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Rereading the star gram didn’t change a thing. The words would blur and then come back into focus but inevitably remain the same. His mother was dead. Kirk finally turned off his terminal, leaned back and closed his eyes.



She hadn’t even been sixty. But he remembered her more as the thirty-something woman who had seen him off to the Academy almost twenty years earlier. God, she had been the age he was now. He could almost see her, her eyes bright as she fought to not embarrass him in front of his fellow cadets. Being younger than the rest of them had made him almost resentful of any behavior on her part that might be construed as that towards a child.



Since then he had seldom seen her. Visits home had usually been hurried stopovers between postings. He could only remember twice in all the intervening years that he’d been able to spend any amount of time with her. And rarely had shore leave coincided with his ship being in the vicinity of Earth. Though he’d written to her regularly, somewhere along the way he had begun to lose sight of her as a person. The closeness they shared during his childhood faded with the years and his mother slowly became a stranger. He wondered if she had felt it, too.



The noise at the door drew a grimace and he opened his eyes. He really wasn’t up to company, especially since he knew who it was. Right now, there was only one person on the ship that concerned with his welfare; one person when, not so long ago, there would have been two.



“Come.” Kirk sat up and folded his hands on the desk. No sense giving McCoy any ammunition by looking anything but captainly.



The doctor’s shingle was definitely out as he strolled in with a bottle tucked under his arm. He took the chair across from Kirk. “I just heard about your mom, Jim. I’m really sorry. She sounded like a fine woman.” He appraised his captain. “How are you holding up?”



“I’m fine, Bones. Maybe a little melancholy, but I guess that’s to be expected. And surprised. She wasn’t that old.”



“Fifty-seven, right? Just goes to show, we still have a lot to learn about keeping people healthy. How did she look the last time you saw her?”



He could feel McCoy’s intensely focused gaze. It was the look his friend got whenever he started digging into Kirk’s psyche. “She looked fine. But it’s been a few years.”



“A few years? How many?”



“Four.”



“Four? Four years? You were on Earth not three months ago. Why didn’t you see her then?” McCoy asked.

Though the doctor’s voice was relatively calm, Kirk could hear the underlining disapproval. “Our stopover wasn’t planned, if you remember. Playing taxi to a bunch of spoiled diplomats doesn’t leave you with a lot of time of your own. Besides, Nogura wanted me nearby in case I was needed. I did call her. She understood how it was.”



“Mighty understanding woman, if you ask me.”



Kirk’s smile held a hint of sadness. “Yes, she was. She always knew what I wanted out of life. And from her experience with my father, she knew how much I’d be gone. Besides, I was expecting to spend at least a couple of months with her once the mission was over.”



McCoy appeared to be thinking that over as he finally uncorked the bottle he had brought. He motioned to Kirk, who leaned over to grab two glasses from the sideboard and handed them to the doctor. McCoy filled both goblets and returned to the conversation. “If you didn’t see your mother, what did you do while you were there?”



“Not much. Got some stuff done in my apartment,” Kirk answered evasively. He toyed with his glass before finally taking a small sip.



“Wasn’t Spock with you?”



Kirk took another drink as he attempted to school his thoughts. While he had been busy dealing with the red tape created by the ship’s erstwhile passengers, the Enterprise had been called away on a milk run. Kirk had talked Spock into beaming down and staying behind with him.



“You know he was,” Kirk responded, rather proud that the words came out sounding so calm.



“So what did the two of you do? I can’t imagine Spock just sitting around doing nothing for two weeks.”



Two weeks. They had been the happiest two weeks Kirk could ever remember having. They really had done nothing compared to the lives they normally led. He had been tied up with his duties a lot of the time. But they had managed to spend quite a bit of time together. Spock had helped him install more book shelves, and the audio system he’d always wanted now resounded throughout the entire apartment.



But most of the time they had done nothing so much as enjoy each other’s company. And if the fantasies that Kirk had begun to have regarding his first officer had taken on a clearer definition, they had not interfered with the joy he had felt in just spending time with his dearest friend.



“Jim?”



Kirk glanced over to see the doctor looking at him with undisguised curiosity, and he realized with a blush that he’d been so caught up in his memories that he hadn’t responded. He cleared his throat. “Like I said, we got some stuff done in my apartment.”



The doctor only nodded and then picked up his glass. He slowly took a sip, savoring the potent drink. “So where is Spock, anyway?” McCoy asked, suddenly shifting his attack.



“In the science lab, I imagine. He’s going to be acting while I’m gone. He probably wants to make sure everything’s caught up.”



McCoy snorted. “You’re only going to be gone a few days.”



Kirk shrugged and then downed his drink. “You know how he can be.”



“I thought I did. But I would have sworn he’d be down here mother-henning you.”



“He doesn’t mother-hen me.”



“The hell he doesn’t.” McCoy shook his head. “Has something happened between you two?”



“No, he’s just busy. Some people take their responsibilities to the ship seriously.”



“As far as Spock’s concerned, you have always been his main responsibility.”



“I don’t know what to tell you then.” Suddenly, Kirk couldn’t find the strength to keep his resentment in check. “He’s being the perfect first officer, just like he’s always been. I can’t ask for anything more than that.”



“Seems to me you never had a problem asking before. You don’t know what’s happened, do you?”



Somehow, McCoy’s sympathy only made it worse. He didn’t want to talk about it. The hurt and anger that had slowly grown inside of him was getting harder to deal with.



“It’s not a problem, Bones. The mission is up in three months and we’re all going our separate ways. If Spock wants to get an early start cutting the ties....”



“That’s nonsense and you know it. Something’s going on with that boy. And it would have to be something awfully damn serious for him to stay away from you.”



“His efficiency rating is still the highest on the ship. If there’s something personal going on in his life, it’s none of my business.”



“Bull.” McCoy leaned back in his chair and eyed Kirk speculatively, “I’d almost swear you don’t want to know what’s wrong. Either that, or you’re afraid to know.”



Kirk could feel his control slip just a little more, and he said the one thing that he knew would silence McCoy. “Let it go, Doctor. That’s an order.”



Anger warred with compassion, but finally the doctor only sighed and stood up. “You can run from this only so long, Jim; three months to be exact. After that...” McCoy put his glass down on the desk, “Spock may not be around to give any answers.”



Kirk watched as the doctor walked out of the cabin. He hadn’t wanted to make it an order, but McCoy had given him little choice. His friend had the uncanny knack of ferreting out things Kirk would rather keep to himself.



He sat for a time, taking a sip now and then, but not really tasting the liquid that gently burned his throat. The beginnings of a headache is what finally drove Kirk to his bed. He stood up and walked slowly over, crawling under the covers after leaving a trail of clothing in his wake. He didn’t have the strength or inclination to shower. It would wait until morning.



He tried to push away any thoughts of Spock, though with little success since uppermost in his mind was their upcoming separation. Kirk would be leaving in the morning as the shuttle from Earth rendezvoused with the ship. He worried that his departure would only intensify the drifting apart that had started so abruptly ten days before.



Ten days. Ten days of growing hurt and bewilderment after the almost ten weeks of a closeness he had never realized could exist between two people.



After their shore leave, he and Spock had continued to draw ever closer. They had been close before, best of friends and confidants. But now their time together held an undercurrent of something else; something waiting in the wings for the right time and place. A current of expectancy followed them as they worked together, ate together, spent their off-duty time together. What Kirk had thought was a shared desire had made them inseparable. But suddenly Spock was gone, and Kirk was left feeling like a drug addict denied his drug of choice.



Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe Spock didn’t want what he wanted and this was the Vulcan’s way of letting him know. He didn’t think it was possible that he could have so misread his friend, yet it made more sense than anything else. Was McCoy right? Was he afraid of finding out that what he wanted he couldn’t have?



The really strange thing about it though, was that Spock had turned off almost overnight. The Vulcan had left his cabin one evening after a night of chess and conversation, to return the next morning wary and slightly distant. And with each passing day Spock retreated more and more into his shell, until Kirk could barely get a word out of him. Still, he thought Spock would have been more sympathetic. Retreat from the intensity, yes; but not to the point of destroying their friendship. That just wasn’t Spock. No matter what, Kirk knew his friend valued their relationship and the trust they had in each other; a trust that should have let Spock know that all he had to do was say something and Kirk would back off. It would kill him but he would do it.



So if that wasn’t it, then what the hell was going on? Why was Spock pushing him away? He had tried to get an answer, but Spock could be the most evasive person in the galaxy when he put his mind to it. All Kirk knew was, he had never allowed himself to get so close to someone before and he wanted it back. But how did he get it back, when he had no idea what he had done to lose it? Maybe when he returned he could force the issue, demand a reason for his friend’s withdrawal.



Kirk groaned as he turned over, and didn’t care to analysis whether it was from the pain in his head or the one in his heart—or whether it was from the ludicrous picture of himself dropping his mantle of command to plead with his friend. He knew that, as much as it would hurt, he would wait until Spock was no longer his subordinate before insisting on an answer. He might use his concern for the ship to push the Vulcan into some sort of tolerable accord, but never his own need to regain the affections he missed.



Besides, along with the loneliness was a fair amount of anger. He resented that Spock had retreated from their friendship without having the common decency to tell Kirk what he had done to cause it. Every time he ran into Spock’s cold indifference he grew a little angrier. Somehow, he’d have to live through the next three months. Until then, he was the captain. And now more than ever, he was alone.



~



Kirk watched distractedly as the planet slowly filled the shuttle’s port window. It had been an uneventful trip from the Enterprise. He’d enjoyed the rather leisurely two-day journey. But all too soon they had reached their destination and entered into Earth orbit.



The Detroit spaceport was busy, but he managed to find his way to the teleportation station where he waited for almost half an hour before being beamed to Riverside. From there, he rented an air car and headed for the farm.



By the time the house came into view, it was midafternoon and unseasonably hot for the end of August. Usually by now the air held a brisk note of autumn. He parked the vehicle under the shade trees that fronted his family home and got out.



He stood for a moment. The house looked almost the same as the last time he had been here. There was a fresh coat of whitewash but that was about it. Flowers still grew alongside the porch, while towards one end hummingbirds still battled over the feeder. Off in the distance, he could hear the horses his mother had always kept, the barn less than a hundred feet away. His aunt had let him know they were being cared for, but she hadn’t said by whom. His first priority would be to find out.



No time like the present. He grabbed his valise from inside the ‘car and walked up the stone path laid before his grandfather had been born. In many ways, returning home had always been like stepping back in time. So much was in its original state; the buildings, still made of genuine wood; the house’s furnishings, left over from another time. Even the trees that surrounded the house were reminders of the past. Some had stood for over a hundred years. Everything was as it had always been, permanent and solid. Everything, it seemed, except the people.



