assure you, Captain Spock –"

"I am but a Commander, second-in-command of a starship, Councillor." His tone is one of perfect diplomatic calm; his father would be quite proud. "The human James Kirk is the ship's captain, and the intended ambassador to your world."

"We are so-extremely-very-intensely sorry, Commander Spock!"

The native, a pale humanoid, lifts his hands in supplication as they move down the corridors to the confinement cells levels below the courtroom (the universal translator had assigned this being a masculine pronoun upon hearing the lower register of its voice and the native had not corrected him, though Spock is still unsure if they technically identify so). Spock hears and discards as unimportant the slight glitch in the universal translator's matrix, which evidently is picking up on genuine distress and inserting extra descriptives until manually adjusted to the most appropriate in further review.

"Had we known, that what is second nature to us is most offensive-horrifying-criminal to your world…"

Spock does not bother to correct the singular of world, knowing where to pick his explanations as a diplomat. Besides, genuine remorse or not, he is fast reaching the end of his patience with such technicalities.

"What is done, is done, Councillor. But you will understand that I must see to the health and safety of my men before further discussion of our cultural differences." The words are couched in quiet diplomacy, but there is an iron edge of command in them that the native instinctively reacts to.

"But of course-certainly! You are most welcome to our facilities, our healers, anything which you require, Commander."

"I require only the release of our landing party, and permission to return them to the Enterprise in our shuttlecraft. Unless you have the capability to contact our ship, in which case I would prefer to transport aboard directly to our medical facilities, if you would be so kind."

"Of course, of course." Spock almost – not quite, but almost – feels a twinge of pity for the unfortunate native, as he thrusts a ring of keys and a sonic deconstructor into the Vulcan's hand and then pelts off back the way they came. "I will see to communications at once-immediately, Commander!"

Spock does not even spare a look after the fleeing native, but moves quickly around the corner to the beginning of the cell block, which he has been told is used to house political prisoners.

The first three doors are unlocked, the cells empty, but they are at least clean and dry, and he holds out hope that at least the landing party will at least not have been trapped in the deplorable conditions he had been fearing for the last six hours. The true danger is in how gentle the mental probe had been in the courtroom – which, if Kirk's panicked communication had been any indication, was likely not going to be the case.

The next door is locked, and he chooses the correct key on the second attempt.

He blames his shattered mental controls for the relief which floods him at the sight of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, sitting on the stone floor and scowling, quite awake and aware, at his silhouette. Scott blinks twice, adjusting to the glare of the corridor's light, and then his eyes light up with a relieved grin.

"Mr. Spock, sir!"

"Mr. Scott. You appear relatively unharmed?"

It is a question, not an observation, and the answer will prove highly important. He scans the human's face as he quickly releases Scott's wrists from the stasis cuffs – he spares a moment of surprise that this civilization has advanced that far in security technology – and sits back on his heels in front of their chief engineer.

Scott shakes his head and then flexes his wrists gratefully. "I've a headache to end all headaches, Mr. Spock, but naught other than that wrong with me. No idea what happened to the negotiations, though, sir – 'tis all a blank, ye might say."

"I have successfully conducted and concluded the aborted First Contact negotiations, Mr. Scott. We need only release the landing party and we will be beamed back to the Enterprise once the natives of the Council have signaled our success to the ship."

"Who's mindin' the store, then?" Scott inquires as he scrambles to his feet, stretching quickly before following Spock into the corridor.

"Dr. McCoy, unfortunately," is Spock's dry reply, as he hauls the next door open without delay.

"Saints preserve us."

"Indeed. Lieutenant, are you well?"

From within the cell, Carstairs grimaces but gives him a human gesture Spock is aware by now is called a 'double thumbs-up.' He makes quick work of Carstairs's stasis cuffs, with the instruction for the young man to regain his bearings and exit when he feels ready.

Scott helps him with next three doors, after which their efforts have produced the other three members of the landing party, two Security men and Ensign Luai from Xenosociology, all in various stages of what appears, miraculously, to be relatively good health. Spock is now optimistic that these humans' minds apparently have enough of a self-preservational instinct as to literally shut down under the onslaught of a psionic attack. The action most likely saved them from serious harm, as none complain of worse than a headache after the events of the morning, and none seem to be exhibiting the signs of trauma which a Vulcan would be showing under such circumstances.

That knowledge does not, however, serve to lessen his concern, which has only increased since finding the other members of the landing party. He has still not located Jim, and Jim is the one whose mind may conceivably be injured, possibly severely. Of course, with the captain being unfortunately connected to Spock as he was, Kirk would have been able to instinctively draw on that connection in order to fight back against the attack, instead of surrendering before it. That might be Kirk's salvation, or it might be what had damned him to a violation which makes even Spock shudder with instinctual fear. It was the act of fighting back, which made the natives believe him to be guilty of treachery – so who knows in what condition they will find him.

Engineer Scott, who has shaken off his own injuries with the stamina that comes from his station and love for his captain, has already worked his way down half the corridor, trying doors to save Spock time in locating the man in question. Finally, he shouts down that he's found one locked, and it is the work of seconds to unlock and open the door, obviously much heavier and possibly built to contain a telepathic prisoner.

Spock had hoped – illogical, he knows – to find Kirk in the same condition as the rest of the landing party; obviously, that had been an irrational optimism. The captain appears either sleeping or unconscious – the latter, Spock knows immediately upon moving into the cell – but apparently the natives had seen him as a far more serious threat due to his resistance. The stasis cuffs are separated, each attached to the stone wall, much as chains would have been in a more barbaric prison, and Kirk is slumped unconscious in them, head lolling against his left arm.

Spock hears Scott's soft swearing behind him as he hands off the sonic deconstructor without a word and places a hand (not shaking, thankfully, for he would have difficulty explaining that to their worried Chief Engineer) gently on the man's neck, relieved beyond belief to feel a strong pulse beating there, steady and reassuring.

"Captain," he says softly, moving his hands to support the captain's head as he raises it, trying to ascertain physical signs of what might be damage within. There are the indications of a severe nosebleed, long since dried on the captain's tunic and face, and his heart sinks a little more to see the same around the captain's ears. "Jim, can you hear me?"

"Want me to release those cuffs, sir?" Scott asks quietly from behind him, and he glances over his shoulder to see that their wise CE has moved to block the door from any curious crewman who might regain his strength enough to wander this direction.

"In a moment, Mr. Scott." There is not so much as a bunk to lay Kirk down upon, and he well knows how stubbornly the man refuses to show weakness before his crew. If he is able to rouse the captain, Kirk will appreciate being led out partially under his own power if possible.

For a brief moment he considers trying to perform a shallow mind meld, because in medical circumstances it can be permissible, merely to ascertain how deeply trapped the mind of a patient is within – but at the same time, the idea of further violating Kirk's mind, after today's events, is so abhorrent he feels physically ill at the thought.

