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Au clair de la lune, on ne peut pas voir

Chercher feu et plume, pour la nuit est noir,

Ça qu'on trouve en cherchant n'est pas revelé

Tout aupré sa porte, c'est prudemment caché

—Jean-Baptiste Lully, 1633-1687 CE

Consciousness approached as slowly as dawn on a misty world, bearing two vague impressions—one of pleasure and one of pain. The pain was a faint throbbing at the side of his head, rattling like a distant drum in time to his pulse. The pleasure was more immediate: a vastly comforting warm weight pressed beside and across him—unquestionably a friend. Drowsily Spock pulled his fuzzy awareness away from the pain and toward that comforting touch. It was good to lie here, thinking of nothing, doing nothing, only absorbing the quiet pleasure like a plant soaking its leaves in sunlight...

Somewhere, a noise. Buzzing, insistent, cutting through the gentle fog like an unwanted searchlight. Unwilling memory identified the sound: an emergency-communicator signal. More noises added to it: a shuffling, a scuffling, a few indistinct oaths in a Human voice. He recognized the voice as McCoy's, approximately three meters away.

"Hello, Scotty?... Right... Yes, we're okay... No, give us a few minutes to wake up and gather our gear, and tell Sickbay to have a stretcher team standing by in the transporter room... Oh no, nothing like that, but Spock's got a slight head injury and I don't want him exerting himself. The rest of us have scratches and bruises and... uh, our clothes are pretty torn up, but that's about it.... Sure, I'll call back when we're ready. McCoy out."

Spock lay quiet, fully awake now, analyzing all that. His memory was beginning to clear. Yes—the flight, the malfunctioning shuttlecraft, the crash-landing... Beyond that were only dark and confused impressions. Something in their nature made him shiver away, knowing he wouldn't want to look any closer. Crash? Head injury? Unconsciousness certainly, but what else? Odd sensations... He stirred slightly, trying to orient himself, and felt the satiny texture of emergency-pack blankets all around him and the continuing pressure of a close, sleeping body. For the first time he begin to wonder about that. Who? Why? What happened? Cautiously, he opened his eyes.

At first, he saw nothing but red-shot darkness. His vision adjusted, focused, and he saw that he was in a low cave— some of whose rocks glowed red in the peculiar pattern of phaser heating. Against that backdrop moved McCoy, visible as little more than a silhouette, picking up scattered gear and grumbling quietly. Nothing really unexpected there. Slowly, holding his breath, Spock turned to look at that suspicious warm weight lying across him.

He saw Kirk's sleeping, tousled head pillowed on his shoulder.

Jim?! What?How? Something was definitely wrong here. Why is he lying across me like this? Where is his shirt? and mine? Is he hurt? Spock started to pull away from that loose embrace, but Kirk stirred and murmured softly in his sleep, and tightened his grip. Spock lay still, eyebrows climbing, and analyzed that distinctly odd action. All he could conclude was that something significant had happened in those murky hours between the crash and this waking. He tried to remember, but the throbbing pain in his head worsened, and he decided to postpone that line of research. Perhaps other clues... Cautiously, taking care not to disturb Kirk, he slipped his hands under the blankets and felt for signs of injury.

The first thing he discovered was that both of them were nearly naked. Bewildered, he ran his hand over Kirk's hip, trying to find cloth. The missing shirts and boots he could understand, but why were his uniform trousers pulled halfway down his thighs, and why were Kirk's torn away as far as he could feel? Definitely torn, he concluded as his fingers encountered the frayed end of a ripped belt. I am the only person present with enough strength to tear belt leather... Apprehension shivered up his spine, difficult to control. I was semiconscious at best... Did I hurt him??? Seriously worried now, he slid his hand between their tight-pressed bellies and felt for damage. Almost at once, he found something alarming.


That couldn't be sweat; it must be blood. Wondering angrily how McCoy could have failed to notice such a symptom of damage, Spock flung caution aside and slid exploratory fingers over Kirk's abdomen, upper thighs, genitals and barely had time to determine that there was no external injury. Kirk stretched, sighed and rolled hard against him, neatly trapping Spock's hand in his groin.

Spock held perfectly still, mind whirling, wondering what had caused this response and how he could get out of this horribly embarrassing position without waking the captain. Then Kirk turned his head slightly, whispered something unintelligible, and kissed Spock's shoulder. Spock shivered at the sensation, astonished at its effect and his own sensitivity. But he had no time to analyze these reactions; another one was taking place. The organ held in his unwilling grip was engorging, stiffening, swelling to fill his hand and stretch beyond it. For a moment, all Spock could think of was how large that thing must be when it was fully extended and then a faint click of recognition told him that, somehow, he already knew. But how do I know, he wondered frantically. And why is he reacting like this? In his sleep... Surely he's dreaming... and of someone else. Dreams are uncontrollable—

Right there another memory fell into place. Spock shut his eyes tightly and considered another factor. Is he the only one who dreamed? Last night... Did I?...? He could remember that recurrent dream, that shameful nightmare, all too well; he had dreamed it repeatedly for the last month, and knew its plot from beginning to end. It was the ending that had always puzzled him: that strange impression of melting in Kirk's arms, of blending into his accepting mind and body, and of some nameless sweet-fierce consummation that he couldn't define. What was it, and what did it mean? Searching past the pounding pain in his skull, Spock became quietly and horribly certain that he had experienced that dream again, just that night, when he hadn't been decently alone. Was Jim awake then? Did he hear, see...? Please, no! But if... Very well, assume the worst. Pessimistic synthesis: if he did overhear... But there was a stark contradiction between that assumption and the recognizable facts. Embarrassment, polite withdrawal, teasing, even scolding he could expect, but not this insistent... cuddling. Certainly not this eager arousal! What happened? What really happened? I MUST remember! His head ached abominably.

McCoy approached, deliberately quiet, took Kirk by the shoulder and shook him gently. "Jim," he whispered, "Hey, Jim, wake up. The ship's here, and we've got to get ready to go."

Kirk flinched and sighed, and slowly raised his head. "So soon?" he mumbled.

"Soon? Hah! You've been asleep for nearly eight hours. Come on, Sleeping Beauty; sweet dreams have to end some time."

"Uh... yeah."

Kirk moved slightly under the blankets, obviously becoming aware of his physical situation. Spock kept his eyes shut, stayed immobile, barely breathed, listening to McCoy move away. It was hard to keep from shivering as he felt Kirk slowly remove the arm draped across his chest and feel his way cautiously downward under the blankets. No time, no chance to withdraw... Spock squirmed inwardly as Kirk's exploring hand slid down his belly, encountered the Vulcan's trapped arm, and finally found that irrefutably guilty hand. In that instant Spock thought of a dozen impossible wishes: that he were on the other side of the galaxy, that he'd never seen or heard of the Enterprise, that he'd never left Vulcan, that he'd never been born... And then he realized that Kirk was also touching his own undeniably swollen organ. Be calm, Spock told himself. Control. Panic serves no function. Lie still. Be calm.... He distinctly heard Kirk give a quiet, regretful sigh as he pulled himself away. Regretful? The gentle pat on his supposedly sleeping arm confirmed it. What? He—Why? Can't analyze—control! Control... He gritted his teeth and busied his mind with multiplication tables. His ears continued to take in data.

"My pants! Good God, Bones, I can't beam up like this!"

"Wrap up in one of the blankets. He'll never miss it."

Rustling sounds as Kirk leaned over and tugged gently on the blankets. Spock opened one eye less than a millimeter and took a quick look. For an instant he saw Kirk in all his nude glory, and confirmed that there was no blood on him. But sticky...

Spock closed his eye again and concentrated grimly. I must know! Ignoring the nagging pain in his head, he sank into the memory-access stage of light meditation and threaded his way back through those confused impressions. The dream... and he was here... and I said... Oh, I said it all! Shame flooded him, burning like cold acid, but he made himself go on, remembering every last horribly passionate damning word. I said that! And he... Oh, Jim... That incredible acceptance, forgiveness, willing descent into the abyss of ravening blind emotion—how could he have done it? "How can thee be so fearless?" I said those words. And then... Then a mental alarm-bell, a definite sense of warning, apprehension, an understanding that if he went any further he would encounter something terrible, that a trap would close irrevocably on him. He paused, wondering what he could have done that was worse than that appalling loss of control, that besotted confession of feeling, that gross violation of everything Vulcan. Not murder nor injury, but what did that leave?

As if in answer, a pulse twitched in his groin. Odd... am I injured there? He turned his emptied hand and felt himself. What he found was definitely abnormal: the protective petals were relaxed and half opened, the two anchoring tendrils were partially extended, the modulated shaft was almost fully emerged and the whole apparatus was hypersensitive and... sticky. For a moment he was too stunned to analyze this. His fingers continued to brush automatically over the undeniable evidence, sending soft pulses of sensation up to his paralyzed brain, gently pushing open the doors to the last horrifying memory.

Dream's end: melting and blending. Blood-fires quick and urgent. Desires definite, demanding. Touch. Pressure. Hard-fleshed body surging under me — His voice crying — Mindless-seething-explosion—No! No!! No!!! I didn't! Please, no! Tell me I didn't! No!

His hand clutched tight on the damning proof until the organs hurt almost as much as his head, but neither pain could match the howling agony of shame in his mind. His voice escaped in a groan of desolate anguish.

"Bones, what—"

"He's coming around. Give me some light."

Fierce light of an emergency torch stabbed closed eyes. Spock rolled his head back and forth, trying to escape it. Somewhere nearby a tricorder warbled. A familiar voice muttered, "Oh-oh, trouble." A hand squeezed his shoulder, dragging him up to full awareness of his surroundings.

"Spock, I have some painkiller. Do you want it?"

"Yes! Yes!" Make this stop! Make it not be!

The hypospray hissed against his shoulder. Blessed numb silence spread through his body and reached cool fingers into his mind. He sighed with relief and sank down in the soft cocoon of cloth, content for the moment just to be quiet.

"Bones, what's the matter with him?" Kirk's worried voice sounded through the fog.

"Hmmm, head trouble," McCoy answered. "We'd better go home now."

"Right," Kirk agreed, clicking switches on the communicator. "Scotty, beam us up."

