Note: This was written so it could be considered a follow-up to my rebooted "Naked Time" fic "Inamorato", but like the episode it mirrors, can also stand alone.

Is this a dagger which I see before me
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? ~ Shakespeare, 'Macbeth'

Jim was trying not to roll his eyes. Really, he was. And the effort it took to refrain was considerable. He had to keep repeating in his mind 'your crew is the best there is, each and every one of them is as smart as all hell, every once in a while you can allow the occasional ensign a moment of idiocy.'

Yet even that mantra did little to appease his impatience.

In all fairness, he had been irritated even before the transporter technician had fumbled through beaming supplies down to the rehabilitation colony and beaming the large, square container of 'classified material' back onto the Enterprise. It was the principle of the matter. His ship was being used for a milk-run, toting around various supplies like a freaking delivery service when their awesome selves should be out exploring.

He didn't blame the ensign. Yeah, he probably should have contacted the rehabilitation colony before attempting to beam down their supplies-you know, like the protocols made clear-so they could lower their shielding device. That would probably have helped with the delivery part of their mission... but, all sarcasm aside, the ensign was probably bored out of his mind, the way they all were, and had likely forgotten about the shield in his haste to get the assignment over and done with.

So no, Jim certainly couldn't blame him, there. Not when he was just as eager to leave.

"Well Ensign," he said with a forced smile of reassurance, "the next time we have to deliver supplies to a rehabilitation colony, you'll remember about the shield-thing. Practice makes perfect and all that." He clapped the frazzled ensign on the shoulder in a show of solidarity before turning to walk, not run, back to his bridge. It was an important distinction; a Captain did not run if he did not have to. But if his steps were a little quicker than normal in his eagerness, what of it? Spock wasn't there to tease him about it; Spock was on the bridge, waiting for him.

Spock whose hands, just this morning, had clasped and caressed him, whose heat had surrounded and engulfed him, whose skin had pressed firmly against his as they bumped and ground, pushed and pulled, and tried to pull their bodies into one another as they made love, a chorus of gasps and moans filling the cabin…

Jim had to stop and physically shake himself, willing his dick to back down in submission, grinning the entire while. Man, he had it bad.

It probably wasn't the best idea to walk onto the bridge with a hard-on. Not just for the poor example it would set, but because it would embarrass poor Spock, who would recognize its cause with less than a millisecond's glance at him, and also because that type of clear evidence to Spock and Jim's sex life would annoy Bones to no end… actually, that part would be fun.

It would certainly liven up an otherwise completely dull shift. He could practically hear Bones's indignant snort, could visualize the exaggerated exasperation on his friend's face. It was an amusing thought, anyway.

Jim chuckled.

As he walked, the soft baritone of his laughter concealed the noise of a scuffle in the transporter room from his notice. The sounds of thumping against the walls soon blended with the beautiful harmony of the ship's engines and the rhythmic thud-thud of his footfalls as he drew further and further away.

"If you two don't stop making googly eyes at each other, I really will throw up on you this time, Jim, that's a promise," Bones grouched from behind the captain's chair as the Enterprise pulled smoothly away from the Tantalus rehabilitation colony's orbit.

Jim had been subtly trying, through clever use of eye communication alone, to inquire of Spock 'whose place tonight, yours or mine?' But now he threw his Vulcan lover a wink before swerving his chair around so he could roll his eyes at his friend.

"Bones, why are you even on the bridge? Shouldn't you be in sickbay, terrorizing helpless ensigns into submission through eager use of painful hyprospray injections?"

At the same time Spock chimed in with, "Doctor, I fail to see how a term for an unusual ball delivery by a leg-spin bowler in the Earth game 'cricket' is applicable to the nature of my recent eye contact with the captain. Perhaps if you explain your use of the word 'googly'?"

The sound of Spock's voice was completely deadpan, yet possessing that teasing undertone that Jim was only just learning to pick up on. It was true that he and Spock hadn't been together that long, and were still technically in the honeymoon stage of their relationship, though it often felt, to Jim at least, that they had known each other forever.

For all that they had started out their mission by jumping down each other's throats, their relationship had evolved into something indefinable. Like once he had let go of his initial anger and hostility, and Spock had done the same, a switch had been flipped and there was this whole other plain open to them; one that felt like an almost other-worldly sense of symmetry.

They came from different worlds, possessed far different personalities, and had experienced astronomically different upbringings, but like the corresponding pieces of yin and yang, they just seemed to fit; two polar, contrary forces almost interdependent in the natural world. Such was the way of their command style, such was the way of their relationship.

In other words, he got Spock. Appreciated him. Understood him. No Vulcan-to-Human Rosetta Stone necessary…. at least he never seemed to need one. Whatever that meant.

He'd never experienced anything like it before in his life, this type of symbiotic relationship, this… synchronicity. Yet with it the code to Spock's expressions and mannerisms, once cracked, was actually not that hard to decipher. A floodgate had been opened, and if Jim had any say in the matter, it would never again be closed. It was a common fallacy, both among the ship's crew and within humanity at large, that Vulcans did not possess a sense of humor. Jim knew otherwise. Well, he knew that Spock possessed one, in the very least, and it often manifested itself when the Vulcan was exchanging jibes with their CMO.

Jim thought Spock hilarious, but he wasn't about to admit that to Bones.

The sound of Chekov and Sulu snickering, and each trying to muffle it, permeated the bridge, and Jim felt his smile grow, until the chime of an incoming call from the communication station called for his attention.

"Captain," Uhura called, her tone indicating a sudden alarm that had Jim sitting up to attention immediately, joking with his friend and his lover immediately forgotten. "I have a Dr. Tristan Adams on line from the Tantalus Rehabilitation Colony. He says that one of the inmates has escaped and cautions that he may have stowed away aboard the Enterprise through the container we just beamed aboard. He says that the inmate is both clever and dangerous."

Jim found his gaze meeting Spock's once more, instinctively seeking him out, only this time he was reasonably sure that his eyes weren't conveying his usual come-hither stare. No, this time they probably said something along the lines of 'oh shit'.

