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(The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome)

by Leslie Fish (1979)

"This Deadly Innocence" was originally published in 1979 in the print fanzine Naked Times 3.

"This Deadly Innocence" was subtitled "The End of the Hurt-Comfort Syndrome" and was intended to be exactly that. I was tired of "hurt/comfort" stories because I could see that they were euphemistic substitutes for real intimacy, and because I knew of where this syndrome can lead in real life -- namely, to real injury and death. I had McCoy spell it out for Kirk in the first part of the story, then had him carefully trick Spock into understanding the problem, then set Our Heroes down in a safe place where they could work out their needs in safety. 'Tis purely a psychological story, and the only actual "slash" happens in the last sentence. Nonetheless, this was enough to keep it out of the traditionally hurt/comfort 'zines. Heheheheh.

* * * * *

"Jim, I don't know if he's going to make it."

The words had circled silently in Kirk's mind for the last three hours and more while he sat motionless beside the intensive care unit bed. Spock lay there, equally motionless, deep in the healing trance, life- support machines covering most of his body. Kirk kept watch, remembering all the times he'd seen this sight before, or seen it played over himself. So many times we've cheated death.... He took one limp hand between his own, marveling once more at the fineness of bone and tendon, the long supple fingers, more-than-human heat, so familiar and so treasured. We can cheat the Reaper one more time. There's a chance, Spock. Take it. Fight. Win. We'll make it...

He refused to think of what losing would mean. That thought was a shadowy horror, breathing cold wind on the back of his neck, and if he didn't turn to look at it, it couldn't gain on him, couldn't catch Spock. Don't look. Win. Fifty-fifty. We've beaten worse odds. You can do it. Hours and hours of fighting, and we can't lose now. Please, Spock. Come through alive. Alive and whole. Healing trance, all McCoy's skill, all my... hope... Oh, please, Spock... please...

The lean hand twitched ever so faintly. Kirk clutched it hard, afraid to move. I'm here, Spock! Here! Another twitch, stronger. Oh, please-- Quicker breathing. Spock-- Eyelids fluttered, but didn't rise. A faint, barely audible word.


"Yes!" Kirk whispered, leaning close. "I'm here, with you."

"Jim... strike me... waken..."

"Hit you?!" Get him out of the trance. But I don't want to hurt him! Never, never hurt him...


"All right." I hate this! Kirk slapped the Vulcan's cheek.


Biting his lip, Kirk slapped again. Harder.


Kirk did as he was told, struggling to keep his aim through threatening tears. Again. And again. Three times. Four. Spock's head rocked on the pillow. His eyes snapped open. "Thank you, Jim. That is sufficient."

"You're alive!" Kirk almost sobbed with relief. He leaned over Spock, impulsively wrapping his arms around him. "Oh, you're alive..."

"That... should be self-evident." Spock's mouth twitched faintly in his Vulcan equivalent of a smile. He raised one hand, still trembling with weakness, and gently brushed that willful little lock of hair off Kirk's forehead. "Have you been waiting long?"

"Half the night," Kirk murmured, running his fingers softly over the growing bruise on Spock's cheek, as if trying to soothe the mark away. The skin felt velvety, warm, dry.

"I regret having... kept you from your rest." Spock's voice was tired, infinitely tired, but the faint note of warmth was unmistakable. He let his hand slip down until it covered Kirk's.

"It's all right. Just so long as you're alive and well..." Gratitude choked off his shaking voice. Kirk bent lower and gently pressed his lips to the green bruise. Safe and well... oh, I can't tell you...

Spock smiled drowsily, drifting in a quiet haze of well-being. He turned his head slightly and returned the gesture, intrigued by the smooth textures, feeling wrapped in soft layers of peace and contentment. His eyes slid shut and his breathing stretched into the deep rhythms of normal sleep.

Kirk held his hand a moment longer, then gently set it back on the blanket and quietly stood up. He lowered the area lights to dusk level, studied Spock's sleeping face one last time, and turned to go.

That was when he saw McCoy standing in the doorway.

The doctor was leaning against the door frame, arms crossed, as if he'd been standing there for a long time. His expression was unreadable. He said nothing, only waved Kirk toward him with an imperious finger. Kirk followed, hitching one shoulder higher than the other, wondering why he felt vaguely embarrassed.

* * * * *

"Sit down," said McCoy, locking the office door.

Kirk sat. "Spock shouldn't have been left alone like that," he began defensively. "What if there'd been nobody there to wake him at the right time?"

"He wasn't left alone." McCoy took the chair on the other side of the desk. "I was watching for a good twenty minutes before he woke."

"Oh." Kirk settled back in his chair, fighting down an unexplained sense of outraged privacy. "Well, uh... No problem, then."

"Oh, yes there is." McCoy pinned him with a hard blue stare. "I observed a medical condition which is, in my best scientific opinion, extremely dangerous."

"What?! What condition? Isn't Spock all right?"

"For now." McCoy leaned back, not taking his eyes off Kirk. "Until next time."

"What do you mean: 'next time?'"

"I mean the next time you deliberately take unnecessary risks-- or he does," McCoy snapped. "This is the sixth time this year that I've had to patch up one or the other of you for injuries acquired not in the line of duty, but because of stupid, heroic, show-off stunts. I'm getting more than tired of it!"

"Look, Bones," Kirk displayed his most engaging grin. "We're in a dangerous line of work. You know I have to go down on all the landing parties; you can't lead from behind the lines. The risks come with the-"

"Shut up," McCoy cut him off tiredly. "Stop giving me the same old excuses and listen to what I'm saying. I told you, unnecessary risks. That's exactly what I meant. Do you want details?"

"I don't understand what you mean by unnecessary, Kirk glowered.

"All right, I'll draw pictures! How did Spock get hurt this time?"

"You know that already." Kirk looked down at his hands. "Protecting me from a landslide."

"Right. And that landslide never would have happened if you hadn't strolled right up to the edge of that cliff! You knew it was soft earth, not solid rock; a kindergarten child would have known it couldn't hold your weight. Spock could have told you. He was, after all, standing right by your shoulder. Very convenient!"

"I was careless!" Kirk almost shouted. "I was tired, and I got careless. Don't you think I've been kicking myself over that?"

"Not in the right place. This isn't an isolated incident; remember the last time you got hurt?"

"God, yes! That giant tarantula-thing on V'Dikka. Brrr!"

"The natives call it a snolligoster. They gave us plenty of warning about it: a usually harmless beast, but very territorial, so keep away from its private territory. And what did Spock do? Deliberately poke his head in a snolligoster hole! Of course the damn thing grabbed him-- and of course you went running in with a drawn phaser, and of course you ran up and kicked the snolligoster instead of stunning it, so of course it turned on you. Took me two days to pump the poisons out of your bloodstream."

"I didn't know what setting would stun it, and I couldn't shoot at a higher setting for fear of killing Spock. What was I supposed to do?"

"You could have fired past Spock. The snolligoster was as big as a truck."

"I-- It was dark. Couldn't be sure..." Kirk realized he was actually squirming.

"Umm hmmm. And before that you provoked that carnivorous plant on Venca 5, and Spock got the thorns."

"It looked harmless!" Why am I shouting?

"Not quite fatal, you mean-- and you've been a starship captain too long to be so careless. Now before that it was the forest fire on Earth, where Spock could have gotten out safely by himself, but you went plunging in to help and caught that falling conifer across your back. Before that it was the hypnotic flame-creature that jack-lighted you and bit Spock when he hauled you away from it. And before that it was the treacherous tide on Kyngai-- and what possessed Spock to try swimming, anyway? Of course you saved him-- damn near killing yourself with exhaustion in the process-- but he normally stays away from water, hates to swim. That's what first started me wondering."

"He said he needed the practice," Kirk snapped. "What's this all about, Bones? What's the point?" The instant the words were out of his mouth, Kirk got an ominous feeling that he shouldn't have asked.

"Oh, come on! Do you mean you really can't see the pattern?" McCoy studied him for a moment, then reached into the lower desk drawer for the reliable bottle and glasses. "You've been taking turns."

"At what?" Kirk picked up a glass, avoiding McCoy's eye.

"Arranging accidents for yourselves, that's what." McCoy filled the glass for him. "You've gotten it down to a science-- or maybe an art-form: a ritual danger, rescue, worry and relief. Formal and stately as a pavane. A classic case. Cheers."

Kirk drained half the glass in one gulp, waited until he could feel the liquid heat spread evenly through his body, then took a deep breath and ventured to the next step. "A classic case of what, Bones?"

"Conversion Hysteria." McCoy took a leisurely sip from his own glass. "Specifically, a case of Hurt/Comfort Syndrome. In layman's terms, that means you both want something very badly, but don't dare take it-- or even think about it-- directly. Instead, you've invented a substitute, an indirect approach, this ritualized smokescreen, all to give yourselves a bare taste of what you really want, without letting anyone know you want it-- least of all yourselves. It's a dangerous game, Jim, and ultimately self-destructive."

"'Conversion"..." --hysteria. The implications of the word annoyed Kirk enough to make him charge ahead. "All right, you say we've got this-- this-- uh, problem. You're the doctor, and I'll take your word for it. So why are we doing it? Do you have any theories? What is it that we're unconsciously, covering up?"

"Love, Jim."

"Huhhh?" Kirk almost dropped his glass. "...Us?"

"Yes, you. You know damn well that Spock's your best friend, and you love him dearly. He loves you, just as much-- though of course he can't admit it. Neither can you. That's the problem."

"Wha-- But of course I can..." Kirk fumbled. "I mean, of course I feel... uh, a lot for him, but you can't just say-- I mean... Dammit, he's a Vulcan!" Why the hell is my heart pounding like this?

"Right. He's a Vulcan, and can't admit to feelings. He can't even act out what he can't say, except in very limited ways-- such as jumping between you and danger." McCoy grinned wryly over the edge of his glass. "You, on the other hand, are human. A starship captain, with tons of responsibility on your shoulders, obliged to set an example of calm, cool, clear-headed efficiency-- no matter what you're feeling. The result is, you don't know how to express love, either."

"Now wait a minute! I've got a girl in every port. I've never had any trouble--"

"Seducing women? Of course not." McCoy's smile softened a bit. "You've got that down to a science, too. The whole courtship procedure: charming smile and charming words, candy and flowers, drinks and dinner, entertainment and a ride home, in the door and a few words more, off with the clothes and on with the action. You're very good at it."

"You make it sound awfully cold and mechanical," Kirk grumbled, wondering if he were blushing.

"'Ritualized', to be precise. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, so long as you keep enough flexibility to deal with individual circumstances. Trouble is, that's the only procedure you know-- and you certainly can't apply it to Spock."

Kirk snapped his head up, blushing furiously. "So just what do you want me to do?" he bellowed. "Send flowers and valentines?!" Imagine how Spock would react to that!

"It wouldn't be very effective, but it'd be a damn sight safer!" McCoy roared right back at him. "Don't you realize how dangerous your current game is? You could get killed this way!"

"I-- Game?! Migod, you think we deliberately got caught in a landslide? For love?"

"Yes!" McCoy slammed his hand down on the desk. "Love is the payoff. Can't you see it yet? The only way you two know how to express love for each other is to show concern when one of you is hurt!"

"What? No! I mean--"

"Come off it, Jim. That's what you were doing in the intensive care unit just now: showing love the only way you can. I know a love scene when I see one, and that's exactly what I saw."

"Damn you," Kirk whispered, gritting his teeth. He wrenched his gaze away from McCoy and onto his shot- glass. Steady ripples were spreading through the gold liquid. Stop that! he thought, horrified.

"That's why you do it, both of you: setting each other up, putting yourselves in danger, letting the other come to the rescue and get hurt, waiting in Sickbay until the crisis passes-- all for that one little moment when the rescuer first wakes up and the rescuee gets to comfort him. That's the payoff, Jim! That one moment when you can express the love you feel. That's why you do it."

Kirk didn't say anything. He stared at the glass, watching the ripples, turning hot and cold by turns.

"That's the whole point of the game," McCoy bored on relentlessly. "Days-- maybe weeks-- of unconscious planning, hours of pain and fearful waiting, all that useless risk and injury, just for a few seconds' payoff. Dammit, that's too high a price! And too little return! Do you realize that Spock broke nearly every bone in his body, just for one hug and kiss? Migod, what price will he pay for a necking session?!"

"Bones, stop it!" Kirk squeezed his eyes shut. No, no, not tears!

"Jim, you have to stop it. Both of you." McCoy gripped Kirk's shoulder and shook him urgently. "The game isn't worth it. One of these days you're going to smash yourselves worse than I can repair, and that will raid the game for good. What will the survivor do then?"

"No!" Kirk remembered the shadow that had waited at his back all through the long night in Sickbay. If Spock dies... No, no, I can't lose him! Not for some neurotic game! I can't let him go on like this, torturing himself for me. I can't... it hurts... Oh, Spock... no...

"It has to stop now." McCoy leaned back and finished his brandy, giving Kirk time to regain his precious self-control. "I can't tell you what to do instead; that's up to you. I do know that there are countless safe ways of expressing love, and you'll just have to experiment until you find one that satisfies both of you. All I can do is give you time and an opportunity." He reached over to the desk's viewscreen, punched a few buttons and studied the readout. "Hmmm. Yes, that'll do nicely. Look, the Enterprise is heading for Starbase Six for an overhaul and a long R&R for the crew. On the way there, in four days or so, we'll pass JL471-4-- also known as Lilliput: a quiet, safe, comfortable planet with no inhabitants but a few scientists studying the wildlife. We'll drop you and Spock off there and pick you up on the way back. That'll give you nearly four weeks to work out some sort of arrangement."

"Four weeks! I can't possibly take that much time. Besides, Starbase Six has some of the best night spots this side of--"

"Medical orders!" McCoy roared at him. "There are lives at stake here! I'm sending you off to find a solution for a serious personal problem, not to go carousing through clip-joints while Spock hides in the computer. You two are taking medical leave on Lilliput, starting in four days, or I'll exercise medical authority and turn you in. I'm not bluffing, Jim."

"All right," Kirk surrendered. He drained the last of his drink and stood up. "I'll do it, Bones. I'll find a way, somehow, to get through that Vulcan shell." He threw McCoy a vague salute and walked out.

It isn't just Spock! McCoy wanted to yell after him. Instead, he only sighed. Hell, it was hard enough getting him to accept this much. And now I've got to convince Spock, too. Oh, headache!

* * * * *

It took McCoy nearly three days to come up with a tight, logical, foolproof argument. It took another half-day to phrase the argument in stiffly proper terminology. Spock woke on the fourth morning with his mind clear and sharp as ever, but McCoy was ready for him.

"You're progressing well, Spock," he began, glancing from his handful of papers to the diagnostic panel. "At this rate, you should be able to walk again in another two weeks or less."

"I can manage at present with crutches," Spock noted.

"Not for long periods of time. I'm prescribing medical leave on Lilliput, which we'll be passing this afternoon. The Enterprisewill pick you up when it returns from Starbase Six. Of course, I'll send someone along with you." McCoy tried to sound nonchalant while waiting for the reaction.

It wasn't long in coming. Spock's eyebrows winged up to his bangs. "Lilliput?" he almost gulped. "I was not aware that JL471-4 possessed medical facilities superior to those of the ship, much less those of the Starbase."

"It doesn't," McCoy continued smoothly, "but the research team there should be quite capable of rendering any assistance necessary." McCoy waited again, suppressing a grin.

"Then may I ask why you require me to take medical leave on Lilliput?" Spock sounded ever-so-faintly exasperated.

"You may ask." McCoy decided not to tease any further. He put on his best professional face and recited: "There is a serious socio-psychological problem requiring your undivided attention, which you could best apply far from the distractions of the ship or the Starbase, on a quiet world like Lilliput."

"What is the nature of the problem?" Spock actually looked intrigued.

Must be eaten up with curiosity, McCoy judged. "It concerns the unusual and self-destructive behavior of two officers on this ship. They have, without spoken agreement or even conscious decision, entered into a dangerous private ritual as a substitute for emotional communication. Of course, we can't allow this to continue."

"Indeed," Spock enthused. "I have often noticed that, for creatures who place such high value on their emotions, humans are often remarkably incapable of expressing them efficiently. What is the nature of the ritual?"

"Alternately, one or the other will expose himself to danger-- just barely within the other's capacity to survive-- thus obliging the other to rescue him at the expense of personal injury. While the rescuer is recuperating, the rescued party waits for him to recover, making a special point of being present when the other first awakens. That's when the emotional exchange takes place. It usually lasts for only a minute or two, but for the sake of that brief exchange, they're willing to go through all the rest of it. I've observed them doing this no less than six times in the past year." It wasn't easy to keep his face straight, or even his voice, but McCoy managed.

"Fascinating," Spock commented. "I assume that you would not require my assistance if you were able to persuade them to forego this dangerous ceremony. Therefore, the emotional satisfaction involved must be extremely important to them."

"It is." Now we get to it! "It seems to be the only method they know of to express their feelings for each other."

"Remarkable. And the emotions involved are too strong to be effectively suppressed?"

"Much too strong," McCoy firmly agreed. "In fact, previous suppression is one cause of the problem. It's like trying to pen up the Colorado River in a dam without a floodgate. The water backs up, the pressure increases, and sooner or later the river finds a way out: over the top, or spilling out at the sides, or seeping through the surrounding land, or by breaking the dam. In any case, the uncontrolled leaks are dangerous. Strengthening possible leakage sites doesn't work: there's enough volume and pressure there for the water-- in this case, the feelings-- to go through some of the damnedest contortions in order to find a way out."

"A critical situation, then," Spock concurred, bemused by the striking analogy. "It is imperative that a safe outlet be found, and quickly. I assume that you cannot think of any yourself?"

"True," McCoy admitted. "It's gotten so intense between those two, so fiercely personal, that I honestly don't know what to suggest to them. Simple generalizations won't work. They have to be made aware of the problem so they can find a suitable outlet for themselves."

"Safety may present a problem," Spock considered. "I assume, from the nature of the bizarre temporary solution, that the emotions involved are negative: hostility, hatred, jealousy perhaps."

"Oh, no," McCoy corrected. "Quite the contrary. The only emotion involved is a very positive one. Love."

"Love?!" For an instant, Spock looked downright pole- axed. "But... exposing each other to danger, injury..."

"-- has nothing to do with the nature of the emotion itself. It's simply the only outlet available. They get themselves hurt so they can comfort each other. See?"

"Astonishing." Spock shook his head thoughtfully. "Truly astonishing. The illogical convolutions of human emotion never cease to amaze me."

McCoy almost exploded at that, but managed to hold his reaction down to a choked snicker. It sounded like a cough, and Spock took it for a sign of polite impatience.

"In that case, since only the safety of the participants is involved, they must be removed from all exposure to danger. Certainly, they must be sent off the ship, as well as made aware of the problem, as quickly as possible. Perhaps the best procedure would be to place them together in a safe and unstimulating environment, under medical orders, to discover a more direct and efficient way of expressing their, uhm, affection. To facilitate such efforts, they should be isolated from other social contacts which might inhibit or distract them."

"Agreed." McCoy smiled and dropped the bomb. "Then I'll send Jim down to Lilliput with you at 1630 today."

It took Spock a few seconds to put that together. When he did, the expression on his face was, in McCoy's estimation, sufficient payoff for the last four days' work.

* * * * *

The isolation McCoy had hoped for didn't happen immediately; regulations required medical checkups for the planetary research station's personnel, and that gave Spock and Kirk legitimate reason to spend the first day visiting the scientists.

McCoy glowered at both of them as they met in the transporter room. Kirk, carrying a suitcase and unobtrusively supporting Spock, sheepishly studied his feet. Spock, perched uncomfortably on a pair of crutches, looked at the ceiling. McCoy wasn't fooled.

"Open that suitcase, Jim," he snapped. "Show me what you're taking."

Kirk started to complain, caught McCoy's look, and meekly opened the suitcase. McCoy prodded through it meticulously as a customs inspector. "Umm Hmm. Three books. No way; one's plenty." Kirk glumly picked out two volumes and handed them to Scott. McCoy looked further. "Nope, not the portable chess set either. Take this back, too, Scotty."

"Aw, come on, Bones," Kirk protested. "We always play chess after dinner. It's an old tradition."

"It's a substitute for communication! That's not what you're here for. Hmm, the rest looks harmless." He closed the case with a snap. "Now let's go."

"Yes, Doctor," Kirk sighed. "Beam us down, Scotty."

Scott grinned and complied.

The little party materialized outside the main dome of the research station. The door opened and a dozen scientists trotted out, casually dressed, shouting assorted welcomes, inviting the visitors inside, jostling each other in their eagerness to swap introductions and tell the Starfleet officers about their research. It was obvious that the medical examination wouldn't be conducted right away.

Kirk accepted the hospitality, including cups of local herb tea liberally laced with brandy, and settled himself unobtrusively in a corner. McCoy was chatting happily with the scientists and Spock was bent eagerly over a tape reader screen, both looking relaxed and quite at home. Spock actually seemed to be enjoying himself.

...Hope so, Kirk thought. Always knew there was a passionate soul hidden somewhere under that Vulcan armor... But I never expected it to surface like-- He glanced at Spock's bandaged legs. --Like that! No, not like that, not again, my friend... he thought, studying the elegant point of an ear, the gleaming smoothness of sleek ebony hair. My best friend, None better anywhere. Yes, Bones. Communication. Find a way... No matter what embarrassment it costs him, or what pain it costs me. I can't lose him. Not for Vulcan pride or my reticence or anything else.

"... priceless opportunity to see civilization just beginning," the chief xenoanthropologist was saying. "The killer whales were nomadic hunters until just six generations ago, when they stumbled on this lagoon. The single entrance made it easy for them to trap a large school of the neo-carp-- we call them goldfish-- which assured a steady food supply."

"Killer whales?" Kirk yawned, intrigued despite himself. "They can live on goldfish?"

"Ah, those are our pet-names for them," Doctor Brown smiled, happy to elaborate on his specialty. "The fish strongly resemble goldfish, despite the size difference, and the intelligent sea mammals Earth killer whales. Come have a look."

Kirk got up and came over to gaze at the tape viewer screen. Spock hitched his chair aside to make room. Sure enough, the screen displayed a view of a school of glittering golden fish, their tails and fins elongated into transparent veils. They were accompanied by sleek blue killer whales, no more than twice the size of their golden charges, wearing belts of coarse rope. As Kirk watched, two killer whales drove a particular goldfish out of the school, actually bound it with their belts and dragged it away.

"Like shepherds, or cowboys," Kirk commented, "cutting a steer out of the herd. Is that one earmarked for the day's dinner?"

