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What happened before:  Spock, tortured by Klingons and suffering amnesia from the effects of the mindsifter, has been stranded in the past in 1860’s Seattle where he becomes involved in the lives of the people there.  The Klingons nearly succeed in changing earth history by attempting to assassinate a man named Aaron Stemple who is a key player in earth history – a man who saved Spock’s life and taught him what he needed to know to survive in Earth’s 19th century.  Aaron is at death’s door from the effects of a disruptor ray when Kirk and company come to the rescue.  My story starts at that point.

*****

As soon as they stepped out of the transporter beam, McCoy issued several orders.  The waiting med team efficiently placed Mr. Stemple on the gurney and in seconds everyone was out the door and on the way to Sickbay.  Spock immediately took his accustomed position at Kirk’s side, as if months had not passed since they had last walked the corridors of the Enterprise together.

As they hurried to Sickbay, Kirk found himself repeatedly looking over at Spock, reassuring himself of the presence of his friend.  Here.  Safe.  Alive.  With me.

Spock walked as quickly as he always had, his gait obviously long-adapted to a pronounced limp.  What had happened to him?  Images from a thousand nightmares laid their cold hands on him.  He had woken at night many times, his breath trapped in his chest, his soul burdened by the weight of those terrifying visions.

No time for this.  He pushed those thoughts away, repeating his new mantra.  Spock was here. Safe.

He took another glance at Spock.  With his long hair obscuring his ears and eyebrows, and dressed in the old earth clothing of flannel and jeans, Spock looked human — and, oddly, he seemed more alien to Kirk than he ever had before.

Is it just his long absence?  Kirk had been convinced that Spock was dead. With the knowledge that Spock was irrevocably gone, he had realized that Spock had made him complete in a way no one else ever had.  Like an amputation, still fresh, Spock’s absence had been pain, shock, icy numbness buried under his determination to solve the riddle of Spock’s last transmission and finish the mission.  At all costs, he had been determined to finish the mission.  And then… then he would have found some way to go on.

But it was not too late.  Spock was here, by his side, and now they were approaching Sickbay.

Spock turned and met his gaze at the exact moment he turned to look at his friend again. The tiniest of smiles touched his first officer’s lips and then vanished as they moved through the sickbay doors.

Once inside Sickbay, McCoy issued a flurry of orders and his staff moved in quick and orderly precision. In short order, Aaron Stemple was prepped and taken into the operating room.

Already following, McCoy swiveled on one heel and fixed Spock with a stern glare.  “Don’t you even think of leaving until I have a chance to give you a complete exam.”

Though Spock’s long hair obscured his forehead, he clearly lifted an eyebrow in a gesture Kirk was only too familiar with, and he was again filled with sudden fierce joy.  Alive.  Home.  Here.  With me.

McCoy was continuing, “Simon, give him a preliminary exam.  After that, Spock, you can wait for me in my office or get some rest on one of the biobeds.  I recommend the latter.  You’re practically dead on your feet.”  The doctor disappeared into the operating room without another word.

Simon, a short, stocky, efficient man, led Spock over to a biobed.  As the medic settled the bed back into its horizontal position,  Spock’s gaze met Kirk’s, and he gave his captain his best long-suffering look.  Kirk found himself breaking into a silly grin, suddenly as happy as he’d ever been in his life.

Kirk looked up at the readings monitor.  He’d long ago learned what Spock’s normal readings were, and it was reassuring to see the telltales shift to close to their usual positions.

Simon busied himself with the scanners.  Spock’s eyes drifted shut, and Kirk was struck again by the exhaustion lining Spock’s face.  All that time spent in the past… an alien among humans.  How did you survive?

Part of the answer lay in Spock’s appearance.  Kirk instinctively knew who must have been, in part, responsible for Spock’s survival.  His gaze turned toward the closed door to the operating theatre.

So it comes down to this, he thought.  All the frantic activity of the last several days, all the frenzied research extrapolating from the sparse clues Spock had transmitted from the Klingon ore freighter as to how the Klingons intended to alter history, the hazardous passage back in time to Seattle in the year 1867, all of it focused on one man: Aaron Stemple. A man whose death would change Earth’s history forever.  And now Stemple lay nearly dead in Sickbay, victim of a Klingon disruptor shot, his life - and their lives, their future - resting in McCoy’s hands.

Just as McCoy had held history in his hands once before.  For an instant Kirk was there, walking down a 1930s street with Edith Keeler at his side, in denial over what had to occur for history to resume its proper course.  Now, as then, one person was at the fulcrum of events.  Edith’s death…  Aaron’s life. 

The operating room door remained closed, imparting no clue to the life-and-death struggle within.  If Stemple died now, history would change completely and realign to an entirely new pattern.  And what would happen to them?

“Everything checks out.”

Kirk turned back to the biobed at the sound of Simon’s voice and found Spock was already getting to his feet.

Simon continued, “Your readings are within norm, sir.  I don’t detect the presence of any alien microbes or other contaminants. Would you like to rest until McCoy is ready to see you?”

“I would prefer to update the captain on the current situation.”  The sound of that deep voice, as precise and calm as ever, filled Kirk with joy.

“Would you like to wait in McCoy’s office, then?”

“We’ll wait in his conference room.”  Kirk was certain Spock would prefer that location.  The conference room, just off McCoy’s outer office, contained a replicator, and Kirk was ready for coffee.  He guessed that Spock would want some tea, as well.

“Agreed,” Spock said, and moved to Kirk’s side.  They headed through McCoy’s office and into the next chamber. 

The conference door closed behind them. Kirk turned to look at his friend, acutely aware of Spock’s physical presence. Spock’s hair smelled of woodsmoke; his clothes clearly hadn’t been cleaned in days.  Kirk had never smelled anything more wonderful in his life. He wanted to crush Spock to him in a huge bear hug; he had an amazing urge just to hold his friend’s hands and look into his eyes.

He did none of these things.  He paused by the replicator.  “White tea?”

“Yes.”  Spock nodded, his gaze on Kirk, his expression unreadable.  It was not Spock’s usual unbreakable calm, but rather a surface equanimity that hinted at fault lines just beneath the surface.

Spock sat in one of the chairs, slumping slightly, reminding Kirk how Spock had leaned in exhaustion against the doorjamb in that mountain cabin while McCoy examined Stemple.  Kirk knew Spock desperately needed rest; knew that Spock would never admit it.  He had a thousand questions he wanted to ask, but they would all have to wait for later. 

“Hungry?”  Without waiting for a reply, he turned and programmed another selection, a thick spiced vegetable stew he knew Spock enjoyed.  He set both tea and stew down on the table and went back for his coffee.

Spock wrapped both hands around the mug and took a long draught of the tea.  He then focused his attention on the food.

Kirk sipped at his coffee, content for the moment just to watch Spock, aware that he was staring at this so-familiar stranger, studying the way the long heavy hair fell to his shoulders and obscured his ears and eyebrows, leaving visible only Spock’s thin, shadowed face.

Spock glanced up and met Kirk’s gaze.  For an instant their gaze held.  Kirk stirred, caught in Spock’s rapt stare, the universe suddenly narrowing to the space between them. 

Spock shifted in his seat.  “Was it time-consuming to interpret the information I transmitted?”

“You did present us quite the challenge.” 

“Time constraints required brevity.”
Kirk began describing the mountain of work everyone had put in on deciphering Spock’s cryptic words, which Spock had transmitted in two seconds-long quick-bursts from the Klingon ore carrier.  The transmissions Kirk had believed had condemned Spock to torture and a lingering death.  How did you escape? he thought, again filled with a thousand questions.  Certain that Spock was too tired to speak, he went on to describe exactly how they had worked out the meaning behind Spock’s words.  When he mentioned that the Vulcan historian Trae was currently on board the Enterprise Spock lifted invisible brows, but otherwise seemed content to listen, and to finish eating his stew.

Winding down, Kirk noticed Spock’s cup was empty, and went to get a refill.  He set it down on the table and Spock reached out to take it.

It was then Kirk noticed the bands and ridges of scar tissue encircling the thin wrist.  Anger, pure and blindingly hot, sheeted through his mind.  Right now, if he had his hands on the Klingon who had done this to Spock he’d smash the bastard into oblivion.

Spock flinched.  Carefully, he withdrew both hands and placed them on his lap, pushing the fabric of his sleeves forward to completely cover the damaged skin.

“I’m sorry, Spock.”  Realizing what his face must have revealed, Kirk took a deep breath, trying for calm.

