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James Kirk groaned as the doctor and Lieutenant Latimer pulled him to his feet. He swayed for a second, then steadied and shook off their hands. "How long was I out?"

"I don’t know, Captain," Latimer said. "I just came to myself."

"Take it easy, Jim." McCoy applied plasti-skin to Kirk’s forehead. "You took a nasty blow."

Kirk put a hand to his head. "How’s everyone else?"

McCoy shook his head. "We lost Donaldson, broke his neck when he was thrown over the cargo rail, but except for minor cuts and bruises, everyone else seems to be okay."

"Damn ion storms. Donaldson was a good man." Kirk moved away from the cockpit and ducked under the titanium bar separating the storage area from the rest of the small shuttlecraft and stood over the still form of his first officer. He squatted down to smooth out a wrinkle in the gray, standard issue blanket draped over the body. "What a stupid, useless way to die."

McCoy leaned over the rail and put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder. "I know, Jim, but he knew the risks…and accepted them as we all do. It’s time to concentrate on the living."

Kirk nodded and stood up. He glanced around. They’d started out this morning with six people, including himself, and now there were five. Death had an uncanny way of appearing when he least expected it. Kirk sighed and shoved his anger aside. He had the rest of his crew to consider. Two of them were already back at their stations assessing the damage. Sparks flared periodically and smoke filtered out from most of the consoles.

"Lieutenant, see how far off course we are."

"Yes, sir." Latimer staggered to the nav console and sat down. After a few moments of computations, his face paled and sweat broke out on his upper lip. "Oh my god…."

Kirk took a step toward him. "What’s wrong? Where the hell are we?"

Latimer’s voice was bleak. "We’re on the Vulcan side of the Neutral Zone."

Chills raced down Kirk’s spine. "We’ve got to get out of here. We’re in violation of the cease-fire. Ramsey, do we have warp power?"

The tiny blond woman sitting at the helm shook her head. "No, Captain, but we do have impulse."

"That’ll have to do. Get us out of here."

The shuttlecraft lurched and started to move.

"What about sensors?"

"Sensors are down," Latimer said. "But I should have them up and running any minute."

"Hurry it up." Kirk swayed and grabbed the railing. "We could be headed into a whole fleet of Vulcan ships and never know it until it’s too late."

"Jim, you need to sit down." McCoy took Kirk’s arm and led him to an empty seat. "Your people know their jobs. Besides, while the talks are going on, I don’t think even the Vulcans would risk starting up the war again just because an ion storm threw us into their sector of space."

"I hope you’re right, Bones, but in the last seven years, I’ve never seen them back down from a fight or be afraid to take a risk. I was surprised when they agreed to the talks in the first place."

"Captain, sensors are on line and—" Latimer turned around, stark fear evident on his face. "There’s a ship headed in our direction…. It’s a Vulcan battlecruiser!"

Kirk stood up. "Well, we can’t outrun it. Weapons status?"

Ensign Danvers at weapons control glared at his board. "Deader than Kelsey’s comet, sir."

The tiny craft bucked, throwing Kirk against the side of the weapons console.

"They’ve got a tractor beam on us," Latimer yelled. "They’re dragging us toward their ship!"

"Stay calm, everyone," Kirk said, struggling to regain his balance. "There’s nothing we can do at the moment."

"Stay calm!" Latimer spun his seat around. "They’re animals. They get inside your head and make you do things. My brother got captured by them six years ago and by the time we got him back, he did nothing but scream. I can still hear him screaming and screaming and screaming—"

McCoy pushed a hypospray into Latimer’s arm and caught him as he dropped to the deck.

"Bones?"

"Just a little something to knock him out for a while. Jim, will the Republic be able to find us?"

Kirk sighed and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. "Scotty’s the best engineer in the fleet. If anyone can track us, it’ll be him."

"We’re being pulled into their ship, Captain," Ramsey said.

The shuttlecraft bounced twice and then stopped with a dull thud, and Kirk knew that they were now inside the enemy vessel. He brushed an errant lock of hair off his forehead and straightened his shoulders. "Don’t anyone do anything rash. Ramsey, open the hatch."

As the door slid open, a gas grenade was tossed into the shuttlecraft.

"Dam ion storms," Kirk muttered just before he passed out.

* * * * *

Kirk slowly opened one eye and then the other and surreptitiously glanced around. At least he and his people were still alive…for now, although he appeared to be the only one who was conscious. They were all standing in a line, chained to posts in what looked like a small hangar bay. Two Vulcans stood guard at a doorway at the far end of the room. Kirk froze, but the guards didn’t seem to realize he was awake, either that or they just didn’t care. He heard voices behind him and shut his eyes. They were speaking in Vulcan, and Kirk gave silent thanks to the boys at research and development for the tiny translator embedded behind his right ear.

"Sellar, why can you not leave me in peace to do what we both know I must?"

"I am a healer, Spock, and you are the finest commander in the fleet. But more importantly, with your honored mother dead, you are the only one who can sway your father when the council votes on peace with the humans. The council is evenly divided at the moment, with your father holding the deciding vote. If you die, he will side with the isolationists and the war will go on…T’Pau will see to it. You know this. Therefore, I cannot allow you to throw your life away if there is even a chance it can be saved."

"It cannot be. The time is upon me. I have melded with everyone on the L’matya and I cannot form the mating link. The pain is simply too great. My mind is compatible with no one’s. And now you wish me to join with the enemy."

"They are human, Spock, and perhaps your human blood calls out for like. What can it harm? If you do this and the melding proves unsuccessful, I vow I will plague you no longer, but it is your duty to try."

Kirk held his breath. He didn’t understand all that the Vulcans said, but he knew he didn’t like the sound of it.

"Duty…always it is duty." Spock sighed audibly. "So be it. I shall do as you ask. But when I am finished, I shall return to my quarters and prepare for death. And you shall not trouble me any further. Agreed?"

"Agreed. Now come with me, the prisoners are regaining consciousness."

The two Vulcans came into view to stand before the awakening humans. Kirk stood at his full height and glared at their captors. One was tall, over six feet, wearing the black uniform with silver insignia denoting command. He was very thin, actually gaunt might be a better word. He looked sick. His whole body trembled and the brown eyes glittered feverishly in a flushed, saturnine face. Stringy black hair cascaded over his shoulders, almost but not quite hiding the pointed ear tips inherent to his race. Spock, Kirk decided immediately. The other, Sellar, appeared almost nondescript in comparison: Older, shorter and heavier, wearing a plain, dark green robe.

A young Vulcan female brushed by the two guards at the far end of the room and hurried into the hangar bay. She was petite, dressed in brown coveralls, with a long, midnight-colored braid trailing down her back. "Kroykah," she said in her native tongue, rushing to the black-clad Vulcan’s side. "Do not do this, Spock. You need not debase yourself with such as these. Join with me once more."

Spock gazed down at her and tilted his head to one side. "For what purpose, T’Lynn? We have tried on three separate occasions to form the mating link, with no success. You almost died the last time. Now leave me to do what I must."

T’Lynn put her hand on Spock’s arm. "I plead with—"

"Enough." Spock stepped back and her hand fell away. "I have made my decision and you must abide by it. Now will you leave of your own accord or shall I have you escorted to your quarters?"

T’Lynn’s shoulders sagged as she turned and slowly moved towards the door.

"It is unfortunate," the healer said, watching the young woman leave. "You should have allowed me to bond you and the sub-commander long ago. She would have made you an adequate consort."

"Perhaps. However, now is not the time for recriminations."

"As you say." Sellar sighed and turned back to the prisoners. "Time grows short, Spock. You had best begin."

Spock glanced at Kirk, then walked down the line until he came to Lieutenant Ramsey. Her blue eyes were wide with fear as she tried to shrink away from him. He grabbed the woman’s head with one hand and placed his other on her face in an odd configuration.

Kirk thrashed against his bonds. "Leave her alone! It’s not her fault we crossed the neutral zone! I’m the captain, blame me—"

"Silence, human," Sellar said in perfect Standard as he held Kirk’s jaw in an iron grip. "Or I shall silence you permanently once my commander has finished."

A few minutes later, Ramsey whimpered and passed out. Spock dropped his hands and moved to the next post. He repeated the same procedure with McCoy and Ensign Danvers with the exact same results. Spock glanced at Sellar and shook his head.

Sellar’s shoulders slumped. "Finish it, Spock."

When Spock reached for Latimer, the man screamed hysterically and didn’t stop until Spock was done and then slumped unconscious in his chains. Kirk was the only one left.

As Spock stood before him, Kirk could almost feel the aura of defeat surrounding the enemy captain. Good, Kirk thought vengefully. The Vulcan hadn’t found whatever it was he was looking for. Now he could go to his quarters and die, the bastard.

Kirk lifted his chin and glared into Spock’s eyes. "Go ahead. Do it. And I hope your soul rots in hell."

A small smile lifted the corners of Spock’s mouth. "Vulcans do not believe in either heaven or hell, Captain." He lifted trembling fingers to Kirk’s face and pressed lightly.

Kirk stiffened, waiting for something horrible to happen, something that would send him into oblivion with the rest of his crew, but surprisingly, nothing did. He became aware of feelings…feelings that weren’t his…of shock, amazement, overwhelming relief and a faint sense of sorrow. And then they were gone.

The Vulcan lifted his hand and stood, staring into Kirk’s eyes for what seemed like a long time. Then he slowly backed away.

"Spock?" Sellar came to stand at his side.

The enemy captain nodded once and immediately fled the hangar bay.

Sellar looked Kirk up and down as if he were an intriguing specimen in a lab, then gestured toward the two Vulcans standing guard. "Take this one to the commander’s quarters and hold the others in the containment area until further notice."

The Vulcans unchained Kirk from the post, then each took an arm and dragged him away. Kirk raged at his own impotence as fear and anger battled for supremacy in his mind. Why were they taking him to Spock? What was going to happen? He’d heard the rumors of what Vulcans did to their prisoners, the atrocities they performed. Stop it, he ordered himself. Those stories were just the usual propaganda one side in a war told about their enemies. None had ever been corroborated. Control. The first order of business was to survive, then escape if possible. Pay attention to the surroundings. He concentrated on that. Out of the hangar bay…turn left…into a turbolift…up four decks. He kept track every step of the way. The information could be useful later on. They stopped at the third door on the right, pressed for admittance and, as the door swished open, the guards shoved Kirk in.

Kirk immediately crouched into a fighting stance and glanced around. The cabin was furnished in rich shades of reds and blacks. Tapestries and ancient looking weapons decorated the walls. The enemy captain was sitting behind a large ornate desk watching him. There was no else in the room.

Kirk slowly straightened up and met the Vulcan’s eyes. "James Kirk—Captain—serial number 607943679182."

Spock swallowed heavily and placed one trembling hand over the other on the desk. "Captain Kirk," he said in perfectly enunciated Standard. "Know that I regret what is about to take place in these quarters, but I have no other choice if I am to survive."

"I’ll tell you nothing but name, rank and serial number."

"I do not require any military information, Captain. Unfortunately for us both, what I require is a bit more personal."

"And that is?"

"The temporary use of your body and a small portion of your mind."

Kirk gasped and felt the color drain from his face. He took an involuntary step backward. "Over my dead body."

"I hope it will not come to that, for dead, you would be of no use to me." Spock stood up and moved out from behind the desk. "I find myself reluctant to take you against your will. However, if that is what must be…."

Fear fluttered in Kirk’s belly. Rape…of both body and mind. His stomach churned in a mixture of outrage and horror.

The Vulcan perused him carefully. "Have you ever been sodomized before?"

Kirk felt his face flush. "No!"

"That is indeed regrettable," Spock said, walking toward him. "It might have been easier for you if you had."

Adrenaline pumped through Kirk’s veins. He knew Vulcans were stronger than humans, but he’d be dammed if he was going to give in without a fight. He spun around and caught Spock in the chest with a high leg kick, then jumped to a nearby wall and lifted off a long staff with blades at either end. He hefted the weapon in his hands for a moment before swinging it menacingly in front of him. "Back off, or I swear, I’ll kill you."

Spock’s eyes gleamed at him as he recovered from the kick and pulled off his shirt. Matted black hair covered a thin but muscular chest glistening with sweat. The Vulcan took a step and Kirk slashed at him with all his strength. A trickle of green blood oozed down Spock’s side, but it didn’t seem to deter him in the least. He dropped his head and charged, catching the human by the thighs and bringing him down. He wrenched the bloody weapon from Kirk’s hands and threw it across the room.

Kirk butted Spock in the face and rolled out from under him, but before he could get away completely, the Vulcan grabbed his tunic and ripped it from his body. Bare-chested and breathing hard, Kirk scrambled to his feet and leaped toward the wall of weapons.

Spock grabbed him from behind and threw him over his shoulder, but Kirk quickly kicked off the wall and catapulted them both over the desk. They fell onto the floor with Kirk kicking and punching any part of the Vulcan he could reach. He grabbed a stone statue that had fallen off the desk and tried to smash Spock’s head in, but Spock deflected the blow with his arm and rolled away.

The two men staggered to their feet, both sweat-slicked chests heaving from the exertion, their breath coming in sharp, harsh gasps. Spock was bruised and bleeding from a dozen different wounds, and Kirk was stunned to realize that not once had the Vulcan hit him back. He had grabbed Kirk and tried to hold him, but he had never intentionally tried to hurt him. Even now, Spock didn't seem angry, only very, very determined.

"What a worthy adversary you are," Spock said right before he dove at the human’s legs. Kirk went down and the Vulcan went down after him, pinning him to the deck. They lay there, chest to chest…thigh to thigh…groin to groin. Kirk grunted and shifted his hips so their groins were no longer in contact.

"You will fight the inevitable every step of the way, will you not?"

"I’ll fight you to my dying breath." Kirk glared up at his captor. "You may rape me, but sooner or later you’ll drop your guard…and when that happens, watch out."

"I have no desire to harm you any more than I must." Spock sighed and placed his hand on the juncture of Kirk’s neck and shoulder and slowly squeezed.

The life drained out of Kirk’s limbs. He couldn’t move anything from the neck down. His eyes widened in shock and disbelief—he was completely helpless.

"The effect is temporary. The paralysis will wear off in time." Spock stood, picked Kirk up, and staggered into the bedroom. "I regret I cannot render you unconscious for the imminent ordeal, but I require a conscious mind." He dropped Kirk face up on the bed and proceeded to remove his boots, socks, pants and underwear.

Kirk felt nauseated. He wanted to run, to stop what was happening, but his arms and legs were no longer obeying his commands. He had never in his life felt so vulnerable and exposed.

When Kirk was completely naked, Spock stood up and tore off what remained of his own uniform.

Kirk shivered as sweat trickled down the back of his neck. The Vulcan’s cock was enormous. The huge green column stood straight up from a nest of curly black pubic hair, drops of precum glistening from the top of its broad, double-ridged head. Oh, god, he would never be able to accommodate such a monstrous thing. The Vulcan would rip him to shreds. Horrified, he gazed up into brown eyes filled with lust.

Spock stretched out on top of the human, groaning with relief. "You are so cool. I revel in your body’s touch." He reached up and placed his fingers on Kirk’s face.

Kirk shuddered and closed his eyes as Spock slipped into his mind. His heart slammed painfully against his chest—he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t know which he was more afraid of, the invasion of his mind or his body. Pain of the body, he decided after a moment, was something he could deal with…. He had before. But mind control…someone rummaging around in his head…reading his very thoughts…knowing his secrets…. He tried to fight the overwhelming panic exploding inside him.

/Calm yourself./ a voice said inside Kirk’s head. /I will not read any thoughts not directed at me personally. Your memories and secrets are safe. I require a touch only. A shallow link with a conscious, compatible mind to keep me from going insane and killing us both./

/And afterwards?/ Kirk thought.

/Afterwards, I will dissolve the link and set you and your comrades free./

Kirk felt an odd twisting sensation in his mind and knew somehow that the Vulcan had formed the link. He knew Spock was there, he could almost see him in a tiny corner of his mind, curled into a tight ball engulfed by flames.

Kirk was lifted and a pillow was shoved under his ass. His eyes snapped open. He watched Spock pour oil on the mammoth green erection, rubbing it up and down. The alien cock grew even larger, if that were possible.

Kirk struggled to move, to get away, but he was completely helpless. Oily fingers spread the cheeks of his ass and one slid inside and then another. They moved in and out and then rotated, stretching him wider. The sense of violation was overwhelming. A terrible, black rage swamped his mind and Kirk felt pure, unadulterated hatred for the first time in his life. The fingers finally withdrew, only to be replaced with the broad head of the Vulcan penis.

The breath was ripped from his lungs. Kirk clenched his teeth to hold back a scream as the head pushed past his sphincter muscle. Unendurable agony assaulted his nerve endings. The incredible pain brought tears to his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. It felt like he was being torn in half. He wanted to beg Spock to stop but didn’t, knowing it would be useless. And he would never give the enemy that satisfaction anyway. He bit his bottom lip and tasted blood as the cock moved slowly but steadily into his rectum. He breathed a sigh of relief when the shaft finally hit bottom. He felt Spock’s balls brush against his upturned ass. And then the fucking began.

* * * * *

Kirk lost track of time. Hours, or maybe days later, Spock was still fucking him and he hated it more now than he had at the beginning. Vulcans were animals—filthy insatiable beasts in constant rut. How could anyone enjoy anal sex? He’d known nothing but pain, anger and humiliation. He felt sick. He’d been twisted and turned and taken in every obscene position imaginable. His ass felt like a piece of raw meat. He hurt everywhere and just wanted it all to end. He didn’t know how much longer he could take the constant pounding. Every time he had felt sensation returning to his limbs, the Vulcan would somehow know and squeeze his neck again. Every time he was about to slip into unconsciousness, the Vulcan would nudge his mind awake. All he wanted right now was to sleep…and then to kill Spock in the slowest and most painful way possible.

/Soon/ the mind voice promised. /It will all be over soon./

A gush of fluid flooded Kirk’s insides once more and then the giant probe slowly withdrew.

"Sleep, Captain," Spock whispered. "It is finished."

The last thing Kirk remembered before he passed out was being bathed with warm soapy water.

Kirk didn’t know how long he’d slept, but he awakened to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. His eyes opened to see Spock sitting on the side of the bed, holding out a steaming cup. He snatched the cup and threw it against the wall. A dark brown stain spread over one of the colorful tapestries. "I don’t want anything from you except the freedom you promised for me and my crew." His stomach churned as he crawled from the newly made bed. "Where’s the bathroom?"

Spock got up and pointed to a nearby door. "Allow me to assist you." He put out a hand.

Kirk jerked away so hard he almost fell down. "Get the hell away from me." He staggered into the bathroom and did what was necessary. Damn, he was bleeding. He got into the shower and smashed his fist against the Plexiglas wall when he discovered the cubicle was only equipped with sonics. He felt so dirty. Sonics wouldn’t do. He wanted to scrub under the hottest water he could stand with a brush and a gallon of soap. He wondered if he’d ever feel clean again. At least the link was gone—he no longer felt the alien presence in his mind.

When Kirk stepped from the shower, he found his uniform, clean and repaired, folded neatly beside the sink. He was pulling on his clothes when he heard voices coming from the next room. He stopped and moved closer to the door.

"Yes, Sellar, I am well. The fever has passed. Has the shuttlecraft been repaired?"

Kirk guessed that Spock was talking on the intercom because he couldn’t hear what Sellar was saying.

"Excellent," Spock said. "You will escort the captain to the hangar bay. Have his crew waiting and send them on their way. I am going into a healing trance and do not wish to be disturbed."

Kirk finished dressing and walked slowly back into the other room. The Vulcan was lying on the bed, wrapped in a black and silver robe, with his head propped up with pillows. Kirk picked up his boots and sat gingerly on the side of the bed furthest away from Spock. A groan escaped his lips as a sharp pain shot up his ass.

Spock sat up and reached out with one hand. "Captain, I need to—"

Kirk grabbed a stone gargoyle sitting on the night table and swung as hard as he could. "Not with me you don’t. Not again."

