Not Light but Warmth

written by Mary Rottler and Lynn Syck


The soul perishes not of dark
But of cold.
The soul in deep distress
Seeks not light but warmth,
Not counsel but understanding.

McCoy stood at his side removing a hypo from his arm. The doctor squinted up at the panel above his head.

"You were experiencing some heart flutter, Spock. Rest. Let this medicine work. I'm afraid combatting the aftereffects of that drug is going to require patience and strict compliance."

Spock felt the medicine dragging him down. "The Captain?"

McCoy touched his arm lightly but there was no reassurance in the gesture. "I'll let you know."

The touch withdrew and again a white hot flash of anger fought against the drug enforced sedation. Spock caught McCoy's sleeve. "Why did you lie to me? Why did you let him go to the bridge?"

"You know why," McCoy responded, angry disbelief showing on his face. "If you hadn't been so stubborn--" McCoy stopped suddenly as a soft alarm sounded from the captain's bed. Giving a quick glance in that direction, he then turned back, "Look, Spock, I have to go. We'll discuss this later."

Spock's hand slid from the doctor's arm, his own physical reserves failing him. He barely heard McCoy's footsteps fading away towards the surgical suite.

When Spock woke again, several hours had passed. It was evening and, for the moment, there were no doctors or nurses to be seen. However, he was not alone. Looking to the second bed in the wardroom, he saw Kirk. The blinking lights above the still figure were at reassuringly normal levels. Still, he felt a compelling need to move closer to the unmoving human, to see for himself that he breathed, that he lived.

Quietly, he rose, reaching to silence the alarm that automatically signaled his leaving the bed. A wave of exhaustion and dizziness forced him to pause until it had subsided enough for him to walk the few steps to the other side of the room.

Standing at Kirk's side, he observed the vulnerable human who began to move slightly, a wince of pain flickering across his face. The eyes remained closed and he made no sound but Spock knew that even that negligible motion would be enough to summon a nurse if not McCoy himself within moments. Reaching out his hand, he allowed his fingers to brush the hair from Kirk's forehead, amazed when the human immediately stilled, almost as if he knew who it was who had touched him. Pulling back his hand as though he had touched molten rock, he spun on his heel and left Sickbay. He was appalled that he had allowed one being to come to mean so much to him, enough that he would jeopardize everything, anything to save his life. The Vulcan in him rose up in horror and demanded that this shameful lack of control be acknowledged and dealt with. He could only see one solution, one way to regain what he had almost lost. It would not be easy but it was necessary.

Sitting at his desk in total darkness, Spock stared at the glaringly bright computer screen. Swirling images of black and red dominated his mind as he remembered his race to reach Kirk's side after he had been attacked by the Andorian. Red blood had dripped and spattered until it had covered the deck beneath the Captain. At first, Spock had been uncertain that Kirk even lived. He had never experienced such a feeling of relief as when he saw the first breath, the first rise and fall that meant life.

The image in his mind shifted suddenly to the later, equally frantic scene when Kirk had returned from the bridge, half-carried by Scott, a spreading red stain covering his uniform.

Twice within the past hours, Spock had been helpless to stop what was happening to Kirk. Now, however, he was determined that he would not, could not allow it to happen again. If McCoy could not be counted on to advise sanity, then he would use the only weapons he had - regulations and Starfleet Command. It was his duty. Because of the captain's headstrong manner and the doctor's misguided support, not only had the captain's life been risked unnecessarily but the ship's as well. Kirk's return in a state of near collapse had only emphasized the peril in which the captain had placed the Enterprise.

The equation was there but as Spock reached for the perfect blending of reason and logic to support his decision, a wall of unexpected weariness pushed at his mind. Rubbing his temples with shaking hands, he sought the control necessary to complete his self-appointed task.

As a Starfleet officer, his first duty was to protect the ship and its crew. The feelings and emotions engendered by friendships altered behavior patterns and created potentially dangerous scenarios. This postulation had been clearly proven by what had just occurred. If the captain had not felt an obligation as his friend, he would not have endangered his life to save Sarek's. Spock had to retreat a bit from that premise. Kirk had, in fact, risked his life on many occasions to save other crewmen, some of whom he barely knew. Because he was what he was, he could do nothing less. Acknowledging this last fact left Spock facing the undeniable truth from which he had attempted to hide. When Kirk had appeared on the bridge within hours of his injury, Spock knew he could not possibly be fit to take command yet he had been unable to deny Kirk's gift to him of his father's life. He had allowed emotion to influence his reasoning.

Spock paused as the Dereliction of Duty report form appeared on his computer. If he was entirely honest, he was as guilty of the charges he was now filing as Kirk and McCoy. Black flecks floated in front of his eyes and he was forced to grasp the desk in an effort to steady himself. The weakness was caused more by the chaos of colliding logic and emotion than any physical reason. Striving for control, Spock sought the basic levels of meditation. In the momentary peace he managed to create, Spock grasped the correlation he needed. By allowing emotion to influence his judgment, he had endangered both the ship and the captain. Therefore, to protect them both, he must expunge the emotion, allowing only reason and logic to dictate his decisions.

Decision made, he subdued all of the implications of his actions that raced through his mind. Nothing mattered now but the completion of his task. He would create a barrier in his mind, one that would protect him from the affects of the human emotions that bombarded him daily. Once complete, it would block any attempt by a human to reach him on an emotional level. Even James Kirk.

Exhaustion weighed down his movements. Forcing himself to concentrate, he focussed on the report still glowing on the screen before him. He must complete his duty. Duty. The word subdued any other considerations. It was his duty to file this report. He knew that duty would be his only resource in the future for once he took this action against Kirk, it would destroy their carefully constructed friendship beyond repair. He ignored the trembling of his hands as he touched the keyboard.

Later, report finished, Spock reached out and flicked off the computer, leaving the room in total darkness. Steepling his hands in front of his face, he completed the barrier. Behind it, suddenly cold, Spock felt an aloneness that touched the very depths of his soul. The barrier was indeed functioning efficiently. It blocked out all light and warmth and the darkness that remained was infinite and unending...

...Jim Kirk's mind screamed in silent horror. Something was cutting his heart out, slowly, deliberately, painfully. He tried to breath but his lungs refused to fill. He tried to open his eyes but could not bear to see the black emptiness that he knew would stretch before him. Was this death? It must be. Nothing else could be so final, so all encompassing. The horrified scream became a cry for help, a plea for someone, anyone, to save him. No, not anyone. Spock. But Spock was not there and would never be again and that was the most horrifying of all.

Two days later, McCoy sat in the early morning quiet of his office. Sipping his coffee, he reviewed the charts on his two remaining prize patients since he had released Spock to his quarters the day before.

He noted that Kirk had slept better which was good. The night before, he had been extremely restless but when McCoy had questioned him about it, the captain had brushed it off as unimportant. Still, the doctor had kept him lightly sedated for most of the day. He needed to rest more than anything.

Kirk was showing definite signs of improvement and probably could be released today if the CMO was so inclined. McCoy sighed, knowing that he could expect an argumentive captain if he kept him here for yet another night. Kirk hated to be confined anywhere but especially in sickbay.

Sarek needed another couple of days to be on the safe side but the ambassador should be sufficiently recovered to attend the Babel conference with no problem.

The doctor then turned his attention to Spock's records, frowning at the labwork results. The clotting factors were definitely being affected by the Rigellian drug and McCoy was not certain how he was going to straighten out the problem. Considering they were working completely in the dark, his best option was to have patience and see if the problem corrected itself.

Chapel entered and he could see the worry he felt reflected on her face. None of her personal concern entered her professional manner, however, as she gave a brief report.

"As soon as Ambassador Sarek awakens, we'll run those tests you ordered. His wife is here requesting to speak with you. Mister Spock is also scheduled for more tests shortly." She paused, gesturing to the readout on McCoy's screen. "We're going to be in trouble if he ends up needing a blood transfusion."

McCoy nodded in agreement. "I'd feel better if I could do a blood exchange and filter out the excess clotting factors. As it stands, we have to wait and let his liver and spleen do all the work. I don't like this, didn't want to use the damn stuff anyway."

Chapel's look was supportive. "I don't think you were given much choice in the matter."

McCoy managed a twisted grimace. "Let that be a lesson for you in the future, never let your commanding officers interfere with your medical decisions. I nearly lost the Captain because I did exactly that."

"Sarek would have died if you hadn't." Chapel placed a hand on his shoulder. "I was a bit surprised that you decided to release Spock yesterday."

"All we can do right now is monitor his bloodwork. That will be the first indication of trouble. I really had no valid medical reason to keep him under constant surveillance."

Chapel moved around the desk. She cocked her head, a suspicious twinkle bent his way. "Well, you'll be glad to know the captain is awake and ordering anyone he sees to wake you immediately. I didn't have the courage to tell him you were right next door."

McCoy leaned back in his chair. "Great. Guess I don't have to ask how he's feeling."

"No," Chapel laughed softly as she turned to go. Pausing at the door, she turned back. "By the way, don't forget to check your messages. You have one that's marked confidential and priority that's been flashing since yesterday."

McCoy cursed softly. His absent-mindedness with regard to his computer mail was becoming a ship-wide joke. For some reason, he never remembered to check his messages when he was focused on a medical problem. More than once, he had been in trouble with the captain because he had managed to overlook an important administrative message. This morning was no different. Between dealing with Spock's altered bloodwork, Sarek's medical condition, and a captain straining at the bit to be released, the doctor had not taken the time to glance at the priority code signal in the upper right hand corner of his screen.

McCoy pulled up the message, frowning as he watched Spock's name flash on the screen. He had sent the Vulcan to his quarters with strict orders to rest which had included specific instructions to stay away from the computer.

As the words scrolled onto the screen, McCoy's mouth dropped open in dismay. He finished the report in total disbelief. "We save your father's life and this is the thanks we get?" he blurted out, grateful that Chapel had left the room. His voice dropped to a whisper, "You Vulcan son-of-a--"

The sounds of a commotion interrupted and McCoy looked up just in time to see Kirk stride in, an exasperated nurse in tow.

"Doctor McCoy, I tried to explain to him that he wasn't released yet but--" The diminutive young Indian ensign lifted her hands helplessly.

McCoy stood up, sending her a smile he did not feel. "It's all right, Tinitia. I'll...explain it to him again."

She slipped back out, and McCoy turned to face Kirk. "I take it you have diagnosed your condition, Doctor Kirk, and released yourself from sickbay."

Kirk, glaring, hands on hips, clad only in sickbay coveralls and bare-footed, could still manage to be intimidating. A fleeting thought passed through McCoy's mind; at his next medical staff meeting he was going to have to include how to manage command personnel confined to sickbay.

"I feel fine," Kirk snapped, impatience making him glower. "And I've just talked with Scotty. He's having a devil of a time dealing with these diplomats. With both Spock and me out, it's all on his shoulders. He needs help. I understand you released Spock to his quarters but not to duty."

McCoy nodded without commenting, then rose slowly, coming around his desk. Reaching out, the physician took Kirk's pulse automatically, asking, "How's your back? Any pain?"

Kirk shook his head. "I told you, I feel fine."

The captain's color was good, his breathing was normal but something was not quite right. McCoy finally decided it was his eyes. They looked as if all the light had left them. He controlled an involuntary shiver at the strange thought, deciding he was imagining things, and released Kirk's wrist. Leaning casually against his desk, he blocked Kirk's view of his computer screen. "Spock is due back here for a checkup this morning and then I 'll decide whether to allow him to return to duty."

"How's Sarek?" the captain asked.

"As our First Officer would say, the Ambassador is proving the superiority of the Vulcan race. He'll be able to attend the Babel conference if no problems re-occur."

Kirk paced to the door, stopping just before it opened. "I take it since you let Spock leave that there weren't any adverse reactions to that drug he took."

McCoy crossed his arms, his tone dry. "Oh no, there are problems all right. His blood production is off and there are anomalies as a result. I'm going to have to watch him closely for the next few days."

Kirk nodded. "Okay, so where does that leave me? I have a ship to run."

The doctor stared at Kirk, Spock's report suddenly flashing into his mind. "I had planned to let you go this morning, however, all things considered, I think I had better do this according to regulations." Ignoring Kirk's questioning glance, McCoy tapped his intercom.

"Christine, set the Captain up for a complete physical."

"Sir? A physical? When?"

"Now. We'll be there in five minutes." McCoy cut the connection, turning to face the same startled puzzlement in Kirk's face that he had heard in Chapel's voice.

The puzzlement quickly gave way to impatience. "Explain."

McCoy gestured to his chair behind his desk. "I believe you'll understand once you look at this."

Kirk walked to the other side of the desk, his eyes following McCoy's finger to the computer screen. He began reading in the process of sitting down. Just before reaching the seat, he stood again, leaning his hands on the desk, his eyes wide and disbelieving. "This is a joke, right? Spock filing a dereliction of duty on you?"

"You know Spock doesn't pull practical jokes and this is definitely an official report."

With a muffled curse, Kirk deleted the entry, placing a new command in the computer.

McCoy waited in silence as Kirk studied the screen, the hazel eyes growing wintery cold. The captain shoved the monitor towards him. "He's filed one on me, too. When the hell did he do this?"

"Evidently, he must have left sickbay night before last, filed the report, and returned before anyone missed him. I only found it just now. As you know, I'm not very diligent about checking my messages."

There was silence again. "Damn him," Kirk whispered before meeting McCoy's eyes. His face darkened, McCoy knew not from illness but from fury. "I could accept and even understand him filing one against me. Maybe. But how dare he do this to you?"

"Well, you're one up on me. I don't understand it at all."

Kirk straightened and began to pace, his fists clenched in anger. "He's going to have one hell of a fight on his hands. He can't prove or make this charge stick."

"Jim, I hate to say it but out of all the crew aboard this ship, he's the one who could make any charge sound logical. I bet he has arguments covered by logic even another Vulcan couldn't refute. And you can't deny that he's essentially correct."

"The hell he is!" Kirk snapped. "Bottom line. I saved the ship. If I had not been on the bridge, the outcome would not have been the same."

"But you started bleeding on the bridge and collapsed on the way to sickbay just a few minutes later. If that had happened on the bridge, you wouldn't have been in any condition to save us."

"But it didn't. It wouldn't have."

"You were already bleeding internally when you arrived here. All it takes is Spock's irrefutable logic to prove that you should never have been released. I don't agree, but I certainly can see where he has us over a barrel."

Kirk stared at the wall behind McCoy. The light was definitely gone. His next words were barely more than a whisper. "Why, Bones? Why is he doing this to me?" He seemed to force his gaze back to McCoy. "To us?"

McCoy frowned. He had been asking himself the same question ever since he had read the stupid report. "He was angry with me for letting you go back to the bridge. When you returned and we were rushing you to surgery, Spock experienced some heart flutter from the abnormal blood production rate. I gave him a hypo that should have knocked him out immediately. Instead, he fought against it to ask me about you. I think," he paused, trying to follow the thought through. "Jim, I think that every time your life is in danger, it scares him."

"Spock? Scared?"

"Wait. You and I both know command isn't what he's after. Is it possible he's trying to put limits on your risk taking behavior?"

"Well, this sure as hell isn't the way to do it, having me slapped on the wrist by command."

"Maybe not for you and me. But what recourse does Spock have? It's a more logical and certainly less emotional way of dealing with the situation. After all, I can't see him coming to you and saying, 'Jim, I was afraid you were going to die. Don't do that again.'"

"You're saying he's trying to protect me from myself by filing this report? Showing his concern by claiming that I acted in an irresponsible manner and endangered the ship?" The captain spun on his heel suddenly, crossing back over to read the computer screen again. "I don't believe it."

McCoy waited silently for Kirk's control to override his anger. He watched as the captain moved to the office window. The broad shoulders drooped for a moment and McCoy knew the reaction was in response to the emotional pain Spock had inflicted with this action.

Finally the captain turned, his face hard and set. "Well, if it's by the book he wants, it's by the book he'll get. Let's get this physical out of the way. I've got work to do and so do you."

Kirk dressed and prepared to leave sickbay intending to go to the bridge. The physical had gone without a hitch. There were restrictions in his activities but he had promised McCoy grimly that he would comply strictly with his medical orders.

Detouring to his quarters, he told himself he needed to change his uniform shirt before meeting with the delegates. Almost against his will, he paused outside Spock's quarters. An image of the report on McCoy's computer screen superimposed itself as his eyes rested on Spock's nameplate and the captain felt his rage flare anew. With his jaw clenched tightly enough to cause a spasm of pain, Kirk knew that confronting Spock in his present state was a mistake. Yet, there was no power in the known universe that could stop him now.

The door slid open at his request and Kirk quickly traversed the short distance separating him from Spock who stood beside his desk.

The Vulcan watched his approach without expression. For the briefest of moments, Kirk stood meeting those eyes, searching for some sign of remorse or explanation, some remnant of the friendship he thought they had shared. Nothing. The dark face was completely unreadable.

"Captain, you have been released from sickbay?"

"Yes, Mister Spock." Kirk bit off, clenching his fists in an effort to restrain his anger. "I have been officially certified for light duty."

Spock only nodded, standing with his hands clasped behind his back as he frequently did when talking to Kirk. The captain could almost convince himself that his friend had reconsidered and was preparing to apologize, until he looked directly into the Vulcan's cold, dark face.

"I've seen the dereliction report you filed on both McCoy and me." The deadly quiet that surrounded his tone did not seem to affect Spock. The Vulcan remained still, his face becoming even more cold and withdrawn if that was possible. "Why, Spock? Just tell me why?"

The Vulcan blinked. "It is my duty as First Officer--"

"Bullshit! Don't give me that crap. I want the real reason."

Spock's face became set, frozen, and even Vulcan training and heritage could not completely hide his disdain.

"As I attempted to say a moment ago, Captain, I felt it was my duty to record my observations of recent events as they affected the safety of the ship and the crew."

Kirk ground his teeth against the urge to strike out at the Vulcan. "Are you saying I deliberately endangered my ship and my crew?"

"As I stated in the report, you allowed your emotions to affect a decision that should not have been made under such conditions."

"You're accusing me of making emotionally based decisions? That I endangered the ship by doing so? Spock, I was trying to save your father's life!"

"You placed the value of one life above that of yours or the crew."

Kirk's mind replayed the events leading to his collapse in sickbay and the reasons he had done what he had done but he would be damned if he would justify himself to this self-righteous prig he had mistakenly thought was his friend. There was still one question to be asked.

"Why drag McCoy into it? He's never done anything but try to help you."

Spock studied him as if he were an interesting specimen under a microscope. Perhaps that was all he had ever been to him, an experiment in Vulcan-Human relations. For a few seconds, Kirk felt as if a deep chasm had opened between them. His heart pounded suddenly in his ears, and he shivered, feeling ice cold chills race down his spine. It was a cold that he felt would end if he could only touch the Vulcan.

"Spock?" Kirk lifted his hand, reaching towards the him.

The Vulcan stepped back quickly, avoiding his touch. "Doctor McCoy was responsible for your physical condition. He knew you should not have been allowed to return to duty. It was a direct result of his actions which allowed you to act in such a reckless manner."

Kirk barely heard the words, battling his own reaction to Spock's rejection. Sensations of being swallowed up by the widening chasm between them were making it difficult not to reel with dizziness. He was going to have to retreat while he still could.

"Commander, I don't deny that you were within your rights to report the events as you see them. You always have that option open to you. But by filing this report without discussing it with me first, you have compromised the trust between us, trust that is necessary for a good relationship between a captain and his first officer." Kirk held the black eyes, still fighting the desolate gulf inside him that opened wider still. Turning, he walked to the door, pausing to whisper, "I still don't understand, Spock. I don't think I ever will."

Then he fled, seeking the sanctuary of his quarters where he could mourn the death of a friendship in bleak solitude.