"Eventually," said the scientist. "They do something odd with it first. Also, the killer whales are technically farmers more than herders. In that wide patch of seaweed behind them, you'll note a group of killer whales pulling out certain weeds and planting bits of others. They know that the goldfish prefer the second sort of weed, and they've learned how to encourage its growth."

"This reveals excellent powers of observation," Spock noted.

"Oh, true, true. They figured out agriculture in just four generations of settled living. Ah, now we come to the interesting part. Look at that remarkable mosaic on the lagoon floor."

Kirk looked, and saw a pattern drawn in the white sand. It was filled with rows of bright pebbles and shells, and did look remarkably like a picture of a killer whale. Just ahead of the mosaic was a donut-shaped stone. A third killer whale, apparently quite old to judge from its faded colors, swam up and inspected the tied goldfish, then nodded once in what seemed to be approval. The other two killer whales dragged the goldfish onto the stone and held it still. The third killer whale nodded solemnly twice, then set its jaws just behind the goldfish's head and bit hard. The goldfish jerked once, then lay still.

Spock looked away.

The other two killer whales pulled off the rope-belts and began, with surprising neatness, to gut and skin the carcass. The old killer whale took the goldfish's severed head, laid it carefully on the sand just in front of the "face" of the mosaic, bowed three times and backed off, out of range of the camera.

"Damned if that doesn't look like a sacrificial offering!" said Kirk. "Is that mosaic a-- an idol to some sort of killer whale god?"

"Goddess," Doctor Brown corrected. "It has the markings of a female. That's the only theory that covers all the bases, and if it's correct, that pretty lady is some sort of fertility goddess. Here--" He changed the tape, showing an overhead view of the killer whales dancing in a complex pattern that centered on the mosaic. "That's their spring mating festival. Killer whales are generally monogamous and they usually dance with their mates during the first warm tide of spring; but nowhere else do we find a whole community of them dancing together in a group pattern. Apparently, they've changed their dance to honor the Lady there."

"So she's a love goddess," Kirk laughed. "Ha! 'Foam- born Aphrodite!"

Spock looked away again, unaccountably embarrassed.

On the screen, all the killer whales leaped into the air together, gleaming in the sun, and dived gracefully back into the water.

"Beautiful," Kirk murmured.

"Mrrrowr," echoed a voice from the floor.

Kirk looked down to see a small sandy-brown cat twining affectionately around his ankles. He bent down to pet it. It purred and leaned against his hand. "Pretty cat," he commented, picking it up. "Did you bring it from Earth with you?"

"No," Doctor Brown laughed, "she's a native. We found her as an abandoned cub and raised her ourselves. By the time she was big enough to survive out in the woods, she'd made up her mind that she wanted to stay with us. We just couldn't make her leave."

"Oh, yes, cats are like that," Kirk chuckled, tickling the cat's chin. "What do you call her?"

"'Leo giganticus', though it hardly fits this particular girl. She may have started out as a lion, but she's ended up as a pussycat."

"'Leo... giganticus?'" Kirk stared at the little cat, who responded by licking his nose. "The 'Giant Lion'?"

"That's right. Second biggest land-going predator on the planet. The Tiny Tyrannosaurus is somewhat taller, and the Anchovy Whale out in the big sea is nearly five feet long, but this little darling is right up there in the heavy-weight class."

"Those killer whales we observed vary in length from six to eight inches long," Spock added, noting Kirk's dropped jaw. "The goldfish are of approximately Earth- normal size."

Doctor Brown shrugged at his guest's ignorance. "The planet's constant tectonic activity results in shallow seas, numerous low mountains, tiny valleys, and literally millions of ponds and streams. Except for a few trees, all lifeforms are small. There's no percentage in being big."

"What's the matter, Jim?" McCoy grinned at Kirk's pole- axed look. "Didn't you do your homework? This world isn't called Lilliput for nothing."

Uh uh..." Kirk replied. Safe as a playground. "And we have four weeks to play Gulliver, eh?" Kirk hoped his expression showed none of the sudden, irrational anger he felt. It's not as if we were suicidal, dammit! ... But... what if Spock is? Migod, has it gotten that bad?

Kirk spent the rest of the evening keeping and eye on Spock, no way reassured by seeing nothing out of the ordinary in the Vulcan's behavior. Long after they'd retired for the night, Kirk lay awake in his sleeping bag, anxiously watching Spock's ribs rise and fall in the slow rhythms of sleep. It seemed to him that he'd never before seen his friend look so fragile, so vulnerable, or so dear. When sleep finally came, it was laced with disturbing dreams of falling rocks and threatening monsters, the only path to safety being a tangled trail where kitten-sized lions and tiny dinosaurs led the way.

* * * * *

Early in the morning, they transported to the surveyor's cabin, two thousand miles north of the main station. Kirk took a deep breath of the resin-scented air and looked about him, approving of what he saw. The small field-stone cabin nestled among low conifers that resembled white pines, a small garden of mixed flowers and vegetables half-circling its long side, a mossy path leading from its front door to a large-pond/small- lake some fifty yards away. Warm yellow sunlight lay like spilled honey over the scene and gleamed like fire from the huge solar window on the south side of the cabin's roof. The light wind carried countless soft sounds of wildlife from the surrounding forest.

"Lovely place," Kirk decreed. "I can't think of a better shore leave spot. Let's go in and set up housekeeping." He headed up the path discreetly slow, letting Spock keep pace without too much effort.

Spock said nothing, his mind busy with managing the awkward crutches, observing details of the local ecosystem, and covertly watching Kirk. The captain appeared relaxed and comfortable in these surroundings, revealing no symptoms of his unhealthy desire for physical danger, though Spock knew this could be misleading. Even the safest of environments could contain hazards, if one labored diligently enough at finding them.

...Which he will doubtless do, Spock considered gloomily. I must endeavor to stay near him at all times, recognize potential dangers before he can, and inconspicuously, steer him away from them. Difficult... Spock studied the cheerful expression on Kirk's face, the exuberant vitality displayed in the smooth motions, the easy strength and deep sensuality evident in the otherwise-well-cared-for body, and he cringed to think of all that health and beauty poisoned by a single psychological error. It must be corrected! I must deter him from indulging in this destructive ritual. Unforgivable that I have ignorantly assisted him for so long! ...My responsibility, then. I must diligently encourage him toward safer expressions of his ... affection ... for myself. My own proprieties/preferences are irrelevant. I will do whatever is necessary ... to save him...

The cabin was unlocked. They stepped inside, canvassing the interior easily in the light from the great solar window. The main room was furnished with a wide bed, several bookshelves and sample cases along the walls, a broad table and chair with a small self-powered study lamp, a clothes rack and chest of drawers in the corner, and a huge stone fireplace with a shaggy fireproof hearth-rug. To either side of the fireplace stood a door. The first led to the bathroom which boasted a well-stocked medicine cabinet, a small basin with no water source except a presently-empty bucket, and earth-toilet, a plain ceramic bathtub with a pump connected to the solar-window/water-collector, and nothing else. The kitchen possessed another basin and bucket, another wooden table, a small cabinet full of pots, pans, dishes and utensils, a few food storage cabinets, and no modern conveniences except an overhead light and a cold-box. Kirk conducted the inspection tour, commenting happily about how primitive and unspoiled everything was, while Spock hitched his way over to the bed and sat down on it. He stood the crutches against the footboard and glowered at them while he rubbed his sore armpits. The crutches were at least half an inch too long, and using them for any length of time was annoyingly painful. He wondered how McCoy could have made such an error; for all his human failings, the doctor was normally quite meticulous about his work.

"The larder isn't very well stocked," Kirk reported, coming back from the kitchen with a small box of herb tea and a jar of pickled sardine-like fish. "But there's a guide book to the local foods. Let's go out and -- Uhm, no, you stay here. I'll go out to the garden and pick breakfast."

Spock nodded agreement, silently biting back the words 'be careful.' He didn't think Kirk could get into too much trouble in the vegetable garden, at least not this soon. Nonetheless, he monitored Kirk's progress by following the captain's off-key whistling of "Red River Valley" as he picked his way through the plants. Nothing untoward happened, and Spock felt both relieved and a bit sheepish when Kirk came back in with an armload of salad greens and mushrooms.

Kirk dropped his garden-plunder on the table, looked around for a moment, then slapped his head in exasperation. "Damn! I forgot -- no running water. I guess we're supposed to fetch it in from the pond, or maybe the stream." He went back to the kitchen and came out with the bucket. "I'll only be gone a few minutes. Be careful while I'm gone."

Me be careful? Spock thought that over while Kirk trotted out the door, leaving it open behind him as if to keep a clear view of the interior. Just what does he think I would do? One might think that I were the one displaying self-destructive tendencies! I must consider the significance of this symptom ... He stretched out on the bed, relaxed, and settled into light meditation.

There was a soft scratching sound at the door. Spock snapped his eyes open and turned to look. Peering around the door-jamb was an animal the size of a small squirrel, shaped and colored like a fangless Vulcan sehlat or a fat Earth brown bear. Spock watched, bemused, as the little beast sniffed and looked and listened. Eventually, it toddled across the threshold, followed by another tiny bear, then a third, then half a dozen more. Spock pondered the possibility that they were social animals, pack hunters, while the little scouting party reconnoitered the front part of the room, noses atwitch, converging on the table. It wasn't until they began shinnying efficiently up the table legs that Spock realized they were after the food.

"Be gone!" he commanded, sitting up. "Shoo!" The little bears paused, watching him, but didn't retreat. "Go away!" He waved his arms at them.

The bears, guessing that Spock wasn't mobile, kept a cautious eye on him as they resumed their assault on breakfast. Spock paused in his ignored exhortations to consider that the bears were familiar with people, and with the cabin. They could even recognize food inside a glass container. Then the bears rolled the jar off the table. It smashed on the floor with an enormous noise and mess. The little beasts on the floor converged on the ruins, dug out the fish, and gobbled them up with notable speed. The bears on the table turned their attention to the vegetables.

* * * * *

Sterner measures required. Spock lifted one foot -- an uncomfortable maneuver in his condition -- pulled off one boot and threw it. It whizzed a scant inch over the heads of the fuzzy freeloaders. They only crouched lower and ate faster.

Shameless little thieves! Spock realized he would have to intervene personally, and soon. He made a grab for the crutches and missed. The perverse prosthetics fell over, bounced once, and slithered out of reach. He pawed uselessly after them, hearing the bears chomp their way through the mushrooms. When he looked up, half the vegetables were gone. Even if he rolled off the bed and crawled, he'd never reach the food in time to save it. Exasperated beyond endurance, Spock employed the only tactic available. He leaned back and yelled for help.

"Jim! Come quickly!"

Down by the brook, Kirk sat bolt upright, dropping the nearly-filled bucket.

"Jim! Help! BEARS!!!"

Old habits snapped into place. Kirk forgot everything he'd been told about the planet's harmlessness and the size of the wildlife. He jumped to his feet, whipped out his hand phaser and went thundering back up the slope to the cabin.

Spock was on the point of swearing in ancient lowland Vulcanian when Kirk burst through the door, phaser first, ready to do battle with something at least twice the size of a grizzly. What struck Spock most was Kirk's expression. He could describe it only as 'ecstatic martyrdom.' All he could think was that this proved everything McCoy had told him. He was perfectly horrified.

Kirk skidded to a halt, saw Spock unharmed but upset, noted no sign of any large dangerous animals, and wondered if the bears were in the kitchen or on the roof. "Where are they?" he panted.

Spock pointed.

Kirk looked. He did a classic double-take. His phaser hand dropped and so did his jaw. "...Bears?" he repeated, staring.

The fuzzy burglars looked up, squeaked in alarm, and fled the table as fast as they could waddle.

"They have," Spock pointed out, "completely devoured our breakfast."

Kirk burst out laughing. He stuffed the phaser back on his belt, ducked into the kitchen, returned with a broom and gently swatted the last of the miniature bandits out the door. He was still chuckling when he turned to survey the mess the little beasts had left.

"I fail to see anything amusing in the theft of our food," Spock grumbled. "We shall have to start over, from the beginning."

"Yes, but ... Heh! Bears!" Kirk laughed as he swept up the broken jar and the remaining scraps of greens. "When I heard you call, I thought ... Oh, hell, I imagined a pack of grizzlies trying to have you for breakfast."

Spock recalled that, among humans, the emotion of love often manifested itself as protectiveness. Of course, that is part of the problem. ... "I was in no danger, I assure you. I was merely... exasperated at my inability to deal with the animals."

Kirk glanced at him, noting the fallen crutches and missing boot. Actually confessing to 'exasperation?' Must have been furious... and helpless... "Well, I must've looked pretty silly myself, running in here ready for... Ha! Loaded for bear!" He brought the other boot and helped Spock into it. "Come on, let's go hunt up some more food."

Spock winced at the thought of using those miserable crutches again. "I... may be unable to assist you. I find these particular pair of prosthetics most ill- suited to my size."

"Odd. McCoy's usually more careful than that." Complaints? Must really hurt. "No problem: you can lean on me." Kirk pulled Spock's arm across his shoulders and hauled him upright. Unfortunately, Spock, being the taller by several inches, his feet still dragged on the ground. "Hmmm, looks like I'll have to carry you..." Did McCoy set this up deliberately? Kirk slid his arms under Spock's shoulders and knees, and managed to pick him up without too much effort. Spock made no comment, kept perfectly still, and Kirk carried him out into the garden.

They spent the rest of the morning picking vegetables in companionable silence. Kirk retrieved the bucket, noted a number of the small sardine-like fish swimming in it, and found he could make a good-sized catch in a few minutes by using a large handkerchief for a fishnet. With the aid of the guidebook, Spick managed to collect a good assortment of wild nuts, fruit and edible fungi that Kirk had overlooked earlier. Kirk brought the food in first, then carried Spock back into the cabin and set him to building the cook-fire while he set the table. Lunch consisted of a large mixed salad, fresh mushrooms, fried fish and herb tea, with plenty left over for dinner. They ate ravenously and enjoyed it hugely.

* * * * *

"Damn, that was good," said Kirk, leaning back and surveying his emptied plate. "Can't remember when I've had a better meal."

"'Hunger is the best sauce,'" Spock quoted.

"True..." Kirk couldn't think of anything else to say. In fact, for the first time in ages, he couldn't think what to do next. The silence stretched. Strangely anxious, he looked around for ideas. All that met his eyes were the dirty dishes. He took them into the kitchen and used the last of the water to wash them. That led to re-filling the buckets. After that, there was firewood to find and bring in. Kirk managed to keep busy for three more hours before he ran out of chores.

Spock, meanwhile, busied himself with tending the fire and reading the kitchen guidebook, which contained instructions for finding, gathering-or-catching, cleaning, and cooking every edible life-form in the area. He skipped the section on animals and read the section on plant life. When he finished it, he went back to the beginning and read it over. He was going through it for the third time when Kirk came over to the fire and sat down beside him on the hearthrug, giving a curiously resigned sigh.

Spock pretended to continue reading. Kirk looked at the fire, looked at the windowed ceiling, looked at his hands, fidgeted, and finally turned to look at Spock.

"Hmm, you know, Spock..." he began, "we're here for... more than just a few weeks' rest."

"I know." Spock closed the book.

"It's because we have a... sort of a... communications problem."


Spock glanced up at him. Their eyes met for a moment, then darted away. Kirk chewed his lip, studied the fire, and tried again.

"Look, did McCoy talk to you about... uhm..."

"Yes." Spock squirmed slightly, tossed another twig into the fire, and picked at imaginary lint on his sleeve.

"Well, there's a... barrier, and it's causing trouble. Serious trouble." Kirk laced and unlaced his fingers. "We have to -- to talk to each other, get through that barrier somehow, really... communicate."


"It won't be easy. I really don't know where to start, or how, or... anything."


"Well..." This is like feeling around for hairline cracks in a solid steel bulkhead"Damn."

Kirk grabbed a local-version pinecone and hurled it into the fire, scattering sparks. Spock flinched, startled and disturbed. He had read that frustrated communication among humans often manifested itself in violent action, but he had never personally seen such a graphic example before. Indeed, McCoy was right. The problem is serious!"

Kirk took a deep breath, as if about to plunge into cold water. "Look, Spock, we're just going to have to talk to each other -- about anything, everything, thoughts and ... feelings, no matter how difficult it is -- for either of us."


"All right." Kirk sighed again and lay back on the hearthrug, wishing to high heaven that McCoy had let him bring the chess set. It was hard to talk directly to Spock without that little screen of game-figures between them. Maybe Bones was right. It is a barrier, a prop... But, dammit, I need a prop! Crutches... "Say, do your arms still hurt from those things?"

Spock blinked, bewildered by the sudden change of subject. "No, I am quite recovered. I only regret that my mobility is severely curtailed without them."

"I don't mind carrying you. Or does that hurt, too?"

"Oh, no, not at all."

"Fine. How are your legs doing?"

"Recovering rapidly. The unavoidable swelling curtails movement, but the tissues are effectively regenerated."

Kirk smiled. Same old Spock. Ask 'how are you?' and get a medical treatise. "I mean, is there much pain?"

"There is some slight discomfort," Spock admitted.

"In other words, it hurts." Kirk sat up. "It so happens that I can do something about that. McCoy gave me instructions: rub the stiffness out, twice a day. I should have done it this morning, in fact. Get out of those clothes."

"I -- I find the atmosphere somewhat chill..." Spock demurred, unaccountably embarrassed.

"Just a minute." Kirk got up, put another log on the fire and closed all the windows. Then he went into the bathroom and opened the bathtub spigot. The water poured into the tub, draining the solar collector; unchecked sunlight streamed in through the overhead window, and the cabin began to warm up rapidly. "There," Kirk said, coming back to the fire. "Now there's a hot bath waiting."

"You may indulge, if you wish," Spock replied, resignedly slipping off his boots, socks, uniform trousers and shirt. "I have never been attracted to the idea of submerging myself in water."

Then why did you go swimming on Kynygai?! Oh, it's bad! "I suppose I can always pump the water back up." Kirk sighed, thinking of the effort it would take to fill the collector again. Life in the raw, all right! ... Don't complain. It's necessary. "Lie down on your stomach."

Spock stretched out on the hearthrug, glumly observing the fire. As far as he could tell, they had managed a personal communications exchange of only sixteen sentences: ten from Kirk, six from him. His contributions had consisted, almost entirely, of one word apiece. Shamefully insufficient, he judged. I am dealing incompetently with the problem! No Vulcan should perform so poorly! (Shame!) Jim is attempting to deal with the situation, and I have been considerably less than helpful. (And I must help him!) ... But what could I say? What should I do? I am most (deliberately?) inexperienced in this area...

Kirk sat down behind Spock, paused for a moment to remember how he was supposed to do this, then took one narrow foot in his lap and began kneading it gently. Spock noted the light pressure, felt the small pains in his foot beginning to dissipate, concluded that Kirk was proficient at this task, and turned his attention back to the primary problem.

* * * * *

Crisis situation, he considered. I must learn to handle it, and quickly. Emotional communication... (A Vulcan would sooner learn techniques of assassination.) Wait! Anomaly: Vulcans do learn techniques of... (Tal Shaya. The lirpa. The ahn-woon. Others...) Logical inconsistency! We suppress emotion because it clouds logic and leads to violence, which ends in destruction. Destruction is always undesirable. 'Reverence for life.' Surak's primary construct. Yet... we learn techniques of destruction. Why? Analyze!

Kirk set down the relaxed foot and took up the other one. They were, he considered, very interesting feet: sharp-tendoned, long-toed, high-arched. The outer edge of the foot barely touched the ground; most of the calluses were on the heel and the roots of the toes. He wondered if the soles were ticklish, but decided not to experiment just now. It wouldn't help unkink those cramped muscles.

What was I taught? Spock pondered. 'There are rare circumstances under which logic dictates no other course.' So: violence motivated by logic is acceptable, but violence motivated by emotions is not. That appears consistent (Appears? Be sure.) ... Wait. If the effect is the same, why should the motivation make any difference? ...But certainly, it makes a difference! Emotional violence is uncontrolled, blind, irrational, while logically-motivated violence is... logical... No, one can't do that. Circular reasoning: illegitimate. Try again.

The heat in the cabin was uncomfortably high for a human. Kirk paused to strip down to his briefs, then resumed work on Spock's legs. The calves and shins now, one at a time: even relaxed, the muscles felt as hard as pine wood.

One simply cannot say, Spock gnawed over the knotted problem, that logic is right and emotion wrong. (Though I was taught that as a child. The reasons -- rationalizations? -- came later...) One must show why. (Show cause! So much misery and effort -- there had to be a reason for it!) Logic is... orderly and predictable. Emotion is not. (Is it? Does not anger reliably make one wish to do harm, while love makes one wish to protect, to be kind, to make one's beloved happy?) If that were always true, we would not be here! (No, the problem here is love denied its direct expression.) Indeed! Protection -- and relief at my eventual safety -- those are the only he knows. (What of the others?) I... do not allow others. How can he show kindness to me when I do not acknowledge kindness? How can he attempt to make me happy when I refuse to feel happiness? (Own fault, then.) Yes...

Spock laced his fingers together and pressed the knuckles against his mouth. Kirk's hands, climbing his left thigh, had reached the site of some serious cramps. The pressure was not noticeably painful, but the relief afterward more than made up for the pain

I do not even know how to feel happiness! Spock berated himself. Only not-sad, not-in-pain, not- frustrated... (All negative states.) True, nothing positive. Thus I allow Jim no positive expression of his feeling -- only these costly rescues from pain... (Is this where logic has brought us?) Surely, it was meant to do better than this!

Kirk's hands shifted to the other thigh, and promptly struck a knot of swollen muscle. The sudden, distracting pain made Spock grunt with surprise. Kirk snatched his hands away as if burned.

"Am I hurting you?"

"Yes, but it is necessary." Spock was too preoccupied to phrase his words carefully. "Please continue."

"Okay, but... that doesn't seem right." Kirk resumed the pressure, very cautiously, very gently. It took a long time to make the cramp yield.

Examine premises, Spock deliberated. One's logic is no better than its basic premises. Vulcan adopted the philosophy of logic and emotional suppression in order to survive. Survival is the only purpose our logic serves. So there. (And what is survival?) Non- extinction. (No more?) Surely more! A stone is not dead; neither is it alive. Life is... an organic process. There. (Nothing more? Plants live, and animals; do we only imitate them?) Certainly not! We... think. Yes, and strive to think well. Intelligence, then. (But computers think, and are not alive.) Of course, if one could develop an organic computer... (Is that what we are supposed to be?) This is a horrible idea!

Spock snapped his head up, his back taut, fingers digging into the hearthrug. All those old human jokes, half-serious accusations, distant insults, had finally struck home.

