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Resplendent in the gold satin dress uniform of a Starfleet captain, James T. Kirk stood calm but alert as the Vulcan sun rose. The newborn rays, offering only a shadow of their potential glare, highlighted the stark stone monoliths encircling him. In the distance, he could see figures approaching, while the melodious tinkling of hundreds of tiny bells wafted to him on the slight breeze.

Shifting slightly, Kirk caught the gaze of his CMO, Leonard McCoy, and returned the doctor's beaming smile with a slight one of his own. McCoy gave him a thumbs up sign. Kirk nodded, then returned his attention to the wedding party who had now almost reached his waiting place.

A few more stately paces and a figure robed in red stepped into the circle where Kirk stood. Long fingered hands came up to fold back the shadowing hood to reveal Spock's serene features.

Standing together, in the sacred place of Koon-et-kalifee, they declared their decision to bond. Native words were spoken, falling from Kirk's lips as easily as Spock's. Vulcan ritual satisfied, Spock then slipped the fastenings of his robe and allowed the heavy weight to slide from his shoulders, revealing the blue satin Starfleet uniform he wore beneath.

The sight caused the small contented smile that had played around Kirk's lips throughout the ceremony to blossom into a full blown smile. They took one last step together, bridging the final gap between them. Their fingers touched, meeting for the first time in the two fingered caress of bondmates.

With everything he wanted in the universe, Kirk gazed deeply into Spock's dark eyes. His ears were filled with the totally unexpected but wonderous sound of his new mate's contented purr.

"Spock," he whispered adoringly, watching in anticipation as the thin lips parted....

"Captain."

Yanked from the sands of Vulcan to the bridge of his ship in the space of a heartbeat, Kirk blinked stupidly into the questioning gaze of his First Officer. Somehow the daydream image and the reality before him seemed to merge before command training snapped into place.

"Mr. Spock?"

If Spock wondered just where Kirk's mind had been, he gave no indication. "You wished to be informed when we were within hailing distance of Issovias," he reported without missing a beat.

"Thank you, Mr. Spock. What time is it in the capital?"

"Approximately 3:00 a.m."

Kirk succeeded in dismissing the lingering emotions of the romantic daydream from his mind. His voice was completely businesslike as he continued. "Rousing the officials out of bed doesn't seem like the best way to begin delicate negotiations." He turned his attention to the helm. "Mr. Sulu, put us into orbit beyond their sensors. We'll announce ourselves at a more respectable hour."

"Yes, sir," Sulu acknowledged, his slim fingers flying across the board.

"We'll have a final senior officer's review in an hour, Mr. Spock." Kirk accepted a compuslate from his yeoman.

"Yes, sir." Spock accepted the unvoiced dismissal and returned to his station. With his face buried in the viewer, Spock allowed his mind to wander from the data flashing before his eyes. He wondered just what Kirk had been thinking of to put such a satisfied smile upon his face. Sternly, Spock suppressed a feeling of envy for the unknown subject of Kirk's thoughts. A tiny sigh escaped his control.

With his gaze fixed on the compuslate he held, Kirk attempted to keep his attention on the mission at hand. Issovius possessed an abundance of the rare mineral, erascinate, a critical component required by the methane-breathing Garudians for the respirators that allowed them to exist outside their planet's atmosphere. With the wealth of the Federation behind him, negotiating for the mineral would normally be a fairly simple matter. The Issovians, however, were taking pains to live up to their first contact reputation of being difficult. Their social structure was based on a warrior caste and they, therefore, refused to deal with either businessmen or diplomats. Starfleet's answer to that had been a Starship Captain. The Issovians had allowed that such an individual might be acceptable. Which is how the whole mess fell into Kirk's lap.

Starfleet's briefing had made it clear that the Issovians were a touchy, easily offended lot. Kirk must not anger them, but, at the same time, he must take care not to appear weak. A fine line to walk, but he had done it before and maintaining that balance didn't particularly worry him. In fact, the ease with which he expected to complete the mission was the main reason he was having such difficulty keeping his mind on it and off Spock.

That thought, of course, lead to a re-emergence of the fantasy images that had occupied his mind a few short minutes ago. Spock purring?! What nonsense! Vulcans were not really descended from felines, despite their cat-like grace and pointed ears, and Kirk knew it. The Issovians, however, did strongly resemble Terran felines and his subconscious had likely included that particular quirk.

The details were really unimportant. What disturbed him far more was the recent tendency of his daydreams to run to romantic, and permanent, scenarios. The indulgences had begun as an occasional late night erotic fantasy, conjured to aid the lonely necessity of masturbation. He had felt guilty, but had eventually rationalized to himself that his thoughts could cause Spock no harm. His latest dreams, however, both waking and sleeping, seemed to be trying to tell him he was looking for something more permanent.

Kirk slid a glance across to the figure bent studiously over the science station. He certainly knew how to pick them. There was nothing quite so permanent as a Vulcan bond. In the past, considering a permanent committment had sent him figuratively and sometimes literally, running for cover. This time it left him with a hollow aching yearning inside. He had always believed that there was no place in a starship captain's life for a personal commitment, but now he wasn't so sure.

Had it not appeared that Spock was perfectly content with their friendship, Kirk might well have acted upon his feelings some time ago. When weighed against Spock's happiness, Kirk's desires seemed much less important. A sure sign, he supposed, that he was definitely in love.

