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Pacing the Cage

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When the historic five year mission of the Enterprise began, Spock of Vulcan was a virgin, and he was not yet afraid.

He realized that his body was not yet completely known, but this caused him little concern. It had stirred at Leila's presence in the lab on Earth, and that had been unexpected, but he had turned from her and easily stomped the stirring into nothingness. During his fourth year under Pike, at the first sight of a young male crewmember from the Enterprise’s engineering section -- he was tall, thin, dark, with Vulcan-like calm -- Spock's body had flushed with hot blood, in his face and his hands, and even in his still-immature genitals. This was more surprising, but he did not allow himself to analyze it excessively, and he squashed the body's feeling that could lead to unacceptable emotion as he had been taught to do, and he was successful. After that he ate meals with the man to prove to himself that he could maintain his detached mentality and his lack of physical response. He could.

It was not that Spock was ignorant of the acts of mating. He would not have had such rigorous control of his body's reactions if he had not known of the slow coming-to-life of the Vulcan reproductive system. He understood the Vulcan hormonal array, the complexities of the Vulcan endocrine glands, the Vulcan rituals that bound the body in service to the mind. He understood the compulsions that drove the male in his Time, and he knew the three preferred positions for copulation that would deliver sperm to the waiting egg deep within the body of the female. He had been taught by the relentless Vulcan system that honored knowledge, and so he understood. Thoroughly.

Nevertheless, Spock did not understand himself. He knew this, and yet he did not allow himself to comprehend it. It was a symptom of his lack of self-knowledge that he did not realize the depths of his self-deception. If Spock had possessed close human friends, they would have laughed at him.

But Spock did not have close friends of any species on board Pike's Enterprise. Acquaintances, yes. But friendship? It was kept at a safe distance. And so no one was there to laugh at him, kindly, and to point out his error.

Instead, deep inside himself, Spock scorned the humans. With not a laugh, and not unkindly, but still he scorned them because they were so uncontrolled. They were slaves to the body. Their sexuality was rampant; they indulged themselves in physical sensation without thought to the consequences. They did not ally themselves with the universal forces that insured the survival of the species. They surrendered instead to the momentary pleasure.

Spock was still very young for his species, and he was not yet afraid.

Then James Kirk took command of the Enterprise, he of the sea-green, changeable eyes, and the smile that he never denied his second-in-command. When Kirk turned to him on that first day in the transporter room and with a small curving of lips offered him the Vulcan salute instead of forcing a Terran handshake upon him, Spock took the first step on the long journey to true understanding of self, although his cool rationality would have denied it at the time.

Over the next few months, the fact that Kirk was an exceptionally beautiful individual did not concern him. Nor could his charm affect Vulcans. His confident walk was of no consequence. The talent Kirk displayed for command was proof that the Starfleet Admiralty had not been mistaken in appointing such a young human as captain, but it had nothing to do with Spock's personal relationship with Kirk.

It was Kirk's smile that proved to be Spock's undoing. Kirk smiled at him, and offered his laughter too, and somehow with them the implication that he unveiled himself for Spock's personal perusal. Such an unseemly emotional display. So unVulcan. So fascinating.

Kirk smiled with his words and with his eyes, his chuckles and an occasional guffaw. Sometimes, in his depressed silences. In the rec room and during meals, on the bridge and in the turbo-lift. When Spock won a chess game or when the captain did. In victory, and occasionally in pain-filled defeat.

Kirk laughed at his friends, at his opponents, and at the world he strove to conquer. At himself.

Spock did not understand this gift that should have offended him, but he could not fail to respond to it. His captain, with his very assumption of response, demanded response. Kirk became Spock's friend.

T'hy'la: Friend and brother. Spock was no longer without friendship, and his life began to change. He took steps he had never taken before, outside himself. Eventually, within the first year of his acquaintance with surely the most fascinating being he had ever known, he stepped far enough outside himself to turn and look back. What he saw there amazed him. There was Kirk with a light in his eyes, and standing next to him was a tall, lean individual in blue velour. But this being was not Vulcan. Nor was he human. He was Spock. Himself, without labels. It was a novel concept.

While he was pondering the possibilities of this new realization, without fear, confident in the support of the friend who stood next to him, they visited Omicron Ceti III.

The spores overcame his body, and Leila was beautiful, more beautiful than any Vulcan maiden. Her hair shimmered about her with radiant light, like a sun he could finally look at fully without fear of harm. Relief. Joy. He had not known he had so yearned to look at a sun. He took her into his arms and it was good, he kissed her and her lips molded themselves to his own, they were compliant and surrendering, and a thrill of a totally unknown sort swept through his body. His genitals pulsed. He wanted. . . . He wanted. . . .

He pulled her hard against him, heard her gasp in delight, felt pleasure as he rubbed his erecting penis against her. Somewhere in the distance cool rationality told him that this physical response was not possible, no Vulcan male who had not yet experienced pon farr could complete the sexual act, but the pleasure washed over him like cool waves of water and he did not care. He removed their clothing and pushed her down on the grass, pushed her legs apart and mounted her. He moved clumsily because he had never done this before, had carefully never imagined it, had seen only dry renditions of coitus between two Vulcans while at school, but he knew the mechanics, and he knew what his aching penis wanted, and he slipped it between her legs and pushed.

Wet delight! He wanted it again, and so he removed his penis and thrust into her once more. He moaned, experienced a vast excitement, longer than the distances traveled by the Enterprise, larger than space, further than time, and he moved to stimulate the penile nerve endings again. And again. And again. He did not even know she was under him, did not look to see her face nor attempt to give her some of this joy. He ejaculated, for the first time, with a shout that shook the leaves of the trees and a look of utter astonishment upon his face.

So this was what drove the humans.

Later, a long distance from Omicron Ceti III, Spock reflected on the experience in the dark privacy of his cabin, and he shivered from the cold. No, he told himself, from fear, for a sliver of self-knowledge glimmered like a pale crescent moon.

He was no longer a virgin, and he was afraid.

What did this mean, this out-of-season mating? For those few glorious moments he had felt more connected with his body than ever in his life, but now, days afterwards, he looked at his hands folded in his lap with revulsion. Of what was he capable? That flood of emotions, that terrifying deluge of bodily sensation. Who was he?

The captain had been compelled to use extraordinary means to return him to a memory of his duty, his responsibilities as an officer, and the friendship owed from one man to another. This was unacceptable. Unacceptable! He, as a Vulcan, should have been capable of resisting the spores for longer than any of the humans, and yet he had literally been the first to succumb. Shame traveled the length of his body, and he jerked up from where he was sitting at his desk to stalk across the room. Kirk had depended on him, and Spock had failed his captain, who had given him so much.

Kirk had seen him with Leila.

His fingers tightened against the fretwork of the grill. Never again. He would push the memory of this first sexual experience to the recesses of his mind, he would not indulge himself by replaying the memory, his body would forget the sensations of delight. He would be Vulcan, loyal and reliable. This was but one aberration, not a pattern for life.

And so Spock attempted to exert more control in his life on the Enterprise. None of the regular crew noticed. Doctor McCoy did, and he grumbled to himself, not understanding the life that Spock had led and was attempting to lead again, and Captain Kirk noticed also. But Kirk understood in the way that any true friend would, not in details of truth but in willingness of spirit, and so instead of reaching out to his first officer and asking questions, as he would have with most other friends who had withdrawn into silence and grim concentration, he allowed Spock space and time.

For a few short weeks an equilibrium was reached, Kirk keeping his smiles to himself and yet valuing Spock the more, and Spock intensely grateful for his perceptive human friend -- when biology exerted more control than Spock ever could.

He knew it was pon farr. What else? But while the hot turmoil of his mind should have been drawn to the coolness his bondmate offered, he was confused instead by other scenes, other fires. Shamefully, even during duty hours it was Leila of whom he thought and not T'Pring. He could not keep the one he had already known from his mind, the way his penis had reached for her body and how it had felt for just the tip of it to be encased, and then to slide all the way into her moistness. That thrill, that he should not have known before T'Pring called. He wanted it again, here was the chance to go to Vulcan and copulate with the one secure in his mind, and yet. . . .

He was afraid. He feared the loss of control, every male Vulcan's curse, and he remembered with loathing his failure to the ship, to himself, to Captain Kirk when he had succumbed to the soft blonde seduction of a false Paradise. Spock straightened from his hunched position over a microscope in the biochem lab and wrestled with Leila's image. He would not fail his captain again. He reached for the woman and with satisfaction watched her dissolve into nothingness through his fingers. It was not quite a strangling. Good. Now to do the same with T'Pring.

