Notes:Written for the help_pakistan auction. Dedicated to salmelusine for winning the K/S fic offer. Sal asked for a 'jealousy' trope and though that is not the main premise of the fic, I tried to work it in. Dunno if it works, hon. But I tried. :)
Special Thanks: to jouissant for the awesome beta job on the first 2 parts and also to awarrington for her invaluable suggestions re: the plot. I could not have done it without either of you. Please note, because this fic literally ate my brain and got way longer than I had ever expected, I ran out of time and the last 2 parts haven't as yet been betaed. All mistakes are mine.

A Second Chance, Part 1 of 4

There is a curious simplicity in this activity.

He is sitting across from the captain in his quarters, his finger on his rook, ready to pick up the piece in the next step of his current strategy and move it to its position of attack on the second level, when a notion occurs to him for the very first time.

This is the seventy-fifth game of chess he's participated in with the captain in the last seven point three months of their mission. The win-loss ratio is cleanly split 60:40 in his favor, with 8.534 percent of the games going to a draw. Most of the time they just sit quietly as they play. Spock thinks it surprising how easy Kirk appears to find it, though he has long stopped wondering at the surprises his commanding officer continually throws his way. Jim Kirk is a surprising man, extraordinarily competitive—though that is not unexpected in itself—and quite serious when it comes to chess. Spock finds that neither of them feels the need to engage in unnecessary verbal interplay to achieve their objective, which is to play a satisfying game of Tri-D Chess in their free time. Indeed, there is simplicity in this activity.

But this simplicity does not restrict itself to chess, and that is what catches Spock's attention as he is contemplating his next move. As loud and brash as the captain's reputation in general tends to portray him as, when it comes to his interaction with Spock, he can match the inherent Vulcan stillness with a quiet, steely disposition of his own.

It has slipped across to all aspects of their interactions. Sometimes all they need is a look across the table while playing chess, or across the room while dealing with dignitaries at a Federation conference, or across the bridge at a crucial moment during a firefight. He will know what the captain needs by the tilt of his head, the arch of his brow, the press of his lips together. Or the captain will know exactly what Spock is asking for without him having said a word, from across the conference table in the middle of a trade negotiation. This nonverbal interplay has saved their lives five times by his reckoning, and he is gratified that such a connection exists between him and his commander after only a short time serving together. This is unlike his relationship with Nyota, for whom the spoken, tangent, physical word is such an important part of communication between them.

Spock finds himself sliding back in his seat, as he abandons the rook and looks down at the board in puzzlement. It is a curious thought indeed. It is one of its kind and it hits him suddenly, with the weight of a thick gust of air blowing in his face. Why is he coming to this realization now? Or at all? There should be no comparison between his duty to his captain and his relationship with Nyota. These are two different things, the issues inherent in both situations worlds apart. Sometimes, his own thoughts mystify him.

"Your mind is straying."

He looks up to find Kirk's eyes on his face and blinks at the intense expression. The captain is correct. He has let himself get sidetracked by a matter that is irrelevant to their current task, and that has no place outside of his personal life. Spock looks into Kirk's blue eyes a moment and then looks down at the board again, his brows coming together as he considers an answer.

"Stop that, you'll get frown lines," the captain says, his tone casual.

Spock feels one brow arch up as he looks up again. There is a glint of something he cannot yet recognize in Kirk's eyes. "Captain?"

"That little furrow you always get between your eyebrows when you have something on your mind." Jim watches him steadily for a second and then the corners of his lips twitch. "Wouldn't want those perfect Vulcan looks marred by unseemly frown lines."

Spock is positive his eyebrow has elevated high enough to be obscured by his hair, though he sees the sentiment for what it is presently: humor. "I was unaware my propensity to indulge in unplanned ruminations over multiple tasks during our chess games was a cause of such concern for you," he says drily. "My apologies for needlessly alarming you."

Jim grins. "Apology accepted." He leans forward on his seat as he looks at Spock. "Now, what has got you thinking so hard? We're coming about on a three-day shore leave schedule starting in two days time. You should be concentrating on relaxing, not thinking heavy thoughts."

"My thoughts were elsewhere, Captain," he says. "However, I was considering the scheduling issues the Antaren government mentioned in their communiqué regarding our shore leave program. There are fifteen other ships arriving during the Pi'ank'eh Festival being held on the planet. It would be prudent to schedule the shore leave rotation in such a way so as to avoid any possible conflict with the other crews, considering the diversity of the various cultures represented."

"Yes," the captain nods sagely. "Very heavy thoughts indeed." The teasing is plainly visible now. "Well, I'll leave the scheduling in your capable hands, commander. I'm sure you'll do a bang up job of setting up the rotations."


There is a lull for a moment as Spock attempts to divert the captain's attention by picking up the rook and finally placing in the position he'd determined previously. The captain nods at the move, his right hand coming up to rest under his chin as his thumb taps his lower lip, his eyes intent on the board. After a moment, Spock watches as he moves his bishop to a defensive position. Spock looks down to contemplate his next move, assuming the conversation to be over, when the captain looks back at him. "Well, as long as there isn't anything else bothering you."

He looks at his commander, finding the blue eyes strangely assessing. That previous hint of humor is no longer visible on Kirk's usually expressive face, and Spock wonders what exactly he has let through in their shared silences. His control must be slipping, if his distraction has become apparent to his crewmates. "I am sure, Captain," he says, in a tone that invited no further discussion.

The fact that he does not wish to speak about the situation with Nyota with anyone else is not surprising. He is aware that humans find speaking with a friend comforting. Spock must admit that that is what Jim has become to him, after all these months serving together. Despite their differences and what, to Spock, had initially appeared to be diametrically opposed personality traits, Jim Kirk has proven to be a most valuable commander and a trusted comrade-in-arms. Spock finds he does not even mind the incessant flirting too much, recognizing it for the harmless frivolity it is. A friend is what the captain is and after Nyota, Spock feels the closest to him among the crew. He is someone he could trust with his life, and has on many occasions. However, his Vulcan half resists the urge to open up so completely.

No, he is not ready to talk about this to anyone. Not even James Kirk. It is an issue which can be resolved by his continued perseverance with Nyota and repeated sessions of intense meditation. The matter is too personal to be discussed with any outside party. It is certainly not something he would ever trouble his captain with, or for that matter, anyone else on the crew. His innate sense of privacy demands he keep his personal life to himself.

"All right." The captain nods, his eyes serious for a moment. And then he smirks. "No more frown lines, then. I like my bridge officers to maintain their perfect good looks at all times."

Spock raises his eyebrow once more. "I will endeavor to refrain from doing so, Captain."

"Thank you, Mr. Spock." The corners of the captain's eyes crinkle with amusement before he looks down at the chess board. "It's your turn."

He looks at the board, and unless Kirk divines his strategy, his remaining knight can capture the captain's queen in three moves. After that, either way the captain moves his king, it will be for naught. He makes the first move.

"Damn," the captain curses, noticing the trap.

Spock inclines his head. "Indeed."

Well, that was simple enough. He leans back to watch the board. The game is his, unless the captain can pull another trick out of his repository.

If he does, Spock knows not to be surprised.

This shore leave is something the crew of Enterprise has been waiting for many long months. If someone had polled the officers for their favorite destinations for taking time off, the most probable locations would have included names like Risa or Kilon III. With a beautiful, tropic climate, or an abundance of exotic, willing, amorous aliens to amuse them, or better yet, somewhere with a great tourist district that caters to visitors from a variety of worlds and cultures.