Spock remained standing beside his desk. He was due in sickbay momentarily. The oppressive silence left by Kirk's going lay heavily about the room. Spock realized that he had accomplished what he had set out to do. His relationship with the captain and the chief medical officer would now be conducted as it should be. They would function as officers in Starfleet should, on a strictly professional basis according to regulation. It would be much better this way. Yet, as he stood, unable to move, he had to acknowledge feelings of regret and loss. Kirk's words about trust echoed in the room around him. The way had been clear before but now a seed of doubt began to thread its way through, forcing him to question his actions and the result. In trying to insure Kirk's safety, he may have lost the very thing he had sought to protect. The cold returned to claim him.

McCoy's computer obediently called up Ambassador Sarek's records and waited patiently for the doctor to update them. McCoy, however, sat lost in thought, recalling what he had overheard a short time before. He had not intended to eavesdrop but as he had approached Sarek's room to check on him, he had detected Spock's deep voice. Not wanting to intrude, he had stopped outside the door and was turning to leave when he overheard Sarek question his son.

"I detect a full mind barrier in place, Spock. Why have you done this?"

There was a moment of silence before Spock answered. "I have come to know that some of your objections to my joining Starfleet were not without merit."


"Human emotion and its effect on my ability to function as an officer in Starfleet."

Sarek's voice held just a trace of concern. "Have you considered all the possible consequences of your decision, particularly those to the humans with whom you serve?"

Before he could hear Spock's reply, one of the lab techs had come into view, looking for him. He had signed off on the report she presented to him and returned to his office. By the time he went back to Sarek's room a short time later, Spock was gone and the Ambassador was asleep.

Now, as he looked at the computer screen without seeing it, he pondered what he had heard. He found the idea of Spock erecting a barrier against emotion more than a little frightening. Though as CMO he had often badgered Spock about not suppressing his human emotions, he had always thought that the Vulcan often let many aspects of his humanity show through. In fact, in some respects, Spock was the most human of all of them or at least, the best of them. He seemed to McCoy to be Vulcan when it suited him. If he were to finally and completely shut himself off from all emotion as now seemed to be the case, where did that leave Jim? Had Spock given any thought at all to what this withdrawal would do to him?

The doctor grimaced to himself as he remembered his grandmother telling him as a small child that people who eavesdropped frequently heard things they were sorry they had heard. Granny sure as hell was right this time. What he had heard was not meant for his ears and given the fact that Vulcans guarded their privacy only slightly less than their freedom, he could hardly approach either Spock or Sarek on the matter.

"Damn," he whispered aloud, bringing his fist down on the desk, suddenly afraid of the unknown "consequences" and at a complete loss as to how to prevent them.

Three days later, McCoy was finally able to corner Kirk at lunch in the officer's mess for a much needed chat. Seeing Kirk's irritated look at the sight of him, he decided to make all discussion of the captain's health off limits.

He watched the captain pick and poke at his food for ten minutes before he could stand it no longer.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with your food?"

Kirk looked up but instead of the smile McCoy had hoped to provoke, the captain grimaced. Dropping his fork with a clatter, he pushed the plate aside.

Seeming old for his years, he leaned back in his chair, staring past McCoy at something only he could see. "She told me a lot of things, Bones. Among others, to be careful who I chose for friends. Guess I should have paid more attention, huh?"

McCoy pushed his own plate aside, suddenly no longer hungry. He had rarely seen Kirk quite so dispirited. No, actually it was more than depression, worse than that. He seemed almost as devastated as someone would be who had suffered a loss by death.

"I take it you haven't been able to talk to Spock since I released him from Sickbay."

"Actually, I talked to him the day we found out about the report."

McCoy wasn't sure he wanted to know but he asked anyway. "What happened?"

Kirk slumped lower in his chair. "Nothing. Everything. I don't know, dammit. Damn him." His voice rose in anger at this last. He finally met McCoy's eyes.

"What I do know is that your little scenario about his being concerned for me was a figment of your imagination. All I got was rules and regulations and a look colder than the inside of a black hole."

McCoy leaned back in his chair, tapping his fingers lightly on the table as he paused to reflect for a moment, remembering the conversation he had overheard between Spock and Sarek. Perhaps the "mind barrier" had something to do with it but he could not betray what amounted to a privileged communication. Besides, Kirk's psi abilities tested barely above average. He should not be able to discern obstructions that were telepathic in nature. It had to be something else. "I don't know. Maybe it's some other side effect of that drug."

Kirk flicked a glanced at McCoy, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "I thought he was over all that. Why would you release him if he wasn't?"

"It was more a case of not being able to solve the problem than his being cured. It won't cause any more damage for him to rest in his quarters and it gets him out of my hair."

Kirk sat up, hazel eyes full of that command look he managed better than anyone McCoy had ever known. It was the look that demanded answers and they better be forthcoming. Only McCoy did not have any.

"You released Spock from sickbay and he's not recovered? Explain, Doctor."

"You want the medical details, Captain? The Rigellian drug did its job well, too well. By the time its effects wore off, it created a strain for which Spock's system had to compensate. Now, his liver and spleen are overloaded plus the fact that there is an imbalance in the mature cells available for normal body functions. However, nothing I have tried has returned his system to normal. We're checking his bloodwork three times a day but unless he starts displaying symptoms, there's nothing more I can do. If I tried to confine Spock to sickbay, I'm sure he'd tell me in no uncertain terms that it would be highly inefficient and a poor utilization of sickbay beds."

Kirk grimaced. "I can just see him quoting chapter and verse of the regulations as to why you couldn't keep him."

McCoy had no answer for that. He studied the plate of now cold food and decided to tackle another subject.

"I released Sarek today. He should be able to attend the conferences when we reach Babel tomorrow though I'll want to check him again before we leave."

Kirk nodded. "Well, at least some good came out of all this. Sarek is very important to this conference. I'm glad he's doing so well."

McCoy sighed and, pushing back his chair, stood and picked up his tray. "Well, it's been lovely having lunch with you. We must do this again soon."

Kirk laughed but the sound did not relieve McCoy's concern for him one little bit. And for a suspended moment, as the bleak hazel eyes met his, McCoy saw through the command image to the fragile vulnerability that Kirk was experiencing in the loss of his friendship with Spock. The glimpse shook McCoy in spite of the fact that he, better than most, knew Kirk's strengths and weaknesses. McCoy frowned without meaning to, this was more than a loss of a friend. The word devastation again came to mind as he studied the captain.

Kirk stood as well but before he could respond, the com sounded. "Bridge to Captain Kirk."

He walked over to the nearest wall unit. "Kirk here."

"Uhura, sir. We just received a message from the Starbase. Commodore Gonzales would like to see you as soon as possible when you arrive."

Kirk exchanged glances with McCoy. The fat's in the fire now, McCoy thought, and there's no turning back.

"Relay my compliments to the Commodore and tell him I'll be in his office by 0900 tomorrow morning."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk closed the com line, rubbing his arm absently. McCoy watched carefully but saw no signs of discomfort. He returned to the table, gathering up his tray.

"Sorry about the lunch, Bones." The hazel eyes were shadowed with unspoken pain. Not physical pain, McCoy knew but pain of the soul.

"I'll need to see you later in sickbay."

Kirk nodded, not even offering his usual arguments, turned and walked away. McCoy watched as he disposed of the tray and headed out the door, shoulders ramrod straight. Dumping his own tray, McCoy followed, damming Spock every step of the way.

Completing a check-up of Captain Kirk usually proved to be a difficult task due to his impatience to return to his duties. McCoy reflected that somehow he preferred that fidgety captain to the compliant, too-quiet man he had been examining for the past half hour.

Touching Kirk's shoulder, McCoy drew his attention from the wall the captain had been contemplating for several minutes.

"I just need to review your bloodwork and then you can go."

He moved to the computer across the room, pulling up the tests he had ordered. Concentrating on the results, it was several minutes before his subconscious alarm drew his attention back to Kirk. The captain was still lying where he had left him, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Nothing seemed wrong, yet McCoy could not shake the ominous feeling that he was missing something.

Pushing the thought aside, he chided himself for letting his imagination run away with him.

Standing, he crossed the room to Kirk's side. Flinty, cold eyes turned to regard him at his approach. The doctor nearly took a step back in reaction to the brief glimpse of the "wolf" side of Kirk. The suspicious eyes held no vulnerability, no gentleness. McCoy had hoped never to see those eyes again.

Kirk blinked, breaking the spell. "Well, doctor?"

McCoy cleared his throat. "The results are good. You're healing nicely. My one concern is that your lung capacity isn't quite where it should be. If you really have been doing those spirometry exercises like you claim..."

The captain threw a hard look at him but this time it was mixed with amusement. "Are you saying you doubt your captain's word?"

"It would never occur to me. Okay, then we need to up the number to 2,000 and increase the sessions to six a day." He waited for Kirk's nod. "And I'm still restricting you to light duty."

Kirk sat up then and McCoy handed him his shirt. He shrugged into it, grunting with the movement. The doctor tugged the back in place, wisely deciding not to comment on the grimace of pain he had seen.

The intercom crackled to life. "Captain Kirk."

Kirk strode to the intercom. "Kirk here."

"Scott here, sir. We have a wee problem. Ambassador J'orsk and his party are demanding to tour the Engineering Department. I've tried to explain---"

Lowering his voice to match Scott's whisper, Kirk asked, "I take it they're there now?"

"Aye." Exasperation colored the single word.

"On my way." Kirk sent a questioning look toward McCoy.

The doctor waved his hand. "You're finished here. Although, if you like, I could confine you to quarters. Sounds like you'd be a whole passel safer there than dealing with a bunch of nosy diplomats."

"Thanks." Kirk smiled automatically and was gone.

McCoy shook his head and, as he moved to recalibrate the exam table to Vulcan readings, continued to attempt to identify what he felt was different about Kirk. There had been no humor in Kirk's eyes when he had smiled at McCoy. The doctor paused with his hand on the panel as the realization hit him. Kirk had always seemed to exude a certain joy in even the most mundane of ship's duties. Now, that joy was gone. In fact, it had been missing for several days. Ever since Spock had filed his damnable report.


The word, spoken so close by, startled him. He jerked his hand down from the panel, rapping it sharply on the side of the bed.

"Dammit, Spock, don't sneak up on a person like that."

The comment would usually have evoked some dry retort from the Vulcan. Instead, what had previously been only an aloofness was now an aura so cold, so alien that the doctor had to keep from recoiling.

Covering his discomfort, he ordered gruffly, "I don't have all day. On the bed."

Spock moved to comply with a heaviness that was unexpected. The physician in McCoy immediately overrode any other concerns.

"How are you feeling? Any symptoms?"

The Vulcan's eyes closed and McCoy watched the battle he had in trying to open them. "Only those previously discussed. I tire easily."

"You look more than tired. Have you been resting as I ordered?"

McCoy had received annoyed looks from Spock in the past but the blank, dark eyes that focussed on him now made the doctor feel as if he were an insect about to be squashed. The monotone reply did not ease the sensation. "Yes."

Chapel appeared in the doorway and McCoy was thankful for her presence. "Chris, run the blood analysis we discussed earlier on Mister Spock. I'll take care of the scans."

With brisk professionalism, Chapel collected the necessary samples, unknowingly providing McCoy with the control he needed to complete his task. Spock cooperated fully but with an air of superior indifference that caused McCoy's irritation level to rise nearly off the scale.

"Put your shirt back on and come to my office." He knew it sounded like an order and did not particularly care.

Moments later, the Vulcan entered his office exhibiting no signs of weakness. He approached McCoy's desk and one look at the his stone-faced expression set off alarm klaxons in the doctor's mind. No, it was more than the expression. There was a feeling in the very air around Spock as if he were exuding disapproval.

"Sit down, Spock," he snapped. "I want to review these results with you." He pointedly waited until Spock complied before continuing.

"You do know that your insistence upon using the Rigellian drug was far more dangerous than any action taken subsequently by the Captain." Onyx eyes were suddenly riveted on his face. "And I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to unscramble the havoc it's made of your circulatory system."

"It was a calculated risk."

"I see. And did you happen to factor into this calculated risk the fact that you are unique, that I can't simply order out and get replacement parts for you? Your chemistry is reaching a critical stage. With anyone else, I could simply filter out the excess components. I can't do that with you because the excess components make up over seventy percent of your blood and I don't have any substitute for it. Even your father's blood, if he could afford to donate it, wouldn't help because it isn't compatible with yours."

The Vulcan's face was a rigid mask. "I understood that risk when I took it."

McCoy could not avoid the opening that remark presented to him. "Well, then, Mister Spock, suppose you tell me just what makes what you did so different from what Jim did? He understood the risk he was taking, too."

The disinterested face that Spock presented was fast pushing McCoy's annoyance to the breaking point. "The significant difference is that my action endangered only my own life. By taking command when he was not physically capable of doing so, the Captain endangered not only his own life but those of the crew and the delegates as well."

McCoy slammed his hand down on the desk. "Spock, he saved your father's life. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

There was no response to his action or his words. The Vulcan's face remained immobile, emotionless. Finally, he responded. "By doing so, by making an emotionally based decision, he risked five hundred and forty-two lives for one. That alone enforces the logic of fact-based decisions. To perform the duties of a Starfleet officer, emotion cannot be the balance in weighing choices."

McCoy sank back into his chair, shaking his head. "We're human, Mister Spock. You can't expect us not to have emotions, much as you might prefer it that way."

"You are correct. However, I can ensure that emotions do not govern actions that can endanger this ship or its crew."

McCoy leaned forward, frustrated with his inability to get through to Spock. At least, the Vulcan was presenting some answers for his actions. Emotion. That had to be the key. Realizing his own exasperation was getting in the way of obtaining useful results, he forced a center of calm to replace his surface response to Spock's attitude.

"Let me get this straight. You propose to be the balance to offset all the human emotion on this ship? How long do you think you can keep up this act?"

"Act? I do not understand."

"Don't give me that bullshit. You understand perfectly. I've been watching you for the past two days. You've managed to out-Vulcan the Vulcans on this ship. Everyone avoids you, even your own mother. Well, let me tell you something, Mister Spock. It is not possible for you to remain totally emotionless. It will eventually break you."

Spock's jaw tightened and his lips barely moved as he responded. "We are back to your irrational belief that one cannot exist without emotion. You are incorrect. A Vulcan can."

"But you're not completely Vulcan, are you, Mister Spock? You're human too."

If anything, Spock's face became even more set and withdrawn. McCoy had scored a point with that one.

"Inconsequential. I function as a Vulcan."

"Except in your bloodwork!" The calm center was gone for a moment. He took a deep breath and tried again.

"All right, leaving all of that aside, let's talk about how your determination to live without emotion affects your friendship with Jim Kirk."

"We have already discussed this," Spock replied as if speaking to a small child. "If the Captain had not felt undue sentiment for me and, by extension, my father, he would not have taken the action that he did. It was emotion that caused the problem. I must ensure that such a thing does not happen again."

McCoy rubbed his face feeling a sudden exhaustion. "I don't think you understand what your lack of emotional response will do to him. I do. I've seen the effects already. He needs you as his friend, Spock. Don't do this to him."

The level gaze the Vulcan turned on him spoke only of annoyance yet the fact that he changed the subject told McCoy volumes. "I understood you wanted to review the results of my tests. If that is not the case, I would prefer to return to my quarters to rest." He stood to leave.

McCoy stood as well and moved quickly around the desk, blocking his attempt to escape the doctor's clutches. He jabbed a finger at Spock's chest for emphasis. "Just a damn minute. I'm not finished yet. You claim that human emotion clouded the Captain's judgement and, to a certain degree, you are right. Yet it is that very same humanity that makes Jim the captain that he is. He has learned to trust his emotions but he tempers that emotion with reason and when the two are in harmony, he acts. He does not move until he finds that wholeness within himself, using reason to evaluate emotion."

McCoy wondered if he only imagined the flicker of light he saw in the black eyes. "Whether you want to admit it or not, you know I'm right. Hiding behind rules and regulations won't resolve the fact that you have yet to learn how to trust the emotions you feel or the fact that you actually fear them. Your way of coping with them is to hide behind a wall that closes you in and everyone else out."

If he had thought Spock was barriering strongly before, it was nothing to the sudden barricade that slammed between them now. McCoy found himself stumbling back a step before he could stop himself.

The dark eyes that met his reinforced the menace that suddenly filled the room. "Really, Doctor? As you have so frequently done in the past, you are persisting in assigning human interpretations to Vulcan actions. I see no purpose in continuing this conversation since you obviously have no true comprehension of the situation. If there is nothing else?"

No, there was nothing else. He had tried every way he knew to make Spock understand. He was too tired to fight any more for now. He gestured toward the door. "You can go. Just let me know if you experience any other symptoms and report back at sixteen hundred hours."

The Vulcan turned to leave. As the door slid open, McCoy added quietly, "You need him too, Spock. I just hope you realize that before it's too late."

The Vulcan's only visible reaction was a slight hesitation in his step and then he was gone. McCoy returned to his chair and sank into it with a sigh. His shift was only half over. He shuddered at the thought of what the rest of the day would bring.

Kirk finished giving his report of the events of their trip to Babel to Commodore Gonzales. The aging Mexican stood and came around the desk, holding out his hand.

"Well done, Jim. If it hadn't been for your fast thinking, we probably would have lost a ship full of ambassadors and ended up with a galaxy-wide uproar." He paused, the dark eyes dropping away momentarily. "About the report your First Officer filed, I have given it all the consideration I feel it is due. It will be placed in your personal file but it will go no further."

"My CMO received one as well."

"Same thing. I debated whether it was necessary to forward the report to the Surgeon General but considering all the facts, I believe the appropriate action is the same, the report will be filed in Doctor McCoy's personal records." Gonzales ran his fingers through his silvery hair, raising puzzled eyes. "The doctor saved both Ambassador Sarek's life and yours. I think the results outweigh any deviations from procedure." He hesitated, as if unsure whether to say more.

"Captain, I understood Mister Spock was your friend. I must say, this action took me by surprise."

"Me, too," was all Kirk could answer. He could not explain when he had no answers himself. Managing to smile, he took his leave of the Commodore. As he traversed the building's corridors, he thought about his meeting with Gonzales. The fact that Spock's report had not resulted in a reprimand did not negate the fact that for some unknown reason, his First Officer had felt compelled to file it.

Once outside the building, Kirk automatically turned toward the transporters. Still on medical restrictions, he was not expected to return to the bridge for several hours and now that they had reached their destination, the ambassadors were no longer his responsibility. This was his opportunity to relax.

Kirk stepped up to the pad and ordered the technician to send him to the planetoid below, now code named Babel.

He materialized near a large market square, surrounded by several hastily-built prefab buildings. Kirk shook his head in amazement. For the location of this planet to be kept so secret to protect the delegates, there certainly were enough traders who seemed to have obtained the vital information. A colorful bazaar displayed items from several different worlds which were being peddled by a variety of beings, some of whom Kirk had never seen before.

Stepping away from the transport station, Kirk stretched, luxuriating in the rays of the orange sun. The movement stopped abruptly as he was sharply reminded of the healing wound. Normally, there was no pain unless he moved the wrong way.

Wandering past the stalls, Kirk paused to observe a Tellerite arguing with his customer. He wondered idly how they managed to keep order here, remembering the difficulty he had had on the ship with individuals who were supposedly pledged to keep peace at all costs.

Peace. Kirk frowned again, moving toward a booth offering cold fruit drinks. Glass in hand, Kirk found a seat in a nearby plaza where he could observe the crowds in the bazaar.

Sipping the sweet beverage, his thoughts turned again to his first officer. Spock was a peaceful man. He also never did anything without a purpose. He had not written that report simply to start an argument. If it were anyone else but his first officer, Kirk knew he could mark it up to being angry at being tricked but Spock was not vindictive. He simply did not hold a grudge and act on it.

