Title: Through Blind Men's Eyes
Fandom: Star Trek
Rating: eventual NC-17; PG for now for mild swearing
Disclaimer: You think I own anything? Have you seen my car? Nothing is mine but the Noctaens and the plot, but I'm pretty sure no one's gonna fight me on that.
A/N: This was originally conceived of as fluffy, lighthearted crack. Then it mutated. Story of my life. My very first attempt at TOP; apologies for any missteps. It should be clear by now that I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. Thoughts (or telepathy) indicated by italics.
Summary: The obligatory Pon Farr story . . . with a bit of a twist.
Kirk was hardly even surprised anymore when the natives turned hostile, and running for his life had become almost second nature. He was more prepared now, several months into his command, than he had been at the beginning of their five-year mission. Hand-to-hand skills honed from years of barfights had been supplemented with more formal combat training in various martial arts. He’d been able to sweet-talk Sulu into giving him fencing lessons after the debacle on Cirrus IV, and he’d attended a good portion of the mandatory phaser target practice that he’d implemented for Security personnel. All in all, he should have been covered. Prepared for every eventuality.
Except that he never was. There was always, always something unexpected. Sometimes it was something good: men with blue eyes were revered as especially sexually potent, or Kirk’s blunt speaking style was regarded as admirably forthright rather than offensive. More often, though, the surprise was an unpleasant one. This was one of those times.
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit.” Kirk could tell that Spock was hurt badly when he made no comment about the illogical nature of such expletives from a linguistic standpoint. Kirk never thought he’d miss the man’s nagging, but at the moment he’d gladly give up sex for a year for just one raised eyebrow and a stoic reproach.
He had half-helped, half-carried Spock to a small shelter in the rock cliff, more of an indentation than a cave but the best they had at the moment. Spock was heavier than he looked—Vulcan muscle density, McCoy would say—and they’d barely made it there before Kirk’s strength gave out. They collapsed to the ground together and Kirk immediately lifted himself to examine Spock’s side. His hands came back green and he cursed again.
“Damn it,” he said softly. “I’m sorry, Spock, I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”
“Illogical.” The voice was weak, but it was there, and Kirk almost fainted with relief. “Our sensors did not detect the Orion weapons when we scanned the planet. There was no way for you to know.”
“You took a shot meant for me. That’s a bad habit of yours, you know.”
“Then blame for our current predicament most accurately lies with me. As first officer it is my duty to protect my captain.” He took a deep breath. It rattled ominously in his chest. “I do not regret my actions, but should I survive—”
“Don’t you fucking dare talk like that; you’re pulling through this, understand?”
“—you may write me up as you see fit,” Spock finished as though Kirk hadn’t spoken.
Kirk couldn’t think of a way to respond that, so he kept quiet. They sat in silence for several minutes before either one of them spoke again.
“They’ll find us soon,” Kirk said with more confidence than he actually felt. “The others should be heading for the scrambler even now. As soon as they take it out Scotty will beam us up along with the hostages, and we’ll be off this godforsaken rock and back home.” There was no response from Spock but another rattling breath, and Kirk’s stomach filled suddenly with lead. “Spock. Hey, Spock, come on, talk to me. You’ve got to stay awake, okay?”
Nothing again for a moment. Then, so softly that Kirk wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t imagined it, “I am finding it . . . difficult . . . to maintain my thoughts, Captain.”
“Jim, goddamn it.” He pressed his hands harder against Spock’s side and tried to ignore how much blood there was, thick and sticky green. The smell of copper mingled heavily with the dust that choked the air. “If you can take a bullet for me, you can call me by first goddamned name.”
“Weapons were . . . considerably more advanced than simple . . . projectiles . . . Jim.”
Kirk laughed despite himself, though it sounded closer to a sob. “It’s a figure of speech, and you’re not fooling me you green-blooded bastard. You understand more than you ever let on, you just think it’s funny to rile Bones.” No response at all that time, which sent Kirk into a near panic. “Hold on, Spock, you just have to hold on. I don’t have a medkit, so you have to hold on until Bones can get you into sickbay.” Still nothing, and the hitching movement of Spock’s chest under his hands was slowing. “No. Damn it, no, you’re not dying, you’re not, Spock, please—”
His hands were green to the wrists, and Spock’s breathing stopped.
Kirk heaved, emptying his stomach onto the rocks, aware only after some time of warm hands wrapped around his shoulders to hold him steady. His vision was hazy and dim, and he wanted . . . silence, solitude, oblivion . . .
