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"CAPTAIN'S LOG, Stardate 3742.3. We are assuming standard orbit around the planet designated L178, a colony world established 2.8 years ago. All reports previously received indicated progress at an encouraging rate until three days ago when an urgent request for medical help was received by Starfleet Command. We received orders within hours of the request to break off routine patrol and proceed with all haste to L178 to provide whatever aid is possible. We have been attempting to contact the colony since coming within communication range 9.3 hours ago, without success.

"Starfleet Command transmitted all known data to my chief medical officer. At a briefing two hours ago (see appended log), McCoy advised that we can expect a grim situation upon arrival. It is my understanding that the inhabitants of L178 have been infected by a strain of virulent, plague-like bacteria which, under laboratory conditions, has been mutating as fast as an antibiotic is found to control each new strain. Dr. McCoy advised that the best case scenario we can expect is that half of the population of this once thriving colony will be wiped out prior to our arrival. When pressed, McCoy admitted that, at worst, if the bacteria has mutated on the planet as it has under his tests, it is possible the entire population will have succumbed. Our inability to contact the colony does not bode well for their situation."

Kirk flipped off the recorder and let his gaze travel to Spock. Their eyes locked for a moment in mutual understanding, their mental bond offering mutual support, before Spock swung back to his station. The Enterprise had escorted the original colony ships to L178 - in fact, it had been their first assignment upon commencement of their second five year mission - which gave them a personal concern for the people who were, if not friends, at least more than faceless strangers.

Kirk swung his chair in an abrupt half-circle. "Anything, Uhura?"

Uhura sighed in frustration, one hand going to the receiver in her ear as if she could force it to give her a response. "Sorry. Nothing, sir. There isn't even an automated distress signal."

"Captain, standard orbit achieved," Sulu reported as Kirk swung back around to face the screen. The small blue and green planet turning below them looked much too innocent to be the death chamber of thousands.

Before Kirk could comment the turbolift doors opened and Leonard McCoy strode from the lift. He stepped down and took up his usual position to Kirk's left. He fixed expectant blue eyes on the Captain.

Kirk shook his head. "Nothing, Bones."

McCoy's shoulders slumped although he had been expecting the reply. "I better get down there. I have the feeling I'm going to end up a mortician, but there might be a few still alive."

Spock stepped down to Kirk's other side in time to hear the last. "I have scanned the planet and picked up only six very faint humanoid life form readings," he reported.

McCoy turned away as Kirk rose to his feet. "Mr. Spock, you have the con."

Spock opened his mouth to protest, but McCoy beat him to it. "There's no need for you to go down there, Jim."

Spock stood back, ready to jump in if needed to convince Kirk, but more than willing to let someone else take the brunt of the Captain's arguments for a change.

Kirk had no arguments to offer. "Command prerogative, gentlemen," he stated simply and led the way to the turbolift. He was all too aware of McCoy's surprise. As for the emotion coming to him across the link with Spock, he would think about that later.

McCoy joined him in the lift. "Why, Jim?" he asked as they began to descend. "And don't tell me it's because you're so fond of the fit of an E suit."

Kirk shrugged. "Not sure, Bones. Something right about here..." he rubbed the back of his neck, "...is just telling me to go."

McCoy put any protests he might have planned to make aside. He understood about intuition, had a healthy dose of it himself, and he'd seen Jim follow hunches before. The Captain was seldom wrong.

He let his mind shift to what Spock had said. Six faint life readings. Six left out of a population of thousands. As he still had no cure to offer, the odds were that within a matter of hours those six would be gone as well.

They stepped into the transporter room to a scene of organized chaos. Beaming of fully-suited, medical personnel, each team with one security guard, had already begun. Spock had pinpointed the six life readings and, as they were widely spaced, the decision had been made to send one team to each location.

After struggling into their suits, Kirk and McCoy joined Chapel on the transporter pad. "Mr. Spock said to tell you there are two life readings, one stronger than the other, within the immediate vicinity of these co-ordinates," Kyle informed.

"Understood. Energize," Kirk ordered.

They materialized on a neglected lawn before a small house. Without hesitation, intuition still egging him on, Kirk charged through the entrance. The others followed more slowly, following tricorder readings. As a result, Kirk found himself alone in the bedroom a few seconds ahead of them. At his entrance, a pitiful wailing began from the bed. He approached cautiously as McCoy entered the room behind him.

Kirk swallowed hard as he saw the figure on the bed. Its body and features were bloated almost beyond recognition as a human being and running sores covered all exposed skin. Swollen hands were clutched desperately in a wriggling bundle from which the wailing emitted.

McCoy bent over the bed and pried the almost dead fingers loose. "Pick it up, Jim," he ordered as Chapel came up from behind and passed over a hypo.

Kirk took the bundle into his arms and retreated a few steps to allow McCoy and Chapel room to work. The crying and wriggling had stopped at his touch and Kirk shifted the bundle to one arm. Curious and yet dreading what he would find, he raised a hesitant hand to draw back the cover concealing the child's face. The blanket dropped back to reveal a thin face topped by a shaggy mop of shiny black hair and dominated by the brightest blue eyes Kirk had ever seen. There was no mark on the child's face, nothing to indicate that the disease had begun its terrible ravages of the tiny body. The child lay quietly in his arms, seemingly content, watching him with eyes much too serious for one so young. He had the eerie feeling that this little being was looking directly into his soul.

The large eyes suddenly lost their focus and the small mouth opened in a sharp, piercing cry, just as suddenly cut off. At the same moment, a barely perceptible something brushed Kirk's mind and settled into a corner of his awareness.

He let the blanket slip from between his gloved fingers. Gently he reached to brush the hair from her eyes. He froze as fine, slanted black eyebrows appeared, then fumbled to reveal a tiny pointed ear.

"My Ghod," Kirk murmured.

He looked up at the sound of the medical scanner. McCoy stood in front of him, a perplexed expression visible through the face plate of his suit as he tapped the scanner.

"What the hell," the doctor muttered.

"She's Vulcan, Bones. Look," Kirk exclaimed, turning slightly so the doctor could share in his discovery.

"Well, I'll be damned," McCoy muttered. He recalibrated his scanner and ran it over the child. "A little undernourished, but otherwise healthy as a horse," he pronounced.

Kirk opened his mouth, but closed it as McCoy went on. "And don't ask me why. I knew there were other species besides human on this planet so my tests were run for Vulcan, Andorian and Antaren as well as human physiology. Little bug ate them all up."

"What about...?" Kirk glanced toward the bed where Chapel was pulling a blanket up over the distorted face.

"Too late. She's gone," McCoy confirmed.

"M'Benga to McCoy."

McCoy touched the communications stud on his suit. "McCoy here."

"Reports in from all teams, but yours. No survivors," M'Benga reported grimly.

"We have one death and one survivor, seemingly completely unaffected," McCoy reported back. "Don't ask me how."

"Can we take the chance of beaming him up?" M'Benga asked.

McCoy looked up to find the same question on Kirk's face. His expression must have shown his doubt, for he saw Kirk's arms tighten protectively and a stubborn expression begin to creep over the Captain's features.

"Have all teams beam up and go through decon," McCoy ordered M'Benga. "Then do a full work up on everybody and let me know the results. I'll conduct my own examinations here and see what I can find."

"You're not thinking of leaving her here." Kirk's tone warned he'd already made his own decision.

"I didn't say that. But I'm not thinking of infecting the whole ship either," McCoy shot back.

"Do you want me to take her, Captain?" Chapel asked as she joined them.

Kirk felt a moment of instant panic at her words, but had no idea why. "No. I'll hold her." He turned to McCoy. "Let's get out of this room."

McCoy nodded agreeably. They left the room and followed the hall that had led them to the bedroom until it opened onto a living area. Kirk sat down on a sofa with the child in his arms.

The child had remained strangely silent and content since that one despairing cry. If it were older, McCoy would have diagnosed shock, but he judged her to be little more than a year old.

He took a seat beside Kirk and stretched out his arms to take the child. The baby shrank back from his touch, turning her small face into Kirk's chest.

McCoy reached for a hypo. "Hold her still, Jim. I need to take a blood sample."

"Are you going to hurt her?" Kirk asked, securing his hold.

"I've done this to you a hundred times. Did it hurt?" McCoy asked, meaning the question to be rhetorical.

"Yes," Kirk answered anyway.

Kirk felt a shudder pass through the small body as McCoy touched her, but she made no protest as the blood sample was taken. He waited impatiently for McCoy to run a sample through his tricorder.

"Well," he finally prompted.

"There's something here not quite right, but it isn't any of the mutations of the disease," McCoy confirmed. "I'll need the medical computers before I can track down exactly what that something is."