Kirk pulled his hands away, certain that this reaction was his doing. "What happened, Spock? Did I hit a raw nerve?"

Spock didn't answer. He stared into the fire, jaw muscles working.

"Spock?" Seriously worried, Kirk edged away from him. "What did I do? What's wrong?"

Spock blinked, remembering his presence, and turned to look at him. His expression was unreadable, but it certainly wasn't his usual impassivity. "I," he enunciated carefully, "am not an organic computer."

"I -- I never thought you were."

"No..." Spock relaxed slowly. "Not you. Vulcan. But... surely there is more..." He looked down at his hands. "I do not think we were meant to stop there. I do not think even my father would have been satisfied with an organic computer. I think I... have made a basic error."

"What error?" Kirk edged closer. "Can I help?"

Spock looked at him. For his sake, I must not refuse... "Perhaps you can. Certainly, I have no idea where to begin. I must..." He looked away, self- conscious again. "After all these years of pursuing too narrow an ideal, I must find what there is to life -- my own, specifically -- beyond mere existence and logical function." McCoy would be outrageously pleased to hear that... How fortunate that we are alone!

Kirk dutifully applied himself to the problem. The only answer he could think of was a ridiculously simple one. "Would you believe me if I said: 'feelings?'"

"I think that is too general a term." Spock gave him a faint, sardonic smile. "Need I remind you that some 'feelings' are hazardous to one's health?"

"Uhm, no..." That means he understands his danger! Kirk thought. Maybe this -- this 'philosophical' approach is the only way he can deal with it. Help him! He looked about for some answer, and noticed the color of the light streaming through the windows. "How about, uhm, 'aesthetic appreciation?'"

"Indeed." I had forgotten that. Vulcans are allowed to appreciate beauty in art... perhaps also in Nature. This area looks promising. "What would you suggest that I appreciate?"

Kirk grinned and tossed Spock's clothes at him. "Get into these, and then let's go out and watch the sunset."

Spock complied without comment. Kirk pulled his trousers on, picked Spock up, carried him out of the cabin and down to the lake shore. They sat on the grass and watched the sun setting over the edge of the hills, the changing light turning the water to multi-colored fire.

Just as the last of the solar disk disappeared, there came a faint rustling among the low bushes and a troop of little horse-shaped animals emerged. The two held perfectly still, and after a moment the shy creatures ventured down to the water's edge to drink.

"Look," Kirk whispered. "They're unicorns."

Spock shook his head slightly. The tiny equines actually possessed two horns, though they were very closely set and tightly spiraled together. Nor were the beasts the snowy color of legend; their coats were a remarkable dark green, spotted with pale blue. Camouflage, Spock guessed. They could hide readily under those blue-flowered bushes...

At that moment, one of the neo-unicorns turned to look at them, ears pricked forward, nostrils flared. Kirk did his best to imitate a tree stump. Cautiously, the little creature stepped forward to investigate them. Doubtless our scent is different from that of local predators, Spock thought. Still, its fearlessness is surprising.

The unicorn came closer, sniffed Spock's knee, poked him experimentally with its horn, decided he was harmless, and amiably rested its chin on his thigh. Intrigued, Spock stretched out a slow and careful hand. The unicorn sniffed his fingers and flicked wary ears, but didn't withdraw. Very gently, Spock reached down and stroked the silky coat. His hand covered the little unicorn's back. The tiny creature leaned against the stroking hand clearly enjoying itself.

"I don't believe it," Kirk whispered, not meaning to be overheard.

Spock did hear that. He looked up in surprise. The unicorn snorted softly, pulled away, and trotted back to its herd. "Believe what, Jim?"

"Ah, I was just thinking out loud, that's all," Kirk evaded, furiously embarrassed and hoping it didn't show. "Nothing important, really."

Encourage communication! "We did agree to share our... thoughts," Spock reminded, "no matter how unimportant."

"Well, this is, ah, embarrassing," Kirk squirmed. "Something I really have no right to ask about..."

"We agreed not to allow embarrassment to inhibit communication."

"Uh, true..." Kirk gnawed his lip. "I was just thinking of the, er, legend of the unicorn. It's an obscure bit of Earth mythology."

"Indeed. I have not heard of it. What is this legend?"

"Oh, just that..." Kirk realized he was blushing. "Well, the unicorn is supposed to be a symbol of purity, and very shy of people. The only kind of person a unicorn will come to, voluntarily, is a -- a virgin. Of course, that doesn't apply to real unicorns. It's just a legend."

Spock blinked, tightly controlling his physiological reactions. I did insist. He did warn me. We did agree... Communicate. "Yes," he said stiffly, looking away. "The legend is correct in that particular."

"What?" Kirk gaped at him. "You mean you -- Not ever? Not once? Not even with -- Uh, I'm sorry. I have no right to ask. Please forget I said anything."

Communicate! Regardless of personal... sensibilities. "You may ask, Jim." Spock's voice was a marvel of serenity. "The answer to your question is no."

"But..." Kirk stared at him, face printed with lines of concern, sympathy and bewilderment. "Leila. You said she made you happy."

Spock blinked at that. He had never really understood the emotional effects of human sexuality. To link completed mating with the relief of tension he could comprehend, but to equate it with the positive quality of 'happiness' was beyond him. Perhaps the progression was automatic for humans. Or for Vulcans? How should I know? I have never completed... "We did not advance beyond the ... courtship behavior. For their own preservation, the spores discouraged violent emotions. You recall the extreme efforts you were obliged to make in order to, as you put it, 'get under that thick Vulcan hide' of mine."

"Yes. I'm still sorry about that, Spock. You know I didn't mean any of those things."

"I know. Only the spores made it necessary. They also prevented us from attaining an effective level of... excitement." He paused, trying to think of an exact description. "It was very strange, very pleasant, vague... but incomplete. I suspect that most of my enjoyment was due to the spores. They kept me in a constant euphoric haze." The bitterness in his own voice surprised him.

"But you were happy." Kirk sighed. "And I took that away from you."

"I do not wish to purchase happiness at such a price."

"I understand." Kirk looked away.

I should not have said that. Spock kicked himself mentally. He might easily assume that a better price would be his life! "I mean... I do not wish to give up my mind..." Badly phrased!

"Of course not." Kirk pulled up a few blades of grass and rolled then in his fingers. "You mean you've never been happy when you weren't somehow... mentally incapacitated?"

Spock thought a long time over that. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "Ignoring my emotions has been second nature to me for so long... I may have been happy without knowing it..."

"It's possible, then."

"It is not impossible."

"That's a beginning." -- and I'm a damned fool! Kirk thought. He doesn't know how to be happy, and all I do is ask if he's ever gotten laid! Some help you are, James T.! "Ah well, the last light's gone. Let's go to dinner."

He stood, stretched, carefully lifted Spock carried him back to the cabin.

The lunch leftovers were sufficient for dinner. The two spoke little over the food, and afterwards, Kirk left Spock to build up the fire for the night while he went to see if the bath-water was still warm. It wasn't, but he used it anyway. When he came out, wrapped in a towel and shivering a little, Spock had a respectable blaze going in the fireplace. Kirk watched a moment, yawned enormously, and remembered the time.

"Decision, Spock. Do you want the bed or the sleeping bag near the fire?"

"I prefer the temperature here, if that would not be an inconvenience to you."

"Fine with me." Kirk dug out a sleeping bag and spread it on the hearthrug.

"It might also be wise to refill the solar collector."

"Right." Kirk went back to the bathroom and worked the pump until the indicator registered full. It was slow and tiresome work, and when he'd finished, he was more than ready for bed. He came back to the main room to find Spock wrapped in the sleeping bag with only his face showing.

"Sure you'll be comfortable there?"

"Quite sure. I wish you a satisfying rest period."

"Sweet dreams to you, too." Kirk felt his way back to the shadowed bed, shed his towel and slid under the blankets. He glanced at Spock again, reassuringly visible in the firelight, and breathed a silent prayer for understanding. Please be happy, he thought. Find a way...

Spock lay awake behind closed eyes, listening to Kirk's breathing amid the small sounds of the house, and reviewing the day's events. We have," he concluded, not begun badly. Communication established, though as yet only on irrelevant (not to mention indelicate) topics... No matter. If it facilitates his recovery, I will discuss anything from techniques of cannibalism to the history of the Vulcan toilet design... (Or my own philosophical problem.) Yes, I might benefit there from his assistance. (Need assistance! How can I help him until I solve that problem?) Besides, he desires to help. (And isn't that the secondary cause of his problem? By all means, channel it into something harmless, even beneficial.) Yes, mutual benefit in pursuing this line of study. We should make more progress tomorrow.

That decided, he rolled on his back and blanked his mind and dutifully went to sleep.

* * * * *

Kirk awoke to the soft sunlight in his face, feeling more relaxed than he'd been in ages. There was no need to get up right away; no duties, no pressing business, no reason not to lie in bed awhile and enjoy the warmth and quiet. He snuggled deeper into the pillow. Then his stomach growled. Well, that's one good reason... He sighed, stretched and got out of bed.

Spock was apparently still asleep, bundled up in the sleeping bag like a caterpillar in its cocoon. Perhaps he was cold; the fire was out, baked down to a pile of ashes and few miniscule coals. Kirk sidled carefully around the sleeping Vulcan, positioned some more wood in the fireplace and blew on the coals until a steady flame appeared. Satisfied that the fire would last, he padded off to the kitchen. There was almost no food left -- only some tea and a few handfuls of nuts and mushrooms -- enough for a light breakfast, but no more. That decides the next order of business, he thought, pouring the food into two bowls.

When he came back to the main room, he saw that Spock was awake -- or at least lying on his back with his eyes open. Belatedly remembering his own nudity, Kirk set down the bowls, put the kettle on the fire and went to fetch his clothes. He dressed slowly, but Spock still hadn't gotten up by the time he was done. Kirk shrugged, set the bowls near the fireplace and threw in some more wood. When the teakettle whistled noisily and Spock still hadn't moved, Kirk began to worry.

"Breakfast's ready," he offered, pulling the kettle aside and throwing in the tea-ball. "Aren't you getting up today?"

Spock stirred a little in the sleeping bag, then stopped. "I... appear to have miscalculated," he admitted. "Despite my proximity to the fire, I find myself... immobilized by cramps."

"So much for sleeping on the floor!" Kirk opened the sleeping bag and rolled Spock onto his stomach. "Tonight you get the bed." He sat down at Spock's feet and began massaging him briskly.

The Vulcan shivered in the chill air, flinched a few times as Kirk's diligent hands found sore spots, and patiently resigned himself to the necessary discomfort. After a few moments though, as the sunlight made progress through the solar collector and the fire got to the larger logs, the temperature ceased to bother him. The sore muscles took longer, but in time that discomfort faded, too. In fact, the relief was noticeably enjoyable. Danger here, Spock considered, idly rubbing his cheek against the satiny lining of the sleeping bag. To enjoy relief from pain, one must first be in pain, (perhaps even seek it for that reason)... Yes, dangerously easy to fall into that pattern. (Beware the delights of subtle masochism.) It might almost deceive (seduce) me, too. Take care. I am here to lead him out of this error, not fall into it myself.

Kirk eventually worked his way up to the shoulders, gave Spock's hair a playful riffling, then sat back and shook out his arms. "Is that better?"

"Quite sufficient." Spock reached for his clothes. He managed the shirts well enough, the trousers with some difficulty, and had serious trouble with his socks. Kirk came over and helped him into them, and both boots. Spock remembered to thank him.

"Least I could do." Kirk smiled, got up and fetched the bowls and cups.

They ate the meager breakfast in companionable silence. Afterwards, Kirk did the dishes while Spock hunted up a large food basket and the guidebook. Kirk came back from the kitchen to see Spock tottering across the room on the crutches, attempting to carry both book and basket, and shook his head. "No way you can manage like that," he decreed, firmly taking the crutches away and lifting the bemused Vulcan in his arms. "Oof. Besides, I need the exercise." To prove it, he lumbered out the door and off the path, up into the thick woods until the labored sound of his breathing grew alarmingly loud.

"Jim, please stop," Spock finally insisted. "There is no need to over-exert yourself in this manner."

Kirk stopped, letting Spock's feet slide to the ground, privately grateful Spock had called for a halt. For all his leanness, the Vulcan was heavy. "Thought you wanted... to see the wildlife," he panted, grinning.

"Not at the expense of your health." Spock delicately tested the amount of weight he could rest on his untrustworthy legs. "I assure you, there is abundant opportunity for observation, as well as food gathering, without prolonged-- oof!"

"Easy!" Kirk caught him under the arm and gently lowered him to the ground. "You're right. This is far enough."

He sat down and opened the guidebook on both their laps. They leaned over it, shoulders rubbing, studying the illustrations on the pages and looking around the glade for examples. Kirk identified some available mushrooms, berries, and a few fruit trees. Spock noted some edible leaves, roots and mosses. Kirk got up to do the gathering, framing a playful comment about rabbit food, then stopped in mid-motion.

A small troop of elephantoids entered the glade, saw the two intruders, and stopped short in a flurry of waving trunks and flapping ears. They were shaped exactly like terrestrial Indian elephants, save for their disproportionately large, artfully-curved tusks and their long, woolly, orange-brown hair. The largest of them stood no more than fourteen inches high.

"Mammoths!" Kirk whispered, entranced. "They're little woolly mammoths!"

"The term 'mammoth' does not seem to apply," Spock noted.

"'Minimoths', then. Aren't they cute?"

"I have observed that humans apply that term to creatures whose behavior would be undeniably dangerous if the subject were a hundred times larger."

The minimoths shuffled backward, looking for a path around the dangerously occupied glade. One young bull, unwilling to retreat without a show of strength, ran a few paces forward and trumpeted shrilly. An older cow came after him, took his tail firmly in her trunk, and imperiously pulled. The young bull retreated, grumbling.

Kirk burst out laughing. Startled, Spock looked up at him. Such joy seemed so easy, so natural, for humans, so harmless, even... almost logical.

Against the background of a white flowering tree, Kirk seemed to be made all of red, gold and dark bronze. Spock felt an odd pang of indefinable emotion. Beautiful, he thought. You are beautiful in this moment... a phenomenon so fleeting, so ephemeral... yet I wish to keep it... (Illogical.) Beautiful. He watched, silent and intent, as Kirk took the basket and strolled around the little clearing, picking various plants, moving in and out of the mote-filled bars of honey-colored sunlight. Aesthetic appreciation is allowed, he remembered. I cannot recall ever seeing anything more beautiful... Oh, to think of that destroyed, ruined, damaged, only because of-- It must not be!

Right then, as if his thoughts had summoned it, he saw this Eden's serpent. A lizard, actually: thick-tailed, dull black-scaled, balancing on its muscular hind legs, its disproportionately-huge head eighty percent massive jaws stuffed with bristling, sharp teeth. It stood no higher than Kirk's knee -- which it studied from its leafy ambush, less than a yard away -- with stupid, ill-tempered, tiny red eyes.

'Tiny Tyrannosaurus.' Not cute. Not safe! "Jim! Look to your right!" Spock lunged forward, sprawling full- length on the thick moss. The impact jarred loose a thread of logic that whispered cold facts: the distance was too far, his pace too slow, and he would never cross the clearing in time. He ignored it and crawled forward.

Kirk turned and looked. It took him only a few seconds to spot the ugly upright lizard in the underbrush. He didn't draw his phaser, despite Spock's fervent hopes; he only stood still and looked. The tyrannosaurus looked back, red eyes briefly darkening in a slow blink. Kirk gave a dry laugh, reached down and picked up a handful of pebbles. The lizard arched its neck and dropped its lower jaw, plainly meaning to attack.

"Jim!" Spock pleaded, clawing his way through the grass clumps.

Kirk threw one of the pebbles. It hit the tyrannosaurus neatly on the tip of its leathery nose. The lizard squawked like a rusty gate hinge, and bent to rub the sore spot with its tiny front paws. The next pebble smacked into the top of its bent head. The tyrannosaurus snapped its head up, too far back, and wobbled dizzily. The third pebble whapped into its exposed belly and knocked it over backward.

Spock stopped where he was, sagging with relief.

The lizard was extraordinarily helpless on its back; it squawked and rolled and paddled the air with its paws, either too stupid or too ill-coordinated to get easily back to its feet. Kirk studied it, laughed again, and turned away from it with no further thought.

"You could have used the phaser..." Spock whispered, staring at his hands until they stopped clutching the grass. "Unnecessary risk!"

"Spock, are you all right?" Kirk came over to him, trailing the loaded basket. "Did you crawl this far? Here, let me pick you up."

"Stop that!" Spock rolled over and fiercely clutched Kirk's arm. "You should have used your phaser the moment you saw it!"

"Uha-- For a little lizard like that? Why, a kick would've killed it. Why waste a stun charge when a handful of pebbles--"

"It could be dangerous! It might have poisonous fangs!" --untrue. "The risk was completely unnecessary, and you must stop that: Stop exposing yourself to danger for-- " What am I saying? "--for such illogical... unnecessary..." What is my face revealing? Spock closed his mouth and looked away.

...For only a lizard... Kirk thought, staring at him. So much... Don't lose it. Seize the time. He sat down beside Spock and gently rubbed the Vulcan's stiff knees.

"Spock, it's all right. I..." Why is it so hard to say those words? "I love you, too."

Spock blinked, astonished. Success! one part of his mind cheered. The rest reverberated strangely. He could not stop to think of that now. Communication-- at depth, at the heart of the problem. Do not lose the opportunity, or he may never again... (But what to say?) "Jim, I..." How can I say 'love' when I'm not sure what it means?

"Is it so hard to say the words?"

"Yes. I am... so unsure..."

"I understand. You don't have to say it."

But I must! For your sake! "I do... care... that you should not suffer..." And more... (What more?)... I don't know. I have never fully examined my own... (Failings? Lapses? Indiscretions?) Only repressed. "I cannot explain further."

"Can you tell me..." Kirk didn't look at him. "What would make you happy? In your right mind, I mean-- not clouded with joy-flowers or time-changes or... anything, but... just as you are, right now."

Good question, Spock considered, looking up at the sky. Concept never analyzed (or even fully defined). ...Satisfaction of desire? Perhaps. (But desire for what? What do I desire from life?) Life itself, of course. Survival ... (But not just existence.) Intelligence also, and not to be in pain... nor to see him suffer. (Negatives! Negative values again.) This problem again... (What solutions did Jim offer?) 'Aesthetic appreciation'... (of which Vulcan approves) and that shadowy (dangerous) realm of 'feelings' (of which Vulcan does not approve)... He gave a very humanlike sigh. "I do not know, Jim. I honestly do not know."

"How can I help, then?" Kirk sounded defeated.

"Perhaps..." That's it: I want to know-- He whipped his face around to look at Kirk. "I want to find the answer to my philosophical problem. I do not know if the solution would make me... happy, but there would be satisfaction, at least." That, too, is part of the problem. 'Satisfaction' is merely the ending of a negative state; 'happiness' as humans define it, is something more... distinctly positive. I do not know if such positive states are even possible for a Vulcan.

"Spock, I'm no philosopher."

"That is not what I need." Indeed, Vulcan is full of philosophers, and I have never heard that any of them conclusively dealt with this problem... He sighed again. 'When in doubt, observe' "I need facts, data, observation. You have always been most efficient at providing opportunities for that."

"I have?" Kirk scratched his head, completely at sea. 'Observation?' What the hell is there to observe around here, except me and a lot of little animals...? "Well, in that case... uhm... Come on, let's go look at some wildlife." He retrieved the guidebook and loaded basket, helped Spock to his feet, and half-carried him back down toward the lake.

They moved slowly, stopping often, and the unstartled wildlife showed itself in abundance. There was a little red predatory bird, halfway between an elf-owl and a sparrow-hawk, that Kirk nicknamed a Red Eagle. It sat on the highest point of a rose-like hedge, studying them with burnished golden eyes, and Kirk smiled at it with a child's delight. Spock feared that Kirk would reach out and try to pet it, or offer it a finger to perch on, and get nastily pecked for his trouble; but the bird sidled cautiously away and finally took to the air with three hard strokes of its superbly designed wings. Kirk's expression, watching it go, was every bit as arresting as the sight of the bird itself.

He sees something that I do not,Spock noted, suppressing a twinge of envy. Some power of appreciation.. some ability that makes human art and music so highly prized, as even my father admits...

And then there were the bee-snakes: yard-long vipers with temperature-regulating sailfins on their back, a mated pair that had set up housekeeping in a hollow tree not far from the lake. The male secreted wax from gill-like slits behind the jaws, and the female -- according to the guidebook -- secreted an excellent grade of honey. Kirk examined the tree, neatly avoiding the noisily threatening snakes, and estimated that the tree must be packed full of honeycombs.

"Far more than they need," he added, a hungry glint in his eye. "We could come back with a bucket, set the phaser on minimum stun, and get ourselves some dessert."

It took ten minutes of Spock's best arguing to make Kirk even postpone the raid. What is so appealing about wild honey, Spock wondered as Kirk carried him on down the trail, that it could inspire him so? Such a wasteful expenditure of time and energy, not to mention unnecessary disturbance of the animals -- only for a 'dessert'... Is this simple territorial greed, claiming the land and everything on it as his property? Or is there some hidden meaning, personal or cultural, which adds importance to the goal?

"My dad once took me and Sam with him to raid a honey tree," Kirk answered the unspoken question as if he'd heard it. "One of my happiest memories of him. He was so seldom home... Anyway, this tree was full of wild bees -- not just two snakes -- and we had to stun them with smoke, so dad built a fire..."

Spock listened, entranced, through the whole recital. He hadn't realized that humans made such a point of not killing the honey-producing animals. Smoke-stunning was a logical and humane method -- and also a risky one. Kirk was an excellent story-teller, and Spock could easily imagine the scene.

"... and we ate that honey for the next year," Kirk finished. "We put it on bread and muffins, and mom baked it in cakes and cookies, and preserved fruit in it: pears, apricots, cherries... I remember dad put some of the honeyed fruit in a jar with some really good bourbon, and we let it sit until the next time he came home. It made a drink you wouldn't believe! It was especially good over ice cream. We had that for dessert on his last night home..." Kirk frowned abstractly. "That was the last we ever saw of him. He never came home again."

"I grieve with thee," Spock said, startling himself.

"It's all right now. That was nearly thirty years ago."

But the mark remains, Spock marveled. All those associations, and doubtless more, revolving about a tree of wild honey! Amazing... Is this the secret ability of humans? This breadth of association... a talent for holistic thinking. They can think sideways ('sideways?') as well as directly ahead, from point to point... Of course, this can lead readily to prejudice, superstition, clouded logic, if the associations are inaccurate. Human history is full of such examples. (And yet... they are among the most vigorous, progressive and explorative species in the Federation.) ...Unlike Vulcans.