He wiped off the beads of sweat on his forehead. It was hot. He was relieved to reach the wooden steps of the porch and let himself into the house. It was much cooler inside though slightly musty. He opened the drapes in the front room to let in some light and started the fans before going upstairs. His room, too, was very much as he’d left it. There was a new bedspread and the curtains had been changed, but it still looked as it did when he’d entered the academy. No longer a boy’s room, but not a man’s either.



It didn’t take long to unpack. Not planning on staying long, he’d only brought a few items of clothing. He swiftly changed into the pair of Levi's and t-shirt he’d left out and headed back downstairs. He had the rest of the day to kill. After he made his calls he’d take a look around, check on the horses and then maybe take a long walk around the property.



Fifteen minutes later, a bottle of water in hand, he was heading out the front door when he saw a slightly battered air car pull up next to his rental. He didn’t recognize the man who climbed out of the vehicle and approached him. He was about Kirk’s age, maybe a couple of years younger. His built was slim which gave an illusion of height, though he wasn’t any taller than Kirk. The dark hair that grew stylishly long contrasted with his almost pale complexion.



“Jim?”



His visitor stuck out his hand and Kirk warily shook it. “Do I know you?”



The man grinned as he let go. “Well, you used to. I’m Brian Douglas, your Aunt Stella’s son.”



“Brian! Of course. God, it’s been years! But I should have noticed the resemblance.” His father’s sister had returned to Riverside right after Kirk’s father had died, and had been a source of strength his mother had desperately needed. Her three sons had been miniature renditions of their father and close friends, especially Brian. “I didn’t know you still lived around here.”



“It’s just me and Mom. My older brothers hightailed it out of here as soon as they could possibly manage it.”



“And your dad?” Kirk had always liked his Uncle Jesse, though he never could understand why he had agreed to give up a lucrative law practice in Detroit to follow his wife to a small town like Riverside.



“I guess you hadn’t heard. He died three months ago.”



Kirk colored and silently berated himself. His mother had never mentioned it, but he’d never bothered to ask about the rest of the family either. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Your father was a great guy. I remember how he went out of his way to include me and Sam in whatever you did.”



Brian smiled. “He liked you. And I think he was hoping you’d be a good influence on me. Besides, he was a big kid in a lot of ways himself. Don’t you remember the time he caught us having a mud fight down by the pond?”



Kirk laughed. “How could I forget? He joined us.”



“My mother had a fit when we got home.” Brian grew pensive. “I really miss him.”



“It’s hard, losing a father.” Kirk felt a trickle of sweat run down his back and lifted his face to the sky. “I think it’s getting even hotter. Why don’t you come inside and visit for awhile? All I can offer you to drink is water, but it’ll be cold.”



“That’s one of the reasons I’m here.” Brian started back to the ‘car and motioned Kirk to follow him. “I picked up some stuff I thought you might need.”



With a puzzled frown, Kirk approached the back of the vehicle just as his cousin opened the hatch. Inside were several bags and a box of groceries.



Brian pulled out the box and handed it to him. “If you can take this, I’ll get the rest.”



Kirk barely managed to get the bulky container through the door and into the kitchen. He was trying to figure out where everything went when Brian entered, two large bags in each arm.



“Let me help you with that.” Kirk took two of the bags and set them on the table. “You know, it’s only me here. It looks like you bought enough food to feed an army,” he quipped as he continued to pull food containers of various descriptions from the box.



“Not quite. Besides,” Brian hesitated a moment, “I was sort of wondering if you would mind me staying here for a few days.”



He gave his cousin a curious look. “You know you don’t have to ask. Is there a problem at home?”



“If you consider half dozen relatives camped out in your house just waiting for the reading of the will a problem, then, yeah, I have a problem. It’s fascinating how a death in the family brings out the very best in people,” Brian remarked sarcastically. “Besides, it will make it easier to take care of the horses.”



Kirk almost winced at the familiar word. “You’re the one who’s been looking after them? I tried getting hold of your mother but no one answered. I was just about to take a look around and figured I’d check on them.”



“They’re fine. I’ve been over every day to feed and water them. I guess you didn’t know I worked for your mom.” He looked at Kirk expectantly. “So, it’s okay?”



“Sure it’s okay. There’s plenty of room and I’d appreciate the company.” Until a moment ago, he had managed to not think about Spock since his arrival. Maybe someone else in the house would help him keep his mind off his first officer for most of his stay.



“Great. I’ll get my bag.” Brian blushed and chuckled guiltily. “I was being optimistic. Anyway, I’ll get my things and then help you put everything away.”



Kirk only shook his head in amusement as he watched his cousin hurry out. Maybe with Brian around the time would go by faster, he mused as he unloaded another bag of groceries. They had been very close as kids, so the two of them would have plenty to talk about. Kirk started whistling softly as he moved about the kitchen, his troubles temporarily forgotten.



~



Later on, they managed to throw together a meal. It had been years since Kirk had been called on to prepare anything more complicated than a sandwich and it showed. But Brian appeared to have a flair for cooking and the supper they shared was a satisfying one.



Kirk pushed back from the table. “Where did you learn to cook so well?”



“It wasn’t intentional, believe me. But I had my own place until my dad died.”



“You decided to move back to take care of your mother?” Kirk pushed aside a twinge of guilt.



“That’s the official story,” Brian answered ruefully. “To tell the truth, I was coming off a really bad breakup. I think I needed the pampering.”



“Married?”



“No, but we were together for over six years. It’s been difficult.”



“I can’t even imagine what that must be like.”



Brian gave him a speculative look. “You’ve never had a long-term relationship, have you?”



“Only if you don’t count my ship.”



“Must be some ship.”



“She is.” Kirk quieted. He could have kicked himself for bringing it up. Now he probably wouldn’t be able to think about anything else.



Brian watched him for a moment before he pushed away from the table, gathering plates as he stood up. “I brought some beer. Want to have a few out on the porch?”



“I don’t know, the funeral’s in the morning.” Kirk rose and began helping his cousin clear the table.



“The services tomorrow aren’t until ten. Besides, I think it’ll help take the edge off. No offense, but you seem kind of distracted.”



Kirk looked at him in surprise. “I don’t know what you mean.”



“It’s like you’re worried about something. Are you, Jim?”



Kirk shrugged and walked over to place the dishes in the sink. “I guess I’m still thinking about my ship. It’s not something you can just turn off—or, at least, I can’t.”



“Well, there you go. So what do you say?”



It would probably help, Kirk thought. He was used to the throb of the ship lulling him to sleep. “All right, let’s get this cleaned up and head outside.”



The temperature had dropped with the setting of the sun, and the breeze that softly blew brought a chill as the two men settled on the verandah. The surrounding area was still not highly developed, and Kirk was able to see as many stars as he remembered gazing at as a boy.



“It never seems to change,” Kirk noted. He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees to get a better look at the night sky. The bottle of beer dangled loosely from one hand. “I remember thinking that when I arrived. It doesn’t seem to matter to this place how many years go by. It could almost be me and Sam out here. We used to sneak down after my mom went to bed and stay up half the night.”



“I remember you used to idolize him. I think I was a little jealous.”



“Really?” Kirk turned in surprise.



“You know how kids can be. I didn’t like sharing you with anyone,” Brian responded in a slightly embarrassed manner. “That sounds really bad now that he’s gone.”



“You and I did spend a lot of time together, didn’t we? But we’re about the same age. Sam being older, it made me feel older whenever he noticed me. I wanted his approval.” Kirk chuckled. “For years he kidded me about it, what a pest I made of myself.”



“It sounds like you remained close,” Brian noted. He had taken a seat on the porch swing and was little more than a shadow in the darkened corner.



“We tried.” Kirk took a sip of beer. “And as we got older, the years between us didn’t seem to matter so much.” He turned to his cousin. “How about you? Didn’t you ever get close to your brothers?”



“Not really. It wasn’t like you and George. They had each other and that seemed to be enough for both of them. I was just their bothersome little brother. I was in the way and they made sure I knew it. Sometimes I feel like I grew up as an only child. It probably would have been better if I had.”



“I don’t know,” Kirk responded, automatically thinking of Spock. “I think that could be very lonely.”



“You must miss him.”



“Sam?” Kirk hesitated. “Sometimes. But it got harder to keep the relationship going, especially after he got married. I’d see him from time to time. But once I got into space, usually years would go by between visits.”



“I suppose being on a ship would make keeping in contact with someone difficult.”



“It does. You have to understand, life on a starship demands certain sacrifices. You go where Starfleet sends you, so it’s hard to make plans with the people you knew from before. And even if you do manage to be in the same place at the same time, you often find that you no longer have a lot in common. The ship, your crew, have somehow become your world.”



Brian cleared his throat. “You know, your mother commented one time that you were ‘married’ to your ship. I thought she was exaggerating.”



Kirk stood and approached the edge of the porch. Sitting on the railing, he turned to face his cousin. “No, unfortunately my mother knew exactly what my getting a ship would mean. She’d been through it before, remember?”



“You know, I don’t remember too much about your dad. We only came down maybe once a month before he died, and I was so young at the time. But I do remember him being gone a lot. And I remember you complaining about that.”



“I suppose I did. That’s probably why I haven’t let myself get involved with anyone. I know what it’s like to be left behind.”



“Don’t you get lonely? It’s not like you can get chummy with your crew. You’re their captain.”



“It’s a little difficult sometimes, but I’ve got a couple of very good friends on the ship. The ship’s surgeon, Leonard McCoy, is one. We already knew each other, so I was the one who recommended him for the post when my first CMO retired. And my first officer and I are...pretty close, too.”



“You don’t sound so sure.”



Without thinking about it, Kirk turned toward the stars. “I’m sure. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had.”



“So why the hesitancy?”



Kirk shrugged. “There’s been a strain between us recently. But he’s still the person I depend on more than anyone else. I don’t know how I’d run the ship without him. He’s everything I could ask for in a first officer—and a friend.”



Brian got up and joined him at the railing. “You sound serious about him.”



Kirk looked back at his cousin in surprise. “Serious? Spock and I are only friends.”



“But you want more.” His cousin waved him off when Kirk started to protest. “Jim, I know what you’re feeling. Really, I do. My six year relationship was with another man. And right now, the look on your face, I’d be blind not to see it.”



Maybe it was the beer, or the unique circumstance of being at his boyhood home with someone he had grown up with; someone close, who obviously understood what it was to love another man. Or maybe it was just because he was tired of carrying it around with him, locked up tight so no one would know. Whatever the reason, Kirk found himself responding to his cousin’s obvious concern.



“He’s my first officer, male and a Vulcan.” Kirk shook his head and gave Brian a rueful smile. “Talk about stacking the deck.”



“Well, I’m no expert but don’t Vulcans pair up, too?”



