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The first officer of the Enterprise, waited for the door to close on the long range shuttle before turning to the helm of the small ship. Spock requested clearance to leave the Starbase docking bay and was informed there would be a delay while current shuttle traffic cleared.

Ignoring a twinge of irritation, Spock settled back in his chair, luxuriating in the silence that surrounded him. No chattering Humans with their unshielded emotions intruding on his mind. No bothersome McCoy determined to keep a constant check on any lingering effects of the spores on his Vulcan physiology. And with a single flicker of guilt, the Vulcan included Kirk recently as being one of the most bothersome of Humans.

For the last fifteen point six days, coinciding with the completion of the mission on Omicron Ceti III, the captain had been of a single-minded intention to place himself in Spock's path. Either he was endeavoring to assist Spock with the tremendous amount of administrative duties that a first officer routinely handled, or he was constantly attempting to entertain him with various Human games of skill and chance or entice him with delicacies of Vulcan cuisine. Most of the latter were so poorly flavored that Spock found them practically inedible. Yet, out of courtesy, he would try to consume the offerings. Twice now, the food had been so undigestible that he had regurgitated the contents of his stomach as soon as he was safe in his quarters.

Fortuitously, for the next ten days, Spock would be on his own, attending and presenting a lecture at a computer conference on the technologically advanced planet of Mocaiv. He had been developing his presentation for the last three point nine months in his rare moments of free time. Communicating on the technical and mathematical level of the attendants at the conference would be a welcome respite. Due to the Enterprise routine maintenance schedule, Spock would have forty-eight hours after the conference before his scheduled departure from Mocaiv. The Vulcan intended to utilize the time in deep meditation, reconciling his disturbingly Human behavior and the emotions that he had experienced on Omicron Ceti III. Here in the cloak of silence surrounding him, he did not repress his anticipation of the time away from all distractions, knowing the peace and calm would help him reinforce his shields and Vulcan poise.

A loud banging on the hatch door disrupted Spock's illusion of quiet peace. The hatch opened at his command, revealing a disheveled Kirk, dressed in a garish civilian outfit, grinning widely, arms laden with packages. Spock's eyes widened, unsure that this apparition was the same dynamic leader of men he had learned to trust and respect.

"Hi, Spock!" The captain was breathing heavily as if he had run an extended distance. "I was afraid I'd miss your launch."

He dodged through the doorway, one of the many items in his arms slipping through to land precariously on the walkway. Spock rescued the odd-shaped package, eyeing the luggage bag slung over Kirk's shoulder with more than a little unVulcan dismay. He quelled a swell of disappointment as he realized that the captain intended to accompany him.

"Incoming traffic has delayed lift-off or you would have indeed missed my departure." Spock explained.

Kirk's eyes shifted to the screen, his eyebrows raising slightly, his expression purposefully blank. Interpreting the Human signs of nervousness, Spock tried not to stare at the captain as he surmised the probability was high that the delay had indeed originated with this Human.

An embarrassed flush worked its way across the expressive face. "I believe you should be receiving clearance any moment now." The captain unceremoniously dumped the rest of his belongings in a chair and swiftly moved to circumvent Spock from sitting in the command chair. "I'm at your service as shuttle pilot and whatever else you might need so that you have time to rest and prepare for your speech."

Behind the captain, Spock struggled to keep a flicker of annoyance from crossing his face. "Captain, I am not in need of a pilot or yeoman's services. Nor is it dignified to suggest that a superior officer assume those duties."

"The superior officer you refer to could be ordering." Kirk spread his hands, looking up at Spock. "I'm offering."

"Captain, I would prefer that you--"

The sparkling laughter in the hazel eyes died, unexpected vulnerability darkening them. "You want me to leave?"

Spock hesitated. On Vulcan, an honest reply was expected, but he had learned through experience with Humans that honesty frequently caused emotional pain. He believed this to be one of those occasions. "No, Captain. However, I must point out that this conference undoubtedly will be tedious and somewhat boring for you. Taking leave here on the Starbase would provide more activities and entertainment suitable for Humans."

With a determined grin, Kirk shrugged before turning back to the board in front of him. Starting a routine lift-off checklist, he baited, "What's the matter Spock? Don't think I can keep up? I might surprise you and learn something."

"Of that, I have no doubt." Spock took the co-pilot's chair, automatically assisting the captain with running the pre-flight checklist. The Vulcan felt some of his tension ease as they worked together; between them, the task was fluid and efficient.

With the unstable state of his own shields since experiencing the spores influence, Spock's irritation quotient with all Humans had been running higher than usual. Kirk's unusual behavior and close attention during this same period had made the Vulcan nearly as frustrated with the illogical behavior of the captain as with all the other Humans aboard the Enterprise.

Here, aboard the shuttle, away from the pressures of the Enterprise and the duties demanded of the first officer and his captain, their quiet ease while working together reminded Spock of the unique rapport they shared. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to maintain his barriers against the openness of Kirk's nature. This rapport at times interfered with his functioning efficiently as a Vulcan. Spock gave an inward sigh, wondering if he would still be able to follow his previous schedule. The need for time to reflect and meditate was steadily becoming more imperative.

When clearance was given, the captain gently guided the shuttle in a graceful arc that brought them around to starboard of the Enterprise. His fingers danced over the controls, avoiding the numerous incoming ships to take them into clear space. Programming the coordinates, Kirk turned the ship over to auto-pilot. His boyish grin spoke of pure joy when he turned to face Spock. "Nothing more fun than doing a little fancy piloting. If I wasn't in command of the best ship in the fleet, I'd consider the specials. I'd love to fly one of those babies."

Spock lifted an eyebrow in response. McCoy had once claimed that Kirk had the heart of a suicidal pirate. Kirk's expressed desire to serve in the military arm of Starfleet called the specials would qualify for the doctor's description. It was the most hazardous space duty in Starfleet.

Kirk was already up and out of his chair, retrieving one of the brightly wrapped packages. "Here, Spock. I thought you might like this."

When Spock did not immediately reach for the box, Kirk shoved it into his arms. "Open it. I want to see what you think."

Spock could not prevent his puzzlement from showing. "Captain, I have no need--"

"Spock!" Kirk groaned, facing the Vulcan squarely. "Here. When a Human gives you a gift, the polite response is to tear it open and make nice comments about whatever's inside. McCoy's right: You've got a lot to learn yet."

Spock gave a nod. "I am in agreement with Doctor McCoy regarding there being much yet to learn. However, I have reservations as to the subjects in which he believes I should be educated."

A flash of irritation crossed Kirk's face before he managed to hide it. He grinned forcefully, taking the package lying in Spock's lap. "Here. I'll open it."

Inside the box lay a deep blue robe with intricate silver threads woven within the rich color. Kirk lifted it from the box, watching Spock's face. "I know you prefer to wear a robe when meditating, and it occurred to me that you might need a warmer one on the ship since the temperature is cooler than you prefer."

On the lapels of the robe was an elegant script and as Spock interpreted the letters into words, he felt his face grow warm.

Kirk noticed his discomfort immediately. He looked at the robe he still held in his hands and then back at Spock. "What? What is it? I swear your ears are turning bright green."

The memory of holding Leila in his arms burst unbidden to the forefront of his thoughts. It was disquieting that he allowed his control to lapse so easily. Suddenly aware that Kirk was speaking to him, Spock buried the memory down to a level that would be expunged when he could meditate properly.

"You're blushing. I've never seen you do that." Kirk stared at him and then turned the robe around, studying it. His fingers traced the letters and Spock dropped his eyes. Still holding the robe, Kirk said, "I thought this was fancy decoration. The salesperson told me it was high Vulcan script. Your reaction tells me it's something quite different."

Spock decided that he should explain. "It is not Vulcan, but Tellerite and quite sexually explicit."

Kirk dropped the robe back into the box as if it were hot. He fumbled with the lid and then quickly stuffed it out of sight inside a locker in the back. His own face was slightly pink when he returned. "Sorry, Spock," he mumbled. He started to reach for another wrapped package and then withdrew his hand. "I think I'll wait."

There were two more wrapped packages on the chair next to Spock. He eyed them suspiciously. "Are these also for me?" When the captain nodded, he was forced to ask: "Captain, for what reason are you buying me gifts?"

"Because--" Kirk shrugged. "I wanted to . . . well, I thought you might like it."

"Actually, I feel a disquieting sensation in that I do not understand the purpose. I have observed within many cultures, specifically those of Earth, that gift giving has significance in that the recipient is then in debt to the person giving the gift."

"Are you saying that Vulcans never give gifts? Not on your birthday? Or with a wedding?" Kirk seemed unable to grasp the concept.

"No." Spock turned, focusing his attention on the flight console.

Blocking his move, Kirk pointed in the direction of the small alcove that contained a cot and small work station. "I'm here to take care of the helm. You can do what you need to, albeit rest or work on your presentation."

Deciding that continuing to argue would be pointless, Spock did as instructed. He did still need to complete cataloguing the individual slides he would be presenting in his lecture. Each slide had to be keyed individually to the holo-display needed for his presentation. He soon became absorbed, pleased to discover he was very near completing the task which would free him to attend more of the lectures when he arrived. Spock moved to a nearby locker to retrieve a storage container for the slides. He had been working uninterrupted for nine point three hours. Apparently Captain Kirk was attempting to stay true to his word of being here simply as his assistant, despite the total illogic of his offer.

As he closed the locker, there was a change in the shuttle's air pressure. Spock straightened, listening to identify the cause. He could not see the flight deck or Kirk; however, the fact that all was quiet reassured him that there was nothing significant happening.

The loss of gravity in the cabin was subtle at first, and for a few vital seconds, Spock did not react. His response was delayed as both he and all two hundred eighteen orderly presentation slides on his pull-out desk floated in gentle disarray into the air. The Vulcan overrode his desire to sweep the slides back into order and pushed toward the flight deck with alacrity.

"Captain?" He used the partition at the end of his bunk to send him floating in a controlled manner toward the con. Kirk was drifting in a curled ball near the controls, his eyes closed as if in sleep. Assured he was breathing normally, no indication of critical distress, Spock immediately turned his attention to the control panel. No flashing red lights, no signs of attack. The internal gravity panel was registering that it had been deactivated.

Spock reset the controls for gravity, increasing it gradually and guided Kirk back into the con chair. Still the captain did not awaken with the motion. Concerned, Spock retrieved the emergency medical scanner.

Reviewing the scanner report which confirmed that Kirk was indeed simply asleep, Spock buried the irritation he experienced and reached out to grasp Kirk's shoulder. "Captain, wake up." Maintaining his grip, he shook him more firmly. "Captain Kirk."

The eyes fluttered, and Kirk took a deep breath before opening them. Staring at Spock, he frowned. "Is something wrong?"

"You should have informed me you were this fatigued." Spock said.

Kirk drew back, his eyes narrowing. Spock wondered if his tone had conveyed his frustration. The captain looked around the cabin, noting the disarrayed items. "What happened?"

"I believe you inadvertently disengaged the gravity controls when you fell asleep."

Kirk's eyes widened, and he looked around the cabin. "How long? Any damage?"

"One point two minutes. No." No damage to the ship, just in the time that he had spent preparing the slides for presentation, begun on the Enterprise and completed here. It had taken a total of forty-four hours, and now it would require additional time to collect and resort the slides. Spock kept his eyes averted from the slides that had slid into the main cabin. He looked sternly at the captain. "The ship is on autopilot which will warn of us any change in status. It is not necessary for either one of us to remain here until the need to prepare for orbit and landing. You obviously need sleep." He glanced pointedly to the second cot on the ship.

Kirk nodded, wincing slightly as he stood. Yawning, he headed for the back of the cabin. Passing Spock's alcove, he stopped, seeing the slides scattered on the work-station, bed and floor. "No. Don't tell me. These are your slides? I thought you said there was no damage?"

"To the ship, Captain." Spock interposed himself between Kirk and the slides. "Do not concern yourself. I am well aware that Humans tend to miscalculate their need for rest."

"Spock," Kirk said quietly, his eyes still on one of the slides. "I didn't get much rest last night, going over the schematics for repair with Scotty. It must have been why I fell asleep so heavily. I'm sorry. Let me help--" He knelt down to scoop up the one near his foot.

Spock took the slide from his fingers. "You can help by getting the rest you need." Keeping a tight grip on the captive arm, Spock forcefully guided him to his cot. "We have four hours of flight left. You can best utilize that time by replenishing your reserves with sleep."

Kirk gave in to him without much resistance. Within a few minutes, the captain was already snoring softly on his bunk.

Allowing a suspiciously Human sigh to escape, Spock made a quick check on the helm and then turned to the task of retrieving and re-organizing the slides.

* * * * * * * *

Two point eight hours later, the neatly catalogued slides were again ready for the lecture presentation. After firmly securing them in his locker, Spock checked on the captain and found him awake and reading a book. Curiously, he tilted his head, questioning the captain with his eyes.

"I didn't want to be moving around to distract you from your project, so I was relaxing with this book after I woke up." The captain looked back down at his book, running a thumb down the page. "There's something about turning the pages and the feel of it in your hands . . . the vid-screen just doesn't compare."

Spock was not surprised to note a wistful expression on the young Human's face. The Vulcan was well aware of the captain's fondness for antique books; yet this incongruity never ceased to fascinate him. A man with the full power of a Constitution class Starship at his command, yet he could humbly appreciate the workmanship in an old-fashioned book.

The moment shattered as Kirk bounded from the bunk. "Of course, there's books and then there's books. You should've seen my quarters on Starbase II after Sam Cogley took over. There was no room to sit down much less sleep." He tugged on Spock's sleeve to pull him toward the helm, continuing his chatter. "Thank goodness you decided to test the computers and proved my innocence. I would've been sleeping on the floor and probably sentenced to life in prison."