So when their shore leave time out is finally approved, even if it is only for three short days, and headquarters points them in the direction of beautiful, mysterious Antara, a relatively new member of the Federation, the captain agrees despite having his reservations. He is not still entirely game with the idea of taking shore leave in the middle of a cultural festival taking place on a newly christened Federation planet. But Enterprise is not the only Starfleet vessel sent to the planet for this reason. USS Potomac is also here, supposedly also on short leave, in the midst of what the captain believes is going to be another diplomatic gathering. Still, the place is beautiful, with its rainforests and perfect climate and a wealth of touristy destinations spread across a variety of locations, so it couldn't really be that bad, right?

With the missions they've had recently, the crew could definitely do with a break.

It is the first day of their stop at Antara and things are going to be just fine.

Jim tells himself nothing bad is going to happen on this shore leave. Absolutely nothing at all. He has decided it is best to keep a positive outlook on their missions and the periods between the missions. This is the first break they've gotten in months and it is too short to squander away in anything less than absolute blissful relaxation. They get into trouble on their missions often enough as it is. This break he wants to spend in a relative state of inebriation. And for that, he needs no trouble to emerge at all.

Now if only his best friend would put down his inoculation kits and tricorder and move his ass out of the damn sickbay.

"Dammit Jim, I have work to wrap up around here," McCoy snarls, waving the scanner in his face.

"It's time for a break, Bones." Jim throws up his arms. "You've got a staff that can deal with everything here. Now you've done your shift and its time to go. You've already wasted three hours of your rotation when you could've been partying with me down on the planet."

McCoy scowls as he picks up a padd and punches something on it. "It's not my fault your stupid crew can't keep themselves out of trouble even on shore leave."

"What?" Jim looks at him disbelievingly as he follows McCoy into his office, where he watches him stack his medkit. "Is this still about Ensign Limato's unfortunate choice of planet-side dining establishments? And what do you mean by my crew? They're your crew too, Doctor. You're the CMO of this ship, after all."

"Don't remind me." McCoy grumbles. "It's a fact I lament every day of my life."

"Oh shut up, you grouch." Jim laughs.

"I'm serious, Jim." McCoy looks exasperated. "The man should know better than to go to an alien restaurant and order an unknown dish which turned out to be non-vegetarian. He's a Mipan. His physiology cannot process meat." He huffs. "I've never seen that color of vomit in my entire fuckin' life."

"Ugh, don't tell me about it." Jim makes a face. "He's all right now, though, isn't he?"

McCoy snorts. "Yes, I sent him to his quarters with orders to rest for the day. He's not allowed to go down on the planet for the next eighteen hours. That should teach him to be careful for next time."

"Good, the emergency is over. No reason for you to be stuck here anymore." He grips McCoy's arm and pulls him out of the sickbay. "Now, it is my duty as your best friend and your captain to make sure you waste no more time in here and come down with me immediately."

"And do what, make nice with the Federation citizens from races as diverse as the Bolians and the Deltans and hope we all play nice?" McCoy huffs, as he supposedly reluctantly let himself be dragged, though Jim knows it is all an act.

"Hey, we all will play nice, don't even think otherwise," Jim chides him. "And they have beaches down there. They have bars down there." They enter the turbolift, and Jim punches in their destination. "And have you seen the fare on display? Man, Antaren females... You have no idea what you're missing, Bones! Heck, even Spock's been down there since morning."

McCoy grumbles. "Yeah, that really tells me of the fare's quality."

Jim stares at him incredulously. "Hey, Spock doesn't need to look for that on shore leave. He has Uhura, remember?"

"Just shows what kind of taste she has," McCoy sneers as the lift stops and they step out. Jim shakes his head. He doesn't know why he even bothers. Bones and Spock obviously get along but they would rather dance on a bed of hot burning coals than admit they like each other.

He sighs and continues. "You're supposed to be having fun. You used to have fun, remember?" They enter the transporter room. "Since when have you become such a party pooper?"

McCoy glares at him. "Since I got stuck babysitting these greens in this fuckin' flying tin can."

Jim chuckles. "Oh, don't let Scotty hear you say that or he'll blow out the power relays in your office. Or pour your hidden stash of bourbon down the drain."

"Fuckin' idiots," McCoy mutters as he stops and watches the transporter pad warily. "Dammit Jim, do we have to use this?"

"Yes, we do." Jim rolls his eyes. "For God's sake, it's fine."

"That's what they said that one time to the losers who got their limbs fused to their innards."

"Right." Jim steps onto the platform and faces the officer manning the controls. "Ensign, you have the beam down coordinates I sent earlier?"

"Yes sir."

Jim looks at his friend pointedly. "Bones."

McCoy grumbles and curses as he gives Jim a dirty look but steps onto the pad. "I hate these things."

Jim ignores him and orders the ensign to hit it.

When they rematerialize on the planet, Jim cannot help but look up at the clear blue sky, at the grand entrance of the Antaren Great Hall in front of them, and at the myriad exotic alien species mingling all around them, and laugh happily.

"Ah yes." He nudges his friend. "See that, Bones. That's the feel of solid ground underneath your feet. That's sunlight on your face." He grins as they walk towards the entrance, the sunlight filtering in through the vaulted glass ceiling of the hall. "And yes, that's the cool, scented, fresh breeze you're feeling on your face instead of the recycled air of a starship—however clean and efficiently reproduced it may be."

McCoy harrumphs as they walk into the hall, passing by several beautiful alien species of varying genders and races sashaying around. "And Bones, remember what I told you about the fare on display?" Jim grins as he soaks up his fill of the sights and the sounds filling up the atmosphere.

"Aw, shut up, Jim," McCoy grumbles but Jim thinks he sounds pleased.

Jim nods happily. "Yeah, I know, it's fabulous." They walk through the parting throng and notice some of their crewmates gathered around a bar. "Hey boys," he greets Sulu and Chekov who are concentrating on what appears to be a gaming console of some kind, the screen blinking back numbers and objects furiously at them. They wave at him as he settles down on a table where his Chief Engineer has lined up about a dozen shot glasses filled with something blue wafting up a purple vapor. "Hey Scotty, I see you've started already."

"Aye, Captain, no time like the present, eh?" Scotty picks up one glass and downs the drink in one swallow. He smacks his lips appreciatively. "Aye, this is some good shit, right 'ere."

"Better than your own stuff?"

"Nae, nothing can beat me own stuff, Captain. But as far as alien beverages are concerned, this ain't bad at all."

"Well, good to know that."

"Captain Kirk!"

Jim turns around to see Lispah'n, the Antaren Governor coming his way. He gets up to greet the old bureaucrat only to be pulled into a detailed discussion about the Festival and the cultural importance of the holiday period and how pleased the Antaren government is to have Starfleet send it's flagship to join the festivities. Jim smiles and nods in all the right places, feeling glad to have read up on the historical significance of the Pi'ank'eh Festival earlier, as his knowledge is tested several times when the Governor mentions specific traditions linked to it.

When he's through with the Governor, he turns around with relief, only to find the Trill ambassador Kolan Phan waiting for him, wishing to discuss the latest diplomatic measures the Federation council has taken with regards to Trill's conflict with the Andorians. After fifteen minutes of this, he's beginning to wonder whether Bones was right after all about them spending all of shore leave playing nice with diplomats when he's finally let go with a pat on his shoulder.

He notices Bones smirk at him knowingly from behind his whiskey shot and chuckles as he sits down and calls the bartender to take his own order. Once he's served, he eyes the pale green alcoholic drink interestedly but has to roll his eyes in exasperation as McCoy takes out his medical tricorder to scan the drink.