I must not be seen like this... Spock thought. As the transporter hum began, he deliberately blanked his mind and sank into the welcome oblivion of sleep.

* * * * *

"Bones—" Kirk stopped the doctor in the corridor outside Sickbay. "How is he doing?"

McCoy looked the captain up and down, wondering why Kirk had caught him out here, why he hadn't gone into Sickbay—not once in the last three days—to look in on Spock himself. "No change," he admitted. "Same as yesterday. He just lies there and stares at the ceiling. No, there's no physical problem; the wounds are healed and the concussion's long past. He's just working something out in his head. Give him some time and he'll probably pull out of it by himself."

"But how long will it take?" Kirk insisted. "I... need him back on the bridge..." For an instant he looked away.

"Uh-huh," said McCoy, watching him carefully. "I'd say another day or two. Don't push him." But what about you? Something's wrong here... Admitted, I set up this conspiracy of silence, but I'll find a way around it if there's something you need to say... "But what about you, Jim? You've been looking out of sorts ever since we were rescued. Is anything bothering you?" That was as good a beginning as he could think of offhand.

Kirk understood perfectly. He thought for a moment, then looked McCoy straight in the eye and answered, "Just one thing. Can you do anything about recurring dreams?"

"Oh," McCoy gulped, thinking over the implications of that. "Uh, not out here in the corridor. Let's go see what I've got in my office."

Kirk nodded agreement and followed him into Sickbay. A few minutes later they were settled over two small glasses and a bottle on McCoy's desk, behind a discreetly locked door. McCoy sampled his drink and chose his words with infinite care. "This recurring dream... Is it a nightmare?"

"No," Kirk admitted quietly, studying his glass.

"Is it something you want?"

"I don't know." Kirk took a deep breath and let it our slowly. "I... enjoy it, but by all rights I shouldn't. It—it just isn't me!"

"Jim, I could give you a three-hour lecture about repressed desires, forbidden wishes, the usual Human reactions to things we don't want to want..."

"I'm not even sure that I don't want to... Damn!" Kirk set down his glass and distractedly rubbed his forehead. "It's just so—so completely alien, out of character, so far out of line with what I am."

"With what you want to be," McCoy corrected.

"Don't know about that, either." Kirk reached for his drink and gulped it down fast. "Goddammit, Bones, I'm lost!"

"Okay," said McCoy, leaning back. "It sounds to me like we've got a self-image problem here. That means one of two things: either your self-image is inaccurate, or else this ... thing you want... well, you could be loading it down with a lot of meanings that it doesn't really have."

Kirk was silent for several minutes, thinking that over. When he spoke again his voice was very quiet. "All right, I've never had any experience with this, and I really don't know what it means. I suppose I've always thought it meant ... weakness, childishness maybe, a failure of—of..." He stopped for a minute, then squared his shoulders and plunged ahead. "Let's just say this is making me worry about my manhood, okay? If I want this, then I'm... Well, what am I?" He rubbed one hand across his jaw, brushing off sweat. "Answer that for me, Doctor."

"Where do you want to start?" McCoy asked calmly. "One standard-issue Human male, in good physical condition, all parts accounted for. If you want confirmation on that, drop your trousers and look." Careful... He took a leisurely swallow of his drink. "As for the psychological attributes, well, there are only two that matter. To quote the ancient Dr. Freud, can you love and work?"

Kirk frowned thoughtfully, but didn't answer.

"How are you doing on the job?" McCoy prodded. "Noticed any trouble lately in coping with your work? Any indecisiveness? Failure of nerve? Loss of respect from the crew? Anything serious like that?"

"No," Kirk admitted, relaxing a little. "I think I've been... maybe a little bit snappish, short-tempered, these last few days. That's about it. Then again, the work's been pretty routine — mapping and measuring in a pretty empty sector of space — the sort of thing anybody but a complete incompetent could cope with, so that doesn't prove anything."

"It proves that you're not a complete incompetent," McCoy chuckled. "Come on, Jim; if you'd really started to slip, you know the senior officers would tell you — if not me — and damn fast. I've heard no complaints. Have you?"

"Uh... No."

"Then there you are. If you want a psychotricorder reading I'll do it, but from what I've observed I really don't think you need it. Your work's good, Jim. As for the other..." He shrugged elaborately. "Well, I haven't been in a position to observe your love life."

Kirk fidgeted and looked away.

"Waal, lessee..." McCoy broadened his drawl a fraction. "Do you still ogle the pretty crewwomen in the corridors?"

Kirk grinned a little, and nodded.

"Getting enough?" McCoy smiled — not too lecherously.

"Oh, yes," Kirk admitted, looking a bit more relieved. "No problem there."

"All right then; has anything really changed?"

"Maybe..." Kirk almost whispered. "The dreams... They suggest a... change."

"What's that?"

"I've never liked being a... victim."

"True," McCoy agreed. If he'd had any doubts about the content of the undescribed dreams, they were gone now. "There's only one advantage in being a victim, Jim."

"Advantage?!" Kirk looked shocked. "What advantage?"

"No guilt. You can't be blamed for what you can't help, so you can let yourself lean back and enjoy it. That's the motivation for most rape fantasies..." Oops! That may have been too much.

"Touché.” Kirk winced.

"All right, so the, er, victimization is just a smokescreen," McCoy hurried on. "It's the thing that... your victimizer is doing that's bothering you. That and your reactions to it. Right?"

"Right," Kirk agreed wearily. "I'm still stuck with those. They may not be wrong, but... they're not... something I can do."

"Why not?"

"I'm the captain," he said, as if that explained everything.

"Yes, that does explain everything, doesn't it?" McCoy eyed him keenly. "You have this picture tacked up on a wall in your mind: 'Ideal Starship Captain,' painted in super-glo colors, larger than life and twice as demanding. It's unreal and impossible, but you still keep trying to be that, and it's making you miserable."

"It's also made me a pretty good captain!" Kirk retorted.

"Yes, just as Spock's personal icon of an 'Ideal Vulcan' has made him a pretty damn good first officer. But there is a point where ideals get too far out of reach, too unrealistic — in your case, too inhuman."

"Inhuman? Oh come on, Bones, you know I've got a pretty long list of Human failings—"

"Yeah, and too damn many of 'em are phony!"

"Huh?" Kirk sat boggling at the doctor for several seconds before he could think of a comeback for that. "Jeezus, it's bad enough to tell me my virtues are phony, but my vices? What the hell?"

"Even your 'failings' are conventional parts of the image," McCoy continued, refilling Kirk's glass on the good guess that he'd need it. "On duty you sometimes slip into being hot-tempered, stubborn and proud. Off duty—hah! Your exploits on shore leave are Starfleet legends! Jim the Galactic Hero can out-drink, out-fuck and out-fight any man in the bar—and more than once you've wound up in the local brig with a clanging hangover and a grin on your face, and your senior officers have been properly awed when they bailed you out."

"That isn't sinning enough for you?" Kirk laughed.

"It's pure cliché, Jim. Part of the pose. Starship captains are supposed to be Masters of Fornication and Death, remember?"

"So what do you want?" Kirk grumbled. "Should I take to shooting orphans and widows instead? Or mugging squirrels in the parks?"

McCoy leaned forward, looked Kirk over, and decided that the timing was right. "You might try, just once, doing what you really want—not what your personal Hero-pose says you should want. Those deep, hidden vices aren't really vices, Jim. The only thing wrong with them is that they don't fit in with your eternally tough, cool, belligerent, proud Starship Captain image."

"What are you talking about?" Kirk hedged, apprehension showing in his eyes.

"I'm talking about the two things you want most, but don't dare let yourself have: passion and tenderness."

Kirk grunted as if he'd been punched in the gut. He opened his mouth, shut it again, and reached for the glass. After he'd emptied that, he took a few deep breaths and finally managed to say something.

"That hurt, Bones."

"I know," said McCoy, gently squeezing his shoulder. "That's where you're vulnerable."

Kirk gripped the glass until McCoy worried that he might break it. "So what am I going to do?" he asked miserably. "All right, I need to love somebody—just plain fucking isn't enough, and never was—but who is there? Outside the ship—that's hopeless. You've seen what happens to captains' wives, not to mention kids; I'd see them once every six months, if I were lucky. Not enough, not for me or them. On the ship? You know the problems: jealousy, dissension, not to mention the fun and games of risking someone I love on dangerous assignments—oh, there's good reason for that old Starfleet rule about non-fraternization! But what does that leave? Whom can I have to love?"

"It would have to be someone on the ship," McCoy countered, "someone you're used to working with, someone who could be discreet and totally unsuspected, someone who wouldn't create any jealousy or dissension or complications on duty. That narrows it down considerably, doesn't it? And I'd better stop right here. One step more and I'll blow my cover story sky high.

"Oh god," Kirk whispered, grinding his hands against his eyes. "I'm scared, Bones. The few times I've dared to love someone before, I've gotten scorched. This... this is something I've never tried before, never dreamed—" The word stuck in his throat.

"Dream about it now, Jim," McCoy suggested, guessing that this was a good place to stop. "And while you're at it, get a decent night's sleep."

"I'll try," Kirk answered, showing a hint of his usual grin.

* * * * *

Whether or not Kirk would have dropped in to see how Spock was doing was something McCoy never had a chance to find out. When the doctor showed up in Sickbay next morning he found Spock on his feet, wearing his most expressionless mask, insisting that he felt fine and should be sent back on duty. The diagnostic panel read all-normal, and McCoy could find no excuse not to let the Vulcan go.

Spock left Sickbay with less than a minute to spare before the first watch began, and McCoy had no idea that he had meant, literally, to return to duty immediately. The result was that Kirk had absolutely no warning when the turbo lift doors opened and Spock walked out onto the bridge. Kirk looked, flinched, did a classic double take, turned pale, turned pink, set his eyes firmly on the view screen and acted jittery.

Spock said nothing, but went to his board and sat down to review the current settings. A keen observer might have said that his shoulders were slightly more hunched than usual, but that was all.