“Yes, but I don’t know how much affection has to do with it. It’s not exactly something they talk about. And there’s the problem of whether they condone two men being together.”



“You think they might have problems with it? Weird.”



Kirk chuckled at his cousin’s remark. “Maybe, but it’s not exactly logical, is it? I mean, entering a relationship that won’t produce offspring.”



“They can’t possibly think that’s the end all and be all of a relationship. Besides, if that were the case why would Spock even become friends with you? What purpose would it serve? And it sounds like the relationship is pretty intense.”



Yes, it is. Or, it was. I thought he felt something for me, something more than friendship. But recently...”



“Recently?” Brian prompted.



“He’s been distant, almost cold. And I don’t know what I’ve done to cause it.”



“Have you tried asking him?”



“Of course, I did. But he said nothing was wrong. Spock’s hard to pin down when he doesn’t want to be.” Kirk brought his beer up and took a swallow.



“So why didn’t you force the issue?”



He almost choked on his drink. “Brian, I’m his captain. I can’t go around asking why he doesn’t like me anymore.”



“I don’t know why not.” Brian grinned at the scowl Kirk threw him. “Okay, okay, you can’t go that route. But if you can’t get him to tell you what’s wrong, what are you going to do?”



“Hell if I know. Probably wait until the mission is over in three months and hope I’m not too late.”



“Too late to right whatever’s wrong?”



Kirk looked up. Somewhere off to the northeast, the Enterprise was making her way along the space lanes, carrying on without him. “Too late for anything.”



~



Spock entered the dining room, quickly picked out his dinner and sat at one of the tables near the back of the room. If he was very lucky, he could finish his meal before McCoy made his entrance. He doubted it though. Over the last two point four days the doctor had managed to completely disrupt Spock’s well-ordered routine; since the captain’s departure, to be exact.



McCoy was everywhere; making sure Spock never ate alone and appearing on the bridge for the most feeble of reasons. He had even been seen in the science labs, silently watching as Spock attempted to do his work. It was disquieting. Especially since Spock was well aware what the doctor was trying to do.



Spock had tried so hard for none to realize his dilemma. He should have known McCoy would not be fooled.



Jim. He missed his friend desperately. A truly ironic situation when you considered how Spock had gone out of his way to rebuff him. But it had become necessary. The mission was ending and Kirk was being offered a promotion to the Admiralty and a place at Starfleet headquarters.



Sarek had been the unknowing deliverer of the news. Since their reunion during the Babel conference, he and Spock had been in regular contact . This time, they had been close enough to Vulcan for visual communication. when Sarek had asked if he planned to follow his captain to his next assignment, Spock had managed to hide his reaction and inform his father that he was not yet certain of his course. Apparently, at least in the circles his father moved in, Kirk’s future was already common knowledge.



It had taken several hours of meditation before he was able to regain control of his emotions. Spock took a deep breath. However much the shock of learning of Kirk’s situation, the bigger shock had been when days had gone by without Kirk saying anything to him about it.



He had thought to just ask, but doing so would bring to light Sarek’s unknowing breach of military protocol. And though admitting to Kirk his father’s error was not his first choice, it was not something he felt he had to hide from his friend. He had truly assumed there would be no need, that his captain would eventually tell him. By the time he realized that Kirk wasn’t going to, Spock’s bewilderment had been replaced with an anger that both shocked and disturbed him.



And, though reluctant to admit it, he was hurt. Spock had thought he knew what it was to be hurt in this way. He was wrong. The taunting of his childhood was nothing to this. Kirk was his friend, or at least Spock had thought so.



The last years had brought a contentment he had never known before. He looked forward to any time spent in Kirk’s company with undisguised pleasure. And the closeness they shared during their last shore leave together had forced Spock to an uncomfortable realization. He wanted more from his friend, much more. He wanted everything.



Initially, he had believed Kirk felt the same way. It was inconceivable that his friend was oblivious to their shared reaction to each other. There was an intimacy to everything they did together. Spock had begun to hope that he and Kirk could be one in all ways. Until this. So the hurt and sense of betrayal had grown, until it had been a relief to be away from the human. Strange how he assumed the same would hold true once Kirk was off the ship. In that, too, he had been wrong.



“You planning on eating that?”



Spock almost jumped at the sound of McCoy’s voice and the bang of the doctor’s tray on the table. Instead, he merely looked up and met McCoy’s question with silence.



The human eased himself into the chair across from Spock and gave him an appraising stare. “You’re going to have to talk to me eventually, Spock.”



“I do speak to you, Doctor. But only when necessary.” Spock returned his attention to his meal. Perhaps actually eating part of it would placate McCoy.



“I got a star gram from Jim,” McCoy announced as he unrolled his napkin.



It was an effort to continue his fork’s journey to his mouth, to take in the nourishment and pretend the words hadn’t brought another stab of pain. “I hope he is not experiencing too much difficulty.”



“He sounded okay. Actually, he seemed a lot more relaxed than he has for quite some time now. You noticed, didn’t you? How unhappy he’s been recently?” the doctor asked with an innocent expression.



“In fact, I had not. My duties have kept me from any personal interaction with the captain. There is much to be done before mission’s end.”



“Yeah, that’s what Jim said, too. But I didn’t believe him anymore than I do you.”



Spock’s fist tightened on his fork. “You may believe, or not believe, what you wish, Doctor. And I’m sure the captain is as concerned about your position on this matter as I am.”



“Hit a sore spot, did I?” McCoy asked, satisfactorily. “Good. Maybe you’ll even ease up on him enough to answer his message.”



“Message?”



McCoy’s eyes rounded innocently. “Didn’t I tell you? He sent you a star gram, too. Said he’d be at the farm for the rest of the week if we needed to contact him.”



Spock wrestled with his sudden impatience to get away and head directly to his cabin. He even managed to finish his meal before finally rising to his feet. “If you will excuse me, Doctor. I still have much to do in the science labs.”



“Sure, Spock. Whatever you say.”



He headed for the door, stopping only long enough to dump his tray at the recycling chute. But he wasn’t fast enough to miss McCoy’s parting shot. “Don’t work to hard, Spock,” and a knowing laugh, followed him out the room.



~



Spock actually did go to the science labs first. Kirk or no Kirk, he still held a strong sense of duty. He had several tests running that needed to be observed at specific time intervals. With great effort, he submerged his impatience and threw himself into his work. It was pushing twenty-two hundred hours by the time he finally closed down the lab and returned to his quarters.



He sat at his desk and pulled up his day’s mail. There were several reports waiting along with the message from his captain. Spock debated with himself for several seconds the merits of choosing his own emotional gratification over his duty to the ship. Finally, he pulled up Kirk’s message. The reports were not due for another three days. They could wait a little longer.



Kirk was sitting in what was obviously a bedroom. A small lamp gave the only light and Spock could just make out a half opened window behind his captain. It was dark outside. Kirk’s hair was mussed and the white t-shirt he wore only accented the slight flush of his cheeks.



“Hi, Spock,” Kirk started, somewhat hesitantly. “I just wanted to let you know I arrived in one piece.” The weak smile that crossed his face only made him look more vulnerable. “The funeral’s tomorrow. I think we’re all going to my Aunt Stella’s house afterwards.” Kirk ran his hand through his hair. “I probably never mentioned her. She’s my father’s sister.”



Spock swallowed hard. There had never been such unnaturalness between them. Kirk’s words were stilted, as if using them only to fill the void left by Spock’s withdrawal. He felt overwhelming shame that his behavior had brought Kirk to this, no matter his reasons.



“Anyway, I’ll be here a little longer than I expected. The reading of the will isn’t until Friday...uh, two days from now. I’ll probably stay a few days after that.” There was a few moments silence before his captain continued. “How’s the ship? Is everything running smoothly? No problems? I hope it’s not making you fall behind in your own work. I know how much it means to you.” Kirk licked his lips. “Maybe when I get back we can finish the chess game we started. We haven’t had a lot of time together recently. I’ve...I’ve missed you.” The human’s face went beet red. “I’ll see you when I get back. Kirk out.”



He saw Kirk lean forward and break the contact. The screen went blank. Slowly, Spock reached out and turned off his terminal. The message had not been at all what he’d expected.



He rose and made his way into the bathroom where he showered and prepared for bed. As he put his toiletries away, he glanced at the door leading to his captain’s cabin. Knowing that the other room was empty only added to the confusing mix of sorrow, anger and a growing turmoil.



When Spock finally crawled into bed, he found that he was unable to stop his mind from continuing its by now habitual circling of this problem with Kirk.



Kirk’s pronouncement that he missed Spock had brought a flood of warmth. But more than that, it had brought confusion and a surge of resentment. Why had Kirk said it? The human had made it clear by his silence that his future and Spock’s were to be on different paths. Even more hurtful, it spoke of a lack of trust on Kirk’s part. For him to now speak of missing their time together...and yet, Kirk had looked genuinely lonely.



Spock turned on his side in frustration. He knew so little of the inner workings of the human psyche. The signals they used to alert one another to their true feelings were often lost on him. But if asked, he would have said with a high degree of certainty that he knew Kirk.



Spock contemplated his decision to leave the ship at the end of the mission and return to Vulcan. He reluctantly admitted to himself that he had allowed his hurt feelings to cause him to react in an emotional manner to Kirk’s silence. From that one thing alone, he had thought to reset the course of his life. He had automatically concluded that Kirk had not informed him of his advancement because he no longer wished Spock’s company; perhaps, even regretted their recent behavior toward each other.



But when had Kirk ever behaved in such a manner? It was not his captain’s way to avoid unpleasant confrontations. And when had he ever made a decision based on partial information? Always, always, Spock had prided himself on his strict adherence to the precepts of logic. Yet he had been willing to throw away the life he loved, the man he loved over what was little more than foolish pride.



What would Kirk do when told of his first officer’s love, of his desire, for his captain? Would he turn away in shock and disgust? Or would he gently inform Spock that he did not feel the same and that perhaps it was for the best that their lives were now taking different directions. In either case, Spock would not lose more than he was by saying nothing.



But what if Spock’s first impression had been correct and Kirk returned his affection, hungered for Spock as Spock hungered for him? Spock recalled the time they had spent together on Earth. Their talks had developed an underlying intensity that had not been there before. And the casual touches Kirk had always bestowed on him had become more numerous and longer lasting. Surely, it meant something. If there was a chance that his captain wanted the same thing he did, Spock would be a fool to throw it away.



He rolled onto his back and shook his head in both relief and wonder. Relief, that he would not be making the voyage back to his home world, and wonder that he had ever thought to. Apparently, even Vulcans could be brought down by hubris.



Closing his eyes, he willed his body to relax. It was like pulling the plug on an overfilled basin. The tension drained from him and he smiled. When Kirk returned, they would talk. And one way or the other, Spock would know where his future lay.