"Then we can take her back with us," Kirk pushed. He shifted the child's weight to the other arm. She didn't weigh all that much, but had grown heavier as she fell asleep.

"Let me see what M'Benga has to say, then." McCoy broke off as M'Benga's voice from the suit communicator cut across his words.

"What have you got?" McCoy asked.

"All personnel check out clear," M'Benga reported.

"So does our survivor," McCoy decided. "Advise the transporter room to beam us up. I want decon on arrival and a portable isolation unit waiting. With something this deadly, I'd rather err on the side of caution."

Kirk stood up with the child in his arms.

"As soon as decon is finished, put her straight into the isolation chamber," McCoy ordered. "I don't want to take any chances we don't have to."

"Alright, Bones," Kirk agreed.

McCoy assumed his position at Kirk's right. "By the way, Jim. Why she? I never told you it was a girl."

Why, indeed? Kirk wondered as he felt the tingle of beginning transport. No one had told him. He'd just known.

Kirk did as instructed as soon as the decon beam was disengaged. As he laid the child on the stretcher within the isolation unit, the blue eyes popped open and she began to scream. Instinctively, he reached for her again, but McCoy's hand on his arm stayed the movement. He watched helplessly as Chapel lead the unit with its screaming contents away, feeling as if he'd like to scream himself. He shook off McCoy's hand roughly, undefined emotions making his heart race.

"What's got into you, Jim?" McCoy asked. "I told you she'd have to stay in the unit."

With difficulty, Kirk battled his emotions under control. "I don't know, Bones. Must have been the atmosphere of the place; I just feel agitated."

McCoy ran his scanner over Kirk as the Captain struggled out of the environmental suit. "You certainly are that," he agreed.

"I'm going to arrange with Spock for burial details. Is there anything you have to do down there first?" Kirk asked, struggling against a growing feeling of terror to function normally.

"No. I collected enough samples while I was there." McCoy hesitated, wondering if he needed to remind Kirk of standard procedure. Considering the Captain's condition, he decided to continue. "Make sure Spock orders everyone to wear suits and that anybody coming back aboard goes through decon. I'd suggest cremation to avoid contamination of the soil."

"Understood." Kirk struggled to keep his voice calm as he reached out with a trembling hand for the communicator panel on the console.

His hand fell away as the doors opened and Spock strode into the room. Even McCoy could read the agitation in Spock's manner as he strode directly to Kirk's side.

"What is wrong, Jim?" he asked. Kirk's emotions battered at the shields Spock had had to raise in order to function. When Kirk's jumbled emotions had reached him across the bond, it had left Spock immobile in the command chair for several seconds that had felt like hours before he could protect himself.

"I don't know," Kirk mumbled. He fought an absurd desire to throw himself into Spock's arms and burst into tears.

Spock looked to McCoy for his answers and received only a puzzled expression and a shrug.

"He's been agitated since we beamed aboard and it's getting worse," McCoy explained as he reached for Kirk's arm. "You better help me get him to Sickbay."

Spock took the other side and between them they helped the trembling man toward Sickbay. With each step closer, Kirk seemed to be calming until, by the time they stepped through the doors of Sickbay, the Captain seemed to be once again in at least marginal control of himself.

McCoy released him reluctantly in order to shrug out of his suit, but Spock held on, leading Kirk to one of the diagnostic beds. He urged Kirk to lie down, surprised when he did so without protest, even more surprised when Kirk snatched at his hand when he tried to draw away. Self-consciously, Spock glanced around to make sure only McCoy was in the room. Their bonding was common knowledge among the crew, but he was still uncomfortable with public demonstrations of their relationship.

McCoy bustled up, tactfully ignoring the clasped hands, and flipped on the panels above the bed. "Fight or flight," he muttered as he studied the readings.

"I beg your pardon, doctor?" Spock asked.

"That how he's reacting. As if he were totally terrified of something and he either has to fight or run away," McCoy explained.

The sound of hoarse screams filled the room as the doors to the isolation unit parted and Chapel hurried out. Before anyone else could move, Kirk was off the bed and across the room, charging through the doors as if all the devils of hell were on his heels.

The sudden cessation of the ear splitting noise caught McCoy and Spock as they followed, halting them for a split second before they continued into the room. They both stopped a few paces into the room as they took in the sight of their Captain, looking totally confused, cradling the hiccuping survivor.

"She's been cleared," Chapel said from behind them, cutting off the protest McCoy was about to make.

Cautiously, Spock took a few steps toward Kirk, letting the stringent mental shields he'd been maintaining slowly lower until he was once again in contact with Kirk's mind. He let his eyes drop to the child confirming what he'd found and gave himself a moment to digest it before he spoke.

"The child is Vulcan. She has chosen you as Ommi," he said to Kirk.

"What the hell are you talking about, Spock?" McCoy butted in as he approached the strange tableau.

"Ommi means surrogate or substitute parent," Spock explained. "She has obviously lost her parents and has chosen the Captain as a substitute. For the first five years of its life, a Vulcan infant needs a continuing mental bond with a parent or chosen Ommi or it cannot survive."

"There weren't any Vulcans among the initial survivors, Spock. How could she have lived to form this...bond with Jim if her parents were already dead who knows how long before we arrived?" McCoy half protested, half questioned.

"I do not know. The link is not with me, but with Jim. I can simply perceive its existence because of the deep bond Jim and I share."

"Five years!" McCoy suddenly shouted.

Spock nodded in agreement with McCoy's unspoken fear. "If she has no other living relatives and cannot be coaxed to chose another Ommi, she will require Jim's presence or she will die," he pronounced ominously.

"She's hungry," Kirk said suddenly.

"I would suggest you find something to satisfy the child's hunger before Jim begins to perceive it as his own," Spock suggested.

Chapel picked up the child's medical chart and hurried out of the room. She'd use the chart and some common sense to come up with something suitable.

"Jim," Spock was saying, laying a hand on Kirk's arm.

Kirk looked up sharply, almost pulling away until he saw it was Spock. No matter what else might be affecting his mind, he trusted Spock instinctively and would respond under any circumstances.

"What you are feeling are the child's emotions. She has formed a mental link with you." Spock spoke slowly and distinctly as if to a backward child. The continuing confusion in Kirk's expression let him know he wasn't understood. He squeezed the arm under his hand hard and was rewarded with a brightening in the dazed eyes. "Jim, look into your mind the way I taught you. The same way you search for our link," he encouraged.

Kirk turned inward attempting to follow Spock's instructions. Spock sent a warm wave of encouragement as he felt the brush of Kirk's thoughts on their bond.

"I can...feel it," Kirk stammered.

"It will not harm you, Jim, but you must raise your shields. The child is unable to raise shields herself which is why you are being inundated by her emotions," Spock continued in the calm, lecturing tone.

Kirk shook his head sharply. "I can't."

Spock lifted his hand to Kirk's face. "I can help you, but you must relax. Show no fear of me or the child will attempt to force you to reject me."

Kirk raised his face into Spock's fingers, a beatific smile chasing the confusion away. "Yes, come into my mind," he invited.

Spock cringed at the intimate tone, only too aware of McCoy's presence, but put aside his embarrassment. Their minds merged neatly from long practice and he allowed the level of contact to deepen until he could touch the link the infant had formed. With barely perceptible prodding, he helped Kirk to raise the shields he himself had taught the human, although T'Serra required those shields to be less than complete to preserve her well being. For Kirk's benefit, as the input of two sets of emotions would be too confusing for a virtually untrained mind, Spock also had to mute the link they shared.

He withdrew from the meld just as Chapel returned. "I can answer many of your questions now, doctor," he said.

"Look at these test results, Doctor," Chapel cut in urgently. She handed the bottle she was holding to Kirk almost absent-mindedly, her mind on her discovery.

"This child isn't entirely Vulcan," Chapel finished as she offered the results to McCoy. "Perhaps that explains why she wasn't infect by the bacteria."

McCoy scanned the reports. "Mixed blood elements," he mumbled as he read, then his head shot up, mouth open.

"She is half human," Spock supplied. "She thinks of herself as T'Serra."

Kirk, released from the total pre-occupation enforced by the mind link, had offered the bottle to the baby and turned his attention to the conversation.

"There weren't any interspecies couples among the colonists when we delivered them here three years ago," he reminded.

"As the colony began thriving almost immediately, the Federation allowed further emigration to begin over a year ago," Spock supplied.

"We'd better make a report to Starfleet," Kirk decided. He crossed to Chapel, intending to place T'Serra in her care while he got back to doing his job. A jolt of fear, recognizable now as not his own, stopped him cold.

