Kirk rolled his shoulders as he entered the turbolift, glancing back at the science station which Chekov manned. The day had stretched interminably.
McCoy’s report of what had occurred on Sarpeidon had arrived thirty minutes prior to the end of his shift. Uncharacteristically, Spock’s had not yet arrived. Normally, Spock’s detailed report was first and others in the landing party just added in other observations before it was submitted to headquarters.
Kirk had deliberately delayed opening McCoy’s message, wanting the privacy of his quarters to review it. Spock looked healthy when we returned. If his problem had been physical, Bones would have insisted Spock accompany him to sick bay before releasing him, he reminded himself, as he rode the turbolift.
Perhaps now I’ll get the answer as to why Bones put Spock on medical leave and confined him to quarters for 24 hours when we rematerialized on the ship. Spock didn’t even offer a token objection, Jim remembered. He just tipped his head in the Doctor’s direction and left the transporter room without a backward glance in my direction.
Kirk read through the report and flicked off the viewer. Almost nothing more than I figured out myself. The only one who had suffered serious physical side effects from the ice age climate was Bones. And he recovered before they left the planet surface.
He closed his eyes as he rubbed his temples. Although McCoy’s report had said little, it had confirmed what he suspected, but had hoped was not the case. Spock’s suffering from a mental trauma, not a physical one.
The report had also solved a mystery. It had given him a name to go with the fragment of conversation he had heard and that he had replayed in his mind during the night.
“Zarabeth,”he whispered. Zarabeth sheltered my friends.
He had heard Spock speaking with her above the wind. The pain filled words came again unbidden to intrude on his thoughts. ‘I do not wish to part from you.’ ‘I cannot come. If I go back, I will die.’ ‘How much time do we have?’
Kirk swallowed. If Bones and Spock hadn’t been required to come through the portal together, would Spock have returned? He stared off into space a moment longer, turned back to his monitor and activated it again.
A moment later McCoy’s warm eyes flashed back at him. He appeared to be in his sick bay office. “You alone?”
“Door’s got the privacy lock on. I anticipated you might call.”
Kirk smiled grimly, unconcerned that his friend had known how he would react to his report. “I wanted to discuss the report you sent. Get a little color regarding what happened while you and Spock were trapped in the Sarpeidon’s past. You were a little short on details, like what happened as a result of Spock reverting to his ‘ancestor’s ways’.”
“Well, as far as I’m concerned what happened on Sarpeidon is covered by doctor-patient privilege. You’ve heard all you’re going to from me on the topic.”
“Bones. I’m worried about him.” Kirk let out an exacerbated sigh.
“You haven’t got the market cornered on that. I care about him to. I just thought he might want a little privacy. I’ll check on him tomorrow, before his shift. Determine if I should extend his leave.”
“Do you think he should be alone?”
McCoy shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not, sure. My past observations are that he benefits when given time to process things. I wanted to give him that time.”
Kirk nodded. “He certainly didn’t object. He virtually fled from the transporter room. Still, sometimes talking helps.”
“Well, we both know there’s only one person on board, he would talk to. And I’m looking at him.”
“I don’t want to disturb him, if he’s meditating or sleeping.” Kirk said slowly all the while giving McCoy a knowing look.
“I can take a hint. As you know, Doctor’s privileges give me the authority to track crew member’s activities when I’ve put them on medical leave,” he muttered to himself as he turned away from the monitor. A moment later McCoy’s face returned. “It looks like our Science Officer is on his computer. It’s shown activity for the last 40 minutes. Before that nothing. So it appears he did take some time for himself either to meditate or rest.”
“Your welcome. And Jim, reassure Spock that I’ve said all I intend to say about Sarpeidon.”
The monitor blinked out. Kirk stood, inhaling a deep breath then exhaling it slowly. There was really no question regarding what he needed to do. Spock had been there for him when Edith died. He tugged his shirt to straighten it, exited his quarters and pressed the announcer to Spock’s quarters. He could have walked through their shared bathroom, as they so often did to meet for dinner or chess, but he wanted to respect Spock’s privacy. He wanted to give Spock the option to not admit him if he truly wanted to be alone. Kirk had no doubt Spock would deduce that only he would call when Spock was on medical leave.
As the door opened Spock rose from his chair. “Captain, is there something I can do for you?”
“I simply wanted to check in.”
Spock raised an eyebrow while motioning for him to come in and take a seat.