~



The minister droned on, his words like a white noise filling the small chapel. It was warm, as if the building had not been meant to hold so many. Family and friends had gathered to pay their final respects to Winona Kirk.



Kirk sat in the front row next to his aunt. The dark blue suit he wore was hot, and his shirt, wet with perspiration, stuck to his back. Trying not to squirm, he edged closer to the end of the pew and away from the added warmth of the woman’s body. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Hopefully, his action would appear to be that of a son lost in the preacher’s comforting words. In reality, he was having trouble staying awake.



He and Brian had talked well into the night. And it was only as the sky had started to lighten in the east that they had made their way to bed. For once the floodgates had opened, both had had much to say.



It was eye-opening to listen to his cousin speak of his relationship with another man. There was not the pattern of pursued and pursuer Kirk had followed with the women in his life. Brian had made that perfectly clear. Whatever rules Kirk may have learned thus far would be useless to him if he and Spock were ever going to make a go of it. The Vulcan would demand from him more than any woman had ever dared.



That was, of course, if he could get Spock to talk about what was bothering him. He smiled to himself. After last night, he was certainly going to try. It had been at his cousin’s insistence that he had sent the message to his first officer. Oddly enough, he felt that it had done him some good; if for no other reason than he tended to feel better after beginning a course of action.



The nudge in his side told him his aunt had caught him daydreaming. He opened his eyes and sat up as he tried to ignore the glare she threw his way. His parents had never been big on ceremony. Kirk was sure his mother would have hated having the supercilious man at the front of the church speaking piously to the congregation about a woman he had never met. The flowers scenting the room would have been lost on her, and she probably would have been amused to see her son caught by some of the maxims of society neither had believed in.



Kirk had given in on a lot of things, this being one of them, perhaps driven by guilt for not being here for her. He had allowed the ceremony, the flowers and the gathering together afterwards mainly for his aunt’s sake. They weren’t close, but she and his mother had always been. It didn’t hurt him to give her this. But on one point he had remained steadfast.



His mother was to be cremated. Afterwards, he would take her to a place on the farm and release her ashes onto the land she loved. It was what she had wanted. His mother’s family had also been farmers, so her connection to the earth was profound. She had loved the smell of the wet soil and the sound of the wind blowing through the stalks of wheat and corn. More than once, he had caught her walking idly through the fields, as if gathering nourishment from the unharvested crops.



Yet, the wide open spaces had called to her, too, and he fondly remembered the stories she recounted to him when he was a boy of her home in the deserts of the Southwest; stories that described its dramatic vistas and the gods that held sway there. She had missed it desperately. But she had managed to make a connection to this new place through the passion she had shared with the people here. So perhaps among the tall corn, where the sounds of Kokopelli’s flute brought warmth and life to the land just releasing its bounty, she would find her final rest.



The congregation rose, catching him off guard. He glanced at his cousin and then got to his feet. The casket was lifted by the pallbearers and with the minister leading, began its slow journey down the center aisle. After it passed, the mourners turned to him in expectation. Kirk straightened and with a resolute look, followed his mother’s body from the church.



~



“That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Kirk remarked. Once the services were over, he and his cousin had made their appearance at his aunt’s house but had not stayed long. Barely an hour later they were on their way back to the farmhouse, the hum of the air car only a slight disturbance to the quiet serenity of the passing landscape.



Brian chuckled. “You didn’t give them a lot of time to say anything.”



“Most of them hardly knew my mom. What could they tell me about her that I didn’t already know?”



“I suppose what it was like to see her from another perspective other than that of a son. Not that I’m complaining, but was that the reason you didn’t want to stay longer?”



Kirk shrugged, his eyes never leaving the road. “It all seemed so phony; their grief, their sympathy for me.”



“They think it’s expected. It’s the same way they reacted when my dad died.”



“I guess I’ve gotten used to people who are more honest than that. When you’re surrounded by people who count on you for their lives....”



“Oh, like Spock?” Brian asked nonchalantly.



Kirk gave him a sour look. “That’s different. When it comes to our jobs, Spock tells me exactly what he thinks. That’s what he’s paid for.”



“So why not when it comes to your personal relationship?” Brian turned in his seat to face Kirk. “You mentioned last night that you felt you and he were coming to some sort of understanding. From everything else you said, he doesn’t strike me as the type to blow hot and cold. I can’t help but think that something must of happened.”



“You think?” Kirk responded sarcastically. “Of course, something happened. But since he won’t tell me what it is, I can’t do anything to fix whatever it is I did to make him mad in the first place.”



“You sound angry,” his cousin quietly remarked.



“I suppose I am. I just never thought Spock would act this way.”



Brian didn’t respond. He seemed to withdraw into himself, allowing Kirk the opportunity to brood over yet another problem.



Nogura had given him an ultimatum. Take the promotion to the Admiralty, or risk being assigned some backwater station. Either way he was screwed. He didn’t want to give up space travel.



He’d thought about quitting. There were plenty of companies who would jump at the chance to sign on the ex-captain of the Enterprise. A month didn’t go by when he didn’t receive an offer from one outfit or another. So what if flying a research or cargo vessel lacked the excitement of a starship? At least he’d be in space. But like everything else in his life nowadays, this little conundrum was directly linked to his relationship with Spock. Because no matter where he was, he couldn’t see himself there without the Vulcan.



They had never brought it up, what each proposed to do once the mission was over. Until recently, Kirk had assumed, okay, he had hoped, that they would be offered another mission. After all, Pike had had three.



But the Enterprise had been in space for a long time. She needed a refit, badly. Kirk had racked his brains for weeks, ever since he had received the “offer” from Nogura, trying to think of something he and Spock could legitimately do until the ship was ready to return to space. He hadn’t come up with a thing.



It had occurred to him to ask Spock about it. He almost had a couple of times. But between Spock’s changing attitude toward him, and his own reluctance to place his friend in the awkward situation of declining his offer, he had ended up saying nothing.



“Ted was like that.” Brian’s voice held a hint of anger.



The sudden pronouncement startled Kirk and he glanced over at his cousin. “Like what?”



“He’d close off and not tell me what was bothering him. It used to drive me crazy. Why in the hell can’t they act like adults?”



Kirk bristled at the implied insult to his friend. “Spock’s a Vulcan. Things are different for them. You can’t compare the way he reacts to the way a human would.”



“Why not? You said he was half.”



“It’s complicated.”



“Yeah, it’s always complicated. That’s a great excuse but a hell of a reason.”



Kirk noted the bitterness that had crept into Brian’s voice as he turned the ‘car down the dirt road to the house. He pulled the vehicle in next to his cousin’s and turned off the engine.



The ticking sound of metal cooling vied with the wind’s fluttering of the leaves. Yet, neither man made a move.



“Are you all right?” Kirk finally asked.



Brian nodded and with a tired sigh opened the ‘car door and climbed out. “I guess I haven’t come to terms with it as well as I thought.”



Kirk followed him into the house. But while Brian made for the living room, Kirk headed upstairs. He could hardly wait to shower. Thirty minutes later, clean and comfortably back in his Levi's, he returned downstairs to find his cousin laid out on the couch, still in his dress clothes.



“Aren’t you going to change?” Kirk sat on the sofa across from him, the wide coffee table separating them.



“Eventually. Right now all I feel like is getting drunk.” He turned to Kirk and smiled weakly. “Don’t worry. I know we have to be at the lawyer’s office bright and early.” He shifted around and propped himself up on his elbow. “Jim, can I ask you something?”



Kirk eyed him warily. “Depends on what it is.”



“Say you and Spock manage to get together. What happens if it doesn’t work out?”



“It has to work out.”



“Why? A lot of relationship don’t. I’m a perfect example of that.”



“Well,” Kirk hesitated as he tried to find the right words. There were some things he could tell no one. “For one thing, Vulcans usually pair for life. Divorce...isn’t much of an option. For another, I couldn’t stand the idea of him not being in my life. I’d make it work, no matter what it took. Why do you ask?”



“I’ve been thinking about what you told me last night, about how much he means to you, and how much you want him in your life—and what you would do to keep him there.”



“He’s very important to me.”



“Right. It made me reevaluate my own situation.”



“In what way?”



Brian sat up and loosened his shirt. “Ted didn’t leave me, I left him.”



Kirk’s eyes widened in surprise. “I didn’t know that. I guess I assumed by your attitude that he left.”



“I know. I’ve been really good at playing the martyr. ‘Poor Brian, he got dumped.’ The fact of the matter is, I felt like we were heading in two different directions.”



“And you thought, what, that he would have dumped you eventually?”



“No...I don’t know. Maybe. We were taking things for granted that maybe we shouldn’t have. Sometimes, things have to be spelled out.”



“Like what?”



Brian groped for words. “Like, ‘am I enough for you? Is what we have enough to overcome any...disappointments we might face?’”



“He was disappointed in you?”



“Not me directly. At least, I don’t think so. Ted wants more than Riverside can give him. But I’m a farmer, Jim. There’d be no place for me where he wants to go.”



“So you’re wondering if that has anything to do with the problems Spock and I are having?”



“I don’t know. But you don’t seem to be communicating very well. Say he does want something entirely different than what you do. What then?”



“I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to compromise.”



“That’s not always the easiest thing in the world to do. Even when you’re so crazy about the person you can’t keep your hands to yourself.” Brian hesitated a moment. “Last night, not once did you say anything about having sex with Spock. You do want to, don’t you?”



Kirk laughed. “Hell, yes, I want to. He’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.” He grew pensive. “But he’s so much more than that to me, Brian. He’s my best friend, the person I go to whether I want a good workout in the gym or just a quiet evening of conversation. I trust him more than anyone else in the universe. He makes me laugh. I know Vulcans aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor, but Spock does. And I know this must sound corny as hell, but he completes me. There’s no other way for me to put it.”



Brian shook his head and chuckled. “You’ve got it bad, Cousin.”



“Tell me something I don’t already know.”



“Okay. If he’s half of what you’ve described, I wouldn’t waste anymore time. Because, sooner or later, someone’s going to snatch him up. The good ones don’t stay alone for very long. I know that for sure.”



Kirk’s smile faded as he studied his cousin. “What happened?”



“I took my own advise last night and called Ted.”



“And?”



“Someone else answered.”



“I’m sorry, Brian.”



Brian shrugged and stood up. “It’s what I deserve. Anyway,” he managed a forced brightness, “let me go change and we’ll take that tour of the farm you were planning yesterday. The horses could use the exercise.”



Kirk rose to his feet. It would do them both good. They were getting too caught up in their troubles. A memory of the two of them flying through the fields at a full gallop made him grin. They couldn’t have been more than twelve, and their dreams still lay ahead of them. “I’ll get the horses saddled. And then we’ll see if I can still beat you in a fair race.”



