First off, I apologize profusely for the length between updates. My muse pretty much died, and for a few days I was convinced that this chapter was terrible and considered scrapping everything... Thankfully, some kind souls knocked some sense into my head, and I can safely say that the trouble has passed.

Second, I am back in classes again. This means that updates will be scattered. This is not a hiatus, but production on all of my fics is going to take a hit.

This story was meant to be two chapters, but my muse took it in a completely different direction, so it is now a work in progress! Beguile gets credit for the beta and for her continued support during my funk, and Kira is a fantastic one-girl cheering section. :)

Finally, a HUGE thank you to everyone that reviewed, added, and alerted! My goodness, I did not expect such an outpouring for that first chapter. Enjoy!

CHAPTER II

At first Kirk thinks that he is hallucinating, because he is seeing things that simply do not make sense. He is sitting in the shuttlecraft, but everything around him seems muted and unusually monochrome. It is a strange condition of semi-consciousness, like being trapped somewhere between wakefulness and sleep.

His fingers ghost over the controls of the shuttlecraft and the vessel shudders in compliance, touching down in the receiving dock without a sound. He is suddenly standing by the hatch with no recollection of how he arrived there and is staring out into the semi-darkness of the landing bay.

His every sense is alert, hyperactive, but his brain seems unwilling to relinquish information in return. With an unusual feeling of familiarity, Kirk realizes that he is not experiencing these events for the first time.

He descends from the shuttlecraft and encounters a vaguely humanoid alien, but his adversary is a collection of mottled color, nearly featureless even from such a short distance. He feels that he should know the face and its details, but his every attempt at recollection brings only a dull, throbbing ache to his temples.

The alien steps closer, but does not approach him directly.

"You are the man they call the captain."

It is not a question, but an icy statement, extremely effective in its delivery.

"Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S Enterprise," Kirk offers, simply because his brain has suddenly denied him any other coherent thought.

". . . the Federation," his adversary's voice breaks apart from an interference Kirk can not identify, and only parts of the sentence reach him with any clarity.

Kirk hesitates, unable to discern the mood from two words. "Yes. The United Federation of Planets."

There is a sound like an entire assembly of people moving at once, and a very large presence is suddenly looming very close to him. Kirk's eyes snap toward the shadow and find a much larger version of the alien he has already encountered. It has a knife clutched in one hand, and points the object menacingly in Kirk's direction.

"I must apologize," the other alien offers. "It is merely a precaution."

"A precaution for what?" Kirk's eyes freeze on the knife. Though small in the large alien's hands, it shines as brightly as a beacon of light. Its every detail is clear as crystal in this half-broken string of memories.

"We are not on terms with your . . . Federation. Your vessel is trespassing. You see why this is a problem, Captain?"

Kirk shifts his focus away from the hulking presence beside him.

"How can I be accused of intruding when I have no idea who you are?"

Kirk senses that the alien must have narrowed his eyes at him, if only for the reason that his skin begins to crawl and his heart rate quickens, not out of fear, but out of the irritation that precedes anger.

"Who are you?" Kirk repeats.

The alien replies to him, but its voice is lost as an echo in Kirk's ears. He can hear it, but his brain refuses to translate the vibrations into words.

What?

". . . I will be," the man waves his hand in the air as if searching for the word, "diplomatic with you."

"That's right?" Kirk offers, breathless. He has his hands clenched, fingernails digging into his palms in an effort to distract himself from the raging frustration. "And how is that?"

"Ah," the alien returns without enthusiasm. "I believe I misspoke. I mean that I will be merciful."

The word brings a forceful hand to Kirk's arm from the henchman beside him. Inhuman strength slams him against the side of the shuttlecraft with a force that blurs his vision. The shadow of the larger alien looms over him, more frightening for the fact that Kirk can not conjure the details of its face. His every iota is suddenly focused on the intense, white-hot pain rocketing down his arm. He can feel the warmth of his blood running in rivulets toward his fingertips, and grits his teeth against a scream.

"Enough," the commander offers with a glacial sense of urgency.

The grip on Kirk's arm loosens, and he slumps against the side of the shuttlecraft with an exhausted groan. His hand reaches for his injured arm, cupping the bleeding wound with his palm, and he winces against the contact.