What arrogance Spock had. No Vulcan could escape pon farr. It is written. It is inevitable.

And so when the nurse, Chapel, delivered a set of tapes to the lab and looked at him with concern and that hopeless love that he had always secretly despised -- emotional humans! -- the cycle began again. She was helpless beneath the length of his body, her legs wrapped around him, crying with pain or with ecstasy in such a human way and he hated her, hated what he wanted to do with her female parts, but he knew now the sensations that sexual intercourse would produce. Spock might have had the strength to deny with his mind, and he forced himself to concentrate on analyzing the data that she had brought, but he did so with a lengthened penis, an accelerated heartbeat, and a muffled groan of despair.

As the days went by it was not just Leila in his mind, nor Chapel soft against his body that stimulated him, but the man in tight exercise shorts as he touched his toes in the gym, and a yeoman's provocative walk, and Lieutenant Uhura's soft voice. He could barely perceive T'Pring's call beneath the avalanche of imagination that his illicit experience inspired, and he staggered through the days not knowing where to turn nor how to make it stop. Go to Vulcan? To the contemptible Chapel? Should he throw himself against a bulkhead and pummel his body into submission through pain?

Worst of all was the night when Kirk called over the intercom to ask for a game of chess, and Spock denied him, and then it was his captain's image that appeared before him, beckoning and smiling, promising. It was Jim who followed him when he threw out his arms in denial and backed across his quarters. And when Spock's knees caught against the bunk and he collapsed back upon the mattress, it was Jim who lowered himself upon his electrified body with cool, delicious caring, and Jim who reached between them to touch -- No! To use his friend, his first friend, his only friend in such a way, such a degrading fantasy that was not real, this could never be real no matter how right it felt, no matter that it felt so much better than with Leila, than with Uhura, with anyone else, no, he didn't want it to be real. . . .

That night, Spock ejaculated for the second time, alone and fevered, and so unhappy.

So it was that when Kirk forced his secret from him, Spock scarcely could look upon his face, he was so ashamed, and yet he also yearned for a touch, for a word, for comfort, for some connection that would tell him he was not alone in his frustrated, confused misery. It was a relief to have Kirk take control and turn the ship towards Vulcan, towards that tenuous thread that bound him to T'Pring. Yes, T'Pring would care for him and ease this insanity. Gratefully he gave himself up to her presence in his mind. Take me, ease my pain, give me back my life.

After that he experienced just moments of lucidity: McCoy in the turbolift, a fleeting impression that Chapel had visited his quarters, Jim Kirk waiting for him in the doorway to the transporter room, quietly saying "Hold on. We're almost there."

And then, chaos, heat, swirling faces and voices, Jim, Jim, Jim.

Jim's limp body under him, dangling from the stranglehold of the ahn woon. Dead.

No matter that within the hour Spock knew his friend lived; for that eternity of minutes he thought he had killed Jim Kirk, and he did not understand how his own self-loathing had not struck him down into the dirt, as dead as Jim.

He hated himself.

As the ship warped out of Vulcan orbit with her rightful captain in the center seat, her first officer sat upon the bed where he had masturbated to his captain's image, and he vowed that never again would he succumb to the sexual.

With a sigh drawn up from every weary cell, he lay down and rested an arm across his forehead. The urgency that had flooded his body for so many days was finally gone, and with relief he yielded his tension to the soft surface. At last, surcease of pain, so much to be desired. How could humans crave those perfidious sensations, how could they devote so large a part of their lives to seeking a mate, to mating, to the exploration of physical sensation? It was illogical, it was incomprehensible. Never again. He would control. His captain would have no cause to doubt him. He would be Kirk's loyal Vulcan friend, and perhaps one day, after many years of effort, Kirk would be able to forget the atrocity Spock had committed upon his person. He had lain upon his captain with the ahn woon, their bodies pressed closely together like lovers, and Kirk had died.

As Spock finally surrendered to the sleep he so desperately needed, he did not even notice his body's stiffening reaction.

How long does it take to recover from the knowledge that you are a murderer? Logical Vulcans would deny the emotional content and go on with their lives, as Spock attempted to do. But a new perception of the world complicated his efforts, and though he tried to deny it, some doors once opened are difficult to close. Over the next few days and weeks, as Spock tried to act as normally as possible while he picked up the shattered pieces of his life, he noticed things that had never gained his attention before.

He could not help but look at the curve of a woman's breast. The new technician assigned to the computer center where he went for reports on the first day back to duty was unusually well endowed. His infallibly accurate monitoring of his body reported a surge of hormones that he savagely suppressed while he blandly requested data. He told himself it was an exercise in self-control, and merely the aftermath of the pon farr, which would weaken.

Several days later he listened to McCoy's advice and went to the gym to indulge in some light exercise in a private room. He would benefit from the integration of body and mind and looked forward to the solitude. Sometimes there were too many people on the Enterprise, never more so than now when it seemed everyone was so solicitous, so caring, especially the bridge crew.

As he dressed in the locker room some young men were preparing for a water polo game. Ensign Gonzalez, merely a name on a roster list to him for the past eight months, became suddenly, vitally alive as he walked before Spock, strutting a generously-sized set of genitals and an exercise-toned physique. Gonzalez's nickname was "Peacock" and Spock understood why. His shoulders were well muscled, his upper arms developed, his pectorals even more defined than Jim's, and it was only logical, Spock told himself desperately, that he should acknowledge a pleasingly formed individual. But it was a lie. Spock had to sit on the bench for another two point two minutes before his penis lost interest in the ensign. It was difficult to understand.

After that it became easier, perhaps because Spock was constantly on guard. He was aware, but not aroused. He began to think he was back in control of his body again, that he had been merely suffering from the lingering remnants of his Time, and that the effects were almost gone.

Then came the night he had a dream he could not remember, except that it was shadowy and sweaty and sex-filled. He awakened with his heart pounding, an urgent need to determine the captain's health, and such a feeling of empty despair that he jack-knifed into the fetal position.

Spock hugged himself in the dark and shivered. He wished. . . . But wishes were illogical and often carried dangerous emotions with them. But still, he wished. . .for someone to touch him, on the shoulder, on the arm. He wished to physically experience some other caring, living flesh. More. For someone to look at him in understanding, to want to reach for him. He considered calling Kirk on the intercom, just to hear his voice and console himself that his captain lived despite his lifeless body on the sands, and despite Spock's dreams in the night.

His hand actually rose towards the button, but then he let it drop. This was illogical. This emotion was another legacy of pon farr, of his uncontrolled fantasies, and he wished it gone. With a self-condemning grunt he forced himself up out of the bed and into the shower.

But the worst came on the morning several days later when he left his quarters for breakfast anticipating a quiet, productive day. Jim was at the end of the corridor waiting for the turbo, and when it came he turned and held the door open with his arm until Spock could reach the lift. Kirk's profile perfectly silhouetted an obvious, impressive erection.

Spock stopped dead in his tracks. Kirk looked at him with quizzically raised eyebrows, not understanding. Of course not. What should a human's autonomic sexual response mean to a Vulcan? Spock had seen his captain aroused before, it was a normal state for Kirk many mornings. It meant nothing. Shortly the bulge in the black pants would be gone unless a stimulating female were to come on board. Spock carefully did not swallow, and he walked forward.

"'Morning, Spock."

"Good morning, Captain." The doors swished shut and Spock stared at the metal seam. He was much too aware of the small enclosed space, how close they stood together, how close his captain always stood to him. The faint whiff of Kirk's cologne tickled his senses. He rejected the memory of how the phantom Kirk had touched him, but instead the vision of the ahn woon, tightening, came to him. He drew in a deep, audible breath.

"Everything all right today?"

"Affirmative."

The turbo passed deck six, deck seven, then jogged over one section before descending again.

"Are you eating breakfast this morning, or are you gonna play hooky? I won't tell McCoy if you don't."

A return to normality. Spock risked a quarter turn of his body, a glance at Kirk above waist-level, then he turned back to the door. "McCoy is monitoring my meal card, so he will know even if you do not divulge my neglect. I will eat this morning."

"Good. I want to talk about that computer modification we're due for next week at the 'base, make sure I understand exactly what it will do to our systems. We can talk over coffee."

Gratitude caused Spock this time to look his captain full in the face, and he encountered what he expected, an honest, gentle smile held out to him like a gift. Spock took it.

"That would be acceptable. Although I prefer tea."

Kirk's smile became wider. "I know."