~



They had been riding about forty minutes when they came to the first cornfields. The ears still hung heavy on the tall stalks that swayed in the afternoon sun. They stopped their horses alongside the split-rail that separated the field from the dirt road they traveled on.


“I thought it would have been harvested by now,” Kirk remarked.



“Soon. I think this field is scheduled for the middle of September.”



“How did you know that?”



Brian smiled. “I worked for your mom, remember? This is too big a place to be run by just one person.”



“I know.” Kirk stood in his saddle and noted the size of the crop. The road ahead of them was a narrow ribbon that dissected the huge fields on either side. He settled back into his seat with a frown. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it though.” He quirked a smile at his cousin. “That’s assuming it’s mine.”



“Oh, it’s yours, all right. Aunt Winona was adamant about that.”



They started forward again, letting the horses set the pace. When the road finally turned, it was toward an uncultivated field with a stand of trees at its far end.



“We’re heading toward the pond,” Kirk noted.



“You remember.” Brian chuckled. “But I imagine it’s not some place you’d ever forget considering all that went on there.”



Kirk remembered. He remembered the hot summer days swimming in its cool waters; and hot summer nights where his first lessons in what his body desired were first learned. His sexuality had roared to life along its reedy banks as he found pleasure in a variety of arms.



There were times when the place had been a veritable lover’s lane. The Kirk boys and their friends had all used it. If during the day they swam naked together in its hazy depths, it wasn’t much of a leap to know those same boys could hear what you were doing at night, just as you could hear them. Perhaps that was why he had always been comfortable with his body and what it wanted, his outlook uncluttered by any sense of propriety.



“You think it’s still warm enough to take a dip?” Kirk challenged his cousin.



“I thought you’d never ask.”



Brian turned his horse and led the way through the tall grass and into the trees. The pond, as they had come to call it, really wasn’t one; rather, an inlet created as the Big Sioux River cut across the land, the trees only the start of the forest that spread out on the opposite bank. But the stand of water was usually a good twenty degrees warmer than the icy flow that fed it.



They hitched the animals to a tree and quickly shed their clothes. They walked over to where a large, flat boulder edged out into the water.



“You first,” Kirk dared.



Brian leaned over and examined the water. He looked at Kirk. “It even looks cold.”



“Go on. You were willing to a minute ago.”



“That was before I was standing here without a stitch on, about to jump into water that’s probably below fifty degrees.”



If I go first, you have to make dinner.”



His cousin’s reply was instant. “You’re on.”



Kirk turned toward the water and took a deep breath. Not giving himself time to think about it, he dived in. He almost gasp when the cold water engulfed him. It was freezing! He quickly surfaced and started swimming vigorously across the pond. After a few minutes, his body got used to the lower temperature and he started to enjoy it. “Come on in, the water’s fine.”



Brian stood on the ledge, eyeing Kirk and then the water. Finally, he backed up and with a running leap, threw himself in.



“God, it’s like ice!” Brian swam toward Kirk and past him, cutting through the water with clean, strong strokes. At the other side, he turned and pushed himself back.



Kirk watched his cousin as he lazily paddled to keep himself afloat. Brian’s body was a lot like Spock’s, lean and sinewy, though his cousin lacked the Vulcan’s height. His dark hair and fair complexion only added to the similarity. Kirk could almost imagine that it was Spock here with him. He grinned at that thought. Spock would have looked at him like he was crazy if Kirk ever suggested that his first officer remove his clothing and immerse himself in the frigid water.



Brian swam up to him. “What’s so funny?”



“Nothing, just enjoying myself.” And Kirk realized, that was exactly what he was doing. Being with his cousin at this time was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. Their relationship was uncomplicated, of long duration, and grounded in a love that was just part of who you were. He turned toward the farther banks, “Come on, I’ll race you to the other side.”



They spent the rest of the afternoon there. When they finally got out of the water, they spread a blanket and lay under the open sky. The coverlets that were always tied to the saddles were slightly scratchy but better than the bare ground. They snacked on the food they had brought along while their bodies dried in the hot sun.



“You’re starting to get pink.”



Kirk opened his eyes and moved his arm away from his face. He had stretched out and had been enjoying the feel of the heat on his body. He came up on his elbows and studied his legs and chest. “Yeah, it would probably be a good idea to get dressed.” He flopped back down to his previous position. “But not yet.”



“Well, I’m not going to get sunburned.”



He could hear his cousin pulling on his clothes. “That’s why you’re so pale.”



Brian snorted. “Yeah? Well, you don’t have any hair on your chest.”



Kirk laughed. “Neither did Sam. Mom seemed to think it was from the small amount of Indian blood she brought to the mix. I kind of like it.”



“Does Spock?”



“That, I don’t know.”



“Not yet.”



“No, not yet.”



“But you’re going to find out, right?”



Kirk finally sat up and took the shirt his cousin handed him. “Don’t worry. I’m going to make him talk to me as soon as I get back to the ship. Because you’re right. If I don’t, I could end up losing him for good.”



Brian nodded in satisfaction before throwing Kirk his pants.



They finished dressing and started the journey back home. The sun was slipping below the horizon by the time they fed and curried the animals and settled them in for the night. On the way back to the house, Kirk looked up at the stars that had begun to appear. Unerringly, his glance strayed toward where he knew his true home sailed.



~



It was raining the next morning. Kirk lay in bed for a time and listened to the heavy downpour. He debated getting up. It wasn’t even six yet. But habit set by years of military service won out. He crawled out of bed, threw on a pair of sweats and a robe and, after a quick wash-up, headed downstairs.



The house was quiet, though he was surprised to see the lights on in the kitchen. He had tried to make as little noise as possible and had let his hair dry naturally. It now curled annoyingly about his face. That brought an amused smile from his cousin who looked up from his newspaper when Kirk entered.



“I thought you were still asleep.” Kirk grabbed a cup and served himself some coffee before joining his cousin at the kitchen table.



“The storm woke me.” Brian closed the paper and set it aside.



Kirk took a sip of coffee and gave Brian an appreciative nod. “This is good.”



“Thanks. It’s one of the few things I could make better than Ted. He’s something of a gourmet and didn’t appreciate most of my attempts in the kitchen.”



“Well, you can make the coffee every day as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been told mine tastes just a bit better than bilge water.”



Brian chuckled. “Gee, thanks. By the way, would you mind if we stop by my old place after the meeting with the lawyer?”



“Sure, no problem. You forget something?”



“No, actually, I forgot to leave something. Lughnasadh is Sunday, and I’ve got Ted’s entry form.”



“I’m sorry, what’s on Sunday?” Kirk asked quizzically.



“Lughnasadh. It’s a celebration of the harvest. There’s a fair with rides and all sorts of agricultural competitions. Ted’s entering one of his concoctions in the baking contest.” Brian frowned. “Don’t you remember? We all used to go when we were kids.”



“I remember going to the fair, but I don’t remember it being called...what you just called it.”



“I think they usually just call it a county fair, but that’s its real name.”



“A harvest celebration, huh? Isn’t that rather...archaic?”



Brian scowled. “Why? We still eat, don’t we?” He blushed slightly and lightened his tone. “It’s a time to take stock of what the summer has brought, to celebrate and enjoy the outcome of our hard work and to honor that work and the sacrifices made to provide sustenance for our families and community. It’s a connection to the past.”



“That sounds almost like a speech.” Kirk smiled to soften his words.



“Yeah, well, I think I’ve repeated it often enough. Ted likes to enter his stuff into the competitions but he doesn’t really understand what it is being celebrated. To him it’s a carnival or a way to make money. He doesn’t realize that for a lot of us it’s a reaffirmation of our lives. Especially now that things are changing so much and we wonder what the future’s going to be like.”



“It’s a big universe out there, Brian. But I don’t get the idea that Earth is going to have any trouble keeping up.”



Brian shook his head and gave Kirk an affectionate look. “You always were different, you know that? Even as kids, I knew you weren’t going to stick around here. But that place you’ve made for yourself, it’s very different from what’s here, Jim.”



“Not so different. We know what it is to work hard, to work as a team to provide a safe place for the entire crew.”



“Maybe, but I’ve seen stories about you on the news. They talk about what planet you’ve just been to, what new civilization you’ve just discovered. That’s a far cry from making a living by doing what people have been doing for tens of thousands of years.”



“Other planets grow food, too, Brian.”



“I know that. But I only live on this one. The way of life that goes with working the land hasn’t changed all that much. It’s very traditional. You, on the other hand, talk about wanting to get intimate with a Vulcan; a Vulcan. Most people around here have never even met one.”



“So what are you saying? That you and the people of Riverside are being left behind?”



“I don’t know. Perhaps.” Brian gazed out the window. “Your life sounds really exciting, but it’s not the life I’d want for myself. I like it here. I enjoy what I do. But if every so often I get melancholy for what’s gone,” he looked back at Kirk, “it’s a small price to pay for having had it to begin with.”



“I don’t know if you’re talking about small-town living or your relationship with Ted.”



“I don’t either, to tell you the truth. Maybe it’s because part of the Lughnasadh celebration has always been the forming of oaths; business and marriage contracts are traditionally drawn up during this time.” He shrugged and smiled. “Anyway, I think you’d enjoy it. You should go with me.”



“Don’t you think it would look odd, me going to a fair so soon after my mother’s death?” Kirk asked.



“Are you sad, Jim?”



Kirk took a sip of coffee. It was a question he’d asked himself several times. “Not in the way I should be. I don’t miss her. How could I? I barely ever saw her. But I think I miss who she was to me.”



“Do you remember all the times she took you to the fair?”



“Yeah, that I remember.” Kirk smiled. “She was like a kid with a new toy. She loved the rides and all the food and just having a good time.”



“Then I’d say going to the fair would be the nicest thing you could do to remember her.”



~



The sky was still overcast when they left the lawyer’s office and water puddled on the walkway outside the building. But the rain had calmed to a light drizzle as they approached the ‘car.



“Well, that was...interesting,” Brian exclaimed.



“Yeah, it sure was.” Kirk was still trying to take in all he had learned in the last few hours. He opened the back of the ‘car and deposited the two items he’d been given. One held his mother’s ashes. He already had an idea where he would scatter them. But the other...it had turned out that he had known his mother even less than he thought.



“Do you mind walking a bit? It will only be for a couple of blocks.”



“I thought we were going to your old place.”



“We are.” Brian grabbed Kirk’s arm and pulled him toward the street. “It’s close by and I can’t see driving such a short distance.”



“I just hope it doesn’t start raining hard again,” Kirk responded as he scanned the sky. Above them were patches of blue, but to the west storm clouds still threatened.



“So, the great starship captain is afraid of a little water,” Brian teased.



“That,” he pointed to the darkened horizon, “is not going to be a little water.”