When a second attempt fails to awaken the captain, however, he gives Scott a curt nod and the engineer moves grimly to release the left cuff. Kirk's arm flops limply downward, but the sudden motion appears to rouse him somewhat; Spock gives him a gentle shake and moves his hand to support Kirk's neck as his head rolls, a frown twitching at his drawn features.

"Cap'n Kirk, sir, it’d be beautiful if y’woke up now," Scott encourages gently from where he is fiddling with the settings of the right stasis cuff, for some reason reluctant to release its prisoner.

An incoherent noise from the injured man, and Spock leans closer, inhaling deliberately in an effort to keep his tattered controls functional. "Captain. Jim, can you hear me?"

Spock has never felt quite so relieved – he can fairly feel the tension of the last few hours begin to seep away – as when Kirk's eyelids flutter unsteadily for a moment, and then blink open, unfocused but at least partway coherent (which would be utterly impossible were he suffering from severe mental damage from a psionic attack). The captain blinks at him for a moment, head wobbling unsteadily, and then closes his eyes again.

"Jim, remain awake if you can, please," he murmurs, and is grateful that Scott does not comment on the desperation that he knows seeps through his frayed control.

A frown twists the captain's lips, and his eyes finally blink open once more. Hazy green slowly sharpens into clear hazel, and he finally sees Jim in that confused look, rather than simply an injured human.

"Spock?" The word is faint, a breath only, but clear enough – and the last of his terror at what-might-have-been fades as he hears it.

"Indeed, sir," he replies, and if his voice is not quite its normal steady timbre, no one comments on the matter.

Kirk looks totally bewildered, and then apparently decides it is not worth the effort to question. He offers Spock a small, tired smile, and closes his eyes again for a moment, obviously trying to focus his thoughts and get his feet under him.

Spock is still quite concerned, and rightly so, that there may be serious damage to the captain's mind; just because Kirk recognizes the last person to whom he spoke does not by any stretch indicate that he is not suffering from the severity of a multi-being mental attack. Surely no human is strong enough to withstand such a thing alone, at least there has never been such a recorded case.

But suddenly he sees Kirk's gaze sharpen into clarity. The human’s stance straightens slightly, and his head lifts on its own from Spock's support. Jim's eyes finally open once more, searching for answers, and finally pause wide-eyed, staring at him.

"Captain?" he asks cautiously.

A look of amused incredulity suddenly quirks the man's lips into a familiar grin, totally alert and aware of his surroundings at last. "What the heck are you wearing on your head, Spock?"

He pauses, blankly, for that is the last thing he would have predicted from this fascinating human's lips after such an ordeal – but he should not have been surprised. Beside him, Montgomery Scott snorts a laugh into his sleeve before finally getting the stasis cuff to release its grip.

"Whoops…" Kirk's eyes widen comically as he falls forward, but Spock has been ready to catch him since the moment their connection terminated aboard ship three hours ago, and catch him he does.

"Seriously, what." The captain reaches up with one limp hand and experimentally taps the protective headgear Spock has, until now, literally forgotten about. "You look like a Vulcan tin man."

Scott grins at them both and heads back out the door, indicating with a gesture that he is going to corral the rest of the landing party and prepare for beam-up procedures.

"It is a protective measure against the telepathic field of the planet, sir. Are you in any pain, Captain?" he inquires, carefully supporting the human until Kirk wavers to his own feet, one hand on Spock's arm and the other on the stone wall, face deathly pale.

"The migraine to end all migraines…Spock, what happened?"

"It is a very long story, sir. Ultimately, we have performed a successful First Contact with the inhabitants of this planet. They are quite apologetic about the cultural misunderstanding which resulted in your being attacked in the council chambers. The council is now waiting for word from the Enterprise to beam up the landing party, though I must return via shuttle, which I left outside the city's limits."

Hazel eyes pierce straight through his assumed modesty, and he is aware that the hands on his arms are not totally for physical support. "Once again, you save the day, Mr. Spock. I don't know what I would do without you."

"Actually, sir, the success of this venture is, I regret to say, due in large part to Dr. McCoy. It is his protective gear which enabled me to even land upon the planet without succumbing to the power of the telepathic field generated here. And it is he who now has command of the Bridge, and is awaiting clearance to beam up the landing party."

Kirk squints up at him, swaying slightly. "Must have a worse headache than I thought," he mutters after a moment's contemplation. "I thought I just heard you say you left Bones in charge of my ship in the middle of a Priority One crisis situation."

"So I did, sir."

"You WHAT?"


After a heated debate which is more amusing than anything else (it is hard to take Jim seriously when he sounds like a cranky toddler, which invariably happens when he has a migraine), a laughing Montgomery Scott volunteers to fly the Galileo back to the Enterprise so that Spock can see their captain safely through the beam-out process.

Kirk is still barely on his feet, obviously trying to hide the fact that he is still having fits of dizziness, and so after ascertaining for himself that Scott is genuinely not physically in distress himself, Spock does not argue with the man, despite the feeling that he is using Scott for his own purposes. But after the fourth time when Jim puts a hand to his head and staggers sideways on their way to the beam-out point, Spock simply makes a vow to make it up to their valuable Chief Engineer the next time Scott comes to him with a suspicious requisition order.

Jim perks up slightly when Sulu reports on the other end of the comm, followed shortly by Dr. McCoy's concerned voice, and Spock has every hope that their (mis)adventure is drawing to a satisfactory close when they finally disappear in the familiar gold transporter beam.

Of course, Jim Kirk delights in contradicting popular opinion, and so evidently decides to pass out with typical dramatic flair as soon as they materialize.

Spock resists the emotional urge to throw up his hands in exasperation (mainly because they are full of an unconscious human at the moment), and just collapses tiredly on the transporter pad with Kirk in his arms, because he frankly is far too exhausted to make a trek through the corridors carrying someone, and because he knows McCoy is on his way with a stretcher just on general principle, despite the landing party informing him they are all in reasonable health.

Sure enough, moments after he orders Carstairs to escort the other three crewmen to Sickbay for a debriefing and physical, the doctor in question barrels in with a team of nurses and an anti-grav gurney…two anti-grav gurneys. Odd.

He vaguely realizes his mental controls are now all but non-existent, and that he is dangerously depleted of energy, for some reason he cannot at present discern.

"Your protective equipment functioned perfectly, Doctor," he manages to get out with admirable equanimity, as McCoy is running a scanner slowly, then slower still, over the captain's head. "My congratulations on your inventive skill, and my appreciation for a successful protective device."

The doctor pauses the scan near Jim's left frontal lobe, and looks up at him incredulously. "Did it scramble your brainwaves in addition to blockin' out everyone else's?" he drawls. "Because it sounded to me like you just thanked me, Mr. Spock."

Spock regards him for a moment, registering faintly that he is not feeling quite well and promptly discarding the annoying sensation until he is certain Jim has been cared for.