Spock was startled by Kirk's trivial attitude toward the whole incident with Ben Finney. After the trial, Kirk had spoken of it only once in the senior officer's meeting, quietly thanking everyone for their support and, at the same time, ordering a method devised to prevent any such occurrence from being repeated with the ship's computers.

The entire incident of the court-martial evoke inadequately understood emotions to emerge. The moment when Spock first viewed the ship's log which revealed Kirk jettisoning the pod before the red alert remained crystallized in his mind. At the time, he had reviewed the log sequence repeatedly, willing the truth to be revealed. As a result, for the first time in his career, he was late in reporting to a superior officer.

When he had beamed down to Commodore Stone's office, Spock remembered his frustration from his inability to warn Kirk of the inconsistency of the report. During the trial, the Vulcan had been concerned about Captain Kirk's career. Simultaneously, he had been forced to acknowledge a basic truth: He had no desire to serve under anyone but Kirk. He had come to an uneasy truce with this revelation only after weeks of careful scrutiny.

Kirk called out his name, impatience coloring the tone. "Come on Spock. I know you'll like this."

The Vulcan followed Kirk to the front of the tiny ship, swallowing another sigh as Kirk tore open a second package with enthusiasm. He handed a round tin to Spock. Knowing it was useless to resist, Spock took the item. He kept his tone stern as he asked, "Another gift, Captain?"

"You'll like this one. You once mentioned you had a fondness for Altairian Itan biscuits. I found a store on the base that carried them."

Kirk's expectant expression forced Spock to remove the lid. The spicy odor wafted up to his nostrils and he lifted an eyebrow in appreciation. Taking one, he bit into it. The taste was very close to the one he remembered enjoying when his parents had taken him to Altair. "I am pleasantly surprised, Captain. This is very good." Spock held out the tin for Kirk to take one and then took another bite. Finishing off the biscuit, he smiled inwardly as Kirk attempted to hide his instant dislike of the taste. His face worked, and for a moment Spock thought he was going to disgorge the piece from the pursed lips.

"This has an unusual flavor Spock," Kirk swallowed hard. "I think I'll save one for McCoy to try." He swallowed again, muttering under his breath, "If I want to torture him."

The first officer allowed an inward smile, taking a second biscuit before closing the tin. Kirk shuddered as Spock bit into it, his face relieved when a chime from the con called his attention.

"We'll reach orbit in fourteen minutes. I'll signal Mocaiv's air space control." Kirk settled into his chair. Within a few minutes they had clearance to land. The Vulcan secured his Altairian biscuits inside a locker and joined Kirk at the helm, assisting him in running through the landing checklist.

They were entering the atmosphere with Spock reporting the computer's altitude adjustments when the Vulcan noticed a growing perception of unease. He rubbed his neck, turning sideways to keep Kirk from noticing his unusual behavior as he fought to subdue the sensations. The discomfort transformed into a massive itch, and the more he scratched the worse the sensation grew. His continued fidgeting soon gained Kirk's attention.

"Spock, what's wrong?" Kirk half rose out of his chair, staring at his face and then his neck.

Spock forced himself to stop scratching, dropping his hand to his leg. But, as if by its own will, his hand persisted in clawing at his thigh. Breathing hard, he tried to ignore Kirk, concentrating on decreasing the reaction he was experiencing.

Kirk caught his hands, holding them tightly when he tried to pull away. "You've got green welts all over you!" He touched Spock's neck, "You've scratched here until your bleeding!"

Spock tried to speak, but all that emerged was a grunting noise, shocking him with the uncivilized sounds emerging from his throat. Spock reached for his neck as he was forced to gasp for air.

"Damn! It looks like your tongue is swelling! Are you having trouble breathing?" Panic flavored the normally controlled voice.

Spock had no medium to reassure the young captain. He nodded in response. His throat was constricting, the swelling closing off his air passage through his trachea. He noted with clinical detachment the growing blackness at the periphery of his visual fields. The darkness claimed him as he slid from the chair.

* * * * * *

As awareness triggered his senses to record every detail, Spock discovered that he was no longer sitting at the helm of his shuttle but was lying in a horizontal position -- an unlikely posture from which to pilot, which was the last thing he remembered doing. The disorientation cleared; and coming to full wakefulness, he remembered the events of his last few minutes before he had lost consciousness. He drew in a cautious breath, pleased with the degree of ease it took to perform this natural function. Spock opened his eyes to find himself on a diagnostic bed in a medical facility.

Kirk leaned into view, "Spock! Thank God! Are you all right? How do you feel?"

Pushing into an upright position on the bed, Spock cleared his throat experimentally. "Well, I believe." His time sense told him that he had been unconscious for two point two hours. "What has transpired?"

Another person moved into position, obscuring his view of Kirk. "You had an allergic reaction. The Altair biscuits you consumed contained grezel nuts which is clearly listed in your medical record as an allergy. I would strongly suggest that you avoid this ingredient in the future." The doctor ran a scanner over him. "The swelling has been resolved, which makes you ready to be released. The itching sensation may continue for the next twenty-four hours. Warm baths will help and these pills," he held out a packet while continuing his instructions. "Take one every six hours. They will make you drowsy, so don't operate anything mechanical."

Spock glanced at Kirk, recalling the events on the shuttle and the result of someone falling asleep at the helm. Kirk seemed to follow his train of thought, his cheeks flushing slightly, dropping his eyes in obvious embarrassment.

Pulling on his uniform, Spock joined Kirk in the outer waiting room. The captain said quietly, his normal ebullient manner somewhat deflated, "Spock, I've already stored our gear in our rooms. We have time to eat, but I thought I'd let you pick the place. I don't seem to be having much luck with choosing Vulcan preferences today."

Spock nodded, following Kirk through the door. Outside, the Vulcan ignored the view surrounding him, concentrating on the man beside him. The captain was very subdued, his shoulders even a little slumped. Spock moved to stand in front of Kirk. "Captain, are you all right?"

The responsive expression was almost comical. "Me? I'm fine. I just about managed to kill my first officer today. I can't tell you how sorry I am, Spock." The hazel eyes searched his face and Spock saw evidence of the worry and strain Kirk had experienced in the last few hours. "I just wanted to help you, and instead I've only managed to screw things up. I'm not used to being someone's worst nightmare."

Spock studied the serious face, sensing a need to brighten the mood. "Sir," he waited until the hazel eyes met his steadily. "You make an excellent Starship Captain but your abilities as a yeoman leave much to be desired." He allowed an uncharacteristic smile to soften his words; and even though his lips barely curved, it brought an answering smile to Kirk's face. "My experiences today have left me with a residual fatigue, and I suspect you also are not at peak efficiency. I recommend we consume a simple meal in the hotel tonight."

"But Spock, we're on Mocaiv! We shouldn't waste the opportunity to sample some of the finest fare in the universe. I wanted to take you to--"

"Captain, we have eight days to partake of the delights of this planet, you asked me to choose. I also would have more time to prepare for my presentation."

Kirk shifted on his feet, considering the proposal. Some of the worried lines on his forehead disappeared as he grinned. "You know, that's a good idea." He turned and with renewed purpose, they walked as one again.

Spock allowed himself to relax slightly until Kirk said, "Maybe I could help you with the preparation. Did you finish working with the slides?"

The Vulcan considered mentally challenging the square root of pi in an effort to hide his exasperation. Instead, he calculated the number of minutes until the shuttle would be returning to the Enterprise. He did not need his half Human intuition to tell him that this was going to be a long leave.

* * * * * * * *

The next four point two days went well if one did not take into account the Captain's attempts to entertain Spock in their free time with a variety of Human pursuits. Kirk's explanation for his behavior was an often repeated phrase, "I just want you to have some fun, Spock." The Vulcan was confounded by Kirk's intense devotion to a quest that was meaningless to his species. His attempts to correct the captain in his mis-perception met with continued resistance and Spock discovered a new understanding of Human frustration.

Spock's first presentation was flawless and he was able to sit in on much of the conference. Kirk remained at his side and was dutifully engrossed with each speaker. By the fourth day, Spock had become somewhat concerned about Kirk's continued quiet, complacent manner during the conference. He was almost relieved when the captain exhibited nervous mannerisms that morning disturbing the participants seated nearby several times. However, in the late morning, Kirk seemed totally engrossed with the speaker, even though Spock found the orator tedious. Throughout the entire two point four hours, Kirk listened intently, taking frequent notes on his padd. Spock alternated his attention between the drone of the speaker and Kirk's surprising behavior. As the speaker presented his closing remarks, Spock saw Kirk lift his head, exclaiming out loud, "That's it!"

Heads in all directions turned toward Kirk, including the speaker on the podium. Suddenly aware of the attention, the captain slunk down in his seat, avoiding the stares. At the break, he quickly broke free of the crowd, heading outside the building. When Spock followed him, Kirk announced somewhat sheepishly, "Maybe it's time for me to accept your advice on planning alternate activities. I think I'll take the afternoon off."

Privately amused, Spock could not contain his curiosity. "I was impressed with your attention to the last lecturer. Was there something that he said in which your statement, 'that's it', referred to?"

Kirk glanced down at the notepadd he held in his hands. "Ahh, no. He was repeating the same theories we heard yesterday. I, uh, was working on something else."

"Yes?" Spock tilted his head toward the padd.

The captain chewed his bottom lip before answering. "A tactical battle plan to defeat the computer simulation that Mister Sulu programmed into the games before I left." Without waiting for a comment, Kirk edged toward the sidewalk. "I'll see you tonight. About eight?"

Agreeing to the time, Spock returned to the conference. He should have known that the captain would have been as bored as he was with the last lecture.

The Vulcan was almost relieved when a speaker became unexpectedly ill, ending the day's conference earlier than expected. Since Kirk was planning to stay in the city and meet him later in the evening, Spock returned immediately to their lodgings to apply the quiet for some much needed meditation.

He entered the small suite, his senses immediately going on alert. The center room appeared the same as when he had left earlier that morning but there were two familiar scents that did not belong here. One he associated with his home planet, Vulcan. Spock took a step forward, stopping with a foot in the air as he again detected the distinct odor of iron found in Human blood.

Searching for useful information, Spock examined the room thoroughly. What he found was confusing and unrelated to what his senses had revealed. A different picture on the wall, a different color of throw pillow on the couch, the chair in a slightly different location. If it was not for the book of Vulcan poetry, another gift from Kirk, lying on the small table beside the couch, Spock might have believed he was in the wrong room.

Striding through the room, he followed the scent, discovering that the odor of Human blood grew stronger as he approached Kirk's room. He knocked on the closed door, "Captain?"

Knocking again, he experienced a surge of anxiety at the lack of response. As he reached to open the door, Kirk called to him from behind. "Spock! I didn't expect you back so soon."

The captain stood in the back doorway that led out to a small garden courtyard. Despite the controlled weather outside, keeping the temperature at an even seventy -three degrees, he wore a light weight jacket over his civvies. "Are you finished for the day?"

Spock nodded in the affirmative. He glanced at Kirk's room but before he could formulate a question, Kirk gestured for him to come outside. "I want you to see something." As Spock approached, the captain held his fingers up to his lips, "She's sleeping finally."

He stared at Kirk's face, a paleness there registering that he had not noted before. The captain gestured, propelling him forward with a mix of curiosity and foreboding. He stopped in the threshold, his eyebrows climbing up to join the edge of his hair. Here was the explanation for the Vulcan scent. "Captain, this is--"

Kirk shushed him quickly, pulling him back inside and closing the transparent door to the garden. "A sehlat. I thought he looked like a cute little teddy bear. And when I discovered they are indigenous to Vulcan, I thought--"

Spock could not take his eyes off the creature sleeping peacefully inside the cage. The sehlat had several shades of reddish brown fur that glistened in the sun's light. It appeared to be fairly young, well-bred and therefore should have belonged to a family with children on Vulcan. He frowned. "Captain Kirk, surely this is not another gift? These animals are bred for specific families and are highly treasured. They also are controlled by a mild form of telepathy and are quite dangerous without that form of control."

"Believe me, I learned about the dangerous side. Their fangs are quite formidable." The rueful smile on Kirk's face spoke of knowledge earned the hard way. "No, Spock. I didn't buy it as a gift. I rescued it. It had been captured and was being taken to a shelter, where they destroy stray animals. It was so unusual and beautiful. I had to do something about it. I haven't figured out why it's so far from home but I thought perhaps you could find a way to send it back. There are several Vulcans here at this conference who might provide transportation. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy a piece of home. I understand that all Vulcan children have a sehlat as a pet."

"Not all, Captain. And it is not considered a pet as in Earth's culture." Spock forced his attention away from the sleeping ball of fur back to Kirk. "However, one of the first lessons a Vulcan child is taught is how to use his telepathy to control a sehlat's behavior." His own sehlat had been more of a companion to Spock than for most Vulcans. He proved a confidante in the lonely years of when Spock was growing up as a half-caste child. "My father feared I would not have full telepathic ability when I could not control my sehlat until the age of three."

"Three? My God. When you were talking about children, I thought you meant eight or nine. What was a two year old expected to do?" Kirk seemed aghast at the thought.

Spock cocked his head. "A full Vulcan child would have already begun the basic rudiments of telepathy and meditation. Their studies include mathematical equations and high Vulcan. I was limited to mathematics until my telepathic skills developed. The concrete elements are the easiest to learn."

There was an edge of anger in Kirk. "And when does a Vulcan child get to play and have fun?"

Spock frowned at Kirk's continued emphasis regarding fun. "Learning is considered the highest form of entertainment on Vulcan. If you refer to the games that Human children play as forms of 'fun' then no, we did not engage in these activities. Children do have an outlet for their physical development through a variety of athletic practices--not competition such as that you have on Earth but development of the physical skills along with the mind."

Kirk was moving toward the couch. Catching sight of the throw pillow, Spock's eyes moved back to the new painting on the wall. Leaning against the arm of the sofa, the captain continued, "But you were half Human. Did you not have time to indulge that part of yourself?"