Kirk pulled a chair out from the table, repositioning it so he could directly face Spock, who had reseated himself. He didn’t want the computer and table as a barrier between them. He cleared his throat which suddenly felt dry.
“I haven’t received your report yet from Sarpeidon.” Nice. Kirk winced, silently admonishing himself at his choice of words.
Spock stiffened, drawing his shoulders back. “As you are well aware officers have 48 hours to compile a report. I have read Doctor McCoy’s. It has left out some pertinent facts. I will amend his report to be more comprehensive. It will not be late.”
Kirk released his breath slowly. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. McCoy’s report is good enough for headquarters. If the official report you file has the same level of detail, that’s fine. I’m here for your unofficial version of what happened.”
Spock cocked his head. He swallowed. “Doctor McCoy spoke with you unofficially of what occurred on Sarpeidon?” His voice was uncertain.
Kirk shook his head. “No. I asked him to discuss what wasn’t said. He wouldn’t betray a trust.”
After tipping his head in acknowledgment, Spock clasped his hands loosely in front of him. He rested his elbows on his thighs.
Filling in the thick silence, Kirk continued. “But he put you on leave for 24 hours. Physically you have no ill effects. So I know something more than what I read in his report happened down there.”
Kirk paused, hoping Spock would volunteer something, would look at him. Spock’s bowed head, compelled Kirk to be more direct. He needed to engage Spock in a conversation. “I heard you speak to the woman, Zarabeth, when I was on the other side of the portal.”
Spock raised his head and looked directly at him. Kirk could see the turmoil churning in his eyes.
“If she had not had the strength to turn away, I would not have been able to do so.” A faint tremor shook Spock’s voice as he continued. From past experience, Kirk knew Spock was trying to wrestle his emotions under control. “I betrayed my oath. I attempted to choke Doctor McCoy in a jealous rage. I would have abandoned my post to be with her. The report will so state.”
Not if I can prevent it.
“First off, Bones didn’t mention the attack. So clearly he doesn’t hold you responsible. Further, if he felt you were a continued threat to others, he’d be obligated to warn me. You know that. He’s put it behind him.”
Spock’s fingers gripped tightly together turning his knuckles white. “It is not such a simple matter to me. It is 312 days since I strangled you. I still wake up remembering the agony of looking at your limp body. Now I have another assault on my hands.”
Kirk grimaced. He also suffered from the occasional nightmare. “You weren’t yourself then nor this time,” he ground out. “McCoy’s report said something about your personality changing to that of your ancestors. It must have been the time travel that caused you to behave differently.”
“Humans are so much weaker.” Spock whispered to himself. “How will I live with myself if something else triggers my loss of control and I succeed in my murderous attempts?” Spock looked at his hands, then at Kirk imploringly. “The crew will be safer without my presence.”
“We’d be dead without your presence. Don’t you forget that, mister! And you must have stopped yourself, despite the temptation. There’s no way Bones could have over powered you.”
“Affirmative. McCoy was able to get through to me. If we had been trapped longer…” Spock stopped mid-sentence, then resumed. “I am not sure what would have occurred had we remained trapped together. My actions were becoming more barbaric as the time lengthened. I was jealous of his attention to Zarabeth. I welcomed his departure through the portal.” Spock reiterated his second point. “If McCoy could have gone through the portal alone, I would have stayed with Zarabeth.”
“I would have saved Edith Keeler and altered the future, if you hadn’t called my name, and halted my actions. You left that out of the official report.”
Spock’s lips quirked in a non-smile. “Indeed.”
“What’s relevant for the official report, McCoy has already logged. Accept his friendship in this. You did that for me. Allow him to do that for you.”
After a lengthy pause, Spock replied. “As you wish.”
Kirk smiled briefly with relief. “Now, allow me to be a friend also. Tell me about Zarabeth.”
“It was five thousand years ago. And she is dead now. Dead and buried. Long ago.”
“I heard you say that to Bones in the library. It doesn’t work. I know because I tried that when Edith died. Told you it was in the past and that I was going to look to the future. You didn’t let me get away with it.” Kirk leaned forward, reaching out a splayed hand to rest it on Spock’s shoulder. “It was yesterday, Spock. Yesterday, when you held her in your arms …”
Kirk heard Spock inhale a breath.
“… held her in your arms, and made love to Zarabeth?”
The barely suppressed shudder that went through his friend confirmed his guess. He squeezed Spock’s shoulder gently and leaned back.