"I am...quite unable to deal with your impossible human mind right now, Doctor." That is not what he meant to say, not in the least, and not just because it is terribly rude – but somehow he is less and less able to control his speech patterns, and that in itself is alarming.

He hears a muffled curse, and the handing off of Kirk's medical scan to Nurse Chapel – and then he nearly jumps out of his skin when someone’s fingers snap loudly in front of his face. He opens his eyes (when did they close?) to see the doctor's worried face only inches from his own.

"Doctor?" He does not know precisely what he is asking, actually, now that he stops to think…

McCoy gives him an odd sort of smile, and squeezes his shoulder gently. "Y'did good, Spock. Really good. I’m just letting you know we’re about to move you, so if your shields are down you can be prepared. You need to go into a healing trance if you can."

His head has begun to nod of its own accord; that explains why his eyes had closed without his intention. That is but logical, for he is more mentally exhausted than he can ever remember being in his life.

"Go on, Spock. I can't give you any sleep drugs until that neural inhibitor's totally worked its way out of your system, so stop fighting it, okay?"

He blinks slowly, finally registers the doctor's words and, more interesting, the worried tone which accompanies them. He nods, that much he can manage at least, and somehow his eyes are closing again without his permission.

Suddenly he forces them open, and his hand closes tightly around McCoy's wrist.

"Geez, you stubborn space elf! What do I have to do to get you to just pass out already!"

"The captain," he manages, by sheer force of will focusing the words clearly.

"He's fine, for pity's sake, Spock." The doctor's eyes soften. "Preliminary scans don't show any brain damage, I promise. A miracle, but one I won't argue with. I'll probably end up throwin' you in with him once you're both stable, and you can see for yourself how fine he is, all right? Now for the love of all that's logical go to sleep!"

The hiss of a hypospray, and he raises an eyebrow.

"Painkiller. Your K-3 indicator is off the charts. Anything else you aren't telling me?"

Ah, that would explain the sudden rush of euphoria he so despises. The only pain relievers which seem compatible with his physiology (meaning he does not vomit after taking them) seem to have the unfortunate effect of making him slightly voluble, and that with less inhibition than a Vulcan should possess.

McCoy's eyes twinkle down at him. "Feelin' good now, are we?"

"You are a very frustrating human," he informs the man, with perfect sincerity.

"Uh-huh, so I've been told."

"And loud," he adds helpfully.

"That too."

"Nevertheless, that can be overlooked due to your dubiously superior innovative skills which assisted in this misson’s success."

"Mmhm. Just shut up and go to sleep."


Things are much clearer when Spock awakens. The nausea and headache have vanished, no doubt under the effects of the light healing trance his biological function informs him he has been under for several hours. He lies still for a moment, regaining his bearings, and then nods to Dr. McCoy, who is waiting to make sure his patient has fully awakened due to the blows to the face.

"Never will get used to doing that," the doctor mutters to no one in particular, as he adjusts a monitor over Spock's head. "How you feeling, Spock?"

"Considerably improved, Doctor." He sits up slowly, testing both physical and mental function, and he is immensely relieved to find that his shields have re-formed during the healing trance. He is not to full capacity, but he is certainly functional.

"I'm surprised you weren't out for longer," McCoy observes candidly, as he adjusts the bio-bed so that Spock can recline partway. "You have any idea what actually happened to you?"

"Not precisely, Doctor."

"Well, from what I can tell from examinations and what little we know about all that Vulcan mind voodoo, either you managed to shield Jim's mind from serious damage while he was on the planet, or else he was just unconsciously stealing the equivalent mental strength from you. Basically when I got you in here Jim was just unconscious but already healing, and your indicators for mental health were basically drained to zero. Was that a conscious action on your part?"

"No, Doctor." This information is surprising, though not unheard-of in his culture; it is, however, highly unlikely to happen between two beings who are not fully telepathic Vulcans. "It appears to have been an instinctual reaction; I doubt the captain was any more aware of it than I."

"Well, whatever happened, I think we have to thank that planet for knocking your mental filter out of whack – because if you two hadn't already been connected somehow, I doubt Jim would've come through this with nothing more than a headache and some scarring." McCoy looks down at him, for once smiling without a shred of animosity. "Guess we have you to thank for that, hobgoblin."

Spock is not to the point where his strength is sufficient to verbally spar with this incorrigible human, and he merely closes his eyes with a slight sigh.

He hears a gruff chuckle, and the examination lights overhead are dimmed to a more comfortable level. "Better?"

Much; he can now open them without feeling the need to shield with his secondary eyelid. "Thank you, Doctor. What is the captain's status?"

"Sleeping now, but on his way to a full recovery if the scans are correct. He woke up for a few minutes a couple hours ago, pitched a tantrum about not being let out of bed, basically said you'd better have a darn good explanation for everything when he wakes up again. I think he's a little miffed that you successfully completed the mission single-handedly, Mr. Spock," McCoy says, eyes twinkling with amusement.

"As I told the captain, Doctor, we must cede much of the credit for success to your unorthodox shielding equipment."

"Are you thanking me again for saving your hide, Spock? Cause I have a whole 'nother hypo of pain meds with your name on it if you're still that out of it."

"It is unfortunate that your bedside manner is not as successful as your skill in medical engineering, Doctor."

"I'mma engineer you a nice little cocktail of Vulcan naptime if you don't –" McCoy's rant is cut off by a medical alarm screeching painfully in the other room.

Spock raises an eyebrow as the doctor throws his hands dramatically up in the air and stalks away, drowning out the alarm quite impressively himself.

"Honestly, Jim! Keep your backside in that bed or so help me God, I will put you down for a week!" The words are punctuated by the angry squeak of a chair being yanked out from behind the doctor's desk, as he flumps into it with a huff of annoyance.

Thanks a lot, Spock. You couldn't have distracted him for five more minutes?

I was not to know the doctor had installed an occupancy alarm on your bed, Captain. Perhaps your attempts to escape should be more subtle.

You know just for that, I'm going to think long and hard here about that night, the last time we were on Terra, when we stumbled into the wrong bar in San Francisco…

He can already feel the blush spreading over his face, and he decides that accepting Dr. McCoy's 'naptime cocktail' is the only strategic move he has left. After all, only a fool accepts a checkmate when a stalemate is open to him.

You're no fun, Spock.

Why, thank you, Captain.

"Both of y'all shut up and go to sleep!"

Spock blinks, surprised. "I said nothing, Doctor."

"Neither did I!" Jim yells indignantly from the other room.

"Sure. Think I'm an idiot, do you?"

I believe the expression is, if the footwear is the correct size…

McCoy looks up, glares dangerously at him over the computer monitor, as the captain's muffled laughter filters in from the other room.

"Subtle, Spock. Real subtle," he growls, returning doggedly to his report-writing.

I think he's jealous, Spock.

That, I highly doubt, Captain. He has mentioned on more than one occasion how disturbed he is by such things.