"Bones, I was here all by myself this morning, without you," Jim sighs. "And I lived to tell the tale."

"Yeah, well, I'm here right now," McCoy huffs as the tricorder pings. "So let me indulge."

Jim shakes his head. This has started happening every time they leave the ship and he's accompanied by Bones. Before he's allowed to sip or taste anything native, his best friend has to take out his tricorder to scan if it's viable for the Jim Kirk Consumption. He knows Bones is being overly protective but if he is honest, he cannot truly blame him for acting this way. With the number of times he's been incapacitated as a result of ingesting some alien beverage or food item that did not agree with his system, and the incessant McCoy Grade grumbling and admonishment he had to endure in the aftermath, he really cannot be too careful. It's all worth it, though, he decides, as he samples the alien drink. Hmm. Scotty was right. This is good shit.

The crowd around him is loud and boisterous, and Jim is glad they've gotten this break before their next mission. Two days ago, he may have been teasing his First Officer about taking excessive precautions with the shore leave schedules of the crew, but seeing the many different alien species interacting around him, he cannot help but be glad he has Spock to take care of these details. He can be absolutely sure his perfectionist XO has taken the utmost precautions in setting up the rotations. Nothing gets past Spock.

He's calling for another shot when he catches a glimpse from the corner of his eye of the man in question walking in with Uhura.

Uhura is dressed casually in off-duty clothes, her dark green dress long and clingy in all the right places. Spock, on the other hand, has apparently decided his uniform would suffice for this occasion, and as usual is dressed in his science blues. Not that he looks bad in his science blues. He cuts a tall and elegant figure as always, his frame regal and imposing and impressive. With his wide shoulders contrasting with a narrow waist, and her catlike litheness and long legs, they make a striking couple, Jim thinks, as he watches them move further into the hall. Damn, Uhura's one lucky woman to have landed that one.

Huh, Jim blinks at the thought, as he sits back and ponders the possibility of himself going bonkers. He obviously means Spock is a lucky man to have landed Uhura. But yeah, he can admit that Spock too is a very handsome man. Jim has always had an eye for those too. He guesses he just has a thing for the exotic.

Spock and Uhura haven't seen their shipmates gathered around the bar, he realizes, as they step into an alcove and take their seats. They appear to be engaged in a serious discussion, their postures intimate, as they keep their heads close together to speak. Things appear to be fine between them at the moment. Jim doesn't know why but lately he's been getting a strange vibe from Spock. As if something is bothering him. Of course, he knows the half-Vulcan will never tell him if something was, but he still wonders what's going on. He hopes everything is okay with him and Uhura.

Jim picks up his tumbler to take a sip, as he watches Spock put a hand on Uhura's wrist and lean in closer to whisper something in her ear, and suddenly something in the drink tickles the back of his throat and he starts to choke. He puts down the tumbler, slaps his hand on the table as he coughs repeatedly to clear his airway, his eyes watering. He feels McCoy scoot over next to him to slap him on his back.

"Take it easy, kid." The doctor sounds alarmed. "This is only the second drink of the evening."

He blinks to clear his vision, breathing heavily, his eyes lingering on the couple sitting twenty feet away from them, as he watches Uhura lean up to give Spock a kiss on his cheek. He abruptly straightens up and turns to face his friend. "I'm fine," he tells him, feeling strangely queasy. Though he won't admit that to the doctor, or Bones will literally pack him up and send him back to the ship. "Seriously. That drink just went down wrong."

"You sure?" Bones looks into his eyes. "You look a bit flushed." He takes out the tricorder and scowls at it. "I think there's something wrong with this scanner."

"Nothing's wrong with the scanner," Jim laughs. "But I think I'll try another drink next." He stares at the now empty tumbler suspiciously as he calls for another option on the menu. "Everything's fine, trust me." And it is. He has no idea why he suddenly feels like he has a bad case of indigestion, when he hasn't even eaten anything yet, but he'll be damned if he's going to let this weirdness ruin his fun. Everything's fine. And why shouldn't it be? The bartender sidles up with the other drink, and McCoy once again turns the tricorder towards it, making Jim laugh.

The banter continues for a while and he's soon feeling better. He keeps his back to the alcoves, keeps the drinking games going with Scotty and Bones, as Sulu and Chekov enthusiastically cheer aloud every time the gaming console does something to please them. He's on the seventh option on the menu when he notices a tall Antaren female giving him the eye.

"Oh hello," he smiles as the girl comes closer, dressed in a skimpy red dress that reveals all the curves of her well-proportioned body enticingly. Although he hasn't really come down to the planet for this, despite what he may have said to Bones, he suddenly feels like he should not be denied this. If all parties are willing, then why not? It's not like he has any other plans. He feels his heartbeat increase as she puts a manicured hand on his shoulder and smiles.

Yeah. Why not?

"You have to admit, Commander," The Rigelen Minister is saying to Spock, "the possibility of technological exchange when so many different cultures are represented from so many different worlds is not only tremendous but also inevitable."

"I agree, Minister, that the opportunity to make such an exchange would appear to be quite fortuitous to some." Spock looks at the wizened figure of the bureaucratic head of the Rigelen diplomatic team. "However, I must remind you that the Pi'ank'eh Festival is a cultural celebration of the Antaren people which relates to their peaceful coexistence with their alliance members and thus, this forum does not seem appropriate for business negotiations related to technological exchange. Especially in the light of the lack of proper controls and quarantines present at this juncture that would be required for such an exchange, were it to be considered at any other time."

"Of course, you're right, Commander," Minister Utan inclines his head. "The utmost care must be taken when engaging in such negotiations and my government of course enthusiastically supports all such measures when dealing with outsiders." He appears to consider Spock with an appraising look, as if he did not quite expect such an opposition to his idea. Though what he had expected while engaging a Starfleet officer in discussions about unrestricted technological exchange, which could very well include military hardware, Spock was not sure. "I was merely pointing out the prospects such gatherings present when arranged on such an interplanetary level," the Rigelen smiles and steps back as if ready to take his leave. "In fact, I must go congratulate the Antaren governor for organizing such an event."

Before Spock can get in another word, the Rigelen Minister has turned away from him and is walking quickly in a direction where Spock is quite positive the Antaren governor is not to be found. This is what troubles him about meeting diplomats at these events. Why Starfleet asked them to take their shore leave at Antara while their cultural festival is taking place is still a mystery to him. But the unhindered nature of hundreds of alien species mingling in such a place will never sit easy with him. The statistical probability of something untoward occurring in such a situation is 67.356 percent and Spock does not like those numbers.

Spock turns to look for Nyota, only to find her a distance away, busy in what appears to be a vociferous exchange with the Tellarite Comm Officer from the Freighter Polkatri. He watches her for a while, seeing her face animated with happiness and relaxation. There are going to be plenty of opportunities f or her to meet many Xenolinguists at this gathering and Spock will not stand in her way. This is how Nyota relaxes. Spock knows she needs this after the last few weeks they have had. The captain wanted him to relax as well, but he does not know how to relax in a room full of strangers. So many people around and not a single person who can fulfill his needs.

He pauses in mid-step, as a frown appears on his forehead for a second at this thought, before he manages to smooth out any evidence of it being there. He is disappointed at his own audacity. It is not Nyota's fault he is unable to form a connection with her which would satisfy both their needs. And now is not the time for him to indulge in such reflection. He must meditate later and put his thoughts in order so that they do not distract him at inopportune times.

