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Written for the 2016 T'hy'la Big Bang. With many thanks to Ashaya T'Reldai for beta-reading and to browneyespointyears for her beautiful art!

The planet was beautiful and apparently empty of all life, sentient or otherwise. The atmosphere was unbreathable to either human or Vulcan, and he could taste of cool filtered air on his tongue, the weight and press of his helmet, the computerized voice in his ear calculating the shifts in temperature and atmospheric composition. Around them, glittering sand stretched out as far as the eye could see, fading into a blue horizon beneath three cratered moons.

He turned, PADD in hand, as Jim approached. Even in the protective suit, he was unmistakable: his stature, the set of his shoulders, his quick purposeful gait. His voice, warm and familiar through Spock’s earpiece. “Thoughts, Mr. Spock?”

“There is no evidence of any technology that could produce the anomalies we observed. This planet appears to be quite uninhabited.”

Jim cocked his head. His expression was largely obscured by his helmet, but what Spock could see of it looked amused. “I sense a caveat.”

“However,” Spock acknowledged, “there is some evidence to suggest that there may have been a civilization here at some point in the distant past.”

“Here?” Jim asked, lifting one gloved hand in a gesture that took in the lifeless sands, the dry, scorchingly blue sky. “You really think so?”

“It is possible that there was a climate shift at some point that rendered the environment inhospitable. Nevertheless, I believe it bears further investigation. With your permission, Captain—”

“Yes, all right, Spock. We’re not due on Regulus V for another week, so I suppose we have the time. Are you going to need your lab assistants or any specialized equipment?”

“I believe I have the matter well in hand.”

“Suit yourself,” Jim said, pulling out his communicator. “I’m about ready to get out of this monkey suit.”

“You are returning to the ship, then?” Spock asked, firmly quashing an illogical pang of disappointment.

Jim grinned at him. “Don’t take it too personally. I prefer planets with breathable air.”

“I am Vulcan,” Spock said sternly. He was well-acquainted with Jim’s disconcerting talent for detecting reactions he had not intended to display, but dignity demanded that he protest. “It is not in my nature to take such things personally.”

“Of course, of course.” Jim was still grinning, clearly not convinced in the least. It was, Spock calculated, unlikely to be a beneficial use of his time to attempt to persuade him. “Keep the security team with you at all times, though. Just because this planet seems to be uninhabited doesn’t mean that it is.”

“Of course.”

“See you back on the ship, then.” Jim flipped his communicator open. “Scotty, one to beam up.”

Spock was already turning back to his PADD as Jim’s figure dissolved into glimmering light.

It was some time later when a shout from one of the security officers interrupted his calculations. He looked up to see her pelting toward him out of the desert, fine sprays of sand kicking up beneath her boots as she ran. A great rumbling hum rose up, echoing in his ears, blocking the sound of her voice, and then she caught him hard in a practiced tackle, knocking him supine.

She was still shouting. He could not hear her voice, but he could read her lips through her faceplate.

“Stay down, stay the hell down!”

The world exploded around them, and for a time, he knew nothing more.


He opened his eyes, and a strange figure was leaning over him. Its face was featureless: no mouth, no nose, shallow indentations where the eyes should have been, like thumbprints in soft clay.

There was a push that was not wholly physical, and the buzzing, humming press of another being’s thoughts against his mental shields.

This one will do nicely.

This one will do.

This one will…

The echo of a thought that was not his own followed him down into darkness.


The security team had been comprised of two men, Ensigns Garrison and Jimenez, and the woman, Lieutenant Choi, who had knocked him down and shielded him with her body. Spock had not troubled himself to learn their first names. He regretted that now.

The men were dead by the time he awoke in the small, dark room, their bodies already beginning to cool. He had thought that Choi might survive, but her breathing was growing increasingly labored, and it was incontrovertibly clear that she had sustained serious internal damage.

Her brown eyes were full of fear, and when she gripped his hand and would not let go, he did not protest or attempt to pull away.

Doctor McCoy would almost certainly have been able to treat her injuries, but Spock had been unable to raise the Enterprise via communicator. He did not allow himself to consider the implications of that fact.

“—get out of here,” the lieutenant whispered. Blood was bubbling between her lips, and each word was tight and forced. “We’ll… get out of here.”

“You should not attempt to speak,” Spock told her.

“Spock.” Her gaze was going unfocused, her grip loosening. “My daughter. Hyun. On… Alpha III. Tell her—”

Her fingers twitched in his, then were still. Her breath rattled in her chest. She did not take another.

Spock pressed his fingers to her wrist, but felt nothing. Her katra had already departed her broken body; there was nothing that could be done. He extracted his hand from hers and gently closed her staring eyes.

“I will tell her,” he said aloud. It was illogical to make inexact promises he had no hope of keeping to a woman already dead, but there was no one here to observe or judge him.

It was, he thought, what James Kirk would have done.


He did not know how long he sat alone in that small room with three corpses cooling to match the ambient temperature before they came for him. Three of them, as tall and faceless as the first. They did not speak, but he could feel the jagged press of their minds as they gripped his upper arms, one on each side, and hauled him to his feet.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked. As expected, there was no answer. He attempted to pull away, but his strength was no match for theirs; he might as well have been a Human child in the grip of a Klingon warrior. The door sealed itself behind him with a low hiss, throwing him and his captors into total darkness.

The creatures did not appear to need light. They hauled him along unerringly, their pace fast enough that he found himself stumbling blindly, unable to keep his footing on the uneven floor. After the third time he tripped, the creature on his left lifted him easily and, without breaking stride, slung him over its broad, bony shoulder. Spock twisted, attempting to free himself, and a large hand came down on the back of his neck, exerting just enough pressure to make it clear that it could easily crush his spine.

He stopped struggling immediately. The hand relaxed its grip, but did not let go, and he could feel the unwelcome press of an alien mind again.

It struggles. It should not resist.

The idea of touching the being’s mind was repulsive, even if he could have made himself understood. He spoke aloud instead. “It is in the nature of my species to resist capture. I must insist that you release me at once.”

A vessel should not resist.

A vessel. An worrisome term to use on a sentient being even in the best of circumstances; in his present situation, the implications were deeply unsettling, particularly given his apparent inability to keep the creature from penetrating his mind.

It will not be harmed. A vessel is maintained in the best condition.


“I am not a vessel. I am a living, thinking being.”

A vessel must live and think, or it is of no use to us. The dead are of no use to us.

The gloom was beginning to lighten, enough that he could see the outlines of the creatures on either side of him against the dark stone walls. The illumination emanated from the far end of the hallway, a thin, sulphurous glow. There did not appear to be a single point of origin; rather, is was as though the very walls were emanating a sickly yellow light that grew stronger as they progressed. Spock felt his stomach twist in atavistic fear, and it was suddenly very difficult to keep still, even with the creature’s hand still resting on the back of his neck.

