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Originally published in 1990 as the print fanzine novel, Portraits.

 

FOUNDATION

 

Kirk relaxed as the cabin door slid shut behind him with a soft hiss. He leaned back against it.

He was safe. From his friend.

But not from his thoughts.

Sighing, he stepped into his office and stood before the desk. Some part of him insisted that he was making far too much of something that was nothing at all.

But the scene kept running over and over in his mind.

*****

A short time ago, he'd dropped by one of the science labs to ask Spock about personnel the science officer had assigned to the landing party that was to survey the planet Osteron, which the Enterprise would reach in a matter of hours. Uncharacteristically, Spock had answered Kirk's question with little attentiveness, then had eagerly proceeded to vacate his chair, and asked Kirk to sit instead.

Puzzled, Kirk had obliged the first officer.

"Watch, Captain," Spock had begun as he stood at Kirk's right and pointed to the computer terminal the chair faced. "If you will notice these curves..."

Kirk watched the graph on the screen while his first officer launched into an explanation of Osteron’s climatic uniqueness in a particular region near its South Pole. Kirk listened patiently, amused by Spock's enthusiasm regarding an interesting discovery that the captain himself barely understood.

Spock continued to show him other graphs, babbling all the while. In fact, Kirk soon found himself following the science officer's line of reasoning, and started to become interested in what the graphs were demonstrating.

Then warm hands touched his shoulders...and gently squeezed.

Before Kirk had a chance to react, Spock removed his hands and shifted to the human's other side.

Now, standing at his captain's left, Spock had continued the lecture. But Kirk had lost all interest in the graphs.

Spock had never touched him like that before.

Kirk was relieved when the Vulcan finally wound down. He commended the first officer on the findings and told him to proceed with his studies, then fled to his quarters.

*****

Now, in his cabin, Kirk sighed again. With any other friend, I wouldn’t give it the slightest thought. But Spock... Spock doesn’t touch people. At least, not like that. Not that casually.

Snorting with a grin, he laughed at himself as he moved into the bedroom.

He must have seen me and McCoy behaving in a buddy-buddy manner and decided he wants to be like that, too. He's just allowing himself to relax a little bit and be one of the guys. I should be proud of him.

Kirk sat on his bunk and frowned. He again imagined the warm fingers skirting his shoulders again...then gently squeezing.

Spock’s his own man, and would never feel a need to be 'one of the guys'. He has his own code of behavior, which he knows I respect, and wouldn’t feel obligated to loosen up for my sake.

The captain chuckled softly. Quit being such an analyst, Kirk. Spock was so excited about the climatic cycle of the planet that touching me was just another way of expressing his excitement...and sharing it.

A little warm spot made itself known in the left side of the human's chest. He wanted to share it with me. Kirk kicked off his boots and lay back on the bed. He wanted to share it with me because I’m his captain. He made a scoffing noise, scolding himself for the delusion. Spock wanted to share it with me because I’m important to him. In his own Vulcan way, he’s very fond of me.

He loves me.

Kirk tested that thought, running it over and over in his mind, until satisfied that it was undisputedly true.

Spock loves me like a brother, and was so excited about his discovery that even he couldn’t contain himself, and touching me was another way of giving expression to his enthusiasm and pleasure at sharing it with me.

Kirk shook his head, a tiny, satisfied smile lighting his face. How fortunate I am to be the object of his love and affection. No one could have a better friend. He again imagined the feel of those long fingers brushing across his shoulders...then squeezing.

He was grateful when his train of thought was interrupted by the intercom and rushed to answer it. "Kirk here."

"Jim," McCoy said as his image appeared on the screen, "I'm not going to be able to join you tonight. Lt. Spuznik collapsed during his shift and requires an emergency appendectomy."

Kirk frowned. "Appendectomy? How serious?"

"The surgery itself is routine. Time is the critical factor. He’s being prepped now. As long as there's no complications, he should be up and around in a day."

The captain nodded. "We'll have that drink another time, Bones. Kirk out."

He sighed, turning away from the terminal, not certain if it was a sound of disappointment or relief. He had been the one to invite the doctor to his quarters for a drink or two, but now he wasn't sure if he really needed—or wanted—to talk about what had been bothering him lately.

It really wasn't anything of universe-shaking importance. He'd simply noticed that, more and more frequently, when returning from shore leave—five days ago being the most recent occasion—he'd found himself confronting a wall of moderate depression. After performing a degree of self-analysis, he'd only ended up scolding himself for whining about something he'd accepted from the moment he'd made the decision to be a starship captain.

Loneliness. Isolation. Conditions necessary for a commander's position. He'd been at it nearly four years and had handled it well. Why, now, was he finding a degree of self-pity creeping up every time he paid an attractive, skilled female for providing physical release and closeness?

It's never bothered me before. The obvious solution is to get out of command, but that’s out of the question. I love what I am, what I do. But...

There it was again. The little stab of pain in his chest. It’d been so great after the last leave that he'd returned to the ship two days early. Not knowing what else to do with himself, he'd gone to the nearest rec room. With most of the crew on leave, it had been sparsely occupied. But, there, in a corner, sat Spock bent over an elaborate game/puzzle, his opponent the computer. The Vulcan had looked up as Kirk approached. His expression, and greeting, were primarily of surprise. Yet, there had also been a definite note of pleasure in both.

Kirk smiled at the memory. The ensuing conversation revealed that Spock, despite his usual insistence that he had much work to do when everyone else was on leave, was frequently bored when most of the crew was away for R&R.

"Why don’t you beam down and take a look around," Kirk had insisted. "It’ll give you something to do."

Spock had almost shrugged. "I have been to this planet before. There is nothing of interest."  Then an eyebrow arched. "You, yourself, seem to have run out of diversions."

Kirk had to give in then. "Touché." He sighed elaborately. "There doesn’t seem to be much to do, either down there or up here."

Spock indicated the board between them. "Would you care for a game?" 

It was something that Kirk didn’t play very often, as it required a scientific mind to put pieces of the puzzle together. But he took the indicated chair. "Sure.  Clear the board."

Now, he chuckled at the memory of how they'd played that particular game for hours. They'd ended up spending most of the rest of the leave together, some on the ship, some on the planet. Things didn't seem quite so boring when one had a companion to share them with.

I’m the richest man in the universe, Kirk reminded himself, to have a friend like him.

Warm hands brushed across his shoulders, then gently squeezed....

Feeling much better, Kirk left his cabin for dinner.

* * * * *

Kirk kicked at Osteron's surface with the toe of his boot. "Soil seems plenty moist." His attention turned to the man standing beside him. "I thought you said it hadn't rained in a while."

Spock looked up from his tricorder, which had been trilling almost constantly since beaming down. "That is correct. But this soil retains moisture for a great length of time." He nodded to the east. "Notice the abundance of fauna, even with the lack of rainfall."

Kirk made a gesture of agreement, then looked behind them to watch other crewmembers from the science department taking samples of various soils, plants, and rocks. As usual, Spock's team was a model of efficiency.

Kirk shivered as a breeze ruffled his hair. "Didn't you mention something about there also being animals around?"

"Yes. Scanners found small mammals within this region. I hope to be able to locate some of them and make tricorder readings."

Kirk didn't reply, and when Spock moved off in an easterly direction, he automatically followed. His presence was entirely unnecessary, but he enjoyed the opportunity to beam down and take in the fresh air.

Over a half hour later, the two senior officers found themselves separated from the rest of the party. They stopped at a group of small boulders that had been the object of Spock's tricorder.

The Vulcan pointed to a rock imbedded in the ground. "There, Captain."

Kirk moved closer and squatted near the indicated area, watching the small inhabitants crawling about the ground. "What are they?"

The science officer's tricorder trilled relentlessly. "Some sort of mammal. A very interesting pigmentation."

Kirk nodded, fascinated by the group of eight-legged creatures, each a couple of inches in length, that were a very light pink in color and looked like a mixture between scorpions and mice. He noted the stiff, curled tails and squinted up at Spock. "Poisonous?"

The other nodded while studying his instrument. "I am detecting some form of venom." He glanced at Kirk. "Please be careful, Captain."

Kirk smiled warmly and stood. "I'm hardly about to stick my hands near them."

Spock's tricorder finally stopped. "Nevertheless, while they seem harmless enough, we do not know what it may take to agitate them."

Kirk was still smiling at the protectiveness in the other's tone. He moved toward Spock, then put a hand on the Vulcan's shoulder and squeezed. "Good point. What other fascinating things does this planet have to offer?" His hand dropped.

The tricorder was working again. After a moment, Spock glanced to the north, toward a shallow forest, and said, "There appear to be some larger mammals approximately one kilometer in that direction."

“Let's go."

Kirk let his science officer lead the way. Before long, he caught himself daydreaming, wondering about the physical contact that had taken place the previous day. When he had touched Spock only a moment ago the other hadn't reacted, which was normal.

But why, yesterday, did he touch me that way?

With a mental shake, Kirk again scolded himself for making so much of such a small thing.

But he didn't like mysteries.

His concentration was interrupted by another sharp breeze. He watched Spock stiffen in front of him, knowing that the bite of the wind was much harsher on his desert-bred friend. "I suppose it'll get colder than this as the afternoon wears on."

"Yes, the temperature will drop approximately another fifteen degrees before nightfall. We should have our studies completed by then."

Now in the forest, they dodged various plants and trees, observing them while walking.

Spock suddenly stopped. Holding his arms away from his body, he gingerly took a step backwards.

Kirk moved to his side. "Spock, what...?"

"Spider web, Captain," the other replied, brushing it off his tunic and arms.

The human noted that the web must have been stretched between the two trees that his first officer had passed through. He helped Spock brush off the remains of the demolished habitat, noting that its occupant didn’t appear to be at home.

Kirk smiled at his friend. "Tell it you're sorry and move on."

The other raised his brow at such an illogical suggestion, and Kirk's grin widened.

But he was frowning as Spock turned his attention to the tricorder, and they began moving again, the Vulcan still in the lead. Spock had never walked into a spider web before. His Vulcan was simply never that inattentive, no matter how distracted by other matters.

Kirk suppressed a sigh, not liking the sensation of hair prickling on the back of his neck.

They heard movement ahead of them, and both stopped.

"There," Spock whispered, pointing. "Mammals, approximately 500 pounds in weight, ahead of us approximately twenty meters. There appear to be quite a number of them." He finally silenced the tricorder.

"Let's go," Kirk moved past Spock and cautiously peered through the branches on a row of tall bushes that stretched out before them. "I see them."

Spock had also made a small window from the branches. "Yes."

The mammals looked like a cross between a buffalo and a deer. There were over twenty, nibbling at the leaves on bushes and grass beneath the trees. Many had calves at their sides.

Kirk smiled at the scene of tranquility. "Beautiful, aren't they?"

"Yes."

Kirk knew the Vulcan was speaking not so much of the animals themselves, but of the simple fact of existence. There were few beings who appreciated the gift of life more than Spock.

Still whispering, the first officer raised the tricorder to his 'window' in the bushes. “I will attempt to take a recording without frightening them."

Kirk nodded, continuing to watch the herd. The tricorder began to hum, and most of the adult animals looked up in alarm. For a moment they stood completely still, ears pricked, nostrils dilated. Then, as though assessing no apparent danger, they went back to grazing.

Kirk watched the Vulcan relax as well, as though relieved that his scientific curiosity hadn't caused the creatures any harm. The human sighed and became aware of pressure on his bladder.

He stepped away. 

"Jim?" It was almost a shout, and the animals stirred restlessly.

The human looked sharply at Spock, surprised by the tone, and even more surprised by the Vulcan's fearful expression. His forehead creased as he tried to understand the emotion the Vulcan depicted.

Then Spock relaxed.

Kirk forced a smile and gestured with a hand. "I'm just going to relieve myself by that tree."

Spock looked away with a nod. "Of course, Captain." He turned back to the herd, tricorder buzzing.

Kirk moved to the tree, his back to the Vulcan, frowning deeply now. As he went about his task, his mind churned with confusion. For a split second, Spock had almost seemed to be in a state of panic. Almost…almost as though afraid I was going to leave him.

Kirk shook his head. It didn't make sense, but he could be certain now that it wasn't imagination. Something was wrong with his Vulcan. The problem was that Spock wasn't someone you could simply ask, "What's wrong?" and get a straight answer.

Give him time. He’ll confide in you when he's ready.

But that could be a long time from now, and it hurt to think that Spock may be suffering through...something...all alone.

Kirk sighed as he finished, as much from emotional frustration as from physical relief, and forced a cheerful expression as he rejoined his friend.

"Still there?" he whispered.

The other nodded.

Suddenly, Kirk's communicator beeped. As he removed it, the ground began to tremble, and hooves thundered against the earth as the animals moved off in fright.

The captain frowned and brought the communicator close to his mouth. "Kirk here."

"Rolawski, Captain. If Mr. Spock has no further requirements, we're ready to return to the ship for the day.  We've got all the standard samples from this area."

Kirk watched the Vulcan nod.

"Affirmative, Mr. Rolawski. Tell the transporter room that Spock and I will be following shortly."

"Aye, sir. Rolawski out."

As Kirk put the communicator away, he peered back through the bushes at the herd that was disappearing over a hill. He still felt inclined to whisper. "Beautiful, aren't they?" He didn't look back at his first officer, and only subconsciously did he pick up the wistfulness in Spock's reply. "Yes. Quite beautiful."

* * * * *

Kirk came to stand before the command chair after taking a slow tour of the bridge. He had done it with the attitude of one making sure each person was doing their job. In actuality, he'd only been interested in stretching his legs. On this third day of exploring Osteron most of the attention was being focused on the Northern hemisphere. For the captain, planetary surveys could be quite boring.

At least Spock had enough to keep busy with the new data. He was also remaining on the ship, mostly in the labs.

Kirk gazed wistfully at the science officer's post, now stationed by Lt. Monluta. For all the benefit he was deriving, Spock might as well have been on the planet. Though always unobtrusive and correct, the Vulcan was enjoyable to have around. In short, Kirk missed him.

The captain was relieved to be interrupted by a beeping at the command chair. Still standing, he pushed a button. "Kirk here."

A faint Southern drawl greeted him. "Jim, can you drop by Sickbay? It's important."

Instinctively, Kirk's eyes strayed to the first officer's station, though they didn't register the replacement now sitting there. "On my way."

He tried to blank his thoughts while making the journey to McCoy's, though silently acknowledging his gratitude for something to do.

Kirk entered the outer area where Chapel was, and she said, "They're in his office."

The door slid back, and Kirk found himself confronting the doctor's gentle, concerned gaze. The room was filled with tension.

Kirk glanced to his left and saw Spock sitting in a chair, the narrow shoulders slumped, dejected gaze on the floor. The human moved toward the Vulcan, concern and sympathy welling up. "Spo...," he started softly, then trailed off, realizing there would be no answers from the tense, silent figure. He looked sharply to the doctor, who was seated behind his desk.

"Sit down, Jim," the other smiled kindly.

The captain did so, his eyes locked on the doctor.

McCoy said, "Spock came to me a few hours ago, complaining of restlessness, lack of appetite, inability to sleep, decreased ability to concentrate. He's since admitted that he had a pretty good idea what was wrong, but he wanted tests to confirm it."

"Confirm what?" Kirk demanded in a near whisper.

"It's only been a little more than two years, but our first officer is experiencing 'his Time'-- as he puts it-- once again."

"Are you sure?" Kirk asked automatically, trying to steal a moment to absorb the information.

McCoy nodded. "The pattern his physiological system is experiencing is the same. Fortunately, Spock was still logical enough to realize he should have his condition diagnosed before it got as serious as it did last time. He estimates that he'll still be fully rational for perhaps another week, then the symptoms will become more severe, and he won't be able to function enough to do his job."

Kirk leaned back in his chair and swiveled it to face the first officer. He was bothered by the shameful stance, and vividly remembered how Spock had related this time to be one of great disgrace and difficulty for the proud, logical Vulcans. Gently, he said, "We'll get you to Vulcan, Spock. At least that won't be a problem like it was last time."

Spock straightened and looked at the human. "Why, Captain? There is no one there for me."

Kirk frowned at the defeated expression, kicking himself for being so thoughtless. "Then, where would you like to go?"

The Vulcan lowered his gaze and replied, "There is no where to go."

McCoy broke in. "He and I have already talked about this, Jim. He insists that there isn't anything Vulcan can do for him, since he’s no longer betrothed to anyone. Every alternative I’ve come up with, he’s rejected for one reason or another. That's why I called you down here. Frankly, I'm stumped." McCoy's voice increased in intensity. "But we've got to do something...before it's too late."

Kirk's stomach churned. No wonder Spock looked so defeated. And that was unlike his first officer. A part of him feared that Spock had already considered every possibility...and come up with no solution. But he refused to think in terms of impossibilities. "Spock, you must have some idea for a solution. Surely, you aren't the only Vulcan who's ever been in this predicament."

"No, I am not," the other agreed in an ironic tone. "Many who have been in this situation died in their madness when the fever reached its peak. Others are serving time in penal colonies for their...actions."

Rape, Kirk realized. But that brought a hopeful thought. "The ones in penal colonies...what happens when it's 'their Time' again?" 

"Some have been treated with experimental drugs and died as a result. Others have died in The Madness. Others have had themselves subjected to castration well in advance of the condition, but in many of those instances the individual still suffers a 'pseudo-pon farr', since there is more physiology involved than just hormones." Spock's voice lowered. "The Time affects the entire body...and person."

Kirk swallowed. Castration was out of the question, and he was grateful that Spock wasn't considering it.

Then the obvious struck, and he leaned forward in his chair. "Spock, couldn't a 'temporary' mate suffice? I mean, couldn’t you just...'mate' with a woman until it's over with?"

McCoy said, "He and I have already been through that, Jim. He absolutely will not consider it."

"Why?" Kirk looked from Spock to McCoy, then back to Spock.

Spock glanced up at him with such a dark look that Kirk realized he'd said something horribly taboo. When it became apparent that Spock didn't seem to deem Kirk’s question worthy of an answer, McCoy spoke again.

"He considers that to be rape."

"Rape?" Kirk asked in puzzlement. Then a smile touched his lips as he gently said, "Spock, I'm sure --even on this very ship--you could find someone who would...accommodate you quite willingly."

"You do not understand," Spock said forcefully.

Kirk’s voice hardened. "Explain."

"Human women have no idea what is involved. Even if they agreed, they would not know what they were agreeing to. Vulcans do not 'make love'. A male in the fever is violent during the mating act. It is an act of complete, absolute, selfish need and lust." Spock's arms crossed. "It is rape."

"And it isn't rape for Vulcan women?"

"It is different between bonded mates."

Kirk's expression softened. "Then, why can't you become bonded to a Vulcan woman?"

"T'Pring was to be my bondmate. Since she divorced me, for which I am grateful, I no longer have someone waiting."

Kirk took a deep breath to steady his thinning patience. "Surely, other Vulcans have lost their potential bond-mates, one way or another. I can't believe they just go off and...die."

"That is true. But in those situations -- the death of the potential bondmate, for example --there is usually plenty of time to find another. The joining of two potential bondmates, no matter what the age of the individuals involved, is a lengthy process. It requires approval from relatives and the Vulcan Council." Spock sighed quietly. "I had hoped that I would be able to pursue that avenue, but my hybrid genealogy has not afforded me the necessary time."

Hope fading, Kirk looked at McCoy. "What about...?" he made a faint, one-handed gesture.

"We've covered that, too," McCoy replied with resignation. "As Spock has indicated, the act of mating at this time doesn't just involve the genitals. It's a complete physiological process. I don't understand it. Apparently, the Vulcans don’t, either. But that's definitely out of the question."

Kirk sunk deeper into his chair, elbow resting on McCoy's desk, chin in hand, expression grim. The room was completely silent as he studied the slumped form.

Warm hands brushed across his shoulders, then gently squeezed....

Jarred by the memory-- and its implication-- Kirk suddenly straightened and ran the past few days through his mind.

On Osteron, while watching those animals, for a moment he seemed almost…terrified…that I was going to go off and leave him. He nodded to himself. That had to have been caused by the approaching pon farr. Just like when he ran into that spider web...his lack of concentration. Kirk pulled at his lower lip. And when he...touched me...that special way.... That was probably caused by the pon farr, too. He was reaching out to me. He needed me...whether he realized it or not.

The captain's voice was firm when it broke the silence that had settled in the room. "Bones, leave us."

Two pairs of eyes looked up in surprise. Kirk's were on Spock.

''What?" McCoy demanded.

"I have an idea, but I need to talk to Spock alone first."

"Why?" the doctor asked defensively. "He came to me with his problem. I need to be in on any decisions."

"Bones," The tone was partially scolding, partially pleading.

The other stood and muttered, "All right. I guess I have some patients to look after."

"Thank you," Kirk turned his attention back to Spock.

The door hissed softly as it closed behind the doctor, leaving the captain and first officer staring at each other.

Finally, Kirk gently asked, "Spock, does it have to be with a female?"

An eyebrow soared. "I beg your pardon?"

If the situation had been different, Kirk would have laughed at the astonished expression. "Biologically," he clarified, completely patient now. "Is it necessary for you to mate with a female?"

Spock's gaze was back on the floor. "There are some homosexual bondmates on Vulcan," came the thoughtful reply. Then, suddenly, his eyes widened as he looked up at Kirk in horror.

Kirk smiled.

In near panic, Spock said, "Jim, no. No. I know what you are thinking. NO."

"Why?" the other challenged softly.

"Have you not listened to what I have said?" Spock demanded in a tone reserved for incompetent ensigns. "It would be an act of rape. I could not do that to you. NO." Spock closed his eyes, body rigid.

Keeping his voice calm, though worried about Spock's emotional reaction, Kirk said, "For the sake of argument, what if it weren’t rape? Would you be interested then?"

Spock took a deep, calming breath. Hoarsely, he replied, "You have been a friend to me. You are the single most important element in my life. Please, do not ask this of me."

A part of Kirk was extremely moved by that announcement. But the other part cautioned not to stray from the subject. "Would you rather me watch my best friend die," he stated with deadly calm, "and spend the rest of my life missing him...and knowing that I could have saved him? Be logical, First Officer."

Spock swallowed heavily. Then, "The pon farr is not a time of logic. It is madness."

"So you've said. In fact, that's about all you've said. I'm willing to accept the illogic of it. We don't seem to have many options here, my friend."

Spock looked at Kirk then. "I do not have many options," he corrected. "You do."

"Agreed. And I'm acting on my option to save your life."

Spock shook his head--from disbelief, frustration, or denial, Kirk couldn't be sure.

The captain stood, then made the brief journey to the Vulcan. He halted beside the slumped figure and gently said, "Spock, if you don't think you can do it with me.... I mean, if I'm not acceptable in some way.... If my male body is repulsive to you..." It was manipulation, and he wasn't proud of it. But he had to make Spock face up to what he himself was already certain of. 

Spock was shaking his head vehemently. "No. It is not that. I... I..." He finally looked up at the human, naked vulnerability in the dark eyes. "I fear your hatred when I...am finished with you."

The human swallowed. Damn you, Kirk. Did you have to bring him to this?

Spock had lowered his eyes and Kirk laid a hand on the crown of the dark head. Softly, he said, "I care about you too much for that. That’s why I'm offering myself. That’s how much you mean to me. Every capacity I have to love and care says that 'The one called Spock must survive.’" Spock did not reply. Nor did he pull away from Kirk's hand.

With his pon farr coming on, he’s incapable of rejecting me. It’s amazing how strong the sexual drive is, even in Vulcans. Especially in Vulcans.

Kirk removed his hand and knelt at Spock's feet, looking up into an expression that seemed resigned to the situation. "Spock," he began gently, "I have an idea. Maybe it'll make it easier."

The Vulcan looked at him squarely, an eyebrow arched with interest.

"What if we didn’t wait until the fever becomes severe? What if we...got used to each other, while we still have time? Do you think, maybe, that sexual activity before the mating act becomes imperative might reduce the intensity?"

Spock seemed stunned. "Jim, what you are suggesting?"

"What I'm suggesting," Kirk cut in firmly, "is that we get started as soon as possible." Then his voice softened to a near whisper. "Spock, I want to give us time. I want us to," he shrugged helplessly at his choice of words, "get to know each other better. I need to learn how to please you."

"There is no pleasure involved," Spock reminded sharply.

"There isn't?" the human asked in a small voice. "Even for you?" That was an idea that he couldn't fathom.

Spock was suddenly out of the chair, his body tense. He stood before McCoy's desk, back to Kirk. "No. Have you not been listening to what I have been saying?"

There was that condescending tone again. Kirk shrugged it off, knowing it was caused by his friend's oncoming condition.

Silence fell about the room.

Finally, Kirk stood, hands on hips, and firmly said, "Look at me and tell me you don't want me to serve your need, and I'll never say another word about it."

For a long moment there was no word or gesture. Then the blue-clad shoulders slumped.

Look what you’re doing to him, James T., a part of him scolded.

I had to, I had to, another part responded.

A defeated baritone penetrated the silence. "I cannot."

Kirk couldn't take the admission as a victory. It hurt too much.

The human's voice was soft and compassionate now. "Why don’t you go on back to your post? I'll tell McCoy."

Spock straightened, still facing the desk. "He will not approve."

"Of course not. But we’ll still need him."

The Vulcan made a small gesture of agreement, then turned away and exited through the doors without looking back.

* * * * *

 "You're going to WHAT?" McCoy shouted at his commanding officer. He was seated behind his desk.

Kirk had been standing, and now slumped into the chair he'd occupied previously. "There's no point in arguing, Bones. We've already decided."

"You mean you decided," the other corrected. "I’m afraid to even guess why. Or did you suddenly decide your sex life needs something a little more unconventional?" 

Kirk snapped, "That's a low blow, Doctor."

"You're damn right it is. Unless you've been sneaking around to some other brothels when I wasn’t looking, you have no idea what you’re getting into. Or what will be getting into you."

Kirk crossed his arms. "Now you sound like Spock."

"Heaven forbid he and I may actually agree on something, but I'm telling you, Jim, this isn't just a deviant fuck we're talking about."

Kirk sighed heavily. "All right, doctor, you've obviously got something to say. I'm listening."

McCoy calmed down, now assured that he was being heard. "Same-sex, for someone who's never done it, can be a traumatic experience, and I'm not even talking about the violence of the pon farr."

Kirk smiled with false bravado. "Bones, I've had enough dildos up my ass to know it's an erotic area for me."

McCoy shook his head. "We're talking about a lot more than anal intercourse, Jim. We're talking about a situation where you will be totally dominated by another man for perhaps days on end. I'm not sure that someone with so strong a personality as you would be able to go through that without putting up a lot of resistance, however involuntary. Submission just isn't in your makeup."

Kirk thought about that. Then, "In this case, submission would be a victory. I respect Spock that much."

"Fine," McCoy continued doubtfully. "So, what are you going to do when he's been pounding into you for hours on end, and you're sore and exhausted and ready to stop? You think that just telling him you've had enough is going to get him to quit?"

“I'll be at his mercy. I can think of worse places to be."

"A worse place than where you were at when we went to Vulcan? If I hadn’t been there..."

"I know, Bones," the captain relented softly. "But I was his rival then. This time, I'll be his lover."

"According to him, you'll be nothing of the sort. This has nothing to do with love."

Kirk shifted and leaned on the desk, eyeing the doctor carefully. "Bones, you're going to have to trust me when I tell you that Spock has genuine affection for me. Love, actually. I can't explain how I know that without sounding silly, but it is something that I know. He's-- " Warm hands brushed across his shoulders, then gently squeezed... "He's let me know that, in his own way. Despite all his protests, I think he may not be capable of hurting me as much as he thinks."

"And if you're wrong?"

Kirk smiled charmingly. "That's why you're here."

McCoy stood, shaking his head. "I just can't understand why you won't acknowledge the severity of what you're planning to do. And how do you think your friendship will survive once it's all over with?"

Kirk's voice softened. "He'll be alive. Isn't that enough?"

"No. It isn't. Not if he has to live with your resentment, however unintentional, the rest of his life."

Now Kirk's voice was firm. "Our friendship made it through what happened on Vulcan. It'll make it through this, too."

McCoy's voice softened with resignation. "So, what are you going to do? Go to his cabin tonight?"

Kirk shrugged. "I imagine so. It seems logical that the earlier we start the better. I'm not sure that we'll actually do anything yet, but I think it best that we get...started...while he's still rational." Kirk frowned. "I assume he's able. I didn't really ask him that. Do you think he's impotent when he's not in pon farr?"

"Not completely," the other replied professionally. "I think if he has enough stimulation—like he did on Omicron Ceti Three and on Sarpeidon—that he can perform. Normally, the drive is almost non-existent. As for his current situation, when I examined him earlier today his genitals were fuller than usual, and they'll probably get even bigger as the days go by. They’re pretty sensitive right now, too."

Kirk sat still, studying his hands in his lap.

Gently, McCoy said, "Are you really sure about this, Jim? Are you sure that he's sure?" The doctor then muttered, "Maybe it's a moot point. He could be off now coming up with a list of reasons to support changing his mind."

"He won't change his mind," Kirk said with soft assurance. "He's...drawn to me, Bones." His face twisted in puzzlement. "I can't really say that it's the same thing as when we humans have an attraction to each other. But there is some part of him that...needs me."

McCoy frowned. "I can't help but think that in your and his situation it's more of a child being attracted to a parental figure, rather than an adult being attracted to a possible lover. I can't help but feel you're taking advantage of his naiveté...and whatever feelings, innocent or not so innocent, that he may feel toward you."

Kirk looked up at the doctor, expression hard. "I am taking advantage of him. To save his life. Whatever damage to our relationship that may cause...," he stood, stiffly, facing the chair Spock had occupied, the reality of the possible consequences sinking in for the first time, "...I'll just have to live with."

He marched out of the room.

* * * * *

Kirk considered bringing flowers. Then he realized that was stupid. Spock wouldn't appreciate such gestures.

He was here, standing before his first officer's cabin, to perform a duty, however personal. He had already pushed all contemplations regarding his decision to the back of his mind. In order for this to work, he had to go to Spock with a completely positive conviction that everything was going to be all right. Otherwise, they'd never get to first base. Doubts could be dealt with later.

Kirk rang the buzzer. The door slid open immediately, as he knew it would. They'd had an agreement. And Spock was in no condition to resist.

The Vulcan was standing before his desk, back to the doorway. Hands were locked behind him, shoulders slumped, eyes on the floor.

It seemed to take a long time for the door to close behind Kirk. For another long moment, neither spoke. Once it became apparent that the Vulcan didn't have anything to say, Kirk knew he’d have to make the first move.

"Spock?" It came out as a whisper.

The Vulcan straightened, but did not speak or turn around.

"I'm determined to go through with this." Kirk hadn't intended for the statement to sound so apologetic.

"Obviously," came the hoarse reply.

Kirk relaxed a little and moved a few steps toward his friend. Trying to sound casual, he shrugged and said, "I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I don't necessarily want to rush into anything. After all, you seem to think it'll be about a week before you're seriously affected. We may as well...use," he cringed at the word, "that amount of time in any way that's best. I mean, we don't have to really do anything tonight. But...we need to get something started." Feeling terribly self-conscious, he feebly added, "There's no logic in waiting."

The reply was a soft, "Agreed."

The human was encouraged by the verbal response, but wasn't sure what to say next. He finally settled on additional conversation. With great compassion, he whispered, "McCoy says that you're...very sensitive right now. Are you in pain?"

The Vulcan took a deep breath. "There is a degree of discomfort."

"Will it get worse?"

"Yes."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

Spock shook his head. "It is a necessary part of the condition. The organs are preparing themselves for optimum sperm production."

"And when that sperm is released...," Kirk began hopefully.

The first officer made another negative gesture. "What is happening to me is different from what happens to a human male when he gets an erection. In my case, organs that are normally dormant are being put to use. Those organs, and the surrounding tissues, are being subjected to a degree of physical stress that they are not accustomed to. That is what is responsible for the tenderness. I do not expect the condition to improve until a few days after the dissipation of the mating urge." He glanced over his shoulder at Kirk. "While the Vulcan does experience a release of pressure from ejaculation, the mating act, in general, is a painful process."

Kirk's throat tightened at this new revelation. Maybe he really didn’t know what he was getting into, but it was too late now to turn back. Hoarsely, he clarified, "It will get worse as the days wear on?"

"Yes. It will be worst at the peak of the fever."

The human released a melancholy sigh. "Nature doesn’t make much sense sometimes, does it? What logic is there in someone feeling compelled to do something that only causes pain?"

Spock finally turned around. "Just as there is great pain in the act of giving birth—but also joy at the arrival of the child—there can be  great pain for the Vulcan male in pon farr, but also great joy in the sharing of intimacy with his bonded mate."

Kirk frowned. "Which you won't be able to experience, since we're not bonded mates."

"No." The tone was one of fact, not regret.

Kirk sighed again. "I don't suppose there's any way that I could become a...temporary bondmate."

"No. There is such a thing as a temporary link, but I will not do it for this purpose."

The human knew that Spock expected his next question. "Why?"

Spock turned to one side and swallowed. "A temporary link would only serve to draw us together. At the peak of the fever, I would bond us. That is a permanent condition that neither of us wants." The thin shoulders slumped again. "For your protection, it is critical that we proceed without any mental contact. I would bond us on instinct alone."

Kirk’s heart accelerated. No, he certainly hadn't known what he was getting into. Warily, he asked, "But there's no chance that you would accidentally bond us, even without any kind of mental contact?"

"It is the original link, such as the one I had with T'Pring, that draws the two mates together at the male's pon farr. You and I will be participating in only physical activity, to satisfy the basic, physical needs of the condition."

"And the mental needs?"

Spock swallowed with difficulty. "The satisfaction of the mental needs is...desirable, but not necessary for survival." He straightened and turned toward Kirk, voice now firm. "It is irrelevant in our situation."

Kirk nodded slowly, in complete agreement, but realizing more than ever how painful this entire process would be for Spock. His heart ached for the lonely Vulcan, but he was limited in what he could do. 

He would save his friend's life. That would have to be enough.

They both stood silent, regarding each other timidly. Then both looked away at the same time.

Kirk cleared his throat and put his hands behind his back. Studying the floor, he said, "I'll undress in the bathroom...put on a robe. That should give you enough time to...to get under the covers."

"Agreed," came the whisper-soft response.

Without looking up, Kirk moved to Spock's bathroom. From there, he went through the connecting door to his own lavatory. He undressed mechanically, never noticing the movements, mind churning with thoughts of what was to come.

They were going to share in a very intimate experience...and both were going to hate it every step of the way.

Kirk felt a stab of grief. When they had been in McCoy's office, he hadn't known that it would all be so grim. He'd wanted to believe that, despite what Spock believed, this would somehow, someway, be pleasant for the Vulcan. He questioned, too, if there really would be any benefit to getting an 'early start'. From everything Spock had told him, the experience wouldn’t be any more pleasant, even if the Vulcan was still in a rational state of mind.

But he didn’t argue with my suggestion that we get to know each other better first, Kirk reminded himself. Maybe he’s hopeful that it will help. He swallowed. Or maybe he’s just taking the opportunity to be as close to me as possible. Maybe he doesn’t want me out of his sight, like on Osteron the other day.

Now nude, Kirk stood studying himself in the half-length mirror. I wonder if he would have felt the same fear yesterday if it would have been McCoy, or Chekov, or anyone else besides me. Has he somehow ’chosen’ me because he’s more comfortable with me, or just because I happened to be in the right place at the right time?

The human frowned. He couldn’t have been ’drawn’ to me—in the Vulcan sense—since we don’t have any kind of mental link. But he didn't put up near as much of a fight when I suggested we...do it…than when I suggested some female crewmember.

Stop thinking, Kirk. You can sort it all out after it’s over. For now, his needs are the priority. He gulped. However rough the next couple of weeks become, don’t ever forget that it’s worse for him than it is for you.

The human stood looking at his reflection a moment longer. He wondered if Spock would find him attractive. He hoped the Vulcan would. But he also realized that Spock needed a warm body to...join with...and the first officer's logical mind would not be concerned about fringe benefits.

Kirk took his robe from the hook on the door and slipped into it. He firmly tied the sash, then pulled open a drawer and retrieved two of the many thick tubes of cream that McCoy had given him. He put them in the pocket of his robe, not knowing if they would be needed tonight. But he was damn well going to be prepared.

Kirk paused. Maybe he should go ahead and apply a helping, just in case. It may make later proceedings go more smoothly.

The thought was discarded an instant later. No. The whole point of us getting together now is to get used to each other. He’s going to have to learn how to use it on me, and I’m going to have to get used to him touching me...like that.

The human had tried to put it out of his mind, for as long as possible, thinking about what it would really be like when the fever reached its peak. He didn't know what it would be like to have Spock inside him.

He wanted to think it would be pleasant, but common sense—and Spock—indicated otherwise. 

I'll know soon enough, he reminded himself and exited the bathroom.

* * * * *

Spock was in bed, flat on his back, the covers drawn up to his neck. The fingers of one hand loosely held the edge of the spread. The other hand was tucked neatly away, nowhere to be seen.

A tender feeling welled up in Kirk, and he almost smiled. Though it was the human who was here to be 'used', Spock looked every bit the victim. And Kirk wanted to protect him from being further victimized by this mysterious drive that only Vulcans knew.

He walked slowly over to the bed. The first officer had thoughtfully moved to one side, barely leaving enough room for another body on the narrow mattress.

Kirk knelt on the available space, watching Spock watch him. The brown eyes were bright and curious...and apprehensive.

The fingers tightened their hold on the coverlet.

No longer interested in philosophical questions, Kirk allowed his body to relax as tenderness overtook him. His lips remained in a straight line, but his eyes smiled.

He reached out with his left hand, and engulfed the frail fingers of Spock's right hand, drawing them out and away from their tentative perch. Simultaneously, he placed his other hand in the middle of Spock's chest, letting it rest there, letting the other feel him there.

Spock swallowed, then looked away.

Kirk tightened his grip on the hand, but his voice and expression remained soft. "I'm here for you, Spock."

The Vulcan closed his eyes, as though in pain, but did not speak.

"I know it's an ugly word, but you must use me in any way that you need. I'll never forgive you if you don't take from me what you need to survive. Understood?" When Spock didn't answer the human repeated, "Understood?"

"Understood," the other replied in a low, strained voice, then said, “In a few days, it will be a moot point. I will be unable to control my actions."

Kirk nodded, bringing his right hand up and wrapping it around his and Spock's joined hands. "I know."

Spock's eyes opened, but his face was still turned away. Kirk sighed and shifted until he was sitting on the bed, Indian-style, one hand now lightly holding Spock's, the other resting again on the Vulcan's chest.

Compassionately, Kirk whispered, "What do you fear the most?"

"The loss of control," the other replied immediately. "Even more than your hatred, I fear losing control...of my body, of my actions...and of my emotions."

Kirk squeezed the hand. "Spock," he reassured gently, "I'll be the only one to see you. It’ll never be spoken of, unless you want to. Surely, you know I would never hold your weaknesses against you. I feel it an honor to be the only one allowed to see them."

Spock regarded him sharply. "I doubt you will think such when it is all over."

Kirk could see no point in arguing with this troubled, stubborn man. He smiled gently. "We'll see. Whether you want to believe it or not, your vulnerabilities are safe with me."

This time Spock nodded, as though accepting, as he took a deep breath.

After a few moments of silence, Kirk changed the subject. "Are you more comfortable, now that you're out of your clothes?"

"Somewhat. There is still a degree of pain, which will continue to intensify, as I told you earlier."

Kirk frowned, leaning closer. "And there's nothing I can do to help?"

"No. It is a necessary internal process. Nature's way." The last sentence had a hint of bitterness. Spock shook his head. "Already, my emotions are surfacing. I do not know how much longer I can control. Perhaps there is less than a week remaining."

Kirk pressed harder on the Vulcan's chest, leaning over him. "Spock, maybe you shouldn't try to control. Maybe you should just accept what's happening. I do."

"You do not understand," Spock insisted in a strained voice. "It is so difficult for Vulcans, who take such pride in our lack of emotion and strict control. It is instinctive to at least attempt control."

"Maybe a diversion would help. I'll take off my robe, if that’s all right with you."

Spock gazed at the human, then lowered his eyes. "If we are going to proceed, that would be a logical action."

The captain hesitated. "Spock, you can...uh, get an erection, can't you? I mean, now?"

"Yes, I am capable," the other said with a degree of reluctance.

Kirk smiled, trying to reassure. He opened the sash to his robe, shrugged the garment off, then let it fall to the floor. He turned to sit parallel to Spock, legs stretching out in front of him. "Are you interested?"

Spock had watched the human undress, and now looked away. "It is the other side I am concerned with," he said levelly.

Kirk swallowed, trying to deny his injured pride. At least he’s being honest. Stupid of me to expect him to be impressed by me...by my body. He just wants the part that he needs.

At that moment, it occurred to him how ridiculous the whole idea of he and Spock engaging in sex together was.

What are you doing, James T.? This is going to be the coldest act of fornication you’ve ever been involved in. And it’s going to hurt. He shied away from defining whether he meant physically or emotionally. Or both.

He had already committed himself. There would be no turning back.

With little ceremony, he rolled onto his stomach, then stretched out beside Spock. After experiencing a twinge of humiliation, he forced himself to look at his friend.

The Vulcan's eyes slowly roamed from shoulders to buttocks. A hand reached out, then hovered over the twin globes.

Spock's eyes met his. "May I?"

Kirk knew it was irrelevant—or would be in a matter of days—but he appreciated that Spock was trying to allow him as much dignity as possible.

He nodded.

The hand came to rest momentarily on the right buttock. Then it skirted to the left, then settled near the top of the cleft, fingers stroking.

Kirk bounced slightly, partly from the sensation, and partly to show off his anatomy. Accepting the inevitable, he found his good spirits returning, and repeated, "Are you interested?"

"Yes," came the soft reply.

"Are you hard right now?"

"No. But I will be shortly."

"Can I see?" Kirk asked with genuine curiosity. "Will you let me look, so I can see what happens to you...there?"

The hand was removed. “Of course."

Spock sat up, causing the coverlet to slip to his waist. From there, he pushed it further back, until it rested at his ankles.

Kirk got up on his knees. And looked.

The double-ridged penis lay nestled, mildly erect, against the black curls, which were slightly moist from what Kirk assumed to be perspiration. Dark-green veins moved through it in seemingly random lines and curves. Beneath, a large, plump scrotal pouch rested against the mattress, its veins also standing out in a dark green contrast to the mild olive that Kirk had come to associate with Spock's normal skin tone. 

The whole arrangement looked a little bit ugly, a little too personal to be stared at...and rather painful.

Kirk regarded the Vulcan with sympathy. "Nothing will help soothe it?"

"No," came the soft reply.

Kirk's eyes returned to the groin area. The penis twitched slightly, then slowly lengthened. Curiously, he said, "The veins already seem to be full. How are they filling more to create an erection?"

"The major vein on the underside," Spock explained scientifically, "fills during erection. The other veins have little to do with the erectile response. Their purpose lies more in assisting with sperm transportation through the proper ducts." The Vulcan restrained a painful gasp.

Kirk swallowed. "And the formation of the erection...that hurts, too?"

Spock released a deep breath. "Yes. There has been so little blood flow through there for so long, the vein and surrounding tissue is being expanded to a degree that it is not normally accustomed to."

Spock had already told him that. Why does it have to be like this? It doesn’t make any sense. Nature is usually more logical.

The best thing Kirk could do was relieve the erection. His stomach tightened in fear...and dread. What he hadn't told McCoy was the he’d only used a dildo twice, and both times he’d been so drunk he hardly remembered anything about the experiences. "I guess we should trade places."

Spock didn't reply, but the Vulcan slowly got to his knees, and then moved aside so that Kirk could get in the middle of the bed.

The human laid back stiffly, feeling horribly awkward as he spread trembling legs.

Spock moved between them. "It is necessary that you be in a prone position," he said without emotion.

Kirk's stomach tightened more at the firmness in the tone. Suddenly, Spock didn't seem so vulnerable anymore. And that frightened him. "We need to...prepare first. And I...I want to be able to talk to you for a minute."

Ghod, why am I shaking so much? Maybe Bones was right. Maybe I’ll never accept being dominated like this, and it’ll never be the same again between me and Spock. What we’re about to do scares the shit out of me.

But Spock was sitting still, dark eyes watching Kirk’s, as though seeking directions.

Kirk took a deep breath. "The lubricant is in the pocket of my robe."

The Vulcan reached down to the side of the bed, then straightened a moment later with a thick tube in one hand. He read the label, then looked at Kirk. "Dr. McCoy prescribed it?"

"Yes. He said it's impossible to use too much. I've got plenty more." Kirk's nervousness was easing with the conversation.

Spock, too, seemed to relax as he settled himself between Kirk's legs. He broke the seal on the cap, unscrewed the lid, then looked at his captain.

Gently, the human asked, "Do you know what to do?"

The Vulcan hesitated. "According to the directions, it is recommended that the substance be applied to both of us."

Kirk nodded, puzzled by Spock's sudden reluctance. Then it dawned on him that the Vulcan didn't know how to proceed. He smiled reassuringly. "You need to squeeze some out onto your fingers, then put it inside me." He bent his knees a little, making his meaning obvious.

There was another moment of hesitation. Then the Vulcan pointed the tube at the exposed fingers of his free hand. He squeezed. A long stream of creamy substance squirted across his fingers, onto the bed, and onto the floor.

When he looked at Kirk, his expression was so full of exasperation that the human almost laughed. But the human's tone was gentle and soothing when he spoke. "It's okay. You just squeezed a little too hard."

"Obviously," the other admitted drily. Very carefully, he tried it again, this time presenting an even layer of cream across long fingers.

Kirk spread his legs a little more and bent them further. "Okay, now put it into me. It may be best if you just sort of play with...with the opening first, instead of just ramming. It'll help stretch the muscle if you sort of gently stimulate it first."

As Spock lowered his hand, Kirk saw it was trembling.

"You don’t need to be shy," the human reassured in a light tone. "I’m used to being touched there."

Spock arched an eyebrow at that.

Kirk was about to explain, but hot, moist fingers brushed against his buttocks, one prodding about the crevice, then finding the recess. It paused there.

"That's it. Just one finger at first. Sort of stroke me there." The finger responded tentatively. You can be a little firmer than that."

The finger moved purposely along the wrinkled skin. Spock regarded Kirk with a questioning expression.

The human nodded. "That's good, Spock. It helps relax me. You can gradually work your way in when you feel the muscle becoming pliant."

"This is not painful for you?"

Kirk shook his head, smiling gently. "No. In fact, it's kind of nice. I like having my ass played with. It's always been an erotic area for me. That's what I meant when I said I'm used to it."

As the finger inched its way in, an aura of relief seemed to envelope the Vulcan. "Then, you are experienced in this form of intercourse?"

Kirk hesitated. "Sort of. I've had dildos up my ass."

Spock’s next question was completely serious. "Why?"

The human shrugged. "I guess because I get an urge now and then to do something a little...out of the ordinary. Usually, I don't go in for that sort of thing unless I'm at least a little drunk. Then, I let my paid-companion know what I'm interested in...." He shrugged again, feeling self-conscious. "They’re never very surprised. They're used to requests that are a little bizarre."

He had been so intent on what he was saying, that Kirk just now realized a finger had been fully inserted. "You can try putting in another one," he said off-handedly.

Again, completely serious, the Vulcan said, "Why would you use an artificial device, rather than engage in intercourse with a male being?" A second finger began to work its way in.

It took a long moment of thought before Kirk had formulated a reply. "I guess because I've never really desired to have sex with another man. Male bodies don't arouse me, and there’s a...a part of me that rebels against the idea of someone else dominating me." He looked at the Vulcan, hoping his next words were true. "You're different, though, Spock. You aren't just any male. It's important to me to do this for you."

Spock seemed to shy away from that. Working intently with his fingers—two were fully ensheathed now—he asked, "And the device?"

Kirk shrugged. "It's just a way of stimulating me more thoroughly than a finger or two could. Some are built with various vibrating speeds, and move in different ways." He shrugged again, not knowing how else to explain it. "It's just another form of stimulation that I engage in occasionally."

He was anxious to turn the conversation away from himself and gently asked, "How are you doing?" He tried to see Spock's groin, but the Vulcan's arms were in the way.

"I am aroused," the other stated informatively. Betraying his anxiety for the first time, he asked, "How much further stimulation is required?"

"I think that's good enough." The human's body tightened with the realization of what was to come. He again tried to divert his attention as Spock removed the digits. "Do you want me to put the cream on you, or do you want to put it on yourself?"