Besides, he must speak with the captain urgently to inform him about his conversation with the Rigelen Minister. He must be made aware of the situation regarding any non-compliance issues that could surface regarding technology exchange without proper quarantine procedures in place, when there are non-Federation members visiting this festival. He is about to reach for his communicator when he notices Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott standing at a table with a group of aliens. Strange that he missed them when he walked into the hall with Nyota. Lt. Sulu and Ensign Chekov are also nearby standing next to a screen, watching the messages blinking on it. They appear to be quite engrossed in whatever they are witnessing. And that's when he notices the captain, standing in the midst of them all, flanked by the two Antaren females.

Spock studies Kirk for a moment. The issue he needs to discuss with the captain could prove problematic if left unattended. He takes a step forward and then pauses as he watches the captain wrap both his arms around the waists of the two females standing on his sides. The issue is important, but the captain is occupied at the moment. Also, he did wish to spend his shore leave in relaxation. He did not even want to speak of work during their leisure time while playing chess two days ago. However, Spock knows the issue is critical enough to warrant an audience with his commanding officer to appraise him of the situation as soon as possible.

He watches one Antaren female raise a hand to run a finger delicately across the captain's cheek, prompting a smile from the human, and feels his lips press together. He watches the captain say something to the alien woman that makes her laugh heartily and his decision is made. Now is not the time for him to disturb the captain. Just because he does not find the prospect of spending too much time at this event relaxing himself, does not mean he should deny the captain an opportunity to do so either. He can speak to him about the Rigelen governor when he meets the captain on the ship tonight. Or perhaps tomorrow morning at breakfast. He is sure to come across the captain when he is unoccupied and free to discuss his concerns soon enough. Spock turns around from the spectacle and walks determinedly towards the gates that lead out of the Great Hall.

He will find the Antaren authorities instead to inform them of the possibility of security breaches occurring if an impromptu technological exchange was allowed to take place with non-Federation members in the absence of proper protective measures in place. And then he will return to the ship.

Maybe that meditation he had planned for tonight could be availed earlier.

He suddenly feels in need of it.

Nyota was top of her Xenolinguistics class at the academy.

She can speak forty seven Federation languages fluently and can understand about a dozen more with a more than adequate level of proficiency. In her freshman year at the Kenyan University while studying for her Earth Languages degree, she wrote a thesis on the Application of Pragmatics in Modern Languages which won her a scholarship that led her to Starfleet Academy.

Words are what she lives by. She understands grammar, gets syntax. She can break down sentence structures, pick apart morphemes and phonemes, study dialect and intonation, examine affixes and signifiers. She is good with words. The study of linguistics, whether alien or human, is structured, following a certain order. No matter what the language, or which part of the galaxy it originates from, it will follow a specific set of rules. The same rules apply to every language she has ever studied. It is all about structure. She likes structure, likes the control it gives her.

That is what she always believed she had in common with Spock. He is the effusive, well-cultured Vulcan, with his infamous calm and logic which is the most attractive thing to her about him. Yes, he is beautiful too, not to mention highly intellectual and a supremely intelligent man. But it is his calm and control which pulled her towards him. His ability to maintain his cool in the face of anything. And it was obvious he was equally attracted to her, even if they never acted on that attraction until after the loss of Vulcan. And then finally they started seeing each other when they were both assigned to the Enterprise.

Which is why she finds herself unable to grasp this new side of Spock. He is still the logical one, still the most stable person she knows. And there is no shortage of strange people she comes across in her daily life. But there is an emotional side of Spock, she doesn't get. Nyota knows that her reasoning is far from accurate, though. You could hardly call Spock emotional. At least, that's not how he is on the surface. Aside from that one instance during the Narada incident when he nearly killed Kirk on the bridge, which was entirely prompted by Kirk's own cavalier attempt to incite the emotionally compromised Vulcan into reacting, she has never again seen him lose his calm.

But now, having seen that part of him, she knows what lies underneath that façade of calmness. And she has seen glimpses of more during their brief attempts to form a telepathic connection.

No, she knows Spock is not a violent man. That is not what she is worried about. Far from it, in fact. However, she can no longer deny that Spock has an emotional side. Even for a half-Human. And his Vulcan heritage demands certain biological imperatives that she is not entirely sure she can accommodate him with. She finds herself simply unable to meld with him.

Telepathy touches a very deep part of an individual's psyche. It's basically flaying yourself open in front of someone else. Each thought, each memory, each feeling laid bare to be waded through, and prodded and picked apart and thrown back at you in triplicate. The thought of feeling all those emotions, with no sense of structure, or order, or syntax to fall back on feels alien to her. Far too alien.

Nyota understands syntax, likes the control it provides. She's not sure she likes the idea of letting go of that same control, which she knows is bound to happen in a meld.

She knows she is being unfair to Spock. He is a kind, gentle man. She knows she loves him and she wants to try to be what he needs. But she is not sure she is capable of doing so.

She doesn't want to lose him, but she's not sure she can change herself that much for him. She's not sure she can give up that much of herself to accommodate his needs.

And that makes her feel like shit.

At night, as he sleeps, the jagged edges of the broken bond bleed in his mind.

It has been this way since the loss of Vulcan eight point seven three months ago.

He is not alone in this. Every other Vulcan alive today has lost a family member or a bondmate to Nero's madness. Every other Vulcan alive today is in pain, is suffering.

However, Spock is the only living hybrid in existence. He does not know if it is his human half that makes the situation more dire than it would be for a full Vulcan, or if everyone else is going through the same thing. Like all remaining Vulcans, especially the very young like him, he went through a number of sessions with a Healer after the Nero incident to assess the integrity of his telepathic shields and to pacify his broken bond until a bondmate can be arranged for him at a later occasion. He was assured by the Healer that while his grief was immense, that it was to be expected in the wake of his tremendous loss, and that his exceptional telepathic abilities were adequate for his continued mental wellbeing. His mental shields were and still are perfectly in place. That is not the issue.

The issue is... that despite all that, there is a loneliness in him that breaches the core of him. A devastating emptiness that aches in a part of his mind that he is unable to reach with his mental hands, unable to close the gaping wound so that it can stop bleeding. It is a wound that calls for a bondmate to ease its pain. A bondmate that no longer exists. A bondmate he lost with billions of others on that fateful day. The ever calm and logical T'Pring, the beautiful one, who was promised to him at age seven. T'Pring, his betrothed, who would have soothed his aches and eased his discomforts. T'Pring who died with Vulcan – a victim of a madman's psychosis.

And now he is alone, aching, hurting, bleeding inside. Unable to form a bond with the woman who is willing to be with him, to love him and to take care of his needs. Because of whatever flaw that exists in his hybrid nature, he cannot get through to Nyota. What he needs would normally only be matched with another telepathic companion, but the bond his father shared with his human mother proves that it is not an absolute. He wants to be with Nyota. He has tremendous fondness for her and he knows she feels the same way. They are intellectually well-matched. They can talk on topics of common interests for hours without getting tired. Spock knows she could be the one. But for some reason, it is not working. He has tried melding with Nyota on three different occasions and has failed each time. For some reason, every time he tries to form the barest connection, her mind recedes. He does not know why.