BE STILL.

A new voice this time, reverberating through his skull with such force that he clapped his hands instinctively over his ears.

Or rather, he tried to. The impulse reached his nerves, and his hands twitched, and then, as though some vital connection had been cut, his muscles went slack. He tried to speak, and his lips and tongue would not move. He could only stare, helpless, as another creature, taller than the other two, approached.

It had the same blank, eyeless face, the same attenuated form, but the skin was scabrous and ashen, with weeping sores visible on its thin bare chest and hairless scalp. It moved slowly, jerkily, as it reached out to touch his cheek with one cold finger.

Spock tried to recoil, but could not. It leaned in closer, and while he could not read the alien face, satisfaction echoed through his mind like a gong. Yes, this one will do.

Well done, it thought, and then its thoughts were over him and through him, seeping into the cracks of his psyche like fast-growing vines and insinuating themselves where they had no right to be. Digging into the core of him, into places where nothing that was not him, that was not Spock, should live.

He felt as though he had stumbled off the ledge of a steep cliff; there was nothing to grasp at, and his hard-earned mental defenses slipped through his fingers like dry straw as he fell backwards into darkness.


He woke this time to bright light and jumbled voices that seemed to be coming from very far away. As he clawed his way back to consciousness, a face appeared in his field of vision; wind-ruffled and worried. Jim. It was Jim.

“You’re in Sickbay, Spock, but there’s no trace of the rest of the landing party. Can you tell us what happened down there? I thought you said there was no civilization, but that was a damn big explosion.”

His voice still seemed to be coming from a great distance. Spock opened his mouth to tell him about Lieutenant Choi, about Ensigns Garrison and Jimenez, about the explosion and the strange, tall creatures with telepathic powers.

Or rather, he tried to. His mouth did not move; a jolt of adrenaline shot through him, but his body would not respond to his commands, his expression remained frozen in a state of bleary semi-consciousness.

Then he felt his lips part. His tongue thick in his mouth as it shaped words he had not intended to say. “Gas… pocket. Explosion. Landing party… dead.”

The voice that emerged was mechanical and mangled, but Jim’s only reaction was to close his eyes, his face resigned. “I was afraid of that. They were good officers.”

Lieutenant Choi, Spock thought, who had saved his life. The two young ensigns on their first tour of duty. Good officers; good officers all, their bodies mouldering in that hidden cave, and he could not even tell Jim so that they might have a decent burial.

Damn you
, he thought with sudden savagery, and it was then that he felt the creature’s attention shift. Its laughter was like sharp nails on a chalkboard.

Am I damned? I feel rather free. This body is so well-constructed, the senses so vivid. The others will be greatly pleased.

The others. What others?

Did you think I would willingly leave my people? No. I am a scout. We are linked; the others will come. The ones we rode are beginning to die out; their minds have withered away and their bodies will no longer breed. Your people are more durable. We will have many long years with you.


Spock dug his mental fingers into the alien presence, but it was like trying to grasp at smoke; there was no pain, nothing at all to grapple with. It was like nothing he had experienced before. The creature’s mind intertwined with his own to the point that he could scarcely identify its presence; even its voice sounded like the echo of his own thoughts. It felt, he imagined, very much like madness.

It is madness. It is a madness from which you will not wake. Your thoughts will become mine, as your body has. Soon enough, there will be no you, only me. I will be Spock, and you will be no more.

You will NOT.

I will.

Jim was speaking. Spock struggled to focus on the words. “—go down to look for the remains,” he was saying.

“There will be no remains,” the creature said. Already it sounded more like Spock, voice slipping into his familiar cadences. “They were obliterated in the blast.”

Jim sighed. “I met Marc Jimenez’s mother on our last shore leave. This is going to kill her, poor woman.”

Marc. That had been the boy’s first name. Marc. He had certainly seen it on a duty roster or two, but it had not seemed worth remembering.

The creature pulled his mouth into a sympathetic moue, an expression he could not recall ever wearing of his own accord. For an instant, he thought that Jim’s brow furrowed, that his eyes flickered to Spock’s mouth, but that was clearly wishful thinking. The captain had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss.

“We’ll signal Starfleet when we get back to occupied space,” Jim said, and squeezed Spock’s shoulder. “In the meantime, you should try and get some rest.”

He thought perhaps that the creature might protest, but it did not. “That seems logical, Captain,” it said gravely in Spock’s voice.

He suspects nothing, the creature informed Spock gleefully. He will suspect nothing until it is too late, far too late.

How are you to accomplish your mission if we leave your planet? Spock retorted, before he could think better of it. It was difficult, with the creature sunk so deeply into his mind, to conceal his reactions to it. There was very little of him that it could not see.

Our planet? This is not our planet, dear Commander Spock. A brief sensation of claws again, sharp prickles of pain that were not wholly physical. A flicker of alien images: deep forest shadows and the smell of rotting things. A flash of movement, small and quick, scaled and gleaming; as far from the tall, ponderous, eyeless humanoids as it was possible to be. Something in Spock recoiled as he realized that he was seeing the creature’s true form, the shape that was once its own.

A bright stab of anger, and he was flung backward into darkness.

Our world died, Spock. It died, and we would have died with it if not for our minds, which we flung out into the universe, to catch, to trap—

The creature’s anger was palpable, a burning rage that singed every part of Spock’s mind that it touched and flung him away into darkness.


He did not see Jim again for the rest of the day. McCoy came in to check on him, and the starry-eyed Nurse Chapel, but they seemed preoccupied and were satisfied with the brief answers the creature gave them.

It was becoming remarkably adept at mimicking Spock’s mannerisms. Given enough time—

No. He would not contemplate this.

Contemplate or not, it does not become less true,
the creature jibed. I will become you, and those who know you best will not be able to tell the difference. Not that there are many. What a sad, barren life you have chosen.

At least it is my own, Spock told it coldly. Barren, perhaps; certainly some humans would find it so, and it appeared that the creature shared their illogical propensity for emotional indulgence without the mitigation of any of their positive aspects. At least I do not stoop to stealing that which is not mine in order to live.

You might be surprised at what you would be willing to do, Spock, in order to live.

Not this, Spock said. Never this. Death would be preferable.

After a time, the creature’s regard shifted. He could feel it now. It was not a sharp, solid thing like the mind probes he had been trained to resist; rather, it spread and seeped and trickled into him, a viscous wisp of a thoughtform, impossible to catch, harder to see.

Fragile, though. He could see that now. The creature was terribly fragile. It had been too long without a body of its own. For all their mental powers, its race had never been meant for this.

He could almost pity it. You should have died with dignity, he thought, alone in the dark.


At the shift change, McCoy released him with a curt order to get some sleep and no further indication that he had noticed anything amiss.