His sight began to clear, the rocks blurred by his tears melting and merging into a smooth marble floor, splattered now with bile. The air was no longer filled with dust but cool and clean and scented lightly with incense. But the hands on his shoulders remained, strong and warm as they helped him to his feet.
“Captain?” It couldn’t be, Kirk thought in a daze, that Spock was gazing at him, concern clear in his face. Clear to Kirk, in any case, which was to say still utterly composed by anyone else’s standards. It couldn’t be, because Spock was—he wouldn’t allow himself to think the word. “Do you require medical assistance?”
“Spock?” He still couldn’t believe it; his hands came up to grip strong arms, not caring about Vulcan reticence in the face of so much hope and relief. The flesh was warm beneath the uniform, solid. Alive. Somehow alive after all and oh, Kirk’s head went light with relief. “What happened?” he asked, his voice rough out of an abused throat.
“Our apologies, Captain.” The voice was soft, almost nonexistent, but amplified by the smooth marble that formed the cavernous room. Kirk reluctantly released his First Officer and turned to face the slim figure standing patiently by.
Memories began flooding back. They were on Lambda Noctae Prime, the newest candidate for membership in the Federation. Its inhabitants, a subterranean race who communicated primarily through telepathy, had welcomed the Enterprise’s crew with genuine if subdued enthusiasm. And though Kirk had thoroughly explained that their visit was merely a ceremonial one to open further communication, the Noctaens still looked on him as the man who would deliver them into the Federation’s open arms and had treated him accordingly.
“Your alien physiology has reacted somewhat differently to the procedure than we anticipated.” The figure—Chancellor Laaen, Kirk remembered—bowed, seeming to flicker in and out of existence in the dim light. “Again, we apologize.”
“What the hell happened?” Kirk demanded again, his voice hard—not a diplomatic tone, but fear was deserting him and leaving a simmering anger in its place. “What was that?”
The Noctaens were functionally blind, but large, solid white eyes fixed unerringly on Kirk despite their vestigial nature. He was reminded suddenly of the briefing he had received prior to their arrival. Their subterranean nature had caused the Nocteans to evolve flesh that was nearly translucent, with a network of delicate veins shimmering silvery blue beneath the skin. That, along with their slim builds, had given several other races the impression that the planet and its rich stores of promethium crystals would be an easy conquest.
That the Noctaens had survived for hundreds of years under their own rule provided a warning to those who would underestimate the potency of the telepathic mastery that this race had achieved. A warning that, if Kirk was reading Spock’s renewed grip on his shoulder correctly, he would be wise to heed.
“We have given what we promised, Captain. Did you expect less of us?”
It was an effort, but Kirk managed to rein in his sense of outrage. He was here to play the diplomat, not start an incident. “Certainly not. But when you said that you had a gift for me as a representative of the Federation, I was expecting something more along the lines of a fruit basket.”
The warning pressure of Spock’s suddenly painful grip was more than worth the potential setback in communication that his words may have caused. Worth it, because Spock was alive, God, the relief was still so strong that Kirk could hardly bear it. Meanwhile the Noctaen official tilted his head—her head? The entire race was unsettlingly androgynous, and it had seemed bad form to ask for a clarification—and allowed the thin membranes covering his eyes to flutter rapidly in a signal of confusion.
“It is the greatest gift that we have to bestow,” he breathed. “The gift of self-awareness. We have shown you the face of your greatest fear, so that in embracing it you might find its power lessened. Our people were once fearful of the dark as yours are, and fought at great length to keep it at bay. Only by immersing ourselves in our fear were we able to evolve and thrive as we have.” Unseeing eyes turned to lock on Spock. “Will you accept our gift as your Captain has done? Would you know your fear, and live inside of it?”
“Unnecessary,” Spock said stiffly, though his hand relaxed slightly on Kirk’s arm. There would be a ring of bruises there in the morning, but Kirk found he didn’t much mind. “Vulcan children are taught to confront such things at an early age, in order to achieve mental and emotional control. I am well aware of what you would call my greatest fear and therefore have no need of assistance.”
“You know what,” the whisper came, “but you do not yet know why. To obtain full information would only be . . .” There was a pause as he searched for the correct words, and the fins along the backs of his forearms shivered in a smile. “Ah, yes. Logical.”
“Such uninvited intrusion into another’s mind is seen by many in the Federation as a violation,” Spock said, his voice cool. “I must ask you to cease.”
Kirk felt a shiver run up his spine, and not just from the cool, damp air. He hadn’t given much thought to the likelihood that the Noctaens would be monitoring his thoughts. Foolishly, he had assumed that he would feel some sense of them should they attempt to probe his mind—he always had before with Spock. That he hadn’t noticed a thing made him wonder if perhaps the Noctaen’s telepathic abilities had actually been downplayed rather than exaggerated.