Spock fell back, the surprise still evident on his face as he slipped into unconsciousness.

Kirk’s first impulse was to kill the alien, but after a moment, he realized that if he did and it was found out before he and his crew got away, they would all be killed…or worse. He almost took the chance anyway. It required all the will power he possessed to instead cover the blood splattered sheet and turn Spock’s head away, so the gash on his forehead wouldn’t be visible from the doorway. He stood back to assess his handiwork. Good. Anyone looking in would think their commander was asleep or in that trance he had talked about.

Kirk walked out the door without a backward glance and saw Sellar coming down the corridor. He brought himself to his full height. "Well, it certainly took you long enough to get here. Let’s go," he said, heading for the turbolift.

Kirk held his breath as Sellar hesitated and glanced at Spock's door, then let it out softly as the healer moved to accompany him.

Once in the turbolift, Kirk leaned heavily against the wall. Sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip as he fought to remain conscious. The small area was spinning and black dots swam before his eyes.

"You appear to be in distress, Captain," Sellar said. "Perhaps I should examine you before you leave."

Kirk came off the wall with a snarl. "Save the sudden show of concern. You weren’t too concerned when you had me thrown in with that animal."

The doors opened and Kirk stalked out closely followed by Sellar. Not far now…a right turn…and they were in the hangar bay. His crew was waiting beside the small silver shuttlecraft surrounded by Vulcan guards.

McCoy rushed forward. "Jim, are you all right? You look like hell."

"Yeah, Bones, I’m fine." Kirk pasted on a smile. "How long have I been gone?"

"Four days. What on earth did they do to you?"

"Later, Bones. Let’s get the hell out of here."

Everyone climbed into the vehicle and took their seats. The Vulcans disappeared and the hangar bay doors slowly opened. "Ramsey, best speed to United Earth space."

"Yes, sir," the woman said, guiding them expertly from the belly of the enemy vessel.

Once they were underway, Kirk leaned back and closed his eyes. He could feel the blood seeping through his trousers.

An hour and a half later, they were hailed by the Republic.

Thirty minutes after that, the shuttlecraft slid into the hangar deck and docked. Everyone lined up to disembark except Kirk, who touched McCoy’s arm and gestured for him to remain behind.

When they were alone, the doctor stood and crouched at Kirk’s side. "What is it, Jim?"

"I’m hurt, Bones, but I don’t want anyone else to know."

"How bad? Can you walk?"

"Bad. I don’t think I can get up."

"Put your arm over my shoulder," McCoy said. "I’ll help you up."

Kirk stiffened at the contact but allowed the doctor to pull him to his feet.

"Jim, let me call sickbay and get a stretcher down here."

"No! I don’t want anyone to see me like this. They’ll have questions that I don’t want to answer." Kirk swayed momentarily. "Have the corridors cleared between here and sickbay—and get rid of your staff."

"Okay…." McCoy hit the intercom and called Scotty. "But I don’t like this."

Fifteen minutes later the doctor half-carried Kirk into the empty sickbay and placed him on a bio-bed. While the monitors catalogued vital signs and pain levels, McCoy removed Kirk’s uniform. "Jim, there’s blood on your pants. Turn over."

Kirk hesitated for a moment, then carefully rolled himself onto his stomach. He heard the humming of the feinberger as the doctor moved it slowly down his body. There was a sudden intake of breath when the instrument reached his ass and a whispered, "Oh, Jim."

He shuddered when McCoy placed a gentle hand on his back. "I’m going to put you out now and repair the damage to your rectum." The doctor pressed a hypospray into Kirk’s arm.

* * * * *

Kirk woke up slowly. He blinked his eyes a few times trying to get his bearings. He was in sickbay. And then he remembered. Oh god. He shuddered as obscene images flooded his mind. He couldn’t deal with it…not now. He pushed the thoughts away and looked around. The doctor was sitting in a chair next to the bed, watching him. "How long have you been sitting here?"

"Long enough. How are you feeling?"

Kirk lay still. "Better than before," he said after a moment. "How badly was I injured?"

"It wasn’t as bad as I first thought. A little tearing, but it could have been a lot worse. You want to tell me what happened?

"I thought it was obvious," Kirk said, staring up at the ceiling. "I got raped. Can I go to my quarters now?"

"In a little while. Who raped you?"

"The Vulcan captain."

"Did you fight back?"

Kirk stared at McCoy in disbelief. "Of course I fought back. Why would you ask me something like that?"

"Because I’ve seen you fight before and you’re in pretty good shape, considering. I’d have expected you to be beaten to a pulp before anyone could force you to submit."

"Well, I did fight back and I was holding my own, too, until he grabbed my neck and did something to it. He paralyzed me, Bones." Kirk clenched his hands into fists. "I was awake, I could feel everything he did, but I couldn’t move and he…he fucked me. I wasn’t even a person to him. I was nothing more than a thing…just an object to empty his seed into. I’ll kill that bastard if I ever see him again."

"Take it easy, Jim."

"Take it easy! Simple for you to say—you weren’t the one lying there helpless while that animal shoved his cock up your ass." Kirk turned his head away. "I don’t want to talk about it anymore."

"I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to talk about it or it’ll just fester and grow."

"Do I have to talk about it now? All I want to do is soak under the longest, hottest shower I can find."

McCoy checked the monitors over Kirk’s bed. "It’ll wait, but not for too long. I’ll set up some counseling sessions for you starting the day after tomorrow. Okay?"

"Okay," Kirk said with a grimace. "Can I go now?" He had no intention of discussing this with McCoy or anyone else. He just wanted to forget the incident had ever happened.

The doctor nodded and picked up Kirk’s clothes. "Here, put these on and I’ll walk you home."

"Bones, I don’t want this to go in my record."

"It won’t," McCoy said. "As long as you attend the sessions…no excuses."

"I promise." Kirk forced his lips into the semblance of a smile. "No excuses."

* * * * *

 

SIX MONTHS LATER

 

James Kirk stood in the transporter room, watching McCoy materialize on the grid.

"Damn fool contraptions," the doctor muttered as he stepped off the pad. "Humans weren’t meant to have their atoms scattered half way across the galaxy."

Kirk laughed. "It’s good to have you back, Bones. How were the seminars?"

"Too long, too boring, and the food was lousy as usual." McCoy grabbed his bag and headed for the door. "So what’s so important that my scheduled leave was suddenly cancelled? I needed it after six weeks of mandatory seminars."

"New orders," Kirk said as they walked down the corridor. "All heavy cruisers have been ordered to Maximus Prime."

"Maximus Prime? Isn’t that where the shipbuilding facility is?"

"One and the same."

"Umm…." McCoy frowned. "I don’t like the sound of that. Is the peace still holding?"

"Barely. There have been some incidents."

"Some?"

"Quite a lot actually," Kirk said.

"Their fault or ours?"

"Seems to be pretty evenly divided."

"Is this where the new orders come in?"

Kirk shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that Fleet Command has come up with some kind of plan to stop these incidents from escalating any further."

"This ought to be good, knowing the bureaucratic mentality."

Kirk laughed. "You’ll get no argument from me."

McCoy stopped and carefully looked at Kirk. "And how are you doing?"

Kirk hesitated for a moment. "Okay, I guess…. The nightmares have stopped for the most part and I’m no longer taking five showers a day."

"Good for you." The doctor paused. "And sexually?"

Kirk flushed and glanced around, angry that McCoy would bring that up in so public an area. Thankfully there was no one else in sight, but he just couldn’t bear to tell his friend the truth. The humiliation was still too fresh in his mind. "I’m fine."

"You sure?"

Kirk forced a grin. "Just ask the girls at Morgana’s Pleasure Palace." Yeah, he thought to himself, go ask them what a dismal failure that night was. Not only hadn’t he been able to get it up since the rape, but even the inclination was gone. He hadn’t felt arousal in six months.

"I guess rank really doth have its privileges." McCoy laughed and wrapped an arm around Kirk’s shoulders. "You get leave on Wrigley’s and I get six weeks in academia."

"Oh, don’t worry." Kirk moved away, dislodging the doctor’s arm. "You’ll get your chance after Maximus Prime."

McCoy flashed him an odd look, but Kirk pretended not to notice. "It’s good to have you back, Bones," he said, turning down the next corridor. "I’ll see you later. I’ve got a ton of paperwork to get out of the way before we make orbit tomorrow."

"Bye, Jim."

Kirk could feel the doctor’s eyes boring into his back. It had been sheer stupidity to move away from McCoy’s touch, but he just couldn’t help himself. He’d always been a tactile man by nature, but since the rape, he simply couldn’t abide being touched. He wondered if this reminder of his ordeal would ever completely disappear.

*****

The Republic dropped out of warp and slid into orbit around Maximus Prime.

"Well, will you look at that," Lieutenant Uhura said, standing up at the communications console.

Kirk’s mouth firmed into a straight line as he looked at the viewscreen. Besides the large contingent of Fleet vessels he had expected, there had to be a dozen Vulcan battle cruisers, plus any number of smaller ships, circling the planet.

"Lieutenant Uhura, have our replacements report to the bridge immediately. We’ll beam down in twenty minutes."

"Yes, sir."

Kirk wondered at the strange order. His entire senior staff was to attend…whatever this was. He shrugged. Pretty soon, they’d all know the reason.

Twenty minutes later, Kirk and company materialized in a transporter chamber and were quickly escorted to a large auditorium filled with Starfleet officers—and Vulcans. Kirk was unable to control the shudder that shot through his body.

McCoy noticed his reaction and moved closer. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I think they've set the cooling system a little too low, that's all."

McCoy's expression said he didn't believe Kirk for a minute, but he didn't pursue it.

Kirk looked around, recognizing many of the humans milling around the room, and headed toward a tall, burly man with graying hair. "Bob, you old space dog. I thought you were retiring and going into the salvage business."

Captain Robert Wesley laughed. "Soon, Jim, soon. Are you ready to join me?"

"Not yet, but I’m keeping the offer in mind." Kirk smiled. Wesley had been retiring for the last ten years, but somehow he had never quite made it. "What’s going on, Bob?"

"I don't have a clue, and neither does anyone else. I’ve talked to Hoyt, Chambers, Decker and Tracey, and they’re as much in the dark as we are. I do know that Nogura’s here though."

Kirk frowned. "Well, that means whatever’s about to happen is going to be big." He forced himself to look across the auditorium. "What about the Vulcans?"

"All I’ve been able to find out is that they’re mostly captains and bridge crew, same as us. Speaking of bridge crew, I was sorry to hear about Donaldson."

"Yeah, Tom was a hard man to lose."

"Who'd you get to replace him?"

"Fleet hasn’t seen fit to issue me a replacement."

Wesley shook his head. "Tough way to run a starship."

"I’ll say. Well, I’d better get back to my crew," Kirk said as he saw Admiral Nogura and an older Vulcan with long gray hair walk out onto the stage. "It looks like the festivities are about to begin. Good to see you again."

"You too, Jim. Take care."

Kirk made his way through the throng of Starfleet uniforms, stopping every now and then to greet someone he knew. He spotted McCoy and was headed his way when the hair on the back of his neck nearly stood up. Someone was watching him. He spun around and his eyes widened as they met a pair of dark brown ones from across the room. Vulcan eyes. Spock’s eyes. Rage filled every cell in his body as flashbacks of the rape burst into his mind. Kirk’s hands clenched into fists and he took an angry step forward. A hand on his arm prevented him from going any further. He glared at the man holding him back.

"Jim," McCoy said. "Not here. Not now."

"It’s him, Bones. It’s that Vulcan son-of-a-bitch who—"

"I know. I see him, but you can’t attack him here."

It took a few moments for the words to penetrate his anger, but Kirk finally nodded and took a deep, calming breath, and then another. The rage began to dissipate. "Okay, I’m fine, you can let go now."

McCoy released his hold. "Come on, we’re over here," he said, leading Kirk away.

Kirk glanced back over his shoulder. "Someday I’m going to kill him."

"I’m sure you will, Jim, but not here and not today."

The sound system echoed through the cavernous hall. "May I have your attention, please."

The hum of conversations trailed off as Admiral Nogura, the head of Starfleet Operations, looked out over the assembled officers.

"As I’m sure all of you are aware, the newly formed alliance between Vulcan and Earth is in jeopardy. Incidents continue to occur which undermine the fragile peace we have all fought so hard to attain. I realize that seven years of bloodshed and loss is difficult to set aside, but it must be done if both our species are to survive. To that end, I and my Vulcan counterpart, Sarek," Nogura nodded toward the tall Vulcan at his side, "have come up with a plan, an experiment if you will, which we hope will allow you to get to know each other as a people rather than as the enemy."

As the admiral held up his hands to stop the sudden flood of questions, Sarek pulled a small box from his robe and pressed a button. A dozen spotlights appeared overhead, each one illuminating a large starship model hanging from a thin silver wire. A name was painted on every hull. A collective gasp swept through the hall. The ships were mesmerizing, with a large saucer section on top and two red tipped nacelles beneath. Sheer power clung to every elegant line and curve.

"These ships," Nogura said, "are the first joint human and Vulcan endeavor. So far there are only twelve of them, but I promise you, there will be more. They were built to carry a crew complement of four hundred and thirty two…." He paused dramatically. "A fully integrated crew complement."

A stunned silence met this unexpected announcement.

"The captaincies of these vessels will be drawn by lots as will the first officer positions. We have chosen the best twelve captains from each fleet. Twenty-four captains in all. Six humans and six Vulcans will keep their rank and take command of these ships. The other twelve captains will take a temporary demotion and become first officers until more ships are built. It has been set up so a human captain will get a Vulcan first officer and vice versa. Are there any questions?"

McCoy leaned close to Kirk. "What are they, crazy?" he whispered. "A lottery? What a way to choose a command team. What happened to psych scans and compatibility quotients?"

"Desperate times call for desperate measures, Bones," Kirk said softly. "Politically, it’s probably the only way they could get both sides to agree. You know if it were left up to the bureaucrats, it could take years of wrangling to even choose one command team, let alone twelve. This way, it’s the luck of the draw and we learn to work together or else."

"It’s that or else that I’m worried about."

Kirk’s eyes strayed upward. He desperately wanted one of those ships. His heart quickened just looking at them. They were a space captain’s dream. He glanced across the room. The Vulcans looked as surprised as everyone else, although they hid it better. What would he do if he drew a first officer’s position and had to take orders from one of them? He didn’t even want to think about that.

Admiral Nogura cleared his throat. "All right, gentlemen, it’s time to draw. Will all captains come up here on stage, please. Humans on one side, Vulcans on the other.

One by one, humans and Vulcans mounted the stairs and stood in their designated areas.

Kirk scowled at Spock across the stage. He appeared healthier than he had on the ship. Still slender, but no longer gaunt and emaciated, and his long black hair was sleek and shiny, casting off blue highlights with every step. Spock glanced once in Kirk’s direction, then quickly averted his eyes.

Two small tables were rolled out and set before each group. On each tabletop rested a covered black box.

Admiral Nogura and Sarek stood between the tables.

"Each box contains six white balls and six black," the admiral said. "Each ball has the name of a ship on it. White denotes captain, black, first officer. Each man shall draw a ball, then go and stand beneath his chosen ship. You may proceed."

Kirk followed Matt Decker and Ron Tracey. When the other two had drawn, he reached into the box and closed his fist around a ball. He walked down the steps without looking in his hand. His crew gathered around him as he slowly opened his fist. There resting in the palm of his hand was a small white ball with the name Enterprise on it. He let out the breath he didn’t even know he was holding.

Kirk moved down the line of starships until he came to the last one…the one marked Enterprise. He stood under his new ship, clutching the little white ball, and waited to see who else had gotten lucky.

Bob Wesley, wearing a huge grin, took his place under the Lexington, waving a white ball in Kirk’s direction.

Kirk smiled and showed Wesley the ball he had drawn.

"Excuse me, Captain, I believe I am your new first officer," a cool, calm baritone announced.

Kirk turned around and froze. Spock stood not two feet away from him, holding out a small black ball between thumb and forefinger. The name Enterprise was plain to see.

A multitude of emotions swept through Kirk’s body, the foremost being disbelief.

How could this have happened? The two of them stuck together on a ship for god knows how long…a rapist and his victim. Not a very auspicious start for a mission that was supposed to promote peace and understanding. Especially since said victim wanted nothing more than to wrap his hands around said rapist’s throat and choke him to death.

Spock raised one flaring brow and stepped back, almost as if he could read the intent on the human’s face.

"So you’re my new first officer." Kirk’s eyes narrowed as he slowly looked the Vulcan up and down. "Wonderful. I wonder what else is going to happen to ruin an otherwise spectacular day." He schooled his face into a mask of impassivity. Command training did have its uses from time to time.

Neither man said another word as they stood three feet apart and watched the rest of the proceedings.

Fifteen minutes later every starship had a new captain and first officer in place.

"Gentlemen, attention please," Nogura said from the stage. "You will now choose your senior staff. It has been decided that each member of a command team will keep his own CMO or healer, as the case may be, to care for the differing needs of each species. Doctors, join your ships."

McCoy shook his head as he walked by Spock to take his place beside Kirk. "Jim," he said. "This isn’t going to work. You have to—"

"Not now, Bones."

Kirk stiffened as he watched Sellar come through the crowd and join them. For some reason, the hatred he bore for the healer was even greater than that which he had for Spock.

Sellar glanced once at Kirk before he dropped his gaze and moved to Spock’s side.

"Now for the final stage of selection," Nogura said as four beings stood under each model. "Each captain shall choose a member for his senior staff, then the first officer will choose one, and so on. I suggest you make your choices wisely, gentlemen, or another ship may acquire a person you want. We shall go right down the line. Captain Kirk, make your first selection."

Kirk didn’t even hesitate. "Montgomery Scott, chief engineer."

A disappointed murmur swept through the crowd. Any number of ships would have welcomed the addition of Scott to its ranks. He was quite simply the finest engineer in the fleet.

The admiral glanced down at his comslate. "First Officer Spock."

"T’Lynn of Vulcan, science officer," Spock said.

Kirk wasn’t unduly upset to lose Latimer as his science officer. The man never had impressed him…much too anxious and excitable to function as the head of a department on a ship of this size. But this T’Lynn better show him plenty or he’d replace him so fast, the man wouldn’t have time to unpack.

Kirk’s stomach lurched as he recognized the Vulcan woman heading toward them. It was the young female from the shuttlebay. He could still hear the contempt in her voice as she had tried to convince Spock to mate with her: "You need not debase yourself with such as these." How was he going to maintain a command image when half his staff knew he’d been fucked by his new first officer? How they must be laughing inside. He ground his teeth in frustration.

Kirk looked up at the incredible ship wafting over his head and knew in that instant that no matter what obstacles lay in his path, no matter how much the Vulcans tried to undermine his position, he would never voluntarily give up the Enterprise. He was the captain and the sooner they realized that fact, the better. Besides, eventually Spock would be given his own ship and they would all go with him. That is, if he didn’t get killed first.

A Vulcan named Solaris, standing under the Exeter, was the final captain to choose in this round. Ron Tracey stood at his side. The human ex-captain didn’t look too pleased with this latest career move, but he managed to make his choice. And then it was back to the Enterprise.

Another round followed. And then another. By the conclusion, Kirk was satisfied that he had acquired an excellent bridge crew, the Vulcans notwithstanding. He had kept Montgomery Scott as chief engineer and Nyota Uhura as head of communications and gained Hikaru Sulu at helm. Sulu was rumored to be a bit of a risk taker but a crackerjack pilot all the same, and he should complement Tina Ramsey’s more orthodox style rather nicely. No one had taken Latimer, so he would remain as T’Lynn’s second. Kirk glanced at Spock. The Vulcan appeared pleased with the outcome as well. There was nothing overt in his expression, but there was something around the eyes that gave him away. Spock had gotten T’Lynn as head of sciences, a young red-headed Vulcan called Sardin at navigation, and an older, scar-faced Stillion as head of security. That was the only position Kirk wished he had filled with a human, but if he had, he might have lost out on Sulu. He decided that helm was the more important position to control if it came down to that. At least Commander Giotto would remain in security, as second officer, to keep an eye on Stillion.