“I guess if it does start raining hard again Ted will have to just put up with us for awhile. It is still my house, too, you know.”



“Why did you buy in town, anyway? It’s quite a drive out to the farm.”



“Ted wants to eventually turn it into a restaurant, like one of those chic little bistros in the big cities; a stepping stone to bigger and better things.”



Kirk glanced at his cousin. “And away from you?”



“Sort of. He knew what I wanted for us...or, at least what I didn’t.”



“And that was?”



“I didn’t want us to leave here. This is my home and everything I need is here. But Ted is ambitious. And he doesn’t like small town living.”



“Well, I certainly can’t say anything. I didn’t, either.”



His cousin turned to him, clearly distressed. “Not at all, Jim? Is it really that bad that you couldn’t stand living here? If that’s the case, what are you going to do with the farm?”



That was a good question, and one he had no answer for. “I really don’t know.”



Brian shook his head and then pointed to a white two-story house a little ways down the block. “That’s it. Come on, you and Ted should get along really well.”



The words were said without rancor. But they made clear that what had torn the two apart was still causing a lot of pain. Neither man had been willing to compromise on their future and now they didn’t have one.



~



Kirk could hear them arguing in the other room. He squirmed in his chair and turned to face the window. It was pouring outside. Their few minutes to drop off the forms had turned into a full hour.



Ted had been a revelation. Somehow, Kirk had imagined his cousin with someone, well, as good looking as Brian was. Not that he thought him shallow, exactly. But even as a kid, Brian had been inordinately aware of his looks and what it took to highlight them. The lanky, spectacled man who had greeted them just didn’t fit the image of someone who could have held his cousin’s interest all those years. And who in this day and age wore lenses to correct their vision?



He grimaced. To think he had imagined that the two of them stuck together might be a lucky break. Brian’s lover had seemed glad to see him. And his momentary flash of jealousy before he knew who Kirk was had been a good sign. But the door had barely closed behind them before the two men were exchanging barbs. The hurt ran too deep.



Using thirst as a pretense, Kirk had sequestered himself in the kitchen to allow the two men a modicum of privacy. But he could still hear them arguing about things he felt awkward being privy to. He hadn’t wanted to hear Ted’s explanations as to who it was that answered Brian’s call the other night anymore than Brian apparently did.



He forced his thoughts away from the shouting in the other room and tried to imagine himself and Spock arguing like that. He couldn’t see it. Kirk grinned. Spock would probably calmly advise him to control his emotions while Kirk gave his ire full rein. How did you argue with someone who refused to get upset?



But it would be so much fun trying. He couldn’t help but think that even fighting with Spock would be wonderful. Especially when they inevitably made up. So what was he doing waiting around here when all he wanted was to get back to his ship?



The door slammed and Kirk turned around to see his cousin storm into the room, Ted nowhere in sight.



“So, what now?” Kirk eyed his cousin and the flush of anger that still heightened his color.



“I guess we wait it out.” Brian moved to stand next to Kirk and peered out the window. “Does it look like it’s letting up a bit?”



He studied the cloud-shrouded sky. “We could try and make it back to the air car. What’s a little water?”



“I don’t know about you, but running two blocks in the pouring rain isn’t my first choice.”



“And this from someone who claimed I was afraid of a little water. Would you rather stay here and argue?” Kirk responded.



“Ted’s gone upstairs. He didn’t want you to have to listen to anymore of our garbage.” With a sigh, Brian grabbed another of the ladder-backed chairs and sat. “It didn’t used to be this way.”



“How did it used to be?”



Brian smiled, and looked out into the rain-drenched distance. “From the moment I met Ted I knew it was going to be different with him. He didn’t seem at all interested in how I looked.” He glanced at Kirk with a grin. “I know, I know. That sounds vain as hell, but I bet you have the same problem.”



Kirk thought about it. As much as he might wish to deny it, Brian was right. His looks had helped him in a lot of ways, but they had hurt him, too. How often had women been willing to be with him just because they liked they way he looked, and to hell with who he was? Not that he hadn’t done the same thing. How many relationships, based on a physical attraction, had he continued to nurture, even after it was obvious they had nothing in common?



“Anyway,” Brian continued, “It was such a novelty. Here was a man who liked me. Not my face, me. And for the first time, I could just relax and enjoy being with someone. On top of all that, he was smart and funny and thought I was, too.”



“You are smart and funny,” Kirk interjected.



“Oh, I know that,” he laughed, “but it was great being so...in sync with someone. I don’t know if I’m making myself very clear.”



“You’re making yourself perfectly clear. And I know exactly what you mean because Spock’s the same way.”



“Except he’s gorgeous,” Brian reminded.



“Brian, Ted’s not-”



“Bad looking? I know that. But he’s a far cry from gorgeous. And you know what? I couldn’t care less. But Spock is gorgeous, right?”



“Yes, he’s gorgeous. But I try not to hold it against him.” Kirk glanced out the window and stood. “It looks like there might be a break in the storm. I’m all for making a run for it.”



“You in a hurry?”



Kirk grinned. “Yes. I’ve a ship to meet and a relationship of my own to get back on track. I’ve decided to leave this evening.”



Brian stood and nodded knowingly. “I sort of thought you might.”



~



Their upbeat mood didn’t last. By the time they were safely back in the vehicle, Brian had withdrawn to nurse his wounds and Kirk was again mulling over what had transpired in the lawyer’s office.



Land, stock, money...lots of it. His mother had been busy. No wonder there had been so many long-lost relatives at the reading of the will. But she had left her son everything. Kirk now had more money than he knew what to do with. It certainly created some unexpected opportunities.



For one thing, he didn’t have to stay in Starfleet. Hell, he didn’t have to do anything other than keep the farm going. But isn’t that what he’d fled from in the first place? He glanced over at his cousin. Kirk was hoping Brian would be willing to take over the running of the place. He was pretty sure he would, but at the moment his cousin had plenty of problems of his own. That still left Kirk with the unanswered question of what he was going to do.



“Are you going to keep the farm?” Brian asked out of the blue.



“I’d like to. My mother worked too long and too hard for me to just chuck it all away.” He turned to give Brian a speculative look. “How would you feel about staying on?”



“In what capacity?”



“You tell me.” Kirk turned off the road and onto a dirt path that would take them past the pond and the cultivated fields that surrounded it. “My mom used to try and pound in all the information I’d need to run the place, but not much of it stuck.”



“So I’d be in charge?”



“Of the day to day running of it, yes. Even if after the mission I stay on for awhile, eventually I’m going to want to get back into space.”



“What about Spock?”



With a snort, Kirk gave a slight shrug. A little further on, he pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. The sun was trying to break free again and the the rays that streamed out between the clouds gave the surrounding landscape a golden glow.



“That’s not an answer,” Brian insisted.



“I really don’t know what to tell you. I guess it will be the second thing I ask him.”



“What will be the first?”



“If he loves me, what else?” At that, Kirk opened the door and stood next to the vehicle. He let his gaze wander over the nearby fields, looking for the perfect spot. Finally, he went around to the back and pulled out the box the lawyer had given him. He opened it and gently removed the urn containing his mother’s ashes, only looking up as his cousin approached.



“Where are you going to...” Brian’s voice faded.



Kirk didn’t respond. Instead he started off across the field, heading in the direction of the pond. With his cousin following, he skirted its banks and continued around until they were walking along the river’s edge.



It was running high. This year’s rainfall had been above average. Luckily, it still flowed easily within its bed as the two made their way down the path that appeared between the river and the brush that grew high on either side. As they approached a bend, Kirk finally came to a halt.



The river veered off to the right and the thinning trees gave them an unobstructed view. The land spread out before them, its bounty a sea of gold and green. The stalks of corn swayed, its rustling clearly heard over the sounds of the rushing water.



Kirk pulled loose the stopper on the urn and lifted it high. A fine stream of ash was picked up by the winds and sent spiraling out. In less than a minute, it was as if it had never been. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. She was one with the land now, as she had always been. If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost hear the sounds of a flute.



“Are you okay?” Brian had edged closer and grabbed his arm.



With a nod, he opened his eyes and turned to his cousin. “I’m fine. But I’m ready to go home now.”



They started back the way they had come. Halfway back, the rain started again. Breaking into a run, neither gave a thought to what all this water was doing to the river’s edge until it gave way beneath them.



~



It had been a quiet shift. There was only the sound of machines at work and an occasional trading of words between crew members. Spock sat in the captain’s chair, his attention taken by the latest fuel consumption report. It was a good indication of his mood that he’d already read it twice. Much as he was loath to admit it, Spock was bored.



They had been relegated to a series of routine supply runs for the last two point seven days. There was little to do in his capacity as Kirk’s relief and he had managed to keep his own work caught up during his off-duty hours. There was nothing left to do.



If he hadn’t known it before, he was now very aware of how much time he and Kirk had taken to spending in each other’s company. Spock’s evenings had become little more than a single-minded pursuit of anything to fill the empty hours.



Spock glanced at the young man who stood next to him and then back to the report. Finally, he signed it and handed it over.



“Mr. Spock, there’s a message coming in,” Uhura quietly announced.



“On screen, Lieutenant.” Spock responded.



The young woman cleared her throat. “It’s marked personal, sir.”



With a slight frown, he swiveled around to face the communications officer. “Where did it originate?”



“Earth, sir. Iowa to be exact.”



Startled by the unexpected source, Spock forced himself to casually stand. “I’ll take it in my quarters.” He turned to the helmsman. “Mr. Sulu, you have the con.”



The walk to his cabin seemed inordinately long. The message had to be from his captain. Who else would be sending him a message from Kirk’s home? Several scenarios, none of them pleasant, passed through Spock’s mind as he made his way through the corridors of the ship. Had Kirk decided to stay there until his new posting became available? Had there been a mishap that would force his captain to remain on Earth? None would have known from his calm demeanor his state of alarm by the time he entered his quarters.



He went directly to his desk and called up the message. It took only a second for the image to coalesce. When it did, Spock’s brow went up in surprise. It was not Kirk standing before the terminal. It was a human male, approximately thirty-five years of age. He had a bandage over his left eye and there were was a large bruise on one cheek.



“Mr. Spock,” the man smiled nervously, “my name is Brian Douglas. I’m Jim Kirk’s cousin.”



Spock leaned forward, intrigued. There was no family resemblance he could see, but his curiosity was naturally aroused. This man was a link to his captain.



“There’s been an accident. We’re at the hospital and you’re the only one whose name I knew to let know about it.”



Spock froze. The man’s injuries, though apparently superficial, made terrible sense now.



The tape continued. “I think Starfleet’s been notified. At least, that’s what it sounded like. Things at the hospital are pretty confusing right now. Anyway, I just thought you’d want to know. I’ll let Jim know I called you...when I can.” The man looked over his shoulder for a moment and then back. “I’ve got to go now.”