"Captain?"

Kirk, not quite so far away this time, heard the page the first time Uhura spoke. He swivelled toward her.

"Dr. McCoy wants to know if he absolutely must wear his 'monkey suit'."

Kirk returned Uhura's smile, resolving to put his personal concerns from his mind for the duration of the mission. He glanced over at Spock and saw the Vulcan had abandoned his scanners for the moment to follow the conversation. He spoke more to his friend than Uhura.

"He's already hopping mad that the Issovians won't let us carry anything except communicators. Says he feels naked without his medical kit."

"It is a rather unreasonable position," Spock had to admit. "However, it is their planet."

"That's what I told him, and, besides, we want their minerals. Kirk slapped the arms of his chair. "I supposed I'd better go down there and try to reason with him."

Spock's brow rose. "An exercise in futility, I'm sure."

Kirk gave a bark of laughter. "You have the con, Mr. Spock," he ordered as he left the command chair and stepped up to the lift. "Final briefing in 45 minutes."

* * * * *

When Kirk beamed down into the Issovian early morning, he took little immediate notice of the impressive architecture of the government building standing before him, nor of the equally impressive, lightly furred beings waiting to greet him. What he did notice, when the few seconds of non-existence of transportation had passed, was that his ears itched. They itched deep down, far beyond where he had any hope of scratching. Nevertheless, he tugged on the lobe of his right ear and swallowed hard, hoping to ease the irritation, while wondering if there was some tiny misalignment in the transporter controls.

He made a mental note to speak with Scotty before they beamed up, and then put the thought, along with the irritation, to the back of his mind and stepped forward to exchange formal introductions.

Unfortunately, the minor annoyance refused to remain safely tucked behind his diplomatic persona. Shortly after accepting a seat in the official Hall of Voices, and while trying to concentrate on the speeches of grudging welcome delivered by the Issovian dignitaries, Kirk became aware that it was no longer only his ears which were affected. Leaning over to make a low voiced comment to Spock, he found his throat felt scratchy and raw as well.

Just what I need, he thought in disgust. A cold. Tough front, Starfleet ordered. Go begging, but do it like a warrior, they said, or the Issovians will refuse to deal with me.

He cleared his throat, then took a drink from the glass of water on the table before him.

A fine picture of the hale and hearty warrior I'm going to present with a head cold.

He had no further time to worry about it, however, for Issovian First Elect Graystalker had finished his speech and the dignitaries were looking to him for a reply. There was no option but to press on.

Kirk rose from his seat, feeling the expectant gazes of both Spock and McCoy on him as he made his way to the dais from which all of the speakers had previously offered their orations. Undoubtedly, both men had noted the Issovian's less than cordial and unenthusiastic attitudes, and were looking forward, each in his own way, to seeing Kirk work his predictable magic upon the unsuspecting officials. Kirk hoped his friends' faith was not misplaced and, as they expected, he would have the dignitaries eating out of his hand in no time.

Their expectations proved to be a bit optimistic. Though the Kirk intellect and charm were evidenced by the words he had chosen to say, their delivery, punctuated by multiple throat clearings and an occasional dry cough, took much of the edge off the impact. It was quite obvious the Issovians were not greatly impressed by this much interrupted dissertation, and were, if the expressions on their felinoid faces could be interpreted in human terms, beginning to wonder what sort of deadly plague they had invited to visit.

Kirk returned to his chair, once again pulling at his right earlobe as he had done at least three times during his speech. He did not need to look at Spock's strictly controlled expression, nor at McCoy's glum visage, to know that he had blown it.

Nevertheless, hoping for the best, he returned to his seat and leaned forward attentively, hands on the smooth surface before him, and gave his attention to the First Elect as he once again took his place on the dais.

The Issovian's discourse was even less enthusiastic, as were the faces of the other dignitaries who now eyed the Enterprise officers with open suspicion. Kirk hardly noticed. The greater part of his concentration, which had been distracted by his ever thickening throat, was now diverted to the unimaginable and horrifying realization that his nose itched. Not just any old itch that a quick and unobtrusive rub would eradicate. No, this particular tickle foretold a sneeze. The granddaddy of all sneezes if he was to judge by the tingle that ran from the tip of his nose all the way back into his sinuses, which, just for good measure, suddenly felt as if they were stuffed with cotton.

Even though he knew it would do no good, he rubbed his offending nose surreptitiously twice. Not a wit's reduction in the tickle did he receive for his efforts. Then he tried breathing through his mouth. That helped some. At least enough to make him think he might just be able to get through the Issovian's remarks. He prayed that he would be granted a reprieve until, at least, the First Speaker was done.

It was not to be. Just as Graystalker was winding up to what was obviously going to be a big finish, the persistent tickle upscaled itself to an absolutely uncontrollable convulsion and exploded into the dramatic pause the leader had left in his closing remarks. Even that might have been overlooked, were it not for the fact that following the granddaddy, came the grandma, the mama, the papa and all the little sneezes, kerchooing along on each other's heels so closely that, in short order, Kirk was a doubled-over, wheezing, sneezing, totally incapacitated mess.

Both McCoy and Spock realized within only a few sneezes that something was wrong. Both men left their seats and stood to either side of their convulsing Captain. While McCoy silently cursed the direct order which had left his medical kit up on the Enterprise, Spock divided his attention between his distressed friend and monitoring the Issovian reaction.