"You do realize," Kirk offers after a few heavy breaths, "that you are holding hostage the captain of a Federation starship here on a diplomatic endeavor?"

He does not see the larger alien move beside him.

The creature possesses a speed that belies its size, and Kirk's breath hitches in surprise at the same moment that the alien encircles its hand around his neck. It pushes him against the shuttlecraft again, fingers tightening like a vice, and the knife, covered in his blood, dances menacingly in front of Kirk's eyes.

The commander's lips form a response to the question, but Kirk cannot hear anything save the ringing in his ears. His vision fractures and blurs, and he is dimly aware of clawing desperately against his captor's steady grip before consciousness leaves him.


McCoy is staring at the numbers and is trying to convince himself that Jim Kirk will make it through all this.

But simply glancing at the biofunction monitor indicates that Kirk's pulse is thready and that his respiration is weak. Though it seems impossible for a thousand points of light to posses human characteristics, the unsatisfactory values seem to mock the doctor's competence. McCoy stares at them, his face twisted in a scowl.

It is what the numbers can not tell him that is most disconcerting.

Jim's eyes. The pupils are completely blown, showing only minute rings of the purest blue against a background of black. It is an utterly unnatural description to apply to one Jim Kirk. His eyes could be many things—bright, livid, drunken, or, hell, even seductive—but never dark, expressionless.

His brain activity readouts are patternless and wild. There are moments of nothing, an abyss in which McCoy inwardly fears his friend might be brain dead, before sudden and brief moments hysteria threaten to shatter the sensitive sensors on the machinery.

McCoy has never seen anything like this. Then again, Jim Kirk has a habit of bringing him in contact with many events he has never seen before, whether McCoy is willing and able to handle them or not.

He has Kirk on the surgery biobed, properly assessing the younger man's injured arm and trying to drown out the chaos filtering in from the next room, where it sounds more like a war being fought than an attempt at triage.

Another explosion shatters the silence somewhere very close. The lights in sickbay flicker. He can hear something shattering in the next room along with the unmistakable sound of colliding bodies. There are screams, echoes of disjointed words . . .

But he can no longer hear them.

His eyes are locked on the screen above Kirk's biobed, because every single one of the captain's vital signs are suddenly dropping faster than than the machine can keep time with them.

He hears himself asking Chapel for a hypospray. Calmly, even politely, asking her, because the trauma has robbed him of his ability to scream or to demand.

He plunges the hypospray into Kirk's neck, gripping the implement so tightly that his hands shake from the effort. His free hand finds its way to Kirk's shoulder, brushing against the bruised skin with a tenderness he could never put into thought or words. It is a motion born completely from his subconscious.

The Enterprise lurches and cries, her shell and her insides screaming in unison as if with a human voice. A voluminous explosion echoes above the din, somehow larger than any of its predecessors. The ship continues to tremble for several seconds, knocking McCoy against the biobed, before all motion suddenly ceases.

With a heavy note of finality, everything falls silent.

McCoy steadies himself with one hand on the side of the biobed and the other still on Kirk's shoulder, and holds his breath against the attack he fears will resume.

The silence is so intense that all he can hear is the beating of his heart in his ears.

He releases his breath, his shoulders stooping, and chances a glance at Chapel. She is gripping the biobed with white knuckles, but her expression is reserved, and her attention is focused on the biomonitor. McCoy can see the numbers reflected in her wide and dark eyes.

Jim jerks suddenly beneath McCoy's fingers. The doctor's eyes snap back to the monitor, and relief rushes through his limbs as a tangible sensation.

The numbers have stopped their downward plunge, and though they are much more hesitant on the return, Jim's vital signs are slowly beginning to improve. McCoy redoubles his grip on the bare shoulder ever slightly, perhaps out of encouragement to his patient, perhaps out of reassurance to himself.


Once he has Jim stable again, McCoy has no choice but to lend his hand to the other members of the crew.

At the end of it all, he has no idea whether it has been six hours or six days.

He does know, however, that the attacks have long since ceased.

Disturbingly, this thought brings him little comfort.