"The rest of your crews will be made up of equal numbers from each race," Nogura said. "Those assignments will be posted next week. All captains and senior staff members are to report immediately to their new vessels. Move any belongings and equipment you need and use this time to acclimate yourselves to your new ships. You will be shipping out in one month’s time on an extended mission of exploration. Officers, dismissed."

Everyone came to attention and saluted…even the Vulcans.

Kirk gathered his staff up with a look and headed for the door.

"Jim," McCoy said, touching his arm. "I need to talk to you…now."

Kirk looked at the doctor’s face. "Okay, Bones, just give me a minute." He steeled himself, then turned toward his new first officer. "Mister Spock, would you take everyone to the transporter room. I’ll meet you there."

"Yes, Captain," Spock said with a slight nod of his head.

Kirk watched the Vulcan walk away. "What is it, Bones?"

"This isn’t going to work…you and him on the same ship. You’ve got to go to Nogura and tell him—"

"Tell him what?" Kirk snapped. "Tell him I was raped six months ago by my new first officer? I don’t think so. You know how the grapevine works as well as I do. I’d be a laughingstock within a week. I can just hear the pundits now: ‘Did you hear the one about Kirk, the great galactic stud? How he spent four days with a Vulcan cock stuffed up his ass? I wonder if he learned to like it.’"

"Jim, you’re the victim here. You didn’t ask for that to happen."

"No, but it happened and I’m dealing with it. But I can only do that if no one else knows."

"Spock knows."

"Yes," Kirk said softly, watching the door close behind his staff. "Spock knows."

He walked off, fully aware that McCoy was frowning after him.

* * * * *

As Kirk strode into the briefing room three weeks later, Spock stood up. "Attention," he said. The entire senior staff followed his example and got to their feet.

"At ease," Kirk said, taking his place at the head of the table. His stomach churned at the sight of Spock sitting a mere two feet away. Most of the Vulcan males under his command had adopted the optional shorter Starfleet hairstyle, but Spock had exercised his right to keep his hair as it was before. Long, jet black hair cascaded over his shoulders, except for one braid on the right side of his face, held together at the bottom with a red and silver clasp. Kirk remembered how that hair had brushed across his face and chest as Spock had plowed in and out of him. He pushed down the almost overwhelming impulse to cancel the briefing and leave the room as quickly as possible. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, he thought as sweat broke out between his shoulder blades and his head began to throb. But he couldn’t continue to avoid his first officer for the next year or two or however long their mission took. Better to get the first meeting over and take it from there. He needed to act like the captain. He needed to show Spock that he wouldn’t be intimidated by him or anyone else.

"Mister Spock," Kirk said, staring straight into the Vulcan’s eyes. "Will we be ready to ship out next week?"

"Affirmative, Captain. With the exception of deck five, we are five point two days ahead of schedule."

Kirk was almost disappointed with the answer—and realized that he had subconsciously been looking for a reason to reprimand Spock in front of the senior staff.

Was that what Spock’s presence had driven him to? He hated pettiness in any form and knew he was dangerously close to becoming all that he despised. Hatred was acceptable under the circumstances, but pettiness and cheap shots were not. He had always prided himself on his innate sense of justice, and he’d be damned if he’d let what Spock had done to him change who he was or how he saw himself.

Kirk nodded once in Spock’s direction. "Excellent job," he said, knowing his exec must have worked exceptionally hard to have the ship ready so far ahead of schedule. He glanced to his left. "Doctor McCoy, how about sickbay?"

"We’ll be ready. We’re just waiting for a few last minute supplies."

"Good. Mister Scott?"

"Aye, Captain," the engineer said. "She’s a bonny lass and just rarin’ to throw over the traces."

Kirk almost smiled when Spock lifted a brow in obvious perplexity. He caught himself just in time and turned his attention to the young woman at Spock’s side.

"Lieutenant Commander, what’s the status of the science department?"

T’Lynn paused to look at Spock, then turned back to Kirk. "My department will be fully operational in the time allotted." Her voice contained a cool note of disdain.

Kirk’s eyes narrowed, but he decided to let it pass. They had, after all, been enemies until six months ago. He noticed Spock’s mouth harden and thin. Damn, his headache was turning into a full-blown migraine.

"Fine," Kirk said. "Now to the next order of business. Our much publicized mission is to be one of exploration, but our priority is to learn to live and work together, and I haven’t seen that happening. What I have seen is that, except when they are on duty, the entire crew is maintaining a strictly segregated policy. That is all about to change." Kirk got up and paced around the table. He felt Spock follow him with his eyes. "The quickest way I know of to learn about an alien culture is complete immersion in said culture. Therefore, except for the senior officers, who will have private accommodations if deck five is ever completed, the rest of the crew quarters will be completely integrated. All four-bed cabins will have two humans and two Vulcans, and the two bed units will have one of each. They will learn to get along, to compromise when needed, or this could prove to be the most disastrous mission in the histories of either of our planets. Mister Spock, please get started on the cabin reassignments. That’s all for now. Dismissed."

Spock stood and inclined his head. "Yes, sir."

Everyone got up and started toward the door.

"Mister Scott," Kirk said, suddenly aware that his headache had all but disappeared. "A moment please."

The engineer sat back down as the door closed behind everyone else. "Yes, Captain."

"Scotty, we’ve been together a long time, and I know nothing I say here will ever leave this room."

"Aye, that’s the truth of it. You know I’d never betray a confidence."

"I know." Kirk cleared his throat. "Scotty, you’ve been working pretty closely with the first officer these last three weeks. What do you think of him?"

"In what way? Personally or professionally?"

"Professionally."

"He has the most brilliant mind I’ve ever come across. He picked up that discrepancy in the warp matter/anti-matter mix last week by just glancing at the computations. He’s quick, efficient, forgets nothing, and I think if he wanted to he could dismantle and reassemble a warp engine as well as I could."

"That’s high praise coming from you."

"I mean every word of it." Scott glanced up with a speculative gleam in his eye. "Have you ever watched him on the computers?"

"No," Kirk said. "I can’t say that I have. Why?"

"Watch him sometime when doesna know you’re there. He willna do it otherwise."

"And you’re not going to tell me what it is, are you?"

The engineer’s eyes twinkled. "Some things need to be seen to be believed."

"And you know I just can’t resist a mystery," Kirk chuckled. "Go on, get out of here."

After the engineer left, Kirk sat back down at the table. The Scot never suffered fools gladly, and if he said Spock was brilliant then it must be so. He didn’t know why that thought disturbed him so much.

* * * * *

Deck five was finally completed. Kirk moved around the captain’s cabin, putting away his belongings. He was amazed at the size of his new accommodations. Compared to his quarters on the Republic or the tiny cubicle he had just occupied for over three weeks, this place was gigantic. There was a private sleeping area separated by a grillwork screen from the rest of an office/living area, a closet that was actually bigger than a tricorder, two built in dressers, a small loveseat for entertaining, a good sized desk and chair, and his very own replicator. Smiling to himself, he picked up some toiletries and walked into a spacious bathroom containing a shower, with both sonics and water, a head and two sinks. He couldn’t figure out why anyone would install two sinks in the bathroom, such a useless waste of precious space, but it was too late to change anything now. They were shipping out in three days.

The door beside the head opened and Spock walked in carrying a small box. He stopped when he saw Kirk. "Captain," he said, with his usual small nod.

It took every ounce off strength Kirk possessed not to turn and run. It was the first time he had been alone with Spock since the rape. "What are you doing in here?"

"My quarters are next to yours. We are to share the facilities."

"What! Says who?" Sweat began to bead on Kirk’s upper lip. The previously spacious bathroom was rapidly shrinking in size—to almost claustrophobic proportions in fact. His eyes darted around, looking for the nearest escape route. An expensive bottle of aftershave slipped from his grasp. Quick as a cobra, Spock grabbed the bottle before it hit the floor and held it out to him. Kirk reached out to snatch it away and their hands accidentally brushed. Just the touch of Spock’s hand…the heat…the hidden strength…the suede-like texture…caused everything he had endured seven months before to come roaring back. Kirk sprang away as if the Vulcan had just transformed himself into a Rigellian kalto beast.

Spock carefully stepped back. "I assumed you knew. It was quite evident on the schematics." His voice was not accusatory, but calm and reassuring instead. And he acted like nothing untoward had just occurred.

Kirk flushed with embarrassment, both for his overreaction to Spock’s innocent gesture and for not knowing that they were slated to share the facilities. "I didn’t pay much attention to the accommodations schematics. I was more interested in the operational departments. Engineering, weapons and the like."

"I see," Spock said and then continued to stand there.

"I don’t want to share a bathroom with you," Kirk blurted out. "I don’t even want you living next door to me."

Spock stiffened imperceptibly. "I understand completely, Captain. I shall seek accommodations elsewhere."

Kirk fumed, angry at himself. To be fair, this was all his own fault. He should have gone over those specs carefully instead of merely giving them a cursory glance. It was obvious that Spock had reviewed them in great detail and mistakenly assumed that he had done the same and that the arrangements were satisfactory to him. "Wait," he said as the Vulcan turned to leave. "Where will you go? All the officers’ cabins have been allotted and the occupants’ names placed in the computer."

"I can easily rectify that."

"I’m sure you can, but how do I explain to Starfleet and the rest of the crew that the first officer is not occupying the first officer’s cabin, that I refused to share the facilities, after I ordered everyone else to share accommodations?"

"I had not thought of that." Spock cocked his head to one side. "How will you explain this?"

Kirk thought furiously for a moment and then dumped his toiletries into one of the sinks. "I’m not going to have to. You’re going to stay right where you are. We’ll share this bathroom after we agree on a schedule. If we plan it right, we could finish this whole mission without ever seeing each other in here."

"Captain, there may be instances where accidental meetings will be unavoidable."

"Perhaps, but they won’t be many if we’re careful. Do you agree?"

"Very well." Spock paused and looked straight into Kirk’s eyes. "Please be assured, Captain, that I have no wish to cause you discomfort…in any way." He placed his box on the empty sink and left the room.

Kirk took a deep calming breath, relieved to find himself alone. He stared speculatively at the closed door, thinking of Spock’s parting remark. The Vulcan had sounded almost sincere in his assurances, but then he had sounded sincere seven months ago when he had expressed regret at what he was about to do. That hadn’t stopped him from brutally taking both Kirk’s mind and body. He didn’t now, and never would, trust anything Spock said.

* * * * *

McCoy looked up from the computer screen as Kirk stomped into his office and threw himself into the nearest chair. He got up and poured out two cups of coffee. "Here," he said, handing one to Kirk. "You look like you need this."

"Is it that obvious?"

"Yeah, it is. What’s wrong?"

Kirk shrugged. "I just don’t know what to do with her."

"Her?"

"Lieutenant Commander T’Lynn. My new Vulcan science officer. She’s smart, and excellent at her job, but…."

"But what?"

"I don’t know; it’s hard to explain." Kirk took a sip of coffee. "She doesn’t actually do anything I can call her on…. It’s more a matter of attitude, I think. Like if I ask her something technical, she’ll look at me like I’m the village idiot, then launch into a long, convoluted explanation that leaves me more confused than before I asked."

McCoy finished his coffee and placed the empty cup on his desk. "That must be irritating as hell, but that can’t be all of it."

"I wish. The thing that really gets to me is that every time I give her an order, no matter how unimportant it is, she’ll look at Spock for confirmation before carrying it out. I thought at first it was because she was used to Spock being her captain, so I let it go, figuring she just needed time to acclimate to a new ship and a new captain, but we’ve been out here for a month and nothing’s changed. If anything, it’s getting more obvious."

"Do you think it’s Spock’s doing? That he’s trying to undermine your position?"

"You mean, did he order her to behave in such a manner?"

"Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean."

Kirk leaned back and thought about the last two months, the first month in spacedock preparing for this mission and the month out here in space. "No," he said after a few minutes. "To give the devil his due, Spock seems even more irritated by her actions than I am."

"How can you tell? None of them has any emotions as far as I can see."

"Sure they do. They just conceal them better. And you have to know what to look for. Spock’s lips harden and thin when he’s aggravated."

"If you say so." McCoy shrugged. "By the way, how’s that situation going?"

"You mean Spock?"

"Yes, how does he treat you?"

"With unfailing politeness and courtesy." Kirk checked his chronometer and stood up. "Gotta go, I have an appointment with Scotty to go over the specs for the new anti-matter converter…oh, and can I have some more Fiorcetanol?"

The doctor frowned. "Those headaches still bothering you?"

"They come and go."

McCoy got up and came out from behind his desk. He moved behind Kirk and placed his hands on the gold-clad shoulders. "For Christ’s sake, relax. You’re tighter than a Malcori virgin."

It was all Kirk could do not to pull away. Anyone touching him still made his skin crawl…brought back too many memories of other hands…of other touches. He sighed with relief when McCoy slapped him on the back and walked back around his desk.

"They’re probably stress related," the doctor said. "But it wouldn’t hurt to run some tests." He opened a drawer and picked up a small, amber bottle.

"You mean T’Lynn related," Kirk said with a grimace. "That woman’s a definite pain in my neck."

McCoy chuckled and counted out twelve white pills. "No more until I run those tests." He put the pills in a small container and handed it to Kirk. "So what are you going to do about the lieutenant commander?"

"I haven’t decided yet. Any suggestions?"

"What would you do if she were Lieutenant Latimer instead of a Vulcan?"

Kirk nodded thoughtfully. "You’re absolutely right. I’ve been putting up with behavior I’d never tolerate from a human crew member simply because she’s a Vulcan and we need this peace plan to work. But you know what? So do they. Thanks for the advice, Bones, see you later."

* * * * *

Kirk swung slowly around in the command chair. His head was pounding. "Would you repeat that last statement, Science Officer. I didn’t quite understand your explanation."

T’Lynn looked at Spock instead of immediately answering.

Kirk jumped up and stalked to the upper tier. "I asked you, Science Officer, not Mister Spock, unless of course you are here under false pretenses and do not know the answers to my questions."

"No, sir," T’Lynn said, staring at something over Kirk’s right shoulder. "I am fully capable of answering your questions."

"Then I suggest you do so. I also suggest that you start obeying my orders without constantly checking with Mister Spock first. He is no longer your captain…. I am. And regardless of your personal feelings in the matter, I expect the courtesy that position calls for." Kirk’s voice was dangerously soft. Hearing it, his old crew would have been scrambling for cover by now. "I think a transfer to gamma shift for a month will help rectify the problem."

Kirk risked a quick glance at his first officer. He thought for a moment he saw approval in the dark brown eyes, but then whatever it was was gone. Spock’s face was expressionless as he stood at parade rest with his hands clasped easily behind his back.

Kirk realized that the hands behind the back stance had started right after that first night in their bathroom…when they had accidentally touched. He appreciated the unspoken assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. "See to the transfer, Mister Spock, effective immediately. And have Lieutenant Latimer report to the bridge."

"Yes, Captain." Spock nodded once and turned away.

Kirk took a deep breath, wishing he could stop the shudder that ran up his back every time he saw his second in command. He strolled around the bridge before returning to his command chair. At least he felt more in control of his ship, if not of himself, than he had in a long time.

When T'Lynn was gone, Kirk’s headache vanished as well.

* * * * *

Kirk left the officer’s mess and headed for the observation room. Damn McCoy for canceling their meeting. It was too early to go back to his quarters. This was Spock’s time to use the facilities and he didn’t like even being in the next room, knowing the Vulcan was bathing. It was silly, he knew, the door to his bathroom was always kept locked, but he couldn’t help how uncomfortable it made him to know that one thin door was all that separated him from a naked Vulcan. He could still visualize the hairy, muscular chest and the huge green organ pulsing between Spock’s thighs.

Kirk pushed the picture away and entered the Plexiglas enclosed room. He loved it here. He could sit for hours just staring at the stars as they rushed by. Peace and serenity descended over him as he relaxed in a big overstuffed chair, hidden from the doorway by a large group of potted plants.

After a while, Kirk heard the door swish open and footsteps come in. He hoped whoever it was wouldn’t notice his presence and come over to talk. He just wanted to sit here alone in the dark and enjoy the heavenly sights without being disturbed. He sat very still and kept his breathing slow and even.

A voice spoke in Vulcan and Kirk’s heart sank to realize that he still had the translator embedded behind his ear. He’d forgotten all about it.

"Spock," T’Lynn said. "Why did you not intercede on my behalf?"

Great, Spock was here, too. Kirk wished now he had made his presence known when the door had first opened. Now it was too late. If they saw him at this point, they would no doubt think he was purposely trying to spy on them. He slipped further down in the chair as he recognized Spock’s voice.

"I warned you to cease your unseemly behavior toward Captain Kirk, but you did not choose to comply. He was well within his rights to rebuke you as he did. He has shown far greater forbearance than I should have done had the situation been reversed."

"He is human. An inferior species. He should not be in command. You should be the captain of the Enterprise, not Kirk."

"His captaincy was fairly won and I shall serve him to the best of my ability. I advise you to do the same or your next transfer could well be onto another vessel."

"How can you say this? Is it because you have lain with him? Did he give you that much pleasure?"

Kirk flushed angrily. It took every ounce of will power he possessed not to jump up and castigate them both.

Spock’s voice was like ice when he replied. "You believe I took pleasure in raping and debasing another sentient being. I feel nothing but shame at what my biology forced me to do in order to survive. I degraded and humiliated an honorable man, one whom I could have called friend if circumstances had allowed. Instead, I serve as second in command to a captain who detests the very air I breathe. And I do not fault him for his hatred. It is well deserved."

After a long silence, T’Lynn said, "I regret my words, Spock…and my actions. I will make amends to Kirk, if it will make your way easier."

"He is a fine captain," Spock said. "Intelligent, fair, and extremely able. You would see his virtues for yourself if you could but set aside your prejudices."

"Perhaps…perhaps not, but the illogic of the man…. "

"There is that, I agree," Spock said. "But then, T’Lynn, no one is perfect."

Kirk could almost hear the smile in her voice as she replied. "That is so. Very well, I shall make the effort if it pleases you."

Kirk relaxed after the Vulcans left. He would stay here for a while longer and give Spock a chance at the facilities. He had a lot to think about.

* * * * *

The Enterprise circled the planet below. The previously unexplored class M world rotated on its axis around a red gas giant.

Kirk turned in the command chair. "Science Officer, what do the scanners show? Any signs of life down there?"

T’Lynn answered immediately. "Radioactive stellar debris has rendered scanners useless. The transporters are nonoperational as well."

"What about the dilithium and pergium you picked up on long range scans yesterday?"

"There are particles of both in the stellar debris surrounding the planet. However, I cannot say if there are deposits on the planet itself."

Kirk didn’t like his people going in blind, but he had his orders. Fleet wanted this world investigated as a possible source of the two invaluable minerals. He sat for a moment, rubbing thumb and forefinger together, then stood up. "Mister Spock, assemble a landing party and take a shuttlecraft down to the surface—include Lieutenant Commander T’Lynn in your team. You might need her scientific expertise."

"Very well, sir," Spock said.

The Vulcan’s tone was quiet and respectful, but Kirk couldn’t help wondering why those hard chiseled lips had quirked at the corners. He shook his head, irritated with himself. He never would understand this man and why in God’s name would he want to.

As T’Lynn moved to stand beside the first officer, Kirk stepped to the upper tier. "Mister Spock," he said. "I want you to check in when you get there and every fifteen minutes after that. Understood?"

"Understood, sir," Spock said. Then he and T’Lynn disappeared into the turbolift.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, Kirk rose from the command chair and moved to the communications console. "Anything, Lieutenant?"

Uhura looked up apologetically and shook her head. "Sorry, sir, I still can’t raise Mister Spock…just too much interference."

"Mister Sardin, can we get any closer?"