When it became obvious that the sneezing fit was not going to end, and that the Issovians were reaching the end of their limited patience, Spock acted.

"Doctor, have yourself and the Captain beamed aboard. I will deal with the Issovians. Advise me immediately if we have introduced some inimical element into this culture," he ordered.

McCoy's head snapped up, a scathing retort on his lips. It died there. Spock's expression was neutral as his training and his duty to Starfleet demanded that it be; the dark eyes, however, revealed his concern for Kirk. McCoy nodded and reached for his communicator while Spock moved forward to address the restless dignitaries.

"Stay back!" the First Elect ordered sharply.

Spock stopped in his tracks, hearing the hum of dematerialization behind him. He was now quite alone in a room of hostile aliens. He shrugged mentally. It was hardly the first time.

"What deadly plague have you brought among us? Is this the Federation's plan, to decimate our people and take what you wish when we are too weak to fight?" the First Elect hissed, fangs bared.

The cool granite of Spock's facade remained intact beneath the assault. "Although I have no data as to the cause of the Captain's condition, I can assure you the Federation would not engage in such nefarious practices. The Captain was in perfect health before we beamed down."

Hackles rose all around the room.

"Are you accusing us of causing his illness?"

Spock gave a mental sigh and wished fleetingly that he were dealing with Tellerites. Compared to the Issovians, that most pugnacious race in the Federation seemed possessed of endless amiability.

"Such an assumption would, of course, be illogical," Spock pointed out. He maintained his air of detachment, not only because it was his nature but because there was already an over abundance of unihibited emotion running rampant in the room. "Dr. McCoy is human. He has not succumbed to whatever has befallen the Captain."

"Then your Captain..."

Whatever new accusation the First Elect planned to hurl was cut off by the chirp of Spock's communicator.

Spock flipped open the device and acknowledged the hail.

"Mr. Spock," came the tinny sound of Uhura's voice from the grid. "Dr. McCoy reports that the Captain is in no danger and that this is not a quarantine situation."

Spock glanced up again, watching the Issovians' reactions before replying. He saw several sets of whiskers flick forward, two sets of ears stand at attention and one striped tail fluff up to twice its former proportions. Unfortunately, his contact had been too limited to allow him to interpret these signals.

"If Kirk has recovered, we demand his return," the First Elect hissed. "These negotiations must be completed by sundown. This government has other business to tend to."

"I will deliver your message to the Captain personally. I will impress upon him the need for alacrity," Spock said. He was no fool and recognized an opportunity for retreat when he heard one. "Have me beamed up," he ordered into the communicator.

Standing beneath the baleful eyes of the Issovians as he waited for beam out, Spock's respect for his father grew tenfold, as did his relief that he had not followed in Sarek's footsteps.

* * * * *

Had Spock been human, it is doubtful he could have resisted a classic double take a few minutes later when he walked into the private examination room in sickbay and got his first look at Kirk. Fortunately, being the superbly controlled specimen of Vulcan manhood that he was, or sought to be, he did not betray himself by even so much as the flicker of an eyelash, let alone his often too expressive brow.

There was just no other way to say it - the Captain looked like hell. Spock had seen Jim Kirk in all sorts of deplorable conditions, but he could think of none that even approached the sorry condition of the face turned toward him now. The large hazel eyes were swollen to mere slits, and the classic lines of cheek and jaw betrayed a puffiness usually reserved for the fourth day of a particularly debilitating three-day leave. As for the noble nose - the less said, or even thought, about that red runny feature, the better. Nonetheless, Spock maintained a strictly neutral expression. His efforts, however, were nearly foiled with Kirk spoke.

"Well?" Kirk snuffed, squinting watery eyes at Spock. Whether the squint was to see or to warn against negative comment was unclear. "Repord."

Once again stringent mental discipline came to Spock's rescue, keeping his face an impassive mask. McCoy, possessing only a modicum of discipline in any form, made no attempt to cover his amused chuckling. At least, with the doctor so relaxed, Spock could conclude that his very special friend was in no danger.

"The Issovians are...displeased. Their first concern was that you had brought some communicable disease into their presence."

"I'm nod condagous," Kirk interrupted. As if to belie his own statement, he then had to scramble for a tissue to capture a runaway sneeze.

"Indeed, on the strength of McCoy's failure to order an immediate quarantine or other medical procedures, I advised the First Elect of such," Spock reported helpfully.

"Good," Kirk puffed in relief.

"After which I then received an immediate demand for your presence. The Issovians indicate they are determined that the negotiations be completed before sundown."

"Sundowned! I canned go back dere lig dis!" Kirk protested, waving a fresh tissue to make his point before applying it to his nose.

"Indeed," Spock agreed just a tad too fervently which earned him a glare from Kirk and renewed giggles from McCoy. "If I might enquire as to the nature of..."

"Allergies," McCoy diagnosed. He passed a slate to Spock. "To the Issovians. Or, to be completely accurate, their fur."

"Oh thads jusd wonerful!" Kirk exclaimed.

Being incapable of an emotional response to the situation, or so he liked others to believe, Spock immediately began to analyze it. "The Issovians will meet with no other officer of this ship except you. They insist that this is the only time they will consider negotiations. The Federation, and in particular the Garudians, require the erascinate quite urgently."

"I know all dad. Wad would you lig me do do, asg 'em do shave?" Kirk asked as sarcastically as his flooded sinuses would allow.