“There is no need to apologize.”  Spock directed a level gaze at him, before glancing again at his clasped hands.  He hesitated, then deliberately reached up and took the cup.  He took a sip, set it down, and met Jim’s eyes again.

“Spock,” Kirk started again, then paused.  What am I going to say?  I’m sorry you had to go through that ordeal - I lost more than half of myself when you were gone - I love you and never have been able to tell you? The gut-wrenching horror of seeing that Klingon ship, vanishing without trace, taking Spock with it… 

“I couldn’t bear to think of what might be happening to you.  And then I... thought you were dead.” An astonishing wall of grief and loss hit Kirk - submerged him completely - then as abruptly passed. He looked down, suddenly aware that Spock had clasped both of his hands – a looser, gentler grasp than the desperate way Spock had clutched at him in that mountain cabin when Kirk had first found him - and somehow more astonishing.

Spock was gazing intently into his face - looking at him in a way he didn’t recall anyone ever looking at him.  He suddenly felt utterly known - and then the feeling vanished so suddenly it took him a moment to realize Spock had pulled his hands away and was leaning back in his own chair.

“It is over, Jim.  I am home.  I am here.”  Bone-weary exhaustion showed plainly on Spock’s face; his attempt at non-expression failed.

Concern gripped Kirk.  “If McCoy was here, he’d send you straight to bed.” 

Straightening to absolutely correct posture, Spock observed, “McCoy is not here.  When he is, and I hear of the outcome of the operation, I will sleep.”  His face was set in familiar determined lines. 

Seeing Spock’s stubborn expression, hearing his resolute tone, was another reassurance that his friend was truly home.  That everything would be all right.

“Let’s go sit on the couch,” he suggested, needing to do something about Spock’s obvious exhaustion.

Spock allowed Kirk to lead him over to a plain couch placed by the wall.  McCoy, or other members of the medical staff, often used this couch as a place to catnap during prolonged emergency conditions when even the short amount of time it would take for off-duty personnel to arrive in Sickbay was too much time to risk.

Spock settled back, resting his head against the padded backboard.  Kirk sat next to him and fiddled with the controls.  The couch came equipped with its own air heater; Kirk set it to a temperature higher than anything he preferred.  Spock immediately relaxed.  His eyes drifted shut.

Kirk let the heat lull him into awareness of his own exhaustion.  They had been on high alert for days now, working around the clock to decipher the Klingon plot.  There was still more to do.  He trusted McCoy to work his magic; Aaron Stemple had to survive and be returned to his Seattle home; he had to be in place to prevent the Karsid takeover of Earth.  Then they would return to the present - and then there would be the mounds of paperwork any visit to the past incurred.

Spock sighed and settled into sleep, relaxing to lean against Kirk’s side.  Kirk smiled at him, Spock’s weight a comfort in itself.  The long black hair had lost some of its shine.  Kirk prevented his hands from reaching out to touch it.  Such a fragile disguise.  A stray wind could easily have betrayed his friend.

The depths of his sorrow and loss were still sharply present, battling the reality of the man asleep next to him.  I have lost so many along the way, but never has a death haunted me as much as yours.  Kirk could not take his gaze from the sharp angles of the beloved face. 

Beloved.  Kirk’s mind stilled at the truth of that word.  Yes.  I love you.  In every way.

Spock moved in his sleep, a shifting of position which left him pressed more closely to Kirk’s side.  The dark head still rested against the back of the couch, but now was angled toward Kirk.  Spock’s breath hitched, caught, and then he whispered, “Yes, Jim.”

Kirk stopped breathing for a moment. Motionless, he kept his gaze fixed on Spock’s face, but there were no further words or movement.  Spock’s eyes remained closed, and his slow, even breathing showed he was deeply asleep.

Kirk let out his breath.  Waited a long moment.  His heart was suddenly racing; his thoughts out of control.

He took slow, deep, calming breaths.  The minutes dragged by. Those two words had to have been part of a random dream.  He couldn’t place any meaning on something spoken in sleep, something Spock would never remember saying.

McCoy suddenly burst into the conference room, a big grin on his face.  Spock started awake, and then they were both on their feet.

“He’s going to be just fine,” the doctor announced.  Kirk felt like laughing in relief.  Everything is going to be all right.  He turned to Spock and found unguarded joy displayed in those dark eyes.  He managed to refrain from hugging his friend. 

McCoy harrumphed.  “You,” he said to Spock, “are getting some rest now.  I’ve set up the isolation room for you; it’s all nice and roasting hot now.  You’ll love it.  There’s a jumpsuit inside; change out of those filthy clothes; I’m sure the folks in the history department are eager to get their hands on them. Now git!”

Spock headed with uncharacteristic obedience toward the door, McCoy close on his heels.  “Full physical tomorrow,” he warned.

Kirk followed them out into the main room and watched as McCoy fussed until he got Spock settled inside his makeshift bedroom.  Then McCoy headed back to his office, Kirk in tow.  The doctor rummaged around inside his desk and produced a bottle of brandy and two glasses.

McCoy poured and offered Kirk a glass. “Well, we made it through another one.  To the future.”

“To the future.”

They clinked glasses and both took a hearty swallow.

“Let’s have a real celebration once we’re back in our own time.  I’m not looking forward to that ride.”

“How long will it take for Stemple to recover.”

“I’d like to keep him here for another two or three days.  He’s stable, and I have every confidence he’ll make a full recovery, but a disruptor injury of that magnitude left untreated for as many days as this one was needs significant aftercare.”

Kirk took another swallow of the fiery liquid.  “He looked so human…  The way he interacted with that woman Biddy…  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

“I always knew Spock had it in him.”  McCoy grinned, a devilish look on his face.
Kirk swirled the brandy in his glass, and gave the doctor a charming smile.  “You’re not going to give him a hard time about this, are you?”

A look of sublime innocence crossed McCoy’s face.  “I wouldn’t dream of it, Captain, Sir.”

He refilled both of their glasses.  “To Spock,” McCoy said.

Kirk felt his face soften.  “To Spock,” he replied, suddenly aware that his voice had become a caress.

McCoy fixed him with a knowing gaze. “You should consider telling him how you feel.”

Kirk let the words hang between them.  They’d never talked about this, but it didn’t surprise him that McCoy knew.  Kirk considered denying everything, then gave the idea up as useless.  He took another long swallow of his drink, and when he spoke his voice had hardened.  “It’s the wrong thing to do, Bones.  You know the reasons.”

“Regulations,” McCoy snorted, his opinion on the subject all too clear. “How often do you let regulations get in the way of the right thing to do?”

“It’s not an issue of regulations.  I’m talking about ship’s morale.”  He got up and paced around the small office, failing to put much space between himself and the doctor.  “I can’t allow the appearance of favoritism. I don’t want anyone to think I value anyone’s life above their own.”

“Jim.”  McCoy’s voice was gentle.  “You’re practically married already.  Half the crew assumes you’re already lovers.”

Kirk swung around.  “Ship’s gossip - ”

“And even if you aren’t - and never will be - that won’t change the fact it’s entirely obvious to everyone how much you care about him.  No one’s going to accuse you of favoritism.  You’ve ordered him on dangerous missions before.  You know you’ll give him those same orders again.  You let him go this time, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”  Kirk acknowledged the truth of that, of the perception in the blue eyes watching him so carefully.  “I did.” And if he had died, I would have survived with a loss greater than I can conceive.

Somewhere, hidden deeply within himself, was a fantasy of a place where the hard choices did not have to be made.  As captain he couldn’t afford these doubts.  He didn’t have that option.  But, off duty, he’d spoken of his doubts to the man now watching him so closely.  In the darkness of sleepless nights, he sometimes succumbed to the fantasy, the beach he would walk on with his beloved, free of fear, free of the burden of being the one to make the difficult choices.  In full ship’s light, he knew better.  Life was challenge and struggle; in the light, he knew he was capable of making any necessary decision, no matter how hard.  No matter who died.

And as for ship’s gossip… As a captain, he understood that all of his actions affected his ship, his crew.

Either way, what he did, or did not do, now or in the future, would speak for him.

McCoy was still watching him. “Jim, you’ve been walking this tightrope for a long time.  Think about it, at least.  These last few weeks -   Just tell me you haven’t regretted never telling him that you love him.”

Every day.  I regretted it every day. But Kirk remained silent, and McCoy continued, “We’re all out here, in this tin box in space.  We never know what our last chance is.  You should tell him.”