"Can't believe Pike is sending us on a milk run, he said…. This assignment is going to be ever-so-boring, he said…. What are we, delivery men? Are we going to get a tip if we deliver these supplies in a half an hour or less, he said… Jim, anyone ever told you the one about the gift horse and the mouth?" The doctor's voice rang out dryly through the tense silence on the bridge.

Jim knew what his friend was doing and he sent him an appreciative glance before playing along.

"Are you still here?" Jim asked, intentionally infusing his voice with exaggerated exasperation. "Are there are there not sick people down in sickbay awaiting your tender mercies, and I use the word 'tender' loosely?" His mind was only half on their tension-diverting play-by-play, his eyes focused entirely on the live feed of security's pursuit of their stowaway, who was shaping up to be both elusive and doggedly persistent.

"You want me to roam the halls from the bridge to sickbay with an escaped inmate on the loose? One known to be violent? Gee thanks, Jim, I love you, too."

At that, Jim looked up, and smirked.

"Spock?" Jim asked, smiling sweetly at the doctor while addressing his lover. "Be a dear and nerve pinch Bones for me? Just to get him to shut-up?"

"Ha, come near me, Hobglobin, and I'll show you my slide collection of twenty-three known Vulcan contaminants, and by 'show' I mean 'expose' you to."

"There is nothing that would please me more," Spock answered, stoic, as usual, although there was a light in his eyes that indicated to Jim that he got it - the reason behind their comedic impromptu - and he was willing to play along. "And I do not believe that even a Vulcan nerve pinch would prevent the doctor from engaging in what you humans call 'whining'. Due to the frequency with which he engages in the practice, and his tremendous skill at it, I am almost convinced that it operates separate from his conscious mind. Much like a Terran chicken remaining briefly capable of motion after its head has been removed from its body. And doctor, I do believe exposing crew members to viable diseases is unethical. Did you not take an oath to prevent such practices?"

"Spock, there are some things just damn worthy of losing my license over."

"There should be laws governing the amount of testosterone allowed in a single room," Jim heard Uhura mutter under her breath from her work station, although a quick glance in her direction confirmed that there was a slight smile on her lips, the worry that had been evident in her dark eyes giving way to genuine amusement.

And when Jim heard Sulu quietly chuckling from his station, he knew that he, Spock and Bones had been successful in their attempts and felt his own smile grow.

The release of the tension that had been building up in the bridge crew's cumulative shoulders lasted all of one minute before it became rather abruptly and cruelly undone by the sudden arrival of a phaser wielding madman aboard the bridge.

Though he wasn't proud of it, Jim's first impulse was to laugh, because the appearance of the guy? So cliché he could be an extra in a reenactment of a twentieth century horror film. His hair was disheveled, his eyes were crazy, and he was mumbling incoherently under his breath. It took supreme effort to reign in that first impulse to make way for the second… adrenaline, a rush of it, the kind of rush he received whenever any member of his crew was threatened.

There was no way he was going to let this… nutcase, hurt anyone in his presence. No way. No how. It'd be over his dead body. Jim stood slowly, so not to alarm their intruder, and inched his way toward the turbolift door.

An instinctive glance towards Spock, whose gaze met his and, briefly, held, had their strange understanding flaring to life once more. Spock knew which action Jim wanted him to take.

"Asylum," the madman rasped, the word barely recognizable as Jim turned, his attention snapping back to the deranged lunatic in front of him.

"At gun point?" Jim asked, not bothering to hide his incredulity. "Is that phaser set on kill? Because if so, you make a persuasive argument. Why don't you hand over the phaser, and then we'll talk asylum? No one has to get hurt, here."

Jim locked and held the man's gaze, buying Spock time to make his stealthy way behind them.

The man opened his mouth, obviously struggling to formulate a reply, just as Spock reached up to grab his neck in a pinch. The man fell towards Jim in a dead faint, his body heavier than Jim expected as he adjusted to keep them both upright.

For a moment, as he struggled to remain standing with the dead weight of the escaped inmate pressing against him, Jim met Spock's eyes to convey another message.

'Thank you.'

A slight nod, and a fierce gleam in the dark eyes relayed Spock's response of, 'Unnecessary, I would have done it whether you asked it or not. I did not like him pointing a phaser in your direction.'

And at that Jim felt his heart soar.

"It's still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it,"Jim quoted under his breath, knowing Spock would hear him.. "But it's the truth even if it didn't happen."

"Kesey," Spock murmured, "'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'… an interesting sentiment."

Jim smiled. It thrilled him whenever Spock got a random pop culture reference to Earth literature and it had been a private joke/challenge between them ever since Spock had made a random reference to Dumas' 'The Three Musketeers' when a weird space pathogen had spread like wildfire through their crew, making its victims act inebriated. Since that day Jim kept dropping random quotes whenever a situation called for it and so far Spock had yet to miss a one.

They were such geeks, the two of them. They really were. It was completely awesome.

"Well, how convenient is it that the man came to us, huh? Dontcha just love it when the enemy literally falls right into your hands?" Jim asked his crew at a louder volume, forcing himself to break out of his ill-timed reverie. He tried not to laugh at the chorus of groans that followed his proclamation.

Three hours later, perched once more in his chair, Jim eyed his CMO and First Officer with growing annoyance as they reported their findings on the medical condition of the Enterprises' impromptu visitor.

Bones and Spock were, without a doubt, the two most important men in his life, hell, the two most important people, regardless of gender. One he adored like a brother, and the other he coveted with an untold passion that surprised even him. But he'd be damned if they weren't also the two most stubborn individuals he'd ever had the pleasure of knowing.

"So what you're trying to tell me," he said, rubbing his temples to stave off an approaching headache, "is that you think there's something going on with this stowaway of ours, this Van Gelder, who isn't really an inmate seeking asylum, but rather Dr. Adams's Assistant – Dr. Adams being the Federation's who's who man for rehabilitation psychology - recently gone insane? Something going on other than the man being utterly batshit crazy, that is, and incapable of holding a coherent conversation?"