The first time the captain had learned this was during their initial contact with the Romulans. Lieutenant Stiles' bigoted actions had been aimed at hurting Spock. Yet, his Vulcan friend had made no complaint, selflessly saving the young lieutenant's life thus teaching all of them about Vulcan integrity.

Kirk took another drink of the juice. It was refreshing, something Spock would enjoy. The Vulcan would also have appreciated some of the wares he had seen. Kirk glanced over at the tent that held carvings of the ancient myths of Babel, myths that seemed to overlap with amazing similarities from culture to culture.

Kirk felt his pleasure at the thought fade. He had become accustomed to Spock accompanying him and he missed hearing the insights and observations that were totally unique to the Vulcan. Spock had filed the dereliction report because he truly felt Kirk had made an error in judgement. And as Kirk had stated, it was his right. Perhaps he was making an incorrect assumption that all aspects of their friendship must cease. It would simply take some time to rebuild their relationship. And there was no time like the present to start.

Kirk pulled out his communicator, staring at it thoughtfully. McCoy had tried to tell him that Spock was only acting as his logical self would allow. There was no other recourse for a Vulcan among humans to show his concern.

Suddenly, the distance that had existed between them for the past few days seemed to stretch for an eternity. The captain knew he could not let the rift between them continue or it would begin to affect not only him but the smooth functioning of the ship. Spock had been cold and distant each time the Vulcan had interacted with him. Kirk instinctively knew that any efforts toward reconciliation would have to be initiated by him.

Flipping open the communicator, Kirk waited to be patched through to Spock who was in his quarters.

"This is Spock."

"Mister Spock, I have come across some interesting sights here. Do you feel up to joining me on Babel?"

"For what purpose, Captain?" The voice maintained a cold distance.

"Recreational, First Officer. I was interested in your impressions of the city." Kirk paused. "And we need to talk."

"As you well know, Captain, Vulcans do not find shore leave activities restful. No purpose is served by my presence on Babel simply to talk."

Kirk fought to keep his anger from flaring. "Well, I do see a purpose, mister. We have to talk and soon. It might as well be now and I'm choosing Babel as the place."

The smooth voice retained all of Spock's arrogant detachment. "Captain, we have already discussed my actions. I do not see the purpose in another conversation--"

"Mister Spock, we have not even begun to discuss your actions. I am your commanding officer and our relationship affects the operation of the ship. It is my prerogative to demand an explanation. I am doing so, right here and right now. If you don't report to me within five minutes, I'll have security escort you down here. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir. Spock out."

Kirk stared at the dead communicator, not quite certain if Spock had meant he was beaming down or that he understood the implications. Finally he closed it slowly, slumping carefully down in the seat to avoid the healing muscles of his back. He took another sip of his drink and waited.

Ending the session with his computer, Spock reluctantly called sickbay to inform them of his unplanned excursion to the planet. He stood, then swayed with heavy exhaustion. Forced to catch the side of the desk, Spock waited silently, taking several deep breaths. Fatigue was an expected side effect of the Rigillian drug, yet the Vulcan was unused to compensating for the feelings of overwhelming heaviness that assailed him whenever he tried to push his limits. He knew that, as a Vulcan, he should be able to counteract the effects yet it seemed much of his control was being expended in maintaining the barrier that was necessary between him and Captain Kirk.

Two full minutes passed. The fatigue under control, Spock moved quickly toward the door. The Captain had given him five minutes and Spock knew that Kirk's threat to call security had not been a bluff.

Finishing the cold drink, Kirk stood to meet his first officer as he materialized a few feet away from him.

"Punctual as always, Mister Spock." Kirk gave a wry smile.

The slender Vulcan raised an eyebrow but rather than appearing amused, this time it gave him a haughty appearance. Kirk followed the eyebrow, watching flat, lifeless eyes observe him. Waiting for Spock to comment, the captain continued to study his face, suddenly noticing the new, deeply etched lines that were a sure sign of fatigue. His color was unusual, a mixture of yellow and green.

"Spock, are you all right? When was the last time you saw McCoy?"

"I am functional. Doctor McCoy is persistent in checking my blood every eight hours. There is no need for concern." Impatience flickered across Spock's face as he continued, "Captain, I am currently reviewing Mister Scott's theories regarding the structure of the Orion ship. I prefer to return to my research as soon as possible."

Kirk nodded thoughtfully. Spock was not going to make this easy. Ordering his first officer down at phaser point had probably not been his most inspired move.

"I'll try to take that into consideration. You up to taking a little walk?"

"I see no purpose in--"

"Good," Kirk interrupted. "I want to show you something I found." He started toward the first row of tents and booths, knowing Spock was a few steps behind him. Dammit, that wasn't where he wanted him. He belonged at his side, in the place that was now empty. A sudden thought tore at him. What if he couldn't repair their relationship? What would losing Spock mean to him, to his command? He could not allow himself to believe that he would be unable to function without Spock as his First Officer. Doubt and uncertainty were not permitted starship captains. He viciously drove the thought from his mind. Somehow, he would find a way to reach Spock. He paused at the display of Arcturian artifacts.

"I thought these were quite interesting. They look very old, if they're authentic of course."

He turned to look at Spock and found only the same cold, unreadable visage. The Vulcan made no response to his comment and suddenly Kirk felt white hot anger surge through him. He would get a response one way or another.

Keeping his voice low, he commanded, "Come with me."

Leaving the busiest part of the bazaar, he found a relatively secluded area. Whirling to face Spock, he demanded, "Why, goddammit? Just tell me why? And I want the real reason this time."

Spock's look of disinterest turned to one of disdain. "Are you accusing me of being untruthful in our earlier discussion?"

"No, of course not," Kirk managed to reply more calmly. "But, I need to understand why you think my actions were so wrong. Right now, I feel you're judging my human actions by your Vulcan standards. If you'll just talk to me, maybe we can..."

Spock allowed an unaccustomed sigh to escape. Moving to an unoccupied table and chairs, he sat down with a weariness Kirk had never seen before. Spock looked exhausted and when he began to speak, the raw sound of fatigue caused the last of Kirk's anger to fade away.

"I believe I explained everything in my report. You allowed your friendship for me to interfere with a command decision. You endangered the ship by taking command when you were badly injured."

Kirk took the chair across from the Vulcan, resting his hands on the table. "Doesn't the fact that we are sitting here having this conversation prove that I was right? Yes, it was a calculated risk on my part but how many times have we been forced to make the same kind of decision based solely on my human intuition?"

The look of exhaustion was replaced by one of bored indifference. "I have watched the bridge tapes. You were aware of your condition before the last pass by the Orion ship. Mister Scott should have been called to the bridge at that point. Instead, you chose to conceal your status and remain in command. You were very near the point of collapse at that moment and five point three minutes later you did, in fact, become incapacitated."

Some of the anger returned. "I needed Scotty in Engineering to win that battle. Do you think that in his wildest dreams he could have defeated that Orion ship? He may be the best engineer in Starfleet but he's no tactician and he'd be the first one to admit it."

Forcing himself once more to some semblance of calm, he tried again. "I knew the battle would be over one way or another in a matter of minutes. If I had taken the time to turn command over to Scotty, they would have destroyed us. How does your precious logic explain that?"

"You can not know that the ship would have been lost with Mister Scott in command, just as you could not know that you would be able to remain conscious throughout the attack. Suppose you had collapsed before then? Can you honestly say that your actions would not have resulted in the loss of several lives, possibly even the ship itself? That is the crux upon which I base my argument."

Kirk leaned forward, his eyes meeting Spock's. The wall was still between them but someone had to take the first step in breaking it down. "To function effectively as captain and first officer, there has to be complete trust between us. Would you agree to that?"

Spock nodded somewhat warily.

"Good. Then, will you trust me enough to believe that I will take what you have said under advisement, that I will very seriously consider your arguments?"

"That will be acceptable."

Relieved, Kirk noted again the heavily lined face and remembered the barely concealed display of weariness earlier.

"I think you've had enough shore leave for one day, Mister Spock. Perhaps you should return to the ship."

"I believe that would be best, Captain." Spock reached for his communicator when a sudden series of screams and loud voices were heard coming from the bazaar.

Kirk reached the area first, stopping suddenly as he viewed the chaos in front of him. A large group of people surrounded two figures engaged in combat. One was a Tellerite. He groaned. "Of course, it would be a Tellerite causing trouble."

Kirk began moving toward the escalating fight, wondering if he should get involved until he noted that there were a lot of innocent civilians who could be injured.

Spock was right behind him. "Captain, there should be effective control measures here. Alerting the local authorities would be a better solution than trying to intervene yourself."

Kirk forced himself to stop, nodding at Spock. "You're probably right. Contact the security force." Motion to his right caught the captain's eye. "But tell them to hurry. There are two more Tellerites coming and they look ready for a brawl."

Spock moved a few feet away, pulling out his communicator while Kirk kept a watchful eye on the angry group. The hurling insults were quickly turning into physical assaults with two of the large, powerful Tellerites pushing and shoving a small group of angry, yelling humanoids. The third Tellerite was choosing to keep his attention on one lone human who was now desperately attempting to persuade the enraged alien to let him go.

Peripherally, Kirk could see a small humanoid boy, perhaps ten years of age standing inside a booth, avidly watching the fight. The child scrambled on top of the counter and Kirk tensed, afraid the boy did not recognize the danger he would be in if he got in the way of one of the alien's huge lumbering bodies.

The Tellerite began shaking the human by the shoulders, lifting him off the ground. Kirk glanced back at Spock, "Where the hell's that security detail? Someone's going to get hurt!"

"They are on their way, Captain." Spock shouted over the noise of the fight. More people were gathering to watch it, perhaps not realizing that they could be hurt as well.

Kirk turned back in time to see the boy jump on the Tellerite's back.

"Let my father go!" he yelled as he tried to get him to release the frightened man in his grasp. With a muffled expletive, Kirk started for the child, hesitating long enough to order Spock to stay back. The Vulcan was not in any condition to fight. Before Kirk could reach them, the alien grabbed the boy by the scruff of his neck and jerked him over his shoulder to hold both him and the father in front of him by their necks. As both their faces turned dark red, Kirk closed in from behind and boxed the alien's sensitive ears.

The child was quickly snatched free by Spock and thrown clear to safety in the crowd. The Tellerite growled in rage, dropping the man to turn his attention on Spock. Kirk jumped on his back, wrapping his arm around the massive neck in a choke hold but the Tellerite ignored him, and with a powerful blow sent Spock reeling into the fight nearby.

"Spock!" Kirk dropped his hold on the alien, his eyes anxiously searching for the Vulcan. He found him being attacked by two more of the Tellerites. Heading for him, Kirk had managed only a few steps when the alien he had just released caught up with him. He felt himself being lifted and thrown. Landing painfully on the ground, he fought to catch his breath. He saw Spock dispatch one of the Tellerites with a neck pinch. Then, his attention was drawn sharply back to his own fight as his attacker came at him once more, this time with a blow to the head that threw him hard against once of the booths. The muscles in his back screamed in indignation at this latest assault. McCoy was going to kill him.

Before he could regain his feet, Kirk felt a painful vibration assault his ears. He continued to struggle to rise for several seconds until he saw the Tellerite slowly fall to his knees, also holding his ears. Security must have arrived. The subsonics were a very effective method of crowd control, irregardless of what kind of aliens were involved.

As soon as the vibrations stopped, Kirk forced himself to his feet, ignoring the breath-taking pain in his back. He looked around for Spock, expecting the Vulcan to stride up to him, untouched, full of 'I told you so'.  Kirk touched the bloody cut on his cheek made by the Tellerite's hoof and waited for a moment but there was no sign of the Vulcan.

Catching his second wind, Kirk began to investigate in earnest. Spock had to be here, probably caught behind some of the crowds of people. Shouting brought no reply, and he turned to search nearer the booths where he had last seen him.

He found the Vulcan lying crumpled inside a tent where he had apparently been tossed over the front counter. He lay face down, the back of his blue shirt soaked with blood that streamed down to an already large green pool at his side.

Kirk knelt beside him but could not tell if Spock was breathing. Feeling his own chest compress too tightly to inhale, he fearfully touched the cool cheek, "Spock!"

The Vulcan did not move and afraid that he had already lost too much time, Kirk pulled out his communicator with shaking hands. "Enterprise! Two to beam up! Medical emergency! Notify McCoy!"

As he waited what seemed an eternity to be returned to the ship, Kirk fought to control a panic that he had never before experienced. Spock had tried to tell him what the results of his rushing in where angels feared to tread could be. Now the truth of that warning lay still and unmoving before him.

"I'm sorry, Spock. Please...just hold on." He clutched the Vulcan's arm as if he could some how hold him back from death. Even as he spoke the words, Kirk fought to keep from sliding into the endless chasm that was opening once more before him. How could he survive without Spock? How would he live?

McCoy skidded to a sudden stop as his disbelieving eyes took in the sight before him. A disheveled Kirk knelt on the pad, red blood streaming from a cut under his eye, but it was the streaks of green mixed with the red that put terror into the doctor's thudding heart. Kirk lifted fear-filled eyes, pleading in a lost voice, "Help him, Bones."

Hands trembling with urgency, McCoy barked an order to Scotty as he moved swiftly to the form that lay totally motionless before Kirk. Blood was everywhere, blood that Spock could ill afford to lose. McCoy read his scanner with a growing sense of dread. Skull fracture, tissue trauma to the brain. The whirring sound continued, McCoy's eyes glued to it in growing horror. A lacerated liver.

"God, no," he whispered. There was no chance of survival with this injury without massive quantities of blood and a transplant simply was not possible with Spock's special genetic make up.

"Get him to sickbay stat," he ordered. Turning to Kirk, he ran the mediscanner over him quickly. Relieved that there were no serious injuries, he asked, "Can you make it on your own?"

"Don't worry about me. Just take care of him."

McCoy nodded and followed the medtechs out of the transporter room, his mind already formulating and discarding possible treatment scenarios. By the time he reached sickbay, he was left with only one.

"Let's get him on full life support," he ordered. "As soon as he's stable, I'll go in and try to stop the bleeding." It was all he had and he knew that it would not be enough.

He looked up to see Kirk standing in the doorway. The stricken look on the captain's face told him that he heard the orders.

"Full life support, Bones?"

"Jim, let one of the medtechs treat that cut and then I want you to go to your quarters and get some rest before you fall flat on your face. As soon as I know anything, you'll know it."

Kirk nodded, never taking his eyes from the unmoving Vulcan.

"He's stabilized, doctor," one of the nurses reported. McCoy took a deep breath and turned away from Kirk. His total focus now had to be Spock if he had any hope at all of saving him.

Hours later, McCoy finished the delicate surgery, totally amazed that the Vulcan still lived. He left the critical care area, fully expecting to find Kirk pacing the floor of his office, waiting for news. However, his office was empty and a few inquiries revealed that the captain had done just as he was instructed. The cut had been treated and he had left word that he could be reached in his quarters. McCoy headed there immediately, alarm bells going off in his head every step of the way.

The door opened at his touch. The room beyond was dark except for a small light on the desk. He could see Kirk lying on his bunk, one arm over his eyes. Still wearing the soiled and torn uniform he had beamed up in, he had at least removed his boots. McCoy entered quietly, not wanting to disturb him if he were sleeping.

"He's dead, isn't he?" The words were quiet, almost preternaturally calm and they chilled McCoy to the marrow.

"No, he's not. I managed to stop the bleeding but he is on full life support. I don't know how long I can keep him alive. I've done everything I can at this point."

The figure on the bunk remained unmoving. "Jim? Did you hear what I said?"

"I heard you, doctor. I just don't believe you."

"You don't believe what? That he's alive or that I've done all I can do?"

"Both. Neither. I don't know."

There was a note of resignation in Kirk's voice that McCoy had never heard before. Almost as if he were too tired to deal with the situation any more. No, he could not, would not believe that. It had to be something else.

Walking slowly, he approached the bunk. "Jim, look at me."

Kirk took a deep breath and lowered his arm and McCoy could see tracks of tears that traced their way through the dirt and grime left from the fight in the market. He swallowed quickly as his own eyes welled sympathetically. He had never seen Kirk cry. Any tears the captain had shed in the past had been in private. For him to allow McCoy to see him this way was almost more frightening than the tears themselves. For all his vaunted expertise in the field of psychology, the doctor was at a total loss as to how to deal with this.

Reaching behind him for the desk chair, he pulled it alongside the bunk. "Jim, what is it? Maybe if we talk about it--"

Kirk turned his head to the wall. "There's nothing to talk about. Spock's gone--"

"I told you, he's alive."

Kirk looked back then, as the tears dried on his face. "No, you don't understand. He's gone. After I left you, I came here and lay in the dark trying to reach him, trying to regain what's been lost between us but I couldn't. There's nothing there, no resonance, empathy, whatever you want to call what we've had between us these last months. I feel like I've come to the end of myself and all I find is an unending black wall of nothingness."

McCoy struggled for something to say but he had no words of comfort to offer. He could not even guarantee Spock's survival in a physical sense, much less repair the rift that now separated him from Kirk.

"I'm sorry, Jim," he managed softly.

Standing, he returned the chair to its place by the desk and walked to the door. He hated to burden Kirk with further decisions but there was one left to be made.

"Jim, I want to notify Sarek and Amanda. I think that Spock's only chance may lie on Vulcan with the healers there."

"Do what you think best." Kirk's voice was tired, almost beyond exhaustion, beyond caring. McCoy left the cabin reluctantly, now as concerned about Kirk as he was about Spock. And without a clue as to how to help either one of them.

Twelve hours later, Kirk stood beside Spock's bed in sickbay. The shuttle would be leaving within minutes, taking the Vulcan on the first leg of the journey back to his homeworld, to the healers who would hopefully be able to save him. This was the first time Kirk had seen him since their return from Babel. He had not been able to bring himself to face the reality of Spock's condition. Now, as he stood here, he knew he had been right. Spock lay unmoving, still as death. Covered as he was by blankets, Kirk could not even see his chest rise and fall as the machines breathed for him. He hoped that if the healers could not help him, they would let him go. Spock would not want to continue the way he was now, sustained by mechanical devices.

"Jim?" McCoy's voice behind him startled him. He turned to see the doctor and Sarek just inside the room. "It's time."

Kirk turned back, nodding. "I know."

He stepped aside as two medtechs moved Spock from the bed to a stretcher. McCoy grasped his arm gently.

"I'm going with him to Vulcan, Jim."

Kirk drew his eyes from the retreating figures to face the doctor. "What?"

"Sarek is needed here and it's too long a trip for Spock to make alone. There are too many things that could go wrong. When the conference is over, you can bring Sarek and Amanda to Vulcan and pick me up."

Kirk felt as if he were in the middle of a bad dream. If only he could wake up. First Spock and now McCoy. Some piece of solid ground underneath him crumbled just a bit more.

"Of course, Bones. Go with him. Do what you can for him."

The hand gripping his arm squeezed tighter. "He's going to make it, Jim. I just know it. You have to believe that."

Kirk could not answer, platitudes were beyond him at the moment. "Safe trip, Bones."

The door swished closed and Kirk stood unmoving by the empty bed. Despite the fact that the room had been heated to Vulcan-norm, he began to shiver with cold, a cold that started deep in his soul and spread to encompass his whole being.

Every nerve ending was on fire. Spock twisted in an effort to move away from the source but the pain followed him, forcing a cry from his lips.

Then, a difference. Relief. Rhythms of mathematical precision surrounded him, requiring no response from Spock. A healer was touching his mind, ancient words guiding thoughts. Calm instructions easing the burning pain.