The young Vulcan checked his board. "I would advise against it, sir. The orbit we are in is most difficult to maintain. I believe a lower one would be impossible"

"Very well, maintain current orbit."

Kirk paced around the upper deck. Except for his initial call, Spock was over an hour late checking in, and if there was one thing he had learned about his new first officer, it was that Spock was never late for anything. So either their communicators were malfunctioning or something had happened to the landing party. His gut was telling him that it was the latter. He stepped down into the well and pressed a button on the arm of his chair.

"Commander Stillion, this is Kirk. Assemble a squad, full battle gear, and meet me in shuttlebay one."

"Captain," Uhura yelled. "I’ve got the shuttlecraft. They’re on their way in—tractor beam’s got them."

Kirk raced to the shuttlebay and arrived just in time to see his first officer being carried off the small craft on a stretcher while Sellar and T’Lynn hovered over him. McCoy looked up and shook his head meaningfully. Green blood covered Spock’s whole right side from his neck to his knees and he looked dead. Eight people in various states of disrepair followed the stretcher out.

"Lieutenant Commander," he said. "Where is the rest of the landing party?"

T’Lynn looked up, green splotches of blood staining her uniform. "We had to leave them…no other way to escape the creatures."

"Were they dead?"

"Unknown, Captain."

"Are you telling me that Mister Spock ordered them to be left behind and he didn’t even know if they were dead or alive?" Kirk gaze followed Spock being carried out of the shuttlebay.

The Vulcan woman straightened up and glared at Kirk. "I assumed command when Mister Spock became incapacitated. It did not appear logical to put the entire landing party at risk for a few who could already be dead. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one."

"Not on my ship, they don’t!" Kirk took a deep breath. "Describe these creatures."

T’Lynn stood at attention. "Biped. Approximately three meters tall. Covered with hair. Vicious. Phasers had no effect."

"Almost ten feet tall." Kirk spun around. "Stillion, get me a phaser rifle, we’re going down. Get your team loaded into the other shuttles."

"Captain Kirk," T’Lynn said. "You are embarking on a hopeless mission. They are all most likely dead by now and so will you be if you persist in this foolhardy endeavor."

Kirk took an angry step forward. "You better learn something right now, lady, if you intend to stay on this ship. I never leave a man behind, never—no matter what. I never have and I never will. Get used to it." He stalked to the shuttle and climbed inside.

Kirk stared out the window and frowned, wondering at the lack of satisfaction he’d felt, seeing Spock lying there helpless…possibly dying. Instead, incredible though it seemed, he actually felt a stirring of concern for his injured first officer. He laughed out loud at his own absurdity.

The shuttles landed in a small clearing surrounded by purple trees and large, green boulders. Kirk jumped to the ground with Stillion a half step behind him. He ordered his men to fan out and start searching.

"Captain," one of the security team yelled ten minutes later. "I’ve got human and Vulcan readings over here."

"Lock weapons on heavy stun," Kirk called out as everyone converged on Ensign Damarco’s position.

The tricorder readings led them to the biggest tree Kirk had ever seen. Its black and purple foliage formed a canopy almost three hundred feet across. "Hello," Kirk yelled. "Anybody up there?"

"Yes, sir," a male voice called back. "Lieutenants Krager and T’Mira, Captain. Watch out for the natives! They're everywhere!"

As Krager and the Vulcan woman started climbing down the tree, rustling noises came from the surrounding bushes, followed by snarls and roars.

A huge hairy beast, over ten feet tall with claws and three inch fangs, rushed at the landing party. Kirk fired his phaser rifle and the creature staggered and fell.

Krager and T’Mira jumped the rest of the way and landed at the captain’s feet. "What about Phillips and Wo Sun?" Kirk demanded.

"Both dead, sir, eviscerated by those things. The tree’s the only thing that saved us. The upper branches are too light to hold the creatures’ weight."

"Where are the bodies?"

"Over there behind those rocks," Krager said, pointing to some boulders standing about fifty feet away.

"Damarco and Maddox, go wrap the remains and we’ll take them back with us."

It didn’t take long for the two ensigns to finish their grisly task.

"Okay," Kirk said. "That’s it. Everyone back to the shuttles."

Without warning, fifteen or twenty creatures burst from their hiding places and charged toward the group. Damarco and Maddox each grabbed one of their dead comrades, threw him over a shoulder, and ran like hell. It was a running fire fight from the tree back to the shuttle. The beasts threw rocks the size of photon torpedoes. Krager was hit and went down. Kirk tossed his rifle to Stillion and pulled the injured man over his shoulder and ran as fast as he could. Stillion stayed behind Kirk, firing at anything that moved. They finally reached the shuttles and everyone scrambled in. The take-off was rocky in more ways than one. The creatures continued their barrage until the craft was well out of range.

"Well done, men." Kirk smiled at the security team, then glanced toward the injured Krager. T’Mira was sitting beside him, checking on his wounds. It looked like the young lieutenant was in good hands.

Kirk sat down next to Stillion, leaned back, and closed his eyes. He heard Krager talking to T’Mira. "That’s one Wednesday night vid date you owe me. I told you he’d come after us—all we had to do was stay alive until he did."

"I do not understand," the Vulcan woman said. "It was not logical to risk all these others in order to rescue us."

"Logical? No, I suppose it wasn’t logical, but it’s the way Kirk is. I’ve served under him for five years now and I’ve never seen him leave a man behind. During the war, in the Antares sector, I even saw him rescue a Vulcan from a damaged escape pod."

Kirk turned away and caught Stillion staring at him. He couldn’t read his security chief’s expression, but it was obvious that the man had also overheard the conversation. Kirk flushed with embarrassment and quickly changed the subject. "You’ve done an excellent job with the security department, Commander Stillion. Your troops performed exceedingly well today."

"It is an honor to serve."

"I understand that you have served with Captain Spock for a long time."

"Affirmative."

Why was it so hard to carry on a conversation with a Vulcan? Kirk was ready to grind his teeth in frustration when the pilot announced, "Enterprise, dead ahead. Hangar bay doors open."

"Captain," Stillion said. "You are injured. I suggest you consult Doctor McCoy when we disembark."

"It’s nothing, just a scratch or two," Kirk said, swiping at his cheek.

"We cannot know what alien bacteria resided on that planet. An infection could prove deadly if not detected quickly."

Kirk smothered his astonishment. Was the Vulcan actually concerned for his welfare? He chuckled at the thought and leaned back. "Okay, Commander, if it makes you happy, I’ll go see McCoy as soon as we land."

Stillion stiffened and sent him a quelling look. "I do not suggest this course of action in order to make me…happy." He said the word with obvious distaste. "The captain is simply too important an individual to lose over a bacterial exposure which could so easily be remedied."

"Of course, Commander," Kirk said, with a glint in his eye. "I understand completely."

"I shall accompany you to sickbay." At the quizzical expression Kirk flashed him, the Vulcan hastened to explain, "I merely wish to ascertain Mister Spock’s condition."

Inside, James Kirk smiled. Stillion could rationalize it any way he wanted to, but Kirk knew the truth. He had gained the Vulcan’s loyalty this day, and for that he was extremely grateful. One down and two hundred and fifteen to go.

The shuttle docked and ten minutes later, Kirk and Stillion walked into sickbay. The scene that greeted them was one of controlled chaos. Drops of green and red blood splattered the beds and the floor. Humans in blue and Vulcans in green darted around caring for their patients. Kirk saw McCoy, Sellar, and T’Lynn standing around a bed in the iso chamber and guessed that Spock was occupying that room. Stillion moved to the glassed in space and placed his hand against the window. Glancing up, Sellar saw them and came out.

Kirk went into his CMO’s office to wait until McCoy was free.

Sellar followed him in. "Mister Spock’s injuries are no longer life threatening and he will be able to return to duty within ten days." The Vulcan paused, then reached out as if to touch Kirk’s cheek. "You have been injured, Captain. Allow me to treat the wound."

Kirk stepped back. "McCoy’s my physician. I’ll wait for him."

McCoy, dressed in his blue scrubs, came in just in time to hear Kirk’s remark. "Jim, what’s going on? Sellar is fully capable of…."

"I am fully aware of what Sellar is capable of, Doctor, and I don’t want him anywhere near me…ever. Is that clear?"

McCoy and Sellar exchanged looks, then the healer turned and walked out, the door swishing shut behind him.

"Jim," McCoy said softly. "That was unnecess—"

"Don’t even try to get me to accept Sellar, because it’s never going to happen. I’ll tolerate him on my ship because I have no choice, but I’ll never allow that sadist to lay his hands on me. You know something else—forget the whole thing. I’ll just go throw some antiseptic on my face and you can get back to your new Vulcan buddy." Kirk spun on his heel and headed for the door.

"Don’t you even want to know how your first officer got hurt?" McCoy called after him.

Kirk stopped but refused to turn around. He was too angry at what he saw as McCoy’s betrayal to answer honestly. "Not especially." Without another word, he stalked out.

* * * * *

Kirk tossed and turned in bed but couldn’t get comfortable. With Spock in sickbay, everything just seemed too quiet. Not that his Vulcan neighbor was noisy, but Kirk had grown almost subliminally used to hearing him move around the cabin next door. Surprisingly, he found that the oppressive silence was disturbing his sleep. He wished he had one of McCoy’s little red sleepers, but after the way he and the doctor had parted this afternoon, he wasn’t about to go ask him for one now. Funny thing, the night Spock had announced that they’d be sharing the facilities was the last time he’d taken one. He just hadn’t felt the need since then.

Kirk yanked the covers back and climbed out of bed. He pulled on his uniform and boots, ran his fingers through tousled hair, and left his quarters. Perhaps a walk around the ship would tire him out enough to sleep. An hour later, he found himself entering sickbay. The medical department was quiet this time of night…the lights were dimmed and no one was rushing about. The duty nurse glanced up at him from behind her desk and started to stand. Kirk waved her back down and smiled.

"Good evening, Nurse Benning. I just thought I’d come and check in on your patients."

"Of course, Captain," the woman said, smiling back at him. "Most of them are still awake, just don’t stay too long."

Kirk barely spared the iso chamber a glance as he passed it and went into the main ward, a large room with bio beds lining three walls. Several men were gathered around one of the beds and they were talking quietly among themselves. The Vulcan patients appeared to be sleeping soundly at the far end of the room.

"Hello, men," Kirk said, walking toward them. He knew most of the group personally; they had served under him, at various times, on the Republic. "Just thought I’d stop in to see if you’re being treated okay and to see if there’s anything you need."

"Captain," a young lieutenant named Overton said. "Come on over. We were just discussing Mister Spock."

"Oh? What about Mister Spock?"

"Didn’t you hear how he got hurt?" Overton asked.

"Not really," Kirk said. "Must have been forgotten in all the excitement. Why don’t you tell me about it."

"Sure thing, Captain. Randy here," Overton gestured to the young man lying in the bed, "and Steve were being mauled by one of those creatures. It was horrible, sir…blood was everywhere and they were screaming, and when the hand phasers didn’t do any good, Mister Spock ran out and jumped on the creature’s back. He managed to gouge its eyes out and pull the men to safety just before he collapsed. I’ve never seen anything like it, Captain. It was incredible."

Everyone was nodding their heads in agreement.

Kirk was stunned by the revelation. But then he thought about it. Were Spock's actions really that surprising? He had spent so long focusing on the rape, he had forgotten that Spock was one of the most respected captains in the Vulcan fleet. You didn’t hold that position for very long if you were an inept leader or a coward. And Spock had held his captaincy for seven years in a wartime situation and brought his ship home intact. It was a record to be proud of and certainly one worthy of his respect.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Kirk said. "I’m glad you told me. Well, I better get going before Nurse Benning comes in and gives me hell for keeping you all up."

The men chuckled. "Good night, Captain."

Kirk left the ward and stopped by the iso chamber. The dim lighting made it difficult to see inside. He checked the automatic monitors on the right side of the door, which showed that Spock was in a deep, recuperative sleep. He quietly entered the chamber and stood staring down at his first officer…the object of so many of his nightmares. Kirk didn’t see the lust crazed rapist now. He saw instead a member of his crew lying hurt and helpless, swathed in bandages, with tubes sticking out of his lower body. Kirk’s gaze moved up. The long ebony braid with its exquisite red and silver clasp rested proprietarily on Spock’s shoulder. Black hair, shiny as a raven’s wing, billowed out across the pillow, framing an exotic face that in repose didn’t look as harsh and forbidding as usual. Rather, the face exuded a certain gentleness…a vulnerability even, that Kirk found strangely appealing.

A momentary compulsion to trace an onyx brow with his fingertip washed over him. He shrank back immediately, appalled that he could even contemplate such an aberrant act. Damn, he must be more tired than he thought. Spock was the least vulnerable being he had ever met. Kirk turned and left the room as quietly as he had come.

* * * * *

Two nights later, Kirk lay in bed, listening to the faint noises coming from the cabin next door. Spock had been released from sickbay that afternoon, with orders to take it easy for another week. Kirk had spent the evening with McCoy, as the doctor had droned on and on about a healing trance that Spock had gone into and how quickly it had healed most of his injuries. Kirk frowned, remembering where and how he had heard the term "healing trance" before. Sellar, apparently, had given McCoy quite an extensive explanation of the procedure. He was beginning to wish that someone would give him an extensive explanation of why Spock had raped him so brutally nine months before. It just didn’t mesh with the Spock he’d been working with for the last three months. The Spock he knew was calm, contained and courteous to the extreme. He was also the most intelligent individual that Kirk had ever met.

Kirk was loath to admit it, but he was starting to find his new first officer oddly compelling. He had overheard enough to know that Spock thought the rape had been a matter of life and death, but how could that be? No one ever died from lack of sex…at least no one he’d ever heard of before. So that couldn’t be it. The translator must have been wrong in its interpretation of Spock’s words. So why?

Kirk heard a crash, then a thud come from the bathroom. After a few minutes, when he heard nothing further, he decided to get up and investigate. He pulled on a robe, moved to the door, and knocked. "Mister Spock, are you all right?"

A groan was his only answer. He unlocked the door and walked in to find Spock braced up against the wall. His breathing was labored and perspiration dotted his forehead. Without thinking, Kirk rushed over to catch his first officer before he fell and helped him back into his own quarters. "What the hell were you doing?"

"I overestimated my strength," the Vulcan said wearily.

"Yeah, I can see that." Almost unconsciously, Kirk noted that Spock’s cabin was set up very much like his own. He pulled Spock around the room divider and froze as a horrified gasp escaped his lips. The sleeping area was an exact replica of the Vulcan’s bedroom on the L’matya…the colorful tapestries…the ancient weapons on the walls…the rich shades of red and black…. Everything was exactly as it had been in that other room. That room where he’d learned what it felt like to be vulnerable and helpless and afraid. Time was moving backwards, returning him to….

Kirk shuddered and backed away, feeling like he’d stumbled into his worst nightmare. Hell, if there was such a thing, couldn’t be more terrifying than this.

"Please," Spock whispered. "Take me to the bed."

"I ca—" Kirk gazed down at the man he was still holding. The Vulcan’s face, now damp with sweat, was resting against his chest. The dark eyes, once so hard and feral, were closed, the thick lashes casting shadows on the high, flushed cheekbones. Right now, Spock didn’t look like the monster Kirk remembered. He simply looked like someone who needed his help. And the one thing Kirk could never resist was a cry for help.

He scooped Spock into his arms and carried him to the bed. He gently laid him down and pulled up the coverlet. "Rest now. I’ll call Sellar."

"No, please do not," Spock said softly.

"Why not?"

Spock hesitated, then gazed up at Kirk with a silent entreaty in his eyes. "Sellar will insist I return to sickbay. He did not want me to leave when I did. I do not wish to return there."

Kirk smiled automatically. "I know what you mean. I hate sickbay, too, and Bones is always trying to keep me there longer than necessary. Must be a doctor thing…or in your case a healer thing."

"Then you will not call Sellar?"

"I don’t know, you still look pretty awful to me. Maybe it would be better if you did go back for a couple of days."

"The problem arose because I overtaxed myself. All I require is rest, and I can rest easier in my own quarters than I can in sickbay."

Spock must have read the indecision on Kirk’s face. "I will summon my yeoman," he added, "if the need to urinate arises again."

"Will you give me your word?"

"Yes, I will give you my word."

"Okay, then, it’s a deal. Don’t get me in trouble now." Kirk turned to leave.

"Thank you, Captain, for your understanding in this matter."

"Hey, sometimes us captains have to stick together." The words tumbled out before Kirk even had a chance to think about it. Shaking his head in bewilderment, he went through the bathroom into his own quarters. He stripped off his robe, climbed into bed, and pulled the covers up over his chest. He felt like the weight he’d been carrying around had lessened somehow. For the first time since moving into this cabin, Kirk left the bathroom door unlocked. He told himself that he did it so he could get to Spock quicker if he needed help again.

* * * * *

They had decided to name the planet Arcadia. It was a beautiful class M world which reminded Kirk of what much of North America must have looked like eight hundred years before. With its tall trees, blue skies, and clear, sparkling streams, he thought it could be a perfect choice for colonization. The planet had no sentient life that they could detect, plus there appeared to be an abundance of various flora and fauna.

The landing party had beamed down ten hours earlier and had sent back such glowing reports that Kirk had decided to beam down himself. He stood on a hilltop looking at a large herd of what resembled, of all things, a cross between a buffalo and a giraffe. He breathed deeply of the fresh, clean air and watched the animals grazing below.

"The soil of this world will make husbandry extremely efficacious."

Startled, Kirk spun around to see Spock standing behind him. "Don’t sneak up on me like that."

Spock lifted one flaring brow. "I assure you that Vulcans do not sneak."

"Okay, they don’t sneak…they just tread softly on little cat’s feet," Kirk said, half-remembering a poem he had learned as a child.

The Vulcan frowned. "Little? I wear a size thirteen boot, Captain."

Kirk flushed as an old saying flashed through his mind. Something about judging the size of a man’s cock by the size of his feet. If anyone knew about Spock’s attributes, it was— Don’t go there, he ordered himself. "So Mister Spock, what brings you up here?"

"I was searching for you. Mister Scott called to warn us of an approaching storm. He and I both attempted to contact you by communicator. However, you did not respond."

Kirk took the communicator off his belt and examined it. "It’s broken. It must have happened when I fell a while back. How bad is this storm going to be?"

Spock looked up at the sky. Black clouds were already blotting out the two suns. "Mister Scott says that this storm does not adhere to normal parameters."

"Is the landing party safe?"

"Yes, they have sought shelter in that cave we discovered this morning."

"Can’t Scotty beam us up?"

"Negative, the storm is magnetic as well as precipitational. He will not be able to get a lock on us until the storm abates."

Jagged lightning illuminated the area as the sky opened up and bombarded them with hailstones the size of a man’s fist. "Let’s get out of here," Kirk yelled above a sudden gust of wind. A blizzard appeared out of nowhere.

Both men ran for cover. A streak of lightning hit nearby, dislodging rocks and boulders, sending them crashing through trees. Kirk felt a hand on his back and then he was flying through the air. The breath was momentarily knocked out of him as he landed against a huge tree trunk. When he could breathe again, he tried to stand and look around. He was alone. The force of the wind kept him pinned against the tree. He dropped to the ground and crawled around the trunk until he discovered a hollowed out area facing away from the storm. It offered the best protection he was likely to find. He crawled back the direction he’d come, feeling his way. "Spock," he yelled. He could barely see a foot in front of himself. The snow was obliterating everything.

"Spock, where are you?"

"Over here, Captain," a voice answered.

"Keep yelling." Kirk crawled toward the voice. He was surprised he could even hear it over the wind.

He found Spock sprawled in the snow with one leg caught under a boulder. From the angle, it was obvious the leg was broken. Green blood was seeping out from under the rock. He pulled out his phaser, set it on narrow beam and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He tried again with the same result and angrily stuffed the phaser back in his belt. Damn, the magnetism in the storm must be affecting his phaser. "I’m going to have to lever this thing off your leg," he yelled in Spock’s ear. "It’s going to hurt like hell."