That thought jarred him. He scarcely noticed as Kirk set him down on a patch of long grass beside the lake and went off to inspect the miniature brontosauri feeding in the adjacent marsh. Spock lay back on the grass, stretched a protective arm over the food basket, and continued with his analytical meditation.

Vulcan: declining population, culturally introspective, unmistakable signs of stagnation before Federation membership... (and after?) He paused to consider how strange it was that he had never thought precisely of this before, though he had grown up with the facts in plain view all around him. The truth had always been visible, accepted as the weather, never really examined, not with this intensity. 'Can't see the woods for the trees.' ... 'None so blind as those who will not see.' (Human proverbs!) ... True, though. Perhaps living among humans gave me enough distance for perspective.

He raised his head to look for Kirk, and saw him crouching precariously on a log in the marsh with one arm stretched out. A careful look revealed that he was holding out a handful of succulent weed, trying to entice the little brontos to come and eat it. The brontos, like most other animals on this planet, showed remarkably little fear of people. They were also excellent mimics; they copied Kirk's crooning tone almost perfectly.

A faint smile twitching the corners of his mouth, Spock ascertained that Kirk's only possible danger might be falling off the log into less than two feet water and mud; annoying, but not hazardous. He lay back on the grass, oddly touched by the little scene. Humans, he thought fondly, attempting to 'make friends' wherever they go. Illog-- No, not illogical. Not at all. A 'friend' is a person with whom one shares... affection. Affection precludes violence, harm or even discomfort, if possible... ("I'm still sorry about that, Spock... You know I didn't mean any of those things..." Yes, Jim. I understand.) One cannot do harm to a friend without hurting oneself worse. (I know.) That is an automatic reaction, reliable as instinct, in its own way as effective as logic... ...Perhaps even better.

Spock sat up quickly, gasping at the sheer effrontery of that thought, but unable to deny it. He stared blankly at Kirk feeding the tiny dinosaurs, while the elegant heresy unfolded in his mind.

What if... emotions are not irrational and chaotic, but have a hidden logic of their own? What if... one could purposefully use one's emotions, harness them, instead of just repressing them? What if... this is the secret of human vitality, a secret Vulcans lost long ago -- or perhaps never possessed? (What if... this were the reasons my father took a human wife?!) Is that why father so badly wanted me to go to the Vulcan Science Academy? Did he hope that I might inherit all those ill-understood human abilities, use them to rescue Vulcan from its dangerous stagnation, give our culture something better than negative goals? But I didn't. I took my valuable genes (and brain) and ran off to space. Lost his hope for saving Vulcan-- No wonder he was so displeased! (Upset? Enraged?) Logical. (My father, a cultural radical!) It would explain everything...

The idea galloped around and around in his memories, touching solid bases everywhere. He sat still and let it run, observing, matching up thousands of bits of relevant data, wishing to all the ancient gods of Vulcan that he had access to the Enterprise's Library computer at this moment. Data-matching in his own memory was so slow, he might take days, even weeks, sorting and testing...

"Spock, are you all right?" Kirk crouched beside the motionless Vulcan and waved one hand in front of his unseeing eyes. "Spock?"

Spock blinked, snapped back to awareness of his surroundings, and noted that Kirk was holding a dripping wet handkerchief that bulged with unknown cargo.

"I am quite well. What do you have there?"

"A hanky full of lake fish." Kirk opened the handkerchief, revealing his glittering prize. "Enough for two meals. The lake's full of them."

"Indeed?" Test. Ask him-- "Why did you bother to catch them, when you could easily have taken one of those miniature brontosauri?"

Kirk flinched back, eyes astonished and disbelieving. "Wha-- Take -- Kill one of the brontos? After I went to such trouble to make friends with them? Hell, no! I couldn't."

Spock nodded to himself, noting that test results confirmed a portion of his theory. "Then you are generally incapable of killing personal acquaintances, whether intelligent beings or not?"

"I... guess so." Kirk looked down at his double-handful of fish. He remembered last night's promise. "They have to be strangers, or..." He frowned, thinking. When he spoke again, his voice was much quieter. "There've been one or two people I knew -- knew fairly well -- that I really hated -- really wanted to kill. They'd earned it, believe me."

"Kodos?" Spock suggested.

"Yes." Kirk studied the kerchief-full of black and silver fish, noting that there were enough of them for two good meals. That much food would have been worth a human life, once. "Lord, how I hated that man! Yes, I wanted him dead -- wanted to do it myself, if I could. But when I finally caught up to him..." He shivered silently. "There was nothing there. Just a tired old man with a crazy daughter, nothing so big and dangerous as to be worth all that... that hating... At the end, I pitied him." Kirk shook himself, wrapped up the fish, and put the little bundle into the food basket.

"Remarkable." Predictable: increased acquaintance increases probability of affection, thereby precluding violence, save for considerable cause. (Irreversibility?) ... Test.

"Have there been any persons for whom you felt actual affection whom you later came to hate?"

"Yes." Kirk jabbed the collected food deeper into the basket. "Janice Lester." I don't want to talk about her, about that... But we must... I promised... "I really did love her once. It didn't work out. We didn't... didn't fit each other. We parted with a lot of bad feeling, and I thought that was the last of it. It wasn't. After... what she did to me..." He sat back on his heels and clutched his arms, hard. "Yes, I wanted to kill her! I wanted to wring her vicious neck, smash her face in, break every bone in her... Damn!" He shuddered, appalled at how much hate he still felt.

Spock eyed him keenly. "Yet, when you had the opportunity, you did nothing of the sort."

"No..." Kirk looked down at his hands and carefully opened them. "When the... exchange snapped, when she howled that she'd lost, and then collapsed so completely... That was enough. The hatred changed, diffused, turned into a kind of... pity." He blinked, surprised. "Like with Kodos."

"Fascinating," murmured Spock. It is a logical pattern! Automatic checks on aggression: spectrum of acquaintance to affection, overcome with great difficulty and only for extreme cause, and even then the resultant hatred diffused by clear proof that one's 'target' is reduced to complete helplessness. Quite logical. (Wisdom of Nature.) Instincts too are selected for survival value...

"I don't quite understand it myself." Kirk put the basket aside and lay down on the grass by Spock. "I guess I wasn't cut out to be a philosopher... Sorry, Spock. I just don't know how to help you with that kind of problem."

"On the contrary, Jim; you have helped me much."

"Huh? How?"

"By feeding brontosauri -- and feeding upon fish."


"I believe it is time for lunch."

"Oh. Right." Kirk got up, helped Spock to his feet, handed him the basket, and half-carried him back to the cabin.

They were less than five meters from the door when they saw the new intruder perched on the doorstep. It was small, somewhat round, and completely covered with shaggy golden fur. For one horrible moment, Spock thought it was a tribble.

"What the hell?" said Kirk, stopping.

The noise drew the little beast's attention. It turned around, showing two beady eyes in a tangle of hair, squeaked with alarm, then went into what looked like a dancing fit. It stamped, bounced, whirled and cavorted, keeping up a constant cry of "Eek-eek-eek-eek!" The display was clearly meant to impress and frighten. All it did to Kirk was make him laugh.

"Hee--hee--'yuk'. I've heard of 'having a snit,' but I've never seen one before! Haw!"

"I believe that is a small rodent, similar to an Earth chipmunk," Spock elucidated, "but possessing unusually long fur. The scientific name is--"

"It's a Snit, that's what," Kirk chuckled, pulling Spock to one side off the trail. "Here, let's give it room to escape."

Seeing a chance, the Snit took it. With surprising speed, the small golden blur shot off the doorstep, down the path, and into a safe hidey-hole somewhere in the bushes. Kirk laughed again, watching it go.

"Moves like a chipmunk, anyway. Hmm... I recall that squirrel family makes good eating. Do you think that critter has any larger cousins around?"

"There is a related species, comparatively larger, but much slower and less intelligent. Why do you ask?" ... as if I couldn't guess.

"It might make good eating, too." Kirk helped Spock to the table, and took the basket. "These fish are fine, but I imagine I'd get sick of them in short order if I didn't try something else now and again."

Spock shuddered delicately, but didn't comment. He could guess also that Kirk had no intention of hunting the Snit that had appeared on the doorstep. By making him laugh, the little creature had gained his acquaintance -- also a degree of affection -- and was therefore safe from him. Is this a constant of human behavior? Spock steepled his fingers and went back to correlating observed examples. Meanwhile, Kirk set about making lunch.

* * * * *

After lunch, they went out to hunt unicorns. They didn't find any; only more birds, a few of the tiny bears, and a meadow full of wild flowers that Kirk insisted on rolling in. After that, he stretched out for a brief nap while Spock sat beside him and meditated.

The shadows lengthened. Spock sighed, shook a cramp out of his left arm, and leaned back on his elbows. He had run out of observed data in only a few hours, and the working hypothesis still worked. Item, he reviewed, life involves more than just negative values (example: Vulcan, with its declining birth rate and cultural stagnation). Item: Humans appear to possess (unconsciously?) knowledge of positive values which Vulcans lack, and sorely need (which is quite possibly why I was born.) Item: Said knowledge includes the deliberate harnessing, manipulation and use (rather than repression) of emotions (observed example: affection). Addenda: Emotions not used properly in this fashion tend to turn on the possessor and cause destructive/self-destructive behavior (example: Jim).

He turned to look at Kirk, noting the faint smile on the relaxed and sleeping face, the strong jaw and sensitive mouth, the amazingly long eyelashes, the thick bronze hair with a random wildflower tangled in it. -- So beautiful! So infinitely valuable... He carefully reached over and pulled a few strands of loose hair away from Kirk's forehead. Again, that pang of nameless feeling shot through him. He yearned to do something, but didn't know what it was. Show me... I must learn something from you... these alien skills (Vulcan lacks) for the positive dimension. Aesthetic appreciation I know (you are beautiful). Perhaps I could learn human techniques of emotion management also (Shocking!) -- purely for scientific purposes, of course! (And for Jim...) ... But how? The only example I have seen is the use of affection ... (Jim's affection.) Perhaps... just as well. Since I must aid him in finding safe outlets for that emotion, I can also observe, learn, practice ... Indeed, the solution to both our problems. Parallel...

A gold and black imitation butterfly perched on Kirk's nose. He sneezed it away, opened his eyes and rolled over. He saw Spock watching him as though he were the most fascinating sight in the galaxy.

"Are you okay?" he couldn't help asking.

"Certainly. Did you sleep well?"

"Umm hmm. Sweet dreams..." Go on. Don't hold back anything. "I dreamed about Earth -- lazy summers in Iowa, berry picking when I was little, a fishing trip with dad... Pity you don't fish. It's so relaxing... Hmm, and then I was back on the Enterprise, up on the bridge, watching you take sensor readings. Then I was here, with you, and it seemed like... a mixture of both worlds." Kirk smiled, almost shyly. "Then I woke up -- and it was true."

"Fascinating." ...That is insufficient response. Say more. "You are pleased to be here, with only myself for company?"

"Oh yes, Spock." Kirk reached out a shy hand, squeezed the Vulcan's shoulder, shook it gently.

"I am ... most gratified."

"Well, I'm a bit hungry. Let's head back and get ourselves a good seat for watching the sunset, and then we'll have dinner." Kirk stood up and stretched. As he turned to reach for Spock, the slanting sunlight caught his hair and transformed it into a glowing halo.

"Freeze," said Spock, enchanted with the image. "Hold that pose."

"Huh?" Has he gone bananas?"Er, like this?" Kirk held perfectly still.

"Yes, excellent." How beautiful... 'Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination creates forms of beauty... and meaning.' But what meaning? He sat contemplating the image for several moments.

"Ah, Spock, my nose itches." Are you sure you're all right?

Spock remembered the other problem and snapped back to present time. "I regret having caused you discomfort. Let us go."

He held out his arms and Kirk gently pulled him to his feet. They walked back to the lake in silence.

* * * * *

The little brontos recognized Kirk as he approached, and paddled near the shore whistling for his attention. "They learn fast," Kirk chuckled, setting Spock down on the short grass. "I wonder if they like berries?"

He hunted a berry bush, picked a handful of the fruit and strolled down to the marshy side of the lake. The brontos, seeing him come near, gave eager little cries that sounded remarkably like the Terran 'wolfwhistle'. Laughing, Kirk climbed out on the half-submerged log and fed the miniature dinosaurs one at a time, until all the berries were gone. Apparently satisfied, the brontos burped, chirped and went back to soaking themselves in the mud. Kirk hitched himself off the log and strode back to where Spock sat waiting. As he sat down, a flock of birds launched from a nearby tree and flew out over the lake, giving long melodious cries. The brontos raised their placid heads and whistled, imitating the birdcalls almost exactly.

"They are remarkable mimics," Spock pointed out.

"True, and they learn very fast -- at least, to recognize a good source of handouts. They loved the berries. I wonder why they don't come up on land and get their own."

"They are probably wary of the land predators." Spock sharply remembered the ugly tyrannosaurus. "I note that the appearance of the solar disk is changing."

"Sunset's beginning."

For the next forty minutes, the sun dropped through ribbons of high clouds, reddening as it fell, altering the colors of earth and cloud and sky. Dusk sounds accompanied the display; soft whinnies of the little unicorns, bird calls and bronto imitations, the yip and howl of something that sounded like a fox, and from somewhere in the wood the distant trumpeting of a minimoth.

'Wild concert,' Spock defined it, applying himself to Appreciation. Beautiful. An aesthetic feast for the eyes and ears... (Strange. Why is the word 'beautiful' applied only to the use of those two senses?) Indeed, why not the other senses? Test. Touch, taste, smell... Intrigued, he looked about for some proper test subject. Flowers? There were none handy. There was Kirk, however. To a predator-keen Vulcan nose, he presented a subtle concert of scents. Spock hitched closer, long nostrils flaring curiously.

At the first touch, Kirk almost jumped out of his skin. "What the hell? Spock?"

"Please remain still. I am endeavoring to test... Hmmm..." Spock rested both hands firmly on Kirk's shoulders and nuzzled along his neck. Kirk sat obediently still, aside from his dropping jaw and rising goosebumps. "Yes," Spock murmured in his ear, "subtle but distinct differences." ...probably from varying occurrence of aprocrine glands. Hair differs from neck: cut-grass/fur versus musk/smoke/leather... Intriguing. Aesthetic evaluation: quite high. "Yes," he concluded, pulling away. "The term does apply."

"...'Term'?" Kirk asked, carefully turning around to stare at his bland-faced friend. He's out of his gourd! Snapped his sombrero! "Ah, what term?"

"'Beauty'," Spock dutifully explained, "can indeed be applied to scents as well as sights and sounds."

"Oh." It took Kirk a few seconds to realize that that was a roundabout -- and unorthodox -- compliment. He blushed. "Uhm... Thanks. You smell nice, too."

"Do I?" Spock raised an elegant eyebrow. "I was not aware that humans possessed a notable sense of smell."

"Not notable, just sufficient." Kirk noticed the darkening sky and his quietly complaining stomach. "Come on, let's go eat." That was a good enough cause to postpone this meandering, weird and worrisome conversation. "Let's see if the 'term' applies to taste, too."

* * * * *

The meal was excellent, also uneventful, though Spock did add taste to his list. Afterwards, there were dishes to wash, firewood to arrange, and an amiable argument over who should use the solar collector's supply of hot water.

"I assure you," Spock insisted, "that I do not share the human proclivity for paddling about in fluid."

"And I assure you," Kirk rejoined, "that there are no sonic showers available, and after a few days without baths, you will certainly stop smelling like a nice, sweet house cat and start smelling like a not-so-sweet polecat. Now I got it last night, and besides, I can always go swim in the lake, so tonight's your turn."

"Very well," Spock conceded stiffly.

"Besides, it'll be good for your legs."

Spock rolled his eyes mournfully as Kirk picked him up and carried him into the bathroom. He allowed Kirk to help him undress and settle in the tub, then open the tap from the solar collector. The water was pleasantly hot -- in fact, Kirk needed reassurances that it wasn't too hot -- and Spock grudgingly admitted that it did indeed relax his legs and back. Kirk pulled off his shirt, leaned over the tub, and helpfully applied the soap and scrub brush. Spock let himself enjoy the sensations, almost to the point of purring shamelessly.

"You like that?" Kirk enthused. "Thought so. I know I have an itchy spot right between my shoulderblades where I can't scratch, just there." He circled the brush on Spock's back.

"If you will bend closer, I shall attempt to aid you," Spock offered.

"Huh? ... Uhm, okay." Kirk leaned forward. Spock reached up and scratched in an efficient circular pattern, noting in passing that the skin was quite smooth and the interplay of muscles was most intriguing. "Oh, yes," Kirk agreed, "right there. Mmmmmmm..."

"Fascinating," Spock marveled at Kirk's enjoyment. Very little of this action is required to relieve irritation; I have continued beyond that point. Remarkable how relief (negative value) proceeds directly into pleasure (positive value) without noticeable interstice... For humans that is.. (Different for Vulcans?) Of course. ...I think...

"Ah, that's enough, thanks." Kirk pulled away. "I'd better do something about these clothes."

Also, Spock considered, there is the limiting factor of enervation: repeated stimuli causing exhaustion of involved nerves. One would have to vary the stimulation, or else apply it to other zones, to allow the nerve-cells time to recover...

"Damn, what are we going to do about laundry? Hand- wash, I suppose. Lots of work..." Kirk frowned, thinking that over. "You know, if the weather stays warm, it'd be easier just to go bare. For me anyway. You'd probably freeze your Vulcan b-- Er, well, I'll think of something."

Spock glanced at him, wondering -- for the thousandth time -- about the oddities of human tastes. Still, if he has some psychological need for temporary nudity (in this chill climate?), I shall certainly not inhibit him by remaining clothed (brrr). "If the ambient temperature continues to rise at the perceived rate of the last fifty six hours," he offered, "I shall be quite comfortable without clothing in another two days." --though I would prefer three...

"Two days?" Kirk gulped, imagining Spock strolling though the meadows clad in nothing but his dignity. But I brought it up... Or is this another symptom? ...Then again, I don't know if Vulcans have any nudity taboos... Don't discourage him from anything harmless! "All right, I guess I can wash clothes for two days. Let me go get the bed ready." Kirk picked up the clothes, and the remnants of his composure, and fled.

Spock didn't watch him leave; he was busy with the discovery that his knees could bend several degrees more than they did yesterday. There were, he conceded, some benefits to immersing oneself in hot water.

...Wish the Enterprise were still in communicator range, Kirk thought, spreading the sleeping bag on the hearthrug. Ought to talk to McCoy. He'll never believe... 'Bones, Spock just suggested nudism, nuzzled my neck, and told me I'd helped with a philosophical problem by not eating a dinosaur. I think he's coming apart at the seams.' What answer? ... Probably, 'Keep him talking.' Right. Communicate. Express feelings. He doesn't know how to show love... for me…

Kirk paused in mid-motion while pulling open the bed. Omigod, is that what all this craziness means? Trying to find ways to say... trying things at random... and he has no idea how, or what the effect is... He distinctly remembered that surprising action down by the lake, and felt the goosebumps return. I ought to tell him, he thought, scratching the back of his neck. That gesture wasn't entirely harmless. It was... was... What?

The thought slid out of reach, leaving him puzzled and faintly ashamed of himself. No, he decided, it was harmless. Here, alone, just the two of us; no Vulcan, no Starfleet, no Earth (Iowa) to approve/disapprove of anything... anything that doesn't hurt him, risk him, make him risk himself. Yes, let him explore. We can fit the results to propriety later... Kirk settled another log on the fire, stuffed the clothes into a duffel-bag, and went back to the bathroom.

Spock was nearly asleep in the water. He did no more than rise an eyebrow in welcome as Kirk leaned over the tub to drain out the water. He let Kirk help him out, dry him off, carry him out to the main room and settle him on the sleeping bag before the fire. He stretched comfortably while Kirk kneaded his legs, drowsing in the warmth and gentle fatigue as his mind toyed sleepily with Aesthetic Appreciation of the pattern of the fire. "It is possible..." he murmured.

"What is?" Kirk asked, carefully rubbing the muscles about Spock's left knee.

"It is possible to visualize recognizable shapes in the flames and glowing coals."

"Always knew it."

"Mmmm..." Spock let his eyes drift closed, sleepily considering the transition from relief to enjoyment might not be sharply defined for Vulcans, either. He had long since ceased to feel pain or even discomfort in his legs and back; in their place he felt a deep, vague, dreamy sense of well being, poised on the edge of sleep. An unnoticed purr rippled in his throat.

Cat! Kirk marveled, not interrupting the motion of his hands. He's a cat! 'Felinoid descent'. Purring... Maybe I should scratch his ears. He stretched out one hand and gently rubbed the soft skin behind those lovely Vulcan points. The purr deepened. He likes it! Kirk exulted. Like any cat. Pet... Yes, yes, I've found something that makes him happy. As simple as that... and as harmless. Good, good. Keep him from risking, hurting himself, and worse... That means I'll have to keep on doing this, every night, from now on... And is that so difficult? So much of a burden? No. Cheap at the price. ...Besides, I... sort of... like it, myself...

The soft purr died away into the slow breathing of sleep. Spock lay limp and immobile on the sleeping bag, the image of peace and innocence. Pity to risk waking him, Kirk thought, letting his hands drop, but if he stays here he'll have cramps in the morning. He sat down beside the sleeping Vulcan, idly running his fingers through the smooth, dark hair. ...Like silk...

Right then, totally unexpected, came a vast wave of overwhelming tenderness, threatening to sweep Kirk away from his moorings to all common sense. He wanted to wrap Spock up in his arms, protect him from the whole fierce universe, beg him never to be hurt again... My Lord, that's love! That's what Bones was trying to tell me! I don't know how to express love either! --At least, not to him... not in ways he can understand or accept... But I have to find them. For his sake... and maybe... even for mine.

He shivered. Cold in here, he thought. He'll feel it. Blankets. More firewood... Very gently, he rolled Spock on his back, lifted him at the shoulders and knees, and carried him to the open bed. Spock stirred slightly, opening his eyes as his head settled on the pillow. "...Jim?"

"Yes," Kirk whispered, pulling up the blankets. "Go to sleep."

Spock blinked once and pronounced, softly but quite clearly, "The term does seem to apply to the sense of touch, too." His eyes closed.

"What?" Did I really hear that?

But Spock was asleep again.

Next day it rained. Kirk awoke to the unmistakable sound, swore quietly for a few moments, then got up and reached for his clothes. He noticed that the solar collector was overloaded and spilling. Pity to waste all that rainwater... He gathered up the laundry and went to the big tub in the bathroom.