Kirk stared fixedly at the screen, drummed his fingers on the chair arm, and sweated. He was acutely aware of how close to him Spock was. He could actually feel, like a current in the air, that tall lean presence at his side. He could remember without any effort the intriguing heat of those long hands, the harsh-spicy smell of his skin, the remarkable softness of his hair, the supple hardness of his body and the incredible strength of his arms. It was as if he had never before stopped to think about the fact that the Vulcan did indeed have a body, walked around in solid flesh like everyone else, somewhere deep inside needed to be touched and held and loved like everyone else... Enough! Enough of this! Think about something else, dammit! Forget it! Kirk stared at the uninteresting view on the screen as if it were the most important sight in the universe, while sweat slicked his forehead and threatened to run into his eyes.

Spock, glancing covertly from his post, was aware that the captain was not behaving normally. He was too rigid, too nervous, too... fidgety. Obviously he was upset. Spock knew very well that it was his own presence that was responsible for the phenomenon; those nervous reactions observed when he had first walked in confirmed it... . And he didn't visit me in Sickbay, as he usually does... Spock sighed, almost aloud. He remembers. He is aware of what I did to him. He will not forget, though he may excuse and eventually forgive... If the symptoms abate as the watch continues, there may be hope. Patience. I must wait.

He turned his attention back to his board and checked the readings. All were normal. There was nothing of interest on the boards; this appeared to be a most empty and uninteresting section of space—no notable energy emissions, no unusual particle count or dust composition, not even any notable absences. There was nothing to absorb his attention for the next few hours, absolutely nothing. For the first time in many years, Spock found himself seriously troubled with boredom. He fixed settings, rechecked them, realized he was drumming his fingers on the console, stopped it, began to wish for a Klingon or two to break the monotony, caught himself at it, checked the dials, and realized he was fidgeting as much as the captain. This cannot continue, he thought. Eventually something must happen, some work will be required, some activity will break this... this... He couldn't think of a word that fit the situation.

If only something would happen... some danger to the ship or some anomaly to investigate or some voyager in need of assistance.... He would need me then, need my work, my help. I could prove my usefulness.... He would trust me, rely on me, want me at his side again... and afterwards he would turn to me with that look, that gratitude and warmth in this eyes... big, expressive, hazel eyes...

He peered surreptitiously at Kirk, and saw only the side of his head and one hand tapping quietly on the arm of the chair. Those hands... amazing how strong they were, how tightly they could grip, how cool and delightful against bare skin... those big arms, like thick cool bands, moving across one's back, pressing at the secret, tender place... the marvelous texture of that big, lush body... What am I thinking?! Control this! I can control this. I am a Vulcan. The mind rules... He concentrated on some basic exercises until he was certain of himself, then turned his attention firmly back to his board, determined not to allow such a horrendous lapse in control again.

The readings hadn't changed. There was nothing new here, nothing to hold the attention. He glanced at his chronometer and noticed to his dismay that less than an hour had passed. It had seemed much longer than that. He wondered if his time sense had been damaged, checked, decided that it hadn't, caught himself fidgeting again, and decided to review some mathematical progressions. It was surprisingly difficult to concentrate; all the usual noises of the bridge seemed extraordinarily loud. He could hear Kirk shuffling his feet, tapping his fingers, breathing slightly faster than normal—could almost feel the close envelope of body heat that surrounded him. He became sharply aware of the fact that Kirk was sitting less than 3.5 meters away, and it would be very easy to get up and walk over to that chair, stand behind him as if studying the view screen, and casually rest a hand on his shoulder... Control this! Control... . What's the matter with me?

Kirk squirmed in the command chair, feeling sweat soak into the shirt between his shoulder blades. His senses seemed to have expanded; he could feel Spock sitting only ten feet away, watching, waiting, saying nothing, but acutely aware of him. It was as if an invisible electric current connected them, keeping them painfully conscious of each other. He couldn't keep the Vulcan out of his thoughts, couldn't ignore him or stop musing about him or concentrate fully on anything else. He tried desperately to look cool and calm and utterly normal, hoping to god that the rest of the crew didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, while a squadron of tickle-winged butterflies practiced evasive maneuvers in his stomach. This is ridiculous! he told himself. I'm acting like a love-struck kid, not a starship captain... He felt himself blush, and hoped frantically that nobody could see it. Good god, I can't think, can't concentrate. How the hell am I going to run a ship this way? I can't work, can't do my job... Jeezus, all I can think of is him! I want... I want to grab him and haul his clothes off and throw him down and fuck him till I'm limp, right here on the deck!... Or do I want him to fuck me? The way it felt... Oh god... I want to wrap myself up in his arms and whisper sentimental idiocies into his elegant pointed ear... or do I want him to say such things to me? "Passion and tenderness"... Yes, I want them, I admit it. But I want them from him! From him! And I can't work for thinking about it... What am I going to do? Damn you, Spock! What have you done to me?!?

Spock turned to sneak another glance at the captain, and caught him looking back. Kirk's expression startled him; it was a compound of bewilderment, misery, hurt, and unmistakable anger. Spock ducked back to his board, biting his lip in dismay. It had been a mistake to return to duty without warning. Perhaps he should have gone to speak to Kirk alone first, settled this private problem in private... but how could he have put it? What could he have said? How does one apologize for rape? Spock squeezed his eyes shut and quietly hammered his fist on the console. How long will it take him to forgive? What must I do to earn it? What am I going to do? He dragged his eyes open and scanned his screens one more time, hoping desperately for something to show itself and give him something worthwhile to do, something else to think about...

Wait, there was something wrong with the sensors. They were registering nothing—absolutely nothing—not even the microscopic debris common to this area. Spock sat up and studied the screens, achingly grateful for this strange phenomenon, whatever it was... A "dead zone?" An energy-devouring life-form? A sneak attack by some hostile intelligence? He turned reception up to maximum, and still the dials read zero. Not even negative—just zero. That was peculiar. An instrument malfunction? Disappointing, but something... He ran a quick routine check on his board. The oddity showed up at once, but it took him several seconds to believe it. The main power switch of the sensor bank was depressed. Spock blinked, stupefied, at the stark evidence. The sensors registered zero because, quite by accident and without noticing it, he had turned them off.

Very quietly, Spock lowered reception to normal and turned the sensors back on. He checked the dials, saw that the readings were happily unchanged, and then quietly dropped his face to his hands. I'm a fool, he thought. I am a dangerously clumsy, childishly distracted, unreliable, emotional, unstable idiot. I could have endangered the ship. My efficiency is going to pieces. I cannot work! He'll never forgive me now! Again he felt that warm, ominous presence just 3.5 meters away. He straightened up, almost horrified at the thought that Kirk might see him like this. Hold on, hold on... 'Despair is illogical.' I must... keep my mind occupied. Find something of value to do. Real work, not make-work. Something mind-absorbing... Yes.

"Captain," Spock announced, taking care to keep his voice toneless. "In view of the improbability of any emergency in the foreseeable immediate future, I request permission to perform routine maintenance examination of the bridge computer." His voice sounded shockingly loud to his ears. Did I say it too fast? Did I sound disturbed?

Startled, Kirk looked up. Spock seemed as imperturbable as ever... or did he? Was he ever-so-slightly flushed? Did he look just the least bit fidgety? Was his voice just a fraction too loud? No, I'm probably imagining things. "Permission granted, Mr. Spock." He watched while Spock removed the access panel and dived under the console until only his boots showed, wondering if the Vulcan had moved just a little faster than usual. Maybe he's trying to get away from me, Kirk considered, hunching down in the chair. Maybe I've embarrassed him, angered him, scared him... And why not? Wouldn't he be scared if he knew what I was thinking, what I wanted? A passing yeoman gave him some reports to inspect and moved on. He looked at the papers without seeing them, grateful for some excuse to appear as preoccupied as he felt. He hoped that preoccupation was all that showed. My god, I'm going to pieces! I can't sleep, can't work, can't think of anything but him... I'm not fit for command. I'm not a captain anymore... maybe not a man either... I don't know what I am! All I know is what I want...

He glanced again at the black boots sticking out from under the Science station console. His imagination supplied an image of the rest of their wearer, and he felt himself melting inside. Right this minute I want to crawl under there with him, peel his clothes off, take him right there in the wiring... Oh, shit! The hot, itchy pressure was unmistakable. A quick glance down confirmed his worst guess. He watched in horrified fascination as the crotch of his uniform pants slowly began to bulge. No! No! Not here! He dropped the report into his lap to hide the evidence, and stared at the screen until his eyeballs felt gritty. Down, damn you! Down! he ordered the stubborn erection. Please, One-eye, go back to sleep. I've got to hand this report back sometime!

Spock wriggled into the crawlspace as far as he could go, painfully grateful to get away from the sight of those big hazel eyes. He gripped the cold metal of the support column and made himself relax. Control. I can control this, he reminded himself. He opened his eyes and looked up into the comforting precision of the wiring panels—so cool and exact and... logical. It was oddly reassuring to know that he was surrounded by these thick layers of machinery, this fine physical proof of the superiority of logic, this excellent expression of clear unemotional thinking. He might have been embarrassed over needing to rely on physical surroundings, but at the moment he was too busy being relieved that the method worked. He considered that the crawlspace would do surprisingly well as a meditation area; not only was the wiring good material to contemplate, but in here the sounds from the bridge were muffled, blended by the hum of machinery into an orchestrated background noise that was quite soothing. Considerably calmed, Spock peered into the depths of the memory cross-circuit plugs, checking for signs of wear or misalignment.

A12c sufficient, A12d sufficient... Yes, this was better; the straightforward mechanical routine was keeping his mind clear. A12 series sufficient. A13a now... slight misalignment... adjusted. He pushed the plug smoothly into place with a definite sense of satisfaction. Interesting terminology: "male" and "female" plugs... If plugs could feel, would they enjoy their conjunction? Control! A13b sufficient... A13c sufficient... He vaguely noticed that his thoughts were slipping into cadence with the steady sounds of the bridge machinery, sounds that seemed to be composed of living voices. With a little imagination, one could almost catch the words. A13d sufficient, he mentally sang along with the mechanical chorus, A13e sufficient... circuitry faultless... faultless... "Thou are all beautiful, my love; I find no fault in you"... safety cutoff in place... That one was difficult to mistake; the wiring resembled a narrow red ribbon. "Thy lips are like scarlet ribbons"... secondary support column unchanged, straight, strong... "Thy neck is straight and strong, like the battlemented tower that David built"... display-light circuitry, condition fair... "My beloved has a fair brow and ruddy cheeks... his belly is like polished ivory... his mouth is very tender and wholly desirable"... What am I doing?! Stop it! Control!