"No, Jim," Spock warned just as Kirk stopped. "She will not allow it."

Kirk turned back around. "She what?" he asked incredulously.

"You alone will have to care for her for an unknown period of time. The shock of her broken parental bonds will have traumatized her and she will be unwilling to be parted from you," Spock explained.

"How the hell can I command a starship with a baby in my arms," Kirk exclaimed.

"You can't," McCoy put in flatly.

Kirk looked down at the baby, trying to conjure the resentment he usually felt at even the slightest threat to his command. It wouldn't come.

"Bones, can we take T'Serra out of here?" Kirk asked. At McCoy's nod, he started for the door. "Let's use your office then. You better find out who she is," he ordered Spock. "Then I'll have to make a report to Starfleet."

* * * * *

"The child's parents were Somar and Dr. Emily Wright. They arrived on L178 3.6 months ago as part of the third settlement program funded by the Federation." Spock reported when he joined McCoy and Kirk in the doctor's private office. "I have confirmed that the woman who died shortly after your arrival was Dr. Wright."

Kirk contacted Starfleet Command and made his report while carefully holding the sleeping T'Serra out of viewer range. He turned the communication over to Spock when it came to explaining their present situation, knowing the matter would be taken more seriously if reported by a Vulcan.

Komack, not knowing what else to do, ordered them to Starbase Three as soon as the burials were completed. He would contact the Vulcan High Council and ask what was to be done thereafter. In the meantime, Komack made it plain, Kirk was to do whatever was necessary to ensure the continued well being of their tiny passenger. It was common knowledge how highly Vulcans valued their children.

"Congratulations, Jim," McCoy teased as Komack's image disappeared. "It's a girl." He grinned openly. "This should be interesting."

"Very funny," Kirk quelled McCoy's rising mirth. "Spock, we'd better get the clean up finished here and get to Starbase Three."

"I have already ordered commencement of the burials. They should be completed within 23.6 minutes," Spock reported.

Kirk didn't ask how or when in all the confusion Spock had seen to the chore. He was just grateful that he had. "There should be some sort of a service," he mused.

"I will take care of the details and advise you when we are ready," Spock offered.

"Fine. Get on it." Kirk watched the Vulcan leave, then turned back to McCoy. "What's T'Serra's condition."

"Half starved," McCoy supplied. "I'll work up a diet compatible with her system and log it."

"Can I take her out of here?"

"I'd rather you didn't for at least 24 hours. This might well be the best place to set up a nursery for her. We don't know yet if she has any special needs. I could get engineering to provide an improvised crib."

"Change table, playpen and some toys. Once she's full she's going to be looking for something to do," Kirk added. "Clothes, comb, something to contain all this hair and diapers. Lots and lots of diapers."

McCoy looked up from the list he was making, surprised by Kirk's knowledge. He let it pass for now. "And what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to sit right here and relax while Uncle Len arranges everything," Kirk gloated, settling back comfortably.

McCoy pushed up from his seat, taking his list with him. "You know this situation is ripe for a case of abuse of power," he muttered.

"Have you ever known me to abuse my power?" Kirk asked in wide-eyed innocence.

"I wouldn't touch that one with roboarms," McCoy declined as he left his office.

* * * * *

The memorial service was piped throughout the ship. It seemed to add a certain poignancy to the occasion that Kirk spoke the last words for the victims of the disaster while holding the only survivor in his arms. It was tragically ironic, McCoy had discovered, that had the doctors tested T'Serra they would have discovered the combination of elements within her blood to defeat the disease. The only survivor could have been the colony's salvation.

As Kirk had predicted, T'Serra became very curious after her initial hunger had been satisfied. It soon became apparent that the isolation nursery room wasn't going to hold her for long. Within 24 hours she would allow herself to be physically separated from Kirk but still became hysterical if he attempted to leave her sight. As a consequence, he had to take her wherever he went. Before they reached Starbase Three it became a common sight to see Kirk carrying on rather curtailed duties with the child in his arms or toddling along behind him.

T'Serra, surprisingly, captivated nearly everyone she came in contact with and seemed to thrive on the attention lavished upon her. As long as Kirk was in sight, she had no objections to being held and cuddled by anyone. She was a quick learner who picked up anything shown her immediately and repeated each gesture of the teacher perfectly. She wouldn't talk, but records indicated her age at 13 months and McCoy assured a worried Kirk that lack of language use wasn't unusual in a child that age.

The notable absence among T'Serra's crowd of admirers was Spock, who seemed to go out of his way to avoid any contact with her. He had shouldered most of Kirk's command responsibilities willingly enough and, when it became apparent how little time Kirk now had for him, he was more than grateful for the extra work to occupy what would normally be his off duty hours. He hadn't had a single private moment alone with Kirk since T'Serra's arrival and Spock was deeply chagrined to realize how much he resented that. His shame made him conceal his feelings from his mate and he buried himself in his work.

He was not, therefore, entirely pleased when he received a further message from Starfleet Command. He was further aggravated when he was unable to contact Kirk, even on the shipwide intercom, to pass on the message. He couldn't lower his mental barriers to locate Kirk's whereabouts without revealing his shameful emotions, so had to start searching. He chose the logical place to begin.

"Spock to McCoy."

McCoy reached across his cluttered desk and punched the intercom switch. "McCoy here."

"Doctor, are you aware of the Captain's present whereabouts?" Spock asked.

"In the nursery with T'Serra. Where else?" McCoy asked as if it were a foregone conclusion.

Silence. Then, "I see." Spock's voice sounded flatter than McCoy had ever heard it. "Would you please advise him that the child's grandparents have been contacted and will meet us at Starbase Three within one week of our arrival where a healer will aid in transferring the bond. He is to retain custody until then."

"Sure, Spock," McCoy answered, only realizing after he said it that he was talking to dead air. Spock had cut him off without awaiting an acknowledgment.

He thumbed off his own connection and fingered it absently as he stared off into space. Spock had been acting very strangely since T'Serra had been brought aboard and McCoy was becoming very concerned about him.

Shaking himself out of his reverie, McCoy left his office to deliver his message. He pushed open the door to T'Serra's improvised nursery and stood in the doorway a few minutes, just watching the two occupants at play on the floor. He took a few steps into the room as Kirk spotted him and motioned him in. The Captain rose with T'Serra in his arms and walked to the change table with McCoy following.

"You're awfully good at all this," McCoy observed as he watched Kirk deftly exchanging wet diaper for dry.

Kirk finished redressing T'Serra and placed her in her playpen. He washed his hands at a nearby sink and stood absently drying them as he finally answered McCoy's semi-question. "Plenty of experience, Bones."

McCoy's eyebrows flew, a quirk both he and Spock shared although Spock usually let his speak for him while McCoy almost always had a verbal response as well. "Does Spock know about this?"

Kirk looked thoughtful for a moment. He finished drying and tossed the towel aside. "I think I told him about it a few years ago," he supplied casually.

Kirk watched T'Serra exploring the confines of her play area before settling down to play with the toys offered. Vulcans were much more territory and space conscious than humans, he noticed. A human infant would have played with the toys first and investigated its environment only after growing bored.

It was long moments before he noticed McCoy's silence and looked over his shoulder to the doctor staring at him in utter shock.

"Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, Bones," he chided as he knelt and began stacking T'Serra's blocks, much to her vocal delight.

"If you don't have a bunch of little towheaded Kirks running around somewhere, just where did you get all this unexpected child care experience?" McCoy asked. He settled his hip against the change table, expecting a long and possibly very interesting tale.

"Nothing terribly exciting. The farms in the area where I grew up were so automated there was no need for the farmers to hire extra help. The only kind of work I could get and still stay on our farm and help out my mother was to watch kids. So I ran a babysitting service for two summers for extra money," Kirk explained.

McCoy slumped, a little disconcerted by Kirk's explanation. Somehow, he had just never thought of a teenage Kirk spending his summers in quite that way. Kirk's usual attitude to children just didn't mesh with this explanation very well either.

"Then why are you always so uneasy around kids?" he asked.

"If you spent two summers entertaining anywhere from ten to twenty kids when you were barely more than one yourself, wouldn't you be uneasy around them?" Kirk quipped.

T'Serra knocked at the tower of blocks Kirk had built and laughed in delight as it toppled over. Kirk laughed with her and reached into the pen to swing her up into his arms. Her laughter escalated to giggles as he held her above his head and rubbed his face into her little pot belly. McCoy watched this demonstration in open mouthed wonder.

"It's different with her," Kirk said on as he carried T'Serra toward the desk. "I guess it's the mental link, but there's no guessing with her, no uncertainty. I always know what she needs and wants." He sighed sadly. "Makes me wonder how Sarek could have made so many mistakes with Spock."