Mm, I still think he’s jealous.

Think what you like, sir.

Well, next time you need to rent out space in somebody else's mind, just make sure it's him. So he doesn't feel left out, or anything.

Spock inwardly shudders. What was the human expression? Over his dead body?

Chapter Text

II.

Spock of Vulcan no longer comprehends the human concept of feeling.

It is not that he is incapable of feeling. Sarek – he belatedly attributes the title Father – has reassured him that Vulcans indeed do feel; they simply have trained their minds to control and compartmentalize that feeling, to prevent any action or reaction due to emotion. It is a better way of life than the human way of uncontrolled mental chaos, even his human mother tells him this; and yet, he and his slowly awakening scientific curiosity must naturally wonder otherwise.

He has been told he is half-human, has the scientific proof inherent in his family unit and his DNA; and yet, his rigorous training exercises do not seem to correlate to this hypothesis. He does not understand emotion, nor why humans feel the way they do.

Nor does he understand why the humans whom he is supposed to call colleagues and even friends, expect him to at least understand those feelings.

After fourteen days of mental strengthening, sequestered in the halls of the most prominent Vulcan scientific councils, he is deemed a successful and fully recovered participant in the most sacred of all legendary Vulcan rites, the fal-tor-pan: the refusion of soul with mind and body. Such a thing has never been done in modern Vulcan history, and the scientist dormant within him recognizes the enormity of such a successful ritual. He now knows all which he should know at his stage of life: he can recite his own personal history, he knows all there is to know about his duties and habits as a prominent Vulcan scientist and Starfleet captain (the title feels wrong in his soul, somehow, and yet he has been told he is indeed a captain), and he has been proclaimed fully recovered due to a successful refusion. Sarek congratulates him that evening in their ancestral home – which Spock is still acclimating to, for the finer details take longer to slot into memory's structured order – and assures him that he is fully capable of taking his place again in public life, that there is nothing to hold him back from reclaiming his life as once he knew it.

But Spock looks out of the window, down at the extensive gardens winding around the house, and for the twelfth night he once more sees a lonely figure sitting on a bench amid the twilight of a warm Vulcan evening.

This, too, seems wrong.

He turns back to his father – he is still reconciling distant memory of a stubborn, proud Vulcan elder with the firmly supportive man who stands before him – and shakes his head.

"I am not ready, Sarek," he says, and it is truth rather than instinct which colors the words with regret. "There are too many things which I do not understand. And I believe them to be important. I am yet…incomplete.”

He does not say that these things revolve around the humans which are still living in sanctuary on Vulcan; for that would be an admission no Vulcan could ever make. And yet, he is a scientist; and a scientist knows that to ignore that which exists is not logical. These humans have, according to Sarek, sacrificed their careers in Starfleet on an incalculably risky gamble to save his body and soul from being forever lost. The healer McCoy, his katra-keeper, has told him that in addition to this, their starship – the U.S.S. Enterprise, which had been Spock's home for sixteen years and the origin of the strange attraction he has to these humans – was destroyed, and along with it an entire planet due to the malfunctioning Genesis terraforming procedure. Admiral Kirk's estranged son had been among the casualties of the battle with the Klingons, and Spock himself had nearly become another.

It reads like a dramatic holonet program, and yet it apparently is his life; and this, he does not understand. These humans' behavior is entirely beyond his comprehension. He simply does not understand how they could act so illogically, with so much at stake for them to lose.

What is more disconcerting, is that he somehow knows that he should understand their reasoning, that he should be able to comprehend how they could do such a thing. But he does not understand; he has no frame of reference upon which to draw conclusions, no experience from which to hypothesize what might induce a man to behave so utterly irrationally.

"You're gonna hurt yourself thinkin' that hard about somethin' you can't understand yet," a voice drawls mildly from behind him, and he is somewhat startled to find that Sarek has withdrawn, wisely silent, and left him with his katra-keeper, the only human who has taken the time to seek him out and ascertain more than just his physical condition during their time here on Vulcan.

Spock is a quick learner, that much is clear from his refusion; he now knows that this human comes from a different region of Terra's North America than the rest of the crew, and that the strange inflection and accent in McCoy's speech becomes more pronounced when the human is tired, or under stress. He has a somewhat disused memory bank to back up this conjecture, but he was proud of the deduction when he made it, late yesterday evening. Perhaps he is not entirely hopeless of understanding these strange humans.

"It is impossible to inflict harm upon one's self through contemplation, Doctor," he replies, and he wonders how the logical response to an illogical statement sounds so…alien, to him.

"You're saying that to someone who lived for a month with a constant migraine, thanks to somebody deciding to park his katra in my head," is the dry reply, and the doctor's eyes glint with what Spock has learned is not truly annoyance, only the human instinct of fondness.

Why is it that he can read these humans, yet not understand why or how they feel what they do?

"I am still at a loss to understand why yours was the vessel which I chose, Doctor," he responds, in total honesty. "I cannot comprehend why I would do such a thing, as your mind is by far the most chaotic I have encountered in a human."

"Yeah, you're recoverin' just fine," McCoy mutters with a roll of the eyes, though Spock can of course hear the words perfectly. The human's aging face suddenly becomes serious, however, and his tone is grave. "Do you remember anything about that last hour in the Engineering Room? I was the only person really available to you. We all know you intended Jim, Spock, you're not gonna offend me by admitting it."

"Why would I have chosen the admiral, Doctor?"

His question is totally curious, for he has no idea why he would choose one human over another, other than this strange, almost magnetic attraction he does have toward the man whose name he remembered before he recalled his own. Jim is…different. But how, Spock does not know, and cannot remember.

McCoy's eyes sadden, and again Spock does not know why. "I was hoping you'd remember a little more than you have, Spock," the human explains, not unkindly. "This is killing Jim, and while it's not your fault or mine…well, I hate it. I'd never want to drive a wedge between you, not in a million years. But somehow I have. We both have. And you don't even see it, do you."

Spock glances unintentionally out the window again, at the lonely figure sitting below. "I do not understand, Doctor," he repeats, helpless. "What am I supposed to see? How do I regain human feelings, for which I have no frame of reference?"

He hears a sigh behind him, as McCoy moves to his left, and looks down at the garden as well. "Blasted Vulcan indoctrination…look, I can't answer that, Spock. None of us can. And as for you and Jim, well. That’s not my story to tell, even if I really knew it." The doctor sighs softly, running a weary hand down his face. "We should just be lucky we got you back at all. Got no right to be angry that you're not exactly firing on all thrusters yet."

The metaphor is a human speech pattern, but easily extrapolated. He does not waste time in questioning it. "I am at a loss, Doctor, as to how to proceed."

Below them, the admiral has stood wearily, like a man far older than his years. Kirk glances up at the lit window, their shadows silhouetted against it, and something in his sad expression twists a strangely painful knot in the vicinity of Spock's chest, before the man disappears into the shadows like a wraith in smoke.