The screen went blank. Spock blinked at the suddenness of the tape’s ending. It took only a moment for him to respond in what was now second nature. Kirk was in trouble, possibly hurt. Spock’s first priority was to find him. Linking to Starfleet records, he scanned through the latest updates. Nothing. As far as Starfleet was concerned, Jim Kirk was still on leave. There was no mention of an accident.



Next, he placed a call to the hospital whose number appeared on the incoming message. The woman who answered showed no record of a James Kirk being admitted.



Puzzled, he called sickbay.



“McCoy here.” The doctor’s voice was pitched rather loudly. Several of his staff members could be heard arguing in the background.



“Spock here, Doctor. Have you received any notices from Starfleet recently?”



“How recent are you talking about? Hold on a moment.” There was the muffling of sound. “Will you guys quiet down?” McCoy hissed. “Sorry about that, Spock. We’ve got a difference of opinion going on here. What were you asking about?”



“If you had received any word from Starfleet in the last twelve hours.”



“No. Why, what’s going on?”



“I was sent a message by a relative of the captain’s. Apparently, there has been some sort of accident. But the tape does not specify what exactly has happened, only that the captain has been hospitalized. Yet the hospital does not show that he is there. And I am unable to find anything in Starfleet records in regards to Kirk’s present location.”



McCoy swore. “Well, you better find out what the hell happened.”



“I am endeavoring to do so, Doctor.”



“Don’t get smart, Spock. Who knows what Jim could be up to. Man can’t be trusted to be alone for ten seconds. Did you try calling Starfleet command?”



“I have tried several avenues of inquiry. I have discovered nothing.”



“Well, try some more. And let me know what you find out.”



“I will keep you informed of my progress. Spock out.”



He sat there for a moment, contemplating his options. But really, there was only one logical thing to do. He would have to go to Earth.



~

Spock was relieved when there were no objections from Starfleet to his leaving Mr. Scott in charge of the Enterprise. His request for leave had been granted without delay and he left the ship within six hours of receiving the message from Kirk’s cousin.



He had decided to take one of the Enterprise’s shuttles rather than wait for a passing transport. It would make both his and Kirk’s return more convenient as the ship was within easy traveling distance of Earth. The extra seats had been removed and the small vehicle modified for a trip of moderate duration. Though Earth was quite close right now, their journey back would be a longer one.



Ten hours later, the shuttle safely parked at the Des Moines spaceport, he found himself sitting before Riverside Hospital, the rented vehicle quietly idling.



He wondered at his hesitation. He did not truly believe that Kirk was in danger or seriously injured. He couldn’t have explained how he knew that, but he did know it. In his head, in his heart, he knew Jim was all right. But his captain was surely nearby; if not here, than at his family’s farm. Yet the sense of purpose that had propelled him from the ship and to Earth had suddenly faded as he approached his final destination.



What if Kirk resented the intrusion? Spock had deliberately misled McCoy. There were several ways he could have ascertained his captain’s whereabouts without having to come to Earth. But he had wanted to see Kirk, the sooner the better. Logical or not, Spock had been tired of waiting. But now that he was here, the uncertainty of his position was holding him back. He shook his head. No, it did no good to wait or try to second-guess Kirk’s feelings. He had tried that already with very detrimental results. He turned off the ‘car and resolutely opened the door.



The hospital was small, a two-story brick building at least two centuries old. He got out of his vehicle and walked swiftly across the street. There was a slight breeze, but the air was warm and somewhat humid. Earth’s climate could vary widely, even within the same location. Spock could only hope the temperature would not drop significantly during his stay.



He took the short flight of steps that fronted the hospital and entered the building. The atrium was surprisingly large with a circular desk at its center. Spock walked up to the girl sitting at the station closest to the entrance.



“May I help you?” The woman looked up at his approach.



“Would it be possible to ascertain the status of a patient here?” Spock inquired.



“Are you a family member?” the woman asked doubtfully.



“No, I am not. But I was informed that my commanding officer was admitted to this facility sometime yesterday.”



“What’s his name?”



“Captain James Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I am his first officer.”



She nodded and then shifted toward her terminal. After a few moments she frowned and turned back to him. “No, no one by that name was admitted yesterday or anytime this week. Are you sure you have the right hospital?”



“Quite sure. I received a message from a relative of his which originated from this location. Also, his family’s property is nearby. This would be the logical place to bring him in case of injury.”



“Yesterday, you say?” She returned to the computer and began calling up more information. “Ah ha! There he is.” She proudly turned the terminal so that the screen was visible to him. “He was brought in but he didn’t stay. Apparently there was some sort of accident. He and his cousin,” she looked back at the screen, “Brian Douglas, were both here but their injuries were minor. They were given first aid and then they left.”



Spock pressed his lips together. Why would Kirk’s cousin have misdirected him in regards to his captain’s condition? It suddenly occurred to him that the man had never said that Kirk had been admitted, only that they were at the hospital.



“Is there anything else I can help you with?”



He looked down at the young woman. She had propped her elbows on the desk and her chin rested on her clasped hands. Her head was tilted up and she was smiling. With a start, he realized she was flirting with him. What shocked him even more was just how familiar the pose was. How often had he been watched by Kirk in this manner?



“No, thank you.” Slightly flustered, he took his leave.



He returned to his vehicle and proceeded to his next destination. The Kirk farm was twenty-seven point five minutes away. But in all that time, Spock could not get out of his mind the picture of his captain, looking up at him from his desk, and the finally recognized offer on Kirk’s face.



~



There were two vehicles parked at the end of the private road as Spock reached Kirk’s home. He pulled in next to them and turned off the motor. He took a deep breath, exited the vehicle and approached the farmhouse.



The wood creaked slightly under his weight as he stepped onto the porch. He studied the part of the house visible through the screen door before lightly rapping on its frame. After several seconds, a man appeared. It was the one from the message.



“Can I help you?” the man asked.



“Yes, I am Commander Spock of the USS Enterprise. I am seeking the whereabouts of my captain, James Kirk. This is his house, is it not?”



The door opened and the man motioned him in. “Come on in. Jim should be back any minute now.”



Spock followed him into the house and took the seat offered, his host taking the one across from him in the large but comfortably furnished living room. He noticed the human studying him and tilted his head in question, an eyebrow rising slightly.



The man grinned. “He’s right, you are gorgeous.”



Both eyebrows went up at the pronouncement. “I beg your pardon?”



“Jim. He said you were gorgeous and you are.”



Spock had to deliberately control his reaction. “I see. Mr. Douglas, I realize-”



“Just Brian will do.” the human extended his hand.



Spock looked pointedly at Brian’s hand but did not extend his own. “My captain has never mentioned you.”



The arm dropped. “No reason he would. We grew up together, but we hadn’t seen each other in years. I’ve been staying with him since he got here.”



“Then perhaps you can explain to me how it is that he is not in the hospital,” Spock coolly remarked.



Brian smiled sheepishly. “Well, we did get banged up a bit.”



“But Captain Kirk is all right?” Spock asked, unable to keep a hint of worry from his voice.



“Oh, yeah, he’s fine. He got a lungful of water, but the Doc said he’d be okay.” He laughed at the surprised look on Spock’s face. “We took a tumble into the river. The bank sort of crumbled beneath us. But you never know what’s in that water, so I thought it best to have us checked out.”



“If there was no danger why did you call me?”



Kirk’s cousin appeared uncomfortable; Spock would say embarrassed. He avoided Spock’s gaze but finally blurted out the words. “The whole story about Jim being in the hospital was my rather clumsy attempt at getting you here. I figured if you thought he was hurt—.”



“I would be unable to stay away. But why would you wish me here?”



The human frowned, seemingly annoyed at Spock’s apparent denseness. “Not me, Jim.”



“The captain wishes me here?”



“Of course he does.” Brian stared at him in surprise. “You don’t know how he feels about you, do you? God, you’re all he talks about.”



Spock looked down, stifling his elation. It corroborated his recent insight into Kirk’s previous actions. Still, he was not totally sure of his supposition. “Captain Kirk and I are...very close friends.”



“Then why are you planning on leaving him at the end of your mission?”



Spock’s head came up sharply. “Captain Kirk believes I mean to leave the ship?”



“Yes, he does. That’s why I called. I thought if the two of you had a chance to talk about it, away from the ship, you could get this whole thing resolved,” Brian finished, clearly exasperated.



“You care for him.” Spock almost smiled.



“Of course I do. He’s family. Besides, he’s put up with my convoluted relationship. It’s the least I could do.”



“Captain Kirk is a very understanding man.”



“That he is.” Brian glanced at the chronometer on the wall. “But I’m surprised he hasn’t returned yet. He was only going for a short ride before he took off.”



“‘Took off’?”



“Went back to his ship.”



“I was given to believe he would not be leaving for several more days.”



Brian chuckled. “He changed his mind. I think he was in a hurry to get back to something....or was that someone?”



Spock ignored the comment and rose. He was suddenly eager to see his friend. “Would you be able to direct me to his relative position?”



“You mean show you where he is?”



“I believe that is what I said.”



“Right. Yeah, I think I can do that. There’s a dirt road behind the house that leads to some cornfields. It’s about a ten minute drive by air car. Where the road turns, there’s a stand of trees at the end of an open field. You can’t miss them. I’m pretty sure that’s where he is.”



Spock nodded his head in acknowledgment and started for the door.



“Hey!” Brian followed after him, clearly surprised by Spock’s sudden departure, catching up with him outside just as Spock stepped off the porch. “What do I tell him if he comes back?”



“Tell him not to leave,” Spock responded and headed for his vehicle. He had just closed the door when another air car appeared, making its way up the road. As it drove by, Spock noted a man with wire-rimmed glasses.



The fields were just as Brian described them. As the trees came into view, Spock pulled the ‘car over to the side of the road. He got out and walked the rest of the way.



He crossed the uncultivated field, a thick cover of grass cushioning his steps. There was evidently water nearby. Closer to his destination, he caught a sparkle of light. He could just make out a pool of water and the river beyond as the sun’s rays danced off its surface. He slowed, touched by this unexpected beauty.



He was just about to enter the grove’s shaded interior when he heard a soft nicker off to his left. A horse stood tied to one of the trees, grazing contentedly about fifty feet away. On its saddle, Spock could make out a strip of gold.



He started in that direction. He was so focused on the animal he almost missed the figure lying in the grass. It was Kirk. All he wore were his uniform pants, though they appeared slightly damp. His boots were nowhere to be seen. Spock moved closer and noticed a few drops of water dotting his captain’s chest and arms. Evidently, Kirk had indulged in one of his favorite pastimes and was using the sun to dry himself. Moving within feet of his friend, Spock stopped and waited.