He wondered if the incredulity in his tone would help change their answer, though he wouldn't put any credits on it. Yet how in the hell was he supposed to tell Starfleet that the Enterprise was going to stay in orbit over Tantalus so Jim could investigate the practices of the Federation's leading psychiatrist?

That ought to go over ever so well. Especially since Jim was the youngest Captain ever, and one who'd had absolutely no experience when they first set out on their five year mission. As much as it vexed him to dwell on it, there were those out there who weren't entirely convinced he had the wherewithal to captain the Federation's flagship and he absolutely hated giving those nay-sayers ammunition to use against him.

The pain from his headache was rapidly increasing.

"That's right, Jim. The man is up there rambling about a machine and an experiment and Dr. Adams being behind it. I think it's worth investigating."

"I concur," Spock added, and if Jim wasn't so distraught over the idea that he had to investigate the equivalent of a Psychological Titan, he would have cracked a joke on Bones and Spock finally agreeing on something. As it was, though…

"Gee, we have on our hands an insane man who is prone to incoherent rambling? Rambling? Who knew? What a new and amazing phenomenon! Let's alert the medical journals to this absolutely shocking side-effect of madness, shall we? Oh I know, I'll do you one better, let us take insane guy's word over that of the most renowned psychiatrist in the Alpha Quadrant. Stellar idea. Why didn't I think of that? Are we sure this madness isn't catchy?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim could see the edges of Spock's lips twitching, as if he were struggling to hold back a smile. Bones, however, well used to Jim's particular brand of facetious, was distinctly unimpressed.

"Fine, if you're going to be a smartass about it, I will put it in my log. And if I put it in my log, guess who has to address the issue in his own? I'll give you a little hint: he's blond, eats way too much junk food, is allergic to anything and everything, and thinks he's a comedian."

"Fine, Bones, you win. I'll investigate. But just for the record? You're such a pain in the ass."

It was possible, Jim knew, to adore someone profusely yet also desire to strangle them. Vigorously.

Yet even though he was hugely annoyed, he also knew his friend was right. It was his duty, as a Starfleet Captain, to investigate anything potentially sinister and harmful going on within a Federation-funded facility. Duty was one thing he would never intentionally blow off, no matter how unpleasant.

"The feeling's mutual," the doctor drawled, flashing a triumphant grin. "So, cards tonight?"

"Yep, I'll bring the chips and dip," Jim answered, nodding to his friend as he commed to alert Dr. Adams that they were coming down.

Funnily enough, Dr. Adams seemed fine with Jim visiting his facility, which had Jim questioning the necessity of an investigation, yet again.

They were wasting precious time, time that could be better spent pursuing their next mission.

"'Kay, that wasn't the tone of a man who had something to hide. Bones, at what point is insane just insane? You know, an apple is an apple is an apple, no matter if it's in a pie, in a dumpling, or on a stick? What does Van Gelder have to do to prove he's a few beans short of a cup of coffee? Dance around the Enterprise, claiming to be Teddy Roosevelt and trying to dig the Panama Canal through the bulkheads?"

"Kesselring," Spock murmured, when Jim had paused to take a breath, "'Arsenic and Old Lace'."

The peaceful timbre of Spock's voice diffused Jim's rapidly escalating irritation somewhat. His Vulcan lover had this weird calming effect on him, even when Jim was at his most irrational. This ability to take him out of the moment, however briefly, to reflect on what was going on and take in the larger picture. It was just another aspect of their unusually complementary dynamic. Jim didn't quite understand it, but he appreciated it, and it served its purpose; he felt his shoulders lose their tension and his heart rate slow.

Fact: they had a situation. Bones was the chief medical officer, and a close friend; his instincts told him that something sinister was going on here. Personal feelings on the matter aside, he had to alleviate those concerns beyond a reasonable doubt, no matter how unnecessary he, himself, might consider an investigation and the use of the Enterprise's resources it entailed.

Jim shook his head, clearing the cobwebs, and for the first time since Bones and Spock had entered the bridge after spending a worrying amount of time trying to get answers out of their prisoner, he allowed himself to smile, turning his head so he could meet, and be consumed by, a pair of beautiful brown eyes.

"Yeah," he answered, "you got it. And I wasn't even trying to be intentional with that one."

Spock's response was a raised eyebrow, which seemed to say… 'you doubt my reading repertoire of literary works'.

Jim chuckled, and held up his hands, palms facing out in surrender, to convey his own response of: 'I would never', all the while holding Spock's gaze.

"Oh for the love of God, would the two of you stop it already? This neurotic form of foreplay of yours is just plain nauseating. And what is with the eye sex? Can't the two of you save this for private?" Bones requested in his most exasperated tone, the jolt from the initial sound of it forcing Jim and Spock to break their reverie.

And Jim felt his smile grow wider. Yes, he had a duty to investigate Tantalus, but that didn't mean he couldn't have his own bit of fun while doing it.

"No, no we can't and I'll tell you why. You need to suffer as I will suffer as I'm trying to compose the Tantalus report for the admiralty. So not only are Spock and I going to flirt shamelessly in front of you, at every conceivable opportunity, dropping literary references like there was no tomorrow, but we're both going to your gathering tonight to do much of the same. We might even get really frisky and make out, the Vulcan way, which, you know, involves the use of hands. Lots and lots of hands."

It was difficult to determine who was more mortified by this, the doctor or Spock, though Jim remained unrepentant. Spock had supported McCoy's assessment when the two of them approached him with Van Gelder's ramblings, they were both responsible for his current headache.

"You're an evil man, Jim Kirk," the doctor replied.

"No need for flattery, Bones, I already said I'd investigate," Jim replied, winking. "Speaking of which, since this whole thing is your bright idea, you'll be responsible for assigning someone from your department to accompany me to the planet. I want the most qualified behavioral specialist on your team, whether or not you can spare them."

A rather malicious, formidable grin spread across the doctor's face at his request.

Jim was certain that didn't bode well for him.

Bones was so going to pay. In fact, there had never been another man in existence who was going to pay more than Leonard McCoy.

Jim's revenge would be sweet, oh yes, it would; it was his new number one priority in life. He would plot and he would scheme and in the end the good doctor would have his comeuppance.