He thought it might be better if he did it so he could get used to touching Spock, but if the Vulcan was as tender as he was admitting to, the human wouldn't know the best way of handling him.

With face averted, Spock picked up the tube. "I will do it."

The room was filling with tension again.

Kirk watched as the first officer gingerly began applying cream to his phallus, which was erect, and still looked painful. "Spock, listen to me."

The other looked up, but continued applying the cream.

"Listen," Kirk repeated, "when you first come into me, it’ll help if you give me a minute to get used to the feel of it. I'm sure it’s going to hurt, anyway, but it’ll help if you can hold yourself still after the head is in...to let me get used to the width."

Spock paused thoughtfully, then nodded.

"I know you may not be able to," Kirk amended quickly, his mind imaging a scenario of the Vulcan endlessly apologizing. "If you can't help yourself, I'm forgiving you ahead of time."

Spock laid the tube aside. Expression a painful mixture of anxiety and tenderness, he leaned over Kirk, one hand hovering shakily over the human's shoulder. "Jim, I do not wish to hurt you. It is the last thing I would ever wish for." The tone became apologetic. "I thought I was still maintaining control, but since my arousal has become complete...."

Filled with compassion, Kirk gripped Spock's hand and squeezed it. "Don't try to control," he soothed. "We aren't here to try to delay what's going to happen. It's going to happen, anyway. I already forgive you for the pain."

Spock nodded, eyes closed, reluctantly accepting Kirk's words. Then he drew his hand back from Kirk's, and the human rolled onto his stomach. He grabbed a pillow and placed it beneath his hips, then forced himself to spread his legs, feeling the thigh muscles tighten in fear.

Relax, relax, relax, he told himself. Whatever happens, don’t fight him. Keeping thinking about him and what he’s going through.

He hoped—somehow, someway—Spock was going to enjoy this. At least a little bit.

Hot hands were on his buttocks. Kirk forced himself not to flinch, even as they awkwardly parted him. One hand left him, and a moment later a large, blunt heat was placed against his anus.

Don’t fight him, Don’t fight him, Don’tfighthim, Dontfi....

"Ghod!" Kirk cried, then bit into the mattress. He broke into a sweat as he was spread seemingly wider than was possible, the muscle protesting vehemently. Spock's heated chest pressed against his back and shoulders, the Vulcan's deep, gasping breath hissing behind his neck.

Slowly, the painful haze began to dull. Realizing that Spock was holding himself still, the human couldn’t take the Vulcan's restraint any longer. He reached back with his left arm, awkwardly felt for Spock, and came into contact with the thin waist. "Go ahead," he ordered breathlessly. "Go ahead."

Shockingly uncoordinated, Spock grappled Kirk’s shoulders, then rested his chest on the other's back as he pushed his organ in further. 

"Christ," the human gasped, hardly able to breathe beneath the other's weight. Ghod, please let this be over soon. Come on, Spock. Shoot your wad and be done with it. Please.

Spock pushed in further. Then a powerful arm wrapped around Kirk's chest and squeezed tight.

A deep, agonized, barely stifled cry emerged from Spock's throat, and the Vulcan's entire body quivered. Then he let out a long, subdued groan.

It was a moment before Kirk realized the other had ejaculated. He thought he might faint from relief. The Vulcan swallowed near his left ear, and as though about to speak. But silence ensued.

Kirk's throat tightened. He was desperate to know what Spock was thinking...feeling....

"Spock?"

The other breathed deeply—a sound of relief—then slowly eased away from Kirk, his shrinking organ slipping out of the other man with a wet noise that was obscenely loud.

The weight left the human. Then the slight shifting of the mattress revealed that Spock was sitting on the edge.

Kirk was torn between the desire to speak to his friend, and the need to rush to the bathroom. He decided that the latter was more a mental need than a physical one, and he didn’t want to run away from Spock.

Quietly, he slid onto his side, tossing the pillow out of the way. Even here in Spock's room, the relatively cool air felt good when it hit his sweaty chest.

The Vulcan was sitting with his back to Kirk, shoulders slumped and head bowed.

Kirk swallowed, preparing to say something, but not finding the appropriate words.

He didn't have to. The Vulcan finally found his voice. Softly, the deep baritone whispered, "How is it possible that humans find so much pleasure in this act?"

Kirk wasn't sure what Spock was asking. "You mean anal intercourse, or sex in general?" He was surprised at the casualness of his own voice.

"Sex. In any form."

Hoping he was wrong, Kirk asked, "Was it as bad as you thought? I mean, physically?"

"Yes." Spock raised his head but did not look behind him. "There was relief, but no pleasure." Then a pause. "You hated it."

"But I don't hate you, Spock." Kirk smiled inwardly at the truth in those words.

Spock lowered his eyes, still whispering. "What can I do to make it more enjoyable for you?"

The human took a deep breath. "I thought that didn’t matter. When the pon farr is at its peak, you aren't going to be concerned about my pleasure."

"No. But in the days until then..."

Kirk swallowed. They owed each other honesty. Pretenses would be foolish and, most likely, ineffective. In a small voice, he said, "I don't think it's possible for me to enjoy it as long as I know you aren't. For humans, at least part of the pleasure in the act is knowing that you're pleasing your partner. I can't take pleasure from you when I know you aren't receiving any from me."

Deadly serious, Spock asked, "You cannot feel pleasure knowing that you are saving my life?"

The insightful question surprised the human, and he replied, "I don't think I can adequately express what your life means to me. But the joy I take in your mere existence, and your importance to me—both professionally and personally—has little to do with sexual pleasure." Kirk waited a moment, then asked, "Can you understand that?"

Spock made a slight nodding motion. "Yes." 

"But you don't like it?"

"No. But that is irrelevant."

"For both of us," Kirk agreed. He waited a moment. When it became apparent that Spock had nothing further to say, he got to his feet, finding his legs unsteady, and picked up his robe. "I'll be back in a minute."

* * * * *

Kirk returned to Spock's room fifteen minutes later, freshly showered. He had put on a pair of briefs beneath his robe.

Spock had also showered and made the bed. The Vulcan was sitting up against the backboard, the covers drawn to his waist, chest bare. He regarded Kirk warily when the human appeared through the bathroom door.

Kirk approached the bed, then stopped a few feet from it. He wondered if he would ever be able to regard Spock in the same way again. This was the man who had conquered him, in a manner in which Kirk had never thought he'd allow. He wasn't sure he still believed what he'd told McCoy earlier: It would be a victory to submit to him.

But there was one surprising truth that did occur: There was no one else he would have wanted to be with Spock tonight—or any future night—other than himself. He was possessive of his first officer; and realized, too, that he always had been.

"Spock, I wondered if you wanted me to sleep with you." That sounded ridiculous, so he amended, "I mean, I thought it may make you...less restless." He shrugged, anticipating Spock's next question. "I don't mind. In fact, if I go back to my quarters I think I'll just probably lie awake thinking about you...  About what you're thinking about...." He moved a few steps closer. "I would like to make this whole thing as easy as possible for you."

Spock stared at him a moment, then flipped the coverlet back. Suddenly, the Vulcan was on his feet. "I will lower the temperature so you will be more comfortable."

Kirk was surprised that his friend was nude, then realized he shouldn't have been. There was no logic in sleeping with clothing on.

He moved to the other side of the bed, feeling self-conscious about the briefs as he discarded the robe.

Spock turned down the temperature and came back to the bed. "There is not much room," he said apologetically.

The other forced a smile. "I know, but we’ll manage. I like sleeping on my right side. That should make it easier."

Hesitantly, they both got into bed. Kirk dreaded the strained silence that was likely to follow. To alleviate it, he said, "Spock, I want you to know that I hope you'll...do whatever you need to. I mean, I don't know how Vulcans.... If Vulcans... When Vulcans sleep with other Vulcans, if they get physically close to each other like humans do." His voice lowered. "If you need to be close to me, don't hesitate to...to touch me." He wondered if Spock had any idea what he was babbling about.

But the other simply nodded, then said, "You need not be concerned about any other sexual activity this night. I am still in control and quite replete for the time being."

This time it was Kirk who nodded. In other words, you don't need to protect your ass with clothing. But he had to admit that Spock’s statement was something of a relief. A part of him wasn't sure if he could again go through what he had gone through tonight.

And another part knew that he could. And would.

Kirk turned on his side, back to Spock, as the other waved off the light. In the darkness, he whispered, "Goodnight, Spock."

There was an answering whisper. "Sleep well."

* * * * *

When Kirk woke the next morning he was alone in Spock's bed.

The Vulcan emerged from the bathroom, partially dressed, hair in perfect alignment.

They met each other's eye timidly.

Conversationally, the human asked, "What are you doing up so early?"

"I wish to visit the science lab before beginning my shift. We should have the data from our final survey on Osteron."

Kirk nodded. The Enterprise was now headed for routine patrol near the Rigel sector. He watched silently while the Vulcan sat on the edge of the bed, his back to Kirk, and began putting on his boots. There was something different about his first officer. After a moment, the human realized it was that Spock was emanating an aura of confidence—quite a contrast to his demeanor less than 24 hours ago when this proud being had been so full of shame.

It meant that Spock had accepted the fact that Kirk was going to see him through this, and would not abandon him.

The human felt a tingling of affection as he confronted this realization. He had wanted to help. So much. And he was.

Now fully dressed, Spock stood and faced his captain.

The latter asked, "Are you going to see McCoy today?"

"Yes. I am required to see him every day at 1100 hours so he can monitor the condition."

"How are you feeling?"

The Vulcan looked away. "The condition is progressing. But I am still able to control."

"Don’t let it go too long," Kirk cautioned gently. "I’m going to work on a plan that will allow us to be together for awhile without arousing suspicion."

Spock nodded. "I am pleased to hear it."

Kirk was about to say, "I'll see you tonight", then thought better of it. Spock knew he would be there. And he wasn't sure he would be able to get the words out without his voice trembling. He wasn't looking forward to repeating what had happened last night. It had been rougher than he'd expected.

Spock was standing at the door, and inclined his head. "Captain."

Kirk nodded back. "I'll see you on the bridge."

* * * * *

Two days later, Kirk marched into McCoy's office before breakfast. "Bones, it's coming on faster than we thought. We haven't got much time."

The doctor folded his arms and calmly said, "When I checked him yesterday the condition had progressed, but he still seemed to have good control."

Kirk put an arm against the wall and leaned on it, sighing heavily. "You don't need to check him today. He says he knows he's just got hours left before he won't be able to perform his duty." He swallowed and regarded the doctor guiltily. "I guess my plan back-fired. It seems to have brought it on quicker. I don't think it's helped at all, except," he trailed off, then softly concluded, "except that we both know what it's going to be like."

He said it in the tone of one doomed.

"And just how has that little plan of yours been going?" McCoy demanded. "You've been avoiding me since this started. Is there something you're hiding? Like maybe the fact that I was right before, and you really can't go through with this?"

"I've said nothing of the sort."

"Then how come you're wound up tighter than a Lipian snail?"

Kirk realized then that he was wound up...and very much on the defensive. He slumped into a chair. "I'm worried about him, Bones. You’ve no idea how difficult this is for him. I'm not getting any enjoyment out of it, either, but I will be there for him. I couldn't stand for it to be anybody else. He needs me."     

Gruffly, the doctor asked, "So, how are you finding your first homosexual experience?"

Kirk frowned. "What do you want me to say?" He snapped. "That I hate it? That I feel violated? That I've wondered how he and I can ever see each other the same way again? Just what kind of confession will satisfy you, Doctor?"

The other's expression softened. "I'm worried about you, Jim. And him. I've seen the sacrifices you two have made for each other over the years. I'm just afraid that, one of these days, one or both of you isn't going to pull through it okay."

"We're both doing fine...considering," Kirk replied solemnly. "He accepts that I'm going to be there for him and he doesn't have to condemn him self because of it, and I accept what he has to do to me to survive." The captain furrowed a brow. "In a way, it’s made us closer. There's absolutely no love involved in the sex. Yet, this whole thing is about nothing but love."

He must have made his point, for the doctor didn't prod further. Instead, McCoy asked, "Is he on the bridge?"

Kirk nodded. "He's still hanging in there." He leaned forward on McCoy's desk. "Bones, we need your help. There's a planet, Denlilon, about seven hours from here. My plan is to have Spock and I beam down for about fifteen minutes—make it look like some kind of Top Secret mission so no one can ask questions—and then we'll beam back up, come here for an exam because Spock detects some strange chemical in the air. Then you'll find that we've both picked up a germ for a highly contagious disease. We won't actually have the disease—we'll just be carriers. Since there's no point in keeping us in sickbay since we're perfectly healthy, you'll assign us to a couple of adjoining cabins on the V.I.P. deck, one of those with independent ventilation systems designed for aliens with special requirements. Spock and I will hole up in there for as long as necessary. Then you'll announce the germ is gone from our systems, and we can go back on duty, and no one will be the wiser."

McCoy sighed. "I don't know, Jim. It might possibly work. But..."

"We don't have much time, Bones. Spock's not going to last much longer. Denlilon is our only chance for finding an excuse to beam down and catch something. We're already on our way there."

The doctor grew thoughtful. "It's going to mean I alone am going to have to examine you, so no one else will know there's nothing really wrong. It'll mean fabricating some records. And if Starfleet eventually finds out..."

"We can work all that out later. For all I care, the whole universe can know. But, for now, I'm most interested in protecting Spock and his privacy. You know how he is about this."

"What about me? Does he need to be protected from me, as well? Or am I going to get to check on you while you're holed up in there?"

Kirk sighed. "Bones, I’ll check in with you by intercom as frequently as possible. I can't promise it'll be at regular intervals. He's not affected in a...a regular manner."

"Which means I’ll have to use my best judgment as to when to burst in on you if I don't hear from you in a while."

Kirk shrugged. "If you feel it’s necessary. I don't think it will be, Bones. He would never...damage me intentionally. And if he did harm me, I think he'd call you himself before you had a chance to become suspicious."

McCoy seemed to accept that. "What's to stop Scotty or someone else from calling you for advice or an emergency?"

Kirk considered. "Maybe you can tell him that we're on some kind of medication to help fight the germ, something that affects our reactions or reflexes or something so we need to be disturbed as little as possible. As for an emergency...," he shrugged, "we can only hope there won't be any. We're on routine patrol for another three weeks."

They sat in silence for a few moments. Then McCoy sighed. "I guess I'd better get to planning how I'm going to pull this fabrication off."

"And be ready to get maintenance to prepare cabins for us when you've found the 'germ'. We'll need extra large beds, at least in one of them."

McCoy arched a brow at that. "I suppose that would make things a little easier." Then the doctor looked at Kirk pointedly. "So, have you two just done a little hanky-panky, or did you go straight to the heavy stuff?"

Kirk knew McCoy was needling him again, but he didn't feel up to a protest. Instead, he seriously replied, "It’s been nothing but straight intercourse. That’s all he seems to be interested in."

"Three nights in a row?"

Kirk nodded, his gaze lowered.

McCoy's voice became sympathetic. "Has it gotten any easier?"

The captain shrugged noncommittally. "A little bit. He's...awkward." Kirk frowned. "I just wish it wasn't so hard for him. There's no pleasure in it...for either of us. For him, it's physically painful."

"And not for you?" McCoy asked doubtfully.

"Yes, it is for me, too. But I think I’ve gotten a little used to it."

"Then maybe getting an 'early start' did do some good," McCoy pointed out kindly. 

Kirk barely heard him. "I wish Spock was getting something out of it," he said with frustration.

"Apparently, bonded Vulcans do," McCoy reminded. "Maybe, by the time this happens again, he’ll find a nice Vulcan girl that he'd like to marry."

Kirk didn't reply. He silently acknowledge that, deep down, he didn't want Spock to find anyone to marry.  Yes, he was a selfish bastard, but Spock was his.

He smiled. Spock wouldn't try to find someone else, anyway. Not while he was available. The reverse was also true. Spock would find no joy in Kirk finding someone to 'settle down with', even if it allowed him to remain Captain of the Enterprise.

"What are you smiling about?"

Kirk stirred from his thoughts. "Nothing." He stood and straightened his tunic. "Spock and I will be here as soon as we beam up from  Denlilon. Be ready."

The other nodded. "I will."

* * * * *

As Kirk and Spock materialized on Denlilon's surface, they were hit with a cool, brisk wind.

Kirk zipped his jacket, noting with sympathy that Spock already had his zipped and was wrapping his arms around himself. The sun was shining, but the temperature was a crisp 42 degrees, and the wind chill made it much cooler than that.

They had beamed into a rocky area of sparse, green vegetation. The planet was uninhabited in this sector and there were no predators that could pose a threat.

Kirk pointed to a group of rocks. "Let’s go there. At least we can give the pretense that we're heading somewhere in particular for anyone who may be watching with sensors."

Spock nodded and they headed off. They walked quickly, but silently, and a few minutes later found relief from the wind as they settled in a narrow but adequate indentation in the stone.

Kirk regarded the Vulcan with concern. "This wind can't be very good for your fever."

The other didn't reply. His gaze was averted and he kept his arms wrapped tight. 

"Let me know when you think fifteen minutes have passed. That ought to be enough."

The Vulcan nodded, then said, "Dr. McCoy must not touch me when we return to the ship."

Kirk studied Spock, sympathizing with the strain the Vulcan was under. The first officer had been trembling most of the morning, though on the bridge it was subdued enough that Kirk doubted anyone else noticed.

"McCoy shouldn’t have to touch either of us," Kirk assured in a soft voice, "since he knows there's nothing really wrong. And I’m sure he'll have it arranged so that he's the only one who comes in contact with us at all."

“When we are alone in our cabins," Spock said gruffly, "I do not think I will be able to restrain myself. I fear...."

Kirk gulped in dread but kept his voice soothing. "I understand, Spock. I agreed to this days ago, knowing what the consequences were. I won't condemn you for anything you do. You're already forgiven."

He hoped so much that he could keep that vow.

"I can no longer control my erection," the Vulcan continued, teeth gritted.

Kirk swallowed again. Spock's genitals had grown larger over the past three days. He knew that, as Spock had predicted, they had become more painful.

Ghod, let this be over soon. Don’t do this to him.

He thought it cruel that he and Spock were in such close proximity, not daring to touch. He wished they'd had more time to plan and prepare. Maybe they could have pulled this off with less anxiety. But it was academic now.

They didn't speak further until Spock said, "It has been fifteen minutes, Captain."

Silently, they walked back out into the wind and to the spot where they had beamed down.

Kirk opened his communicator. "Scotty, this is the captain. Spock and I are prepared to beam up. Tell Dr. McCoy to be waiting. Spock has detected something in the atmosphere that may be of concern."

"Aye, Captain." There was a moment's delay, then, "Doctor McCoy has been notified. Energizing now, sir."

Kirk put away his communicator and the two disappeared from the planet.

* * * * *

Nearly an hour later, the door to a V.I.P. cabin slid open, and in walked McCoy, pulling two stretchers with special oxygen equipment.

As soon as the door closed behind them, McCoy pulled back the isolation tents on each. "All right, we made it," he said with a sigh. It had been difficult convincing his staff that he could handle both gurneys on his own. He'd told them that it was of extreme importance that as few people as possible be exposed to Kirk and Spock, even though every precaution was being taken to make sure the two didn’t breath any air that was being recycled back through the ship.

Spock got off his gurney stiffly, then walked to the large bed. He remained standing, back to the others.

Kirk eyed the Vulcan while moving off his own gurney. It seemed like they'd stayed in sickbay a terribly long time before all the motions for the detection, treatment, and prevention of a contagious disease has been gone through in a convincing manner. Finally, they were here...and almost alone.

McCoy said, "The adjoining cabin is prepared for you, Jim, if either of you have any need of it. I've told Scotty that, even for an emergency, he has to go through me before he can talk to you. Your communications terminals can only be reached from my office."

Kirk nodded, eyes on Spock's rigid back. Finally, he said, "Leave us, Bones. There’s no time. I'll contact you as soon as there's an opportunity."

McCoy glanced at Spock, then squeezed Kirk's arm, his face reflecting sympathy for them both. Pushing one gurney in front, and pulling one behind him, he left the cabin.

* * * * *

"We're alone."

The Vulcan inclined his head.

Kirk began to undress. While doing so, he watched the Vulcan warily, expecting the other to attack at any moment. But Spock didn't move nor speak.

Nude, Kirk quickly went over to the other side of the bed. As he had hoped, there was lubricant in the top drawer of the night stand. He didn't know if he could count on Spock to take precautions, so he was going to make damn sure he prepared himself. Without looking up at his companion, he took out a tube and unscrewed the lid. Reached behind, he inserted the nozzle, then squeezed.

He set the nearly empty tube down, then forced himself to meet his first officer's gaze.

Spock was watching with intense, glittering eyes. The expression was unreadable.

Not sure what was going through the Vulcan's mind, Kirk was determined to do his part. He got on the bed, facedown, then grabbed a pillow and placed it beneath his hips. He looked at Spock again.

The Vulcan came to life. Swiftly, he opened his pants, revealing no underwear, and pushed them down his hips. A thick, angry erection popped free. After discarding his tunic, he stood staring at Kirk, eyes reflecting a mixture of desire and apology.

The human nodded encouragingly, though he was unsuccessful at summoning a smile of assurance.

Spock moved. Walking stiffly, he got on the bed between the spread legs.

Kirk felt his buttocks parted with harsh, trembling thumbs. A moment later one left him, then a huge, fleshy cylinder nudged the opening.

It penetrated him so quickly—and so thoroughly—that the pain didn't register until seconds later. Kirk cried out softly then, not only from the hurt, but from shock and surprise at how big Spock felt. So much bigger than even last night.

The Vulcan was groaning as he settled on top of the human. Thankfully, his arms were taking most of his weight; he'd learned that much the past two nights. He undulated against Kirk, his movements more forceful than they had been before.

With each thrust there was a painful gasp. Kirk lay still, feeling himself grow almost numb as the large organ continued to move in and out, the thick application of lubricant making its journey easier. He was sweating from being so close to Spock's fevered body.

The Vulcan groaned—a heavy, resonant sound from deep within his chest. Kirk felt hot liquid spurt into him, heard Spock's familiar cry of pain/relief, which was this time more intense.

Awkwardly, Spock withdrew, gasping, and Kirk felt sweat droplets rain on his back. The Vulcan collapsed onto the bed.

Kirk rolled onto an elbow so he could see Spock. His relief that this first coupling was over so quickly was overshadowed by sympathy for his friend. Spock was curled into a fetal position, sweating and shaking, soft gasps escaping the mouth that contorted with the effort of trying to control, eyes only partially open.

Kirk glanced at the groin area. He'd always avoided looking at that part of the Vulcan every time they'd done it, not quite able to face the flesh that had commanded him. But now, he was trying to determine if there was an immediate second erection, and if that was what Spock was finding so painful. 

But the large phallus was gradually shrinking.

No longer threatened by it, Kirk moved over to his friend. "Spock," he whispered, not able to keep the worry from his voice. "Spock, is this...normal?"

The other relaxed slightly and nodded. "Yes. It is the raging of various hormones, adrenaline, and other physiological systems. The surges cause cramping and fever."

"Can't Bones give you something?"

"No." Spock gasped again. "No drug has ever been successful in treating the condition. Too many factors are involved. Any drug which relieves one aspect will agitate another." The Vulcan took a deep breath. "Jim, I suggest you get as much rest as possible between joinings. We will be here for days; exhaustion will take its toll."

Kirk found his sense of humor intact. Sure, Spock, I'll just curl up and go to sleep while you lie there in agony.

He scooted nearer, leaning close to the other. "Is there anything I can do?" he asked gently. "Anything at all? More blankets? Cold compresses? Hold your hand?"

Abruptly, the Vulcan rolled onto his back, legs stretching out as the cramping seemed to have subsided. "Additional blankets would be helpful."

Kirk nodded. Guessing at McCoy's thoroughness, he went over to a closet and found it full of blankets, sheets, towels, and other accessories. He brought a couple of the blankets to the bed and spread them over Spock. While tucking them around the Vulcan, he said, "Tell me if you they make you too hot, or if you want more."

Spock nodded.

The human moved close again. "Spock, I'm going to go to the other cabin and get my robe. I'll be right back."

"Please hurry." It was almost a little boy’s voice.

"I will."

Kirk was only gone a couple of minutes. He returned with his robe on and sat next to Spock. The Vulcan was taking deep, shaking breaths.

"Spock, how long...how long until we do it again?"

The other shook his head and gruffly replied, "It is difficult to say. There is no pattern. The need can happen very suddenly." He met Kirk's eye. "Jim, I believe it was beneficial that we began activity a few days ago. The organs in my lower body have ceased becoming more tender. I believe those tissues are now accustomed to the 'activity'." He lowered his gaze and whispered, "Thank you."

Kirk put a hand on the Vulcan's blanketed arm. He realized it was the first time he'd touched Spock for a reason other than sexual since before this all began. It felt good. "You're hardly the raging maniac you claimed you were going to be. What you did to me a few moments ago wasn't as bad as..."

"I did not control the entry," Spock protested, forehead breaking out in a new wave of sweat.

Kirk shrugged. "It was over quickly."

"It will get worse. This is only the beginning. My moments of lucidity will be less and less frequent."

Kirk could only squeeze the arm in reassurance.

* * * * *

Some forty hours later, Kirk stirred and checked a groan as his body made its many bruises and strains known. He paused and listened, then relaxed when it appeared Spock was breathing deeply, if somewhat restlessly.

He didn't know how many times they'd joined the past day and a half; he'd lost count. And he didn't know if he could stand it one more time. He felt used, and his body felt abused. Spock hadn’t been rough, only awkward in varying degrees, depending on the level of fatigue. But the constant pounding had taken its toll, and it was all Kirk could do after the last time to keep from escaping to the quarters next door, if only to get away from Spock's demands for even a few hours.

Thankfully, Kirk had finally drifted to sleep, and it looked like the Vulcan had done the same. But how long it was going to last, the human couldn’t be sure. He just hoped that Spock wouldn’t awaken too soon. A part of him felt like rebelling and not accepting what the Vulcan needed from him.

But that spark of fire within never seemed to ignite.

Kirk quietly left the bed, careful not to wake Spock, and stumbled wearily to the communications terminal. Noting it was 1900 hours ship time, he pushed a button and whispered, "Bones?"

The reply was immediate...and worried. "Jim?"

The captain felt guilty for having not called the other for nearly a day. "Bones, sorry it's been so long. I'm all right. Spock's all right. He's sleeping right now."

"You sound terrible."

Kirk sighed. "I'm just tired."

"Is there any end in sight?"

"I don't know. He's sleeping deeply right now, but when he awakens..." Kirk sighed again, then switched to, "What's our status?"

"I saw Scotty a few hours ago. Everything is fine."

"Good."

"Jim, are you sure you can keep going through with this?"

"I have to, Bones. I'm hardly going to abandon Spock now." He paused, then gently said, "It isn't as bad as he said. He's not violent or anything like that. Just...persistent." Kirk swallowed down a sudden lump. "He's in a lot of pain; has been since this whole thing began."

"Don't neglect yourself while worrying about him. That won't do him any good. Catch some sleep while you can."

Kirk nodded. "I intend to, Doctor. Out."

He glanced over at Spock. Assured that the Vulcan was still in a deep sleep, he went into the bathroom and took a quick shower. Feeling that he'd rest much better now, he went back to bed. And slept.

* * * * *

He wakened to the sound of a relentless clicking noise. Holding his breath, Kirk listened in the darkness. It was apparent the sound was coming from behind him. He turned over and waved up the light just enough to see. Spock lay on his back, arms holding the blankets tightly across his chest, teeth chattering. Rivulets of sweat were streaming down the long face.

"Spock?" Kirk watched the other open his eyes slightly, saw their agony, then rushed to the closet. He pulled out a couple more blankets, dragged them to the bed, and threw them over Spock. He tucked them around the other, then leaned down close to the Vulcan, holding the trembling shoulders.

"Spock? Spock?"

The dark eyes opened further and Kirk saw the pathetic attempt to still the chattering.

"I'm here," the human soothed.

The Vulcan closed his eyes. "So cooold," he whispered weakly.

"I'll get you something." Kirk squeezed the shoulders, then left the bed. Heart pounding with concern, he set the controls on the food processor for plomeek broth. Spock had said his digestive system couldn’t handle solids when all his energy was geared toward the reproductive act, but he had accepted broth the day before.

Kirk went into the bathroom and found a small, portable wash basin. He filled it with cool water, grabbed a wash cloth, and came back into the bedroom. He set the items on the nightstand, then went to retrieve the steaming cup of soup.

He set the soup next to the basin and then sat on the bed next to Spock. He pulled on the Vulcan's shoulders. "Spock, try to sit up. I've got some soup for you. Come on."

Still trembling, the Vulcan tried to hoist himself into a sitting position, and Kirk ended up almost lifting him. Spock gathered the blankets about himself, and Kirk assisted, wrapping Spock like a mummy, then put his arms around the other.

"Lean against me," he whispered gently, pulling Spock against his chest. When satisfied, he was sitting behind the Vulcan, and the other's head was resting back against him.

"There," Kirk whispered. He lifted the cup of soup. "Here. Careful." He held the cup while the other sipped.

The Vulcan drank almost half before shaking his head.

"No more?"

"No," Spock gasped, then managed, "Thank you." He pressed firmly against Kirk.

The human tightened his hold with one arm. With the other, he grabbed the wash cloth from the basin, wrung out the excess water, then brought it to Spock's forehead. The Vulcan gasped with relief the moment the material touched his skin.

Kirk began washing Spock's face with it. The chattering had eased. "Better?"

"Yes."

When Spock's face was free of sweat, Kirk rinsed out the cloth, then reached inside the blankets and applied it the Vulcan's chest. There was a sigh of relief and Spock almost smiled.

Kirk smiled, too. "Feels good, doesn't it?" he whispered.

The other nodded weakly. "Yes."

The blankets gradually loosened as Kirk continued with the washing.

The human rinsed the cloth again. Feeling bold, and guessing at what Spock needed most, he lowered the cloth down inside the blankets, past the Vulcan's waist, and very gently pressed it against the heated groin.

Spock made a groaning noise that sounded like utter bliss. He burrowed his head gently against Kirk's chest, as though conveying thanks.

Kirk moved the material down to the scrotum, bumping the partial-erection with his hand in the process. His hand danced away, uncomfortable with the intimate contact, and rested it on a thigh instead.

A quiver raced through the Vulcan's body.

Kirk hugged Spock with his free arm, then removed the cloth and deposited it in the wash basin for another rinsing.

In a strained voice, Spock said, "Jim, get away."

"What?"

Spock squirmed. "Move away. Please. Now."

Puzzled, but unable to deny that desperate command, Kirk dislodge himself from behind Spock, and moved on the bed to sit a few feet from the other.

Spock scooted down onto the mattress, curled into a stiff ball, and rolled onto his side, back to Kirk.

The human stared at the other wide-eyed, not understanding. He inched closer on his knees. "Spock. Wha...?" He saw the blanketed back quiver, but this wasn't fever. He inched closer. "Spock, what is it? Don't shut me out."

"No," a gruff voice replied. "Stay away."

"No."

The back stiffened more.

Kirk inched closer and leaned over the cringing form. He touched the other on the arm. "Spock," he said again, whisper soft, "what is it?"

"Loss of control," the other finally choked.

Bracing himself on the warm arm, Kirk leaned over Spock until he could see the Vulcan's face, which was turned away as much as possible.

There were rivulets running down it. But not sweat this time. Tears.

The loss of control he dreaded more than anything, Kirk realized now. He felt himself filled with a mixture of wonder and concern.

"I don't find them offensive," he reassured amiably, voice lowering. "But...why?" Is it just raging hormones, or is there another reason?

The Vulcan swallowed with difficulty. His face was still averted and his eyes were tightly closed. "Your kindness," he tried to explain. "After all I have done to you, and still you are kind to me."

Kirk's whole being softened. "How could I be anything else? How can I possibly be unkind to someone who's shown me nothing but kindness in the four years I've known him?"

"These last few days...," Spock began.

"Haven't been anything like you said," Kirk cut in gently. "Where's all that violence you were so insistent upon?"

The stiff body unraveled as Spock considered the question. "I do not know," he replied in a tone of puzzlement.

"Maybe," Kirk ventured gently, "it did help with us having sex those first few days. Maybe it kept everything—the condition—from building up so much, by giving it an outlet in the days leading up to it."

"That is a possibility," the Vulcan replied, but tried to avert his face even further.

Wanting to help, and not knowing what else to do, Kirk placed his right hand on the Vulcan's chest, trying to comfort. With his left hand he found one of Spock's hands and squeezed it. "You seem more ashamed of this than the sex."

"I accept the sexual need as the primary symptom of the condition. As for the emotion, a Vulcan never knows which one will take precedence."

Kirk furrowed a brow. "You mean, different Vulcans are subjected to different emotions at this time?"

"Yes."

Curiously, Kirk asked, "And the dominant emotion for you is sadness?"

"Grief, yes. I am grieving for the decision our friendship prompted you to make."

Very gently, Kirk said, "You would have done the same for me."

Spock didn't respond to that, but his body's stiffness gave way to tremors.

Overcome, Kirk pulled on the hand he held, encouraging the Vulcan to roll onto his back. It was difficult, but the other finally complied. From there, Kirk gathered Spock into his arms, grunting with the effort of lifting the Vulcan's upper body until it rested against him, as it had earlier.

He put a hand to a lean cheek and pressed the streaming face against his chest. Wetness trickled onto bare skin. He fussed with the blankets a moment, making sure Spock was covered, then resumed the embrace, his cheek resting on the dark head.

"I cannot control," Spock whispered despairingly.

"Then why don't you accept this like you do the rest of it," Kirk suggested kindly. "Like I told you before, I do."

"Another kindness?"

"Why not?" Kirk shot back.

Spock had no answer.

As they sat in silence, Kirk allowed his protective feelings to grow. They really didn’t surprise him. His command gave him a sense of responsibility for the lives serving under him. But where this particular individual was concerned, those feelings seemed to increase tenfold. He wondered if it was because he knew they were reciprocated, or if it was simply because some part of him—perhaps a parental longing, as McCoy had hinted at—wanted to reach out to the lonely Vulcan who so often demanded to bear life's burdens alone. 

But for this, Spock had allowed Kirk in. And Kirk would be forever grateful.

The human realized he had almost started to doze, when the tense baritone said, “Jim?"

"Hm?"

"The desire is building."

The human restrained a sigh. In this, Spock was most definitely the one in charge. All Kirk could do was grit his teeth and bear it.

He loosened his hold and Spock slipped out of the embrace. While the Vulcan pushed all the excess blankets away, Kirk, again repressing a sigh, rolled onto his stomach and stuffed a pillow beneath his hips. He waited while Spock, who seemed calmer that he'd been in days, reached to the nightstand and palmed a tube.

Kirk hardly felt it when the lubricant was applied. His entire body was numb, and had felt that way for forever, it seemed. The penetration never even hurt anymore. He hardly knew what was happening; only knew he was tired of the whole process.

His buttocks were parted, and a moment later his anus was pierced by blunt, slippery flesh. Spock groaned as he lowered himself to rest against Kirk's back, his organ moving back and forth.

Kirk knew that for some males there was pleasure in the motion Spock was providing. But all he felt was numbness. And, as he had told Spock earlier, he was perhaps psychologically incapable of experiencing pleasure when he knew that Spock was not experiencing it, either.

But this time there was something different. The breath behind his ear, which was usually filled with pain/anguish/relief, now carried a hint of gratification. The strokes of the lean, powerful hips were smoother than usual, more precisely timed, as though Spock were reaching for something rather than merely experiencing the inevitable.

The Vulcan grabbed Kirk's shoulders and forced his penis in as far as it would go with one final, powerful thrust. He gasped—yes, with satisfaction, the human recognized—as hot liquid burst once again into the human's bowels.

Then, as his weight grew heavier while recovering his breath, Spock did something he'd never done before. Rather than withdrawing immediately, and collapsing to the bed in painful shame, he remained on Kirk and pressed his face against the human's neck. Very gently, he bit a layer of skin, tugging at it, then releasing it. He pressed his nose against the broad neck a moment longer, then abruptly withdrew.

Even after the relatively cold air hit his naked back, the tingle along Kirk's spine was still abating.

Such a simple gesture Spock had given. Such a surprising, intense reaction Kirk had experienced.

The human tried to understand. Affection? he wondered. A 'thank you' for the pleasure received? A Vulcan form of a kiss? Maybe a brotherly kiss? Did he actually enjoy this?

Again, he felt numb; this time from confusion. A part of him hoped that yes, his Vulcan friend had finally experienced some inkling of what was supposed to be involved in the joining of bodies. Yet, another part experienced a kindling of anger—anger that the Vulcan was taking something from Kirk that the human could not share.

The feeling of being used was even stronger than before.

Kirk mentally shook his head, ashamed of his thoughts. How dare he begrudge Spock this one small pleasure...if indeed it had been pleasure. Isn't that what he had wanted for the Vulcan all along?

But Spock had insisted that it was not to be. And Kirk had believed him.

The human finally turned over and looked at his friend. Spock was getting beneath the covers, still breathing a little heavily. Evenly, the human said, "You're calmer now than you’ve been in a while. Do you think it could be abating?"

"It is a possibility," the other replied weakly. "However, it has been less than three days. Four to six days' duration is the average."

Kirk shrugged. "Then maybe you just aren't 'average'." Then he smiled, trying to lighten the mood, hoping his comment hadn't sounded too hopeful. He watched the Vulcan's eyes close, tempted to ask Spock if the first officer had found their most recent joining to have been different from the others, about the significance of biting his neck.

But Spock, too, got beneath the covers and a melancholy sigh escaped. The Vulcan was a very private person, and Kirk had always respected that. He'd also promised Spock that he would never speak of what happened in these days of togetherness, unless Spock spoke of it first.

Reminded of that promise, Kirk drifted into sleep.

* * * * *

He woke lazily the following morning, careful of tender flesh and sore muscles. He finally popped an eye open and shifted onto his back.

Spock, also in a prone position, acknowledged Kirk's awareness with an expressionless mask. "It is over," he whispered softly.

Kirk blinked, not quite believing. His first officer still looked weak and vulnerable. "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

The relief Kirk had expected to feel didn't quite manifest. Nor did Spock seem free of any burdens. The human got to his knees and moved to the Vulcan, hand scampering across damp bangs. "You still have the fever."

"Yes, but the desire is gone. I estimate another twelve hours before the symptoms disappear completely. In two days, I should be at one hundred percent efficiency."

Kirk straightened, removing his hand from the warm skin. "Do you still need me near?"

A shake of the head. "No. Your presence is no longer necessary."

A part of the human was grateful to hear that. He and Spock had been together constantly for nearly three days, and Kirk yearned for a degree of solitude. Yet, he wondered if the Vulcan was being honest. He was concerned that the weary body still harbored the strong insecurities that were a result of the condition.

Once again, Kirk reminded himself that he had promised not to mention those vulnerabilities. But he still asked, "Are you absolutely sure you don’t need me any longer?"

"Yes. In fact, I desire solitude."

Kirk smiled then, feeling a communion, with this dear friend. "So do I." He took a deep breath, and again wondered where his sense of relief was. Finding no answers, he gently said, "I’ll go to the other cabin. Bones will want to check us out. I'll call him and tell him to see me first. That should give you some time to...to clean up." Suddenly, everything felt awkward again.

The other nodded.

Not knowing what else to say, Kirk slid off the bed, gathered up his things, and went to the cabin next door.

* * * * *

He was freshly showered, wearing a robe, and sitting on the edge of the bunk when McCoy entered. Kirk smiled at the doctor, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Hi, Bones," he greeted more softly than intended.

The other was wearing an aura of calm and reassurance as he moved to the bed. "You don’t look as bad as I expected. Let me give you a thorough once-over."

Kirk discarded his robe and lay down on his stomach. He didn't feel the least bit of embarrassment. Not only because McCoy knew him inside and out better than he knew himself, but also because he'd been in that position so often the past few days.

He felt McCoy's weight on the bed, and a moment later heard the scanner. Gentle fingers manipulated his buttocks, then probed between. Later, the whirring noise moved about the rest of his body.

"Turn over, Jim."

He obeyed. The scanner moved from foot to head, hovering an extended moment over his chest.

The whirring finally stopped and McCoy put the instrument away. As Kirk moved to a sitting position, the doctor draped the robe over the captain's shoulders. "Your upper ribs are badly bruised."

Kirk nodded, thinking about the many times Spock had grabbed him there in the midst of pas.... No, need.

"Otherwise, you're in pretty good shape. You’ve got quite a bit of bruising in your lower tract, and I'm suggesting soft foods for a couple of days, just to be safe."

Kirk nodded again.

They sat in silence a moment. Then McCoy softly asked, "How are you feeling, Jim?"

Kirk didn't look at him. "Numb."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No." After a moment, the captain softly said, "But I want to talk to him. I'll give you a few minutes alone with him first."

McCoy hesitated, then rose to his feet, smiling kindly. "When you feel up to it, how about us having that brandy we meant to a while back, before I got called on that appendectomy?"

Kirk frowned at the non sequitur, then memory clarified the reference. He'd wanted to talk to McCoy about something. About... Post-coital depression. Fucking around. Lack of fulfillment.

Now, it all seemed so ridiculous that he had to make an effort to keep from laughing...bitterly.

Nothing was more cold, more unfulfilling, more agonizing than what Spock and I have just been through.

Spock and him.

No, it wasn't the Vulcan he was bitter with. It was what nature made Spock do...to them both.

The doctor was waiting for a response, so Kirk grunted congenially.

McCoy headed for the door.

"Bones."

The doctor stopped and turned.

Kirk felt the concern come alive within. Pleading, he said, "Be gentle with him, Bones. He's...vulnerable right now. He needs time. Don’t try to draw him out."

McCoy nodded and presented a tiny smile of reassurance as he left the room.

* * * * *

Kirk stared at the wall for the next ten minutes, trying to sort out feelings that refused to be categorized. The only thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to see Spock again before the Vulcan went back to being his old self.

Before we both do.

He went to the adjoining cabin, using the connecting bathroom door, and moved into the bedroom just far enough for Spock to acknowledge his presence. The Vulcan was sitting on the edge of his bed, also robed, McCoy was running a scanner over the lean form. The bedding had been changed, and the room smelled fresh.

The doctor glanced up when Kirk entered. Spock kept his gaze to the mattress, but wrapped his robe more securely around himself, as though protecting some remaining virtue against the threat of Kirk.

The human was amazed. After all that’s happened the past few days, and he still sees himself as the victim

He then reminded himself that Spock was the victim. It was that knowledge that was most responsible for his accepting what the other had to do.

McCoy took a tube of cream out of his kit. "Here's some lotion that will help the chafing. Use it. It should make you a lot more comfortable." He laid it on the nightstand, then put a hand on his patient's shoulder and gently said, "Jim checked out just fine, Spock."

The doctor glanced at Kirk again, then gathered his things and was gone.

The human stepped quietly over to the bed, coming to a halt at his first officer’s side.

Without looking up, the other gruffly said, "Thank you for saving my life."

"You're welcome," Kirk whispered. Knowing it would be their last chance for intimate contact, the human reached out and rested a hand on the sleek hair, gently furrowing fingers through the soft strands. "It's important to me that you understand that I don't have any regrets about what we've done." Kirk heard the other swallow, but when no response was forthcoming, he continued, "I guess I've come to realize that I wouldn't have wanted it to be anyone else...here with you."

Spock looked up at him then, naked vulnerability in the dark eyes.

Kirk smiled warmly. "Yes. My friendship with you is more important to me than any other relationship I've ever had. Please, don't mock my appreciation for that relationship by regretting what's taken place here."

Spock's expression softened as he looked away. A moment later the Vulcan laid his cheek against Kirk's hip, eyes closing.

Amazed that Spock was making such a gesture, then realizing it must still be the remnants of the pon farr that allowed such emotionalism, Kirk gently cupped the exposed side of the angular face.

Spock whispered, "I will never be worthy of all that you have given me."

Kirk pressed the Vulcan closer to him. "It's because you are worthy that I've been able to give this to you. Your life is more than adequate payment."

Spock didn't respond, and silence filled the room. Finally, Kirk let his hand drop, and Spock straightened.

The captain moved a couple of steps back. "Are you going to stay here?"

The other nodded. "I do not wish to be seen," he said with lowered eyes. "Dr. McCoy will make it known that my system is having more difficulty ridding itself of the 'germ'. As I stated earlier, I believe I will be at a hundred percent efficiency within two days."

"Take all the time you need. I'm returning to the bridge." But Kirk stayed in place a few moments longer, hesitating to leave his friend to isolation. He was tempted to say, "Call me if you need me," or make some similar gesture of reassurance. But he knew it would be just lip service.

They would both need time, and space, to adjust to what had happened, and to place it in proper perspective in each of their lives. They were both too professional to let this private sharing affect their working relationship. But Kirk didn't know how long it would be before either of them could face the other again in a personal situation. Once he left the room, the time they had spent together would be relegated to the status of something having taken place long ago and best forgotten.

There seemed to be nothing else to say. Kirk turned and left the cabin, wrapping himself in the secure aura of Captain of the Enterprise. 

 

 

ECLIPSE

 

Kirk stepped into the late morning sunshine, gently shutting the door of "Newell's Pleasure House" behind. Closing the door seemed particularly symbolic this day, as he wondered if he'd ever visit a pleasure house again.

Kirk knew the answer to that, yet still felt inclined to ponder the surrounding questions. After all, he had two days of leave, and since the activity he'd looked forward to most no longer held an interest, he decided he could afford a day of philosophical reflection.

A breeze ruffled his hair as he stepped across the quiet, paved street that separated Newell's from a large park. It was characteristic of the relaxed atmosphere of the planet Stiven to have a brothel located near a place of family recreation.

Families were in abundance on this particular day—one that most laborers had off. Children ran and laughed, lovers walked hand-in-hand, and friends talked beneath the large oak trees, along the clean, sandy paths, or the open, green meadows. There were also a few merchants' carts, each carrying a particular food or product designed to appeal to the mood of leisure.

Most of the inhabitants of the planet were human, as Earth colonists had settled it over three decades ago. Yet, because the planet was located in a solar system near the boundary of Federation and Klingon space, members of other species—friendly to both sides, if it were profitable—were also spotted by the starship captain's astute vision. Instinctively, he kept an eye tuned to them, though there was no reason to expect trouble of any sort.

Reaching the outer edges of the park, he found his attention straying back to the reason he was here. The Enterprise had established orbit in the middle of Stiven's seven-hour night. Kirk had been among the first to beam down, and had wasted no time in returning to the house of pleasure he'd visited in the past. The release of tension his body demanded had happened quickly, as was his usual pattern. What he hadn't expected was that, upon waking after a couple hours' sleep, he'd had no desire to couple with his companion for a second time. Or a third. Or a fourth. He felt a little guilty for depriving her of the enjoyment he usually tried to provide once he'd had his first, desperate release, but not guilty enough to remain in a situation that he found...pitiful.

Yes, pity, that was it. Kirk knew what it felt like to be used in such a manner, and had no desire to experience it again. Always before, he had accepted the use of brothels as a necessary, if imperfect, tool of his occupation. He usually tried to please his partner, pay her the contracted price, and then leave without looking back once his vacation was up and/or his ship beckoned in an emergency, patting himself on the back for being a competent lover who usually gave something in return besides a sum of credits that often amounted to robbery.

Beginning a diagonal journey across the main grassy common of the park, Kirk realized that his perspective had changed. What had happened between him and his first officer had been the catalyst. He had been used as a tool to relieve Spock's demanding flesh. And that's why he'd pitied Andrea as he'd spilled his seed into her. It didn't matter that she sold her body voluntarily. She was still a victim of another's need.

Yes, Kirk was forced to admit, I was a victim, too. It was a new revelation, that. Thinking of Spock as the victim had gotten Kirk through the pon farr. But he was a casualty, as well.

Spock used me, just like I used Andrea. Except, there was a difference. Coupling with willing flesh like Andrea had often resulted in a state of depression following shore leave. No such feeling had come from the joining with Spock. 

The corners of Kirk's lips curled into a tiny smile of satisfaction. Spock and I shared something. His pon farr was one of the most unpleasant things I've ever had to endure at the hand of a friend. Yet, being together those days intensified the underlying intimacy that we've always had.