The healer accomplished more at the subliminal level in a few hours than all of McCoy's efforts over the past seven days. Spock rose to consciousness for the first time, opening his eyes to discover that he was surrounded by machines. Allowing his senses to quickly take in the data and assimilate it, Spock knew with a final easing of tension that he was indeed on Vulcan.

Home. He relaxed his defenses at the thought. No requests would be made of him for an emotional response, no demand that he understand or accept emotional displays. Only reason and logic would be utilized and for the first time since he had left Vulcan to join Starfleet, Spock was content to be back.

Sessions with the healer continued whenever the pain became unmanageable. There was no condemnation of him for his lack of control. Acceptance was complete. His questions were answered with calm. His regret at not being able to attain a healing trance was brushed aside as unimportant. The healer would guide him when the time was right. He simply was not ready.

Spock's tranquil existence was shattered with the arrival of Doctor McCoy. He could sense a break in the well-ordered cadence of activity a second before he detected the doctor's voice. Panic surfaced. He was not ready to face the almost palpable emotions McCoy would be exuding. He closed his eyes and hid behind the barrier in his mind.


He considered for one brief moment not answering but decided that such an action would not discourage this particular human. As he opened his eyes, he felt the concern and worry radiating from McCoy before he witnessed it in the blue eyes that studied him.

"Well, Spock, I don't know how you did it but you managed to hang in there. You've got a rough road ahead of you but you're over the worst now." McCoy's smile was tremulous. He briefly touched Spock's hand and a wave of caring and affection washed over the Vulcan. "Jim will be glad."

The strength required to maintain the barrier against the human emotion was draining his reserves. The burning pain returned to scream along his nerve endings and it was nearly impossible to remain unmoving.

The doctor nodded and withdrew, leaving the room as his struggle to maintain control was fast slipping away. In moments, his healer, T'Pyr, arrived at his bedside. The healer's cool, impersonal touch eased the throbbing pain. He felt the healer reorder, guide his thoughts. The pain eased and he was able to participate in the healer's actions. Order was once again established. Then, T'Pyr encountered the barrier.

Sensing her disquietude, Spock showed her the reason for the barrier, the necessity of maintaining it against the human emotion that so disturbed him. There was no judgement in T'Pyr's response yet she insisted that the barrier would adversely affect his recovery. At her assurance that she would allow no emotion to interfere until his recovery was complete, Spock assisted the healer in removing the barrier.

Exhaustion was making him falter, his thought processes becoming sluggish. T'Pyr guided him to sleep with the thought that soon he would be able to accomplish a healing trance.

McCoy conferred with T'Pyr. He was surprised at how young she was. Long black hair hung in a shimmery curtain to her waist but her discerning dark eyes and imperturbable manner belied her age as she confirmed what he had already deduced. Technology had not been able to heal Spock but his own internal ability would now be put to the task. As soon as a full healing trance was achieved, all life support devices would be removed.

The doctor felt himself relax for what seemed the first time in months. Now that there was nothing further he could do for Spock, his thoughts turned to Kirk. The captain needed to hear that Spock was recovering.

A technician guided him to a nearby terminal.

"Sir?" Uhura turned worried brown eyes to warn Kirk of her coming words. "It's a message from Vulcan Central. From Doctor McCoy."

Kirk nodded, trying to smile reassuringly at her and calm the butterflies in his stomach at the same time. "Let's hear it."

A flat male voice issued from the speakers. McCoy must have requested a high-speed burst to get his news here without wasting time for visuals. "McCoy, CMO Enterprise reporting. Spock is improving and has regained consciousness. His condition is upgraded to fair. McCoy out."

Uhura ran her fingers over her boards for a moment. "That's all there is, sir."

Kirk turned back in his chair with a nod, settling in as he felt the last bit of tension fade with McCoy's news. It finished off what had started out as a very good day. Earlier that morning, after what had begun as a night filled with restless dreams, he had finally fallen into a comfortable slumber. He had awakened refreshed with more energy than he had felt in months.

Over his shoulder, he instructed Uhura. "Pass the word along to the crew. They'll want to know."

He studied the viewscreen, watching Babel spin slowly before him. The conference would be over in three days and then they would leave for Vulcan. Yes, it was a very good day indeed.

Doctor McCoy stood looking out the window of the Vulcan Health Institute at the barren desert of Vulcan. He tried to control his anxiety as he waited for Kirk to arrive with Sarek and Amanda. Given the captain's condition when he left, he was concerned as to what might have happened to him in the intervening weeks.

"Bones!" The familiar voice jerked him from his reverie and he turned to see Kirk stride across the room. The captain clapped him on the back. "Damn, I've missed you. Not to mention your complaining."

McCoy was pleased to see that Kirk fairly radiated energy and good health. He returned the captain's grin and craned his neck around to view the empty waiting room. "I'm afraid you just broke the decibel law here. That's probably more noise than they've heard in these parts since the reformation. Where are Sarek and Amanda?"

Kirk shrugged. "Someone by the name of Sokel met them. I was sent here. He said that you would explain."

McCoy moved restlessly away from Kirk, suddenly at a loss to explain his concern now that he was face to face with the captain.

"Bones, is something wrong with Spock? Your last report indicated that he was progressing well."

The doctor shifted under the riveting gaze. ", he's fine. Fully recovered actually. Even his bloodwork is back to its crazy normal readings."

"Then what?"

McCoy grimaced. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to alarm you. It's just that I haven't been allowed to see Spock for several days and I'm left with the job of telling you that you can't see him until tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? Why?"

"It has something to do with dealing with all of our nasty human emotions. It seems he has one more session with the healer today which should 'vaccinate' him, I guess."

The penetrating eyes held McCoy's gaze captive. "And this worries you."

The doctor managed a grin. "Yeah, well, I've about decided it's my imagination running away with me again. I was worried about you, too, but I see that was a useless waste of energy."

"Doctor McCoy." Both men turned to find Amanda standing in the doorway. "I understand you created quite a stir with the healers today."

The doctor felt a flush of embarrassment. "I guess I owe them an apology but they wouldn't let me see Spock and--"

"You misunderstand me, doctor," Amanda smiled, impishness sparkling in the gray eyes. "The healers spoke highly of your untiring efforts in finding a solution to counteracting the Rigillian drug. I believe they were most impressed." Crossing the room with a graceful glide, she rested her hand on his arm and inclined her head. "I thank thee for my son's life."

Kirk stepped forward. "Have you seen him, talked with him?"

A trace of a frown crossed her face. "I'm afraid I am bound by the same restrictions that you are, Captain. I will not be allowed to see my son until tomorrow."

"But why? You're his mother!" McCoy snapped.

"As I attempted to explain to the Captain before we arrived on Babel, it is not always easy to understand the Vulcan way but I truly believe that it is a better way. There have been many times since Spock's birth that I was forced to be separated from my son because my human emotions would have interfered with his development or training. I accept that."

Kirk took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Then, this is normal."

"Yes, Captain. Sokel reports that all is well with Spock. She smiled again, her grace managing to calm McCoy's fears more than her words. "Sarek requests that you stay with us at Shi Kar. We would welcome you as guests."

Kirk accepted for both of them. "We would be honored."

As they followed Amanda from the room, Kirk said quietly to McCoy, "We've waited this long. What's one more night? Tomorrow everything will be back to normal, just the way it was before."

Spock sat quietly across from T'Pyr. Though she was young, he had learned that she was possessed of wisdom far beyond her years. He had seen beyond his excuses to the truth. Though she had been too polite to accuse him of deceit outright, the truth was nevertheless there between them.

He took a deep breath and sat straighter in the chair. "I beg thee to forgive me, Healer. I have been less than truthful with thee." If the High Vulcan dialect surprised her, she gave no indication but he owed her nothing less.

"I am a healer, Spock. I see people at the most difficult times of their lives. Often, they are not at their best. There is nothing to forgive."

He bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement of her consideration. Raising his eyes to meet hers, he continued. "I have chosen to live my life as a Vulcan with all of the ramifications of that decision including absolute control of my emotions. Until recently, I was able to do so with little or no problem."

"You now find that control difficult to maintain. I could see that in the melds I shared with you." Her dark eyes studied him carefully.

"You are correct. That is why I utilized the mind barrier. It was not to protect myself from human emotions. It was to control my own. I have allowed feelings of friendship to affect my behavior. If I am to remain true to my Vulcan heritage, this must not be allowed to continue."

"You wish to reconstruct the barrier."

Nodding, he steepled his hands in front of his face. "A temporary measure only. When I am fully in control, I will remove it myself."

As he waited for her reply, he found he could no longer sit quietly. Rising, he walked to the window.

Behind him, she said, "You must do as you see fit, Spock. This must be your decision and yours alone."

He heard the door open and close quietly but did not turn. Outside the window, the brilliant light glared hotly. Only one course of action remained open to him.

"I am resigning my commission in Starfleet, effective immediately."

Spock's words rained on Kirk like blows from some unseen fist. He struggled to force a response from his lips. "I...I don't understand. Why?"

"My reasons are personal and my decision is final."

Kirk drew his eyes from the thin, severe face to look at McCoy. The doctor could only shake his head and shrug helplessly. Even Sarek's face reflected slight surprise. Evidently he had not been privy to his son's decision before this moment. Yet Kirk had to admit that he had known. Known the truth and denied it. His sleep in the guest room at Shi Kar had been shattered by his own silent scream. Black emptiness had surrounded his soul that had nothing to do with the darkness of the night. He had not understood the dream then. Now he did. The small chamber in the healer's home was suddenly claustrophobically small with no room to pace. He could only turn back to Spock.

Forcing himself to breathe, he ignored the stunned silence in the room. "Leave us." He heard the Ambassador and McCoy withdraw from the room. Spock had not moved and Kirk knew with an deadly calm certainty that there was no way to reach him.

Forcing his shaking hands rigidly to his sides, he steadied himself against a sudden disorienting sense of falling. Just as Spock used his Vulcan disciplines, Kirk reached for his command training.

"Your position will need to be filled immediately. Our next mission is centered extensively around the Science Department. Can Chekov do it?"

The black eyes were staring at him but Kirk had the impression that Spock was not seeing him. "He has been an excellent trainee, however, I do not believe he is fully prepared for the responsibilities of an entire department."

Kirk turned away, unable to face the stranger before him. "Unfortunately, I haven't had a lot of applications for that position recently." He did not try to keep the sarcasm from his voice. "I'm afraid I will have to utilize him anyway until I can requisition someone with more experience. Suggestions?"

"Lieutenant Tonia Barrows can assist with the administrative duties. I believe that Mister Chekov is capable of maintaining the science station on the bridge."

Kirk dropped his head briefly. Your station, Spock. He turned to face the Vulcan once more. "The crew will miss you. They have been quite concerned about your recovery. Do you have any messages for them?"

Something he had said must have reached Spock. The Vulcan took a small step back. "No, sir."

"They will want to know what you're going to do."

"I have accepted a position at the Vulcan Science Academy." The dark eyes seemed to look right through him as if his very existence was open to question.

"I see. Well, their gain is Starfleet's loss. You will be missed, Mister Spock." The words came automatically, of their own volition, as if scripted by some power greater than himself. The words he really wanted to say he knew would fall on barren ground, accomplishing nothing but his own humiliation.

He turned and made it as far as the door before turning back. "Live long and prosper, Spock."

That greater power, which he now recognized as duty, took over once more and got him out of the room, provided him with the correct parting banalities to say to Sarek and Amanda, and gave the orders that returned him and McCoy to the ship.

The transporter platform solidified beneath him but the solid ground of his being crumbled yet again, this time completely, leaving him with no support but that self-same duty. It would have to be enough.

Sarek studied his son's back as Spock stared out of the window into Shi Kar's garden. On the Enterprise, following his operation, he thought that they had reached some sort of detente, almost an understanding. Now, with the mind barrier in place, Spock was farther away from him than he had ever been before. Still, he had to try to comprehend what had led his son to make this decision.

"Spock, I would speak with thee."

The tall, spare figure turned and Sarek faced a stranger.

"Where is mother?"

"I requested that she allow me to see you alone for a few moments."

Spock nodded, his face revealing nothing.

Sarek, chief diplomat of the Federation, found himself without words. How did one breach a barrier such as this? Still, he had to try.

"I was...surprised by your decision to leave Starfleet. Are you certain you have made the correct choice?"

His son gave what could only be described as a short derisive laugh. "I am doing what you wanted me to do eighteen years ago. Are you now saying that I have made a mistake?"

"You are a different person than you were eighteen years ago. You have changed, grown, been affected by your experiences in Starfleet. What would have been correct then is not necessarily correct now."

Spock stared at him, unblinking, hands clasped behind his back. "I have made the only decision that is open to me."

"Can you tell me why?"

"My reasons are my own."

Sarek sighed and nodded. "Very well. I respect your right to privacy." Suddenly, the memory of Kirk's pale, desolate face as he had left this room a short time before came unbidden to Sarek's mind and, for some reason he could not name, he was frightened for the captain. Frightened for them both.

The rest of the senior officers filed out of the briefing room. McCoy stopped at the door, letting it close. He turned back watching Kirk as his shoulders slumped, his forehead coming to rest on his folded hands.

"Jim?" McCoy started cautiously. Kirk jerked his head up. He had obviously thought he was alone. "Join me for dinner?"

Kirk shook his head. "I'm not really hungry. It's been a long day and I'm tired."

Attempting not to show his concern, McCoy sauntered back over to sit at his side. "You shouldn't be this tired, Jim. I want to see you tomorrow morning, check you over."

"Bones, some of us have to work for a living. I don't have an easy job like yours." Kirk's smile was wan, his teasing falling flat.

"And you don't have Spock."

Kirk looked at him sharply. Then, any defensiveness he felt went out of his posture. "No. And I miss him, just having him to talk to, bounce ideas off of. Even these regular staff meetings have turned into a real bore. But then you always did think they were, didn't you?" He smiled again, but his eyes did not meet McCoy's.

"Jim, give it some time. It's only been a week. I think once he's had a chance to think things over, he'll come around. He's still recovering from what he's been through."

Kirk shook his head, returning his gaze to his folded hands. "No, it's more than that and I have to accept the responsibility for his leaving."

McCoy felt a tingle of warning on the back of his neck but he had to say it anyway. "That's bullshit and you know it. Nobody forced Spock to resign his commission and I won't have you carrying around a load of guilt that isn't yours to carry."

Kirk leaned back in the chair and rubbed his eyes wearily. When he looked at McCoy again, the doctor felt that Kirk had pulled away from him without ever leaving his chair. He almost reached out to grab him, hold on to him, then pushed the thought aside as ridiculous.

"He left because he couldn't deal with my actions and he was right. I almost got him killed on Babel. Sooner or later, I probably would have succeeded in finishing the job. In a way, I'm almost glad he did this. At least I know he'll be safe on Vulcan. It's just going to take me awhile to get used to commanding this ship without him but I can do it. I have to do it. There's no other way."

McCoy wondered if Kirk was trying to convince him or himself. "I still think he'll be back, Jim."

Kirk stood and headed for the door. He paused and looked back at McCoy, a sad smile on his face, the sort of smile a parent would give a child who just didn't understand. "No, Bones, he won't be back. Not ever again."

Kirk headed for the bridge, taking time for a check on their status. Their mission since leaving Vulcan was to catalogue anomalies which required the services of the science department but virtually nothing of the captain. As he expected, things were very much under control. His presence was definitely unnecessary and, after long minutes of drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair, he could stand the inactivity no longer.

Standing, he said, "Mister Sulu, you have the con. I'll be in my quarters if you need me."

Sulu smiled cheerfully in response. Kirk knew the helmsman relished any chance to take the con and at this point he was more than happy to give it to him. Kirk dredged up a smile, the heavy feeling of despondency settling around him once more as he retreated to the turbolift.

At the door to his cabin, Kirk stopped, backtracking to Spock's quarters. He stared at the simple name adorning the door. A crewman coming past him forced Kirk to move. Impulsively, he palmed the lock and slipped inside. The Vulcan hues of the room instantly soothed him. Tentatively, he moved forward, drawn toward the meditation statue.

Kirk stared at it for a long moment wishing he could gain the peace Spock had always seemed to derive with his daily meditations. He felt his spirits sinking lower, disturbed by his continuing depression. He hardly had the energy to get up in the morning, felt no enthusiasm for anything, and the thought of eating seemed overwhelming at times.

It was unlit.

The thought confused Kirk until he realized he was still staring at the statue. Of course it was unlit but Spock had shown him the ritual involved in lighting it.

For the first time in days, Kirk felt a spark of interest. He gathered the necessary items, kneeling before the statue. He could almost feel Spock guiding him, the solemn brown eyes watching him approvingly as he followed the proper steps. The ritual complete, Kirk stared into the flame, patiently practicing the simple meditation steps that Spock had taught him one evening.

The captain smiled as he remembered the Vulcan's perseverance in teaching him. He had been very restless that particular evening, announcing to Spock that he needed a proper shore leave to which the Vulcan had challenged him to try a different form of rest. Kirk had taken up the gauntlet, determined to prove to his friend that he could master the skills necessary for proper meditation.

Both had succeeded, not only in teaching and learning meditation but, more importantly, in gaining a new understanding of each other in the process.

Kirk's breathing slowed, and he drifted in a weightless limbo. At first, he felt refreshed and renewed as he sought out memories of Spock, of their friendship. He reached for the warmth he had so sorely been missing. Instead, there was only cold emptiness. Part of him was gone that would never be found again. He was startled to find hot tears coursing down his cheeks but there was nothing he could do to stop them.

The powerful strains of Mendelssohn's "Lobgesang" flowed around Spock yet he was unable to obtain any aesthetic pleasure from the renowned chorus and symphony performing it. Every high note pulled his taut nerves a fraction tighter until he was forced to leave in the middle of the second movement. Only peripherally aware of the restrained surprised that surfaced on his parents' faces, Spock retreated outside, his footsteps leading him to a garden at the side of the concert hall.

Finding a low stone bench hidden within a grotto of trees and shrubs, Spock sank down onto it, covering his face with his hands in unacknowledged despair.

After several moments, he lifted his eyes to the dark sky, seeking out the stars. With each passing day since his decision to remain on Vulcan, he had found the intricate meditation levels impossible to achieve. It seemed that it took all of his mental strength to maintain the mind barrier, leaving nothing for meditation. McCoy's words echoed in his memory, a warning that closing himself in would eventually break him.

The barrier lacked stability at times. More than once, he had experienced a strong sensation of being on the Enterprise. His computer station at the Academy had transposed itself into his science station on the starship. The image had lasted less than a microsecond yet the accompanying emotions had been disturbing. Now, the image returned once more but this time it lasted long enough for him to see himself turn to look at the command chair, at James Kirk.

"No!" he whispered hoarsely. This must not happen. He must not allow it to happen. Closing his eyes against the light from the stars, he poured all of his energy into reinforcing the barrier. After a moment, there was only darkness. The barrier was firmly in place. No images could get through. But something did. A sound. A sound that caused Spock to shudder. He could hear it clearly through the barrier.

Someone was crying.

Kirk raised his trembling hand, staring in disbelief at the wetness. What was happening to him? This was unlike anything he had ever experienced. He was relieved McCoy was not here to witness it. He had to pull himself together. Loss was not new to him. He knew how to cope with it. Spock was his friend. He would miss him. A lot. He also knew that the Vulcan would be embarrassed by this display of emotion. He fought to control the fear and panic that began to well up inside him. His chest tightened painfully, each gasp for air sending shafts of agony to his lungs. Blackness began at the edges of his mind and spread wider, surrounding him, engulfing him. He felt himself falling into it with nothing to stop his descent, nothing to hold onto.

The captain opened eyes that felt swollen and scratchy. He was lying on the floor in front of Spock's meditation statue. The flame had gone out and there was an incomprehensible emptiness that permeated his being.