Spock did not think for a moment that his captain did not understand the report on the computer updates. What Kirk understood as well was Spock's unease, whatever its source, and his ability to offer himself to offset it. It was a cruel return for his kindness that the murderous rage of pon farr had made Spock perversely aware of his captain's sexual desirability. This hyper-awareness, the sweaty dream -- they were obscenities.

After shift Spock eschewed food, regardless of McCoy's vigilance, and retreated to the Vulcan heat and light of his quarters. He walked inside just enough for the sensors to register his presence, then leaned with a sigh against the closed doors. Then he straightened from such a lax, undisciplined position and stalked over to his desk, where he sat straight-backed, his fingers steepled before him.

He did not want to live in this sexual world. He rejected it. Being sexual had meant disloyalty, and death, and now it meant distraction from his duties. The excellent performance of his duties was the only way he had to serve Jim Kirk the way he should be served. Other than being his friend. Kirk had offered friendship, expected friendship in return, and how could Spock give him that if his body stirred when Jim was near? What was to be done when the rhythm of his days was marked by his captain's smiles -- on the bridge, over meals, in the turbolift as he had done that morning -- and Spock's contaminated mind and body interpreted the gesture of a friend in an entirely inappropriate way?

If only he were truly Vulcan. Vulcans, he was sure, did not suffer like this. Their sexuality was a trial, but it was sharply defined and apart from everyday life. It did not pervade the day, it did not define the night-time hours.

Intolerable! He could not function so on the ship. Perhaps a human might know how to control this onslaught but he did not. Spock reached forward and contacted Uhura on the bridge, and then he sent a private inquiry to Vulcan.

Three weeks after the day he had effectively killed his commanding officer, he took his courage in his hands and appeared in the captain's cabin. Hands behind his back and as in control of himself as he could be while trying to look only at the captain's face, Spock requested a leave of absence to visit his home planet.

"Are you all right?" Kirk asked from where he sat behind his desk, looking up at him in that open way he had. But Spock refused to believe the totality of caring that he saw so obviously exposed, he extrapolated instead a justified fear. It was likely that Kirk was concerned that pon farr was re-occurring, that his own person was again in danger, and so Spock hastened to reassure him.

"I am well, Captain, but I require a time of seclusion after recent events. I intend to visit a sanctuary in the desert called Gol."

Concern transformed Kirk's features. "Gol? Wait a minute! I've heard of that place." He rose and leaned heavily on the flat of his hands. "Spock, you're not. . . . I know it's none of my business, but. . . . " Kirk drew in a deep breath, "please don't tell me you're going to leave us and try to do the Kohlinahr."

"The Kohlinahr, Captain?" Where had Kirk heard of that obscure Vulcan ritual? "Negative. I would not contemplate such a thing. I made my choice many years ago."

"Oh. That's good. I just thought that. . .well, I know things have been difficult for you lately. . . . I'm glad you're not."

It was as awkward as Spock had ever seen his silver-tongued, self-assured captain. He felt the need to offer further reassurance. "My place is on the Enterprise, Captain. I would not abandon my career."

Kirk slowly seated himself and gestured towards a chair for Spock to sit as well. Although Spock would have preferred the formality of standing, he succumbed to his captain's wishes and sat. He had occupied the same chair many times, during private briefings, strategy sessions, occasionally during a game of chess when the noise in the rec room was too great. There were many evenings of comfort and growing rapport associated with that chair, and so Spock found himself relaxing. It was good to be in Jim's company.

"So." Jim looked at him with a trace of embarrassment. "Sorry about that. I jumped the gun, as Bones would say. I don't have the right to ask you prying questions, but I just. . .don't want to lose you."

Nor did Spock wish to lose Kirk. It was one of the reasons he would make this pilgrimage. "It would be illogical," Spock said slowly, "to ignore the benefits that our partnership on the Enterprise has engendered."

"I know." For some reason, Kirk picked up a stylus and twiddled it between his fingers. "We make a pretty good command team, don't we?" He looked at Spock from under his eyelashes.

Spock had entered these rooms determined to control, and so his body remained quiescent; it was only his mind that moved, that questioned why Kirk should choose this particular method of communicating with him. "Agreed. The list of successful missions with the Enterprise under your command cannot be questioned."

"Not just me, Spock. You, too. Us together."

It was still a new concept for Spock, new enough for him to feel the uniqueness of being included in that social equation that had always excluded him before. Us. One part of a whole, one part of this gratifying team with James Kirk that he would go to Vulcan in order to preserve. "Yes," he said. Then, "Perhaps."

Jim Kirk laughed. "No 'perhaps' about it. Do you really think any captain can function on his or her own? I pity the captain who doesn't have you next to him. I might put in a recommendation that all firsts be Vulcan."

A small silence while Spock searched for something to say. He was unaccustomed to such personal conversations, even with Kirk, and unused to compliments. Illogical, Sarek would say, but still it was pleasing to hear from someone whose opinion he valued.

Before Spock could open his mouth to respond, how he knew not, Kirk went on, staring down at the desk. "As a matter of fact, I can't imagine the Enterprise without you. So. . ." his head came up, his gaze piercing, "make sure you come back from wherever you're going. Okay?"

To this Spock knew the correct answer. "I will return."

Kirk sat up straight, all captainly briskness. "Good. How much time will you need? Will dropping you off at 'base 17 work?"

"I will be able to secure transportation there, yes. And, perhaps twenty days for what I hope to accomplish."

"Twenty days? That long?"

"Counting travel time from this sector, perhaps twenty-six days."

"That's a long time for me to go without my first officer. And my friend. Who will I play chess with?" Kirk's frown quirked into a self-deprecating twitch of the lips. "I'll manage. You make sure you do, too."

Kirk signed the papers and Spock packed his bag, and a few days later the captain walked with him to the transporter room when the time came for him to leave. He raised his hand in the Vulcan salute when Spock stood upon the platform. Kirk looked subdued, perhaps sad would not be too strong a word. "Make sure you come back," he said once again, and Spock felt satisfaction because he was going to be missed. Perhaps the new being he had discovered before Omicron Ceti III -- the Spock who was not-human, not-Vulcan, but only himself, with a friend standing beside him -- perhaps that being was not completely lost. But before the possibilities of that being could be explored, an exorcism must take place.

"I will return as scheduled, Captain. Perhaps sooner if a faster transport can be found." He took his captain's small smile with him as the transporter whined.

 

*****

 

//My mind to your mind.//

The Master's mind overtook his own, swamped it, laid over it. . . .

He recoiled, but there was nowhere to go. The Master was within him, he was within the Master. But Sontur was by far the more powerful mind, and so Spock could not help but allow him dominance. Although his body was far away, he knew he shivered.

//Ah. There is the problem. The sexual appetites unleashed by your human heritage. It is interesting, how sexuality can be extended as far as the humans take it. You perceive even this mental joining as such.//

Shame. And determination. He did not wish to be what he was.

//Illogical. You are what you are. But you follow the Vulcan way, as is proper considering that your body is primarily Vulcan and your upbringing has been the same. It is only your recent experience that has allowed contamination. You should consider a retreat from such a way of life.//

Leave the Enterprise? Leave his captain to whom he owed loyalty? Leave the friendship that he treasured? No.

//That may not be a logical decision. Can you live as a Vulcan among such a people, and with a human heritage that complicates your reactions? The control you seek and the life you lead may be otherwise incompatible.//

There was not enough data for him to calculate the probabilities. But in the years before Kirk, before his Time, Spock had managed. He did not wish his life to change. . .except in this one area.

//So be it. We shall make the attempt. We must reinforce your resistance to the subtle seductions that constantly bombard you.//

How would it be accomplished?

//You must disassociate from your hybrid body's sensations. Not unlike the control you learned many years ago, but in your case a more stringent application is necessary. We will begin now. See how to live aloof from the life of the body.//

Yes. He would try. He wished to return to his captain.

 

*****

CONTINUED WITH CHAPTER TWO

Chapter Text

Spock first heard the name Mai Tagnaki one year and four months after the Enterprise ended her five year mission, when the mid-November chill had already made San Francisco heavy-coat weather for Vulcans.

"She's a really interesting person," James Kirk told his friend during one of their weekly lunch meetings. That day they had chosen a Chinese restaurant near the campus of Starfleet Academy. "She's one of the aides for Admiral Lopez, the fellow who has the Starfleet chair on the Council's finance sub-committee. She's a commander."

"You met her during the Vandonian hearings at which you testified two weeks ago?" Spock helped himself to more rice.

"Uh-huh. I was impressed with her right away. We had dinner last Tuesday and I think I'll ask her to that centennial shindig the Andorian embassy is hosting on Saturday. You're going too, aren't you?"