He is standing next to Kirk's bed in the isolation room when crisp footsteps draw his attention away from the PADD at his arm.

"What are you doing here?"

McCoy does not mean to sound so accusatory, and, thankfully, the Vulcan never takes his outbursts in much regard. Spock merely raises his eyebrow ever so slightly in a manner that communicates more information than one of his twenty minute science dissertations.

"Don't you have, I don't know, a ship to take care of, or something?"

"I have come to inquire as to the status of the Captain, doctor."

A flurry of memories resounds in McCoy's head at once, and he shudders inwardly as they are forced through. A darkened hallway, the distant calls of destruction that are suddenly not so distant anymore, the force of the ship lurching beneath his feet, flames and sparks and the torrential downpour of debris . . .

"Oh," he offers, half distracted.

"Our captors are requesting information on the captain's condition."

McCoy's attempt at a curse tapers off into a groan, and he buries his head in his hands.

"Captors? So they blow up half the damn ship, and now they're holding the whole thing hostage?"

"They insist that the captain is responsible for the death of one of their senior members and are demanding his return in exchange for our release."

"And how exactly are they . . . holding the ship hostage?"

"The Enterprise is critically damaged, doctor. It will take some time until the ship is capable of warp."

McCoy sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose against the dull and throbbing ache in his head.

"You've gotta be kidding me," he speaks to himself, muffled, through his fingers.

"This is not a humorous situation, doctor."

Any coherent response McCoy thought to attempt is lost in a sputter of temporary rage. He raises his head, eyes snapping to the Vulcan's own, and glares at him.

"I am not joking around, Spock." He annunciates each word with an icy clarity. "And if you even think you came down here to take Jim anywhere, you're out of your hobgoblin mind."

"I will do no such thing."

The rest of McCoy's retort quickly withers away in his throat under the Vulcan's penetrating gaze. It is the same expression that Spock always wears, but something, perhaps McCoy's wounded pride, makes it project as dark and threatening.

". . . You don't believe them do you?"

"I have no knowledge of the details of what happened to the captain while in their custody. However, if my personal assessment of the captain is of any merit, I would not consider him an individual to take life without warrant."

"Murder?" McCoy spits the word, disgusted. "Jim might have a short fuse, but he isn't an idiot."

"That is what I said, doctor," Spock returns, flatly.

The more pressing matters at hand chase away McCoy's sarcastic retort, and he resolves himself to staring mutely at the Vulcan.

"What is the Captain's condition?" Spock continues in response to McCoy's silence.

McCoy considers relaying the information in his usual medical jargon, but his brain tells him that he just does not care for that at the moment, because no matter how much he tries to objectify the situation with emotionless words gleaned from a textbook, it will not get the images out of his head.

"What do you want me to say, Spock? The force of the ship being hit nearly drove his head through the bulkhead, not to mention a multitude of hurts he was hiding from whatever those alien bastards did to him beforehand. The ceiling fell on him, for crying out loud. He's unconscious and I've tried everything I can, but it's a hell of a head wound if I've ever seen one. Jim's been hurt bad before, but this might be the worst that I've seen."

He hesitates for a moment, and adds, bitterly, "all we can do is wait."

Spock inclines his head toward the doctor, but his eyes are focused over McCoy's shoulder and fixated on the object of their discussion. The captain is utterly still, corpse-like and pale, a condition that is the complete antithesis of every adjective that Spock has hitherto come to associate with Jim Kirk.

"I trust you will not take this as a judgment upon your medical abilities, doctor," Spock offers, without taking his eyes from the captain, "but I believe it would be in the best interests of all parties involved for the captain to recover as soon as possible."

"You think I don't know that? I want to find out what happened as much as you do, but for all our medical technology, we can do nothing but sit here and rely on Jim's own constitution."

The Vulcan is motionless for a moment. His expression is, as always, unreadable.

"If I may say," he offers after an abnormal moment of hesitation, "I believe that the captain's constitution will prove quite advantageous in this situation."

McCoy glances over his shoulder, fixing his eyes on Kirk. "Getting in touch with your human side, Spock? Hope is a human emotion."

"It was merely an observation, doctor."

To be continued.