Beside him, McCoy leans his head wearily against the cool glass of the window.

"You and me both, Spock. You and me both."


Spock does try, indeed he does – with but varying degrees of success.

His initial greeting when they board the Bird of Prey, informing the admiral that he has misplaced his uniform, is met with a tiny but genuine smile, as if Kirk is going to laugh but ends up not doing so due to a lack of practice. Spock still believes these humans are highly foolish to return to Earth when they have been offered Vulcan sanctuary for the rest of their lives (as participants in the first successful fal-tor-pan in modern Vulcan history, they have been awarded the status of honored outworlders in Vulcan society), but he has learned in their months on Vulcan that it is utterly impossible to argue with a human whose mind is made up.

He feels just a twinge, a strangely fleeting sensation of warmth, when after landing successfully on Terra in the late twentieth century, the admiral chooses him when they divide into teams. It is actually the first time since Spock's refusion that Kirk has actively sought out his company, and it is notable in that novelty though he suspects it is primarily so that Kirk can be in the vicinity should his alien status become public knowledge through some accident. But the admiral seems to be in decent spirits, all things considered, and is speaking to him without that awkward hesitance which always characterized their conversations on Vulcan. Spock wonders if the fluttering sensation burgeoning deep inside him is that of hope – hope that perhaps, just perhaps, all is not lost to salvage a relationship he still does not comprehend.

It is illogical, he realizes, to be so content when the fate of an entire planet and the Federation is at stake, centuries into the future…but content Spock is, walking in oddly perfect sync down the crowded streets of San Francisco beside an irritated human with a propensity to forget he is not invincible against Old Earth automobiles.

He shakes off the knowledge that he is thinking most illogically; after all, it is only reasonable to allow himself some flexibility, after such a mind-altering occurrence as he has endured recently.


Their mission is fairly standard, from what he can remember of their days aboard the Enterprise: namely, everything which can go wrong, does. The humans call it Murphy's Law, which Spock discovers upon brief research (namely, a highly amused Montgomery Scott in lieu of a working library databank) is actually a non-existent, humorous principle rather than a scientific tenet such as the Laws of Thermodynamics. However, in the end, they accomplish their mission and then turn in victory toward Sol, with two humpback whales and a stowaway marine biologist aboard.

He reluctantly repeats McCoy's suggestion when asked; namely, that he is preparing to take his best guess as to where they will land and when – and to his surprise, Admiral Kirk seems to be ridiculously pleased with his statement, instead of mildly horrified as Spock himself would be, were it his ship and life and history on the line.

Kirk leaves the Bridge with Dr. Taylor, still grinning wider than he has in weeks, and McCoy rolls his eyes and gives him a look which Spock does not require telepathy to interpret as the human phrase I-told-you-so.

He sighs silently, and shakes his head. He most likely will never understand these humans, and so perhaps it would be more logical to simply cease the attempt?


When they crash with a sickening jolt into the choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay – Spock's quicker mind realizes immediately after a glance at the navigation panel that they have come terrifyingly close to destroying the Golden Gate Bridge – he is moving even before Admiral Kirk, instinct overpowering everything else with the same insistence that drives all command officers: seeing to the welfare of the crew in the event of a doomed ship. For doomed she is, and sinking fast.

Jim shoves past him with a shouted order to see to the safety of all hands, and for a fleeting moment their eyes meet – and Spock realizes in that instant that his heart remembers what his mind may not yet, for they are already moving in that strangely perfect synchronization which instantly made them the command team to be feared in the galaxy, well over a decade ago.

"I will," he promises instinctively, unintentionally making it a personal statement rather than the official Aye, sir which is required of Starfleet officers. And in that instant, Spock suddenly realizes – he is vowing to protect those who have protected him; as companions and comrades, not as fellow Starfleet officers. It is a promise to a man who has never lost faith in him, despite the odds, and it is a promise he will keep even if it means drowning to save any one of these remarkable humans.

Thankfully, it does not come to that, but it is a dangerous situation in which they all finally find themselves, precariously clinging to the side of a sinking Klingon warship during the hurricane of the century. Spock spares a few moments to ensure Dr. McCoy's grip is secure on the slippery surface – the odd wave of protectiveness for the human no doubt stems from knowing he was the katra-keeper; it is but logical – and then turns his gaze downward, waiting for the telltale explosion of spume and spray which will indicate Jim successfully released their living cargo, thereby giving this doomed planet its last hope of survival.

It is oddly comforting, to know that at the least, he will have the opportunity to share the fate of his shipmates, in whatever befalls them in the next few minutes. This is the least he can do, to repay such loyalty and affection.

When another three minutes, fourteen seconds pass without a sign, he glances up calculatingly at the open hatch, only to have McCoy yank firmly on his sopping sleeve with one shivering hand, a scowl firmly affixed upon his face.

"You even think about it, Jim'll kill you," the doctor half-yells over the sound of the wind. "'Sides, you're the quickest risk out of all of us for hypothermia, so you aren't goin' anywhere, not on my watch!"

Spock ignores the medical diatribe with practiced instinct, looks desperately once more at the churning water, but sees nothing. No sign of the admiral, and no sign of the trapped whales. A fissure of pain, unusual in that it is a physical manifestation of mental distress, begins to open up deep inside him, somewhere he did not even know existed. He looks up, meets McCoy's equally worried gaze, and then turns back, scanning the roiling waves once more.

And still, there is nothing.

The frisson of panic which is working its way steadily past his carefully constructed, textbook Vulcan shields, splinters now, fracturing in his chest so painfully he can scarcely breathe. Beside him, he vaguely hears McCoy curse Kirk to every known god in existence, and he briefly wonders if it is truly unVulcan to follow suit – when suddenly, a dark head bobs to the surface, disappears in another monstrous wave, and then surfaces again. Jim is coughing, gasping frantically for air, and struggling in the face of the waves and wind – but he is alive, and will soon be safe.

McCoy's squawk of warning as Spock lunges forward rings in his ears, but not louder than the sudden rush of painful sensation which unexpectedly shatters the wall of comfortable Vulcan control that has shielded the core of his being for so long. There is still no sign of the whales, George and Gracie – but despite that, it is as if the sun has already come out from behind the clouds, scattering darkness in the wake of warmth and light. He cannot believe that he has been living under such calm, controlled shadow, and that there has been all this time, dormant inside him, such a wash of memories and sensations, too many to remember individually but all of them, all of them centering around this one unique human. It is illuminating, breathtakingly so, and he feels…

He feelsEverything.

It is the difference between blindness and enhanced sight; and he will never forget this moment if he lives – again – another lifetime. They are by no means who they were, he and Admiral James T. Kirk – but they will be, this much Spock knows, and now knows why.

Splashing closer in the frigid water, Jim's shaking hand flails unsuccessfully for a moment before latching onto his on a third attempt.