Staring at the bulkhead, Kirk thought again about Spock’s two whispered words.  I think I already have… He met McCoy’s sharp gaze with a level one of his own.  “Some words don’t need to be spoken.”

“Don’t get all Vulcan on me.  We already have one of those.  And if he feels the same - my money says he does - then he might actually need to hear the words.”  He chuckled.  “He’s more human than he looks.”

“You are going to give him a hard time about this,”  Kirk accused.

McCoy contemplated his glass.  “I’m glad he’s back, too.”  He suddenly looked as exhausted as Kirk felt.  He ran his fingers around his glass.  “I just couldn’t believe he was gone.  Don’t ever tell him this - but I missed him.”

“We beat the odds one more time.”  The words came out sounding grim, not hopeful.

“Yeah.  One more time.”  He focused laser-blue eyes on Kirk.  “Don’t regret not taking this opportunity.  Who knows what the future holds?”

“Right now,” Kirk said, “my immediate future holds sleep.”

McCoy got to his feet.  “Mine too.  Good night, Jim.”

“Good night, Bones.”

He walked back out into the main area, his gaze automatically going to the closed door of the isolation chamber.  Tell him… 

He looked down at his hands, surprised to find they no longer bore the red traces of Spock’s bone-crushing grasp when he’d woken him in Aaron Stemple’s cabin.  He could still feel that touch, as if it had been branded into his flesh.  “Yes, Jim.” 

Bones was right, he decided.  When the time is right, I’ll tell him how I feel.

*****

Spock emerged from the fresher and put on his uniform. It was agreeable to be back in his own quarters, away from the noise and bustle of Sickbay.  The isolation chamber was only soundproofed by Human standards.

Despite his desire to leave Sickbay as soon as possible, he had spent most of the past 26 hours there, much of it spent in sleep, more of it spent enduring McCoy’s threatened full physical which involved an endless series of tests, and the remainder of his time at Aaron’s bedside.  Aaron had not yet regained consciousness, but his fear that this man, now truly family to him, would die, had finally dissipated.

Spock regarded his own image in the mirror.  His uniform was perfectly in place, his hair was freshly cut to regulations, his appearance was now Starfleet correct, his expression Vulcan norm.  He recalled another mirror, another time, when he’d looked into his own eyes and seen a stranger.

Now, he was home.  He had returned to his world, and shortly he would return to his work.  And yet the loss of the weight of the long hair caused an odd reaction. He analyzed the feeling of exposure, of danger, and recalled Aaron’s warning: that if anyone realized who - what - he truly was, their first reaction would be to kill him.  But he was now back on the Enterprise, back where he belonged.  It was safe to be himself.  He did not need to be concerned over the reactions of more primitive humans to an alien in their midst. It was illogical, to feel he was now without protection.  The disguise was no longer necessary. He no longer needed to hide who he was… still an alien, still among humans.  But known and respected, with a defined position in a larger structure.  He could once again assume the life he had chosen to lead.

Regarding his solemn expression in the mirror, he acknowledged he’d always had other means of concealment.

Why, then, did the face he now saw in the mirror seem as alien to him as the face he had first beheld in the mirror in Aaron Stemple’s tiny cabin?

He drew in a deep breath.  Released it.  He took a step toward the door, intending to go directly to the bridge.  Despite McCoy’s suggestion of dropping by Sickbay first thing this morning for yet another round of tests, he had no intention of submitting to any more of the doctor’s ministrations until McCoy saw fit to schedule the surgery for his injured leg.  He was perfectly healthy; McCoy had grudgingly admitted as much even as he prescribed a course of vitamin supplements.

A tone from his terminal signaled an incoming message from Sickbay.  He pivoted and accessed the message - an update from Sickbay on Aaron Stemple’s condition.

He acknowledged receipt, then walked out into the corridor and entered the turbolift. He would return to Sickbay later today; McCoy thought Stemple might be regaining consciousness.  All too soon, it would be time to say goodbye.

Everyone stood when the turbolift door opened and he stepped on the bridge.  “Welcome back, Mr. Spock.”  A wall of emotion struck him, an experience as shocking as running unexpectedly into a forcefield.  He nearly stepped back from the strength of their welcome.  A chorus of voices, so entwined together that they became a communal whole, greeted him.  Wide smiles.  Welcoming eyes. 

He stood, paralyzed, for a moment.  Odd.  To prevent the Klingons from forcibly taking information from him with their mindsifter, he’d deliberately stripped his memories from his conscious mind.  As a side effect of that process, he had also been cut off from his ability to meld.  Yet now it was clear his telepathy had returned, and had returned earlier, while he was still in Seattle, because his sense of community with the humans he had known on Earth was so very similar to what he sensed now.  Except now these sensations were stronger, more powerful; joy mixed with grieving.  

His shields were weak.  He would require much meditation.

His view of the bridge narrowed suddenly to just Kirk, who had moved to stand in front of him.  Kirk was smiling, and that smile, as always, conveyed a wealth of emotional information:  gentleness, support, welcome, joy. 

He suddenly wanted to step forward, as humans do, and embrace Kirk in greeting.  He controlled that reaction and nodded in acknowledgment.

“Welcome back, Mr. Spock.”

Others crowded around him - Sulu, Chekov, Leslie, Zahil, Espinoza - all offering their welcomes.

Uhura didn’t limit herself to a simple greeting.  She threw her arms around him in a quick hug and then stepped back and smiled at his astonished expression.  “I apologize for being an emotional Human,” Uhura said, with a cheeky grin to indicate she didn’t mean a word of it.  Then she lost her smile. “We all grieved for you, Mr. Spock.  We missed you very much.   We’re overjoyed that you’re back.”

He again found it necessary to sort through possible responses.  None of the things he might have said in the past, about the illogic of joy and all other emotion, seemed satisfactory.  He could not retreat to his old habits; yet it was impossible to create new ones this quickly.  He finally settled on, “I am pleased to be back on the Enterprise as well.”

“Back to stations,” Kirk said softly, and everyone melted back to their posts.  Kirk’s gaze lingered on Spock for a moment, and he found it impossible to look away.  There was so much in Kirk’s eyes, now astonishingly easy to read and interpret. In Sickbay, only half-awake, he had become aware of Kirk’s mind entwining with his with such ease it confirmed his long-buried speculation that their minds were indeed a match.  Kirk’s mind had revealed a desire that equaled his own; desire he had never contemplated speaking of and had never planned to acknowledge. He knew he should apologize to Kirk for the shocking mental breach.

He did not know how to respond to this new information.  But it was not necessary to think about it now.  “Sir,” he said, and went to his station.  There was much to do before their return trip through time.

*****

Spock entered the transporter room with Aaron Stemple.  McCoy and Kirk had accompanied them here, but hadn’t entered the room with them, and for that Spock found himself peculiarly grateful.

Aaron looked around the transporter room with interest; the same interest he’d shown in everything he’d seen in his limited exposure to the Enterprise since he’d regained consciousness back in Sickbay.  He’d been particularly shocked – and said so – not only at the presence of so many female crewmembers, but their attire.  “Now I understand where your attitudes about what is suitable work for women come from,” he’d commented.

Spock busied himself with the transporter coordinates before turning the console back over to Lt. Kyle.  After having studied every corner of the transporter room, Aaron turned to Spock.  “Do you have some kind of small starboat to take me home?”

“It is... more complicated, and more immediate, than that.”  He stepped up onto a transporter pad and indicated that Aaron should do the same. 

Aaron did so, regarding his surroundings with an equal part of suspicion and interest. 

“Do not be alarmed.  This is a mode of transportation which will take us directly inside your cabin.  Be prepared for an unusual sensation.”  Spock looked at Kyle.  “Energize.”
Aaron turned startled eyes to him just as the beam took them, then staggered and took a quick gasp as the familiar surroundings of his parlor materialized around him. Spock grasped his arm and led him to his chair; Aaron stumbled back and sat down heavily, his gaze unfocused.

Spock sat in the other chair. The cabin was silent around them, the fireplace cold.  It seemed oddly uninhabited.  They had been away for only a few days, and yet the stillness around them suggested a much longer period of time.

Or perhaps, Spock thought, he was still indulging in fanciful human concepts.  The cabin had not changed.  He had.  There were now centuries between him and this cabin; he was now a stranger, apart again, as he had been when he had first regained consciousness here all those months ago.

Aaron shuddered and focused his gaze on Spock.  “Marvels indeed.  May I ask how that device works?”

“The concepts behind the principles will not be developed for many years.”

“Yet one more thing you won’t tell me about.” 