Kirk struggled to his feet. He was lost. He was here, on the Enterprise, yet he was totally lost. He could not survive, did not know how to live.

His very soul was cold and he knew that he would perish.

McCoy sat in his office, frustration building as he attempted to finish his medical log. There had been fewer patients than usual in the last few days and McCoy was grateful for the lack of activity since it allowed him more freedom to observe the primary reason for his frustration. Captain James T. Kirk.

Ever since they had left Spock on Vulcan, McCoy had watched the captain build a wall around himself. At first, he had accepted that it was a normal way for Kirk to cope with the loss of a close relationship. But the degree had changed in the last few weeks, growing stronger each day and now the barrier that surrounded Kirk closed everyone out and kept Kirk locked tightly inside.

Oh, the captain said all the right words, smiled in the right places. He performed his duties flawlessly, although the doctor did note in his log the amount of time Kirk spent on the bridge had been reduced by nearly a third. And his workout times in the gym were sporadic rather than the everyday routine he had usually kept since his arrival on the Enterprise.

McCoy had initially assumed that depression was the cause of the captain's withdrawal. But as the doctor watched him fading away day by day, he knew it was more than that. He had twice forced Kirk in for tests which had showed nothing conclusive. Returning to his original theory, McCoy had even tried to get the captain to take a regimen of antidepressants without success.

The informal chats he had attempted with Kirk obtained the same inconclusive answers. He sat in his office now, tapping his stylus on his desk. Finally, decision made, McCoy called the bridge requesting the captain's presence in sickbay. If he could not reach Kirk as a friend, maybe he could reach him as Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise.

Kirk arrived a few minutes later.

"Come in, Jim. Sit down." He closed the door, activating the voice-lock against intrusions, causing Kirk to look up with a cornered expression. The captain immediately covered his reaction with a practiced smile.

"Must be serious if you're locking the door."

"It is," McCoy intoned solemnly as he returned to his desk. "You have a lot of people who are very concerned about you. I've had several visits in the past few days from members of the crew, from senior officers down to ensigns, who are worried about you.

Again, there was a brief reaction but before McCoy could interpret the expression, Kirk covered, feigning surprise. "About me? Why? I feel fine."

"Jim," McCoy responded disapprovingly, "You're going to tell me you're sleeping fine? Explain the shadows under your eyes that you've been wearing for the past week. And your appetite's good? The physical I ran three days ago showed another kilo lost since the one I ran last week. That's a total of four kilos in three weeks. And I don't see any evidence that you've gained any back. We can check though, if you wish to deny it. You're going to tell me you're interacting well with the crew? Then explain why I've had so many of them concerned that you're shutting yourself off from everyone. You don't joke or laugh with them anymore. Your whole aura warns people not to intrude on your space. Give me answers to these questions and then tell me you're fine."

"Bones, don't you have enough to do? I'm not hearing any complaints regarding my command. And you're always after me to lose weight anyway. I'd think you'd be happy. I'm all right."

McCoy shook his head. "I've tried giving you time, Jim. Told myself that after a bit, you would trust me enough to talk openly about this. I can see I was wrong to wait. This isn't natural, especially not for you."

"Don't you think I know that." The tone was bitter, the first honest emotion from Kirk.

"I need to understand what's going on, Jim. I can't help you if I'm operating in the dark. Time only seems to be making it worse."

Alarm flashed across Kirk's face. "No," he whispered.

McCoy leaned forward. "Jim, we both know you have an incredibly dynamic psyche. Normally it's one of your strengths. But right now, it's working against you. Denying that there's a problem, refusing to acknowledge that Spock's resignation is affecting you isn't going to solve anything. You should realize that by now. We need to do something before it really begins to affect your performance on the ship."

Kirk stood abruptly, his jaw clenching in anger. He slammed his fist down on McCoy's desk. "Until you have something official to say with regard to my command, you will cease threatening me. I've cooperated with your physicals and seen the results. You have nothing on which to base your suspicions. Just because I've lost an officer, who happened to also be my friend, doesn't automatically make me a candidate for you to psychoanalyze. Understand, doctor?"

"Understand what, Captain?" McCoy fought to keep from glaring at Kirk. "That your reaction now is exactly what I'm talking about? As if by strength of your will alone you can make this all disappear. This time it isn't working, and I'm asking you to allow me to help."

Kirk straightened, his face set and hard. "And I'm ordering you to drop this. Now. Unless you have proof that it's affecting my command, I do not intend to discuss this subject with you again."

In two strides, Kirk was at the door, turning to send a look at him that McCoy recognized, having seen it strike down unsuspecting ensigns in the past. The doctor released the lock without comment, re-engaging it as soon as the captain was through the door. He needed some time to think, regroup. Kirk was right, his psych tests from the previous three days were all normal. There was no indication that his command judgement was impaired.

Kirk had responded to him when he had mentioned his abnormal depression centering around Spock's resignation. He was certain this was the problem but he had no theories as to why Kirk was reacting in this manner. Out of any scenarios McCoy could have predicted considering Kirk's psych profile, this type of depression was not on his list.

Nor was it on Kirk's either, McCoy suddenly realized. The captain did not know how to handle it, remembering the look of alarm in the hazel eyes when McCoy suggested that time was making things worse. The bleak look McCoy had witnessed for those few seconds told him what he already knew. The captain was in trouble. He only lashed out at the doctor when his command was threatened. Which told McCoy the one thing that frightened the doctor to the depths of his being.

Kirk was afraid.

Spock's quarters were cold. The temperature remained at Vulcan normal but Kirk shivered all the same. On the bed and the floor were boxes waiting to be filled with Spock's personal belongings.

Ordinarily, the task would have been completed by some ensign.

Ordinarily, packing a crewman's personal possessions was done only in the case of death.

Rather fitting, Kirk decided, since Spock was dead to him. All that remained was to mourn.

Since his talk with McCoy, he had decided that he had to face the reality of the situation and the best way to do that was for him to personally prepare Spock's things for delivery to Vulcan. Now, as he stood here actually faced with the task of dismantling the cabin, he did not know where to start.

Looking up, he saw the lyrette hanging on the wall. He knew it was very old and had been in Spock's family for generations. It was probably Spock's most prized possession. Reaching up to lift if off of the hanger, his fingers brushed the strings. Discordant notes filled the silent cabin and memories flooded his mind. Memories of times when Spock had played and Uhura had sung.

Times that would never be again.

Kirk clenched his jaw, put the instrument down on Spock's bed and turned resolutely away. He was determined to get through this, to prove to himself that he was handling this as he would any loss. This continuous struggle to manage his feelings of panic when he allowed any thoughts of Spock to surface had to stop. Day after day, he kept rationalizing that time would make it easier. But in reality, his sense of loss only seemed to grow stronger. It shadowed everything that he did, sapping his energy and leaving only overwhelming sadness in its wake.

His inability to control these frightening sensations was disturbing him on many levels. He could not be certain that something might not happen on the bridge, that he might not collapse there as he had before.

Kirk swept his gaze around the room, shaking rage suddenly gripping him. He had never been dependent on anyone and had never intended to be. To be a leader, to be the captain, he could not allow such a thing to happen. But it had.

Letting the anger sustain him, he grabbed a box and began to empty Spock's things into it. After a few minutes of unthinking work, he looked around. The room was beginning to have vacant look to it. One more box should finish the job. He picked up another one, confident that he would be able to finish with no further problems. Maybe that was the key, his fear of dependence. He believed that he was too dependent on Spock, that he could no longer function as captain without him. It was not true but the fear alone was creating a problem. As soon as he could prove to himself that his fear was unjustified, the symptoms would be gone. He smiled grimly to himself. Self-psychoanalysis was probably a mistake.

Only the shelf of books remained. Spock had not kept many, preferring the efficiency of tapes. One by one, Kirk placed them in the box, not reading the titles. As he reached for the last one, it slipped from his hand and fell open to the deck. He picked it up and almost involuntarily began to read. The words swam before his eyes as he read them aloud. "The soul perishes not of dark but of cold..."

His hands began to shake and the book fell to the deck once more. The panic was there again, clawing its way free. Pain cut like ribbons through his chest and chills racked his body as he fell to his knees.

"My God, Spock, what have you done to me?"

The emptiness pulled him over the edge, into the void that opened before him. He went gladly, wearily grateful for the abrupt surcease to his pain.

Spock stood in his mother's garden, watching the brilliant colors of the sunset, trying to draw serenity from the view and failing completely. He was experiencing feelings that were difficult to control, feelings that he was beginning to believe were not entirely his own.

Quiet footsteps behind him disclosed that his escape from the house had not gone unnoticed by his mother.

"May I join you, Spock?"

"Of course, mother."

She stood beside him in the gathering darkness, sharing the view of the stars that now sprinkled the night sky.

"You are troubled, Spock. You have been for weeks now."

He did not, could not, look at her. "You are most astute." It was a polite reply, one not meant to encourage discussion.

"I'm your mother. When you were a small boy, you always came here to the garden when you were unhappy. You take your pain away to nurse it in private."

"It is the Vulcan way, mother."

"Come sit with me." She moved to a nearby bench and he joined her, still not looking at her.

"Spock, I thought you were happy on the Enterprise."

Something in him screamed out at the pain those words evoked but he kept his voice calm as he replied. "Happiness is an emotion that I do not fully comprehend. I do not believe that I would ascribe that term to my service aboard the Enterprise."

Amanda would not be stopped. "Yet you were more at peace there than I have ever seen you."

Peace. Spock drew a deep breath of the cool night air, trying to ease the sudden stricture of his chest. The Vulcan way was built on peace, on nome, the circle of one. Unable to halt the bitter words, he responded, "I have never felt peace. I have no peace now. I am forced to spend my days with empty rituals of meditation that bring me only cold logic. Peace has become an impossible dream."

He rose quickly, preparing to leave before his own tongue betrayed him even more than it already had. Before he could depart, Amanda's voice stopped him.

"Spock, what do you mean 'forced'? Who is forcing you?"

Who indeed? He had brought this all on himself because he was too weak to face what he saw as the only outcome of Kirk's impetuous nature. He had no one to blame but himself.

"Spock, please sit down. What is spoken here remains between us but I must understand why you have done what you have. Why have you chosen to leave Starfleet and your friends?"

When he did not respond, she continued. "While we were on the Enterprise, I saw how much the Captain and Doctor McCoy cared for you. Caring like that in humans has to come from mutual friendship. You had to have given them something in return for such relationships to have developed. Perhaps you have no peace because you are experiencing a sense of distress over the loss of these friendships."

Spock clasped his hands together to still their trembling, glad for the covering darkness. "Friendship is not acknowledged by the Vulcan culture. It has no significance here."

She covered his hands with her own. "Vulcan ways have brought you nothing but grief in this matter, Spock. Perhaps you should give your humanity a chance."

Releasing her hold on him, she stood and softly laid one hand on his head, stroking it as she had when he was a child. "Consider what you are doing, my son, before it is too late to rectify the situation."

Even though it was the middle of the night for Kirk, he was grateful when he was summoned to the bridge because of a distress call. Dreams were constantly plaguing his sleep, remaining vague and difficult to recall. Tonight's had been no different having only fading images of sunsets and starry skies and regrets. He rubbed his face, wishing he could wash away the shakiness the dream had caused as easily as a shower would remove the heavy layer of sweat that covered him.

"Kirk here."

"Captain." It was Kevin Riley. "We've just received a distress call, a small passenger ship en route to the space station. It's an automatic beacon. So far no contact has been established."


"Coordinates are 72206 mark 4. Four hours at warp four."

Kirk drew a hand across his forehead. "Plot and implement an intercept course for the ship. Increase speed to warp six."

"Warp six, sir?" There was a moment of silence. "Yes, sir."

"Kirk out."

Kirk remained on his bed, waiting for the call he knew would come. They were headed for a layover at Space Station Four, his engineer insisting the warp drive needed a major overhaul before they saw any more action. In spite of the fact that he would have to placate Scotty about the delay, Kirk was relieved to find some reason to remain in space. Dreading the coming layover, Kirk wanted to avoid the time when there were no duties to keep him occupied.

The intercom signalled. A smile tugged at Kirk's lips. Not even two minutes had passed before Scott had noticed the change in the speed of the warp engines.

"Kirk here. Don't you ever sleep Scotty?"

A brief hesitation met his response, surprised indignation coloring the engineer's next words. "Ye knew I'd be calling, sir."

"I did. We have a distress call, Mister Scott. The increase in speed will be brief, but necessary."

"I recommend caution, Captain. She canna sustain this speed for long without serious consequences."

"Your concern is noted, Engineer. We will maintain warp six until we reach the vessel in trouble. Kirk out."

He fought the urge to curl back on his side, a strong desire to hide from the demon rearing its ugly head by staying here. Anything not to have to face the bridge alone.

Kirk rolled out of bed with a groan. Showering quickly, he was dressed and on his way within five minutes of the call to his quarters. The queasy trembling he had experienced from the dreams had eased and he sighed in relief at the return of some of his normal energy as he reached the bridge.

The captain barely had time to review the distress signal when the turbolift opened spilling out Uhura and Chekov. He smiled in commiseration as Uhura finished smoothing her hair into place, his smile widening when Chekov covered a yawn before heading to his station. The science station.

He quickly turned back to the updated status report that Riley was handing him, his appreciation for his crew lifting his spirits. The immediate response of his main bridge crew was something he expected yet never took for granted.

"Uhura, see if you can raise that ship, get us some information."

He finished the status report, eyeing the readings on the warp engines. Mister Scott was correct in verbalizing his concern. It was possible he would need to reduce speed before reaching their destination.


Riley's fingers played over his board. "At warp six, ETA is twenty-two minutes."

Kirk eyes flicked to the screen, then around the bridge. The figures on his status board said they could make it to their destination with a minimal safety margin. Convincing Scotty of that was a different story. He estimated ten more minutes of grace before the engineer called demanding they reduce speed.

Kirk was peripherally aware of Chekov working at the science station. He did not look at him. The young ensign had made it a habit to come to the lower level to give most of his reports since being assigned there. Kirk had thought at first that Chekov was more comfortable there but belatedly realized that his own avoidance of the science station was more obvious than he knew.

Kirk found his fingers already rhythmically tapping the arm of his command chair. He stopped the motion, renewing his vow to be patient with Chekov. It was difficult to adjust to waiting minutes for information when he was used to obtaining it in seconds. The ensign was good, well trained by his predecessor. When Kirk could accept the idea of a permanent replacement there, it might be easier to allow Chekov to simply continue in the position. Easier for who, he chided himself. Chekov really was too inexperienced to take on the pressures of a whole department.

Unable to wait any longer, he demanded, "Report, Mister Chekov?"

The ensign did not move, remaining bent over his board. "Sir, no flight plans have been filed in this area, and I cannot find a ship under this registry."

As soon as Chekov completed his report, Uhura said softly, "Unable to raise them, sir. I just keep getting the automatic beacon."

The lift doors opened again, and he turned in time to see Sulu enter, smiling broadly and accompanied by McCoy. Damn. He had specifically wanted to avoid notifying sickbay unless it proved absolutely necessary.

Sulu's lack of uniform and injured knee registered at the same moment McCoy took the Lieutenant's arm and assisted him down to his post.

"Sulu? What happened?" Kirk asked softly, cursing the tension he felt grow in himself with McCoy's arrival.

"I'm all right. Took a tumble, twisted my knee." Sulu's grin disappeared as he sat down, but then it was back. He gave Kirk a reassuring nod, waggling his eyebrows at McCoy's hovering form at the same time.

Kirk hid a smile, wondering just how Sulu had coerced the doctor into letting him return to duty.

McCoy straightened, pausing to look around the bridge. "It seems your bridge crew doesn't much believe in sleep, does it?"

"They're a good crew." Kirk dropped his voice, glancing briefly around at his officers.

"Yea," McCoy drawled, and Kirk's stomach tightened. "Sulu was in the gym, working out. Strange thing though, if I hadn't been called to patch him up, I might never have known there was an emergency going on up here. I double-checked and it seems somebody forgot to notify my department."

Kirk managed to keep the tinge of anger he felt from his response. "We've yet to determine if there is need for your department to be involved."

McCoy stepped closer, his blue eyes flashing dangerously. "In the past, a distress call has always included notifying sickbay. Why the sudden change in procedure?"

"Captain's prerogative, Doctor," Kirk snapped, allowing some of his anger at McCoy's challenging him on the bridge to seep through.

Blessedly, the call he expected from Scott stopped any reply McCoy might make.

"Bridge, Scott here."

"Go ahead, Scotty."

"Captain, we're losing intermix match. I recommend powering down immediately."

Kirk glanced at Riley. "How long till we rendezvous?"

"Thirteen minutes, sir," Riley supplied.

"Thirteen minutes. We'll hold this speed until then."

"Captain, I'll make no promises as to what power ye'll have available in thirteen minutes."

"Understood. Do your best." Kirk cut the connection, ignoring the still glowering McCoy and moving out of his chair to check the engineering board. The glowing figures remained essentially the same. He would maintain the speed for now.

He turned to find McCoy standing beside him on the upper level of the bridge. He frowned, his patience wearing thin. "You are dangerously close to being removed from here for insubordination, Doctor."

McCoy sighed. "I know. I was angry." He straightened, coming to a sincere but laughable impression of being at attention. "Request permission to remain, sir."

Kirk felt a smile tugging at his lips. He shook his head, "You make a terrible soldier, McCoy." Relaxing, he touched the doctor's arm briefly. "Permission granted."

Kirk started toward his command chair but turned back as McCoy grasped his shoulder. The doctor's face was vulnerable as he whispered, "I'm not your enemy, Jim."

The pit of his stomach suddenly turned hollow. Kirk forced a smile. "I know."

"Captain," Uhura called, "I'm getting a signal, full of static. The ship is the Sadik. They state they are out of Antares en route to Andor. There's something about pirates, an attack..." She stopped, tilting her head as she listened. "Someone is injured, dying. They need help immediately."

"Inform them we're on our way." Kirk returned to his command chair. He touched a stud on the arm of his chair. "Scotty, I need someone up here on your monitors."

"Aye, sir. Wilson's already on his way." Almost as he spoke, the engineering tech arrived, making his way immediately to the station.

McCoy was at Uhura's station, notifying his own department of the new development. The minutes ticked by slowly. Kirk finally opened his mouth to reduce speed with three minutes left when Wilson's tense words filled the bridge.

"Captain, red-line. Suggest--"

Scott's voice interrupted. Kirk ignored them both, ordering Sulu to shut down the warp engines immediately. The ship shuddered, the bridge lights flickering for several seconds. A sudden silence filled the air, the absence of normal ship sounds freezing most of the bridge crew in mid-motion.

Then the lights steadied and, as the normal power resumed on the bridge panels, Kirk spoke into the intercom. "Mister Scott, report."

Scott's voice sounded as if it were coming through a filter. Most likely it was since the engineer did not take risks. And most certainly he was not pleased with his captain for taking one with his engines. "It was close, sir. Too close, if you get my meaning. At any rate, it'll be a slow trip back to the space station."

"I take it we can use impulse speed?"

"Aye. But don't be asking for any phasers or more than minimal shielding."

From Scott's tone, Kirk knew they had missed disaster by a fraction of a second. He turned shadowed eyes to the main viewscreen. "Helmsman, continue on course, impulse speed."

Sulu nodded, concentrating on his board. Riley spoke without looking up. "We should be able to get a visual soon. New EtA is now ten minutes."

"Uhura?" He glanced over his shoulder.

She was frowning, her hands trying various panels on her board. She shook her head. "I've lost contact, am unable to reestablish." Kirk turned back to the viewscreen, frowning at it as if he could see the ship by will alone.