But first he had to survive the awkwardness of having his lover face down Bones's quote, 'most qualified behavioral specialist available aboard the Enterprise'.

"Hello, Captain," came a breathy greeting from atop the transporter pad. "I'm Dr. Helen Noel. We've met before. Remember me? From the Christmas party?"

Oh, yes, Jim remembered that party. Well, sort of. There had been spiked eggnog involved.

The sultry tone to Noel's voice combined with the bedroom eyes, come-hither stance, and uniform dress cut so short it couldn't possibly adhere to regulation, wouldn't be lost on a man who was blind, deaf, or had never before met a woman. Unfortunately for Jim, his Vulcan lover actually possessed extra sensory perception.

Jim didn't have to turn and look at Spock to know that his First Officer was wound so tightly he could spring, the vibes he was receiving from him screaming loudly, clearly, 'James Kirk, you've got some explaining to do.'

"Uh… right. Yes, I remember. That thing we had in the past. In the very, very past. Could you, uh, excuse us for a moment?" Jim requested as he grabbed his First Officer's arm and dragged him just outside the transporter room, not bothering to wait for Noel to reply. He wanted privacy for what he was sure to be one of the most awkward conversations of his adult life.

Up until this point he and Spock had carefully skirted around Jim's rather successful wild-oat sowing phase. He didn't like his previous behavior thrown in Spock's face, even if circumstances with this particular instance had never gone beyond intense flirting, and maybe a little petting, especially when his relationship with Spock went so far beyond - meant so much more than - anything Jim had ever experienced. It was like comparing Klingons with Bolians.

He supposed it was long past time to convince Spock of that, though he was having a hard time coming up with the exact words he needed to relay it all.

"It was before we hooked up, back when you hated me…" is what came out, completely involuntarily, and Jim could only cringe at how defensive it sounded.

Oh yes, Bones was going to die.

Spock simply raised an eyebrow.

"Hatred is illogical. I have never hated you."

"Bullshit. You hated me and you know it. Or, at the very least, you were incredibly annoyed by me. There was a point, early on, when I wondered if I could do anything right in your eyes. I was overwhelmed and stressed and in over my head and feeling utterly alone on this goddamned ship, and that's when I started chatting Helen up at our Christmas party. It meant nothing, Spock, I swear."

Again Spock's face remained brittle, his voice utterly emotionless.

"You are aware, yes, that there are regulations against fraternization with those under your command who are too far below you in rank? If Dr. Noel had the inclination, she could file sexual harassment charges against you. As it is even the relationship between the two of us, with both of us being close in rank and privilege, exists in what you humans would call a 'grey area'."

Jim winced at the sting. The thing was, he did know that, and he had also known, at the time, that engaging in teasing flirtation with Helen wasn't the sharpest move to make. But to have Spock remind him of regulations, something the Vulcan hadn't practiced since their early days of working together, when he had been certain that Spock had disliked him, hurt something deep inside.

He couldn't help his flinch.

"I know, okay? It wasn't my proudest moment. Trust me when I say it is not anything I plan to repeat. One because I do know better, and two because I wouldn't want to risk what we have between us over something stupid like that."

Spock visibly softened, his brown eyes gentling.

"I did not hate you, Jim. I felt many things for you. I still do. All of them turbulent. I could not make sense of them. In many ways I still cannot. Yet none of those feelings were hatred. I could never hate you."

And just like that, Jim felt his world brighten. It amazed him just how much better one little reassurance could make him feel, both physically and mentally.

He held out his two fingers for a Vulcan kiss, delighting in the tingling sensation that jolted from his finger tips up his arm as their skin made contact.

"I feel the same," he whispered softly, as he turned to head back to the transporter room to proceed with his investigation, Spock close on his heels.

It was after he had stepped on the transporter pad, shortly after giving the final instruction for the beam out, that he heard Spock recite…

"'Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis.'"

"Poe," Jim replied with a grin, "'The Fall of the House of Usher'."

"Poe? I am unfamiliar with the works of Poe," Helen said from beside him, obviously puzzled over what quoting the words of a long dead author had to do with anything.

"You and I would have never worked out," Jim told her as the transporter beam made the world blur around them.

His last sight aboard the Enterprise was the light that danced in Spock's eyes as he nodded to Jim in farewell.

Jim's first thought after beaming down and gazing around Tantalus was that if Bones ever pushed him to the point of insanity, as he'd been trying to do for almost four years now, this was the asylum he wanted to be sent to. The colony looked more like a resort than it did a rehabilitation facility. The building was modern and artistically designed, and there was a courtyard with gardens spilling forth a delightful profusion of blossoms and scents, and all of this beneath warm and brilliant sunlight. All it needed was the melodious choir of nightingales filling the afternoon sky, and he'd be looking into timeshare options.

As it was, the picturesque splendor of the place aside, he could hardly wit to get off this rock and back to the job he actually loved. And it would be nice to escape this woman who just couldn't seem to take a hint.

No meant no. God. And telling someone that the two of you would have never made it, well, that meant no, too. In fact, that meant hell no.

"Doctor, I know you said transporting did funny things to your equilibrium, but I think we're both steady now. You can take your hand off my shoulder," Jim told her, trying to keep his voice as polite and free of annoyance as he could.

Spock would have been proud of his restraint.

"Oh, right, sorry Captain," the doctor replied with a blush, clearly embarrassed at being called out.

What in the hell did the woman expect? It wasn't as if he was going out of his way to be friendly, in fact, if anything he had probably been a little more standoffish towards Noel than his naturally affable demeanor usually allowed. But the thing was, this thing he had with Spock was so precious to him. He'd never met anyone who understood him so well. He was a little bit paranoid that he would somehow find a way to screw it all up. And given that he had no prior experience with the particular phenomenon of wanting someone by his side for as long as life and Jim's lucky streak would allow, he felt that his admittedly exaggerated vibes of 'back off, bitch' were just a little bit justified. Especially since the woman in question seemed to be deliberately ignoring all of his signals.