And there is nothing in the galaxy which will induce Spock to let him go.

Chapter Text

I. And one time he was only too glad to put the uniform back on.

Spock of Vulcan finally understands the human emotion, the state of being, which is called fascination.

Had someone asked him a year, a month – even a week – ago, what he might be feeling at this point in time, he would of course have answered with the usual Vulcan platitudes about human emotion; he had expected to feel nothing after the Enterprise's new captain boarded the ship for the first time, to take command of the Federation's primary exploratory vessel in a command move that has been heralded in the public eye as the promotion of the decade.

A change of command is simply that: a change. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing to be sufficient cause for any initial sensation other than a technical transfer of loyalty. Spock has, from the time he learned of the change, expected to merely fulfill his duties as Science officer under Captain Kirk as thoroughly and efficiently as he did under Captain Pike.

Kirk's reputation precedes him; the man is reportedly the 'shooting star of the Academy,' the youngest man to ever take captaincy of a Constitution-class starship, with only fourteen years of post-Academy experience under his metaphorical belt. James T. Kirk is a charismatic young human, reportedly able to charm his way into the hearts – and otherwise – of women across the galaxy; he is characterized in official reports as impulsive and somewhat unorthodox in diplomacy, yet highly intelligent and resourceful, for a human. Based upon First Officer Gary Mitchell's enthusiastic singing of Kirk's praises, Spock expects the captain to be quite annoyingly self-confident, even arrogant, in his own charm and abilities.

All in all, James Tiberius Kirk appears to be by reputation the antithesis of Vulcan calm and logic. Spock does not anticipate the man becoming anything but a mild annoyance at times when compared to Captain Pike's polite aloofness toward all but his Number One. This change of personality is not a great hardship; Spock is quite accustomed to remaining apart from all human companionship, and indeed prefers it that way. He is well able to handle an arrogant young human flying high on adrenaline and good luck.

Spock does not see the new captain the first day and night Kirk comes aboard; he is quite busy in the laboratories, overseeing the installation of new long-range sensors in preparation for their shakedown cruise to the edge of the known galaxy. Instead, Spock is forced to listen at Officers' Mess the following morning, to Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (the only human who really has ever shown any communicative interest with him aboard) fairly overflowing with exuberant praise for the new captain and Kirk's apparent interest in Engineering.

That the captain would discard Gary Mitchell's invitation to a final round of alcoholic beverages their last night over San Francisco in favor of touring the Engineering Deck until late in ship's night is rather unusual. Spock is, however, aware that the way to Scott's heart is through his warp core, and so takes this with the grain of salt humans are so fond of mentioning in their peculiar little metaphors.

Scott finally finishes breaking his fast and leaves Spock to his own devices, which are a small bowl of combined Terran and Vulcan fruits, and a fairly lengthy set of reports and requisitions for him to sign before they depart dry-dock. Many of them, Spock notes with interest, already bear the captain's signature, though the man has hardly been aboard for even twenty-four hours. Many more of them, he notes with far less interest, and more Vulcan disdain (disgust is an emotion, disdain is merely reaction to a stimulus), are various reports from his Science labs saying that Captain Kirk apparently decided peering over his engineers' shoulders was not sufficient, and instead spent the hours from ship's midnight to 0500 doing the same to his unprepared Science staff.

The idea that Kirk toured his departments without warning is not necessarily the frustrating occurrence it would be to a human, who would be less prepared at all times for such an inspection. However, Spock would have preferred to be notified, and to have conducted the tour himself. Kirk obviously has a habit of doing what he likes, where he likes – and, judging by the glowing reports addended by his primary Science staff, the human is on a one-man mission to charm his way into the hearts of every crewman aboard.

Spock refrains from sighing with annoyance, as he signs off on a review of Science Lab Nine's installation of their advanced bio-thermal imagery scanners, complete with glowing comments about the captain's interest in their capabilities.

Captain James T. Kirk is already fast becoming an annoyance, and Spock has yet to even meet the man.

Engrossed in his work, he nearly drops the PADD on the table in surprise as a tray is plunked down beside his, followed by a command-gold blur of energy and sparkling hazel eyes that are suddenly just scant inches from his startled face.

"Commander Spock, I presume," the captain says, smiling with what looks to be genuine interest. At Spock's slightly dazed nod, the human continues, blithely ignoring the fact that he is breaking every law of Vulcan personal space which has ever existed. "Your reputation among your colleagues at the Academy was not exaggerated, Mr. Spock. I've spent a very enlightening night with your Science departments."

In eleven years, no human has ever voluntarily sat with Spock over a meal, unless it is to discuss business matters aboard ship or unless no other seat was open during a peak meal time.

Nor has anyone of command rank ever given him the courtesy of calling him 'Commander,' when technically he is merely Lieutenant-Commander despite his length of service in the ‘Fleet.

Nor has any human ever commented on his not-insignificant reputation as a Vulcan scientist, the foremost in his field in Starfleet's ranks.

Nor has anyone, human or otherwise, simultaneously invaded his personal space while still unconsciously transmitting a telepathically tangible aura of respect.

Happily unaware of Spock's astonished thought processes, their new captain cheerfully prattles onward about what he has seen aboard in the last twelve hours, how impressed he is with the Science departments and their efficiency scores over the 'Fleet average, etc., etc.

Spock is only just recovering enough to make his own diplomatic attempt at conversation, when Kirk suddenly freezes dramatically, eyes wide over a piece of replicated turkey bacon now halfway to his mouth.

"I forgot, your people are vegetarian, aren't they! Am I completely ruining my first impression, Commander?"

Spock sets his PADD down resignedly (at the dynamic and speed Kirk is talking, Spock will never get his work done without the aid of auditory dampeners), and answers in the negative, resisting the urge to smile at the human's obvious relief when he returns his full attention to his meal.

Apparently, Kirk's reputation for charming his way past any and all cultural barriers is, indeed, quite accurate.


Spock of Vulcan finally understands the human sensation of relief.

In the six months he has served under Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Spock has utterly, irretrievably, and dangerously fallen under the man's almost hypnotic charisma. It is a phenomenon most inexplicable, and yet it does exist; he has, much like the rest of the crew, suddenly found himself drawn to Kirk like he has never before been so to another commander. Kirk is the first human in his experience to treat him with whole-hearted and totally unaffected acceptance – completely without bigotry, prejudice, or even the expectation that Spock be anything but precisely what he is.

Not even from his mother, has Spock ever received such acceptance; for even she, as loving and practically perfect as she was – not even she had been able to quite erase all indication that Spock was expected to perform under certain parameters, certain Vulcan expectations which he had no hope of meeting satisfactorily. But from Kirk…from this particular human Spock has only received warm smiles, the occasional teasing which indicates friendship among these humans, and an odd protectiveness of his Vulcanity which is totally alien to him, in his experience with humans.