"I was offered the choice. I chose Vulcan, Captain." Spock answered mildly, uncertain just what Kirk seemed upset about.

"But at what age, Spock? Before you were old enough to know what the choice meant?" Kirk snapped; then his eyes widened, and he dropped his gaze to the floor. "Spock," he paused, "that sounded a bit harsh. I've been trying to imagine what it was like to be a half-Human child surrounded by the stoic presence of Vulcans. I don't know that I would have survived it."

Spock was unable to stop the smile that shone in his eyes although he knew his face otherwise remained severe. "I am forced to agree with you, Captain. Nor am I certain with that scenario that your Vulcan parents would have survived." He gestured toward the painting on the wall. "Captain, I am curious about the different items in the room."

Kirk had grinned at Spock's response; but at the question, his expression smoothed into a blank wall. "The management said they were attempting to do some redecorating. They wanted to change a few things and I didn't think you'd mind." Kirk moved toward his room. "Are we still on for tonight?"

Spock studied his captain again, noting that there were pinched lines at the bridge of his nose and he definitely was pale. The events of the afternoon and his observations were not coming together in a logical sequence. Something was definitely amiss. "Captain, I had intended to spend some time in meditation but am concerned about you. Are you well?"

As usual, the question annoyed the captain. "I'm fine, Spock. Go meditate. I promise to leave you alone. Be prepared, I have a surprise planned for you later tonight." With that forewarning, Kirk disappeared inside his room.

Spock went out to the courtyard, to check on the caged animal. Stretching out a hand, he could not feel anything emanating from the sehlat except the need for sleep. Spock left the sehlat to its slumber and returned to his room. He knelt on the platform and worked his way through the basic steps of meditation quickly. If Kirk had made plans for him tonight then he undoubtedly needed to be prepared.

* * * * * * *

Feeling somewhat refreshed and more tolerant, Spock followed his young commander turned tour guide into the warm evening. Walking the few kilometers to the restaurant proved to be a challenge to his recently obtained peace.

Traffic was at a peak, and Spock was hard pressed to maintain more than cursory responses to Kirk's nearly non-stop conversation. Low-level hovercraft swooped alarmingly close as they crossed lanes of traffic enroute to their destination.

A horde of children sailed by on hoverblades. Their loud, cheerful calls and controlled chaos brought a smile to Kirk's face as he stopped talking to watch their antics. Through the noise of the children and the traffic, Spock's acute hearing picked up soothing strains from a concert hall in the distance, and he listened wistfully until the resonance of the melody was blasted out of existence by the loud blaring of a music-player of one of the kids.

Spock flashed a dark look at the bearer. Attempting to hear the orchestra over the beating pulse of music, he was startled when Kirk gave an oath under his breath. Darting through the pedestrians, Kirk reached into the tangle of limbs just as one scruffy young fellow spun out of control. His former tour guide immediately switched gears, becoming a tactical expert recognizing the danger not only to the boy but to the other pedestrians in the area.

Spock simultaneously calculated the odds of a successful outcome of no injuries as being quite low. He stepped forward in a futile attempt to direct the people in the immediate vicinity to clear the area.

He observed with approval the efficiency of Kirk's movements and noted with surprise that the captain utilized actions that revealed a familiarity with Vulcan hand-to-hand combat techniques in controlling the unsuccessful attempts of the child to right himself. While mulling over the possibility that a Human would have the strength to perform such a maneuver, he was aware of a hastily called, "Thanks, Mister!" as the boy accelerated to catch up to his comrades.

He heard Kirk chuckle at the boy, but Spock looked up sharply at the apparent strain in his voice. Wading his way through the small crowd of spectators, the Vulcan could only see Kirk's back at first. "Captain?"

Kirk turned, intent on straightening his jacket back into place. He tugged his right sleeve down quickly before turning. For an instant, the Vulcan saw pain flash in the hazel eyes as Kirk glanced away. "We better go, Spock. We'll lose our reservation."

Resuming their pace, Spock studied Kirk with quick glances from the side. He did not miss the flexing muscle in his jaw or the forced pleasant expression solidly stamped on Kirk's face. The fact that he had stopped talking was a good indication that something was bothering the captain. Spock thought of the unexplained odor of blood in their hotel room. Asking Kirk bluntly about it would probably gain him another lesson in evasion tactics. He searched for a neutral topic, then perhaps he could subtly induce Kirk to explain. "You have some experience, it seems, with the techniques of Vulcan hand-to-hand defenses."

Kirk shrugged, his forced expression altering slightly. "I find keeping up with several forms of self-defense from different worlds is not only a challenge physically but a mental exercise in minimizing the stresses that are inherent with the job." He paused to glance over at Spock, a curiously shy smile in place. "I started studying S'hen'tere techniques after our run-in with Khan. I was trying to develop a modicum of proficiency and then ask for your assistance with the mind disciplines that accompany the actions."

Spock restrained his impulse to smile at Kirk's mispronunciation of the Vulcan term. "I doubt that you would be able to accomplish the mental requirements of S'han'tir. It requires some telepathic ability. I am well aware you are accomplished in the defensive arts and you have always maintained a high ranking in Starfleet's physical requirements. However, it is inefficient for you to pursue an artform that is impossible for a Human to attain."

Kirk grimaced. "Bones is right. You can be irritating at times." He frowned in concentration, the expression lightening when they rounded a corner and, across the lanes of traffic, glimpsed an open expanse of water: the Ogacich Sea.

Taking a deep breath of the salty air, Kirk stopped walking. "You of all people shouldn't be lecturing me on attempting to learn more. If it hadn't been for Sulu's newfound fascination with old-time guns on that shore leave planet we encountered in the Omicron Delta sector, I might not have been bright enough to figure out how to save the Enterprise with the gunpowder when fighting the Gorn." The captain drew his eyes from the water, his expression serious as he faced Spock. "Learning new fighting techniques could make the difference on landing party duty. I won't command from behind the safety of my crew--you know that--which means I need to be as proficient as any of them with survival skills. They have enough to do without worrying about saving my skin."

Despite the intense tone, Spock considered that Kirk did not truly perceive the pride his own crew had in him or the confidence he inspired with his approach to command. He did not expect any member of his crew to perform a task that he was not willing to undertake himself. The resulting effect on his men reminded Spock of a sand garden on Vulcan where ripples of sand radiated from a central stone. The symmetry and motion were perfection to contemplate just as here Kirk became the center stone and the men and women of Enterprise crew were the ripples following his example. Spock's sensitive ears overheard enough rec-room conversations to know that this crew was willing to sacrifice their lives to protect Kirk.

Spock followed Kirk's stormy gaze to the sea. "I believe we have had this discussion regarding the captain accompanying landing party duty in various settings before. I was not censoring your actions."

Kirk blinked, a grin tugging at his lips. "Discussions? How about arguments? Knock-down drag-out fights?"

From the lively expression, Spock knew he was being teased. "I believe we have diverted from the topic. Nor do I recall having a 'knock-down drag-out fight' with you when discussing this issue."

Kirk rubbed his jaw. "Interesting that on the last landing party, I had to fight you so I could stay 'on' the ship. Definitely a knock-out affair."

Uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, Spock hesitated. It was the first reference Kirk had made to the incident in the transporter room when Spock had attacked his captain while under the influence of the spores.

The captain glanced sideways at him, his face twisting apologetically. "It was a joke, Spock. In poor taste. Sorry." Touching Spock's arm briefly, Kirk pointed at a building by the sea. "We're almost there. Come on."

They arrived at a quiet cafe with low lighting and an orchestra playing for the many graceful couples on the dance floor. The low-keyed atmosphere was a pleasant surprise, and Spock felt some of his residual tension from the day subside. He studied the interior, only now recognizing the name of the restaurant, one his mother had mentioned in her travels with his father. She had spoken highly of this very establishment, complimenting the cuisine.

The waiter seated them at a table near the back of the room, where the wall behind them was made of glass, allowing an unhampered view of the sea. There was some confusion when Kirk rearranged their seats so that Spock was facing the window while the captain's view was of the room. Mentally shrugging, Spock studied the menu, already looking forward to a normal meal of Plomeek Pot Pie. As their drinks were served, Spock noted a distraction on Kirk's part as he glanced frequently at the door.

Their meal arrived. Apparently out of deference to Spock, the captain had ordered a salad. Pulling hazel eyes away from his anxious perusal of the entryway, Kirk poked a green leaf into his mouth. He caught Spock's gaze, saying, "I'm ordering you to inform McCoy of my effort to maintain my diet while on leave."

With Kirk, he was slowly learning the art of teasing. He recited in a pedantic tone, "Would that include a complete listing of your intake, starting with the lasagna, bread and chocolate cheesecake from our first night here?"

Kirk shot him a dark look before glancing back at the door. "Whose side are you on? Mine or McCoy's?"

"As First Officer of the Enterprise, I must side with those actions supporting the mission of the Enterprise. Most frequently, this results in advocating your position." His effort did not obtain the quicksilver smile that Kirk normally rewarded him. Spock frowned when Kirk continued to ignore him, his suspicion deepening that the events of the evening were yet to unfold.

Kirk's attention was dedicated to the door again. When the captain jumped up from his seat waving frantically, Spock turned, attempting to quell a surge of apprehension.

A Vulcan female was coming toward them. Spock recognized her, the daughter of Professor Sternak who was also presenting at the conference. Kirk pulled out a chair for her and then introduced her. "T'Ser, I'm so glad you could join us. This is Commander Spock."

Spock inclined his head gravely. She was a graceful product of Vulcan breeding, but he did not understand why she was here. "I appreciated the lecture by your father. Did you have a question for me concerning the conference?"

T'Ser looked nearly as quizzical as Spock felt. "No. The captain indicated that you wished to talk with me. He invited me to join you here."

Spock looked at Kirk thoughtfully. The captain met his gaze, his face a mixture of exasperation and pleading. Through gritted teeth, he said, "Spock, I understood that T'Ser is here alone and thought you two could get acquainted."

Aware only that the captain was desperately attempting to get him to understand something, it took a moment for Kirk's intent to penetrate. He tried to control his automatic reaction but was unsuccessful in keeping his eyebrows level. They crept up to his bangs again, then higher. Clearing his throat, Spock rose abruptly. "Excuse us for a moment, T'Ser. I must speak with Captain Kirk alone."

Spock led the way through the tables until they were outside.

Kirk followed but not quietly. "I just thought you could have a good time. Maybe dance a little, you never have the opportunity to relax with other Vulcans, especially women."

Once assured of privacy, Spock allowed the anger he was feeling to creep into his tone. He asked icily, "Let me clarify. You are attempting to 'set me up' with a Vulcan woman."

Bewildered, his eyes darkening at Spock's tone, Kirk answered truculently, "Yes."

"Is T'Ser aware of your intention, and did she agree to this?"

Slightly more belligerent, Kirk snapped, "Yes, she did Spock."

"T'Ser agreed to go out on a date with me?"

Finally Kirk looked away. "Well, not exactly. I thought if I could get her to talk to you, maybe you'd hit it off and you could have some fun . . . well like you seemed to with Ms Kalomi."

The words evoked an image of Leila, her hands running down his back, whispering into his ear. He savagely slammed a barrier against the memory. He was unable to stem the harshness that crept into his tone, "Captain Kirk, your attempts in the last few days to ensure that I have 'fun' have resulted in some particularly disastrous events. But so far, none have insulted my heritage. Vulcans do not participate in the casual relationships that Humans do."

"But what harm can an evening with a gracious Vulcan gentlewoman and maybe a little dancing cause?" Kirk did not seem to be getting the picture.

"I repeat, Captain, irreparable harm can result. You do not understand." Spock started back for the door, holding a hand up when Kirk started to follow. "Please wait until I have explained to T'Ser."

T'Ser was perplexed but quietly left the restaurant with Spock's explanation. After several minutes, a subdued Kirk rejoined Spock. "I'm sorry. I had no intention of insulting you or T'Ser."

His own reactions firmly suppressed, Spock decided to use this opportunity to force Kirk to explain his unusual actions. "Captain, I have noted a change in your behavior for the last few weeks, specifically since the completion of our mission with Omicron Ceti III. I do not quite understand your insistence for me 'to have fun'. I am a Vulcan. I have no desire or need to experience this state."

Kirk fidgeted in his chair. Spock knew that if he was to get an answer, now was the time to get one, while Kirk appeared to be feeling guilty. He waited until the captain lifted a determined face but did not quite meet his eyes.

"Some things you've said in the past led me to believe that no one has ever tried to make . . . well to please you. I value your friendship." He shrugged, looking away. "I just wanted to show you I did."

He sensed that somewhere within this evasive reply was the truth. However, still disconcerted from the encounter with T'Ser, Spock discovered he did not have the patience at that time to attempt to sort out the Human's words. Searching for the reassurance of T'Pring's link within him, a link that had grown even fainter after the encounter on Omicron Ceti III, Spock only knew that he needed time alone, away from all distractions -- including the one named Kirk.

He stood abruptly, ignoring the hurt, vulnerable expression in Kirk's eyes. "I must go. We will discuss this further at a later date." With those words, he fled the restaurant. With ground-eating strides, Spock traversed to the outskirts of the city to a monastery which provided silent chambers for any who desired to utilize them for their own needs. He would need to regain some measure of control before presenting his last lecture at the conference tomorrow.

* * * * * * *

It was dawn before Spock returned to their shared rooms. As he entered the front door, he was met by the agonized howl of the sehlat. Spock headed through the back door, finding the sehlat clawing at the cage in a furious rage. He reached out a hand toward the cage but before he got close, Kirk stopped him.

"Careful!" Kirk ordered, rising from a kneeling position on the other side of the cage. "He's not very docile. He can--"

"Captain," Spock sent a sharp look at the anxious man before reaching back toward the cage again. "I am well aware of the dangers of a sehlat. Now if you will permit me?"