"Jim." McCoy stood at his side. "I have a team in Transporter Room A prepared for the emergency. I'm going to check in engineering, make sure there are no injuries. I'll let you know."

Kirk nodded, reluctantly pulling his eyes away from the screen. He had a bad feeling that things were going to get worse before they got better.

The ship was in view. Kirk began a station check as Uhura continued attempting to reestablish contact. Chekov, he knew was trying to verify registry. Not wishing to tempt fate in the middle of a crisis and still afraid of not maintaining complete control, Kirk forced his steps away from the science station, back to confer with Wilson at Engineering. Thankfully, McCoy reported no injuries in Engineering and now waited with the team in the transporter room.

"Captain!" Uhura pointed to the screen.

The murky interior of the small ship appeared on the screen revealing a young human male who looked to be in his early twenties.

"Please help us! My father will die soon without help."

Kirk stood at the side of his command chair. "I'm Captain Kirk, commander of the USS Enterprise. Identify yourself."

"Joe Timperley. My father owns this ship. We were on a pleasure cruise and were attacked by pirates. They disabled our engines and took our valuables. My father was injured trying to mother." The young man looked away. "They took her with them. Please, help us."

"We'll be there soon." Kirk glanced up at Chekov.

The ensign nodded. "Registry checks, Sam Timperley, owner. I am not picking up any unusual energy surges. I can detect nothing out of the ordinary."

Kirk frowned, thinking that finding such a small ship alone all the way out here was dammed unusual. He turned back to the screen, leaning into the pickup. "Mister Timperley, when were you attacked?"

"Not long ago." His voice cracked, his panic giving way to anger. "Twelve hours...I don't know. Are you going to help us or not?"

"I apologize for the delay, but I must be certain--"

"Jim," McCoy's voice broke in. Kirk signalled Uhura to cut the sound to the screen. "Jim, you can interrogate him better if you let me help his father now."

Kirk drew a deep breath, throwing a covert glance in Chekov's direction. He needed more information. Something was not right here. "Doctor, I'm not beaming anyone over there until I'm sure it's safe. The only other option is to beam them aboard."

"Not until I've examined the injured man. He may not tolerate the transference."

"That's what I thought you'd say."

"I'm willing to beam over alone. I'll take the risk."


"There may be a man dying over there. Let me help him before it's too late."

Kirk glanced around his bridge. No new reports were forthcoming. Possibly a good sign that no danger was forthcoming. Possible that it was being missed, too. The pit opened back up in his stomach. "All right, doctor. You and one security man. Stay in contact."

He faced the screen. Uhura immediately brought up the audio. "Mister Timperley, our ship's doctor is beaming aboard now. While he's assisting your father, I would appreciate information on the pirates. Can you tell me--" Kirk stopped as the picture broke up, static issuing from his speaker.

Uhura had her hand to her earpiece, intently working on her board. "I don't know what's happening, sir. The transmission is being interfered with."

Kirk stared at the blank screen. "Riley, get a fix on her. I want to see that ship. Sulu, lock onto her position." He took a step towards the science station. "Chekov, are you scanning?"

"Aye, sir."

Kirk reached back, calling the transporter room, "Transporter, is Doctor McCoy still aboard?"

Sulu sounded puzzled. "She's moving away, sir."

The voice on the com replied at the same time, "No, sir. He and Lieutenant Kinney are already aboard the Timperley."

"Uhura? Can you raise McCoy?"

He sat down slowly in the command chair as she replied, "I'm sorry sir. I can't raise either the Timperley or Doctor McCoy."

He opened the line to engineering once more. "Scotty, I need tractor beams now!"

The Scotsman sounded frustrated, "Captain, she won't--"

"Now, Mister Scott!" Kirk roared. A surge of adrenaline washed away any hesitation he had about facing the science station. "Mister Chekov, get a fix on our men in that craft," he snapped, then punched the stud on his chair. "Transporter room, Chekov will give you the coordinates. As soon as you have them, beam McCoy and Kinney aboard!"

Chekov's strained voice told him what he somehow already knew. "They're powering up, enough power for low warp speed."

"Scotty!" Kirk barked into the intercom, just as the lights lowered on the bridge.

Chekov announced, "Tractor beams on, sir."

Then Scott added through the intercom, "Aye, but it leaves power at a low level. Life support is at minimal and don't ask for any shielding."

"Mister Scott, institute emergency conservation procedures. Cut out all unnecessary power usage." Kirk flicked another glance at Chekov. He was asking the impossible of the young man to do three tasks at once. However, lives were at stake. "Chekov, weapons?"

"None that I can detect, sir."

"Do you have a fix on our men?"

"There are five life forms aboard, sir. All are humanoid. I cannot identify which are Kinney and Doctor McCoy."

The lights flickered again, a warning surge of weightlessness lifting Kirk slightly from the deck. "Feed all the coordinates to the transporter."

He nodded at Uhura, "Get a full security team down there, now." Then, he spoke back into his com-link with the transporter room. "Coordinates coming through now. Beam all life forms aboard as soon as you have them. Be prepared for resistance."

There was a moment's silence that caused Kirk's heart to skip a beat. "Sir, there's only enough power to transport two."

Scott cut in, "Captain, with the tractor beam, that's all the power I can give ye."

Kirk closed his eyes in frustration and then turned to the science station. "Chekov, you've got to locate our men now! Get a fix on their transponders!" Kirk felt his heart pounding, sweat beading his forehead as he waited. A normal reaction to a crisis for him, nothing he had not experienced a hundred times before when trying to save someone's life. It did not make it any easier that it was McCoy he was trying to save.

Chekov's fingers flew over his board, his eyes glued to his screen. "Sending coordinates now."

"Transporter room!" The com-link was open, ordered voices speaking in the background.

"Captain, we have them. They're unconscious. Chapel's checking them." The transporter technician sounded calm.

Kirk released a breath he had not known he was holding. "Good work." He glanced back at Chekov, sharing a triumphant smile with the ensign. McCoy was safe. Kirk felt a moment of elation as he realized he had managed to make it through the crisis. He had missed Spock at the science station, but it was an ordinary irritation at not having the information at hand that he was used to Spock giving him. Nothing more. "Status on the tractor beam."

Chekov turned back to his board, once again concentrating fiercely. "Holding. Power down thirty percent. It is a steady drain on our energy." The ensign frowned, turning toward the command chair. "Captain, my sensors are not functioning at top efficiency. I discerned a fluctuation of energy beams with the first transport. Unable to identify cause."

The captain came out of his chair in one swift motion. "From their ship?"


"Identify the energy source, correlate destination." Kirk joined Chekov at the science station, his intuition suddenly warning him of yet another unknown danger.

Chekov pointed toward a screen showing shifting clouds of energy. He shook his head helplessly.

"Computer," Kirk ordered. "Scan energy sources during transport and conjecture possible target data."

The lights flickered. Scott's voice emerging from the intercom at almost the same moment. "Captain, yon ship is still fighting. We're down another ten percent."

Uhura added better news. "Sickbay reports Doctor McCoy and Lieutenant Kinney have only minor injuries."

"Uhura, try to reestablish contact with the Timperley crew." Kirk continued to watch Chekov's board, waiting impatiently for the computer's reply.

For a moment, he envisioned long slender fingers rapidly playing over the console, knowing that Spock would have immediately sensed his unease. Information would have been provided by the Vulcan without Kirk ever making a single demand. His hands would still be occupied on the science board while the dark head would lift, giving him answers almost before he knew the questions.

The captain looked from the console to Chekov and experienced a moment of disorientation.

Darkness assailed him so swiftly he had no time to prepare for it. A panel bleeped as his hand brushed it in an effort to steady himself. He felt the emptiness threatening him. In the distance, he heard voices around him but was unable to respond past the agony in his own mind. Screaming in anguish. All was lost as shafts of pain lanced his thoughts.


Slipping down into the dark chasm that opened for him.



No light.

Only desolate emptiness surrounding him.

It was the ship's voice that pulled him back. A mechanical, non-emotional voice that spoke of danger. His ship was in danger.

"Location, Level Six, forward hold, cargo bay two-E." The Enterprise computer sounded far away.

A spark of anger renewed itself and fought against the final few inches that were all that separated him from destruction. He battled against the pain, subduing the overwhelming emptiness, knowing that to lose this battle was to lose everything. His ship. His command. Himself.

Urgency renewed its hold on him. Those coordinates. A trap. They had beamed something aboard the Enterprise.

"Captain?" Chekov's blurry face came into view. "Are you all right?"

Kirk ignored him, slamming a button on Chekov's board. "Scotty, drop the tractor beam now! Intra-ship transport, these coordinates for deep space. Object suspected to be an explosive."

"Aye, Captain." Scott seemed too calm in comparison to Kirk's own pounding heart. "I'll handle the transport myself, transporter room A."

The renewed adrenaline surge was making him shake. Kirk convinced himself it was that and nothing more. He snatched his trembling hand from the science board, turning it back over to Chekov without a word. In the sudden tense silence on the bridge, Kirk headed for his chair.

"Tractor beam off, sir." Chekov reported. "Their ship is moving away fast."

Kirk sat down in the deceiving safety of his command chair. "Mark distance and speed. Triangulate possible origin."

Ticking off the seconds, the captain waited another thirty before reaching for the intercom.

Scott briskly announced. "Have object, setting coordinates now--"

Too late. The muffled explosion shook the deck beneath their feet. The ship lurched, listing sideways. Thrown head first against the navigation console, Kirk scrambled back to his feet, giving a hand to Sulu who had landed beside him.

Red alert sirens erupted at the same time as the computer alarmed, "Red alert. Hull breach, level six."

"Chekov, shut down levels five through seven! Get those bulkheads down!" Kirk held onto his chair as the ship shifted sideways again. "Uhura, emergency evacuation four through eight. Get a med team to join Mister Scott." He cursed as the ship lurched further on her side. "Sulu, blow the airlocks on the starboard side if you can't stabilize her."

"Aye, sir. A moment. I'm attempting to readjust pressure..." Sulu paused. The Enterprise wavered momentarily, then settled into a more normal even state. "That's got it, Captain."

Kirk took the moment to climb into his command chair. He glanced over at Chekov, again forced to wait for information. The ensign was pale, his body hunched over the console as if fighting with it.

Uhura reported, "Forty-three crewmen are trapped within the closed bulkheads. They have atmosphere. Mister Rozin from maintenance states two of his men were located directly in the area of the explosion."

Kirk made himself wait for Chekov, briefly considering joining him, needing to make sure the procedures necessary to protect his ship were instituted. Just as quickly he dropped the idea as a wave of dizziness forced him to sink back into his chair for support. His head was throbbing and his fists were clenched in irritation.

"Uhura, get Mister Scott." He paused as Chekov interrupted.

"Captain, levels four through seven are secured. The breach is contained within storage area E-7. The computer confirms two crewmen, Ensigns Saboch and Vochel, were lost. And Captain, the computer has projected the course of the Timperley. Its power emissions are a close match to the Orion ship that attacked us before we reached Babel." Chekov's youthful face turned, distressed, dark eyes meeting Kirk's.

The captain nodded briskly. Chekov must have sensed Kirk's impatience with him and yet Kirk could not reassure him now. His ship was in trouble. Lives were at stake.

Chekov blurred before him. Kirk rubbed his eyes, forced to bite his lip at the renewed knifelike pain in his head. The emptiness was drawing him back and whether Kirk accepted it or not, it was going to force him to submit.

Scott's voice came from the com at his side. "Captain, emergency repairs to the breach are underway. Thirty minutes before it's safe to raise the bulkheads."

Kirk fought the swirling waves of gray surrounding him, leaning forward. Must fight the pain..."Scotty, damage? Injuries?"

"Captain! Your head, you're bleeding!" He heard Uhura cry out behind him, but ignored her, concentrating on the Engineer's voice.

"Minimal, Captain. Our other repairs will require more. We're lucky the explosive was in a large storage area. The transporter contained most of its force. Transporter circuits are out."

He needed to know more. The crewmen that were lost...his hand slipped off the arm of the chair. Feeling as if he were falling in slow motion, Kirk watched the deck rise up to meet him, knowing only that he had lost the desperate battle not to give into the darkness.

In sickbay, McCoy steadied himself on the rail of Kirk's bed, mentally cursing the burning, stinging sensation that covered the left side of his face. He felt a hand on his arm and turned to find Chapel studying him with concern.

"Why don't you rest in your office? You shouldn't be out of bed yet much less doing surgery. I'll let you know when the Captain wakes up."

McCoy tried to smile but stopped as the muscles pulled at his bruised lip and cheek. "I don't call evacuating and closing a head wound surgery, especially on the captain."

Chapel shook her head, not bothering to hide her exasperation. A low moan drew his attention back to Kirk who had still not regained consciousness from the injury he had sustained on the bridge several hours before.

McCoy placed his hand on Kirk's shoulder, both to reassure him and restrain him. The captain's first actions upon waking up in sickbay always seemed to consist of trying to sit up and then get up, regardless of his condition or ability to do so.

"Jim, you're in sickbay. You received a concussion on the bridge. Everything's under control. Just relax."

The captain's eyelashes fluttered, accompanied by another low moan. The automatic move to sit up and demand ship's status that McCoy expected did not come. The doctor quickly scanned the life signs panel above Kirk's head.

"Jim, can you hear me? Are you in pain?"

The whispered reply was almost inaudible. "Head...hurts." He caught a glimpse of glazed eyes before Kirk closed them again.

Chapel was already at his side, hypo in hand. He administered the pain medication and moved away from the bed as Kirk relaxed somewhat.

"He shouldn't be experiencing pain," the nurse said quietly.

McCoy gingerly touched the swelling on the side of his face. "Oh, I don't know. This feels pretty miserable and it didn't even require any surgery."

"Nor have you taken anything for pain," Chapel frowned her disapproval. "This is the third dose we've given the captain."

The doctor studied the normally expressive face which was now still and vacant. "Something's wrong and I can't put my finger on it. Nothing shows up in any of the tests but this has to be more than a concussion or he would've come up swinging just now, demanding to know about his ship."

Chapel shrugged. "Well, he's not in any danger at the moment. Why don't you get some rest. Maybe the answer will come to you."

McCoy grimaced. "Christine, I'm all right. Quit worrying."

The doctor slid back into the chair at Kirk's side, ignoring the nurse's irritated clucking as she left the room. He fingered the bruise on his face again. The puffiness extended from his left eye to his lower lip. He was lucky his nose had not been broken. Something had slammed into him as soon as he had transported aboard the Timperley. He never saw who or what it was. When he awoke, he was back aboard the Enterprise, berating himself for ignoring Kirk's intuition.

His own intuition was sounding alarms now and he knew better than to ignore that as well. Something more than a head injury was involved in Kirk's condition but what the hell was it?

He rested his head wearily against the back of the chair, leaving a hand on Kirk's arm. Chapel was right. He was tired.

Spock leaned back in his chair with a slight sigh of weariness. If he had not been alone, he would not have allowed himself the luxury. There was no reason why he should be experiencing such a reaction. His research was going well. He had, in fact received several commendations from the head of the Institute. It should be sufficient yet it was not.

Suddenly, he felt a slight vibration of the floor. Then, the lights dimmed. By the time he reached the corridor, they had gone out completely, plunging the long hallway into darkness. An acrid smell reached his nostrils and he turned quickly in the direction from which it had come.

One of the scientists passed him, going in the opposite direction. Spock stopped him. "What is wrong?"

"Soren announced there had been an explosion in the auxiliary laboratory. We are to vacate the building immediately."

The odor was growing stronger and Spock began to see tendrils of smoke creeping through the darkness. "Was anyone in the laboratory?"

"I do not know. Damage control will ascertain those facts. We are to ensure our own safety."

The figure hurried on down the corridor toward an exit. Spock plunged ahead into the thickening smoke until he arrived at the lab. There was smoke seeping from around the door which felt hot to his touch. He knew that if he opened it, he would endanger the entire facility.

Looking around, he could see no sign of damage control or anyone coming to help. Spock knew that proper procedure demanded that those unaffected by the emergency seek safety, thereby ensuring that no one else would be injured. The first response team would take of assisting anyone who was trapped. He also knew that the team was not based nearby.

Listening at the door, Spock rapped hard. "Is anyone in there?" At first, he heard nothing, then a weak cry for help reached him.

By the time damage control arrived, it could be too late for those trapped inside. The logical thing to do was wait. The smoke could be toxic to inhale. In weighing reason against his fear that someone could be hurt or possibly dying, he found that he could do nothing else but act.

Covering his mouth and nose with his hand, he ducked inside the door. Whatever had exploded had caused severe damage, leaving one side of the room completely destroyed. Eyes stinging from the smoke, he stumbled across a body. Lifting the unconscious male, Spock stumbled back outside the room, carrying his burden as far as he could. Gasping for air, he took a few seconds to clear his lungs before returning to the lab.

Once inside, he found two more unconscious males trapped under some heavy equipment. He removed them to safety and returned once more, this time finding a female. By the time he carried her to where the others lay, the response team had arrived. One Vulcan was examining the others he had brought out as he knelt to lay the woman down.

"Damage control is on the way with protective equipment. Any further attempts to return to the laboratory would be a needless risk." He sent a questioning look at Spock. "You should accompany the injured. You have undoubtedly inhaled much of the smoke while bringing them out."

Spock did not miss the tone of reproach. Ignoring him, Spock turned his attention to the woman who was struggling awake.

"My child. Where...?" The woman's eyes searched the area.

Spock felt his heart constrict. "Was your daughter in the laboratory?"

"Yes, by the computer banks. I heard her...calling for me...could not reach..."

Spock stood and headed once more for the lab. The response team member attempted to stop him but he pushed his way past, not taking the time to argue.

By the time he staggered out with the young girl, damage control had arrived. She was taken from him and a mask was placed over his face. Assisted to safety, Spock sank to his knees next to a wall and watched as mother and daughter were reunited. A cough welled up into his throat, the heavy aching sensation in his chest telling him what he already knew. He had inhaled whatever toxin had been loosed in the lab.

His eyes returned to the child holding her mother's hand tightly and knew that the risk had been worth it. A calculated risk not unlike one taken by a certain starship captain.

The bed alarm was softly chiming, alerting anyone in the vicinity that the occupant was awake and moving about. However, it was the sound of Kirk cursing that brought McCoy fully awake.

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, McCoy stood awkwardly and stretched, his muscles stiff from sleeping in the chair at Kirk's side.

"Going somewhere, Jim?" He kept his tone mild.

The captain remained sitting on the side of the bed, his back to McCoy, shoulders hunched. "You looked like you were tired. I was trying not to wake you."

McCoy rounded the bed. "How do you feel? That was some bump on the head you took."

Kirk raised his eyes to look at McCoy and gave a twisted smile. "Doubt it looks as bad as you do. Shouldn't you be in bed?"

Now, the alarms began going off in McCoy's head. Kirk's usual impetuous pace was missing. Even his words were slower, hesitant as if he were still half asleep.

"You sound like Christine. Lie back down. I've been waiting to check you over."

"I need to see Mister Scott first." Kirk touched his right foot to the floor. "There was an explosion. I've got to..."

The captain stood but when he tried to take a step, his right leg buckled. McCoy caught his arm, steadying him.

"All right. Back to bed with you. I'll call Scotty and get him to come here and talk to you." McCoy assisted him, keeping up a flow of words to ease the sudden confusion and fear in the hazel eyes. "That concussion caused some trauma. It will gradually heal in a few days. Weakness is a common side effect."

While they waited for Scott to arrive, McCoy ran some tests. The results were chilling but he managed to placate Kirk about the results by telling him he needed more time to study his findings.

The extent of the damage caused by the toxic gases Spock had inhaled made it necessary for him to report to the Medical Center. He attempted to achieve a healing trance but after several hours, his efforts had only succeeded in weakening him further.