Physically, he finds their unions to be satisfying. Nyota is beautiful and soft and eager to please, a considerate lover. However, sometimes Spock wishes he was blunt enough to tell her that it is not enough. Because it is not. And over time, it has gotten harder and harder to focus on his control with the broken bond always there, hurting. He needs a telepathic connection, if his needs are to be sufficiently met. He needs a mind that understands him on a deeper level. Perhaps he is being selfish by needing more than she can give. He knows it is not her fault. He is the one to blame. He is the experiment that went wrong at some point and now he is driving away the woman he cares for because he needs too much. He feels too much. He knows he is being illogical, being un-Vulcan but he does not know what to do.

So while his shields are in place during the day, as he goes about taking care of his duties and his tasks, as he's talking to people and resolving the day to day issues that arise during the normal routine of a First Officer's life, at night when he lays down to sleep, he can feel the jagged edges of the broken bond throb.

He can feel them bleed.

And he hurts.

Jim steps out of the shower and grabs a towel from the rack, wrapping it around his waist. Although he spent the night planet-side, he felt an unprecedented eagerness to return to the ship as soon as he woke up.

Shelma and Quelma, the Antaren twins, were a great distraction. However, as eager as he was to bed them last night, this morning, a strange, dull moodiness had befallen him. As if being with them was the last thing he wanted. Which was strange considering they were both exotically beautiful and he usually had no qualms about getting it on with exotic beautiful women—the stranger the better. Nonetheless, he could not get away from them fast enough. He was polite and charming as he made his excuses, of course, but when they offered him a morning round, he really had to decline. And he absolutely had to say no to breakfast in the Sikaren restaurant which supposedly specialized in cuisine from across the quadrant. They looked genuinely disappointed but he would not be deterred.

He's had a good night's sleep, so he's refreshed. The sex was satisfactory too which really says a lot about his mental disposition that he was calling a hot acrobatic threesome satisfactory—but yeah, he really wanted to come back to his quarters to freshen up. He's also starving now but he wants to log in a few miles at the gym before he heads out to the commissary.

He dresses quickly in his gym shorts, shoes and plain white t-shirt, grabs the gym bag with the change of clothes and heads out. He's caught up in his thoughts, his mind going a mile a minute, planning the rest of his day between ship-based chores and planet-side hours as he walks through the gym doors, only to stop short at the sight in front of him.

Spock and Sulu are fencing. A small crowd of crewmen has gathered around them to watch as they are wont to whenever either of his bridge mates are engaged in one of their combat training drills.

Jim climbs a runner and switches it on and, as he begins to jog, keeps his eyes on the match. Sulu, he knows, is an expert fencer. A surprisingly aggressive fighter, he employs a unique combative style that Jim sometimes laughingly refers to as mutt fencing, due to his propensity to add in different techniques from a number of marshal arts forms in his fighting program. But that's where the funny stuff ends and Jim knows it. Having had a go at Sulu in friendly practice a number of times, Jim personally knows the fencing is no laughing matter to him. He's quick and agile and forceful in his drills, attempting to take charge of the fights from the start.

However, it is the half-Vulcan that Jim finds himself watching more closely lately. Spock, with his tall, lean, deceivingly strong build—with a balance and swiftness that is almost languid in its elegance. With a feline grace, Jim watches Spock fence with the helmsman, his eyes following the Vulcan's every move, as Spock moves forward and sideways and back on his nimble feet, his every muscle taut with the readiness to pounce. Spock is all sharp angles and hard muscular tension. He often finds himself watching Spock in movement, watching Spock's hands in motion, with their gentle, strong, long fingers, and those perfectly manicured nails. The hands he knows the strength of from personal experience. He has felt them wrapped around his throat in less than ideal circumstances after all. Damn, he now knows never to piss the half-Vulcan off again. He also knows that the past few months have helped him cultivate a friendship and loyalty with his First Officer that will ensure Spock will always watch his back in a fight, and that would be a fight they would always win.

Spock usually plays a defensive game and with Sulu's usual aggressive stance, they make perfect sparring partners. But today, Spock appears to be employing a more offensive strategy. Jim watches as Spock tackles Sulu three times, prodding first his chest, then his midsection, then his groin, one after the other, as Sulu attempts to foil his moves by stepping aside and then quickly moving forward in an attempt to throw Spock off. But either Sulu is still a little hung-over from last night or there really is no stopping Spock in his current disposition. He wonders what is up with Spock this morning.

Jim watches as the computer beeps the warning signal, as Spock comes forward to attack fast and furiously over and over. Sulu steps forward, his foil thrust at Spock's prime, but Spock successfully blocks him and jabs at Sulu's with a quick movement of wrist and elbow, once, twice thrice. And suddenly Sulu staggers back, almost falling as he puts out a hand in defeat, his chest heaving, and Jim hears the computer beep the signal to stop the fight. Spock stops abruptly, straightening up, as Sulu drops his foil on the floor.

"Oh hey, hello!" Sulu heaves in a staggering breath as he looks up at the First Officer from his position where he is bent at the waist, his hands on his knees. "What's up, Spock? You feeling okay today?"

Jim feels himself frown as Spock takes long, deep breaths to calm himself as he stares at the helmsman for a few long moments. After a moment, the half-Vulcan visibly sighs. "I apologize. I will attempt to play a more defensive game in the future. If you wish to terminate today's session..."

"Hey, no." Sulu picks up the foil and straightens up. "I like it. I was just not expecting this after the night we had. My head is still kind of buzzing from all that Antaren brandy we had. The sparring should actually clear it up real nicely." He looked at Spock warily. "Just warn a guy next time you're in the mood for an out and about aggressive combat set, okay, Commander?"

"Affirmative." Spock inclines his head and they begin again, this time going back to their usual aggressive/defensive styles.

Jim watches them for a while longer, waiting for any sign that things are not back to normal. But the drill is uneventful after that, and Jim increases the speed on his runner as he concentrates on finishing up his exercise. After a while, he watches both Sulu and Spock finish up and leave, with a wave from Sulu and a tilt of head from Spock thrown his way in acknowledgement.

After he's done, he washes up in the showers and changes. By the time he's out of the gym, he's absolutely famished, and is almost jogging into the commissary, determined to feed himself with something hearty and filling. He grabs a food tray and fills it with a large muffin, a thermos of coffee and two servings of eggs and bacon, finds an empty table and settles down.

He's only just dug in when he hears someone approach him.


He looks up to find his First Officer standing in front of him, now dressed in his uniform, with a tray of his own in his hands. Jim smiles widely. "Mr. Spock, join me?"

Spock nods as he takes the seat from across him and sets his tray down. "Thank you."

Jim watches Spock begin to eat a bowl of cereal with a variety of fruits and milk added, and a mug of tea and goes back to his own food. They eat in silence together for a while and then Jim looks up at him.

"That was an impressive session with Sulu," he says conversationally. "You've really improved greatly since I last I saw you two fence. Not that you were ever bad at any combat sports to begin with," he smiles. "But yeah, that was pretty aggressive."

Spock gazes at him, a strange look in his eyes. "It would appear to have been too aggressive" He sounds almost contrite.

Jim once again wonders what could be bothering his First Officer. He hopes everything is all right between him and Uhura. Then he remembers last night and how they looked more than fine together and feels his jaw tighten. He feels a frown forming on his forehead and shakes his head, instead chuckling to lighten the mood. "Yeah well, Sulu did have a little too much to drink last night." He smiles at Spock. "Don't worry about it. He loves a challenge and is a pretty good study. As are you, in fact."

Spock nods. "Mr. Sulu has taken time out of his schedule to assist me with regular lessons. As he employs the skill sets from various different classes of combat training, I find his technique to be most efficacious in assembling a very potent martial arts program."

Jim pours himself some coffee. "I'm sure you have taught him a few things too. He's making some moves I hadn't seen from him before."