Spock smiled slightly. “You understand why.  I’ve told you everything you need to know about the Karsid invasion.”  Once he had recovered from the worst of the effects from the Klingon disruptor blast, Aaron had been full of questions.  Spock had been able answer a judicious few – but there was much he had kept from Aaron.  The one piece of information he regretted not being to impart to his friend the most was the true connection between them:  that this man was his centuries-removed ancestor.

“And you’ve refused to tell me so much more.”

“I cannot.” Spock ducked his head.  “As you know.”

“Yes.  ‘To preserve the future’,” Aaron quoted.

“Aaron...”  Spock hesitated.  “I must leave soon.  I wish to say – thank you – for everything you did for me.”  He was aware of a certain awkwardness in his phrasing.  Aaron, too, seemed aware of his discomfort.

“I’m glad you found your home,” Aaron said.  There was a roughness in his voice.

Spock stood up suddenly.  “Biddy is approaching the cabin.”

“How far?” Aaron asked, standing himself.

“Approximately...”  Spock started to explain the exact distance – over two dozen meters downslope, steadily climbing the path up the hill to the cabin.  He caught himself.  “Not far.”  The image of a fleur-de-lys necklace flashed briefly through his mind; a necklace worn now by Biddy Cloom; an heirloom that would be treasured centuries later by her distant descendant, Amanda Grayson.  A necklace that he had held in his hands in both eras, unknowing of its true significance until now.

Aaron smiled and shook his head.  “I will miss you.  You were the best accountant I ever had.”  He chuckled, and Spock permitted himself to smile.

“Live long and prosper, Aaron.”  He held out his hand in the human way, and Aaron shook it.  Their hands fell to their sides.

“Goodbye, Ish.”

Spock met Aaron’s gaze again.  “Goodbye, Aaron.”  He flipped open his communicator.  “Spock to Enterprise...”

A moment later he was back on the ship.  It did not surprise him to find Kirk at the transporter controls, and no one else in the room. 

Sudden emotion threatened to overcome his composure.  He focused his entire attention on stepping off the transporter platform without stumbling.  He kept his gaze away from the dangerous sympathy in Kirk’s eyes.

“Scotty says the ship is at peak performance, ready for the slingshot effect.  We’re ready to go back home, Mr. Spock.”

He was grateful that Kirk’s words were strictly ship’s business.  “That... would be most welcome,” he replied, and took his position by Kirk’s side.  They left the transporter room together.

*****

Kirk heaved a huge sigh of relief.  “Well done.”

The Enterprise still shuddered and moaned from the stresses of moving through time.  Uhura’s board was lit with dozens of damage reports; her attention was solidly fixed on the steady stream of messages that she consolidated and reported to the captain.  Spock correlated dozens of damage reports and passed along this information as well. 

The next several hours passed quickly as the Enterprise crew efficiently pinpointed and repaired the most crucial systems and set up a plan that would bring the remaining systems up to speed within the next two solar days.  Numerous highly encrypted messages were sent out to Starbase 12 and the Starfleet command.

“ETA to Starbase 12 3.5 solar days, at Warp Factor 5,” Sulu reported. 

“Steady as she goes,” Kirk said.  As their beta shift replacements emerged from the turbolift, he got up and stretched.  “Well, gentlemen, I’m ready for dinner.”

Uhura interrupted.  “Captain, it’s Admiral Mathews.”

“Spock, meet you in mess hall three?”

“Affirmative.”

Kirk sat back down in the command chair.  “Put him on the screen.”  He was peripherally aware of the sound of Spock’s footsteps as he joined the others in the turbolift.  The admiral’s face appeared on the viewscreen just as the turbolift doors swished shut.  He focused his attention entirely on the matter at hand.  “Admiral Mathews…”

*****

Spock entered the mess hall with Uhura and Sulu and as they crossed over to the food dispensaries, he saw and sensed every eye in the room upon him.  Conversations ceased and as he turned he saw that he was surrounded by familiar faces, all smiling, all welcoming.

It was almost too much.  He wanted to retreat completely behind his shields; he wanted to open them and welcome the warm positive emotions emanating from all these crewmembers.

He stood, frozen for a moment, choosing the best responses.  He settled on a brief nod of acknowledgment.  This seemed to satisfy most of them; they turned back to their meals as he headed to where Sulu and Uhura were already seated.

The captain had a favorite table; the closest to the door in case he had to run out because of an emergency.  It was generally left empty for Kirk’s use, even during the busiest times.  Uhura and Sulu had already started their meals.  He collected a tray, chose his standard evening meal as a default, and joined them.

Sulu immediately engaged him in a discussion of the logistics involved in traveling forward through time to their era and he relaxed into the familiarity of discussing technical matters.  Reaching for his meal, he paused briefly after his first bite.  Even after being back on the Enterprise for the last few days, the taste and texture of replicated food was startling.

Uhura grinned.  “Starship food takes a bit of getting used to, doesn’t it?”

“Replicator food provides all necessary nutrients,” he responded.  “Moreover, chemically the food the Enterprise replicators produces is identical to what is colloquially termed ‘home-cooked’ food.”

“From the look on your face a moment ago it was obviously you could tell the difference.”

He raised an affronted eyebrow, and she chuckled.  “I apologize for my illogical greeting earlier,” Uhura said with a smile. 

“Human illogic…” he began, and paused, considering, enjoying the sparkle in her eyes.  “has its own consistency.  A fascinating study.”

Her smile, impossibly, broadened, but when she spoke again he was relieved that it concerned matters much easier to discuss: the linguistic issues of dealing with the Karsid records. 

They spent some time in pleasant conversation, with both Sulu and Uhura filling him in on what had occurred during his absence.

“…and the Imperial Representative nearly created an interstellar incident when he thought we were transporting live tribbles!”  Sulu and Uhura shared a laugh, and Spock allowed his lips to curl slightly upwards.

He found himself relaxing into the normality of shipboard life, into the ease of camaraderie he’d experienced for many years.  Prior to his journey to the past, he had found other ways and terms to deal with human social situations.  Those old ways seemed inadequate now.  Would it be possible to use as a guide the knowledge he’d gained in Earth’s past?

This is community, he reflected.  I know what that means now.  But it’s not new knowledge.  I didn’t need Aaron and the Bolts and Biddy and Candy and all the residents of Seattle to show me this.  I knew it already.  I just could not acknowledge it to myself.

That last night on Starbase 12 at the Wonder Bar he had been comfortable in his accustomed role, always the observer of illogical human foibles, never the participant.  But in the past, without his memory, with no knowledge of Vulcan, he had nothing to guide him but Mr. Stemple’s advice and observing the humans around him.  And several months of living among humans as a human had changed him from observer to participant.  At the very end, at Candy’s wedding, he’d taken part in their group celebratory dance and felt himself wholly one of them, truly part of their community.

It would be difficult to set those months aside.  It was difficult now to remind himself why returning to his old ways was desirable. 

It was easy, however, to “talk shop” as the humans put it, and he quickly found himself sharing what he had discovered about the Klingon plot to alter Earth history when he had hacked into the computer system on the Klingon ore freighter and how this correlated with the extensive information the Karsid records had revealed.  They had nearly finished their meal and were in the middle of a particularly fascinating discussion about the minutiae of their endless search through the Karsid records when the captain finally entered the room, McCoy on his heels.

Spock sat back.  He felt a smile touch his lips; he could find no reason to conceal it.  Behind Kirk, McCoy gave him a big grin.  The doctor had been doing that frequently since his return, followed just as quickly with a curmudgeonly frown and a sarcastic remark.

Kirk’s attention was taken momentarily by Scotty, who was relating additional details on ship’s repair.  But when Kirk surveyed the room and his eyes lit on Spock, he smiled - and his smile warmed the room.

Spock relaxed even further, his gaze entirely taken by Kirk’s.  The captain did not take the time to go to the food dispensers, not even for coffee; he walked over to where they were seated.

The world seemed to oddly narrow to Jim’s smile, Jim’s eyes.  He was aware that he was truly smiling, in public, in front of others.  Jim was returning his smile, his gaze on Spock alone.  He stood to meet him.

The door opened again.  He glanced over at the two beings who had just entered the room - and slammed down his shields and forced his features into absolute nonemotion.

“Spock?”  Jim’ expressive face radiated concern.  He turned - and when he saw the newcomers he looked back at Spock with a rueful, private smile. 

Spock did not acknowledge Jim’s smile.  He stood and waited while Trae of Vulcan approached, followed by the Enterprise’s History Officer, Lt. Gilden.