Without waiting, he attempted to reach mentally for the sehlat's limited reasoning center. And discovered quickly that this sehlat's small mind had been damaged somehow. He was unable to control the animals rage and fear through the mind touch. The howling continued, growing stronger with their presence. Pulling his hand back, he watched in consternation as the animal grew more and more agitated.

"She sounds like she's in pain. I tried giving it the medicine the vet gave me to calm her down, but it hasn't seemed to help." Kirk watched the animal, his face creased with concern and lack of sleep. "Can you help her?"

Spock nodded. "Essentially, you are correct. It is a limited response from an animal bred to share a very light link with its Vulcan owner. This animal has been injured and cannot respond to the conditioning that would assist her. I am uncertain what the best treatment is, she will need the intervention of a Vulcan healer who specializes with these animals."

For the first time since the Vulcan had arrived, their eyes met as Kirk turned to face Spock. "I was worried about you when you didn't come back last night."

Spock refrained from commenting. The sehlat gave another anguished cry. "Has long has she been in distress?"

"Off and on, most of the night. But she seems to be getting worse. I'm afraid she'll hurt herself in that cage."

"Highly likely. Sehlats do not survive well confined to a small space. They are desert animals; and even though they dwell in our homes in Vulcan, a sehlat is always given its freedom. I have never observed one caged, but her actions do not surprise me." Staying on the safe topic of sehlats kept both of them from talking about the night's earlier events. Through the long hours of intense meditation, Spock knew he was in full control, but he doubted after a night of little sleep for Kirk that now was the time to complete their discussion.

"Spock," Kirk's gaze had returned to the sehlat. "Did you notice, she calmed down when you were talking?" Not waiting for an answer, he retreated through the door.

In the silence, the anguished animal's howling started again. Considering Kirk's theory, Spock tried speaking again and noticed that the animal did cease howling with the sound of his voice. Yet, she continued to circle her cage, scratching at the edges with her long claws in an attempt to escape.

Kirk returned carrying a Vulcan lyre. Spock's eyebrows rose precariously again as they had several times in the last few days in response to the captain's illogical actions. No sooner did he believe he was in control of the situation then Kirk managed to surprise him again. "Captain, I believe you agreed not to purchase any more gifts in my behalf."

Kirk had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, I found this before we agreed. I just hadn't found the right time . . . well, maybe she'll calm down with some Vulcan music."

Despite the irrational logic of Kirk's reasoning, Spock found himself reaching for the lyre. The sleeve of Kirk's right arm slipped back as he handed over the instrument, and the Vulcan glimpsed the edge of a plasticast. The captain immediately dropped his arm, allowing the sleeve to hide his view of the cast. Suddenly the mystery of why the captain had been wearing a jacket yesterday was clear. He was concealing an injury.

The howling was growing worse, the animal rocking the cage in its agitation. Spock forestalled any inquiries and started with a quick tuning of the instrument. The musical notes by themselves did nothing for the sehlat, but when, in exasperation, Spock actually sang along with his accompaniment, the sehlat gave a huge groan and lay down quietly in the corner of its cage. It only took a few minutes of music for the animal to begin snoring softly in sleep.

Quietly, he retreated into the living area, closing the door behind him. Spock caught a glimpse of Kirk rapidly disappearing through the door to his own room without waiting to talk to him. "Captain? I would--"

"I'm really tired, Spock. I'm going to sleep while I can." Kirk yawned for effect, his left hand going up to cover his mouth.

Spock did not bother to hide his annoyance. That and the use of Kirk's given name halted the captain's retreat. "Jim, when and how did you injure your right arm?"

"I didn't . . . " Kirk had the grace to look down, embarrassed. "This afternoon, the original cage for the sehlat wasn't strong enough. She escaped and sorta took this room apart. That's why the new stuff is in here." He pulled his sleeve back, revealing the lightweight cast on his arm. "It just needed to stay on for twenty-four hours, I was hoping to keep it from you. She got a hold of me and wouldn't let go. Poor thing was scared to death."

Spock shook his head. "How severe were the injuries?"

"Less severe than this room." Kirk grinned, dropping his arm. "Now, can I go to sleep? Believe it or not, I am tired."

Spock waited for the door to close before moving back to watch the sehlat. He was growing more and more disturbed about Kirk's single-minded actions regarding him. In the observations that he had made of Human culture, some of the captain's actions in the last few days were matching those of courting behavior. Yet that did not account for Kirk's attempt last night to obtain a 'date'. He repressed a shudder at the memory.

Restlessly, Spock paced several feet before he realized he was unconsciously imitating his captain. Oblivious to the sigh that escaped him, he marched to his room, his steps heavy. Despite the many hours already spent in meditation, Spock immediately sought the basic level of the mind disciplines in an attempt to sort out the curious thoughts and, yes, feelings that were swirling through his mind.

* * * * * * * *

With an immodest air of satisfaction, Spock was bringing multiple concepts to an astute culmination in his closing remarks to the scientists attending the final dissertation of the lecture series. Every seat was filled in the huge hall, and he was anticipating an interactive discussion of the theories he was presenting.

Entertaining the queries generated by his material required intense concentration, not unlike an immense chess game in that the give and take of debate laid the groundwork for strategic moves in the scientific community. This, then, epitomized 'fun' indeed as Spock relished the logic and detail of the flow of information.

On another level he noted the distant sound of shouts and activity. Perhaps the civilian staff of the faculty going about their business, an indication of a less than orderly approach to one's duties.

Bringing his full attention to deal with the difficult theory being presented by the Andorian delegation, Spock began to frame a reply. Addressing the Andorians and sweeping his glance to include the scientists challenging their deductions, he detailed the intricate web of theory. Layering the logical concepts, he pulled the compatibility of their applications to a common ground. Both parties were contemplative at the breakthrough. It was as diplomatic a success as he had ever seen James Kirk accomplish.

Registering the escalation of the commotion from beyond the ornately carved wooden doorway at the back of the auditorium, Spock searched the entryway. It was then his attention was caught by a peripheral figure holding up an object on the far side of the stage. Without a reason to support an odd sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, Spock turned to view the strange apparition.

Captain Kirk was there, brandishing a lyre in one hand and gesticulating wildly toward the doorway with his other hand. Puzzled, Spock acknowledged that he did not want to know why the captain would conduct himself in such a manner before this elite, academic assembly of persons. Soon enough, his suspicions were confirmed as his attention was forced to the back of the auditorium.

The sehlat he thought was safe in the cage in their room, burst through the doors in a rage with fangs bared and claws extended. The momentum of her rampaging through the open doors caused a ripple of panic among the peaceful, scholarly group. As Spock detected the overwhelming flood of fear radiating from the crowd, he realized the imminent danger and scope of physical harm the sehlat could cause.

He quickly reviewed and discarded multiple solutions. The frightened sehlat was broadcasting a desperate need for solace as she was apparently being drawn to the one oasis of peace she had experienced in the last few days. Despite his inability to reach the animal telepathically, there had to be a residue of a link drawing the animal to Spock now.

Unfortunately, Spock knew of only one way the animal would calm rapidly. He turned back toward Kirk, who was pushing his way toward Spock through the increasingly panicked crowd. In one fluid motion, Kirk tossed the instrument over the heads of the delegates to Spock. Plucking the lyre from the air with ease as if they performed this unusual action every day, the Vulcan immediately ran his fingers over the strings.. The first delicate notes on the lyre reverberated over the sound system to bring a hush to the crowed room.

The astonishment on their faces grew as Spock began singing a gentle, rhythmic song from his youth. The sehlat stopped mid-stride and then quietly ambled to Spock's feet. She rested her head against his legs in obvious relief that she had completed her pilgrimage.

Kirk arrived on the stage, brandishing a hypospray. He quickly injected it into the animal, and she slumped to the floor.

Now that the animal was safely subdued, Spock allowed his irritation to show in his eyes. He did not attempt to control the disdain that surfaced in his voice. "Did you decide to take her for a walk?"

The hazel eyes darkened with controlled anger. "No." Kirk chewed the inside of his lip before continuing in a low tone. "I arrived in our room just as the maid was opening the cage. It was too late to stop her. The sehlat didn't hesitate, she headed right through the door. I grabbed this hypo and something made me get the lyre, too."

"How fortunate," Spock commented drily.

"Dammit Spock! I'm sorry! What do you want me to say?" Kirk snapped, his eyes flashing.

Spock glanced around, both relieved and aggravated that the room had rapidly cleared. Very few people remained, and none were within hearing distance. "I am at a loss as to how to respond. I have debased myself in front of one thousand, four hundred and eighty-three of my peers. Surely I have the right to be suitably disturbed."

Kirk nodded slowly, his face working to control his own exasperation. "I suppose you do. But I can't undo the harm that was done." He pointed at the peaceful animal. "Let's get her back into her cage while she's asleep."

A logical suggestion. Spock silently moved to help Kirk lift the heavy animal. Even young, she was too heavy for a Human to carry alone. In silence, they returned the sehlat to her cage. The air was heavy with discord, and both men retreated to their rooms.

* * * * * * * * *

A formal reception that evening was being held in the Imperial Ballroom at the Fairmont, an efficient and somewhat luxurious hotel at which Spock and Kirk had been staying. As part of the reception line, Spock was forced to greet a large number of acquaintances and other beings. Despite the fact that they had parted this afternoon on strained terms, Spock discovered he illogically missed the irrepressible presence of one James Kirk.

The Vulcan politely raised his hand in his ancestor's greeting to an Andorian whose antennae waved as she talked. Having observed Captain Kirk perform as a dignitary with skill and grace at the many functions a Starship Captain was required to attend, the Vulcan was well aware of Kirk's distaste for the activity. After one point three hours of remaining a captive audience, Spock was only now beginning to comprehend the captain's impetuous claim that he would much rather fight Klingons than perform as a marionette at these formal affairs. The prospect was beginning to look rather attractive.

After the mishap this afternoon with the sehlat in the lecture hall, Kirk had decided that leaving the animal alone in the hotel room was unsafe. He informed Spock that until arrangements were made for the safe return of the animal to its homeworld, he was not straying from the sehlat's side. Now, Spock wondered if Kirk perhaps had an ulterior motive in avoiding this formal reception.

Beyond the reception line of honorees, there were dancers slowly moving to sedate music played by an orchestra. Tables filled with people surrounded the dance floor speaking in restrained tones again reinforcing the absence of his captain who seemed to bring life and vivacity into the room with him.

Two young women passed him, smiling and chattering behind hands covering their mouths. His attention was caught by their words, and he followed the direction of their gazes. In the entryway, stood Kirk, resplendent in his dress uniform His entrance was causing an increase in the decibel level of conversations. Attempting to observe the young captain through the participants' eyes, Spock studied Kirk as he worked his way quietly down the staircase leading into the hall. There was a hint of a smile playing about his lips; the easy air of self-confidence and suggestion of tightly leashed power was enough to draw both the elite women and the intellectuals to his side.

Spock had observed the captain at several receptions and was continually fascinated by the flexibility of this man who professed to be a simple soldier. He knew the captain would fit naturally with these pseudo-computer technocrats as an entertaining, cultured guest; and yet he had also seen him blend into a culture that required him to act as an unrefined brawler, fighting at the side of dirty, gutter soldiers without hesitation. McCoy referred to him as a chameleon, able to change his color to match his current surroundings. An apt description.

The tanned face matched the golden brown of his hair and the hazel eyes. His green-gold tunic, edged with gold braid shimmered as he moved gracefully onto the floor, emphasizing his fighter's physique and drawing women's eyes from across the room. Observing the audience closely, Spock noted that some men were attracted as well. He could well imagine the impatient grimace Kirk would bestow if he were reminded of the stir his classic good looks frequently caused.

He was forced to look down as another person working their way through the reception line stepped directly in front of him. Spock again verbalized the same words he had forty-six times since arriving here. Tonmraif, a computer specialist from Altair, considered himself one of the foremost experts in the field. He was glaring, his shorter stature forcing him to look up at Spock. Instead of speaking to the Vulcan regarding the lecture, the boorish Altairian had the audacity to suggest that he take more singing lessons before attempting to entertain an audience. Spock allowed a black look which forced the scientist to subside and move on down the line.

Suddenly, Kirk was standing before him, smiling curiously. "What'd he say to you? You gave him a look that McCoy says has ensigns shaking in their boots." The eyes danced, teasing him.

As Spock met Kirk's gaze evenly, the smile widened, and the Vulcan wondered what his face had revealed to the Human. Tension eased in his shoulders and neck. Suddenly all the mishaps and misunderstandings were forgotten as Spock admitted to himself he was glad Kirk was here. He tilted his head, glancing down at the medals on the silk green tunic. "You intimated that you did not include your dress uniform."

"A Starship Captain's motto is 'Always be prepared'." Kirk chuckled, then said under his breath, "I know how these affairs can be. Thought I'd come and commiserate."

"I appreciate your concern. I am considering the scenarios of the prospect of facing ten Klingons while weaponless versus -- "

"Don't say it!" Kirk fought to hide his laughter. "Do you have to remember every blasted thing I say?"

"It is my duty as first officer to remember your instructions and verbalize them at the appropriate times." Spock allowed an eyebrow to lift. Despite the illogic of the action, he discovered pleasure at the sparkle that lit Kirk's eyes in response to his teasing.

Someone was coming up behind Kirk to greet Spock. The captain wrestled control of his amusement before stepping back. "The sehlat is safe. Rescued by a Professor Sternak. The father of T'Ser! He will take the animal back to Vulcan."

With a sedate nod of his head, the captain disappeared into the crowd. In the next hour, he caught glimpses of Kirk, frequently twirling someone on the dance floor.

Finally, the reception line was led to the head tables. Spock discovered the table of eight he was seated at included Tonmraif and his wife, and he felt a sinking feeling knowing that he was likely to endure more taunting comments from the scientist. As their meal was served, Spock was acutely aware of the restrained, almost lifeless conversation at his table reinforced as the sound of Kirk's amused laughter floated occasionally across the room.