"As would any skilled fencer." Spock inclines his head. He puts down his spoon and picks up his tea. He sips delicately from the cup for a few moments and looks at Jim almost expectantly.

Jim stares at him. "Was there something on your mind, Commander?"

Spock puts down his teacup and takes a deep breath. "Yes, Captain. I wished to inform you of a conversation I had with the Rigelen Minister last evening that had me somewhat discomfited."

Jim looks at him curiously. "What happened?"

Spock gives him the account of his whole conversation with Minister Utan, and the subsequent discussion he had with the Antaren authorities and Jim is glad he had already finished most of his breakfast, because he suddenly loses his appetite.

"This is not good." He grits his teeth. "In fact, this totally sucks. This is what I was telling Pike about when he thrust this festival on us in the guise of a so-called shore leave. The potential for contamination when it comes to unsupervised technological exchanges, especially if it concerns weapons, with non-Federation members is fucking huge. But the Starfleet bureaucracy simply doesn't listen to us, do they?"

Spock inclines his head. "You will however need to inform them of this development."

"Oh I will," Jim nods. "As soon as I get out of here." Something suddenly occurs to him. He looks at Spock. "But I was wondering something."

Spock looks at him. "Yes, Captain?"

"You had this conversation with the Minister when, last evening?"

Spock leans back a fraction. "Affirmative."

Jim stares at his face. "Why didn't you tell me this right then?"

Spock looks suddenly uncomfortable. "I... meant to," he begins, looks down at the table and then back up at his face, "but... I realized you were otherwise occupied." His face becomes impassive. "I did not wish to disturb you in your free time."

Which is the strangest fucking thing he's ever heard come out of Spock's mouth. His First Officer has never been known to beat around the bush. Or to hesitate to come and see him if there is a problem. "Spock, this is more important than my free time." Jim knows he sounds incredulous. "You know that. You should have told me immediately."

Spock presses his lips together. "You are of course correct, Captain." He straightens up in his seat. "I apologize for my misjudgment in handling the issue. It will not happen again."

It really must not. Ship's business comes first. It really, truly does. "See that it doesn't, Commander," Jim says firmly. He stares at his First Officer, who still looks uncomfortable for some reason. What the hell is going on with Spock? He can't imagine why Spock would hesitate to approach him just because he was with a bunch of women at a bar. Or would he? Jim can feel the slight tension in the air, so he softens his tone as he nods at his First Officer. "Want to join me for my vid conference with Admiral Pike as we inform him of this situation?"

Spock looks into his eyes, something unreadable lurking there. He slowly inclines his head. "Of course, Captain."

"But how could such a contraption even work?"

Ensign Beemer is sitting with his elbows on the table in the rec room, his chin propped up on his folded hands, as he looks between Chekov and Engineer Scott for illumination.

But it is Sulu who leans forward to answer. "Well technically speaking, telepathy is like finding the right frequency on your old fashioned radio, right?" he says. "So if you can somehow figure out a way to do that telepathically, it's just like listening to your favorite jazz station, or if you go a little further, just like broadcasting your own signal if you have a booster attached."

Engineer Scott speaks up: "So, what ye are saying is... if there were to be a device... which could generate a frequency that matched the psionic signals of a psi-null species..."

"This is, of course, considering psi-null species even have psionic signals," Sulu interrupts.

"They do, of course." Chekov nods enthusiastically. "Ask any telepath." And just as he says it, he looks up to see Mr. Spock walk into the room with Dr. McCoy in tow. They appear to be having a heated discussion about shore leave schedules and someone or other getting sick on the planet. As Chekov looks closely, he can see that Mr. Spock looks utterly disinclined to continue whatever they are talking about, so he decides to rescue him. "Hey, look, there's Commander Spock. Commander Spock!" He calls out, "Commander!"

Both Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy approach the table.

"What the devil are you all up to?" The doctor has the usual scowl on his face.

But Mr. Spock ignores the admonition and looks at Chekov. "What is it, Ensign?"

"Commander, do psi-null species have psionic signals?" Chekov looks up at the First Office expectantly.

Sulu snorts as the doctor curses while the commander raises an eyebrow at Chekov. "I beg your pardon."

"What Pavel is trying to ask is..." Sulu chuckles. "...can psi-null species be affected by psychic probing, for example by telepathic aliens or... perhaps through some technological device that is programmed to emit a psychic... field for instance. The answer, of course, is... yes."

"Indeed." The commander inclines his head. "Any species, regardless of their psi-rating, could be affected by the presence of psionic probing, whether by a telepathic alien, or... via a device, were it to exist, that used some method of a psychic interference to detect or influence ones thoughts. However, it would depend on several factors, such as how deep the probing is, and whether or not the telepathic influence is being attempted at a frequency which matches the species' mental wavelength."

Dr. McCoy mutters. "That's the way to get your brain scrambled, by having someone poking around in their thoughts with fucking telepathy!"

"See? That's what Mr. Scott said." Chekov says. "If the psionic signals match the frequency of the mental wavelength."

"No, actually..." Sulu shakes his head. "Scotty said it the other way around."

"Shut your mouth, lad." Mr. Scott scowls at Sulu, and then looks at the commander. "What we're askin' here is... if they generated a field that projected, say, on a wide band of psionic wavelengths, it could possibly tune into the psychic signals of a large number of alien species, can it not?"

"Possibly yes." Spock looks at him and then he looks around the table. "Might I ask, what has prompted this discussion?"

Sulu looks at Spock, then at Chekov, who suddenly feels uncertain at the scrutiny he is receiving from his superior officers, before sighing. "Someone down on the planet just told Pavel about... one of the alien visitors bringing in a... 'Psychic Field Generator'."

There is silence at the table for a moment, as Dr. McCoy curses again and Commander Spock looks at Chekov in what can only be termed as the Vulcan expression for astonishment—even if he only looks slightly more grave than usual. "For technological exchange," he says.

Chekov ducks his head. "Yeah."

"So we were just discussing how such a device could possibly work." Sulu looks rueful. "Of course, it would be illegal, wouldn't it?"

Spock turns to Chekov. "Who was this individual who told you about this device?"

Chekov straightens up, his heartbeat suddenly faster. "He was an Antaren, Commander. I don't know his name."

"When did this discussion take place?"

"Less than an hour ago," Chekov replies, "when I was at the café on the beach."

Spock looks at him. "Would you be able to recognize this person if you saw him again?"

Chekov nods. "Yes, I think so."

The commander takes out his communicator and punches a button. "Spock to the Bridge."

"Uhura here."

"Lieutenant, has the captain returned from his meeting with Minister Utan?"


"Can you contact him?"

"Hold on a second." There is a pause for a few moments before they hear her voice. "He's not responding. He's in the Diplomatic Enclave right now, they turn off all communication devices down there."

Spock turns to the group at the table. "Who accompanied the captain to the surface?"

"Ensign Molaris," Sulu replies. "I was supposed to join him later."

"To what purpose?"

Sulu shrugs. "A tour of their botanical labs, Commander. It is supposed to be shore leave, after all."

Spock stares at him. "Lieutenant, I suggest you beam down immediately, find the captain and inform him of this situation. The botanical labs can come later."

"Yes sir." Sulu hurries out.

"Ensign, I need you on the bridge." Mr. Spock nods to Chekov as they move out of the rec room together.

"Aye Commander."

"Lieutenant, raise the Antaren governor on priority channel," Spock orders as they walk onto the bridge.