Spock nodded. "I had plans to attend. My father specifically requested that I make myself known on the occasion to Ambassador Wakluke."

Kirk made a face. "You've got to stop letting him do that to you. You're not a diplomat, you're a scientist. You know he's trying to pull you into the same game he's playing."

"Of that I am well aware. Sarek is aware that I am aware, and I am also cognizant of his awareness."

Kirk laughed, a light, skipping sound that traveled to the tables near them and turned heads. The other diners saw two Starfleet officers, one human and the other Vulcan, a most unusual combination, enjoying lunch together. The captain was leaning forward as if to appreciate the smile on the commodore's face.

Kirk patted at his grin with the napkin. "Well, it must be all right then, since everyone is in the know. Just don't let him trick you into going away where I can't have the pleasure of your company for lunch. Okay? And make sure I see you Saturday night. I want you to meet Mai."

In a few moments of idle time, Spock had once calculated that it took an average of twenty-seven minutes and fourteen seconds for James Kirk and himself to come face to face at a typical Starfleet or diplomatic reception. It was an average only, of course. There had been times when they had traveled to the occasion together and spent the entire evening in one another's company, times when the crush of bodies prevented them from meeting at all, times when they had only managed to exchange nods. Although those last had been few. Spock had been in the Andorian embassy for forty-two minutes before he saw his former captain and a woman beside him in one of the small, crowded rooms that made up the first floor of the building.

He had time to study the pair before Kirk turned and they linked gazes, as they had many times in the past year at such functions. His gaze rested on his friend with pleasure. Spock had finally recognized that something within him responded to the beauty of Kirk's face and form, just as he appreciated vivid color rendered with bold brushwork in the best of art, or the freedom and grace of a perfectly proportioned le-matya. Kirk was handsome in a bronze, two piece suit which had fashionable short sleeves. It was cut to show the flowing ivory blouse he wore beneath the double-breasted jacket, and Spock approved of his friend's choice. The style accented the commodore's muscular shoulders and arms.

One of those arms was around the waist of an Asian woman. This was typical of Jim's behavior with his female companions, he was a very tactile individual, but Spock still disapproved of this conduct in public. It never ceased to create an uncomfortable prickle at the back of his neck; most of the time he could block reactions to physical displays, but despite Sontur's tutelage he had never been completely successful in doing so when Jim indulged in them. Whatever he thought of Kirk's behavior, it was his own opinion, and he would not convey it. He did not have that right. He had abdicated that right the day he had divorced his body at Gol.

The woman was as tall as the commodore, perhaps even a centimeter taller, and very slender. She wore an ankle-length, green outfit with split skirts that banded at the ankle. Her eyes were almond-shaped and brown, her hair black and cut bluntly to curve about her chin. She was not excessively beautiful, Spock decided, tilting his head and harboring a small feeling of surprise. Nor was she anything like the many petite, vacuous women with whom Kirk had kept company since the Enterprise had entered dry-dock orbit over Earth.

"Spock!" In a few moments Kirk had expertly threaded his way through the crowd and was presenting.... "Mai. Or I suppose I should say Commander Tagnaki and Captain Spock. But you're both my friends and I hope you can be friends, too."

Spock bowed his head and engaged in ritual human small talk, observing the sparkle in Kirk's eye all the while, the small smile that curved the woman's mouth.

Then Wakluke-laksa, the ambassador's son and a chemist of some renown, was at Spock's elbow claiming his attention. Spock experienced a flare of annoyance that the initial conversation with his friend's paramour had been cut short. He had little data on which to base a reaction besides an impression that the woman was well-spoken, mannerly, and seemed to be enjoying Kirk's company. And that she responded to Kirk's touch, seeming to melt within the curve of his arm, but this Spock attempted not to consider.

Spock enjoyed a stimulating conversation with the Andorian, was offered and accepted the traditional alcoholic beverage in one of the privileged upper rooms, was presented to the ambassador, fenced with words over Vulcan's and Andor's position on dilithium distribution, and when the topic became wearying adroitly extricated himself from the assembled company. He made his way down the broad staircase to the foyer of the embassy. He stood near a column, alone, and looked around.

He did not see Kirk or Commander Tagnaki. He could look for his friend and his friend's friend, but the odds were not good that he would find them. If Jim followed his usual pattern, he would have persuaded the woman to leave early, and the two would be pursuing the initial facets of a sexual relationship in Jim's townhouse.

Or at least that was how Spock imagined it would be. He did not know for sure. He did not want to know for sure.

Spock silently left the embassy. Within a few minutes a ground cab deposited him before the unimaginatively constructed gray building where he occupied a one-bedroom apartment, alone. It suited his purposes. He informed the computer "Play Tchaikovsky's March Slav" and slowly relinquished his body to the overstuffed chair in his den, to the rampant emotionalism of nineteenth century human music.

Fingers steepled, he stared at the bound volumes in his bookcase without seeing them. Instead he saw Jim Kirk, and standing next to him Mai Tagnaki, where Spock had dreamed he would always stand.

He had seriously miscalculated, five point two seven years ago. His body and its traitorous reactions were prisoners of his will, and he had excellent control over his mind and its wanderings, but how could he control his heart? How could he ever have known that the lessons that had calmed his body and cleared his mind would have opened the way for the revelation of an emotion his people did not wish to acknowledge even existed?

Spock ached. Oh, he loved Jim.

And he did not know what to do with that love, where to put it in his neat, ordered life. It had no possibility of expression. It raged within him, screamed for words, demanded action -- but there was no escape for it. Love paced its cage within him.

It was utterly ironic, and sitting all alone in his small, neat room, Spock made a tiny sound, not quite a laugh or a sigh, almost a moan. A sound of hopelessness. He was in love with the most human of humans, but he could never respond the way that Jim would want him to respond, assuming that Jim could ever desire him or love him at all. The lessons Spock had learned at Gol he had learned too well. The physical was strapped down tight within him, he had become a person encased in glass. Nothing stirred his body any more.

But his heart, that mythical human repository of the softest and yet the strongest of all emotions. . .that had been touched.

T'hy'la, he whispered in his mind. Friend of my life, brother of my heart, lover of my spirit.

In the silence of his solitary dwelling, deep within the wordless longings of his soul, Spock formed the concept again, just for the piercing, melancholy pleasure of it. He loved James Kirk. Before the ending of the five year mission, he had been able to acknowledge it, and since then it had only grown stronger. It was a love that was separate from the hectic, blood-pounding lust of the humans, or the insanity of pon farr, for it somehow encompassed everything else, every minute of the day and every aspect of his most esteemed friend. Jim was like no other being. He was precious to Spock.

If only Jim were Vulcan and understood how much Spock wanted to rest his mind within Jim's dynamism, his strength and rightness. There were times when Spock wanted to sink his mind into Jim's so much that he felt he would burst with the wanting, that his shrieking need would splatter itself across creation. If only he had not tasted, those few times on the ship, the quicksilver perfection of his t'hy'la's spirit. Where was his Vulcan control? But he was a Vulcan alone on Earth now, with no bondmate, no parental link, no excuse for a meld, no one touching him. His mind was so hungry that sometimes he dreamed of minds joining, any mind that welcomed him and assuaged his loneliness. He would awaken with his fingers clutching his pillow and be ashamed that it hadn't been Jim, always, in his dreams.

Or if only Spock were fully human, and he could respond to Jim's innate sensuality, and they could share the pleasures of the body. To touch in the human way. . . .

Spock stirred uneasily, crossing one leg over the other and then straightening them again. Without his conscious awareness the automatic controls that Sontur had helped him institute came to life, suppressing the tingle that threatened to travel from his chest down to his groin before it was born.

Tchaikovsky was not, after all, what he wished to hear tonight.

"Computer, cancel playback. Play T'Han's First Symphony."

How illogical he was. Jim was only attracted to females, females such as Mai Tagnaki whom he was probably even now holding in his arms, joining his lips with hers. Spock had been unfortunate witness to such scenes often enough, he knew exactly how Kirk wrapped his arms around his companion, how he would press her back within the curve of his support, how the woman would raise her mouth and then how thoroughly Kirk would kiss her. . . .

Jim would never be interested in Spock in that way. And Spock was not, could not be interested in Kirk that way. He was not. He was not. He had made his decision. And just because Spock denied himself the life of the body did not mean that he should begrudge his sensuous friend the pleasures of the flesh. It was unfair to view Mai Tagnaki as a threat.

But she was different from the other women with whom his friend had been keeping company. They had been shallow, or selfish, or too frivolous, or an obvious intellectual mismatch. Mai caught Spock's wary attention.