A small horde of the press arrived, including one representative from Universal News, a self-proclaimed personal nemesis of the USS Enterprise. It frequently printed misinformation regarding their missions, quoting people who had a poor understanding of recent events. Captain Kirk seemed to take the brunt of the criticism of the newspaper. Tonmraif immediately claimed their attention, and Spock was grateful that Kirk was not at their table.

Tonmraif, with his beautiful wife pressing close to his side, held court with the reporters for several minutes. He spoke only of his accomplishments, not mentioning the other participants of the conference. Spock's distaste of the man was growing more intense with each passing minute. He was insulting, critical and egotistical.

Suddenly one of the reporters turned away, and soon the others were following suit, leaving the Altairian sputtering mid-sentence. The press converged almost as one on their espied prey, the floating cameras following obediently. Spock was not surprised to glimpse a beleaguered Kirk in the midst of the eager reporters. Tonmraif followed, his face red with rage, attempting to pull the attention back to himself. Spock remained in his seat, able to hear clearly from the table.

A multitude of questions deluged the reluctant hero as he attempted to turn the attention back to the conference. "We're here to honor the computer specialists who have enabled us to explore the universe. The First Officer of the Enterprise holds one of the highest ratings among them. You should--"

A question was flung from the back of the small crowd. "Then explain why you ignored your first officer's advice regarding the attack of the Gorns on Cestus III."

Kirk's head came up, his eyes narrowing at the question. "The role of any officer on my ship includes giving advice and opinions. I did not ignore Mister Spock's advice; however, considering all the evidence, as Captain, I felt that the safety of Federation citizens was at stake if we did not stop their invasion force."

"Yet, you were wrong. Mister Spock was right. The Gorns were not invading us."

"Second-guessing is always simpler after all the facts are in. We did not discover this knowledge until later." Kirk gave a fleeting smile. "If you're asking do I value Mister Spock's opinion, absolutely. I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for his presence at my side."

Suddenly, a microphone was thrust in the Vulcan's face. Spock drew back, always shocked at the barbaric actions of reporters. A woman was asking, "What are your feelings on the fact that Captain Kirk ignored your advice on Cestus Three?"

To refuse to answer would reflect poorly on the captain. Although this was not the first time he had been put in this position, Spock resented the undercurrent of cynicism directed at them. "You are in error. Captain Kirk does not ignore the advice of his command crew. Interesting that you do not comment on the times that my advice, if followed, would have resulted in the Enterprise's destruction. According to the recent reports of the Gorns, it has been revealed that Captain Kirk's aggressive actions are the reason they are negotiating with us. They would not have respected any attempts to talk as a first action." He folded his hands on the table, angling his head to meet the reporter's intent gaze. "I have noted the captain has the ability to combine the facts presented to him and intuitively act. His innovative approach to command is what makes the Enterprise unique."

Suddenly, Tonmrait's voice grated over the noise. "Isn't it rather ironic that Captain Kirk is attending a computer conference when through his direct interference, two cultures have been forced to survive without their computer systems? Captain Kirk, how do you explain your overriding the Starfleet's prime directive and interfering with both the culture of the Beta 3000 and of Eminiar VII?"

Like sharks hunting for fresh meat, the reporters left Spock to return to Kirk. He frowned slightly, his eyes seeking out Spock's briefly before answering. The debates on both of these cultures were certain to last for many years. "The prime directive is active when we are dealing with a living, functioning culture. We were sent to investigate the truth behind the loss of the Archon. We found a culture that allowed the people to be little more than robots all guided by one computer. Unthinking. Unfeeling. There was an underground of people attempting to seek freedom. Because of this and the fact that my crew was endangered, I chose to interfere in their culture."

"That may explain Beta 3000 but certainly not Eminiar." The scrawny little scientist continued. "The society is in chaos now on two different planets due to your actions. Their whole economical system has collapsed. People are going hungry, they've never had to deal with disease before. You took away the basis of their government."

Kirk had been forced to answer this before. Although he doubted that it was apparent to the reporters, Spock could see him struggling to subdue his anger. "My crew was being told to calmly step into a disintegration chamber and die. One by one." He pointed at a reporter, one about his age. "Do you have a child?" When the man nodded, Kirk challenged, "This society would have sent your family a letter informing you that your child had to present herself to the disintegration chamber within forty-eight hour to die. No one--no one was exempt. You tell me this was a stable government."

The reporter shifted on his feet. Tonmraif tapped a foot, his hand on his hip. "In your judgment." Spock did not miss the sudden calculating smile on the scientists face. "You've attended many of the conferences here. What is your opinion of intuitive computer logic?"

Kirk grinned. "I freely admit I'm out of my depth here. I don't have the computer rating that my first officer does, however considering the theory of applying engrams to the computer to give it the ability to think is still beyond our reach. Possibly for the good, I think. There are some things that machines cannot accomplish. Exploration of space is a joint effort between man and machine."

"All very poetical, captain. But the truth is that some day, computers will replace the need for the figurehead of captain. Then we won't have the mistakes that you've made by abusing your power like you did on Eminiar."

Spock was surprised when Kirk shook his head without reacting. He caught the Altairian's eyes, leaning in enough that the smaller man felt a bit of the power he was criticizing. Then ignoring the surrounding reporters, he launched into a technological discussion regarding the theories surrounding intuitive logic that soon had the scientist looking shell-shocked. Kirk stepped back, raising his eyebrows slightly. "You figure out how to correct those problems, and then we'll discuss the possibilities of machines exploring the universe -- not because I might lose my job but because then it might be feasible."

There was a smattering of polite applause as Kirk stepped smoothly out of their path, managing to melt into the background. The Vulcan stood, excusing himself and followed Kirk until they were outside the building. Kirk stood looking up at the night sky, his eyes focused on the stars.

When he did not speak, the Vulcan said quietly, "Captain, I am somewhat impressed with your knowledge of the theories presented at this conference. I do not believe I have ever seen Tonmraif at a loss for words. My compliments."

A shadow of a smile flickered. "Didn't think I had it in me, did you?"

"No sir."

Kirk grinned in response, "You're a good teacher. I've not only enjoyed your lectures, I've learned something." He returned his gaze to the night sky. After a few minutes, he tendered a quiet apology. "Spock, I'm sorry about the sehlat getting loose yesterday. If there was anyway I could have prevented--"

Spock touched Kirk's arm, effectively stopping his flow of words. He waited until Kirk's startled, warm gaze returned to meet his before explaining: "Admittedly, events have not worked in our favor recently. However, there is no reason for you to apologize. If you had not acted so quickly, I fear there would have been injuries. My own reaction was inappropriate."

Kirk was shaking his head, "Because of me, you were forced to sing an enraged animal to sleep before an audience of dry, unamused technocrats. Only the heavens know what your home planet will think when it hits the newsvids."

Spock pursed his lips, pausing to consider what his father would say. It certainly would not make any advances in repairing their relationship. "I had an interesting discussion tonight with Professor S'Ven who until tonight, has never acknowledged my existence due to the impure Vulcan blood in my ancestry. S'Ven stated that he was impressed with the compassion expressed by both you and me in our willingness to allow our dignity to suffer to subdue the animal in a peaceful manner in the lecture hall." He shrugged in a Human manner, "An unexpected response and yet I agree with S'Ven. It was your compassion that brought the sehlat to us in the first place. This compassion is another quality that makes you the unique commander that you are."

Kirk tilted his head, a gentle smile suffusing his face. It was a smile that Spock was seeing more often directed toward him, genuine and full of affection. And for a moment, hidden in the darkness of the night, the Vulcan allowed his own lips to curve upward in response.

Then the captain broke the silence between them, calling all Spock's foreboding into play once again. "So my friend, are you willing to follow this unique commander on one more grand adventure before we leave this planet? I've made plans for tomorrow if you're willing to trust me."

Spock attempted to refuse. "I was planning to utilize my time in meditation tomorrow."

"Oh." Kirk nodded. "After the last few days, undoubtedly needed. I'm sure I can entertain myself."

At the disappointed tone, Spock gave another inward sigh. He wondered briefly if there was some method McCoy could suggest to relieve this frequent need to sigh. "I am certain there is much here to entertain you; however, I would be glad to accompany you if your offer is still open."

Kirk straightened, and his face brightened. Lightly slapping Spock on the arm, he said, "Great! Be ready at oh five hundred hours. We need to leave early to get a good start on the day."

The captain was already striding away. Spock watched the energetic figure, chiding himself for giving in so readily to the captain's request. He reminded himself forcefully that a first officer's duties did include attending to the ship captain's needs. With this reasoning, he could rationalize his own behavior and compliance with Kirk's request.

* * * * * * * * *

"Come on Spock. Trust me. It'll be fun." Kirk spread his hands out in an open gesture, pleading with his friend.

His endurance was finally passing the breaking point. The captain's grand adventure had started earlier with Kirk coaxing Spock on a small cruiser boat. Now it was mid-morning and they had traveled far from civilization with the Vulcan battling an unsettled stomach due to the constant motion of the water and boat. Kirk had anchored the boat at a safe distance from a nearby island, claiming that it was a treasure house of artifacts in the honeycomb of underwater caves requiring that they swim much of the distance underwater.

Spock glanced once more at the scuba diving equipment on the deck of the boat before firmly announcing, "No. It will be 'fun' for you. Not for me. I will remain aboard while you discover the 'Treasures of Kione'.

Kirk glared at him, his hands going to his hips. His legs were already spread far apart to adjust to the constant motion of the small vessel on the water. "Spock, are you telling me that I brought you all this way for you not to participate in this experience? Look, just try it for a few minutes."

Spock was unmoved by his wheedling. "Captain, you have been insistent that you wish to provide an opportunity for me to enjoy myself. Diving into twenty degree water and swimming to our destination does not constitute enjoyment for me. My answer is, respectfully, no."

Kirk's jaw flexed in irritation. "Mister Spock, did it occur to you that I wish to ensure your capabilities in this skill of swimming. I have noted that this was your weakest subject at the academy. Becoming more proficient with scuba diving could make the difference in the success of a future mission."

The undeniable need to sigh rose again in Spock's chest. "I am proficient, or I would not have completed my course. We have personnel on board whose skill in water defense surpass even yours, and, therefore, can be relied upon in the event a mission required an expertise with scuba diving." Spock calmly watched his young commander. At the moment, Kirk appeared more like a small boy clearly not liking that he was not getting his way. Spock put an edge of coldness into his voice that caught Kirk's attention quickly. "We are not on duty, nor on a mission at this time. You cannot order me to accompany you."

The golden head snapped up. "I'm not ordering you. I'm just trying to help you have a good time--"

"Captain Kirk, in the last twenty-one days, you have repeated this statement in various ways and have yet to explain to my understanding your obsession with ensuring that I have 'fun'. Please elucidate." Spock wondered, now that Kirk appeared slightly angry, if he would have an explanation for his odd behavior. Each time he thought they had struck a balance between them in the last week, Kirk confounded and frustrated Spock by insisting on providing some new opportunity for Spock to 'enjoy'.

The first few evenings here, Kirk had involved the Vulcan in a variety of diverse combination of mostly sporting events representative of not only Human interests but also Tellerite, Rigellian and Andorian as well. None of them suited his cultural background, and Spock became even more perplexed with the offerings.

Kirk was looking at him, his head angled slightly as if considering the question. Spock read the change of expression a moment before Kirk slapped his hands together in disgust. "Just forget it. Sometimes, I feel I'm talking to my brother Sam. He could be--" the voice droned off irritably as Kirk gathered the scuba gear up and stowed it back into the locker.

The captain stomped off to the starboard portion of the boat and a moment later the motor sprang to life. Spock was forced to grab a rail as Kirk gunned the engine, leaving the deserted isle with its honey comb of underwater caves and ancient carvings quickly behind. He turned the bow into the open sea and soon they were surrounded by only water. In the distance, Spock caught sight of a group of large mammals similar to whales of Earth jumping out of the water. Kirk apparently noticed them at the same time for the cruiser suddenly veered in their direction.

Kirk slowed the boat and came to a gentle stop as they neared the giant mammals. Both men were drawn forward by the majestic sight of thirty meter long bodies leaping into the air. At least three could be seen at a time breaching the water, the huge splash almost obscuring the whale as it fell back. Spock counted over twenty whales and at least five calves with their mothers. They were similar to a species of whale that was identified by Humans as mysticetes, gray in color and emitting low monotone clicks.

Standing side by side, the two men were mesmerized by the sight, Kirk remaining motionless for twenty-eight minutes. Eventually, his companion became restless and a sidelong glance revealed a contrite expression on Kirk's face. Knowing that the captain would struggle with an apology, Spock decided to offer the flag of truce first.

"I believe I would describe this activity as enjoyable, Captain -- or, in your Human terms, 'fun'."

A surprised smile surfaced at his words but it disappeared quickly. Clearing his throat, Kirk mumbled, "I'm sorry, Spock." Kirk paused, and his eyes met Spock's briefly. "It's just that . . . well, sometimes you seem so . . . I mean --oh, just forget it." The captain turned his attention abruptly back to the whales.

Spock nodded, his attention caught suddenly by a baby whale near its mother. "You compared me to your brother. You seldom speak of him. I understand he is on Deneva."

Kirk grimaced. "Yeah. The stable one of the family. He's a research scientist -- a sensible career, I once overheard my mom say. Safe, not flying around unknown regions of space. And he's married and has a son, so of course Mom is pleased with having a grandchild."

"He is your older brother?"

"Yeah, my only brother. He got me out of scrape after scrape. I don't know how many times he snuck me into the house past my mom." Kirk smiled faintly at the memory. "We haven't seen each other in years, but we're still close."

"As a child, I occasionally indulged myself in wishing I had a brother." Spock was surprised when this admission slipped out.

Kirk turned somber eyes on Spock. "I bet you did. I have the feeling that you have always been alone."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Alone? Rarely was I ever alone. As I grew up, I was in the presence of instructors or my parents."