The creature used his legs well enough; of course, it had already been accustomed to living in a humanoid body. It did not get lost on the way to his quarters; it must have pulled the habitual knowledge from his subconscious mind. None of the crewmembers who passed noticed that it was a stranger looking at them out of Spock’s eyes, nodding to them with Spock’s head.

He had thought it might be more bearable in the privacy of his own quarters, but it was not. He did not often invite others into his private rooms. The Enterprise had perfectly adequate recreational facilities for public engagements, and numerous meeting rooms for more private appointments. His quarters were used for contemplation, and meditation, and, very occasionally, for a private game of chess with Jim. In all the time he had been on the Enterprise, only a handful of people had been inside.

Why, Spock, the creature said, running a finger over the soft fabric of his bed. The tactile sensation was familiar and sensually pleasant; part of the reason he had chosen this fabric in the first place. There was no logical reason for his sudden revulsion. I do believe you are sentimental.

The chess pieces next. His finger brushing over the queen’s blank, carved head, resting for a moment, delicately, on the crowned king before suddenly batting it to the floor. It was too deliberate, too vicious a motion to be coincidental. Of course; the creature had access to his memories of many chess games, of Jim’s warm, teasing smile as he tipped over Spock’s king to claim checkmate.

No.

Interesting, the creature said.

No.

Very interesting
. Icy fingers digging into his memories, the flash of images he had not intended to recall: Jim’s hands on the chess pieces, on his phaser, on Spock’s shoulder. His clear voice; the precise shade of his hazel eyes; his smile.

NO.

Everything that was yours is now mine, the creature murmured, withdrawing just enough for Spock to come back to himself, a little. Enough to realize precisely what he had just betrayed. But he never was exactly yours, was he? What a foolish waste.

This is not survival, Spock told it. He could not hide the venom from his mental voice; not like this, not with his katra so pressed against the creature that it could feel every flicker of thought, but he would not stoop to begging. This is cruelty.

They are one and the same, don’t you think? Because I am cruel, what might have been yours will now be mine. I survive, and you perish. Perhaps I will not give him to one of the others. Perhaps I will simply keep him to myself. He need not know the difference.

He is no fool. He will know, and he will destroy you.

His race lacks even the most rudimentary telepathic powers, and I have access to all your knowledge. I will become you, Spock, in every way that matters.

Not in every way.

Amusement, as sharp as shattered glass. No, I suppose not. But he won’t know that, will he? I could give the rest of your crew to my people, and keep him for myself. It would be a long time before he suspected anything was amiss, if he ever did, and by then, it would be too late. We will have spread through the galaxy on your bodies. And you would have your dear captain, just as you’ve always wanted. Or the ghost of you would, anyway. It’s not such a bad trade, is it?

With every moment we draw farther from your planet,
Spock told it. He would not countenance the rest of the threat—an empty threat. It must be. Whatever private weakness of his the creature had observed, it was sufficiently alien that the idea of it conceiving some sort of sexual interest in a Human man was ludicrous. Simply a means of unbalancing him: clumsy, crude, but undeniably effective.

Distance has no meaning for us, Spock. I am the anchor point. When you are mine, and you will be mine, the others will come. It stomped on the fallen king with one of Spock’s large boots. The well-made chess piece did not crack, but shot away across the smooth floor to disappear under the bed. The creature did not seem to notice; it had begun pacing his quarters, stroking his possessions with an avid mein. The caves where Spock had been held were featureless and grim; though he had been wrong about a great many things concerning that planet, he had clearly been correct about the fact that some catastrophic climate shift had occurred. The race the creature and its kind had infested were on the verge of extinction.

There were more flickers of images, as the creature revelled in the various hues of red and gold, the glitter and shine of his ceremonial weapons. Its previous host had been of a blind race, but the creature’s original form had possessed photoreceptors. It had missed sight.

There are many things I have missed, Spock of Vulcan, it said, noticing the flicker of thought. I should thank you, really, for your scientific interest in the planet of the Jifur. Without it, we might have perished there.

The Jifur. That was the closest translation in Standard to what the conquered race had called themselves. They were gone now. The bodies that hosted the creatures still breathed and took in nutrients, but there had been nothing left of the original beings but ghostly fingerprints. An entire intelligent species wiped out by the telepathic equivalent of a parasitoid wasp. It was a profoundly illogical waste.

Eventually, it sat down at Spock’s desk and began calling up Starfleet records, taking advantage of Spock’s access codes. There was no clear pattern that he could determine in the information it requested; outside of those rare flashes of emotionalism, its mind was opaque to him.

After some time, it called up James Kirk’s official record, and Spock fought back an impulse to protest. He did not wish to draw its attention more than was necessary, and besides, there was little in the official files that it could not gain in much greater detail and context from Spock’s own memories. Including a number of things Spock had taken great pains to hide from the captain.

He had never troubled to look at Jim’s Starfleet records, though. There was no reason to. He had been present through the great majority of Jim’s command, and while he certainly had the skill to unlock closed files that should have been inaccessible to him, to do so would have been an unthinkable breach both of his own professional ethics and the trust the captain held in him.

The creature had no such compunctions. It dug the requisite information about the technical systems easily out of Spock’s memories, and within a handful of moments it was scanning through the notations that should only have been visible to Jim’s superior officers or to official investigators.

There was not much there that was a surprise, Spock noted, with something that might have been satisfaction under any other circumstances. A citation here and there; Jim was not the sort of man to brag about such things. A few disciplinary notations. He had guessed at most of them; the only one that gave him pause had been submitted by Admiral Komack in the aftermath of Spock’s disastrous pon farr. T’Pau’s influence had kept Jim from a court-martial, but the Admiral had evidently been irate.

Recommend reassessment of the viability of the command team, it read. While effective in some circumstances, it is clear that Captain Kirk has a record of putting personal considerations above his command responsibilities, particularly in regards to his First Officer. See appended note from H.C. Ferris, Stardate 2281.5.

Interesting, the creature said. Quite interesting. Your captain seems to feel quite an attachment to you, Spock.

It was clearly trying to goad him into responding; when he did not, it moved on to other things. Eventually, the bell indicating the shift change sounded, and the creature rose from the chair and took Spock’s body to the bridge, with Spock as a silent, unwilling passenger.


The hum and bustle of the bridge was quite ordinary, if somewhat subdued. Upon reflection, it was illogical to expect anything different. Spock was at war with an invader within his own mind, but no one else knew that; they mourned their fallen crewmates but had no conception of the true danger that faced them all. The normalcy was jarring, all the more so because his perception of time seemed distorted; he sat down at his station, and with no sense of time passing at all noticed that several hours had passed—that, in fact, the shift was nearly over. Jim was standing over him, looking concerned.

“Are you alright, Spock? You seem—well. Not quite yourself.”

“I am entirely uninjured,” the creature told him in Spock’s voice.