He sat down behind the desk and sat T'Serra on its shiny surface. Her interest was immediately caught by the computer console and she reached toward it.

"No, T'Serra," Kirk admonished.

T'Serra withdrew her hand, not without a dirty look in Kirk's direction, and began looking around for something else to occupy her curiosity. She settled for the braid on his tunic.

"More obedient than a human child too," Kirk added.

"Speaking of Spock," McCoy jumped into the opening Kirk had given him. He took the chair across from Kirk before continuing. "How's he taking all this?"

"Taking all what?" Kirk echoed, his attention finally drawn from T'Serra.

"You've been pretty tied up with T'Serra. From what I hear about 25 out of 24 hours a day," McCoy observed.

"So? Spock understands that I have to take care of her," Kirk reminded.

McCoy leaned forward wondering if this link with T'Serra was making Kirk less sensitive to his mate, or if the Captain was choosing not to see. "I mean, Spock is used to having all your free time pretty much to himself. Sure, you spend time with me and Scotty and the rest of the crew, but he knows he's always the center of your personal universe. And he certainly isn't used to sharing that special mental closeness that only he has with you."

"No, he isn't jealous," Kirk stated emphatically. "I'd feel it through the bond if he were upset."

"A little jealousy would be a very natural human reaction," McCoy pointed out defensively.

"Just because Spock loves me doesn't mean he isn't Vulcan anymore. Besides, with Vulcan's population problem, every Vulcan infant is precious to every Vulcan." Kirk's tone was becoming defensive as well and he was beginning to get that stubborn expression McCoy recognized all too well.

McCoy backed off. He wasn't sure of his facts anyway. Despite what he had observed, maybe Kirk did know better how Spock was feeling. He leaned over the desk to chuck T'Serra under the chin. She smiled and rubbed her cheek against his hand.

"Lord, she's as affectionate as a kitten," he observed.

"Aren't you the one who's always insisting Vulcans are descended from cats," Kirk quipped. He smiled to himself as he remembered the way he could make a certain Vulcan purr just like a sleek, black panther. Sudden desire for Spock swamped him, the first he'd felt since finding T'Serra. The memory of a certain night, almost three weeks ago now, drifted across his mind's eye....

Kirk had been asleep for hours when the Vulcan finally finished in the labs, but the swoosh of the door opening brought him awake. He smiled a sleepy welcome as the Vulcan moved silently toward the bed.

"'M awake," he mumbled.

Spock sat at his side, reaching out a gentle hand to stroke the sleep-tousled hair from Kirk's eyes. "I woke you," he said apologetically.

"It's okay. Come to bed," Kirk invited, sliding over and lifting the covers.

"I require cleansing," Spock said as he rose then bent to settle the covers back around his mate. "Go back to sleep."

"Wake me when you're done," Kirk insisted.

Spock nodded agreeably although he had no such intentions. Kirk required sleep and Spock would not allow his own selfish desires to interfere with that rest, even if Kirk would count the sleep well lost.

Sensing Spock's intentions, Kirk held sleep away as he listened to the sounds of the Vulcan preparing for bed. Sometimes, like tonight, these moments meant more to him than all the exciting sex they shared. Their lovemaking could be wildly thrilling, but it was the living together that often satisfied Kirk's deepest needs.

Knowing that Kirk was already awake, Spock slipped into bed and gathered his lover into a tender embrace.

"You should sleep, T'hy'la," Spock murmured.

"Later. I'll sleep later," Kirk answered in the same hushed tones.

They melted together, lips meeting in slow, lazy kisses while hands smoothed whatever flesh they could reach. Pressed close, organs trapped warmly between them, they rocked in an easy rhythm. Sure of the other's desire, secure in the other's love, neither needed to drive desperately for release but could allow it to overtake them as softly as the swell of the sea at low tide.

When the salt of two different oceans finally flowed between them, neither felt the need to draw away. His head on Spock's chest, Kirk let the rumbling purr of the Vulcan's contentment lull him to sleep....

"...Anyway, Jim, I would suggest you remember you've got a responsibility for Spock's emotional well-being as well as T'Serra's." McCoy pulled away from the tiny girl.

"Bones," Kirk began in an exasperated tone as McCoy's words quashed his mood as effectively as a cold shower.

McCoy raised a hand to quell the protest. "I know. I know. But think about it anyway."

He started to leave the room but stopped as he remembered his reason for coming in the first place. He delivered his message and left, missing the sorrowful expression that settled on Kirk's face.

After McCoy left, Kirk pulled T'Serra firmly into his arms. The gentle touch of his hand and an even gentler brush of his mind settled her agreeably against his chest. He rested his lips in her unruly hair.

"How am I gonna part with you, babydoll?" he wondered aloud.

He felt T'Serra's awareness of his mood and with a supreme effort put his gloom away from him. He pushed her out to arms' length.

"Hungry, T'Serra?" he asked unnecessarily. She was always hungry.

T'Serra nodded her head in the solemn acknowledgment Uhura had taught her the night before. Together they left the nursery for the goodies waiting in the Officer's Mess.

* * * * *

Kirk looked around the small house provided for them and decided the best thing about it was that it was free. Since he was considered still officially on duty until he no longer had to care for T'Serra, Starfleet Command would be footing the bill for this little holiday. Some holiday, Kirk thought tolerantly as he shifted the wriggling T'Serra to his other arm.

He stepped out of the way as a small army of base personnel crowded into the small hall behind him, each bearing some piece of equipment or supplies. He began directing traffic, slowly creating order out of mass chaos. Spock was the last person through the door, carrying two small cases containing his and Kirk's belongings and one very large trunk containing T'Serra's clothing and various parting gifts received from the Enterprise crew.

Kirk glanced around quickly to be sure they were alone, then leaned over T'Serra's head intending to offer a compensatory kiss for his laboring mate. Spock pulled away and Kirk looked around again, wondering if he had overlooked someone. There was no one. Puzzled by Spock's withdrawal, but accepting the Vulcan's obsession with privacy, he shrugged it off.

"Why don't you just drop that stuff in the extra bedroom," Kirk suggested. "I'll sort it out when some of these bodies have vacated the premises and it's safe to put T'Serra down."

"What extra bedroom?" Spock asked as he set his burdens on the floor.

"Right through there," Kirk clarified with a pointing finger.

"This is a two bedroom accommodation," Spock pointed out. "If you and I share one and T'Serra occupies the other, there is no extra bedroom."

"You don't expect me to put T'Serra in another room?" Kirk asked incredulously. "I'd never get any sleep. I'd be afraid she'd need me and I wouldn't hear her."

Spock didn't intend for Kirk to get much sleep on this leave, but his plans did not call for the presence of a very small being in their bedroom.

"You have a mental link with T'Serra. If the child requires you, you can be certain you will know," Spock pointed out reasonably.

Kirk's face lost its mutinous expression. "You're right. Go ahead and put the case in that room and I'll have them move the crib."

Spock's feeling of pleasure over the small victory faded quickly as the base personnel finally cleared out of the small house. Kirk spent the rest of the morning exploring the tiny house with T'Serra, gravely explaining each new discovery. Spock consoled himself with the thought that when T'Serra took her usual two hour nap in the afternoon, he and Kirk would finally have some time alone. Another little curl of resentment was added to the swirling mass already inside him shortly after T'Serra drifted off to sleep when Kirk discovered the quartermaster had not provided the food he had requested for T'Serra. Not wanting to leave the sleeping child, Kirk asked Spock to go and correct the error. By the time he returned, T'Serra had wakened from her nap and Kirk's attention was once again monopolized as he and T'Serra ventured into the small enclosed backyard.

Spock watched from the window, jealousy battling for domination over his intellect. He knew very well that Kirk had to care for T'Serra and as a Vulcan was grateful that the human was doing so. What he could not understand was why Kirk seemed so totally oblivious to everything but the child. For the time being his intellect won out. He went to their bedroom and unpacked their cases. He sat on the bed, smoothing the coverlet and allowing himself to anticipate the night to come when T'Serra would be safely in her own bed in her own room and Kirk would be all his.

* * * * *

Spock watched silently as Kirk slowly shrugged out of his clothing. He winced internally as each article of clothing hit the floor as Kirk made his way to the shower. He thought he had broken the human of his untidy shore leave habits. It annoyed him, but he held his peace for now. He was much too anxious to once again share a bed, among other things, with his mate, to let such a minor annoyance cause an argument.

Kirk emerged from the shower and climbed into bed, his eyes closing as his body relaxed. A soft sigh of relief escaped his lips as he sank into the yielding mattress.