Spock awoke to see Kirk, damp-haired and dressed in bluejeans, stringing a rope across the living room and hanging wet laundry on it. He thought he should offer to help, but the room temperature was painfully cold. He huddled deeper into the warm blankets, weighing the merits of risking cramps by huddling in the cold air while trying to build up the fire.

Kirk settled the question for him by building up the fire himself. Resinous brushwood flared up quickly, igniting the larger logs. The air soon warmed enough for Spock to poke his nose out. Kirk strode over, laughing, whipped of the covers, picked up the amused Vulcan and carried him to the hearthrug. Spock obligingly stretched out on his stomach and let Kirk knead his legs.

"We can't go out in this rain," Kirk reflected, working over a slightly stiff ankle. "We have enough food for the day, and the washing's done. Damned if I know how we'll keep from being bored silly."

"Let us consider it after breakfast."


They lingered over the meal, took time over the subsequent washing, spent extra time adding more logs to the fire, and eventually wound up back on the hearthrug, wondering what to do next.

"I've got an idea," said Kirk, getting up. He rummaged briefly in his gear, and came back with the one book McCoy had let him bring: The Ancient Future, a collection of classic 20th Century 'science fiction' stories. "This is something Sam and I used to do on rainy days," he said, stretching out beside Spock. "Let's choose a story and read it to each other. I'll read the first two pages, you read the next two, and so on. No fair turning the pages to peek ahead. Okay?"

"How intriguing," Spock concurred. Not as efficient as each of us reading the entire piece silently... (Efficient for what?) Is this some obscure game, art- form, means of communication? If so, encourage.

"Fine." Kirk picked a story at random, coughed briefly, and read off the title and author: "'The Star', by Arthur C. Clarke."

Spock listened attentively, noting that Kirk had an excellent reading voice. The story was, as expected of human literature, too emotional in tone for Spock's tastes. However, it was quite smoothly and tightly written, and Spock could readily understand the central character's difficulty in dealing with a serious philosophical problem. The plot concerned an explorer- ship's investigation of the last planet surviving a nova, seen from the point of view of a particularly religious crewman. The description of the investigation procedure was so clear, so accurate, so familiar that it was difficult to believe that the story had been written before the era of spaceflight. Spock wondered about human precognitive talent, particularly about the peculiar human ability known as 'imagination', while the story unfolded. He was eager to take his turn when Kirk handed the book to him, actually impatient at being obliged to read only as quickly as he could speak.

...Voice like velvet, Kirk thought, listening. He could easily picture the landing party exploring the nova-scoured planet, finding the remains of the great marker and the treasure that lay under it: vaults or recordings, made by the people who had once lived on the vanished inner worlds, records of their history, art, science, philosophy, all that they'd ever known or done. He smiled as he heard Spock's voice slowing, fascinated, over the descriptions of the vanished people. The writer's considerable skill painted a glowing image of them: beautiful, kind, just, wise, skilled -- and tragically lacking in any spaceflight technology that could have saved them.

Once in the description, Spock paused to glance up at him. "Yes," Kirk answered the unspoken question, "humans have often tried to imagine people better than ourselves. That's a pretty good example of idealized aliens."

Spock nodded once, digesting that, and went back to reading.

The heart of the philosophical problem, forecast in the first part of the story, appeared soon after Spock returned the book. The exploration team's astrophysicists finally determined the year in which the system's sun had exploded, and learned when the nova's brilliance would have been visible to the naked eye on Earth. Kirk began to guess what was coming; Spock could tell from the narrowing of his eyebrows and the tension in his voice. In the last few sentences, the dilemma became clear.

"'How can I now believe that God is just or merciful?'" he finished. "'Why were these beautiful people thrown into fire, only to make the star that shone over Bethlehem?'" The words ended. Kirk quietly closed the book.

Unfortunate choice of story, Spock thought. It appears to have depressed him... Change his train of thought. At once. "This is a lamentably ethnocentric attitude," he ventured. "The star exploded for reasons of its own, which had nothing to do with events on Earth that were later considered important."

"True." Kirk dutifully tried to cheer up. "It's just that from the viewpoint of the person telling the story, it's rough to find out that one of the major symbols of one's faith was rooted in a terrible cruelty."

True for more than humans! "At least, in this character's case, it was only the symbol - not one of the basic tenets."

"I don't know..." Kirk shivered, hitching a little closer for warmth. "That 'basic tenet' that the universe is run, created, whatever, by some -- some mind that's basically... good... That's hard to hold on to when you've seen some of the blind cruelties and injustices that happen -- just happen -- to people..." He put his chin on his hands and brooded at the fire.

"I see." Spock set the book aside and stretched out beside Kirk, close enough that a slight shift of weight would press their shoulders together. "An interesting dilemma: if some supreme being is indeed responsible for all events which occur in the universe, then he, or it, must be either cruel or indifferent."

"Not 'good'," Kirk concluded. "Nothing to believe in."

"Perhaps some form of Prime Directive is in force."

"Then there would be some exceptions, wouldn't there?" Kirk grinned fleetingly. "Rescue missions, for example. Beta Niobe ..." You never told me exactly what happened to you and McCoy there...

"Those people were capable of saving themselves." With a few exceptions. "They escaped through time, rather than space -- as we learned with some difficulty."

"But there've been other cases. The Enterprise alone has had I-don't-know-how-many missions to save people from plagues, famines, geological upheavals, novas, monsters drifting in from deep space..." He sighed. "What's the sense of worshipping something that's crueler than you are?"

Indeed! Spock's eyebrows climbed. "A... logical attitude... assuming that survival-based values are universally applicable... Of course, beings who do not base their values on survival do not tend to survive." He glanced nervously at Kirk.

"I guess I just don't like gods..." Kirk's expression was unmistakably grim -- and lonely. "Whether it's a super- powered alien lording it over helpless people, or some supposed ultimate keeper-of-everything who doesn't lift a finger to keep innocent people from getting blown to atoms -- I can't just smile and accept and believe. Better to believe there's nothing out there but other people: bigger, wiser, more powerful maybe -- but just people."

"Astonishing!" Spock reared up on his elbows. "We appear to have come to the same conclusions by totally different lines of reasoning! Vulcans find it illogical to base anything as important as behavior or ethics on unproven theory, whereas you begin with the effect of belief/disbelief and work... hmmm, backwards. Both methods are equally valid."

"Are you telling me I can sometimes think as well as a Vulcan?" Kirk laughed. "You're flattering me, Spock."

"Jim?" Spock did a double-take. "I assure you, I have never claimed that humans cannot think as well as Vulcans -- only that their methods are different." ...Wait. That is true. (True!) My conclusions, Vulcan's dangerous insufficiency... "You know something that we do not."

"What's that?"

"How to use your emotions, rather than merely repressing them or being used by them."

"Oh. ...Well, we're not always successful at that."

"Indeed, but your success do outweigh your failures." Had you truly believed -- "Jim, have I ever given you cause to be ... ashamed of being human?"

For an instant, Kirk looked shocked. "No, Spock, you haven't. You've only, uhm, occasionally made me aware of personal shortcomings. That's not the same thing."

"I was not certain; humans sometimes have difficulty seeing that difference. For a Vulcan it would be obvious, but..." Wait. Not necessarily true. So many times I have seen... "But then, I am not entirely Vulcan."

"You mean, Vulcans have made you ashamed of being even partly human?"

"Spock only blinked as the words hit. How could he know?! I never told him about-- Good guess? 'Human intuition'...that strange human ability to think backwards and sideways... Imagination -- so illogically, often right! "Yes... Yes, they have. Many times."

It is impossible, of course, for human eyes to actually 'soften' or 'glow', but Kirk's gave a remarkable impression thereof. He reached up one hand and gripped Spock's arm. "That wasn't fair -- much less right."

Interesting differentiation, Spock thought, as an undefined feeling ached. Communicate. Reply.Awkwardly, he slipped his hand over Kirk's and faintly returned the pressure. "It appears that Vulcan society is lacking in several respects: unable to reliably attain its own standards, which are of themselves... insufficient." He gave a very human sigh. "Indeed, Vulcan does not have all the answers. We are not justified in considering ourselves generally superior to humans."

"I'm sorry."

"For what, Jim?"

"For taking that away from you."

"Illusions are not to be mourned. Better cause for distress that I believed in them for so long, despite the clear evidence... In fact, Doctor McCoy has been trying, for years to tell me that."

"All his teasing?"

"'The unchallenged blade grows dull.' I should thank him for it."

"We have a lot to thank him for." --like sending you here to work out this -- this 'philosophical problem' in safety, instead of... The overwhelming protectiveness rose again, impossible to ignore. Impulsively, Kirk flowed with it. He gripped Spock in a sudden bear-hug that made the Vulcan grunt with surprise. "Spock, you've got to stop risking yourself so much! Stop throwing yourself into danger for no good reason! You don't have to do that; there are better ways to -- to..."

"Me!?" Spock's eyebrows climbed to his bangs. "You think that I..."

"Yes! Yes! Scrambling halfway across a clearing after that damned lizard when you couldn't walk! Getting yourself into that landslide in the first place! Poking your head into that snolligoster's lair! And before that--"

"But you--" Spock squirmed around in Kirk's grip until he could look him in the face. "It is you who take the risks!"

"Only me!?"

For a long moment, they stared at each other. "Spock," Kirk ventured, "I think it's... both of us."

No! Impossible! (...Impossible?) No... Spock sat still for a long time, thinking that over, remembering certain undeniable facts. "Perhaps..." He sank back down on the hearthrug, fitting the new information into his computations, appalled at how well it fit.

Kirk, not knowing what to say, maneuvered more wood into the fire. He considered making some more herb tea, but decided against getting up and going to the kitchen for the needed items. He knew without analyzing it that, in this moment, he dared not put any distance between Spock and himself.

"'It is illogical to deny one's nature.'" Spock's voice was so quiet that Kirk wasn't sure he'd meant that to be heard. "Necessary, critical, to understand these positive human capacities. Yes the only one I seem to possess is... that one emotion. How to use it? ... No idea. And my ignorance allows..." He steepled his fingers and pressed his mouth against them.

Kirk didn't know if he should try to answer that. He wanted very badly to say, 'Let me help.' Instead, he tried something mild and noncommittal. "Should I make more tea?"

Spock glanced up without moving his head, and slid his interlaced fingers beneath his chin. "Yes, I should like that."

'Like'? Not 'it would be logical'? Kirk wondered. Some sign of... Oh, crumbs! Crumbs... But that's something. "I'll get it. --Oh, damn! We used up the water on breakfast. Hell, I'll got get some more." He pulled off his boots and tossed them aside. "No point getting these wet. I'll be right back." He picked up the bucket and trotted out into the rain.

Spock sat up, worried. Probably Kirk couldn't get into any danger so close to the cabin, but it wouldn't hurt to watch. He'd conveniently left the door open. For my viewing? Or his? To get a clear view, Spock took one of the crutches and limped to the other side of the laundry line. He settled gingerly on the bed before his legs could buckle under him. From here he could see Kirk jogging through the rain, bucket bouncing on his arm, quite unharmed by the steady rain. Spock shivered in sympathy, wondering how it must feel to endure all that cold water on one's skin. He glanced gratefully toward the crackling fire.

Then his eyes fell on Kirk's boots, lying nearby. Why did he not wish to get them wet? Curious, Spock raked one close with the crutch, picked it up and examined it. Not regular issue... Ordinary Starfleet boots were made of neutral plastic, both for low expense and to avoid various cultural taboos; they were easily replaced, if not very durable. These, however, were made of leather -- black Andorian teegh-skin to be precise -- very supple and durable, capable of taking a high polish. They also had a slightly-higher-than- average heel. Inside were built-in arch supports. They were also surprisingly small.

...Such little feet? Spock wondered, trying unsuccessfully to fit his whole hand into the boot- foot. Of course he would require special arch supports, carrying so big a body on such small feet... But then, why the heels? Such do not provide extra support. Quite the contrary. Why should he...

At that point it occurred to Spock that his friend was not a tall man. In all these years, he had never quite noticed before. -- Of course I tower over him naturally, being Vulcan)... but then ... So does McCoy! And Scott. And... half the crew... Random facts, duly recorded but never before correlated, popped into place. He is barely of average height for a human male! No one seems to notice (not even myself! What else have I missed?) -- because he gives such an impression of... Size? Grandeur? Command? ...But he's really... compared to myself... Test. Be certain.

The brontos were wolf-whistling again. Through the curtain of rain, Spock could see that Kirk had stopped to pick berries, no doubt to feed to the importunate little beasts. The bucket stood nearby, filled and spilling over now with added rainwater. Spock suppressed a smile, levered himself to his feet, and limped slowly to the door.

Eventually, the greedy brontos stopped whistling. Kirk picked up the sloshing bucket and came back to the cabin, thoroughly soaked. As he entered, Spock measured against him at the doorframe.


"Wha- Spock, what are you doing here?"

I could rest my chin on the top of his head! "I have discovered that I can walk short distances, with support."

"That's great. Here, let me help you back."

"Yes." --so little, so fragile... How could I ever let him risk himself so? A nameless emotion welled up, too swift for control: a deep yearning to protect, to enfold. As Kirk set the bucket down and turned back to him, Spock pulled away from the doorframe, reached for Kirk and wrapped both arm around him.

Kirk gasped at the sudden pressure, frozen with surprise. This can't mean what I think -- No, of course not! He's just lost his balance. Hold him up. "There, now. Easy. Let me turn. Get an arm around my shoulders. That's it. Now, one foot after the other. Don't worry, I won't let you fall..." He half-carried Spock back to the hearthrug and set him down on it as if nothing had happened. Then he went to the kitchen to make the tea.

Astonishing! Spock lay back on the rug, head reeling. Why did I do that? (Impulse. Emotion.) What did it mean? (Protection, of course. Concern.) So fierce? So sweeping? He closed his eyes. Is that... ("both of us") ... affection? (Friendship? ... Love?) ... If so, it is very powerful. (Of course: to prevent aggression in a very aggressive species.) I understand so poorly! (Is it possible for Vulcans? Does father really --) More data needed. Communicate. (...But how? I do not even know the right questions to ask!) Observe...

Kirk came back with the kettle and two cups. He was still wet.

"You should dry yourself," Spock cautioned. "Prolonged immersion in cold fluid effectively lowers the body temperature."

"Right, right." Kirk dug out a dry pair of pants and went off to the bathroom. He returned in a few moments, skin and hair toweled to merely damp, wearing the dry trousers and holding the wrung-out jeans. He hung the wet pants on the laundry line and returned to the fire. Spock looked up at him, clearly expectant.

Say something, dammit! Kirk berated himself. He was wrestling with the real problem before, and I interrupted him. Stupid. I should have encouraged, helped... Now I don't know how to get back. He sat down on the rug. "Spock, I... Oh, hell, I don't know what to say, how to help, anything."

"Neither do I," Spock admitted.


"Only for the moment."

They sat side by side, watching the fire for several minutes, still troubled but growing more calm.

"Right now I wish Bones had let us bring the chess set," Kirk said. "Keeping that back was a mistake." So were those overlong crutches... Or did he do that deliberately? Make sure I'd have to carry Spock, make him lean on me...

"He did allow me to bring my harp," Spock recalled. "Would you mind if I played it?"

"Mind? Oh, no. I like your harp playing." Kirk got up and fetched the lyrette. Spock took it, inspected the tuning, adjusted a few keys, and played a short piece from a lowland folkdance sequence. He looked up to see Kirk tapping his fingers in rhythm. Amused, Spock tried another piece. He wound up playing until the sky darkened.

They kept quiet all through dinner, the washing afterward, and the now-habitual rubdown in front of the fire. Again, Spock purred off to sleep before it was finished, and Kirk carried him to bed and tucked him in. It was still raining.

* * * * *

Kirk awoke in the dark to an unfamiliar sound, a faint rattling, something odd that he couldn't identify. He glanced around the cabin, noting the pitch-dark and the chill air. Fire's gone out... He noticed that the sound was coming from the direction of the bed, and finally guessed what it was. He opened his sleeping bag, slithered out, bundled it up and picked his way through the darkness to the bed.

Spock came awake at the pressure and motion of the sleeping bag being spread on top of his blankets. "J-Jim?" he asked through chattering teeth.

"Yes." The edge of the mattress creaked under his weight. "No sense in both of us being chilled. Can you move over?"

Spock moved, too cold to argue. Kirk slid in beside him. They shuffled briefly for space, feet and elbows bumping, and eventually settled a polite three inches apart.

"That better?"

"Y-Yes. The temperature is s-steadily increasing."

"Fine. Good night, Spock."

"Good night." Spock took a few measured breaths, mentally recited a standard self-hypnotic formula, and duly fell asleep.

Soon afterward came dreams: vague, gentle dreams of childhood, of his old pet sehlat nuzzling and butting against him, slipping a furry paw around him, shouldering him away from harm or nudging to be petted. Very well, I-Chaya... He reached out to stroke the furry muzzle, but collided with something smooth instead. With the strange logic of dreams, this seemed perfectly reasonable. He petted the smooth flesh until he drifted back into stillness.

* * * * *

Kirk half-woke to dull morning light, sleepily noted that there was no sound of rain, but the air was still cool, and snuggled back into the warm nest of blankets. He felt that Spock had drifted closer during the night and now had a limp, hotter-than-human arm draped around him. It felt nice. He rolled a little nearer, slipped one leg into the comfortable space between Spock's bent knees, and sank back into sleep again.

When they both finally wakened, the sun was high and the air warm. Spock would have been content to stay where he was; the quiet warmth was so comfortable. Kirk, however, was getting overheated and hungry. He slid regretfully out from under the covers and went to deal with breakfast. Spock remained in bed, contemplating this new and intriguing feeling of contentment. There was no logical reason for it, but nonetheless, he felt it. Is this part of what humans call 'happiness'? he wondered. He stretched like a cat. There was no pain or stiffness in his legs.

Kirk came over to the bed and whipped the blankets off with a flourish. He helped Spock to his feet, half- carried him over to the fireplace, and lowered him onto the hearthrug for the morning rub down. Positive, harmless, even beneficial... Spock decided. He let himself sink down into the welcome sensations. A soft purr rattled in his throat.

Kirk slid a cautious hand up the Vulcan's neck and gently rubbed behind his ears. The purr grew louder. Daring, Kirk slipped his fingers under Spock's chin and lightly scratched. Spock actually smiled, and leaned against the scritching fingers.

"Ah, you like that, don't you?" Kirk whispered.

"Yess... Please continue. Rrrrr..."

"Cat. My big cat."

"I hardly consider that flattering." Spock twitched a faint smile. "Would you enjoy being called a 'big monkey'?"

"Just as long as you call me King Kong," Kirk laughed, still scratching.

"Indeed. Do you feel a deep-seated urge to climb tall buildings and smash antique aircraft?"

"Nope. Can't say I cared that much for Fay Wray, either." Kirk moved his hand back to Spock's ears. "I just liked that old classic -- always felt sympathetic to the big ape."

Spock frowned, remembering the end of that ancient story. "Do you find the idea of dying for love attractive?"

Hell of a question! Kirk thought. Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. "Well, there are worse things to die for."

"True..." Spock subsided, worrying. Again, death or communication. Speak.! He considered the sensation of Kirk's hands sliding over him, and the unregretted time Kirk had spent doing it. "Jim," he ventured, "I do find this... activity... most gratifying. Do you, also?"

Kirk didn't miss a stroke. "Yes. Yes, I do."

Spock reflected for a moment, then rolled over on his side. "Come here, then. I will reciprocate."

What the hell? Holding his breath, Kirk stretched out on the rug. What does he-- Breakthrough? Expression...? He turned on his side, facing Spock, with no idea what to expect.

"I believe this position will be most efficient." Spock slipped both arms around him, pulled him close, and began rubbing his back in wide, slow, lazy circles. "Is this enjoyable?"

"Oh, yes. Very good. Yes..." But, damn, what does it mean? Kirk wrapped his arms around Spock and dutifully rubbed back, trying to make some sense out of this. For a human, this action would border -- more than just border -- on the seductive... But for a Vulcan? Half- Vulcan -- and with a -- an identity crisis, at that. I don't think he quite understands what he's doing... Experimenting. Trying to make me happy... find out what makes him happy... Well, if it does... He dared to hitch himself closer, rest his head on Spock's shoulder, and relax completely. Hands moved gently. Warm yellow sunlight filled the air with a soft gold haze.

Kirk lay still, a quiet, dreamy, peaceful feeling settled over him. He could hear Spock purring softly under his ear. Is this the answer? he wondered, hope growing. As simple as this? Just touching, cuddling... like a pair of sleepy puppies. 'Nonverbal expression.' A safe, sure, gentle way to say 'love...' He rubbed his cheek against Spock's shoulder, delighting in the dry velvety texture, the faint spicy smell, the smooth rippling motion. So easy to enjoy this... quiet, chaste, gentle touching... "Ah, you feel good," he murmured. "I could stay like this forever."

He felt Spock smiling against his forehead. "Would you not eventually grow hungry or thirsty?"

"Oh, eventually..." His stomach chose that particularly inopportune time to growl. "Let's get through breakfast."

They ate slowly, watching each other, letting the pleasure of observation mix with the enjoyment of the food. Spock found it an 'intriguing experiment in sensory orchestration.' Kirk gave him an odd look, playfully mussed his hair, and went off to wash the dishes.

* * * * *

Later, they went out to the lake, Kirk carrying the water bucket and firewood basket, Spock leaning on him and cautiously trying to put a little more weight on his feet than he had yesterday. The tiny brontos spotted them and paddled up, open-mouthed and eager, making wolf-whistles and downright obscene kissy- noises.

"Where did they learn that one?" Kirk laughed. "They sound like a bunch of street corner punks." He glanced around for a berry bush.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Oh. Uhm, those noises they're making are classic Earth-culture... ah, mating-calls. Heh! The only one they're lacking is a holler of 'Hey, Baby!'" He laughed again. "What those little beggars won't do for berries. Sorry, you bums; I've got to go get water and firewood."

"If you will give me a handful of berries, I shall feed them," Spock offered, toying with the idea.

"Fine with me." Kirk strolled to the nearest available bush and began picking. The brontos whistled and smacked impatiently. "All right, already. Here you are, Spock. Have fun." He handed Spock the berries, picked up the basket and bucket, and trotted off.

Spock edged closer to the water, waving a berry over the small horde of open mouths. "'Hey, Baby,'" he solemnly intoned. The brontos whistled and kissed frantically. He tried again. And again. After the fifth try, one of the brontos made a fair attempt at imitating him. He popped a berry into its mouth. Other brontos got the idea.