T'Pyr was summoned and Spock breathed an almost human sigh of relief when the cool touch of the healer guided his thoughts in the ancient ritual, showing him the path through the now incomprehensible maze that had become his mind. When T'Pyr led him once again to the crumbling barrier in his mind, Spock was too weary to discourage removing it. Imitating her steps, he dutifully followed her past the ashes and sought out the neural pathways of his brain. The faintest remnant of a barely heard cry made him pause but T'Pyr drew him forward and he knew he must follow her to survive.

Or was he leaving survival behind?

McCoy opened his eyes to darkness, momentarily disoriented. Then he realized that he was lying on the cot in his office. Catching sight of his desk chronometer, he rubbed his eyes and checked it again.

Suddenly the door to his office opened and Chapel entered quietly. He sat up as she lay something on his desk.

"Nurse Chapel, tell me that it is not 2100 hours."

She whirled at the sound of his voice, a hand to her chest. "You scared me! I thought you were still asleep." Turning on a dim light, she regarded him with a slight smile. "It is 2100 hours and you have had nearly fourteen hours of much needed sleep."

He stood quickly as a sudden feeling of panic hit him.

"My god, Christine, what about Jim? Is he--

A strange expression crossed Chapel's face but she smoothed it away quickly. "That's what I was putting on your desk. His latest lab reports show a dramatic improvement. He is feeling...much better."

McCoy moved to the desk and studied the printout. "Everything's reversed itself. His production rate is back to normal. How?"

"Nothing we did, I assure you. We simply gave him the supportive therapy you ordered.

The doctor dropped the report on his desk and studied his nurse. "What else do you have to tell me?"

Chapel had the grace not to try to protest her innocence. "Remember that in-service you planned on giving to the medical staff? The one about not being intimidated by command personnel?"

"What about it?" he asked, a niggling voice of worry whispering in his ear.

"The captain talked Tinitia into letting him out of sickbay over an hour ago."

The doctor was temporarily at a loss for words. He waited, hoping that Chapel was going to tell him this was an elaborate joke. When her face did not change, McCoy ran a hand carefully over his bruised face. "Less than twenty-four hours ago, the captain almost died. The last time I examined him, he was experiencing severe left-sided weakness and the effects of a concussion. Now you're telling me he just walked out of sickbay?

Chapel nodded. "From what Tinitia told me, Captain Kirk started showing dramatic improvement just a few hours after you went to sleep. Vital signs, chemistries, everything began to return to normal. When he woke up, the Captain was in good spirits and ate a substantial meal. After he finished, he turned that infamous charm of his on her, promised he'd return in an hour and left."

"Under his own power?"

"'Limping but steady' were her words."

McCoy shook his head, moving back to the cot to retrieve his boots. Stomping his feet into them, he asked, "How long has he been gone?"

"Almost two hours."

McCoy was not surprised. "Any idea where he is?"

"I've been checking around, discreetly of course. I didn't want to make it sound like he'd escaped from the brig."

Before McCoy could comment on the appropriateness of that comment, Uhura's soft voice came over his desk comm unit. "Chris, the Captain just came to the bridge. You asked me to let you know--"

McCoy leaned in front of her. "I'm on my way, Uhura."

He cut the connection and, running a quick hand through his hair, headed out of sickbay.

Kirk sat in his command chair, feeling somewhat tired yet exhilarated at the same time. Scott stood at his side conferring with him over the damage to his ship. The engineer had assisted him on a brief tour of the worst hit area which had allowed Kirk to speak to the chief who had lost his men in the explosion.

Despite Scott's urging that he return to sickbay, Kirk had insisted on checking the bridge and the engineer had provided the support he needed to offset the remaining weakness in his left side.

Now, the captain's eyes moved to the viewscreen and he could not help but smile as he drank in the stars. Only a few hours before, he had thought that he might never see them again.

The turbolift doors opened and, seeing the look of chagrin on Scotty's face, knew it had to be McCoy. "Somebody blew the whistle, eh Mister Scott?"

The engineer responded with a wry grin. "Aye, t'would seem so, sir."

"Well, give me a hand up." Kirk stood, turning to face the doctor. He tried a smile but got only a frown in return from McCoy. Pulling free of Scott's support, Kirk headed toward the lift.

"I take it the ball's over, doctor. If we don't hurry, does that mean I'll turn into a pumpkin?"

McCoy did not respond to the teasing. Kirk recognized the assessing look from the doctor as he tried to negotiate the step up to the next level. Before McCoy could make any comment, Kirk wrapped his arm around the doctor's shoulder, more to stem the man's irritation than any real need of assistance.

As they stepped into the lift, Kirk heard Uhura call behind him. "Captain, you forgot to leave a boot!"

McCoy was not amused. "Sickbay," he ordered.

As the doors closed and the lift began it's descent, the ice blue eyes regarded him. "Boot? Pumpkin?"

Kirk opened his mouth to clarify but McCoy cut him off. "Never mind. You have enough other things to explain without wasting any breath on nonsense."

There was silence as Kirk decided that he had better not push it. However, after only a few seconds, he could not contain his good spirits.

"Are you feeling better? Christine said you needed rest."

McCoy only grunted.

Kirk shifted, turning his gaze to regard the ceiling of the lift. "I must say, you have a good crew. Tinitia, for example, is an excellent nurse."

That finally got a response from McCoy. "And what, pray tell, is your definition of excellent? Someone who will do your bidding without regard to duty?"

The lift doors opened. "Not at all." He stumbled as he started forward and felt McCoy's arm tighten around his waist. "I would define it as someone who weighs the facts but also allows her intuition to guide her actions. She weighed the risks to my physical condition against those to my psychological well-being due to my concern over the ship. I promised her I would return in an hour, which I intended to do. But I just had to--"

"Go to the bridge. I know." McCoy shook his head but his tone had softened. He did not turn to look at Kirk, however the captain could detect the smallest trace of smile at the corner of his mouth. "I never thought I'd say this, but it's good being able to argue with you again."

Limping into sickbay, Kirk chuckled. "Amazing what you can learn to appreciate, isn't it, doctor?"

Spock waited for T'Pyr in his father's study. He spent the time until her arrival attempting to bring his emotions down to an acceptable level. It was not easy. His father's words of less than an hour ago kept repeating over and over in his head, an unending loop of data that he still found almost intolerable to accept. Sarek had been ordered to Coridon for the signing of the final treaty admitting the planet into the Federation. The royal family of Coridon had requested that Spock attend as well. The Vulcan High Council had accepted for him. There was no way to refuse without dishonoring his father and his people. He had no real reason to refuse. And every reason to refuse.

Also in attendance would be the Enterprise. And her captain.

The sound of the library door opening drew his attention outward. It was the healer.

"You sent for me, Spock?"

He nodded, gesturing to one of the high-back chairs that flanked a low table. Seating himself in the other, he took a deep breath and explained what he had just learned.

"What is it you wish of me?" she asked.

It was all he could do not to stand and begin to pace, however, he must remain calm and present his argument logically. "Since learning of the approaching journey, I have attempted to reconstruct the mind barrier. I have been unable to do so."

She watched him closely. "You are still determined that you cannot maintain control in the presence of your former human shipmates without it?"

He stood, unable to remain still under her unwavering gaze. Walking over to the shelves of books, he clasped his hands behind his back and did not face her. He also did not answer her.

"We have shared many melds, Spock. While it is true they were not deep, it was impossible for me not to learn a great deal about you. Things that perhaps you do not believe but which are nevertheless true. You are unique, Spock. Neither Vulcan nor human. As you told me before, you have chosen to live as a Vulcan. However, your human aspects cannot simply be dismissed as you are attempting to do. You wish to close off a part of yourself and live as half a being and that can not succeed."

Straightening his shoulders, he turned to face her. "You are perhaps correct, T'Pyr, in your assessment. However, that is my decision to make and I have made it. As I also told you, until such time as I can control as a Vulcan should, I must protect myself with the barrier. Would you deny me that protection?"

He knew that she could not refuse such a request but it gave him small comfort to win such a bitter victory.

The healer stood and approached him. Lifting her hand, she began to intone, "My mind to your mind."

The barrier, once in ashes, now began to grow once more, slowly, inch by inch, and behind it, Spock stood, shivering in the cold.

Kirk listened as his chief engineer made his report, forcing himself to concentrate when all he really wanted to do was sleep. McCoy stood guard by the door to make sure the visit only lasted the few minutes the engineer had requested.

"So, repairs should be complete by tomorrow. We will need some time at a Star Base soon but all things considered the side trip to Coridon should nae be a problem."

"Coridon? Who said anything about going to Coridon?"

Scott looked slightly abashed. "Oh, aye, sir, I forgot to mention that. The orders came a short time ago. There are to be admission ceremonies on Coridon and we have been ordered to attend, seeing as how the whole Babel conference only came off because of us." He smiled with pride.

Kirk forced himself to sit up, fear suddenly nearly overwhelming him. Whenever that accursed name was mentioned it seemed to haunt him in some new and terrifying way. If they had not been taking the Ambassadors to Coridon...if they had not been made the target of the Orion terrorists...if he had not been injured...Spock would still be here.

The fear turned to panic. They could not go to Coridon.

"This is ridiculous. I've lost two men and we have damage that needs to be seen to. Obviously, the Orions haven't given up on trying to prevent this alliance and this ship is in no condition to go into battle. Am I correct in that, Mister Scott?"

"Aye, sir, that you are but--"

"Wait a minute!" McCoy interrupted. "That would be insane. What could the Orions possibly gain by attacking Coridon now?"

"Do you consider murder and the attempt to blow up the Enterprise during our mission to Babel sane, doctor? Trying to reason what their next actions might be is an exercise in futility. What I do know is this ship is in no condition to keep peace in the Coridon system."

Scott raised a hand to stop the discussion. "Aye, sir, I could'na agree with you more and I told Starfleet just that. That's why the Lexington is being assigned to accompany us."

Checkmate. It seemed they were going to Coridon whether he wanted to or not. Edges of blackness began to move into his line of vision and he carefully laid back onto the bed.

"Very well, Mister Scott, take us to Coridon."

"Aye, Captain. And, sir, I...that is all of us hope you're back on the bridge soon."

He mustered up a smile from somewhere and nodded. As the engineer departed, McCoy took his place. Kirk had no energy left, had not had any for longer than he could remember and he certainly had no energy for sparring with the doctor. Exhaustion weighed him down and he closed his eyes. The darkness began to build in his mind once more, growing higher and wider with every passing moment, cutting him off from everything, even life itself.

"Jim, we need to talk. I ran some tests and the results..."

The worried tone of the doctor's voice sparked a minute interest in Kirk. He held the blackness at bay. "What about the results?"

"They just don't make sense. It's like I'm working with two sets of data. You were knocked from your chair during that explosion on the bridge, hit your head and collapsed from it a few minutes later. Some of the tests show the classic effects of the concussion you sustained, like the weakness in your left side which is improving as I told you it would."

For a moment, Kirk grasped at the hope McCoy unknowingly offered him. He opened his eyes for the first time, searching out the concerned blue ones. "Is that why I'm so tired?"

McCoy nodded. "Extreme exhaustion is to be expected for the first few days."

The hope blossomed. The concussion he had sustained had muddied his thinking. His fear that he was losing command, all of the confusion and weariness, everything was a result of the injury. His relief was short-lived as McCoy turned away, a frown creasing his forehead.

Then he remembered. "You said two sets of data, Bones."

The doctor hesitated and Kirk knew he was trying to decide whether to discuss it with him. He turned back and surprisingly took Kirk's hand.

"We've talked about this before and always before any tests that I ran were inconclusive. However, this time there is a definite depression of your immune system. Your blood production rate is sluggish. This has evidently been going on for several days. You must have been aware of being short of breath with exertion, maybe times when you weren't doing anything at all. Did you notice your heart pounding sometimes? Any lightheadedness?"

His heart was pounding now in response to McCoy's words. The fear was back. He was going to lose command and there seemed to be nothing he could do to stop it.

McCoy's hand squeezed his briefly. "Jim, for once, be honest with me."

He had experienced all of those sensations but they had always seemed to occur when he thought about Spock. Not even to McCoy would he admit that.

When he didn't respond, McCoy sighed. "I think I can safely assume that fatigue was another effect since you hadn't worked out in the gym in over two weeks."

Kirk set his jaw against a flare of anger and pulled his hand free of McCoy's. "I was too busy, Doctor. That's all."

The doctor leaned back and crossed his arms. The captain recognized the gesture and felt another flash of fear. Whatever McCoy was going to tell him, he was not going to like.

"Back to your blood production." McCoy began ticking off on his fingers. "One, this is not caused by the concussion. Two, the colony stimulating factors we've given you have had no effect in increasing production. Three, there is no physical cause for this problem."

He stopped abruptly and studied Kirk for some response. There was obviously more to come.

"There is, however, another possibility. The symptom is listed by the computer as being the result of a severe or unnatural depression. It can be life-threatening. In my opinion as your physician and CMO, that is the cause and it is life-threatening. I have noted it in my medical log and treatment will no longer be delayed."

The panic was clawing its way from his belly to his throat, threatening to choke him. "You can't know that for sure. You just said that the concussion..."

McCoy leaned forward, resting his hand on the edge of Kirk's bed. "Are you still trying to tell me there were no symptoms before your injury? No lightheadedness whatsoever? Then explain why Chekov told me that there was a moment on the bridge, before you were hurt, when you looked close to passing out. Let's see, the list of symptoms he mentioned were that you went chalky white, you were sweating and shaking like a leaf and swaying dangerously. He only mentioned it in passing when he was telling me what happened, said it only lasted a moment and that you were back in command immediately, that it was your fast thinking and actions right after that saved both my life and Kinney's."

The words evoked the memory and suddenly Kirk saw the darkness coming for him once more, heard the Enterprise calling to him, felt the unending agony in his mind as it screamed against the emptiness and the cold, the terrible, awful, numbing cold.

"Jim! Snap out of it!" McCoy was shouting at him. "Jim!"

"So cold..." Kirk whispered, blinking at the blurring figure above him.

McCoy's hands were on his shoulders but he could not feel them. The iciness taking his soul left him without feeling, stealing him away, piece by piece until there was nothing left.

"Jim!" The doctor's voice was rough with fear. "You're going to make it. We're going to make it together. You're going to be all right."

But McCoy did not know. The darkness was drawing him away, and with sudden clarity, a new horror dawned on Kirk. McCoy could not help him.

"Bones...I'm command...everything...lost..." Drawn into the icy cold, Kirk succumbed to the darkness but there was no peace, only panic that surrounded him as he fell, faster and faster into the nothingness.

McCoy stared in horror as Kirk's life signs plummeted for several seconds. A hypo was slapped into his hand but even as he weighed the dangers of giving Kirk a stimulant, the indicators steadied.

He grasped the captain's shoulders, calling his name. What in God's name was he losing Jim Kirk to? Instinctively, the doctor knew that Kirk was in danger of slipping into a coma. The medical records would show that it was from the concussion, yet McCoy knew that it had nothing to do with the real reason for Kirk's withdrawal.

"Captain!" he called again, allowing his own fear to lend urgency to his tone. He knew if anything called Kirk back it would be his ship. "Captain Kirk, answer me!"

Kirk's eyes opened slightly, then closed.

That was all the response he got but the life signs indicated that the captain was now sleeping deeply and not in a coma. McCoy was reassured for the moment that he was safe.

Chapel spoke from his side. "Doctor, you're shaking. You need rest as much as the Captain does." She tugged on his arm. "I'm taking you to your office. Let us take care of Captain Kirk for awhile."

Numbly, McCoy followed her, knowing she was right. He was tired and needed to rest but that was not the reason he was shivering like he had been caught in a cold rain. He was scared, scared that he could not help Jim Kirk.

As he sat down, a flash of intuition made him grab the edge of the cot. Kirk knew that he could not help him either.

He shivered again, barely feeling the hypo that was injected into his arm. The shaking was getting worse and McCoy wondered if this was what Jim was feeling. Cold and numb, panic and fear surrounded him as the medication pushed him into sleep.

Deadly exhaustion crept through his muscles, the effect disturbing Spock as he noted his hands trembling on the desk in front of him. A growing fatigue had seemed to overtake him during this journey from Vulcan to Coridon. He had managed to keep the fact from Sarek thus far but if it continued to increase at the present rate, it would not only be illogical but impossible not to speak of it.

A cold shiver ran down his spine. He eyed the thermostat on the wall across the room and debated whether it was worth the effort to increase the temperature in the room yet again. None of the earlier changes had seemed to ease the cold within him.

Closing his eyes, he summoned the image of the barrier that T'Pyr had constructed at his request. She had explained that it would be impenetrable and could not be lowered without a trained healer's assistance. Rather than reassure him, however, her words only brought him a feeling of great sadness. Control, he scolded himself. Once this journey to Coridon was over, he could return to Vulcan, to safety. Am I such a coward then? The question came unbidden but he knew the answer and he wondered if even Vulcan could provide him with the sanctuary he sought.

McCoy sat in his office, studying the computer monitor. He had gone over and over the tests, searching for a reason for the results and still not finding one. One thing was certain. If Jim Kirk's condition continued to deteriorate as it was now, he would be dead in less than three days and there was not one damn thing Leonard McCoy could do about it.

He leaned back in his chair, his mind racing. There had to be an answer but what was it? There was no physical reason for what was happening, that much was certain. Nonetheless, the effects were very real. Kirk's body was failing, moment by moment. All of his vital functions were weakening, fading away entropy-like, coming to an end. Suddenly, a memory surfaced, a memory of Jim Kirk telling him that he had come to the end of himself, had come to a black wall of nothingness. Another memory quickly overlaid that one. A memory of Spock and Sarek talking about a mind barrier.

McCoy reached out and opened a com line to the bridge. "Uhura, I need to talk to Ambassador Sarek right away. Medical emergency. Locate him and patch him through to me here as soon as possible." He did not wait for her reply. Cutting the connection, he stood and began pacing. That had to be it. It was the only hope he had. The only hope Jim had.

"Spock, I would speak with you."

Struggling to surface from the layer of dreams and sleep that weighed him down, Spock sat up slowly on his bunk. His father stood near the desk.

"Of course. How may I serve?"

Sarek approached, looking somewhat distracted, even troubled.

"Are you well, Spock?"

"Fatigued only. T'Pyr indicated that I might expect such an after-effect of my injury."

Sarek nodded, accepting the half-truth which told Spock how truly disturbed his father was.

"I have just returned from the bridge. I was summoned there to take an emergency call.

"From Vulcan?" There was a quick pang of concern. Perhaps his mother was ill.

"No, from the Enterprise. It was Doctor McCoy. He is very concerned about Captain Kirk."

Spock fought to keep his breathing even, his voice steady. "Why would the Doctor feel it necessary to contact you with regard to the Captain?"

Sarek turned and walked a few steps away. He kept his back to Spock, his head lowered, as if pondering how to reply to the question. Finally, he turned and Spock knew that he did not want to hear the answer.

"Because the captain is dying, Spock, and the doctor has done all that he can do. He tells me that there are no physical reasons for the Captain's condition. His life signs are simply fading away. He is losing ground every day, failing moment by moment."

Spock found it necessary to draw a deep breath. He hid his now trembling hands in his lap. He stood and moved to sit behind the desk, needing the distance it preserved for him from Sarek.

"I still do not understand why the doctor would contact you."

Sarek walked closer to the desk, his eyes locked with Spock's. "Because of a well-known human characteristic called curiosity. It seems that he overheard our conversation on board the Enterprise when I questioned you about the mind barrier. He wanted to know if that could somehow be the cause of what is happening to the Captain."

Spock turned away, his mind suddenly in turmoil. "That is not possible. It could not have such an effect. Only between Vulcans..."