He shut his eyes tight and concentrated on making those bridge sounds go back to being quiet, normal bridge sounds. To his dismay, it didn't work. In fact, it got worse. Somewhere in his mind a door was jammed open, and illicit thoughts kept sneaking out of it. Impressions of sweetly burning and rippling flesh flickered like veils across his clean, safe visions of mental-control exercise diagrams. The chorus of machinery noises sang boldly the words and rhythms of indecent Human poetry. "Let his mouth shower kisses on me!" whispered the sensor scans. "Thy cheeks are like a dove's breast feathers, and thy neck like a shining gorget," hummed the navigation control. "His left hand supports my head, and his right caresses me..." trilled the computer. Control! Control!! Control!!! Spock yelled at himself. I am a Vulcan! I am a Vulcan! I am... not a very good Vulcan...

Spock lay on his back on the crawlspace deck, pressed his hands to his eyes, and wondered if he were going mad. Hallucinations... Aroused out of season... Neurological damage? No, McCoy would have noticed. Psychological disruption, then. The dreams... He shuddered. Not stopped: sharpened. Can't control them. Invading working hours now! Can't trust myself! I can't work, can't think, might even... Images flared, forcing him to remember that terrible night after the crash landing when the dream had come true. The fog of semi-consciousness had blown away from it, and he recalled every excruciating detail: the strange half-waking in the red-lit darkness to find Kirk lying beside him, that helpless passionate confession of undeniable and frightfully Human feeling, and then the incredible—instead of withdrawal or fear or embarrassment, acceptance—complete acceptance, protection, comfort and understanding and... love. Just remembering it turned him soft and bubbly inside. He gave me that, and in return I... He couldn't bear to form the inescapable word. All he could think of were those horrifying tactile images; the warmth of his blood turning to insistent heat, his grip tightening to entrap the helpless man, Kirk struggling in panic and then giving up and lying still. The rest was all bright seething chaos, mind-consuming ecstasy in fierce and heavy pulses, the warm body pinned and writhing under him— No! Please, no! He couldn't stand to look any further. Plain terror gave him the strength to shut that mental door and—at least for the moment—keep it shut. The memory of that last, drowned, delirious cry battered him as he scrambled back to here and now. He pressed a fist to his mouth and choked back a whimper of pain. Conclusion inescapable. I went mad and raped him.

Abstractedly he reached for the support column and wrapped his hands around it, as if trying to draw the machine's calm and unfeeling strength into himself. He wished he had died as a child, before he had ever left Vulcan, before his deep-buried fault had had time to grow so vast, so dangerous, so obsessive, so monstrously un-Vulcan. He knew now that the one instance of satisfaction hadn't stopped the terrible hunger, only sharpened it, now that he knew how that satisfaction truly felt.... He turned his head this way and that, but the cold facts still stared him in the face. This madness has made me useless, if not dangerous. I have betrayed myself and everything Vulcan in me. I want more of it... I still want to wrap myself in his body and join and feel— I want to do it again! I WILL do it again if I stay near him! I must get away!

He beat his hand blindly on the support column. One thumb brushed an operating contact and a spark jumped. He jerked his hands away with an uncontrolled yelp of pain and surprise.

On the bridge, Kirk heard the sharp cry and jumped as if he'd been stung. "Spock! What's wrong?" he shouted. There was no reply but a soft muttering sound. From a human that might have been swearing; from a Vulcan there was no guessing what it meant. Imagining a thousand disasters, Kirk jumped out of the chair—sending the report pages flying—grabbed Spock's ankles and bodily dragged him out from under the console.

Spock found himself lying on his back on the deck, wringing his sore hand, and looking up into the one face in the galaxy that he didn't want to see. For a moment he couldn't think at all. Kirk stared down at the Vulcan, shocked by his appearance. Spock's face was distracted, almost blank, and his right arm twitched in some sort of spasm. Worried sick, Kirk crouched beside him and gently lifted Spock to a sitting position. He couldn't keep from trembling at the feel of that soft-furred head against his shoulder. Oh please, he begged silently, please be all right... "Spock, what happened? How badly are you hurt?"

"I... I..." Control!!! He managed to pull his face into a decently inexpressive mask and get his voice somewhat contained. "I... appear to have... burned my thumb."

Relieved laughter crackled all around him. The Captain took his hand and inspected the damage. Spock was hard put not to shiver at the touch.

"Nothing serious," Kirk announced, holding that warm hand an instant longer than necessary. "Might turn into a nasty blister, though. Why don't you take it down to Sickbay and let Bones fuss over it?"

"Agreed," Spock answered, hoping he didn't sound too eager. Escape! He scrambled to his feet and marched to the turbo lift as fast as he could without attracting any more attention, feeling Kirk's eyes boring into his back every step of the way. As the doors closed behind him he almost sagged with relief—and then realized that he didn't dare go to Sickbay. McCoy was dangerously perceptive, not to mention curious, and he would notice that something was wrong; he would needle and guess, and with that illogically accurate "medical intuition" of his, there was a 78.3% probability that he would hit on the truth. Spock didn't care to speculate on the consequences of such a discovery. He had been improbably fortunate so far, in that McCoy had somehow slept through that whole shameful incident in the cave... Spock quietly ordered the turbo lift down to Deck 5, and practically skulked all the way to his cabin.

* * * * *

Kirk sighed as the turbo lift doors shut, and turned his face back to the view screen. A yeoman picked up the dropped reports and handed them to him; he signed them almost without seeing them, and the yeoman obediently took them away. Someone else closed up the open access panel under Spock's console; Kirk didn't notice who it was. Be cool, he told himself. Be calm. Look normal. You're still the captain... His resolution did nothing for his mood, which was approximately that of a pole-axed steer. He couldn't believe how he'd felt for those few seconds, holding Spock in his arms, when he'd thought the Vulcan was seriously injured. Just then, nothing else in the whole galaxy had mattered. That's... love... His thoughts came slowly. I love him. That's the truth, and I'm stuck with it. I love him, with all that love includes and implies. I love him, and I've got to do something about it... but what? He stared glumly at the screen and tried to think of possible actions. Try ignoring Spock? Impossible; this shift had proved that. Forget the whole thing? Equally impossible, and dangerous to try. Find a nice willing crewwoman and fuck to exhaustion? He'd tried that for the last two nights, and it obviously hadn't worked. Resign? Transfer off? Run away? He couldn't bear the thought. Go to McCoy and ask for treatment? He already knew what Bones would say: "There ain't no cure for love, Jim—except more of the same."

No, the only solution was to go to Spock and explain, confess, somehow make him understand the problem. Kirk had no idea how to do that. He couldn't just walk in and say: "Spock, I'm madly in love with you, and I've got to do something about it. Let's go to bed." Hell, that would scare him out of a year's growth! He'd avoid me like the plague, put in for a transfer, hide in tool closets when he saw me coming, or duck behind a computer...

Sudden recognition made his hair stand up, filled his mind with the image of Spock ducking under the console, hiding himself in computer guts, rattled enough to burn his thumb in the wiring. He knows! Oh, god, he knows! He remembers that night, he knows what I'm feeling, what I want, and he's afraid of me! Kirk resisted the urge to beat his fist on his forehead, and wondered why he hadn't seen it before. Of course Spock had acted edgy in his presence, and of course he'd hidden in Sickbay for days, and of course he hadn't sent any message or wanted to communicate or dared to see him in private—of course! Of course!

I've frightened him with my feelings, with my... my seductiveness... He said it himself, that night: "Thee has seduced me into feeling." Oh, Spock... Now what am I going to do? I can't lose him! I can't!

Try as he might, he could think of no alternative but going straight to Spock and talking it over—and the sooner the better, before any more damage was done, before either of them became so distracted that they could never work again. Yes, soon. As soon as this shift's over. Never mind that I'm scared, he threw a silent challenge to his gut-level butterflies and attendant host of shadowy self-doubts. The important thing is that he's scared, and I can't let that go on. Whatever it costs me, I'll tell him. I'll explain how I feel, and that I can't stop. We'll talk it over, find some way to deal with this. Together we can work it out. Together... Oh Love, I think we could face anything together! Even love itself.

That decided, he leaned back in the chair and set himself to concentrating on his job. It was much easier now that he was committed to a course of action and knew what he was going to do.

* * * * *

It took only five minutes to clean and dress his blistered thumb, and after that Spock was at a loss over what to do next. He certainly couldn't go back to the bridge, not while Kirk was there. He toyed with various excuses for getting out of the rest of his shift, selected a likely one, relayed it to the personnel officer, and sat back to think. It was easier in here, alone and surrounded by Vulcan trappings, to detach himself, withdraw, study himself as if he were a stranger observed from a distance, and put the facts neatly in order.

Fact: Subject has lost control and is unable to regain it.

Fact: While in this state, subject has committed one serious offense, and shows definite tendency to repeat same.

Fact: Victim of crime displays definite disturbance and signs of animosity in subject's presence, despite unusual leniency in not reporting the offense... probably out of remembered friendship...

That hurt. Spock closed his eyes and groaned softly over his loss. He was certain now that this silent mercy was absolutely the last he would ever have of Kirk's friendship—which was the one thing he had treasured as much as his Vulcan heritage. In breaching the one, he had lost the other. Perhaps someday, with effort and retraining and treatment, he might correct that basic flaw and become an acceptable Vulcan again—but there was no hope of regaining the other thing, ever. He'll never trust me again. No one could, no one in all the galaxy, not after such a horrifying betrayal as that. Jim, I'm sorry! Not, not even a Human would accept something as pointless as an apology for such a crime. Lost... But let it go.

He sat for a long time staring sightlessly into the flames of the firepot, repeating "Regret serves no useful function" over and over, until the pain subsided to a dull and manageable ache. There was nothing left to do now but leave this place and this dangerous situation, and the sooner he could depart the better it would be. He got up and went to his desk terminal, punched out the necessary code and waited for the printout form to arrive, then took it and read it quickly and filled in the blanks.