“Tell me about Zarabeth, before you bury her, Spock. What did she look like?”
“She had light shoulder length hair, a fair complexion and blue eyes. She was tall and lithe like myself. Her hands were soft, despite the harshness of her existence. She was beautiful.”
“But not just on the outside. That’s not what would have truly attracted you. Tell me about her.”
Relaxing into his chair, Spock continued. “She was sent into the past because her relatives were involved in a conspiracy to kill Zor Kahn, a tyrant from Sarpeidon’s past.” His voice held a note of wonder. “I did not frighten her, despite the obvious difference in my appearance. She was the eldest of six and assisted with caring for the youngest when her mother died in an accident shortly after he was born. She missed her family deeply, particularly Ivan, who was almost a son to her.”
Spock’s voice which had become more animated, became subdued again. “She was alone, truly alone.”
I bet you could relate to her sense of isolation. “Perhaps your liaison…” his voice rose in speculation. A child might be a gift for her.
“Unlikely. I expect that as a half-breed, I am sterile.”
“You’ve never tested to confirm?” The question dropped unfiltered. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s basic biology. Could that be why T’Pring challenged?
Kirk looked at Spock’s pursed lips and the reason hit him. Just more proof of your difference. Before he could tell Spock, not to answer, he had started speaking.
“Although it is illogical, and will not change the truth, I have had no desire to confirm the fact.”
“I think I can understand why.” Kirk paused to think of question to move the topic to something less painful, when unexpectedly Spock continued talking.
“I had anticipated that T’Pring would insist I be tested.” Spock swallowed. “She had shielded her mind from me for 18.4 years, suggesting a lack of interest in our bond.”
Kirk’s brain did the math. When you left Vulcan. At the same time, Sarek cut ties with you.
“It was her right. It would have been grounds to break our arrangement.”
What? The challenge wasn’t necessary! “Why do you think…” she tried to kill you? The words died on his lips. They had never spoken about T’Pring’s motives or what Spock felt about her actions. They had never discussed any of it, including Spock’s obvious joy at his return, or what would happen in seven years, or even if he thought it would be seven years. Kirk regretted that he had avoided forcing a discussion. I should have made Spock talk about it before, but I won’t let this opportunity slip by.
Spock looked over his shoulder into the distance. “T’Pring stated she found someone else. She preferred, Stonn. He attended the ceremony.”
“The one who claimed he was to fight.”
“Affirmative. It was clear he expected to be selected as her Champion. I am not certain how long they were acquainted. I suspect T’Pring always intended to take action. Her shielding suggests this, but she was waiting until she was certain she had secured a favorable match.”
Holding you reserve, just in case.
“The onset of my pon farr may simply have occurred before she asked for the fertility test. It would not be logical to risk Stonn in a battle, when a fertility test could have likely achieved what she wanted. And it is clear she desired his safety. I had never perceived ill will from her prior to her erecting shields. Only indifference.”
Oh, my friend. Kirk swallowed, trying to imagine what it would be like to wait for years to be rejected or to be bonded to someone who at best was indifferent to your existence. “But with Zarabeth it was different, right?”
Spock’s eyes came back to him. They crinkled at the edges. Kirk could see the warmth in their chocolate depths.
“She wanted me, and I desired her like no other. It is the only time I have melded with another when engaged in coitus. My need to join, not just physically, but mentally with her, surprised me. I am not sure if it was because the link with T’Pring had dissolved or if it was because I was impacted by the passage back in time.”
Jim opened his mouth to ask a question, but Spock continued speaking, oblivious, as his eyes had drifted downwards as his voice deepened in rapture.
“It was a deep meld. Different from what we have shared. It is impossible to maintain shields in a deep meld. I knew she would understand the pain of isolation I felt growing up on Vulcan and later on Earth. Always an alien. I wanted her to know me completely. We could understand that aspect of each other, at least. I shared some of my early struggles on Vulcan and at the Academy. She showed me some of what she had endured mentally and physically struggling to survive in the ice age conditions.”
Raising his head, Spock looked directly at him again. His voice was stronger now, his hands again loosely clasped. “Despite her trials, she had a determination to survive and thrive. Zarabeth had a strong will to overcome the obstacles put in her path, like yourself, Jim.”
“And you too, Spock.” He always underestimates himself. “Do you regret returning?”
“I regret that my appearance may have made life more difficult for Zarabeth. She had accepted her isolation.”