With a slight frown, Kirk lifted a hand and placed it briefly on Spock's chest. "No. I meant alone here." His frown deepened, and he moved his hand down to Spock's left side of his chest. "Well, here, I mean. Bones says that's where your heart is."

With the touch, Spock could sense Kirk's earnest desire for him to understand some concept that involved him. Puzzled, he returned his gaze to meet the serious eyes. "The only known species in the universe whose people are not truly alone are the Medusans, and perhaps the Schillians might also be placed in that category. I am no more alone than you. Possibly less so due to my Vulcan heritage." Spock momentarily reached for the almost non-existent link with T'Pring. "Captain Pike once spoke to me of the loneliness of command and I have observed behaviors on your part that lead me to believe that a Starship Captain is forced to function as an island."

Kirk's expression did not change; yet Spock detected a flicker of an undefined emotion. Drawing a breath, the captain held his gaze. "With you at my side, it has been less of an island. I never feel alone."

Not waiting for a response, Kirk dropped his hands back to the rail and faced the sea. Before Spock could formulate a reply, the captain continued, uncertainty edging his words. "We never talked much about Chris Pike. For you to jeopardize your career to take him to Talos, it tells me that your relationship with Chris must have been very special. I have to tell you I was a little envious of that. I didn't know how to bring it up, I was embarrassed by my reaction. You certainly deserve a friend like Chris Pike."

Spock acknowledged the captain's words on several levels. He had repressed the memory of his mutiny of the Enterprise and the accusation he had seen in Kirk's eyes during the trial. The captain's instant forgiveness after the incident had surprised him. The captain excused the Vulcan's actions with a log entry that commended his first officer for his compassion and loyalty. Even though Spock had been advised by the meddling McCoy to talk with Kirk about it, the incident had never been mentioned by either one of them since.

"Captain," he hesitated as the use of the title caused the broad shoulders to tense. "Jim. On Vulcan, as you know, we do not have a word for friend . . ." This was not strictly accurate, but Spock excused his prevarication by reminding himself that there truly was no Vulcan equivalent for the casual relationships Humans normally called friendship. ". . . nor did I consider Captain Pike in that role. He was my commanding officer for eleven years, four--"

"Months and two days. I remember." Kirk smiled.

"He also functioned as my mentor, helping me to learn behaviors to function on a ship populated by Humans, although by Doctor McCoy's standards, my manners still leave much to be desired." Hesitating only for an instant, Spock placed a hand on Kirk's arm. "I considered Captain Pike to be my commander and my teacher. I consider you to be more than that, the only equivalent Vulcan term would translate most closely into brother."

The tension eased in Kirk; Spock could sense it through his touch as well as see the tight expression soften. Resisting his automatic reaction to barrier against any mental contact, for an unprecedented few seconds, the Vulcan allowed their unique rapport to flow unhampered between them.

Kirk's smile was gentle, relaxed. A rare state for the captain of the Enterprise. "My friend," he whispered, "I don't know what I would do without you at my side."

Spock let his hand fall. "During your court-martial with Ben Finney, I also discovered that I have no desire to serve under any other captain but you. Illogical, yet I cannot deny the truth."

Kirk's eyes widened, shining for a moment before he turned away. His voice was rough with emotion when he spoke. "So, it seems we're stuck with one another."

Bemused, Spock responded in kind. "So it would seem."

As if something had been answered for Kirk, the captain's almost constant hum of tension disappeared. His shoulders and face were completely relaxed as he draped himself over the rail to gaze at the whales once more. Spock turned his attention back to watch the whales, and they remained shoulder to shoulder until the mammals antics waned and the pod began moving away. A light gust of wind caught Kirk's attention, and his head swiveled as he studied the sky. "I think I'd better check the weather reports again. Those clouds north of us don't look threatening, but you never know."

Spock reflectively remained where he was until Kirk called out that there was a storm heading toward them. The whales were rapidly disappearing from sight as the captain put the cruiser into motion. Once they were headed back to port, Spock retrieved his notepadd, reviewing one of the lectures by Professor Sternak that he had not attended.

The wind was beginning to gust around him and a spray of water splashed across the screen. So engrossed in the notes, he had not noticed that the storm was fast catching up to their location. Spock was forced to catch hold of the bench beneath him to keep from falling as the boat rolled to the side. Securing the notepadd, Spock made his way slowly to Kirk's side at the pilot's deck. As the deck rolled again, the Vulcan was forced to subdue a wave of nausea at the increasingly violent motions of the vessel.

"Spock!" Kirk grinned, "I've been listening to the weather position reports. We're catching the edge of the storm. Another few minutes should see us to safety. Why don't you get below until we're out of it? No need for both of us to get soaked."

Seeing that Kirk was enjoying himself despite the now continuous spray of water across the helm, Spock agreed. The combination of the wind with the chill of the water was already sending shivers of cold coursing through him. As he turned to go, a blast of static issued from the speaker.

Kirk retuned the monitor, clearing the static. A calm, male voice returned updating the latest weather report. As the boat swelled with the waves, Spock caught the edge of the helm. "Captain, I believe you should reconfigure the monitor."

Kirk raised an enquiring eyebrow. "Why? Did you hear something?"

"I am not certain." While Kirk kept his hands on the helm, keeping the cruiser on position, Spock adjusted the communications locator, increasing the gain.

Static erupted, causing Kirk to jump. Spock continued to calibrate the monitor, and suddenly a scared woman's voice jumped out at them. "Help us please! Someone please respond!"

Attempting to acknowledge the distress signal brought no response. The woman continued to plead for help. She did manage to give their location; their cruiser was sinking after taking damage on the rocks of a shoal near Kione located ten miles south of their location. Kirk's eyes met Spock's, the heading was directly into the eye of the storm.

He said quietly, "I know where that's at; the boat yard warned me about the danger before we left. I made sure we took a long route around them."

Spock called in a position report to the local harbor patrol as Kirk changed their heading. The reply was not long in coming. A hard voice ordered: "Do not attempt to rescue the vessel in distress. Return to port. The storm is changing to a level four and will possibly result in loss of your property as well. We will send rescue boats to that location as soon as the storm has reduced in intensity."

Kirk slammed his hand down on the comm button. "Didn't you hear what we said! There are children on that boat. It's already sinking. They need help now."

The answer was predictable. The voice calmly instructed them to return to the dock. It also informed them that the officials would not accept any responsibility if they were injured or lost and any damage to property would be deducted from their accounts.

Cutting them off, Kirk's eyes were dark with anger. "Damned chairbound bureaucrats are found on every planet of this galaxy, quoting rules and regulations." He caught hold of his anger, glancing quickly at Spock. "I'm assuming you wish to attempt a rescue."

Spock could not keep from raising an eyebrow at the statement. "Sir, is your statement rhetorical? There are lives in danger."

A ghost of a grin flashed across Kirk's face as the cruiser heaved to its side. "Just checking. After all, we're not on duty."

Giving Kirk an affronted look, Spock left him to the helm. Approaching the locker that held the scuba gear, Spock untangled the wet suits and quickly donned one despite the continual motion of the cruiser. The wind was growing heavy with moisture. Grateful for the protection of the suit against the increasing coolness, Spock dragged the rest of the gear over to Kirk.

The captain stared at him with narrowed eyes for a full three seconds before being diverted by the constant tug on the helm. "What are you doing?"

"If their boat is sinking, one must assume any rescue attempt will require us to enter the water. We should utilize our resources." Spock said calmly. He moved to take the helm from Kirk.

The captain frowned but obediently moved aside, pulling on the second suit. Returning to the helm, he shouted over the wind, "Spock, I want you to stay on the cruiser. It's too dangerous for both us to go in."

Deciding not to argue, Spock assisted Kirk with the rest of the breathing apparatus. He pulled on his own equipment while the captain struggled to keep the boat on course. Spock sighted the island in the distance and Kirk veered to the east toward the coordinates the woman had indicated.

Locating the damaged vessel, they found a young woman clinging to the deck. The boat was listing badly on its side and was in danger of going completely under within minutes. With Spock remaining on board, they managed to transfer her to the safety of their own tossing cruiser. Once aware of what they were doing, she fought against Spock, attempting to return to the water. Through her uncontrollable sobs, Spock discovered there were two girls trapped in the cabin below.

Spock wrapped a blanket around the woman and instructed her to wait for them to return. Pulling his mask into place, the Vulcan dropped into the water to join Kirk. He was frustrated when his normally efficient strokes were ineffective against the cresting waves of the water.

Something tugged on his arm. "Spock! I thought we agreed you would stay aboard." Kirk was scowling, his mask pushed up on his forehead.

Not wasting time, Spock pointed at the sinking boat. "There are two girls trapped below."

Kirk's eyes widened, his gaze shooting to the part of the vessel that was clearly underwater. It was doubtful under these conditions that anyone had survived. Tugging his own mask into place, he snapped, "Let's go."

To Spock's astonishment, the girls were still alive, the cabin only half submerged. They were both hysterical, and Kirk had to fight the one closest to them to pull her through the door and take her to the surface. Spock discovered that the second one was trapped under a cabinet that had torn loose from its moorings. As he attempted to wedge her free, the boat lurched. Something struck him hard on the head, forcing the Vulcan to release his hold. The girl screamed more from terror than from pain, her fear of the water rushing in to cover the lower half of her body making her claw at his arms frantically.

Blinking away the black dots and subduing the stabbing jolts of pain in his head, Spock struggled to lift the cabinet free from the child's legs. She scrambled free, and the two of them worked their way through the interior of the broken vessel. The girl pulled away from his grip, swimming with sure strokes, rapidly leaving the Vulcan behind.

Kirk was already pulling the girl onto the cruiser as Spock broke surface. In the continuous harsh waves, Spock felt nausea burn from his stomach to his throat. Without warning, he regurgitated the contents of his stomach. He was grateful that Kirk's attention was diverted as he sought to regain control.

Struggling to keep his head above water, he discovered once again that the density of his body mass made it more difficult for him to stay afloat than it was for a Human. He gasped, managing to down a large mouthful of water before he could replace his mask.

In the instant that he slipped under water, Spock was suddenly aware that he was in danger of drowning. Brilliant, prisms of color sparkled before his eyes, the sensation invading his senses. His arms and legs refused to cooperate, and he knew only that he needed to close his eyes. He bobbed to the surface once, coughing out water. The color was turning into dazzling butterflies. He would have to tell Leila about the butterflies.

"Spock! Wake up!" Kirk's frantic voice came from far away. "Dammit, Spock! I told you to stay out of the water!"

There was a sensation of air going into his lungs. Something pressed on his chest, and for two point four seconds, Spock ignored it. Then almost instinctively he gasped, turning on his side as he coughed and expelled water from both his lungs and his stomach.

"Spock!" Hands clutched his shoulders. Fear was mixed with relief as Kirk snapped, "When we get back on the Enterprise, you and I are going to do extensive water workouts. You scared me to death."

Spock remained on his side, his cheek pressing against rough wood. They were on board their cruiser, and he wondered vaguely how Kirk had managed to get him aboard. As his breathing eased, the Vulcan became more aware of the pain in his head interfering with the precise order of his thoughts. When Kirk started to roll him back, a groan of protest escaped.

"Are you injured?" The anxious tone rose a notch.

"A moment, captain." Spock closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. He managed to reduce the sharp flashes of pain in his skull down to a dull throb. "Is everyone safe?" he asked.

"Yes, Spock. We have two very frightened ten year old twins along with their hysterical eighteen-year-old cousin. Apparently she took them on an unauthorized trip in her parents' boat. They're down below."

Spock coughed, triggering a chain reaction and spewing more water from his lungs. Spock heard another low moan and worried that something was wrong with the captain.

"Spock, what's wrong?" Kirk sounded distressed. "Are you hurt somewhere?"

The brilliant sparkles of color were returning. He drifted, buoyed by the prisms. Again it was Kirk's voice that called him back. "Don't go to sleep on me yet. Where are you hurt?" When there was no answer, Kirk ordered, "I need an answer. Open your eyes."

He had obeyed the command tone in that voice for too long to ignore it. Spock struggled to open the impossibly heavy lids, surprised to see two Kirks floating in front of him. He blinked, but the image would not go away.

"Damn! Your eye is dilated. Did you injure your head?" Without waiting for an answer, Kirk eased him into an upright position, pulling off the hood of his wetsuit. The constant motion was causing Spock's stomach to churn, and he considered warning the captain of the unstable state of his system.

As Kirk ran his fingers over Spock's skull searching for an injury, the Vulcan tried to focus again. "Let me rest a moment. I believe---" He hesitated as Kirk probed a painful area over his left ear.

The captain pulled his hand free when an uncontrolled small moan escaped the Vulcan's lips. Spock pressed them together, alarmed both at his lack of control and the continued nausea twisting his stomach. Apparently sensing his distress, Kirk settled him against his chest, wrapping a blanket around him. Vaguely aware of the secure embrace of Kirk's arms, for uncounted minutes Spock allowed his eyes to close and rested.

Spock was acutely aware of several sensations at once. His time sense was off. His last memory was being in the water. There was less discomfort in his head. He was being jostled, strong arms encircling his legs and back. As Kirk grunted, he opened his eyes to discover the captain was attempting to lift him.

"May I inquire what you are doing?" Spock was surprised at the hoarse quality of his voice. A symptom of electrolyte imbalance that he normally would not ignore.

Kirk pulled his arms back as if stung. "Spock, I thought you were still out. I need to get you inside, out of this cool air. I think it may rain some more."

If he held perfectly still, his vision was clear, but the moment he moved his head, everything blurred. Spock frowned. "I believe I am capable of standing."

Kirk's voice was skeptical. "All right."

When Spock rose to his feet, everything spun in several directions at once. Only Kirk's supportive hold on his arm kept him from falling. He was amazed at the number of steps it took to cross the deck. As he turned hesitantly toward the stairs, Kirk stopped him. "There's no room down there with our survivors and they're not very quiet. There's the alcove behind the helm which is protected from the weather."