“I can see that, but that’s not what I was asking, is it?” Jim glanced over his shoulder and then, apparently satisfied that no one was paying them any particular attention, leaned down and lowered his voice. “I know that was hard on you, losing three crewmembers like that.” He hesitated, then clapped Spock on the shoulder.

It was like sparking some vital electrical connection: Spock felt suddenly more awake, more present than he had since the creature had first crawled into his mind and made it its own.

He knows nothing, the creature chortled, and its voice seemed distant, suddenly, echoing, he suspects nothing.

It leaned his head against Jim’s arm, smiled up at him and said softly, in his own voice, “Jim, I am well, I promise. Please don’t worry yourself on my behalf.”

Jim paused, his hand still on Spock’s shoulder, his hazel eyes penetrating, and Spock allowed a foolish, illogical hope to leap in his throat. He did not speak thus to his captain; he had never spoken thus, nor did he touch him so casually, particularly in the presence of others. What affection lay between them was not something that either of them spoke of in quiet moments.

Jim knew him better than anyone else alive. He knew something was amiss. He must know.

If he did, he gave no sign of it. His fingers released Spock’s shoulder; his expression did not flicker. “Very well, Mr. Spock. Get some rest. The memorial service will be at 1500 hours.”

He suspects nothing, the creature said again, and Spock turned away from it, forced down the choking sense of disappointment, and retreated back into the depths of his own mind. Very well. He could not expect Jim to deduce a condition he lacked any means to perceive; his captain was intelligent and perceptive, but was, as the creature was so fond of reminding him, no telepath.

He would have to find another way.


The memorial was predictably tedious and entirely awful. Under normal circumstances, Spock would have found some way to beg off on the ceremonies—someone always needed on the bridge, and he was not above leaning on Vulcan propriety and his own cold-blooded reputation to escape maudlin human memorial services and the maelstrom of uncontrolled emotional distress they occasioned.

The creature, though, seemed fascinated, and so Spock had to endure the crowded air, the sound of weeping, the crackling, alien voice in his head dispassionately observing the grief of those closest to the deceased officers.

Jim’s eulogy was brief, but heartfelt. McCoy stood close by Spock, his arm around the shoulder of a weeping yeoman. His eyes met Spock’s briefly over the young woman’s head, but he did not speak.

When Jim was done, he made his way over to them. He spoke briefly, gently, to the yeoman, and took it with grave aplomb when she burst into tears again and flung her arms around him.

Such blatant emotionalism, the creature observed. Would it not be better simply to surrender to the inevitable?

As you did?
Spock retorted.

My death was not inevitable. By my actions, I prevented it. The death of those fools is immutable fact.

You—


“—Mr. Spock?”

The creature blinked. Jim was looking at him. The yeoman had already departed while he was distracted. “I’m sorry, Captain, my thoughts were elsewhere.”

“It’s quite alright, Spock,” Jim said, as though Spock’s distraction was an everyday occurrence, not to be remarked upon. Under different circumstances, Spock might have been offended. “You’ve had a difficult few days.”

“Indeed, Captain.”

“I was just going to ask if you’d eaten at all today. Bones seemed concerned, and we haven’t seen you in the mess hall.”

“Don’t put words in my mouth, Jim,” McCoy interrupted, with a thin shadow of his usual good-natured contentiousness. “You were worried.”

“I’m the captain,” Jim said lightly. “Worrying is my job.”

“Sure, but mother-henning isn’t. Spock’s a grown man—well, Vulcan—and he can look after himself. Isn’t that right, Spock?”

Clearly not, the creature whispered spitefully. Aloud, it said, “I am well, Captain. You need not concern yourself.”

And then it reached out, casually, easily, as though it was the most natural and common thing in the world, and squeezed Jim’s hand.

Jim started, but controlled it quickly; he had, as humans would put it, an excellent poker face. McCoy, in Spock’s peripheral vision, was less restrained: his eyes were practically bulging in astonishment, but the creature was not focused on him.

After a hesitation so brief that it was almost imperceptible, Jim turned his hand in Spock’s and squeezed his fingers in return. It felt—

It felt as Spock had imagined it might, on the rare occasions he had allowed himself to imagine taking such liberties. Of course, Jim was human. To him, such behavior would not constitute an inappropriate intimacy; would, from anyone other than Spock, barely be remarkable. To Spock’s Vulcan sensibilities, however, it was unthinkable. He had touched Jim before, of course, but only out of immediate necessity, to drag him out of danger, to steady him when he stumbled. To fight him in the kal-if-fee, their bodies entwined like lovers’ until Jim went limp and still—

Jim was more tactile, but he was human, and Spock refused to read more than simple friendliness into the occasional clap on the shoulder. In the clasp of his hand now, illogical that it should be so comforting even in circumstances like these.

“Eat something,” he said, “and get some rest, Spock. You’re no good to me or anyone else if you waste away.” There was affection under the curt order, familiar and unchanged.

“I am Vulcan,” the creature said, in a credible imitation of Spock. “I will not waste away.”

“Yes, well.” Jim extricated his hand. “See to it that you don’t.”


Do you seek to unmake me with jealousy? Spock asked the creature, in the corridor outside. It was running his fingers along the metal walls, utterly entranced by the sensation. It was likely that he would be blistered if it continued thus, but that was the least of his concerns. That is crude, and unlikely to be effective.

Who said this had anything to do with you, Spock? Your captain is a handsome man, and he finds your body physically appealing. You would have noticed yourself if you were not so consumed with self-denial.

Spock ignored the jab. Do you expect me to believe you desire him? Our species are far too different for that.

Our species, perhaps. But you desire him, Spock, and your body is mine. Your proclivities are mine, and pleasure is a thing I have not felt in so, so very long…

Spock considered the implications of that. It would be quite logical, of course, for the creature to acclimate to the biological urges of its host. How else could it effect the propagation of a host species?

And while he did not delude himself that his regard for Jim was as simple as sexual attraction, that was certainly a part of it. His respect for his captain’s intellect, his courage, his strength of will; his pleasure at their banter and the sensation of being understood and accepted by another being: the creature might care little for such things, but his appreciation for Jim as a healthy, handsome specimen of humanity was apparently sufficiently biological in origin for its purposes.

Ultimately, though, it did not matter. Despite the creature’s unsettling assertions, Jim had never shown the slightest amount of sexual interest in Spock. Unless the creature intended to take its pleasure by force...

The notion was sufficiently horrifying to unbalance his beleaguered katra; he banished it immediately.

The creature chuckled softly. It was still running Spock’s fingers across the groove of an access vent, over and over again. The pressure was slightly wrong, his fingertips beginning to sting as the upper layers of skin flayed at the repeated abrasion; despite what its lackeys had claimed down on the planet, the creature seemed to have little concern about damaging the body it had stolen. Withdrawing his bodily awareness seemed imprudent under the circumstances; the pain was bearable, and he would bear it. The creature either did not notice it or did not care. I won’t need to use anything so crude as force. He trusts you, and he wants you, whether you have eyes to see it or not.