Expectantly, Spock waited for Kirk to turn to him. Instead he heard the human's breathing begin to settle into the slow rhythms of sleep.

"Jim," Spock broke into that steady rhythm.

"Uhm," Kirk murmured only half awake.

"Are you going to sleep?" Spock asked suspiciously. This in no way resembled Kirk's usual shore leave attitude.

"No. I'm already asleep," Kirk mumbled, throwing an arm across his face.

The murmured words sent a tingle travelling along Spock's spine straight to his groin. This was Kirk's way of indicating he wanted Spock to be aggressive and dominant tonight. The request couldn't have matched Spock's mood better.

Spock rolled onto his side and pulled the unresisting body close. He sought Kirk's mouth in the dark but found himself kissing the back of a muscled arm. That arm pushed at him as he attempted to find his way around it.

"Not tonight, Spock," Kirk refused as he tried to pull away.

A small burst of annoyance filtered through Spock's arousal. His desire tonight was urgent and he was really in no mood for these games. He suppressed his annoyance as he pressed Kirk back into the mattress, using his weight and strength to immobilize the human, knowing how much that excited Kirk.

Instead of melting into the Vulcan's arms, Kirk began to struggle in earnest. "I mean it, Spock. Not tonight," he protested in an angry whisper.

Belatedly realizing this was no game, Spock pulled back, attempting to see his lover's face in the dark. "Why?"

Kirk continued to push until Spock moved off him. "We might wake T'Serra."

"The child is two rooms away," Spock protested. He was mightily confused, and more than a bit frustrated.

"We still might wake her," Kirk insisted. "Besides, all I'm interested in is some sleep. That little beggar is running my butt off."

Spock's hand caressed down Kirk's side, coming to rest on the aforementioned anatomy. "It seems quite delectably intact to me," he assured, squeezing the firm globes.

"I mean it, Spock," Kirk warned, his voice revealing his anger loud and clear even in a whisper.

Spock pulled away abruptly and turned his back. He concentrated hard on suppressing his arousal as well as his anger. He felt ashamed of both emotions now that Kirk had rejected his overtures. He usually only became this angry when Kirk foolishly risked his own life and it certainly wasn't the first time Kirk had been too tired to make love. Much of the anger was due to Kirk's excuse, Spock realized, and he felt further shame as resentment of T'Serra also crowded in. Slowly he struggled to place the warring emotions under control and half turned to offer his apologies. It was an unvoiced agreement between them that they never went to sleep angry.

The sight of Kirk curled on his side and sound asleep brought all the anger flooding back. Spock turned his back again and reinforced the shields he'd raised until his awareness of Kirk was barely a flicker. Bitterly he knew Kirk was so wrapped up with T'Serra he wouldn't even notice Spock's withdrawal.

* * * * *

The next day, Spock woke to the pleasant sensation of butterfly kisses fluttering across his face until the mouth bestowing them came to one pointed ear and settled there, skillfully sucking on the lobe. Last night's anger was forgotten as Spock drew the sleep-warm body into his arms, arousal stirring as Kirk's hard organ snuggled up against his thigh. He turned his head, pulling his ear from the suckling lips, but offering his lips in compensation. His offer was greedily accepted, a demanding tongue thrusting through his unresisting lips to caress his own.

"Ghods, you taste good," Kirk murmured as he dragged his mouth away.

Spock pulled the succulent lips back down to his and eased Kirk's body over onto him. He arched his hips, rubbing their trapped organs between them. Kirk pushed back, rolling with Spock's thrusts and counterpointing with thrusts of his own.

Spock revelled in the contact, fingers reaching for the meld points, when Kirk abruptly stiffened. Before Spock could secure a grip, Kirk had pulled away and was climbing off the bed.

"Jim, what is wrong?" Spock half questioned, half protested.

"T'Serra's awake," Kirk explained perfunctorily as he grabbed his robe and hurried out of the room.

The abrupt departure left Spock so surprised he couldn't even feel angry. Only as arousal and shock faded did that overpowering emotion take possession of him, almost propelling him out of the bed and after Kirk. Trembling, Spock pulled himself out of the bed and almost staggered to the shower.

By the time he emerged from the bedroom, neatly attired in his uniform, Spock had managed to contain his seething emotions behind a facade as cool and serene as any Vulcan could have wished for.

Kirk looked up as Spock entered the room. "I'm sorry," he apologized sheepishly. He really did feel terrible for leaving Spock as he had, but had been unable to stop himself as soon as he had felt T'Serra awaken.

Spock let his gaze wander coolly from Kirk to where T'Serra sat in her highchair. He watched dispassionately as Kirk offered another spoon of breakfast to the child.

"Do not concern yourself, Jim. As a Vulcan it is gratifying to me that you take your duty for a child of my race so seriously."

Kirk's expression became outraged. "Duty? Do you think I'm taking care of her for duty? Ghod, Spock, can't you feel how much I love her?"

Quite suddenly a entirely different perspective on the situation opened up to Spock. Perhaps his resentment of T'Serra was totally misplaced. It was not the child who demanded Kirk's attention, but Kirk who wished to be with her every waking moment. He would have to follow this train of thought to whatever logical conclusion presented itself.

"I am going to the base and then back to the ship. I must oversee the intended changes to the computer programming," he finally said.

Kirk looked disappointed and Spock took some consolation in that. "I forgot about that. Try not to be late," he asked.

Spock's heart quickened at the request but fell to its normal cadence as Kirk finished the thought. "If you wake T'Serra when you come in, I'll be up all night with her."

Spock turned on his heel and stalked to the door. "I will return when duty permits," he stated coldly.

* * * * *

Spock returned to the little house well after T'Serra's bedtime. He found Kirk stretched out on the couch, sound asleep. He knelt beside the sleeping figure and shook the broad shoulder.

"Jim, wake up."

Kirk came groggily awake. "Huh? Spock?"

"Why are you sleeping out here?" Spock asked as he helped Kirk sit up and then on to his feet.

"I wasn't sure if you'd taken your key and I couldn't get through to you all day," Kirk explained as they made their way to the bedroom.

Spock felt a slight twinge of guilt at his avoidance of the calls Kirk had attempted to make. He had needed the time with his own thoughts desperately. He still didn't understand what was happening to Kirk, but hoped he now had himself under enough control to at least talk about it.

Kirk slumped on the bed and made a half hearted attempt at removing his boots. He flopped back on the bed, leaving the stubborn footwear half on, half off.

"I'm even too tired to shower," he apologized.

Spock knelt and finished removing the boots, then proceeded to divest Kirk of the rest of his clothing. He arranged the limp body on Kirk's side of the bed.

Kirk sighed in appreciation of the soft bed. "I will never ever refer to someone as just a mother again. I'm exhausted."

Spock finished discarding his own clothing and climbed into his own side of the bed. "Would you like a backrub?" he asked.

"I'd love it, but I don't think I've got the energy to turn over," Kirk groaned.

Obligingly, Spock eased his lover over and began to massage the tired back and shoulder muscles.

"I hadn't realized all the help everyone on the ship gave me in taking care of her," Kirk mumbled into the pillow.

A further stab of guilt caught at Spock. He really hadn't been needed on the ship. The changes and additions being made to the computer were routine and could have been overseen by anyone of his department. He had given in to his anger and had simply wished to distance himself from the entire situation.

"I will not be required on the ship again before T'Serra's grandparents arrive. I can assist you," he offered.

"Mmmm, thanks," Kirk muttered, rousing himself slightly, he tried to look over his shoulder, but gave up the effort as tired muscles protested.

"I got a call from the base today. I have to attend a briefing regarding our next mission tomorrow," he said.

Spock's hands continued to move in relaxing rhythms. He was aware of Kirk's appointment for the next day, but made no comment.

"It's at 2:00 o'clock which is when T'Serra takes her nap. Would you mind looking after her for me?" Kirk asked. "She'll probably sleep."

Spock felt the increased tension in the muscles under his hands and realized Kirk expected him to refuse. A third stab of the annoying guilt insinuated itself. His bondmate was supposed to be able to ask anything of him.

"Yes, of course," he agreed and felt Kirk relax into the yielding mattress once more.

At least he and Jim seemed to be communicating tonight. Perhaps now would be a good time to attempt to discuss their problems.

"Jim, I wish to talk to you, if you are not too tired," Spock began. Taking silence for assent, he went on. "I find myself attempting to deal with emotions that are foreign to me. I cannot help but feel...resentment for T'Serra."

Spock looked down to see how Kirk was taking that part of his confession and froze. Kirk was sound asleep. With a resigned sigh, Spock lay down and stared at the ceiling most of the night.