"A possible solution, although somewhat extreme and unlikely to meet with a favorable reaction," Spock deadpanned, finally allowing his eyes to express his inner emotions. Now that he knew Kirk was in no danger, he could feel just the tiniest bit of amusement over his predicament.

"Smard as," Kirk pronounced, and turned his attention to McCoy. "Canned you gib me someding?"

"I could slap an antihistamine into you that would have you ship shape in about ten minutes," McCoy revealed.

"Den do id!" Kirk demanded.

"If you weren't allergic to retnox, alihadimine, formiterate," McCoy paused. "Shall I go on?"

"Wad has dad god do do wid an andihisdamine?"

"Antihistamines are related to the drugs the doctor has already mentioned," Spock provided, noting that his teasing seemed to have been accepted with equanimity, whereas McCoy's was simply fuelling the Captain's temper.

"And I have no idea what they would do to you besides clearing up your symptoms. I could do a skin test, but the results would take at least 12 hours."

"We dond hab 12 minudes," Kirk reminded.

"Bridge to Captain Kirk."

Spock was unsurprised to receive silent instructions from Kirk to answer the page. The Captain was much too conscious of his image to want to be seen in his present uncaptainly condition by even so loyal a crewmember as Uhura.

"Spock, here. The Captain is...indisposed."

"Message from the Issovians, sir," Uhura reported. "Do you want it verbatim, or shall I paraphrase?"

Having already been treated to the Issovian manner of making a request, Spock chose to allow Uhura to exercise her creativity. "I do not believe a direct quote will be necessary."

"They would appreciate it if Captain Kirk would return to the negotiations. Somewhat sooner than immediately would be the closest translation I can come to for the time frame they suggested."

"Understood," Spock acknowledged, cut the connection, and turned to Kirk for his decision.

Kirk held up an arm, and, with his watery glare, dared McCoy to refuse. "Gimme de shod, Bones."

* * * * *

Sixteen minutes later, once again able to breath through his nose and with the worst of his facial swelling relieved by McCoy's potions, Kirk returned to the Hall of Voices. One look at the faces around the table would have sent a lesser man back to his ship with his vestigial tail tucked between his legs. Kirk, however, had charmed, cajoled, badgered, blustered, or bullied his way through worse situations than this one. It went against his nature to give up without a fight.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, smiling as sincerely as he could manage into the hostile faces. "I apologize for the interruption. I understand that you have limited time in which to discuss our business, so I suggest we get on with it." He deliberately offered no explanations. Spock had estimated the odds of the Issovians taking offense to his allergy as being just about nine to one. Unless he was asked directly, he planned on keeping his mouth shut.

The Issovian First Elect stalked to the dais and placed a multi-paged document upon its surface. "We are more than ready to tender our conditions."

* * * * *

The first hint McCoy, who had been watching Kirk closely, had that he might be adding antihistamines to Kirk's list of allergies, was when Kirk eased back from the studious pose he had adopted and leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest.

"No. 31. The Federation and/or the individual mining company granted the assignment, will pay a personal levy of a rate to be determined at a later date on each outworlder assigned temporarily or permanently to Issovias." The First Elect continued to read from the endless document he held, glancing up at the end of each demand. His whiskers flicked forward slightly as he noted Kirk's less attentive position, but a glance at McCoy and Spock's still-rigid spines appeared to pacify him.

The Captain eased nearly sideways in his chair and draped an arm over the padded back. The expression on his face teased at McCoy's memory, but, try as he might, the doctor was unable to place it. It did, however, give him a very uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.

"No. 32. All outworlders will purchase any and all supplies which are available on Issovias from Issovian merchants. No imports of any supplies of any kind which are available on Issovias will be allowed." Again First Elect Graystalker looked up from his transcript, noted Kirk's position and reacted subtly.

Much as McCoy was tempted to roll his eyes at the absolute ridiculousness of these endless conditions, he kept his expression bland. Kirk, he noted, did not. Once again McCoy experienced a sense of familiarity with that particular expression, but he failed to call the memory into clear focus.

"Those are the main items in our proposal. There are also 132 other minor items included in this agreement." The First Elect waved the document he held. "No mining of the rare and precious mineral you require will be allowed until this document has been signed."

A general rumbling of consensus shuddered through the room. Kirk, still casually draped over his chair, glanced around the room, taking in the dignitaries approval with a bland expression and small nods. As Kirk's face swung in McCoy's direction, the expression of such sweet and utter innocence froze the doctor's breath in his throat. He finally remembered where he had seen that expression before. Horrified, he realized there was nothing he could do about it except sit and watch Kirk make mincemeat out of a vital mission.

"Will you provide us with your opinion, Captain Kirk?" the First Elect prompted.

McCoy nearly groaned aloud as Kirk once again glanced around the room.

"Quite simply, Mr. First Elect," Kirk began.

Please, no, Jim. Please don't do it, McCoy projected with all his mental energy. Unfortunately, he was not the telepath, Spock was, and Spock remained blissfully unaware of the impending disaster.

"I feel it's..."

"Jim!" McCoy exclaimed unable to stop himself as he saw Kirk's lips forming the expected 'bullshit'.

Kirk looked at McCoy's admonishing/pleading face, smiled sweetly and turned back to the First Elect. "Extortion."