It was karma. That had to be it. Bones was right. He had been an outrageous flirt. And this was what he got for it. He made a mental note to donate some credits to charity and plant a few trees in the ground the next time he was dirt-side, just to create a sense of cosmic balance in his personal universe, before he turned to greet the approaching and famous Dr. Adams with his best 'I am Captain Kirk, hear me roar' grin. The grin that said, he hoped, 'don't fuck with me, why did your assistant feel the need to escape to my ship and why is he, a doctor, suddenly incapable of forming complete sentences'?

Dr. Adams didn't seem affected by it one iota, much to Jim's disappointment.

"Captain Kirk, Dr. Noel, how wonderful to meet you both. Welcome to Tantalus, I hope you will find your visit… reassuring," the psychiatrist greeted, perfectly posed, perfectly amiable. Jim thought him full of it. As a full-fledged bullshitter, thoroughly educated in all the many ways of bullshit, Jim knew bullshit when he smelled it, and this Dr. Adams, no matter how renowned, was positively reeking of it.

He hid it well, but the good doctor did not like them here, this Jim knew. Why that was, however, it was too soon to determine.

"Allow me to introduce one of our rehabilitates, and our current facility coordinator, Lethe."

The woman Adams introduced looked every inch the role model for good little Vulcans everywhere. Her face and her eyes, were completely blank. There was no spark, no personality. Nothing. Nada. Zip. And as she greeted them with an entirely monotone voice, completely devoid of any sort of inflection that would indicate there was a cognizant human being hiding in that body somewhere, Jim became convinced that Bones had been right, there was absolutely no joy here in Mudville. ('That was for you, Spock... Thayer, 'Casey at Bat'.')

"Oh, the pleasure is all mine, I'm looking forward to this tour. It's quite the place you have here," he said, while thinking, 'how's that for bullshit, Adams?'

"Oh, I can't wait either. I'm very excited to be here, Dr. Adams. I read your article on…"

Jim tuned Noel out, silently thanking her for distracting Adams while Jim took a closer look at Lethe. He had yet to see so much as a blink from her. The woman stood unnaturally still. She could have easily been just a realistic looking statue adorning the courtyard.

"So, how do you like working here?" Jim asked her in a friendly tone.

"Working gives me purpose," Lethe answered. Again no inflection; her voice was utterly emotionless. Spock's grandmother T'Pau, the most stringent Vulcan Jim had ever met, would thoroughly approve of this woman.

"But do you get enjoyment from it? You know, pleasure?" Jim asked pointedly.

"It gives me purpose," came the robotic response.

Jim shook his head in frustration.

Right, so he had Renfield up on his ship, and a Stepford wife down here 'coordinating'… oh, that wasn't creepy to an almost ridiculous degree, not at all.

He was never doubting Bones, or Spock, again. Ever.

"Excellent, shall we start?" Jim heard Dr. Adams ask, just finished with his conversation with Dr. Noel.

Outwardly, Jim nodded his consent. Inwardly he thought, 'oh yes, let's.

The room housing the machine that had supposedly caused Van Gelder's unfortunate slip from reality looked like your normal garden variety doctor's or dentist's examination room, with a chair in the center placed directly under a strobe light, and the controls in an adjacent room visible through a glass window. The comparison did nothing to endear the room to Jim and he certainly wasn't going to be taking any pointers from the interior decorator, but it did look harmless enough as a whole.

However, Jim knew better than most that appearances were often deceiving. People used to take one look at him, with his boyish looks, and his unconcerned demeanor, and judge him brainless. And yet he was the youngest captain Starfleet had ever seen in at least two different realities, and had graduated from a four year program at the Academy in three. He liked to think he was more than the sum of his parts, that his best trait, the one he could be most proud of, was, in fact, his intellect. And it warmed him that Spock, and also Bones, in the very least, would agree with him on that assessment.

"So explain to me, in detail, how this little machine of yours, one meant, quote, unquote, ' to calm erratic brainwave patterns in the criminally insane', caused one of your men, one of your previously sane men, to go, uh… gee, what is the polite way of putting this? How about batshit crazy, for starters?" Jim asked Dr. Adams, impatient to proceed with the investigation. The direct-thing always worked for Bones, he figured he would give it a go, see if it worked.

"Captain!" Noel gasped, apparently scandalized at his lack of discretion amongst her psychiatric brethren.

But Adams only chuckled, amusement shining brightly through his eyes. "Do not concern yourself, Helen, I appreciate your Captain's willingness not to beat around the bush."

Noel visibly softened and Adams turned and met Jim's eyes directly. "You see, Simon thought it unethical to use anything on an inmate that he wouldn't be willing to undergo himself. Unfortunately, he decided to use the machine without assistance and turned it up far too high, and for a prolonged period of time. As a result his mental facilities were… compromised."

"Uh huh, and the steps you are taking to correct this oversight to ensure it never happens again are?" Jim asked, still not buying the bullshit.

Dating Spock had many, many positive effects in Jim's life, one of which was that he'd honed the ability to tell when something was being 'omitted' during the course of a conversation. For Vulcans their primary philosophy, garnered from the teachings of Surak, made it a policy to be truthful at all times, and Spock, himself, had adopted this practice with full-fledged gusto. But the side effect of having to be entirely honest in anything and everything, especially when one valued privacy almost obsessively, the way that Vulcans were want to do, was that that particular race of beings could hedge better than any other species in the Federation. If Jim had the equivalent of a masters degree in bullshitting, he was quickly becoming an equal adept in the practice of 'you're not telling me the whole story, here' just by virtue of having a Vulcan lover.

He would have to thank Spock for that later. Jim took a brief and gleeful moment to imagine the raised eyebrow, and the exasperated expression (which Spock, of course, would logically be attempting to repress), he would get for his efforts.

God, his life had been lacking in ways he didn't even noticed until the lack was filled before Spock had entered it. It really had. There wasn't an aspect of their relationship that didn't delight him once uncovered. And with Spock, everything was about discovery.

But, lest he allow himself to be further warmed by thoughts of Spock, and lose himself to his imaginings, he reminded himself that he had a doctor to interrogate.