Spock nodded his understanding.

Kirk frantically felt through the snow around the boulder until he found what he was looking for. He staggered to his feet and placed one end of the broken off tree branch under the boulder and pushed down with all his strength on the other end. The Vulcan groaned but didn’t cry out as the boulder moved one inch…then two…then finally slid off his leg completely.

The wind whipped shards of ice across Kirk’s face. He dropped to his knees and broke two smaller branches off his makeshift lever, each about eighteen inches in length, then ripped off a strip from his uniform top. He crouched down beside Spock and splinted the broken leg almost by touch alone. "We’ve got to get to cover. I found a place, but I’m going to have to drag you."

Kirk put his hands under Spock’s arms and hauled him back towards the big tree. It was slow going. The Vulcan was a lot heavier than he looked.

Kirk was gasping for breath by the time he finally crawled into the hollowed out trunk and pulled Spock in after him. He propped the injured Vulcan up and bent over the splinted leg. The bleeding had stopped, but he didn’t like the sound of Spock’s breathing. "Maybe I should try to reach that cave and bring back help."

"Hypothermia would set in before you had traveled half a mile."

Kirk looked past Spock into blinding whiteness. The snow and sleet had already covered the ground and the temperature must have fallen at least forty degrees in the last twenty minutes. "Give me your communicator."

Spock pulled it from his belt and handed it over.

"Kirk to Enterprise, Kirk to Enterprise, come in." Static was the only response.

"Damn storm must be interfering with communications as well as the phasers. We’ll just have to wait here until it passes." Kirk tucked the communicator into his belt and wrapped his arms around himself. "What the hell were you doing, pushing me out of the way like that? You could have been killed."

"That was not my intention, I assure you. I merely ascertained that you did not hear the boulder careening down the hill."

"You could have yelled. I can jump out of the way as well as the next person."

"If you could not hear the boulder, I did not believe you would hear a verbal warning."

Kirk sent him an angry look. "Well, don’t do it again. I really don’t want to have to explain why, on our first time together off the ship, you ended up dead. Besides, I can hear pretty well. After all, I heard you yelling when you were pinned under that rock."

"Yes, that is so." A shadow swept across Spock’s eyes and then it was gone. "In that case, Captain, I promise, in the future, to refrain from pushing you from the path of runaway boulders."

Kirk grinned in spite of himself. Spock had an uncanny knack of making him smile.

Three hours later, night had fallen and the snow was accumulating faster than Kirk could push it out of their shelter. He blew on his hands—he hadn’t been able to feel them for quite a while now. And the temperature kept falling.

"Captain," Spock said. "We must preserve body heat or we will be dead by morning."

"Are you saying what I think you’re saying? You want us to…cuddle up together?" Kirk’s teeth were chattering so hard he wondered if Spock had understood one word he’d just said.

"Affirmative. I understand your revulsion at the idea, Captain, but this is a matter of life and death."

"Isn’t it always," Kirk muttered to himself. "Okay, let’s do it. Lie down."

Spock lay facing him and wrapped his arms around Kirk’s back. It was too reminiscent of the rape, feeling hands hold him…looking into the dark brown eyes…feeling a man’s groin pressed against his own. Kirk scrambled back, then climbed over Spock’s body, being very careful not to jar the injured leg. "I’ll hold you instead."

Spock said nothing as Kirk slid close, spoon fashion, and wrapped his arms around the Vulcan’s chest. Spock took his hands and rubbed them briskly between his own. A delicious lethargy started to spread through Kirk’s limbs. He had forgotten how warm a Vulcan body could be. Sweet-smelling ebony hair caressed his face. A long dormant sensation began to stir in his groin as he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

A familiar chirping noise woke them up. Sometime during the night their positions had changed. Spock now lay on his back with Kirk sprawled across his chest, his head tucked into the juncture of Spock’s neck and shoulder. They sprang apart without saying a word. Kirk grabbed the communicator and flipped open the cover. "Kirk here."

"Captain, ‘tis good to hear your voice," Scotty said. "Are you and Mister Spock all right?"

"I’m fine, Scotty, but Mister Spock has a broken leg. Can you beam us up now?"

"Aye, Captain."

"How about the rest of the landing party?"

"Safe and sound and ready for beam out."

"Great. Have a med team and a stretcher waiting for us in the transporter room. Kirk out." He glanced outside. The snow had all but disappeared and the temperature was almost as warm as it had been on the previous day.

They and the landing party were beamed up to the ship without further delay. Spock spent three days in sickbay and was then released, certified fit for duty.

Kirk was surprised at how slowly those three days passed. He was also surprised at how disturbing he was starting to find his Vulcan first officer.

* * * * *

T’Lynn had beautiful eyes, Kirk decided. They were large and luminous and a slate gray color, fringed with the blackest lashes he had ever seen. She wasn’t particularly pretty by his standards, but her eyes more than made up for it. A man could drown in those limpid pools and count the cost well spent. Those eyes were now following Spock as he moved methodically around the bridge, checking on every station. If the first officer was aware of her constant scrutiny, he gave no sign. That T’Lynn was in love with Spock, Kirk had no doubt. One simply had to watch her watching him. Her eyes said it all. And everyone thought Vulcans had no feelings.

Whatever Spock felt for her, on the other hand, was a complete mystery. He never showed by word or deed or look any special feelings beyond friendship for T’Lynn, although he could just be better at hiding his emotions. Kirk didn’t think so. He was willing to bet that her love for Spock wasn’t returned. Why he thought that, he didn’t know…. Somehow, he just knew it was so. It must be hell to love the tall, enigmatic Vulcan, work beside him all day and not have her feelings reciprocated. Kirk almost felt sorry for his young science officer.

Kirk turned his attention to Spock. He found himself doing that a lot lately…almost as if he couldn’t help himself. The Vulcan had proved to be the best first officer he had ever had: intelligent, efficient, and calm in a crisis. Spock performed his duties effortlessly. In fact, he sometimes seemed bored, almost as if he didn’t have enough to do. Kirk had realized about a month before that his first officer had taken it upon himself to do a lot of the tedious paperwork that Kirk always found bothersome and usually managed to put off until the last minute. At first he’d been angry, thinking Spock was trying to usurp his position, but then his innate good nature had surfaced and he’d laughed at his own paranoia. Spock was simply trying to make his way easier, to take a lot of the onerous duties off of Kirk’s shoulders and onto his own.

And it worked. Kirk’s time was freed up enough to allow him the luxury of mingling with the crew more than he had ever done. He knew all their names, both the Vulcans and humans, their strengths and weaknesses and who could be counted on and who couldn’t in an emergency. And they in turn felt privileged to serve under a captain who took the time to get to know them, who cared about them as people instead of merely as another face in the crowd. Performance ratings soared. Kirk also found time to prowl the corridors and departments, to poke his nose into every nook and cranny until he knew the ship as well as Scotty and his first officer did. In five short months, the Enterprise had become a model of integration and efficiency. And Spock had become practically indispensable.

"Captain," Uhura said. "I’ve picked up a ship’s distress beacon."

Kirk moved to the communication station. "One of ours?"

"No, the language is not one I’m familiar with."

"Any life signs?"

Uhura shook her head. "Too far out to tell."

"Mister Sardin," Kirk said, turning toward the red-headed navigator. "Tap into the communication console and compute how long it will take us to reach the unknown ship."

The young Vulcan’s fingers flew over his board. "At warp six point four, I estimate that we could reach the ship in question in seven point two hours."

"Lay in a course, Mister Sardin."

Kirk returned to the command chair. "Lieutenant Commander T’Lynn, put it up on the main viewscreen, full magnification."

Stars and the blackness of space were all that could be seen.

Kirk crossed his legs and leaned back, preparing for a long wait. He read and signed a seemingly inexhaustible supply of requisition forms his yeoman kept handing him. Four hours later, he was tapping his fingers on the armrest. Two hours after that found him pacing around the perimeter of the bridge.

Spock suddenly materialized on Kirk’s right. "You appear most anxious, Captain. Is there anything I can do to rectify the situation?"

A grin escaped before Kirk could prevent it. "You will come to learn, First Officer, that patience is not among my many virtues."

Tiny crinkles appeared at the corners of Spock’s eyes. "I see."

Captain and first officer paced in tandem around the bridge.

"Captain, there it is."

Kirk and Spock both stopped and looked at the viewscreen.

Lying dead in space was a mammoth vessel ten times the size of the Enterprise.

"T’Lynn?" Spock said.

"No life signs…no life support…no power source that I am familiar with…and it is extremely old."

"How old?" Kirk and Spock said together.

T’Lynn stood up. Her excitement, though contained, was obvious. "In the range of fifty thousand years."

"You mean that ship’s been drifting in space for fifty thousand years?"

"Yes, sir. It may have originated in a galaxy so far distant from our own that we do not even know of its existence."

Kirk glanced at his first officer and winked, then turned back to T’Lynn. "And as long as we’re already here, I suppose you want to take a landing party over for a closer look."

The large gray eyes grew even larger and more luminous. "Yes, sir," T’Lynn said. "I would find that prospect most welcome."

"Yeah, I thought you might," Kirk said. "Okay then, issue EVA suits and assemble your team in the transporter room. I’ll have a security squad meet you there. They’ll go in first and if the way is clear then you may…indulge yourself."

"I thank you, Captain, for this splendid opportunity," T’Lynn said as she practically ran to the turbolift.

The science team and security had been aboard the alien craft for almost six hours. They had beamed bones and various artifacts to the Enterprise and had managed to get one of the computers working, barely. They had downloaded data which Spock termed as "fascinating."

"Captain," Sulu said, turning toward the command chair. "The ship is moving away from us…just slowly at first, but now the speed is increasing. I’ve managed to compensate, but—"

"Captain," Uhura spun around. "I am detecting a strange set of subspace harmonics."

"Their source?"

"Unknown, sir, but it’s coming from somewhere on the other side of that ship."

Kirk jumped up. "Could these subspace harmonics pose a threat to the Enterprise?"

Spock quickly moved to the science station and bent over the scanners. His fingers were a blur as they danced furiously across the board. He glanced up periodically at the monitors over his head which were moving too fast for the human eye to comprehend.

As Kirk watched the startling exhibition, he finally realized what Scotty had meant all those months ago about Spock and the computers. He nodded in acknowledgment to the absent engineer and then returned his focus to his first officer.

Spock straightened up, a frown marring his usually expressionless face. "I believe what Lieutenant Uhura has detected are the emanations of a cosmic string fragment which are caused by the decay of atomic particles along the string’s event horizon."

"A cosmic string fragment?" Kirk pushed a hand through his hair. "I thought they existed only in theory."

"So, too, it was believed by the Vulcan Science Academy until the T’Volkin, under the command of Commander Stoltek, was destroyed by a cosmic string fragment three point nine seven years ago. The data he transmitted confirmed the existence of such a phenomenon."

"How dangerous is it?"

"A fragment no larger than a proton can exhibit the gravitational pull of a hundred stars."

"And you think that’s what’s got hold of the alien vessel?"

"I do," Spock said. "And if I am correct, the alien craft will be drawn closer and closer to the cosmic string until it is obliterated."

"Uhura, call T’Lynn. Get our people off that ship."

Uhura adjusted her ear receiver and flipped a switch. "Got them, sir," she said after a moment. "They’re ready to transport."

A red light blinked on the command chair's armrest. Kirk sat down and pressed a button. "What is it, Scotty?"

"The transporters have all shorted out. Apparently, one of those artifacts we beamed aboard contained an unknown mineral that blew out all the annular transtators. The way things stand right now, I canna beam up a fly."

"How long will it take you to fix it?"

"Twelve hours…if we’re lucky."

Kirk watched his first officer shake his head.

"Can we send a shuttlecraft for them?"

"Unfortunately, no," Spock said. "The alien ship has no openings that we can detect and the hull is made of a trilliosmic alloy compound which we cannot breach."

"Scotty, throw a tractor beam on them. Maybe we can hold them until you can repair the transporters. And Scotty—hurry."

Eight hours later, Kirk sat immobile in the command chair, his knuckles white from the strain of gripping the armrests. The alien vessel was slipping inexorably toward destruction and dragging the Enterprise along with it. T’Lynn and her team had been racing against time to find a hatch, a bay door, or any other exit from the giant ship…all to no avail. It was the general consensus that the previous occupants had only used transporters to enter and leave their vessel—and their transporter power had long since died out.

"Captain," Spock said. "The gravitational pull is increasing exponentially."

Kirk slammed his fist against the armrest. "Scotty, how’s it coming?"

"Not good. It’ll take at least four more hours."

"They haven’t got four hours. Mister Spock estimates they’ve got two hours at the outside and then they burn up."

Spock stood beside Kirk’s chair with his hands clasped behind his back. He spoke so low that no one else could hear the words. "Captain, we cannot wait that long. We can hold the tractor beam on the alien vessel for only one point three hours longer before we must disengage or be destroyed ourselves. If we do not, ship’s power will not be able to overcome the gravitational pull of the fragment."

Kirk sprang to his feet. "I can’t accept that. There’s got to be a way—we just haven’t thought of it yet."

"I will attempt to reconfigure my previous analysis or possibly envision another option." Spock went back to the science station and bent over the scanners.

The gravitational pull began to have an effect on the Enterprise’s systems. Calls came in from all over the ship. Conduits on C deck collapsed…shield generators down…minor hull breaches on decks sixteen, seventeen and eighteen and the list went on. Kirk called the landing party.

"I understand, Captain," T’Lynn said. Her voice remained calm and emotionless. "We shall attempt to transfer power from the one operational computer to one of the transporters. Commander Giotto and his team are still searching for an alternate method of egress."

"Lieutenant Commander," Kirk said after a moment. "Perhaps you and the landing party would like to record messages for family or friends…just in case."

There was silence and then, "That would be an excellent idea, Captain. We shall make our statements shortly."

"Lieutenant Uhura will be standing by."

Fifteen minutes later, the landing party’s last words had all been transmitted.

Kirk’s heart dropped when he saw Spock lift his head and look at him. He could read the message on his first officer’s face as easily as if he had just yelled it out. There was no hope—fourteen people were going to die and there wasn’t anything he or anyone else could do about it. Fourteen would die, but four hundred and eighteen would live…. All he had to do was shut off the tractor beam. He watched the Vulcan get up and move to the communication’s console. He heard T’Lynn answer Spock’s hail.

Spock spoke softly in Vulcan, but Kirk could hear every word. "I regret I could not give you in life that which you most desired, but know that you shall always hold a special place in my thoughts and that you shall be greatly missed. Farewell."

Kirk stood up as Spock ended the communication and stepped down into the well to join him. His stomach churned and roiled so badly, he almost choked on the gastric acid. "How long?"

"Three point seven minutes."

"We’ll wait until the last possible minute. How’s Scotty coming?"

"The transporters will be operational two point four hours too late."

Kirk moved to the engineering console and gestured for the operations technician to move aside. He placed his hand on the tractor beam switch and waited.

"Captain," Spock said softly. "Allow me to do this for you."

Kirk shook his head. "Thank you for the offer, but no. It’s my job and I’ll do it." He didn’t want to watch was going to happen, but his crew deserved no less. The captain couldn’t afford the luxury of running away or of asking someone else to do what he himself couldn’t. He wanted to throw up. He felt Spock standing behind him, offering his silent support, and for the first time Kirk was grateful for the Vulcan’s presence. "Time?"

"One point two minutes." Spock moved closer until Kirk could feel the heat along his whole right side. "Forty seconds…twenty seconds…five seconds…one second…."

Kirk pulled the switch. "Get us out of here, Mister Sulu." He watched the alien vessel plummet toward oblivion until it disappeared in one huge blinding flash, then numbly made his way to the communications station.

Lieutenant Uhura looked up him with tears in her eyes. He nodded and gently squeezed her shoulder. "Please give me their final messages. I’ll include them with the death notifications to their families."

"Yes, sir," Uhura said softly, handing him a dark blue disk. She brushed off her tears and turned back to her console.

"You have the con, Mister Spock. I’ll be in my cabin composing stargrams if you need me." Kirk kept his back straight and his shoulders tight as he walked to the turbolift and stepped inside. It was hard to swallow past the lump in his throat. The captain can never show weakness or vulnerability in front of the crew: That fact had been drilled into him from the day he had first entered Starfleet academy. And he had learned his lessons well. Sometimes the burden of command was too great for one man to bear by himself…sometimes he wished he didn’t have to. When the doors slid shut, he was finally alone with his pain.

Hours later, Kirk sat in the darkness of the observation room watching the stars, but for the first time the calmness and serenity he was seeking eluded him. He had sent fourteen good people to their deaths. They had trusted him and believed in him, and he had let them down.

Someone sat down in the chair next to him, but he didn’t look up. He didn’t need to…he already knew who it was.

"Sometimes," Spock’s calm, soothing voice said, "a person is forced, by circumstances beyond his control, to do something that person finds abhorrent…to commit an act that goes against everything that person believes in."

Kirk closed his eyes and leaned back, letting that voice like black velvet wash over him. He knew Spock wasn’t talking just about what had happened this afternoon. "Yeah, I guess you’d know about that, wouldn’t you?"

"To my eternal regret…I must agree."

The time had come. "Why Spock? Why did you do that to me?"

Spock didn’t answer right away and when he did his voice was barely above a whisper. "It is a thing no outworlder may know…a time of great shame to Vulcans. We do not even speak of it even among ourselves."

"I think I earned the right to know."

"Yes, I suppose you did." Spock sighed deeply. "For the most part, Vulcans copulate much as humans and other species do…when the urge arises and a pleasing partner is agreeable. But every seven years of an adult male Vulcan’s life, the time of mating comes…the time of madness. Pon farr. It strips our minds from us…makes us animals. It is the time when we must mate or die."

Kirk’s eyes flew open. "Well, couldn’t you have screwed someone on your ship? Why’d it have to be me?"

"In order to mate successfully during the time, a link must be established with a compatible mind. I was unable to form one with anyone on my ship."

"Why me?"

Spock swallowed heavily. "My mother was a Terran female, and Sellar postulated that my human blood prevented me from linking with another Vulcan."

"Was she a captive?"

"At first."

"Where’s your mother now?"

"She died three point four standard years ago."

"Oh…sorry."

"Yes, I am also sorry," Spock said. "She was the only one who ever truly knew me."

Kirk thought about their conversation for a moment. "I don’t know if I can ever forgive you, but at least now I understand why you did it…that you basically had no choice in the matter, if you wanted to live."

"In that instant when I first touched your mind in the hangar bay, I wished for nothing more than for death to take me before I was forced to commit acts upon your person against your will."

"Life, Spock, is always preferable to death."

For a moment, they sat quietly in the dark together. Then Kirk jumped up to stand at the window. "Life—what a cosmic joke. I killed fourteen members of my crew today," he said, hitting the Plexiglas with his fist. "There should have been something I could have done to prevent it."

"You did everything that could have been done," Spock said, coming to stand behind him. "No one could have done more."

"But I’m the captain. And the captain is responsible for those under his command. I let T’Lynn and Latimer and Giotto and all the others down. They were counting on me and instead of saving them, I sent them to their deaths."

"Yes, but you saved four hundred and eighteen others in the process."

Kirk continued to stare out the window. "The good of the many, Spock?"

"In this case, yes. I am quite certain that no one at your Starfleet academy ever said that command would be an easy position to occupy."

"Yeah…and sometimes it’s damn lonely besides. Everyone on the ship has someone else to lean on, to confide in, except for the captain."

"I assumed you had a confidante in Doctor McCoy."

"Bones doesn’t count," Kirk said. "Oh, I can talk to him about some things, but ultimately he’s a physician, more concerned with the people involved than with the issues at hand. He’s not military, and he doesn’t understand certain decisions I might be forced to make. During the war, did you confide in Sellar?"

"Not in all things. I do understand your dilemma."

"I guess there’s no answer to it, is there? It’s just the nature of the beast. Command…sometimes I hate it and love it at the same time."

"I can offer a solution."