He could not finish the thought, could not give it credence.

"You are probably correct. Is that what you wish me to tell the doctor?"

The weariness returned full force and he had to fight the impulse to simply lay his head down on the desk in front of him. Would there never be a surcease from the pain? To admit that his actions were having an such an adverse effect on the Captain carried implications that he could not begin to understand let alone accept.

"Yes. The Doctor is given to exaggeration. I am certain that whatever is wrong with the Captain, he will soon discover the true cause."

His father did not answer. Spock waited until he heard the door open and close, then sagged back in the desk chair. What if Jim were really dying? What if he were the cause? No, he could not believe that. Whatever resonance they had shared was not deep enough to cause this kind of reaction. Tentatively, he struck at the mind barrier. A warning tingle of pain echoed as the neural network reacted to his tampering. Spock ignored it, fear infusing him with sudden determination. McCoy said that Jim was dying. If there was even a remote possibility that he was the cause...each strike at the wall steadily increased the level of pain until he was forced to pull back. Burying his face in his hands, Spock whispered to the empty room, "What have I done?"

McCoy took Sarek's call in his office. He could tell by the look on the Ambassador's face that the news was not good. When the hell had he gotten so good at reading Vulcans?

"Ambassador, did you talk to Spock?"

"I did. My son does not feel that the mind barrier could be the cause of the Captain's problem."

The doctor fought to keep his temper under some kind of control. "Problem? This isn't a rash we're talking about here. He's dying."

"I wish there were something I could do to help, doctor, but..."

McCoy chewed his lower lip in frustration. "Ambassador, I have run every test in the known universe and invented some besides in an effort to diagnose the Captain's illness. Now, my human intuition, which even Spock has been known to acknowledge at times as being reliable, tells me that this mind barrier that Spock has put in place is the cause. You are my last hope for finding a way to help Jim. Will you at least answer a few questions for me?"

"Of course, Doctor, if I can."

McCoy accepted the qualification and plunged ahead. "Has Spock been well since he recovered from the original injury?"

Sarek raised an eyebrow in surprise. "No. In fact, he was involved in an explosion at the Vulcan Institute. However, he is fully healed now, other than some minimal aftereffects."

McCoy tapped his stylus on the desk. "If Jim were Vulcan, is it possible that this mind barrier could cause the physical reactions he is experiencing?"

Sarek did not answer immediately. When he did, McCoy could almost sense the denial in his voice. "Irrelevant. The Captain is human."

"I'm well aware of that fact, Ambassador," McCoy snapped. "Please answer my question."

"Anything is possible, Doctor."

Seeing the closed expression on Sarek's face, McCoy knew he could go no further with this line of questioning. One thing contact with Spock had taught him was that conjecture and hypothetical solutions raised a Vulcan's level of irritation in a heartbeat.

Trying for a conciliatory tone, he continued. "I know that what I am asking borders on violating the Vulcan right of privacy but I have to ask anyway. Do you know why Spock decided to do this?"

Sarek's face became even more forbidding and McCoy was suddenly glad that light years of space separated them. "You are correct in stating that these questions violate that right."

"Forgive me, Ambassador. If the situation were not critical..."

The Vulcan seemed to come to some decision. Leaning forward, he offered, "I am aware that his reasons for raising the first barrier were not the same as those for raising the second on Vulcan."

"First?" McCoy jumped on the word. "I thought he had maintained the barrier continuously."

"No, however, I do not understand the significance..."

McCoy's thoughts were racing. "Can you give me the approximate dates when the barriers were in place and when they were not?"

"Dates?" Sarek frowned, now thoroughly puzzled.

McCoy began to pull information from the computer in front of him, responding impatiently. "Yes, the dates that Spock lowered and raised these barriers of his."

Sarek thought a moment and supplied the information which McCoy input into the computer.

After a moment, he turned back to the Ambassador. "That's it! Each date you gave me corresponds directly to the Captain's physical condition. When Spock lowered the barrier, he improved. When he raised it, the backlash created exponentially worse effects. Don't you see? Jim is being directly affected by Spock's mind barrier."

Sarek shook his head. "Possibly between two Vulcans..."

"But not a Vulcan and a human? Why not?"

"There is no precedent. The mind barrier is put in place when one Vulcan believes that he has been so wronged by another that he wants to preclude any mental contact whatsoever. Since the Captain is not telepathic, he should not even be aware of the barrier, much less be affected by it."

McCoy slammed his hand down on his desk. "Blast you and your damned logic! I have proof here. What more do you want? Besides, I can tell you for a fact that you don't have to be telepathic to be aware of that barrier. The first time I talked to Spock after he put it in place, I was fully conscious of it and I'm as psi-null as you can get."

"Please control your emotions, Doctor. I am not refuting your evidence. I will discuss this with Spock. We will be at Coridon within the hour. The Enterprise will be arriving in two days."

McCoy nodded, remembering the computer's prediction that Kirk had less than a thirty percent chance of surviving that long.

His face must have reflected his pain. Sarek added, "I shall endeavor to make my son understand the gravity of the Captain's condition."

"Thank you, Ambassador."

As the image of Sarek faded from his screen, McCoy knew that he had to accomplish two things. He had to make Scotty understand the necessity of pushing the engines to their maximum speed, and once they arrived on Coridon, he had to find Spock and make him listen. And he would, even if he had to stun him to do it.

The press of duty prevented Sarek from speaking with his son until several hours after their arrival on Coridon. After completing the first formal ceremonies, he sought out the suite of rooms provided for them in the royal residence.

Spock was in one of the bedrooms, standing by the window which overlooked the lush Coridon landscape. Sarek, remembering McCoy's questions about Spock's health, took the moment to study his son. The profiled figure stood head bowed, shoulders slumped. A memory from a time eighteen years before suddenly surfaced.


His son turned quickly, obviously startled at the sound of his voice. Sarek could see faint tremors run along Spock's shoulders and arms.

"I would speak with thee." The formal words drew a slight reaction from Spock. He nodded, unable to hide the weariness in even the small gesture.

"I know that Captain Kirk is important to you. I noted the rapport between you while I was aboard the Enterprise. It was not unlike that between brothers. Would you agree?"

At first, he thought that Spock would not answer. When he did, his voice was raspy as if the effort to speak was tiring in itself. "He is...was like a brother to me."

"I would not have believed that such a thing was possible between a Vulcan and a human."

The weariness seemed to flee to be replaced by annoyance. "What are you saying, father?"

Sarek was suddenly ill at ease at having to discuss the information he had received from the doctor. "I spoke with McCoy a short time ago. He presented me with evidence that the Captain's condition improved each time you removed the mind barrier. Correspondingly, each time you replaced it, his condition worsened with an increase in severity."

Spock's eyes were riveted on his face and something in them spoke of great turmoil. So great that Sarek was almost unable to continue.

He cleared his throat slightly. "Do you recall when I chose to barrier against my parental bond with you?"

A faint frown crossed Spock's face. "What has that to do with--"

"Hear me. When you told me that you had chosen to join Starfleet against my wishes, I was...angry. I admit that now. When I closed off that bond, a great many physical and emotional problems resulted for us both because we were unprepared for the severity of the reaction it would cause."

Spock was unable to hide his surprise. "You knew that I experienced a reaction?"

"Not at first." Sarek turned his attention to the window. It was difficult to face his son. "I began to experience fatigue, then became increasingly ill. Then, the healer at the Academy contacted me to tell me that you were ill as well. Once I realized what consequences my actions were having on you, I immediately lowered the barrier."

Spock moved closer to him, forcing Sarek to look at him. "You're saying that this is what has happened to Captain Kirk? That somehow we have developed a familial link between us as if we truly were brothers?"

Sarek nodded. "Yes. And unaware of the consequences, you could not know that raising a mind barrier would harm him."

He hesitated a moment, weighing his son's right to privacy against the possible loss of the captain's life. He had no choice but to continue.

"Spock, I do not know the reasons for this barrier but I do know that in order to save him, it is imperative that you destroy it."

A shudder passed through Spock's thin frame. He turned and raised a trembling hand to rest on the window pane. "I have tried. I can not."

It was the silence that awakened him. Not the silence of sickbay but of the ship. Struggling out from under his grogginess, Kirk automatically groped for the com on the nearby wall.

The motion did not go undetected. The lights came up slightly and Tinitia stepped into view. "Need something, Captain?"

"Mister Scott..." Kirk frowned, his tongue feeling thick. "Ship's status...dammit, what did McCoy give me?"

She stood by the bed now, her dark eyes watching him closely. "Doctor McCoy didn't give you any medication. Sedation is contraindicated but you do need to rest, Captain."

The nurse was right. He was tired, very tired, and for a moment he was tempted to simply lay back down and sleep. But there was something he had to do...something...damn, why couldn't he think straight? He struggled to sit up and Tinitia reached forward to help him.

It took several seconds for his heart to stop pounding. Irritated at his own weakness, he ordered sharply, "Get me the bridge."

Tinitia touched the wall unit and relayed his request. Sulu's calm voice answered.

"Mister Sulu, ship's status," Kirk snapped.

"Captain!" Sulu's surprised response made him wonder just how long he had been asleep in sickbay. "We're in steady orbit of Coridon at 20,000 perigees. The Lexington is on patrol nearby and so far there have been no incidents but we're maintaining alert status just to be on the safe side."

The information should have relaxed the knot in the pit of his stomach. It didn't. There was something more, something he was missing.

"Why isn't Mister Scott on the bridge?"

There was the slightest moment of hesitation before Sulu responded. "Ah, he's on Coridon, sir, representing the Enterprise. Doctor McCoy accompanied him."

He was up and moving before he consciously realized it. Tinitia's quiet voice at his side brought him back to the present. "Going somewhere, Captain?"

"Coridon," he answered shortly. He had to go to Coridon. Spock was on Coridon. But that thought made no sense. Spock was on Vulcan. The room began to spin around him and he felt the nurse clutch his arm. He was glad for the support.

"What the hell's wrong with me?"

"You've been very ill and you're not up to this kind of physical exertion." She began to guide him back to the bed, her strength belying her small stature. "And no matter what you think, you're not going to Coridon."

Kirk leaned against the bed, trying to clear the puzzling images in his mind. He remembered McCoy talking to him, something about going to talk to Spock on Coridon, that something Spock had done was causing his medical problems. A small flare of anger cleared away the remaining confusion. McCoy had gone to confront Spock, leaving him behind. He had no right to make such a decision. This was between him and Spock.

"How long has McCoy been gone?"

"About an hour, I think. Now, will you please lie down before you fall down?" She patted the bed behind him.

"Tinitia," Kirk began, straightening his shoulders, "I have to go to Coridon. I--"

"Captain, you are in no condition to go anywhere. Besides which, if I let you get past me again, Doctor McCoy will have my head."

The small flame was fast turning into a solar flare. "Doctor McCoy takes his orders from me and so do you and I'm ordering you to--"

Tinitia shook her head. "Sorry, Captain. Not this time."

Kirk cursed mentally. It seemed McCoy had managed to convince her not to let the captain override his orders. Maybe a different tack would work. He tried appealing to her sympathy.

Catching her hand in his, he looked deeply into her eyes. "You know that there is nothing more that McCoy can do for me but if I can get to Coridon, I might have a chance."

He watched doubt war with duty in her face. Duty won. "I'm sorry, sir, I have my orders. Now, please get back into bed."

One last, desperate plan came to mind. He shrugged and turned as if to sit down on the side of the bed. "Do you think you could get someone from Maintenance up here to check this out?"

"Check what out, sir?"

"This bed. Every so often, I feel a small shock."

Tinitia eyed him doubtfully. "I've never heard of such a thing. Are you sure?"

Kirk reached over and pushed down on the center of the bed. "There. Right there. Feel it?"

The nurse leaned forward to place her hand where he had indicated. Moving as quickly as he could, Kirk pushed her onto the bed and reached for the control panel, activating the stasis field.

"Captain, what are you doing? Let me up?" she cried, unable now to move.

He smiled gently. "This will keep you from getting into trouble with McCoy."

Ignoring the weakness that pulled at him, he struggled into a uniform, ignoring Tinitia's pleas for him not to leave.

As he left, he blanked the windows and put the security lock in place. At least it was ship's night. No one should be checking on Tinitia for awhile.

Stepping into the outer ward area, he made his way into McCoy's office and sank gratefully into the doctor's desk chair. He wiped beads of perspiration from his forehead and found the medikit he knew McCoy kept in the bottom drawer.

Tinitia had said that sedatives were contraindicated but she hadn't said anything about stimulants. With shaking hands, he removed the hypo and set it for the dosage that seemed right. He had no idea what the long-term effects would be but somehow he knew that unless he could get to Coridon and find Spock, it wouldn't matter.

He injected the contents of the hypo and sat back waiting for it to take effect. Closing his eyes, he felt the drug course like fire through his veins. After several minutes, he pulled himself tentatively to his feet, gratified to find that he could stand with something approaching steadiness.

Leaving McCoy's office, he headed to one of the smaller, less-used transporter rooms. As he set the coordinates for Coridon, he felt more himself than he had in a very long time. The do-or-die, devil take the hindmost Kirk. The one who rushed in where angels-or Vulcans-feared to tread. As he stepped up on the pad and waited to be beamed to the planet, he closed his eyes, savoring the feel of his ship around him, the almost subliminal hum of the engines beneath his feet. He did not know if he would ever return but he knew he was damned well going to try. And if he did return, he would not be alone.

The grand ballroom of the Coridon royal palace was ablaze with lights. Doors and windows were open to the fragrant night. Music, supplied by a string orchestra, filled the air as did the voices of several thousand beings mingling, laughing, and talking. The presence of so many did not make McCoy's job any easier. He had decided that his best bet was to confront Spock here. The damn Vulcan couldn't refuse to talk to him in front of all these people.

He had chosen a spot on balcony that encircled the main room below. Finally, after what seemed hours, he saw Sarek and Spock enter through one of the doors off of the courtyard. And then his eye caught something else. Kirk. How in the hell had he gotten here? How was even managing to stay on his feet? He watched as the captain caught sight of Spock and started across the room to intercept him.

McCoy made a dash for the steps.

Spock remained at his father's side as he made his way across the ballroom, stopping to talk now and again. He stood, head bowed, waiting for his father to finish his latest conversation when something began to press at the edges of his mind. Before he could determine the cause, he looked up and found himself face to face with James Kirk.

"Spock?" He schooled his face not to reveal his alarm that this pale, wasted figure was the same man he had left aboard the Enterprise.

"Captain. I am pleased to see that you have recovered sufficiently to attend the ceremonies." Spock sought to reach past the wall in his mind and was immediately assailed by pain that cascaded down his spine to his arms and legs. He barely managed to conceal it.

Kirk seemed to sway slightly and fastened fever-bright eyes on his face. "Yes...however, I really came to talk to you."

Something thrust at the barrier, crying for entrance, begging to be let in. From the other side, Spock threw all of his remaining strength against it as well. It did not yield so much as a trace.

He hid his shaking hands behind his back. "I...cannot."

Kirk lifted his hand to his head and looked at Spock, his face a mixture of anger and pain and defeat. "Can't or won't, Mister Spock?" He turned and was immediately swallowed up by the crowd. Before Spock could react, he felt a hand grab his arm and turn him around.

"You bastard!" He barely had time to recognize McCoy before the doctor's fist connected with his jaw. He stumbled, more from surprise than the strength of the blow. Sarek's hands caught and steadied him.

McCoy was being held by two of the Coridon guards and Spock could hear the voices of those around him, a babble of confusion and fear.

"Release him. It is a misunderstanding."

The guards hesitated a moment, then obeyed him. McCoy stood before him, shaking with anger.

"You self-righteous son of a bitch! What did you say to him? Never mind. It doesn't matter. I know you created this mind barrier because you thought you had to save Jim from himself but you have to remove it now! Immediately! It's killing him! Can't you see that?" He paused, panting for breath.

Spock struggled to speak against the pain. "You do not understand."

"Understand? What is there to understand? Jim always accepted you as you were, he never tried to change you. Couldn't you have at least done the same for him?"

When Spock still could not respond, he saw the anger in the ice blue eyes turn to defeated resignation. McCoy shook his head sadly. "I have to go find him now, for whatever good I can do him. I'm almost as sorry for you as I am for him."

McCoy began to push his way through the crowds, becoming frantic when he could not spot Kirk. He decided to return to the balcony. Maybe from that height, he could locate him. Fear pulsed at him. He did not know if Kirk would survive this final blow.

James Kirk wandered in the wilderness of his own mind. He was vaguely aware of walking, putting one foot in front of the other. He sought a way out but could not seem to find it. The crowds of beings swirled around him, turning him this way and that. When he finally saw an open door, he walked calmly toward it. Beyond, he could see a garden and a dark, starry sky.

The darkness began to close in on him once more but this time he welcomed it. This time he would not come back. It was too painful. The cold was too numbing, the darkness too inexorable and he was too tired to fight any more.

Something kept him moving until at last he stumbled and fell to his knees. Through the blackness that was enfolding him, he felt one final flash of denial. He was losing everything. His ship, his command. But worst of all, he was losing the one being who had come to mean more to him than life itself. Summoning strength from some unknown reserve, he lifted his hands in supplication to whatever gods were listening, his scream echoing through the quiet garden and shattering the still night.


Spock had not moved from the spot where McCoy had left him. He seemed unable to respond to his father's inquiries or anyone else's. He only knew that he must find Kirk, must resolve for himself if what McCoy had said was true.

Before he could take the first step, Kirk's cry reverberated in his mind. It was a cry of such desperation, such pain that he instinctively covered his ears to escape from it. But there was no escape and within his mind, the barrier began to crumble. He could see it fall, bit by bit, slowly obliterated before the force of Kirk's determination. Around him, there was music, laughter, but he could hear no sound. And then, the barrier was gone as if it had never been and he knew where to find Kirk.

McCoy had watched helplessly from the balcony as Kirk had staggered into the garden and collapsed. His scream still echoed in the doctor's ears as he waded through the crowds, ruthlessly pushing people aside in a desperate rush to reach him.

He knew before he touched him that Jim was dead. Sudden tears of denial filled his eyes and spilled over. Why? Why had this happened? Lifting the limp body into his arms, he rocked him gently, letting the tears fall on the face that was now peaceful at last.

"Give him to me, doctor."

McCoy looked up at the Vulcan. He could not remember when he had hated anyone more. "You go to hell. You did this to him. Just leave us alone."

"There is still a chance I can save him. Please."

Something in Spock's voice reached past his anger and he noticed tracks of tears that glistened on the Vulcan's face in the faint starlight. Spock knelt on the other side of Kirk's body and held out his arms. McCoy surrendered Kirk to him.

Spock placed his hand on Kirk's face and reached for his soul. It was there, fading moment by moment, but there.

Do not go, Jim. I know now that I was wrong. Stay and all will be as it was before.

He waited but the soul faded still more, the essence almost gone.

Jim, you are the brother of my heart. Without you, I feel no light, no warmth. No one, not even a Vulcan, can survive without light and warmth. I cannot survive without them.

But the barrier... The words were barely audible in his mind.

There is no barrier. He showed Kirk the smoldering ruins of the wall. You destroyed it.


Spock felt the pleased surprise in the word. Yes, you.

The surprise turned to barely controlled anger. I am what I am, Spock. I cannot change and still be James Kirk. Can you accept that, understand that?

Spock knew that it would not be easy but he also knew that it was worth the risk, whatever the outcome for such a friend, such a brother.

I understand and accept.

The cold that had surrounded them began to ease and there was a moment of hallowed stillness in which the whole universe seemed to hold its breath. The body in his arms shivered slightly and the hazel eyes opened and Spock knew that both of their souls had found the light and warmth and understanding they had sought.

the end

There's more Tantalus Revisited.