A lie, and even if it were true Jim was clearly too aware of his responsibilities to act on any such fleeting attraction. He was not a diffident man, nor was he given to indecision; if he wanted to pursue a sexual relationship with Spock, he would have done so. He had not.

If he did, it might awaken their bond.

The link between their minds was nascent, and Spock had taken great pains to keep it thus. He was not even certain that Jim himself was aware of it, and certainly the creature wasn’t; it seemed to consider it nothing more than a manifestation of some sentimental attachment on Spock’s part, unworthy of much notice.

It was a terrible irony that the bond, had he allowed it to form fully, would certainly have alerted Jim to his predicament. Now, however, that was a moot point. He scarcely had the control to keep his most private thoughts concealed; he could no more establish a bond in this state than he could breathe in a vacuum. Unless Jim reached out to him

Spock banished the thought as soon as it occurred, before it could catch the creature’s attention. You will wear my fingers to the bone, he told it sharply, instead.

It pulled Spock’s fingers from the wall and examined them curiously. They were dark green with bruising, and starting to blister. Typing would be most unpleasant for the next several duty shifts. They’re my fingers now, but I suppose you’re right. I don’t want to damage a hair on this pretty head of yours.

And then, chillingly, it added, Not yet.


That night, the creature did not sleep. Spock attempted to meditate in the corner of his mind that he could still call his own, but concentration was difficult. He could not trust what the creature might use his body to do while he was distracted, and rest proved elusive.

The creature did not eat. Hunger gnawed at his belly, an unpleasant sensation that he perversely clung to. It was the product of his own senses, and it kept him grounded, present, sane.

For how long, he could not imagine. His katra already felt shredded and raw; despite McCoy’s frequent insinuations, he was neither invulnerable nor insensible. He could break. He would break; it was only a matter of time.


It was the following morning when he overheard the tail-end of an aborted and incomprehensible argument between Jim and McCoy outside the transporter room.

“—don’t need you tell me what the risks are, Doctor McCoy,” Jim snapped, “do you think I haven’t thought this through? M’Benga agreed that it was the surest way.”

“I think you’re a damn fool, is what I think, but why would you condescend to listen to your doctor about this? It’s not like you ever have before.”

“Bones, if I wanted your advice, I would have asked for it.”

“Well, that’s just too bad, isn’t it, because you’re getting it anyway!”

“Unless you’ve got a better idea—”

McCoy broke off quite suddenly when Spock approached. For a moment, the pair of them froze, looking absurdly like a two schoolboys caught in the act of some illicit prank. For the first time in days, a tendril of curiosity wound its way up through the shell of frustrated anger that encased Spock’s thoughts. McCoy and the captain argued frequently, but not in public, and not with the sort of edge he’d just heard. Not without reason.

“Gentlemen,” the creature said.

“Mr. Spock,” Jim said, giving a courteous nod that the creature returned. McCoy rolled his eyes and shoved past him into the corridor.

If Spock had been himself, he might have found some reason to inquire as to the captain’s agitation. A pleasant chess game, perhaps, over a hot cup of tea (for Spock) and a glass of the Romulan ale they all politely pretended McCoy did not have stashed in his quarters (for Jim).

But the creature, for all that it might have appreciated Jim’s physical form, cared little for his mental state. The chess set in Spock’s quarters went untouched that evening.


He found himself in his quarters again after the following bridge shift, his shoes off and his body garbed in loose sleeping robes. His gut was hollow with hunger, and the room was in disarray, as though the creature had torn it apart in a search. He was standing in the middle of it, breathing hard.

What purpose does this serve? Spock asked coldly.

No purpose, Spock, but to satisfy my own ire, the creature said. It hefted a delicate vase in one hand, then flung it against the metal bulkhead, where it shattered into a hundred glittering shards. Does that trouble you?

Surak commands that we put aside material concerns, Spock replied, though it was a command mostly honored in the breach; he did not prioritize his own material comfort, nor did he neglect it. There was no logical reason to avoid such things, as long as they did not descend into hedonism. Destroy my possessions, if it pleases you. It is the least of the transgressions you have committed.

You are a sanctimonious fool, it hissed, but before Spock could retort, the doorbell chimed softly.

He did not need to guess who would be on the other side of the door, and because he did not, the creature did not. It was becoming more and more difficult to keep his own thoughts distinct and private. Well, it said, it’s tone shedding anger like water for something far darker. Well. It may be that this was not a wasted day after all.

Aloud, in Spock’s voice, it said, “Enter.”

The door slid open to reveal Jim, in off-duty garb and carrying an unlabeled bottle that was certainly some form of intoxicant. He smiled up at Spock, lifted the bottle slightly. He’d showered and shaved, but he looked tired. “Spock. Care for a game of chess?”

“Certainly, Captain,” said the creature, and stood aside to let him pass. “It has been too long.”

“That it has.” Jim set the bottle down on the low table beside the chess set, surveyed it for a moment, then touched the empty spot where the king had stood. He did not remark on the uncharacteristic disarray of the rest of the room. “You’re missing your king.”

“It must have fallen during some turbulence,” the creature lied easily. “If you give me a moment, I can locate it.”

“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Spock,” Jim said, twisting the cap off of the bottle. He balanced it in his hand for a moment, then set it down in the vacant spot. “That’ll work well enough as a placeholder, don’t you think? As long as we’re both aware of what it really is.”

There was an edge to his tone that gave Spock pause, but the creature did not seem to notice it. “Indeed,” it said, taking the bottle from Jim’s hand.

It procured glasses from the small cabinet, poured a measure of amber liquid into each of them. When it tried to offer one to Jim, though, he waved it away and went to the door unit. Spock watched him key in Spock’s own privacy code. He smiled over his shoulder when the creature raised an eyebrow. “I don’t want to be disturbed.”

The creature smiled back. “Of course not.”

“I feel as though we haven’t spoken much recently,” Jim said, coming back into the room and accepting the glass with a smile. “Does it feel that way to you, Mr. Spock?”

“We have been quite busy, Captain.”

“Of course, of course.” Jim settled into the chair that was usually Spock’s; the creature did not remark upon it. He had given Spock the white pieces with their bottle-cap king. “It’s your move.”

“Yes,” the creature said, and bent over the chessboard. “It is.”


In the usual course of things, Spock won slightly more than half of the chess matches he played with Jim. His mastery of the classic techniques was superior, but Jim compensated with unpredictable, deceptively random strategy that mirrored his habits of field command; he was an enjoyably formidable opponent.

Tonight, however, his skill seemed to have deserted him. He seemed to be moving his pieces almost at random; the creature, with its access to Spock’s skill, trapped him easily. Spock could see at least three ways out of the trap, but Jim did not take any of them.