Spock had known, of course, that another Vulcan was on board.  He had already scheduled a meeting with Trae tomorrow; he had been anticipating a stimulating discussion regarding the Karsid records.

He had not anticipated being caught in a public indecency like this, to be witnessed displaying obvious emotion - and the cause was not sufficient. 

Shame burned through him.  To an elder like Trae, the cause would never be sufficient.

Trae stopped a few feet away from Spock.   His hair was utterly white; his face lined with markings testifying to his great age.  Spock knew that Trae was well into his third century.  As was proper he greeted him in Golic, with the phrases indicating his acknowledgment of Trae’s status, and his own.  “Greetings, respected and honored one, I come to serve.”

Trae regarded him for a moment, revealing nothing behind his calm, emotionless eyes. “Lieutenant Commander Spock.”

Spock drew in a quick breath.  Trae was within his rights not to respond to him in the appropriate manner.  By choosing to use his Starfleet rank instead of his clan name, and to use the human pronunciation of his name, Trae had indicated he considered Spock to be of an inferior status - not worthy of the customary reply that he would ordinarily be entitled to due to his family’s standing.

And by reacting as he did, with that quick indrawn breath, he had confirmed Trae’s opinion.  “Sir,” he said, acknowledging what had passed between them by lowering his head briefly.

He was aware that Kirk was standing next to him.  He was grateful that Kirk did not take any other action, or speak. 

“I shall await your attendance at 15:00 hours tomorrow.”  Trae switched language to Standard.

Spock’s face felt stiff.  His lips felt numb.  “Acknowledged.”

Trae turned, Gilden in tow, and went over to the food dispensers.

Spock made sure his shields were firmly in place before he turned to face Kirk and the others.  They were all watching him, all clearly aware that something had just transpired.  Every one of their faces mirrored concern for him.

Flooded with shame, he wished, not for the first time, that human faces were not so expressive.  He wished that part of him did not recognize, did not desire to respond to their visible emotion.

“I shall be in Science Lab # 3,” he said abruptly, steeling himself against the pain in Kirk’s eyes.  All of the information on the Enterprises’ recent two passages through time was being correlated there; it was a logical destination.  He often spent time with the beta shift personnel part way through their shift, being informed of and directing their work.  It was logical he be there.

“Spock…” Jim said.

“But you haven’t finished your dinner,” Uhura put in.

“We need to get some more meat back on your bones,” McCoy interjected.

“I haven’t finished telling you about what happened when the Klingons thought we were transporting tribbles,” Sulu added.

“Another time,” he said.  “With your leave, Captain.”

Kirk’s eyes had hardened; he glanced briefly in Trae’s direction, then studied Spock’s face. “Of course. 

He forced himself to walk in his usual manner to the door.  Nevertheless, it felt like he was fleeing - and not just from Trae.  Part of his soul grieved for what he was losing; part of his mind insisted this emotion be cut off.

He went directly to the lab, determined that after he was briefed he would retreat to his cabin and spend the rest of the night in meditation.

But he faced the same situation in Science Lab # 3.  His staff immediately leapt to their feet when he entered and insisted in crowding around him and inundating him with welcoming emotions.

He shut his eyes briefly, suddenly exhausted, then opened them again to find Lt. Enid Nhussi, Astrophysics Department head, looking at him with concern.  “Sir, we’ve already prepared all of our reports; you’ll find them on your computer.  Since you just got out of Sickbay we figured we’d have everything ready for you to review in your quarters.  Unless you’d prefer we brief you here?”

Ensign Randy Owen, always willing to talk at length on any subject, reported, “You’ll find some fascinating information regarding the slingshot effect that correlates the data we just gathered with the information we gathered in our previous incursion into Earth’s history to the year 1969.” He rattled off a string of information that Spock would ordinarily have found irresistible, yet now he found it difficult to focus his attention on.

“And we’ve completed the analysis of the readings when the Klingon ore freighter disappeared - ”  Lt. Travis, never tactful, abruptly shut up when Lt. Cheng dug him in the ribs.  He glared at her.  “It’s important data.”

Spock nodded in acknowledgment.  “I believe I will review the data in my quarters.  Department meeting tomorrow, 0900 hours.”

They were all still grinning at him when he left, even Randy, who often had to be dragged by force away from his computer readouts.

He retreated to his room, welcoming its hot, dark sanctuary, an escape and a haven away from the Human environment and Human emotions.  And yet after the rain and cold of Seattle, the clean crisp brightness of the rest of the Enterprise, it somehow held a note of rejection, a trace of Vulcan’s - of Trae’s - dispassionate, disapproving presence.

He attempted meditation, with no success.  Another failure, he thought tiredly, and finally picked up his ka’athyra.  The mathematical and musical progressions often assisted meditation; he hoped that would be the case this night.

His fingers found familiar strings, and he began to play.

*****

1.3 hours later the door buzzer sounded.  His fingers stilled on the strings.  “Come.”

Jim walked in and looked at him inquiringly.  That expressive Human face showed a multitude of emotions: concern, friendship, a trace of anger though not, Spock decided, directed at him.

He rose and hung the ka’athyra carefully in its antigrav cradle.  He turned to face his friend.

“I was thinking perhaps a game of chess?”

Though part of Spock still wanted to find refuge in silence and solitude, part of him still felt acid-touched by shame at his overt emotion toward this man and toward his fellow crewmembers, he was forced to acknowledge that his primary reaction was one of joy: Jim had joined him, after all.

“That would be agreeable.”  He ordered the computer to change his cabin’s environment to standard Enterprise norm.

“You don’t have to do that.”  A droplet of sweat on Kirk’s face belied his offer.

“I have… grown accustomed to colder temperatures.”  He took out the chess set and set it up on his desk.  He took some satisfaction as the room began to cool and Jim visibly relaxed. 

Spock set the pieces in their places while Jim took a seat.  As Spock moved the pieces to opening positions on the various tiers, he remembered playing chess in San Francisco mere weeks - and several centuries - ago.  Even then, he’d felt something wrong about the flatness of the board, the lack of dimension in the play. 

Even then, he had wondered – who was it that he missed playing chess with?  He’d known there’d been someone he was accustomed to facing across a chessboard. Someone important to him. And yet Jim’s face, like everything else from his former life, had been hidden behind the veil of pain his struggle to evade the Mindsifter had imposed upon him.

Now, as he settled the chess pieces in their proper places, his new reality also seemed out of sync.

He sat.  “Your move,” he said.

Kirk glanced at him.  He didn’t bother to contemplate the pieces; he selected one and began his advance.

Spock responded, and piece by piece, pawn by pawn, knight and bishop and king and queen, the game proceeded with every challenge met and answered. 

Kirk made one of his illogical moves and settled back with a smile.  Spock contemplated the board and lifted a piece.

“I had an interesting conversation with Mr. Stemple the night before we returned him to his home,” Kirk commented.

“Indeed.”

“Ishmael Marx sounded like an excellent man.  Ethical, honest.  Heroic.  I hear he saved some lives.”

Spock contemplated the chess piece in his hand. 

“Courageous, as well, to face all the challenges he did with no memory of his past.  A man of integrity.  Reserved in manner.  Interestingly enough, a vegetarian.”

Spock closed his hand around the piece.  He could not meet Jim’s gaze.  He was filled with emotion. It was too much, too complicated.  His knowledge of Jim’s desires - and his own - made it even more difficult to consider what he should say or do.  Part of him wished to seek refuge in his habits of the past.  He was filled with shame over his recent behavior.  He was filled with bewilderment over the conflicting needs for honesty in what he spoke.  Emotional honesty.  A truly alien concept.  And yet, did not Vulcan value IDIC?

“I had thought…” he began, and then found himself seeking out the words.  Jim listened in patient silence, and when Spock dared look up he found it nearly impossible to bear his look of concern.  He resumed his study of the chess piece he had selected.  A rook, to claim Jim’s queen.

“I had thought that were I ever to lose control, I would become a barbarian.”

“But you didn’t.”

Spock said nothing further, and Jim broke the lengthening silence.  “From everything Mr. Stemple told me, Ishmael Marx was very much like you.  You have a core of integrity and honesty, decency and courage.  These qualities are essential to who you are.  Not Vulcan.  Not Human.  Just Spock.”

“I indulged in unseemly displays of emotion.”  He could not keep the shame out of his voice; he felt fresh shame at that revelation.

“With your friends, Spock.  With your community.  Both then - and now.”

Spock opened his fingers and contemplated the rook.  He made his move, and Kirk’s queen tumbled.

