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James Kirk had been here before. Stopped and stared, and then went on. There was plenty of variety in The Marketplace. He'd always liked that. He'd never repeated himself once, since he'd started coming here. Even giving such a tiny part of himself-his seed-to another was too much for second encounters. Familiar faces made him uncomfortable. And there was no need for discomfort here.

Honeyed Cyrellian women, with pale pink trailing feathers from the crests of their beautifully elongated heads. Green Orion women, soaked in musk. Androgynous Hamlonns, where you could wind up with male as easily as female, and both equally exciting. Long-limbed ice giants from Lorr, the men with that peculiar hairline dipping down to the brows, and their rippling cocks.

So much to choose from. But he'd never had this one, though. He couldn't understand why he always stopped to look.

Angrily, he tore his gaze away from the transparent cage and went on to the next individual box, to look over the next whore. He didn't understand whatever message those dark eyes had tried to send him. Didn't want to know.

He pretended to be studying the attributes of the blue-skinned Andorian youth. That white hair was so appealing-the shock of contrast, maybe, with the darker skin. But not tonight. He moved on.

Somewhere overhead on the vast ceiling patterns of green and orange were whirling, and closer at hand bells jangled, drums throbbed. Smoke and perfume collected in his lungs, and outside the seductive pools of light by each cage, the shadows collected like cloaks, letting him be anonymous, separate, contained. There were other forms in the dimness, other customers. Some were darkly clothed, like himself. Others were flamboyant in paint, silk, leather, feathers. Subdued or elegant, it didn't matter. The customers were as faceless as the whores.

Some sort of internal pain drove him. He couldn't name it. The whore's dark eyes were still in his mind. He cursed and strode ahead, until he was nearly running. But the rest bored him tonight; there were too many he had had. Too many familiar bodies.

At the far side of the pavillion he stopped for a drink at a stall where multicolored lights drifted in enclosed tubes, floor to ceiling. The drink tasted of lemons; it was as potent as antimatter. He gulped it down, feeling the burn. Fumes seemed to center in his brain, sharpening his thoughts. A nagging question entered-just why did that one whore disturb him so? What was there about him?

He'd go back and have him. Afterwards, he'd be just another fuck, no different from the rest.

Quickly, before he changed his mind, he took the winding turns of the huge interior complex back to that one particular cage, not thinking it odd how well his feet knew the way. But his mind was still circling, probing at his obsession like a wound he had to repeatedly lay bare, not knowing what had inflicted it. He wanted to know the source, the reason for this compulsion.

His steps slowed as he considered it. Now that he had actually made the decision, more pain had flooded in. Emptiness, like the void between the stars that he could only imagine while others travelled through it, lurked inside. Worse, he felt that he had once had something to fulfill that need, something he couldn't remember, something taken from him so effectively that no trace remained.

He needed. That's why he returned every night. It was more than physical, this need to touch another, if only fleetingly. When his body was satisfied, though, there was nothing in the painted faces and artificial smiles, in the calculated writhing and moaning, to reach back to him. Yet, he had parted with something of himself in each encounter; something he couldn't bear to give to the same person more than once.

No one else seemd to have this need. No one else seemed to find the games and manipulations at HQ out of the ordinary; everyone he worked with seemed to approach the Machiavellian plottings with eagerness and zest, finding in the schemes some meaning for their lives. Their private lives seemed the same. Intimacy was a corrupt word; no one used it. Their lives glanced off each other on the surface; everyone used everyone else, and found it all natural and right.

Abruptly, he felt sick. The endless futility of his days had laid heavy scars on his soul. Trapped on the ground while others piloted the small ships of the Alliance, denied through politics the one thing he had dreamed of his entire life, he felt beset by frustration and desperation. He wanted it all to end-whether to accept his life completely, or to reject everything. Right now he felt he would sell his soul to whatever would ease his pain.

Dim shadows eddied around him, perfumed smoke and incense, and bells tinkled somewhere close by. Here he was again, just a few steps away from the man who, for whatever reason, was the focus of all his unrest.

He moved boldly up to the transparent wall. The whore was still there, alone, reclining on a finely-worked couch. He lifted his dark eyes up to meet Kirk's, then deliberately looked away.

Kirk watched him for a moment, feeling drained of emotion. It was as if, ready to take this final step, everything had deserted him, leaving only the present moment in time. The long body lay on the couch, long-fingered hands resting quietly at his sides, in absolute repose. Only his breathing and his alert eyes betrayed life. He was not painted like the rest, or using a provocative pose. The long emerald-green robe he wore covered him completely, yet molded itself to every angle of his form, delineating shoulder, chest, the thrust of hipbone, long legs. Black brows slanted up to meet the gleaming black hair. High cheekbones sculpted the face into something more exotic and alien than just another Vulcan. Kirk well knew that he was one of that dull race; the eartips protruded through the heavy black hair which, ornamented by strings of shells and small beads, fell well below his shoulders.

As quiet as a statue, he was seductive in that stillness, and Kirk felt the familiar excitement upon him. He had the necessary chit in his hand. Without thought, he palmed it to the right portion of the transparent material, into the indentation waiting for it, and the wall moved quickly aside.