* * * * *

Spock looked up from his computer terminal as Kirk entered the livingroom.

"Alright, she's asleep, so I'm going to get going. The briefing is set for 2:00 and I shouldn't be more than an hour." Kirk smoothed his tunic and gathered up the tapes he had to take with him.

"Don't forget to give her a few minutes when she first wakes up before you change her or you'll just have to change her again." He put the tapes in a carrying case.

"There's a glass of juice already made up on the counter. If she's hungry, there's crackers and cookies in the cupboard, but it would probably be better if you could get her to take the crackers instead of the cookies. I'll be home in time to feed her," Kirk continued.

"Jim," Spock cut across the babble of instructions. He waited until he had Kirk's full attention, or at least as much of it as he ever seemed to get anymore. "Firstly, you have left a list of instructions consisting of 23 items. I have reviewed all of the items." Spock didn't add that he considered many of them an insult to his intelligence. "And I am quite capable of remembering. Secondly, I am more than capable of requesting assistance from Dr. McCoy should I encounter a situation for which you have not left instructions. And, thirdly, T'Serra normally takes a two hour nap and you expect to be gone for only an hour. Undoubtedly I will never have to touch her."

Kirk listened to the speech, hearing the barely contained impatience beneath the cool tone. He cocked his head to one side. "Is there something wrong, Spock?" he asked.

"Go to your briefing, Jim," Spock insisted with barely restrained impatience.

Not understanding, but knowing Spock was angry, Kirk made one last attempt. "Are you sure you'll be alright."

"I am neither an incompetent nor a fool. I am capable of directing the smooth operations of an entire starship. I believe I can care for one sleeping child for one hour." Spock was almost, but not quite, shouting now.

Kirk raised his hands. "Alright, I get your point, and I'm sorry. I'll see you in an hour."

Spock glared at his terminal as Kirk left the house. He was angry at Kirk for his actions, angry at T'Serra for her intrusion into their lives, and, most of all, angry with himself for being angry.

* * * * *

Kirk pushed open the door to the little house and sighed with relief as silence greeted him. The briefing had lasted almost two hours longer than expected and, though he could sense no disturbance in the link, he'd nevertheless been anxious to get home.

Dropping his tape case on the first chair he came to, he hurried into the kitchen. T'Serra squealed in delight as she spotted him, but made no effort to leave her comfortable perch on Spock's lap. Kirk smiled at the sight of his bondmate holding the child quite naturally. The smile faded as Spock also became aware of his presence. The Vulcan rose immediately, crossed to where Kirk stood and almost thrust T'Serra into his arms.

"Spock, is something wrong? Did something happen?" he asked as Spock attempted to brush past him.

"No. She slept the expected two hours. I waited the indicated five minutes after she woke before changing her. I have provided her with liquid refreshment. She did not indicate a requirement for further sustenance," Spock reported as if he stood on the bridge of the Enterprise.

"Uh, well, that's good," Kirk muttered. Once again he stepped in the way as Spock tried to go by. He gave the Vulcan a searching look but could not decipher the closed expression. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong?"

"Why are you questioning me in this manner?" Spock asked, drawing all the intimidating dignity of Vulcan around him.

Actually the afternoon had gone very well and Spock had actually been enjoying himself. But turning at T'Serra's cry to find Kirk smiling so fondly at the child had sent a resurgence of all his ugly jealousy through him. Now, he simply wanted to escape before another argument erupted between them.

"I thought you were going to help me with her today," Kirk reminded.

"Is there some task you wish me to perform?" Spock again answered with a question.

"No. But I didn't expect you to practically throw her at me as if she had the plague either," Kirk complained.

"When I offered my aid, I meant I would relieve you of the mechanics of preparing meals, etc. I have no desire to care for her personally." Spock's voice was growing colder and colder with each sentence he spoke. Kirk's bewilderment only infuriated him further as it indicated Kirk was obviously still unaware of the shields Spock was maintaining.

"What the hell has gotten into you?" Kirk grated, his own too ready temper flaring. Like any doting parent he couldn't understand anyone being immune to T'Serra's charms. He especially resented Spock's indifference to her, wanting so much to share the pleasure she gave him.

Spock finally succeeded in pushing past Kirk. Although he had originally intended to go back to his interrupted work, he now found himself stalking toward the door. Mental distance was no longer enough, he had to put some physical distance between them and meditate.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" Kirk was shouting now.

Spock spun around. "Since you have been oblivious to my presence unless it is in direct relationship to that child for the past 3.7 weeks, I am going out."

Kirk stared at the closed door for a full minute, the crash of its closing still ringing in his ears. A tentative touch on his face reminded him of the child he still held and he tried to smoother his pain and confusion for her sake. Sadly he realized McCoy had been right all along, Spock was jealous. And he had been too blind and too pre-occupied to realize it.

Distantly he realized he hadn't had an opportunity to tell Spock that T'Serra's grandparents would be arriving in the morning. The sorrow echoed through him again, amplified and magnified by the rift he now felt with Spock. He reached for Spock through the bond and ran into the unyielding shields. Guiltily he wondered how long they had been there without his even realizing it.

He wandered into the living room, setting T'Serra on the floor when she struggled to be free. He watched her from the chair, still feeling a distinct swelling of pleasure as her curiosity propelled her from object to object around the room. Curious as a cat, he thought fondly, just like Spock. The thought riveted him in its utter simplicity. He shook his head, disgusted with his own blindness. He only hoped it wasn't too late and that he hadn't driven Spock away from him completely.

* * * * *

Spock went directly to starbase headquarters and sought out one of the private cubicles in the personnel areas. He locked the door behind him and, ignoring the comfortable furniture provided, sank to his knees, his fingers steepled. He ran through the relaxation exercises, letting them sweep away his troubling emotions until he could regain enough tranquility to deal with them rationally.

He flowed into the second level exercises and then into the third. He settled quietly until the peace pervaded his mind, tempting him to remain in this protected state. Finally he allowed the memories of the past weeks to emerge, running through his mind like data across a computer screen. In this detached state he could hold each action and reaction up to the light of reason and analyze them almost impersonally.

Mercilessly he reviewed his own actions, words and feelings. He felt shame for the negative emotions he had allowed himself to feel, but in this place where he could not longer hide from himself he accepted them as a part of himself. They existed. He could control them, but not eliminate them. To deny their existence was not only illogical but an invitation to madness itself. He was not blameless, only predictable. All his emotional security rested in his relationship with Kirk, thus it was not unreasonable for him to feel threatened by T'Serra's presence.

He turned now to the unexpected and here he judged much less harshly. He had never thought Kirk cherished a secret longing for fatherhood. He had no idea what dark corner of his mind Kirk had hidden it in, perhaps even from himself, for they had been joined in melds so profound Spock had been sure there was no thought either had ever had that the other did not know. Obviously, he had been wrong. Only such a secret longing could explain Kirk's obsession with T'Serra. Kirk was shielded against the emotional emanations of the child so the profound love and desperate sorrow could only be Kirk's own.

Spock slowly brought himself up through the layers of his own meditation relaxed mind, somehow unsurprised to feel the moist tracks of tears upon his face. Again he absolved himself for his unVulcan behavior. Grief was a natural reaction to the decision he had made. That that decision would undoubtedly cost him the happiness he had so recently grown to appreciate, he did not doubt; but that it was the only one he could make, he was equally certain.

Feeling old and tired beyond the span of a dozen Vulcan lifetimes, he left his self-imposed isolation. He turned his steps toward his temporary home, preparing himself for what, for him, would be emotional suicide.

* * * * *

Kirk stood beside the crib, watching the gentle rise and fall of T'Serra's chest as she slept. His gaze moved to her face, becoming almost a caress as he imprinted the tiny features upon his mind. He smiled slightly as some baby dream chased itself in fleeting expressions across her face. A small sigh escaped her lips as she curled onto her side, a small fist brushing her check.

A heavier, sadder sigh was echoed back to the sleeping child as Kirk let his mind wander to tomorrow and handing this beautiful devil over to beings who would discipline those fleeting expressions out of even her sleeping face.

His concentration was so absorbed in the child, he didn't hear Spock as the Vulcan entered the room. He started as one long fingered hand settled on his shoulder.

They stood quietly for long moments while Spock tried to force his decision into words. He opened his mouth to speak twice, but his throat closed over the offer, sealing it inside him.

"Jim," Spock finally managed. "I will release you if that is what you want."

Kirk turned toward him, his attention not yet fully drawn from T'Serra. "Release me?" he echoed. "From what?"

"From our bond," Spock explained, the words resounding through his mind like a death knell.

Kirk glanced down at the child, then back at Spock. He took hold of one blue clad arm and steered Spock from the room. "Come out here. It's about time you and I began communicating again."