He finally met Kirk’s gaze.  “Checkmate.”

Kirk gave him an indulgent smile.  “For this round, yes.  Will you meet me for breakfast?”

“I will, sir.”

Something flickered in Jim’s gaze at the word “sir”.  “Good night then.”

“Good night.”  It was easy, at least, to say those human words, but when Kirk left and the door slid shut behind them he wished he’d been able to find other words; words to ask Kirk to stay; words to explore the many things which had been silent between them for so long.

Words he did not possess.  He put away the chess set.  He picked up the ka’athyra and began to play.

*****

Spock arrived at his meeting with Trae at precisely 1500 hours.  He did not pause before entering the room; he knew that Trae would be able to hear the slightest hesitation in his gait, and would interpret that as an indication that Spock had allowed emotion to influence his actions.

The door slid shut behind him.  Trae sat motionless at a conference table containing a monitor and a PADD.  Trae’s ancient eyes regarded him without emotion.

“Greetings, respected and honored one, I come to serve.”  Spock repeated his words from the previous day, pronouncing every syllable with the proper degree of deference and respect due to such an Elder.

“Lieutenant Commander Spock.”  Trae also repeated his words, his voice without inflection; his gaze entirely free of emotion.

Spock did not permit himself to react to Trae’s repetition of his insult, nor did he permit himself to feel any degree of shame.  Kaiidth. I myself have aspired to that level of control.  And yet Trae, for all his wisdom, chooses to address me with disrespect.  He took his place at the table.  “I have reviewed your work on the Karsid Empire, specifically their intended incursion into Terran affairs during the era known at that time on the North American continent as the 1870’s.  I found several items of specific interest.” He kept his manner and posture entirely correct.

The elder Vulcan responded in equally precise and correct terms.  He offered data; Spock responded, and chose several points to ask for additional data and clarification.  He noted that at some level he was pleased that their conversation continued to focus entirely on matters relating to the Karsid Empire. 

When the appointed time for their meeting to end arrived, Trae shut down the computer and focused his remote gaze on Spock.  “You have lived many years among the Humans.”

Spock gave him the precise amount of time, down to the hour. 

“It was the correct choice.”

Spock did not permit himself to react to the insult.  “Honored sir, I accept your wisdom in this matter.  You have lived among Humans for some time yourself.”  There was, he knew, irony in his voice.  Another failing on his part.  Another cause for shame.  And yet he found his sense of shame much diminished from the previous day. Ishmael Marx was very much like you.  Kirk had spoken these words.  In the hours since then, he had begun to understand their meaning.

Trae heard the irony in Spock’s voice if the tiny flicker in his eyes was any indication.  “Vulcan honors IDIC.”

Spock’s eyebrows flicked upward in surprise.  “I have found that Vulcan honor for IDIC finds its most common expression in abstract intellectual ideas.”

“That is logical.  IDIC is best practiced off planet.”

Spock stood.  “Agreed.”

Trae remained seated.  “S’chn T’gai Spock,” he said, and this time he used the Vulcan pronunciation. “You made your decision long ago, when you joined Starfleet.  It is logical to acknowledge and abide by that decision.”

“Honored One,” Spock acknowledged.  “Your logic is impeccable.”

Trae acknowledged Spock’s words with a tiny bow of his head.  But his eyes showed his understanding of the meaning behind Spock’s words, and his dismissal of the emotion behind it.

Experiencing an odd sensation, as if he had just put down an overheavy burden, Spock walked out the door.  Trae, of course, was correct.  He had already made his choice, long ago.  It was, perhaps, past time he acknowledged that decision and explored it for the many things of value which it offered.

*****

Kirk grinned at him through the interstices of the chess pieces and made an outrageous opening move. They had set up the chess board in Kirk’s quarters this evening.  The scent of Spock’s favorite Vulcan tea filled the room; that, along with the cool Human climate and, mostly importantly, the presence of Kirk himself gave Spock a sensation he could only describe as ‘home’.  A home that was hybrid, like himself, made from different components, and yet achieving a particular whole.

“The illogic of your approach to chess…”  Spock spent some time contemplating the ramifications of Kirk’s move, considered and discarded several logical moves, and chose one that he was certain Kirk would have contemplated himself.

Kirk laughed, despite the fact he was now at a tactical disadvantage.  “Well done.  But the game’s not over yet…”

A ferocious half hour followed, at the end of which Kirk tipped his king in defeat.  He didn’t seem in the least bit bothered by his failure to win the game, Spock noted, pleased by Kirk’s aura of relaxation, the sense of joy he knew Kirk felt in his presence.

Kirk poured them both tea, and settled back in his chair.  His eyes were filled with a complex mix of emotion.  “How was your meeting with Trae?”

“His knowledge of Karsid history is most extensive,” Spock replied. 

“So the meeting went well?”

“He gave me much to consider.”

Kirk leaned forward.  “He was rude to you in the mess hall.”

“Indeed.  He was.” 

Kirk looked startled at hearing those words; Spock felt equally startled, knowing he had uttered them.

“You seem more… relaxed tonight,” Kirk observed.  “I was concerned…”

Spock dipped his head.  “I am quite well.”

“Did he behave professionally today?”

“He was very correct in his manner to me.”

“In other words, he was rude.”

“Yes.”  He noted the anger in Kirk’s eyes, and continued, “You were correct in your advice to me last night.  Even without knowing who I was, I did not lose myself.  I did not become a barbarian.”  A deeply held concern - no, fear, he acknowledged the emotion by name - could now be set aside.  “Nevertheless, Trae gave me much to consider.  Had I stayed on Vulcan, had I followed the path my father had planned for me, my life would have been quite different.  Trae caused me to contemplate the choices I have made in my life.  I would not have had to make those choices had I remained on Vulcan.  Indeed, there would have been few instances in which I would have been required to make any personal choices at all.”

“And yet you chose to follow your own destiny.”

“I did. Mr. Stemple told me that it didn’t matter if I ever remembered my identity.  That I would simply live a different life than the one I had lived before.  His words allowed me to consider possibilities that were difficult for me to conceive at that time.  It seemed impossible for me to do what he insisted must be done: to live as a Human among Humans.”

“I’m grateful he was the one who found you.”

“As am I.  On considering Aaron’s words now, I acknowledge there have been many possibilities in my life, and that choosing Starfleet has brought consequences I have attempted to deny.”

He noted the flare of alarm in Kirk’s eyes.  “I have contemplated the choices I have made.  Choices I need to make.  Choices I desire to make.”

“Spock…” Kirk began, then settled back, waiting for him to continue.

“I have told you of the wager Mr. Stemple made with the Bolt brothers.  Of how they brought 30 women from the eastern portion of the North American continent as intended wives for the lumber workers.”

“Yes, you did.”  Kirk’s expressive face revealed both surprise and impatience with this seeming non sequitur. 

“It is ironic.  When Aaron told me of how this wager came about, I was outraged on the behalf of these women; that they should be treated as commodities.  Ironic,” he repeated.  “I do acknowledge that, even without my memory, I retained much of who I am.  Which now causes me to question myself.”

Kirk looked at him questioningly.

“My response to the actions of the Bolt brothers regarding those women was illogical. The men needed wives; the women needed husbands. It was their choice to make the journey; to become wives to men they did not know, just as it was the original intention of Eve McHuron, MagdaKovacs, and RuthBonaventure to journey to Ophiuchus 3 to become wives for the settlers there.”

Kirk was watching him intently.  “Since you said these women had made their choices of their own free will why were you…”  Kirk hesitated before repeating Spock’s emotionally-charged word, “outraged?”

“I did not question my reaction then.  I understand it now.  I was outraged on their behalf because I had thought initially they had no choice in the matter.  Just as I myself had no choice in the selection of my mate.  In one way, at least, I followed the path my father had chosen for me.  It is logical for parents to select mates for their children.  They have the wisdom and experience to choose correctly, to make good alliances, to have everything prepared well in advance for the male’s first Time.  It is too dangerous to leave the choice of mate to random chance.  It is not logical that I was - angry - on behalf of those women.  They made their choices.  My choice was made for me by my father, and un-made for me by T’Pring.”  Spock’s lips tightened as he uttered that name.  “I now am in the position where I must make my own choice. I acknowledge that I cannot leave my life hostage to random chance. T’Pau has sent me information on suitable wives. Every woman she has put forward as a candidate is highly qualified and would bring honor to our Clan. And yet I have postponed making any choice.”

Kirk’s eyes were alive with concern and hope.  “It is your choice, this time.”