Every pair of pointed ears in the room flicked forward in surprise except Spock's. Since his were less mobilely inclined than the Issovians', he had to content himself with raised brows.

A few hisses accompanied Kirk rising from his chair and slow stroll up to the podium which the First Elect surrendered with obvious reluctance. Carelessly, Kirk picked up the agreement, ruffled the pages then let it drop back to the shiny surface.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, sad to say, but you're showing the foresight of an ostrich."

McCoy had no idea what analogous creature the universal translator picked to translate the stupid Terran bird into, but, considering the number of bared fangs around the room, it was far from complimentary. The doctor debated for a moment the wisdom of jumping up and dashing to the dais to clap his hand over Kirk's mouth - but he knew it would accomplish nothing. Reacting to the antihistamine the way he did to a bottle of 100 proof scotch, Kirk was drunk as seven lords and displaying his usual inebriated persona - pithily, frankly, sarcastically blunt.

"The Federation has come to you, hat in hand. In fact, they've sent the Enterprise, the best of all of Starfleet's twelve Constitution Class Starships..." Kirk paused, glancing around the room and making eye contact with each and every pair of narrowed eyes fixed upon him. "...just to demonstrate their...respect."

Ears flicked forward all around the room at the thinly veiled threat.

"Now, a far-thinking people just might be inclined to see the advantages of friendship with such a respectful friend. Unfortunately, not all beings are capable of such foresight. I'm sure that's not the case here. This," Kirk picked up the agreement between thumb and forefinger by a corner of the first page and lifted it, holding it away from himself as if it stank. "this unreasonable extortionate drivel is obviously not the result of considered forethought."

McCoy exchanged glances with Spock, desperately pleading for something to put an end to the disaster. The atmosphere in the great Hall of Voices, none too welcoming to start with, was becoming more ominous with every word Kirk spoke. They were outnumbered twenty to one, but Kirk seemed oblivious to their danger.

Spock, however, was fully aware of the precarious situation. Each fresh insult/threat caused the Issovians to fluff out a little further and Spock was sure he had seen the glint of more than one set of unsheathed claws. Short of causing a scene, however, Spock could think of no way of shutting Kirk up.

"You've given me a deadline of sundown to complete these negotiations. Well, I've got one for you. One hour..." Kirk swayed suddenly and tugged at his collar.

Spock saw his opportunity and was out of his seat and beside Kirk before the Captain could draw another breath. Gracefully he steered the swaying Kirk to the side, unobtrusively supporting him with a hand to his shoulder.

"One hour to present us with a more considered proposal," Spock smoothly completed. "We will withdraw to allow you to discuss the matter in private."

McCoy, already out of his own seat before Spock had even begun to speak, took up his position on the other side of Kirk. Spock snapped open his communicator and ordered immediate beam out.

Several seconds later, Kirk stared owlishly at the two sets of hands that held his arms. Experimentally, he tugged and finding himself easily freed, pulled his dignity around him.

"Mr Spock, you have usurped my authority," he enunciated carefully.

Hearing the slow precise tone, McCoy realized Kirk had entered the second phase of his usual drunken behaviour - exaggerated dignity to cover near incapacitation. Soon he would pass out, but not, McCoy hoped, before they got him to sickbay. He looked at the gawking ensign manning the controls, wishing Scotty were there in the man's stead, then put the thought from his mind.

"You are correct, Captain. I apologize and submit myself for disciplinary action," Spock replied to Kirk's accusation.

Disarmed by the unexpected lack of resistance, Kirk stared at the Vulcan while his befuddled brain attempted to come up with his next action.

When McCoy saw the sudden softening of Kirk's features and the way the luminous eyes were beginning to glow, he decided it was high time to get rid of the junior officer.

"Ensign," he snapped at the gawker. "I want Nurse Chapel here on the double. No," he snapped when the man reached for the intercom. "Go get her."

Recognizing a superior officer's order to get lost, the ensign beat a hasty retreat.

McCoy watched him go, then turned back to the tableau on the transporter pad where Kirk stood looking up at Spock. One of his hands rested on each of the thin shoulders and a warm smile lit Kirk's whole face.

"I've wanted to tell you something for a long time, Spock." Kirk blinked, swayed, tried to right himself and only succeeded in leaning more heavily on Spock. "You have the most beautiful..."

Much to Spock's disappointment, the sentence was never completed. Kirk's eyes closed and, in slow motion, he crumpled into Spock's arms.

* * * * *

"Oh, God, somebody kill the red alert," Kirk groaned an hour later as consciousness returned.

Literalist that he was, Spock pointed out the absence of any klaxon.

"In my head, Spock," Kirk clarified. "And you don't have to shout."

Spock exchanged wry glances with McCoy, but refrained from correcting the suffering Kirk again.

"Gods! What happened!"

Once again Spock and McCoy exchanged looks, this time each trying to silently intimidate the other into being the bearer of bad news.

When no immediate report was forthcoming, Kirk instinctively looked to Spock for answers.

"Since this is a medical matter, I believe Dr. McCoy is more qualified," Spock hedged.

McCoy rewarded him with a glare. "What do you remember, Jim?"

Kirk levered himself up into a sitting position, grabbing his head with a loud groan, then moaning again more quietly at the pain inflicted by his own voice. He wrapped both arms around his head when the intercom went off, sending echoes rebounding between his ears.