"Aye Commander." Uhura replies as she fiddles with her controls. After a while she looks up. "I can't get through. There is some kind of interference in the..."

Spock interrupts. "Raise Lt. Sulu on the comm."

There is a short pause before she replies, "I've got him."

"Lieutenant, can you find the captain?"

"I am unable to reach him, Commander," comes Sulu's reply over the comm. "There's something going on down here."

Spock feels his brows furrow. "Explain."

"I don't know what it is. But it is definitely something..."

Suddenly the comm signal breaks as they hear a loud crackle of static fill the bridge. Spock turns to Uhura questioningly but she only shakes her head.

And then, Chekov cries out. "Commander, there's been an explosion in the Diplomatic Enclave building."

Spock whirls around to face the viewscreen. "Lt. Sulu, report!"

More static sounds on the channel before comes Sulu's reply, "Commander, I'm attempting to.. there's no... coming back... find help... ahhh." They hear Sulu cry out over the channel and the line goes silent.

Spock attempts again. "Lieutenant, what is going on down there?" But there's no response.

He presses his comm. panel on the chair. "Spock to Sickbay."

"McCoy here."

"Doctor, there's been an explosion down on the planet. Prepare for emergency evacuation and treatment of possible casualties."


Spock turns to Uhura. "Lieutenant, get me Ensign Molaris!"

"I can't get through to him. Can't get through to either of them," she replies. "There's no response."

He looks at the Comm. Officer. "Get me someone from the Antaren council on screen."

"I'm trying."

He steps up to the Navigation console. "Ensign, I want status."

Chekov's fingers fly on his controls. "There is a jamming signal in the planet's atmosphere originating from the north-western block of the Diplomatic Enclave, and it is interfering with our sensors."

Uhura calls out, "I have Governor Lispah'n on the screen."

The wizened face of the Antaren Governor appears on the viewscreen. But the picture is unclear, the signal breaking and reappearing haphazardly.

"Governor," Spock addresses the bureaucrat, "What is going on at the Diplomatic Enclave? Our sensors registered an explosion."

The picture distorts, breaks up and then comes back. But as it clears up, everyone on the bridge can see the Antaren Governor is in pain. "It is too loud," the man moans. "There are too many voices. Too many sounds." He sobs. "Oh, you must stop them, Federation. Please, goddess, stop them. Please, you must..."

And with that the signals drops. Spock turns to face Uhura, his face grave, and sees her shake her head.

"Commander," Chekov says, "there is an interference around a three hundred and fifty meters circumference of the Diplomatic Enclave building that is blocking our sensors."

"The Psychic Field Generator." Spock presses his lips together. He calls sickbay once more. "Doctor, when was the last time you spoke with the captain?"

"Two hours ago, just as he was going into his meeting with Minister Utan," McCoy answers. "What the hell is going on?"

But Spock has no time to answer. He turns and moves towards the turbolift. "Bridge to Mr. Scott. Report to Transporter Room 2 immediately."

"Aye Commander."

Spock waves at the Navigation Officer. "Mr. Chekov, you're with me."

They arrive in the transporter room to find not only Mr. Scott but also Dr. McCoy waiting for them.

"Spock, where's Jim?" The doctor asks, his voice agitated.

"He has not been located since the explosion," Spock replies. "We have reason to believe the psionic device has been activated on the planet. Two of our officers who had accompanied the captain are compromised."

The doctor looks at him. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

Spock turns to face him. "Down on the planet."

The doctor has a scowl on his face. "Spock, that Psychic Field crap, even you as a telepath would be susceptible to its effects."

Spock stares at him. "Understood. However, my first duty is to make sure the captain is safe. As I am the only one on board with telepathic shields in place, I find myself to be the most qualified to make the rescue attempt."

The doctor looks at him gravely. "Then, I'm coming with you."

"Negative." Spock shakes his head. "You will not be able to repel the effects of a psychic field. You must wait here for me to bring the captain back to the ship, so that you can treat him for any possible injuries." He turns to Scott and Chekov. "It is imperative that you not only find the source of this interference and get rid of it, but that you also locate that generator and disable it."

"Aye Sir."

Spock arms himself with a phaser and gets up on the transporter pad. "Mr. Scott, transport me to a point close to the Diplomatic Enclave."

Mr. Scott frowns. "The interference is messing up with my sensors, Commander. I cannot guarantee I can find you a safe spot near that building even outside the circumference of the signal."

Spock stares at him. "Then find me an unsafe spot and beam me down there."

"But Mr. Spock."

"Do it now."

The first thing he notices as he rematerializes on the surface is the chaos.

Everywhere he looks, he sees smoke coming out of damaged buildings, and bodies either strewn haphazardly, or writhing on the ground. Those who do not appear to be injured are stumbling about in a daze, clutching their heads, their fingers shoved into their ears as if they are trying to block out a cacophony of noise. Every face he looks at is contorted in pain, the sounds of painful cries and moans reverberate in the chilled night.

He takes out his tricorder and checks the surroundings. The readings are going haywire, the interference too strong, but he can just make out the circumference of the jamming signal and he is standing right at the edge of it. He can almost feel the thrum of the psychic presence here. It's a palpable, tangible thing, its energy pulsing at the edges of his consciousness, but here, outside the circumference, it is not strong enough to affect him.

As he takes a step forward, he notices Sulu and Molaris sitting a little further away against a wall, looking dazed but mostly undamaged. They apparently had enough foresight to make it out of the signal's range before they collapsed. He moves forward to seize Sulu's shoulder and asks him about the captain's last known location. The helmsman weakly points in the direction of a hallway about two hundred meters into the building. Spock instructs him to contact the ship and liaise with Scott and Chekov to find the generator.

Leaving his two crewmates to fend for themselves, Spock rushes through the entrance, the smoke inside thicker, as he climbs over overturned articles of furniture and even more bodies—some of them merely unconscious though he could not be sure—but has only moved a few dozen paces when it hits him. Thousands of voices whispering, sniggering, hissing in his mind, poking at his thoughts, filling his ears, his senses, his head with their prodding, pricking, puncturing malevolence. The psychic energy throbs around him, beating at his mental shields. He staggers back a step, and closes his eyes as he takes a deep breath to steady himself. He calls upon his Vulcan training, shoring up his defenses and reasserting his mental shields one by one until they are all back in place, until he is once again feeling in control, and then opens his eyes. He takes stock of his situation once more, remembers the direction Sulu had pointed out earlier and moves.

In the second room, he finds the Rigelen Minister on the floor in a pool of magenta blood, a shard of broken window glass sticking out of his chest. Spock doesn't have to check his pulse to know he is dead. He leaves him there. It is as he is crossing the threshold between the third and the fourth room, that he catches a glimpse of gold in the periphery of his vision.

It is the captain, lying on his back stuck under an upturned table. Spock runs to him, reaching down to assess the damage, and notices the shards of the splintered wood that have breached his shoulder—thick red blood seeping out of the wound. But he can see the captain's chest rising and falling and that sends a rush of relief through him.

"Jim," he says gently, reaching out to check his pulse, and the moment his fingers touch the captain's skin, Spock hears a blood curdling scream reverberate through his skull as the captain's body convulses, his face contorting in pain. Spock pulls back with a gasp as if shocked at the touch, his eyes widening at the misery he sees on the human's face. He sees the captains' mouth open in a silent scream as his body thrashes back in the throes of a seizure, a choked sob falling from the slack mouth. No, no, no, no, no, no, he hears crackling against the mental link—its as if the presence of the psychic field has heightened his senses, the tips of his fingers acting as a psychic conduit even though they are no longer touching the human's bare skin.