“Again, our apologies,” Laaen said. “We are unused to others’ presence, and our society is by necessity quite open. We certainly meant no offense.”
Your pardon please, Captain, Kirk suddenly . . . not heard, exactly, so much as knew. A voice in his head that was not a voice, but a thought, a presence. Speaking aloud is quite tiring after a time. May we converse in this way for a short duration? Our vocal cords are not accustomed to such strenuous exercise. You may, of course, speak your reply in your customary way, but if you merely focus on the words I will hear them.
His eyes locked on the ethereal form of the Chancellor, and he nodded. Yes, by all means, he thought. They had gone to great lengths to communicate in the way to which he was accustomed; to return the favor now was simple etiquette. Besides, he discovered that it wasn’t at all unpleasant. The Chancellor’s thoughts were cool inside his head, like water flowing over stone far from the sun’s heat. He wondered idly if his thoughts had a feel to them as well and received a wave of amusement in return.
They do indeed. Your thoughts are rich earth, and sweet green growing things—what a startling color is green!—and the bright sparkle of stars. And you think quite loudly, Captain, even when you do not intend to. It is . . . bracing. Come, will you walk with me? We have much to discuss.
He began to walk away, gesturing for Kirk to follow. Spock started forward as well, but Kirk stopped him with a small gesture despite his urge to keep the Vulcan in his sight for a while longer. Chancellor Laaen clearly wanted to speak—think?—with him in private, and Kirk was willing to accommodate him. He became aware, as they walked across the chamber, of a faint glow beckoning through the shadows ahead of them. They moved slowly, the currents that the Noctaens used to navigate without sight less reliable in air than they were in water. Gradually the glow grew stronger, brighter, until they passed through an archway and Kirk caught his breath at the sight that met them.
We contracted this garden through one of our trading partners, Laaen told him, and Kirk could feel his quiet pride at the Starfleet captain’s response. In deference to our sighted allies. Phosphorescent plants and minerals, every one from the caves that we inhabit. A small tribute to those used to the color and variety of surface life; I am glad that it pleases you.
Pleases doesn’t quite cover it, Kirk thought back. Color glowed all around him, blues and greens and reds and yellows laid out like lovely, ghostly flower beds. He could hear the soft trickle of water, and before he knew it the fear and tension that remained from his vision drained out of him, leaving a wonderful sense of peace. You’ve made every effort to accommodate us, to make us welcome. It’s something much appreciated by the Federation, and it will certainly help your petition for membership.
But we still make many mistakes, Laaen thought sadly. Our gift to you . . . please understand that it was given in good faith, and with only good intentions. It is distressing to us that it caused you such pain.
An understandable error, Kirk replied. The meeting of two cultures is always more difficult than anticipated, no matter how carefully the representatives plan.
Quite true. And yet I do not believe that our efforts were entirely in vain. It is important, Captain, that you understand the true nature of what you have been given. Your fear is an unusual one. They passed along the edge of the garden and Kirk realized that the walls here were not natural rock or even quarried stone, but acrylic glass that offered a view of the black waters where the Noctaens spent most of their time. He could just make out faint shapes moving within. You do not fear death, Captain Kirk; at least, not your own. Yet this thought is the one that terrifies you most. To lose him, and to be unable to prevent it. The powerlessness frightens you almost as much as the loss.
So you saw what I saw, Kirk thought with no small hint of anger. You hacked into my mind and then just sat back and watched the carnage.
Laaen’s eyelids opened and closed rapidly in distress. Please understand, such . . . violation, such an ugly idea . . . such violation was not our intent. Your First Officer has some minor telepathic abilities, and his tracks run through your mind in several places. We saw these and assumed that our presence would be accepted. This was our error.
Yes, it . . . Kirk faltered in his thoughts, uncertain how to explain. Contact between two minds is . . . an intensely personal thing. To initiate it without consent from one party is one of the strongest taboos in any culture in the Federation.
Confusion trickled through into his mind. But we could read the traces of your surprise on several occasions when your mind met Mr. Spock. He has not always asked your consent before joining with you. The difference, perhaps, lies in your feelings? The affection that you have for him?
Kirk considered lying for all of a second. After all, what was the point with so powerful a telepath, especially one who seemed to have little reservations about delving deeper than would generally be accepted as polite. Yes. Spock does not need to ask for my consent, because it is always already given.