He still felt relief about that. It had been seven weeks since those days of pain, sweat, and anguish. He'd spent the first two of those weeks wondering if he and Spock would ever call each other 'friend' again. There had been no animosity between them; just a mutual avoidance by some unspoken agreement, except when duty demanded it. He was sure Spock did not blame him, just as he had not blamed Spock. They both needed distance from each other; time and space in which to gain perspective on the highly personal incident they had shared. Gradually, in the third through fifth weeks, they had tentatively withstood each other's nearness, but only when a third party, such as McCoy, provided a barrier of safety. Ever so slowly, conversation developed that went beyond ship's business. The tension between them quietly slipped away. And last week, while on a planetary survey, Kirk had made a small joke that only Vulcan ears had heard, and his first officer had presented a tiny smile of amusement.

It was then that Kirk knew everything was going to be all right. He and Spock were back to normal. They were a team again. And friends.

And, Kirk mused, slowing to skip across a small creek that wound its way through the park, their friendship was all the stronger because of the crisis it had endured. There was a solidity about them; an underlying, unshakable foundation that he had become aware of the past few days. He couldn't quite lay his finger on how he knew that; it was just an aura that seemed to encompass him and his first officer whenever they were in each other's presence. There had been something like that between them before; now, it just seemed all the stronger.

We made it, Spock. We made it. Not even passionless fornication can come between us.

It was something Kirk had no desire to ever repeat. But Spock would need him again in a few years, and he would not let his friend down. The pon farr was something special between them that was theirs alone. Kirk would never let anyone threaten that tie.

Yes, he would continue to visit brothels when opportunities arose. And probably continue to suffer the emotional consequences afterwards. He and McCoy never did get around to sharing that brandy, but Kirk doubted there was anything the doctor could do. Perhaps the answer was simply to cut back on the amount of time he spent at such locations.

Besides, there were other pleasant things to enjoy besides sex.

Kirk spotted one of them just ahead as he came to the opposite end of the park. He joined the line behind three small children at the cart of a familiar color. He'd tasted this cart's product before, and knew it to be a more than adequate representative of a favorite Earth treat.

While waiting, he caught sight of a couple of representatives of an alien species he couldn't identify. They were standing beneath an oak tree, talking casually. Pale blue skin, sandy-red hair, pentagon-shaped heads. Plain, white clothing.

If Spock were here, he'd probably know where they're from.

Spock. The Vulcan was in command of the skeleton crew aboard the Enterprise...by choice.

Suddenly, Kirk pulled out his communicator and stepped out of line. Grinning with childlike mirth, he flipped the instrument open. "Kirk to Mr. Spock."

"Spock here."

The human's voice was forced to casualness. "Mr. Spock." 

"Yes, Captain?" The question was hedged with suspicion.

"It's my understanding that, as usual, you've declined an opportunity to spend any leave time on this lovely planet of Stiven."

There was hesitation, than an even more suspicious, "That is correct, sir."

"Well...I thought you might indulge your tired, overworked captain, and beam down just long enough for him to show you something that you may find of interest." Firmly, Kirk added, "If you don't agree, I'll make it an order." He visualized the eyebrow rising, and could imagine the glances of amusement from the rest of the crew.

A long-suffering sigh emerged from the grid. "Very well, Captain. Will five minutes be sufficient?"

Kirk had to restrain a chuckle. "That'll be just fine, First Officer. I'll be expecting you. Kirk out." He put the communicator away and got back into line. When it was his turn, he purchased two of the offerings, and started on one while waiting for his friend.

A short time later there was the sound of the transporter, and Kirk watched affectionately as a tall, slim form materialized a few meters away. He approached as soon as transportation was complete, holding out a cone and smiling devilishly. "For you."

The brow reacted in surprise. Then a long-fingered hand reached out to accept the treat.

"Savor it, First Officer. It was damned expensive."

The Vulcan licked experimentally at the soft mound upon the cone. This time the eyebrows indicated approval as well as surprise.

The captain nodded. "Chocolate." He continued to lick at his own cone and led the way toward a dirt path.

"It has been some time since I have experienced a treat such as this," the Vulcan confessed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Kirk was still smiling, feeling at peace with the universe.

Spock licked slowly at the ice cream, savoring every bite. He paused to ask, "Is this what you wanted to show me?"

The other shook his head. "Not really. I was just curious as to what those two aliens are." Kirk gestured to the oak tree where the aliens had stood, then looked around when he saw they were no longer there. Finally, he shrugged and frowned. "I guess they left. They were two of a species I'd never seen before. I thought you'd know where they're from."

"Were you expecting trouble from them?"

"No. They seemed peaceful enough. But with a planet this close to the border...," he shrugged.

"I see your point. Perhaps you could describe them?"

"I only saw them from a distance. They had light bluish skin, sort of reddish-brown hair. About my height. Small eyes. Their heads were sort of shaped like pentagons."

After a moment's hesitation, Spock shook his head. "That description does not match any alien species of which I am aware. We could inquire at the Office of Out-Worlders."

"It's not that important," Kirk said through a mouthful of ice cream. "I was just curious." He moved over to a bench to finish his cone, and Spock followed.

The Vulcan was still licking diligently at his treat. "I am surprised that you are not involved in other activities."

The human shrugged, enjoying the fact that Spock wasn't afraid to discuss the personal subject. The first officer had come a long way in a few years. Plus, considering the events of seven weeks ago....

He was determined to be as honest as the Vulcan, without being overly so. "I got what I wanted. There didn't seem to be any point in...continuing. I'm in the mood for other things." He popped the last of his cone into his mouth, munching noisily.

"What other things?"

Kirk didn't reply until he'd swallowed. "I was thinking about renting a shuttle and going to Moonbase. I've never been there before. Have you?"

The other made a negative gesture. "I have heard it is a popular tourist attraction. I believe they have many shops with unique merchandise. Are you interested in purchasing something?"

Kirk stretched, then settled back in the bench. "Not particularly. But I may if I find something to my fancy. It'd be nice to look around, pass the time." He eyed the other carefully, making no effort to hide the hopefulness in his tone. "Would you like to come along?"

Spock was finally down to the last of his ice cream. His pointed tongue carefully probed the inside of the cone, searching for any remaining trace of the dairy product. After a moment, he looked up and held out the empty cone to Kirk. "Would you like to finish this? I do not like that part."

Kirk took the cone and popped the whole thing into his mouth. Crumbs exploded to the corners.

The Vulcan watched with no expression. "I have assigned myself to bridge duty for the remainder of the alpha shift."

The human shrugged. "You know you can change the schedule. Someone should be able to take over. Make it an order."

Spock was almost sheepish. "You know I do not like to do that."

"'Rank Has Its Privileges'," Kirk quoted. The second cone had been demolished and he smiled charmingly. "Besides, they're probably sick and tired of you up there. You'll be doing them a favor." While Spock looked skeptical the human took out his communicator. "Here, I'll do it." Then he paused, eyeing the other man teasingly. "I mean, if you want to come along...?"

Spock seemed to repress a sigh.  "Yes, I would enjoy accompanying you."

Kirk grinned and called the Enterprise to let them know that neither he nor the first officer would be returning to the ship for at least a day.

* * * * *

The shuttle moved along at a speed that seemed painfully slow to the Enterprise officers, headed on its pre-programmed course for Stiven's single moon. Since so many visitors were spacers on leave, the Moonbase allowed renters to pilot the crafts themselves. There was little chance of anything going awry, since the computers only knew of one course: Moonbase.

"'...With construction completed only seven solar years ago,'" Kirk read from the computerized brochure in front of his seat, "'Moonbase has become the most popular tourist attraction in the Henson system. Its shops represent the wares of over 100 planets. Credit arrangements can be made from the Moonbase Spaceport.'" Kirk grunted and looked at his companion. "Care to quote me the odds on the likelihood that every price quoted at Moonbase amounts to spacelane robbery?"

Spock was, as usual, studying the instrument panel. "No, I do not believe that would add to the enjoyment of the occasion."

The human grinned.

Suddenly, the shuttle lurched.

"What the devil...."

Spock began flipping switches. "Tractor beam, Captain."

"Tractor beam?" Kirk repeated in disbelief. "Who?" His voice firmed. "Reverse. Full power."

Calmly, Spock replied, "I have all engines on full. They are not strong enough to pull us away from the beam."

"Damn. Who could have us?" Kirk switched on the communications channel. "Stiven Spaceport, this is Moonbase Shuttle Seven. Can you read?" He waited, but there was nothing but static. "I repeat:  This is Moonbase Shuttle Seven. Emergency. Emergency."

Spock said, "I have a fix on our captors." He flipped a switch and the viewing screen showed a picture from off their hind port.

"What kind of ship is that?" Kirk demanded.

The Vulcan shook his head. "I have never seen that particular design before. But it appears to be a starship; I would estimate a crew of approximately 200. We are being drawn toward it."

Kirk returned his attention to communications. "Emergency. Emergency. Stiven Spaceport, can you read?"

Spock settled back in his chair. "I surmise that our communications are being interfered with." He looked squarely at his captain. "Obviously, someone is intent on capturing us."

Kirk settled back with a tense sigh. "I guess we'll just have to sit back and see who it is."

They both watched the screen in silence as the shuttle was drawn closer to the starship.

"I estimate docking in approximately one point one-three minutes."

Kirk looked anxiously at his first officer. "What are the chances of Stiven seeing that something is wrong and sending help?"

"I am uncertain how attentively their spaceport control is manned. In any case, by the time they send help, the ship may have warped away into Klingon space. They will not be able to follow us there."

Abruptly, Kirk took out his communicator and flipped it open. "Kirk to Enterprise. Kirk to Enterprise. This is Captain Kirk. Emergency. Emergency."

The only response was static.

The human looked at his first officer. "Send a distress beacon."

Spock sat calmly. "I did so as soon as we were caught in the beam, but the beacon was caught, as well."

Kirk started to leave his chair. "Weapons?"

Spock shook his head. "There are none on a civilian shuttle."

Kirk sat back down, then slammed his fist down on the arm of his chair. "Who the hell are they?" he demanded of the air.

"We should know shortly, Captain."

Docking doors opened from within the hull of the starship. As the shuttle was slowly brought within, all the Federation officers could see was total darkness.

They felt a small lurch within the hull of the big outer ship after the bay doors had closed behind them and exchanged a worried glance. The starship had warped.

"I can't see a damn thing out there. Can you?"

"No. The entire bay consists of darkness."

Kirk rose from his chair and went to the door. He read from a panel next to it. "The atmosphere is breathable. Shall we risk it?"

The Vulcan was also on his feet. "We are unlikely to learn anything by remaining here."

Kirk nodded. He moved to one side of the door and Spock moved to the other. They exchanged another glance, then Kirk pushed a button, and the door hissed open.

Immediately, the outer area was bathed in light. Both officers placed their arms over their eyes until they'd had a moment to adjust.

When they lowered their arms they found themselves looking out upon some twenty aliens. They all had bluish skin and sandy red hair, pentagon-shaped heads...and all had a weapon aimed at them. The weapons looked liked large ray rifles, though the tips narrowed to small, clean points.

Once recovered from the surprise, Kirk barked, "Who are you? Why have you brought us here?"

One member of the group stepped forward, his weapon slightly lowered. "I cannot answer your questions. I can only tell you that there is no reason for you to resist. You will be released." He made it sound like a quotation.

"Released? When?"

"I cannot answer your questions."

"Someone had better answer them. I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. This is my first officer, Mr. Spock. You've committed a grave crime by bringing us here. What do you want from us?"

The alien seemed puzzled that Kirk was asking. "I cannot answer your questions," he repeated.

"Who can?"

"Only our leader, Margrar."

“Take me to him."

"We will." The alien raised his weapon. "Get back into the shuttle."

"When will we see him?" Kirk demanded.

"We will begin our journey as soon as you get back into the shuttle."

Kirk stepped back, and Spock followed suit. They both were surprised when the aliens moved closer. Then six broke away from the others and came up to the shuttle, rifles pointing.

Kirk and Spock continued to back away until they were against the opposite wall of the shuttle.

The six aliens entered the small craft. Two took the pilot and co-pilot seats. There were only two other chairs and the aliens beckoned Kirk and Spock to sit in them. The four others remained standing with their rifles aimed. The small craft was very crowded.

For a long time nothing happened. No one moved nor spoke until the mother ship slowed from warp speed to sublight. Kirk and Spock exchanged yet another glance. Then the former looked at the alien who had spoken to them previously. "Are we in Klingon space?"

"I cannot answer your questions."

Kirk grimaced.

The Vulcan said, "I do not believe anything will be gained by further questions."

"I hope their leader isn't as stubborn as he is."

"Indeed."

Kirk watched the alien carefully. He and Spock weren't whispering, but the alien seemed unconcerned by their words. They heard the sound of the bay doors opening, and a short time later the shuttle was scooted along to the edge of the bay, then its pilots gently lifted it into space.

* * * * *

Some forty minutes later the craft landed. The viewscreen showed the planet to be class M. The shuttle appeared to have landed in a large clearing surrounded by jungle-like vegetation.

Once the engines had been shut down, one of the standing guards opened the hatch. A refreshing rush of oxygen-rich air filled the interior.

Four guards began to back out of the craft, weapons still on Kirk and Spock, their gestures with the rifles beckoning the two to follow. Guns in the hands of the pilot and co-pilot emphasized the order.

Kirk stood and moved forward, knowing Spock was following behind. When the human stepped out of the shuttle and onto the planet, he found himself facing many more bluish-skinned aliens, all with the same rifles.

But there was one standing apart and without a weapon. This one stepped forward, and Kirk recognized the haggard face of a leader worn down by too many responsibilities. As the human studied the commander, he found himself quickly surrounded by a myriad of aliens, separating him from Spock.

Kirk was about to speak, and demand why they'd been brought there, when he saw the leader—Margrar, he assumed—look at Spock in surprise.

The alien's attention turned to the guard who'd been the only one so far to speak to the Enterprise officers.

"Who is the other one?" Margrar demanded sharply.

The guard replied, "He was traveling with Captain Kirk. We could not..."

Sharply, Kirk cut in, "He's my first officer, Mr. Spock." He eyed Margrar sternly. "Why have you brought us here?"

Margrar ignored Kirk and looked at the circle of guards that had moved to surround Spock. The order was firm. "Kill him."

Kirk's mouth dropped open in shock. Then all instincts sent him into action. He surged forward. "NO!" But guards quickly restrained him.

Spock was struggling with his own group, but he was one against eight. Both arms were wrenched up behind his back, and he was forced to his knees. He gave up the struggle then, accepting the inevitable.

A guard moved behind the Vulcan.

All of Kirk's energy went to his voice. "NO! WAIT! WAIT!"

The guard standing behind Spock pointed a rifle at the base of the Vulcan's skull.

Kirk surged with every ounce of strength he possessed, but the limbs still held him. He was consumed by the greatest fear he'd ever known. "WAIT! WAIT! I'M RESPONSIBLE FOR MY PEOPLE!"

From his kneeling position, Spock looked sharply at his captain, presenting a fierce, warning expression. "No, Jim!"

The guard behind Spock pulled the trigger. There was a soft 'popping' noise, and the aliens released their prisoner.

Spock's body collapsed.

Kirk watched in shock and horror as Margrar went over and nudged it with a boot, flipping it over. The Vulcan's eyes and mouth were open, tongue hanging out.

The leader gestured to a couple of guards. Quietly, he said, "Throw him in the pit with the other two."

Kirk surged against the guards who held him. "YOU BASTARD!" he cried, soul screaming denial. "Bastard! You cold-blooded murdering coward!"

Each of two guards took the body by a shirt-sleeve and began to drag it away.

Kirk's insides liquified. My ghod. No. No. No. Not Spock. Not Spock. Nooooo.

Margrar turned toward Kirk and approached.

The human continued to shout, his voice dripping with grief, anger, rage, and utter hatred. "Damn you to every kind of hell! He was one against your army. What possible threat was he to you? Damn you, DAMN YOU."

Oh, ghod, Spock. Grief threatened to overflow, and Kirk commanded himself, Don't give in, don't give in. Thisisanenemy,you'reaFederation officer. Don'tgiveanythingaway.Doyourduty.Doyourduty.

Margrar stopped a few meters in front of Kirk. With no expression, he said, "I regret his death. It was an act of mercy."

"MERCY!" Kirk exploded, voice breaking. "You murdering...." His rage was such that he couldn't continue; his words were no longer coherent.

Getyourselfundercontrol.Getundercontrol.You'vestillgotajobtodo. Don'tdoanythingstupid.MakeSpock'sdeathmeansomething. Makeitmeansomething.

Slowly a feeling of deadly calm settled over him as he drew a shuddering breath.

"If we would not have killed him," Margrar was saying, "he would have starved to death. There is little food. Already, two of my men have died. We cannot afford to feed those who are unnecessary to our needs."

The calm was shattered by renewed fury. "STARVED to death!" the human growled, frothing. "He could have lasted longer than any of us! He's a Vulcan, damn you! He can control his metabolism. You filthy, filthy bastards."

He found himself weakening, the grief washing over him, as each second that passed brought the reality closer to home. It had been so senseless. Spock,no.Notyou.Notyou.No.Ghod,no.NO. In the distance, Kirk could still see the two aliens pulling Spock, the Vulcan's face smeared in the dirt as he was dragged. The guard at Spock's left seemed to barely have the strength to pull the arm that was his responsibility.

There was a sting behind the human's eyes. He momentarily closed them, bowing his head. Think.THINK! Makeitmeansomething. Makeitmeansomething. There'snoroomforgriefhere.

Calm again, after a few moments his head snapped up and he eyed Margrar coldly. "What do you want from me?"

The other seemed relieved to finally be getting to the point. "We have no wish to harm you. Please be assured of that."

Noharm?Noharm? Kirk snarled silently. My ghod, you've murdered the one person.... A new wave of grief surged, and he shook himself mentally. No, not here. Getaholdofyourself.

Margrar continued. "You know of a Klingon commander named Kulitan, do you not?"

The shock of the question focused Kirk's mind on the conversation. "Yes," he whispered suspiciously.

"And is it not also true that Kulitan is your enemy?"

Not having any idea where the question was leading, Kirk answered vaguely. "The Federation and the Klingon Empire have a treaty."

Margrar nodded. "But an uneasy one, true?"

Kirk only glared.

The other shrugged. "Kulitan is our enemy, as well. It is ou..."

"Who are you?" Kirk snapped.

"We call ourselves Nindans," Margrar answered easily. "We occupy this system, which is located just this side of the Klingon border. We are peaceful, but we defend ourselves when necessary." His voice hardened. "Until now, we've had no quarrel with the Klingons nor the Federation. However, two dabas ago, Kulitan commanded a fleet that raided one of our planets, which was our largest source of food. He and his fleet  will pay. With their lives."

Kirk found himself instinctively quoting one of the Federation's strongest beliefs. "Vengeance will accomplish nothing." He wondered how he could say the words when they held no meaning for him. But he knew that doing his job—being a soldier of the Federation—was the only thing keeping him sane.

You'll pay for murdering Spock, you bastard. I won't rest until you've acknowledged the wrong that you've done, until I'm convinced you'll suffer the rest of your life knowing you've committed that wrong.

"On the contrary," Margrar replied firmly. "I believe barbarians such as the Klingons will understand vengeance quite well...and the method in which we will accomplish it."

"What are you going to do?"

The leader gestured to one of his men, standing to one side, holding an instrument toward Kirk. "Lanan has been taking images of you. We will send a messenger to Kulitan, telling him that we have you captive. We will agree to turn you over to him as a gesture of goodwill—a show of desire to negotiate with them so they do not destroy any more of our planets. Then, when he comes to get you, he will find my entire fleet waiting. We will act without mercy. And we will return whatever is left of his fleet to his people, so they will know never to attack us again."

Kirk shook his head in disbelief. His body was weakening from the constant struggle against the guards who continued to restrain him, and he found himself yielding to their combined strength. "You fool," he said softly, "don't you realize that they'll just come after you with more ships and with less mercy than even the first attack? The Empire consists of hundreds of planets. You can't fight them alone."

"We must try. We will not give in."

"The Federation can assist you," Kirk found himself saying, part of him wondering why he was even bothering to quote the usual speeches to this despicable race of beings. "We can help you fight, even negotiate with the Klingons without any more bloodshed on either side."

"As I said, we have no quarrel with your Federation, but we also have no need of its assistance. This is our fight, and we will win. I do not believe the Klingons will be as anxious as you claim to fight us again. Our methods are brutal. They will see the results when their damaged ships and corpses are returned to them."

The bold statement made Kirk wonder if the Nindans had some special weapon more deadly than the Federation was aware. On some intellectual level, he wondered how the rifle had killed Spock. He couldn't tell that there had been any blood or wound of any kind. Spock had simply...keeled over.

He swallowed down a massive lump. Not now. Don'tthink.Don't think. "So, I'm to be the bait," he choked out.

The other nodded. "You need not worry about being harmed. The Klingons will never know you are here. We are giving them an erroneous location. It is at that other location that my ships will be there to ambush them. As soon as we leave here for the rendezvous, we will send a messenger to your Federation telling of your whereabouts, so they can come here and retrieve you."

"And, I suppose, you plan to be long gone by then?"

"Yes. As I've said, we have no quarrel with your Federation."

With bitter amusement, Kirk challenged, "But you won't face them because you know they won't approve of your abducting me, or," his voice hardened, "of you murdering my first officer."

For the first time, Margrar looked away. "I regret his death. I did not know he would not add to our food crisis."

“And me?" Kirk challenged.

"We will provide for you what we can. However, I cannot guarantee a full stomach. Rations are extremely limited."

"How long are you going to keep me prisoner here?"

"Kulitan should receive our message in about one and half rotations of this planet. We will leave for the rendezvous—and send the message to your Federation—shortly after that. We estimate it will be another two rotations before the buoy with the messenger reaches Stiven."

Scoffing, Kirk said, "And you expect my full cooperation?"

"Your cooperation is not necessary." Margrar waved an arm at the man who had been taking the 'images', and the latter moved off. The leader continued. "We already have what we need to convince Kulitan that we have you captive. We will keep you here in the event that he requires further proof. Also, we cannot release you too soon, since it seems rather apparent that you will send your Federation to try to stop us. By the time your people receive the message telling of your location, the massacre will already have taken place."

Kirk shook his head in disbelief. "And you have no conscience about conducting this 'massacre'?"

"Kulitan and his people will pay for what they've done to my people. Thousands of Nindans will starve to death before we are able to correct the interruption of food."

Kirk lunged against the restraint, carried by the force of his words. "The Federation can help! We can keep your people from starving by providing emergency aid."

There was a pause before Margrar spoke again. "You've spoken as though your first officer's death was a grave crime. Are you saying that your Federation—and you—would still assist us after we've killed him, as you have accused?"

Kirk felt himself weakening. "The Federation is accustomed to forgiving deaths that are the result of ignorance." Softly, he added, "Spock was the most peaceful of beings. He would condone their forgiveness...and my own."

The sting was there again, as was the lump closing his throat. Ghod, Spock, is that to be your legacy? In your name, we help the race of beings who murdered you?

His chest tightened into a knot at the image of his dearest friend collapsing...then being dragged off in such a manner. Oh, ghod, no. No. Such a dear, precious life...

Despite his prior diplomatic words, Kirk found himself regarding Margrar with gritted teeth. Shakily, he hissed, "You bastard."

Margrar studied his captive for a moment. Curiously, he asked, "That word—it is a kind of swearing, or an insult?"

Hopelessness closed in on Kirk. They understood each other so little. Was it possible that Margrar didn't even realize how angry and devastated he was?

Margrar seemed to shrug. "It is no matter. I will consider the aid of your Federation after I have taken vengeance upon Kulitan."

Kirk shook his head, snorting grimly. "The Federation will not help barbarians." He pulled himself together. "Margrar, swallow your pride and forget your vengeance. Perhaps the Klingons didn't even know they were wiping out your primary food supply. They're a desperate people, too. They have many poor planets. Let the Federation help you meet an agreement with them...and provide protection."

The other shook his head firmly. "No. We will have our revenge and set a formidable example."

Kirk eyed him coldly. "Then your stubborn pride condemns thousands to starvation."

For the first time, Margrar's expression became menacing, and it made the human wonder if the Nindan was being worn down by the conversation. "It is not your concern, Kirk." He took a rifle from the nearest guard and held it before his captive. "We will place you in confinement. I strongly recommend that you do not create trouble. If you do, this weapon will make the remainder of your stay unnecessarily painful. I do not wish to use it on you. It will deprive you of your strength; strength that we have insufficient nourishment to replenish."

Kirk eyed the weapon, wondering again what the principle was behind it. But he clamped his jaw shut, refusing to speak further. In a way, he was glad Margrar refused Federation aid. Now he was free to hate him and his people without contradicting his duty.

Margrar turned away, and Kirk found himself maneuvered toward a small, hut-like structure by the guards who still held him. They brought him inside, then released him and backed away, weapons aimed in warning.

The door closed loudly and Kirk collapsed to his knees. The adrenaline had run dry and he realized how weak and exhausted his was. Physically...and emotionally.

Spock.Myghod,Spock.My ghod. No.No.No.Noooo.

It was too tempting to give in to the grief. If he did he might never recover.

He looked about his prison, trying desperately to block out all thoughts of his friend. Temporary structure. Made out of some kind of metal. About eight meters across and four meters wide. Still kneeling, he turned. No furniture or light. Some kind of bed made up of blankets on the floor. Small window at each end. Almost dark. No window on door. Probably guards posted outside.

Three and a half days on this planet. Dear God, what am I supposed to do, except...think?

The emotion was there again, closing in. His head shook back and forth, trying to chase it away.

He had thought Spock dead before. When the cloud creature came in through the vent in Ensign Garrovick's cabin. When he'd sent Spock out in the shuttle to the giant single-celled animal. But on those occasions, and others, he'd been able to push the grief from his mind. The ship had always been in a crisis situation, and the safety of the crew had always had priority over personal grief. In those situations, it had been easy not to dwell on Spock's assumed death.

But now, here, there was only himself. The Enterprise was safe. And there was no one left to require his protection.

Except the Klingons.

He felt a bitter laugh, but it came out as a weary snort. How ironic it was.

He remembered Kulitan well. The Klingon commander was a brutal bastard. He and Kirk had fought with words over the claim to the advancement of a particular planet, per the Organian Treaty. Eventually, shots had been exchanged. In the end, Kulitan had been forced to return to Klingon space in disgrace. Yes, he would consider the Enterprise Captain a worthy prize, treaty or no treaty.

Now I’ve got to try to save his godforsaken neck. Can’t let the Nindans do this. Pointless massacre.

Pointless. That's what Spock's death had been. Totally, completely, utterly pointless.

What's that ancient saying? 'Once you've saved a life, you're responsible for it'?

A sob burst forth, and Kirk covered his face with his hands. He swallowed down the dam that threatened to burst, determined not to allow himself weakness while captive.

But his thoughts wouldn't shut off.

Ghod, Spock, I've let you down. After all we went through seven weeks ago...I saved you. I wanted you to live more than anything. And, now, you're no more. Only because I insisted you beam down to Stiven....

He could imagine the Vulcan's gentle reprimand. Jim, it is not logical to punish yourself for something that was out of your control. I did not have to agree to join you on Stiven, or accompany you to Moonbase. It was my choice.

Kirk crawled over to a cold, steel, wall and sat back against it. Memories of his first officer and dearest friend danced across his mind.

"Computers make excellent and efficient servants; but I have no wish to serve under them, Captain. A starship also runs on loyalty to one man. And nothing can replace it. Or him." "It is a thing no outworlder may know, except those very few who have been involved." "Has it occurred to you that there is a certain…inefficiency...in constantly questioning me in things you've already made up your mind about?" "For the first time in my life, I was happy." "I need not see the hammer fall to know that it has in fact fallen." "Captain. Jim. Please. Don’t stop me. Don't let him stop me. It's your career and Captain Pike's life. You must see the rest of the transmission." "Captain, Ambassador Sarek and his wife are my parents."

Kirk swallowed heavily. Sarek and Amanda. I'll have to tell them. Break the news to them. Their only child...

His head snapped up. Where was it the Nindans were taking Spock? He tried to remember. What had Margrar said?

"Throw him in the pit with the other two."

Alarmed, and loathing himself for having not protested sooner, Kirk rushed to the door. He tried to open it, but it remained firmly in place. Frantic, he started pounding on it. "Margrar! Margrar! I demand to see Margrar!"

The door open and a trio of rifles confronted him.

"Back away," came a firm command.

Kirk took a few steps back. "Bring Margrar to me. Now."

"What for?"

Kirk blinked. He didn't trust Margrar, but he trusted the guards even less. "I will speak only to him." When the others hesitated, he hissed, "Get him! It's of vital importance."

The guard in the middle nodded to one on the right. The latter turned away at a run.

"He will summon you." With that, the remaining alien shut the door.

Kirk stood in the middle of his prison, eyes on the door, chest heaving.

He'd never looked at Spock's will, and didn’t know what was customary for a Vulcan's death, or what Spock's individual preference may have been for the disposition of his body. He wondered if the logical Vulcans even had such preferences.

But...  Anything has to be better than being…thrown in a pit.

He choked, biting his lower lip as a gasp of grief escaped. Oh, ghod, Spock. Oh, ghod.

There was only silence as he waited for Margrar's return.

Finally, there were footsteps outside. A moment later the door opened. Again, Kirk was greeted by a trio of weapons. Then Margrar stepped between the guards and the human.

The alien's expression was one of annoyance. "What is it you must speak to me about?"

Kirk subdued his desire to once again denounce this alien as the coldest-blooded killer in all the universe. Instead, he remained calm, thinking it the best way to get what he wanted. "Bring me Spock's body."

Margrar seemed appalled. "Why?"

"Our people have customs concerning...the dead. They are important to us. When I am released, I want to take Spock with me. I want to return him home."

The other shook his head. "It will be at least three rotations of this planet before you are rescued. We do not have the means to preserve a body. It is better that he rot in the pit than in camp."

Kirk blinked, fighting back rage.  His voice was steel. "Then take me to him. I will bury him, as is proper for our people."

"No. I will not allow you that much freedom."

"Damn you!" the human spat. "You admit his death was a mistake. At least allow him a decent burial."

Margrar seemed to sigh. "I am aware that others have important customs concerning death. We do not have time for such superficialities. Surely, you will find other ways in which to honor him."

Kirk launched himself at the hated man. “You sonofabitch!"

Arms were all around, pulling him off. Then something hard hit his chin, and he fell back against the opposite wall.

Margrar was clearly angry as he stood over the human. "That is the only trouble I will allow from you. The next time this happens, I will not hesitate to use the weapon. I will kill you if necessary. You have already served our purpose. You will get no further warnings." He turned and stormed out. A moment later the heavy door was slammed shut and silence ensued.

For a moment, Kirk didn't move. Then, slowly, he reached up and felt where the butt of a rifle had hit him. He was bleeding inside his mouth, and was grateful for the distraction.

But it didn't last long.

Never had he felt so helpless...or in so much pain. He wondered if he could remain sane until the Enterprise came.

He thought about luring the guards in and fleeing with the intent of finding Spock. They would probably kill him. That would be just as well.

He sagged into a crouch. Spock would greatly disapprove. The Vulcan's last words—"No, Jim!"—has been in fear of Kirk's life. Spock had accepted that he was going to be killed, but had clearly demanded that Kirk not also die in a useless struggle.

Spock hadn't wanted to die. That fact was etched on the Vulcan's face as clearly as the acceptance that the Vulcan was out-numbered and saw no logic in resisting. Kirk could almost imagine the thought-processes the first officer had gone through: The fight for freedom; then acceptance that he was to be killed; then regret that his life was to end like this, without even knowing the identity of his captors or the reason for his execution; then the fear that Kirk might die, too.

No, Jim!

Spock had condemned him with that cry. Condemned him with a last, dying wish that Kirk remain alive, whatever the cost.

The human forced himself to his feet. No matter how inviting the blankets against the far wall looked, he refused to make use of them. He hadn't slept in nearly two days, save the few hours' sleep captured at Newell's. And, now, sleep was the last thing he wanted to do. He was too afraid of waking up and...remembering...that the brightest star in his universe had winked out of existence, forcing him to deal with grief all over again.

He leaned against a cold, metal wall.

* * * * *

Not knowing the passage of time, he only knew that his prison eventually became black, then was brightened by a huge, full moon. He thought about anything, everything, and no matter where those thoughts strayed, they always came back to Spock.

And each time they did, he found himself become a little more accepting...and a little more hardened. He smiled grimly. He was developing a 'Vulcan facade'.

The door was pushed open and Kirk went over to it.

A guard stepped into the room and laid a plate on the floor. "Food and water," he announced, then stepped back, closing the door behind him.

Kirk went over to it, hungry, but didn't know how much he could stand to eat. He picked up the sole, cube-shaped item on the plate and held it up to the moonlight. It was crystalline and almost weightless. He'd never seen anything like it before. Experimentally, he licked at one corner of it, then coughed when the substance turned to powder within his mouth.

He tried it once more and got the same result. Disgusted, he put the square back on the plate. There was a small pitcher and ladle. He poured one into the other, then brought the ladle to his mouth. Cautiously, he sipped from it. The water tasted surprisingly fresh, and he downed it greedily.

Refreshed for the time being, he left the plate by the door and went over to the window. Surely, with all the vegetation on this planet, there's some thing suitable for human consumption.

He wondered how different Nindans were from humans, to eat such different types of food. Though Nindans looked humanoid, he knew from experience that even small differences in internal organs could make big differences in physiology.

His first officer was a perfect example.

Kirk's mouth contorted into a heavy frown as sadness crept upon him once again.

The pon farr. What a mystery that was. Even to the Vulcans.

I doubt any 'outworlder' has been as close to it as I have, Kirk thought proudly. I bet no human has ever helped a Vulcan through it the way I did.

He sighed with despair. Poor Spock. He went to his death never knowing what it was like to actually enjoy sex...making love. If only I could have shown him, somehow, some way, what it is like to be made love to. To be shown that he was loved.

The Vulcan was loved. That was certain. Kirk didn't know at what level his love for Spock could be defined. He only knew that it surpassed anything he had ever experienced.

And was certain to never experience again.

He bit his lower lip. Damn.

The door opened and a guard entered. He reached down to retrieve the plate and stopped, looking at Kirk accusingly. "You did not eat."

Kirk walked up to him as dawn crept along the horizon. "I can't eat it. My people don't eat foodstuffs like that."

The guard stared at the plate.

Kirk had seen the look before. More times than he cared to remember. It seemed, no matter how efficient a government, poverty was always present somewhere under its rule.

"Go ahead," he said. "You may as well eat it. I can't."

The guard stared at him, as though disbelieving his good fortune. Then he looked guiltily over each shoulder, then hunched down and bit into half of the square. He made noises of inhalation after closing his mouth.

Kirk watched in fascination. From what he could gather, the food was absorbed through some part of the mouth.

"You FOOL!"

The guard was thrown to one side of the doorway. Then Margrar appeared, flanked by two other guards.

"That is Captain Kirk's ration!" The leader shouted at the cowering man. "Fool!"

Kirk watched the pitiful interchange, then spoke up. "I told him he could have it. I can't eat that. My people don't eat anything like that."

Margrar turned his attention to the human. Anxiously, he asked, "What do your people eat?"

Though it meant he would go hungry, Kirk refrained from suggesting there may be something in the jungle. He felt the Nindans' ignorance could be his best weapon. "Nothing like that."

Margrar sighed. "I regret that we do not have the proper nutrition for you. But there is nothing that can be done. I suggest you do whatever possible to conserve energy until you are rescued."

Kirk didn't reply. Margrar reached down to the remainder of the square, broke it in two, and handed a piece to each of the remaining guards. The guards put the pieces in their mouths, then made greedy inhaling noises. Immediately afterwards, they helped themselves to the pitcher of water.

Margrar reached out a hand to the downed guard and helped him to his feet. "You are forgiven. Do not do it again. The ration should have been brought to me for instructions for distribution."

The guard nodded. "Yes, Margrar." Then he, too, consumed some of the water.

Moments later, Kirk was left alone. He went the window and watched the sun rise. Then, assuming he was not going to be allowed outside to relieve himself, he urinated beneath it. He moved back over to the direction of the bed, but still avoided it.

He was not brought food nor water a second time.

* * * * *

He developed a pattern throughout the following day: he would sit on the floor, against the wall, for over an hour. Then he would get up and go to the window, peripherally note the beauty of the planet, and watch the blue-skinned aliens as they went about their daily tasks. Many seemed idle, as though too weak to move. Then Kirk would pace until his legs grew weary. Eventually, he would sit down, and the cycle would start again.

He was hungry. And thirsty. And so tired. And felt so helpless. And he was in constant pain.

Spock. No.

Sometimes the grief would choke him, and he would have to do everything in his power to swallow it back down. At other times, he could think about his first officer in a relatively objective manner, remembering certain conversations and shared experiences, with only subtle pain and little grief. Some memories he could even almost smile at.

Sleep was out of the question, even if he'd been inclined to succumb. Too many torments haunted his mind.

It was well into his second night on the planet when the camp suddenly came to life. Kirk went to the window and saw the Nindans moving about the camp, talking excitedly. Many were traveling back and forth between the shuttles, one of which was Nindan, the other which was the abducted craft from Stiven.

A short time later the door was opened. Margrar and a group of guards came toward Kirk, their rifles pointed.

The human was backed up against the far wall. He wondered if they had changed their minds about letting him go.

An oblong-shaped piece of metal, about a foot long, and with a gap in the middle of one side, was produced and Margrar held it up. "We are preparing to leave, Kirk. We will let you go. However, you must be restrained until we are gone."

"You fear me that much?" the human challenged.

For the first time, Margrar seemed to smile. It may have been from admiration. "I do not believe you would simply stand by and watch us leave."

Kirk had to concede the point. "No," he whispered.

Margrar nodded to the guard nearest him. The alien abruptly grabbed Kirk by the upper arm and pulled him to the right. When the human struggled, more guards assisted.

"Margrar, listen to me!" Kirk shouted as he was dragged to a small metal loop built into the far wall, directly opposite the door. "This isn't the way, damn you! Think about what you're doing. Bloodshed will only bring more bloodshed. Think about what I've told you. The Federation can help."

Both of his hands were forced up to the metal protrusion, which was about chest-high. Margrar then took the oblong piece of metal, put it around Kirk's wrists, then around the stationary bar. Producing another small, pen-like device, Margrar pointed the end at the small gap in the metal of the oblong piece. A small ray spread across the two open ends. Margrar and the other guards stepped back, leaving Kirk facing the wall.

"Blood has already been shed," the leader reminded. "We are only finishing what Kulitan began." His tone softened slightly. "The beam on your restraints will only last twenty nunadas. We will leave the door open, and you will then be free. I regret that we have no food to leave you, but our first task once in space will be to send the messenger to Stiven."

Kirk drummed up the last of his strength...and charm. "Take me with you," he pleaded. I'm sorry, Spock. I'm sorry.

Margrar reaction was of surprise. Soothingly, Kirk explained, "You've nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Klingons hate me, but they respect me. I can negotiate...." He trailed off when Margrar scowled.

"There will be no negotiation. They will die."

Kirk tried again. "You don't know what they're like. Your people could all die too. Kulitan may bring a massive fleet with him."

"Death is the price of war. I tire of arguing with you. Save your strength. You will need it." Margrar and his troops turned away.

As they'd promised, the door was left open. Kirk pulled at his restraints, but they held firm. He twisted his body around so he could watch through the doorway as the breaking of camp continued. Gradually—he didn't know how much time passed—voices died down and became more distant. Finally, he heard the shuttles lifting.

Then all was quiet.

Strength and will depleted, Kirk sagged to his knees, leaving his arms restrained above his head.

Never in his career had he performed so impotently. Since the abduction, not one thing he had done or said had been effective. Spock was dead. Kulitan and the Fleet was about to be annihilated—and would probably wipe out many Nindans in return—and he was here, chained to a wall, totally dependent upon the Nindans' messenger to bring him rescue.

And he was alone. Totally alone. Except for what was out there somewhere...in a pit.

A noise escaped his parched throat. He wasn't even sure if it was a cough or a sob. Here, alone on this planet, it would be so easy to give in to the grief. But if he did, he may never come out, for there was no one to bring him out.

Bones.

Kirk rested his forehead against the wall, momentarily fantasizing that it was McCoy's shoulder. He could cry in the doctor's presence. He even formed the word, whispering, "Bones."

But he was still sane enough to know that McCoy wasn't really here. It would be at least two days before he saw the doctor again. By that time, who knew what would be left of the once-proud Enterprise captain.

Some part of him insisted that he would recover. Though he was hungry, there was not yet danger of starving to death. Water was more important, but the vegetation on the planet was proof there was an ample supply available.

He yearned for his freedom and yanked weakly on the handcuffs. He wouldn't be chained forever, but he had no idea how long twenty 'nunadas' was. The translator could not interpret concepts for which it did not have a matching term. He only knew that Margrar had sounded like it wouldn't be very long.

Yet, once free, what was he to do?

The image came despite his will. He would have to find...the pit. He would have to do something for Spock.

His chest heaved with the realization that he may not be able to face seeing his first officer...dead. Particularly after the body had been exposed to the elements for two days. He wondered about scavengers on the planet...animals that may have dragged the Vulcan off.

His vision blurred. Oh, ghod, no. By all the gods, no. No.

The ache in his chest would never be healed. It would be there forever. A reminder of a love that knew no interpretation.

'Once you've saved a life, you're responsible for it'.

He had failed so miserably at that.

He shifted, changing his weight from one knee to the other, praying the small motion would make him think of something else. But instead, pain exploded in his chest as another dry sob escaped.

How badly he wanted to give in to the tears, but couldn't. Not here. He had never known such overwhelming self-pity, and feared drowning in it.

Spock wouldn't approve.

Maybe that's what he should focus on: spend the rest of his life concentrating on things the Vulcan would have approved of. Or at least the next few days. He desperately needed something to concentrate on...something to give life meaning, or he would succumb to death of the soul.

If his wasn't already dead.

He rested his head against the wall again, trying to revive the fantasy of McCoy's shoulder. It was getting so difficult. He was so tired.

A noise permeated the darkness.

Kirk's head snapped up, a dry gasp of surprise escaping his throat. He clamped his lips shut, hoping the gasp hadn't been heard. He listened intently, all senses on alert, wondering if the noise had been an animal.

There it was again. Soft footsteps. Far too calculated to be unintelligent. 

He restrained the urge to test his bonds once again. It would make noise. Still kneeling, he twisted around so he could watch the doorway—the general direction from which the footsteps were coming. Kirk's heart was pounding wildly against his chest, adrenaline trying to make a surge.

Gradually, a shadow made itself known in front of the door, indicating that someone, or some thing was pressed up against the dwelling, next to the doorway.

Kirk's fear increased as he saw the outline of what first looked to be a rifle. Then he realized it was a branch or some type of wood—a club.

This time he did pull on his bonds, cursing Margrar for leaving him in such a helpless position, vulnerable to attack without any means of defending himself.

As the figure moved ever so slowly toward the doorway, Kirk detected the outline of the white uniform that the Nindans wore. His breath was so heavy that he was certain the intruder could hear it. He was tempted to call out, just to get over the agony of not knowing.

It must be a Nindan guard who'd been left behind. Perhaps left to starve? Or maybe a Klingon agent who had infiltrated the Nindan's camp and was now coming to claim Kirk as prisoner?

Abruptly, the intruder stepped into the doorway, blocking the moonlight, covering the interior in darkness.

Kirk could only stare, trying not to betray his fear and helplessness.

The figure took a few steps forward, allowing the moonlight to bathe the prison again.

Now Kirk could see. And he stared in disbelief at the being standing before him.

He thought it the cruelest joke anyone could possibly imagine.

But he didn't care a moment later, when the being rushed to him. A deep baritone whispered in utter relief and satisfaction, "Jim,"

* * * * *

Kirk pulled frantically at the restraints, crying, "Spock,Spock,Spock" over and over again, his hoarse voice full of relief, disbelief, and desperation.

The Vulcan knelt next to Kirk and gingerly put his arms around the agitated form, fearful of aggravating possible injuries. The trembling human was twisting like a trapped animal, trying to free himself.

"Jim," Spock soothed, finally securing the other in a loose embrace, the human's back to his chest. He was bombarded by a dozen emotions, exhaustion being the most prominent.

Finally accepting the limitation of the restraints, Kirk slumped in the strong arms, head turned so his face was pressed against the white v-neck of the Vulcan's shirt, breathing heavily.

All was silent as each man absorbed the living warmth of the other. Then a hoarse whimper pierced the darkness. "I thought you were dead."

The grief in the tone sluiced clear through a vulnerable, Vulcan heart. "I assure you," came the gruff reply, "I am quite alive."

Kirk had no response to that, but pressed harder against the strong chest, as though not able to get close enough, his breath still coming in heavy gasps. He renewed the effort to free himself of the chains.

Watching, Spock realized the human was depleted of strength. He steadied the burden in his arms, then reached up to the metal bar and yanked.

It held firm.

Accepting the limitation for the time being, the Vulcan turned his attention to the man he'd feared never seeing again. He gently put his free arm back around Kirk, the motion slow and precise, while trying to project an aura of calm. 

It was working. Kirk had finally quit pulling on his restraints, and simply rested against Spock, his breath still heavy with fatigue and excitement.

"I saw you die," he whispered hollowly.

Spock swallowed, fighting back the many emotions which threatened to claim him. Kirk's statement answered one of his many questions: his memory was intact. His last thought, before awakening, was that Kirk may be killed trying to save him.

The Vulcan gently cupped the human's cheek. "I assure you, I am not dead," he said with great compassion.

The human pressed his face further into Spock's chest, his weary body trembling with dry sobs.

Spock resisted the urge to tighten his embrace. Instead, he whispered, "Jim, are you injured?"

Kirk made a noise that sounded like a question of confusion. But then he muttered, "No. No."

Confident now, Spock closed his arms until they were snug around the smaller body. "Are the aliens going to come back for you?"

"Huh?" With his head still resting on the broad chest, Kirk looked up at Spock with wide, glassy eyes. "No," he finally replied in a dry whisper. "Help is coming. Days."

Spock fought down frustration. He needed as much information as possible to determine the extent of their safety. But the human was radiating extreme fatigue, and was not fully coherent. He opted for one question: "Are we safe here?"

Kirk stared at the Vulcan for a long moment, as though not understanding the question. But when he spoke, his words were accompanied by a firm nod. "Yes. They're gone."

Spock allowed himself to relax a little. Though he would never feel completely safe in the aliens' camp, he was certain that Kirk was aware to some extent of what he was talking about.

Once again, Spock's full attention turned to the human, and he looked affectionately into the wide eyes that were still staring up at him.

"Spo-o.... How?" Then a near sob. "I saw you die."

"I have many questions myself," the Vulcan replied in a soothing tone. "I suggest we attempt to answer them later. We have more immediate concerns." He brushed a finger along dry, cracked lips. "You need water. There is some available just outside this structure. I will get it."

"Spock.Spock.Spock." Kirk was clearly agitated, struggling with his bonds, as the Vulcan loosened the embrace in preparation to stand.

Spock paused, maintaining physical contact. "Jim, I will only be gone a brief time; I estimate less than two minutes. You need water."

The Vulcan could sense the struggle between logic and emotion within the human. When it seemed the former was going to be the victor, he momentarily squeezed with the arm that was still around the human's chest. Then he left quickly, before Kirk could protest further.

The fresh air told him how badly Kirk needed a bath. And how grateful he was that the human was here to assault his senses.

He had never before seen his captain in such a state of emotional weakness. If they'd been in a crisis, the human's current condition would have concerned him. But here, on this planet, the name and location of which he did not even know, Spock would not begrudge Kirk this helplessness.

For Spock knew all about helplessness. Vulnerability. He had been in such a state less than two months ago, and at the time had hardly borne the shame. But Kirk had not condemned him for it, had not even been indifferent. What Kirk had done was pick him up and hold him...soothe him...care for him.

Despite his attempts to forget everything that had happened then, Spock found himself recalling the time when his emotions had finally broken through to the surface, and Kirk had treated him with nothing but kindness.

A small memory that he treasured greatly.

Spock turned his attention to a waist-high, barrel-shaped container against the outside wall of the prison, which dripped water from its spigot. On top of the container were a group of ladles and pitchers. The Vulcan allowed himself a moment's curiosity, wondering why some items had been left by the aliens when other aspects of the camp had been so neatly removed.

He leaned down to the spigot and began to fill the pitcher with water, the scent of which told him it was from the nearby stream. He'd drunk from other locations along the stream many times the past two days, and found the water to be richer than he preferred. But Kirk would relish it, as it had a flavor similar to the 'spring mountain water' the human was so fond of.

As the pitcher filled, Spock's mind again turned to the events of nearly eight weeks ago.