“Yes, it is.  I have wanted that choice.”  He stood, Kirk did as well, the table a barely-seen barrier between them.  “When my memory returned, my choice was to dissociate myself from Human concerns and reactions.  My conversation with Trae has caused me to acknowledge the obvious:  I made that choice long ago.  I live among Humans.  I learned a great deal in the past.  I learned who I was, and that I do not need to fear loss of control, for I was there without any awareness of my Vulcan heritage, and I still did not indulge in unseemly displays.  I also learned it is possible to not only study Humans from outside their community, but to participate in that community.  Here, on Enterprise, it is the same.  It is only logical now, to take the next step.”

Kirk was smiling at him, one of Kirk’s many smiles that had always tempted Spock to throw logic aside and indulge in emotion.  “What step is that, Spock?”

“To move beyond being an observer to become a participant.  Jim… during the past few months I could have chosen a mate among those women.  I overheard comments and speculation as to why I chose to remain apart. I had thought my lack of desire was a logical choice: that I was too different from them; that they were alien; that it was too dangerous a risk to take.  If I had chosen a mate, she would have found out who - what I was.  I also understood this: I did not desire any of them. But that does not mean I do not understand desire.  Jim…” 

He stepped around the table to stand in front of Kirk; he clasped his hands behind his back. “I once told you I was ashamed when I felt friendship for you.  I no longer feel shame.  I am proud to call you my friend.”  He left his next words unspoken:  I would be proud to call you more.

Kirk’s eyes widened and Spock was suddenly certain that Kirk had been as aware of his unspoken words as surely as if he had heard them. There was no trace in his face of the depth of his physical desire for Spock, and yet Spock was well aware it was there, simmering beneath the surface. He indulged in speculation - would Jim speak of his desire?  If Jim did not speak of his desire, he concluded that it would be necessary to speak of it himself.  The language of emotion remained foreign to him, and yet he was beginning to understand that he had already fulfilled an apprenticeship; that he already knew more than he’d ever been willing to acknowledge.

His body was filled with odd, hitherto impermissible fragments of feeling.  These needs demanded attention, and he felt fear at their strength; a fear he had always mastered after making use of it to defeat those other, more alien emotions.  Mingled with the fear was exhilaration, anticipation.  Such a complicated amalgam of emotion; did he have the courage to take the next step?

“I am very proud to have you as my friend, Spock,” Kirk said.  Odd, there was a note in his voice, a roughness, that Spock could not recall having heard before.

They stood for a moment in silence, Spock casting about for and rejecting numerous ways of asking what he most desired to ask.

Kirk smiled tentatively.  “I have the feeling you want to ask me something.  Is that true?”

“Yes, Jim.”

Kirk drew in his breath at those words, and something in his eyes crystallized.  “In Sickbay, after I first got you back…”  Kirk hesitated, cleared his throat, and there was that roughness again.  “You were leaning against me, asleep.  I was thinking - certain thoughts about you - and you said… Well, what you just said.”

“Yes, Jim,”  Spock said, and reached out and gently drew two fingers against the side of Kirk’s face.  “I must apologize for my inadvertent mental intrusion - ”

“You were half asleep,” Kirk said gently.  He covered Spock’s hand with his own.

“And thus I was able to acknowledge a truth I otherwise might have denied.” 

Spock turned his hand within Kirk’s grasp and their fingers intertwined. “It was illogical to have these thoughts concerning you, and therefore I have not permitted myself to have them.” 

“I have them, Spock.  Oh yes, I have them.”

Kirk’s scent had changed; Spock inhaled the strong sexual musk and his own need raged to life.

“I do admit I have had to reinforce this determination on numerous occasions.”  His voice, he realized, had become uneven.

Kirk reached around him, pulled him close, and the shock of Kirk’s hardness meeting his own sent waves of pleasure through his body.  He gasped, found that he’d closed his eyes, opened them again to find Kirk’s face an inch from his own. 

“Humans kiss…”  Spock lowered his head, and Kirk brushed his mouth against Spock’s lips. Spock reached out, pulled him closer, and allowed himself to cease thinking, to be overcome by pure physical sensation, to simply be….

…Spock had closed his eyes again, and Kirk marveled at the look of naked trust and desire on Spock’s face.  “Beloved,” Kirk whispered, and gently laid trails of kisses along Spock’s face.  “Beloved,” he repeated, and placed a feather-light kiss against Spock’s mouth.

Spock parted his lips and looked at Kirk out of half-slitted eyes. Kirk met Spock’s mouth with his own. He had always kissed well; he took pride in that, and Spock’s mouth opened willingly beneath his, tongue eager - ready - for what Kirk could teach him. God, this was Spock’s mouth that he was kissing; he had wanted this bare moments after first meeting him; had lusted for Spock immediately, and recognized love much later. 

His face flushed green; heat poured off his body in waves. Kirk pulled him closer, gasped as they rubbed together, and was suddenly desperate for more. He slid his hands beneath Spock’s shirts, his hands shaking.  He needed more than he had ever needed anyone in his life, but yet he still found the strength to pull back. 

“Spock...  Are you sure?  Do you want this?  We don’t have to go this fast.”

Spock stared at him with passionate eyes. Steel-strong arms crushed him close; their mouths met, hard and hot and fast. There was no need to think; Kirk needed Spock now; nothing else mattered.  From the ferocious heat in Spock’s eyes, the desperate way Spock’s hands were grasping at his clothing, the frantic way he was rubbing against him, Kirk found it impossible to guess whose need was the greater, or if there was any separation in their desire anymore.

They were on the bed.  Naked.  Kirk settled Spock on his back, careful of Spock’s damaged leg, a factor which didn’t seem to concern Spock at all.  Kirk pressed his body full length against Spock’s fevered skin, groaned as the heated aching hardness of his cock met and matched Spock’s penis, steel for steel; felt the incredible, tempered strength of Spock’s hands as he fitted them to Kirk’s back and buttocks, holding him precisely in place.  Spock’s face was lost in passion, head thrown back, mouth open, abandoned.

Kirk’s balls tightened; the sudden rush toward orgasm seized him; now, having what he so desperately needed – Not yet. 

Gasping for breath, he pulled away.  Spock moaned and heaved beneath him.  “Not so fast,” Kirk said. Spock’s breathing calmed and his lips curved into a tiny smile as he reached to touch Kirk’s face. 

He covered that long hand with his own, pressed it against his skin, cherished the feel of the strong fingers, the fineness of the skin, the complexity of the bone structure.  Curling his fingers about the other’s hand, he pulled it slightly away from his face, then chose an angle and took Spock’s index and middle finger into his mouth, sucking strongly.

Spock shuddered, the dark eyes squeezing shut, his face naked with need, his cock, rigid, weeping with desire.   I can do this for you, Kirk thought, tonguing the fingers, glorying in the restless shifting of Spock’s body on the bed.

“I love your hands,” he whispered, and Spock’s eyes opened, abandoned with passion, and - yes - love, and suddenly an unacknowledged fear vanished utterly.  This can work for us.  This will work for us.  You will not choose one of T’Pau’s well-qualified brides.  You are mine.

Spock’s eyes showed he understood Kirk’s thoughts; showed that he reveled in them.  “Jim.”  The depth of that voice. He could come, just at the sound of that voice speaking his name with such need.  “I make my choice.” 

Spock moved suddenly, clutching at him, rolling him over until he was on top, pressing his body hard against Kirk’s, taking an extra second to find balance for his damaged leg. Kirk looked up into the fire in the dark eyes, urgent desire printed on the angular features and testifiedto by the hardness that met his, the flush that filled the long, hard bodyHis cock strained, excited by that consuming power, at the ease at which Spock had moved him, at the naked desire marking the angular face.

Spock moved his head until he could reach Kirk’s ears with his lips.  His hot, wet tongue explored whorls and contours; licked the roundness of Kirk’s ears.  Intensity of feeling sparked everywhere in Kirk.  Impossible to wait; that fevered cock rubbing against his, already leaping; he felt heat, liquid, fire, power - frantic - desperate - 

He found himself collapsing into aftermath with no clear memory of how he had gotten there.  For an instant - transcendent - he had been wholly other, locked into a mental embrace that had welcomed and accepted all he was.  An instant only, and then back in his body, welcoming oblivion, welcoming the weight of the body now sprawled over his.

Sleep. 

Kirk didn’t know how long he was out, only that he became aware of wellbeing in every part of his body, that he was being watched, that a fevered body was lying, skin-to-skin, against his left side, and there was the smell of sex in the air, an alien intoxicating musk that left him already ravenous for more.