Spock hurried to the intercom, listened for a moment, then returned to the bedside where Kirk still sat in a near fetal curl.

"The Issovians wish to speak with you," he reported.

"Who?" Kirk muttered.

"I shall take the call while Dr. McCoy tends to your...condition," Spock decided and beat a hasty retreat up to the bridge.

"What do you remember?" McCoy repeated.

"Joining Starfleet," Kirk groaned.

"Ah, let me give you something for that headache," McCoy suggested belatedly and pressed a hypo to Kirk's shoulder.

The sound reminded Kirk of his own voice saying 'gimme the shot', and a few mental pictures began to fall into place. Too few.

"Let me guess," Kirk groaned as the edge eased off the pain in his head enough for him to tolerate the sound of his own voice. He straightened and cautiously lowered his arms, ready to catch his head if it showed any signs of tumbling from his shoulders. "I had an allergic reaction to the antihistamines."

"Did you ever!" McCoy agreed.

"What kind of reaction?"

"You got drunk."

Slowly Kirk raised the oversized melon masquerading as his head and stared at McCoy in wide-eyed horror.

McCoy nodded abrupt confirmation of the terrible truth.

"What did I do?" Kirk whispered reluctantly.

"You called the Issovians extortionists and ostriches, and you threatened them with the combined firepower of 12 constitution class star ships."

Kirk groaned and buried his face in his hands.

"And..."

The tousled head snapped up, threatened to fall off, and was steadied by shaking hands.

"And you made a pass at Spock."

"I what!"

* * * * *

When Spock returned to the private sickbay room, Kirk was once again lying on his back on the diagnostic bed, a cold pack perched on his forehead and his eyes closed. McCoy hovered nearby, preparing another hypo. Spock waited until McCoy had administered the shot before his spoke.

"Captain, the Issovians have requested that we return to the Hall of Voices."

"So they can put me out of my misery?" Kirk hypothesized. Actually the last shot McCoy had given him had driven the final traces of his antihistamine induced hangover away. He kept his eyes closed because he was not quite ready to look Spock in the eye. In fact, he might have difficulty doing so for quite some time. He had no choice, of course, but he could delay the inevitable a few more moments.

"Actually, Captain, the First Elect seemed quite...subdued when I spoke with him. In comparison to his usual manner," Spock qualified. "He indicated that it would be appropriate for you to bring a standard mining agreement with you to form the basis of the negotiations."

Despite his personal embarrassment, Kirk's eyes sprang open in surprise. "Oh shit! They think the Federation really will come in blasting."

Spock's expression revealed his puzzlement. "It appears that the Issovians inferred by my and the doctor's reactions that such is not the case. However, they were impressed that you had the 'claws' to make the implication."

"Leave it to you, Jim, to fall into a barrel of shit and come out smelling like a rose," McCoy commented as he ran his scanner down Kirk's prone body. He read the results, then reached up and plucked the ice pack from Kirk's forehead. "Antihistamine's out of your system. You can get up."

Kirk sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Then we better get back down there and negotiate while the Issovians are still impressed."

McCoy held out a restraining hand. "Wait a minute, Jim. You've still got that allergy to consider."

Kirk sank back to the bed. "Damn. I forgot about that."

"You'd remember quick enough if you beamed down." McCoy's comment was given over his shoulder as he contemplated the readings he had taken while the drugs he had injected had cleared the antihistamine from Kirk's blood.

"Do you think I've impressed them enough for the Issovians to take the news of my allergy in stride?" Kirk asked Spock.

"Were you allergic to anything other than their actual persons, the odds would be better. As it is, I estimate them to be..."

Kirk held up a hand to forestall the exact figure.

"It's too bad eliminators won't surround an allergy causing element and neutralize it," McCoy muttered to himself.

"What are you mumbling about?" Kirk asked.

McCoy shook his head and shut down the computer. "Just wishing for the impossible." He paused a moment, mentally reviewing every other treatment for allergy, but could think of nothing to use. "I think you're going to have to think up some excuse to have Spock finish the negotiations." He looked at Spock inquiringly. "You're not developing an allergy to them too, are you?"

"No, Doctor. Even were I to do so, I would simply suppress the symptoms," Spock replied.

"Too bad you can't teach Jim to do that in about 15 minutes," McCoy grumbled.

Spock took him literally. "Impossible. It takes years of training to exert the proper control over mind and body..."

McCoy held up a hand to halt the explanation as a possible solution occurred to him. "Wait a minute. The gunfight at the O. K. Corral. Couldn't you do that controlling meld on Jim again..."

McCoy trailed off, watching Kirk's face go white then flush deep red. A glance in Spock's direction revealed the Vulcan had noted the reaction.

"Oh,...I don't think that will be necessary," Kirk hurriedly objected. "I'll just play the prima donna. Spock, you can tell them..." He trailed off and shook his head. "Never mind. It's my duty."

A strained silence overtook them. Kirk was obviously uncomfortable; Spock, although he hid it well, was both confused and hurt; and McCoy did not know exactly what to do.

"Doctor, could you leave us for a moment, please," Spock requested.

Knowing the two of them would have to work out whatever was wrong between them and that his presence would be more hinderance than help, McCoy retreated to his office.

"I see your reluctance, Captain, and regret that I can offer no other course of action," Spock said formally when the door had closed behind McCoy.

Kirk cursed silently, slid off the bed and began to pace. After a few moments, he smacked a fist into his open palm and spun around to face Spock.