You’re not avoiding the question that easily, Kirk thought, but forced himself to address Spock’s remark. “Yes. I’m sure it was difficult again for a time for her after you left. But I can tell you from my own experience, that there are very few relationships I’ve ever been in that I regret. That I would choose to blot out. That’s why I asked you to lift the veil you put over my memories of Rayna Kapec.” Spock stiffened slightly at the mention of her name, but Kirk forged ahead, not wanting to be distracted. “If given a choice, I’m sure Zarabeth would choose to connect with you over never having met you. From what you said, she understood why you had to leave. That’s why she didn’t ask you to stay, but turned away.”
Spock steepled his fingers. It was clear he was deep in thought.
Kirk closed his eyes briefly. Edith appeared as if to guide him. It was best to acknowledge what was lost. He took a breath to steady himself. Despite that, his voice sounded weaker than he hoped it would to his ears. “I sometimes think about Edith. The life we might have led if I saved her. What about you? Do you think about what you gave up?”
Spock looked at him intently. “Affirmative, but I have accepted it. It was my duty. And my place is here, for now.”
For now. Kirk’s chest tightened with Spock’s words. But he focused on getting Spock to express what he have given up that mattered to him.
“Yes. I accepted that my duty came first too. I made that decision long ago when I took my oath. This is the only career for me. But it does not stop me from occasionally day dreaming. I wonder what it would be liked to be loved by a good woman. We might have raised a family. Then I think about you and Bones. What would the two of you done, if I had trapped you both with me?”
Spock paused, after swallowing heavily, he spoke, as he gazed inwards. “After resting, I meditated for 6.3 hours. I have been forced to acknowledge that my mind thirsts for another. I regret the connection with Zarabeth that was lost. I also have come to realize that I have been deceiving myself since the link with T’Pring was broken. I cannot carry on indefinitely without taking action. I may not be able to avoid returning to Vulcan.”
What action? Bonding? Why Vulcan?
“Spock, did you perform a deep meld with Zarabeth because you intended to bond with her.”
“Affirmative. I had accepted we were trapped in the past. And I wanted her for myself. Deep melds are ordinarily only done between those intended to be bond mates due to the level of intimacy. It allows each, to know the other, prior to the permanent bond forged during a deep meld during the first pon farr.”
Ordinarily. “When else is it done?” Kirk asked as he leaned forward in his chair, trying to force Spock to look at him.
Spock shifted slightly in his seat, avoiding his eyes. “Mind healers, as part of their profession, perform deep melds. The Masters at Gol perform deep melds with the acolytes to assist with their training and to evaluate their mastery of their emotions.”
Is there something Spock is not saying? Kirk tried to keep the frustration at himself out of his voice. This may be my best opportunity to understand this.
“Is the deep meld part of the mating process? Is it necessary to survive pon farr?”
Lifting his head, Spock explained. “It is desirable, but not necessary. With a deep meld, the risk of injury is reduced. However, pon farr is a biological imperative to mate, nothing more. Vulcan’s in their time that are not linked to another, will quench their need with any party, willing or not.” The last was added barely above a whisper.
Is that why he thinks he needs to go to Vulcan? Is he afraid of what might happen next time?
“It is our duty to assist another, if the need arises.” Spock added.
Does he believe only another Vulcan would feel such a duty? Is it the needs of his body that is really driving him to Vulcan? “Spock, it would be my duty to assist you.” Kirk swallowed, squeezing his eyes shut momentarily to control the tears that threatened to well up, at the surge of emotion that hit him. Does he think we would let him die for the lack of a sexual partner? “No, it would be my honor, if it ever came to that. And I’m certain, I’m not the only one who would feel that way.”
“I will not–”
Jim reached out quickly with both hands and covered Spock’s clasped hands with his own, hoping Spock’s shields were lowered enough that he could project his feelings on the matter to him. “It would be my honor.” He enunciated each word firmly.
When Spock finally tipped his head in acknowledgement, he released his hands. “At least that’s settled.”
Spock remained silent.
There was something in Spock’s posture that instinctively told Kirk they had not yet resolved everything that was troubling Spock. He closed his eyes briefly to turn his mind back to what Spock had said earlier. ‘My mind thirsts for another.’
“That wasn’t the only problem, was it?”
“Indeed. I did not indicate that was my concern.”