The Vulcan rose as he entered and stood waiting for him, towering over him by inches. He wasn't sure he liked that, but it didn't matter now. The Vulcan inclined his head, looking oddly dignified despite the circumstances, turned and led him through a stone-cut doorway into an interior chamber.

Barbaric was the word for it. Light was dim, ruddy; it spilled over piles of cushions and furs and gleamed brazenly off gold ornaments and gilded wooden chests and tables. Dark curtains obscured the stone walls, a rich carpet yielded to his feet. The Vulcan moved closer toward the ornate bed which dominated the chamber, turned and searched his face with those dark eyes.

"James Kirk," he said in a low rumble of a voice, and Kirk started.

"How do you know my name?" he demanded.

Pain and confusion crossed the other's face, drawing the upswept brows into a frown. "I do not know," he said in a whisper.

The pain, uncertainty, obsession were back full force. Kirk suddenly wished he were anywhere else than here, filled with the awful suspicion that he really didn't want to know what lay beneath his compulsion to come here.

But he was here. Now, committed, he would see it through to the end. "Your name?" he barked.

"I am Spock," the Vulcan said, imbuing the simple words with an odd formality.

Kirk paused a moment, then wondered just what the hell he was doing, standing there so awkwardly, trying to think of something to say. This is not a social occasion, he reminded himself, where I have to be deferential to my superiors and cover my ass against my subordinates. This is a brothel; I'm here for a good fuck. That's all.

"Take off your clothes," he ordered.

The Vulcan offered him a slight smile, one of sadness. Whoever said their faces were unreadable? The green robe slipped to the floor, and Kirk raked the nudity beneath with his eyes, admiring the elegant leanness, the powerful musculature, the alien jade-colored cock. It was quiescent, nestled against black fur, and Kirk wondered how it would feel hardened to full length. A hand cupped unconscously, and suddenly he felt as if he already knew.

He reached toward the fastenings of his own clothes when suddenly, sensing something-sound, movement, he didn't know-he whirled. And stared in disbelief at a solid stone wall where a doorway had been only a moment before.

Fury and fear blazed inside. "What the hell is going on here?" he demanded, taking a step toward the Vulcan.

Spock didn't move back from his angry gaze, but his expression remained one of someone experiencing a loss.

Kirk didn't let it check the flood of anger which had overwhelmed his mind. "Answer me!" he hissed, and then, seconds later, launched himself at the unresisting form.

Flesh impacted with flesh, and they were down, rolling on the carpeted floor, Kirk struggling for lethal handholds. But the other, far stronger than he, eluded him, and he felt himself lifted and thrown.

He landed in a roll, unharmed. Reaching out blindly, he grabbed something metallic and hard. Spock was on his feet again, not approaching. Anger fed him strength; he felt power flow in him as he lifted what he saw was a candlestick and sent it crashing towards the other's head.

Spock ducked beneath it, avoiding it completely, and Kirk tried again. This time a powerful hand caught his wrist, and the candlestick was removed from his grasp as easily as if he were a small child.

Shaking with the unreasoning force of his anger still running like a hurricane inside him, he tried again, feinting with a blow to the other's neck while aiming a kick at his legs. Spock fell to the floor, and Kirk heard his gasp of pain against the thunder of his own heart.

Neither moved. Kirk followed Spock's gaze to where the other was staring numbly at a trickle of green oozing down the side of one arm where he had impacted against a sharp-edged floor ornament. The color shocked Kirk, stark against the pale skin. His anger deserted him. Only the pain was left. Spock's gaze followed as he knelt beside him, reaching with shaking hands to turn the arm toward him, studying the wound. It wasn't deep; the bleeding had already stopped. He wondered where the anger had come from. And where it had gone to. He turned suddenly, hoping to see the doorway, but only the solid stone wall met his gaze.

"What's going on?" he asked quietly.

"I do not know." Spock sounded as weary as Kirk felt.

"I don't understand any of this," Kirk muttered. His hand was still on Spock's forearm; he wearily let it trail down over the hot skin, grazing the back of Spock's hand.

That hand turned unexpectedly and entwined fingers with his, pressing tight. Surprised, Kirk looked into the dark eyes. The contact was an electric thrill... a familiar one.

They moved together, at the same time, into a tight embrace, Kirk's head pushing against his shoulders, shaking in the aftermath of emotion. A long-fingered hand came to stroke gently at his hair, then moved into a natural caress over his face, only the fingertips touching his skin. And it was like drowning...

He struggled a moment in panic, and strong arms held him, steadied him. All he saw was a faceless limbo, and a distant figure, slowly becoming more clear...

Himself. In the command uniform of a starship. With confident fire in his eyes and an easy smile on his lips.

And there was another there with him. This Vulcan. Spock. Hair cut in a severe military style, dressed in a dark blue uniform. And they were together and -

-he felt as if he'd been thrown headlong against hard glass and all of his memories had shattered with the impact.

And on the other side, acting so quickly that there was no time to think or feel, Spock took all the pieces and made them right again.