"I'm sorry I've offended you, Spock. Please believe me, it wasn't intentional. I know we've melded before, and those memories are very...special to me. But right now. There's just some things..." He stumbled to a halt, dropped his gaze to the floor a moment, then looked up abruptly into Spock's eyes.

"I haven't even apologized for making an ass of myself in the transporter room."

Spock shook his head. "There is no need for apology. You were not yourself."

Silence fell between them as Kirk sought the gentlest words to explain his reluctance.

"There need be no sharing of thoughts in this type of meld," Spock assured perceptively. "I will touch only the part of your mind necessary to sublimate your allergic reaction."

Kirk's wary expression became sad. "I'm sorry, Spock. I know I'm hurting you..."

"Jim, all beings have the right to maintain the privacy of their own thoughts. As a Vulcan I understand your reluctance completely."

Kirk nodded abruptly. "What do you want me to do?"

"Just give me a few moments to prepare."

"Spock, I promise I'll explain when the mission is over and we can talk."

* * * * *

Kirk sighed in relief and included the First Elect and his immediate advisors in his smile. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that settles it."

First Elect Graystalker nodded and replaced the implement with which he had signed the final draft of the agreement. He passed the document to his minister for inclusion in the records and publication for the populace.

"I am sure both parties can accept this as an equitable settlement."

Kirk glanced toward one of the windows, noting that the afternoon sun still hung well above the horizon. "And well before the deadline," he commented, indicating the glowing disk.

Hackles rose just a bit, an indication of embarrassment Kirk had learned, but subsided quickly.

"The deadline was not an altogether arbitrary one, Captain," the First Elect explained. "There is to be a state wedding at sundown between my daughter and her chosen life mate."

Kirk accepted the explanation as a hint to be on his way, and rose to his feet. He collected his copy of the agreement, glanced at both McCoy and Spock to ensure they were ready and reached for his communicator.

"One moment, Captain Kirk," the First Elect said, paused with his whiskers arched forward while he appeared to consider what he was going to say, then continued. "Would you and your officers agree to attend the ceremony?"

Kirk's expression revealed his surprise.

"We do not wish you to leave us with the impression that we are total barbarians, Captain. We realize we did not make a good first impression and would like to make amends. In the interests of maintaining a ... respectful relationship."

Kirk smiled grimly at the reminder of how close he had come to making a total disaster of the mission. "We'd be honoured."

* * * * *

Seated on cushions with all the other guests surrounding an open circle in a large banquet room, Kirk watched the sun inching its way toward the horizon. Sandwiched between Spock and the First Elect, the Captain heartily wished the damn thing would just disappear so they could get this over with and beam back to the ship.

There was no doubt in Kirk's mind that Spock would never intentionally trespass upon his thoughts. That did not stop him from fearing that some accidental image might find its way in, around or through Spock's shields and betray Kirk's inappropriate day/night dreams. He had promised Spock an explanation and fully intended to keep that promise. What he had yet to decide was whether he would tell his friend the truth or create some plausible lie. If only he had some indication from Spock...

As if Kirk's mental urgings had reached them, the wedding party finally entered the room, paced in a stately manner around the perimeter of the seated guests, then entered the circle where the bride and groom took up their places before the presiding official.

Clad only in his natural coat, the groom spoke first, giving his promise to cleave to and protect his chosen and their offspring. The bride, radiant in a floor length, hooded robe of fiery red emblazoned with her family crest, accepted his promises, then uttered the soft hissing counterpoint of her own vows.

Captivated finally by the beauty of the vows, Kirk allowed himself to become distracted by the ritual.

Various individuals, including the First Elect, were summoned by the official and spoke their own vows of support and succour for the newlyweds. As the end of the ceremony approached a sudden silence fell upon the room. The swish of cloth against fur became loud as the bride slipped the closure of the robe she wore and allowed it to slide off her shoulders into a shiny puddle at her feet. The magistrate stepped back and bride and groom came together for the first time, right hands rising and touching pads to pads while the silence was filled with the low rumble of their joyful purring.

The similarity to his morning's daydream was too much. Kirk's mind filled with the images that had previously played out for him, bringing with them a tangle of contentment, yearning, and envy he was unable to suppress.

True to his word, Spock had maintained the strictest of shields throughout the long afternoon, but they were not foolproof against the sudden bombardment of Kirk's emotions. Between one heartbeat and the next, Spock's mind was filled with the bitter sweet image of himself and Kirk standing together amidst the monoliths of koon et kalifee, their hands joined in the intimacy of bondmates. Reflexively, he jerked away from the mental contact, leaving both himself and Kirk floundering in the sudden solitary emptiness of their own minds.

The rest of the guests, intent upon the final moments of the wedding ceremony were unaware of the drama being played out in silence between two pairs of shock widened eyes. Unaware until...

"Ah, ah, ahchoooo!"

Hundreds of eyes turned to stare in disbelief as the Captain of the Enterprise was once again convulsed by helpless sneezing.

* * * * *

Kirk lifted his head when his door buzzer sounded, but made no move to disengage the lock. His privacy light was burning. Only McCoy or Spock would ignore it. McCoy, he knew was busy in sickbay with an emergency that had come in just after he had finished with Kirk. That left the last person in the universe Kirk wanted to see at the moment.