"Oh…? And what would that be?"

"Lean on me," Spock said softly. "When your burdens become more than you can bear, I will be the bulwark against which you may rest to gather your strength for another battle."

Kirk turned then to stare up into fathomless dark eyes. "You?"

"Who else?"

Who else indeed…. When Kirk thought about it, he realized that Spock really was the only person on the ship he could show weakness to. Spock had already seen him at his most vulnerable. Spock had seen him naked and helpless and terrified—nothing Kirk could do from now on could compare with that. And of course the Vulcan knew and understood the problems inherent in command for he was a captain in his own right.

"Lean on me, when you have need," Spock said again, tentatively placing his hand on Kirk’s right shoulder. "I will not betray your trust."

It sounded so tempting. Someone who had seen him at his least captainly and respected him anyway…someone whose strengths offset his weaknesses…someone he could trust. He needed this gift. He hesitantly placed his hand over Spock’s, squeezed once, and then let go. Spock nodded and stepped back, letting his hand drop to his side.

A feeling of great peace and serenity washed over Kirk. Mesmerized, he stared at their reflections in the glass, standing side by side. Spock’s touch had not been abhorrent in any way—quite the contrary in fact. The Vulcan had somehow managed to replace the stars as Kirk’s anchor in the storm tossed life of command.

They stood like that for a while longer, their shoulders practically touching, as each man was wrapped in his own private thoughts.

* * * * *

Three days later, Kirk glanced around the briefing room table. Every seat was occupied except one. T’Lynn’s chair sat conspicuously empty. It seemed odd to see Spock there without the small Vulcan woman sitting at his side.

Kirk tapped his fingers on the armrest. "The purpose of this meeting is to try to fill the science officer’s position. I usually try to promote from within. However, with Lieutenant Latimer’s death, I don’t believe we have anyone on board capable of taking over Lieutenant Commander T’Lynn’s position. That leaves me with no alternative except to turn around and head for the nearest starbase for a replacement. Ensign Sardin has estimated this will take at least two months and then another two months to get back to where we are now."

Everyone, except the Vulcans, groaned under their breath.

"If anyone can come up with a better solution," Kirk said, "believe me, I’ll listen. I’m no happier than you are at the thought of wasting four months going back where we’ve already been."

"I believe I can offer an alternative solution, Captain," Spock said, clearing his throat. "I hesitated to bring this to your attention earlier, but I would be remiss in my duties if I did not give you another option at this time."

"Yes, Mister Spock?"

"I shall take over the post of science officer. If it meets with your approval, of course."

"Well, even if you were qualified, you’re already the first officer. Are you asking to step down?"

"No, Captain. I propose to function in both capacities. And I assure you, I am fully qualified."

"I know you’re good with the computers," Kirk said. "But being the head of sciences calls for more than that. T’Lynn was a brilliant scientist—"

"Indeed she was." Sellar leaned forward and placed both his hands on the table. "However, T’Lynn was also Spock’s orensu…his student. He taught her everything she knew. Using your Starfleet Academy means of measurement, Spock ranks as an A seven in computer sciences. It was a great loss to the Vulcan Science Academy when Spock gave up his position there in order to join the Vulcan Space Service."

"An A seven." Kirk stared at Spock. "That’s incredible. No A seven, that I’m aware of, has ever served on active starship duty. You were originally a scientist?"

"I was. My first posting was as science officer on the L’matya. Circumstances beyond my control later forced me into command."

"Well, I’m game if you are. It will be a tough job—you’ll have to do the work of two people."

"I willingly accept the challenge."

Kirk stood up and everyone else followed suit. "That’s it then. Problem solved. For now, Mister Spock will be both first officer and head of sciences. Dismissed."

* * * * *

The next few months passed in a blur. Spock handled his two positions as easily as he had the one. And the Enterprise’s fame spread. It was rumored that there was nothing Kirk and company couldn’t get done. No job was too tough, no situation was too dangerous. The command team, instead of becoming famous as two separate entities, became almost one in people’s minds. Kirkandspock. Kirk had never enjoyed command more. Whatever weaknesses each man possessed were more than offset by the other’s strengths. They started spending off duty time together when Kirk discovered that Spock played a mean game of chess. And the more Kirk learned about Spock, the more he valued him not just as a fellow officer but as a kindred soul. They had become brothers in spirit if not in blood.

"I believe it is your move, Captain."

"Wh— Oh sorry, Spock, I’m having a hard time concentrating."

Kirk followed Spock’s gaze around the noisy rec room. Boisterous crewmen were still celebrating the marriage of Lieutenants Thompson and Ravell, which had taken place earlier in the evening. It had been the first wedding performed on the Enterprise and Kirk smiled softly. Audura Ravell had made a beautiful bride.

"I agree," Spock said. "The decibel level is definitely a detriment to mental acuity. Perhaps we should relocate to Recreation room C."

"Can’t—they’re using it for the Wednesday night vid show."

"The observation room?"

"The astrophysics department has taken it over to study that stellar cloud formation you discovered yesterday. And forget the briefing rooms, Scotty’s engineers are crawling all over them trying to fix those replicator malfunctions."

"Then I see no other choice," Spock said. "We shall have to postpone our game to another time."

"Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?" Kirk smiled across the chess board. "I’ve finally got you on the run, so don’t even think about it. We’re going to finish this game if we have to do it on the bridge."

One onyx brow lifted. "Captain, the bridge is hardly the appropriate location—"

"I was kidding, Spock." Kirk stood up and started to pick up his chess pieces. "Come on, I’ve got just the place. It’s quiet and private and we won’t be disturbed by anything less than a red alert."

Ten minutes later the board was set up in Kirk’s quarters.

"Can I get you something?" Kirk said, walking to the portable mini bar. "I’m having a brandy."

"Brandy will be satisfactory."

Kirk set two snifters down on the desk and took a seat opposite Spock. "It’s my move, right?"

"It is."

Kirk moved his rook. "I was happy to see some Vulcans at the wedding today. The crew finally seems to be integrating, although it took awhile."

Spock swirled the amber fluid around in his glass and took a sip. "I confess, at the beginning, I thought your integration plan had little chance of success."

"Why not? Look at us."

"You are unique, Captain. It has been my experience that humans generally fear or hate that which they do not understand."

"We’re not on duty, Spock, please call me Jim." Kirk lifted his snifter and took a sip. "And I don’t agree. It might have been that way in the past, but we’re a whole lot more open minded now. We have to be. We’re meeting more aliens every day."

"You are open minded, Cap—Jim," Spock said, taking one of Kirk’s pawns. "Not all humans are."

"What do you mean? Has someone on this ship been disrespectful to you?"

"Not at all. You have set the example of expected behavior on the Enterprise and your crew has followed it implicitly."

Kirk smiled and plucked Spock’s queen off the board. "Well, I could say the same about you. The Vulcans have followed your lead implicitly, too."

Spock studied the board for a minute and then made a move. "I would venture to say that we both had assembled well-trained crews."

"I’d venture to say that you’re right…. Check."

"Unorthodox move, Jim. Do you think it wise?"

"We’ll see." Kirk reached down to pull off his boots. "Ah, much better," he said, leaning back in his chair. "Have you moved yet?"

"No." Spock steepled his fingers and stared down at the board. "The way your mind works is a source of endless fascination to me."

"Not used to losing, are you?

"I have not yet lost." Spock captured Kirk’s queen.

"Is that so?" Kirk slid his rook through an opening. "Checkmate in four." He couldn’t help but laugh at the astonished look, albeit quickly hidden, that passed over Spock’s features. "Another brandy?"

Spock nodded, still staring down at Kirk’s last move.

"Good. When you’re done analyzing, why don’t you set up the board for another game." Kirk got up, grabbed their glasses, and went to the mini bar. He stood there for a moment just watching his first officer. This was the first time he’d invited Spock to his quarters, and he was a bit surprised to discover how comfortable it felt. Comfortable and right. Their relationship might have started out in the worst possible of ways, but it had somehow developed into the closest friendship he had ever had. A swell of emotion filled his chest. He felt closer to Spock at this moment than he had even to his brother Sam. He couldn’t help wondering what Spock felt…if anything. He poured out the drinks and brought them back to the desk.

Spock looked up and smiled at him with his eyes. "I believe I have figured out your method of play. I will not again be so easily deceived."

Kirk chuckled and sat down. "I won the last game, so I guess it’s your move." He picked up his snifter and leaned back, preparing himself for a long, enjoyable evening. The brandy was good and the company was even better.

* * * * *

Kirk signed the last requisition and handed the comslate back to his yeoman. He watched the young woman peek at Spock from under her lashes as she passed him on the way to the turbolift. Kirk had noticed quite a few women and men looking at Spock lately, and for some reason it annoyed it. What was it about the man anyway? The pointed ear tips…the long shiny hair…the tall lithe body…or that sexy little ass…. Kirk flushed, horrified at the implication. Where the hell had that thought come from? He cared for Spock as a friend, true, but he could never feel anything more. Not after….

He pulled his gaze away and tried to concentrate on the back of Sulu’s head, but before he could stop it his gaze wandered back to Spock bent over his scanners. Spock turned his head and their eyes met. Something transcendent sparked between them. Kirk felt his breath catch as his penis throbbed against his thigh. Shocked to the core, he jumped up and practically ran to the turbolift.

"Take the con, Mister Spock."

As the doors slid shut behind him, Kirk shuddered and leaned back against the wall. Whatever had just happened, be it attraction or desire or just plain lust, Kirk knew it was an aberration that he would never act on. As sexually experienced as he was, he never wanted to have sex with a male again. Once had been more than enough.

* * * * *

After nine months in space, the Enterprise was granted a week of shore leave on the planet Aldebaran II. Aldebaran had remained neutral during the war between Earth and Vulcan and had gained a reputation as a wide open port where all ships were welcome. It was said that the planet boasted sights and entertainments to fill any species’ needs or desires…if the price were right.

There were lines of happy crewmen leading to the transporter room. Kirk and McCoy beamed down together to the King’s Castle, the most expensive hotel on the planet.

"Well, Bones, what do you think?"

McCoy looked around the lobby and flashed his familiar gap-toothed grin. "Jim Boy, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. Check out the holo-ads over there for Verikka’s House of Pleasure."

Kirk turned to see holo-pics of scantily clad males and females standing on revolving pedestals while overhead a sign proclaimed Males and females from a hundred different worlds waiting to give you pleasure beyond your wildest dreams. Any and all fantasies fulfilled. Kirk’s penis stirred and he almost laughed out loud. His sexuality was finally returning to normal. "Sounds like just what the doctor ordered." He headed for the desk to register. Afterwards, a tall, blue-skinned alien with long white hair picked up their luggage and gestured for them to follow him into a small cubicle.

The cubicle whisked them to a suite on the twenty-third floor. The suite contained two sumptuous bedrooms with an equally lavish common area between them. The alien deposited their bags, bowed politely, and promptly left.

"I don’t know about you, Bones," Kirk said, "but I’m beat. I going to take a shower and then grab some shut eye. I don’t think we’re going to get much rest once we hit Verikka’s House of Pleasure."

"I certainly hope not. What a waste that would be." McCoy picked up his bag and walked toward one of the bedrooms. "I’m going to change and then go downstairs to look around for a while. How about if I meet you about eight in the lobby and we’ll head for Verikka’s?"

"Sounds good. Now behave and stay out of trouble."

"Don’t I always?"

"No!" Kirk said. But McCoy had already shut his door.

When Kirk woke up, it was already dark outside. The automatic sensors, registering movement in the room, turned up the lights. He checked his chronometer and was relieved to see it was only nineteen forty hours. Still time to get dressed and meet McCoy. He got up and quickly headed to bathroom, where he brushed his teeth and hair and pulled on the civvies he had laid out earlier. Tucking a credit chip in his back pocket, Kirk left his room and hurried down the corridor toward the elevator.

A door on Kirk’s right opened and two large green-skinned aliens stepped out. Orions. As he stepped aside, the taller one grabbed him and the other injected him with a hypospray. The world tilted and started to go black as he felt himself lifted and carried back into their room.

* * * * *

From far away, Kirk heard someone call his name. Hands slapped his face.

"Captain, wake up," a disembodied voice cried.

Kirk slowly opened his eyes to see Tina Ramsey bending over him. "What happened?" And then he remembered. Orions. He tried to sit up, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. Everything hurt, even his eyeballs ached.

"Easy, Captain, it takes a while for the drugs to wear off."

"Drugs?" His voice came out thick and raspy. "How long was I…."

"How long have you been unconscious?"

Kirk nodded once and then stopped. His head felt like it was ready to fall off his shoulders.

"Since you were thrown in with us, almost three days ago."

Us? Kirk looked around. About thirty members of his crew were sitting nearby, looking at him…the youngest and most attractive members of his crew. He closed his eyes and fought against the sudden nausea. The Orions were notorious for being the most heartless and successful slavers in the known universe.

Kirk felt a familiar vibration and knew they were on a ship, traveling, he guessed, at about warp five. He quickly glanced down, but the small scab on his forearm dashed any hopes he might have had. His transponder had been surgically removed. So much for Fleet’s latest innovation. Scotty wouldn’t be able to find him without the tracking device in place.

Kirk crawled to his feet and banged on the door of their cell. No one answered, but a grate opened at the bottom and food was shoved inside. "Do we have water, Ramsey?"

"Yes, sir. There’s a spigot at the far corner, by the…ah…evacuation drain."

"Evacu—oh, I see. Not exactly first class accommodations, is it?"

The young woman gave him a tiny smile. "No, sir, but we’ve had worse."

"That’s true." Kirk chuckled, mostly for the crew’s benefit. He had to keep their spirits up. They had to be ready if a chance at escape presented itself.

The next day they were all transported to another cell on another Orion vessel.

Two days later, Kirk was standing by the door. He heard voices and touched behind his ear when he realized he could understand what was being said. They hadn’t found the tiny translator.

"What is it, sir?" Ramsey came to stand beside him.

Kirk shook his head, gesturing for her to be silent. He listened closely until the voices faded away, then joined his crew who were all looking at him with hope in their eyes. They all knew what the Orions did to young and pretty captives. They would end up being sold as drug addicted sex slaves after the slavers were done training them. That must be where they were headed—a training facility deep in Orion space.

"What did you hear?" Ramsey sat down cross-legged on the floor.

"Something very interesting. There were six Orion ships when we left Aldebaran. There are four left. Someone has destroyed the other two."

"Do they know who did it?"

"No, but whoever it is definitely is after us. Per Orion protocol, one ship carries the cargo…that’s us…while two follow a parallel course in case the cargo ship gets into trouble. The other three go in different directions. They rendezvous later at predetermined coordinates. If a ship is giving chase, they don’t know which one to follow. But this one does. It’s coming straight for us even though we’ve changed course several times and even changed ships."

"Maybe your transponder is on this ship and that’s how they’re tracking us."

"No, they said my transponder was placed in a long range shuttle and sent in the opposite direction. One thing is certain though…. They’re running scared."

Kirk noticed that the slaver vessel had picked up speed. He guessed that they were now traveling at slightly over warp seven. That dashed his hope that the ship following them was Enterprise. Her best speed topped out at warp six point five.

As feeding time approached, Kirk got up and stood by the door, hoping to pick up some more information. He was not disappointed. Another Orion ship had disappeared.

There were only three left. He hoped whoever was after them would get here before they reached Orion space.

The next day, Kirk was dragged to the bridge by two ugly green behemoths and thrown down in front of the captain. Beady black eyes glared down at him. "Who follows us, hu-man?" The Orion spoke in heavily accented Standard.

"I don’t know what you’re talking ab—" A black-booted foot kicked him in the side. He stifled a groan as he felt his ribs crack.

"Five my ships destroyed. I want know they who done this."

"They?" Kirk dribbled blood on the Orion’s boot. "How the hell do I know? I’ve been locked in one cell or another for the last seven days."

The alien captain hauled him to his feet by the front of his shirt and shook him like a rag doll. Kirk bit his lip to keep from crying out. The pain in his side was excruciating. He knew he’d punctured a lung—it was getting hard to breathe.

"Yes, hu-man. There be two ships closing here and I want know who dares attack us."

Kirk spit blood in the Orion’s face. "I don’t know, but I certainly wish them luck." All that got him was a backhand across the face that threatened to rip his head off. Another backhand followed and then he was tossed into the nearest bulkhead. By the time Kirk slid to the floor, he was already unconscious.

The next thing Kirk knew, he was lying in sickbay. He had been there often enough to recognize the smells and sounds even before he opened his eyes. Gentle hands touched his chest and side. "Bones?" His voice came out little more than a harsh croak.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Jim," McCoy said, patting him on the shoulder.

"What happened? Where’s the crew that were with me? How did I get here?"

"Easy, Jim, one thing at a time. We rescued everyone…they’re all fine. All you have to do now is go back to sleep."

Kirk heard was the hiss of a hypospray and then nothing.

* * * * *

Three days later, Kirk was sitting up in bed, reading the daily reports that Spock had just left with him. The Vulcan had come to sickbay twice a day since Kirk had been rescued. He never stayed long, just long enough to ask how Kirk was doing, inform him of any ship’s business, and hand him the daily reports. Whenever Kirk brought up the subject of the rescue, Spock would plead pressing duties and disappear through the sickbay doors.

McCoy was acting strangely, too. He wore an odd frown and stared at Spock almost the whole time the Vulcan was in sickbay. Whenever Kirk asked him about it, the doctor would deny anything was going on.

"How are you feeling today, Jim?" McCoy bustled into the room and threw himself down in the chair beside Kirk’s bed.

"Ready to be discharged," Kirk said, looking up from the reports in his lap.

"I see Mister Spock has already been here."

"Been here and gone and that reminds me—what the hell is going on?"

"I don’t know what you mean."

"Don’t give me that, Bones. Every time I try to find out how we were rescued, you and Spock give me some song and dance and then disappear. I want to know how you found us and I want to know now."

"Why don’t you ask your first officer?"

Kirk’s eyes narrowed as he set the reports aside and stared at his friend. "Because I’m asking you. Now give."

"I don’t know how he found you, Jim, and that’s the truth. From the time you were first reported missing, Spock seemed to have a sixth sense about where you were. He knew you weren’t on that planet before the scans were even finished." McCoy shrugged helplessly. "It was really weird. We picked up nine warp signatures of ships that had left Aldebaran in the correct time frame. We had no way of knowing which ship you were on, but Spock chose the one to follow almost immediately. When we picked up your transponder signal, Scotty and I wanted to follow it, but Spock insisted it wasn’t you. That almost caused a mutiny, I can tell you. I accused him of actively wanting not to find you so he could claim the captaincy."

Chills raced down Kirk’s spine. A mutiny on a starship…. It was unheard of. "So what happened?"

"Before or after he had me confined to my quarters?"

"Spock did that? Good for him. What about Scotty?"

"Scotty trusted him more than I did. Anyway, Commander Stillion and his men saw to it that no one interfered with whatever Spock was doing. Then Spock called the captain of the Exeter, some Vulcan named Solaris, and they showed up."

"And between the two of them, they destroyed five Orion vessels."

"Six…. After we rescued you and the rest of the crew, Spock blew up that one, too."

Kirk gnawed thoughtfully on his lower lip. "Orion ships are faster than ours. How did Spock catch up with us?"

"Scotty says Spock modified the engines somehow. You know I don’t understand that warp field gibberish. But he did it and we found you and that’s all I know."

"So why couldn’t you tell me that straight out when I first asked?"

McCoy ducked his head and mumbled something Kirk couldn’t hear.

"What was that?"

"I said, I was embarrassed by what I accused Spock of and by almost causing a mutiny. Especially when it turned out he was right all along."

"You shouldn't have done that, Bones. He is the first officer and when I’m not here, he’s the captain."

"I know, Jim, and I’m sorry about it now, but at the time…." McCoy got up and moved to the foot of the bed. "Dammit, I’d still like to know how the hell he tracked you down."

"Me, too, Bones, me, too. And you can bet your pension that sooner or later, I will find out."