* * * * *

At shift's end Kirk came off the bridge and hurried down to his cabin, hoping to high heaven that there wasn't much paperwork waiting for his so that he could finish it off quickly and go talk to Spock. At first he was relieved to see only the one paper. Then he read it, and felt his heart drop to his boots. I waited too long, he thought numbly, rereading the stark words. I should have talked to him earlier, gone to see him in Sickbay... If only I'd settled this with myself sooner, not been such a coward... He punched the intercom open and sent the terse message: "Mr. Spock, report to my quarters immediately."

In a few minutes, or a tense, fidgeting eternity, the door opened and Spock came in. He moved like a marionette, and his face might have been carved from granite. Trouble, Kirk understood. This is going to be rough. Frontal attack best. He picked up the paper and held it out to the Vulcan. "Why?" he asked.

"Personal reasons." Clipped, cold, offering nothing.

"Sure." Kirk pushed a button on this desk that locked the door and turned on the discreet "do not disturb" signal. "Let's drop the polite poses, Spock; the situation's too serious for that. You want this transfer because of what happened... four days ago, don't you?"

"Partially," Spock admitted through stiff lips.

"Partially?" Kirk was caught off balance. Afraid... But is he angry too? Does he blame me for... ? "All right, Spock; what's the rest of it?"

Spock was silent for a few seconds, considering and rejecting the possibility of continued evasion, then struggling with the surprisingly difficult task of choosing the right words. "Captain, I appreciate the fact that you did not report my inexcusable behavior after the shuttle crash. However, assaulting a fellow officer is a serious offense, and—"

Now! Tell him now! "It... wasn't... assault," Kirk confessed through clenched teeth.

Spock's eyebrows shot up to his bangs. "I beg your pardon?"

"It wasn't... " Say it all, dammit! "I... started out unwilling, but... after a while, I... " Say it! "I enjoyed it."

"Impossible..." Spock almost whispered, his mind whirling and thick with memories. All that struggling, crying out— But he believes— How...? Human capacity for self-deceit, denial of unbearable reality—and his tendency to blame himself for everything that happens to his crew... especially his friends... I have forced him into a psychoneurotic reaction. Must get away before I drive him mad!

"No, its true." Kirk got up and paced nervously to the screen and back. "I didn't expect that. It's not something I ever imagined myself doing, but it happened. Why do you think I've been keeping to myself these last few days? I've been thinking it over, trying to understand..." He stopped in mid-stride and turned to look the Vulcan straight in the eyes. "Spock, this is hard for me to say, and I know it's hard for you to hear. I know you hate emotional scenes and entanglements, but—dammit!—we're stuck with this, and we've got to deal with it. I..." He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "I love you, and I can't pretend I don't. That... incident only brought it out in the open. I didn't think I could do that, but I can and I have."

Worse! Worse! Worse than I feared! Spock clutched his hands bloodless behind his back. Now he's altering his memory to fit...Must flee! "I understand perfectly, Captain. That is precisely why I must leave."

"What?!?" Kirk flinched as if he'd been struck. "Leave? How can you?" He took a deep breath and started again. "Spock, I know you disapprove of emotions, consider them an obstacle to clear thinking, but surely... after all you've seen, surely you must know that at least a few emotions have some value. You can't think so little of love that you'd run away from it... and from me... Or would you??? "You can't!"

"Captain." Control! Control! "Any emotion, allowed full expression, is dangerous. We have already seen ample proof of that. After..." Control! "... what I did to you..."

"I don't think you have any conception of what you did to me!" No! No! Don't get angry! "You... you broke something that you can't mend again, and neither can I."

Spock didn't say anything, but he turned pale.

"This is going to take some explaining..." Kirk turned away and resumed his pacing. How did McCoy put it? "Look, we all have ideals that we try to match, things we try to be, roles that we try to fill. For you, it's the image of an ideal Vulcan, and for me it's... 'Jim, the Galactic Hero!' It's a childhood picture of an ideal starship captain. I can't speak for you, of course, but for me... Well, I think I chose an unrealistic image: too proud, too self-sufficient, too unfeeling, too... too untouchable."

Unnoticed, Spock shut his eyes very tight. Then he caught himself and forced them open again.

"I tried to fit myself into that mold," Kirk went on. "Tried very hard. I can't tell you why—it's a long story—but fitting that image was the most important thing in the world for me. I... I think I would rather have died than fail. I had to be that! And—"

"Yes," Spock cut it, sure that he knew where this was going. "And I have broken it." Tactless! I could have found milder words...

"Right," Kirk whispered, leaning against the screen. "You broke it. And how you broke it! You made me see... something in myself that was... no part of the pattern. Not by easy steps, either. All at once. And it hurt..." No, no, this isn't what I meant to say! "Good god, do you realize that you made me the—The Girl in a classic Human-male rape fantasy? I started off fighting it, and wound up enjoying it. Straight out of the book! How corny can you get?" He gave a poor imitation of a laugh.

Spock quietly bit the inside of his cheek, horribly certain that if he didn't have some physical pain to concentrate on, he would lose control completely and fall down right there on the deck.

"All right, you did that." Kirk's voice was serious again. "You made me see something I didn't want to see—but it's there, and it's me, and I can't pretend I didn't see it. Now I've got to deal with it, and I can't do that by myself. Ideals or no ideals, I... need to love somebody. And it's you."

"No." Madness! Don't you know what I'll do to you? Only one way to prevent—Escape, quickly, before it grows— "No. I must go away."

"Spock, you can't leave me to face this alone!"


"I can't believe this." Kirk stumbled backward until he was leaning against the desk. "You—you really would— Oh shit! Seduced and abandoned! First you make me The Girl in a cliché rape fantasy, and now you're making me The Girl in a classic bad romance! I suppose I should be grateful that you didn't leave me pregnant, too!"

Spock couldn't have said anything just then if his life had depended on it. All he could think was that Kirk was going mad right in front of his eyes, and that he wasn't very far from it himself.

"My god, it's perfect!" Kirk pressed a distracted hand to his forehead. "Every corny line in the book, and I fell for it! Me! James T.-for-Tomcat Kirk! I fell into the oldest trick in the world... Oh, nobody could have done it but you, Spock! I let you do it, lay still and let you have what you wanted, even enjoyed it—all because you said you— you wanted me to love you, and I believed it!"

"I-Am-A-Vulcan." And I am losing my mind! Hallucinations... his eyes... too bright to be real...

"You're a Vulcan," Kirk repeated woodenly. "You're more than that. I'm seeing... two things... I never expected you to be."

"Two..." A dangerous lunatic, but what else?

"A coward and a liar," Kirk answered. His eyes were enormous, and definitely shining. "A coward because you're running away from what you've done, and a liar because you said you loved me—and you don't even know what the word means."

No! No! Spock wanted to shout at him. I know very well what it is! It's madness, and we've both caught it, and it's going to make me do something horrible in another minute— And then he saw that impossible brightness in Kirk's eyes gather up and brim over and fall onto his cheeks, clear and shining as fluid diamonds. Tears. Tears?! Him?!?

"If you could lie about that," Kirk continued, oblivious to the growing wetness on his face, "what else have you lied about? What else have you done to trick me?" He stared at Spock as if he were seeing him for the first time. "I thought I knew you. What did I know?"

Spock couldn't answer; something had gone wrong with his throat. Let me escape, was all he could think. Let me out. Please, please, let me out!

Kirk started to say something further, but it came out as a small, torn, inarticulate sound. He turned abruptly, grabbed a stylus off his desk and scrawled his initials on the transfer paper. Then he picked up the paper and shoved it blindly toward Spock. "Here," he said. "Go!"

Too stunned to think, Spock took the paper and turned toward the door. His legs moved as if they were frozen. Behind him he heard footsteps hurrying past the divider screen, the faint creak of weight on a bed, and again that quiet sound of something tearing.

Then the door whooshed shut behind him, and he was out in the corridor with the signed transfer paper in his hand and no idea what to do next. Transfer... procedure... he thought sluggishly. Signature. Medical examination... Sickbay... No, not McCoy! The idea of facing McCoy in this condition made him shudder. The doctor would demand an explanation, pry until he found something, and his "intuition" would do the rest. But a pre-transfer examination had to be performed by the Chief Medical Officer, and there was no legal way around it. Then again, this was second watch; McCoy would be out at dinner. I can leave the paper, Spock considered, Come back later when I've had time to regain enough control... and construct an acceptable explanation... That decided, he pulled a semblance of control around him like a tattered cloak, marched into the turbo lift, and rode down to Sickbay.

* * * * *

There was nobody in the corridor, nobody in the examination room, no sound but the usual soft running-noises of machinery. Surely almost everyone was out to dinner. There would be a duty nurse in one of the wards, Spock considered, but that shouldn't cause any problems. He thought of leaving the paper in the examination room, then wondered how many people might chance across it before the doctor saw it, and decided to leave it on the desk in McCoy's office. Like a burglar in reverse, he tiptoed through the office door.

And there sat McCoy, reading some tapes and munching a sandwich.

Spock jumped, fumbled the paper, almost dropped it, recovered, tried to look perfectly normal, and realized with an inward groan of dismay that those keen blue eyes had missed nothing.

"Well, Spock," said McCoy, shoving the remains of his sandwich aside, "What brings you here? Got a problem?"

Spock bit down a wild impulse to laugh. He held out the paper at arm's length. "Medical examination required," he intoned.

McCoy raised one expressive eyebrow, took the paper and read it over. He seemed to take an inordinate amount of time studying the initials at the bottom. Then he looked up, wearing an expression that Spock had never seen before and couldn't analyze. The unreadable stare stretched on for long silent minutes, adding to Spock's acute discomfort.

"You son of a bitch." McCoy's voice was as cold as polar ice. "You really are going to do it, aren't you?"

Spock was too stunned to do anything but blink.

"I thought you'd learned something in all this time; I hoped you'd finally grown up, but oh no—you won't learn what you don't want to learn. If the facts don't fit your theories, ignore them! And you call yourself logical? The hell you are!"

"I—I see no reason to stand here and be pointlessly insulted—"

"Bullshit! You deserve every dirty word in the galaxy for this! Try 'deserter' for example: Jim's in trouble and needs your help, but because there's a threat of emotional involvement—oh dirty! Dirty! Emotional involvement—you duck behind a transfer request and run away. Oh, I'm sure you can give me a lot of neat logical-sounding excuses, but changing the name doesn't change the game. You're still running out on him!"