I understand. So his entry into your thoughts is . . . welcome, yes, that is the word. Fascinating, as I believe he would say. They reached the end of the path that wove through the garden and turned, heading slowly back the way they had come. As I said, it is upsetting to us that our gift caused you such unintended pain. We would like to redeem ourselves, if we may.
Really, that’s not necessary, Kirk tried, only to be met with a faint trickle of amusement.
Perhaps not, but I think that you will not argue. We attempted to give you what we value most; the sort of insular thinking that we must learn to avoid if we hope to acclimate to life as a Federation planet. The joy of a gift lies not in the giver, but in the gifted. He stopped to face Kirk, lit by the garden’s glow as if from within. We offer, then, what we feel that you would value more highly than simple knowledge of your fear: we offer you the means to conquer it.
Kirk’s heart seized in his chest for a split second, and, “What do you mean?” he found himself saying out loud.
Would you stand for him? Take the opportunity to save him from danger, though it may cost you your own life?
“Yes.” Yes, I would, Kirk added mentally. In a heartbeat. But—
Good. It is good. Laaen was vibrating with pleasure. A gift worth giving, that is valued so highly. To atone for our mistake, it is offered and accepted. Now, captain, come! For your final night we have prepared a celebration.
There was no time for a clarification; Kirk was swept back into the audience chamber where Spock was waiting in well-concealed frustration and concern, then on to the banquet that had been prepared in their honor. There were hands to shake—a custom that the Noctaens had adapted to remarkably well, though the thick webbing between their fingers remained somewhat disconcerting—and toasts to be drunk and wishes of future prosperity to bestow. The thousands of tiny details that made up a diplomatic mission and never failed to give Kirk a pounding headache. There was no chance to speak with Laaen again about what he had said, nor any chance to confer with Spock.
He would do so as soon as they beamed up, he resolved. After the official debriefing he would pull his First Officer aside and get his reading on all of this. Perhaps he had been approached while Laaen spoke with him. They would find out soon enough, he thought, just as soon as they beamed back up and he got Bones to give him a hypo for this damned headache.
The hours of the banquet and celebration felt like days; by the end he was finding it difficult to focus on his duties, his mind slowing to a near-crawl. Yet none of the Noctaens commented on his fractured mental state, or indeed even seemed to notice. That should worry him, he thought vaguely as he and Spock took positions to beam up. He’d talk to Spock about that, too. Just as soon as they were aboard . . .
. . . a swirl of light, the bows of the Noctaens as the world dissolved around them . . .
. . . “Captain?” Spock’s voice, as though from far away. Weak, as well; was Spock having difficulties too? The transporter room swam around him . . .
. . . strong hands gripped his arms, keeping him from hitting the ground, but he didn’t remember falling, didn’t remember . . .
. . . light was bright in his eyes when he opened them again, and a dark shadow hovered over him. He blinked once, again, eyes adjusting to the light until he could see Doctor McCoy standing over him. Sickbay, then, he thought, and a quick glance at his surroundings confirmed it. Something seemed to be wrong with the environmental controls, however; even with the blanket over him he was shivering.
“Bones,” he groaned, wincing at the sound of his own voice. It was deeper than usual, and he wondered how long he’d been out. “What the hell happened?”
“Jim?” McCoy sounded shaken; looked shaken.
“Not expecting me back?” he rasped with a grin. “Sorry, can’t get rid of me that easy. So what was it, another allergic reaction? It was the wine they were serving, wasn’t it? You know how I can’t handle shellfish, and I’ll bet—”
“No,” McCoy said quickly, “no, not an . . . look, you need . . . rest, and I need to run some more scans on yo—on Spock, so just lie back and—”
“Spock?” Concern shot through Kirk’s veins in a quicksilver flash. “What happened, Bones?”
“I’m . . . not sure,” he admitted. “Look, just let me run a few more tests, and when I know anything new you’ll be the first to know.”
“Not good enough, Doctor. I need to know now—” He grabbed McCoy by the wrist, and then several things happened all at once.
The skin beneath his fingers was cooler than it should have been, colder than his body by several degrees. He could see McCoy’s mouth moving, but the words were lost in the sudden flood of weird, so fucking weird, Jim’s words in his voice, actual expression on that face, never thought I’d see the day, damn it he’s a touch telepath get ahold of your thoughts for—
The fingers at the end of his hand were long and slim. Elegant. Hands he was familiar with; hands that were not his own.
Beneath the standard biobed blanket was a uniform the same cool blue as that of the man standing over him.
“Bones.” His voice. It was familiar now, as familiar as his own. A strange thrumming in his side, picking up its pace as realization set in. His heart. “Bones,” he said again, his words but Spock’s voice. “What the hell is going on?”