He had debased Kirk, if only temporarily. There was no other word to describe what he had done to his captain. And Kirk had been tormented by it. So much so that, in the first two weeks after the events, Spock wondered if he would ever be able to reclaim the other man's friendship. He could not face the human at that time, and Kirk had had no wish to confront him. Spock felt he did not deserve the friendship that had somehow—so gradually, it seemed—been restored between them. He could only conclude that Kirk had forgiven him, though the Vulcan was not sure he would ever forgive himself.

He had hurt Kirk, physically, and often experienced regret for that. Though the Time had not completely robbed him of sanity, and though he'd always tried as much as possible not to cause Kirk pain when entering the cooler flesh, he'd still always ended up hurting the weaker man. And he was sorry.  But there was no way to express that sorrow adequately.

Yet, despite all of that, he was here alone with Kirk, the other man nearly broken by grief from what he'd assumed to be his first officer's death. One day, Spock hoped to understand it. For now, he must not question this man who meant so much to him. He must be the friend Kirk needed, whatever the cost for the lowering of natural barriers, be it physical comfort, emotional security, or whispered, illogical words of reassurance.

Spock restrained a sigh as he moved away from the barrel. His own experiences of the past two days had not been pleasant, either. But he would sort out his emotions later. For now, there was someone that needed him.

Re-entering the hut, he found the human twisted, facing the doorway. Kirk's eyes watched Spock momentarily, then they moved to the water. There, they stayed.

The Vulcan felt anger that the aliens had deprived their captive of water when it had been so readily available, but the emotion was repressed as he approached the other man. He knelt behind Kirk, who was trembling with anticipation. "One moment, Jim."

Spock poured water into the ladle, then brought his arms around the other. He placed his free hand on the human's forehead and brought Kirk's head back to rest against his chest, holding it upright.

He palmed the ladle and brought it up to the human's mouth. Gently, he assured, "Drink slowly. There is plenty."

Kirk didn't have much choice with Spock in control of the ladle. The Vulcan tipped it into Kirk's mouth, gauging the speed of swallowing, tilting it further as Kirk emptied it.

Not a single drop was spilled.

"Do you wish more?" Spock asked, leaning over to the pitcher.

Kirk made a grunting noise and nodded. 

The second serving was almost completely downed before Kirk grunted again and turned his mouth away.

Spock drank the rest. Then he put the ladle down and put his arms back around Kirk, whose breath was heavy from the effort.

Spock waited until the breathing calmed, then eyed the ray joining Kirk's restraints, and whispered, "Jim, are you aware of a tool or device that will release your bonds?"

Kirk's head was resting against Spock's chest again. "No. But they said it was only temporary...like the beam was going to wear off eventually."

Spock studied the ray. In retrospect, the beam did seem less bright than when he had first entered the hut. "Do you know how long?"

A shake of the head. "The translator couldn't interpret their concepts of time."

Spock sighed. "Then we have no choice but to wait." He tightened his embrace reassuringly.

After a few moments of silence, the human stirred and looked up at Spock with eyes that were much more alert than before.

"Spock... " It was a whisper of wonder.

The Vulcan glanced at the wide eyes, anticipating the question to come.

"How...? How?" The human couldn't elaborate.

Spock held him closer. "I do not know. I only know that I...'woke up'."

"But you...you were dead. You looked dead. I thought...." Kirk was only partially successful at choking back a sob.

Spock wasn't sure what to say that would be sufficient. He gently cupped the human's cheek and whispered, "I regret your suffering. I do not know how I came to life after I was thought to be dead. However, I can surmise it was one of three possibilities:  One, the weapon they used malfunctioned. Two, the weapon does not affect Vulcans the same way it does their own species. Or three, because of differences in internal physiology, they did not use the weapon in the proper area of the brain for which they intended."

Spock paused, gulping. That last sentence brought forth a question that he found difficult to ask. He remembered the aliens forcing him to his knees, and one of the aliens moving behind him...a gesture that seemed to have universal meaning.

Despite his attempt at calm, Spock's voice came out gruffly. "They shot me in the head, did they not?"

He was instantly sorry to have asked the question. Until now, Kirk's emotional trauma had been displayed by dry sobs. Now, tears fell onto the Vulcan's chest, soaking through the alien tunic he wore.

Kirk was shaking. "Yes," he replied, voice muted by the cloth, "Yes." But a moment later he glanced up at Spock with tear-stained eyes. "There was no blood," he recalled hollowly. "I didn't even see anything come out of the rifle. There was just a little noise, then...then you...collapsed." Bluntly, he added, "You looked dead."

"It must have been an invisible beam," Spock surmised with outward calm. His face softened. "In any case, it was entirely painless. Apparently, no harm was done. I cannot tell that it has caused me any damage. All it did was produce a deep unconsciousness."

"You looked dead," Kirk repeated, pressing his face deeper into Spock's chest.

The Vulcan could sense some horrible memory that Kirk was conjuring up, but he refrained from asking. Despite his instinctive curiosity, he realized that he truly did not want to know.

Spock felt tears again and tightened his embrace.

Shakily, Kirk said, "Damn, I can't seem to get hold of myself."

"You are broadcasting extreme fatigue." Spock stated tenderly, then moved one hand to Kirk's chin and lifted it. "You have not rested since arriving here?"

Kirk shook his head.

The moonlight bathed the human's face, and Spock noticed a discoloration along one side of the chin. He avoided brushing his fingers along it. It made him curious as to what had been done to Kirk, though the other was apparently uninjured. But he didn't want to question while the other was so weary.

He glanced up at the restraints and saw that the beam was very dim. "Your hands will be free shortly, Captain."

He wanted to take both the human and himself away from here, even if it were true that the aliens wouldn't be returning. He wanted nothing to do with the skeleton camp that bore the slightest remembrance of them.

And he knew Kirk had his own demons to deal with.

But they could go nowhere while the human was in such a depleted condition. He would have to encourage Kirk to sleep, and wait until the human's strength returned before they could leave.

The ray was now a dying ember. Spock reached up to the restraints, preparing to catch Kirk's wrists when they were freed.

The ray disappeared, and Kirk's hands slipped out of the oblong piece of metal. He was even faster than Spock. Before the Vulcan could grip the human's hands, Kirk turned and threw his arms around him.

He tried to embrace Spock. But the human was so weak that his arms couldn't find a firm hold. Instead, they began clawing at Spock's back, trying to find purchase. Then Kirk reached up to the Vulcan's head and desperately ran his fingers along the base of the skull.

Spock knew what Kirk was doing, and it made him uncomfortable. Holding the human in a tight embrace, he gruffly said, "Jim, I assure you, there is no wound."

Kirk must have believed it, or else the human's arms simply gave out, for the limbs collapsed. He fell against Spock, and the tears began anew.

Gently, Spock took Kirk's hands in each of his own and squeezed.

The human choked out, "I don’t know what's wrong with me."

Spock refrained from going into a reply about how tired Kirk was, and how his emotional trauma of the past two days, to say nothing of being deprived of food and water, had taken its toll. He caught sight of the bedding along one side of the hut, and put his arms around Kirk, lifting.

He carried Kirk to the 'bed', knelt down, and carefully lowered his burden upon it, surprised at the softness of the blankets.

There was no pillow, so he took one of the blankets, of which there were many, and quickly bunched it to a lump behind Kirk's head.

The human was lying silently on his back, watching Spock with large, moist eyes.

With one hand, Spock picked up Kirk's hand and squeezed again. His other hand lay on Kirk's chest. He remembered the combined gesture as being one of great comfort and reassurance when the human had used it some eight weeks ago.

Moving his face close to Kirk's, Spock softly, but firmly, said, "Jim, it is imperative that you sleep. We have much to discuss, but we cannot do so while you are devoid of strength. It is also impossible for you to travel in your current condition. Sleep."

The captain considered the Vulcan's words. Then he whispered, "I can't. I'm too afraid of what I'll find when I wake up." He looked away. "Silly of me, isn't it?"

It was Spock's turn to pause while he tried to interpret what the human was saying. Then, voice gentle, he asked, "Do you fear I may be an apparition?"

Face still averted, Kirk replied, "Yes." 

Spock applied pressure with both hands. "I am not," he said softly.

Kirk looked at him again. "I know that, Spock. Most of me knows that. But... But... " His lower lip quivered as he looked away again. After taking a deep breath, he said, "Damn, I can't believe I’m behaving like this."

Then, as though determined to change the subject, he looked at Spock hopefully and asked, "Is there any more water?"

“Yes." Spock retrieved the pitcher and ladle, then returned to Kirk's side and poured the water.

With one hand, he held Kirk's head, bringing the ladle up with the other. Kirk raised his own trembling hands in assistance.

"Jim, I will hold it."

The human responded to the firmness of the tone and rested his hands on Spock's forearms.

"Thanks," Kirk said, when replenished.

Spock pushed the pitcher and server aside. "You have also been without food?" he asked, settling more comfortably against Kirk's side. Both hands stayed in constant contact with the human.

The other seemed much calmer now. "They tried to give me some of their food. I couldn't eat it. It was some sort of...of powder. They're a lot different from us."

Reassuringly, Spock said, "There is a great variety of fruit and nut trees throughout this area. When you awaken, I will have food waiting for you."

A logical part of him thought to feed Kirk now. But he didn't want to leave the human's side, fearing it would send the other into a panic. Kirk was not yet in danger of starvation. Rest was more important.

Voice trembling, Kirk said, "They're a desperate people, Spock. That's why.... That's why they tried to kill you." He choked out, "They called it an act of mercy...so you wouldn't starve to death."

Spock went numb. Though he hadn't had time to wonder at the reason for his death when the order was given, he now realized some part of him had assumed it was from being...different. It had been a part of his life. Whether among Vulcans, humans, or other aliens, he usually stood out from the crowd.

Kirk was becoming agitated again. "It was ignorance," he spat. "Total, complete ignorance. I tried to tell him you could live longer than any of us without food, but...but it was too late." He finished the last in a small voice, chest heaving.

Spock shifted uneasily, refusing to recognize the emotion that this new revelation brought.

"Two of his own people had already died from starvation," Kirk put in as he continued to take deep, calming breaths.

So. That had been the fate of the two aliens in the ditch with him. Spock shied away from the disturbing memory and pointedly said, "But they allowed you to live."

Kirk was quiet now, his voice low and cold. "They needed me. They used me to lure in Kulitan. That's why we were captured. But they only wanted to capture me; you just happened to be with me."

"Kulitan?" Spock asked in quiet surprise.

"He wiped out one of the Nindan's planets that was their major food supply. Margrar wants revenge. He kidnapped me so he could lure Kulitan in with the promise that he'd turn me over to him. Only, Margrar intended to have an ambush waiting." His voice softened. "That's all he needed me for; the lure. He said, when they left, that they'd send a messenger to tell Starfleet where I was, so they could come and get me."

Kirk seemed exhausted by the dissertation, but Spock had learned much from those few sentences. Information was beginning to fall into place. Softly, he clarified, "Then we will be rescued?"

"As long as the messenger arrives safely. But it'll be two days before it reaches Stiven. It's difficult to know how many days after that a ship will come."

Spock cocked his head to one side. "Do you know where this planet is located?"

The human made a negative gesture. "I assume it's somewhere in Nindan space, which, according to Margrar, is a system near the Klingon border."

Spock didn't reply and Kirk fell silent. The Vulcan acknowledged a twinge of regret that he'd continued to question Kirk after being so intent on getting the human to rest. But it was obvious that his friend hadn't been in the mood for sleeping, so the Vulcan had taken advantage of the opportunity to obtain as many facts as possible.

Kirk was lying quietly now, but his eyes were still open and showed no sign of closing.

Spock gently turned the human, partially on his side, and partially on his stomach, hoping the familiar sleeping position would encourage Kirk. He covered the other man with a blanket.

With both hands, Kirk captured one of Spock's, bringing it to his chest to form a huge fist. He let it rest there while clutching it, as though hanging onto a lifeline.

Spock placed his other hand on Kirk's back, hoping the human would find the contact comforting, and tried to project an aura of laziness and calm.

Silence ensued for many minutes. At times, it looked like Kirk would drift off to sleep, as his eyes would close momentarily. But then they would open, and though he didn't speak, it was apparent that there were many thoughts still running through his mind.

Spock found himself growing impatient. The urge to leave this place was strong. "Jim?" The tone was partially questioning, partially scolding.

"I can't sleep," the other replied hollowly. "I guess I need some of McCoy's little red pills."

The Vulcan considered the nerve pinch as a substitute. But that would produce an unnatural sleep that Kirk might wake from in less than an hour. Plus, it would leave the human with a pain in his shoulder that was likely to last for days, since they had no medication to numb it.

There was another option. Spock leaned down close to Kirk and whispered, "Jim, if you will allow it, I can put you to sleep with a brief mind touch. It will also allow me to reassure you that I am not an apparition." The last was said with a tiny smile.

Kirk studied the Vulcan for a long moment. Then he brought slim hands to his mouth, closed his eyes, and touched them with his lips, as though in worship.

Spock wasn't sure if the soft touch qualified as a kiss.

Then Kirk let their combined hands rest at his chest again while nodding at Spock.

The Vulcan removed the hand from Kirk's back and placed it on the human's temple. "My mind to your mind," he whispered.

Kirk's tired brain was completely vulnerable and contact was established easily. Spock searched briefly for the center of subconsciousness.

//Sleep until your body is rested,// he told it.

Then, gathering the entire force of his personality, he announced, //I AM!// The declaration filled Spock with an unexpected surge of exhilaration.

Kirk shifted restlessly in response, then lay still.

//I will withdraw now,// Spock told him, removing his hand. Kirk was staring up, eyes filled with wonder.

Spock took it as a positive sign that the human was now thoroughly convinced that his first officer was truly alive and not a ghost.

Kirk's eyes closed partially. They blinked a couple of times, then closed completely, and did not open.

Spock suppressed a sigh of relief, continuing to wait by Kirk's side, until the human's breathing had become very heavy and deep before he went about the task of getting them out of there.

* * * * *

While Kirk slept, Spock searched the camp to scrape together any available supplies. He took a bundle of extra uniforms and wrapped them in a couple of blankets to form a backpack. Then, with dawn breaking, he wrapped Kirk in the remaining blankets, and began a journey into the wilderness, back burdened with supplies, arms burdened with the sleeping human.

After traveling an estimated fifteen kilometers along the stream, he came upon a lake about a half mile in diameter. Spock found fish in the water, and it seemed a logical place to stop. For the next day and a half, while Kirk still slept, the Vulcan set up camp and gathered fruit and nuts from nearby trees, and made spears for fishing. Then he settled down to join his companion in sleep.

* * * * *

The Vulcan was awakened by the bright sun emerging over the horizon, its glaring rays streaming into the tent.

Still Kirk slept. Spock suppressed a pang of loneliness and went out to the lake to fish. Though he personally had no interest in consuming the fruit of his labor, Kirk would need the protein.

Spock was working at catching his third fish when he heard the rustling of cloth from the direction of the tent. He laid his spear down and quickly went back to the makeshift shelter.

Kirk's limbs were moving restlessly beneath the blankets—not in the manner of one consumed by dreams, but in that of one reaching for consciousness after having been away for too long.

Spock loosened the blankets, then reached inside and drew out the human's hands, one clasped in each of his. Despite the earlier reassurance in the meld that he did indeed exist, Spock still feared the human would experience a deep trauma if he woke alone.

For a moment Kirk stilled. Then his eyelids fluttered.

Spock tightened both hands. "I am here, Jim."

The lion eyes blinked a number of times, then focused. "Spock?" came the soft inquiry.

The Vulcan nodded allowing a tender smile. "Yes. We are safe."

The human looked from Spock to the opening of the tent, squinting out into the morning sunshine. When he looked back at the Vulcan his voice was weak. "Where are we?"

"We are still on the planet where the Nindans brought us. I know of no other inhabitants here, other than avians and small mammals. If the information you gave me earlier is correct, we should be rescued in approximately two days."

Kirk seemed calm as the facts were relayed. But after the first officer stopped speaking, he stared up, eyes gradually reflecting puzzlement and deep concern. "Spock?" he asked breathlessly.

The human's gaze was so intense that the Vulcan experienced an illogical urge to look in a mirror. The way the human was staring at him, perhaps he was a ghost. "Yes, Jim?"

"Your...eyes," Kirk whispered heavily.

Spock blinked, not understanding. The urge to find a mirror grew. "What about them?"

"They're...they're all green. Bloodshot." The human's brows furrowed. "Don't they hurt?"

Spock looked away. He blinked again, concentrating on the motion, and decided there was no pain. But, in retrospect, he could remember upon his 'awakening' that they had been very dry and painful. Unbidden, his mind also dredged up the memory of soiled clothing and the deplorable state in which he'd found himself.

The alien bodies. The smell...

Spock closed his eyes, fighting the image. As illogical as the idea was, he began to wonder if, perhaps, he had been dead...if only for a short time.

Cool fingers against his face brought him back to the present. The digits gently fluttered down scratches along his right cheek.

When the fingers were removed, Spock finally looked at Kirk. The human was regarding him with an expression full of questions...and compassion.

Spock found the scrutiny unbearable. This was one subject he was not prepared to talk about. He shook off all emotion and simply said, "I acquired...debris in my eyes. They are not painful. I am certain they will return to normal within a few days." Anxious to turn the conversation away from himself, he leaned close to the human. "Are you hungry, Jim?"

Kirk perked up. "Yes. Famished."

The Vulcan reached for a flat stone that served as a plate. He set it beside Kirk and indicated its contents. "I have collected some fruit for you. There is also fish outside. You need to eat as much as you are able, as you are quite weak."

Kirk picked up a piece of fruit and bit into it experimentally, chewed a moment, then nodded at Spock, mumbling, "Mmm."

The Vulcan indicated the remaining selections. "This is all I have for the moment. I have not wanted to go very far from camp, as I did not want you to awaken and find yourself alone. However, now that you are awake, I will search further and bring back a larger supply." He stood.

Kirk frowned. "How far are you going?"

Spock presented a small, reassuring smile. "I doubt I will need to travel more than a kilometer from camp. I should not be more than two hours." His voice softened. "Please consume all the food that is available here. In addition to the fruit, there are two fish on spears at the edge of the lake. There are sticks outside to make a fire so you can cook them. Also, I assume you will want to bathe yourself in the lake. Please be forewarned that the water is rather cold, and I do not recommend lingering longer than necessary in your present condition." Spock indicated his chest. "There are more uniforms like this outside. Unfortunately, the material is rather stiff. You may want to make use of a blanket after you wash your clothing and are waiting for it to dry."

Kirk was still frowning. "Spock..."

Again, the Vulcan kept his expression reassuring as he gently said, "We will have time to talk later, Jim. For now, I believe we should concentrate on survival. Building up your strength is our primary concern."

After a moment's consideration, Kirk nodded. "Logical, First Officer."

Spock turned and left the tent.

* * * * *

True to his word, the Vulcan returned two hours later with a 'basket' of fruits and nuts. Finding the stiff, coarse material of the Nindans' tunic becoming more and more uncomfortable, Spock had removed it, then torn it along one seam and used it to make a container for the gathering.

The pants were less restricting and he decided to maintain them. As he came toward the camp, bare-chested, he noted that Kirk had apparently found the Nindans' uniform unbearable on his own soft skin, and had wrapped himself in a blanket, and was standing near a fire, clothing spread out along nearby rocks.

Other than his face appearing somewhat gaunt, there was little evidence of the human's most recent ordeal. For that, Spock was grateful, though he was also perceptive enough to know that the deepest scars were internal. For himself, that was certainly the case.

"How are you feeling?" he asked as he moved to the tent, picked up a blanket, and wrapped it around his upper body. Though the sun was out, the temperature was a bit cooler than he was comfortable with.

Kirk smiled warmly. "Much better." He shrugged. "I could stand to eat a little more; otherwise, I'm fine."

"Did you consume the fish?" Spock asked, sitting on a boulder near the fire and stretching out the cloth that contained the harvest.

The human nodded. "I even caught a third one and ate it." He frowned. "Maybe I should have saved it for you."

Spock shook his head. "It would not have been necessary. As you know, I would only consume it if I must. I believe I have found enough native nuts to provide an adequate supply of protein. However, the shells are rather hard and they will have to be cracked." He searched about for a small stone and found one.

Bringing the stone down hard against a group of nuts, he glanced at the new gathering at his side. "I sampled one of those fruits that is salmon-colored. I believe you will like it."

Wordlessly, Kirk squatted down next to Spock's torn shirt, picked up one of the suggested selections and bit into it.

The Vulcan continued to work with the nuts while the human ate silently. Aware that the other was glancing at him periodically, Spock was both flattered and uncomfortable with the attention. He could guess at what Kirk was thinking, and found himself unwilling to face the human's questions.

Fifteen minutes later, Kirk's stomach was apparently satisfied, for the human sighed contently and sat down next to the rock where Spock was perched.

The Vulcan was chewing on a handful of nut meat when his captain quietly said, "We need to talk. I need to know everything that you know about our situation."

Spock swallowed but did not meet the green-gold eyes. Instead, he glanced up and noticed a cloud cover rolling in. "I believe that you possess much more information on the Nindans than I." His tone was questioning.

The human shrugged. "I know their leader's name is Margrar, though I don't know what other leaders there are ahead of him. I don't know how big the Nindan population is, or how many planets they possess. I do know they're extremely confident they can defeat Kulitan and whatever fleet he may bring with him. They seem fairly peaceful except when wronged. But..," Kirk's jaw hardened and his voice grew hollow, "they believe in carrying out a decision once it's made."

Though Spock knew very well what the human was referring to, he was relieved when the other brought forth a different example than the one expected.

"I tried to talk them out of the ambush they were planning. I made the usual speeches, but...they just wouldn't listen." The sandy head bowed as the captain quietly admitted, "I've never felt so impotent in my life, Spock. Nothing I said...mattered."

Concerned, the Vulcan replied, "It is often difficult for one to remember that other beings can be very different from ourselves, even if their appearance is somewhat similar. Understanding one another can be a difficult task."

Kirk nodded absently, then glanced up at the sky. "Looks like rain," he remarked, rising. "Let's get under cover."

The human retrieved his still-damp clothing from the rocks and carried it to their makeshift tent, Spock following silently behind. When they were settled inside their meager shelter, Kirk was sitting cross-legged at the entrance, facing the lake, and the Vulcan was kneeling beside him. Both maintained their blankets.

Kirk turned to his companion, eyes searching the Vulcan's compassionately. "What happened to you, after...?"

Spock swallowed and wondered how vague he could be without rousing suspicion. Perhaps it was illogical to even bother, with respect to his and Kirk's tendency toward honesty. Yet, he could not speak of the emotions which churned within.

Voice forced to controlled calm, he looked out toward the lake. "It was entirely painless. My last memory was of being concerned for your safety, as it seemed you were trying to intervene." His voice softened. "Since they seemed to want you alive—and me dead—it was not logical that you should die, too, trying to prevent what was inevitably going to happen. That is all I remember until I woke up, somewhat disoriented. Quickly, my memory began to return, though I was not certain until I found you in the dwelling that it was fully intact. Between waking up and finding you—a span of approximately sixteen hours—I followed the stream back to camp, stopping to eat and sleep along the way. When I arrived, I heard movement and found a branch to use as a club. I did not think it could be you. I was certain you had been taken in one of the shuttles."

Spock stopped abruptly, throat constricting. Eyes closing, he fought down the physical reaction that threatened to overwhelm.

The memory was so clear...the shuttles taking off. He had indeed been certain that one of them contained Kirk. Powerful emotion had spread through him, and he had quickly subdued the feeling, refusing it acknowledgement. But, now, finally he gave it a name.

"Spock?"

The Vulcan started at the gentle touch on his arm. His eyes opened, but they could not meet the human's gaze.  "I thought they had taken you," he repeated, then whispered, "I thought there was no one left on the planet."

"And you were all alone," Kirk stated sympathetically.

It occurred to Spock that this particular subject was something he could share with his human friend. Roughly, he admitted, "I do not believe I have ever been more frightened than I was at that moment."

A cool hand closed on his forearm as the human moved nearer.

Since his worst vulnerability had been revealed, Spock saw no reason to withhold the elaboration that he now felt inspired to tell. "Since it was rather obvious that I had been left for dead, there seemed to be no reason for anyone to come searching for me, regardless of your fate."

The hand moved from arm to shoulder. Another hand settled on the other shoulder.

Spock continued, "I know that it is a belief amongst most of the crew that I prefer solitude. That is true in many instances. However, I have no preference or desire to live alone the rest of my life."

He wondered how he had said the last so clearly, for now his throat closed. He had to take a deep breath to prevent it from becoming completely obstructed.

The hands on his shoulders squeezed, and a gentle voice said, "When the Nindans left, I thought I was all alone, too. But at least I had their reassurance that they were getting word to the Federation to rescue me." The voice softened. "I hope the messenger got through."

Spock had no reply, so they sat in silence. The Vulcan's gaze was on the ground.

Abruptly, Kirk asked, "How did we get here?"

"I carried you."

"How far?"

"We are approximately fifteen kilometers from the camp site." 

"Why didn't you wait until I woke up?"

Spock swallowed. "I wanted to get away from the camp...in case the Nindans returned or the Klingons determined your whereabouts." Finally, he met the human's eye. "Though you informed me of our status when I found you, I could not be certain if everything you said was accurate." Apologetically he added, "You were quite exhausted."

The human shrugged, smiling wryly. "Understandable. I can't even quite remember everything that was said when you found me. Except...," he trailed off, studying Spock. His whole being softened, as did his voice. "Except how damn glad I was to see you." Then a painful whisper. "I thought you were dead, Spock."

More than willing to lighten the mood, the Vulcan presented a tiny smile of his own. "A part of you suspected I was an apparition."

Kirk removed a hand from Spock's shoulder and brushed it against his forehead. "You eased that concern rather effectively." But a moment later he was furrowing a brow in puzzlement. "Spock?"

"Yes, Jim?"

"I remember that, when you said, 'I am', I sensed a great exhilaration."

Spock had no wish to deny the emotionalism. The cause was surely sufficient. "Yes."

"But... But, also, behind the exhilaration, or beneath it—I'm not sure how you would describe it—there was a lot of emotion. Anger. Rage. Fear." Large, hazel eyes searched Spock's face.

The Vulcan looked away again. How astute of Kirk, even in his exhausted state of mind, to have read the emotion. Or was it that he had been broadcasting so strongly?

How can I even call myself Vulcan, he berated himself, when my emotions are so transparent?

The answer was immediate. The hideous transformation his body went through nearly two months ago proved how much he was Vulcan.

Spock was so involved in his own thoughts that he startled when a cool hand brushed the scratches along his face. But the hand didn't stop there. It skimmed down to his chest, pulling open the blanket as it did so.

Spock could not look at Kirk, but was aware of powerful emotions churning within.

After having gently examined the scratches as far as his waist, the hand was removed, the blanket gently wrapped back around him.

Kirk scooted closer. Voice soft, but firm, he asked, "What happened to you? What was it like?"

Spock started to speak, but the human had already anticipated the answer.

"I know you said it was painless," Kirk interrupted. "But you're only talking about the physical." His voice softened. "Spock, you're burdened with emotion. I could tell that in the meld. Surely you've been around humans long enough to know that you can't let emotion build. Share it, Spock." The last was a plea.

Spock took a deep breath. Everything the human said was true. Yet, to speak...

The gentle voice was there again. "You could share pon farr with me, but you can't share this?" It was not an accusation, only a question of pained disbelief.

The Vulcan still could not look at Kirk, and his reply sounded cold to his own ears. "Very well." Hands were on his shoulders again, pressing reassuringly, waves of compassion emanating from the human.

The dark head bowed. It was still over a minute before his throat relaxed enough to allow speech, but nausea claimed his abdomen, and he thought he finally understood what was meant by the human saying, "As though someone had punched me in the stomach."

How did humans survive with so much physical reaction to emotion?

Hands squeezed his shoulders yet again, reminding him of the task at hand.

Delaying no longer, Spock attempted to clear his throat, but abandoned the effort when his voice was still hoarse, "I awoke sometime during the planet's afternoon. I do not know how long I was unconscious."

Softly, Kirk said, "I'd guess about eight to ten hours, judging from what you've already told me."

Spock nodded absently. "An...odor...of death surrounded me. I was in a ditch, and...two...two alien bodies were there with me. They were in a fresh state of decay." He closed his eyes and concentrated on the comforting feel of human hands gripping his shoulders. "My first action was to vomit. The stench and the nausea were unbearable. Even before my body was fully functional, I managed to crawl out of the ditch. When I reached level ground I vomited a second time. My eyes burned and were filled with dirt, as was my mouth. I crawled away as quickly as I could. When I had the strength to stand, I ran...until I came to the stream. I undressed and spent nearly an hour trying to cleanse myself." He paused, voice softening. "I did it over and over in the hours to come. No matter how much I washed, I could not seem to rid myself of the aura of death."

He swallowed again, then continued. "I buried my clothing. They had become soiled and I found I could not face putting them on again, even after cleansing." Hands pulled. "It was not until the first washing that I was recovered enough to analyze my situation. I was certain you were alive because your body was not in the ditch. I focused my attention on trying to reach where you were held, and I followed the stream to the camp. I went without clothing until I found a shelter about a quarter of a kilometer from the camp that contained a supply of the aliens' uniforms. That was after I had seen the shuttles take off. After that, I had little hope of finding you. But I approached the camp and heard noise from the hut you were in. I thought it might be an alien, or an animal. That is when I obtained a branch to use as a means of defense, if it became necessary."

It was true what humans said; how burdens could be lifted merely from the telling. Spock finally looked at Kirk, more at peace than he had been in days.

It felt good.

But the human was eyeing him with an expression that reflected a mixture of concern, puzzlement, and dissatisfaction.

Spock experienced a sense of relief when Kirk finally seemed to abandon any thought of pursuing the subject further. Instead, the captain's hand slipped away from Spock's shoulders as he quietly asked, "Have you heard the saying, Spock, that once you save a life, you're responsible for it?"

"I have."

"While I was alone in my cell, I kept thinking about that, and how I had failed you. After all we went through two months ago, and it all seemed like it was for nothing." The human took a deep breath. "I don't ever want to go through that again—thinking you've died. I feared for my sanity."

"There is a way...," Spock began, then stopped himself. What was he saying? He had reacted to Kirk's trauma without thinking.

The human's voice was puzzled. "What?"

But it had been traumatic for himself as well. Could there be any harm in suggesting it? Didn't Kirk deserve to know all the options? Besides, it might take the human's mind off the current conversation.

The lion eyes were studying him. "What were you going to say?"

Spock looked away. Then, "Vulcans have a method by which they are mentally aware of the existence of another."

The broad forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. "Explain." 

"It is a method of telepathic communication similar to what I experienced with T'Pring," Spock began dispassionately. "The link we shared was developed when we melded as children. It lay dormant until my Time. Then it opened, drawing me to her. If either one of us had died, the other would have known of it instantly."

From the corner of his eye, Spock watched the curious expression, grateful that Kirk was allowing the change in subject. "Like when you knew that the Intrepid had been destroyed?"

The Vulcan considered. "That is not precisely the same thing, but the principle is similar."

"And what has that got to do with me and you?"

Spock forced himself to meet the searching eyes. "If we both wished it, we could create a link between the two of us. If either of us were killed, the other would know it."

The human's eyes widened in wonder. But a moment later they furrowed in consternation. "And the consequences?"

The Adam's apple bobbed. "I would be drawn to you at my next pon farr. I would seek you out."

The stern expression gave way to one of tenderness. "Spock, surely you realize that I was planning to serve your need again. Despite its unpleasantness, that was something special between you and me."

Spock had a peculiar feeling in his stomach, and it had nothing to do with nausea. He and Kirk were actually discussing what had taken place two months ago.

And they were still friends.

Quietly, the Vulcan replied, "I was fairly certain of your intent to do so. However, we do not know how long it will be until my next Mating Time, or if we will both feel the same way about the situation when it does arrive."

A troubled look claimed the human's features. "Spock, you weren't planning to try to...to find someone else, were you?"

Spock silently admitted the pleasure he found in Kirk's concern. "No. I would not consider that an agreeable solution to the problem. Though your solution left much to be desired...for both of us...I find it vastly superior to the idea of being permanently bonded to an unwanted partner."

Relief came over the human. "Then, if that's the only problem, this link..."

"There is more," Spock interrupted firmly.

Kirk waited.

Now the Vulcan's tone softened. "It is during the pon farr that Vulcan couples become bonded...married, if you will. The earlier link between them is fed by the energy during the mating act, and it is transcended into a full bondlink. This bondlink cannot be severed without severe risk to both parties involved. It is something unique to Vulcans...a thing that cannot be described in words. For Vulcans, it is the ultimate joining.

Kirk was silent a long time. Then he said, "So, if there was a link between you and I, and we went through pon farr together, then we would, essentially, become married?" His tone reflected disbelief at the concept.

"Theoretically, that is what would take place. However, if I retained the degree of sanity that I possessed during this past Time, it is possible that I would have enough awareness to prevent the natural process from taking place."

Kirk was thoughtful for a long moment. Then he sighed. "Possible, but not probable."

"I cannot foretell how successful I would be. My two experiences with the pon farr have shown that my genealogy makes all facets of it impossible to predict."

Hopefully, Kirk said, "But you obviously told me about the link for a reason."

"Perhaps I should not have done so. I was reacting to your pain upon my 'death' and presented the first solution that came to mind." His gaze lowered. "I regret having spoken without thought."

Kirk's expression softened, but brightened a moment later. "Spock, can the link itself be broken? I mean, the one before the two people are actually bonded?"

"Yes. The degree of difficulty varies with the individuals involved. If I could not break it myself, then a Vulcan healer could."

"Then, couldn't we have the link between us, but then when your pon farr started coming on, have it broken so it couldn't progress to a bond?"

Spock thought about that and had to restrain a smile. His human was once again proving his contorted manner for arriving at logical solutions. He was also pleased that Kirk was taking the subject so seriously and regretted that his answer could not be encouraging. "I have never heard of a situation where that was necessary or desirable; but, logically, it seems possible." More gently, he warned, "However, Jim, you are not considering the mental consequences. It would be...," he trailed off, searching for the correct words.

"Cruel," Kirk supplied in a whisper. "It would be too cruel to lure you to me, then take away the joining that would mean so much to you."

The restrained smile turned bittersweet. There was so much the human understood. And so little. "Jim, such a severance so close to the pon farr could also be...difficult...for you. By being linked to me, you would feel an obligation to serve my need. The link is something you would grow accustomed to, and a sudden severance, when you and I would be feeling particularly close to one another, could have serious emotional consequences for us both."

Kirk sighed deeply. He appeared lost in thought for a long time, then quietly asked, "Spock, is the link something you would want to do if I wanted to?"

 The single answer would be the most logical, but not desirable. Spock mentally braced himself, then revealed yet another vulnerability to this so-special being. "Mental completion is instinctive in Vulcans. To join with one's chosen companion is something all Vulcans seek.

Kirk's voice was gentle. "And half-Vulcans."

"Yes."

Kirk's voice firmed. "Spock?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Look at me."

The Vulcan obeyed.

Kirk's expression was completely open as he searched the stern visage. "Am I your chosen companion? Or was I simply the best thing that happened to be around...the last time?"

Spock swallowed audibly. I must be honest. We have always been so. With eyes averted, he replied, "I would choose you as my lifelong companion...if that were solely my choice to make." He was surprised when the human merely sighed.

"I guess I already knew the answer to that. I also want you as a lifelong companion...as my friend. The other stuff...the sexual aspect...marriage...it's not that cut and dried for me. The love I feel for you is so...solid. The strongest foundation in my life. Yet..."

Spock couldn't bear the struggle for explanations. "Jim, please, it is not necessary that you explain. That you are willing to serve me in pon farr is a gift I cannot ever justify. I ask no more of you. I stated that you were my chosen companion to answer your question—not to demand anything of you."

The captain's head bowed. "I wish I were as sure of my feelings as you are of yours," Kirk said quietly. "What we went through two months ago was the worst sex I've ever experienced." He shrugged. "I'm not sure it could even be called sex, since I wasn't much of a participant. And it certainly wasn't an act of reproduction." 

"Agreed." the Vulcan acknowledged roughly.

"But there's a part of me, Spock," the human said in a tone of wonder, "that is so proud to have done that for you. Maybe it's simply that you're a person who's so difficult to do things for, and it was an opportunity to show how much you mean to me. But I also know that I wouldn't have wanted you to go through it with anyone else, and I certainly don't want it to be anyone else in the future. In a way, I feel so selfish about that. I hope...you don't mind...."

"I do not." It came out in a near whisper.

They were silent for a while longer, and Spock thought the conversation finished. He looked out upon their campsite and noticed that the promised rain was only a sprinkle.

"Spock?"

The single word was whispered, almost timid, and the Vulcan stiffened automatically. He did not turn around. "Yes, Jim?"

There was a pause before the human hesitantly said, "When I thought you were dead, I felt such regret that you had met your death without ever knowing what it was like to be made love to. Surely, of all beings, you deserve to know love." There was a heavy swallow. "That's also something I regret about the pon farr: there was no love involved in the act."

Love. A concept Spock knew so little about, but he had been certain of Kirk's motivation two months ago. "I had thought that your willingness to let me use you was motivated entirely by love. It could be for no other reason, or do I understand it so little?"

As Spock continued to stare out to the beach, he heard Kirk swallow, and sensed the difficulty the human was having in finding the proper words.

"It was, Spock. That was love. But the emotion love...and the act.... The same thing, but different. Ideally, the physical act should be an extension—a demonstration—of the emotion. And then it becomes something special on its own. Pleasure. I wanted so much for you to experience pleasure, but all you seemed to experience was pain."

"There was a degree of...satisfaction...in each release. There was a sense of completion." Now, the Vulcan had to look at Kirk. "I thank you for that."

"You would have felt that satisfaction no matter whose body you used," the human reminded. Then, sorrowfully, "I wanted, so much, for you to enjoy the fact that you were doing it with me."

Regretfully, Spock explained, "The...condition...allowed little discretion."

"I know."

The conversation had become one of confessions. Spock presented his most important one. "So many times, since the pon farr, I have wished I could have made it pleasurable for you. I've wanted very much to show you how gentle I can be. I would never voluntarily cause you pain."

There was the quiet sound of the human sliding nearer. Then a hand was laid in the middle of the Vulcan's blanketed back, resting there. The human's voice was soft and full of reassurance. "I know that, Spock. I would never question it. Your gentleness is one of the things I value most. You don't need to prove it to me." Hesitation, then, "There have been many times, in the past two months, when I've yearned to show you what love can be, when I've wanted to let your body know what it's like to be loved. No one should ever face death without having experienced that. And I don't know of any being who deserves to know those special feelings more than you."

Spock's gaze lowered, throat constricting. He did not know what to say. But he could not bear the silence that followed and finally asked, "It is irrelevant, is it not?"

There was no immediate answer.

Kirk's voice was hushed. "Is it?" 

The Vulcan could only manage a strangled gulp. The human's hand was still on his back.

The whisper was now deep and throaty. "Spock, we could.... If you want... If you're able... We could.... We could show each other...what we each have wanted the other to know...."

The lean body tensed. Now, he could understand what humans meant by the phrase, "time standing still." It seemed as if the future of their friendship, in whatever form, rested on his answer.

He tried to retain a sense of logic. "It is not necessary...."

"No. But it seems to be something that we both want to do, to show each other. Are you able?"

Are you able? At first Spock did not understand what Kirk was asking. Then it occurred to him: the universal misconception concerning pon farr. Few knew that the ancient Vulcans, in the time before Surak, had copulated for reasons of love and lust...and far more frequently than every seven years.

Spock's head dropped to his chest. "Yes."

There was a long pause, then a hopeful, "Then...?"

Turning point. The correct path should be the most logical one. All he had to do was turn around. Kirk was waiting.

Spock had no experience in this. Kirk would have to take command. Surely, the human realized that. All Spock had to do was turn....

"You are certain?" he found himself asking. It was not a logical question, but one that gave more time.

"That I want to love you? Yes."

And Spock did want to show Kirk they could experience an act of intimacy without him causing the other pain. His one opportunity to express all that the human meant...in a manner that the other would be most able to understand.

As Spock turned, the hand slipped away from his back.

And he was facing Kirk, the lion eyes bright and filled with wonder.

Spock wasn't certain how he knew what was expected, but the proper response to the upturned face was unquestionable.

He leaned down.

Kirk leaned up.

Their lips touched. They brushed once, twice...then settled.

It was a kind of death, this sensation of sinking. Spock had felt it before, a long time ago. Leila. Zarabeth. But that had been because of the spores, and because of being sent back in time. Here, now, there was only Kirk and him.

Trembling hands gently gripped his sides through the blanket. He copied the action, finding security in taking hold of the smaller body.

Kirk moved his mouth to one side, and both men breathed deeply of the fresh air. Then they resumed the kiss, so tender and sweet.

Spock wanted to memorize the sensations for all time. Wanted them recorded in a safe place where he would always be able to retrieve them for examination, to experience them over and over again.

His penis was filling with blood. Hot liquid pulsed through the organ, lifting it, pushing it out against the confines of the rough material of his trousers. His groin ached, but this was nothing like pon farr. This was a pleasant ache.

Such a wondrous sensation. That part of his body yearned to be touched. If only Kirk would...

In desperation, Spock removed one hand from Kirk's side and slid it down to the human's lap. Surely, the other was feeling this, too.

The hard column was there. Spock pushed against it through the blanket, hoping the other would copy his action.

Kirk understood. With their mouths still locked together, the cool hand momentarily squeezed Spock's phallus through the trousers. Then it moved to the Vulcan's bare stomach and rested there an instant before gently delving inside the coarse material. It searched, found, then drew the organ from the confining cloth.

Even during all the hours they had spent involved during pon farr, the human had never touched Spock like this. In fact, Kirk had avoided initiating any sexual contact altogether. Now that firm contact felt delicious, and Spock barely restrained a whimper of delight.

Relieved to have the human leading, he mirrored Kirk's action, slipping his hand inside the fold of the blanket and gripping the stout organ waiting there, the flesh warm even to his higher body temperature.

Kirk was moving his hand along Spock's column, and the Vulcan copied the motion. Simultaneously, their mouths broke apart with gasps of passion.

A cool hand pushed on his chest, and Spock fell back on a group of blankets. He watched Kirk lower himself, eyes slitted in arousal.

One hand still gripped Spock's organ, another rested loosely on the Vulcan's waist. Kirk's penis was on top of the Vulcan's thigh, wrapped in a warm hand.

They continued to pump each other. At first, Spock followed Kirk's every action meticulously, then his hand branched out to a rhythm of its own, guided by gasps and grunts.

Abruptly, the human's mouth moved down to a green-tinged nipple and licked it wetly.

Spock inhaled and arched up. The cool hand gripped harder, and he increased his own grip on the human's penis.

The moist lips fastened on the nipple, sucking....

Spock shook his head back and forth, trying to fight off the cry that was welling within. The mouth was so wet, the hand so warm...snug...gripping....

His body shook and trembled as orgasm claimed him.

Peripherally, he was aware that his hand had lost its hold on Kirk. With eyes barely open, he tried to recapture the phallus, then heard a tiny sound while Kirk undulated against the Vulcan's thigh. The human gripped Spock's shoulders, lunged heavily, then his body shuddered with an orgasm of its own.

Relieved, Spock fell back against the blankets. He felt like a mass of matter that refused to take shape, heart pounding, breath labored....

Kirk rolled off to lie by the Vulcan's side, spread out in a haphazard manner, displaying the same respiratory distress.

Spock had heard the female complaint—in many species—of the male 'rolling over and falling asleep' after the sexual act. For the first time, he understood why a male would be inclined to behave in that manner. Even though his own body was adequately rested, it would be a simple thing to drift into slumber.

Kirk seemed to be doing just that.

But Spock wanted to implant the experience into his mind—carve each detail so that it could be stored in his memory for all time. He was content to remain awake and...remember.

This time, he and his human friend had made love. For himself, there would be no shame.

 

*****

It was a faint chill that brought Kirk to the edge of consciousness. The memory of what he and Spock had done completed the waking process. His eyes opened slowly, squinting out through the opening of the tent, noting that the rain had stopped and that it would be dark soon.

Kirk held his breath, listening, and heard the Vulcan's breathing a few inches away. Silently, he turned toward his friend, rolling onto an elbow.

The dark eyes were staring at the ceiling. Now, they darted to him, their expression unreadable. 

The human's mouth moved, but no words emerged. What did the non-expression mean?

Then it occurred to him that Spock was inexperienced in these matters, and that the Vulcan was probably waiting for his captain to indicate the right things to say so he presented a smile, gentle and warm.

Spock blinked, gaze returning to the ceiling.

Kirk sat up, covering himself to ward off the evening chill. "It'll be dark soon."

"Yes," came the subdued reply.

Kirk was surprised that the Vulcan responded to the statement that hadn't required a response. Though the lake would be chilly, he needed to wash. Simultaneous with the thought, Kirk brought his right hand up before his face, examining the cream-colored substance that had dried upon it. He glanced at the Vulcan. Their gazes met, then the other looked away.

Please, Spock, let's not be awkward with each other. We made love, for godssakes.

It was amazing, that. When he'd made the suggestion to Spock, Kirk had the fleeting thought that there would be some oral activity involved, and that idea had been a bit intimidating. His mouth had never been close to another man's penis. But he and Spock had done just fine without even going that far. In fact, he recalled that the Vulcan had become highly excited when he had simply licked at a nipple.

If he likes that feeling so much, imagine what it would do to him if I were to lick further down....

Suddenly, the thought wasn't so intimidating, after all.

But any future activity was a big question mark, and a question that Kirk did not want answers for at the moment. He was still enjoying the remnants of the afterglow.

Ghod, it's almost like I’ve forgotten what it's like to really make love with someone that I care for...with someone that I'm going to see again. I've gotten so used to taking what I could when I could that somewhere along the way I forgot what I was missing.

He looked from his hand to the Vulcan. "Spock?"

Brown eyes darted to meet his.

Kirk's smile was warm. "We both set out to prove something. I don't know how you feel about me, but I think you proved your gentleness quite adequately."

After a thoughtful pause, the Vulcan said, "I did not initiate much activity. I do not know how you can make that determination."

Kirk refused to be annoyed. Spock was just being his usual, honest, precise self. "Well, in any case, nothing you did hurt, that's for certain. It was all...very pleasant." He nodded. "Extremely pleasant." He was gratified that Spock seemed to accept that, and shifted to a kneeling position. "How did I do?"

"We did make love."

Kirk's voice softened. "You noticed that."

"Yes. You proved your point, though I did not feel any demonstrations were necessary. However," the baritone softened, "my gratitude is such that I do not know what words to use to express it. It was unlike anything I have ever known. I thank you for the...new knowledge.

 Kirk's insides turned to jelly. They had indeed shared something special. The memory of the brutal pon farr would forever take a back seat to what had taken place this afternoon. On this unnamed planet in the middle of an unnamed solar system, there had been love.

Kirk sighed, reluctant to bring the mood to an end, and stood. "I've got to take a quick dip in the lake and clean off. Then I think I'll try to catch another fish or two.

Spock also rose, revealing a stained thigh. "I need cleansing, as well. Then I will prepare more fruits and nuts for dinner."

Each wrapped in a blanket, they went out to the edge of the lake. There, they abandoned their coverings on nearby rocks, then gingerly stepped into the chilly water. They drifted apart as they moved further out.

Kirk paddled around rapidly to keep himself warm, watching his friend, as the Vulcan went through a washing routine.

The awkwardness was gone. In fact, it was as though the foundation of their...love...had been strengthened.

Kirk continued to stare and paddle. Lanky body. Hairy. Flat chest. Flat butt. Prominent nose. Sturdy muscles. No curves. He then thought of all the physical characteristics he preferred in a desirable love partner.

Spock was none of those.

But that had not mattered such a short time ago. Of course, looks weren't everything. But they accounted for something.

If I were a woman, would I find him attractive?

He knew many that did, though he didn't think that was so much from Spock's physical characteristics as it was from the Vulcan's mysterious, self-contained aura.

Except, of course, there were always those ears.

Kirk smiled. He did adore the ears. But he would hardly jump in bed with someone just because of that.

Ghod, Spock, what kind of love is this? I’ve no desire for you. Yet, I'd do anything for you. We've proved our loyalty to each other over and over again. You practically fucked me senseless, and it still didn't break us apart. And...now...such a short time ago, we shared a brief moment of such wonderful intimacy that it's like it closed the door on that earlier episode.

Kirk found a foothold and stood up in the water. Spock was now ducking beneath the surface, running his hands through his hair.