"Dr. Van Gelder turned up the intensity well beyond recommended safety levels. The treatment level we use with the inmates is always well below the danger level, Captain. Our safety protocols would prevent a repeat occurrence."

That would explain Van Gelder, and was, to coin a phrase, a 'logical' explanation, but it didn't quite explain Lethe. Before Jim could think of a tactful way of asking 'so why does your coordinator act like her husband had her done in and replaced her with a robot replica?' another pod person, male this time, stepped into the room and informed Adams in that ever-so- monotone and inflection-less tone of voice that seemed to be so widely popular here on Tantalus that he was needed elsewhere.

Jim couldn't have asked for a better opportunity.

As soon as Adams was out the door, Jim turned to Noel.

"I want to try the machine. On a very low setting and for a very short period of time. No more than a minute. I don't trust Adams as far as I can throw him, so I have to see for myself how this thing works."

Noel looked doubtful. "Dr. Adams is well respected in his field. His explanation makes sense. I see no reason to assume…"

"Doctor, I can make it an order," he reminded her, not wanting to stand around all day arguing about it. He really doubted that Adams would leave them alone in a room with the very machine they were here to investigate for a prolonged period of time.

"Okay, I'll do it," she said, resigned, and Jim wasted no time setting himself up in the chair, which, surprisingly, turned out to be rather comfortable and he felt himself relax somewhat.

Jim turned to look at Noel, only to see her looking back at him, expectantly, and felt his irritation with her rise. Christ, did she need written, step-by-step instructions? An order as a fucking order.

"I'm waiting, Doctor," he said pointedly, rather proud of himself for keeping a large portion of his overall annoyance out of his tone.

"I already did it, Captain. I had the machine on for a full minute."

Huh. Noel's worried expression clued him in that she was serious, and not just yanking his chain. And Jim had no memory of the machine running at all. It felt as if no time had elapsed. As Spock would say, fascinating. As Jim would say, fucking creepy.

"Okay, let's try something else. Put it on for another minute and give me a harmless suggestion."

'Harmless' being the operative word… He gave a brief thought to not really trusting Noel, who had already proven to carry a bit of a torch for him, even in the face of blatant refusal, with implanting suggestions in his mind while playing around with an experimental high-tech idea-planting machine, but unfortunately he didn't have a lot of options. It was her or nobody. And above all else, they were both Starfleet officers and had a sworn duty to uphold. He could only hope Noel remembered that.

Bones had been right. Something freaky was going on here. Unfortunately there was no way the admiralty would take him seriously without some serious evidence.

Jim blinked. Noel was looking expectantly at him again, as if she'd already done her thing with the machine, only this time he suddenly found himself ravenously hungry.

"You suggested I was hungry?" he asked her, and she nodded, a smile spreading across her face as she practically bounced in excitement.

So the machine was capable of mind-control, at least to a certain extent. Noel's glee in that was a little bit unnerving. To Jim it had to be the most disturbing concept ever.

He had always suspected that there was a reason to be wary of psychiatrists, this just proved it. Still, needs must.

"Okay, let's try this one final time, just to be certain. Request something unusual. Something against my normal behavior. I want to see if the machine can make me want to do something I wouldn't normally do."

It was a risk, yes. But he supposed, all things considered, that he was lucky it wasn't Bones who was controlling the machine. If that were the case he'd probably wake up swearing off sugar, and fat, and all things good in life, obsessed over attending his allergy screenings, while receiving hyposprays with joy in his expression and a song in his heart.

He saw Noel reach down once more to operate the machine, and that is when the pain started. His mind was going back to the Christmas party, months prior, watching himself, detached, as if he were a spectator watching the scene unfurl on a stage. But his subconscious did not like the direction these thoughts were taking, and started to rebel against it. Meanwhile a soft, feminine voice was telling him their encounter hadn't stopped at flirting, the way it had in reality, that it had actually moved to Jim's quarters, where he had taken her in his arms and…

And that was when a new voice joined in the foray. Distantly, Jim heard Noel scream "No, don't do it, this isn't right! I didn't want it to go this far," and another voice, one he recognized to be Adams, telling him that he loved Helen Noel more than life itself.

But he didn't love Noel, in fact, he found her kind of scary. He loved Spock: loved his scent, loved the feel of his lover's too hot skin against his own, loved bouncing ideas off that ever calculating brain of his… he'd never felt about anyone the way he felt about Spock. The clash of these concepts, of loving Spock and of loving Noel, caused the pain in his head to increase to an alarming degree.

He felt the sweat bead on his forehead and his body writhe uncontrollably as his mind flickered back and forth between images, from Helen Noel smiling up at him, to Spock's face as they made love. And even though the voice kept insisting that he was causing the pain on himself by fighting the suggestions being flung at him, he found he could not let the image of Spock go.

He just couldn't.

Spock, in the short time they had known each other, had come to be a part of him, infused, somehow, into every cell of his body.

He would fight this, for Spock.

Desperately, he clawed for his communicator. In his pocket. Seemed to cost all remaining strength to lift it. "Enterprise!" he bellowed. Nothing.

Right. Shielded. Damn.

Meanwhile, Dr. Adams's voice was telling him to stop fighting his instructions, telling him to drop the communicator, and kept reiterating that if Jim just did what he was told, all of the pain would stop.

Jim just wanted Adams to shut up, even if that meant Jim would be left alone with the madness of his thoughts. One image, then another. Helen, then Spock. Flicker, flicker, flicker.

Jim wasn't far gone enough not to comprehend the situation. Adams had come in, discovered Helen using the machine, and seized the opportunity to control him because he knew that Jim had his doubts about Adams' work here. He was trying to make Jim complacent; as if the guy actually believed that ordering Jim to be wildly in love with Helen would distract him from conducting a proper investigation.

Too bad Doctor Evil here didn't know the first thing about Jim Kirk. Pain didn't frighten him. He knew pain. Pain reminded him that he was alive. Before Starfleet, before Spock and Bones and his ship, he would welcome pain in the form of fist fights.