“Checkmate,” the creature said, stretching Spock’s lips into a smile that was a few shades wider than he would have permitted himself, and knocked over the black king. Jim caught it before it could roll onto the floor and set it gently on the table between them, raising his eyes to look at Spock. His mind was not on the game, that much was clear.

The creature reached across the board and caught the captain’s hand in his.

“Jim,” it said.

Jim stared at him for a long moment. There was something in his expression that reminded Spock of how he looked in the midst of a fight or a tense negotiation—some bright focus that seemed out of place in the dim, familiar surroundings—but it was gone as quickly as it appeared, replaced by a sweet, slow smile.

“So, we are going to do this,” Jim said. It was an odd phrasing, as though it was the continuation of a discussion they’d never actually had, but the creature did not pause.

“I believe it is your move, Captain,” it said, low and intense, and Spock felt anger white out his thoughts. It was what he would have said, exactly what he would have said, if he had ever gathered the courage to attempt this himself. The creature knew that, of course. Its mind was buzzing with anticipatory glee.

Jim nodded, tilted his head to one side, something unreadable in his expression. “Yes. I suppose it is.”

Then he stood, took Spock’s hand in his, and easily, casually, as if they had done this a thousand times, pulled him up, and kissed him.

It was—

—like fire, like water after a long thirst—

—it was—

—he had seen Jim Kirk kiss any number of women, a few men, a handful of beings whose gender defied categorization. The captain was not the unrestrained hedonist that his reputation suggested, but neither was he given to false modesty. He knew the effect he had on those around him, and he was not above using it to further his own—or, more often, Starfleet’s—aims.

So Spock had seen this before. The curl of a broad hand around the back of the neck, the way Jim smiled into kisses, gave them his full concentration, as though the person he was kissing was the only being who existed in the universe.

He had seen it before, on more occasions than he cared to enumerate. He had never been on the receiving end of it.

Even if it was not, truly, him that Jim was kissing. It was his mouth that parted beneath Jim’s, his skin that bore the sure touch of his hand, his hair that slid through Jim’s fingers, but it was not him. The creature moaned low in the back its throat, its hands gripping at Jim’s shoulders, his ribs, his hips. It was pressing too hard, greedy and bruising, but Jim seemed unbothered by it. Perhaps he thought it was simply inexperience. Perhaps he had expected this, this clumsiness, when he considered initiating a sexual encounter. Perhaps he had imagined how it might be between them. Fantasized, even as Spock had.

The creature’s mind, what he could feel of it, was full of single-minded eagerness, a warped reflection of sexual arousal that was all darkness, greed, and hunger. It was as though it wished to devour Jim, to strip the flesh from his bones and satiate itself in the mockery thereof; there was nothing of the joyous connection that Spock had imagined in those rare times he had allowed himself to imagine this. It was obscene.

His hands pulled at Jim’s clothing, grasping for bare skin. Jim pulled his shirt up and over his head and flung it behind him, then yanked Spock’s shirt up as well. They had been moving backwards through the cabin, and now Spock felt the bed at the back of his calves. Jim pushed him back onto it and climbed onto him, straddling his thighs, his expression intent.

“I have wanted this,” the creature whispered, “for a very long time.”

“Shh,” Jim said softly. His hand cupped the curve of Spock’s cheek for a moment; the gesture felt uncalculated, somehow less purposeful than Jim’s quick and practiced divestment of both their clothes. “Don’t speak.”

Spock wished to speak, he wished with all of his half-human heart that he could speak, but such was not to be. It was a small mercy, at least, that the creature did not attempt any more endearments with his lips and tongue. It put them instead to the task of mapping Jim’s shoulder, his throat, the line of his jaw, the flutter of his pulse quick beneath Spock’s lips, the exotic taste of alien sweat and cool skin. Jim’s breathing was rough and unsteady, and there was something grotesquely voyeuristic about this, about observing such intimacy, such vulnerability, without truly participating in it.

He found, though, that he could not turn away. He could not bring himself to leave the captain alone like this, vulnerable like this, even if Spock was as helpless to protect him as he had been to protect himself.

He told himself that was all it was.

Soon enough they were both nude, bare skin pressed to bare skin. He could feel Jim’s erection hot against his belly, but when the creature reached for it Jim batted his hand away.

“No,” he said. “Let me.”

Spock felt a prickle of curiosity against his will—Let me what?—but then Jim was sliding down his body in a way that made both his destination and intentions perfectly evident.

It was still a shock, though, when his lips closed over the head of Spock’s erection. A shock because of how many times he had imagined Jim’s tousled hair, the heat in his eyes, the wet tightness of his mouth, but also because of how much he could feel. His senses had been numbed by the creature’s presence, but now it was as though for the first time in a week, he was fully present in his own skin.

Jim hummed around him, and Spock felt his hips jackknife off of the mattress, and he could not even tell if the action had been the creature’s or his own. His mind felt thick and hazy, and he almost didn't notice Jim pulling back, murmuring, “You liked that, did you? You'll like this more.”

His hands were moving somewhere out of Spock’s range of vision. If he had been himself, he would have lifted his head to look, but the creature was content to lie there, humming with anticipation, and the next thing he was aware of was Jim’s hand stroking him.

His fingers were slick with something. Spock did not understand what was happening—and then, suddenly, he did, for Jim was kneeling above him, gloriously naked, skin shining with sweat, looking like something that had slipped out of Spock's most private fantasies and into the waking world. His free hand braced on Spock chest as he lowered himself down onto Spock's erection. There was a moment of resistance, and then the tight ring of muscle gave way and Spock was sliding into him inch by inexorable inch.

Jim's chest was heaving, his erect cock curving up toward his belly, glistening wet at the tip; this time when the creature reached for it he did not bat its hand away. He threw his head back at the touch of Spock's fingers, gasped, “Ah, god, Spock—”

Then broke off. His eyes opened, and his expression regained a measure of its previous focus. He did not remove Spock's hand from him, but his voice was steadier when he said, “Just lie back and enjoy yourself.”

“Oh,” the creature said in Spock's voice, “I intend to.”

Its free hand found its way to Jim’s hip, its grip bruisingly tight. Spock could feel the hard curve of bone beneath his fingers; he knew his own strength, knew that he had to be causing pain. Indeed, Jim sucked in a sharp breath across his teeth, but he made no comment. He was moving against Spock, little rocking motions that sent sparks of pleasure up his—their—his spine.

More, the creature was chanting, almost mindless with need, burning, more more more—

For a moment, everything seemed to fade away; Spock found himself floating in a sea of blankness, limbless, eyeless, deaf and blind and mute, a formless thing held together only with need.

He heard Jim's voice. It seemed to be coming from a great distance, consumed by a strange urgency. “Come on, Spock, come to me. Touch me, I'm here.”