* * * * *

Kirk was discharged to his cabin that afternoon with orders to stay off duty for two more days. He sat at his desk and called the bridge.

"Lieutenant Uhura, please have Mister Spock report to my quarters ASAP."

Kirk signed off and pulled up the computer logs while he waited for Spock to appear. A hard knot of anxiety sat in the pit of his stomach. He had an idea that he wasn’t going to like what Spock was about to tell him.

Ten minutes later his doorbell sounded.

"Come," he said, shutting down the computer.

The door opened and Spock walked in, looking faintly uneasy. "You requested my presence, Captain?"

"Yes, I did, Mister Spock. Please sit down."

Spock sat down on the edge of the chair in front of Kirk’s desk.

"Tell me," Kirk said, leaning forward.

Guarded brown eyes shifted to the wall just beyond Kirk’s right shoulder. "I do not know to what you refer."

"I want to know how you found us on that Orion ship."

"I computed the trajectory and analyzed the warp sig—"

"You said once that I could trust you. Now, do me the courtesy of telling me the truth…the whole truth."

Spock swallowed heavily. "Very well." He bowed his head, allowing the long, black hair to hide his face from view. "Do you remember what I revealed to you concerning the pon farr…the circumstances required for a successful mating?"

"Yes," Kirk said slowly, wondering where this was going. "A link with a compatible mind must—" He jumped up in sudden realization. "Oh, my god, you never severed the link, did you?"

"You did not give me the opportunity. I was about to when you rendered me unconscious and departed from the ship."

Kirk slammed his fist on the desktop. "You’ve had the last nine months."

"I tried several times in the beginning, but the results were unsatisfactory and painful for you."

"The migraines…. That was you, rummaging around in my head? Reading my thoughts?"

"I have never invaded your thoughts. I simply attempted to sever the connection between us, but the link proved too strong. I realized it would require direct mind to mind contact to remove, and knowing how you felt about the mind touch, I ceased my efforts in that direction."

"I’m sure you did." All the rage and fear Kirk had once felt toward Spock came roaring back. "You had me under your control, didn’t you? You made me feel things I never would have felt under normal circumstances. You made me trust you…. I believed you were my friend and all the time you were manipulating my thoughts."

Spock got to his feet, blanching under the verbal onslaught. "I have done no such thing, I assure you. Any thoughts you may have had have been completely your own. I merely used the directional properties of the link to ascertain your location. Would you rather I had left you on that Orion vessel?"

Kirk flushed and took a slow, deep breath. "No," he finally said. "I am grateful for your timely intervention. However…I want this link gone and I want it gone now. I want to know that any thoughts I have are truly my own."

"Very well." Spock moved around the desk until they were standing face to face. "It will require that I touch the meld points on your face."

Kirk lifted his chin and glared into Spock’s eyes. "So what are you waiting for?"

Long fingers spread over his face in a familiar configuration. The last thing Kirk saw was Spock’s eyes. He had never seen them look as sad and forlorn as at this moment. And then there was darkness.

As the darkness faded and light appeared, Kirk found himself standing next to Spock in a field of stars. Both men appeared to be covered in a sparkling white haze. The Vulcan held a gold and silver thread in his hand…a thread so thin and fine it reminded Kirk of a strand of Argellian bee silk.

"Is that the link?" Kirk thought.

"It is."

"It’s so beautiful. I didn’t rea—"

Spock wrapped a section around his hand and pulled. And the strand snapped. The ends fell to the ground, twisting and writhing at their feet. "It is done."

"Nooo." Kirk’s eyes closed in pain. When he opened them again, he was back in his office and Spock was leaning heavily against the desk.

"The sa'akh-t'dor has been satisfied," the Vulcan whispered.

"The sa’akh what?"

"The sa'akh-t'dor—the debt of honor." Spock grabbed the ceremonial dagger he always wore and hacked off his braid at the temple. "Now that debt is paid and I am free," he said, throwing the hair with its jeweled clasp on Kirk’s desk. "After what I did to you, I owed you my life and my honor. I have now repaid both. Life as you know it has been returned to you and the link between us has been destroyed. Honor has been satisfied." With that Spock spun around and disappeared out the door.

Kirk felt as though someone had just kicked him in the stomach. He was stunned by the revelations Spock had made. A debt…. All these months, Spock had stood by his side, enduring his hatred while he plotted to become his friend…his confidant…his savior…not because he wanted to, but for a debt he thought he owed. Kirk swallowed the lump in his throat. He sank into the nearest chair and picked up the severed ebony braid. He was totally alone.

* * * * *

The loneliness was indescribable. That place in his mind where Spock had once dwelled was empty now, the desolation a constant reminder of what he’d lost. Not for the first time, Kirk wondered how it was possible to miss something he’d never known he’d had. But he did. And he missed something else even more.

Kirk glanced at the science station, but that space was empty, too. Spock had been avoiding him for the last week, since that day in his office when he’d ordered the Vulcan to remove the link. He was like a wraith gliding around the ship, silent and unobtrusive and almost invisible, at least as far as Kirk was concerned. On the rare occasions that they managed to be in the same place at the same time, Kirk found himself unable to read Spock’s expressions. Now he saw what everyone else saw: absolutely nothing. The Spock he had once known had disappeared behind a mask of Vulcan non-emotion. Kirk grieved for the friendship lost…the companionship gone…the possibilities that would never be. There were no more chess games, no more long talks in the observation room, and no more eating together in the officers’ mess. When Spock ate now, he was either alone or with Healer Sellar. The one morning Kirk had unconsciously carried his breakfast tray toward Spock’s table, Spock had promptly gotten up and left.

Kirk was unhappy, Spock was unreachable, and the breach between the command team was a palpable schism the entire crew was aware of.

But the worst thing of all was that it had been for nothing. After Kirk’s initial fear and anger had passed, he was forced to admit, at least to himself, that his feelings toward his first officer were no different now than they had been before the link had been broken. The attraction he felt, both mental and physical, remained. Spock hadn’t placed aberrant ideas in his mind. They had formed all on their own from somewhere deep inside his own psyche. He cursed the inexplicability of attraction and vowed to himself that he would let it go no further. He refused to admit that it might already be too late.

"Captain Kirk," Lieutenant Uhura said, swiveling her chair around. "Admiral Nogura wishes to speak to you, Mister Spock, and Commander Stillion in private."

Kirk immediately stood up and headed for the turbolift. "Take the con, Lieutenant, and have Mister Spock and Commander Stillion report to my office at once."

* * * * *

"Come," Kirk said as the doorbell chimed. As Spock and Stillion walked in, he gestured for them to take a seat, turned the computer screen around, then stood behind Spock with both hands on the back of his chair. "Okay, Uhura, pipe it down."

Admiral Nogura appeared with Sarek at his side. "Mister Spock, Commander Stillion, I have bad news." The admiral glanced toward his companion.

Sarek tucked both hands into the voluminous arms of his robe and stepped closer to the screen. "I regret to inform you that Captain Solaris and his entire crew have perished. According to reports from the Constellation, Solaris and all his crew contracted a deadly disease on a planet designated Omega Four, which reduced everyone on board to a crystallized powder. I grieve with you."

Spock shuddered and bowed his head while Stillion grasped the armrests of his chair until they buckled under Vulcan strength.

Admiral Nogura cleared his throat. "This may not be the most auspicious moment for our next announcement, but it must be made nevertheless. Commander Spock, you have been selected to take over as the new captain of the Exeter, if you so choose. The Enterprise will rendezvous with the Exeter at the Vulcan starbase, T’Atoll, in one week’s time. You have until then to give me your answer. My deepest sympathies, Commander Stillion, for your loss." The transmission ended and the screen went blank.

Tendrils of dread curled through Kirk’s belly. Spock would be leaving the Enterprise… would be leaving him. A vision of his life without the Vulcan in it swam before his eyes, a bleak existence, bereft of the companion he had grown to care for so much. Even estranged, it was better to have Spock on the Enterprise than on another ship half way across the galaxy. But what could he do?

"I grieve with you," Spock said, lifting his head to look at Stillion. "It should have been me. I regret the part I played in Solaris’s death."

The older Vulcan stood up and purposely straightened his shoulders. "Do not take this upon yourself, Spock. You did what you had to do under the circumstances and I do not hold you accountable for it. Vulcan honor above all else." He turned to Kirk. "If you do not require me further, Captain, I shall retire to my quarters."

"Of course." Kirk frowned at the undercurrents swirling about the room. Who was Solaris that both Vulcans took his death so hard? And why would Spock blame himself?

When they were alone, Kirk moved out from behind Spock’s chair and perched himself on the edge of the desk, the better to see his friend’s face. He didn’t like what he saw. The usual green-tinged complexion had faded to a pasty gray, the sable eyes were filled with haunted shadows, and the fine-boned hands clutching the armrests betrayed a definite tremor. Kirk cleared his throat. "Wasn’t Solaris the name of the Vulcan who helped you rescue me from the Orions?"

"Yes."

"Why were you and Stillion notified?"

Spock didn’t answer right away, and when he did, his voice was hoarse. "Because Solaris was Stillion’s eldest son and Stillion is the brother of my father."

"Stillion is your uncle?"

"He is."

"And Solaris was your cousin."

"Closer even than that. We were practically raised together after his mother died delivering Stillion’s second son."

Kirk slid off the edge of the desk. He wanted to say anything, do anything, that would remove the shattered look from Spock’s face. "I know you must feel bad, but there’s no reason to blame yourself for his death."

Spock jumped up, his eyes blazing with such fury that Kirk stepped back without thinking. "You know nothing! Nothing at all—" He stopped to take a deep, calming breath. "Forgive me for my unseemly outburst, Captain, but you do not know what I have done."

"So tell me."

Spock swallowed heavily. "At Maximus Prime, I drew the white ball with Exeter’s name on it. Solaris drew the first officer’s position on Enterprise. I asked him to trade with me. If I had not, he would be here today. And he would still be alive. Now do you understand?"

"You gave up command? Why would you do that?"

"For you, for what I did to you. Honor demanded I repay the debt, and I could only do that if we were on the same ship. Solaris understood and agreed to the exchange."

Kirk was shocked by what Spock had just admitted to, but this wasn't the time to dwell on that. He needed to ease the guilt his first officer was obviously experiencing. "But Spock, Solaris was a ship’s captain before. He knew the risks we all take to be out here, and he accepted them. Please, don’t blame yourself. Death can take any of us at any time."

"Logically, I know you are correct, but it does not help how I…feel. It should have been me."

"No!" He couldn't bear it. Just the thought of Spock dead…. Kirk swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. "Look, take a couple of days off to sort everything through."

"That will not be necessary, Captain, I—"

"That wasn’t a request, Mister Spock."

"Very well, sir." Spock nodded and quickly left Kirk’s quarters.

* * * * *

Kirk slumped down in a chair after Spock’s departure. He was astonished at the lengths Spock had gone to in order to repay this Vulcan debt…to give up the captaincy of a starship to serve with him as a first officer. It was incredible. He opened the top drawer of his desk and picked up the severed black braid with its ornate red and silver clasp. He just couldn’t bring himself to throw it away. He stroked its sleek softness, thinking back over the last ten months. Kirk suddenly wanted to know more about debts of honor and Vulcans and Spock in particular, and he knew just the person who was going to tell him. He jumped up, still clutching the braid, and marched out the door.

Crewmen moved aside as Kirk stalked down the corridor.

He marched into sickbay and looked around. Quickly spotting his prey, he walked into Sellar's office. The healer was sitting behind his desk, and Kirk threw the braid down in front of him. "What is the significance of this to you?"

Sellar glanced at the remnant of hair, then lifted his gaze to Kirk’s face. "To wear a braid thus…" he moved a hand down the right side of his face "…is a formal declaration of a sa'akh-t'dor. It comes from the ancient times, when clan battled clan and the warriors lived by a specific code of conduct. Any Vulcan seeing this braid would know that the wearer had greatly wronged another and was attempting to make amends. Any Vulcan seeing this would do all in his power to see that honor was restored to the perpetrator of the wrong."

"I see," Kirk said thoughtfully. "And what about the clasp? Is there anything significant about it or is it merely decorative?"

"The color of the jewel signifies the severity of the offense. Red is the color of the grossest transgression one Vulcan male can do to another, short of taking a life."

Kirk started momentarily. "What about war?"

"Death in war does not apply. This is for a personal, dishonorable act perpetrated against an honorable man."

"I see…and the silver it’s made from?"

"To us, Captain, silver is the mark of command…not gold."

"So any Vulcan seeing this would know the wearer had wronged the commander of a ship."

"Yes," Sellar said. "That is so."

"Would they know what was done?"

"They could speculate, but another Vulcan would never ask."

"Why would the wearer cut off the braid?"

"Once worn, the braid may only be removed when the wrong has been avenged. The debt is then paid and honor restored to the wearer."

Kirk nodded thoughtfully for a moment, then grabbed the braid and headed for the door. "Thanks, Sellar."

"Captain."

"Yes," Kirk said, half turning around.

"There is something else you should be aware of."

"And that is?"

"It is a delicate matter…one I hesitate to divulge, but honor demands that I do so at this time."

Kirk frowned and moved back into the center of the room. "Well, let’s have it."

Sellar cleared his throat and rearranged some papers on his desk. "According to custom, Spock should have removed the mating link immediately after pon farr ended."

"But he didn’t."

"No, he did not." Sellar looked as embarrassed as Kirk had ever seen him. "He allowed you to think your escape was the cause of the oversight, but that is not the truth."

"What is the truth?"

"You must understand, Captain, that what I am about to tell you goes against every tenet of privacy Vulcans believe in."

Kirk nodded. "I will never repeat what you tell me."

"Very well. Before the pon farr, Spock had almost resigned himself to bonding with T’Lynn."

"Bonding?"

"A marriage. However, in a Vulcan bonding, there is a permanent joining of minds as well as the flesh."

"But he wasn’t in love with her."

Sellar almost smiled at Kirk’s comment. "No, not in the way you mean, but he did hold her in high regard, and he was just about convinced that he would never find the one being in the universe who could complete him…his t’hy’la."

"T’hy’la?"

"A friend, brother, or lover of the same gender. The concept again comes from the ancient times, when it meant shield mate or soul mate. That is what Spock has always wished for himself."

"How could he bond with T’Lynn, anyway? I thought their minds were incompatible. Isn’t that why he screwed me in the first place?"

Sellar’s ear tips flushed a delicate shade of green. "If they had already been bonded as pon farr approached, it would not have been a problem. The bond supercedes the mating link. A mating link is only needed when the male is unbonded."

"They were compatible enough to bond, but not to form a mating link?"

"Not entirely correct. A bond can be created with the aid of a healer; however, the mating link cannot."

"So why didn’t he bond with her? He must have known he was signing his own death warrant?"

"At times, Spock suffers from the human affliction called hope. He truly did not wish to bond with T’Lynn, and he waited too long. By the time we realized he was in pon farr, it was too late…and unfortunately, the bond cannot be formed during that time."

"And then I came along to save the day…me and my compatible mind."

"Yes, that is so."

Kirk thought for a moment about what Sellar had said. "Okay, but that still doesn’t explain why he didn’t break the link with me when he was done, or if not then when he was first assigned to my ship."

"Captain, the greatest joy a Vulcan can know is a permanent link with a compatible mind. Spock is a powerful telepath…he can touch other minds and read their thoughts better than any trained healer, but yours is the first one he has ever been able to join with. I do not believe he wished to give that up."

"So you don’t think he became my friend simply because of this debt he thought he owed."

"I doubt it greatly. I think in his heart of hearts, Spock has named you…t’hy’la."

Kirk shivered at the healer’s words. "But I’m not Vulcan, I’m human, and we’re not used to mind to mind contact. It scares us."

"Yes, so I have learned. I believe Spock was in error not to have explained it to you earlier."

"Yeah, me, too. Maybe I wouldn’t have lashed out at him so badly if he’d told me the truth way back at the beginning. I said things…hurtful things I’ve come to regret, but now I can’t get near him. Today was the first time we’ve been in the same room in over a week."

Seller steepled his fingers and stared up at Kirk. "Perhaps Spock finds close proximity to you painful. He had a glimpse of what could be but now knows he yearned for the unattainable. Best to sever the connection completely." Sellar sighed and shook his head. "Sometime soon, Spock will adopt the shorter hair style as the rest of us have and will most likely be looking for a logical reason to leave the ship."

"He’s already got one. The council just offered him command of another starship."

"How fortuitous for you both."

"At one time, I might have agreed with you." Kirk bowed his head and left the healer’s office.

* * * * *

Spock stayed in his quarters for the next two days and when he emerged from his ordered exile, Kirk saw that Sellar had been right. The long, lustrous mane was gone, replaced by a short Starfleet style haircut. The only concession to Spock’s Vulcan heritage was the bangs…immaculate, glossy, blue-black bangs.

Kirk found he missed the wild, Vulcan warrior look, but he was forced to admit that the new style did have certain advantages, the main one being that those gorgeous ears with their delicate tapered tips were now always visible. He wondered how sensitive those elegant ear tips could be under certain conditions.

Kirk strolled around the upper tier of the bridge, stopping every now and then to speak to one of the bridge crew. His mind, however, wasn’t on these conversations; they were simply a means to an end. Every console he stopped at brought him closer to the science station…closer to Spock. His heart pounded erratically as he neared his goal.

Spock’s shoulders straightened as Kirk approached, but he didn’t turn around.

Kirk sighed and placed one hand on the back of his first officer’s chair. "Welcome back, Mister Spock. You’ve been missed."

The Vulcan slowly swiveled toward him, dislodging Kirk’s hand, and stood up.

"Thank you, Captain," he said, staring at a nearby bulkhead.

Kirk basked in the Vulcan’s aura. It felt so right being together. He stepped closer, not wanting anyone to overhear their conversation. "Are you okay?"

"I am well, sir."

Kirk frowned at the way Spock was avoiding his gaze. "Believe it or not, I’m still your friend and I care about you. I wanted you to know how sorry I am about Solaris and for my insensitive remark concerning his death, but I was unaware of the particulars surrounding your becoming my first officer."

Spock looked at him then. The sable eyes showed so much pain that a vast wave of overwhelming tenderness swept over Kirk. He wanted nothing more in that moment than to wrap Spock in his arms and protect him from every hurt in the universe. "Oh, Spock."

Those eyes that tore at Kirk’s soul softened a tiny bit. "Do not fear so, Captain. I will be well."

"I’m glad." Kirk glanced around to see the entire bridge crew studiously ignoring them. What a good crew he and Spock had put together. He didn’t want to lose that. He looked up into Spock’s eyes again. "Are you taking the promotion?"

"I believe it might be the wisest course."

"I’m afraid I don’t share your opinion." Kirk ran a hand through his hair. "Will you promise me one thing? Will you promise me to think about it some more?"

Spock tilted his head to one side in that way Kirk found so endearing. "I do not see what that will accomplish. However, if you wish it…."

"I do." Kirk turned and stepped down into the well. He spent the rest of the shift looking at Spock when he thought no one would notice.

* * * * *

Kirk tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable, but it was no use. His mind was racing out of control. He’d tried a hot shower, the meditation exercises Spock had once shown him, the deep breathing exercises Bones recommended…. He’d even taken a sleeper. All to no avail. Spock would be leaving the ship in two days, although as yet he hadn’t informed Nogura of his decision. Uhura had kept him well apprised of any communications leaving the ship. It didn’t matter, Kirk knew what that decision was going to be; it would be the same one he’d make if the choice were his. Command…no one in his right mind would turn that down, especially if he had already held that position before, as Spock had. And he was good at it. Oh yeah, Spock would be leaving the ship in two days, no doubt about it. So why was he tormenting himself with the unreasoning hope that Spock would turn Nogura down?

Kirk threw off the covers, padded naked into the bathroom, and stood in front of the urinal. He desperately needed to tire out both his mind and body. When he was finished, he grabbed the red exercise tights hanging on the back of the door and pulled them on. The gym should be just about empty this time of night. Taking a clean towel from the rack, he tossed it over his shoulder and left the cabin.