“23.5 minutes.”  He turned his head to find dark eyes contemplating him.  Spock’s face was as relaxed as he’d ever seen it.

“What?” Great, Kirk, sound like an intelligent life form, why don’t you?   “You mean, that’s how long I was asleep?  Are you reading my mind?”  Of course he was; skin to skin like this, how could he not?  He wondered how he felt about that.  He could not detect Spock’s presence in his mind now; he was almost certain they hadn’t melded, and yet - there had been that one instant of transposition where he suddenly felt he was seeing through Spock’s eyes.  Seeing himself, his own face alight with the ecstasy of orgasm.  A peculiar sense of selfconsciousness intruded on his mind.  I wanted to see you as you came…

Spock was silently contemplating all the places where their naked bodies touched.  At last he shifted his gaze back to Kirk’s face.  “I do not wish to shield, with you.  Not at this time.”  His voice was at its deepest register.  “But I shall, if you prefer it.”

“No, Spock.  I do not prefer it.”  Kirk looked down at his deflated cock ruefully.  “My reputation is ruined.”

An eyebrow quirked.  “Reputation?  For what, precisely?”

“For being a careful considerate lover.”  He smiled apologetically, aware that this was his best ‘little boy’ expression. “With you - I couldn’t wait.”

Spock considered.  “Nor could I.  Though I do acknowledge your superior experience in such matters.”

Kirk laughed.  What would have been an insult, or backhanded compliment from some, was delightful from Spock. Delightful - yes, it was wholly delightful to be lying here naked in bed, talking about sex - with Spock.

“I would suggest,” Spock said, propping himself up on one elbow and giving Kirk’s body a frank and comprehensive scrutiny, “that we continue such actitivies at our earliest convenience.”

Kirk saw Spock was hard again.  Spock’s gaze had returned to his face.  Kirk looked into the dark eyes regarding him.  Spock’s face was in its accustomed lines of calm; but his eyes were uncensored, raw with wonder and need.

“Shower first?”

“Shower, later.”  A long hand reached out and settled itself around one of Kirk’s thighs, fingers leisurely exploring.  A look of intense concentration was on Spock’s face, as he molded his hand to the hard muscles, moving up by inches.  Kirk’s deflated penis suddenly took new life.

In the shower, then?” Kirk gasped.
Spock shuddered and focused on Kirk’s face. “I presume you mean in water?  That was the most uncomfortable aspect of living in the past, bathing in water.  I have no desire to repeat that unnecessary experience.”

“Come on, Spock, what about all those times when we had to get clean in mountain streams or primitive plumbing on missions?”

“That was necessary.  This is not.”  Spock’s hand clasped Kirk’s rapidly hardening cock and he lost all interest in the conversation.  Spock fit his body against Kirk’s.  “Perhaps you can acquaint me with that human perversion some other time.” 

Kirk laughed.  His flesh ached with wanting, sharp need was centered in his cock, but permeated every cell in his body.  Every part of him wanted to possess every part of Spock.

He rolled onto his side in order to face Spock.  Grazing his fingers along Spock’s face, he encountered a rough patch of skin along his temples.  The dim light revealed, when he brushed the black hair away from Spock’s forehead, other scars there as well.  Something inside clenched on itself at this evidence of the pain Spock had suffered.

Spock was watching his face.  He said carefully, “I will have McCoy remove these traces. I do not wish you to be disturbed by them.”

With his bangs pushed to the side, Spock looked different, vulnerable, almost a stranger, the full expanse of his face emphasizing the alien cast of the sharp bone structure.  Kirk pressed his lips to the hard bone of Spock’s forehead and tongued the squares of rough skin on his forehead and temples. Spock surged against him; he could feel Spock’s breath on his throat, and then a hot tongue contacted his skin and explored, line of pulse, line of throat.

He moved Spock’s head to one side, and remembering Spock’s fascination with his own ears, imagined it could not possibly be equal to his interest in Spock’s ears.  He drew his tongue in a wet line from lobe to delicate tip.  Hearing Spock’s gasped intake of breath filled him with a sense of power, I can make you feel this.

He gently guided Spock until he was lying on his back.  He knelt over him, already hungry at the prospect of taking that long straining cock into his mouth.  Spock reached up to touch his face.  Remembering how Spock had reacted when he’d sucked on his fingers, he clasped Spock’s hand, ready to do the same.  The light revealed the tracery of scars encircling his wrist.  At that evidence of pain, a complex knot of emotion rose in him. Incapable of analysis, he bent his head and kissed the scars, gently nuzzling along the discolored lines and ridges.

When he pulled back he saw Spock watching him with puzzlement, and realized Spock had lost his erection.  As had he.

He couldn’t untangle sorrow from love, desire from anger. Spock flinched.

He pulled back to lie next to Spock, who rolled to face him. “The way you feel - what I feel.  Are you going to be able to deal with this?”

“Affirma- Yes.”

Kirk sighed.  “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“There is no pain, now, Jim.  I do not understand - ”

Can’t you feel what I’m feeling?  But why ask you to understand, when I don’t understand it myself?  “I didn’t mean physical pain.”

“It does not disturb me.”  The words were clipped; short.

But it did.  The loss of Spock’s erection was evident.  “I meant my emotions.”

“You have great sorrow…”  Spock contemplated.  “And anger.”  Spock bent his head, focused his attention on the damaged skin around his wrists.   “I had thought that I would not move… or respond to their questioning in any way.  It became clear I could not maintain this resolve.”  Spock looked somewhere to Kirk’s left, vision focused on something unseen.  “My only priority was not to speak, not to tell them what they wished to know.”  One hand crumpled an edge of one sheet and made an abortive move to pull it toward his body.  The hand stilled, relaxed; long fingers released the fabric. 

“Spock, do you want to talk about it?”

“It is unimportant.  It is over.  Jim.  We do not need to discuss this.”

Kirk was silent for a moment, trying to calm the turmoil inside.  He felt Spock mentally retreat from him, begin to raise his barriers, and the pain he felt at being shut out was so sharp, so exquisite, he almost gasped aloud.

Then suddenly Spock was open to him, next to him, embracing him, and Kirk was embracing him as well, holding him as tightly as he could; holding him as if he never intended to let him go. “I’d given you up for dead,” he gasped.  He hadn’t cried then.  He didn’t cry now.  But he held Spock for endless moments as tremors shuddered through his body.

“I’ve never grieved for anyone as much as I grieved for you.”  Spock began rubbing comforting circles on his back.  “And then when Uhura took the readings for alien life forms and told me that they were Vulcan…”  He stopped speaking; he couldn’t go on. 

“I am here, Jim.”  Spock brushed a kiss against his forehead.

“I don’t know who I’d be without you.”  Kirk whispered the confession, remembering the nights without sleep; his physical need to fill his days so completely with activity there was no time for thought, no time to remember his loss.

Spock’s calm voice belied the fierce passion in his eyes. “You would be the captain of the Enterprise.”

“I’m not just the captain of the Enterprise, Spock.” 

Spock caught his hand. “You are never less than that.”

Kirk clasped one of Spock’s hand in his, seeing the scars again.  The sacrifices they had made were written on their flesh and etched within their souls. 

“It was my choice to go on that mission.”

“It was my choice to let you go.”

“It was necessary.”

“I know.”
“And if the choice came again?”  When the choice came again?

“We will both do what is necessary.”

Spock closed his eyes and settled into Kirk’s arms.  Spock’s skin had chilled; Kirk drew the blankets up around them.  He relaxed against Spock and felt Spock snake one arm around his back and pull him fractionally closer.

And if the choice comes again... -?

He knew the answer.  Knew the hard cold place inside him, the part that could go on, despite everything.  He could send Spock out again, to face certain death.  Just as he could face it himself.

This was what they had chosen.  This was who they were.

And perhaps they would beat the odds.  They always had.  He had yet to find a no-win situation.

The sacrifices that would be made. The lives they had both chosen.  The paths they had yet to take, stretching out into infinity; all that could be perceived - the unknowable tomorrow, waiting.

For now… For now, he had everything he ever wanted.  He’d deal with the future when it came.

Spock was watching him intently.  He smiled, and Spock’s lips curved into a smile as well.  Spock closed the distance between them and touched Kirk’s lips with his own.  Kirk held him closely.  Spock returned the embrace. “Beloved,” Spock said, using Kirk’s word.  “You are that to me, and more.”

They settled into sleep together.

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