And I doubt you ever would have. You’d have simply vanished back to Vulcan to mate with someone you didn’t know before asking for help from any of us who care for you. Instead of voicing that thought, he looked directly at Spock and asked. “Why do you believe you need to return to Vulcan for your mind? It’s not as though you can’t perform a deep meld with other species. Zarabeth was obviously willing.”
“Zarabeth’s isolation may have made her more willing than most. My experience is that non-telepathic species are wary of Vulcan mind techniques. When I had to perform the surface meld with the landing party on Melkot, I could feel the trepidation in each of your minds.”
“For a moment, yes. But the prior time had been somewhat painful, you dragging my memories to the surface. Also I affiliated melding with Miramanee’s death.”
“For the others, it was for the duration of the meld. It was a deep-seated fear of violation. I could sense their struggle to contain it. It was not malicious. I knew they did not desire to offend me. It was instinctive.”
“Alright that might be the way it is for the majority. But that’s not everyone. Surely, you sensed my wonder after that first moment of trepidation on Melkot. My curiosity about what else was possible.”
“I did.” Spock huffed out a small breath. “I began to foolishly contemplate that you might desire a deeper meld outside the line of duty. It caused a grievous error in judgment.”
Rayna Kapec? Is that why –
“I had thought I could demonstrate what might be accomplished with a meld. That your curiosity might be peaked and you would ask for a deeper meld. Instead, by my desperate actions, I reinforced what is to be feared. You had to come to me, to demand I undo what I had done without your consent.” Spock’s eyes revealed his anguish. “It was an unforgiveable act. It is why I must eventually go to Vulcan. It is more likely that I will find a connection with someone on my own planet and if not, I can study with the Masters at Gol to quell this emotional need for a connection.”
Although Spock looked like misery itself, Kirkswelled with joy and relief. A riddle was solved. “Yes, I was troubled about Rayna. I’m sure you picked up on that when we melded and you reversed what you did. I was concerned you didn’t see the difference between entering my mind to bring back my memories and altering them. I knew in both cases you did it to help me.”
“Did you not listen to what I just said? I did it because of a selfish desire which I failed to control.”
You had a need and were afraid of rejection because you’ve been rejected too many times before.
“I heard you, Spock.” Kirk smiled.“Now that I truly understand why, I can tell you unequivocally, I forgive you.”
Both of Spock’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“And more importantly, you haven’t diminished my interest in mind melds. You’ve rekindled it.” Kirk chuckled quietly, laughing at the absurdity of it all. “I never spoke to you about my interest in melding after Melkot because I thought your preference was not to meld with others. That you only did it in the line of duty. I didn’t want to risk offending you. I’m happy I know now, it’s otherwise.”
“I am gratified, if somewhat surprised, that is the case,” Spock said in his understated manner, but his eyes revealed to Kirk the depth of his satisfaction.
Kirk nodded.“Spock, I think we each should take some time to digest everything we’ve said tonight. We can talk further tomorrow evening. One thing is certain, I know I’d like to explore a deeper meld with you. Perhaps one day, a deep meld like you had with Zarabeth. But, I should warn you, there are things you’ll see in my mind that will disappoint you.”
“Jim, if you do not –”
Kirk raised his hand to stop Spock. “I want to proceed. I trust that you will be able to accept my actions even if they disappoint you. I don’t think Edith ever would have been able to. My time with her was a bit of a fantasy. She never really knew me and I never could have shared all that I am.”
Spock nodded. “I understand. I have contemplated that Zarabeth loved another me. One who allowed passion to rule and cast reason aside. She might not be able to accept me as I am in the present.”
“I think we’re both where we belong. I’m glad you had to come back home to the Enterprise. Not because you’re the best First and Science Officer in the fleet, but more importantly my life would have a big void without you in it.”
Spock’s eyes levelled on him. “If I had stayed in the past, I would have regretted your absence.”
Kirk stood to cover his sudden self-consciousness. “Well, I better let you rest. That’s why Bones put you on leave in the first place. I’ll see you on the bridge tomorrow.”
Spock stood as well. “Jim, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about Miss Keeler. I recognize it is not easy for you to speak about that time.”
“No. It’s not. I don’t think it ever will be. But I don’t want to forget her. I won’t banish her from my memory, even though it might take away the pain. It wouldn’t be right.”
Spock eyes seem to lighten. He nodded. “Message understood,” he added quietly, as the corners of hips lips turned upwards.
Kirk smiled wryly as he left, satisfied that neither Edith nor Zarabeth would be forgotten, as long as he and Spock remembered them.