Half an hour later, Kirk came back to the lake shore with a basket stuffed full of wood and a sloshing-full bucket. Spock sat quietly, waiting for him, face revealing nothing. Jim should be highly amused, he thought, suppressing a smile. Kirk strolled up, unsuspecting.

The brontos spotted him. They raised their heads and paddled toward him, greedy and hopeful and noisy.

"Phweee-phew!" "Smacksmacksmack!" "Ayyyy, bayyy-beeee!"

"Huh???" said Kirk, almost dropping the bucket.

"Ayyyy, bayyy-beee!"

Kirk's jaw dropped. His face turned re.

I seem to have miscalculated... Spock set his expression to absolute neutral.

Kirk did a classic double-take. "Spock, did you...?" He looked at the brontos, then back at Spock. "Nawww." He shook his head. "I can't believe it." ... But how else could they...?

"I beg your pardon?" said Spock. A newborn lamb couldn't have looked more innocent.

Of course he did it, Kirk realized. My Lord, he's just played a practical joke! ...he's developing a sense of humor. Amateur. Doesn't he realize how weird his jokes are... Kirk put down the water and wood, pulled Spock to his feet and picked him up. He trundled up the slope to the woods.

"Jim?" Spock sounded ever-so-faintly worried. "May I ask where you are taking me?"

"Out of temptation's way." Kirk carried him to the honey-tree and set him down. "Stay here and watch for the bee-snakes while I go put the firewood away. I'll be back in a few minutes." He strolled off, whistling.

Bemused, Spock sat and watched the tree. From a faint scratching sound within, he judged that the bee-snakes were at home and awake. A miniature bear peeped at him from behind a tree. "Shoo," Spock commanded, pointing a finger at it. The bear didn't shoo, but it didn't came any closer either.

Kirk came back shortly, carrying an empty bowl, a knife and a phaser. Without questioning Spock, he put an ear to the tree and noted the presence of the snakes. He stepped back, drew the phaser and played the stun beam up and down the trunk. He reached into the hole, felt around for a moment, pulled out the two limp snakes and set them carefully on the ground.

"They ought to stay asleep long enough for me to get the honey," he explained, taking up the bowl and knife. "A little faster and safer than building a fire."

"Indeed," Spock begrudged. "But let me remind you that the honey was intended to feed their young."

"Don't worry, I'll only take a bowlfull. They have plenty." Kirk withdrew his arm, holding a fresh-cut comb dripping with honey. He dropped it neatly into the bowl.

The little bear crept closer, nose twitching. Another bear followed. Kirk pulled out another handful of honeycomb. A large crumb of honey-soaked wax broke loose and fell to the ground. The bears scrambled for it.

"Jim," Spock cautioned, "the snakes are waking."

"Ah, just another handful."

The snakes woke in a vile temper, and the sight of a giant plundering their tree didn't improve their attitude. They hissed furiously, raised their crests to full height, bared their fangs and lashed their tongues. It was a much more impressive display than the Snit's. Kirk gave them a thoughtful look, but kept on rummaging in the tree.

"I believe they are going to--"

The snakes attacked. They boldly threw themselves at Kirk's feet and fanged his boots. He shuffled from foot to foot, shaking them off. The bears scrambled out of the way, but not too far from the chance of honey.

"Note that their tempers are severely aroused."

The frustrated snakes gave up gnarfing on Kirk's boots and decided to chase the bears instead. The bears galumped away, bawling. Kirk pulled out a last handful of honey, picked up the bowl, and came to help Spock to his feet. The snakes, seeing their way clear, slithered up the tree and whipped into the hollow.

As Spock limped away, leaning on Kirk's shoulder, he glanced back to observe the outraged snakes sticking their heads out of the tree, hissing ferociously and waving their tongues at him. Peace,he thought. No harm done.

Putting away the honey and gathering more food kept them busy for the rest of the morning. After lunch, they went out to the meadow to look for unicorns. They found a few, but the little creatures were unaccountably shy and refused to come near.

Spock guessed that a predator might be nearby. They went looking for the predator, but found only a herd of minimoths and a cluster of grazing Snits.

After that, Kirk wanted to go swimming. Spock politely, but firmly, refused to join him. Kirk shrugged, stripped off his clothes and strolled into the water -- which was, Spock noted, reassuringly shallow. Kirk splashed about happily, paddled to and fro with a half- dozen different strokes, floated on his back for a while, then abruptly gave a loud "Whoof!" and sank.

"Jim?" Spock scrambled up to his hands and knees. "Jim!"

Kirk's head broke the surface, a bemused look on his face. "Just a minute," he shouted, then dived again.

Spock suppressed a sudden urge to bite his nails.

In exactly fifty eight seconds, Kirk came up again. He moved in close to shore, grinning impishly, nothing but his head showing. "Hey, Spock!" he called. "What's large, purple, and rams ships?"

Spock sighed. "I don't know, Jim. What is large and purple and rams ships?"

"Moby Grape." Kirk stood up, grinning from ear to ear. In his arms wriggled and spouted a little purple water mammal shaped exactly like a terrestrial Sperm Whale. It was all of two feet long. "Fierce little devil," Kirk said, letting the tiny whale slide back into the water. "Came up and rammed me in the ribs. See?" He pointed. Sure enough, there was a good-sized bruise beginning.

"You had best come out of the water before the injury gives you a cramp."

Kirk made a wry face, but clambered up onto the shore. He stretched out on the short grass to let the air and sun dry him off. Even with his eyes shut, he could feel Spock watching him. For the first time, he was sharply aware of being naked. Wordlessly, Spock brushed wet hair out of Kirk's eyes.

He's changing, Kirk thought. Good grief, is he changing! He played a practical joke -- and a raunchy one, at that. He hugged and petted me for nearly half an hour. Now he's watching me lie here, nude, as if I were the most fascinating sight on the planet. If he were human, I'd swear he was trying to seduce me! ...But he's a Vulcan. A very-unsure-of-himself Vulcan, daring to experiment with feelings... which he doesn't understand... said he was a virgin... no experience... and Vulcans don't even talk about it... Doubly innocent.

He heard the grass whisper and creak as Spock lay down beside him. Long hot fingers probed gently through his hair. He felt goosebumps start up on his skin.

Calm down! He doesn't know what he's doing to me! How the hell should he? Not human... Whatthehell, probably Vulcans can't feel any kind of horniness out of season. ...But Leila? No, he wasn't in his right mind then. Still... that was out of season...

The exploring hand drew away from his hair and slid under his neck, the soft-sleeved arm pillowing his head. There was no further movement.

...Stop, Kirk decided. He's completely innocent. If I'm not, that's my problem. Tomcat! And he... like a shy kitten that needs petting, like a little unicorn, that's all. He's found a safe expression for his feelings, and I won't -- can't! Don't dare! -- scare him away from it. Don't discourage him. Keep calm. Think about cold showers…

Surprisingly he did manage to sleep. There were no dreams -- at least none that he remembered when Spock wakened him, with a gentle shake, in time to watch the sunset. They watched the sky change colors, enticed a solitary unicorn close enough for a few pats, tossed berries to the embarrassing brontosaurus chorus, and went in for dinner.

* * * * *

After dishes were cleared, the laundry done, the solar collector refilled, the fire built up, neither of them were sleepy enough to go to bed immediately, Spock, sensing a strained silence approaching, took up his harp and played some short compositions. Kirk watched the fire, attempted to listen to the music, and fidgeted.

Spock noticed his restlessness, wondering how to ask about it politely, and tried playing a more soothing tune. It didn't help; Kirk got up, fed the fire, sat down, tapped his fingers, and looked itchy.

Spock sighed in defeat, finished the piece quickly, and gave Kirk the harp to put away. Unfortunately, he concluded, my music does not appear to provide 'openings' for conversation...

Kirk came back bearing the book and a hopeful smile. "Want to read another story with me?" he offered.

"Certainly," Spock enthused, stretching out on the rug.

Kirk settled beside him and thumbed through the pages. "This looks interesting: 'Pillar of Fire,' by Ray Bradbury. You want to start?"

Spock did. He was developing a taste for the rich and intriguing prose texture of Earth fiction, and this particular author's lush-velvety style did not disappoint him. It was so easy to become lost in appreciation of the language that, at first, he paid scant attention to the plot.

It wasn't until Kirk took over the reading that Spock began to notice the disturbing elements of the story. It was an outright fantasy -- that peculiar human art- form intended as a purely decorative piece of illogic -- but the design of this tale was dark and troubling. The plot concerned 'the last dead man on Earth', who had mysteriously reanimated his corpse and now wandered across the world, trying unsuccessfully to reawaken in humanity the 'lost' emotion of fear. Why, Spock wondered indignantly, should that be an admirable goal, as the author clearly implies?

When his turn came again, Spock read more carefully, and the disquieting answer soon appeared. The culture of this fictional Earth was artificial, deliberately constructed to avoid all 'unhealthy thought' such as any 'negative' -- or deep, or strong -- emotions. It was a calm, bland, hygienic, ultimately shallow culture -- and it was horrifyingly like Vulcan. Spock had to peek back at the introduction to make sure that the author had been dead for more than a century before the first human ships had set down on Vulcan. Human precognition? He shuddered and handed back the book.

Kirk finished the story, too wrapped in the plot to count pages. The Last Dead Man, alone against a politely and implacably hostile world, inevitably failed. He was captured, his plea neatly reasoned away, nailed into a coffin, and decorously thrown into a crematorium. Kirk's voice shook on the last lines; he closed the book and looked away.

For several minutes, they studied the fire, neither of them saying anything. "It -- That future did not come to pass," Spock ventured. "Not on Earth..."

"Not all of Earth," Kirk corrected, shivering. "I've met people who believe in that sort of thing. No depth. Like... like flowers cut away from their stalks and stuck in a vase of distilled water. Pretty, rootless, and half dead."

Intriguing analogy. "How long do cut flowers generally live?"

"Not nearly as long as the whole plant."

Spock steepled his fingers and pressed them against his mouth. 'Reasoning by analogy is unreliable...' But when the analogy is so remarkably close? He felt an odd non-external chill, followed quickly by an impulsive desire to reach out and touch Kirk, to take some obscure reassurance from the warm and solid contact. Harmless to indulge... He slipped an arm over Kirk's shoulders and gently squeezed. Kirk leaned against him, rubbing a smooth cheek against Spock's ear. It does have a reliably salutary effect... Kirk slid a hand behind his ears and scratched delicately. Spock arched his neck toward the welcome pressure.

"Cat," Kirk chuckled. "Kitty-cat."


Kirk laughed, took Spock by the shoulders, and rolled him on his back. "I wonder if you're ticklish..."

"Oof! Affirmative!"

Spock clutched at him, but Kirk wriggled out of his grip and playfully nipped at his neck. Spock grabbed again. In a moment, they were rolling on the hearthrug like wrestling bear-cubs, tumbling, gripping, wriggling, evading holds with most improper tickling. Fascinating, Spock noted past the bubbly-warm enjoyment. A parody of unarmed combat. He managed to catch Kirk by the arms and pin him on his back. Kirk relaxed and smiled up at him, cheerfully admitting defeat, apparently expecting something further. Spock thought for a moment, then bent over and gently nipped Kirk's neck, ritually ending the play-fight as it had begun. Kirk laughed softly and slipped his hands up Spock's arms. It seemed the most logical action to slide down into the waiting embrace. He nestled his face into the hollow of Kirk's neck and relaxed completely, enjoying the quiet pleasure of the contact. Kirk's hands slowly circled on his back.

"I love you, you know," Kirk whispered.

Reply honestly, Spock thought. "I wish I could give a simple answer," he ventured, "but that would not be accurate."

"You don't have to--"

"I do feel... definable forms of affection for you. I... greatly enjoy your presence, and sharing activities with you, and thoughts, and I do not wish to see you harmed in any way, or hurt and... I find you aesthetically pleasing... at least, to all those senses which I have analyzed." Test... He pressed his face close and softly licked Kirk's neck.

Kirk managed to suppress a gasp, but his arms wrapped tighter around Spock's back.

"You even taste pleasing," Spock marveled, rubbing his cheek against Kirk's shoulder. "Salty, with subtle undertones."

Kirk let his breath out slowly, carefully. Innocent, he reminded himself. Totally innocent. Vulcan, virgin, completely uninformed... Migod, if he did this to anyone else, he'd get raped... or his jaw broken. Good thing I'm here... "Uhm, Spock, you wouldn't do -- I mean, ah, do you... feel this way about anyone else?"

"No. No one else draws me to such extremes." Astonishing extremes, for a Vulcan. For a human, of course, this would most certainly be quite mild... Is my affection enough to satisfy him, save him? I must-- "I do not know if these combined elements equal what you would call 'love', but I do feel them."

"Close enough." For him, that must be so hard to say... Kirk squeezed his eyes shut and hugged shamelessly. "'A difference that makes no difference...'"

"Oof. Indeed." That appears to be a positive gesture... and he obviously enjoys it... as do I... Encourage. "I, too, find these actions most pleasant. Perhaps..." Yes. (Yes!) "Jim, I believe that I am... happy. Right now."

"I'm glad for you."

They lay like that for a long time, clinging tight, touching gently, letting the quiet contentment carry them in soft waves to the edge of sleep. The fire sank lower. The edges of the room filled with stars.

Eventually, Kirk yawned. "I don't know about you, but I'm getting sleepy."

"I, too, feel the need for rest."

"Come along, then."

Kirk helped Spock to his feet, supported him as he shuffled to the bed, and helped him slip off the remainder of his clothes. Spock pulled the blankets aside and slid under them. Kirk hummed what he could remember of Spock's last harp solo as he took off his own clothes and slipped into the warm bed beside Spock. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, keeping warm and safe this way. "Hope it doesn't get too cold", he commented, pulling the blankets up to his eyes. "I'd hate to have to scamper across that cold floor to build up the fire."

"I doubt if the ambient temperature will fall more than five de-" A huge yawn smothered the last word.

"Fine..." Kirk settled into a relaxed sprawl, one ankle draped across Spock's. "Good night, then."

Spock's face buried in the pillow, murmured something that sounded like "Pleasant dreams."

"Mmmm..." Kirk let his eyes drift shut and smiled drowsily into the star-roofed darkness. Progress. We're getting there. Safe... Everything would be fine now; they'd found a workable solution. Several solutions. Shared fun, exploring a new world together, reading to each other, an occasional joke, backrubs... and a little chaste hugging. Not so difficult after all... to say 'I love you...'Thought thinned out to silence. He slept.

* * * * *

Shortly before dawn, strange signals reached to the deep levels. Disturbed, Spock spiraled up to consciousness. The peculiar sensations sharpened focus, making little more sense than before. He knew where he was: in bed, lying on his side, Kirk pressed spoonfashion against his back, and clearly in some sort of distress. Though still asleep, Kirk was twitching and groaning in irregular pulses, his arm tightening spasmodically across Spock's shoulder and chest, his thighs shifting restlessly.

Nightmare? Spock wondered. Should I wake him?

Through the physical contact, his sleep-unshielded telepathic sense registered a high level of energy. No pain, actually no fear either; there was only a sharp, indefinable urgency. Worried, Spock deliberately tightened focus, sank into that fiercely dreaming mind, and--

--tumbled headlong into a seething cauldron of alien bright /hot/ravening need/pulsing/bursting/exploding--

He scrambled back behind his shields just as Kirk's grip tightened enough to squeeze him breathless, body arched rigid and trembling, voice escaping in a long shivering groan. What does it mean? Spock wondered frantically. What is happening?

Then he felt Kirk's arm and body go limp, the frenzy passing, the incoherent sounds subside into heavy panting, cool sweat slicking the smooth skin. "Jim?" he ventured, turning toward him, noticing that the sheet was wet. "Jim? Are you ill?"

"...Hm?" Kirk blinked to wakefulness. "I... Oh, damn!" He rolled out of bed, swearing softly. "Be right back." He stamped off to the bathroom.

Bewildered, Spock sat up and peeled back the covers. The pale dawn light revealed a damp and badly rumpled sheet, puddled with a large, sticky stain. Not blood, Spock thought, relieved. Nor does he appear harmed. But what...?

Kirk came back soon, his skin pink with hard scrubbing. He saw Spock innocently studying the damning evidence, and blushed to the color of an angry sunburn. "Uh, here, I'll change the bed." He hurried over to the cupboard and pulled out a fresh sheet. "Get up, I'll take care of it." Barely giving Spock time to move, he yanked the blankets loose and began uprooting the bedclothes as if they were hateful weeds.

"Jim?" Spock worried. "Are you ill?"

"No. Just careless." Kirk balled up the sheet and threw it into the corner. --and I'm a stupid, horny, unthinking, sloppy idiot!

"Careless?" Spock puzzled.

All right, all right, I am going to have to explain... Kirk took a deep breath, devoutly wishing he were somewhere else -- Andromeda, for example. Go on! I promised I'd talk about anything, no matter what... asked him enough embarrassing questions... it's his turn now. "Ah, Spock, how much do you know about... uhm, human biology?"

Spock blinked, sharply remembering a similar statement that he'd made, long ago. He can't mean... "Do you mean... biology, as in... reproduction?"

"Yes." --goddamn, blushing down to my toenails--

"I have never made a specific study of the subject, though I am aware of the basic mechanism." --also that humans are shockingly promiscuous... (by Vulcan standards. IDIC! IDIC!) They are... enthusiastic and eclectic.

Kirk tucked down the new sheet with exquisite care. It gave him an excuse not to look at Spock. "Well, with human males, if one doesn't get... er, a sufficient amount of... ah, sexual activity, the uhm, genetic material builds up, and after it reaches a certain level, it's ... ah, expelled. Automatically. During sleep. Usually accompanied by dreams. That's what happened here. See?" He managed a quick glance and a weak but reassuring smile. "It's nothing to worry about."

"'Insufficient...'" Spock's eyebrows climbed to his bangs. "You?"

Kirk looked up at Spock's humanly-expressive face, and his embarrassment melted down to bubbly laughter. "Yes, me!" He tossed the pillows back on the bed and chucked the blankets after them. "Shore leaves are few and far between."

Spock sidled around the bedpost, staring in uncurbed amazement. "Do you mean to say that you are completely celibate while on the ship?"

"Nnnno, not completely." Kirk grinned, sat down on the edge of the bed and swung his heels back and forth. "Once in a while, I get to entertain an interested passenger, or seduce a local priestess-or-whatever in the line of duty... Deela, for instance..." He sighed fondly. "But for the most part, yes. Nothing but my good right hand. ...Uh, that's a colloquialism. It means, er..."

"I am aware of the human capacity for sexual self- stimulation... and satisfaction." Spock looked away, toward the corner where Kirk had thrown the stained sheet. "In terms of survival..." His voice grew so quiet that Kirk strained to hear him. "It seems much more efficient than... the Vulcan cycle."

"Oh." It had never occurred to Kirk that Spock might envy him for that. "Spock, I'm sorry."

"Illogical to regret one's nature." Spock sat down awkwardly beside Kirk. "Equally illogical to envy others for their nature." ...or is it? If one might take action to obtain it... Father?

"Ah, well, it's just a stop-gap measure," Kirk hurried on. "Not as good as the real thing. Sooner or later, the real thing is needed."

Spock turned to look at him. "I was not aware that humans could also die for lack of a mate."

"We don't die of it," Kirk frowned, remembering a few cases he'd known. "We just go quietly, dangerously, slightly mad." He caught Spock's look of alarm. "No, don't worry; I'm in no danger of that. I get lai-- uhm, relief often enough to keep reasonably healthy. Just..." He shrugged. "A little less than I could use."

"I find this most surprising, considering the number of available females on the ship."

"I can't do that! General Order 43-A!"

"I believe that regulation is, to use the time-honored human colloquialism, 'more honored in the breach than in the observance'."

"Not on my ship!" Kirk crossed his arm and firmly set his feet on the floor. "It isn't right."

"Indeed?" Spock's eyebrows climbed again. He had never really thought of Kirk as having self-imposed sexual ethics. I have, he realized guiltily, thoughtlessly accepted the common stereotype of human sexual behavior, even applied it causelessly to him. Most unjust. (Are Vulcans usually so biased?) I shall not think that of him again.

"I know some captains do it," Kirk continued, "maybe even most of them, but that still doesn't make it right. There's damned good reason for that order; if you play around with people too far from your own rank there's always the danger of coercion, favoritism or currying it, jealousy, dissension, all that. No, you can do anything you want, but you've got to stick to your own rank, or at least the rank right next to it. I just happen to be the only captain the Enterprise has. As for the next closest grade, the only command-grade officers we have are you, McCoy and Scotty. Some choice! I don't know about you, but neither Bones nor Scotty's interested." He laughed at the nonplussed look on Spock's face. "I guess they're just not adventurous that way."

"Fascinating. And are you?"

"Well, yes." Kirk grinned, ducked away from Spock's gaze and reached for his clothes. "When I cut loose on shore leave, I really cut loose: male, female, neuter, other, you-name-it. I tend to prefer women, but I'm willing to try almost anything, at least once."

"Males?" Spock marveled. How is that physically possible?

"A few times." Kirk shuffled into his bluejeans and rummaged about for a shirt. "Interesting. Not something I'd go looking for, but if it's offered, I won't turn it down."

Spock thought about that and decided to postpone his questions on physical mechanics. "'Other?'" he ventured.

"Other," Kirk laughed, pulling on his boots. "Yes, it's true what they say about Andorian neuters. I don't know about Tellarites; I just never could get turned on by something that looks that much like a terrestrial pig. I don't like doing it with animals -- no way." He paused, a memory tickling. "For that matter, I can't say I really enjoy Orion green slave-girls. They may look like people, but they're animals all the same."

"Not with animals?" Spock mentally scratched off another stereotype. Not my Jim, he thought smugly.

"No." Kirk scratched his chin, thinking. "Same thing, in a way, as General Order 43-A. An animal can't refuse, can't really complain, has no choice. Even if the animal doesn't mind, that's still a little too close to coercion for my tastes."

"Then I assume you have never been involved in a coercive mating."

"No! Never!" Kirk hitched his shoulders higher. "I once... observed a rape. It sickened me."

"Quite understandable." Spock's expression shifted to Absolute Neutral. Among Vulcans, that would be considered merely... an unfortunate accident. (His ethics are superior to--) Of course, our physiology is different...

"And of course, there's a limit to what I can do with non-humanoids," Kirk went on. "I found out the hard way that I can't do it with an Edoan."

"Indeed? Why not?"

Kirk grinned, picked up Spock's clothes and tossed them to him. "Because I only have one, that's why."

Spock thought for a moment, and did not bother asking what Kirk had only one of.