But was this smiling, pleasant woman worthy of Kirk's enthusiasm, and was the knot of unease that resided in the pit of Spock's stomach justified? Did she match Kirk's inquiring mind, would she accommodate his enthusiasm, could she understand his need to engage in work that fulfilled his idealistic goals? Would Commander Tagnaki be good for his friend?

The restrained, accessible tones of Vulcan's foremost composer came to completion, the room was silent, and still Spock sat, thinking. Eventually he blinked and informed himself of the time. He was conscious of an emotion that was a child of his contemplations, a familiar feeling that was lonely and empty and sad.

Abstention was. . .difficult. Physically, for though his body was under control, he could not excise the memory of what it had been like to touch another's flesh with carnal intent. And mentally as well. It had been one year, four months and three days since his mind had felt the touch of another's. Jim's mind, on the last day of their mission.

Abruptly, Spock shook his head and heaved himself to his feet. He would not indulge in a memory of that last meld again, it was too sweet, and would only add to his melancholy. He could not engage with James Kirk in any other way than he was already. They shared their time and their lives as friends in the human way, nothing more, and Jim could not possibly be interested in the relationship that remained, half-formed and half-denied, in the recesses of his mind.

Instead he would use this time to reinforce his controls against emotion, as they appeared to require his attention. Tonight he would meditate, and when he arose in the morning he would be confident of his strength of will. The body and its sensations would be strongly barriered as they always were, and there would be no more illogical melancholy.

He knelt on the mat that was in the corner of his small bedroom and banished speculation of Jim Kirk and Mai Tagnaki -- naked bodies entwined -- banished the memory of Jim's mind within his own -- so good -- and banished again, and again, and again his need. He struggled for a barely-measurable moment as his katra whispered t'hy'la, as part of him reached for someone who was not there, but then he was in control. It was understandable; he was lonely. Abstention was the price he paid for his hybrid heritage. So be it. He forgave himself the lapse.

The next opportunity that Spock had to speak with Kirk occurred several days later, over an initial briefing concerning the new Space Dock facility that was ready to be built just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Jim and he were each involved in the project. Jim was to be project administrator for Starfleet, and Spock would oversee the installation of the new gravimetric docking mechanisms. He had in fact been the originator of the concept that was only now being executed in material form.

"She's great, isn't she?" Kirk asked during a morning break.

Although he had little data with which to respond, Spock knew what his friend wanted to hear, and he always wished Jim to have what he wanted. Besides, there was no data to support a negative opinion of his friend's friend other than his own unfounded misgivings. He said, "She appeared to be a pleasant woman."

"She is. You've got to get to know her better. How about this Friday night? The three of us could have dinner at Guido's."

"Does Commander Tagnaki enjoy Italian food?"

Kirk lightly punched him on the arm. The gesture was expected, as Jim often found a reason for them to come into contact. Spock had grown accustomed to such affectionate physical displays over the years, anticipated them with his shields raised, and the fact that the other officers drinking coffee and consuming sugar-dusted confections witnessed the contact did not bother him. Jim was, after all, his friend, and this was the way his friend chose to express himself. All the upper level officers at Star Base San Francisco knew of their friendship.

"I don't know yet what the commander likes for dinner, but I do know what you like. Spinach lasagna's on the menu at Guido's. Not to mention tiramisu. What do you say?"

Of course Spock acquiesced. He preferred spending time with Kirk to any other activity, even if that time must be shared. Besides, he wished to extend his knowledge of the woman who seemed to so excite Kirk's enthusiasm.

At dinner on Friday the commander did not drink too much red wine, and she refrained from making tiresome comments about Spock's vegetarianism, both of which he considered positive factors.

He did not approve of the long red fingernails, which he somehow had not noticed before, nor the way, during the interval between entrée and dessert, she ran those nails down from Kirk's shoulder to his elbow. It appeared to Spock to be most undignified behavior, and far too familiar for the short acquaintance she shared with Kirk. The commodore didn't miss a word of the discussion he was having with Spock about McCoy's move to Starbase 27 on Arcturus Four, but without looking he reached to take the red-nailed hand in his own, and then the two appendages disappeared beneath the table. Spock averted his eyes and attempted not to draw conclusions, but it was apparent that their hands remained in contact, and perhaps rested together on Kirk's thigh.

However, it could not be denied that the commander could be an interesting conversationalist. Her specialty was political administration, and so she was privy to some fascinating perspectives on the inner workings of the Federation Council.

"For example," she said after dessert -- Kirk had ordered without asking: Two espressos, one Vegan synthtea with honey -- "did you know that the Canopans and the Tellarites were initially opposed to this new station you're both working on? There were some heavy compromises being offered off-site to get the funding through."

"Indeed? I was not aware of overt opposition."

"That's because it was all taken care of before the hearings were even opened. The Vulcans stepped in and negotiated a settlement. That's why Vulcan Central Construction has the contract for both the JupSat station and the starbase that's going to be built near Tellus next year. It was part of the deal."

Kirk said, "That's the Vulcans for you. Smartest politicians in the Federation, because they know enough not to get mad at their political opponents. They don't get mad, they get even. Right, Spock?"

"The VCC is a competent firm that will deliver excellent service." Spock felt compelled to defend his planet's foremost engineering contractor. "A team of their engineers has just arrived, and I will be consulting with them through the week. They would not appreciate your implication that they received the contract through maneuvering rather than merit."

"That's right," Kirk said, "I'd forgotten about them. It's been a long time since you've worked with your own people, Spock."

"Three point seven years, since the colonizing assessment group the Enterprise transported to Orion Delta Six."

Mention of the project was enough to turn the conversation in a technical direction, and Commander Tagnaki did not join in that. Soon afterwards they left the restaurant and paused in the foyer while Kirk summoned an aircar.

"Sure we can't give you a lift?"

But Spock was interested in a late night poetry reading at a small coffeehouse he occasionally frequented, and he intended to walk the short distance there.

"Poetry again? You're such a high-brow, Spock."

"If you would accept one of my invitations to attend, perhaps you would see its value."

"If I accepted one of your invitations, I'd embarrass you by snoring."

"I doubt you would allow yourself to be so ill-mannered."

"Don't give me too much credit. I'll go to one of your poetry readings when. . ." Kirk snapped his fingers, "when you write one yourself and go to recite it. That sight would keep me awake."

Spock allowed both brows to rise at the likelihood of such an occurrence, and as he had hoped, Kirk laughed. Then the commodore assisted his high-heeled companion into the cab with old-fashioned courtesy, turned and saluted Spock, and disappeared into the discreet darkness of the back seat. Spock watched as the automated machine lifted into the misty San Francisco night and was aware of carefully not wondering what it was Kirk and the commander would do with the rest of their evening. It was of no consequence to him. It could not be.

He began to walk through the cool late-autumn evening. He was still unsure what he thought of Commander Tagnaki; his evaluation of the data produced conflicting conclusions. But did it matter? What was important was what James Kirk thought of her.

The reading was well attended. Spock took a seat at a table for two in the back of the dark room, knowing that it was unlikely any stranger would dare to join him. Humans generally hesitated to intrude upon his solitude. Perhaps Vulcans were particularly forbidding? Whatever the reason, Spock could generally move through the days and the nights without being accosted by strangers.

He listened with mild pleasure to several eager home-grown poets. The performance itself was interesting, a manifestation of the humans' fascinating proclivity to share their most intimate thoughts, even if the presentation left something to be desired. Did humans, he mused, realize how much of themselves was revealed when they created verse? It reminded him of Jim during that first year of their mission together. Look at me, Jim had said with each shared hour, and yet the messages relayed had not always been clear. Jim was a complex individual. Some poems and some humans were difficult to fathom.

The performance area was dark, it was the end of a long day, Spock had indulged in a glass of wine during his meal. And so it was easy to allow his resolution to falter and to think of his melds with Jim -- not that last one, he held it too close -- but any other meld with Jim, perhaps one that might yet magically come to be. To consider Kirk's body close to his, so close that he could look down into his friend's upturned face. To see the emotions flashing in those fascinating eyes, see the tiny flare of Jim's nostrils as he breathed, feel the touch of that breath against his own heated skin. To reach forward and settle his fingers against human skin, feel the soft press of it against his fingertips, to delay in reaching inward just to prolong the pleasure of flesh against flesh, the knowledge that he was touching Jim, and then Jim would reach forward and touch him. . . .