Mom always said that she thought Jim fighting was his way of punishing himself for surviving the whole Kelvin catastrophe, the one that had killed his father, but Jim didn't think that was it. He suspected that it had all been about release. He had been bored. He hadn't been challenged. His mind was always whirling, always going, going, going, and there had been little means of channeling it in Riverside, Iowa. But now? Now he had a job that utilized his ever running mind, and a partner who challenged him; a partner who made him feel alive in a different, far more amazing way.

He could live with pain. It had once been his constant companion. But he had a better companion now. One who made him feel better, both about himself and about the universe as a whole.

He just needed a way to…

He and Spock had a connection. While he wasn't a touch telepath like Spock, he somehow just knew this to be true. They communicated non-verbally: with eyes, and body language, and an intuitive awareness of each other. He didn't fully understand it, the weird draw that they had to each other, but it was there.

So with the last of his strength, and through the crippling pain, he called out for Spock from within the deep recesses of his mind, praying that no shield could could silence a distress call like that, and then let himself fall into the blessed blackness.

He woke to a voice telling him that she was so, so sorry and it took what felt like hours, through the pain of an absolutely splitting headache, to remember what she had to be sorry for.

"Where are we?"he managed to croak, though his throat felt like sandpaper. The room did not look at all familiar.

"In some kind of utility room," Noel informed him, her voice dripping with concern. "Doctor Adams moved us to a different room once you had passed out."

Though the pain in his head was killing him, Jim couldn't help but question the strategy of Adams having him moved to a different location. The doctor had had Jim right where he wanted him when he had been in that chair under the 'Evil Machine of Doom', moving him seemed counterproductive.


God, it hurt to talk.

"Commander Spock had contacted him and was demanding to talk to you, the last I heard before we were removed was the doctor telling Mr. Spock that you were deeply involved in understanding the mechanics of the machine, going over schematics with a technician and couldn't be bothered at this juncture," she elaborated, her concern unabated.

So Spock had heard him, had felt his distress. Relief, wild and wheeling, claimed possession of his soul. Jim took a brief moment to exhale before he realized whose lap his head was cradled on and why it would be in his better interest to move away. Which he would… just as soon as the room stopped spinning and he stopped seeing three separate Helen Noels peering down at him.

He had to give Adams credit for honesty: Jim had, indeed, been deeply involved in understanding the mechanics of the machine. He would, in fact, be happy to never have that deeply an understanding of that particular machine ever again, in this lifetime or the next.

"Why did you try and change my memories of the party?" He wasn't entirely certain he wanted to hear the answer to that. But it was rather an extreme response to a simple crush, so her motives concerned him. Depending on her answer, he might have to have her reassigned, though the thought was distressing. He hated to have to remove a valued crew member from his ship if it wasn't completely necessary to do so. And part of this was his fault to begin with.

Next year, he was skipping the eggnog.

"Because I wanted you to see me again, the way you did then," she responded, her voice laden with regret. "I was just going to plant a simple suggestion that we spent the night together afterwards, in the hopes that if you thought we'd already broken regulation once, you would be more amenable to doing it again. I never meant to take it as far as Adams tried to do. I'd rather someone love me because they want to. Because they'd come to value me as a partner and a person. Not because they're instructed to through cold, hard calculation, as a strategic maneuver."

"I am in a relationship with Mr. Spock," he said, not quite knowing what else to say. He had thought that their relationship was common knowledge. The senior staff, at least, all knew. Though they didn't blatantly make-out with each other in the mess hall, they had hardly tried to conceal it, which would have been rather difficult to do, anyway, considering the telltale way Jim's gaze always seemed to gravitate towards Spock, intentionally or not. He just couldn't seem to help it. Gazing at Spock never got old.

"I know," she said, sadly. "I have never known Mr. Spock to show any emotion, and often wondered how you, who always seem so full of life, could be content in a relationship with a Vulcan, but his voice, when talking to Dr. Adams, was the most angry I've ever heard it. He sounded so furious, so concerned for your well-being. I think I understand now."

"He says I make him turbulent," Jim said, by means of agreement, smiling at the thought even despite his extreme headache. Coming from Spock, an admission like that was practically a love sonnet. "He makes me turbulent, too," he added in afterthought, his grin growing wider. "We're so similar."

Noel snorted her disbelief. "Similar?"

"Yeah," Jim said thoughtfully, "we are." And he paused for a moment to ruminate on the nature of his bond with Spock. "Neither one of us are very forthcoming with over-the-top displays of corniness. We both find it uncomfortable. But with each other? It doesn't seem to matter, either the mushiness best saved for private or the lack thereof in front of our crew. We have an understanding, he and I. We both know what's in our hearts. Plus, we've seen each other at our best and worst: the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact, our first few days of knowing each other were pretty much as ugly as it gets, yet still neither one of us can look away. Besides, bad on Spock? Totally endearing."

"Spoken like a man in love," Noel replied sadly.

"Yeah," Jim said again, "it's pretty awesome. Who would have thought? Hey, did you know you have to join Starfleet to find a decent date these days? They need to put that on the recruitment brochure."

The latter part of his comment had its desired effect, Noel laughed, and Jim knew then that at least one aspect of this fucked up day was going to be okay.

"Do you think we're going to be all right?" Noel asked tentatively, her voice belaying her uncertainty.

"Yeah, we will," Jim stated, finally finding the energy to sit up and look around. "If I know Spock, he's planning the most logical way to break in here as we speak. But we can help him out a bit." He grinned when he spotted a large, square vent on the wall.


"There," Jim pointed. "We use that to get out of here. Shouldn't be more difficult than crawling through the jeffries tubes. We disable the power supply for this place, we disable the shield. The second that shield goes down, Spock'll beam us outta this hell-hole."

Though he was weak, and his head still felt like the site of a photon torpedo detonation, he moved quickly to make short work of the vent's cover. Conveniently, said cover was ridiculously easy to open, considering this place was supposed to be a highly secured prison to house the mentally insane, and it took almost little effort to remove it, boost Noel inside the vent, and then follow her. His actions were spurred on by the thought of his beautiful ship, his lover, and his wonderful, inviting, and fabulous bed, lying all made up aboard the Enterprise waiting for him. When this whole thing was over, he was grabbing Spock for a cuddle and sleeping for hours on end, whether Spock found such actions logical or not.