The buzzer rang again, sounding just the slightest bit impatient. As much as he would like to hide away, Kirk knew it was impossible. He would have to face Spock sometime. It might as well be now. He leaned forward, disengaged the lock and activated the door.

Spock waited patiently in the doorway to be invited in.

"Come in, Mr. Spock," Kirk invited formally.

Spock took two steps into the room. He heard the door close behind him, then crossed to stand in front of Kirk's desk. He looked down upon his friend, just barely restraining the joy that had suffused him when he had realized the implications of the vision he had seen in Kirk's mind.

"Were you able to smooth the Issovians' ruffled...fur?" Kirk sought escape in duty from the terrible embarrassment he felt.

"Indeed. I explained the entire situation to them. They seemed rather amused by your allergy, although they gave me no reason for their reaction."

"I see. Then the mission is a success after all and we can go on with our next assignment." Kirk leaned toward the intercom. "I'll just order the course change."

"I did so upon my return. I thought you might be preoccupied in sickbay for some time alleviating your symptoms." Spock explained his unusual usurption of Kirk's prerogative.

Kirk shrugged. "I went through decon a couple of times. McCoy gave me a shot. I'm fine now."

"I am gratified you have recovered."

Silence, awkward and strained on Kirk's part, expectant on Spock's, settled between them. Kirk stared at the wall and wished for the first time in years that Spock would do one of his Vulcan withdrawal/disappearing acts. That thought made Kirk realize that Spock was not reacting in an expected manner. Startled by the realization, Kirk really looked at Spock. His friend appeared relaxed and at ease, and in no hurry to leave.

"Would you like to sit down?" Kirk asked belatedly.

Spock folded himself into the chair behind him, propped his elbows on the arm rests and steepled his fingers. His forefingers rested against his lips, drawing attention to the slight softening there, while his dark eyes watched Kirk intently.

Never one to skirt an issue for long, Kirk decided to tackle it straight on. He could hardly make matters any worse. He hoped.

"Did you or did you not see what was in my mind during the ceremony?" he asked bluntly.

"I did," Spock answered smoothly.

Kirk suppressed a nearly uncontrollable urge to squirm. He wished he could be on his feet pacing, but that would mean coming out from behind the desk. He was not ready to give up that symbol of his position yet.

"You...understood it?"

"Your imagination supplied a very detailed picture of your thoughts," Spock confirmed.

Unable to sit still a moment longer, Kirk jumped to his feet, sidled around the desk, and paced into the center of the room. He spun around to stare at Spock's back, unable to assimilate the calm attitude where he had expected outraged offense at the very least.

Feeling the intent regard, Spock swivelled the chair until they were once again face to face. "Jim, you are labouring under a false assumption. I am not offended by your thoughts."

Kirk jumped in, inadvertently prolonging his own discomfort. "Then why did you jerk out of the link?"

"You must understand, Jim, that as a Vulcan, my first hand experience of uncontrolled emotion is somewhat limited. Without some warning, I could not..."

Once again Kirk interrupted. "Tolerate it."

Spock's expression of gentle neutrality slowly altered, metamorphosing into an arrangement bearing an uncanny resemblance to a cat who had just devoured a saucer of rich cream. "I could not assimilate and appreciate such an outpouring of love and tenderness as flooded my mind. It took me several moments to compare them with my sparse knowledge and realize that they exactly matched my own emotions. By that time, you were preoccupied with your allergic reaction and I with my duty."

Kirk just stared at Spock. The moment he had longed for/dreaded was upon him. Spock had just confessed his love and Kirk did not know what to do. It was all well and good to dream a little dream in the privacy of his own mind, but was this what he wanted for the rest of his life?

When the silence stretched over several minutes, unbroken by any comment from Kirk, Spock's confident expectation began to ebb. Flowing into its place came uncertainty, followed almost immediately by the conclusion that he had misunderstood, and on the basis of that misunderstanding, had just made a fool of himself.

Kirk saw the slow hardening of Spock's features into the strict mask employed to cover the deepest hurts. Feeling his opportunity slipping through his fingers, his uncertainty ended as abruptly as it had begun. He held up his right hand toward Spock, middle and index fingers extended.

In less time than it took to sigh his relief, Spock was standing before Kirk, his right hand reaching to complete the only slightly premature embrace.

Realizing the similarity to his daydream, Kirk tilted back his head to gaze into the shining brown eyes.

Spock's lips curved softly as he too recognized the moment. "I am sorry, Jim. Vulcans do not purr."

Kirk winced slightly. "You're not going to hold that bit of whimsical fancy against me, are you, Spock?"

Spock's fingers curled around Kirk's and he drew the beloved body close. "The only thing I intend to hold against you is me."

Kirk came into the loving embrace gladly, slipping his arms around the slim waist and rubbing his face against the satin clad shoulder.

"Sounds wonderful, Sp...Sp...Spchooo!"

Spock started at the unexpected explosion of sound and held Kirk away from him by the shoulders. "You are not developing an allergy to me, are you, Jim?"

Kirk shook his head emphatically. "Not on your life, but your tunic does seem to be covered in cat hair." His fingers slipped along the closure seam of the satin jacket while his eyes asked if he was moving too fast.

"Then it would be logical to dispose of it," Spock said, shrugging out of the material and drawing Kirk into his arms again.

"Spock," Kirk finally got to murmur contentedly just before Spock's lips closed over his.

 

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