In return, and perhaps the progression is logical after all…in return, Spock has discovered, much to his dismay, that his loyalty to this man is fast approaching a very dangerous level of intensity.

It is this knowledge, which makes his decision to mutiny, to abscond with the Enterprise and all aboard in order to see Captain Pike to Talos IV, seem so much worse a punishment in comparison with the mere death penalty of Starfleet. It is this knowledge, that he has broken an already fragile but all-important trust, which causes him to return to the briefing room after seeing Pike to the planet's surface, feeling actual, physical illness at the thought that Captain Kirk has every right to dismiss, transfer, and even court-martial him for his crimes (for they are dual: mutiny, in technicality; and the breach of a sacred trust, which is far less forgivable).

Kirk looks at him for a long moment, and then asks him to sit down; and when Spock refuses, because it would be a liberty he does not deserve, the captain stands to his own feet, looking wearily but calmly up at his betrayer.

Spock is expecting a censure to start, at the very least; for however understanding Kirk is, however humanly affectionate toward his crew – this is a crime that Spock certainly will never forgive himself for. Why should a mere human be any different? He expects condemnation, and at the least a severe official reprimand, which will basically destroy any chance Spock has of ever making the rank of full Starfleet Commander. And that is only what he deserves; he had expected to pay a far higher price when he first undertook this mission of mercy for a man to whom he had sworn loyalty eleven years before.

At the worst, Kirk has the power to still enforce the death penalty (though he does know the captain will never do so, the severity of the offense is not lost on him), to transfer him to another ship, and to even court-martial him aboard this one, without the formality of a Starbase hearing.

All this, runs through his thoughts with the rapidity which comes from escalating guilt and a Vulcan-quick mind.

Kirk looks up at him for a long moment, and then –

"You look like you haven't slept in a week, Commander," the human says quietly, his eyes far too knowing, far too understanding. "You are relieved for two duty shifts, in which I expect you to release my ship from the programs controlling it, and to get some rest, or whatever you prefer as a Vulcan equivalent."

Spock blinks, taken totally aback by both the calmness of the statement, and also by the total lack of condemnation in the captain's eyes.

"After you look a little less like you expect me to boot you down to ensign aboard some trawler headed for the delta quadrant," Kirk continues, eyes glinting with fondness as Spock stiffens under the perceptive words, "then we'll talk about this. I've no intention of giving up the best First Officer in the 'Fleet over a technicality, compounded by nothing more criminal than blind loyalty to an office I hold myself."

Spock exhales in a very embarrassing, very human sound of relief, which he was previously unaware he was even capable of making.

Kirk smiles at last, sunshine through a cloud barrier. And just like that, Spock knows that whatever obligation brought him to rescue Captain Pike, has now been replaced with a far more intense sense of loyalty, and perhaps something more.

Something far more unVulcan, and therefore far more dangerous.


Spock of Vulcan finally understands the human emotion of contentment.

It is a state of being which, logically, has no place in a Vulcan's mind; for contentment stems from the emotions of happiness, of self-satisfaction – and those have no place in the Vulcan Way. However, he cannot bring himself to believe the feeling is unjustified; for it is merely a response to circumstance, and as such it is actually quite logical for him to…feel good.

His opinion might be slightly impaired, some more rational part of his mind suggests, by the fact that the only pain medication which does not react poorly with his hybrid physiology has the unfortunate side effect of making him slightly talkative, and that with less inhibition than he would normally employ.

Dr. McCoy only laughs in his face when Spock complains about this side effect, and informs him that 'high on painkillers is still better than puking on painkillers, and if Spock knows what's good for him he will put up and shut up, or McCoy will put him in an induced coma until his blood count comes back to a normal reading.'

Spock replies, quite seriously, that the doctor has a bedside manner which would get him summarily executed in at least three Federation alliances, to which Sarek agrees with a little too much alacrity and enthusiasm (obviously, Spock is not the only Vulcan who reacts poorly to standard Starfleet pain medication).

He is prevented from further verbal volleying in medical matters by Captain Kirk, who has been quietly giggling into a pillow (he has been given medication of his own) while the insults are being yelled across their now-crowded ward in Sickbay. The captain apparently has managed to twist himself into a position from which he cannot untwist without wrenching his back and thereby the healing injury, which McCoy points out was already exacerbated from an extremely foolish venture in self-sacrifice, taking command of the Bridge when he was clearly not physically well enough to do so.

Spock agrees with the doctor now quite emphatically, as emphatically as he can from across the room. It was a most foolhardy venture, and though the outcome did achieve desirable results it nonetheless was an extremely foolish and human act of emotion. Only an overly emotional human would ever do such an illogical thing for someone he barely knows, ambassador or no ambassador, and first officer or no first officer. The fact that Jim is Spock's captain and friend – Vulcan horror of horrors, but to admit the facts is only logical – should not have been sufficient grounds to persuade an otherwise sensible man to act so recklessly.

In addition to that, Spock is quite annoyed with continually having to worry about this particular human's propensity to pretend he is invincible. Jim really should cease such behavior post-haste, as it is Not Kind to those around him.

He only realizes he has been saying at least most of these things aloud, when Jim's eyes grow wider and wider over the top of the blanket pulled up nearly to his nose, and when Spock's mother cannot keep back her quiet laughter.

Ears burning in mortification, he finally manages to interpose a firm barrier between his mind and his mouth, and slides down in his bed, promptly following Sarek's example in pretending to be asleep so as to avoid these horrible humans and their illogical thoughtlessness.

"I daresay you don't need that translated from Vulcan-speak, Captain," he hears his mother say, her very voice lighthearted and smiling.

"…No, I believe the meaning was quite clear, Lady Amanda. Bones, what in the world did you give him, anyway?"

"I'm gonna look up the exact dosage now, because that was a tantrum to tell the grandkids about, eh Mrs. Sarek?"

Spock ignores his mother's laughter and the doctor's encouragement, with ease that comes from years of practice. Amanda is a good woman, a particularly good and gentle human; yet she seems to have rapidly degenerated under the bad influence of Dr. McCoy.

"You are good for him, Captain," he hears his mother say quietly, after a moment of calm silence.

"He more than returns the favor, Lady Amanda," Kirk answers, voice warm with affection. "There's very little I wouldn't do for your son. Faking my way through a space battle was not a hardship."

Spock snorts quietly, because it would certainly have been a hardship had the idiot human re-opened the incision on his left lung, compromising the operation's success and setting his recovery time back by several days.

Kirk's voice is tinged with repressed amusement. "Even if he doesn't necessarily agree with my 'illogical' methods of achieving our mutual goals," he adds, and Spock is well aware the captain is grinning in his direction.

McCoy's voice abruptly breaks the pleasant lull which follows, when he returns with supplies for their depleted stores. "Time for you to follow our Vulcan patients into naptime, Jim. Lady Amanda, can I get you anything, or do you have your own ways of passing the time alone with these three?"