Maybe that's all there was to it. The opening and closing of a door. Any sex between them had been opened, grudgingly, by the pon farr. Now, the tender, sweet love-making they'd shared had closed it, sealing that aspect of their relationship off. Everything was back to normal.

Kirk stretched his arms out and dived into the water, moving briskly.

He couldn't forget—would never forget—that Spock had said he would choose him for a lifelong companion, if presented the opportunity.

Such a puzzle, that.

Hell, he probably doesn't feel any more desire for me that I do for him. I'm simply his best friend, and he'd been willing to extend the level of intimacy if I...wanted to.

Kirk surfaced and saw that Spock had left the water.

Then there's that link business. To always have the security of knowing that he's alive...or dead.

That last thought stabbed at his chest. Would he really want to know if there was no longer any hope?

Kirk swam toward shore. By the time he'd reached it and dried off, Spock had caught a fish and started a fire.

"Thanks," Kirk whispered. It would have been too dark for him to catch any.

They both donned their blankets and sat in front of the fire, silent, each munching his food. There was little noise in the forest; only distant bird calls and a vague rustling of leaves by the night breeze.

Kirk had rarely felt more at peace.

Spock finished his meal first. He took the cores from the fruit he'd consumed, and the shells from the nuts, and tossed them into the fire. He looked as though he was going to walk past Kirk, toward the tent, but suddenly halted beside the human.

Gently, timidly, the Vulcan said, "Jim, do you wish to discuss the earlier event?" The tone was without presumption; merely curious.

Kirk felt a warm glow spread through him. From the memory, or the fact that Spock was willing to speak of it, he wasn't sure. He leaned back and looked up into the tender expression. With a shake of the head, he whispered, "No. Do you?"

He was presented with a rare, tiny smile. "No."

Impulsively, Kirk reached out and took Spock's hand. He clutched it to his breast, eyes drifting shut.

The hand squeezed back. How strong it was. Kirk's memory of his 'rescue' in the makeshift prison was somewhat fuzzy, but he had no trouble recalling what it had been like to have Spock hold him while he'd been chained to the wall. How strong Spock's chest had been, how comforting the arms, how gentle the hands, how soothing the voice. All those things had made Kirk feel very, very safe, despite a part of him clinging to the disbelief that the Vulcan lived.

Now, he took a deep, appreciative breath, then looked back up into the kind eyes he could barely see in the darkness. "I care for you." He released the hand.

Spock gently brushed his fingers along Kirk's forehead and into the forelock. Upon removing it, he replied, "The feeling is mutual."

The Vulcan turned away.

Kirk gazed at the fire, meal forgotten. He thought he might melt into a mass of goo.

Spock's voice interrupted the fantasy. This time is was businesslike, though still gentle. "Jim, I wish to meditate, as I have not had the opportunity since our abduction. I am not certain how long it will take. Please do not wait up for me. I would appreciate not being disturbed."

Over his shoulder, Kirk whispered, "Of course."

The human remained very still for a while, comfortable with his own  thoughts, and careful to give plenty of time for Spock to go into his trance without distractions.

Finally, Kirk stood and quietly went about the task of tidying up the campsite, glancing at Spock periodically. The Vulcan was in a meditation position, a few meters from the entrance of the tent. There was something that seemed...different about him.

It was a few moments before Kirk laid his finger on it. Maturity. I can see it, a change that has taken place in...the last few hours? The last few days? Maybe since the pon farr?

Now that he thought about it, the latter made the most sense. He's now a complete, functioning adult.

Emotional maturity didn't necessarily follow with reproductive maturity. Yet, there was confidence about the Vulcan that hadn't always been there.

Could it be that he simply feels loved?

That was a nice thought, whether or not it was true. Kirk decided to hang onto it, unless something more obvious came along.

When Kirk retired to bed, his euphoric smile gradually changed to a frown. In his mind there was a troubled thought that pulled at him, but he couldn't quite seem to bring it into focus. He finally tired of the mental chase and drifted into sleep.

* * * * *

The next morning they were gathering food together when Kirk's communicator beeped. It was a very relieved Mr. Scott.

They left the planet with a feeling of relief, mixed with nostalgia, and still friends. 

 

 

QUESTIONS

 

Kirk sat at his desk, regarding the image of Commodore Mendez with a grim expression.

His superior was saying, "I can understand your interest in the situation, Jim. Starfleet would like to know, too. As I said, we do have intelligence agents finding out what they can on Stiven and nearby planets. But you must remember that it isn't our problem. We aren't taking you and your first officer's abduction lightly, but with you both back safe and sound, and these Nindans showing no further intent of harm to the Federation, there isn't a lot we can do about it. We can't offer them any kind of help unless they ask for it. Who knows, from everything you described at your debriefing on Stiven, Margrar and his whole fleet may have been wiped out by the Klingons."

Kirk sighed. He hadn't expected Mendez to have any information on the fate of either, but had felt the urge to try. He shrugged and forced a smile. "Thanks, Jose."

The other nodded. "We'll let you know if and when we find out anything, Jim. Mendez out."

Kirk shut off the terminal. A part of him wondered why he even bothered—having no great love for either Margrar or Kulitan—but he couldn't shake his curiosity over their fate.

The Enterprise was in an altogether different sector now, currently hauling emergency supplies to Federation colony Dragis, which was suffering from a severe drought. It was up to Kirk and his crew to decide if the situation was too severe for the colonists to survive; if so, they would have to be relocated.

Kirk glanced about the cabin, realizing that the familiarity of it felt comfortable, but also peculiar. It seemed strange to be here, safe and sound, when such a short time ago he'd thought himself all alone on the Nindans' planet, Spock dead....

They'd been ordered to the nearest starbase as soon as Scotty had beamed them up. There, they'd participated in a debriefing, along with officials from Stiven who told of search efforts after finding the Nindans' strange craft on their instruments. They had not been able to respond quickly enough before it warped away. The Enterprise's instruments had also picked up the vessel, but it, too, had been too late in realizing the alien starship had taken control of the civilian shuttlecraft containing Starfleet's finest.

The Nindans' messenger, an Orion operating independently and solely for profit, reached Stiven three days later, and the Enterprise responded immediately to retrieve her captain. No mention had been made of Spock, and the crew had been relieved to find that the first officer was at the indicated coordinates, as well.

It had been four days since Kirk and Spock were rescued. After the debriefing, their assignment had consisted of routine patrol. Just hours ago, they had received the new orders to proceed to Dragis.

The door buzzer sounded. Kirk sat up and squared his shoulders. "Come."

McCoy entered with a kind smile and a tray, upon which resided a bottle and two glasses. "Care for an after-dinner drink?"

"Bones," Kirk greeted, "just what the doctor ordered."

McCoy sat down and served them each a glass. "Sickbay's quiet right now, and it isn't any fun to drink alone. Besides, I still haven't forgotten that brandy you and I meant to have a few months back." He shook his head. "Funny how we never got around to it, us both being so busy and all."

Kirk picked up his glass and tilted it toward the other man. "Cheers." McCoy nodded and the two sipped quietly.

Abruptly, the doctor said, "Spock came to see me today."

Kirk straightened, voice anxious. "About what?"

McCoy shrugged. "Those abrasions he got aren't responding very well to the lotion I've prescribed. The ones on his face are almost gone, but the scratches he's got all down the side of his body...," the doctor trailed off while pulling at his lip. "They aren't infected, but they're sure slow about healing."

Kirk swallowed, not liking the reminder of seeing Spock...dragged off. Then he said, "Maybe it has something to do with the Nindans' uniform. He was wearing one for awhile."

McCoy sipped while nodding. "Could be. The material may have had some kind of foreign agent in it that Spock's allergic to. Anyway, he's tempted to go into a healing trance, but I told him to give it another day or two. You know, I hate it when he does that, and it seems silly for him to risk it for such a minor ailment."

Kirk didn't like the healing trance, either, no matter how miraculous the results. It always made him feel helpless with Spock's safety out of their control. "He agreed to wait?"

"Uh-huh. I gave him a different kind of cream to try. Sometimes these things just take a lot of trial and error."

Kirk sighed with relief and sipped his drink, gazing at the desktop.

McCoy's quiet, concerned voice asked, "How did you two get along down there?"

The captain glanced up in surprise at the question and found himself looking into gentle eyes. A part of him wanted to keep everything a secret, something sacred for his and Spock's private thoughts alone. Yet, another part welcomed the opportunity to have someone relatively objective to talk to.

He decided to come right out with it. Voice whisper-soft, he replied, "We made love, Bones." Even as he said it, his body began to dissolve around the edges.

McCoy stared at him, wide-eyed. Then, as though fearing his reaction would be misinterpreted, the doctor cleared his throat and forced a smile.

"Well, you two certainly were glad to see each other."

Kirk shook his head. "It happened later. After all the...trauma."

Now the doctor's brows furrowed in puzzlement. "You must have been very careful about it since nothing showed up in the post-rescue exam."

Kirk shook his head again, still consumed by warmth from the memory. "Oh, we didn't do anything like that. We just... We... It was just...."

"Mutual fellatio," McCoy offered helpfully.

Kirk shook his head yet again, wondering if maybe he had made a mistake by speaking. How could he put into words what they had shared? But there was no turning back now. He shrugged and met the doctor's gaze. "No. We just...touched. You know, touched...rubbed...."

"Dry humped?"

Kirk made a face and stood. He moved a few feet away from the desk, turning to one side. "Sort of. It...." He gave up with a sigh. But a moment later his voice grew soft again. "It was beautiful, Bones. I'd forgotten what it could be like...with the right person."

"So, that explains why Spock's been walking around with a glint in his eye."

Kirk turned, expression eager. "You've noticed that?"

The other smiled kindly. "It would be difficult to miss. And it wasn't making sense in light of what you two went through down there." He nodded with satisfaction. "But it makes sense now. I've got to admit I'm surprised. Things were touchy for awhile after his pon farr."

Kirk remained silent.

"Of course, being concerned about each other's safety probably put things back in perspective."

The captain waved a hand, impatient to be understood. "We'd already forgiven each other before we were captured, Bones. We were going to spend our leave time together on Stiven's Moonbase." He turned back to face the doctor and shyly asked, "You can really tell that he's...different?"

The other shrugged. "Yeah. A glint in his eye, a certain way he carries himself."

"I was thinking the day before we were rescued how it seemed like he was more...confident, I guess. But I don't know if that necessarily had anything to do with us making love. Maybe, because of the pon farr, he simply grew up."

"Could be," the doctor acknowledged while straightening in his chair. "So?"

Kirk's eyebrows arched to show he didn't know what McCoy was asking. He moved to sit back behind the desk.

"What happened on the planet," McCoy clarified. "What does it mean?"

Now, Kirk furrowed his brows. "That's what I've been trying to figure out ever since we got back. All these...questions...keep running around in my head."

"What sort of questions?"

Kirk folded his hands on the desktop, then softly replied, "I don't know what it meant, Bones. We shared a wonderful, tender moment on that planet. It was spontaneous, in a way, and we both...enjoyed it. Very much. But I don't know if it was just a 'moment in time' sort of thing, or if...if it's of long-term significance."

"Would it be possible for you two to just go back to being friends?"

Kirk thought about that, then firmly replied, "Yes. We could both do that. That's what we'd meant to do all along after the pon farr. The only difference is that we both knew I'd be there for Spock in the future when the...need arose."

"And what happened on the planet, was that something you both needed?"

"No," Kirk replied distantly, trying to remember the intimate conversation he and Spock had had prior to the lovemaking. "But it was something we both wanted to do."

He glanced up at the doctor. "It was sort of a symbolic way of putting the pon farr behind us. Replacing the harshness of the pon farr with the tenderness of the act of love."

"That all sounds nice and pat," McCoy put in levelly.

Kirk didn't know what else to say, and after a moment of silence, the doctor asked, "How do you feel about Spock right now?"

Kirk shrugged. "Like I always have, except maybe all those feelings are a little bit stronger because of all we've been through the past couple of months."

"And what exactly are those feelings?"

The captain considered, then replied, "That Spock is my anchor. My friendship with him is the most solid and secure aspect of my life."

"Do you find yourself hoping you can repeat what happened on the planet?"

Kirk stared at the desktop. "That's where it gets all jumbled, Bones. I don't desire Spock. Yet, I enjoy being close to him. The little intimacies we've shared mean a lot to me. But, when I think about him; I mean, about his body," Kirk laughed without humor, "it doesn't do anything for me." He looked up at McCoy and elaborated earnestly. "Bones, I'm a visually-oriented man. I look. I like. I want. Hell, I can get a hard-on just looking at Uhura if there's nothing important going on on the bridge. But, Spock... I look at him—or any man—and the idea of wanting him is laughable." Not knowing how else to explain it, Kirk patted his chest. "He's all solid and flat up here."

Gently, McCoy asked, "Does that mean you would want him if he were female?"

The question caught Kirk off guard, and he sat in silence while pondering it. Then hands flew up in frustration. "I don't know, Bones! What kind of question is that? Spock is not female, so what difference does it make?" Despite his outburst, Kirk found himself still considering the question. Then he feebly said, "I don't think I would like it if Spock were female. Because he's not female. Does that make any sense? One of Spock's many characteristics is that he's male. I like everything about him, so I like the fact that he's male. That's like asking if I would like him more if he had blue eyes instead of brown. Spock has brown eyes; so, no, I wouldn't want him to have blue eyes. Though, ideally, if I could pick the perfect person to go to bed with they would have blue eyes.

McCoy smiled. "What I hear you saying is that you love Spock unconditionally, no matter what he looks like."

"Yes." Kirk quietly added, "As my friend."

"So what's the problem? You two shared something special, however unpleasant the surrounding circumstances, a few months ago and on that planet. Why can't it be left at that?"

Kirk sighed wearily and put a hand to his forehead. Yes, why can't it be left at that? "Maybe it will be," he replied with another sigh.

McCoy frowned. "You don't sound very happy about the idea."

I don't, do I? Why?

McCoy spoke again. "Of course, your feelings account for only part of it. There's Spock's feelings to consider, too."

"I know. But I thought I'd try to figure out how I felt first before talking to him about it."

"Has he given you any indication at all as to his viewpoint on any of this?"

The memory of what they had discussed on the planet made Kirk soften inside. But when he looked at the doctor, his expression was hard and voice firm. "I can't discuss that with you. If Spock wants to talk to you about his thoughts, that'll have to be up to him."

McCoy took the rejection gracefully. "Your protective feelings toward him are as strong as ever."

Kirk shrugged. "Of course I'm protective," he said, then softly added, "He protects me." He remembered, in the Nindans' prison, the warm, snug arms, the powerful chest.... How grateful he was that that chest was flat and solid. Strong.

No, he definitely did not wish Spock was female.

"I don't think you're going to be able to sort much more out without talking to Spock."

"I know," Kirk relented. They sat in silence for a moment, then the captain shyly said, “Bones."

The doctor finished off his glass. "Hmm?"

You know, when I asked you over for a brandy however many weeks ago, which we're just now getting around to, it wasn't just because I wanted your company."

"Oh?"

The captain studied the far wall, voice subdued. "I wanted to talk to you about something."

McCoy folded his hands on the desktop, senses alert.

Kirk chuckled self-consciously while turning his attention to an imaginary hangnail. "It wasn't anything really important. I just wanted to bounce something off you, that's all."

"Well?"

The captain finally met the blue eyes. "I'd been feeling somewhat—melancholy, I guess—about returning from shore leave and feeling so...empty, after all the fucking around."

McCoy's head tilted to one side. "That's not an unusual complaint," he stated kindly, "from someone in our line of work."

"I suppose there's really no answer."

The other smiled. "Not unless you can manage to find someone who cares about you when you're on leave. Or else, have a steady relationship with someone on the ship." The doctor looked away and muttered, "And those don't often remain steady for very long."

Kirk watched the other's expression, then decided not to ask. McCoy had his share of 'flings' with various crewmembers, and they were always fleeting. The captain's tone hardened. "That's always been out of the question for me." He didn't have to explain that the restriction was his own choice. "I guess what bothers me most is that I thought I'd accepted brothels as a fact of life. I do accept it," he quickly amended, "I just don't like it."

McCoy sat back, hands joined behind his head. "That's the only other option: Accept it. But there's no law that says you have to like it."

Kirk frowned, working intently with the nail. "That's why it was so wonderful with Spock," he finally whispered. "As fleeting as it was, as inexperienced as he was...it was still...superior to anything I can ever remember having. Because...I care about him so damn much." He looked up with a pleading expression. "Is it so wrong that he's...male? That he's...a Vulcan? That he's...my first officer?"

McCoy's voice was firm. "Whoever said it was wrong?"

The captain thought about the question for a long time, then shrugged. "I don't know. I guess it seems wrong because it's definitely not right."

"You're not making sense, Jim. I don't see anything wrong with it. Spock can't possibly see anything wrong with it, if he went along with everything willingly. What's not 'right' about it?"

Kirk sighed heavily with frustration, then abandoned the fingernail and met McCoy's eye. "How can I make love to someone I don't even want?"

"Obviously, you can, and you did."

Body tight, Kirk jumped to his feet and paced away from the desk. "Once," he reminded.

McCoy shifted his chair to face the taut back. "Okay. Once. Nobody says you have to do it again. I don't understand you, Jim. What's the problem?"

Kirk turned to one side and spread his hands helplessly, voice pleading. "Bones, since we were rescued, I've spent a lot of time thinking about all the things I'd like to do to please Spock. Little things. Some physical, some not. Things I'd like to do to him, things I'd like to show him. Things that would make him...smile. And when I think about those things, and think about him smiling, you know what my reaction is? I don't get a hard-on; instead, my heart flips over and my whole body turns to putty." His tone was incredulous.

"And that's bad?" McCoy asked in disbelief.

Kirk faced the doctor. "It’s not me. That's not how I react to someone I want to make love to." Suddenly, he moved back to the desk, voice shy. "It's really not all that different from how I've reacted to Spock all along." He sat down. "I mean, I've always taken pleasure in seeing him happy about something. You know, making a scientific discovery, or winning an argument with you, or...hanging from a goddamn tree."

They both smiled at the memory.

"He's my friend," Kirk finished lamely. "I don't want to fuck him; I want to make him happy, spend time with him."

"Make love to him?" McCoy prompted softly.

Kirk frowned, not liking having the difference pointed out. He was up and pacing again. "I don't know, Bones. I just don't know."

The doctor stretched. "Well, you'll figure it out. You both have a lot to offer, and you both have needs...and you both care about each other. Between the two of you, you'll work it out." He watched the still form a moment longer. "Give yourself time, Jim. You can't expect this thing to tidy itself up into a nice, neat package overnight. There's no reason to force yourself into a decision that doesn't necessarily have to be made." 

After a pause, a hint of humor emerged from Kirk. "Except that it's driving me crazy."

McCoy stood. "Then talk to Spock. He can help you better than I can."

Kirk nodded. Hands squeezed his shoulders, then the sliding of the door left him in solitude.

* * * * *

Early the following day the Enterprise reached Dragis XII. Spock was in charge of the scientific investigation that tried to determine the long-term extent of the drought. Afterwards, the team concluded it would be too risky to leave the colonists. The colonists disagreed, and hours of discussion ensued, the final result being that the fifty-seven members of the colony were beamed up to the Enterprise for relocation.

The next day Kirk dropped by Sickbay to see how the colonists' exams had fared. The doctor was neither in his office nor the outer area.

"He's in the examination room with Spock," Chapel told him. "You can go on in if you want."

Kirk proceeded to the indicated room. He found Spock sitting on a table, naked from the waist up. McCoy was fingering some of the scratches that ran along the Vulcan's side.

The Vulcan's expression was one of surprise at Kirk's entrance, but it cleared immediately. "Captain."

"Mr. Spock," Kirk nodded.

McCoy glanced back. "Hi, Jim. What do you need?" His attention returned to his patient.

"I was on my way to the bridge and I just stopped to ask about the health of the colonists."

McCoy nodded to indicate he'd heard the question, but his attention was still on the Vulcan.

"How is he?" Kirk wondered softly.

McCoy straightened. "Much better." To the Vulcan, he said, "That last tube of ointment I gave you seems to be doing the trick. Those scabs ought to disappear in a day or two. They aren't causing you any trouble, are they?"

"No."

Kirk noted that the scratches on Spock's face were completely gone. The handsome brown eyes had returned to normal days ago.

"Okay, I'm satisfied," McCoy said. "You can put your clothes back on and return to the bridge."

McCoy busied himself with rearranging some of his instruments on the bedside table while Kirk stood to one side and watched his first officer smoothly slip into his clothing.

"I'll be on the bridge shortly," he told Spock as the Vulcan passed. But then he momentarily gripped his first officer's arm.

Spock paused.

Kirk whispered, "I'd like to talk to you tonight, if you can. Say, nineteen hundred?"

The other nodded without expression.

"I'll come to your cabin," Kirk added.

"I will be there." Spock moved away and left the room.

Kirk turned back to McCoy, who'd reached to switch off the instrument panel. "So, Doctor, did the colonists cooperate with their exams?"

McCoy leaned back against the table and crossed his arms. "Grudgingly. You know, Jim, sometimes I think people like that are all cut from the same mold. Remember that group on Omicron Ceti Three? Try to help them and they act like you're taking over their lives."

Kirk nodded silently. He well remembered Omicron Ceti Three—Spock hanging from the tree—and had been damn jealous of that little whatshername his first officer had spent so much time with.

"For the first time in my life, I was happy."

"Jim?"

Kirk looked up, caught McCoy's puzzled expression, and realized he'd been daydreaming. He cleared his throat, "So, what kind of shape are the colonists in?"

"One member has a bad heart problem. He won't be able to return to space without surgery. Another has a respiratory disease that I can't pin down. A few others have minor stuff—warts, old scars, swollen joints from all the physical activity." He shrugged. "All in all a fairly healthy group, but it never fails to amaze me how some people refuse to seek medical help. I don't know how long Professor Sorbin thought he could go with that bad heart. It just doesn't make sense."

Kirk smiled. "Human nature, Bones. We'd all like to believe what ails us will go away without having to depend on someone else."

McCoy grimly said, "I'm not sure that's just human nature, Captain. I'm surprised that Spock's been as cooperative as he has. He's usually not like that."

Kirk headed for the door, smiling, "Maybe he's mellowed out in his old age."

* * * * *

 Kirk stood outside Spock's door at nineteen hundred hours, suddenly nervous. He wasn't sure what he was going to say, but knew the words weren't going to come until he was actually in the Vulcan's presence. He reached up and rang the buzzer. The door slid back and he entered the cabin that had always felt welcoming.

Spock was sitting behind his desk and speaking into his communications terminal. The Vulcan paused to nod, then spoke to the image on the screen. "I have other matters to attend to at the moment, Mr. Salza. The charts I have summoned should keep you occupied for the remainder of the evening. If you wish to discuss some of the planets in more detail, I should be available tomorrow for consultation."

"Thank you, Mr. Spock," came the voice from the other end. "I appreciate your help in this matter, and I'm certain I will be speaking with you tomorrow. Good evening, sir."

"Spock out." The Vulcan pushed the terminal away, a bare hint of relief on his face, then turned his attention to the standing man.

Kirk came forward with a timid smile. "Hi." He moved to the chair Spock gestured to. "Have the colonists been badgering you?"

The Vulcan replied, "They are most anxious to find a new 'home', so that they will have a minimal layover at Starbase Six. I have done everything possible to assist them. They will have to make the actual decision amongst themselves."

"At least we won't have to deal with them too much longer. Scotty says we should be at the starbase in about eighteen hours."

"Approximately seventeen point nine-two."

Kirk smiled affectionately, then, "Starfleet still hasn't been able to find anything out about Margrar or Kulitan."

The Vulcan's eyes were on the desktop. "That is unfortunate. I, too, find myself curious as to their fate."

"Maybe something will come up." Kirk said easily, though puzzled by the averted gaze. It reminded him of something that seemed...unfinished. Something that happened on the planet....

"Perhaps."

The reply refocused the captain's attention on the purpose of the meeting. He met his friend's eye and quietly said, "We need to talk."

The angular features softened. "Agreed."

The captain leaned forward, hands folded on the desktop. "I've been confused ever since we got rescued." The other's supportive silence beckoned him to continue. "I keep wondering where we should go from here. Then I wonder if we should 'go' anywhere." He watched the Vulcan nod and took a deep breath. 

"I think about the interlude we shared on the planet, and then I think that maybe it should be left at that—an interlude. Because then I remind myself that I'm not really attracted to you." Realizing how the last might sound, he quickly interjected, "I mean, you're male."

An eyebrow arched in gentle amusement. "Indeed."

Grateful for the lightened atmosphere, but determined not to be distracted from his purpose, the human continued, "I think about the closeness we've shared and how much I've enjoyed it, how much I enjoy you, and...and I wonder that, if we just walked away from it, we might be throwing away an opportunity to enrich our lives and share...more." His voice had softened with the last sentence. Almost in a whisper, he added, "And I haven't forgotten the link you told me about."

Spock was still silent as Kirk concluded, "I've got to know how you feel about this. I know what you told me on the planet—about how you would choose me for a mate—but you're hardly running around like someone who's frustrated because he can't have what he wants."

Calmly, the first officer replied, "Vulcans do not experience those kinds of frustration. While Vulcans are capable of sexual activity outside of the pon farr, they do not obtain arousal nearly as easily as humans do. There needs to be a sufficient stimulus, and what would be sufficient for a human would not necessarily be so for a Vulcan."

Kirk thought about that, not certain what the bottom line was. "Does that mean that my body alone doesn't arouse you...isn't a sufficient stimulus?"

"No, it is not."

Kirk felt himself slump with relief. Somehow, it was reassuring to know that they suffered from the same 'affliction'. "Good. At least we're in the same boat."

"Not necessarily," Spock corrected. "I have no doubt that I could become aroused if there were sufficient provocation."

Kirk's brow furrowed. "What sort of provocation?"

"The knowledge that we were going to participate in the sexual act."

The human shrugged. "The...anticipation...arouses most human males, too." He was thoughtful a moment, then softly said, "I guess—obviously—we both were 'suffering' from an equal degree of anticipation on the planet." Green-gold eyes narrowed. "I'm not sure I could recapture that feeling. It seemed 'right' then. Now...." He trailed off with another shrug, gaze on the desktop. Then, quietly, "I guess, now, it would seem too forced. Maybe that's why the whole idea seems wrong to me."

"Indeed, force should never be part of the sexual act."

Kirk looked up again. "On that point we agree." He found it difficult to believe they were discussing the subject so clinically, yet also realized that the emotional distance provided a sense of security. "What about the rest of it? You still haven't answered my question, about your feelings."

The Vulcan put his fingertips together and stared at where they met for a long moment. Then he whispered, "I confess that the idea of sharing physical intimacy with you is an attractive one."

Kirk frowned. "You just said my body doesn't arouse you."

"It does not. It is what is inside that body—and the accompanying mind—that I find attractive. The physical is a pathway, so to speak, to those other attributes."

Kirk agreed with the metaphor, but still felt they were going in circles. "So, how would you feel if I told you that, beyond future pon farrs, I didn't want to have sex with you? I wanted to remain just the friends, as we've always been?"

"I would accept it."

"With no regrets?" Kirk prompted doubtfully.

Spock crossed his arms. "How could I regret the loss of something that I have never had? I do not know if 'going somewhere from here', as you have put it, will be beneficial. I am not experienced in these matters."

Kirk grimaced. "Spock, you sound like you're agreeable to anything that I decide. I don't like that. I don't want all the burden on me to make a decision for both of us. Your opinion matters, too."

Spock cocked his head, expression thoughtful. "Jim, is it necessary that we reach a decision? Can we not simply continue as we have, allowing for any variations in our relationship that may come about?"

The human frowned. "What are you saying? That we're supposed to be the good friends we've always been, and sort of wait to see if one of us happens to get a hard-on and then go to bed with each other?"

"I am merely suggesting that it may be unwise to force ourselves into making a decision that does not have to be made." Spock looked away and, for the first time since Kirk had come into the cabin, his voice betrayed a degree of nervousness. "There are certain aspects of the new intimacies we have shared that I have found particularly pleasing. If at all possible, I would like to explore those areas further."

Filled with curiosity, Kirk asked, "What aspects?"

"They are not necessarily sexual."

Even more curious, the human asked again, "What aspects?"

The Vulcan regarded him shyly. "May I show you?"

Kirk nodded, having no idea what Spock was talking about.

Slowly, carefully—as though still debating the wisdom of what he was about to do—the Vulcan rose, then came out from behind the desk to stand looking down at Kirk.

The human got the feeling that Spock was waiting for him to stand, too. He did so, eyes locked on the other, expression full of questions.

Spock stepped closer. Movements very precise, he reached out with both hands, gently captured the human's cheeks, and slowly brought his face down to the other's.

It wasn't until a split second before it happened that Kirk realized what Spock was going to do. Shocked and amazed, he stood absolutely still while warm, soft lips brushed against his...once, twice.

Simultaneously, Spock pulled back and released his hold. Then he ducked his head, as though frightened of the reaction to his boldness.

Kirk could only stare in wonder. Eventually, his mouth dropped open, but no words emerged.

Spock moved closer, then carefully put both arms around Kirk. He drew the other man to him, enfolding the human in a snug, gentle embrace.

Kirk's mind was in turmoil. What...? What is he doing?

Both hands began making slow, gentle circles along his back, pausing to press more firmly against a vertebrae or shoulder blade. The fingers kneaded, the hands circled, the arms held so gently....

Kirk collapsed into the warmth, letting the other take his weight. He laid his head against that strong shoulder, eyes closing.

Almost imperceptibly, Spock tightened the embrace to increase the necessary support. The arms, hands, and fingers continued to...love.

Having found no words to express his confusion, or the warmth he was feeling, Kirk finally allowed a heavy, contented sigh to speak for him.

How long had it been since he'd felt anything like this? How long since he'd experienced this simple human contact?

Human? 

That question shocked him into speaking. He glanced up and found Spock wearing an expression as contented as he himself was feeling. "Where did you learn this?"

"'This?'".

Kirk closed his eyes again, melting against the blue tunic. "Yes. This...holding...touching."

"I have seen humans use this method to demonstrate affection. My study of humans has also made me aware of the need for physical contact...beyond the sexual."

Damn, those hands were still at it. Kirk felt like he might begin to purr. Instead, he whispered, "I love this combination of your gentleness and strength."

"I enjoy providing it."

Kirk's eyes snapped open and he looked up at the serene, angular face. Desperately serious, he asked, "And what do I provide for you?"

He had a feeling the Vulcan had already confronted that question, for there was only a brief pause. "You are my reason for living."

Kirk continued to stare, uncertain if he could handle the magnitude of that declaration. His mind instantly filled with a hundred questions and requests for elaboration.

But the subject seemed too broad to touch upon now. He relaxed again, smiling. "You're going to have to explain that to me some day."

"I shall do so."

One of the kneading hands moved up to Kirk's neck, then into his hair. There, it rubbed and scratched. The human wasn't quite sure what he'd done do deserve this. "Mmmmm."

He could no longer merely accept it, and brought his arms up around Spock, noting the straightness and hardness of the body that was so unlike his usual companions. With the difference in their heights, his arms went perfectly around the small of the other's back. He rubbed there, having often imagined that part of the Vulcan's body suffering from strain from standing over the ship's sensors for long periods of time.

"You know," Kirk mused, "I don't think there are many first officers that provide this kind of...service for their commanding officers."

"I am not providing this for my commanding officer," Spock corrected easily. "I am providing it for my friend. Surely, this is not unusual from that standpoint."

Kirk was so absorbed with the continuing ministrations that it was a moment before Spock's words registered with his brain. "Unusual?" he asked, looking up at the other. "Spock, this is very unusual."

The angular features expressed puzzlement. "Is this form of touching not something that human friends provide for each other?"

Kirk started to shake his head, but stopped himself. How do I explain this to him? He recalled how he'd fantasized about leaning on McCoy when he'd thought Spock dead. He had no doubt the doctor would have provided this kind of comfort without question...when it was needed so badly.

"Spock, this," arms tightened for emphasis, "is something that friends can provide for each other, but it's usually something that's only given when needed. It's not often used merely as a form of...expression."

"Is it not something provided by the temporary companions that you seek on leave?" The Vulcan's tone was intensely serious.

Kirk let that sink in and felt a surge of anguish that there were some things that Spock understood so little about. He shook his head. "No, Spock. They don't provide anything like this."

The warm hands paused on the captain's back, and the other's head bent to look him in the eye. "Then, what...other than a sexual coupling...?" Spock trailed off, expression confused.

Kirk thought a moment before replying, wanting his words to be as clear as possible. He released the Vulcan and stepped back, causing the other's arms to drop away. Kirk picked up each of the fine hands in his own and squeezed. "Spock, a paid companion can provide almost anything you want—for a price. Conversation, dancing, straight intercourse, bondage, deviant sex, you name it. But there's nothing sincere about any of it. There's no caring involved. You're just another customer."

Quietly, Spock said, "You make it sound unpleasant. Yet, whenever shore leave arrives, you always seem so anxious to take part in such activities."

The human shrugged. "I don't have much choice. I've accepted it as an 'occupational hazard', so to speak. My lifestyle can't afford a permanent relationship, so I settle for getting whatever I can get whenever I can get it. I need the sexual release; that's the most important reason I go to brothels, and the main reason I'm so anxious to get down to them." His voice softened. "But I've never fooled myself into believing that I've ever meant anything to anyone that I've paid for."

The Vulcan bowed his head, eyes avoiding Kirk's, as though unable to face this information.

Kirk released the warm hands and gently gripped the other by the arms. "Spock," he whispered heavily, "don't you dare allow yourself to think that what you are to me is just...another friend. Or companion. Or whatever. I've experienced a closeness with you that's never been approached by what I've experienced with anyone else, be it friend or lover. And because of that, and all you know of me and accept in me, you are very special to me. Unique." Intensely, he added, "Don't ever think otherwise."

He wondered if he'd come on a little too strong, for now the Vulcan turned and moved a few steps away. After a long moment, the other said, "I am somewhat accustomed to being 'unique'."

The tone was ironic.

Kirk realized then that the term was a painful one for Spock. He couldn't bring himself to apologize for it—because it meant so much to him—but he did want to make up for it.

The human came up behind Spock, slipping his arms around the other, hands clasped together beneath the Vulcan's sternum. The arms tightened as his face rested against the other's back. He'd said it once before, but didn't think Spock would mind the repetition. "When I thought you were dead, I feared for my sanity."

Gentle fingers began a back-and-forth motion along the clasped hands. The Vulcan swallowed. "I acknowledge my importance to you. I do not completely understand. it, but I have learned to accept it."

Kirk sighed against the strong back. "Good." But the relief was short-lived. Where were they to go from here? It seemed that they had gone full circle, and were now back to the dilemma they'd been in when Kirk had first come into the cabin.

What do I want from you, Spock? Safety? Security?

Kirk had always considered himself a man of great independence who had learned to meet most of his own needs. His position at the top—always a lonely place—had made that necessary. Yet, here was Spock displaying a surprising degree of affection, the likes of which Kirk hadn't experienced since early childhood. It wasn't a need, per se, but it was something he could easily grow accustomed to. And if Spock was willing, why shouldn't he indulge?

So, where does that leave us? Holding and hugging each other like a couple of innocent four-year-olds? He found himself amused by an imaginary headline of the newspaper that spread gossip amongst galactic circles: "Macho Starship Captain Sleeps with Vulcan 'Teddy Bear'." Or: "Inside Sources Reveal that Starship Captain Frequents First Officer's Cabin for Routine Applications of Affection."

Kirk dropped his hands and turned away. It wasn't so amusing, after all. 

What was humorous about wanting a little love? Especially when it was offered so sincerely?

Kirk glanced up sheepishly and found that Spock had turned to face him, concerned. The human forced a smile of reassurance, but it wasn't successful. He moved to the chair in front of Spock's desk and sat down. Gaze lowered, he said, "I love you."

"Yes. I know." Spock also sat down.

Kirk found his eyes on the Vulcan's chest. Such a nice pillow that had been mere moments ago. And a week ago, on the planet. Hidden beneath the tunic, and the underlying T-shirt, lay a carpet of hair. The human vaguely remembered the feel of it when Spock had held him in the Nindans' camp. Then, later, in their own camp, in the midst of passion. The great reaction the Vulcan had exhibited at having a nipple licked. Now, Kirk remembered the later thought of how the Vulcan may react if he were to apply that wetness further down....

Guiltily Kirk met the Vulcan's patient eyes, and his voice hinted at melancholy. "There are so many things I feel like I'd like to show you. Sexually. So many pleasures I want you to experience." He paused. "But then, I think why should I show you all those things? So you can go off and pursue them with someone else?"

The first officer's voice was puzzled, yet firm. "I would never do that. There is no other I wish to experience intimacy with."

Sadly, Kirk said, "But I would." The truth of their situation suddenly sunk in. "It'll never work, Spock. You have eyes only for me. But I would be going off and having sex...just like I always have. I'll always yearn for something soft and round to sink my...to sink into. Someone pretty. Beautiful." He lowered his eyes and voice shamefully. "That would hardly be fair to you."

"I accept that as part of your nature."

Kirk scoffed in disbelief. Sarcastically, he said, "Oh, that's great. If you dare look at someone else I'll be mad as hell, but when I go off to fornicate with someone, that'll be perfectly fine with you. What a wonderful relationship that would be."

Spock's voice was tight. "You do not understand, do you?"

Surprised, Kirk looked up and found the Vulcan regarding him with...anger? "Understand what?" He watched his friend rise and move a few steps away.

"What you are to me."

Do I? "No, I guess not."

"I live because of you."

Angrily, Kirk said, "Does that mean you intend to be in my debt forever because of the pon farr?"

"I am not speaking of that," the other replied with equal firmness. "I am speaking of life versus...existence. My soul was dormant until...until I understood the ramifications of your serving me during the pon farr. I am not speaking of the fact of your saving my life," he emphasized, "but of the price you paid for it. It took some weeks after that time, but logic eventually showed me that I must be of great importance to you for you to have sacrificed so much." Spock's voice softened. "Since the moment of that realization, some inner spirit—which I do not completely understand—seems to have come alive. I am no longer capable of questioning the value of my own existence."

Kirk stared at the Vulcan, deeply moved. But as the litany faded from mind, a distant thought begged for attention. The captain frowned, trying to capture the elusive...something.

 "...va1ue of my own existence."

After an uncomfortable silence, the Vulcan turned and seemed about to say something, but Kirk spoke first, whispering, "Spock?"

The Vulcan moved closer, expression indicating puzzlement at the sudden change in tone.

Kirk's eyes widened as he studied the tall form. "Spock?"

"What is it, Jim?"

The human slowly wagged a finger in the air. "There's something...about the planet, when you melded with me...." The finger settled on Kirk's forehead. "I feel there's something...I should remember." The classic features cringed in concentration, the current subject forgotten. "What you just said...about existence...makes me think of the planet, of you, of the meld...." He sighed in frustration. "Dammit, I can't quite grab hold of the thought...."

Kirk looked up and saw the lanky frame turn its back again, moving away, body stiffening. He studied it a moment, not understanding, but certain of his instincts. "Spock, you know what it is, don't you? You know what I'm trying to remember...and why I can't...?" The Vulcan straightened, but did not reply. "It's the meld, isn't it? Something happened in the meld."

"No," came the quick response. "Nothing 'happened' other than what was meant to happen. I commanded your body to sleep, and I assured you that I was real."

Kirk's voice softened in contrast to the defensive stance. "But some...feelings...of yours leaked through."

There was a difficult swallow, and Spock seemed to be staring at the ceiling. "Yes. I have already admitted such, when we were still on the planet." The dry tone indicated displeasure at Kirk's pursuit of the subject.

The captain wasn't easily deterred. We've spent too many years together, my friend, and I know when you're troubled by something. But what is it? What could be so terrible to make you suddenly shut me out like this?  Gently, he said, "You didn't tell me all of it, Spock. There's something that I almost remember, but not quite...like an itch in the back of my mind."

The defensive stance softened as Spock looked at the floor. "I apologize for that. I had not intended for any...emotion...to slip through. Such carelessness is inexcusable. The incomplete thought that you feel is one that I mastered a fraction of a second after sharing it with you."

Kirk stood and took a few steps toward the blue-clad back. "You mean, I 'accidentally' saw the thought before you snatched it away?"

Spock seemed uncomfortable again. "That is essentially correct."

The captain tried not to let feelings of hurt enter his tone. "And that thought is something you can't share with me?"

Spock took a deep breath. Then, "It is...personal."

Kirk blinked. "Dear ghod, what have we talked about lately that isn't personal?"

Finally, the Vulcan turned around to face his captain, expression now calm, voice gentle. "I assure you, Jim, it has nothing to do with what we have discussed tonight. With all that has...happened between us, I would not withhold any feelings I have concerning you." He shook his head, lips gently curving in reassurance. "The 'partial thought' has nothing to do with us."

Kirk moved back to his chair. "I admit I'm curious." He sat down. "But I've hardly any right to try to force you to explain yourself."

Spock also moved to the desk and slid gracefully into his seat. He remained silent.

Kirk studied the Vulcan a moment before determining that the subject was definitely closed. He fought down his disappointment, and concern, and asked, "Where were we?"

"I was attempting to convince you of your...value to me." Spock went on as though the conversation had never been interrupted. "I accept that you have certain needs. I do not understand how it would make a difference whether or not you and I were participating in the sexual act on a regular basis, or if we simply maintained the friendship that we now share."

The human was still trying to recapture his original train of thought. "You mean if I were to sleep with others?"

"Yes."

Gently, the captain said, "Spock, you're essentially an innocent where emotions are concerned. It may not be logical, but sex always changes a relationship. You'll find yourself with emotions—such as jealousy—that you can't help but have. You don't know how it is. Trust me on this."

"However, it is obvious that many of those changes are beneficial, or so many humans would not be engaging in sexual relations."

"But most of those people, if not all of them, aren't risking a friendship such as ours." the human replied earnestly. "We have something very special. I'm not sure that having sex could add much to it." Kirk paused with sudden realization. Then, puzzled, he said, "I thought you were the one who was claiming that our relationship didn't necessarily have to 'go' anywhere. Now you're talking like you really want to try this."

Calmly, the Vulcan replied, "I am only attempting to make it clear that I would be agreeable to further exploring the physical aspect of our association. If you choose not to do so, it must be for reasons that concern only yourself; it must not be because you are somehow trying to protect me from something or prevent me from experiencing something that may eventually become unpleasant, for whatever reason."

Kirk sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes. "We're back to square one."

"I disagree. You now know where I stand."

Kirk grunted. "But I still don’t know where I stand. How is it," he asked of the room, "that I can make split-second decisions that affect hundreds of lives, but I can't even decide whether or not I want to go to bed with my best friend?"

Spock presented a hint of a smile. "Humans do tend to be rather illogical."

The captain stood, smiling affectionately at the dead-pan expression. He moved around the desk and halted before Spock, then reached out and furrowed two fingers through sleek hair. "Maybe it's because my best friend has so much to offer besides sex. And that's enough." He moved to the door. "Lord knows it's always been enough before."

Spock watched his captain intently, but had no reply.

"Thank you for...tonight," Kirk said in his sincerest tone. The memory of their earlier...activity...brought on that melting feeling again.

If he could just have that...  Maybe it would be enough for them both.

But another look into those soft brown eyes...windows to a soul that he wanted to bring so much joy to. Pleasure. Was what they could share together only limited by their own inhibitions and fear?

My inhibitions and fear?

"You are welcome, Jim," the Vulcan whispered softly.

The Vulcan meant it. Every word. Kirk found himself smiling again. "Goodnight, Spock."

He escaped to his cabin.

* * * * *

The layover at Starbase Six was brief. The colonists were beamed down, and the Enterprise was given the mission of routine patrol in a section of space near Rigel.

* * * * *

Kirk dived into the ship's swimming pool, then came up and began swimming vigorously. It was his lunch period and a brief swim would be more relaxing and beneficial than eating. The captain of the Enterprise had found himself antsy on the bridge, and knowing the crew had weeks of inactivity to look forward to didn't help.

As he'd hoped, the pool was empty and he was free to work the restlessness from his system. After twenty minutes of persistent, aggressive movement, Kirk began to tire and pulled up to swim leisurely to the edge of the pool. Upon reaching it, he stopped and smiled at the memory of a brief exchange he'd had with McCoy earlier in the day when the two had passed each other in an otherwise deserted corridor.

Kirk had simply nodded at the doctor, but the other had stopped him with a hand.

"Hey, Jim," McCoy said in a low voice, "did you and Spock get a chance to talk yet?"

"Yes," the captain replied in a curt tone that indicated he wasn't necessarily interested in discussing it at the moment.

McCoy was unperturbed. "Well? Did you figure anything out? Reach any decisions?"

Kirk smiled and replied, "No," then turned away from the doctor and continued down the corridor. He took a particular delight in the other's confused expression.

Now, still smiling, Kirk wondered what had caused the amusement.

It wasn't amusement, he decided. It was a smile of joy—joy that there's this big, wonderful 'unknown' that Spock and I have yet to deal with.

He hadn't thought of it in that way before. There was something very exciting about having his relationship with Spock open-ended. Who knew what was going to happen next?

If we decide to pursue the sexual angle...hell, every night will be a new adventure. At least for a while.

He got out of the pool and headed for the changing room. Watch it, Kirk. You're letting your current boredom rule your head. This may not be the best time to seek something out just because it'll be 'exciting' for a while. If you start playing with fire, at least one of you is going to get burned.

And it'll probably be Spock.

"I can't do that to him," he muttered out loud, grabbing a towel.

The captain sat on a bench, imagining going to Spock and saying that he'd reached a decision—that a sexual relationship simply wasn't going to work. Period.

"Spock, I've decided that a sexual relationship between us isn't a good idea. But I sort of liked the...other stuff. Would you be agreeable to holding me for a while like you did the other night? I liked that part."

He thought about that for a time. The holding. The petting. Those strong, warm arms. That little kiss. What was it Spock had said? Something about experimenting with areas that weren't necessarily sexual?

No, not experimenting. 'Exploring' was the word he used. And what does 'not necessarily sexual' mean? Did he consider that kiss non-sexual? Does 'not necessarily' mean that Spock wasn't sure himself whether it was sexual or not? Or, that he didn't mean for it to be sexual, but that he was acknowledging that a kiss like that could have been?

Kirk abandoned the bench and moved to the locker that contained his uniform, muttering, "Going in circles again." Why couldn't he think this through logically like Spock could?

He took off his swimming trunks, wiped a towel along his damp groin and hips, then began to dress. Okay. Point number one is that I don't want to completely cut off the prospect of pursuing a different kind of relationship with Spock. Point two is that I don't want to keep going around in circles about it. That leads to point three, which is that I am open to the idea of pursuing something further.

But how far is 'further'?

The holding and hugging was the best part...so far. All that raw genuine affection and love. No strings attached. No payback expected.

But I do want to return it. 

A warm feeling permeated Kirk as he stood before a full-length mirror and combed his hair. I've always felt I'd do anything for Spock. But he's a difficult person to do anything for because he never asks. Well, now he wants something—in his own quiet way—and I'm not about to turn him down.

If it didn't work, well, at least they'd have the satisfaction of knowing they'd tried. He had no interest in forever wondering about what could have been.

If it all turns out to be a big mistake, I think we could handle it. Forgive each other.

Kirk left for the bridge, his relief and happiness at having reached a decision dulled only by his annoyance that there was...something...bothering Spock that the Vulcan refused to share with him.

No, not annoyance.  Hurt.

* * * * *

A couple of hours later Uhura notified Kirk that Commodore Mendez was hailing from Starfleet.

"Jose," Kirk greeted when the other man's image appeared on the main screen.

"Jim, this is an update on the Nindan-Klingon situation. We received word a few hours ago that the Klingons have hailed Starfleet Command and are demanding to know your role in the death of their Admiral Kulitan and the near annihilation of his fleet."

So. Margrar was successful. Kirk thought over what the Commodore said, then queried, "They think I set Kulitan up?"

"Yes. They insist that Starfleet had something to do with it, that you deliberately made it look like you were kidnapped so the Nindans could do 'our dirty work', as the Klingons are claiming. Of course, we've denied all such involvement, and we are in the process of sending their ambassadors all the logs of the debriefings that took place concerning the incident. But they're bound to think that's a charade, too. That's how the situation stands at this time."

"Commodore, did they make any mention of how Kulitan was destroyed? Is there any indication of an advanced weapon?"

Mendez shook his head. "They have not given us specifics. We do not know how many ships were destroyed or the death toll. They've merely referred to it as a 'horrible catastrophe'."

"Are they threatening vengeance?"