It was as though a golden thread had reached him and bound itself to his heart; as though a beloved, familiar hand had grasped him by the wrist and yanked him forward out of the darkness.

The bond.

He slammed back into his own skin, his hips arching off the bed as his orgasm crashed through him. Something deep in his mind loosened and let go; he was only dimly aware of Jim gasping above him, of his fingers releasing Jim’s hips, of the shock of cool air on his skin as Jim pulled away and collapsed on the bed beside him. A brief, loaded pause, and then Jim’s hand was on his face, turning Spock toward him.

He was beautiful. Naked and spent and utterly beautiful, and the travesty of this was almost beyond Spock’s ability to comprehend. He took a deep breath, and his fingers flexed against Jim’s skin.

His fingers. That tiny movement had been his. The creature was not gone; he was not that fortunate, but it was sated, quiescent, its control momentarily relaxed. He was, however temporarily, free. He had to speak, to warn the captain.

“Spock,” Jim said in a low voice, and tilted his chin up. Their eyes met, and in that breathless moment, he knew that Jim saw him. Him, Spock, and not the shell of skin and flesh and bone that he inhabited. Not the creature that looked out of his eyes and manipulated his body.

Warm, trembling fingers caught his hand, and guided it up. The creature did not resist; why should it? But Spock knew, suddenly, in a blinding flash of what could only be termed intuition, what Jim intended. What his purpose in coming here had been.

There was a trick after all, but Jim was not the victim of it. He was its architect.

His palm brushed briefly against the stubbled curve of Jim’s jaw, and then his fingers were falling into place, finding the meld points at his temple and cheek as if they had been made to fit there.

“Our minds,” Spock said hoarsely, the first words in a week that he had been able to choose. Distantly, he could feel the creature’s surprise, its sudden fear spiking through the haze of orgasmic pleasure, but it was too late. Too late. He could taste triumph on his tongue, and it was sweet. “Our minds...one, and together.”

“One and together,” Jim repeated, smiling slightly, and kissed him.

Spock closed his eyes and let himself fall.


It burned. Human minds always did, so quick and bright were they, and these were far from ideal circumstances for a meld. For a moment, it was as though his entire brain had been set on fire. And then—

Spock. Jim’s voice. It sounded different like this, without his larynx and palate and tongue to shape the words, but the essence of it was the same, inimitable; there could be no mistaking him. The flames abated. Spock, can you hear me?

Jim. I hear you.


A sharp note of unguarded delight that hardened into steely triumph. I wasn’t sure it would work. Spock, I wasn’t sure how much of you was even left. What those things did to the creatures on the surface—

It hadn’t been a shot in the dark, then. Jim had known, somehow, had concealed that knowledge from the creature that wore Spock’s body, had planned this carefully and thoroughly. Had chosen a course of action that Spock himself could not have anticipated and therefore could not have unwillingly conveyed to the creature. He was, as Spock had observed on more than one occasion, a masterful strategist.

That bore additional contemplation, but there was no time. Already he could see shadows gathering around them, feel the sharpness of the creature’s claws on the surface of his thoughts.

It controlled his body. It did not yet control his mind, but it was close, so close.

Apparently, Jim had come to the same conclusion. Spock, I owe you any number of apologies, but there are more pressing matters at present.

I concur, Spock replied, although he did not understand why the captain should feel any need to apologize. The latter part of his statement was perfectly correct; eradicating the creature from Spock’s mind and body was the immediate priority. Its grip had loosened in the haze of sexual pleasure, had been momentarily knocked away by the linking of minds, but it was not so fragile as that. After what it had dared in the name of survival, it would not be dislodged without a fight.

The shadows grew taller, the inner landscape of the meld going dark and hazy. Jim was a bright, solid presence beside him, his warm, chaotic human thoughts nearly as alien as those of the creature. It was he who lent the illusion of shape to this liminal space; Spock knew the architecture of his own thoughts and had no need of it. But humans required symbols to organize their minds; the weight of corporeality was a price he would willingly pay for Jim’s presence.

He was, after all, half-human. And the creature, fragile thought-form that it was, was even less suited to such a landscape than he.

For a moment, the solidity of his surroundings shattered, became wisps of thoughts and fragments of memories unmoored from their careful catalogue. He could feel the sands of the kal-if-fee, the shock of remembered pain, hard alien pavement beneath his boots, a Vulcan child’s mocking laughter, smell his mother’s perfume...

Jim’s hands were on his shoulders again, strong and shockingly cool. Spock suddenly discovered that he had eyes, and opened them. For a moment, there was just whirling blankness, and then Jim’s face resolved itself out of the haze. Brows drawn down, mouth tense.

Focus, he hissed, and it was only when Spock nodded that he broke eye contact. His sharp gaze scanned their surroundings, which slammed into being around them: the hard efficient lines of Starfleet architecture, the blinking screens and banks of controls, a viewscreen that opened out onto starry darkness.

The bridge of the Enterprise, of course. It was logical. There was nowhere else James Kirk felt so at home, so in control; it was natural that his mind would choose this place as the field of battle. Spock took a deep breath, and even knowing that it was an illusion, the familiar chemical aftertaste of recycled air comforted him.

Brace yourself, Jim whispered as their surroundings shuddered again. He’s coming.

The darkness gathered at the edges of the consoles, around the curves of the viewscreen and the sharp edge of the doorframe. The door slid away in a hiss of hydraulics, and the creature stepped through.

It was human, and not. Its edges were staticky and confused, like the image on a malfunctioning viewscreen. It seemed unable to keep itself within the bounds of the shape it had chosen, and at the heart of it was only darkness, crackling and black. Its features shifted: for a moment, it was the eyeless humanoid creature Spock had first seen, before it twisted into the smooth, pretty face of Lieutenant Choi. Then it shook the dead woman’s features away like water and the face Spock saw was his own, twisted with hate.

Spock pulled away from Jim’s hands and stepped forward, but a wave of dizziness washed over him and he had to stop before he stumbled. His hands, automatically lifted in a defensive posture, trembled.

He had neither slept nor eaten in the better part of a week. That should not have mattered in a meld; he had long since mastered the disciplines to shut out physical distractions. To a Vulcan in meldspace, the condition of his body should have been of no consequence.

But this was not a Vulcan meld. This was Jim’s mental landscape, and it seemed that different rules applied.

Do you think you are stronger than me, Spock? it asked. Its voice contained multitudes, hissing, crackling, as though a chorus of serpents whispered the words in unison. Do you think you can fight me here? You could not even prevent me from taking my pleasure with your foolish captain.

Beside him, Jim tensed. Is that what you think happened?

Am I wrong? laughed the creature. He would never have come to you of his own free will, Captain. And you only used his body to ensure this battleground. Any pleasure was mine and mine alone.