"I am certain I will be able to entertain myself, Doctor," is the much-amused reply.

There is a very loud yawn, and the creaking of a bio-bed followed by McCoy's mumbling about idiot captains not staying still when they're supposed to be healing up. "Bones, leave me alone," Kirk mutters grumpily. "I'm perfectly fine."

"Right, and I'm the Federation Vice-President," the doctor snorts. "You're the only person I know that I can't knock out right away with that much of a sedative. Give it up and go to sleep, will you Jim?"

"Mmph."

"That's better." Footsteps approach Spock's bed, and he hears the tweak of instruments calibrating slightly over his head.

Jim's voice, slurred over the space between them. "Get him another blanket, Bones, he always wakes up in the middle of the night freezing in here."

McCoy grunts something about not telling him how to do his job, but Spock feels the added warmth a moment later of a second thermal blanket, much welcomed after his recent bout with extreme blood transfusion. He will indeed require the additional warmth, if he is to rest properly in this Sickbay.

But he rather thinks, as he follows the captain muzzily into sleep, that it is not the blanket which is responsible for the feeling of warmth and contentment which makes that sleep pleasant and…oddly safe…


Spock steps back, hands slowly falling from their positions, and drops his head in weariness. He is reeling from the effort of keeping a dual mind-meld under firm control in the face of such emotion and simultaneously attempting to return to reality to face the consequences for what has just happened.

Jim has fairly rocketed out of his chair, and is now leaning shakily on the bio-bed's protective steel rails. His head hangs low between his shoulders, and when he finally looks up, blue eyes brim with unshed tears.

He gestures almost helplessly toward the bed, trying not to totally lose it in front of the galaxy’s least emotional species. "I…Jesus, Spock, he's so – so happy! What the hell even was that."

"Indeed," Spock replies softly, for he is still trying to assimilate the depth of emotion which he cannot believe he would ever trust himself enough to feel, even a century into his future. "And, by this time…I believe he deserves to be, Captain."

Jim's eyes blink rapidly for a moment, as he looks up at the bio-bed sensor indicators. "He's not even here, is he, Spock. That was all just…memories. Echoes. I’m in the dark here with how this works, is it possible he’s still in there somewhere?”

Spock is silent, processing what he has just learned from this medically permissible mind-meld. Finally he shakes his head. "I do not believe so, Jim. His katra – the Vulcan soul – has clearly already left the body. There only remains the mind, in this case primarily the memory, to indicate life; and if brain function alone is not sufficient to keep the body living, but rather the use of such medical devices as life support systems…"

"I have to let him go, don't I."

"That is your right, as James Kirk is still listed as the ambassador's legal power of attorney, despite the difference in universe. His medical directives specifically state the decision falls to you alone."

Jim turns to him, eyes glinting in the dim lighting. "I'm not making a decision like that unless you're in agreement with me, Spock. That's one thing I have learned the hard way," he says softly, the tone tinged with regret, struggling to recover from the darkness that threatened to swallow them both forever, not very long ago.

Spock regards his captain for a moment, still marveling that Jim is here, standing before him, relatively healthy and able to make decisions at all. The human is still weak, still recovering, from recent events; it will most likely be nearly a year before physical therapy can fully restore what was a healthy body and mind, now irreparably changed, altered by what Dr. McCoy is diplomatically calling 'alternative medicine,' in order to keep them under Section 31's radar.

Kirk's death, saving the Enterprise just three months before, had been a brutal, merciless stab to the heart, to both Spock and his elder counterpart; but it had been the news that Jim had been returned to life, which had apparently struck the final blow to a very old half-Vulcan already weary of a borrowed life, and who was apparently also secretly battling a hereditary heart condition.

"Were I in this position, Captain…" Spock glances down at the still figure on the bed, sleeping peacefully and happily ensconced in the safety of the katra already finding its afterlife. "I would wish to be released. To a Vulcan, the mind is all. If the mind is no longer able to sustain the body, the body is simply a shell, preventing the next step in the necessary processes of life."

Jim exhales in a loud, shaky breath, equal parts relieved and grief-stricken. "Okay. Okay," he manages, surprisingly steady.

He leans over the fragile form of the person responsible for altering their destinies – and the one who has done more than enough to atone for that mistake. "Spock says you're already gone, but just in case you're still in there somewhere – you listen to me, old man," he says, voice only shaking slightly with earnestness. "Your Jim had better be out there somewhere ready to find you, or so help me I will have some sort of inter-dimensional séance and kill his katra-spirit-thing if he doesn't, you hear me? We’ll be having words."

"Captain, the science of séances is dubious and highly suspect at best, and besides that –"

"See what you're leaving me with?" he adds with a choked laugh. A tear rolls down his nose to drop on the elderly Vulcan's aged hand, and he covers it with a brief squeeze of his own. "Thank you," he whispers, and finally steps back from the bed.

His elbow brushes gently against his own Spock's, alive and well and looking far sadder than any full Vulcan ever would.

"By Vulcan standards, he is already gone, Captain," Spock ventures quietly, and Jim nods, taking one last look at the peaceful elderly Vulcan.

"Get out there and raise hell in someone else's universe, Spock," he murmurs with an unsteady grin, and finally turns to the medical technician who has been waiting discreetly just inside the door. "Let him go, Doctor. It’s time."

The young Vulcan nods with what looks like genuine respect and sympathy, and one by one begins to shut off the machines which are the only things keeping the body of Ambassador Spock alive.

"'Bye, old friend," Jim whispers into the air, and if he somehow hangs onto his Spock's hand a little too hard when they finally shut off life support, well. Uhura's awesome, and he doubts that she'll mind too much him being a bit clingy with her boyfriend after a long, emotionally draining day and an even longer, emotionally draining shuttle flight out to New Vulcan.

Oddly enough, he feels strangely at peace with all of this. He knows how out of place the elder Spock felt, how much guilt continually hung over the aging Vulcan for an error in judgment which anyone could have made. The ambassador had never intended to alter their destinies, and he'd spent the rest of his lifetime here trying to atone for that. But for all that, the elder Spock had never belonged here, and had had to live a borrowed life in a borrowed name, with nothing but memory and regrets to keep him company during his last few years.

The universe depends upon universal constants, Jim firmly believes, after many long talks with both Spocks on that subject; and when destiny, fate, or mortal intervention alter those constants, the worlds are forever out of balance.

Now, when the room goes silent at last, the universe is at peace.


Spock of Vulcan finally understands the human concept of coming home.


Who's to say we can't go one more round? By the last tally, only twenty five percent of the galaxy's been charted.

I'd call that negligent. Criminal, even – and an open invitation.

You once said being a starship captain was my first, best destiny. And…if that's true, then yours is to be by my side.

And if there's any true logic to the universe, Spock? We'll end up on that Bridge again someday.

Admit it. For people like us, the journey itself…is home.

Deleted William Shatner voice-over scene for ST:XI