Once in the living room, Kirk led Spock to the sofa and then sat beside him, his grip sliding down until he held Spock's hand. "Now, would you care to explain what it is you're talking about?"

"The question is simple, Jim. Do you wish to terminate our relationship?" Spock asked.

The fear Kirk had felt that afternoon resurfaced with almost paralyzing force. "Terminate our relationship? What ever gave you an idea like that?"

Spock pulled away and stood up. He turned and paced a few steps, unwilling for Kirk to see his pain. "It has become apparent to me that T'Serra has stirred in you a desire for children. With me you can never have children of your own. It is only logical, therefore, that I release you from our sterile union."

Kirk starred at the tight back, letting the words sink into his mind, understanding them and their source before he rejected them.

"It's not like you to draw conclusions without adequate data, Mr. Spock," he finally observed.

"I have more than ample data. Your love for T'Serra is...obvious. Your sorrow at having her taken from you is...palpable," Spock concluded. His head dropped to his chest as he admitted to defeat. There was nothing he could offer that could compensate for the lack except to set Kirk free.

He jumped in surprise as Kirk's hands settled on his shoulders and began to massage the tight muscles. He felt the light brush of Kirk's mind, but refused to lower his shields. Too much pain resided behind those sturdy walls to inflict upon his mate.

After a moment, Kirk's hands slid down the rigid back and around Spock's slim waist. He hugged hard. "Sometimes it amazes me how someone so smart can be so dumb."

Spock stiffened and tried to pull away, but Kirk wasn't allowing it. He held tightly until Spock gave in and settled against him. Only then did he release his grip and pull the now unresisting Vulcan back to the couch.

Kirk stood over him, studying the hang-dog expression. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. His emotions were crying for some outlet, but now was obviously not the time. He chose a calm and rational approach.

"Spock, you're ignoring one very important fact. I have a child," he pointed out.

Spock shook his head as if to dismiss the words. "The situation with David is... not the same."

Kirk sat down, gathering up Spock's hands and holding tight. "You're right, Spock, it isn't the same. Carol sends me a picture and a tape every once in a while and that's all I ever get to see of my son. But, think about it, Spock, if I really wanted a child of my own that badly, would I let her get away with that. Legally, I have as much right to David as she does," he pointed out.

"But T'Serra," Spock began to protest.

"Was kind of dumped in my lap, wasn't she?" Kirk finished the sentence.

Spock pulled away, angry at Kirk's attempted deception. "You cannot tell me you do not love her. I have felt your emotions through the bond."

"I'm not saying I don't love her. I do. There is absolutely nothing about that child that isn't loveable and the mental link guarantees it anyway. But can't you think of any other reason I might find myself feeling so strongly about her," Kirk prodded.

Spock just shook his head silently.

"I only realized it myself after you left this afternoon. She's half human, half Vulcan. Sound like anyone we know?" Kirk asked with a gentle smile.

Again Spock shook his head. He could easily follow where Kirk was leading, but refused to do so. The decision to free Kirk had cost him so much and, although it was the last thing he wanted, he perversely held onto it.

Kirk sighed in exasperation. "I guess to me she's you." He tightened his grip as Spock tried to pull away and quelled the Vulcan's building protest with a look. "She is. She's all the things I'll bet you were at that age, happy and outgoing and curious. All the beautiful things you were before your father and Vulcan decided you couldn't be both Vulcan and human but had to be one or the other. They tried to strangle all that out of you and when I think of the pain they caused you, it makes me see red."

He paused for breath and to study Spock's face. The expression of total absorption encouraged him to go on. "You say you can feel my sorrow. It's true, I do feel very sad. But if it were T'Serra's maternal grandparents coming to get her tomorrow, I doubt I'd feel this way. I just hate to hand her over to people I know are going to hurt her the same way you were hurt."

"That is the source of the anger I have also felt from you?" Spock asked hesitantly.

"Of course. You thought I was angry with you because you couldn't give me a child?" Kirk asked. His hand moved to ruffle Spock's hair as the Vulcan nodded. "So foolish," he murmured, drawing Spock into his arms.

Spock held his lover tightly, letting his fears seep into a dark corner of his mind. Eventually he pulled away, reaching to trace Kirk's anxious features.

"I wish I could offer you some consolation for your fear. I do not know T'Serra's grandparents and am, therefore, unable to assure that they will not make the same decisions for her that were made for me."

"I know, Spock. I also know there's not a damn thing I can do about it," Kirk flashed a self-conscious grin. "And you know how well I deal with helplessness."

"Indeed," Spock agreed.

Kirk leaned back against the arm of the sofa, drawing Spock with him to lie against his chest. He sighed contentedly as hot hands burrowed under his shirt and pressed against his back.

"Spock," he murmured after letting them both bask in their shared warmth. "Did you really believe what you said about our union being sterile?"

"Only in the strictest interpretation of the word, Jim. To me, the love and joy we share is anything but sterile," Spock paused, still uncomfortable with such declarations. "Undoubtedly I chose the word because...."

"You were hurt," Kirk interjected. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let myself get so wrapped up that I didn't see what was happening." He smoothed the dark head absently until a sudden thought arrested his hand in mid-motion. He sat up abruptly, hands moving to clutch Spock's shoulders and hold him away.

"I thought the bond was supposed the prevent this sort of thing from happening. Is there something wrong with our bond?" he asked urgently.

"No, Jim," Spock assured, lowering his eyes in shame. "You could not feel my emotions because I have been shielding them from you. I felt resentment of T'Serra for all your time that she took from me. Then the first night we arrived here you...."

"Rejected you," Kirk finished sadly. "He pulled the Vulcan to him. "Oh, love, I'm so sorry."

"It was insensitive of me to make such demands of you," Spock demurred.

"Demands?" Kirk repeated. "Since when is wanting to make love with me a demand. Do you still want to now?"

"It is totally unVulcan of me to admit, but yes. Now, Jim, and always," Spock confessed.

Kirk stood and pulled Spock to his feet. He began to back toward the hall and their bedroom, tugging the Vulcan with him. "This seems like a very good time, don't you think?"

Spock stopped at the door of their room, becoming an immovable object despite Kirk's efforts to draw him further along. "Do you not fear waking T'Serra?"

"Well," Kirk drawled, deciding to use a little irresistible force on his immovable object, he drew close, sliding his body against Spock's in one long caress from shoulders to knees. "My biggest worry was all the noise I make." He licked his full lips slowly, knowing Spock's gaze was riveted on the sight. "Think you can come up with something to keep my mouth too busy to yell?"

Any number of completely delectable solutions to the problem presented themselves to Spock. A picture being worth a thousand words and a demonstration a hundred times more valuable, he lowered his mouth to capture the troublesome piece of anatomy. Through the newly opened bond he promised that not a sound would pass Kirk's lips.

* * * * *

The next morning Kirk, Spock and T'Serra sat in a clinical waiting room inside the base's hospital facilities. Kirk held T'Serra on his lap trying to still her restless wriggling and engage her attention with the toys he had brought. He was meeting with little success. She had been ill-tempered and cross ever since waking that morning. At first Kirk was concerned she was coming down with something, but soon realized it was his own emotions, even shielded, that were affecting the child.

Fretfully, T'Serra pushed the stuffed toy Kirk was offering to the floor and twisted in his grip, trying to get to the floor. Spock leaned over to retrieve the toy for perhaps the fifth time and offered it, but Kirk waved it away. The Captain rose with T'Serra in his arms and began to pace the confines of the small room. It didn't help much, but at least T'Serra quieted while he was moving. There was no reason not to put her down, except that he couldn't bear to let go of her.

"They're late," Kirk finally commented sourly.

Fully open and aware of his mate's feelings now, Spock simply nodded in agreement.

"I wish they would get here and yet I wish they weren't ever coming," Kirk admitted his conflicting emotions.

"I know." Spock rose to stand near them, wishing there was some comfort he could offer.

"I'm glad things are straightened out between us. I don't think I could handle this without you," Kirk confessed.

"I am pleased also, Jim," Spock agreed. He would have said more, but at that moment the three Vulcans they were expecting entered the small room.

Kirk faced them squarely, unaware of how tightly he was squeezing T'Serra until she squeaked in protest. He loosened his grip, but the baby only snuggled closer, throwing small arms around his neck while she peered at the newcomers fearfully.

His feelings were bleeding over again, Kirk realized, and it wasn't right. T'Serra was never afraid of anyone. Perhaps he was causing as much harm as he feared these Vulcans were going to do.

He stepped forward. "Healer Shalet?" he asked.