With a start, Spock came to himself and guiltily looked around. No one was paying undue attention to a Vulcan who had been entertaining himself with fantasy. Fantasy! He had been inexcusably lax. It did not matter that his mind was lonely, that he remembered too well the few times his mind and Jim's mind had merged, that the thought of his body and Jim's body touching in any way was. . .pleasant. That was no excuse. Yes, melding now might broaden his understanding of his friend. But Jim had shown no interest in the mind touch, had never asked for it after that last, wondrous time. It was not for Spock to do so. He must decipher his friend some other way.

Sitting alone in the darkness, Spock traced a white ring left on the table by some long-ago sweating glass and asked: What would make Jim happy? Even after all these years of friendship, so unusual for him personally, so unusual for humans and Vulcans together, he still did not feel as if he truly knew the answer to that question. Was that not one of the responsibilities in a friendship? That each friend should attempt to understand the other and provide for his needs?

Mentally, Spock shook himself. It did not matter what he understood and what he did not. Perhaps Mai Tagnaki would provide what Jim needed.

More than an hour had passed when there was a break in the reading of verse, and a low, musical voice asked him, "Is it permitted to share this table with you?"

It was a Vulcan woman who asked the question. He looked at her, naturally surprised and naturally repressing the expression of that emotion, and he nodded.

She sat, and it was logical that he noticed the manifestations of her mature femininity. This woman had slender hips that yet flared from a narrower waist. The mounds of her breasts lifted the utilitarian brown overall she wore. A thick waterfall of black hair cascaded straight down her back, accenting her short stature. A human would have ameliorated the term and said "petite" instead of "short," but he was a Vulcan. And her features, when she looked into his face, he found pleasing: matter-of-fact green eyes, aquiline nose, lushly-colored lips. She presented an overall delicate, wholly feminine appearance. Jim would have said, "Admit it, Spock, she's beautiful," but he resisted the evaluation.

"I am called T'Brita."

"I am called Spock."

"Captain Spock of Starfleet?" Her voice expressed the interrogatory, but there was little emotion evident. She sounded just as a Vulcan woman should, and her hands were folded properly in her lap. Spock sat up straighter in the somewhat rickety cane-backed chair; he was well aware of his deplorable tendency to poor posture.

"That is correct."

"Then this is a fortuitous circumstance. I am chief mechanical engineer for the docking facility which Vulcan Central Construction will be building on the JupSat Space Dock. I am scheduled to make your acquaintance three days from now."

"Yes, at eleven hundred hours. Your team and I will be working closely together over the next several months."

"I look forward to the association. I must congratulate you on the design specifications for the docking bays utilizing the new gravimetric parameters. They are functional and clear."

"I am honored."

"However, I also noticed that some improvement in utility may be possible. Do you wish to speak of this now?" T'Brita looked about her as if to find a writing utensil somewhere in the vicinity. Wisps of her black hair brushed against the soft skin of her jawline as she turned.

Spock was amused. If one of his human friends had made such a gesture, it would have been through the desire to elicit such amusement. From this Vulcan woman, it reminded him of how different human and Vulcan cultures were. Vulcans did not indulge in small talk. The reminder was somewhat refreshing.

"Negative. This is an inappropriate location. We can pursue your ideas on Monday. I had intended to listen to more of the poetry."

"Yes, poetry. I am curious about human culture, and so solicited the opinion of the concierge at our hotel. She directed me to this location, which she told me was a favorite of hers. Could you explain the procedure?"

Spock approved of such curiosity. Most of his race were insular creatures, some might say haughty in their single-minded pursuit of the ideals of Surak. Yet was not interest in the universe to be lauded? How many of T'Brita's fellow Vulcans were in their rooms resting or meditating or reading Vulcan tracts, and how many had ventured out as T'Brita had? It had taken a form of courage, or perhaps exceptional serenity, to come to this shadowy, unfamiliar, human-filled place.

"We are part of the audience and remain seated here. Individuals approach the central amplification point and read their poetry. They usually sit on that tall stool, although occasionally they ambulate while reading. The audience expresses their appreciation for the work with applause by striking their hands together. Some may whistle, or snap their fingers."

"And if they do not find the poem noteworthy?"

"Then applause is still required to recognize effort, although it will not be as loud as for a more pleasing poem."

"This is quite interesting."

"Another aspect is the consumption of food and drink during the reading. It is considered polite to do so, to support the establishment with purchases. Would you wish to share a plate of raw vegetables with me?" Spock had not intended to order anything other than the bottled water that already rested on the small round table, but it seemed suitable to offer hospitality to his new companion.

"I am hungry. That would be satisfactory."

And so Spock and T'Brita made their acquaintance. Spock found it necessary to explain several of the poetic efforts because T'Brita seemed truly ignorant of the emotional content. He was not sure, however, that he adequately conveyed the mixture of love and jealousy, nor the possessiveness that could lead to irrational behavior. It was quite odd that he had not noticed before this continuing theme in many of the serious presentations. Apparently he had taken it for granted.

"These emotions exist openly, are accepted even outside of mated couples?" T'Brita asked.

He nodded, not feeling adequate for a discussion of the differences in sexual customs in the present location.

"How odd," T'Brita murmured, as evenly as she had said everything else. Then, more loudly, "You appear to understand the nuances of this behavior well. A person more hasty than myself might conclude you had engaged in this activity previously."

It took him a moment to interpret the remark. "You believe I have written poetry?"

"It seems a reasonable conclusion, although admittedly I have little data. Have you?"

"No. I have not." Nor will I, he thought to himself, although the words were also directed to a laughing human standing before an aircar in the street. Write poetry? As well stand naked for inspection. He did not wish to be naked before anyone.

He learned that T'Brita had not visited Earth before, and that the Starfleet contract was her first managerial assignment. She appeared to be about his age, perhaps a few years younger, so Spock estimated that her talents must be considerable. There was definitely some age prejudice in Vulcan society, but the VCC must reward ability with responsibility regardless of chronological age.

Though he typically left the coffeehouse shortly after midnight, on that night he stayed until 2 a.m., when the last poem was declaimed in an excessively emotional fashion that elicited raucous laughter from the remaining clientele. Spock prevented his lips from curling into a small smile through consideration for his companion. T'Brita actually expressed distaste; her lips pursed, her gaze sought the floor, and she did not participate in the enthusiastic applause.

"Was that necessary?" she asked as the hubbub died down, and he did not pretend to misunderstand her meaning.

"For them, yes. However, it is not necessary for you to expose yourself to this gathering again." For himself, he had adjusted years ago. He would not give up his life among humans.

"Perhaps I will not come again. There are many other aspects of human culture to experience, I am sure."

He parted from T'Brita on the damp sidewalk outside, where she did not even come up to his shoulder as they exchanged the ritual phrases. Spock returned to his home with a small feeling of anticipation. Perhaps it would be pleasant to work with his fellow Vulcans on this project.

It was. T'Brita and the four other Vulcans on her team represented the VCC well during the next week of meetings. They were efficient, pleasingly subdued, and intelligent. The modifications that T'Brita and her project manager Siddorn suggested were minor but would save energy and funds, and Spock approved the changes. However, other than his satisfaction with their work, he did not give the Vulcans much thought. He did not see T'Brita in anything other than his official capacity.

Until Thursday. At ten hundred hours, T'Brita appeared in his office. She was wearing a long red skirt and a white long-sleeved, button-down blouse, different enough from her typical coveralls for him to notice. Her mode of dress accentuated her petite stature and the appealing paleness of her complexion.

He stood from the schematics he had been drafting and nodded greeting.

T'Brita, refreshingly, did not waste his valuable time with trivialities. "If you are not otherwise engaged for the midday meal, I wish to share your company."

"Is there some aspect of the project that requires discussion? I can make time available to you now."

"No. I merely wished to further our acquaintance."

"Ah." It was a human conversational filler, one he had not been aware until this moment that he was capable of using. "I will not be able to accommodate you. I have already planned to meet with Commodore Kirk for lunch."

"I understand. Are you available for social intercourse on Saturday evening? I believe that this is the traditional time for humans to interact outside the work setting. I intend to procure tickets for an opera to be performed at the Milan Opera House in Italy. It is Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Would you appreciate such a performance?"

He considered her offer while contemplating what exactly her intentions might be. While his weekend held no planned activities, he preferred modern musical theater, such as might be found in Toyko, Melbourne or the hallowed stages of New York, to opera.

Was T'Brita attempting to explore human societal conventions by experimenting with their form? With a fellow Vulcan, by whom her actions would not be mis-construed? Or perhaps, Spock slowly realized with an emotion akin to shock, she sought him out for another, far more personal reason?