Mendez nodded. "Yes, but I don't expect them to carry it out. We, of course, are asking them that even if we did deliberately set you up as a plant, what Kulitan was doing coming to get you. So far, all they've done is ignore the question."

Kirk rubbed his chin. "I suppose there hasn't been any word from the Nindans on this?"

"No, but we have our people doing everything they can near the border, trying to find some evidence of them. If they went through the trouble of destroying Kulitan to make a point, then surely they would want to be certain they get the credit for it. We're hoping that if word reaches them that the Federation is being wrongly blamed, they'll step forth and set the record straight."

Kirk nodded. "Thank you for the update, Jose."

"We'll keep you posted, Jim. Mendez out."

The screen went blank and Kirk looked up at his first officer, who'd come to stand at his side. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the Klingons are blaming us for the annihilation of Kulitan's fleet."

"No," the Vulcan agreed. "But it is disturbing to know that the Nindans do, indeed, have that degree of power."

Kirk nodded, but grimly said, "I wonder how many of the Nindans were killed in the process."

"It is impossible to know."

"Hopefully, we'll hear from them eventually. Margrar was determined to make sure the Klingons knew that Nindans weren't to be messed with. I hope they get word of what's going on."

"Indeed," Spock acknowledged before returning to his station.

Kirk sat in his chair the rest of the watch, wondering if Margrar was still alive.

* * * * *

Later, close to midnight, Kirk sat in a far corner of a nearly vacant recreation room. A game of solitaire rested on the table before him, but was only a decoy to deter anyone who may have thought the captain wished company. At this hour only three crewmen remained, and they were all at the other end of the room, quietly engaged in their own game.

Kirk had sought the rec room because his own quarters reminded him of the paperwork still to be done, and the observation deck was too quiet and dark for his errant thoughts. With Vulcan curiosity, he wondered how it was that one could feel so happy and so angry with the same person, at the same time.

"Sure you don't just want to shoot yourself and get it over with?"

Kirk started at the voice, then looked up and smiled at the intruder. With his foot, he pushed out a chair. As McCoy sat down, the captain asked, "Do I look that miserable?

"Yep."

"What are you doing up at this hour?"

"Sanders and I traded shifts. I'm on break. You?"

Kirk's smile remained. He thought he'd wanted solitude but was pleased to have the doctor's company. "Just trying to get myself in the right frame of mind."

"For what?"

"For telling Spock that I've reached a decision."

The doctor's expression held a hint of sadness. "That difficult, huh? You thinking he'll be heartbroken?"

Kirk shook his head. "I hope not. I hope he considers me a worthy prize."

Now the other was confused. "Prize. You mean...?"

The captain nodded, and his voice was suddenly more serious than intended. "I care about him, Bones. Very much. I think we're worth pursuing."

There was a pause while McCoy absorbed the inevitableness that his superiors' relationship was going to change...for better or worse. When he found his voice, he asked, "Then why so glum?"

Softly, Kirk replied, "I'm mad at him, Bones."

The craggy face expressed surprise. "Why?"

The other sheepishly met the doctor's eye. "I've really no right to be. There's something bothering him. He won't tell me what it is."

McCoy's opinion was firm. "That's not very fair of him."

The captain shook his head. "It doesn't have anything to do with us. That's what he told me anyway, and I believe him. And that's why it's really none of my business."

"But?"

Kirk sighed, then his expression grew intense. "It has something to do with that planet we were on. And that was such a traumatic experience for us both, I can't imagine why he wouldn't share it with me." He rubbed his forehead wearily. "I just don't understand it. He's already told me about some...well, some of his personal feelings when...when he'd been left for dead...in that...ditch." Kirk had to take a deep breath to clear his tightening throat. "Yet, there's this other...something...out there," he waved a hand in the air for emphasis, "...and I don't know what it is. And he won't tell me. But it's there."

Gently, McCoy said, "Don't you think he'll tell you when he gets around to it? You know he’s difficult to push. Especially if it is something emotional in nature.” 

"I hope so." The captain shrugged. "It really isn't any of my business. It's silly of me to be angry with him."

McCoy smiled. "Surely, I don't have to remind you about the illogic of human feelings."

Kirk chuckled softly, then was sheepish again, his gaze on the table. "I guess it just hurt my feelings that he didn't trust me enough to confide in me."

"Then tell him."

The captain sighed elaborately. "I don't want to yet." His voice softened. "The next time I see him, I'd like it to be...special." He met the doctor's eye, hopeful that his expression made further words unnecessary.

McCoy grinned. "There should be plenty of time to talk after the after-glow wears off."

"Maybe."

"It can't be that difficult, Jim. I think perhaps...."

He was interrupted by the intercom. "Sickbay to Doctor McCoy. You are needed in Sickbay immediately. Please acknowledge."

McCoy went to the nearest wall device. "This is McCoy. I'll be right there." He shrugged apologetically. "See you later, Jim." Then he was gone.

A short time later, Kirk returned to his cabin and keyed a message under a security code that was to be sent to his first officer's terminal the following day: "Spock, please join me in my quarters at nineteen hundred hours tonight for an evening of exploration. Informal dress requested. Love, Jim."

He wondered if the closing was too sentimental, but left it.

* * * * *

Kirk was still wondering as nineteen hundred hours approached the following day...but about a different matter.

He stood in front of his mirror in the bathroom, tugging at his shirt, which was a plaid that buttoned down the front and was tucked into his jeans. He'd told Spock they were leaving their uniforms behind, but maybe this was too casual.

Then there was his hair. It was neatly combed. Maybe too neatly. He ran a hand through it, trying to soften the look.

And he kept debating about the cologne next to the sink. He normally only wore cologne when there was a formal event to attend, or a date. He supposed that, in a way, Spock was a date, but doubted that the Vulcan's sensitive nose would appreciate the artificial fragrance.

Kirk turned away from the bathroom, scolding himself for his nervousness. It was silly worrying about whether or not Spock was going to 'like' him. He loves me, for chrissakes. And likes me.

A flush of pride spread. It was funny how being genuinely liked could sometimes be more important than being loved.

He went to the bed and sat down, arms resting on his knees, hands clasped between them. He guessed that it would still be another thirty minutes before Spock arrived. Kirk had been too nervous for a regular dinner, so he'd simply grabbed a sandwich and eaten it in his cabin. But Spock was a creature of habit and probably had his usual dinner after shift, then went to his cabin to meditate, and was probably now deciding what to wear since his uniform wouldn't be appreciated.

Kirk tried to imagine the Vulcan's movements in the room separated from his by a mere bulkhead. Was Spock staring at the contents of his closet, like Kirk himself had done a little while ago? Was the Vulcan now leafing through a myriad of hangars, trying to recall what clothing he had, and what he thought he had but must have thrown out? Was he sighing in frustration? Was he, perhaps this very moment, in his bathroom debating about cologne?

Kirk had decided he wasn't going to bring up the matter that had troubled him. He did want tonight to be special, and felt there would be no room for anger or any other feelings. He wanted it to be a time of affection, warmth, and sharing—on whatever level Spock wished.

I don't want to make all the advances. At least not at first. I think I'd rather just be his...playground. Let him make all the moves and take it as far as he wants to go.

Spock's playground. That thought made him smile.

The door buzzer sounded.

Kirk started, jumped to his feet, and nervously rechecked his hair. Taking a deep breath, he paused at the threshold to the office area. "Come." Thankfully, his voice sounded normal.

As the door slid back, Kirk came toward it.

Spock entered. He was wearing a cream-colored V-neck shirt, and lightweight, black casual slacks. Sandals encased his feet. His hair was immaculate, expression both shy and radiant.

Kirk detected the scent of cologne. "Hi," he greeted in a choked whisper.

He was presented with soft, warm eyes and that wonderful non-smiling smile. "Good evening, Jim."

Kirk glanced momentarily toward the office area, then realized if they moved there they may never have the nerve to proceed elsewhere. He held out a hand.

Hesitantly, Spock put his own hand into Kirk's, then smiled at where they met.

The human gently pulled and led the other man to the sleeping alcove. They paused before the bed, and Kirk wished it were bigger. But they’d work something out. He'd certainly done it before.

Nervously, he maneuvered Spock to the side of the bed, then gently pushed on the Vulcan's shoulders. "Sit down."

Spock complied, eyes questioning.

The human answered, grabbing an extra pillow from the closet. Putting it with the pillow already on the bed, he arranged them both against the headboard, then got on the bed and stiffly sat back against them. He indicated the narrow space beside him. "Okay, now move over here."

Spock slid to the directed area.

Kirk summoned forth all reserve courage, wishing everything wasn't so awkward, and patted his chest. "Want to lie against me...?"

With eyes averted, Spock slipped out of his sandals. Silently, and equally rigid, he laid his upper body down against Kirk's, and drew his legs up on the bed, feet brushing against the human's, which were already bare.

As soon as Spock was close enough, Kirk put his arms around the lean form, drawing it closer. The Vulcan's head settled against the top of Kirk's shoulder, near the human's neck. The arms bravely went around Kirk's waist and pulled snug.

Kirk closed his eyes, body relaxing with relief and security. His companion was less anxious now, too. It seemed they'd both returned to a home they weren't sure they'd ever had.

Kirk increased the pressure of his arms, desperate to give something in return for what he'd experienced last night, wanting Spock to know what it felt like simply to be loved. No strings.

"Comfortable?" the human finally asked, jaw whispering past velvet hair.

"Yes."

"Want to talk first?"

"'First'?"

"Yes. Before...."

"That would be agreeable. What do you wish to talk about?"

Kirk could see that it was more than agreeable. Though resting comfortably against each other, the Vulcan seemed no more anxious to move on to other things than Kirk was. "You're wearing cologne."

Spock glanced up. "Do you find the scent pleasing?" 

"The scent is fine, but you didn't need to do that. I know you don't like to wear it."

"I thought you would expect it."

"No, Spock," Kirk replied gently. "You and I have worked closely together for four years. If I had any objection to how you smell, you would have known about it a long time ago."

"I see."

"Good." Kirk paused, then elaborated. "I don't want you to do anything in the name of trying to be more attractive to me. I like you just the way you are." It was important to make that point. The idea that Spock might some time do something to make himself 'pretty' was nauseating.

But Kirk also wanted the other to know that he understood any insecurities on the matter and admitted, "I almost put on cologne, too. But I know how sensitive your nose is. That's why you don't like to wear it, isn't it?"

"Yes. The fragrances are usually too strong, no matter how limited the application."

Kirk didn't say anything for awhile, but continued to hold Spock close, eventually beginning a gentle petting motion on the other's back. He wanted to resume conversation and had a topic in mind other than whatever it was that was bothering Spock. That could wait until another day...or night.

"Spock," the human said gently, "I'd like to talk about the link some more." He felt the other nod. "If you don't mind me asking, what was the pre-bonding link like between you and T'Pring?"

"Quite dormant," Spock replied after a pause. His tone was firm...almost bitter. "I was not conscious of its existence, unless I specifically 'tested' it—concentrated on it to find it and know that it was still intact. When my Time approached, the link became stimulated, as is normal." He paused again, then said, "Since you are human, and are unaccustomed to mental 'activities' telepathic in nature, it is possible that you would be much more conscious of the link, if there were one between us. It could even become an irritant if it was not compatible with your psyche."

Kirk was listening intently. "But it could be broken, if necessary, right?"

"Yes. The newer the link, the easier it is to break. I could most likely break it myself in the earlier stages."

"So, if it's something we wanted to try, and it turned out that I couldn't deal with it, then we could simply sever it."

"That is correct. However, I am wary of using the word 'simply'. Just as in a medical operation on the body, some so-called 'simple' procedures can be serious undertakings for certain individuals—because of allergies and such—the severing of a link would not necessarily be accomplished easily. If that were the case, a skilled healer would have to be consulted."

Kirk thought about that. "And for you...would this link be like what you experienced with T'Pring?"

"Doubtful. I believe I would be much more conscious of it, because of our close proximity."

The human frowned. "Then, it could become something of an irritant to you, too."

"That is highly unlikely," Spock said in a tender voice. "You must understand that, as a born telepath, I have certain instincts, or yearnings, to touch with another mind. A link with you would most likely fill that need to some extent. It is even slightly possible that the pre-bonding link would allow for a mild degree of non-verbal communication between us."

"Because we work so closely together?"

"Yes. And if we began to participate in sexual joining on a regular basis...," he trailed off, swallowing nervously. "You must remember that Vulcans do not normally participate in sexual activities except at the Mating Time. It is during the first Mating Time that a full bond is formed. But regular sexual activity outside of the Time would most likely encourage a greater degree of non-verbal communication."

Kirk was silent for a long moment as he absorbed the information. "Then, if we had the link, could any sexual activity between us cause the bond to be formed, even without you being in pon farr?"

"No. The pon farr causes certain chemical changes within the body. It is only those changes that allow a bonding to be formed. In ancient times, warriors participated in many sexual activities, but they could still only bond at their Mating Time."

That was reassuring. Kirk sighed, then asked, "So, since we both already know that I'll be there for you at any future pon farrs, the sole point of us creating a link together would be so we could be assured of each other's existence."

"Yes. Though the link is fairly dormant, each of us would know if it were broken by death. That would be the sole purpose of the link for you, and the primary purpose for me." Kirk arched an eyebrow, and Spock clarified, "Remember, I would be receiving the additional benefit of constant telepathic contact, however shallow, with my Chosen."

Kirk frowned. "And, of course, the biggest risk in all of this is that when your pon farr comes again—especially if it's when we least expect it—then we could become lifelong bondmates, and that may be something we don't want."

"Correct."

"And, if I remember right, you said before that a full bondlink could be broken by a healer, but not without serious—even fatal—consequences, especially for you."

"Yes."

Kirk's petting hand had slowed during the conversation, now it reached up and squeezed a lean shoulder. "You've already made up your mind about this, haven't you?"

Spock hesitated, then replied, "If I were certain that you were certain, then I would be agreeable."

"And I'm obviously not certain at the moment."

"No."

Kirk started the circling motions. Thinking out loud, he said, "That would be a great comfort to always know that you lived, whenever we were separated."

"Or a crippling grief if you knew that I had died."

"Which I would experience anyway, if I were fairly certain that you were dead." Like on that planet. He knew that Spock didn't need to be reminded of that.

He reached up with one hand and gently ran a finger along a lean cheek. Looking the other in the eye, Kirk asked, "And how would you deal with it if you knew I were dead?"

"My soul would die," Spock whispered with conviction. "As in your case, that would happen even without the link, if I thought you were dead."

Kirk dropped his hand. "Then the only real question here is the potential for a permanent bond."

"Yes. We should not participate in the pre-bond link unless we were reasonably certain of a commitment to a full bond."

Which wasn't going to happen for a long time. Kirk forcibly dampened his interest in the whole subject. Ever since Spock had first mentioned it on the planet, Kirk had been curious about what it would be like. But, now, the raw facts clearly indicated that they would be playing with fire if they participated in a link just to 'see where it goes'.

The Vulcan apparently had some awareness of Kirk's thoughts, for he gently said, "Perhaps it is time to turn to other topics?"

Kirk nodded, grateful to change the subject, and smiled tenderly at Spock, pulling both arms snug around the Vulcan. He liked the feel of his friend, even though he was still trying to get used to the straightness and hardness of him, and the warmer temperature.

Spock was squeezing back with both arms, enveloping Kirk in a cocoon of love.

Damn, but he could get used to this. A part of Kirk wondered if it was all he really wanted from Spock. Just the non-sexual love and caring. The warmth that only a Vulcan body could provide. He laid his cheek down on top of Spock's hair and closed his eyes. "Mmm."

They stayed like that for a long time.

Eventually, Spock loosened his grip, shifting higher when Kirk raised his head. The human's face was captured between warm hands. Spock held Kirk steady and leaned down to him, green-tinged lips touching pink ones in a brief, gentle contact.

Even as Spock pulled back, the human felt a sensation of relief. Spock had made the first move. Kirk wanted to sit back passively and allow the Vulcan to take his explorations wherever he wished to go. The human would only be there to prod the other along if his friend got lost somewhere along the way.

Spock kissed Kirk again. Then again. Each time he pulled back after the brief contact, as though deciding where to plant his lips next.

Kirk met each kiss, but otherwise did nothing to force things along. He found it interesting how Spock didn't let any particular contact linger. He also found the entire process very pleasant.

The kissing went on, straying from mouth to corners, to chin, to upper lip. Though brief, they came increasingly faster, and Spock shifted again and put his hands on Kirk's sides.

The Vulcan was working on the eyelids now, then moved on to the forehead. He kissed across it, before pulling back. Then, very deliberately, his lips attached to Kirk's, as though, after all the preliminaries, he decided that was the part he liked the most.

This particular kiss did linger, and Kirk found himself putting a hand at Spock's waist, steadying himself as a wonderful sinking feeling set in.

Spock finally released his captive. Then both long-fingered hands moved to Kirk's collar and smoothly opened the top two buttons there. They paused, and dark eyes shifted up to meet green-gold orbs, before darting away.

"Go ahead," Kirk whispered.

That was all the permission needed. The Vulcan parted the remainder of the buttons with the same smooth, efficient action. Then he pushed the sides of the shirt back and away, exposing the smooth chest and firm stomach.

Spock stared at it a moment, as though not certain what to do with this new vista. Then his head ducked to a nipple, latching onto it, lapping at it furiously.

Kirk liked the warm feel of that hot tongue, and he put a hand behind Spock's head, drawing it closer, trying to show appreciation.

A moment later, Spock drew back and looked at Kirk with an expression that was filled with disappointment.

"What's the matter?"

"You do not enjoy it."

"Yes, I do."

"Not like I did."

Kirk's mouth dropped open as comprehension dawned. On the planet, the mere touch of cool human lips on a virgin, Vulcan nipple had sent his first officer into frenzied reaction. Perhaps, eventually, that alone could have brought the Vulcan to orgasm. The captain smiled softly. "It's all right, Spock. I'd react the way you did if I was already aroused. How I react to that stimulation sort of depends what kind of state I'm in. I'm in a very patient mood right now, so the feeling when you do that isn’t as strong as if I were very...hot." More gently, he assured, "You aren't doing anything wrong. You'll understand what I mean when you get more experience."

There was a pause, then, "I see."

The Vulcan seemed to hesitate about what to do next, so Kirk told him, "I still enjoyed what you were doing."

That got the message across. Spock bent toward the nipple again, this time licking and sucking at it with more patience, less excitement. Later, he moved to the other one.

Kirk couldn't stay complacent much longer. He reached for the hem of Spock's shirt with both hands and slowly drew it up the lean body. He let it rest bunched up near the Vulcan's armpits, then placed his hands on the bare flesh and began the gentle, circular movements again, as much for himself as for Spock, to get familiar with the feel of the other's skin.

It was certainly less soft than a woman's. He also came into contact with a few little bumps and valleys, similar to the minor blemishes that most humans possessed.

Spock disengaged from the second nipple and pulled back. He was looking at Kirk from beneath lowered lashes, as though afraid of the thoughts lurking within himself.

Unconsciously, Kirk's petting had turned to scratching, and as his fingers gently raked along the Vulcan's spine, the first officer closed his eyes in appreciation.

A warm feeling settled around Kirk. He continued to scratch and whispered, "That feels good, doesn't it?"

Spock could only nod as he pressed back against the hand.

"Then let's get this off," Kirk said, reaching for the shirt. Spock held his arms out while the human pulled it over the dark head and down the outstretched arms. He leaned over to lay the clothing on the night stand.

Without giving himself the opportunity to hesitate, Kirk wrapped his arms back around Spock and brought them  both down on their sides. They stretched out their legs to compensate for the narrow space, and Kirk hugged, letting himself consciously experience the feel of bare chest to bare chest, nakedness to fur.

It was different from anything he'd ever felt. He'd made love to many alien women, but none of them had ever had fur on their chest, nor been so flat and hard. It was a strange feeling...but not unpleasant.

And the hug was nothing less than sincere. It was almost as though he were desperate to make up for all the years when demonstrations of platonic love had been forbidden by duty and social mores.

After a time, Kirk's desperate grip eased and returned to the slow petting motions along Spock's back. The Vulcan's head was resting on the broad shoulder, and though he sensed a puzzlement from the other, Kirk could also feel that the first officer was content for the time being.

Perhaps it was time that he explained himself. Unconsciously, his voice came out as a whisper. "Sometimes, Spock, I wonder if this would be enough. This holding and touching. Maybe we won't ever really need to go beyond it." He continued on when he didn't get a reply. "It's very important to me that anything which happens between us is a demonstration of the love and caring we feel for each other...not an overpowering lust just because it happens to feel good at the moment."

Kirk could almost hear the 'logic circuits' working before the Vulcan said, "I was under the impression that, even without the physiological changes of the pon farr, sexual desire builds whenever beings who are attracted to each other are in each other's company. Lust is not necessarily involved. Is that not what happened to us on the planet?"

"I suppose." Kirk sighed happily. "What we experienced on the planet was...beautiful."

"Yes."

Another sigh contained a hint of melancholy. "Why is it more difficult now?"

"Perhaps because we are more conscious of our actions."

Kirk was inclined to agree. "What happened before seemed like a natural extension of what we were feeling at the moment—a way for us to 'prove' something that we each felt we had to prove."

Spock nodded, face pressed against the bareness of Kirk's chest.

The human laughed with self-ridicule. "I guess a part of me is still questioning what we're doing...if it's 'right'." Despite the doubt in his words, his hands were still firm as they continued to rub circles on the Vulcan's back.

"I do not think you would invite me here if you had not made up your mind."

"I had, Spock. I guess I'm just getting cold feet again. I feel like we could just stay like this all night. I love being close to you."

Curiously, the other asked, "What is it that helped you make your decision?"

Kirk thought before replying. "The fact that, if we didn't try, we would both always wonder what it could have been like...what we may have missed out on." His voice was suddenly teasing. "You're pretty relaxed about all of this."

Spock pulled back a little. "I am not burdened with the doubts that burden you. I have come to terms with my feelings for you. It would be illogical to deny what is."

Pensively, the human asked, "And you aren't bothered by the doubts that I have?"

"On the contrary, it would have concerned me if, after leaving the planet, you had felt you wanted to pursue an exclusive, intimate association with me, as it would be so uncharacteristic of  you." The deep baritone softened. "I can understand how much your...usual lifestyle...may be affected by our relationship."

Kirk snorted with disbelief and scooted into a sitting position, back against the headboard, pulling Spock with him so that the Vulcan still rested on his shoulder. "That's just it, Spock," he tried to explain. "I'm not really questioning whether I want to be with you or some beautiful woman somewhere. I want to be with you. I like your company. But the whole sex thing still baffles me." He shrugged. "I know I can do it with you if you touch me in all the right places. But...," he furrowed his brows, then concluded, "I guess what bothers me most is that I don't have the desire to make love to you right now." He shrugged hopelessly. "I just want to play."

"Play?"

"Yes. What we're doing right now. Just being together, being affectionate."

"I find that adequate."

"But I know you want to experience more. Aren't you finding all my hesitations frustrating?"

Firmly, the Vulcan said, "I find nothing frustrating about the motion your hands are performing upon my back. Nor is there anything frustrating about what we have already experienced together. Jim, you must realize that never before in my life have I imagined that I would one day share the degree of intimacy with another being that I am currently enjoying with you. I find that particularly gratifying when considering that you and I are not mentally linked in any way." Spock looked away shyly. "I do not know how to adequately express what you are to me. But I believe I am what you humans would call 'happy'."

Kirk's eyes widened at that revelation. Happy? Like you were on Omicron Ceti Three? "Does that mean if I said, 'I changed my mind; I don't think we should have sex', that it would be all right with you?" 

The Vulcan almost seemed amused. "You have already made up your mind, so you will not be changing it. But if you insist upon speculation, then, yes, that would not be desirable, but adequate. If we continued with our prior friendship, it would still contain an intimacy and joy that is as a...'happy pill' to me."

The human was warmed by the words. Keeping one arm around Spock's body, he gently moved the other hand from stomach to chest, studying the texture of the hair which rested there. "I'm still getting used to you, you know." His tone was just shy of being apologetic. "I'm not accustomed to sleeping with someone shaped like you are."

I am not accustomed to sleeping with anyone." Spock countered, still amused.

Kirk smiled then. "No, I suppose not." The hand continued to brush along the furred trail. "I suppose that, as far as you're concerned, there's no limits on what we can experience together?"

"No. I do not have enough experience to think in terms of sexual limitations."

Kirk dropped his hands and looked away, squirming with sudden tension, trying to settle himself against the pillows. It was a moment before he met the gentle, concerned eyes. Grimly, he said, "I have a limit, Spock."

The other raised his eyebrows. "Which is?"

"I don't want you touching my ass."

He felt like such a bastard for saying that. But the prior pain...the feeling of being used...the raw domination...was still a memory far from pleasant.

He was grateful that Spock merely looked resigned, not rejected. In a hoarse whisper, the other said, "It is still a painful memory?"

"Yes. I thought maybe what we experienced on the planet could wipe it away, but...." Eyes shameful, Kirk  said, "I'm sorry, Spock. I know it would be different this time, but...I..."

Gentle hands moved to him, one resting on his shoulder, the other pressing against his cheek. "Jim, you need not explain. I respect your limitation. In any case, it is something I have not given much thought to repeating. The act holds painful memories for me, as well."

Kirk breathed a sigh of relief, wondering if he deserved Spock's understanding. But it did help that the other had feelings with some degree of similarity. The human managed a nod. "Yes, I suppose you do." A difficult swallow. "I am sorry, Spock. I... I'd like to be able to give myself to you, like that. But...."

Spock reached out and gently stroked Kirk's cheek with a finger. "There is nothing shameful about fear. I am honored that you trusted me enough to reveal it. No more need be said of the matter."

Kirk tried to follow the finger with his eyes as it trickled down to his chin. When it threatened to leave, he captured it in his mouth and sucked gently. Then, repeating the gesture that had become common in past weeks, he picked up Spock's hand, clasped it in his own, and brought the combined fist to his chest. He squeezed, eyes closing. "I don't deserve you."

"Your statement is not logical." Fact. As Spock saw it.

Kirk sighed deeply with contentment, then opened his eyes. He found himself gazing into the brown orbs across from him, and was struck by the high regard he always held for the wonderful traits possessed by this special friend: the combination of innocence and intelligence, the precision of speech, the softness of voice, the calm demeanor, the prideful loyalty, the hungry curiosity, the pure soul, the obsessively clean body, the supportive aura, the essential goodness, the kind and gentle heart. 

And now, added to all that, was sexual desire. For him.

The fantasy that Kirk had been keeping in the back of his mind this past week came to the forefront. There was something very special he wanted to do for this friend.

He broke the contact, both manual and visual, and looked away, gathering courage. Upon finding it, he turned and smiled gently. "Spock, there's something I'd like to do for you. Something I'd like to show you. Something pleasant."

Spock's eyes darted about the cabin, as though wondering where this 'thing' was, or where it was going to take place.

Kirk shifted away from the head of the bed, then gently pushed the Vulcan back down against it. He leaned to the nightstand and opened the top drawer. After fumbling around he found what he was looking for, and laid it next to Spock's shirt on the desktop. Then he reached down to the bottom drawer and pulled out the top hand towel from the stack kept there.

Kirk laid the towel near the shirt, then picked up the first item. It wasn't until he turned to face Spock that he found the courage to meet the other's gaze.

The Vulcan looked baffled. "This is the thing you wanted to show me?" His disappointment was obvious.

The captain shook his head. "Well, maybe 'show' wasn't the best choice of words. But this is going to assist in the proceedings."

"It is a blindfold." It told of the Vulcan's nervousness that he'd stooped to stating the obvious.

Kirk scooted close to Spock, and brought the black cloth up to the other's head. He carefully placed it over the Vulcan's eyes, then reached to tie it. After sitting back, he asked, "Can you see?"

Spock's head shook, expression one of confusion. "No."

"Good," the human whispered. Spock's puzzlement was turning to unease, and Kirk reassured, "I'm not going to tie your hands, Spock. You can take it off whenever you want."

"You obviously put it on me for a reason."

"Yes." Kirk hesitated to elaborate, but confessed, "I thought it would...enrich what I'm going to show you...do to you. But if you don't like it, you can take it off."

Spock placed his hands on the bed at precise ninety-degree angles to his arms, as though removing them from temptation. There was a deliberate relaxing of his body. "I will keep that in mind, but I am now curious to follow through with your intentions, whatever they may be."

Such a brave little soldier, Kirk thought. This is all so new to him.

Kirk glanced down at the lanky body and frowned. Spock's pants were still on. Maybe he should have told the Vulcan to take them off before he put on the blindfold. But that was irrelevant now, and Kirk was left wondering if he should ask Spock to take them off, or do it himself. He feared that in the latter situation he would be embarrassingly clumsy. Undressing a woman was one thing, but a man...and an already vulnerable feeling one, at that.

But it seemed it would be asking a lot of Spock to do it himself.

Kirk took a deep breath, then reached out and touched the lower ribs along the Vulcan's side. There was a momentary quiver in the flesh before it steadied. Kirk moved the hand about, soothingly, marveling at how such great strength could be contained in such a thin frame.

He reached around to the small of the Vulcan's back. He rubbed the area in a soothing gesture, gratified when the lanky body began to loosen. Kirk added a few scratches along the spine as a reward.

Gradually, his hand moved down to the top of the slacks. He felt around the hem with a finger, until discovering the catch on the interior at one side. Kirk released it and felt the Vulcan's tummy contract as though trying to escape the cool, ticklish fingers.

Still keeping one hand on Spock's back, Kirk started to push the slacks and underwear off. He could feel the tension rising in the other again, even as the Vulcan assisted by moving his hips in whatever direction necessary. Finally, Kirk ended up using both hands to push the material past the groin. From there, they were easy to pull off, and the captain continued to move them along the Vulcan's legs until they were completely free of the limbs. He dropped them to the floor.

The Vulcan was definitely uncomfortable, for his legs squirmed in a subtle, but nevertheless poignant manner. Kirk could imagine the other's feeling of exposure, which the blindfold was no doubt making worse. It suddenly occurred to the human that, other than his ears, Spock had never spoken of his body in a positive manner. And though Kirk had difficulty appreciating it the way he would a woman's, he knew that there was nothing wrong with it.

He laid soothing hands on the Vulcan's sides again, then whispered, "Spock, you're trembling. Are you cold? Scared?"

The answer wasn't immediate, and Kirk watched the subtle, fleeting expressions as his friend made an internal self-analysis. The Vulcan's reply was almost meek. "I fear I am not adequate."

Cool hands reached around to the Vulcan's back, stroking gently. "You mean physically?"

"Yes."

Kirk had guessed right, and felt a mixture of sadness and tender amusement. It was funny how, with all their prior activity, they hadn't really looked at each other before. In the past, they'd never been shy about nudity in each other's presence. But, then, Spock had never been blindfolded and had himself so...exposed, either. Of course, Spock hadn't been shy during the pon farr, but the fever had ruled then. And on the planet...well, they'd been so caught up in the feelings involved that Kirk couldn't even remember what they'd done physically to bring each other to completion. It seemed like they'd hardly even touched each other, let alone looked at each other.

If this had been a one-night stand lying here, Kirk would simply say, "You're beautiful" and continue on. But Spock would see right through such platitudes, and the Vulcan was fully aware that he wasn't what Kirk sought, physically, in a sexual partner. And because the Vulcan knew that, the human deduced that that wasn't the problem. The problem was Spock's self-image in general.

So far from the brave Vulcan who steadily nudged us in this direction to begin with. It only now occurred to Kirk how much courage that had taken.

Kirk moved closer to the warm body, arms wrapping firmly around it. "In what ways are you inadequate?" he asked matter-of-factly, reaching up to gently kiss a cheek.

"I am too thin."

Arms squeezing, Kirk buried his face in the junction of Spock's neck and shoulder. "Yes, you're skinny, all right. What else?"

"My navel is too deep."

Kirk resisted the urge to look. Instead, he squeezed harder. "Go on."

"My nose is too big."

The human smiled to himself. "Yes, your nose is rather...prominent. Keep going."

"My shoulders are too narrow."

"Uh-huh."

"My feet are not well-arched."

Kirk didn't reply this time, but loosened his grip and started the scratching motions on the lean back.

"My buttocks are without shape. My lips are too thin. I have a large mole beneath my right elbow."

Kirk continued to stroke while waiting for a further cataloguing of his first officer's flaws. 

"Are you finished?" he finally asked.

Spock seemed puzzled. "You think I have left something out?"

Gently, Kirk said, "I don't think anything, Spock. All that doesn't matter to me. It only matters to you."

The human pulled back as the first officer's expression became thoughtful. The latter said, "You asked for a listing."

"Only because I thought it would be best to have it out in the open. And," Kirk added with satisfaction, "you aren't trembling anymore."

"Hmm. Yes, my concentration on the conversation seems to have overridden my prior concerns."

Very gently, Kirk took the Vulcan's face in his hands and kissed the too-thin lips. "I love you just the way you are, Spock. I don't care what you look like. I just care about how I...," his voice softened in sudden realization, "how I feel about you."

The human was anxious to put the matter behind them. "Are you still wondering why I blindfolded you?"

"Yes."

"Well, now I'm going to show you."

With that, Kirk's hands moved down to the Vulcan's rib cage. He leaned forward and fastened his mouth onto the nearest nipple. Lips sucked and tongue licked.

Spock bucked.

The human softened the force of his mouth and reached around to apply the soothing, circular motions to calm Spock. He was still sitting to one side, so the other's sudden action hadn't dislodged him. After a moment, he felt both long-fingered hands latch around his head.

Something between a whimper and a subdued, high-pitched moan escaped the Vulcan's mouth.

Kirk gently skirted his lips along the furred chest until they came to the other nipple. He licked at it, felt Spock's body explode with goose bumps, then gently began to suck.

Spock calmed, rapidly growing accustomed to the sensation. He hands were still on Kirk's head, but now their grip was less frantic, and the fingers moved in a slight motion that may have been affectionate.

That warm, sinking feeling was making its way through Kirk. The human felt like he could continue this forever. How simple it was to please his friend. How much he wanted to keep providing these enticing sensations.

Now the Vulcan's whispered voice was hesitant and unsteady. "Jim. It is becoming tender."

Kirk paused, laved the nub soothingly, then pulled back and examined the results. He was amazed at how erect the nipple had become. It was flushed green throughout the tip and around the edges. He was glad that Spock had stopped him before his good intentions actually became painful. He kissed Spock in the middle of the chest, then rested his forehead there. He hugged the other briefly to maintain the warmth between them, not wanting this encounter to become something solely physical in nature.

He'd been that route too many times before.

"Spread your legs," Kirk whispered, straightening. Spock responded mechanically, and the human caught the tremors that made their way through the thighs, as he knelt between them. He could fully relate to Spock's increased feeling of vulnerability. It wasn't that long ago that he had lain before the Vulcan, shaking legs spread, waiting for the other to apply the lubricant, avoiding looking at the swelled genitals.

Kirk looked now, openly and purposely. Spock's penis was nestled semi-erect against dark curls. It was with great relief that Kirk noted that the organ was nothing near the grotesque deformity brought about by the pon farr. It now looked rather small and delicate, and was shorter and less thick than his own. 

Nothing to be intimidated by.

More confident, Kirk kissed reverently down the middle of Spock's torso. He could feel the other's curiosity, but the other's genitals were softening with each passing second, and it dawned on Kirk that the Vulcan really had no idea what was coming.

That made him all the more determined to make sure Spock enjoyed this.

He gazed at the exposed area a moment, hands resting on the sinewy thighs, determining how best to begin. He was still a little unsure of his ability to please a male, though he realized that uncertainty was from emotional insecurity, rather than any true lack on his part.

Finally, he bent to it, gently licking the shaft.

Spock jolted, a gasp of surprise filtering from his mouth.

After a pause, Kirk continued to lick. Like a cat cleansing itself, he diligently moved along the top of the phallus, then ducked his tongue beneath it, laving with a patient, consistent rhythm.

Spock's legs shifted. "Jim...."

Kirk started down into the scrotum. "Hmm?"

A strained whisper. "What do I do?"

Puzzled, Kirk raised up. The green-tinged penis was almost fully erect, bobbing in the air. One glance at Spock's face showed the Vulcan was finding the feeling nearly unbearable. Soothingly, the human said, "Don't do anything. I'll take care of it."

Then, swallowing his apprehension, he bent and closed his lips over the head. There was another jolt from the Vulcan, but Kirk held firm and moved his throat muscles in a manner he hoped was similar to what female partners had done to him. As he sucked, he swallowed down the small drop of pre-ejaculate fluid and shivered at the bitterness.

Still sucking, he reached for the towel from the nightstand. He didn't think he could bear to swallow any more of the fluid. As an adolescent, he'd sampled his own semen a number of times and found it to be distasteful. He didn't understand how women could be so fond of it.

Spock started groaning from deep within his chest, arms and legs moving restlessly about the bed. Finally, his hands settled on Kirk's shoulders. The human thought that climax was near. He drew back and quickly replaced his mouth with his hand, and began pumping furiously.

Spock arched into it, lean muscles straining throughout his body, chest heaving with a subdued, inarticulate gasp/cry.

Just when Kirk's hand became weary, the human detected a final surge within the organ he held. Then a stream of creamy fluid burst forth.

He quickly grabbed the towel and held it before the spurting phallus. Gently, he loosely enclosed the organ with the cloth, then glanced up to watch Spock fall back against the pillows, gasping for breath.

Kirk dabbed minutely at the shrinking member, then wiped up stray drops of semen. He dropped the towel to the floor, then scooted up to Spock. Settling himself next to the Vulcan, he gently pulled at the blindfold, urging it upwards. When it was past the forehead, it was loose enough to pull off in one motion. He tossed it to the nightstand.

Spock's breathing had calmed, and, after blinking a few times, he looked at Kirk with a relaxed, tender expression.

Kirk leaned forward and embraced Spock. Smiling, he rested his head against the top of the other's shoulder and whispered, "Did you enjoy that?"

There was no verbal reply. Instead, he felt Spock snuggle closer. Then sharp teeth gently bit the skin of his neck and pulled, stopping the motion when it threatened to become painful.

As soon as the teeth released him, Kirk pulled back and looked into the soft eyes. Curiously, he asked, "Is that a 'thank you'?"

The other nodded. "It is an instinctive reaction when another has provided physical sensations of pleasure."

With wonder, the human said, "During your pon farr...the last time we joined, you did that." He watched the other lower his eyes in acknowledgement. "Then, that last time, you did enjoy it, didn't you? At least a little bit?" he added hopefully.

Spock took a deep breath. "Yes. The pon farr had started to wane. I was not aware of it until we were actually in the act of...coitus." Eyes darted away in embarrassment. "As I said, the gesture of appreciation is instinctive. I performed it without thought. I was hoping you would not notice, as I was unwilling to discuss it."

"You mean, because you were ashamed that you'd enjoyed it?"

The Vulcan nodded reluctantly. "I did not deserve the pleasure when you had suffered so greatly in providing it."

Kirk settled into a sitting position. "Well, I admit that when it occurred to me that that little gesture may have signified pleasure, for a moment, I was angry—that you had taken pleasure from something that I couldn't share in. But it was only a moment. Because the thing that had bothered me most about the pon farr was that it was all so painful for you. I kept wishing that you could find some sort of enjoyment in it, no matter how fleeting." He paused thoughtfully. "It was like we'd had some sort of...of  'agreement' that neither of us was going to enjoy anything about the pon farr, and for a moment it seemed you had violated that." Kirk looked away. "Silly of me to have felt that way."

"But human."

Timidly, Kirk said, "I wonder if what we're doing now will help the next time...with your Mating Time. Make it easier."

"It is logical to assume that there will not be as much anxiety concerning the act. However, nothing can change the fact that it is physically painful."

Kirk was silent, deciding that he really didn't want to discuss that right now. He was feeling too wonderful. Kneeling and leaning toward Spock, he planted his mouth on the Vulcan's, gradually increasing the pressure, determined to maintain the contact as long as possible.

There were murmured "Mmm's from both men just before they broke apart.

Kirk smiled tenderly and whispered, "You like this kissing stuff, don't you?"

"Yes. Perhaps that act alone could have made the Mating Time more bearable—for both of us."

Kirk made a noise of agreement, then was upon the thin lips once again. He put his arms around Spock to steady himself as that sinking feeling set in again. Warm hands skirted along his chest, then brushed down the center to the waist of his pants.

Spock breathed deeply when they broke away, then whispered, "May I?"

Kirk renewed the contact, nodding against the other's mouth, legs shifting to make himself more accessible. The warm fingers deftly unfastened the snap to his jeans, then encouraged the two hems apart. The human arched up, trembling with arousal, making it easier for the other to push the jeans and briefs over his hips and down his thighs.

At that point they broke apart yet again, and Kirk sat back on the bed to remove them the rest of the way. Once free of all garments, he sought the Vulcan's mouth again, and his erection poked against the other's stomach.

They drew apart a final time, both breathing heavily. Kirk's eyes were slitted in arousal, and he wasn't sure what Spock was doing when he felt the other shifting. When his vision returned enough for him to see clearly, he found the Vulcan completing the motion of rolling onto his stomach. 

Kirk's arousal took a nosedive, as he was chilled by what the other was expecting from him...or asking. "Spock. No."

The other was looking back, and reasonably asked, "You will not find it enjoyable?"

Kirk glanced at the shapeless buttocks. Hidden in between that crevice was an opening that could envelope him in warm tightness....

His voice was unsteady and his eyes pleading as they returned to the Vulcan's face. "Spock, I can't. I can't."

The Vulcan looked meaningfully at the protrusion between the human's legs.

Kirk leaned close to his friend's shoulder. "Don't you understand?" he demanded gruffly. "I can't do that to you. I can't hurt you like that." I can't hurt you like you hurt me.

Spock's tone was still very even. "Surely, it is not always a painful process. It is my understanding that some male homosexual couples engage in it regularly. And do not some heterosexual couples also perform the act?"

Helplessly, Kirk whispered, "I can't do that to you."

"I did not think it was something that one 'did' to another. I was under the impression that intercourse is something lovers do together."

Kirk closed his eyes in disbelief. If Spock was so naive about sex, then why was he choosing now to be so wise about it? The human's jaw firmed. Or, does it have something to do with guilt? Is this Spock's way of letting me get 'revenge' for the physical pain he caused me?

No, that didn't sound right. And, Kirk recalled, it had been important to him earlier (so long ago, it seemed) when he thought it would be best to let Spock assume the initiative and take them as far as he wanted to go.

Well, this is how far the Vulcan wanted to go.

And the funny thing was, the idea of fucking Spock was something that hadn't even reached Kirk's consciousness. He'd been too worried about protecting his own ass.

Spock's voice was soothing. "Jim, if you truly do not wish to do it, I will withdraw the suggestion."

The human shook his head, voice steady. "No. We'll do it, Spock." He smiled tenderly. "You just surprised me, that's all. I didn’t expect you to want to go this far, so soon."

Amiably, the other asked, "Is there a reason for waiting?"

If there was, Kirk couldn't think of it right then. He moved off the bed. "I'll get the cream."

He returned from the bathroom a moment later with a plastic tube in hand and halted beside the bed, studying the vulnerable-looking form lying prone upon it. He reviewed his knowledge of what they were about to do, and of his prior experiences. "Spock, I want you to get on your side, facing away from me. That position will make it easiest."

He waited until the Vulcan obeyed, then knelt behind him. Now that he accepted what they were going to do, Kirk was determined to make it as enjoyable as possible.

While working with the lid of the tube, the human whispered, "You've never done anything like this before, have you?"

"If you are referring to being the recipient during intercourse, no, I have not."

Virgin. Not just in this, but the whole idea of sex, of giving of himself so intimately to another. He's like a new little package, and he's only willing to be opened by me.

What a responsibility that was. And what a tremendous compliment. The captain had never viewed their situation that way before, and felt a twinge of destiny as he considered the implications. Spock. The finest person Kirk had ever known. And he would allow himself to share intimacy and closeness only with Kirk.

The human swallowed down the tightness in his throat. He hadn't asked for this, but it was being presented to him. And only a fool would turn away such a gift.

He lowered coated fingers to the crevice between the buttocks, and thought it funny that, with all they had experienced together, he still felt apprehensive about touching Spock in such a private place, in such an intimate manner.

Kirk tried to use conversation as a distraction. With his free hand, he brushed along the bangs lying against the Vulcan's forehead. "I think the cream is going to feel a little cold to you. Sorry."

"It is of little consequence."

Kirk touched the wrinkled opening, then spent a moment stroking it. He positioned himself parallel behind Spock, wriggling to get comfortable, then pushed the finger in. The digit was engulfed in the snug heat, and his penis throbbed with envy.

He made undulating motions with the finger, moving it in and out, then gradually worked it in further. When Spock's body became pliant, Kirk circled the finger around, at the same time continuing with the in-and-out motion. Then he withdrew it and slid back to apply more cream. As he did so, he glanced over the Vulcan's pelvis and saw that Spock's organ was twitching from the stimulation. Kirk thought about helping it along manually, then discarded the idea. His own experience had shown him that the pain of penetration would render the effort futile.

Spock's eyes were closed, expression serene. Kirk sensed that the Vulcan had withdrawn into himself, experiencing whatever sensations he was deriving in a manner than was uniquely the Vulcan's own. He knew that Spock was accustomed to undergoing new experiences in an isolated manner. The idea of sharing was still something new to him. And, Kirk supposed, it was likely that because Spock had spent so many years in solitude—and had learned to adjust to it—that there were some things that could only be experienced that way by the Vulcan.

Kirk gently re-inserted the first finger. After a brief circling, he felt around with a second finger, then pushed it in.

"Okay?" he whispered, needing some form a communication for reassurance.

The other nodded. Eyes still closed, the Vulcan said, "What you are doing is pleasing."

Kirk smiled, glad that the other at least found this part pleasant. He didn't have much hope for the rest. Even when he had experimented with dildos, the excitement had been more mental than physical. Kirk suspected the same was true with many of the women he had done this with. They'd never been able to climax from it unless his hands had been busy on the other side of their bodies.

The human continued working with the fingers, feeling that the muscle had become as pliant as it was going to get, and his penis hardened with the knowledge that it was soon to get its turn. Withdrawing the fingers, he sat up partway on one hip, then picked up the lubricant and squirted a stream of the substance along the top of his phallus. Then he tossed the tube aside and spread the cream all about the shaft, directing an extra portion to the head.

Kirk was highly aroused and took a deep, steadying breath. Then, for distraction, he placed a hand on the middle of Spock's back, let it rest there a moment, then gently moved it around. It traveled up the spine, then skirted from one shoulder to the next.

Kirk put his other hand on Spock's thigh, pushing it forward, then moved close to a pointed ear. Voice a whisper, but very firm, he said, "For godssakes, if it hurts too much, tell me to stop. I can control myself."

The Vulcan nodded, but Kirk knew the other wasn't expecting to have to resort to such tactics.

Kirk slid back, making himself parallel once again with the Vulcan's body, and positioned his erection between the narrow buttocks. It poked around until the head found the yielding spot.

"Ready?" Kirk breathed, finding himself still wanting to resort to the comfort of conversation.

"Yes."

"Try not to fight me."

"Understood."

Kirk thrust forward and felt the tight muscle enclose over the sensitive head. The hot, tight, moist sensation was so overwhelming that, for a moment, he thought he might come.

He froze in place, breath labored, fearing both pre-ejaculation and hurting Spock. The Vulcan's body had tensed only slightly at the first penetration. Kirk waited until it relaxed again.

"Okay?" he gasped.

"You may continue." Despite the precise words, the other's voice also had a breathless quality.

Kirk pulled out slightly, then pushed firmly, feeling himself go in a little further. He repeated the motion several more times—pulling back a little, then pushing in more—until he was as ensheathed as the side-by-side position would allow.

The moist walls were so warm and snug that it was unlike anything the human had ever known. "Don't move," Kirk gasped/pleaded, "please don't move." The slightest motion would send him over the edge.

He lay still, trying to will the impending orgasm away. It had been so long since he'd tried to go slow. He usually dived into his paid companions with a desperate tension that demanded release. Now, Kirk pushed away the melancholy that asked why he had gone without this kind of joining for so long.

Finally, it appeared to be conquered. The hovering sensation took a back seat to his conscious thoughts. In a near whimper, he said, "Damn, Spock, you feel good."

There was no response from the other, and Kirk raised up on an arm. Thrusting off the leg lying on the bed, he very slowly began to undulate back and forth. He glanced at Spock's groin, watching the penis that had, as predicted, fallen into a relaxed state. But, after a minute of the small motions, he heard a small grunt from the Vulcan. And it wasn't a sound of pain.