"Yes. This is Saven and T'Mar. You are Captain Kirk?" the healer asked.

Kirk nodded in greeting. "Yes. This is T'Serra." The baby turned her face into his shoulder. Automatically his hand moved to cup the back of her head in an unconscious, soothing caress.

"She is well?" T'Mar asked as if she couldn't stop the words.

Kirk's gaze turned to the woman, trying to put his bias aside and judge fairly. "She's had quite a few upsets in a short time." Kirk struggled to explain without sounding overly emotional.

"That she has even survived the traumas she has endured is a testament of her strength and will to survive." Saven filled in the awkward pause Kirk had left.

A logical, emotion free statement, and yet Kirk would swear he could hear pride in the man's voice. He relaxed just a little, feeling an echoing response in the grip around his neck. He could feel Spock's quiet support within the bond and knew his mate would remain unobtrusive but ready to help in any way possible.

"The procedures can be effected more readily in the treatment room where there is no possibility of interruption," Shalet advised. Without waiting for agreement, he lead the way to the treatment room as if simply expecting that the others would naturally follow his orders.

Kirk knew better than to take offense at the healer's seeming coldness. By the very nature of his profession, a healer must remain aloof. He followed the Vulcan as Spock stepped up beside him, leaving the other two to bring up the rear. He felt T'Serra lift her head and turned his own to watch her expression. Her solemn eyes fixed on Saven and T'Mar and, when he sat down in the chair offered to him, T'Serra wriggled around so she could study these newcomers. Almost by instinct she ignored Shalet in favor of a serious perusal of her grandparents.

Shalet motioned Saven and T'Mar to sit in chairs on either side of Kirk.

"Captain. You have been informed of the procedures we are about to undertake," Shalet asked in the tone of a statement.

"Yes," Kirk agreed. He felt hemmed in with the Vulcans all around him. Only the steadying presence of Spock in his mind and at his back kept him from fidgeting uncomfortably in his chair.

"Do you have any questions?" Saven asked.

"I...." Kirk cut himself off and drew a deep breath before shaking his head.

"Then we will proceed," Shalet stated, one hand reaching to Kirk's face, the other to T'Serra's.

Without conscious volition, Kirk's mental shields slammed into place as he instinctively sought to protect the link the healer was threatening.

"A moment, please, healer."

At first Kirk thought it must be Spock speaking, trying to forestall the meld until Kirk had regained control of himself, but as control returned, Kirk realized the speaker was Saven. The healer's hands moved away as the older Vulcan addressed Kirk.

"You have concerns, Captain?" Saven asked.

Kirk barely bit his tongue over the words he wanted to say. Only the knowledge that his feelings had no bearing on the matter, could, in fact, make it all the worse, kept him mute. Again he shook his head silently.

T'Mar leaned toward him, a hand raised, and for a moment Kirk thought she was actually going to touch him. Her hand fell short, coming to rest on the arm of his chair.

"You have done us a great service, Captain, and we owe you much. Without your love and care T'Serra would have perished. Without you, the one living link remaining with our son and our daughter would be gone. We do not wish to repay such kindness by causing you such mental anguish," T'Mar assured him.

"We do not wish to cause you embarrassment, but your trepidation is quite apparent," Saven added.

Kirk felt himself blush in embarrassment. He knew his expressions were often easily read, but these people weren't reading his face, but his emotional aura. A quick glance at Spock's wry expression and the healer's almost pained one confirmed he was broadcasting loud and clear. But Saven and T'Mar's subtle expressions reveled no disdain for his lack of control, only a true concern.

Unconsciously, Kirk drew T'Serra closer, his hand once again covering the small head as if to protect her from the unwanted mental intrusion.

"I've just grown very attached to her. It's hard to let her go, and," he paused then decided since he already looked like an overemotional fool and these people weren't turning out to be exactly what he thought, he might as well jump in with both feet. "I'm concerned about her future."

"We have stated that we will take responsibility for her now," T'Mar reminded.

Again Kirk's eyes turned to Spock, trying to find the words to explain.

"Healer, will you leave us," Saven requested suddenly.

Without protest, the healer left.

"Commander Spock, if you would join us," Saven indicated a fourth chair in their circle.

When Spock was seated, Saven and T'Mar exchanged a look of mutual understanding and Saven gave a slight nod.

"I believe we now understand where your concerns lie, Captain," T'Mar began. "You and Commander Spock are bonded and as such you are fully aware of his life and the choices made for him as a child. You fear that we will make these same choices for T'Serra and raise her as Vulcan only, allowing her no expression of the part of her that is human."

"I... yes," Kirk stammered.

"It was my son's intention that T'Serra be taught both Vulcan and human tradition and that she be allowed to develop in whatever path appeared most beneficial to her. We intend to see that Somar's wishes are carried out," T'Mar assured.

"But you don't agree with them?" Kirk stated although not as strongly as he would have only half an hour before.

"On the contrary, Captain, we quite agree. T'Serra is neither human, nor Vulcan, but both. She must be raised as such," Saven said.

"How can you when you're both...." Kirk trailed off in embarrassment.

"We have already contacted T'Serra's maternal grandparents who have agreed to travel to Vulcan as soon as possible. If the child is amenable to both climates, it has been tentatively planned that she will spend time on both Terra and Vulcan," T'Mar revealed.

With the relieving of his worst fears, Kirk felt himself relax. He was still sad to lose T'Serra himself, but now the desperate fear was gone.

Another of those silent moments of communication passed between the elder bondmates.

"We had also thought to ask you, as her chosen Ommi, if you would consent to allow the mind link to remain. We understand that such contact is unusual for humans, but your relationship with Commander Spock does indicate you do not have any irrational fear of such contact."

"Is that possible? I thought our link would have to be broken or she wouldn't accept either of you," Kirk exclaimed.

"No, we are her grandparents and once a meld is initiated she will understand this and the link will form naturally. The link with you need only be muted," Saven explained.

Kirk ran gentle fingers through T'Serra's soft hair. "That's very kind of you," he murmured. He was tempted to jump at the offer to hold onto whatever relationship he could have with her, but stopped the agreement on his lips. This was something he and Spock would have to agree upon together.

"It would be for T'Serra's benefit as well, Captain," Saven assured. "And as it would indicate a familial relationship, it would also allow us to make a request of Commander Spock."

A rather subtle way for a Vulcan to make a request, but Spock nodded for the other to continue.

"You are aware, as very few others can be, of the special circumstances and difficulties T'Serra will face. Your advice to us and aid to her would be invaluable. Whenever it is convenient for you to do so, of course." Saven couched his request in the most diplomatic terms possible.

It took Spock only a few moments to come to a decision and even less time for the meeting of gazes with Kirk to confirm it. "I would be honored to offer whatever assistance I may."

"May I recall the healer now?" Saven asked.

Kirk sighed softly, pulling T'Serra close and bestowing one last gentle hug and kiss. Unembarrassed by his emotional display, Kirk looked from face to face before nodding solemnly in agreement. Yes, now he was ready.

* * * * *

Spock stood in the doorway of the living room of the small house watching his mate sit in the dark. The bond was flowing freely between them and he was fully aware of Kirk's mood. But, after being emerged in Vulcan ways and manners all day, Spock sensed what Kirk needed was more human interaction. He crossed the room silently and sank to his knees beside the still figure. He gathered the tense hands into his own warm grip and squeezed gently.

"Are you alright," he asked.

"Can't you tell?" Kirk asked, amusement coloring his voice just a little.

Spock struggled to make out Kirk's expression in the dim lighting. "Are you alright?" he repeated.

Kirk chuckled quietly. He pulled one of his hands free and reached out to stroke the soft hair. "I'm fine," he assured.

"Then why do you sit alone in the dark?" Spock pursued.

"Mostly because I conned you into doing the dishes," Kirk tried to joke.

Spock wasn't buying the bravado tonight. He remained silent and still, waiting for the facade to fall.

Kirk sighed heavily. "It feels so empty here now. I can still sense her a little." He moved his hand from Spock's hair to his own temple. "I think it's known as empty nest syndrome."

"It is time we went home, Jim," Spock stated in a tone of finality. He stood and drew Kirk to his feet.

"Now?!" Kirk exclaimed. "What about packing and...."

"Now," Spock insisted as he drew the startled human into his arms and kissed him thoroughly.

"I wish to make love to you in our own bed," he declared passionately when he released his prize. "I wish to sleep with you in my arms in our own bed." He placed another searing kiss on willing lips. "I wish to go home," he finished.

Kirk leaned heavily into the strong embrace and laid his head on the warm shoulder. Home for him would always be where this special being was. Nevertheless, he agreed, "Yes, my love, it’s time we went home."

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