How does he— He must have talked to Jim. He didn't see— "You do not begin to understand the situation. It is imperative—"

"The hell I don't understand! Look. See for yourself." McCoy held up the paper and pointed to the scribbled initials at the end. "Did you ever see him write like that before? Look at that frantic scrawl! A child could see what's wrong! Why can't you?"

"The Captain... is ill."

"So that's your medical opinion, is it?" McCoy actually sneered. "Oh, sure! To you, any emotion is a mental disease!"

Spock shuddered. "Yes," he admitted, feeling his battered control buckling under this onslaught. "Yes, and dangerously contagious."

"Right." McCoy's sudden grin was oddly like a snarl. "That's what you've always been afraid of. Well, tough shit! Consider it an occupational hazard, Doctor Quack. The fact remains that the only cure for lovesickness is to be loved in return, so you turn right around and go back to Jim and give him what you damn well know he needs!"

"Are you insane too?" Spock snapped. "Do you have any idea what will happen if I do that?"

"I can make a few guesses."

"Do you want me to rape him again?" What am I saying?!?

"It wasn't rape the first time," McCoy answered levelly.

Spock turned as pale as McCoy had ever seen him. For a moment he looked as if he were going to faint. "How... would you... know?" he asked, very quietly.

McCoy didn't bat an eye. "I wasn't asleep," he said.

"No...," Spock whispered, staring at him in unmitigated horror. "You... saw? You heard?"

"Everything, from start to finish," McCoy confirmed. "I didn't stop you for fear of hurting you badly. I kept quiet afterwards to spare Jim's feelings—and yours. But by god I won't spare your arrogance or your damned pious cruelty! You seduced him, Spock—one of the neatest seductions I've ever seen—and if you run away from him now, you'll hurt him more than you can understand; you'll leave him with nothing. You can't do that to him, damn you! Go back and finish what you've started!"

"No," Spock insisted, staring down at the floor as if to be certain that it was still there. Before his inner eye drifted a vision of a starship battered by phaser fire, its shields weakening, giving way... "I cannot... I am a Vulcan!"

"Not anymore, you're not!"

"What?" Spock snapped his head up and stared at McCoy, eyes flaring wide. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that you shot your Vulcanness to hell and gone, four days ago. Haven't I been telling you for years that your Human side would get loose someday? Well it has, and you can't lock it up again. You're stuck with it, Spock. You're going to have to deal with it, now and forever, and you'd better start fast."

"No!" Spock tensed all over, as if bracing himself against a gale. Dark, ugly rage was seething past his shredded control, rage at this soft little Human tormentor who dared to know so much. His hands itched to reach out, wrap around that dangerous throat and squeeze until the light in those dreadful blue eyes went out. He knew exactly how it would feel... hadn't he tried it once before? The pulse in those vulnerable arteries beating slow but heavy, the flexible windpipe yielding, the bright blue eyes so terribly keen and showing no fear at all but only a last terrible insight... "What are you feeling, Spock?... Have you ever felt these things before?" "No! I will master this. I am Vulcan. I am Vulcan!"

"Hah! And you've called me a witch doctor!" McCoy almost laughed. "You wave that phrase about like a poor superstitious savage waving a magic amulet to ward off demons. It won't work, Spock. You can't exorcise your Humanity! It's with you for life, and you may as well stop calling it a demon."

But it is! For me it is, you fool! "I... am... Vulcan..." And I am holding onto the last of my sanity!

"And you're also a blind, bigoted poser," snarled McCoy. "Oh yes; Vulcan first, last, and always—Vulcan right or wrong—in every detail, and never think of adopting so much as an idea from anybody else. Vulcan Uber Alles! Nothing else is worth considering! Jim was willing to give up his impossible pose for you, but you won't do that for him, will you? No, you'd rather go crawling back to Vulcan and spend the rest of your life trying to prove that you're as good as the purebloods!"

Spock could only gasp in pain as that shaft hit home.

"So second best tries harder, eh, Spock? You'll be Mr. Super-Vulcan if it kills you—and Jim, and everything else. I believe you'd destroy this ship and everyone aboard her if that would prove to the rest of Vulcan that there's absolutely nothing Human about you! Is that 'rejoicing in diversity,' you complete hypocrite?"

"Stop!" Spock shouted. "Be quiet!"

"Yes, I'll be quiet." McCoy's voice dropped to a searing whisper. "But if a Human's curse can stick on a Vulcan, then god damn you for a coward, Spock; you're throwing away something infinitely precious for the safety of a worthless pose."

Coward! Coward! Everyone can see it! Spock turned and bolted out the door, out of Sickbay, down the corridor and away.

McCoy stared after him for a long moment, then glanced down at the forgotten transfer form. "You bastard," he whispered. "You vicious, unbending bastard..." Then he dropped his face into his hands.

* * * * *

Spock didn't stop panting until he was back in his own cabin, and even then the dizziness and sickness didn't subside until he scrambled into the sleeping area and slumped down in front of the firepot. His mind still whirled, and it was exceptionally difficult to form chains of thought. Can't... think. He shuddered uncontrollably. Control... shattered... and this time I'm fully conscious! He shivered again, and wondered idly why the room was so chilly. A glance at the thermometer showed him that the physical temperature of the room was the same as always. None the less, the walls exuded a feeling of cold, the ornamental daggers glittered like ice, and even the firepot seemed to sullenly withhold its heat.

"The hallucinations... return..." Spock murmured, too numb to be alarmed. A fragment of Human poetry floated through his mind.

"from what I know of Hate I'd say that, for destruction, ice Is also great, And would suffice."

Surprisingly, that made excellent sense. Yes, it was perfectly logical that his own cabin should hate him; he was an intruder now, an alien, unwelcome, for this place was Vulcan, and he wasn't Vulcan anymore. Too late to go home... He sighed with resignation. I'm hopelessly insane already.

He got up and walked aimlessly around the cabin, wondering just where in the galaxy he could go. Certainly he couldn't stay in here. But where did a half-breed belong? Not Sickbay! Not with that blue-eyed hawk waiting to pounce on me! Not back there, no. He considered going down to the swimming pool, walking into the deep end and sitting there until he drowned—but it was a long walk, and in his present irrational condition he might very well get lost. Perhaps he should go find another lunatic and ask for advice. That made as much sense as anything. Besides, he felt a need for company. "Misery loves company." In Union There Is Strength. We madmen have to stick together... He even knew where he could find another madman, one who would talk to him, tell him where he could go... He'll tell me Where To Get Off... I don't care. I want to see him again. Besides, I owe him an explanation at least. "I'm sorry, Jim, I don't want to hurt you, but I have to leave because I'm totally insane and a Public Health Hazard..." Maybe he'll break my neck. That would solve the problem neatly....

He got up and trudged to the door and went out and down the corridor without looking back. He still couldn't think, but his feet knew the way.

* * * * *

The door to Kirk's cabin refused to open. Annoyed, Spock gave it a push. Something gave a toothy snap, and the door slid back a little less than an inch. Broken, he decided, wedging his fingers into the gap and pushing the reluctant door open the rest of the way. It didn't shut behind him, either. Not polite to leave doors ajar like that, he thought, pulling it closed again. It occurred to him in passing that perhaps he should have pressed the door buzzer first. Well, too late now.

The office was empty and the lights were low. Spock wondered vaguely where Kirk could have gone, and when he'd return. I'll wait, he decided, looking about for a chair. The only one he could see was behind the desk, and he didn't want to go near that desk just now. There would probably be a chair in the living area. He crossed the office and stepped behind the screen—and then stopped short.

The bed was occupied. Kirk lay there, breathing in the slow rhythms of sleep, his forearm pressed against his eyes. There were faint tracks of wetness on his face. He must have cried himself to sleep, Spock realized. How long? Minutes? Hours? And I have never, ever known him to cry before... He knew that tears were a symptom of great internal pain. How much pain it was, he couldn't begin to guess—but it was terrible to think of Kirk suffering like that. Spock tiptoed over to the bed and sat down very carefully beside the sleeping man, wondering what he could do to stop that unbearable hurt. Please don't suffer, he begged silently. Your pain hurts me. I... care about what you feel... I do care about you... I do... The understanding came to him that this was exactly what Kirk had wanted, so terribly, to know. Yes, Jim... yes... Now Spock knew what was needed; now he could do something. He gripped Kirk's shoulder and shook him gently.

"Jim, wake up," he whispered. "Please listen to me."

Under his hand Kirk flinched and stirred, pulled his arm away from his face and looked up. His eyes were red and swollen. "What do you want?" he mumbled. "Come back to kick me again?"

"No." Spock understood that Kirk wasn't referring to any physical attack. "I came back to tell you... to tell you... Jim, it isn't true. It's not true, what you said. I—I admit to being a coward, but not a liar. Those things I... told you, four days ago... I meant them. That was the truth."

Kirk stared dully up at him, but didn't say anything.

"It was true then, and it is true now," Spock insisted, desperately needing to make Kirk understand. "I do... have that feeling for you.... More precisely, it has me. I cannot get rid of it! It has driven me insane, and I am no longer Vulcan, and I am ashamed and lost and—" He stopped, panting, and wrestled his voice back under control. "Jim, I don't know what to do."

Kirk continued to look up at him, big expressive hazel eyes filled with yearning, with a great aching to believe, at war with suspicion and fear and a terrible hurt. "Prove it," he whispered.

"Proof...?" Spock murmured, bemused at the idea. "Proof?" Isn't it obvious? Can't you see that I am not myself? Can't you see this storm in my mind?... in the mind... perhaps I can show you... won't harm you... you're already as mad as I am... He held up one hand, fingers spread wide, close to Kirk's head but not touching, simply offering the evidence.

Kirk thought for a moment, considered the dangers, shrugged them off, then took a deep breath and pressed that proffered hand against his head.

Spock closed his eyes and let himself remember that morning, that disastrous experiment on the bridge, the constant awareness of Kirk's presence from the first moment that had drawn steadily from distraction to obsession, the inability to work or even think clearly, the unbidden and intrusive memories, the lascivious visions drifting unchecked through his mind, the bridge machinery whispering salacious poetry... When was the last time you heard the console reciting the "Song of Songs?" Hallucinations, delusions, total loss of control... Oh Jim, can't you see that I'm insane?