"And I once tried it with a -- a... What do you call those vegetable people? Well, it was impossible. Really impossible. I mean, flowers are lovely things, but what can you do with organs that are just a fringe of petals around a triangle of... hm, shag velvet?"

Spock gulped at that arresting image. "Nothing," he agreed. Zarabeth! Utterly impossible... His stomach rumbled gently. "Had we not best proceed to breakfast?" he suggested, pulling on his socks.

"Hmm? ... Oh, sure." Half-relieved and half-sorry that the odd conversation was ended, Kirk got up and went to the kitchen.

* * * * *

Breakfast was salad and mushrooms again, and Kirk felt a distinct hankering for something a little more solid. After dishwashing and chores, he sent Spock out to the vegetable garden, tottering carefully, using one crutch for a cane, then took his clasp-knife and phaser and went off to the woods to hunt.

He passed by the herds of skitterish unicorns, snits and minimoths, moving deeper into the forest, searching for a particular species of strangers. Within an hour, he found what he was looking for. A larger and slower version of the snit, a small herd of them in fact, grazed sleepily in one of the small meadows.

Kirk tiptoed close and stunned one of them with the phaser. The others looked up, blinked a few times, and went back to eating. Kirk shook his head in amazement, stepped out of hiding and calmly walked up to the herd. The pseudo-snits looked up, ruminated a bit, and slowly shuffled out of his way. Kirk picked up his prey, rummaged through the fur until he found the animal's throat, and cut it with a single, quick stroke of the knife. The other pseudo-snits, smelling the spilled blood, shuffled away a little faster. Incredibly slow, Kirk thought, watching them. How do they survive? Too big for most of the predators? Or do they just breed like tribbles? He bled the carcass as dry as possible, stood up and walked back to the cabin.

Spock was still out in the garden. Kirk went into the kitchen and set about cleaning and skinning the pseudo- snit. He had just removed the skin and paws when Spock came in with a full basket. He couldn't help noticing what Kirk was doing.

"May I ask what you have there?" he queried politely.

"Dinner." Kirk bent over his work, carefully removing the internal organs, hoping Spock couldn't see too closely. "One of those big, dumb cousins of the snit. Should last me a day or two."

"I see."

Saying nothing further, Spock washed and put away the groceries, hung the basket back on its peg, and limped away. A moment later, Kirk heard him tuning the harp. I guess he's not too upset, Kirk concluded. He took special care to waste none of the meat as he cut the carcass in quarters, washed them, wrapped them in cold leaves and put them in the cold-box. He bundled up the organs and scraps in more leaves, took them outside, and spent a quarter-hour burying them at the foot of a berry-bush. Back to the earth... he sang to himself, patting the dirt over the remains. Waste not, want not. He heard Spock rummaging about in the kitchen behind him, apparently preparing some complicated dish. Something Vulcan, I bet...

He took the skin and stretched it on the cabin's outer wall, pegging it tight with thorns. He scraped it clean with his knife and rubbed it thoroughly with the leftover brains and some salt. He remembered the guidebook mentioning some incredible berries that were good for tanning hides. He spent another hour gathering a half-bucketful of them and rubbing them deeply into the stretched skin. Inside, Spock had gone back to his harp. The music was thoughtful, tranquil, and a bit sad and resigned.

Kirk came back inside. "All done," he announced. "Shall we have lunch?"

Spock nodded agreement and put his harp aside.

* * * * *

Lunch was garden vegetables and a few fried lake fish. Apparently, Kirk meant to save the pseudo-snit for dinner. He also seemed restless: not irritable, just unable to relax completely. Spock wondered if he should ask about this, but decided to wait and observe.

Afterwards, Kirk wanted to go look for unicorns. Spock came along, leaning on his shoulder and on one crutch. They moved slowly from lake to hill, examining every meadow with no success.

"What could have happened to them?" Kirk sounded more worried than exasperated. "They seemed shy and edgy this morning..."

"Perhaps a migration pattern -- No, there are some. Under that hedge; look."

Kirk followed Spock's pointing finger and saw that some of the blue flowers on a nearby hedge weren't moving in the wind, and some of the pale thorns looked suspiciously like horns. He peered closer, and saw several pairs of frightened eyes looking back at him. In fact, there was a sizable herd of little unicorns hiding in the hedge, afraid to come out. Kirk tried enticing them forth with fresh berries, but they only backed further in among the thorns. He gave up. "What's scared them?" he asked, stepping away from the hedge. "Any ideas, Spock?"

"Possibly..." Spock turned this way and that, nostrils flaring like a horse's. "I believe I detect the presence of a body."

"A what?" Whose? An unsolved murder? A Klingon raid? An unknown invader? This place isn't safe anymore!

"This way." Spock limped cautiously across the meadow to the edge of the woods, Kirk following. He stopped near a cluster of low, dogwood-like trees. The smell hung thickly in the still, shadowed air. "There it is," he pointed.

Near the foot of the tree lay the raggedly dismembered carcass of a unicorn. The miniature tyrannosaurus was feeding on it.

"Goddamn! I'll break its scaly neck!" Kirk started forward, his hands clenched.

"Jim, stop." Spock clutched Kirk's arm, forcing him to stop or else pull Spock off his unsteady feet. "Such anger is illogical and destructive."

"'Destructive?' Me? What about that thing?"

"It is a predatory animal, doing exactly what predators are designed by nature to do."

"Killing unicorns?"

"Despite your emotional attachment to them, they do function as prey for the larger carnivores."

"They function for their own sake, and not for that ugly lizard!" Knowing that Spock's argument was perfectly reasonable didn't make him any less outraged.

Spock grew annoyed at this stubborn illogic. "I fail to see why you condemn an animal for behavior which is essentially no different from what you did this morning. Did you or did you not kill an animal for food?"

Kirk glared at him. "It wasn't a unicorn."

"That is not an essential difference."

"The hell it isn't! Those pseudo-snits are too dumb to come in out of the rain; all they do is eat and breed. The unicorns are quick, bright, intelligent little things. They deserve better than to be eaten by a stupid, ill-tempered ugly dinosaur!"

"Astonishing." Spock gave him such a look of amazement that Kirk felt his anger drain away. "Am I correct in assuming that some form of predator's ethics applies here? Are there potential prey-animals that one does not eat, graded according to intelligence?"

"Huh?" said Kirk. "Er, you mean the smarter the animal is, the less I want to eat it? Well... I never thought about it before, but... yes, I think that's true."

"And you disapprove of an intelligent animal being preyed upon by a less intelligent one?"

"Yes." Kirk took two steps backward, glowering at the smeared tyrannosaurus and the hanks of fine blue hair drifting over the moss-like dark milkweed. "Other things, too: we've fed and petted the unicorns, and they're neighbors, and they're harmless, and pretty and I like them, and they're so small... I don't like bullies, animal or human or whatever." He turned away from the unpleasant scene and walked back through the long grass.

"Intriguing," Spock murmured, hobbling carefully after him. A compound of ethic, aesthetic and personal affection (protection? ownership?) in imprecisely- described ratios... Is the famed (stereotyped?) unpredictability of emotions due only to unrealized complexity/compound nature? Is that all? If so... (how lax, petty, unworthy of scientists to settle merely for repression instead of trying to analyze, to unravel the complexities, to understand...) It is possible -- for me, for all of Vulcan... (Success, Father!) I will not turn aside. Onward, wherever; victory in sight.

Kirk waited at the edge of the meadow. He slipped one arm around Spock and supported him on the way down the slope. Just once, he turned to look back. The tyrannosaurus was still feeding. "Go pick on someone your own size!" he shouted at it. His surface tone was light, but there was a determined anger beneath it. Spock thought fleetingly of the ancient human word 'malediction.' They went back to the cabin with no further words.

* * * * *

Spock set the table for dinner, quietly pleased that he was sufficiently recovered to manage such work. In the kitchen, Kirk washed and chopped vegetables. There was a long moment's silence, then the sound of the cold-box opening. A minute later, Kirk came out with a skillet and a fork, some oil and half of the pseudo-snit carcass. Spock said nothing, but watched while Kirk arranged the pan on the fire and cooked the meat.

Wordlessly, Spock shuffled into the kitchen and came back with his own leaf-wrapped contribution and a small loaf-pan. He went to the fire, sat down beside Kirk, filled the loaf-pan and maneuvered it into the coals.

"What's that?" Kirk asked.

"A form of quick-bread, made of local grains and nut- meats."

"Oh. Is that what you were making this morning? I thought it was some kind of Vulcan specialty."

"This provides a better base for the honey. Besides, this environment does not provide the materials for Vulcan pastries."

"Hmmm, I never knew you could cook."

"You never asked me, Jim."

Kirk laughed softly, and turned the meat. When the food was done, they sat down and shared the salad. Spock took the lion's share of the vegetables. Kirk looked at the meat, put his hands together palm to palm, pressed his fingertips against his forehead, and shut his eyes.

A reverential gesture? Spock wondered, counting the seconds. I have not seen him do that before...

After half a minute, Kirk lowered his hands, took up his knife and fork, and cut into the meat as if nothing had happened. After the first bite, Spock stopped watching him. Considering his earlier statements, Spock concluded, that could have been only a ritual gesture of respect to the animal itself! He picked his way through the vegetables, thinking long thoughts about predator's ethics. He noted that Kirk ate every bit of the meat, even crunched up the small bones, wasting nothing. He could not recall seeing Kirk do that at other meals, over other meat. --But then, he did not hunt those himself. Yes, there was some complex but reliable ethical pattern at work here. He found the thought remarkably reassuring.

Kirk ate the quick-bread with honey for dessert and loved it.

* * * * *

After the dishes were cleaned, Spock went to the rug and stretched out on it, wondering if Kirk would prefer harp music or another mutual reading session. Kirk, absorbedly feeding wood into the fire, gave no indication of preference. If anything, he seemed distant, abstracted, oddly restless again. Spock studied him, wondering how to interpret this. A dissatisfaction? An insufficiency? Of what? Spock thumbed through his memories under 'Human Needs, Physical and Mental,' and came up with no better answer than the same old problem. Lack of sufficient emotional communication. Our recent progress, though considerable, does not seem to have gone far enough. Why? (Perhaps the feelings involved are too intense to be drained by such 'safety valves.') What would be sufficient? ...Perhaps...

There was one method he knew, had always known, for complete and direct communication. Mind meld... He shivered away from the thought, embarrassed and a little afraid. The loss of privacy... (but I've seen his mind before, and neither of us were shamed) ...not a thing to be done lightly, only for need, in crisis... (and is this not a crisis situation?) ...usually reserved only for one's most intimate acquaintances (and is he not closer to me than anyone living?) Very well. Proceed.

He rolled over and sat up. "Jim?"

Kirk turned and looked at him.

"I have been considering our... mutual problem. There is a possible technique which I have hesitated to use, perhaps to our loss. If you are willing, I shall attempt it."

"Spock, I'm willing to try anything that has any solid chance of success."

"There will necessarily be an invasion of privacy."

"There's nobody here but the two of us; that's private enough for me. What did you have in mind?"

For answer, Spock raised his hand and held it, fingers spread, an inch from Kirk's face.

"Oh. That." Kirk gnawed his lip for a moment. It might work too well! Don't show him-- "Ah, just a minute. Let me take care of a... minor annoyance first." He stood up and hurried off to the bathroom.

Spock followed him with a fond and amused gaze. Such delicacy... It should have occurred to me that he, too, might have reasons for embarrassment... He fetched his harp and turned his attention to mastering a particularly intricate passage of a short concert piece. It wasn't until he'd practiced the phrase to perfection that he noticed how long Kirk had been gone. Speculating briefly on the strange toilet habits of humans, he selected another tune.

Eventually, Kirk returned, looking subdued, a little tired, and quite calm. He smiled and flopped down on the rug. Spock put the harp aside and hitched onto his knees, facing Kirk. He took a few measured breaths, lowered his mental shields to the first level, and placed his hands lightly on either side of Kirk's head.

Feather-touch... Kirk thought, holding himself relaxed, open and calm. Spock was there, close, shy, just touching the surface, a warm and gentle pressure like a summer breeze. Come further. It's all right. A faint stirring, like motion, like sliding cautiously into a pool that might be chilly, and then Spock was his mind, his personality, thoughtful and gently, shy and curious. ...like a little unicorn, Kirk laughed silently.

Indeed? Spock answered, bemused. You symbolize me thus... Abruptly, like a stone tossed into a still pool, rippling it, he remembered the slaughtered unicorn and the tyrannosaurus feasting on it. Associations! Beyond what you said -- you saw that and thought of me--

I did? ...Yes. Yes, I did! Kirk hadn't realized it until now, but the connection was there. Recognition of it opened a door, revealing a dark closet stuffed bursting-full of hideous, one-theme horrors: ugly dinosaur jaws spilling grass-green blood, cliffs collapsing in heavy thunder, nameless monsters grabbing, Spock dead a thousand different ways. Impulsively, Kirk reached out and wrapped his arms around Spock, as if to shield him or pull him away from danger. Up from the depths his protectiveness welled, fountained, flooded, sweeping through Spock's carefully-stationed barriers, rolling him under.

Jim--Spock leaned dizzily against those supporting arms. I am safe. I am ... with you...

The surrounding flood of feeling did not diminish, but it calmed. The frantic tide eased to a gentle rocking of waves, filling and holding him, protecting, sustaining, soft as easy sunlight. Safe... yes... Despite the utter loss of control, he felt no fear. He floated, helpless and astonished in the bright depths. 'Love', Jim? Is this love? Is this how it feels? I did not realize... all I know or suspected, and more...

-- love you -- The enfolding brightness pulsed, familiar as his own hand, warmer than tears, flickering with undertones of yearning, tenderness, pain -- intimations of grief. Do you know how I would suffer if I lost you?

... Don't. Please don't...Spock reached out to soothe that pain away. You don't have to do that. (Reverse flow. Change. Change...) Not grief, not pain... Jim, there are other measures of love. I am certain. I have seen, though not understood, but they exist... we can have them... oh, love...

True. That's why we're here.The flood-waters changed, lifted him to their surface, held him lightly on a quiet ocean of light. Spock drifted on it, entranced. ... Beautiful... So beautiful...It was awesome to realize that one mind could create such vast reaches of brightness, tenderness, beauty and power. A new dimension... the positive dimension I sought... I had not guessed...

In himself, he began to feel an answering tide, a desire to respond, reciprocate, reply to the source. Yes. It is possible for me. I must not lose the chance. I need to... something... oh, do something!Vaguely he felt Kirk's arms around him. Yes! Like that.His hands moved, stroking downward, silently speaking with an instinctive code of touch. As he pulled away from Kirk's head, the inner vision faded though the feeling of vast bright and peace remained. Contact ending...But this wasn't the usual pulling away, an abrupt clean severance; this was slower, easier, one level thinning out into another. Easy... so gentle...Normal vision returned, and he saw Kirk's eyes smiling into his own.

"F-fascinating..." he murmured still shaken.

"I knew you'd say that," Kirk laughed softly as his hands moved in slow circles on Spock's back. "It was..." like afterglow, but without the..."Very good."

"Fatiguing..." Spock yawned enormously.

"Worth it, though."


Kirk unfastened Spock's shirt and lowered him to the rug. Spock obligingly undressed and stretched out on his stomach. Kirk's hands moved over him, gentle and slow, and Spock let himself drift. The darkness crept softly down from the deepening sky, wrapping the world in tranquil silence. He pulled back to consciousness only briefly when Kirk picked him up and carried him to the bed. He stayed half awake while Kirk undressed and slipped in beside him, then sank back to sleep through a warm network of interlaced ankles, knees, elbows and chins. The night was quiet and nobody dreamed.

Spock wakened to a well-risen sun, the sound of tea brewing, and Kirk -- already dressed in flannel shirt and bluejeans -- pulling the covers off him. He smiled, stretched, and held out his arms to be lifted. Kirk carried him to the hearthrug and dutifully massaged his back and legs. The motions were relaxing and pleasant as always, but Spock had the faint impression that there was something hesitant, shy, withheld about them. Kirk seemed faintly distant, preoccupied. Or perhaps this is lack of perspective, after the intense contact of last night,Spock considered. I surely cannot expect such levels of communication at all times.He shrugged mentally and forgot about it.

The teakettle whistled for attention. Kirk got up to deal with and Spock, mildly sorry that the massage was finished, levered himself upright and went to dress. Breakfast was brief and quiet; Kirk said little, but smiled often.

Chores went quickly, too, Spock noticed. Despite his preoccupation, Kirk seemed charged with nervous energy. He made his way through the dishes and firewood- gathering in record time, then took the food basket and picked through the garden like a well-oiled harvesting machine. Odd,thought Spock. We have sufficient food for the day... Draining excess nervous energy? A possible side-effect of the prolonged meld... How strange. Usually, melds have an enervating effect...

After that, Kirk fetched more tanning berries and worked on the pseudo-snit hide for another two hours. Then he filled all the water buckets. Then he did the laundry. Spock began to wonder if Kirk weren't looking for tasks to keep himself busy.

But why?he wondered. Not just excess energy; he has stopped several times to regain wind. Why is he indulging in make-work? (...To avoid me?) Why? We have made such excellent progress... (Perhaps too quickly. He may be frightened.) If so, the relapse is temporary. Patience.

Kirk checked the tanning hide once again and looked around him, his expression saying clearly as words, What now?

"You appear troubled," Spock offered, coming up to him.

Kirk actually flinched in surprise, looked around and flashed a nervous smile. "No, not troubled," he said, "just restless. Maybe I'm not getting enough exercise."

"I regret that my physical condition may have constrained you to--"

"Naw, it's not your fault. I just haven't been watching myself. Maybe a swim... Yes, that nice cool lake looks very good." He moved down the path, slipping out of his shirt. "Care to join me?" he called back, radiating some of his usual mischievousness.

Spock favored him with a loftily raised eyebrow. "I assure you, I have no intention of approaching cold water any closer than necessary."

"Fine. You feed the brontos and I'll go swim. Just don't teach them anything new."

Spock actually blushed.

Kirk laughed, strolled down to the beach and undressed at the edge of the waves. Spock shrugged, stopped to pick some berries, then went to the edge of the bronto- marsh.

Kirk stayed in the water for nearly an hour, paddling back and forth across the lake so energetically that the little purple whale chose not to bother him again. At last, comfortably tired, he floated on his back and looked up in the sky. Cool blue... like deep water... cold water.He grinned wryly. Cool down, James T. ... chill that Tomcat itch... cheap price for success... and we're succeeding. Everything will be fine now...He glanced toward the shore and saw that Spock was waiting for him. A pulse twitched. He turned over and started swimming energetically again.

Spock leaned back on the short grass and admired the scenery, the lake, Kirk disporting himself in the water like a frisky dolphin. Born sea-mammal,he thought fondly. I must see Earth again soon, spend more time studying aquatic life...

Kirk came out puffing, looking quite relaxed. He shook himself dry, toweled off with his shirt, pulled on his clothes and came plodding up the shore. The brontos paddled forward, whistling. He practically ran up the slope to get away from them.

"Come on, Spock," he said, helping the Vulcan to his feet with unseemly haste. "Let's go have lunch."

Surprised, Spock assented. They climbed the slope as rapidly as Spock's unsteady legs would permit. Behind them, the disappointed brontos trumpeted obscene noises.

Kirk blushed furiously.

* * * * *

Lunch was unusually light -- the last of the bread, with honey, and some assorted fruit. Kirk toyed with his food and appeared grateful when Spock was finished. He did the dishes quickly and paced once around the cabin, looking preoccupied. Spock was at the point of asking what was troubling him when Kirk came up with another occupational idea.

"Hey, let's go see how the unicorns are doing. Maybe they've come out of hiding."

Checking his livestock?Spock wondered, getting to his feet with Kirk's help. "They may still be unwilling to show themselves," he cautioned. "It is unlikely that the tyrannosaurus has moved to other hunting grounds."

"Then let's go see what the lizard's up to."

Perhaps he hopes to drive it away,Spock considered as they walked the slope to the woods. That might be the best compromise...

They were only a few moments into the light forest when they heard the sounds: hissing, screeching, thudding of small feet.

"That sounds like a fight!" Kirk jumped forward, remembered Spock, turned and picked him up, and ran toward the battle-racket as fast as he could. They broke through a neo-dogwood hedge into a clearing and stopped short. Kirk almost dropped Spock, who managed to land neatly on his feet. They both stared at the raging battle, uncertain what to do.

One of the warriors was the tyrannosaurus, jaws wide open and all fifty fangs bared. The other was the young bull minimoth, curly head tossing, white tusks stained with reptilian blood. They grappled, pulled apart, circled and charged to grapple again. Both were cut and bleeding. The tyrannosaurus had the heavier weaponry, but the minimoth was quicker and more precise. Their strength and weight seemed equal.

"Goddam," said Kirk in the awed voice of seeing an idle curse come true. "He didpick on someone his own size!"

"We should not interfere," Spock warned. "Aiding either side would be unwarranted interference in the ecosystem."

"All right, all right!" Kirk sat down, digging his fingers into the moss. "But you know which one my money's on."

"Fascinating," said Spock, sitting beside him. Is this the origin of human 'spectator sports'? Intriguing exercise in observation and self-control...

The tyrannosaurus charged, jaws gaping. The minimoth trumpeted, stamped, lowered its head and, at the last minute, ducked aside. The tyrannosaurus stumbled past, braking awkwardly. The minimoth whirled and slammed into the reptile from the side, bowed head raking upward. The tyrannosaurus tottered, flailed, and went over.

"He's down!" Kirk cheered. "It's all over but the shouting."

"Jim, do not get up to congratulate the victor," Spock nagged. "He may misunderstand your intentions. Allow nature to take its course."

"Okay, I'll wait," Kirk grumbled.

The tyrannosaurus, helpless off its feet, rolled and kicked and gnashed its glittering teeth. The minimoth backed off, panting, then lowered its head and charged again. The impact was heavy and the tusks slammed deep. The tyrannosaurus screeched.

Spock went pale; he hadn't expected that.

"He's going to finish him off," Kirk said. "Don't watch."

"It was I who insisted on non-interference..." Spock folded his hands together and watched, sickened, but resolute.

The minimoth stabbed a few times more, raking up gouts of dark blood and unidentifiable chunks of flesh, then plodded around to the lizard's feebly-thrashing head and methodically stamped on it. It took half a dozen stomps to break the skull. The minimoth kept tramping, puffing like a bellows, motions slowing noticeably, crushing brains and skin and plates of wet bone. The worst of it was that the tyrannosaurus' feet still twitched.

Reptiles expire slowly,Spock thought, growing dizzy. The minimoth is intelligent enough to be thorough...Kirk quietly slipped one arm around his shoulders. Infinitely grateful, Spock leaned against him.