~



Kirk wasn’t sure what woke him. He listened, his eyes still closed, for any clue. He could hear the muffled thud of his horse every time it took a step. The birds that inhabited the nearby trees were still noisily going about their business. He had almost decided that nothing was amiss when the heat and brightness of the sun was suddenly blocked. He opened his eyes.



“Captain.”



His first officer stood not three feet away from him. Kirk slowly got to his feet, stunned by his unexpected visitor. “Spock, what are you doing here?”



“I wished to ascertain...” the Vulcan stopped. He tilted his head, as if debating his next words. Finally Spock straightened and Kirk could have sworn he almost smiled. “I missed you.”



Kirk grinned. He couldn’t think to respond with other than complete honesty. “I missed you, too. But I don’t understand.”



Spock stepped closer until they were inches apart. Kirk could tell his friend was nervous from the telltale bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed. And he was watching Kirk intently, as if looking for something he thought or hoped was there.



“Spock?” His heart started to pound when the Vulcan brought one slightly trembling hand up and began to slowly caress Kirk’s cheek.



“Do you know,” Spock pressed his lips together and took a deep breath, “that I, too, find you most pleasing to look upon?”



Kirk’s eyes widened. Spock had caught him completely off guard. He never expected anything like this from his friend. He felt at a disadvantage and the old habit of keeping it light kicked in. “Why, Mr. Spock, I didn’t know you cared.”



Spock’s eyes darkened and he deliberately pulled his hand back before abruptly turning to leave.



“Wait!” Kirk was immediately contrite. He had dreamed of this for months, yet here he was, ruining what was most likely the most important moment of his life.



Spock halted but did not turn back. “Please allow me to leave, Captain.”



“No.” Kirk walked around until he stood in front of Spock. His friend would not even look at him. He gently laid his hand on Spock’s chin and tried pulling the recalcitrant Vulcan’s face toward him. “I’m sorry. It was a stupid thing to say. Please, look at me.”



Spock slowly turned to face him.



“That’s better.” He motioned Spock to follow and began leading him toward the grove. “Come on. I think we have a lot to talk about.”



They passed Kirk’s horse and he grabbed his shirt and the rolled blanket on the saddle. He led them down a path he knew from his youth until they came out in an open space next to the pond. Kirk spread the blanket on the thick grass and sat down. He looked up at Spock and patted the space next to him. “Please.”



The Vulcan warily sat a few feet away, his legs folded in front of him.



Kirk sighed and repositioned himself so that he was sitting next to, but facing, Spock. He scooted close enough for their bodies to touch. “Can we start this whole conversation over?”



“Where do you wish to begin?” Spock quietly asked.



“Where you said you found me pleasing to look upon. Only this time my response would be that I think you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. And that I love you very much.” Kirk had tried to put all the sincerity of his feelings in his words. He knew he had succeeded when he saw the returning light in Spock’s eyes.



“I have loved you, almost from the very beginning. But I did not know that I loved you then, for I did not know what love was.”



“And you do now?” He reached over and took Spock’s hand in his.



Spock nodded as he gazed, seemingly fascinated, at their joined hands. “You have shown me by your acceptance and the friendship you gave wholeheartedly. There has never been one in my life before you who wished only that I be myself. Not Vulcan or human, only Spock.” He looked at Kirk with a banked ferocity. “You complete me as no other has or could.”



Kirk brought his free hand up and cupped the back of Spock’s neck. Exerting a gentle pressure, he brought the Vulcan’s lips to his own. They were warm, and opened willingly to allow him entry. He slipped his tongue in, tasting the uniqueness that was his friend, a heady alien mixture that left him slightly lightheaded.



Spock moaned and broke the grip he had on Kirk’s hand. His arms came round and Kirk felt himself pulled tight as their kiss deepened. He responded by bringing his hands up and entwining them in Spock’s hair. It was something he had always wanted to do. Kirk pulled his lover ever more tightly to him as they hungrily caressed each other with mouths and hands.



The shining strands slipped through Kirk’s fingers, only to be grabbed again and again in an almost frantic attempt to keep the Vulcan’s mouth on his. He came up on his knees and Spock’s hands slipped to cup his buttocks.



A deep moan escaped him. He released his hold on Spock’s hair and grabbed at the Vulcan’s shirt until it was bunched up around his chest. He pulled away only long enough to get it over and off and then returned to Spock’s mouth, already addicted to the forceful pressure of Spock’s tongue against his. Hot and wet, it pushed into his mouth again and again.



Finally, Kirk pulled away. He needed to breath, but more than that, he needed to feel more of Spock. He kissed his way down the Vulcan’s neck, slowly pushing him down at the same time until they both lay on the blanket, Spock’s body below his.



They moved as one to rejoin lips and clasp their bodies together. Spock’s legs parted, and Kirk could feel his erection rub against the Vulcan’s swollen member. He moaned again and pushed himself against his lover, the hair on Spock’s chest rubbing against his own and hardening his nipples.



Spock’s hands moved down his back and slipped beneath the band of his trousers. Kirk almost came when those hot hands resettled on his bare ass and began kneading his flesh. He came up and settled his weight on a hand and both knees and push his buttocks into Spock’s caress. He reached between them and undid first Spock’s trousers and then his own. His loosened pants allowed the Vulcan’s hands to explore more fully, his long fingers pulling Kirk’s ass cheeks apart and skimming along the cleft.



Kirk hissed at the jolt of lust that shot through his body and he reached in and withdrew the Vulcan’s cock from its confinement. It was already leaking precum. Coupled with the soft insistent moans of his lover, it confirmed to Kirk that Spock had wanted this as long as he had. He began to slowly pump the organ in his hand, his thumb caressing the moist head at each pass.



Spock bucked and his hands reached up to grab Kirk’s pants and briefs by the waistband and pulled both down around Kirk’s thighs. One hand resettled on Kirk’s ass while the other wrapped itself around his engorged shaft.



Kirk broke the kiss. Their bodies were moving in rough unison, their hips pushing their cocks into welcoming hands, and they were gasping in ragged breaths. He felt Spock’s other hand move further down his ass to cup his balls. He also lost it right there and then.



He couldn’t wait any longer. He let go of his prize and sat up. He pushed Spock’s hands away and in one swift motion Kirk was on feet, hastily working his pants off. He grinned as the Vulcan divested himself of his own clothes. Undressed, he returned to Spock’s embrace and with their lower bodies pressed together, began a slow and rhythmic undulation.



Kirk pistoned his hips and felt Spock’s shaft slide wetly against his. It was like a heavy bar or iron pressed against him, scorching his cock with its heated arousal. The Vulcan’s legs were wrapped around him and his hands held tightly to Kirk’s thighs, locking him in place as they rocked together.



Kirk came up on his hands. He looked down at Spock and smiled. The Vulcan’s eyes were closed but his face was a study in passion. No jaded lover here. Only the perfect gift of his uncontrolled desire. Spock moaned his name, and Kirk knew he was lost.



He threw back his head and all he could see was sky. But the brightness of the day made him close his eyes and his world narrowed to the reality of the man beneath him. Each thrust of his hips was met by the pistoning body of his lover, the Vulcan’s engorged cock pushing against his stomach. His own cries of delight were matched by the moans of pleasure issuing from Spock with every frenzied lunge.



The Vulcan suddenly grabbed Kirk’s ass, pulled him tightly against him and froze. Spock gave a hoarse cry, and Kirk felt a hot gush of semen against his belly. A few more thrusts and he felt his own orgasm wash over him, his seed mixing with his lover’s. With a groan, he collapsed against Spock and felt the Vulcan’s arms wrap tenderly about him.



They lay there for a long time. The sweat on his body and the semen pooling between them didn’t matter. Nothing matter but this feeling of complete joy and contentment. Kirk held his lover and rejoiced. What he had long wanted was finally his. He would never let it go.



~



Afterwards, they took a swim, and Kirk was able to watch his new lover has he cut smoothly through the water. He had been slightly surprised by Spock’s acquiescence to his suggestion, but the heat of the day made the coolness of the water bearable and, as Spock had adroitly conceded, it was the most logical way in which to cleanse themselves.



After a while they returned to lie on the blanket and let their bodies dry.



“It is very beautiful here.” Spock looked up from where his head rested on Kirk’s lap. The sun was starting its journey down, and the streams of light that made their way through the branches warmed their still nude bodies.



“It’s always been one of my favorite spots. We used to come here as boys, and as young men, to play.”



“To play as we ‘played’?”



Kirk smiled and shook his head. “No, nothing like what we did today. It was never love before.” He looked out across the expanse of water to the wooded area beyond. “One day, I’ll tell you all about...that part of my life. But not today. Today is just you and me.”



“Very well.” Spock lifted his hand and caressed Kirk’s cheek, drawing his attention back to him. “It truly does not matter. The past is the past. And it would be illogical of me to resent the fact that you have one. We are together and I am content.”



“More than content, I hope.”



“You understand my meaning,” Spock softly chided. “I have yearned for this day, though I never believed it would come. You are everything to me.”



“Then can I ask you something?”



“If you wish.”



“Were you planning on leaving me?”



Spock was quiet for a time. Kirk had begun to think he wasn’t going to answer when the Vulcan finally spoke. “I thought to return to Vulcan. I believed you had made a decision to part us.”



“Where did you get an idea like that?”



“Capt...Jim, I know of your promotion.”



“Oh.” He didn’t know what to say at first. But their relationship had changed. Whatever he did now would have a direct effect on Spock. Apparently, it was having one on him already. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wanted to be able to go to you with a plan, so I could say, ‘here, this is what I want to do. Can I count on you to stay with me?’ It wouldn’t have been fair of me to dump my problems on you without having at least the beginnings of a solution.”



Spock sat up and faced Kirk. “And now? What will you do now?”



“I still don’t know. But I do know that, whatever I decide to do, I want you there next to me.”



“That is my wish also.”



He pulled the Vulcan against him so that Spock’s head rested against his shoulder. “We still have a few more months to decide.” He laughed. “We could always take up farming.”



“You speak only in jest, but it may be a viable alternative—at least until the refit of the ship is complete.”



Kirk stilled, taken by the simplicity of the plan. They could stay here. Even if it was only long enough to make sure the farm remained a working one. And it might even scare Starfleet into giving him back the Enterprise if they thought he was about to retire and take the best first officer in the fleet with him. He hugged the Vulcan tighter. “‘A time to take stock.’ Spock, have you ever been to a fair?”



~



The sky was beginning to darken as Kirk rode his horse home, Spock following slowly behind in the air car, unwilling to let him out of his sight. Every so often Kirk would turn and smile at his lover. Spock would raise an eyebrow, as if his supposed disapproval could hurry his captain along.



When they reached the house, it was empty. The rites of Lughnasadh had begun.
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