Intrigued, Kirk slowed the motion, then watched the Vulcan's face, the eyes of which were still closed. The other now had a look of concentration, and whenever Kirk withdrew a certain length, Spock's face would reflect anticipation, and when Kirk then pushed in, the Vulcan's lips would part.

Kirk experimented further, and when confident he knew what it was that was pleasing Spock, he timed his question with a thrust and whispered, "You...like...that...don't you?"

Spock raised his head, eyes opening partway. "Yes," he gasped as another thrust jolted him. Then he rasped, "Jim, it is most stimulating when you thrust forward instead of up."

Eager to please, Kirk shifted in preparation to comply. Though the difference was subtle, he knew what Spock was talking about and placed a steadying hand on the Vulcan's hip to hold the other immobile while he arched his back to drive more from front-to-back, than from down-to-up.

Spock grunted deeply, organ twitching from the stimulation.

Kirk thought about grabbing it, but then abandoned the thought. He didn't want to start something he wasn't going to be able to finish, and the sensations within his own body had built back up to a powerful level, threatening to spill over.

Instead, he reached around Spock and grabbed the Vulcan's hands with his own, introducing a more gentle form of contact to complement their coupling. Then, wanting desperately to let the Vulcan know how much pleasure he was getting from this, Kirk inched up the other's back until his mouth could reach the lean neck.

He stilled his thrusts just long enough to gently bite the skin there, then pull at it with his teeth.

After releasing the skin, he abandoned himself to his body. Thrusting forcefully, it let the crescendo build, then—remembering his partner's sensitive hearing—buried his face in the Vulcan's back and cried out as release took him.

He wasn't sure how long it was that he floated, sprawled partially on top and partially behind the Vulcan. But eventually, his gasping chest almost painful, he was lured into alertness. He kissed behind a pointed ear and whispered, "Thank you." Then, carefully, he rolled away, slipping from the other's body, and grabbed the towel from the nightstand.

Lithely, Spock turned over so that he was also on his back. Though still partially erect, his expression radiated peace and satisfaction.

Kirk moved closer, their limbs entwining loosely. He gazed up into the other's soft eyes and tenderly said, "That's the best loving I've had in...in I don't know how long. You've no idea what it felt like; it was unbelievable."

The other replied, "Though I may not have experienced the exact sensations, I do have an understanding of the sensations that claimed you, as your sense of satisfaction and contentment was being broadcast rather strongly...and still is."

"Do you mind?" Kirk asked gently.

The Vulcan's face softened. "No."

They lay quietly for a few minutes. Then Kirk, his thinking capabilities recovering with his breath, furrowed his brows and said, "You were actually enjoying some of that, weren't you?"

"Yes. The friction against the prostate was unlike anything I have ever experienced." The Vulcan paused, then with puzzlement asked, "Is it so difficult to believe?"

Kirk shrugged. "I just remember what it was like for me."

"You must keep in mind that the swollen state of my genitals allowed for little other than pain...for both of us."

"I know," the human relented softly. "But even when I've used artificial devices, it hasn't really been...well, it hasn't been like what it seemed to feel like to you."

The Vulcan's expression grew thoughtful. After a moment, he said, "Jim, I believe I can manually recreate the sensations within you, if you would truly like to know what my body felt. With your permission, of course."

Kirk lay gazing at the other. Manual1y...read 'with fingers'. He was used to having fingers up his ass. And Spock no longer threatened him. He now felt totally ridiculous about what he'd told Spock earlier...about not touching his ass.

The strong legs spread.

Spock got on his knees, found the tube of lubricant, and positioned himself between the sated limbs. With a determined expression, he made little fuss of applying a helping of cream to his fingers.

"Don't be too careful," Kirk told him. "I'm so relaxed now, I couldn't fight you if I wanted to." He bent his knees as Spock moved closer. The Vulcan placed a steadying hand on his stomach, then lowered his other hand until it disappeared beneath the human's pelvis.

Kirk felt a long finger slip inside. Other than the slight sensation of a fingernail, the invasion was hardly noticed by the accepting muscles. His gaze went from his groin to the Vulcan's face. There, he found an expression of intense concentration.

The finger moved around, stroking Kirk's insides. Some touches were felt more strongly than others, and the human let the shifting of his body and his facial muscles indicate pleasure or indifference.

Expression deadly serious, but satisfied, Spock stroked one particular spot and said, "It is most pleasant there, is it not?"

Kirk nodded quickly, breath shallow. "Ghod, yes," he gasped. He'd never felt anything like it.

The Vulcan continued to stroke. Then he drew the finger back, giving Kirk a breather, then inserted two fingers. After a moment of searching, he found the spot again.

"Ghoood, Spock. Ghod."

"You understand now why I found it pleasurable?" the Vulcan asked reasonably.

Kirk could only manage a nod, not believing how the sensations from that one area could spread throughout his entire body.

The Vulcan continued, "I believe the sensation is superior when a penis is used, rather than fingers. A penis covers more area, its bluntness is more pleasing, and the sensation of fullness...," the Vulcan suddenly swallowed, realizing he had gone from the medically objective to the personal, "...is quite pleasing, as well."

Kirk couldn't reply. He closed his eyes, not wanting the exquisite feeling to end.

Spock placed a hand beneath his lower back, then lifted the human. Suddenly, the sensations intensified as the fingers pressed more firmly against the wall behind sensitive testes.

"Jeezus. Ghod. Ghod." Kirk warned, "You're going to get me started again."

Gently, he was lowered back to the bed, and the fingers were removed, leaving him with a sensation of emptiness. Kirk opened his eyes and looked into the soft brown ones that regarded him with satisfaction.

"You have only five point eight-one hours before you must be on the bridge," Spock said as explanation.

Kirk glanced at the chronometer. It was late, all right. Though a part of him was disappointed that the sensations had been halted so abruptly, the reasonable part of him knew he'd already received more than enough satisfaction for one evening.

More than I've had in a long, long time....

He watched Spock wipe off delicate fingers with the towel. Kirk felt that he was still being affected by the afterglow from the earlier orgasm. He felt so at peace and full of...love.

He heard Spock say, "I will be pleased to provide you with those sensations whenever you wish it."

Kirk studied the Vulcan who still knelt between his legs. Spock's expression was also peaceful. The human laid a hand on the other's stomach. Slowly, he moved it up to the chest, examining the feel of hair against fingers and palm.

This being with all this hair, this flatness of chest, those wonderful pointed ears...slanted eyebrows. Shapeless butt. Kirk almost giggled out loud, then sobered. My deepest innermost sanctuary, is he. My protector. All that is safe and secure is tied up in him.

How delicious these sensations were that claimed him....

"Oh, shit." The words were out before Kirk realized he'd spoken. His hand froze in motion, then dropped limply to the bed.

"Jim?" Spock questioned worriedly.

Kirk quickly resumed contact with Spock, this time placing his hand on the Vulcan's thigh, stroking in a brief, soothing gesture. He looked into the dark, concerned eyes with sweet despair. "Oh, Spock. I can't believe it."

"Jim, what is it?"

Kirk almost laughed, glancing at the ceiling. "I just realized something."

"What?"

Kirk looked back at those wonderful brown eyes and smiled tenderly. "I'm in love with you."

The other blinked. Carefully, he reminded, "You have already said that you love me." 

Now, Kirk placed both hands on either side of the Vulcan's waist. "I know. But loving and being in love are two different things, my friend. An ancient Earth poet once said that being in love is an insanity." He nodded. "I think I know what he means."

Spock prodded, "You do not seem displeased...?"

Kirk shook his head, still smiling. "This is the most wonderful feeling in the world, Spock. And the scariest." He expected the other to request elaboration on that second statement, but when no such prompting came, Kirk realized it was because the Vulcan understood. Softly, he said, "It's frightening for you, too, isn't it?"

The other lowered his gaze, nodding. "I had thought it was because I had never experienced the sensation before."

The human shook his head again. "It never gets easier, Spock."

"I will have to trust your judgment, as there will not be a second time for me." The statement was spoken in a level tone, but the words were not to be argued with.

Was there any end to this sinking feeling? Kirk was beginning to think there wasn't. It seemed as though it had been going on all night, all week, all.... Ever since...on the planet....

"Spock." He waited until the Vulcan met his gaze. "You know, I can even remember when it happened, when it changed from love to love. For me, I mean."

"When?" the other prompted with quiet curiosity.

"On the planet. After we'd both swam in the lake. When we were sitting by the fire and you came up to me. You asked me if I felt like I needed to talk about...about what had happened."

The Vulcan nodded. "I remember."

Voice full of wonder, the human whispered, "That's when it changed, Spock. After you walked away, I thought I was going to melt right then and there...all over the rock I was sitting on."

An eyebrow arched. "Melt?"

Kirk grinned. "Yeah. It was like afterglow, only...softer, yet more intense. I was so at peace that I felt like I didn't have a care in the universe."

The Vulcan contemplated that for a moment. Then, "Interesting. I believe I was feeling much the same myself. That is why I was particularly anxious to meditate. I needed to define what was happening to me, and place it in the proper perspective."

"And?"

"I re-acknowledged your importance to my existence. I accepted what had happened between us as a logical development in light of our mutual desires. I recognized that I would be agreeable—even hopeful—if our relationship would grow further into areas of sexuality and expressions of affection. I knew that my feelings fit the human definition of love." The voice and expression were suddenly shy. "I did not consider the further concept of being 'in love'."

"How could you? You had no reference point."

"Indeed. Though I had, of course, heard of the expression amongst humans—and have seen it happen to you—I did not consider it in terms of my own experience."

Kirk began to lightly run his hands up and down the Vulcan's sides. "You know, Spock, as you said, I have been in love before, but those experiences have all been different from this." He chuckled softly. "We've gone about this all backwards, my friend."

"Backwards?"

"That's right. Always before, I've fallen in love with the outside of a person first. You know, how they, look, how they smell, how they feel when I touch them. And when that happens, all you can do is hope that, eventually, you'll come to love the person inside, too, or the relationship doesn't have anything to fall back on—no foundation to support it. With you, I never gave the outside of you any thought, except your ears," he added with a chuckle, "and I learned to respect, like, then love you because of all the wonderful, individual qualities you possess." Kirk brought both hands to Spock's stomach and slowly moved them up to the Vulcan's chest. "Only very recently have I even noticed the exterior part of you." Hands brushed across nipples. "And, now, I find myself liking everything about you."

With rough gentleness, Spock said, "I have always liked everything about you."

Kirk swallowed, unable to speak without changing the subject. "Are you going to sleep here?"

"I made the assumption that you would be agreeable to it."

Kirk smiled, heart thudding happily. "I'm most agreeable, Spock." He finally moved, shifting on the bed to sort out the covers, straighten the pillow, wave off the lights, and toss to the floor the towel and lubricant. Then he settled back and looked at Spock while patting his own shoulder. "Will you sleep here?" he asked in a hopeful, little boy's voice.

In reply, Spock carefully lowered himself next to Kirk, then rolled forward to lie partially on top of the other man, head resting in the desired spot on Kirk's shoulder.

The human put his arms around the lean form. "Good. I like this." Ghod, do I like this. Spock, sleeping right here in my arms. One of the most respected people in all of Starfleet...all curled up and ready to sleep.

Would this feeling of love ever go away? He'd never known it to be so strong.

Within twenty minutes Kirk was certain that Spock was asleep. For himself, the only rest he got was provided by dozing off and on. He was too excited to succumb to slumber; this precious time was not to be wasted with a mind in a state of unconsciousness.

One of the thoughts that occurred to him concerned McCoy. He knew that, in the coming days, he would have to confront the doctor's questions and curiosity. At the moment, he wasn't sure how to answer those probes. But he did smile at one possible response: "Yeah, Bones, Spock and I have been seeing each other every night. It couldn't be better. He holds me and hugs me and sticks his fingers up my ass. I'm the happiest man in the universe."

Kirk chuckled softly. He still was not certain of their future, but they were both sure to enjoy the search for the path that would take them there. 

 

FRIENDS FIRST

 

Dressed and ready for duty, Spock stood in front of the small mirror that hung over the bureau in his quarters. He did not have to be on the bridge for another twelve point two-eight minutes. Though he often arrived before it was necessary, on this particular morning he felt compelled to study his reflection for the time remaining.

I am not the same person, he decided. Mere months ago, he would never have predicted that life could have changed so drastically within a matter of weeks, forcing re-evaluation of all things that were important to him, all things that gave life meaning.

Even physically, the image before him now was different than the image that used to rest there. It was difficult to place exactly where the changes were. Perhaps it was that the lines of his face were slightly deeper, or that the eyes were slightly wiser, or that the hair was clipped slightly less precisely than in the past. Maturity. That could be part of it. The Vulcan half even felt different—more accepting, more confident.

How ironic...considering how free the human part was, compared to in his past life.

And all because of Jim.

Spock closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath for strength. He had put so much pride in his Vulcan independence, always meeting his own needs. By necessity of hybrid genealogy, he had learned to condone solitude. Now, some part was shaken to the core.

He was dependent on Jim.

No, not his existence. Not his ability to breathe and move and perform the other physiological processes necessary for survival. But in what the humans would call 'heart'. In his soul, which had lain dormant for so long. Because of his association with Kirk, his two halves were becoming integrated. But if Kirk were in some way removed from his life, or placed at a distance, either physically or figuratively, then that tender soul would be shattered. Like the pieces of a broken mirror.

That was how much he was dependent on Kirk. It was the most frightening feeling Spock had ever known...and the most exhilarating. Any future suffering he may have to endure because of their relationship could not possibly take away from the joy he'd experienced these past days, ever since...that time on the planet. That spontaneous act known as making love. The gentleness. The tenderness. The caring.

And the events that had followed since being returned to the ship were even more joyous. Yes, if he were to die now, by some quirk of fate, it could be said that he was happy. It was not a concept that Vulcans recognized, but it was one that Spock did. And he refused to feel guilty.

I journeyed to space to gain knowledge for the benefit of the sciences. My need to know and learn sent me into an occupation that guaranteed a lifetime of discovery.

Spock had never expected that exploration to apply so personally. He had never expected to discover...himself.

"You are very special to me. Unique. Don't you ever think otherwise." Kirk's words. For him.

Their friendship was solid. It would take a great catastrophe to weaken it. But the other...the new, sexual aspect, had a more fragile foundation. Despite the evening they had spent together last night, Spock knew that Kirk was still sorting through his feelings regarding their new relationship. Though Kirk's love was genuine and sincere, Spock wondered if the other would eventually grow tired of him as a companion in bed. His observations of the human's previous conquests had shown that Kirk preferred lively, smiling, beautiful, extroverted partners.

Spock knew he was nothing like that.

Moving to the sleeping alcove, he studied the bed that had not been slept in and wondered how long it would be before it was used again. When they had awakened in Kirk's cabin earlier this morning, the human said he would alert ships' stores that he wanted a double bed for his quarters installed as quickly as possible. They had discussed it and agreed it would be too suspicious if they both asked for double beds. Since the bed was being installed in the captain's cabin, then that is where they would be spending their nights if they wanted to be together. Kirk had said, "That way, your cabin will be entirely your own, and I know how important it is to you to have a certain amount of privacy."

Spock appreciated that solitude. As much as he enjoyed Kirk's company, the thought of them both performing their morning rituals and dressing together had made the Vulcan uncomfortable—not that Kirk had even suggested it. They had talked about the bed, kissed, then departed to their individuals bathrooms, the door closing between them. Spock had been grateful to be left to his own thoughts, so he could analyze all that had happened the past twenty four hours.

Yet, he found himself more interested in the future than the past, even the very recent past.

It suddenly occurred to him that he had become an optimist. It was not a logical mental state, but one he was determined to enjoy as long as it lasted.

Spock's inner time sense beckoned. He turned from the bed and left for the bridge.

* * * * *

He never quite made it. While in the turbolift, he was summoned by the captain, along with the other senior officers, and ordered to report to briefing room seven. Spock gave the lift the new direction and wondered at the summons. Obviously, new orders had come in since he and Kirk had woken entwined in each other's arms, as the human had made no mention of a briefing.

Scott, Sulu, and Uhura were waiting along with Kirk when Spock arrived. He nodded to the captain, noting the glowing of the other's face as the human nodded back with a soft smile, meeting the Vulcan's eye. Spock took his seat. They were still waiting for McCoy and Chekov.

For someone who had admitted to not getting much sleep the previous night, Kirk seemed well-rested. If nothing else, Spock knew, the captain's body was sated. Only hours ago, he'd had his fingers inside that body, stroking it internally until Kirk groaned with pleasure.

McCoy entered, grumbling, "What's up, Jim?" The doctor looked haggard, an expression that Spock was all too familiar with. While he and Kirk had pleasured each other, McCoy had most likely had a bottle for companionship. For the first time, Spock found himself wondering how the doctor had ever become so lonely. In some ways, the physician's loneliness seemed more profound that what Kirk or he had ever endured.

"You'll know in a minute," the captain replied, glancing around in annoyance. "Where's Chekov?"

Just then the ensign walked through the door. He rushed to a vacant chair and sat down.

Kirk leaned forward and inserted a tape into the viewer at the center of the table. He switched it on and an image of a being with bluish skin and a pentagon-shaped head appeared. 

A chill raced through Spock, and the Vulcan subdued it as quickly as possible, forcing down the threatening surge of emotion. He concentrated on what Kirk was saying.

"...less than twenty minutes ago by Commodore Mendez. The Nindans—the race of beings responsible for abducting Mr. Spock and myself two weeks ago—have asked for Starfleet's assistance with their food shortage problem. Starfleet told them that they would consider assisting them, but not without two agreements. The first required the Nindans to confess to the Klingons that they, and not the Federation, were responsible for the destruction of Admiral Kulitan's fleet. The Nindans have already done this, though it appears the Klingons are skeptical about believing them. Secondly, Starfleet has asked for the Nindans to meet with Federation representatives so that we may learn more about each other. We believe that the Nindans may have powerful weapons that could be threatening to Starfleet—and also useful if a trade could be worked out. In return, it's possible that the Nindans may meet our criteria for membership. In any case, they are agreeable to a meeting. Their representative will be General Margrar, who appears on the screen before you, and who is their most respected military leader."

Spock studied the being, mask firmly in place. He saw Kirk glance at him as the human continued.

"General Margrar has insisted that the Enterprise be the ship that escorts him to Placis, where he will meet with delegates and scientists from other Federation planets. There, they will discuss how to assist with the starvation problem."

When it was obvious Kirk was finished, McCoy said, "I don’t like this at all, Jim. Why did Margrar specifically request the Enterprise as their escort?"

"Because I'm her captain," Kirk replied. "I'm the only human Margrar knows. For reasons I don't quite understand myself, he trusts me."

"I don't know, Jim, this man is dangerous. He tried to kill Spock!"

The Vulcan fought a flinch. Kirk looked at him, then turned back to the doctor. "It was an act of ignorance, Bones. He later said he was sorry."

"And you believed him?"

Kirk shrugged. "I didn't have much choice. Those were desperate people, Bones. They were starving. They still are. And they need our help."

Spock cleared his throat softly before asking, "Will General Margrar be alone?"

"He'll have two aides."

Sulu broke in. "Don't they eat stuff that is entirely different from what other Federation species eat?"

"That’s right," McCoy replied before Kirk could answer. "What are we going to feed them while they're here?"

"They're going to bring along their own food for the three of them. As for solving their long-term problem, that's the main thing that will be discussed with the other representatives. We've got to find out where we can grow their food—or manufacture it, or whatever it is they do—if we're going to help them. Apparently, they're committed to a complete exchange of information. Bones, you'll be able to examine them when they come aboard, so you can find out all you can physiologically."

"Where will we be picking them up?" Scotty asked.

"Stiven. It's the planet closest to both our territories."

The engineer shook his head. "I do not like it, Captain."

"I don't either, Jim," McCoy said. "What's to prevent them from ambushing us the way they did the Klingons?"

Kirk shrugged. "What possible reason would they have? They need our help. Granted, their culture differs greatly from ours, but it would be hypocritical of us to turn our backs on them for that reason. Margrar is trying to make a show of faith by putting himself in our—in my—hands. We've got to return that trust." When there were no other comments, the human looked at Spock and asked, "What's our ETA to Stiven at warp four?"

"Twenty eight point three-four hours." Spock replied after a moment's calculation. "At the same speed, it will be another two point four days until we reach Placis."

"That puts us there a day before the conference is to start." Kirk turned to the helmsman. “Mr. Sulu, when you get to the bridge, plot a course for Stiven and proceed there at warp two."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk looked about the table. "Any other comments, gentlemen?" There was silence. "Dismissed."

Spock watched the others file out. When he stood, he wasn't surprised to hear Kirk's soft, "Wait, Spock."

Spock watched the last man leave the room before turning to face his commander. He arched an eyebrow. "Captain?" Though they were on duty, it seemed peculiar to call this special person by that title while the two of them were alone.

Kirk presented a faint smile as he met the Vulcan's eye. "Do you think we can trust Margrar?"

"As you pointed out, there is little reason not to. Also, you are in a better position than I to judge his sincerity."

The human nodded with a distant expression. "On that planet, I thought he was the coldest, murdering sonofabitch I'd ever met. But I could see his desperation to save his people." Kirk looked away and whispered, "He did what he felt he had to do."

Spock knew what Kirk was referring to, but pointed out, "I do not think that annihilating Kulitan's fleet was necessary."

Kirk shook his head. "No. That was strictly vengeance, and I told Margrar that Starfleet wouldn't have any tolerance for it. He'll learn that there are certain attitudes the Nindans will have to change if they want to become members of the Federation. But saving their people is the first priority."

"Agreed."

They were silent a moment, then Kirk, gaze on the briefing room table, quietly said, "Spock?"

The Vulcan instinctively moved a step closer. "Yes, Captain?"

Kirk took a deep breath. "When Mendez first told me we were going to be transporting Margrar, for a moment I felt panic. And the first question that came out of my mouth was, 'Will they be allowed weapons on board?'" He met Spock's gaze sheepishly. "Silly of me, since that's standard procedure to not allow passengers to carry weapons. But, I remembered...the image of you...collapsing...." The human swallowed, trailing off. Then he said, "It still chills me to the bone."

Spock fought back a frown caused by churning emotion. The human's features reflected concern, but the Vulcan did not know how to reply.

"I asked Mendez if Margrar knew you weren't really dead," Kirk continued, studying his companion. "He said he didn't think so, since it hadn't come up in any of their conversations." The captain presented a forced smile. "You may be a bit of shock to him."

Spock merely said, "Perhaps." 

Kirk sighed. "At least he'll be on our turf. That makes me feel better about the whole thing. There's still a part of me that is outraged at what he did to you, even though I understand why he did it."

The Vulcan tried not to look uncomfortable.

Kirk stared at his first officer another moment and seemed to hesitate. Abruptly, his shoulders squared. "There's no point in rehashing this. What's done is done. Now, we've got to concentrate on helping Margrar save his people."

"Agreed." When nothing else followed, Spock determined that the conversation was finished and turned toward the door. "I will be on the bridge."

"Wait."

Spock halted, then turned.

Kirk's expression was soft again. "Spock, you're going to come to my cabin tonight...aren't you?"

A dozen responses flooded Spock's mind, all affirmative in nature. He was puzzled by the pleading in Kirk's voice and eyes. But it felt good to be so wanted. "I had intended to do so."

Kirk smiled warmly. "Good."

As Spock left the room he thought it curious they hadn't discussed any future meetings together upon awakening earlier that morning. He wondered if it was a common human custom for lovers to ask each other during the day if they were going to get together at night.

Lovers. A word that had not ever applied to him. It became apparent, as a tingle made its way through his blood stream, that he was going to experience the unexpected in a variety of ways in the weeks...months?...to come.

Life had taken on an entirely new, wonderful meaning.

* * * * *

When Spock entered Kirk's cabin later that night, the human gestured to the sleeping alcove. "The new bed is here."

Spock arched an eyebrow, moving the few steps to the threshold. "Indeed." Ships stores was usually not so efficient.

Kirk shrugged. "The rumor mill will probably heat up with all kinds of speculation." His shy smile broadened. "But I don't really care. Go on in. I'm going to pour myself a glass of wine. What would you like?"

Spock stepped into the sleeping alcove, moving around the bed that nearly took up the entire room. "If you have any fruit juice, I would like some."

"Coming right up."

Spock stood next to the bed, thinking that it looked like the one he and Kirk had used on the V.I.P. deck so many weeks ago. In fact, it was likely that it was the very same bed.

While listening to Kirk preparing refreshments, Spock pulled his outer tunic off, so he would feel less formal. Then he sat on the edge of the mattress and removed his boots. A peculiar sensation flooded his stomach, knowing—and yet not knowing—what the evening was going to bring.

Just as Spock sat back against the headboard, Kirk entered with two glasses. The human held one out across the bed. "It's that grape stuff from Trenlonin."

The Vulcan nodded. "Thank you." Sipping the flavorful juice, he watched Kirk place his own glass on the nightstand, then remove his outer clothing. The human settled on the other side of the bed, retrieving the glass.

Sitting back against the pillows, Kirk sampled his drink and began pulling off his boots, using his feet. When the boots were free he kicked them to the floor, then curled his legs beneath him, smiling warmly at his companion.

Spock returned the soft gaze, but was concerned about a degree of tension that had settled about the room. He wondered if it was simply nervousness from the newness of their intimacy, or if there were some other cause.

As though sensing the Vulcan's questions, Kirk set his wine on the night stand, then moved over to Spock and curled up into a ball at the Vulcan's side, head resting on the strong, black-clad chest. As his arms circled the thin waist, he said, "I feel a need to be close to you."

Spock set his own glass down and returned the embrace, applying moderate pressure, finding the gesture very satisfactory, and gratified that Kirk seemed to want and need it so much. Before finding Kirk on the planet, the Vulcan had never imagined the fearless captain seeking refuge in another's arms...least of all in his.

Thin lips brushed along an exposed cheek. "You are uneasy."

Kirk grunted. "Ever since I got the new orders from Mendez, I've been thinking about what happened...on the planet. I'd been able to put it out of my mind, since there was so much going on with...us..., but now that we're going to be picking up Margrar...." The human shuddered and Spock tightened the embrace. “I can't seem to stop thinking about what it was like, being imprisoned, thinking you were dead, and being able to think about nothing except you, for days. What you were to me. How senselessly you'd died. What I was going to tell your parents." Kirk paused, then gruffly whispered, "It was the most painful time of my life. I was shattered."

Spock knew no words of comfort.

They were silent for a long time. Gradually, the Vulcan became aware that Kirk was thinking intently. As illogical as it was, it seemed that Spock could almost 'feel' the synapses of the human's brain, and it increased the atmosphere of unease.

Abruptly, Kirk straightened and retrieved his wine glass, sipping from it with a distant expression. Spock took the moment to refresh his own throat.

"Spock?" Whisper-soft.

The Vulcan set his glass back down, studying the seriousness of the classic features, eyes of which were on the far wall. "Yes, Jim?"

Green-gold orbs turned to him. "You aren't being fair to me." It was not an accusation, but a statement of fact.

Heart beating powerfully, Spock experienced a sinking sensation. He did not know what he had done to prompt such a statement, but assumed the allegation was deserved. And he was deeply sorry.

The human's stare was relentless. "Do you know what I'm talking about?"

Unsteadily, Spock moved off the bed and turned away. "No." If it were not such an illogical thought, he would have been certain the human's eyes were stabbing into his back.

A sound of restless movement from the bed. "The meld, Spock." The human's tone was still without accusation, but it was confident and intense. "When you melded with me, and took away whatever thought it was I wasn't supposed to see, you still left me with...a remnant."

The Vulcan suppressed his annoyance that the subject was being brought up again. But the human was not at fault. He was. To subject another being to unsolicited mental discomfort, however minor or unintentional, was, at the very least, a crime against morality and integrity.

Emotion overpowering any possible words, Spock remained silent. 

"I tried to accept that it was too personal for you to feel comfortable discussing with me," Kirk went on reasonably, "but that feeling...of not quite being able to grab hold of some distant thought...has come back. This morning, in the briefing room. Even a few moments ago." The voice softened to a whisper. "It took me all day to figure it out. The thought you hide so preciously...it concerns the Nindans, doesn't it? Margrar."

Spock couldn't suppress the audible swallow that attempted to clear his throat. It was difficult sorting through the emotions which claimed him. Anger that Kirk had figured it out. Anger at himself for trying to deny the feeling at all, then for holding onto it so possessively when, by human standards, it was probably nothing even worth having any emotion over. Anger that he had been so transparent. Disgust with himself for having been so careless with the meld in the first place, then for having not given more credence to Kirk's problem with the 'remnant' when the human had spoken of the situation previously. Ridicule of himself for having thought he could keep it from Kirk indefinitely. And, for the Nindans, Margrar in particular, white-hot....

He heard the human rise from the bed. Fearing the other would push further, Spock sharply admitted, "Yes." The soft footsteps halted. When the silence became unbearable, Spock took the coward's way out, opting for the response that had the best chance of setting everything right again. "I beg forgiveness."

A soft sound emerged from behind him, and for an instant Spock's world collapsed when he thought the human laughing. Then he realized, with inexpressible relief, that Kirk was merely sighing with exaggeration, which was often a ploy to lighten a too-tense atmosphere.

A ploy for which Spock was very grateful.

"Forgiveness for what?" the captain pressed in an even tone. "For not being able to tell me? For leaving me with a gnawing feeling in my head? For...," voice dropping to a gentle whisper, "whatever it is that's bothering you so damn much?"

Spock felt his Adam's apple duck and resurface. "For being so careless with the meld. It is inexcusable."

"So you've said. I forgive you for that. You didn't exactly have an easy time of it yourself on that planet. Even logical minds can buckle under stress."

It was on the tip of Spock's tongue to deny the claim...vehemently. But Kirk would know it was only a screen to barricade himself from the more important matter.

Footsteps came nearer and Kirk's scent was strong. Through the corner of his eye, Spock saw the human halt beside him, facing the other direction. Then a cool arm slipped around his waist, tightening.

Anger. It appeared so abruptly—and so powerfully—that Spock could not stifle the emotion. How dare the human do this...resort to seduction to force a confession. Like a phaser bolt, Spock now understood what it meant to be manipulated...used. All that they had shared became a dirty, filthy thing, and the Vulcan thought the grief would shatter his soul into thousands of pieces. It took all available control to keep from crying out his anguish.

The arm loosened, then slid away from his waist, a hand now resting on his stomach. Spock knew he was vulnerable there; the human would sense the distress through the thin undershirt.

Apparently, Kirk chose not to speak of it. Instead, the hand left Spock's stomach, and the Vulcan felt his shoulder gripped firmly. Then the human moved a few steps away.

And, just as quickly, the anger and grief were swallowed up by relief, gratitude...and humility. How, even for a brief instant, had he stooped so low as to question Kirk...this man who held him in such high regard?

"Will you tell me...?"

"What this is all about?" the Vulcan finished in his own mind. After all they had shared, he had been foolish to ever think the answer could be otherwise. "Yes."

More soft footsteps. A chair dragged across the small room. A gentle, understanding voice. "I've got all night, if that's what it takes."

Yes, Spock acknowledged, he had been a fool. Nothing had changed. The different ways Kirk had touched Spock moments ago had been nothing more than a repetition of times past when there had only been friendship. This new aspect of their relationship had not changed that. Just as it hadn't changed the fact that Spock closed in on himself whenever confronting personal...difficulty. He realized, now, that he was using the same stance as he always did in these situations—back to Kirk, shoulders stiff, terse responses to questions asked in an effort to get Vulcan reticence to unfold.

In the metamorphosis to the new, the old had not been lost. The anchor to the past was still there.

A hand pressed his shoulder. "Will you sit?"

Spock complied. After all the effort Kirk was put through at these times, the least the first officer could do was accede to a simple request.

The human sat on the floor next to Spock's chair, knees slightly bent, arms resting across them. "Maybe this will be easier if I start." He took a deep breath, then released it. "I'll begin by saying that whenever you get like this, it's either because you're feeling strong emotion, or you're deeply ashamed of something. But usually both."

Spock lowered his eyes. After the all the years he'd served under Kirk, the first officer was no longer surprised at the other's perception where human feelings were concerned...even when they involved a certain Vulcan. "Yes," he admitted quietly, then proceeded to confess, "It has occasionally interrupted my sleep, though I have yet to succumb to dreams."

Tenderly, the human asked, "What? Emotion?"

Spock nodded, unable to fight back the shame that closed his throat.

Kirk shifted to his knees and clasped a long-fingered hand. "Emotion concerning...Margrar?" When Spock still could not meet his eye, the human whispered, "Anger?"

It was out. Spock took a deep breath, then exhaled it slowly. Gaze still averted, he replied, "I believe 'rage' would be a more applicable term."

Though the sentence had been stated calmly, the Vulcan could sense the human's surprise...and concern.

The cool hand applied pressure. "Spock..."

So much sympathy in that tone. Acceptance without judgment. Not for the first time, the Vulcan wondered why speaking of emotion to this man was so difficult. When would he learn that Kirk would not condemn him for the feelings within?

"He tried to take my life from me." The statement sounded so ridiculous that Spock hurried to elaborate. "He had no right. I had done the Nindans no harm, nor did I wish to. It does not matter that you have since told me Margrar sincerely thought he was being merciful by killing me." The deep baritone hardened on its own. "I did not need his 'mercy.'"

A cheek pressed against Spock's leg, and the Vulcan continued in a softer tone. "My life has been in danger many times previous to this, and I have never before experienced such great emotion concerning my fate. Death will claim me one day, and since one cannot pick and choose how it will occur, it is illogical to prefer one manner of death over another." He had not meant to sound so defeated when concluding, "This is something that I understand; yet, the emotion is still present."

His captured hand was traced by cool fingers. "Does that mean you want revenge against Margrar?"

Spock considered the question, and the reply was hesitant. "It is not so much vengeance as it is...that I wish him to experience the great vulnerability that is present when one finds oneself confronting death...for the mere reason of ignorance."

With compassion, Kirk said, "You know now that it was ignorance. Then, you didn't know, couldn't have known, the reason." The human ended the sentence with a tight swallow.

Spock chose not to enlighten his captain that he'd thought appearance—being 'different'—had something to do with the reason. Instead, he confessed, "I have never felt so insignificant as when I awoke in the ditch. Never before have I been confronted with the knowledge that, in the realm of all things, my life means so very little."

There was a long silence. When the human finally spoke, his voice was very tender. "In the realm of all things, all of us mean so very little...and so very much." Cool hands renewed their grip, and the silky voice dropped another octave. "In the realm of my universe, nothing...nothing...means as much as you."

Spock's insides began to dissolve, a process that was peculiarly pleasant. Yet, his voice seemed to have a mind of its own, for angry words escaped without thought. "They had no right to take me from you."

Another whisper. "No."

Kirk stood, maintaining the contact, and gently said, "I don't know what I can say that can help. Except...I understand." Fingers brushed through soft strands. "I understand why you feel...rage, and why you were too ashamed to share this with me."

It seemed that the tension was draining from the room. More serene than he had been in days, Spock noted, "I was in error to think I could keep it from you."

The stroking fingers drifted down and gently cupped a warm cheek. With irony, the captain said, "I can't help it that I care, Spock." The human sighed. "And it's a relief to know what that 'itch' in my mind was all about. I was worried about you." He shrugged sheepishly. "Besides, it sort of...hurt my feelings...that you thought you couldn't tell me."

Finally, Spock turned to meet the shining eyes. For a moment, he lost himself within their depths. He had to clear his throat in order to speak. "It was selfish for me to have disregarded your concern when you mentioned it before. I am sorry. For that. And for hurting you. It was not my intent."

Fingers brushed across the bridge of the prominent nose. "I know. Apology accepted."

The human moved away, turning toward the bed. Voice soft with amusement, he asked, "Shall we continue...?"

The confession had drained Spock, leaving tender scars. To have them healed within loving arms... "Yes." He moved to join the human. 

Moments later they were lying on the bed, sharing an embrace. The Vulcan realized that he had no wish to analyze the sensations, merely wanted to lose himself in them....

If being in love was indeed an insanity, Spock had no wish for either of them to recover.

He couldn't refrain from running a finger along one cheek. "How may I pleasure you?"

A kiss was planted on one side of a pointed chin. "However you'd like."

Spock would have preferred a firmer direction, but realized the human wanted to leave all options open, since they were still very much in a stage of discovery. He couldn't help but lower his eyes upon proposing, "I would like to do what you did to me last night. I believe the word is...fellatio?"

He received another kiss, this time on the lips, the contact lingering as Kirk nodded.

When the human broke away, Spock recaptured the cool mouth, this time extending the contact. Before, their kisses had been fairly brief. Now, the Vulcan found himself wanting to experience what he'd seen other humans do, and what he'd read about in literature on sexuality.

Floating from the sensations, Spock gently pushed on the human's chest, and Kirk gradually fell back to lie on the bed, crossways, the Vulcan following.

Even as human hands removed his shirt, Spock was aware that he had a nearly-instantaneous erection and wondered at his libido. Almost frightened of his own desire, he feared Kirk would find it intimidating—too reminiscent of the pon farr. While the shirt was pulled from his body, Spock moved against the human's leg as a warning. He was surprised when, instead of hesitation, a cool hand pressed firmly against his groin.

Physical desire shot through like a phaser blast, Spock ground into the hand, pressed his mouth more firmly against Kirk's, then realized with a mixture of surprise and terror that his entire body was trembling with arousal. Before he could stifle it, an agonized groan emerged from his chest.

Once again, human hands were there to assist. As Spock undulated against one hand, the other worked with his trousers, quickly opening them, then diving in to draw out his erection. Spock was now holding Kirk by the shoulders, and had freed their mouths so they could both draw breath.

"Go for it, Spock," the human encouraged, firmly gripping the Vulcan's shaft. The hands found a rhythm compatible with Spock's own, and the sensations along the green-tinged organ encouraged the Vulcan to abandon all thought.

Spock was not certain how much time had passed before he had recovered from the orgasm enough to reach up and gently bite Kirk on the neck. After pulling back, the Vulcan found himself looking at an expression of contentment.

Yet, Spock felt a momentary flash of guilt. "I meant to pleasure you." He was uncertain how the direction of their loving had changed so quickly.

Kirk smiled teasingly. "You're turning into a little sex fiend, you know." He made clucking noises. "My, my, you just can't help it, can you?" The expression sobered as the human held Spock's waist. "I love watching you discover sex, and being the one you're discovering it with."

Something didn't sound quite right in what Kirk said, and Spock paused a moment for reflection. Then he corrected, "Is it not also...love...that I am discovering?"

Clearly, Kirk was surprised. The human furrowed his brow, then looked at the pondering visage and whispered, "You aren't discovering love, Spock. We are."

The Vulcan turned away, as Kirk was regarding him with such intensity. But he was pulled close to the cooler body, and a smooth cheek laid against his clothed stomach, the hands on his waist moving to his back, arms pulling snug. "I love you," he whispered, then kissed the lips beneath his.

Kirk's only reaction was to smile against the thin mouth, but a wave of joy and love radiated from the human. When his lips were released, Kirk gruffly said, "Then show me, Mister."

Spock watched the legs spread beneath him, a rose-pink penis jutting from between them, waiting to be savored.

He bent to tend to it.

* * * * *

Hours later Kirk lay awake, staring into darkness. His body was sated, his heart full of affection and love for the being sleeping contently beside him.

But his thoughts were disturbed.

What's wrong with me? he demanded of himself. And received no answer.

He had felt tenderness and gentle relief when Spock had finally confessed what is was that had bothered the Vulcan. And Kirk did understand why the first officer had found it so difficult to speak of. He had never known Spock to be enraged before, and could imagine how discomfiting it must be for one who prided himself on unemotional logic and reason.

Yet, Kirk's relief at having the remnant in his mind explained was on a shallow level only. On a deeper plane, the human felt a curious and puzzling anxiety. Almost a disappointment that his reason for being angry had been taken away.

What's wrong with me? he wondered again. What kind of person am I to want an excuse to be angry at Spock?

He turned to look at his sleeping companion. Warm, tender feelings consumed him.

It has nothing to do with Spock, he finally decided. That was a relief, but still didn't provide an explanation.

What is it that's gnawing at me?

The dark, quiet room held no answers.

* * * * *

Outwardly, Spock stood at attention before the transporter pad. Immediately to his right was a pacing Kirk. Further to his right was Doctor McCoy. Engineer Scott manned the transporter.

Inside, the Vulcan felt trepidation at meeting the man who had commanded his death. For distraction, his thoughts settled on Kirk, who was clenching and unclenching his fists as they all waited for the signal from the starbase to beam up the Nindans.

How was it possible, Spock wondered, that he and Kirk could retain the illusion of normalcy, when a mere evening before he had taken the human's penis into his mouth? He had worked it between his lips, sampling its texture and flavor, marveling at its spongy feel and smooth texture. He remembered glancing up at Kirk and finding the human sprawled back on the pillows, eyes slitted in lust, groaning softly, occasionally voicing a direction or encouragement.

Spock had listened carefully, learning as much as possible from Kirk's commands and incoherent indicators of success. He'd found the entire process very enjoyable, and some unnamable warmth had spread through him when the human had placed a hand on the top of his head and let it rest there, curling cool fingers in his hair as orgasm approached. Before the final moment, Kirk had tapped Spock on the shoulder, but the Vulcan had ignored it, not understanding the significance.

He had accepted the ejaculation orally, first tasting it, then swallowing. It was unlike anything he had ever tasted before, and Spock felt a peculiar pride in having consumed the proof of the human's pleasure.

"You didn't have to do that," Kirk had said after recovering his breath.

"Do what?"

"Swallow it. That's why I was tapping you on the shoulder, to let you know I was coming."

Puzzlement consumed Spock. Surely all the literature, both fiction and non, that he'd read on the process could not have been in error. "Your prior partners have not done this?"

"Of course. But they were paid." The human shrugged. "Well, a lot of them were. I just don't want you to feel like you have to do that. I know it doesn't taste very good."

Spock had to pause a moment to think of an appropriate answer. "While semen is not something I would consider consuming merely for its aesthetic qualities to the taste buds, it seems that the act would not be complete without its acceptance." He was thoughtful a moment. "It was...exciting, in a way I do not entirely understand." Looking up at Kirk, he amended, "However, if you wish me not to...."

"No, no, it's okay," the human reassured quickly. "I love having it swallowed. I just don't like...," he shrugged, voice guilty, "You know, I  didn't swallow yours because I thought it would taste bad."

It wasn't until that moment that Spock realized Kirk hadn't swallowed his ejaculation the previous evening. The Vulcan had been so consumed by the physical sensations that the 'peripherals' had escaped his attention. "It is not important," he finally replied.

"I guess not," Kirk acknowledged softly, then smiled. "But it is less messy when it's swallowed."

"Indeed."

"Energizing now, sir," came Scotty's voice.

Spock returned his attention to the matter at hand, astonished that he'd allowed himself the human pastime of 'day dreaming'. It had been a common occurrence every since he and Kirk had returned from the planet. Self-reprimands had not worked. He wondered what would, and the mere thought steered him into another fantasy....

"Captain, I regret to inform you that we must terminate the sexual aspect of our relationship. I am finding that my concentration is not fully on my duties, as they are instead on you and our 'activities'. This situation must not be allowed to continue."

The human's voice would be soft and breathy, as he whispered, "That's merely a symptom of being in love, Spock; and that's why it must continue." And the human would smile that very special, warm smile.

Spock fought to restrain his own smile as three beings began to materialize on the transporter platform. Yes, it must continue....

He did not have to command himself to return to reality. The formation of the beings with the pentagon-shaped heads were more effective than a self-scolding would have been. But it was only after he'd studied them a moment that he recognized which one was Margrar, and  only because the general's face looked so worn and drawn.

Kirk stepped forward and bowed. "General Margrar, welcome aboard the Enterprise.

The alien bowed in return. "Captain Kirk. I am grateful that you are allowing my presence aboard your ship. I regret that our prior meeting was much less pleasant."

Kirk obviously had no intention of being dishonest. "So do I." The two leaders eyed each other, then Kirk stepped back and extended his arm to his right. "This is our Chief Engineer, Montgomery Scott, and our Chief Medical Officer, Doctor McCoy. It is my understanding that you agreed to undergo a medical examination as the first step in the exchange of information between our peoples."

Margrar nodded. "That is correct."

"Whenever you've settled in will be fine." McCoy told him.

Kirk gestured to his left. Carefully, he said, "This is my First Officer, Commander Spock."

The general's eyes narrowed as he studied the Vulcan. Spock returned the extended gaze.

"He looks...," the general began.

Voice firm, Kirk said, "He is, General." Spock watched the smaller being almost sputter in disbelief. "This is the same one who was with you on our planet?" The question was spoken to Kirk, though the gaze was still on Spock.

Spock had not broken eye contact, either. "I am, General," he stated, having no wish to be less than firm.

The Nindan looked at Kirk. "But how is it possible?" he whispered, eyes wide.

With a steel voice Kirk answered, "I don't know, General Margrar.  But the fact that he exists is far more important than the reason."

The general was clearly shaken, but found his voice as he faced Spock again. "My sincerest apologies. I did...what I thought was necessary. I did not know how different you are. I did not know that your life would not risk one of my own people. We were—are—starving...."

Finally, a wave of sympathy made its way through Spock. "I understand,” he said softly. "Commanders are often forced to make difficult decisions. I am grateful that I live. I trust the experience will temper any similar rash actions in the future."

Spock realized his last statement may have been out of line, but doubted the general, or his captain, would complain. The alien was still staring at him as though he were a ghost...and a powerful one, at that.

Kirk finally broke the tension by stepping forward. "General, I will show you and your aides to your quarters. You will have separate cabins, as requested." Kirk herded them toward the door. "There will be a yeoman assigned to you at all times...."

After the door slid shut behind the group, McCoy went up to the first officer. "It's a good thing they aren't a primitive culture. For a moment there, I thought Margrar was going to get on his knees and worship you like some god."

Spock arched an eyebrow, amusement developing within. It felt good after the earlier tension. "Most religions do have some basis in fact, Doctor." He headed for the bridge.

* * * * *

Having shown the Nindans their quarters, Kirk moved through the corridor of the V.I.P. deck. His speed increased with every stride, a sense of anxiety consuming him.

He escaped to that level's observation deck, only because it was the first place available that contained what he wanted...needed. He moved to the small dispenser along one wall and ordered up a brandy. When it appeared, he took it and strode to the center of the room, looking out the main viewing port.

Kirk sipped from the glass, then frowned. There was no help there.

He stared at the liquid accusingly, then flung the glass as hard as he could. It shattered into countless pieces as it impacted with the far wall.

"Are you that mad at Spock?"

Kirk yanked his head toward the doorway, surprise and embarrassment filling his voice with anger. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I was going to ask you the same question," McCoy said casually, stepping further into the room. He shrugged. "I was trying to catch up with you to see if you had signed that medical release for Ensign Tomars. I just barely saw you slip in here." The doctor's voice became placating. "I didn't mean to intrude on your little tantrum. But now that I'm here..." He stepped closer.

Kirk's embarrassment increased. He knew his face reflected a deep shade of red. What the hell’s the matter with me?

"I take it you haven't talked to Spock," McCoy prompted.

"This doesn't have a damn thing to do with Spock!"

Kirk blinked, surprised at his own words and the anger in which they'd been spoken. More gently, he said, "My ghod, it has everything to do with Spock." Despite the calmer tone, he trembled with emotion.

Suddenly, the captain was pacing frantically, fury back in his voice. "Who the hell do they think  they are? Asking to come aboard my ship. After what they did." He stopped sharply, glaring at the doctor. "Can you imagine how helpless I felt? I could do nothing. NOTHING. NOT ONE DAMN THING."

Abruptly, his voice became small and meek. "One minute they were forcing him to his knees, the next..." Tears blurred his vision and he pounded the left side of his chest with a fist. "Oh, damn, it hurt. It hurt. I thought he was dead."

Gentle hands were on his shoulders. "Jim..."

He tore himself away from the comfort. "This is ridiculous," he insisted in a more normal tone. "Spock is alive. Healthy."

The hands were firmer when they recaptured him. "But you didn't know that when it happened," McCoy offered tenderly. "Dammit, Jim, have you been carrying this around all this time? Didn't you ever deal with it?

Kirk stopped within the doctor's grasp. With sudden realization, he whispered, "I didn't know I was carrying it around."

"Which means you haven't even thought about it yet, have you?" McCoy demanded. "You never allowed yourself grief, when you thought he was dead?"

Kirk snorted in disbelief, but didn't pull away. "How can I be grieving for the death of someone who isn't even dead?"