He was still in the meld. But now, in the comforting presence, the living fire of the mind so finely attuned to his, he was remembering. They were remembering together.

The years they had spent together serving on the Alliance ship Endeavor. Friends. Then lovers.

The distress signal from the unknown planet Talos IV. The willowy alien figures. Then, understanding what they were. And what they were doing.

The meld eased away, like a sunset slowly fading to dark. Kirk blinked, and found himself looking at a familiar, beloved face inches from his own.

"Spock," he said shakily.

Spock nodded briefly. "Yes, Jim."

Kirk's hands were clutching him tightly. "We've got to find some way of fighting them." The dark eyes unexplainedly filled with tears. "Spock," he whispered urgently, using his hands in a comforting caress. "We'll get out of here."

The sleek dark head was moving in the negative.

"I can't believe you're giving up hope," Kirk said roughly. "We've been in bad spots before. We'll make it."

Spock lifted up his anguished face. "I want to believe..." he repeated raggedly.

"Then believe!"Kirk almost shouted.

Spock caught his hand roughly, brought it to the soft length of his hair, then guided it along the strands, well below his shoulders. "That is no illusion, Jim."

Kirk stared at him in puzzlement and growing horror.

Spock abruptly buried his face in Kirk's shoulder. Kirk closed his arms around the shaking form, barely able to hear the muffled words escape between gasps of sorrow, each one icing his body in horror.

"You don't understand," Spock managed to say. "How many times have you said those words to me? How many times have we been here in this room?"

Kirk pulled back a little, forced Spock's head up to look at him. The anguish in his lover's face struck the chord of his own deep pain, and like a chasm opening underfoot, he understood.

"They must find it... very amusing indeed," Spock said, eyes lowered."Amusing, to always let us remember. And then forget."

"We can fight them," Kirk insisted.

"We can try." Kirk heard defeat in the deep voice, but somewhere with the defeat, like a seed trampled in a dry desert, were the remnants of hope.

Kirk suddenly pressed his mouth to Spock's, bruisingly, demandingly. Whatever else happened, this moment was theirs. Spock responded with equal passion, a frantic, fiery lust, greedy for every second their flesh pressed together. Kirk managed to rid himself of his clothes, Spock ripping most of them away, and pressed himself as close to the hot body as he could, mouths seeking each other, hands desperate for the contact, cocks warring together. He took Spock quickly, came just as quickly, in a violent outpouring of seed, then let his lover take him too, a frantic exchange of positions, as if any minute they would be seized, torn away from each other.

Spock thrust inside his body, face contorted with need and pain, and Kirk welcomed the hot wetness spurting inside him, a tiny part of Spock, his for the moment, trying to imprint in his mind the feel of Spock's hands on him, lips on him, cock slipping out of him, each moment vanishing rapidly, irretrievably, into the past.

They clung together, still too full of need for each other for afterglow, and as quickly as Spock had thrust into his body he entered his mind, Kirk meeting him eagerly halfway.

Shall it be death for us? Spock asked in the link. I could do it now.

Kirk cried out his denial, and felt the answering need in Spock's mind, the urge to life, freedom, him.

But balancing this, on a neatly logical scale, was the sudden influx of memories of just how long they had been here, how many times they had plotted, how many times they had failed.

I won't give up. Kirk's thought was fierce, and he felt the fondness in Spock's mind. Encouraged, he continued. They get tired. They sleep some time. You've reached out to other minds before. Perhaps you can try to influence one of them, just one, when the rest are sleeping. Kirk offered the plan eagerly.

Perhaps. Spock agreed. Deep in his mind, carefully shielded, were memories of them trying just that the last time. And the time before. But Jim's eagerness was an electric thing, burning bright in the darkness of his mind, and it was hard, when offered even the dimmest of lights, to turn his back toward it and face an enormity of nothingness.

Even more-he would not be the one to bring Jim more pain. Not ever. I will try, he agreed.

They waited, then, holding tightly to each other, sharing the warmth of their bodies, the love of their souls in the link that bound them and which, despite everything else, could never be undone.

I'm glad for that, at least, Kirk thought. Not even remembering you, I knew I had lost you.

Spock's answer wasn't in words, but a formless pure love and acceptance, born from the perfect meeting of their minds, like a puzzle made complete.

I think I hear something... Kirk peered at the stone wall.

Spock listened intently, willing himself to believe. Quietly, he sent his mind questing out, narrowed and strengthened to one purpose, all of Kirk's will set solidly with his own.

"I love you," Kirk said abruptly, in words.

"You are my soul," Spock replied, his hand, interlaced with Kirk's, squeezing tightly.

The wall before them dissolved into a slow blaze of light. Somewhere past it, a dim figure could be seen.

Spock focused his mind entirely on freedom. Controlling the other. Escape.

The light grew still more intense; the figure beyond it unmoving.

The figure solidified, yet he still could not make out the features. Spock opened himself up finally, completely, to the meld. Kirk's mind was with his, perfectly attuned. Together, in every possible way.

Now! Kirk thought.

Now, he agreed.

They hurled themselves forward toward the blaze of light.

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