Satisfied, or exhausted, the minimoth pulled away from the gory reptilian corpse and staggered off toward the bushes. The rest of the herd, Spock noticed, was hidden there, watching with wide eyes. Halfway to safety, the little animal fell to its knees. Some of the other minimoths started forward, possibly intending to help, but stopped in consternation as they saw the two strangers nearby.

"That's enough," said Kirk, getting to his feet. "They won't dare come help while we're here. I think that gives us the responsibility."

This time, Spock didn't argue.

Kirk walked slowly to the injured animal, murmuring repetitive promises of safety. The minimoth rolled an exhausted eye at him and didn't even try to move. Kirk knelt beside it, patting gently. The minimoth only snorted. Watching, Spock wondered if the beast was sufficiently intelligent to comprehend Kirk's intentions. The minimoth complained weakly as Kirk gathered it in his arms and picked it up, but then in lay still, only its ears flapping, as if resigned to its strange fate.

"I have to get him water fast," said Kirk. "Will you be all right if I run off to the lake?"

"Iam in no danger." Spock climbed to his feet with the aid of the crutch. "Proceed. I will follow as quickly as possible."

Kirk nodded acknowledgement, cradled the minimoth in his arms and strode off to the lake. Spock limped slowly after him, wondering if he was witnessing a reenactment of the first human domestication of animals. Dozens of animals peered at him, stepping unhurriedly out of the way as he walked, their earlier shyness gone. Apparently, the news of the tyrannosaur's death spread quickly. Spock came down to the lake to find Kirk kneeling in the shadows, ignoring his soaked pants, carefully washing the minimoth's wounds. The water was pink with spreading blood. The animal was sucking up the water with its trunk, too thirsty to care about the taste.

"He's going to need bandaging," Kirk commented as Spock tottered down beside him. "There are some bad gouges on his neck and shoulders."

"There has also been considerable blood loss," Spock added. "Note the unusual thirst and shivering."

"Let him drink as much as he can. We'll set him by the fire to keep warm. Can you pick some of that grass for bedding?"

Spock went into the tall weeds and pulled up an armload of grass, intrigued by his own growing enthusiasm. ... An expression of my own human instincts?he wondered. Surely I have a few (or more than a few). Yes, I am somewhat... fond of the engaging little creature. Affection/protectiveness extended to reserved-prey (intelligent... and likeable) animal: beginnings of domestication. Instinct inclined toward technological advance (not only harmless, but useful). Fascinating!

He took the grass into the cabin and spread it before the fire, where Kirk sat rubbing salve into the minimoth's wounds. The little animal must have felt some pain at these ministrations, but it grumpily endured them without trying to escape. It does appear to understand that we are trying to help,Spock marveled. He went to the kitchen for the drinking-water bucket and some assorted vegetables.

"Easy now, big boy," Kirk reassured the minimoth as he wrapped gauze bandaged around its neck. "Pity McCoy isn't here, but I think you'll heal clean anyway. There, there..." He set the animal down on the mat of fresh grass.

The minimoth blinked owlishly, glared at the fire with suspicion, inspected its bed, flapped its ears and pulled unsteadily to its feet. Spock carefully set the water and food before it, then backed away. The minimoth eyed him for a moment, dismissed him with a snort, and turned its attention to the food. After sampling a little of everything, it settled down to serious demolition of the heap of berries.

"He's got a healthy appetite," Kirk laughed. "That's a good sign. Let's leave him alone to eat while we go watch the sunset."

"You seem to have a particular fondness for sunsets."

"Sure. I never get to see enough of them when I'm on the ship."

They strolled down to the lake, listening to the Wild Concert as the sun slid toward the horizon. A light breeze riffled the water, sharpening the wavelets until their edges gleamed with sunset-fire. They sat by the shore and waited, watching the sun change colors and the velvet shadows lengthen. The sky was streaked with banners of violet clouds and long lines of birds. Flocks of snits and unicorns trotted down to the water to drink, their squeaking and nickering adding to the chorus of evening sounds. There seemed to be more of them than usual. Spock wondered if they were celebrating their freedom from the tyrant-lizard. He turned to look at Kirk and saw the last red-gold light of the sun glowing on his face. The hazel eyes seemed to shine with an internal light of their own. Never have I seen anything more beautiful... Spock felt his breath catch in his throat, and the nameless feeling flooded him again, filling his mind with wordless singing, yearning, aching to do something he couldn't define. He reached out one hand and rested it on Kirk's shoulder. Kirk glanced at him, his light smile as dazzling as the sunlight. Spock felt as if he were melting inside.

"I think we've made it, Spock," Kirk said very quietly. "I think everything's going to be all right."

Spock only nodded agreement. He didn't trust his voice just then.

The last sliver of molten sun-disk dropped behind the mountains. The lake darkened to midnight blue, and the valley filled like a cup with violet shadows. The last of the animals trotted away from the lake and disappeared into the netted darkness of the underbrush. Kirk sighed, stretched, got to his feet, and extended a hand to help Spock up. Spock followed him silently up the path, weak legs carrying him slowly but surely, wondering idly if his undiminished welter of nameless feelings were literally buoying him up.

The minimoth looked up, burbling cheerfully, as they came in. It didn't even step aside as they sat down near it on the hearthrug. The little creature flapped its ears at Spock and shyly inspected him with its trunk. Spock sat still, bemused and a little touched. Can the creature sense my emotional state?he wondered. "It appears to be an affectionate animal."

"True." Kirk smiled. "Or maybe he's frisking you for more food."

Joke,Spock recognized, arching an eyebrow at him. "The animal does seem intelligent enough to be capable of covert pilferage." He petted the little elephant's head.

Kirk chuckled and set more wood on the fire. The flames caught and blazed up merrily. Spock watched him, feeling the whole incident, setting, scene and feeling coalesce to a beautiful conclusion. Yes, Father; it is possible. The positive dimension -- we can have it, and be saved thereby. These human techniques for harnessing, guiding, using our emotions -- we can have them. I have seen it. In myself. Oh, Jim, yes! Yes, everything will be well now. Yes. Yes.

The minimoth rocked from side to side, burbling happily over the vegetables. Kirk leaned back and watched, smiling, haloed with firelight.

How beautiful you are!Spock felt the nameless delight rise wild and singing. He hitched over to Kirk's side, slipped an arm around his waist, rested his chin on Kirk's shoulder.

Kirk leaned against him and hugged back. "Penny for your thoughts," he murmured.

"I believe they are of more value than that." Spock rubbed his cheek against Kirk's neck. "I am happy. I can recognize it now. And my philosophical problem is solved." He felt his words floating on the surface of his bright haze of happiness, the joy in him singing, singing. He wanted Kirk to share it. He slipped one hand gently up to Kirk's face and let his telepathic barriers drop. What is this I feel, Jim? Give it a name.

"Love," Kirk whispered, basking in that bright outflow. Deep and strong as a great river... ah, heavy current. Can you hear me? It doesn't matter. "We've won. We're going to be all right, both of us. Safe! Safe at last! Oh, I love you..."

"Love..." Spock nuzzled his ear, voice thick and fuzzy. "Yes, I understand it now. This is... what I felt in your mind yesterday. Ah, beautiful beyond telling! No, I could never be ashamed of this... sweet, bright feeling... I love you, Jim. Friend. Dearest friend..." Such happiness... I could burst...The brightness climbed, soared, singing, purring deep in his throat, rippling with his pulse, promising further heights, the yearning growing clear and defined. Touch...He leaned his whole body against Kirk, reveling in the contact, pressing tight. Yes! Yes!His free hand reached blindly, bumped against a smooth knee, petted gently, sliding into longer and longer strokes.

Half-drowned in the surging brightness, Kirk realized too late what was happening. He managed to clench his mental shields tight, letting no thought escape, without Spock noticing -- but he couldn't stop the other reaction. He squeezed his eyes shut, horrified at himself, feeling the pulsing hot pressure swell and rise. Don't let Spock know!was all he could think. Don't let him-- Stop it-- Can't--

Spock noticed idly that Kirk was beginning to squirm in his arms. Perhaps this presaged another playful wrestling match. Not now,he decided, tightening his grip. His other hand slid further, enjoying the marvelous sculpturing of the long thigh muscles. The sensation was utterly delightful.

Kirk writhed frantically, helpless against his strength. Spock found that intensely pleasurable. I have you... The warm/bright/singing joy sharpened and grew, rising to a fierce peak. Yes, I could control you if I wished... Purring, he nipped softly at Kirk's neck and ears. I could... His hand slid higher--

--and brushed against something completely unexpected.

Surprised, Spock stopped where he was. His fingers probed, tested, explored.

Kirk groaned, turning his face away.

It took several seconds for Spock to realize what he was holding, and what it meant. He stared at Kirk, amazed, studying the tightly struggling body, the averted, tensed, ecstatic/agonized face. Realization slowly trickled through his astonishment. That is... desire. He is suffering... an agony of desire. And I have put him there. I can do that to him.

With that understanding, the bright/hot/sharp/singing feeling crested, too fierce to ignore, finally revealing itself. He remembered where and when he'd felt it before. With Leila. With Zarabeth. With them, impossible. But with him...

In that instant, Kirk's taut face and helplessly writhing body was the most beautiful, enthralling, desirable sight he'd ever known.

Right there, up rose all the old terrors of emotion in a single dark wave, uncontrollable and vast, over his head. Too much! Too close! Escape--Panicked, Spock jumped back. He rolled away from Kirk, frantic to put safe distance between them, scrambled clumsily to his feet and stumbled out of the cabin.

Behind him, abandoned, Kirk slumped forward until his bowed head almost touched his knees. His hands shook, clutched at the floorboards, tightened into fists. He sobbed once, then stopped.

The minimoth glanced toward him, ears flapping in bewilderment.

Halfway to the lake, Spock's overworked legs gave out and dropped him to the grass. The impact jarred loose the grip of fright, giving him a moment to think. Fool!!he railed himself. Where would I go? There is no shelter here. Think.

Panting, he sat up and glanced at the sky. No light was there except the cool tapestry of the stars. ...Alone,he understood. Alone, save for him... and nowhere to run, or hide. I must deal with it. (Oh, I'm afraid!) Afraid... Yes, I have learned that, too. He shivered in the night breeze.

A troop of unicorns approached, going to the lake in the safety of darkness. Pitifully grateful for the distraction, Spock held out his hand to them. They shied, snorted, tossed their horned heads and scampered away. With a pang, he remembered the other part of the legend of the unicorn.

"But I didn't do it!" he cried to the uncaring night sky. "I have never -- never completed..." Virgin! (Technically.) 'Technical virgin...'

He pulled his knees and rested his forehead on them, bitterly remembering the Vulcan -- and more accurate -- synonym. 'Tease'. Yes... yes, I am. I did that. To Jim. I made him suffer... what no Vulcan could have endured! And I enjoyed doing it!It had been a long time since he'd wanted, so badly, to cry. No, no, I didn't know what I was doing... (Didn't I?! After all these years of studying humans? After what he told me about his own desires? -- Oh, fool! Fool ten times over!) No! I am a Vulcan! There was no precedent for my-- (Liar! Remember Zarabeth!) ...Oh, yes, Zarabeth. I was too much Vulcan then, and what good did it to me? Oh, Father, how we have lied to ourselves...

The night wind ruffled his hair, gently as a friend's hand. Out of his misery, Spock remembered the gentleness of an earlier touch. There was something he had learned, something valuable, and it connected -- now that he thought of it -- with an old anomaly he had never questioned before. 'Friend',he thought, as in 'the male is accompanied by his closest friends...' Why do we have such a word, such a concept, if it is not meant to be used?

Puzzled, he pulled his face up from his knees. 'Friend', from the ancient word: 'shieldmate' ... also translated as 'deflector'. (Deflector? Of what?) Implies... (look at it) ... the ancient custom of deflecting aggression to fellow males by... (Yes! Look at it!) ... encouraging affection toward them by... (Say it!) ...out of season mating. (Yes.) Affection deflecting aggression. (The same as humans.) Yes.

Spock sat up on the chilling grass, the last vestiges of terror and shame trickling out of him, transfixed by this hard-gained knowledge. The same as humans. It is possible for us, and always was. Yes, we knew of it. I knew of it. In some corner of my mind, I knew what I was doing, all the time. (Love.) Yes, I love him, and have for a long time... loved to the point of unreason, self-destruction... (And here?) ... I have been courting him, in the fashion of my ancestors. (Which ones? Human? Vulcan?) It doesn't matter. (No, it doesn't matter! The effect is the same! 'A difference which makes no difference'...) '...is no difference.' Yes, I wanted him. I courted him. I have won him. (Success!) Yes, that is what I felt. Victory. That sense of joy and power when I saw what I had done... Yes, that is what I feared. And fled. (Coward and fool! To run from such a prize!) Indeed! How dare I throw away something so infinitely precious? How dare I turn away?! (Go back to him.) Indeed.

Spock maneuvered his feet under him and shakily pulled himself upright. He turned back toward the cabin. His knees threatened to drop him again. No matter, he decided. I will go back to him if I have to crawl every inch of the way.

* * * * *

The minimoth rocked from foot to foot, harrumphing anxiously. There seemed to be something wrong with the rescuer-giant. Perhaps it was ill. The minimoth hoped not.

Kirk stayed where he was, not wanting to move. If he took his hands off the floor, there was a good chance he'd beat his face in with them. Careless, horny idiot!he screamed at himself silently. Couldn't keep my own goddam crotch under control, and now I've lost everything. Oh, Spock... Oh, that look on his face. Terrified! He ran... How long can he run on those legs? Until he breaks them?

A horrifying vision swept up before his tight-shut eyes: Spock, lying crippled in some valley a dozen miles away, unable to reach food or water, chilling slowly in the night wind -- and the ugly tyrannosaurus, a whole pack of them, stalking patiently after him, like vulture... waiting.

"No!" Kirk whispered. "Please, no!" McCoy's worst warning: 'raid the game for good' -- and I did it! I did! Go back and tell Bones I lost my best friend because I didn't think to go off and beat that thing into submission before I got near him again! Too much trust in cold water, and it wasn't enough. Oh, Spock...

The minimoth's trunk brushed against his hand. He flinched.

"Go 'way," he muttered. "Don't you know I'm no good to my friends?" No damn good. Damn near got him killed so many times, and now... Stupid horny bastard... How in hell did I let it get that far anyway? He stared into the sinking fire, trying to understand. ...Just old, dirty habits? So used to saying 'love' when my britches itch that I can't keep it from working the other way around? ... No, that doesn't make sense.

He rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, realizing that the truth wasn't that simple. No,he remembered, I don't recall that I ever felt that for him before we got here, before I knew I had to get through to him about love... 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...' I counted all the ways, tried them all, found so many that worked. Why couldn't I stay content with them? Why?

Unbidden, his memory replayed every incident of Spock's innocent teasing, all of it relentlessly seductive -- and effective. The memories alone made his hands sweat. Oh, sure, blame the victim! Kirk raged at himself. As if he knew what he was doing! Innocent as a child, no matter how it looked... I knew that. I didn't have to let those things get to me. Why did I? Why, why, why couldn't I stop?!

Desperate for an answer, he ran through the razor-edged memories of that last hour before disaster. He remembered all they'd done and felt, every detail, every shade of feeling: warmth, closeness, joy, contentment, peace, something that had looked like perfect understanding, all rising to that bright peak, crowned with the embrace that had seemed so utterly fitting -- until it heeled over into ruin. Try as he might, Kirk simply could not pick out the instant when it had changed. It took me too long even to recognize it... it had to be present earlier... sneaked up on me... so much a part of everything else... grew right along with it, undifferentiated, inseparable part of all that happiness, so bright, so strong...

Kirk snapped his head up, eyes wide. Could that be the answer?! Any feeling that fierce, that intense -- Bones was right: can't keep it locked up, it has to take form, expression, and the strongest expression possible -- physical expression -- Yes! Enough pain can make anyone cry. Enough joy can-- Then a touch could do it! Intense enough feeling, and no touch is innocent -- or else they all are, and we're damned fools for even trying to make the distinction! There is no border, no off-on switch, no black-and-white cutoff point -- it's all a smooth spectrum, a sliding scale...

He took a deep breath, sagging with relief. All right, now I know. I can explain it. We can understand it, deal with it. It's not hopeless, just another problem... a small roadblock... if even that. I have to tell him, make him understand, make him see that it's all right and there's no harm done; we can deal with it together. It's not so terrible, we can work around it and be happy... Oh, where is he? Where can I find him? How can I make him understand?

There was a sound at the door: one dragging footstep, then another.

Kirk froze, not daring to look up, afraid of shattering his last chance with a single, incautious word.

Spock came over to the hearthrug and sat down clumsily. He noted that Kirk didn't seem to have moved in all the time he'd been gone. The thing changed was Kirk's face; he seemed to have been crying. The knowledge hurt. I have caused that. I must end it...Spock took Kirk by the shoulders, lifted him, gently turned him so they could look each other in the eyes.

Kirk said nothing, but he was shaking.

Carefully, somewhat awkwardly, Spock leaned forward and kissed him.

The relief was so fierce that Kirk thought he might collapse under it. He wrapped his arms around Spock's lean body, clinging to him for support as much as for everything else. He felt like crying or laughing wildly or babbling romantic nonsense, but all he did was hang on tight.

Spock cautiously copied the motions, wishing he had learned better from the little experience he'd had. He wished he knew how to do this properly. He wished he were better prepared to accept such a victory, how best to treat the prize, even how to explain. "I... I am not familiar with the procedure," he tried lamely. "You shall have to instruct me. Please be patient, Jim; I am very inexperienced with love."

Kirk laughed weakly against his chest. "Experience didn't help me that much... I'm sorry, Spock. I..." Wait a minute... he can't mean..."Look, it isn't your fault, but I... I can't seem to help feeling... I mean..."

"I understand." Oh, love, do not blame yourself!"I have made you desire me."

"It wasn't your fault! I did it. It was my automatic--"

"No." Spock brushed gentle, quieting fingers across his lips. "I am not so ignorant as I pretended."

"What?! I can't believe--"

"Jim, I have lied unforgivably -- to you, and to myself. I have... Although I never completed the action, I have known the feeling. I simply did not recognize -- did not want to recognize... what I wanted..." His arm closed so tight that they squeezed the breath out of Kirk's lungs. "Humans have no monopoly on self-deception. It is possible for Vulcans... very possible."

"Spock..." Kirk wriggled in that iron grip, got a little more room to breathe. "You don't have to... go this far. I can control it. You--"

"No." Spock took him by the shoulders and held him at arm's length, looking him steadily in the eyes. "You have controlled yourself far better than I have in this matter, far better than any Vulcan..." He shook his head in a very human gesture of amazement. "How I have tormented you! And... enjoyed it."

Kirk could only stare at him, gaping.

"Yes." Spock's eyes were wide, revealed, utterly honest. "I have indeed loved you for an immeasurable time." Strange, how easy it is to say the forbidden word, now that I know how true it is..."I do not know precisely when I began to desire you as well. Perhaps..." His eyes wandered to star-patterned sky overhead. "Perhaps when I began to learn what it was, how it felt..." Idly, his hands circled on Kirk's back, exploring the shifting muscle and bone beneath the thin cloth. "But I do know that I feel it now, past any doubt or denial." Even at this moment... just the feel of you under my hands, the sight of that beautiful face... 'Behold the prize that thou hast won.' ...and that I do not intend to let go! "Do not speak to me of denying myself any further." With that, he pulled Kirk hard against him and let his hands slide down, nuzzling shamelessly at his neck, falling willingly into the bright/sweet drunkenness of senses, of touch.

Kirk leaned against Spock's warm shoulder, panting as if he'd run five miles. Can't believe this! Happening so fast--The solid flesh surrounding him seemed the only real thing in the upended, spinning universe. The hot sliding hands left trails of soft fire under his skin, igniting him. He knew he couldn't resist it for very long. Ask now, while I can..."But... you're Vulcan..." he whispered, scrambling for words.

"Yes," Spock breathed through Kirk's tousled hair. "And Vulcans are dangerously passionate creature. Otherwise, we would not have needed such ruthless adherence to logic, to emotional repression... But I think..." He smiled against Kirk's cheek. "If I may dare to compare myself to Surak, I think I may have found... something better." Indeed better... so good... this shirt is in the way...

"What? ...Found what?" Kirk gasped, holding onto Spock as if his life depended on it. The growing sweet tickling warmth was making him dizzy, making it hard to hold still, swamping his thoughts.

"I have seen," Spock purred, "you have shown me that emotions can be allowed, used constructively, even enjoyed." He slipped his hands under Kirk's shirt, marveling at the concert of textures, delighted to feel the warm shiver at his touch. Appreciative... Beautiful in all things. Oh, how I love you!"For your sake, for mine, even perhaps for Vulcan's -- I cannot turn back now." He could feel the bright/sweet/fierce/singing feeling rising in him again, returning in full strength, fast flooding, filling him in vast and growing waves. This time he recognized it and was not afraid. He let himself flow with it. Into the unknown.. but I have seen reason to trust. Yes, I accept. (I accept!) Carry me, ancient tide. My friend/shield-mate/deflector.."Jim, I love you!"

"Oh, love, yes!" Kirk clutched back, feeling the floodgates open -- mental, physical, Spock's, his own, without clear border or difference, all brightness and sweet burning, lifting him, pulsing. His hands climbed Spock's shoulders, up to his neck, pulled his face down and met head-on in a hard, fierce kiss. Lips so soft, so warm...He couldn't believe how good it felt, how utterly happy he was.

Spock purred thunderously against him, tilted sideways, rolled down onto the hearthrug, pulling Kirk with him. He nipped playfully at Kirk's neck, felt for the shirt buttons, and began unfastening them. His fingers vibrated with his rising pulse. Kirk wriggled away from the intoxicating touch and shook his head hard, trying to clear it. Spock pounced on him like a playful leopard, pinning him down, and continued to pull the shirt away.

Seductive, hell!Kirk thought dizzily. Damn good at it... he's going to try again, all the way to... the finish? Does he really know where he's going, what he's doing, what will happen? Be sure. Now, while I can still think... or stop, or he can. Quick, before the tides pull us in over our heads!

"Spock--" He pulled back and raised his head until he could look Spock in the face. Those dark Vulcan eyes had never been so bright, so gentle, so unshielded. "Be sure," he said, choosing his words with as much care as he could muster. "Are you certain you know where this is going? Will you... follow all the way to the end? Spock, do you want to make love?"

The vulnerable eyes never flinched. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I will. Yes."

* * * * *

That was exactly what they did... three times that night and again in the morning.

The End.
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