In reply, astonishingly, Kirk laughed. Oh yes, a fine madness! Ah, Spock... He took hold of Spock's blistered thumb and kissed it.

"Please! Please!" Spock cried, trying weakly to pull away from that enticing touch. "Can't you understand? I'm a dangerous lunatic! If I stay here I'll— The dreams! The dreams continue! I can't stop! I'll do that again! Again!"

Kirk reached up and pulled the Vulcan down into his arms. "Spock," he whispered gently into one quivering ear, "don't you realize that I've been dreaming too?"

"Jim..." Spock groaned as he felt that sweet brightness close over him like deep water. "Oh, I give up!"

Totally lost, resigned to it, Spock hid his face against Kirk's neck and wriggled deeper into the grip of his wide warm arms, throwing himself headlong into the core of his dream country. It was as good as he'd remembered, and now not vague with sleep or semi-consciousness. It was like sinking into a sea of soft light. He no longer cared it was madness, horror, utterly forbidden. He forgot about Vulcan, fell away from all thought, let the exquisite feeling flood his senses and fill up his mind. He could hear himself gasping as if he'd been running for ten kilometers straight.

"Hush," Kirk sighed, sliding his hands up and down that well-remembered back, basking in the incredible feeling of this all-accepting contact, the soft warmth and hard solidity of that long body pressed close to him, so very close. The frozen tangle of self-doubt and fear and confusion and pain had melted completely; it was running out of him like water, like a stream in springtime, and the relief alone was enough to flatten him. It seemed that he could lie here forever, doing no more than this touching, holding, lying close to his friend. Lover, he corrected himself. More than friend now, and there will be more than this. Accept it. "Yes... yes."

In silence, save for the paired whispers of breathing and the hushed sounds of hands on cloth, the moments passed and passed. They lay still, utterly relaxed, quietly soaking up the gentle delight of feeling, floating in a bright haze on the edge of sleep. There was no motion but the slight, slow stirring as Spock drowsily rubbed his cheek, catlike, against Kirk's neck, and the steady, rhythmic sliding of Kirk's hands on the Vulcan's back. They knew, without question or concern, that eventually the warmth would rise to heat, the soft brightness become shot through with fierce light, but there was no need to hurry toward it; there was time enough to let it come when it would. "World enough, and time..." Kirk thought contentedly, lulled by the feel of the slowly breathing body wrapped safe in his sliding arms.

Under that steady motion of hands, Spock stretched and quivered and slowly began to purr. The nameless bright sensations owned him utterly, and all he wanted was to flow with them. The universe had narrowed down to this fluid heat within and the solid warmth without, featured with subtle variations of detail. So marvelous, the difference between those hard fingers combing his cloth-sheathed back, and the smooth cheek rubbing softly against his own. Delightful, the smoky and faintly salty smell, the faint moisture of his skin—the heritage of his water-rich world...

Kirk shifted slightly and kissed him, first on one closed eye, then on the other, then down the side of his face, and at last on his mouth. For a moment Spock thought he might faint under the impact of that gentle pressure; he could feel incredible sensory echoes of it running the whole length of his body and reverberating strangely in his groin. He no longer wondered why Humans gave such significance to the odd gesture; now he understood. Oh! Oh, my bones are melting! He pressed his hands tight against Kirk's head and held him fast, desperate lest the contact be broken. Under his chest he felt the vibration of silent laughter. So eager! He heard Kirk's thought respond. This frantic from a kiss? What will you do if I... The knowing hands burrowed under his shirt and slid smoothly against his bare skin. He broke contact, gasping in shock as his body arched, curling helplessly around that skimming touch.

Kirk laughed again, in amazement and delight. Innocent clumsiness he could have expected, but not this frantic, vulnerable sensitivity. Testing, he slipped one hand down and pulled his fingers lightly across Spock's ribs, fascinated to feel him sob and shudder and curl to the side. The same caress repeated with the other hand caused the same response in mirror image. I could steer him like a ship, Kirk marveled. A touch can move him.... The shirt impeded his hands. Happily reckless, he petted the Vulcan to arching up off his chest, then clutched the blue shirt and pulled it up, over his head, and down his arms. Spock paused to blink puzzled eyes at him. Kirk smiled and explained wordlessly, sliding his hands freely over the bared flesh. Spock understood. The purr rekindled in his throat as he slipped down beside Kirk and began fumbling impatiently with the catches of his shirt.

The boots followed, adding to the disordered pile on the floor. Kirk reached for Spock's belt, then paused and looked at him, tacitly asking permission to proceed. Spock shivered, remembering an earlier broken belt, then nodded once and closed his eyes. Kirk tugged away the long pants and briefs, and the last neglected sock, and waited to see if the Vulcan would reciprocate, but Spock only lay still, passive, waiting.

Kirk stripped off the last of his own clothing and stretched out beside him, carefully settling his forehead against Spock's temple and resting one hand lightly on his soft-furred chest. Spock shivered again, but differently. You cold? Kirk wondered, wishing the thermostat were within reach. No. Frightened. The reply came clearly. I might hurt you... The thought was shot full of startling images; Kirk saw/felt himself, strangely angled through Spock's memory, groaning and struggling in red-shot darkness. He gaped at the picture, then laughed aloud. Spock, that wasn't pain! Didn't you— Oh, the head injury! You couldn't mind-link, didn't know... Through his stead assurance he felt Spock's apprehension fade to bewilderment and a faint trace of worry. I'll show you, he promised, gliding his fingers through the smooth dark fur that dusted the Vulcan's chest and belly. Spock sighed and relaxed, but didn't move. Reassurance or no, he was desperately afraid of hurting Kirk, and was determined not to make any moves—if he could help it—until he was sure of the consequences. Besides, he added with a touch of embarrassment, you seem to have more experience in these matters than I do...

Kirk's last shadow of self-doubt melted away in a burst of delighted laughter. You're almost a virgin, he chuckled. And I thought I'd be... No, that worry was gone; he was no longer any kind of victim. The next round was entirely his. He reared up on one elbow, smiled warmly at those gentle brown eyes, then bent over and kissed him very slowly and thoroughly. Spock was groaning softly and gripping his shoulders before he was done, and it took a little effort to pull away. In compensation he nuzzled across the Vulcan's cheek and then darted his tongue around the inner rim of one pointed ear. Spock gasped in surprise and pleasure, and dug his hands into the bedclothes. Kirk smiled again, watching the reaction. Wonderful, this marvelous innocence and sensitivity. The long, elegant body was like a finely tuned instrument awaiting the player's touch, like a fresh new world to explore... Hadn't Spock said those very words to him, about him, only four days ago? Yes, I'll search you out, he vowed, discover hidden wonders in you... His hands moved slowly down the Vulcan's lean and shivering body, noting carefully what touches made him groan and quiver, or stretch and purr, or arch helplessly this way or that. It was awesome to think how much Spock trusted him to let him learn such secrets; and then it occurred to him that this could be an experience of discovery for the Vulcan, too. Had he never been touched like this before? Had no one ever shown him what he could feel? Oh, I'll show you, Kirk expanded his promise. I'll show you what pleasure can be...

At length his hands brushed through the dark-furred pubic thicket and came to rest over the enclosed genitals. Intrigued, he looked closer at the alien arrangement; the three protective petals folded tight as a rosebud, but pulsing faintly as he touched them. Spock moaned softly at the repeated touch, his hands alternately opening and closing on the bedcover, his body slowly arching upward. His eyes closed tight, squeezing out tears. Kirk continued to stroke and watch, entranced, as the petals slowly engorged with blood, flushed pale green, swelled, and began to part.

"It's like a flower," he whispered, awed. "A flower opening under my hand..."

"You... do not... find it... distasteful?" Spock panted.

"Oh, no, no..." Kirk assured him. "It's fascinating! Green..."

Had you expected rainbows? Spock wondered dizzily, his shoulders digging into the bedding. It had become impossible to lie still; that steady teasing in his groin had wakened a sweet, insistent tickling that crept through his nerves like threads of fire. He had to move, do something, respond in some way. In desperation he turned on one elbow and reached blindly for Kirk, needing to touch him. His hand closed on Kirk's shoulder and halted there, intrigued by the velvety skin and the subtle play of the oddly attached muscles. Oddly soothed by the exotic textures, he let his hand explore further: sideways along the sharp ledge of the collarbone, lightly into the little hollow where the bone ends met the base of the throat, slowly across the broad high plain of the breast muscles with their flat gold rosettes—fascinating to see those supposedly vestigial structures tightening readily under the touch of his fingers... Kirk paused where he was, his hand brushing the half-opened flower in automatic circles, letting Spock take the lead, letting him explore as he wanted. His breathing grew deeper. Unnoticed, his toes twitched. Encouraged, Spock investigated further. He felt the broad arches of buried ribs, the warm ridges of the belly muscles, the marvelous sensitivity where the skin lay thin over pulsing veins, the hidden surprise of a sharp hipbone, the corded strength of long thigh muscles, the contrasting tender smoothness of the inner thighs... Kirk lay still, as if paralyzed by the explorative touch. His breathing shifted to long harsh gasps. "There," he whispered. "Gently... ah, there..."

"Careful... yes..." Spock assured him, cautiously running his hand up the sensitive skin, fascinated by the exposed genitalia of the Human. He had never really studied a naked man before, and he found the arrangement of the organs truly amazing. So smooth, that bare single shaft—curiously dry, and so subtly featured—the thick underlying vein and the flared head becoming noticeable only as the remarkable transformation took place, the soft flesh mysteriously tightening and stretching into a pale column as hard as polished wood, the flushed tip as tender as fine velvet... Kirk groaned and stretched under that touching, and Spock wondered if he should link with him again and discover exactly what the sensations were—but no, that might require some control, and Spock knew he didn't have that now.

"Good... oh, that's good..." Kirk panted. "Careful... or I'll finish too soon... mmmmm..."

Too soon? Spock wondered. Knowing no answer to that, he trailed his fingers away from the taut flesh to the other organ, that mysterious pendant structure just below. He probed delicately, feeling out the two ovoids hidden under the fine skin, and Kirk twitched and gasped at every shift of his fingers.

"Careful... gently, Spock... don't squeeze hard, or I won't be any good to you..."