"Jim," he says again. "Captain!" he urges.

But there is no reply, only an answering shudder as the captain's body writhes in pain, his face a picture of absolute torture. The captain's mind is trapped in the psychic field. Spock must reach him before any more damage is done to his friend. He must rescue both his body and mind.

Determined, Spock reaches out to hold his captain's shoulders firmly. He spares a glance at the tortured features, takes a deep breath, and holds up both his hands over the captain's face above the psi-points. Then with his fingers splayed in the traditional melding position, he makes contact.

He feels the moment the link is formed, because he's suddenly plunging inside the pulsing, throbbing, choking depths of the human's fear-filled mind. No, no, no, no, no, please no, no, no, no, he hears the painful howl and yet pushes his way into the clamoring confusion. Everything is so cold and black and angry inside this place. He can feel the malevolence thick like a cloud of suffocating, burning smoke, can hear the laughing, hissing, sibilating whispers buzzing in his ears. No, please no, no, no. He can feel the waves of pain and fear coursing through this mind. This fragile human mind. Lost in a thick black fog, the stench of what smells like burning flesh suddenly stings Spock's nose, and he feels himself gag.

Jim, he calls out, breathing heavily as he blinks into the morass. Jim, you must let me find you.

No, he hears, stay away, stay the fuck away.

Jim, no, it is I, Spock. Your friend. Captain, let me help you.

No, no, please.

Here the whispers are louder, their power more potent than ever. And beneath it, Spock can hear a persistent throb. It is a sound he has heard before. The thump of a human heart beating, slowed and slowing still, as the pain engulfs the mental landscape around them. In Jim's mind, in his current physical state, the natural protective shields of his mind are almost nonexistent. He has been weakened tremendously du

e to his injuries and cannot cope with that physical pain and the onslaught of the psychic attack at the same time. He has to be stabilized or it will be too late.

So Spock reaches out to extend his own shields to protect the human. He has never done this before and the only instances he is aware of involved other Vulcans, but he believes it can be done. Itmust be done. The connection is already made, all he needs to do is grab the safety net his mental shields provide and extend them through the meld into the human's mind and wrap his shields around Jim's mental self. It is the only way he can save the captain's mind.

Jim, he calls out, please, you must let me in. I am here to help you.

Please, comes the choked whisper. Don't.

Jim. Let me in.

I can't.

Yes, you can. You can trust me.



Slowly, he senses a shift in the mental landscape. Jim, where are you? he asks. You must resist the pull of the attack, Captain. Block them. You can do that. Let me help you.

A pinprick of light appears on his horizon and suddenly the darkness recedes a fraction. Spock begins to see shapes in the pitch black darkness.

Jim, push the voices away, push them out of your mind. They do no exist. They are only artificially created. Listen to my voice. I am the only one here, Jim.

And there finally, he sees it. That pinprick revealing itself as a pulsing, throbbing source of light: his captain's psychic self. It's like an unfettered length of rope, waving in a vacuum, in a space of absolute blankness. And it is injured. It has taken a beating at the hands of the malevolent attack of the psychic field. Spock reaches out with his mental hands and sends a wave of safety, security, protectiveness towards the blinking, pulsing, source of energy, towards his captain. And suddenly, the pain drops, the darkness recedes and he watches in amazement as a sudden, bright, sparkling light fills the landscape around him.

He watches that point of light shimmering with the positive burst of energy he has sent towards it. He focuses on his shields, targeting them through the link, to extend them around his captain's psychic presence. But before he can, suddenly, that single pulsing thread of energy pours out of that tiny pinprick, splintering into strands of luminous, glowing strings that drape themselves around him. They fill his senses, and he's suddenly drenched in waves of wonderment, affection, gratitude, loyalty, adoration, sympathy, respect. It takes him a moment of utter bewilderment before he realizes the emotions belong not to him, but to the captain. And he does not know how to control these sensations flowing through him. He feels that pulse of energy, that source of Jim Kirk's psychic self, pouring out all this potent emotion into the mental link, feels it reaching out to the deepest core of him, to a part of him that no one else has ever seen. No one else but the bondmate that is lost, that no longer exists. He hears himself cry out as the connection is made between this bright, pulsing source of energy that is Jim Kirk, and his bond —his broken, injured bond that throbs and bleeds and hurts inside him.

He tries to pull back, as if shocked, tries to rein in his control, but he has not realized until now that his attempts to meld with Nyota have brought down his defenses, have left him compromised. His shields are not in their optimal condition, they are weaker... and the psychic presence battering at this defenses... is making them weaker still. And that... bright, burning source of light that is Jim, that positive, rejuvenating energy calls to him, like a source of life-affirming illumination in the thickness of choking darkness filled with malevolent energy, and he cannot help but reach for that source of goodness with his mind's hands. Please, no, he cries. He must stop this, he must pull back, he must resist the lure of that incandescent mind. But with a choice between vengeful, evil, baleful thoughts and that lone, bright, burning essence of goodness, he cannot stop himself. He cannot stop his bleeding, aching, hurting bond reaching out and answering that siren call by enveloping itself around that welcoming heat.

He feels that pinprick expand and infuse him with a cacophony of emotion, pouring out a glut of affection, caring, protectiveness, tenderness, and love. Love as he has never felt before. But he must stop it. He must stop this right now. He needs to stop it from wrapping him in all this sensation, in this sea of catastrophic emotion. He has to stop it because this is not what he is here for, this is not his, does not belong to him. But he is greedy. He cannot have this but he also must have this. He wants to drink it all in, keep it inside him and never let it go. He has been thirsty, oh so thirsty for this touch, for any touch. It is wrong, so wrong, but he cannot stop the two pulsing sources of energy from meeting and wrapping themselves around each other. For as they join, he feels their energies merging together to soothe all the pain and ache and hurt he has endured. All the pain he has suffered as he laid down each night and felt the wound inside him bleed from the broken bond. And it soothes all the pain Jim has endured. He can feel the healing energy like a balm on all their combined wounds inflicted, both old and new. Until all he can see is a warm, bright, burning light, a light that fills his whole being, a light that envelopes and saturates him with sensation, inundates his senses with a giddy happiness he has never felt in his life. A happiness that he knows does not belong to him, and yet it fills him and washes him clean with all its healing, loving power.

And in the middle of it all, stands a tall, lean figure, his golden hair as bright as the burning sun, his sky-colored eyes beautiful and filled with an insightful, knowing acceptance.

"Spock," he hears his name called out...

...and is suddenly, rudely pulled out of the meld. He finds himself lying on the transporter platform on the Enterprise. His hands are on the captain's face, hovering over the psi-points. His captain lies unconscious and injured, his shoulder bleeding onto the transporter platform. But the human's face is free of all discomfort and as Spock looks at the slack features, he feels a familiar hum crackle at the back of his mind.

"Spock," he hears his name called out and looks up into the concerned eyes of Dr. McCoy. Lt. Sulu and Ensign Chekov are hovering at one side of the transporter room. He sees Mr. Scott at the transporter controls.

"Get the stretchers," he hears the doctor bark to someone. He watches as two nurses haul the captain from the floor and load him onto the stretcher.

"Spock." He hears someone say his name but his eyes are already closing, his whole being suddenly filling with a strange, incomprehensible lethargy. The last thing he sees is the sight of Jim being carried from the transporter room on an antigrav stretcher.

And then he loses consciousness.

Continued in A Second Chance, Part 2 of 4