Something shifted in Jim’s expression, but his voice was steady. And now we’re here. Are you going to fight or talk?

It licked its lips, the gesture grotesque, almost obscene, on Spock’s face. I am going to enjoy killing you, it hissed, and lunged.

It was graceless, untrained: it had none of Spock’s skill at suus mahna, but it had his height, his length of bone, his reach and his Vulcan strength. And it was not weak; it had not spent the past week crammed into a corner of its own mind. It knocked Spock to the floor easily and reared back to strike a punishing blow, but Jim was there before it could land. He ducked under the creature’s striking arm, grasped its wrist, and used its forward momentum to flip it neatly over the pivot point of his hip into the bank of machines. Something sparked, and Spock could smell a whiff of smoke.

Jim had not created that deliberately, he was quite sure. Even now, the captain was stepping in front of him, stance firm and fists up, blocking the creature’s access to Spock with his own body. He was not Vulcan, he could not in the midst of a fight have spared the attention to his surroundings that such a thing would have required.

No. The singed wires were there because Jim believed on some level that this was reality, and his formidable will would enforce that reality entirely without conscious thought unless and until he became incapacitated.

That could work in their favor, or very badly against it.

The creature did not seem to notice; nor, for that matter, did Jim. They were circling each other warily, Jim with his hands up in a boxer’s stance, the creature in a hunched, animalistic posture that was wrong, disturbingly so, to see in Spock’s own body. Spock tried to get his feet beneath him and failed; his head was spinning, his muscles weak. 

You can end this now, you know, Jim said. Just leave. Set him free.

And die?
the creature snarled. I think not.

It feinted with one long arm, and Jim dodged easily, graceful, light on his feet. His face was alive with the particular kind of focus he seemed to find only in extremis; if he was bothered by the creature’s likeness to Spock, it did not show. Hasn’t it been long enough? How long can your people last like this?

As long as we must. Another fast blow; this one connected, and Jim folded around it, gasping. He rolled out of the way before a second blow could connect and was on his feet in an instant, but Spock could see that the creature was becoming acclimated to the likeness of his body; it moved more confidently now, more quickly.

Spock could still smell the sharp metallic scent of a shorted panel. Protocol in such cases was to avoid contact with the damaged systems until Engineering was able to cut power; there were auxiliary panels that could be used and depending on the nature of the damage, touching the panel could result in electrocution. A careless navigator had been severely injured in just such an incident recently.

Let us speak to the Federation, Jim said, dodging another blow, and he was breathing heavily now. They had no bodies here; his exertion should not have resulted in physical exhaustion, but Jim believed that this was real. Perhaps we can find another solution—

The only solution will be your death, the creature snarled, and it caught Jim’s hand; it twisted in a way that no human or Vulcan could, in a way that would have dislocated all the joints of its arm had it been real—but the arm was solid, implacably strong as it wrapped around Jim’s neck and began to squeeze.

Jim struggled, hands scrabbling at the creature’s arm, but his face was going red, and he had not the strength to break its grip, and Spock remembered this, the ghastly image of his own body choking Jim into lifelessness. He had his feet under him before he realized it, was moving—his hand on the creature’s shoulder, skin beneath his fingers. His own face turned toward him, twisted with hate and entirely alien.

The to'tsu'k'hy did not affect Vulcans as it did other humanoids; it was insufficient to render a Vulcan—or a being using a Vulcan form—unconscious. It was, however, sufficient to force the creature to loosen its grip on the captain; Jim twisted out of its grasping arm, and shoved it away. As smoothly as if they had choreographed it, Spock took advantage of its momentary unbalance to hurl it headlong into the damaged panel.

Sparks flew, and the long body arced in agony, the familiar-unfamiliar face coming apart in a silent scream. It tried to free itself and could not, the current snapping across its skin—

—and Jim was there, suddenly, with a heavy piece of flexsteel frame. He swung the improvised weapon with all his might, and it connected with the creature’s skull with a sickening hollow sound.

Its face went slack, and it fell without a noise. Jim dropped the frame with a clatter that seemed too loud in the sudden silence. He was breathing hard, his chest heaving. Spock stepped closer, still lightheaded—unthinking, as though he was pulled by the not-quite-visible shimmer of thread that was their bond, and Jim looked away, down at the body on the floor. Is he dead?

It seems likely, Spock said, diverted. The creature appeared lifeless, its green flush fading to a cold pallor, and he could detect no pulse. Visually, at least. He could feel the echo of a shriek in his mind, multiplied a hundredfold, as though dozens upon dozens of other, distant voices had screamed and been extinguished as well.

Jim stooped and picked up the piece of framing again. Check, he said. We need to be certain. I don’t think this trick is going to work a second time.

Spock raised his eyebrow at that, but forbore to comment. Instead, he knelt gingerly beside the body. Everything in him recoiled at the thought of touching the thing, but the captain was perfectly correct: they had to be certain. He pressed his fingers lightly against the neck. It was, as he had expected, quite still. The skin was already beginning to cool in the Terran-normal atmosphere. There was something prosaic about the solidity of the creature now, diminished in death.

He is dead, Captain, Spock said. In truth, he had known it already, had known it from the moment the final blow connected; it was as though some painful, leaching thing had been released from his thoughts and slid away into nothingness. Beneath his fingers, the creature was losing shape and solidity; between one blink and the next it was gone as if it had never been there at all.

The others, he thought, had died as well. They had gambled everything on their leader's success, and the backlash would have ripped through their disintegrating minds like wildfire; they could not have survived.

It was over.

Jim nodded, set down the framing again. He took a deep breath, then looked up at Spock.

Captain? Spock asked, something tense and perhaps even anticipatory tightening his chest. He felt alive with it, despite his weakness, despite the tremor in his limbs that would certainly be exacerbated as soon as he broke the meld.

Spock—Jim swayed forward, his eyes flickering over Spock’s face, and for a wild, impossible moment, Spock thought that they might both step forward .7 meters and meet in the middle; that they might touch, might even kiss.

Then Jim shook his head and looked away. Break the meld.

Swallowing down an illogical sense of disappointment, Spock broke the meld. What had seemed like a timeless struggle in that liminal space between their minds had taken a scant handful of minutes in the real world; he was still on the bed, still entwined with Jim. The kiss had broken, but their faces were still close, and he could taste the memory of Jim’s lips on his.

Jim’s eyes fluttered open. For a moment they were soft and unguarded, and then he took a sharp breath, and Spock felt a burst of inexplicable emotion through the bond—

—shame/fear/guilt, oh, God, what have I done—

—and his shields slammed down on the newborn bond with such force that Spock was physically thrown backwards. His head hit the mattress, and the last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was Jim leaning toward him, his expression concerned. His lips moved, but Spock could not hear anything but the blood rushing in his ears.

Darkness took him, and for an indeterminate amount of time, he knew no more.

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