"These are... testes?" Comprehension dawned. "Here?! So exposed?"

"Yes... vulnerable," Kirk admitted. "That's why we're so... anxious... about them. But where... where are yours?"

Spock blushed. Shyly, he took Kirk's free hand and guided it carefully to the small of his back, placing the fingers two inches apart, on either side of the spine.

"There?" Kirk marveled. "So that's why... last time... when I hugged you..." Experimentally, he pressed his arm against the hidden place. Spock gasped, arched up against him, then squirmed downward against the warm pressure. Kirk shook his head in amazement, then bent down and planted a firm kiss directly in the Vulcan's navel, trapping the lean body between his pressing mouth and his underlying arm.

Spock cried out wordlessly, his body arching and curling, rebounding between the two points of contact. Electrifying webs of fire shot from his groin to his waist, filling his belly and threading down through his thighs. His hands, reaching blindly for some solidity, closed on Kirk's back and dug into the rolling muscles. The only idea his seething mind could form was amazement at Kirk's obvious pleasure in that tight, clawing grasp. Then Kirk's other hand slid down his belly, fingers whispering through the thick dark pubic fur to resettle over the pulsing, half-opened genital flower—and all coherent thought fled away. Defenses against pain... useless against pleasure, he laughed.

"There... there... I'll show you..." Kirk repeated, stroking steadily at the tender, changing flesh. Fascinated, he watched the three petals curl back to reveal glistening chartreuse surfaces studded with hypersensitive spots of darker green, the two side tendrils gracefully uncoiling to stand like oiled serpentine honor guards beside the rising, proud, gleaming central shaft. "Like an orchid," Kirk whispered, "or a cross between... an orchid and a great green anthurium.... Oh, it's beautiful! What are these two things for?" He ran his fingers along the wet, quivering tendrils.

Spock cried out helplessly and tossed his head from side to side. "Oh... oh... anchoring," he gasped. "They grip... stimulate... female. Aaah..."

Not just females, Kirk thought, sweat breaking out on his forehead as he remembered those hot green tendrils probing blindly, greedily at this groin, catching his swelling organ and lashing it tight against a hot, rough surface. Yes, this... His hand closed around the tall, knurled green column. It throbbed heavily in his hand, the beaded surface sweating clear fluid against his skin. The little green tendrils lashed frantically, caught at his hand, and twined like passionate ivy around his fingers. Spock clenched his teeth and gave a high, thin moan. His taut body began writhing slowly, arms stretched wide, as if he were crucified on the bed. Kirk paused, recognizing the motion.

"Am I hurting you?" He smiled, loosening his grip.

"No!" Spock cried. "No! Do not stop! Please—" His eyes snapped open as memory connected. "It wasn't... not pain at all. Jim..."

"Right," Kirk laughed. "Now you know."

"Oh yes... yes..." Spock leaned back and let his eyes drift closed. This was right, it was all right now, and if this unbelievable pleasure burned out his entire nervous system in the next second, that was all right, too. His pulse beat soft fire in his veins, filling his whole body with a bright network of yearning flame, and he heard his voice purring in cadence with the slow surging, and he had no control over any of this, and he didn't care.

Kirk shook sweat out of his eyes and slid his closed hand up and down the full-stretched impressive shaft, watching the beads of moisture form on the hundreds of close-packed little green buttons, like oil on emeralds. The tendrils clutched at his hand, almost visibly begging for the next step in the progression. But what is it? Kirk wondered fuzzily. He was fiercely roused, and it was hard to think. He had to do something, needed it urgently, but he wasn't sure how to proceed. That fascinating alien physiology had him momentarily baffled. The tendrils tugged insistently at his fingers, reminding him of the last time, how they'd done it then. Yes, that was worth trying again.

Almost reluctantly he let go of the pulsating organs and glided his fingers down the insides of the Vulcan's thighs, hoping to make them part. The reaction was totally unexpected; Spock gave a strangled cry, seized Kirk by the shoulders and pulled him fiercely between his spread thighs as if unable to endure an instant with that opened flower untouched. Kirk wriggled into position, gasping with excitement as that frantic need infected him. He settled carefully, matching the organs inch for inch, groaning tightly as the tendrils wrapped eagerly around him. Their oiled, feathery touch sent stabs of lightning up his spine. Stretching out on the Vulcan's heaving body, he began to pump himself slowly against the rough-wet surface of the tall central shaft. Spock surged under him, breathing in great tiger purrs, his hands blindly combing Kirk's back. The hard rhythm lifted and carried them like a burning river that ran on and on....

But not... finishing... Kirk realized through the frantic bright haze. Not enough... touching... He was caught, snagged on an insufficiency, too fiercely excited for this careful precision. Instinct or long habit required more. He needed still more contact, and heavier than this; he needed to bury himself to the hilt in this vehement flesh, and he had no clear idea how to do it. Almost desperately he ran his hands up and down the Vulcan's writhing body, searching for some answer. Spock arched up against him, yearning and frantic. Kirk's hands automatically slid under his buttocks, caught and gripped tight. Spock gasped raggedly and went rigid, body curved upward like a drawn bow, as if not daring to move lest something evade him. Only his hands moved, clawing and pulling frantically, silently pleading.

Could that be it? Kirk wondered, an idea taking form. Possible? Nerves that much alike? Stark mechanical problems, blunt questions flickered through his mind. His fingers searched, probed, while Spock shuddered and sobbed against him, holding him tight. There... A soft place, a yielding, recessed, further forward than he'd expected and definitely possible, opening beneath the green flesh-flower, its course leading directly under it, through the roots of the nerves. He explored, testing, making sure. Spock dug frenzied fingers into his hips and flinched with every touch. Kirk wondered if he were hurting him and stopped, trying to think past his own ravening need, searching for some solution. Spock answered the unformed question for him, slipping one hand up to his head and anchoring firmly in his hair. The mind link roared open, revealing a bright inferno that shrieked for more fire. Please! Please! Don't stop! Please! His free hand clutched blindly at Kirk's back and hips and thighs. Under that lay the startling, distinct impression of just how it was to feel those searching fingers.

Yes... yes... I will... Kirk promised dizzily, shaken by those battering bright waves until he could barely see. He pulled himself back, away from the clinging, pleading tendrils, and slipped down under the rim of that quivering lower petal, feeling through Spock's mind the indescribable sensation of his hard belly pressing against that open flower. Panting, desperate, inflamed, he probed blindly for the yielding place, sought and found. His hands closed tight on smooth hard buttocks, gripped and pulled wide, and he took a last deep breath and plunged slowly and steadily into the burning ring.

Oh god but he's hot! Hot! Tight...

Then all thought burned out of his mind as he felt how it was for Spock, writhing under that slow impaling thrust, tender flesh yielding and stretching tight until every nerve was laid bare to the blunt, smooth pressure. His body transmuted to a skin full of liquid fire, the silent-shrieking open orchid/anthurium hard-stroked by smooth-skinned, spring-steel rippling flesh, body impaled and undulating helplessly on the thick carved-wood column, surging and writhing in uncontrollable spasms, voice crying hoarsely in short screams like the mating cry of a leopard, thighs wrapped frantically around taut thighs, hands clutching at bucking hips and pulling.... Deeper... more... yes... yes. Yes! Bodies locked, pumping in savage united rhythm. Gasping mouths sought, found each other, sealed tight in double penetration. Arms and legs wrapped tight as iron bands, unnoticed fingers digging deep. Minds dissolved together in a holocaust of red and green flames, sensory overload, bursting release, exploding stars—all things transformed into a single timeless burning pulse... pulse... pulse...

Eons afterward, a slow drifting down toward a gentle oblivion.

... oh... oh Jim... I'm dying...

...no, Spock,... only sleep... hush... Sleepy fingers softly traced an upswept eyebrow.

...this is... madness?

...no... just love...

Lips pressed drowsily against damp bronze hair.

...oh, yes...

On a last vague kiss they fell asleep.

* * * * *

McCoy had spent a sleepless night, and got up early in a miserable mood. He tugged on a fresh shirt and glowered at the paper lying still unsigned on his desk. There was no point putting it off. Glumly he punched the intercom and buzzed Spock's quarters. There was no answer. Puzzled, he called the bridge. Spock wasn't there, either. More calls, more mystery: Spock hadn't been seen at dinner, and neither had the captain. In fact, nobody had seen either of them since the end of their watch the day before—only McCoy himself had seen Spock after that. Seriously worried, McCoy started to buzz Kirk's quarters, then thought better of it, picked up the paper and headed down there for a personal visit.

The first thing he saw was that the captain's cabin door was broken. It was sprung open maybe an inch and there was a small but noticeable dent in it—approximately the size of a large Human hand. Or Vulcan, thought the doctor, the hair lifting on his head. He could do that... what else could he have done?!

As he stood there, frozen with a dozen worries, he became aware of two sounds. One: the sonic shower was running, and at a moderately high setting. Two: someone was singing in the shower, noticeably off key. That's Jim, thought McCoy, sagging a little in relief. He never could carry a tune... But why so happy? And where's Spock?

Someone bumped into the other side of the door. McCoy distinctly heard the soft thump and grunt of surprise. Then a hand appeared at the edge of the door, gripped, shoved, and the panel reluctantly squeaked open. Sure enough, there stood Spock. His shirt was rumpled.

McCoy did nothing but stare at him. Spock raised an eyebrow and stared back. Behind them, Kirk sang on—definitely "Home, Home on the Range." McCoy listened, and looked, and a wide grin slowly spread across his face. You did it! he wanted to shout. Hallelujah! You did it!

"Is there anything you require, Doctor?" Spock asked politely, voice as level as always.

"Waal, y'all might tell me how he talked you into staying," McCoy grinned back. "Did he get down on his knees?"

Spock lifted his eyebrow again and replied sweetly: "No, Doctor. To be precise, he got up on his elbows."

McCoy choked, gasped, muffled a gale of laughter with considerable difficulty, and finally held out the unfinished transfer paper. "So what do you want me to do with this?" he asked.

For answer, Spock neatly plucked the paper out of his hand, tore it into shreds, then tore it several times crosswise. He tossed it into the air, turned on his heel and walked briskly away down the corridor—leaving McCoy grinning like an idiot in a small shower of white confetti.
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