His gaze dropped to the floor, for he was momentarily unable to meet her unblinking eyes. In his preoccupation with other matters, he had not considered what must be obvious. She was unbonded, else she would never have been so forward. He was unbonded. There was but one year and eight months until the estimated onset of his next pon farr.

The resulting equation balanced well, but Spock did not know whether he wished to acknowledge it. He and T'Brita. . . .

Or he and some other Vulcan woman. She must be a Vulcan, no human would accept his deliberately withered sensuality. And his mate must be a woman, not a man. Not possibly a man. He could not allow himself that. His response to a man would be much too emotional.

So. He and T'Brita. The logic flew in Spock's face and with an effort he did not recoil. One does not argue with logic, Sarek's voice echoed. It would be sensible to further his acquaintance with this woman, a fact that apparently she had seen before he had. There would be no harm in accompanying her for the evening, the occasion would provide additional data. Besides, Jim would undoubtedly be engaged with Ms. Tagnaki, would he not?

Suddenly, Spock was immensely weary of his solitary excursions.

"You are aware that there is considerable emotional content in human operas?"

"I have considered that fact, yes. Is that a reason not to participate in this form of entertainment?"

"No, it is not."

"Will you share the experience with me?"

"If you intend to go, then yes, I will go with you."

After she left Spock stood in the center of his office and informed his computer scheduler that he would be engaged with the Vulcan woman T'Brita on Saturday. He was almost amazed to hear his own voice saying those words. Suddenly this day was different. The invitation opened many possibilities, but Spock was not sure they were good ones. Yes, he must bond sometime, but he had not wished to actively pursue a bonding just yet. He had his career with Starfleet, the challenge of helping erect the new space dock, the promise of a new voyage with the Enterprise within a few years time. He had his friendship with Jim. . . .

Something akin to panic threatened to burst in his chest, but he caught it and compressed it until it disappeared. There was no reason for an emotional reaction. There was much to reflect upon, but now was not the time. This evening, when he was alone in his apartment, he would think calmly. Until then, he had a lunch to attend.

Most of the time Kirk and Spock made an effort to leave the headquarters campus for their regular lunches, but there were weeks when the crush of their duties made that impossible. So Spock sat at a table in the center of Starbase San Francisco's officers' dining room and watched while Kirk made his way to him with tray in hand. He stopped now and then to exchange greetings with other officers. Most commodores and admirals were more mature humans in their sixties and seventies, occasionally one would be in his fifties, and most showed the gray hair and wrinkles that characterized humans at those ages. But James Kirk was a commodore at only thirty-nine, the youngest and the most talented in Spock's opinion, and he was a contrast to the men who spoke to him. Jim was all energy, all health, with an athletic, narrow-hipped walk that could not fail to be appealing to anyone. The force of his personality Spock could feel even so many meters away. It was not at all surprising that Starfleet had chosen to promote him. Only a fool could fail to notice all Kirk's attributes.

Despite the noise and the annoying echoes in the large room, Vulcan auditory capabilities permitted him to hear most conversations if he chose to do so. When Kirk was waved over by Admiral Kyzynsky, he heard the admiral say, "Why not pull up a chair and join us, Kirk? Or are you heading for your Vulcan again? Can't say I understand what you see in him."

An inner stillness descended upon Kirk, one Spock had noticed before when he became angry. It was occasionally tiresome, witnessing Kirk's need to defend their friendship to those few who did not understand, and he could only imagine that Kirk also wearied of the questions and the prejudiced assumptions behind them. What was, was. Why could not everyone accept that?

"My Vulcan? I don't think so, Admiral, Spock belongs to no man. I'll see you next week for that session with the reps, okay?" And then he continued his journey to where Spock awaited him.

Before Kirk could even place his tray on the table, Spock said, "Jim, if it would be advantageous for you to eat with Admiral Kyzynsky, I would not object."

"No, you wouldn't, would you?" Kirk said with a tight-lipped smile, unloading his food with unusual emphasis. "I don't need the political points that badly, Spock. Besides, you tell the best jokes in the North American Confederation. How can I give that up for a crusty old admiral? He never laughs at anything."

"I do not have any jokes today. Nor any other day." His spirits were oppressed, quite the opposite of the way he usually felt on the Jim-lunch days.

"Well then, I'll just have to be satisfied with your scintillating conversation." Kirk smiled across at Spock, this time genuinely, and suddenly his voice was soft. "And the pleasure of your company. Isn't that enough?"

Again his friend was reaching out to him, and Spock could not help but respond. "It is sufficient."

They ate and drank together, they talked as they usually talked, but Spock was aware of a degree of restraint between them, possibly caused by their location and by the turmoil that existed in the back of his mind concerning T'Brita. Eventually Kirk spoke of Commander Tagnaki; Spock had been braced and waiting for him to do so.

"Mai dragged me to an art gallery opening last night over by the wharf. That's one of her interests, supporting local artists. She seemed to know everybody there."

"She prefers modern art to more classical compositions?"

Kirk's brow furrowed. "I'm not sure. She seems to know a lot about art, period. More than I'll ever care about, that's for sure. But it was interesting, anyway."

"I am pleased that you enjoyed yourself."

Kirk grinned. "Oh, I wouldn't go that far. But Saturday we do what I want to do, get out of this town so we can breathe some fresh air. We're driving upcoast, along the old road. Mai says she knows a great place for a picnic."

"Indeed." Spock could think of nothing else to say. Al fresco entertainments of the culinary sort did not appeal to him. But he knew that humans enjoyed them, and invested them with emotional appeal that escaped his comprehension.

"Remember that picnic that you and Bones and I shared on. . .what was the name of that planet?"

Of course he had not forgotten, he had merely repressed the memory for obvious reasons. The sun had been pleasingly warm, they had walked along a woodland path that eventually found its way down to an inland sea. Kirk had kicked off his boots, rolled up his pants legs and discarded his shirt, revealing the breadth of his chest, his dark, taut nipples and his glistening shoulders. Then the captain had run down the yellow sands, taunting "Don't try to catch me, you can't!" and Spock had watched him go. McCoy and his reactions he barely recalled, but Kirk, running with energy, the power in his legs obvious with every stride, the rhythmic swing of his arms -- he remembered that.

The commodore was waiting for an answer. "Presumably the planet has the same name now as it had then. New Alexandria."

Kirk made a face. "Right. Anyway, remember that picnic?"

"Indeed. You commented that it was the most satisfying of your career because it lacked insect accompaniment."

"And you ate potato salad for the first time. I'll never forget the look on your face. So much for polite Vulcans." Kirk reached for his coffee cup. "Mai loves potato salad, I've discovered, but she really isn't much for Italian."

Again, Spock could think of nothing to say, other than a warning not to pack macaroni salad in their hamper, because pasta was popularly considered to be Italian in origin, although this was not indeed the case, but the reasoning behind the thought was convoluted, not to mention trivial, so he did not mention it. Instead, Spock found it necessary to inform his friend that he also had plans of a social nature for the weekend.

Kirk paused with his cup in mid-air. "With T'Brita? That tiny woman who's heading up the VCC team?" And then, predictably, "She's beautiful, Spock."

"I have noticed that her appearance is pleasing. However, that is not why I agreed to accompany her to Italy."

"Then why?"

Spock opened his mouth to answer, but the words that suddenly sat on his tongue he could not possibly say. Because some day, perhaps some day soon, I will ask you to travel with me to Vulcan and stand by my side while I join my life with another. The male is accompanied by his closest friends. Only you, Jim.

He did not want to say this to Jim. Besides, he and T'Brita might prove to be wholly incompatible despite initial indications, and he might be able to avoid the logical course of action, at least for some period of time. "Because. . . . "

Kirk gave him an answer. "I know it's not because you love opera. You've only been. . . twice? Three times maybe, right? It must be because you appreciate the company of Vulcans after the wearing illogic of us poor humans."

"That is possible."

Normally that would have made Kirk laugh, or at least smile, but this particular lunch was not going well. There was an uncharacteristic silence between them as Kirk pushed the corn around his plate with the fork. Then he looked up and said, his tone light, "So you're going on a date. A first date."

Spock settled easily into this familiar banter. "I would not characterize it in that way. You forget we are Vulcans."

"Then how would you characterize it?"

"I am accompanying an acquaintance to an activity of mutual interest."

Kirk snorted. "Right. Like when you went with Bones to the horse auction in Kentucky."

"Correct."

"Well, I call it a date."

"You may call it anything you wish, your words will not alter the action."

An uncomfortable silence of some ten seconds duration. "She's not bonded, you know."