Spock was exhausted by the time Kirk guided him onto the bed of blankets. Grateful for the heavy covering of blankets, placed over him, the Vulcan murmured. "Thank you. My temperature is -- " An internal scan did not reveal his current temperature nor any of the other physiological factors that he constantly monitored. Alarmed he sought to regain control of the simple function of his thermal regulation. A chill shook him, and Kirk tucked the blankets tightly around his shoulder.

"Will you try to drink some water?" Kirk set down beside him. "You've lost a lot of fluids in the last few hours."

Seeing the worried expression on the captain's face, Spock tried to remember how he might have lost the fluids. When he did not answer, Kirk held a squirt bottle to his lips. "Slowly, Spock. A sip at a time."

The first sip stimulated a sudden need for fluids. He tried to drink faster but Kirk pulled the bottle away. "Slowly, Spock, or I'm afraid you'll start throwing up again."

The mystery of the lost fluids was now explained, but he was alarmed at the disorder of his thoughts. As Kirk held the bottle to his lips, Spock followed his directions. Despite both their efforts, it triggered an almost automatic response. Kirk moving quickly to place a pan under his chin and had a towel ready. As he finished gagging, frustrated at this complete loss of control and of his dignity, Spock closed his eyes, attempting to retreat.

Kirk pulled the blankets up securely around his friend's shoulders. Resting a hand on his shoulder, the captain said, "I need you to tell me if there's anything more I should be doing for you, Mister Spock."

Not opening his eyes, Spock whispered, "Let me rest."

"Of course. But my limited experience with head injuries says it's wise to keep the person awake. You were pretty deeply asleep earlier, I was afraid you had already slipped into a coma."

Despite his longing to slide on over the edge into sleep, Spock was drawn back by the anxiety in Kirk's voice. "Your experience is undoubtedly with Humans. An injury does not result in a coma for a Vulcan."

"Spock," Kirk paused. When he did not continue, Spock opened his eyes finally, seeing worried hazel eyes focused on him. "Your symptoms in a Human would indicate a severe injury. I need to know if there's anything that I can do to keep you from getting worse."


Kirk leaned back on his heels, retreating from Spock's field of vision. The Vulcan allowed his eyes to close again. "You've been a little confused. Drifting off to sleep mid-sentence. Some of your words have been slurred at times. Your eye is still dilated. You mentioned at one point that your vision was blurred. And your left side is very weak. You even vomited when you were asleep earlier."

The list was disturbing. Spock raised his head, his eyes going to his left hand. He gave a silent command to the fingers of his left hand and watched in disbelief as they finally flexed but did not curl into a fist. His eyes traveled back up to meet Kirk's somber gaze. "Jim, you are correct in being concerned. However, our resources are limited. Only the services of a healer can assist me, there is nothing you can do. What is our time of arrival?"

Kirk glanced away, but not before Spock saw the flash of fear that his words caused. "Spock, we won't be able to get help until morning. Debris from the wreckage must have damaged the propeller, it wouldn't rotate. We've got about eight hours 'til daylight. They should start searching for us then if the weather stays clear. I've tried to contact the harbor patrol several times but can't get through."

Spock frowned, something bothering him. A girl's face flashed in his mind, and he asked anxiously: "Where are the children? Are they safe?"

Kirk gave a smile that was shadowed with pain. "Yes, Spock. I wish you could stop worrying about them. Even when you were half-asleep earlier, you kept asking about them. They're all exhausted and drying out below. I don't expect to hear from them for a while. The only one who got injured was you. And I would like to be angry with you about it. I told you to stay aboard. We need to discuss following orders."

Not missing the undercurrent of worry mixed with the affection and some frustration, Spock reminded him gently, "I believe we established earlier that we are not on duty and you do not command me here."

Kirk patted his arm, "Yes, we did." He lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb. Finally dropping his hand, he pinned Spock with his eyes. "So, if help is not on the way until morning, what can I do?"

"As I stated before, only a healer can assist me. Vulcans have the ability to --" Spock wondered why he had not considered the healing trance before. He was trained in the basic steps and had quite adeptly healed the minor injuries he incurred while still a child on Vulcan. Reaching inside his mind, Spock attempted to separate the steps needed to accomplish the trance.

"You might be able to what?" Kirk asked quietly.

The tone drew him back from the disturbing darkness of his thoughts. "What, Captain?"

"You were saying that Vulcans have the ability to . . . and then you stopped."

"I do not . . . remember." Spock could not keep the distress he was feeling from creeping into his tone.

"It'll come back to you." Kirk reassured. "How would a healer assist you?"

The memory was suddenly crystal clear. "Jim, a healing trance! I can reduce the effects by placing myself into one." He stumbled over the words in his relief at having found a way to stop the loss of control he was exhibiting. Spock sought the first level of the healing trance without stopping to consider the possible implications.

Kirk's reply was cautious, pulling him back briefly. "What are the risks, Spock? Explain what that is, it sounds like something one of your healers you spoke of should be here for."

Spock untangled his working hand from the blankets to grasp Kirk's arm. "I have placed myself in one many times without risk." He didn't explain that those times had been for minor injuries such as a cut to his arm, a severe bruise -- nothing like internal bleeding in the brain from a blow to the head.

Suspiciously, Kirk looked down at the hand on his arm. "Then explain it to me."

"There isn't time. I will appear to be deeply asleep. My respirations will slow to one per minute. My heart rate will also be slow." Spock frowned, already drifting into the beckoning darkness. He was having difficulty remembering each of the levels he needed to reach before moving to the next one. And there was something more he should tell the captain. "Painful stimuli will bring me back to awareness."

Spock wrestled with the cloying and insidious darkness. Pinpoints of light sparkled changing the unending horizon into an ominous gray.

He slipped from the light with the sound of Kirk yelling his name into the peaceful oblivion of the buoying trance. But instead of floating, he continued to sink deeper into the darkness.

* * *

"Dammit! Where the hell's McCoy when I need him? Me and my stupid ideas, had to take you to see Kione. Look where it's gotten me. Just had to see if I could hear you say you were happy." The frantic dialogue was perceived, catalogued and filed away without Spock placing any meaning to it. He followed the sound of the words, painfully crawling his way to the surface.

"Spock! Wake up!" A ringing sound of a slap echoed within his mind. The slap resounded again, and Spock connected it to the pain in his jaw. Another round brought him closer to awareness. "Dammit, Spock. Open your eyes! I know you can do it."

Feeling as if he had climbed the side of a huge cliff, Spock hung on the edge, waiting in limbo for the stimulus to bring him the rest of the way.

There. A ringing slap to his face and he felt the impact. "Enough." he said in a whisper.

"Thank the maker of the universe." Kirk whispered back. "Spock. Talk to me. You nearly died. You stopped breathing all together. Didn't you say this was entirely safe."

"I miscalculated." Spock let his eyes close. The tendrils of insidious darkness began tugging his conscious thoughts below the surface. He drifted, unable to stop the rapid descent through the levels as the tendrils seemed to wrap a web around him, taking away all thought, all breath.

Suddenly afraid, Spock struggled to break free of the web. He could hear Kirk calling his name again, and he followed the sound. Panic propelled him forward, leaving behind the deceiving lethargy of blackness within the depths of his mind.

"Jim!" he gasped, struggling for air. He reached for the safety and reality of the present, but he could not break free from the certain death that the tendrils of the web represented.

He could not compose his thoughts at first, aware only that he was shaking, afraid but not certain of the cause. Perceptions began crowding him, confusing and reassuring at the same time. His head was tucked securely against Kirk's shoulder. An arm encircled his back, rocking him gently. Repetitious words whispered near his ear, soft and quiet, causing the last vestiges of the unnamed fear to recede. Still trembling, Spock did not move.

Awareness was becoming reality. Through Kirk's touch, Spock felt the Human's fear. Piecing the events together, he deduced that it had been his friend's emotion he had felt, not his own. His reaction had been caused because he could not separate the two. Another tremor coursed through him, and Kirk tightened his hold. Reassurance and concern radiated from him -- not fear. Perhaps his deduction was in error.

Spock was surprised when he noted that his own arms were wrapped tightly around Kirk. He lifted his head, loosening his hold but not quite releasing the captain. He heard the captain drag in a deep breath.

As if he had been experiencing the past few minutes in an altered dimension, Spock's mind suddenly arrayed his thoughts in a manner that was close to his normal functioning. The Vulcan sat up, pulling free from the supporting arms. Spock masked his acute embarrassment at his total loss of control by asking, "My memory of events are unclear. What has occurred?"

His face shadowed with worry, the lack of his normal animated expression added years to Kirk's appearance. "When you tried that healing trance, you seemed all right for over an hour but then I could tell something was wrong. I could almost feel--well, you . . . went away. I don't know, I think I almost lost you."

Touching the memory sent another tremble of fear through Spock. His capability to correct and maintain his autonomic systems was obviously severely affected. If not for the captain assisting him to keep a solid hold on reality, he would indeed have been lost. Spock forced himself not to flinch from meeting Kirk's gaze. "You may be right. I believe it would be best if we accede to your earlier recommendation. I should remain awake until help arrives."

Kirk slowly nodded. "All right. How do you feel?"

The automatic response was to do an internal systems check and report. However, his ability to report his condition was now limited to outward signs. "The diplopia is improved: I only see one of you."

"Well, that ought to make you feel better." Kirk's smile was forced.

"I am not experiencing any cranial pain or gastric disturbance at this time." Spock refrained from mentioning his overwhelming fatigue.

The captain seemed to sense his exhaustion anyway. He gently guided the Vulcan to lean against the wall, padding it with a pillow. He brandished the water bottle. "Try some more water. Maybe it will stay down this time."

Despite his claims to the contrary, Kirk displayed able medical skills. He allowed Spock only a few swallows, holding back the rest until he was sure Spock could handle it. As the Vulcan rested his head back against the wall, the captain said conversationally: "Well, Spock, if you've got to stay awake, you've got to talk to me. Anything you want to discuss?"

Frowning, Spock started to argue. "It is not necessary for me to talk to remain awake."

Kirk shook his head. "It'd be too easy for you to drift off. Subject?" When Spock declined to answer, the captain continued: "Let's start with your childhood. Tell me about growing up on Vulcan."

"I was born on Vulcan in a cave on the third--"

Kirk cut him off, "Not your bio! I can read your file. Be more specific."

Specific. But not the biographical file. "At the age of one, I was taught the translation in Standard for the Vulcan words that I knew. I was given my first instruction in--"

Kirk interrupted again. "Spock! For pete's sake! This is not a theoretical debate on Vulcan childrearing. Tell me about your--" the captain paused, gesturing with his hands, "first childhood brawl."

Frustrated with the interruptions, Spock asked, "Perhaps you would care to tell me of your first childhood brawl."

"Oh no, you don't. You're going to talk about you. Not me."

Remembering a previous conversation on the bridge after their unsettling encounter with the alien who pretended to be a squire of the planet called Gothos, Spock said, "If you wish to hear childhood experiences which include dipping girl's curls in inkwells or stealing apples from the neighbor's trees, I cannot comply. My childhood was without any significant deeds."

The captain grimaced at his words coming back to him. "You never did anything that your father had to discipline you for? I know your curiosity, surely you had a science experiment that went wrong somehow and nearly blew the house up."

Spock felt his eyebrows crawling upwards at the thought of his family's ancestral mansion being destroyed by a child's experiment. "No to both questions. Did you have a similar experience?"

Kirk laughed. "Well, it was Sam who nearly blew up the barn actually. For once it was him in trouble. All right, we've established that you're not going to discuss your childhood. Tell me about . . . your first experience with Starfleet. What drew you to the stars?"

"You will be pleased to hear that the answer to this question involves an experience I had as a child." Spock shook his head briefly at the smile of anticipation that lit Kirk's face. "At the age of five, I accompanied my parents to a cultural exchange conference which included Andorians, Tellerites and unfortunately Orions."

Kirk hissed inwardly. "Not a very pleasant trip for your parents." He held up the bottle of water. "You should finish this."

Spock obediently drank and then waited as Kirk settled back, an expectant look on his face. "Go on," he urged.

"I had ample opportunity in the time we were there to interact with the Tellerites and Andorians. As you surmised, my curiosity was my undoing in this situation. We were to leave the next day and I had not actually spoken with an Orion although my tutor had instructed me in the rudiments of the language."

"Wait a minute, didn't you say you were five years old? You'd already started learning Standard along with Vulcan and now Orion?"

"By the age of five, I was fluent in four languages. One cannot learn to appreciate the diversity of different species without understanding the flow of language."

"You know, around you sometimes I feel like a cretin." Kirk announced.

"You are a Human. You cannot expect to meet the standards set by Vulcan." Spock paused at the unidentified expression crossing Kirk's features. "One fact I have learned to acknowledge is that the ability to learn does not equate with the ability to act. If you had followed my advice in the encounter with Balok, I believe the Enterprise would be lost. It would never have occurred to me to develop the solution of the Corbomite device. My intellect and knowledge is unsurpassed on the Enterprise, yet it is your ability to use intuition and take leaps of logic that I simply cannot fathom. I will continue to gain knowledge; however, I know that I will never attain your gifts which enable you to excel as a starship captain."

"McCoy refers to that ability as fool's luck." Kirk grinned, "Besides, you took a pretty big leap of logic with the Galileo Seven. Now, back to your story. You wanted to talk to an Orion. Although I have the feeling important pieces of information were left out by your instructors on their species such as the Orion's complete lack of morals by our standards. And those pheromones." Kirk moaned softly for effect.

"Yes," Spock said drily. "You are correct in assuming I was not instructed in the danger Orions presented. My parents were attending a lecture and after my tutor thought I was asleep, I left our rooms without informing her."

"You snuck out? I thought you said you never disobeyed your parents?"