"How long did you think he was dead?" McCoy persisted softly.

The captain gulped. "Days." His eyes were filling again, voice shaky. "I couldn't...couldn't fall apart in front of them. I had a job to do."

McCoy moved closer and squeezed the proud shoulders.

Kirk gave into the pressure, reliving the fantasy he'd had on the planet. He put he arms around McCoy, gripping desperately, then whimpered, "I thought he was dead." Tears fell onto the other's tunic.

McCoy returned the embrace. "I know. I know."

"It hurt so much."

"I know."

Kirk shook with the force of grief. "It was so...horrible. The way it happened. So fast. He looked...dead. They dragged him off like a piece of garbage. Threw him in that...that ditch." Kirk's grip became even more desperate and his choked whisper was barely audible. "I thought he was dead."

"I know." McCoy continued to hold Kirk, scolding himself for having not considered that grief would be a normal and necessary process in the situation Kirk and Spock had been through.

Kirk was quieting, the tremors subsiding. Quietly, he repeated, "I didn't know I was carrying it around. I've felt...restless, I guess...since we got back. But I thought it was just because Spock was holding out on me whatever was troubling him."

"Maybe that's still part of it," McCoy soothed.

Kirk shook his head, then finally pulled back to look McCoy in the eye. "He told me what it was. Last night. He's still dealing with his own emotions. Even after all he'd already told me, on the planet, I didn't realize how much...feeling...he still has about it. About Margrar in particular."

"Is he the one you're most angry at?"

Kirk nodded, eyes shifting to the deck. "He's the one who...ordered it." He took a deep breath and whispered, "How quickly a life can be ended. And for the most mistaken reasons."

The doctor's hands were resting loosely on the captain's shoulders. "It's amazing how we sometimes don't  realize how much pain there can be for the ones left behind."

Kirk nodded distantly, then presented a shy smile. "I'm all right, Bones. Thanks." His gaze shifted to the far wall. "Guess I'd better clean up my mess."

McCoy released him. "I'll help."

They located the custodial tools and had the glass and brandy cleaned up within seconds. Afterwards, Kirk settled into a chair that faced the viewscreen.

"You know," he stated quietly, "I think maybe one of the reasons this has affected me so much in the last few days is because of how much Spock and I.... How far we've come. The future we now have. At the same time I've been rejoicing about that, I guess I've also been mourning what could have been lost. The magnitude of such a loss...it's beyond words."

McCoy took a seat beside him. "Life is indeed fragile. It's funny how it can take the loss of a patient to remind me of that sometimes."

The captain gave his companion a sympathetic smile. Then he whispered, "So much of everything I have is wrapped up in Spock. I've felt for a long time that, without him, I'd be just a shell of what I am. Now, with the new intimacy we've had, his value to me has increase geometrically. It's impossible to put a price on."

"I'm sure he feels the same way about you."

Kirk nodded silently, then whispered, "He's so gentle, Bones. So kind. So tender. So loving. So patient. So understanding. You've no idea."

McCoy grinned awkwardly, not certain of what to do with such private feelings. "I'll take your word for it."

They were silent for awhile longer, then Kirk sighed. "I'd better get to the bridge." He stood, then turned to the man who had been such an important source of support for so many years. He reached down and gripped the doctor's hand. "Thanks, Bones. For being a friend. I needed that."

McCoy also stood and looked the other man in the eye. "Anytime, Jim. And don't you ever forget it."

"I won't." Kirk turned toward the door. "I'll get you that release for Tomars."

* * * * *

A day and a half later, it was Spock who stepped forward into the darkened bay of the spacious, main observation deck. Dressed in a lightweight robe, he placed his hands on the rail and leaned against it. Watching the expanse of stars, Spock was pleased that he opted to go here instead of to dinner immediately after shift. Solitude was needed.

He would go to Jim within the hour. That thought made the corners of the thin mouth twitch. How he anticipated his evenings, now that he had so much to look forward to. Each day brought so many new discoveries.

And Spock did want to discover everything in this new intimacy. Everything that he and Kirk both were agreeable to doing. It was almost amusing to think that he had always considered the sexual act as something that others participated in, and something he could therefore view objectively. It was now surprising to have such passions consume him so.

This morning, Spock had been barely awake, cuddled beneath the blankets and snuggled against his precious lover when he'd felt the other stir. Moments later, wandering hands began to travel, heating his skin even beyond the warmth provided by the blankets.

He had not been facing his companion, and a lustful whisper blew in his ear: "Will you let me inside you?"

Fascinated by the breathy quality of the other, Spock had flattened himself against the mattress and spread his legs. There was the sound of a hand fumbling in a bedside drawer. Wet, slick noises followed. Then a finger was inserted inside him, while a cool body partially covered his back, and reached up to wetly kiss his cheek. Two fingers circled his sphincter muscle, then were withdrawn. A moment later a blunt heated probe was placed there instead, then a powerful thrust parted him.

In the warm, drowsy comfort of the morning, there had been very little pain, and Spock had raised his hips slightly to grasp more of Kirk's spear, wondering how the simple fact of flesh piercing flesh could seem like such a pinnacle of life, even when the union was destined to be barren. The penetration was deeper than when they'd done it in 'spoon' fashion, and, when Kirk began to move back and forth, the stimulation to Spock's prostate was more direct and more pleasing. Eventually, a cool, sweaty hand had reached around to stroke a straining erection, and the Vulcan's orgasm had followed shortly after Kirk's.

Spock had simply lain there, recovering his breath, marveling at the sensations of afterglow, while the human slid off his back to the other side of the bed. Finally, breathless and exuberant, the captain had exclaimed, "Good morning!"

Without thought, Spock had turned over and kissed Kirk heavily. After pulling back, he had been without words, not knowing why he had reacted so strongly.

But Kirk was smiling, and a moment later the human brought Spock down for a powerful hug.

"Mmm," the smaller man murmured.

"I feel like I can take on the universe now. There's nothing like some good loving to get one out of bed." He kissed Spock quickly and got up.

Spock had looked after him, once again marveling at the warm sensations that seemed to own him ever since he and Kirk had returned from the planet.

So much to marvel at, he thought now. The most fascinating thing about the early-morning joining had been how different the sensations were from when he and Kirk had previously engaged in sex. Always before, much conversation had taken place prior to the act or acts, and conversation also often followed. This morning, there had been none of that. Only raw yearnings...and the resulting raw sensations.

Spock liked both approaches.

Hearing the door to the observation deck slide open, the Vulcan automatically straightened, hands escaping behind his back. A moment later, he was fairly certain of the owner of the footsteps, but chose to remain silent.

Confirming his hypothesis, Doctor McCoy came to a halt just as he turned away from the window. The other nodded. "Spock."

"Doctor."

"I was looking for Jim."

"He is not here."

The other shrugged. "Well, I may as well tell you what I was going to tell him, and then you can tell him."

Spock gave the physician his complete attention. "Tell him what?"

McCoy took a deep breath. "I have a fairly solid theory as to why the Nindans' weapon didn't kill you."

Spock lowered his eyes and resisted the temptation to squirm. "What is your theory?"

"I did as thorough an exam as possible on Margrar to learn about their physiology. From that, and  from what you and Jim have told me, my guess is that if you would have been a Nindan, you would have been killed. Apparently, the beam or whatever it was they use just barely missed your primary motor center, but it shocked you enough to put you in a deep unconsciousness."

He sighed and glanced at the viewing port. "You were damn lucky, Spock."

"Yes, I know."

The two stood in silence, as McCoy seemed to have nothing further to say. But the Vulcan was aware of the human studying him. When the subtle, yet relentless, stare became annoying, Spock said, "You are observing me, Doctor."

The other shrugged and rested an elbow on the railing, leaning upon it. "I was just thinking about that little showdown you, Jim, and Margrar had in the transporter room the other day. You aren't going to be able to convince me you weren't feeling anything right then." Daringly, yet with a curious gentleness, McCoy prompted, "I can imagine it's difficult to think very kind things about a being who left you to die."

The wound was still vulnerable, Spock realized with annoyance. He was determined to not let the disturbance entertain the doctor, and corrected, "He did not 'leave me'. He ordered my...execution...and thought his guards had carried it out. It is my understanding that I looked...quite lifeless."

"Was it painless?" McCoy pursued.

"Yes."

"Physically, I assume you mean."

"How else would I mean it, Doctor?"

The other seemed unperturbed by the sharp tone. Casually, he replied, "Most everyone on this ship has faced death at one time or another. It comes with the job." 

"Yes. To fear death is not logical."

"But human."

"Perhaps."

"You know, Spock, I don't think it was fear that was making you stare daggers at Margrar. It was something more powerful than that."

Spock, irritated with the conversation, did not reply.

The doctor went on in a casual manner. "You know, having someone murder you is the worst kind of personal violation." McCoy shrugged. "Of course, when people are really murdered they aren't around to feel violated. But you...you're 'lucky' enough to get to experience the reality of having someone else decide to take your life, and then live with the repercussions."

The Vulcan was unprepared for such an analysis. "Repercussions, Doctor?"

The other took a deep breath. "Well, I figure it must be something like being robbed, only worse."

Twin eyebrows flew up. "Robbed?"

"Yes. You see, it's a common thing for someone who's a victim of theft to feel violated. And they have been. Their private space has been penetrated, they've been cheated out of their sense of security, and it often leaves them feeling very vulnerable—that they aren't in control of their own lives. Whenever anyone can take something of value from you, without you being able to do anything about it, it can have a very profound psychological affect." McCoy shrugged again. "The more personal the crime, the stronger degree that an individual will feel these things." Blue eyes turned on brown. "Never mind that it all worked out in the end. The fact is that Margrar took your life, Spock. And there was not one single, blessed thing you could do to stop him."

Spock quickly turned his back, heart pounding. He steeled a moment to be sure the control of his ancestors was functioning properly, then evenly replied, "Obviously, Margrar did not 'take my life.'"

The doctor moved closer. The other's voice was intense, as though its owner was uncovering a great truth. "But you didn't know you would end up alive at the time he ordered it, did you, Spock? I've seen the reports. You had to stand there, listen to him order the guards to kill you, and not have any idea as to the reason. There wasn't anything you could do. You were to die...for nothing."

Spock could find no words.

The doctor was having no such difficulty and whispered, "You didn't even try to fight them, did you?"

"No," Spock found himself whispering back. "Not once logic had informed that I...could not win."

"And what did you feel then, Spock?"

The scene was so vivid that it took little effort to remember. Voice gruff and distant, the Vulcan replied, "Defeat. Disbelief. Desperation for more time. Sadness. Anger. Rage." Barely audible, Spock whispered, "No, Jim."

"What?"

The sharp question brought the Vulcan back to the present. He faced the human and quietly stated, "My last thought was of Jim. He was trying to intervene. I feared for his life. It was not logical that we both should die when they only wanted me...dead." Spock had to look away again. What had McCoy labeled it? A violation?

The Vulcan inhaled deeply, surprised to find some imaginary burden easing from his body. "At times, Doctor, you can be a most perceptive man." The tone wasn't pleased. 

Craggy features stretched into a smile. "It's part of my profession." A moment later his tone was serious again. "The only thing I can imagine worse than facing senseless death is having to see it happen to someone you care very much about." McCoy paused, then, "If what you went through down on that planet was difficult, imagine what Jim's been going through."

The observation surprised Spock, and he did not know what to say.

McCoy straightened. "Well, I think I'm going to get some dinner." Hesitantly, he laid a hand on the Vulcan shoulder, letting it rest there briefly. Then he turned away. "Goodnight, Spock."

The first officer was mute as soft footsteps faded away.

* * * * *

Entering Kirk's cabin an hour later, Spock was confronted by a much loved face that broke into an expression of joy as the door slid shut.

The human stepped forward. "Hi." Then kissed Spock quickly.

The first officer smiled. "Good evening, Jim."

An arm was wrapped around the Vulcan's waist as he was led to the sleeping alcove. "I didn't see you in the mess for dinner. Where have you been?"

"I was on the observation deck." They were standing side by side, and Spock felt a cool hand settle on the small of his back, then rub affectionately.

"Were you alone?"

Spock realized the question was entirely conversational and leaned back into the hand. "Doctor McCoy appeared after a while. He was looking for you, but since you were not there and I was, he told me his theory on why the Nindans' weapon did not kill me."

The hand abruptly slowed...then dropped away. Kirk turned to the night stand and pulled his tunic off. "Oh?"

Spock moved around to the far side of the bed—what had become 'his' side—and began removing his robe. "It has to do with the structure of the Nindan brain. Had a Nindan been shot with the rifle in precisely the same area of the brain, he would have died."

Kirk pulled off his undershirt, then paused thoughtfully. "You'd already formed that hypothesis."

"Yes, I considered it one possibility." Spock was in his briefs and pulled back the spread, then got into bed. He found it interesting that the subject now seemed less...uncomfortable. Head cocking to one side, the Vulcan said, "I am surprised that you recall my hypothesis. You have admitted to not being entirely coherent at the time."

Kirk stepped out of his pants, shrugging. "I wasn't." He moved to the bed with a tender smile. "But I remember how I couldn't believe you were alive—it seemed so impossible. So, I clung to the words that made it seem possible."

Kirk sat against the headboard, taking Spock's arm and gently pulled, whispering, "Come 'ere, you."

Spock slid over to Kirk, and allowed his legs to be picked up and swung across Kirk's lap. The Vulcan place his arms around the trim waist, head resting on the other's shoulder.

"That's better," Kirk approved, still watching Spock with a warm, glowing expression. The human reached up and lightly trailed his fingers across the Vulcan's forehead, down past the eyes, then along one cheek.

"Jim?"

Lips nuzzled green-tinged flesh. "Hmm?"

Spock pulled back to look into the affectionate eyes. "I am...sorry...that you were forced to experience my 'death'." He desperately wished he were better with words.

Pale brows drew together, even as the rest of the handsome visage softened. "I know, Spock," the captain finally replied in a puzzled tone. "It was difficult for both of us, but...all we can do is put it behind us. And go forward."

The Vulcan studied the mattress. "I only wish you to know that I understand how difficult it must have been. If the situation would have been reversed..." Spock trailed off as his throat closed. He had not allowed such a thought to enter his mind previously; he'd been too tormented with his own suffering. Now, he realized one undisputable fact. "I would not have survived had I seen you...murdered like that." Like a summons, his eyes lifted to meet the intense gaze of the other.

"Yes, you would have. Just as I did. There were other things at stake besides the death of one individual, however special. There was the starvation of an entire race of beings. The massacre of an entire fleet. You wouldn't have turned your back on any of that."

The words were spoken so confidently that Spock knew the human believed them. And he hoped Kirk was right.

"Spock?"

The Vulcan cocked an eye in response.

A hand brushed across his cheek, caressing it. "Spock, will you...? I want...."

Concerned, Spock asked, "What is it?"

Kirk shook his head, chuckling softly at his own inability to express himself. When he sobered, lion eyes looked deeply into the Vulcan's. "Spock, I'm tired of being afraid...of...of you making love to me, of you...." The human trailed off, then  took a deep breath, as though for courage. "I'd like you to do it. Tonight."

The Vulcan straightened until he was sitting taller than Kirk. Impulsively, he beckoned the human into an embrace, so that now the sandy head rested on a furred chest. "It is not a matter that has been of concern to me. There are many other areas of sexuality for us to explore without resorting to...that."

"I know. But I want to do this. It can't possibly be all that terrible. Sometimes, I think I've even exaggerated the memory of the unpleasantness from before."

Spock held Kirk closer, gratified by the sense of protectiveness that he felt toward this special being. What a precious gift, to have Kirk trust him so. "I assure you, Jim, that prior experience was very unpleasant—for us both."

Kirk pulled back to look into deep, brown eyes. "Then let's create a more pleasant memory—for us both."

Despite the underlying hesitancy, Spock sensed that Kirk truly wanted to do this. And he did want to please Kirk. More than anything. "Very well." Gently, he moved out of the way, then positioned his captain against the headboard. He discarded the human's underwear, then placed a pillow beneath the generous hips. Then he leaned forward and kissed the other thoroughly on the mouth and found his own excitement accelerating quickly. "Let me love you, Jim. Please do not make any effort toward my pleasure." For emphasis, he took each of Kirk's arms and placed them behind the human's back, symbolically restraining them. "Spread your legs."

Kirk did so, and Spock settled between, mentally acknowledging the enjoyment he received from having his captain so willingly beneath his command.

"I love you," Kirk whispered. 

Spock kissed him. "Do not speak." The Vulcan paused, realizing that that last order may not be fair. With a hint of amusement that surprised even himself, he amended, "You may make noise, but you may not speak coherent words."

Kirk grinned, obviously understanding.

Spock kissed Kirk on the chin, then moved down to the throat, then the chest. His mouth settled on the right nipple, sucking leisurely, having learned in the past few days how enjoyable it could be to let stimulation build upon itself, rather than forcing it to a peak in the name of completion.

How much he had learned in so few days....

The Vulcan now applied teeth to the nipple, gently gnawing on it, drawing from his store of knowledge the line that existed between pain and pleasure, a line that his human love was so perfect at negotiating.

Spock pulled away and moved to the left nipple, fingers continuing to give attention to the right one. He kneaded it between thumb and forefinger, thinking it fascinating how different individual bodies were. For himself, he didn't enjoy that kind of manual stimulation, as his nipples were too tender after having been licked and sucked. In addition, the friction of skin was inferior to the wet feel of lips and tongue. But, just last night, he had learned that Kirk's already-stimulated nipples enjoyed the additional fingering, and he rubbed and pulled on the one now in his grasp.

When the left one had been orally prepared, he applied his other hand to it, and straightened to watch his fingers knead them both, taking great satisfaction in seeing Kirk with eyes closed, head thrown back, breath heavy.

The human groaned.

Abruptly, Spock released the nubs and leaned forward to kiss his victim, reaching for the tube on the headboard. Only relenting enough for them each to breathe, he continued the kiss while applying lubricant to his fingers. He pulled back after dropping the tube to the edge of the bed.

Lowering to the protrusion between Kirk's legs, he simultaneously descended upon the generous erection and inserted one hand between the slightly exposed buttocks. While beginning a gentle sucking motion, he stroked the anus with a finger, than carefully pushed a digit inside. His mouth took in more penis as the finger moved in deeper.

Another groan emerged from Kirk. Spock continued to suck leisurely, and gradually worked in a second finger. He moved them around, searching, and when he found that special place within, Kirk lurched and gasped.

Spock smiled and became more aggressive with his oral motion, matching it to a rhythm of caressing fingers, delighting in the breathless quality of Kirk's verbal expressions. The Vulcan slipped his free hand in beneath Kirk and raised the human slightly off  the bed, thereby increasing the pressure of his fingers against the prostrate.

"Ohhhhhhh, Spoooooock."

Kirk tapped the Vulcan on the shoulder, a gesture that he continued to do, as though his first officer might change his mind about consuming the semen. As always, Spock ignored the signal.

When it came, Spock eagerly accepted the proof of his success in pleasing this most important of persons. He slowly withdrew his fingers as the tremors subsided and removed his mouth from the shrinking phallus with a farewell lap along the underside. 

He straightened to find Kirk sagging back against the headboard, face glowing, eyes slitted, mouth open but curved upward. The human took a deep breath, as though for strength, and reached out to take Spock's arms and pull the Vulcan closer. Then Kirk leaned forward and gently grasped the slim neck with his teeth.

Spock regarded Kirk with a smile of his own when released. It was an entirely Vulcan gesture that had become a regular part of their love-making, and in some way that he did not entirely comprehend, it increased his feeling of acceptance by the one he desired above all. Impulsively, he kissed Kirk.

"I love you," the human whispered. The hazel eyes were bright and warm.

Spock tilted his head away bashfully, still not certain of the proper way of accepting such a compliment. But honesty had never been a problem between them. "The feeling is mutual," he whispered back, amazed at the way his body seemed to liquify when such feelings built to a crescendo.

Having fully regained his breath, Kirk said, "Now it's your turn." He looked meaningfully at Spock's groin.

The Vulcan put his hands on Kirk's shoulders, almost reluctant to continue with what they had agreed upon earlier. He wondered if they may be in error for wanting to perform this particular act purely for the sake of the act itself. "Jim, are you certain?"

The other met his eye and nodded. "I don't want this to be between us. Even if it isn't now, it will be eventually. If I still don't like it, we'll have to deal with that. But...," his expression softened and the lion eyes grew moist and tender, "I want to give myself to you."

"You already did that," Spock reminded, "many weeks ago."

"That was to save your life. This is to share our love."

The Vulcan had no argument against that sentiment and nodded agreeably. Clearing his throat, as his organ was already responding to the promise of what was to come, he asked, "Which position will be most comfortable for you?"

The other shrugged. "You've more experience with that than I."

Spock rapidly reviewed his memory of the previous days and replied, "I believe the rate of penetration can be more easily controlled on our sides."

Kirk nodded and reached for the lubricant. Spock's hands were still on his shoulders, and, with a reassuring smile, he coated the Vulcan's organ, fondling it tenderly and lovingly, careful of over-stimulation.

When Kirk put the tube away, Spock released the broad shoulders. The Vulcan felt inclined to offer some words of reassurance. "I will be gentle."

He found his hand taken in a cool grip, then kissed by human lips. From beneath lowered eyelashes, Kirk said, "I know. You're incapable of anything else."

Literally, that was not accurate, considering the events of two months ago, but Spock knew he needn't remind Kirk of that, for the human was speaking of when the Vulcan was his normal self. And Spock felt a glow of pride that this man trusted him so.

Kirk added, "Besides, I feel safe with you."

Before Spock could reply to the statement that meant even more than the one immediately prior, Kirk released him and got into position on the bed, lying on his side. Spock moved behind, pushing the human's leg forward, positioning his phallus between the generous buttocks. 

The tip found the yielding spot, and Spock let it rest there a moment before gently nudging forward. He rotated his erection against the anus, threatening to push forward, but never quite doing so. The teasing continued, until he felt Kirk's body relax, the sphincter muscle following. Suddenly, on its own, the latter yielded to the persistent probing, and the head of Spock's penis slipped inside.

The human gasped, but it was more of surprise than pain. Spock held steady, remembering from his own experience how shocking the width could be. He waited patiently until Kirk, who had been holding his breath, exhaled.

"Okay," Kirk whispered in a small voice.

Spock gratefully pushed forward another centimeter, arm coming up to embrace the human's chest, both as a gesture of affection and to steady himself. He pushed in a little more, the sensations finally demanding that he turn his attention from Kirk to the pleasure his body was receiving.

He yielded, groaning softly to express how much this moment meant. This was far superior to anything that he'd felt during the pon farr. This was entirely pleasurable and had very little to do with nature and biology.

While in the act of moving in a little further, he glanced down at the junction of their bodies. Spock did not consider himself an individual who became aroused by sight alone, but the view of his member reaching into this much loved body brought forth a sensation so powerful that it was consuming. Unable to stop what was happening, the Vulcan was suddenly ejaculating, hips instinctively driving further into Kirk, his body shuddering powerfully.

Collapsing against the human, Spock's head pressed against Kirk's back, gasping for breath. He did not  know what to say, so opted for the truth. "I did not mean for that to happen."

"You mean to come so fast?" Kirk asked, angling his head to look back.

Spock shifted slightly, raising up so he could meet the human's eye. "Yes. I looked at where our bodies met. I had not expected the sight alone to be so stimulating." He took another deep breath.

Kirk chuckled softly. "Silly Vulcan. Maybe we should have blindfolded you."

Spock didn't know if the other was joking or not. "Indeed." He started to withdraw.

"Spock, don't."

Puzzled by the serious tone, the Vulcan lowered his face to Kirk's. Before he could speak, the other repeated, "Don't. Please stay where you are."

"Jim?"

Kirk's face was serene as it rested against the pillow. "I like the way this feels, you surrounding me like this, being inside me. It doesn't hurt at all. Maybe you can get hard again and finish it like you meant to."

Surprised at Kirk's feelings, Spock settled himself more firmly, trying to keep his penis inside, though it had shrunk so much he feared it might be expelled. His lips expressed their "thank you" to Kirk's neck. The gratitude gradually changed to active stimulation, as Spock kissed all along the broad neck, encouraged when he felt himself becoming aroused again.

"Mmm," Kirk approved. The Vulcan moved down to the shoulder blades. "Yes, Spock, kiss me anywhere, everywhere. My whole body loves your touch."

Inspired, Spock continued kissing all along the back, and the arm that embraced Kirk shifted so that it could pinch a nipple. The Vulcan's penis throbbed as the human's breath became heavy and deep.

Kirk laughed softly. "I felt you move. I can feel you getting hard again. Damn, this is exciting." Head raising, he asked, "Spock, can we move so I can get on my knees? Without separating?"

The Vulcan paused, pushing up on his other arm.

"You don't have to be gentle this time. I want you to be able to thrust real hard so I can feel your balls slap against mine."

The mental image—and the imagined sensations—made Spock gasp as his penis batted itself against the sides of its sheath.

Control, control, he commanded himself, eyes closing as he tried to force the precarious sensations away. When they were mastered, he very carefully put an arm around Kirk and lifted the human, at the same time shifting so he was kneeling.

It seemed to take a long time, and a great deal of care on both their parts, but finally Kirk was resting on his knees, hips raised, shoulders against the mattress. Spock was mounted over Kirk, a part of him not believing that they were doing this, that Kirk was demanding to be so submissive to Vulcan strength.

Spock thrust experimentally, finding sensations that were new all over again. He could get in deeper this way, and his hips had greater freedom of movement, allowing for more power.

"Thrust hard," Kirk panted. "Hard and fast."

Stimulated further by the words, and the tone in which they were spoken, Spock positioned himself to obey. He withdrew, then drove in deep, quickly finding a rhythm.

"Ghod, Spock, ghod...  Incredible.... Ghoood."

Kirk shifted again, reaching for his own erection. He pumped it furiously, still giving verbal encouragement. "Ghod, yes. Like that. I can feel your nuts."

Spock realized that he, too, could feel the soft, slapping contact of scrotal pouch to scrotal pouch. He placed his hands on the mattress beyond each of Kirk's shoulders, letting them take his weight, and pumped even faster, the sensations growing so intense that it was only on the periphery of awareness that he realized the headboard of the bed was slamming against the wall in tune to the motion.

It wasn't until Kirk screamed, and the human's body shuddered, forcing the tight muscles to contract around his penis, that Spock yielded to the sensations that had built to a more powerful level than he'd thought possible. He let them claim him, not having any concern for the loss of control. His voice proclaimed ecstasy as the orgasm racked his entire body, nearly shaking it to pieces as though a rag doll. Spock's consciousness closed in on itself.

The next time he was cognizant of his physical surroundings, Spock realized he was chilled. He cracked his eyes open, squinting from the soft lighting, and found Kirk lying next to him, body in a slanted position across the bed, the covers arranged in a haphazard manner beneath him. The human was deeply asleep.

Rather than risk disturbing him, Spock sat up on the bed and, legs trembling, reached for blankets from the closet. He spread one over Kirk, then turned down the light. Then he lay back on the bed, wrapped another blanket around himself, and succumbed to a coma-like sleep of his own.

* * * * *

Kirk woke in the early hours of the morning, first aware of the sated feeling of his body, then of the even breathing of the man beside him. Smiling in the darkness, he relished the memory of their recent lovemaking. But contentment changed to self-pity when realizing he couldn't remember the last time he had experienced that kind of closeness with his bed partner.

Maybe he'd never experienced it at all.

This thing with Spock was getting damned serious. What had started out to be curious sex-play was quickly turning into a constant stream of feelings that left Kirk's heart full and knees weak.

I love him. Solid fact. I will meet his greatest need, always. When the pon farr comes, regardless of whatever other circumstances our relationship may be in, nothing will keep me from going to him when he needs me most. Nothing will stand between us then.

Bold words. Yet, realistically, intent and actuality didn't always go hand-in-hand. There was only one way to guarantee that he, and no other, would ever be allowed to receive Spock's fire.

It was funny how his attitude about being on the receiving end had changed. He remembered asking Spock, such a short time ago, to become more aggressive, and now realized that demand was from his exhilaration at having conquered his fear of being dominated.

"Love you," he now whispered out loud, turning to gaze fondly at the silhouette of the object of his affection. The hairy body, those strong arms and legs, that wonderful, silk-like hair, that tremendous desire to please, the essential goodness.

The ability to love.

Kirk's breath caught, and he let it out slowly. One question, Spock: How much of what's going on between us is tied up in your joyous discovery of sex? When that initial euphoria wears off, what will be left of your feelings for me?

Stupid question. He knew the answer to that. What was it he himself had told the Vulcan their first night together? "We've gone about this all backwards, Spock. We were friends first."

* * * * *

The basic ingredient. The love that defined the sex, not vice versa. And where would they be if, after the pon farr, they had simply remained non-sexual friends?

The same as before. The only difference would be the pon farr. I would be with him for that. Always. But the only thing that will guarantee that is the pre-bonding link.

Realization burned its way through Kirk like a phaser stun. Even if we hadn't pursued the sexual aspect of our relationship, I would still want the pre-bonding link. It would tie me to him in a manner that would guarantee his life. And it would have the added advantage of always knowing that each other lived.

Exclusive rights. That's what he wanted. He was a selfish bastard, he knew, but would allow no one else to share the intimacy of the pon farr with Spock.

And that fact didn't have a damn thing to do with their current amorous adventures.

Suddenly, Kirk felt in charge of his emotional life once more. He knew what he wanted.

His heart turned over at the thought of Spock's reaction. He enjoyed seeing Spock happy. More than anything. But he wasn't going to tell the Vulcan right away. First, there was something else he had to put behind him.

* * * * *

In the afternoon the following day, Kirk reached up and rang the buzzer to the VIP cabin. When the door slid back, he entered the room, finding its occupant out of uniform. "General Margrar?"

The other bowed his head. "Captain Kirk." He was wearing a grey one-piece suit.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you."

The older man made a negative gesture, "No, on the contrary. After being looked upon to constantly make decisions affecting thousands of lives, I have found the days aboard your ship to be restful, if somewhat devoid of activity."

Kirk smiled. "We should be at Placis in less than a day."

The alien nodded. "Yes, I believe I have an understanding of what that means. Your computer has calculated your time concepts to the Nindan language." He awkwardly stuck out a hand. "Please be seated."

Kirk nodded again, realizing that the awkwardness stemmed from Margrar's having only recently learned human mannerisms and social skills. "Thank you." He gingerly sat down.

"Something to drink?"

Kirk presented a soft smile. "No, thank you."

Margrar took the seat opposite his visitor. "Captain, I am glad you have come. I wish to apologize to you for denying you water when we held you captive. Please understand that my people only consume water when they also consume nourishment. It did not occur to me that humans need liquid more frequently."

Kirk's eyes widened. The lack of water, after he'd rejected the Nindans' food, had puzzled him. "Apology accepted. Even though my ship is in the occupation of exploration, I confess that we, too, sometimes make the mistake of too many assumptions when confronting a new people." His voice softened. "Sometimes, it causes people to be killed out of ignorance." He hadn't meant to bring that up, but it seemed to come out of his mouth on its own.

Margrar eyed the human with an expression that was neither condemning, nor asking. "Though your first officer lives, that is one thing you will not be forgiving me for."

"No, I guess not."

The Nindan studied the human a while longer, then stood. "I am a man of honor, Captain. I offer myself as a condolence."

Kirk watched the general in confusion. "I don't understand."

"Among my people, we have a custom. When one has committed a personal offense upon another, it is considered honorable for the one who committed the act to receive punishment from the injured party. In this case, I believe nothing less than death would be adequate compensation." Almost casually, Margrar added, "My aides are capable of representing the Nindans on Placis. My absence will not prevent negotiations from taking place."

Kirk stared at the other. Slowly, his anger and vindictiveness drained. The prior wrong that had been committed could not be set right. Life had to go on. This gesture made it so obvious.

With new respect, Kirk said, "Sit down, General."

Slowly, and with obvious surprise, the other sat. "My first officer is very important to me,” the human said. "Everyone in my crew is. Among my people we have a saying: 'Two wrongs don't make a right. '" He shook his head. "Even if you had killed Spock, I would gain nothing by killing you." A small smile formed. "Can we consider the matter forgotten?" 

The reply was slow in coming. "If that is your wish."

"Yes."

"Then so be it." Margrar tilted his head to one side. "You interact differently with your subordinates than I do with mine. For Nindans, affection is reserved for mate and offspring. A general must have complete objectivity when dealing with his soldiers."

"When individuals are away from their families for years at a time, as most of my crew is," Kirk explained, "then it's necessary to develop attachments to others." He was silent a moment. "But, sometimes, a starship commander must also use objectivity when his...heart...pleads otherwise."

"An interesting dilemma. I am looking forward to learning more about your people and customs."

"We're interested in learning more about you, too." Kirk shifted. "General, the real reason I came here was to find out what happened when you fought Kulitan. We know you won the battle, and I know you'll be giving the Federation representatives at Placis a detailed account. But I'd be interested in knowing a little bit about it myself, for personal reasons."

The other regarded him coolly. "I believe I understand."

Kirk's voice hardened. "How many Nindans were lost?"

The other held his gaze. "Too many."

"Was it worth the price?" Kirk whispered.

"Yes. The Klingons have not returned."

"They still might," the human challenged.

"That is why we're asking your Federation for assistance. I have been told that they will provide military aid as well as giving us complete access to their scientific knowledge, so we can restore our food cycle as quickly as possible."

"I think you'll find that the Federation will also make certain demands in return, including that vengeance won't be condoned."

"You had already warned me of that previously. Nevertheless, I am not a fool. Your Federation is also interested in our sophisticated weaponry and machinery for space travel."

Kirk acknowledged the fact with silence. Conversationally, he said, "You don't seem to know much of other species. Yet, your technology does seem superior to ours in some ways."

The other nodded. "We have the capability to explore other worlds, as you do. However, we have not ever had the need, until now. We must find another planet where our food can be manufactured in mass quantities."

That wasn't going to be easy. McCoy had done an analysis on the strange, cube-like food that the Nindans consumed, and had found it to be a mixture dominated by minerals, but also containing protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients common to humanoids. Yet, there was no other planet in the known galaxy that contained the exact mixture. If nothing else, the Federation would have to assist the Nindans in developing a way to manufacture it.

Kirk asked, "How many planets do you occupy?"

"There are four in our system. The first, Shesm, is where most of our population is. The second, Mipit, is the one the Klingons destroyed by their mining of the minerals. It was populated only with the number it takes to process the food for the entire population of Shesm. The other two planets are relatively unexplored, as they hold no value for us. One of them is the planet we held you captive on." Margrar again tilted his head to one side. "You found food suitable for your consumption after you were free of your restraints?"

"Yes. Plenty of food."

"You should have told me. I would have had my people find some for you. You need not have gone hungry."

Kirk shrugged. "The less you knew about me, the more of a tactical advantage it seemed at the time. Besides, I was a while away from actually starving." Kirk shifted uncomfortably. "General, why did you request that my ship transport you to the starbase?"

The other smiled slightly, as though realizing that this was the question Kirk had really come to ask. "I knew that in order to convince your Federation of my sincerity in needing its help, that it would be necessary to place myself entirely in its hands. I felt I would be safest on your ship."

"Why?" Kirk whispered.

"Because you are a being of honor. That was made apparent to me when we held you captive. I believe in your words."

The captain snorted. "My words seemed damned ineffective at the time. You didn't listen to anything I said."

"No, you are wrong. I listened, but I could not let it sway my plans. But I did listen, and I heard them, Captain."

"Even after my hatred when I thought you'd killed Spock, you thought you would be safe on my ship?"

"You claimed that he would have wanted you to forgive me. Is that not true?"

Kirk nodded, remembering how much that claim had cost him emotionally. He whispered, "As I've said, ignorance is sometimes paid for with life."

"Which is all the more reason to increase the communication between our peoples."

"Yes." Kirk stood, satisfied with the answers to his questions. "I wanted to reassure myself that this wasn't a mistake. And we will help your people, General. I only regret that, after we drop you off, the Enterprise will be heading out to another mission far away from here. I hope we'll be meeting again sometime."

The other also stood. "My thoughts are much the same."

* * * * *

That evening, Kirk looked up when the cabin door slid open. He had recently told Spock that it was ridiculous for the Vulcan to ring the buzzer when he was sleeping there on a nightly basis.

The first officer entered the room. "Good evening, Jim."

The human smiled. "Spock." He watched the other look to the sleeping alcove, as though debating whether to go there instead of walking up to the desk, since the bedroom was where they were bound to end up, anyway. "I need to talk to you."

The Vulcan came toward the desk. "Is the subject matter personal or professional?"

"Personal."

The Vulcan removed his outer tunic, freeing himself of the symbol of duty. He laid it on the back of his chair and sat down, and eyebrow raised questioningly.

Kirk folded his hands on the desktop, mood suddenly solemn. "Spock, I want you to think back to when you first told me about the pre-bonding link."

The eyebrow arched higher, then furrowed in concentration. "It was when we were on the Nindans' planet. The planet we now know them to call Farn."

"Yes," Kirk agreed in a soft whisper. "You told me of it—that  it would allow each of us to know when the other died."

Spock nodded distantly. "I was...affected by the experience of having been left for dead. I also sympathized with your pain at having thought the same. Normally, I would not have told you of the pre-bonding link."

"Yes. But you did tell me of it. And you told me about it before we...made love."

"Yes," Spock agreed after a moment's reflection. Kirk could tell from the Vulcan's tone that the first officer was puzzled by the line of questioning.

"At the time," Kirk said, "I didn't give it much thought, because very quickly we...," he shrugged self-consciously, "Well, we moved on to other things. But, as you know from all my questions, I've been intrigued by the idea, and I've wondered where it fits in with all...well, with all that we've become to each other lately. And I've been afraid that if it turned out our sexual interest in each other was fleeting, then our interest in the link would be, too." The human's voice softened as he leaned forward. "But, Spock, what I've come to realize is that even if we never had sex outside of the pon farr, I would have wanted the link. Not only because we would have the assurance of knowing that the other lived, but because it would give me what I want more than anything."

Spock studied the other. "Which is?"

"Exclusive rights to your pon farr."

Spock blinked. "That is not logical."

Kirk smiled. "Of course not. I'm human. I don't feel any obligation to be logical about it."

Spock was unswayed by the easy tone. "No being in full possession of their mental faculties would choose to be the recipient of a Vulcan male in the Fever."

Now Kirk blinked. He countered, "Spock, you've been well aware ever since your last pon farr that I was willing to go through it again. I haven't hidden that fact." He shrugged. "It may not seem logical because it was painful, but you're damn well aware that it was also...beautiful. I mean, the sharing of something that was difficult and painful for us both. It elevated our friendship to a new level."

"After a time," Spock reminded. "It was difficult for us to be near each other in the weeks that immediately followed. We did not speak except when duty demanded."

"But we've forgiven each other for that, if forgiveness was even necessary. We both needed space, and we both knew the other needed it. I don't think there's anything wrong in that. Who knows what would have happened if one or both of us would have forced ourselves to patch up our friendship when neither of us was ready. We let it heal naturally. And, as I said, we're all the stronger for it."

"That is true," Spock conceded without enthusiasm.

Kirk studied the other, not understanding why the other seemed reluctant. "I want the link, Spock. I guess I haven't come out and said that yet."

The other nodded. "That is apparent. However, I doubt that you have considered the most important factor."

"Which is?"

"The ultimate consequences of the link. When my next pon farr comes, if we are linked, I will instinctively bond us. That is something that neither of us can be freed from, without severe risk of life. We will, essentially, be married." 

Kirk smiled and breathed deeply. "Married. That sounds strange, doesn't it?"

"Yes.” The deep baritone suddenly softened with emotion. "However, I do not find the idea undesirable."

"I don't either," the other admitted, entire being softening inside. He smiled tenderly. "You seem so...logical for me. The perfect companion, friend, and wonderful lover all rolled up into one. It makes such perfect sense that it's terrifying." He gulped with a combination of shame/grief. "My history of...lovers hasn't been a very glamorous one."

"But our history is strong."

Kirk's eyes darted up to meet the shining, brown ones across from him. Then he shook his head, snorting in disbelief. "Of all the many, many scenarios I've imagined my life taking once I got into space, I've never imagined anything like this. Settling down with my male, Vulcan first officer. Unbelievable."

"And friend."

Kirk's smile softened, face glowing. "Yes. And friend." He swallowed, then quietly asked, "How do we do it?"

"It?"

"The link. How do we form it?" When Spock looked unsure, Kirk said, "There's no reason not to, is there?"

The liquid brown eyes gazed at him for a long moment. "You are certain?"

"You have to ask me that, after what we've just talked about?"

Spock lowered his eyes. "No."

"To quote your words from a few evenings back, 'Is there any logic in waiting?'"

"Yes."

Kirk's face fell. "Why?"

"Though the actual procedure is quite simple, I will require a period of meditation. Also, because we do not know what your mind's reaction will be to something so alien, I believe that we should not attempt it until we are on leave, or have enough free time to allow you to adjust, in case there is some difficulty."

"That's logical," Kirk conceded. He was silent as he considered their upcoming schedule. One mission on top of another. He suddenly brightened. "Spock, when we drop Margrar off tomorrow, it's going to take over twelve hours to load up on supplies. How about if we rent a room for the day?"

"I would prefer more time than a matter of hours."

Kirk sighed. "I don't think we're going to be granted a real shore leave for some time. Our schedule is full for at least the next six weeks." He watched Spock nod. "If you insist on waiting, I won't say another word. But I'd really like to try it tomorrow. We can work through whatever problems develop. We always have."

Spock gazed at the desktop between them. Then his stern mouth gradually relaxed. "Very well."

Kirk's smile was jubilant. Spock's smile widened, and they sat there staring at each other stupidly.

Finally, Kirk breathlessly asked, "Do you want to make love?"

Soft orbs glowed back. "Yes."

* * * * *

Two days later the Enterprise was on its way to its next mission. After shift, Kirk and Spock set out an arrangement of liquor and glasses atop the captain's desk.

The door buzzer sounded.

"Come," Kirk called. He stood beside the desk, Spock to his left, as their expected guest entered.

McCoy blanched. "A bit formal, aren't we? I thought you two wanted to discuss something with me."

"Actually," Kirk said, pouring the doctor a glass, "we want to tell you something. Here, have a brandy and a seat."

The doctor accepted the drink and sat down. His gaze switched between Kirk and Spock as the captain poured himself and the Vulcan a glass of fruit juice.

"Well?" the doctor prodded after he'd sampled his glass.

Kirk took a sip before replying. "I'm not sure that Spock and I would have chosen to tell you this, at least not so soon," he said quietly, "but there are some things that it's important for you to know, as this ship's CMO, and as our friend."

"Tell me what?" McCoy asked suspiciously.

Kirk looked at Spock, met the Vulcan's eye, then reached out and took the hand that reached to join his. Softly, the captain said, "Spock and I are linked. In the manner that he was with T'Pring."

McCoy's eyes widened. "T'Pring?" he finally sputtered, setting his glass aside. "You mean...? You mean you're engaged?"

Kirk smiled at the other's disbelief. Quoting his Vulcan friend from a long time ago, he said, "More than an engagement, less than a marriage."

Bulging blue eyes shifted from captain to first officer, then settled on the abandoned drink. McCoy sighed heavily, shaking his head. "My ghod, I wasn't expecting anything like this."

"Bones," Kirk prompted worriedly, "are you...upset?"

"I don't know what I am."

"But surely you aren't that surprised. I more or less told you that night in the rec room that I was going to...start something." Kirk glanced at Spock, finding concerned support in the dark eyes.

"I know." McCoy finally looked at them, presenting a forced, crooked smile. "I guess I wasn't expecting it to go quite this far. To get this serious."

The captain glanced at his mate and whispered, "How can I be anything but serious where Spock is concerned?"

Quickly, the doctor replied, "Maybe you've got the excitement of a little sex play mixed up with love of the 'forever' kind. Not so long ago, Jim, you were awfully confused about how you felt toward Spock."

"Doctor," the Vulcan broke in, "I can assure you of Jim's...feelings. I would never have created the link between us if I had doubted his sincerity."

Earnestly, Kirk added, "This really has very little to do with sex, Bones. That's what I had to figure out. And I did."

McCoy stared at them a moment longer, as though getting used to the idea. Finally, he asked, "What happens when the pon farr comes? Will you both have to go to Vulcan?"

Spock shook his head. "That will not be necessary. During the Fever, I will instinctively form a full bond between us. It can only occur at that time."

"Which means," Kirk clarified, "that we'll be married, and then it really will be permanent. A full bond can't be broken without severe risk of life." He hadn't meant for his words to sound so proud. "We're committed, Bones."

"Committed," McCoy repeated softly. "That sounds nice." He cleared his throat again. "I couldn't have wished it for two better people."

Inwardly, Kirk sighed with relief that the doctor seemed to be accepting the situation. But there was something else that needed to be stated. "Bones, I hope you don't think that this somehow makes you less important to us. We both...care for you. We need you, and we want you to know you can count on us...for companionship, for anything."

"Indeed," Spock said, clearing his throat and softly adding, "I have known loneliness. I wish it on no other, and offer what I can to dissipate it, for there are few victories greater than its conquering."

McCoy had to look away. A moment later he seemed in control and looked back at his friends with a shy smile. "Just don't ask me to crawl into bed with you. I want no part of that."

Kirk grinned while Spock arched an eyebrow in mock horror.

More serious, the doctor asked, "What are you going to tell Starfleet?"

"We aren't going to tell them anything," Kirk replied, "at least not for a while. We don't want anyone, except you, to know until we're both more accustomed to the whole thing. Maybe we won't tell anyone until we're fully bonded. We're going to play it by ear." He picked up the brandy bottle. "Seconds?"

McCoy declined. "I've got to work the late shift again tonight. Sanders is ill, so I've got to cover for him." The doctor stood, then shook his head once more. "Married. Never thought I'd live to see the day, for either of you." He turned to the door and stopped, "But it pleases me...a lot." The blue eyes lit with warmth. "Goodnight you two."

"Wait a minute, Bones." Kirk moved to a desk drawer and pulled out a holocamera. He glanced knowingly at Spock, then smiled at the doctor's puzzled expression. "Spock and I wondered if you would do us a favor."

McCoy took a few steps back into the room. "You want a holo?" he asked doubtfully. "Taken in here?"

The captain felt a shy tenderness consume him, and he glanced quickly at Spock to make sure the other was still agreeable. The Vulcan was, so Kirk shrugged. "Well...Spock and I sort of had something special in mind." Somehow, he couldn't take his eyes off the Vulcan, even as he held out the camera to McCoy, who accepted it hesitantly.

Eying each other, the two senior officers joined hands and moved to stand beside the wall a few feet in front of Kirk's desk. McCoy watched while they each—tentatively at first, then with more assurance—reached to the hem of their tunics and, almost in unison, pulled them over their heads and tossed them to one side.

McCoy, with a foreshadow of embarrassment, expected them to continue to strip and was relieved when they simply closed the gap between them, putting their arms around each other, bare chest to bare chest.

Kirk laid his head on Spock's shoulder, eyes partially closed, smiling softly. Spock rested his cheek on the human's hair, his expression nearly identical.

"You can take it now, Bones," came the contented whisper.

McCoy had to restrain the urge to clear his throat. The scene before him was extremely intimate, yet more tranquil than erotic. It was an effort to concentrate on the task at hand.

After the 'click', Kirk and Spock slowly separated.

"Thank you, Doctor," the Vulcan said.

"Yes, thank you." Kirk's face was still soft.

"You're welcome." McCoy cleared his throat. "I ain't claiming to be any good at this kind of thing. Hope I didn't get my finger in the way."

Kirk met his eye while accepting the camera. "Nobody could have taken this except you."

The blue eyes sparkled with gratitude. "Hope it turns out okay." 

"I'm sure it will."

"For a minute there," the doctor teased, "I thought you two were going to strip all the way. I never was into pornography."

Kirk's smile acknowledged the humor, but his voice was serious as he explained. "We wanted something that we could display without embarrassing anybody. We thought a half-nude portrait would be a nice symbol of our friendship blending into love, and love blending back into friendship."

McCoy considered that, then nodded, smiling warmly. "Best of happiness," he whispered, then turned to the door.

"I'd better get down to Sickbay. Goodnight, you two."

"Night, Bones."

"Goodnight, Doctor."

They watched him leave, then were embracing a moment later.

"We're lucky to have him for a friend," Kirk said.

"Indeed."

"And each other."

Spock's reply was whisper soft as he pulled back to study the enticing lips tilted up to him. "Yes." As he bent to meet them, he experienced the illogical thought that his life was perfect. And would be...always. 

 

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