He walked into the gym to see Spock attired in black tights and a matching t-shirt doing warm-up exercises on the wrestling mat. No one else was in the room. His eyes automatically swept over the lithe form of his estranged first officer. Black suited Spock. With his pointed ear tips, it gave him a positively satanic look: compelling and powerful and altogether dangerous. Unfortunately for Kirk, he’d always been drawn to that particular combination. He smiled sadly when he realized where his wayward thoughts were leading him…again.

Spock stopped what he was doing when he saw Kirk. He slowly straightened up and stood motionless with his hands behind his back. "Captain."

Invisible sparks flew between them. "I didn’t mean to interrupt you, Mister Spock. I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t think anyone would be here this time of night."

"Yes, I, too, felt the need to tire my body before retiring."

Kirk nodded but could think of nothing more to say. "Well, I’ll let you get on with your workout." He looked around, pleased to see that he had the whole gym to himself, the choice of any machine he wanted. He thought about it, but finally realized that he didn’t really want to use one of the machines; he wanted to stay right where he was. He stepped to the next mat and threw down his towel. "I guess I'd better warm up first," he said to Spock with a smile.

The Vulcan lifted one flaring brow but didn’t reply.

The two men performed their exercise routines in complete silence.

Kirk snuck peeks at his companion from time to time and was aware that Spock was doing the same when he thought Kirk wasn’t looking. It caused his heart rate to soar. Spock wasn’t as disinterested as he appeared to be.

Kirk finished and picked up his towel to wipe his face. He saw that Spock was almost done. He’d be heading to the showers any minute. If he was going to do anything, it had to be soon. "Perhaps," Kirk said, taking a hesitant step forward, "you would care to join me. That way the exercise could really tire us out."

"You wish to wrestle with me?"

Kirk’s mind flashed back to the only time he had ever wrestled with Spock. The horror he had once felt was no longer there. He looked up at Spock and smiled. "You’re not going to cheat this time, are you?"

Tiny crinkles appeared at the corners of Spock’s eyes. "I will endeavor not to."

"Okay then." Kirk tossed his towel to one side and crouched into position. "You’re on."

They warily circled one another, each man searching for a weakness to exploit. A feint here…a distracting move…a grab by Spock, quickly thwarted. The two men danced closer and closer to each other.

Kirk threw himself at Spock’s legs, quickly bringing him down, but Spock rolled away, breaking the hold. Both men jumped to their feet before the other could take undue advantage.

Sweat dotted Kirk’s upper lip and he licked it away. He felt great. His body was toned and acting like a well oiled machine, and exhilaration coursed through his veins. Spock dropped to the mat and rolled, taking Kirk’s legs out from under him. Kirk grabbed him and they rolled over each other again and again, each man refusing to give in.

When they finally stopped, Spock lay on his back while Kirk sat astride him, laughing down into his face. "Give up?"

Spock reached up and placed a hand on each of Kirk’s biceps. Kirk froze, waiting for the Vulcan to try to throw him off, but it didn’t happen. Instead, those hands moved slowly and sensuously over his arms. The hairs on his arms tingled. The breath caught in his throat as he stared down into Spock’s eyes. That strange something that he had experienced once before arced between them. He heard Spock’s heart call to him, a siren call he was unable to resist. His head dipped fractionally lower. Kirk felt as though he were caught in a spell…mesmerized by dark Vulcan eyes. The hands on his arms were warm and gentle. Kirk’s head dipped lower. A bead of sweat dropped off a lock of his hair and landed next to Spock’s mouth. He shuddered as Spock’s tongue snaked out and licked it away. For some reason, it was the most erotic thing he had ever seen. He stared helplessly down at the green-tinged lips only inches away. He suddenly wanted to feel those lips beneath his more than anything he had ever wanted in his life. Closer and closer they came until Kirk’s mouth was poised a hair’s-breadth over Spock’s. Spock closed his eyes and waited.

Their lips touched…once, twice…soft as a butterfly’s wing. Kirk’s blood sang at the contact…his mouth hungered. He wanted more….

Voices and laughter interrupted the moment. Both men scrambled to their feet as a group of exuberant crewmen burst into the gym.

"Sorry, sirs," Ensign Markowitz said, coming to attention along with his comrades. "We didn’t know anyone else was here. The ‘occupied’ light wasn’t on."

"That’s quite all right, gentlemen," Kirk said, trying to appear nonchalant. "Mister Spock and I were just finishing up our workout. The gym is yours." He picked up his towel and headed toward the shower room. "Come on, First Officer, let’s clean up and then go get a bite to eat."

"Very well, Captain." Spock fell into step beside him.

When they reached the shower area, both men ordered fresh uniforms from the replicator, stripped off their tights and stepped into separate cubicles.

Kirk’s thoughts were in turmoil. He absentmindedly squirted soap in his hand and rubbed it over his chest. What the hell had just happened? All he’d been trying to do was regain the Vulcan’s friendship, to rekindle the closeness they’d once shared. Well, he sure managed to get close all right. He'd just kissed Spock…. He'd just kissed another man of his own free will and enjoyed doing it. He had always considered himself hetero. He had never been attracted to another man before, had never wanted to be, but he had just kissed Spock. He felt a familiar twinge and looked down, fascinated to see his cock rise in obvious anticipation. He needed to figure it out and he needed to do it now. Spock would be leaving in two days. His cock fell almost as quickly as his heart.

Well, it seemed like his heart and body were in total agreement. They both wanted Spock. Only his mind with its fears and memories was fighting the obvious. He wondered what would have happened if the rape had never occurred, if he had first met Spock when they had drawn lots for the captaincies. He almost laughed out loud, instantly realizing that he would have been trying to seduce Spock after their first month together…. Be he male, female or any other gender nature could produce, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was something special between the two of them…there always had been. And then he realized something else. If the rape had never happened, they most likely would never have met. Spock would have had no reason to invoke the debt of honor. He would have become captain of the Exeter. And he would be dead now.

Kirk shivered despite the hot water pouring over his body. His beautiful Vulcan dead…turned into a handful of crystallized powder. The thought was like a knife, ripping out his heart. He knew he loved Spock, but he’d always tried to convince himself that it was strictly platonic in nature. Now, for the first time, he admitted the truth to himself—he was madly, desperately, completely in love with his Vulcan male first officer. And the question was, what was he going to do about it?

Kirk heard the sonics in the next cubicle stop. He shut off the water, grabbed a towel, and quickly dried himself off.

The two men exited the showers together and pulled on their waiting uniforms. They avoided looking at each other until each was fully clothed, then marched through the gym and out into the corridor.

Kirk’s heart was pounding so loudly, he wondered if the Vulcan could hear it. He peeked at Spock from under his lashes but couldn’t read anything on the saturnine features. They took the turbolift to deck five and continued down the corridor toward officers’ country. When they came to the captain’s cabin, Spock hesitated for a moment instead of going on to his own quarters. This was it, Kirk knew. It was now or never. Spock had gone as far as he was willing to go. He wanted Kirk to take the initiative. How he knew that, Kirk didn’t know. Perhaps it was the intuition he was so noted for, perhaps not, but whatever it was, he was convinced that if he let Spock go now, the Vulcan would be lost to him forever.

Kirk glanced up. "Come on in. We’ll replicate something to eat."

Soft sable eyes gazed down at him. "I am amenable to that suggestion."

"Good." Kirk palmed the door open and felt the heat along his back as Spock followed him in. He turned around and found himself standing so close to Spock that one more step would put him in the Vulcan’s arms. He took that final step. Their lips joined and clung, sending heat straight to Kirk’s groin. It was as if someone had thrown open the doors of the warp containment chamber. One kiss was all it took—one steamy, open-mouthed kiss and he was lost, his soul stripped of all pretense. This was what he’d been searching for all his life. Completeness…two halves of a whole, together at last. Tongues of fire licked their way over his body. He moaned, feeling desire build like he’d never known before. The taste of the Vulcan’s mouth was exquisite, an alien mixture that set his senses swimming. His fingers twisted through the black, silken hair. "I love you so much."

Spock’s lips parted. "I also love—"

Kirk plunged his tongue into the welcoming haven to explore. So hot…so good. Large Vulcan hands grabbed his buttocks and pulled him in even closer. Their lips and groins ground together in a fevered joining. It was too much and not enough. Kirk ripped his mouth away to trail hungry kisses down Spock’s neck. He felt his breath coming in quick, short gasps as flames consumed him from within. He was almost frightened by the intensity of his passion. He knew in that moment that there was nothing he wouldn’t do to Spock’s body…nothing he wouldn’t let Spock do to his.

His hands tangled in Spock’s tunic and Spock’s hands tangled in his, ripping and tearing…. They couldn’t get close enough. Kirk threw what remained of a blue tunic on the floor and pushed Spock up against the nearest bulkhead. He rubbed his face across the naked, hairy chest until his mouth found and latched onto a tiny, green-tinged nipple, sucking and licking. He moved to its twin and back again, his hands stroking the heated alien flesh.

Spock groaned deep in his throat, the sound acting like an aphrodisiac on Kirk’s already overloaded senses. He fell to his knees wanting something he’d never wanted before. He ripped open the black Starfleet issue pants and pushed the offending material down Spock’s long, lean, muscular legs. An aroused Vulcan organ burst free, its double ridges flaring with obvious need, with drops of precum glistening on its broad domed head. Kirk took the cock in both hands and lapped across the top, causing the ridges to flare even wider. He tongued up and down the shaft, then opened his mouth and took as much of the organ as he could inside. It filled his mouth. And he sucked.

"Please…" Spock moaned, grabbing the back of Kirk’s head.

A deep-seated thrill coursed through Kirk’s body. He was down on his knees, sucking another man’s cock, and he loved it. He loved the taste of it in his mouth, the feel of it against his tongue, and the way it made Spock moan and beg for more. His own cock throbbed hot and heavy between his legs.

Kirk shuddered. The intensity of his desire was terrifying. He couldn’t stop it—the desire was like a living entity, begging to be fed, and it needed more. He needed more. He allowed the cock to slip from his mouth and lapped down the shaft until he found two delicate sacs hidden in a nest of black pubic hair. He took the testicles into his mouth and rolled them around with his tongue…sucking them…bathing them until his own balls quivered with need.

Spock whimpered and rolled his head back and forth against the wall. "Suck me…please…."

Kirk couldn’t refuse the entreaty. He kissed the testicles good-bye and nibbled his way up the glistening shaft of Spock’s erection. He slid his mouth over the head and went as far down as he could go…then up again…sucking…licking… down…up and down….

Spock touched his neck and the long, thick cock slid all the way down his throat and started to move. In and out, faster and faster. Oh, God, Spock was fucking his throat and the sensation was incredible—almost obscenely erotic. He tightened his throat muscles and tried to swallow.

Spock cried out, thrusting deeply into his insatiable mouth.

Kirk groaned around the bulk in his throat. Spock was orgasming and he couldn’t taste the cum. He wanted it…he needed to taste it. He jerked himself off the spasming cock and placed his lips just over the head, sucking greedily, wallowing in the taste and texture of the creamy nectar filling his mouth.

As Spock’s knees buckled, Kirk caught him and lowered him gently to the floor. He tore off the Vulcan’s boots, socks and trousers, allowing himself to feast his eyes on the other man’s exquisite nakedness. "My god, Spock, you're so beautiful, I can't keep my hands off you."

"I crave your touch, Jim. Touch me everywhere."

It had never been like this with any woman Kirk had ever been with. Who knew it would take a Vulcan male to drive him out of his mind with longing? His nostrils flared. For Spock was all male—there was nothing effeminate about him. Muscular and hairy and with a cock that made Kirk’s mouth water. He smiled, remembering the first time he’d seen Spock’s penis. How monstrous it had looked to him then. Fear must have altered his perception, for although Spock was indeed gifted, his cock was actually not that much larger than his own. Kirk looked up and met Spock’s eyes. All the love he had ever felt or desired was echoed in those dark, fathomless eyes. He eagerly bent over the alien organ to wash it and the surrounding pubic area with his tongue. Spock opened his legs, silently offering something more.

Kirk’s balls ached at the sight. He tore off his boots, socks and the rest of his uniform, then returned to his succulent feast. He wet a finger and slid it down the crevice between Spock’s ass cheeks until he found the tiny orifice he was searching for.

Spock moaned when Kirk’s finger slipped inside.

The Vulcan channel was hot and buttery, and Kirk could hardly wait to replace his finger with his throbbing cock. He inserted another finger and alternated between rotating them around to stretch the hole and moving them slowly in and out. Waves of ecstasy flowed through him as Spock spread his legs wider and moved against the invading fingers.

Kirk pulled his fingers free and pushed Spock’s legs back. He wanted a clear view of where he was about to go—and what he was about to do. Spock grabbed both his legs and held them back against his chest, exposing himself in the most vulnerable way possible. Kirk looked down to see the wrinkled, green-tinged opening to Spock’s body pulsate in obvious desire. White hot need exploded in Kirk’s mind. He had never felt this kind of arousal before, arousal so strong it threatened to rip away all thought…all control. He groaned helplessly and placed the tip of his cock against the tiny opening and pushed. The cock head slipped in easily. It took all the control he had left to stop and allow Spock to get accustomed to the bulk invading his body.

As he waited, a horrible thought popped uninvited his mind. He looked down. Two naked men, and the only thing connecting them was one man’s cock in the other’s upturned ass. His erection started to wilt. He shuddered and looked up at Spock’s face. Dark sable eyes regarded him anxiously.

"Spock, you aren’t just letting me fuck you as part of that debt of honor, are you? As some kind of atonement for what you did to me."

Spock visibly relaxed and smiled up at him. "No, Jim. I told you the sa'akh-t'dor was finished. I told you the truth. That was a debt of honor, but this…" Spock wiggled his ass meaningfully "…is a debt of the heart, my heart. I want you. I want you to plant your seed deep within my body, to mark me as yours. Can you do that for me?"

Kirk knew his eyes must be shining. "Oh, yeah. I can do that for you." He grinned as his cock immediately got hard again. "I love you so much it hurts."

"Vulcans need more than idle words. Show me your love."

"Anything…anything you want." Kirk slid his cock deep into Spock’s ass. His eyes closed. Just feeling the Vulcan heat surrounding him almost sent him over the edge to oblivion. It was so good. He was losing control again. He couldn’t, he needed to go slow, to not cause pain, he needed make this good for Spock. He pulled out slowly until only the tip remained. His breath was coming in quick, harsh gasps.

"T’hy’la," that velvety baritone said. "I am not one of your fragile human females. Do not fear for my comfort. This is not the time for gentleness. This first time, I wish to be taken as one warrior takes another. Show me your power…show me your strength…show me your love."

The words ripped away the last of Kirk’s control. A ravenous craving replaced all conscious thought. He thrust mindlessly into Spock’s body. Hard and deep his cock plundered the hot hungry channel. In and out, faster and faster. He couldn’t stop it.

Spock whimpered as the organ plunged deeply again and again. The green cock rose thick and hard over the Vulcan’s belly, bobbing with every thrust. Kirk went crazy when Spock pushed back, obviously wanting it…silently begging for it. He thrust with all his strength, holding nothing back. His mind exploded with sensation…a brightness…a duality he had never experienced before became part of him. He was one with Spock. He felt what Spock felt—the passion, the need, but most of all he felt the incredible depths of Spock’s love. He pumped deliriously and heard Spock cry out as he climaxed. Strong rectal muscles clenched and tightened around Kirk’s cock and he exploded in searing bursts of heart-stopping orgasm.

Kirk collapsed on the body beneath him, feeling Spock’s legs drop on either side of him. They lay motionless, their satiated flesh sealed together with sweat…their breath coming in great shattering gasps.

Kirk grunted as he lifted himself on shaky arms and rolled off his partner. "It has never been like that for me." He lay still, his thoughts drifting in the soft afterglow. He touched that empty place in his mind where Spock used to be…. "Oh my god." He sat up suddenly and stared down at a softly smiling Vulcan. "Are we bonded?"

"Not yet. What you feel is a spontaneous return of the link we once shared. However, we will be bonded soon if we continue with this enervating activity."

Kirk lay back, resting his head on Spock’s shoulder. "Well, I don’t want to stop. How about you?"

"Jim, I have desired you since before we met. You are my destiny. I will not willingly give you up again."

Kirk couldn’t help but roll over and kiss his destiny. "Do you realize how lucky we were to even find each other? And then to end up serving in Starfleet together? What are the odds? We owe whoever thought up that integration plan a lot of gratitude…. Without it we probably wouldn’t have ever met again."

"Vulcans do not believe in random circumstances which operate in one’s favor."

Kirk ran his hand suggestively down Spock’s abdomen. "Then how do you explain it? If it wasn’t luck, what was it?"

"It was an exceeding well thought out plan on my part to put us together on the same vessel for an extended period of time."

"It was your idea? I thought it was the Vulcan council’s and Nogura’s."

Spock shrugged. "Sarek proposed the idea to Admiral Nogura when they met to discuss the violations of the peace treaty. Sarek can be most persuasive when he chooses to be."

Kirk sat up and stared down at his lover. "Why would Sarek do that for you?"

"The first reason was that he believed it a fine idea."

"And the second reason?"

Spock wore a smugly satisfied look as he gazed up into Kirk’s eyes. "Why, Jim, I thought you had realized, Sarek is my father and I am his only son. He would do almost anything to see me…happy."

Kirk’s heart ached with tenderness. "Are you happy, Spock?"

"Yes, for the first time in my life, I am happy. I shall never be forced to leave your side, for we will soon be of one mind and one flesh. I am yours forever."

"As I am yours."

Spock pulled Kirk back into his arms and they wrapped their minds around each other.

/And you said Vulcans weren’t sneaky,/ Kirk thought. /Why, you’re downright devious./

/An ancient proverb on my world states: Beware the warrior who has chosen his mate./

/You chose me during that time on your ship, didn’t you?/

/I sought only to save my life. Instead, I found the other half of my soul and he was you./

/Mmmm, I like the sound of that…soulmates./

/I can tell./ Spock caressed the pleasure centers of Kirk’s mind.

"What are you doing to me?" Kirk moaned.

"I am preparing to arouse you to the point of madness and then to satisfy you beyond your wildest dreams."

"You might have to go some, I’ve had some pretty wild dreams lately." Kirk got up and pulled Spock to his feet. "Come on, let’s shower first and this time let’s use the bed."

"I am eager to begin."

"I can tell," Kirk said, smiling down at an already erect Vulcan penis.

Ten minutes Kirk lay sprawled in bed while Spock leaned over him…kissing…touching… licking…stroking….

Time ceased to have any meaning. By the time Spock was done using his hands and mouth and tongue, Kirk was on his hands and knees, a seething mass of desire and need. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t think, he could only feel and want.

Spock tongued him in that most private place, teased him, fingered him, and finally slid just the head of his cock into Kirk's ass. Kirk almost sobbed with frustration, wanting so much more. He'd say anything…do anything to get that thick green cock into his body. He wanted Spock to bury it in so deep, it would never get out.

Spock grabbed his hips and in one swift thrust, slid it all the way in. Then out again.

Kirk groaned and pushed back into it. The feel of that Vulcan cock up his ass went beyond pleasure. He writhed in wanton abandon…wanting it…needing it…reveling in the ecstasy of being taken. Spock was fucking him and he loved it—he couldn’t get enough. He met every thrust and begged for more.

Kirk opened himself in both body and mind, complete and utter surrender to this Vulcan, the only man he had ever loved, that he ever would love. He offered his soul into Spock’s keeping, knowing that it would always be cherished and kept safe. The universe exploded around him and in him, stars went nova in his mind, but he wasn’t afraid because Spock was with him. This time they really were bonded.

Hours later, two sated and satisfied men lay asleep, wrapped in each other’s arms.

The universe had never seen their like before and never would again. A debt of honor had brought them together, but the joy of love and a Vulcan bond would keep them together forever. One heart, one soul….

The legend of the starship Enterprise was just beginning.

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