"Jim, you have interrupted me three times. I assume you want to hear this story?" The Vulcan arched an eyebrow at Kirk, who nodded acquiescence. "I did not disobey, I was never instructed to stay in my room. I had studied the layout of the keep we were staying in and knew that the Orions were housed in the lower levels. The moment I entered the basement level, I knew I had made an error in judgment. I was overwhelmed by --" Spock paused, choosing his words. He preferred not to tell the captain of his childlike response to the emotions that bombarded him from the numerous Orions lounging in the hallway. He remembered his confusion as the numerous couples' ecstasy radiated toward him, throwing his orderly mind into chaos.

It was disturbing that he could not subdue the pounding in his head. Spock lifted fingers to his temple but dropped his hand when he saw Kirk's eyes narrow at its trembling from a weakness that he should be controlling. Before the captain could speak, the Vulcan continued: "Even though Orions are not telepaths, they are able to transmit a basic, instinctive driving need past mental barriers. It is similar to mind-linking with an animal in the wild, except the Orions were sentient. I could not move from the stairwell; and, unfortunately, I was discovered by the aide to the Orion's prince regent. He took me into custody, intending to have them use me as barter to force the Federation to negotiate with them."

"My god, Spock. They kidnapped you? That must have been a nightmare."

Spock nodded, the motion sending a sharp jolt of pain from his head to his spine. "I do not remember specific details of the next three days. By the time I was found, I was nearly catatonic. The females kept me, their t-touch was --" He stopped, the memory intruding into his mind, confusing him momentarily. "D-Drugged . . . they gave me wine to drink. They k-kept . . . touching me, I could not --" A green hand reached for him. Spock flinched, forcing the memory back into the recesses of his mind. Nightmares had haunted him for months after the incident.

"Spock." Kirk's hand was on his shoulder. "Maybe you should talk about something else."

He was breathing heavily, a shiver working its way down his spine. Control. He was not a child. This happened long ago. Spock lifted his hands, preparing to use them as a focus to regain his mental equilibrium and was reminded abruptly that his left one was not responding to his commands. "Must control," he whispered.

"Spock," Kirk's tone was gentle. "You have a head injury. Your ability to control right now may be limited. Take it easy. No one else is here, just me. Try to slow your breathing. You've taught me that often enough. Concentrate on your breathing."

The captain kept coaxing him, walking him through a basic breathing exercise. Spock vacillated between his frustration with his own inability to accomplish these steps and simply following the captain's guidance. Eventually, he acceded to the hypnotic voice, vanquishing the residual effects the childhood memory had caused.

He leaned his head back against the wall behind him, closing his eyes. "I apologize for the lapse in -- "

Kirk cut him off, "No need. You're too hard on yourself." There was the rustle of movement, and then Spock felt a blanket placed over his shoulders. "You're shivering; you may be running a fever. I can't tell since you're so damn hot anyway."

Spock considered the question. There was a disturbing disarray in his thoughts. Suddenly he remembered the girls in the water. "The children?"

The captain sat back on his heels, "They're safe, Spock. We rescued them, remember?"

Nausea was twisting his stomach again. His headache was worsening, pounding in uneven rhythm. "The Orions . . . they could hurt them."

"The girls are on our boat down below. They're quite safe." Kirk patted Spock's arm reassuringly, but his expression worried Spock.

"Jim, what's wrong?" he asked. The nausea was crawling up his throat, burning a trail.

"I think you should lie down. You're looking a little too green around the gills."

Kirk's face was blurring again, fracturing into several segments. The cabin spun around Spock as the captain assisted him back onto his makeshift bed. The motion nearly proved too much for his stomach, and he curled on his left side.

The captain hovered, supportive but not intrusive, seeming to understand when touch was too much for his overloaded senses. A cold cloth was placed around his throat, easing the nausea. A soothing massage of his temples reduced the pounding to a dull throb. Finally, as the severity of the physical sensations ebbed, Spock drifted toward the beckoning darkness. A restoring sleep would refresh his system.

The hand on his arm tightened. "Spock, talk to me. You can't go to sleep yet. We've only got a few more hours. I don't care what you talk about. You can recite the reformation proclamations of Surak if you want; just talk."

The request was unusual, but Spock complied. He spoke at first in Vulcan unaware of his lapse until he tried to ask a question of Kirk and had to repeat it in Standard. When he would stop, Kirk prodded him to continue much, to the Vulcan's surprise.

Finally, only one-third of the way through Surak's proclamations, he stopped to ask, "Jim, is there something specific I could explain about the proclamations?"

Kirk shook his head, yawning. "No, just keep reciting." He leaned forward, studying Spock. "How do you feel?"

Spock frowned. "Frustrated. My perception is affected. I cannot monitor my internal systems, nor can I remember the events of the last few hours."

The strained smile spoke of many hours of worry. "Perhaps that's for the best. You've been in a lot of discomfort." Kirk looked away, muttering under his breath. "I can't believe I got you into this mess."

The words triggered a memory. He pushed up on his elbow. "Jim, earlier you said that you 'just had to see if you could hear me say I was happy'." Spock watched as Kirk's face paled and then an embarrassed flush worked its way up his neck. "What did you mean?"

Kirk only gave a non-committal shrug of his shoulders, clearly choosing not to answer.

Spock tried again, "The events of this night are not clear, yet I do remember the last twenty-two days and am finally perceiving a pattern of logic to your actions. I submit that events have been maneuvered to influence me to admit to the emotion of 'happiness'." He lowered his eyebrows, not quite frowning as he asked, "Have you joined the ranks of McCoy in coercing me to admit to having emotions?"

"No, it's not like that at all, Spock." Kirk rubbed a hand over his face. "I was just--" The captain glanced at him before continuing. "On the bridge, after the Omicron Ceti III mission, you said, 'For the first time in my life, I was happy'. I was bothered by that, I guess even more so because of the things I said to anger you in the transporter room while you were under the influence of the spores. All this has been my poor effort to make amends."

"So your goal has been aimed at my expressing emotion?" Spock struggled to sit up.

"My goal," Kirk glowered, reaching to assist him with efficient movements that reflected his anger, "was to try to provide an opportunity for you to experience happiness without the spores.."

"Happiness is a Human emotion."

"So is frustration and irritation, emotions that you have admitted to in the past."

"Ahh, so we have returned to your need for me to give expression to emotion."

"Dammit Spock. You said you were happy. I took that away." Kirk snapped.

Spock lifted an eyebrow at the illogic of the statement. "You did not. The spores were the cause."

The captain pressed his lips together before answering. "Either way, it made me take a hard look at myself. Up until you said that, I never truly considered what it might take to please you or make you happy. I wanted to find out."

"You could have simply asked me." Spock was continually amazed at the methods that Humans manage to miscommunicate their intentions. If the captain had conveyed his concern in the beginning, the numerous circumstances in the past weeks could have been avoided.

"I know what your answer would be." Kirk contended, his frustration evident in the dark hazel eyes. "So tell me, Mister Spock, what would it take to make you happy?"

"I am a Vulcan, I do not --"

"See, I told you." Kirk interrupted. He stood up, "I need to get you some more water and check on our guests. Will you be all right for a few minutes?"

Spock gave a short nod. The room was no longer swirling around him, and the symptoms seemed to have eased for now. He considered their conversation, concerned at how displeased the captain seemed to be with his response.

When the captain returned, he said without preamble, "Perhaps, if we started on more neutral territory. Define happiness in Human terms for me. I may be able to find a Vulcan analog."

Kirk groaned, shaking his head. "Spock, I'd rather have you continue reciting Surak's proclamations. I don't want to discuss it anymore."

"I may not be functioning at peak efficiency, but I am able to perceive your concern with this subject. I believe it would be beneficial to utilize this time to resolve the issue."

"There's nothing to resolve. It is my misunderstanding of the Vulcan culture."

"Jim." He waited for Kirk to look at him. "I am asking you to give your definition of happiness."

Kirk was still standing, his hands on his hips, his expression a mixture of belligerence and exasperation. Almost biting off his words, Kirk said, "All right. Happiness to me means joy, satisfaction and--" He paused, a suggestion of a smile smoothing his former expression away. "Contentment. Yes, I think contentment is a different definition, but it works."

Examining the translation, the word contentment had a mirror word in Vulcan, 'K'sem'pir'. Curious as to how Kirk interpreted the meaning, he asked, "This is not a word I would ascribe to you. What situations resulted in you experiencing contentment?"

Amusement was beginning to surface in the voice. "Certainly not this situation." Kirk stopped to peer intently at Spock. "How's your head feeling?"

The Vulcan considered the question. "At the moment, I am not experiencing discomfort. Some frustration, however, due to your attempt to change the subject."

Kirk gave a soft grunt in reply, moving to the helm briefly to check the transmitter. When there was no reply, he turned back to Spock, his brow furrowed in thought. "I guess it's rare that I seem content. I suppose, playing a game of chess with you, sharing a brandy with McCoy in his quarters..." The hazel eyes glowed softly. "...and watching the stars on the observation deck, knowing you're at my side." Appearing almost embarrassed, Kirk shrugged. Then he looked away, his voice dropping to a low timbre, "Yesterday, when we were watching the whales together, do you remember?" Catching Spock's nod, Kirk allowed a brief moment of warm, affection to surface on his face. "I would describe my feelings then as being happy because I was content."

"For an unprecedented twenty-eight minutes." Spock said, knowing that Kirk would hear the teasing note in his voice.

Kirk rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "Dammit, you would record the number of minutes I was still! McCoy's right, you're hopeless. I --" He broke off, rising to his feet in one fluid motion, his expression alert. "I think help may be on the way! Do you hear a boat?"

Now that Kirk mentioned the sound, Spock realized that he had been hearing the roar of a motor for some time. As the captain went outside to flag them for help, the Vulcan subdued his irritation that he had not alerted Kirk earlier.

Relief and exhaustion were written in every line of Kirk's body as he returned briefly to inform Spock that it was the harbor patrol approaching in a rescue craft. He left again to alert their passengers.

Acknowledging his weariness and continued battle to subdue his symptoms, Spock closed his eyes. The Vulcan was anticipating the healer's assistance in regaining the proper functioning of his systems. He refused to admit to the emotion of relief.

* * * * * * *

Wagging a finger, McCoy pointed it first at the Vulcan and then at Kirk. Spock resisted raising his eyebrows as he waited for the turbolift doors on to the bridge to open and free him from the incessant verbosity of the medical officer.

"I am only authorizing you to half-shifts. Healer V'Kir indicated that your need for rest is of primary concern. You know his recommendations are--"

Spock raised a hand to silence him. "I was informed of the requirements to facilitate my recovery. My memory is now intact and does not need refreshing."

The turbolift door snapped open, and Kirk brushed past them, giving a soft snort. Blustering, McCoy followed Spock onto the bridge. The Vulcan took one step toward his chair and stopped. The doctor cursed as he stumbled to keep from running into Spock. "Dammit, Spock! Want to warn me next time?"

Ignoring McCoy, Spock lifted an eyebrow in question, glancing pointedly at his chair. "Captain?"

There was a brightly wrapped package sitting in his science station chair.

Nearly seated, Kirk rose out of his chair to stare curiously at the package. He shook his head, raising his hands in surrender with a puzzled grin. "Not me; I'm innocent!"

Barely on board for an hour, Spock found himself fighting the urge to sigh. He walked toward his station with all the wariness of approaching an unstable neural explosive device. When he did not immediately pick up the gift, McCoy pounced on him. "Come on, Spock! Open it!"

"This is from you, Doctor?"

"Well," McCoy shrugged. "It's really a combined effort. We thought you might like it." He gestured around the bridge to include Uhura and Scott.

There was nothing Spock could do without insulting the efforts of his peers. He pulled on the bow, and the paper fell away to reveal a tin of cookies not unlike the one Kirk had bought him one week before. But placed on top, was a card indicating their origin. He opened the lid, quickly perusing the ingredients and was pleased to discover they were safe for ingestion. Without waiting, he lifted one to take a bite.

McCoy explained, "They're Altairian Itan biscuits. Nyota managed to get them sent from --"

"No!" Kirk was suddenly hurtling himself across the bridge toward Spock.

Some Human impulse made Spock take a bite just before Kirk reached him. McCoy was staring at the captain in open-mouth confusion. "Jim, what the hell's gotten into you?"

"You're allergic to them. Remember?" Kirk was pulling the package from Spock's grasp.

"These do not contain the nuts I am allergic to, Captain. Somehow, Ms. Uhura has managed to get the original recipe from Altair."

"Oh." Kirk said, struggling to recover his composure. He returned the container to Spock.

The same Human impulse made Spock ask innocently, "Would you like one, Captain?"

The captain's immediate response was unobserved by McCoy. Spock was unable to interpret the sudden grin on Kirk's face as he answered expansively, "Sure. Let Bones try one, too."

Remembering Kirk's original response to the taste of the biscuit, Spock frowned, "Captain, I believe you --"

"Just give him the damned cookie," Kirk hissed, but not loud enough for McCoy to hear.

Confused, the Vulcan held the tin out for the doctor.

Unaware of the interchange, McCoy eagerly reached for one and took a big bite. His face changed expression rapidly, and he chewed quickly, swallowing hard. Face working, he turned suddenly for the turbolift. "Thanks a lot, Spock. Hope you're happy now. I think I'm gonna throw up. "

He disappeared inside, the door closing just as his face twisted into a horrible grimace.

Kirk chuckled, handing Spock his cookie back. The Vulcan closed the tin. Since their rescue from the boat, Spock had not had the opportunity to continue the discussion with Kirk regarding his interpretation of the Human emotion happiness. He considered McCoy's complaint and discovered a method to communicate to the captain his current state.

As the Human turned to head back to his command chair, Spock projected his voice for the captain's ears only. "No, I am not happy. However, I am content."

Startled Human eyes met his, and then affectionate laughter sparkled in their depths. "So am I, Mister Spock. So am I."
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