And when he was done with that, he was writing the most strongly worded report Starfleet command had ever seen.

The sound of voices coming from the room they had just vacated gave him an even greater burst of energy.

"Doctor, hurry, they aren't far behind us."

They both sped up, crawling as fast as they could through the limited space of the Tantalus ventilation system. Jim knew his knees were going to be making him pay for this later, but didn't allow himself to dwell on it. His internal mantra of 'Enterprise, Spock, bed, Enterprise, Spock, bed' helped a great deal in that regard.

Eventually they reached the end of the tunnel. Pay dirt: the power room itself. Making a brief promise to send the designers of this place a fruit basket for making his plan that much easier by dropping them exactly where they needed to be, Jim quickly followed Noel to the ground, dropping from the vent's opening half-way up the wall, and taking only a brief second to get his bearings before sprinting to the power supply box and flipping every switch he could find.

Several things happened in quick succession after that: Dr. Noel reached up to kiss him in her excitement at their plan coming to fruition, their pursuers entered the room, phasers instantly pointed in their direction, and the transporting patterns of Spock and several of the Enterprise's security personal materialized before them.

Trusting his security team to take care of Adams' men, and after pushing Noel away from him in desperation, Jim found his attention solely focused on the emotionally shuttered face of his lover.

"Spock, this isn't what it looks like."

For a moment, one that stretched out like an eternity, Spock stood perfectly still, his handsome face stoic, and then his communicator chirped and a voice announced, "Commander, we've located Dr. Adams and have managed to subdue him. We're prepared to beam him directly to the brig upon your authorization, sir."

"Very good, lieutenant, proceed," Spock gave the order crisply, as he eyed Jim in an accessing manner.

Jim felt his heart sink to his toes.

His mind went over a dozen scenarios, a dozen things he needed to say to make Spock believe him.

Once, before Pike had recruited him into Starfleet, Jim had gone home with a woman with the intent of a one night stand. He hadn't found out she was married until he came face to face with an angry husband, arrived home early from a business trip, the next morning. Although he had walked into the situation ignorant of his fling's marital status, he couldn't help but wonder if this was all karma now, too.

Spock was the first lover he'd ever had that he wanted to keep around. The first lover he'd had that he envisioned a future with. This whole wanting to be considered serious, and honorable, and true by a partner was a new experience for him and he didn't quite know what to do with it. He just knew that he felt an all-encompassing desire to fix this, and fix it now, in fact, he was almost frantic with it, but before he could open his mouth, Spock held out his hand to him.

"Come, Captain, let us get you back to the Enterprise."

And although Spock was acting as closed off as Jim had ever seen him, he got the unspoken message loud and clear. 'Not here, in front of these people. Save it for when we're alone.'

He could do that. His heart was pounding so furiously he could hear the constant drum of it in his ears, and he was so beyond anxious it wasn't funny, but he would wait. Hopefully it would earn him a couple of brownie points, at the very least.

So they went through all the motions. Spock contacted the Enterprise and requested a beam out for Jim, Dr. Noel and himself, and Jim accepted Helen's softly mumbled apology ("I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to start anything, I was just excited to be close to getting out of here with my mental faculties intact...") with good grace.

The time it took to transport to the Enterprise and lead Spock to his quarters was probably just a few minutes at best, but it felt like years, and it wasn't a full second after the door hissed shut, ensuring their privacy, when he started to speak.

"What you saw meant nothing, Spock. Nothing. She was just excited to be getting out of there, we both were." Jim scarcely paused to take a breath, wanting Spock aware of it all before a final verdict was reached. "I was hooked to that machine, Spock, the one Van Gelder kept mumbling about, and that asshole, Dr. Adams, he tried to break me by convincing me that I was in love with Helen. But I fought it, Spock. I did. That's how important you are to me…"

Jim's voice trailed off when he noticed a tell-tale sparkle in the Vulcan's eyes, one that betrayed his amusement.

"Jim, I am aware of what happened to you and I am also aware that I do not have to be concerned with the depth of your commitment to our relationship," he said simply, after a beat.

For a moment Jim basked in simple, unadulterated relief. He didn't question how Spock knew, or why, figuring it was tangled up with heard and received mental calls, and unspoken language, and being drawn together like magnets; all of the unusual things that were normal for them. The relief lasted all of a minute before a much different emotion set in…

"You mean to tell me that you stood there and let me assume the worst, rambling on and on like a kid caught with his hand in THE cookie jar…," Jim narrowed his eyes at Spock's amused expression, hands moving to his hips. "You're enjoying this, aren't you? Why you evil, sneaky, little… just so you know, directly after I get Bones back for this, I'm releasing my wrath on you. Be afraid."

Jim watched as the corners of Spock's lips twitched, as if he were struggling to hold back laughter.

"I am aquiver with fear, I assure you," the Vulcan said dryly.

"Well, you should be," Jim huffed, moving forward to mock punch Spock on the shoulder. Instead Spock easily caught his hand, using it to tug Jim forward, into his arms.

Jim felt his heart pause, and then race as Spock nuzzled his neck, placing light kisses on his throat, then his jaw, up to his ear, where he whispered, "It is I who caught you, I who garnered your interest, I who love you beyond reason. It is I who shall keep you, locked inside me, just as you carry me with you."

"Yes," Jim agreed, swallowing thickly through the lump suddenly lodged in his throat. And like he constantly felt when Spock was near, the universe would zero in, become small and compact, and exist only of the two of them.

It took Jim's breath away; it always did.

"'Who knows how long I've loved you, you know I love you still. Will I wait a lonely lifetime? If you want me to I will.'"

Jim felt a breathless chuckle escape his throat, both from shock and from genuine amusement.

"That wasn't from a novel, or a play, or a poem," he said with a small grin.

"No," Spock agreed.

"That was the Beatles," Jim announced, voice filled with wonder.

"Yes," Spock said simply. "McCartney, 'I Will'."

"God, I love you," Jim told him, and then he kissed him with both his fingers and his lips to demonstrate just how much.

The End!