Spock took a long moment to answer that disconcerting statement of fact. It was a hiccup in the road to recovering the normal ease between them. "I had assumed that to be the case." But how did Kirk know it? It must be in T'Brita's personal file, but. . . .

Kirk broke a roll in two and held half in each hand. "I thought that most adult Vulcans were bonded, especially the ones who go off-world."

"That is true."

"Then how did -- "

"I do not know."

"It doesn't matter." Kirk carefully placed each piece of roll on opposite sides of his plate, then the commodore looked back up at him with a determined smile. "Hey, are we still on for the hike next weekend? Assuming there aren't any galactic emergencies, of course. I've got to recondition my boots and get the rest of my gear ready. I told Mai that next weekend was for you and me and she'd have to find something else to do. Did you get the maps? I ordered the permits yesterday."

Yes, he had the maps, yes, he would pick up Kirk at oh-five-hundred on Saturday morning, and yes, he was looking forward to spending two days in the protected desert wilderness near the Guadelupe mountains of Texas with the being he valued above all others.

It did not matter that T'Brita was unbonded, just as it did not matter that Mai was well-versed in art and apparently captivating. What did that matter to either of them, or their friendship?

Spock left the lunch wishing the hike were this weekend and not the next. He would have appreciated more time in Kirk's company. But then he was ashamed of himself. He should not need so much. He must not interfere in Kirk's life in any way.

Milan was nine hours in advance of San Francisco time, and so it was Saturday morning when Spock carefully dressed for the opera. He had learned that humans considered opera attendance an "event" to be honored with significant evening wear, so he donned his best black pants and a silken, flowing, purple cross-over shirt banded at the waist. The outfit was similar to current human styles, yet also consistent with Vulcan formal wear, and he knew it complimented his slender build. He paused while searching for appropriate socks and shoes and looked outside his fifteenth story window at driving rain. He wondered if Kirk's picnic would be spoiled.

Spock stared down at the wet pavement and with fond, positive feelings, he remembered. From many different occasions he created a composite memory of how Kirk looked when he was soaking wet, the water streaming down his handsome, even features, slicking his hair and sparkling against his eyelashes, streaming around the perfect arch of his upper lip. Kirk had an amusing way of shaking his head like a sehlat in a futile attempt to remove water.

And then he wondered if Mai Tagnaki could possibly continue to be appealing when doused with rain water. When Kirk was wet, he often good-naturedly complained, he occasionally laughed, he had a few times hitched his shoulder against discomfort and continued with an important mission, but always he maintained his innate attractive appeal. Spock could not imagine Ms. Tagnaki dealing with poor weather with Kirk's aplomb. She would be a sodden, unattractive mess.

He turned and launched himself away from the window, suddenly disquieted. Why was he thinking of Kirk and his friend again? Spock stopped in the middle of his bedroom and castigated himself. He was being imprecise. He was shielding himself by not using the correct terminology. Mai Tagnaki was undoubtedly Jim Kirk's lover. Lover, not friend, and in a far more serious way than any of Kirk's previous liaisons. If the picnic were to be canceled, then it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that James Kirk and Mai Tagnaki would spend the day in bed together, unclothed, engaged in foreplay and sexual intercourse.

Jim he thought bleakly. T'hy'la. You give yourself so freely.

As if in answer to his thoughts, the vidphone buzzed and Jim Kirk came to him.

Kirk's image materialized on the small viewscreen. He was clothed in typical casualwear for him, a stylish, v-necked, gray woven shirt piped with red trim, and he was leaning intently forward on some surface, possibly the console that Starfleet had installed in Kirk's home. His hair was somewhat disarranged, as if he had just pulled the shirt over his head, but Spock did not care what his friend looked like. Jim was always beautiful to him, and his downcast spirits lifted. It did not matter in what physical activities Jim engaged, their friendship was solid, and so satisfying, and it was a pleasure merely to look at him.

"Spock, you haven't left yet."

Spock allowed his lips to curve minutely. "Obviously, or I would not be speaking to you."

"I wanted to -- " Kirk broke off and looked him up and down. A small smile dawned that was somehow sad. "Spock, you look nice. That color becomes you."

Spock glanced down at himself, arrayed for his time to be spent with T'Brita, and became suddenly self-conscious. "I. . . . "

"I'm sorry, now I've embarrassed you. I shouldn't have said that. But you look. . .really good. I don't think I've ever seen you wearing that."

Spock could not remember another time that Kirk had ever commented on his physical appearance. "Perhaps because we have never attended the opera together."

There was a short silence while Spock felt his friend's eyes on his face even over the many kilometers of vidwave that connected them across the city. When Kirk spoke again his voice was soft, and he leaned in closer to the screen. "We haven't, have we? Maybe that's something the two of us should do someday. Attend the opera. If you'd like to."

He felt perversely compelled to ask, "Does Commander Tagnaki like the opera?"

Kirk frowned and sat back in his chair. "I don't know. I meant, just you and me. We could spend the time together and. . . . "

But while Kirk was talking there was movement behind his image. It was Mai Tagnaki, presumably believing she was not within range of the pick-up. Spock had ample time to witness the lace-bodiced negligee, one thin black strap dangling from a shapely shoulder, and the deplorable red-painted fingers dancing up the commodore's side, as well as time to hear the whispered "I'm waiting," before Kirk started and looked behind him with a grimace.

"Excuse me, Spock, I'll be right back." The screen went blank.

So. The source for the disarranged honey hair became obvious. The commander's hands had been at work.

This was no reason for Spock's emotions to plummet, no reason at all. His suppositions had merely been confirmed. It should be pleasing that his thought processes, even when applied to the haphazard, emotional antics of humans, should have successfully deduced Kirk's behavior. There was triumph in that.

Kirk's image reappeared. "Ah, sorry about that."

"It is of no consequence." But it was of consequence, for deep, hurting moments that seemed to last forever, that cast him into a dizzying nightmare where he fell and fell and never touched ground, never touched anyone or anything but his own foolish feelings. . . . These feelings were illogical, and Spock was so weary of playing this stupid game of wanting and not having, and not even knowing what it was he wanted, because he was not of the body and Kirk was not of the mind, and and and. . . .

He pulled himself up straight and was Vulcan again -- in control. He must conclude this conversation soon because T'Brita would be waiting.

Kirk was talking. "Yes, it does matter. I know that must have made you feel uncomfortable."

"Negative. I am a Vulcan."

Kirk looked at him sadly. "I know. I can't forget it." He took a deep, audible breath. "Look, I'll just let you go then. Have a good time, all right?"

"I will endeavor to do so. However, you have neglected to tell me the reason for this communication."

"It was nothing. I just wanted to. . .touch base with you. Before you left. So long, Spock."

"Good-bye, Jim."

And that was the end of that. Spock walked briskly into the kitchen and ordered a drink of water from the replicator. He drained the glass and left it sitting on the counter while he went back to assume footwear.

Spock consulted the weather forecast for Milan, where conditions were even worse. Then he logically donned a brown belted Burberry coat that spoiled the effect of dark handsomeness he refused to believe he was projecting and went off to meet T'Brita. He was not sure he wished for this meeting, and he would have preferred to avoid the unstated reason behind it, but he did look forward to his fellow Vulcan's matter-of-fact demeanor, her serenity. She did not stir complicated thoughts and unwanted feelings. She was not human. She was not Jim.

They met at the San Francisco main transporter station at Pad #78. T'Brita was swathed from neck to ankles in a dark blue cape that sparkled with raindrops, and she clutched the garment about her throat even in the mild clime of the station.

"Earth is intemperate," she declared as soon as he was within earshot. Despite his tight control -- he had already experienced more than enough emotion for the day, he would exhibit nothing but proper restraint -- he was somewhat amused by her straightforward declaration of distress. It was so Vulcan.

"Often," he agreed. "But it has other attractions."

"It must. I find rain most uncomfortable."

"As do I."

"Then why do you remain on Earth?" she asked, her head tilted to one side. He had noticed that she assumed this position when genuinely puzzled. It was a habit of hers. "Would not a posting on Vulcan, or another planet like Vulcan, be more logical?"

"You forget that I am an officer in Starfleet. I serve where I am posted."

"But an officer of your stature and reputation would be valuable on many other planets, space stations, other facilities supported by Starfleet, would he not?"

"You overstate my importance in the great scheme of things, T'Brita. I am satisfied with my current assignment. The transporter is currently unoccupied. Shall we proceed?" Spock congratulated himself on making his position clear.

The reconstructed opera house was all glass and lights, with glittering chandeliers suspended by anti-gravs supplying sparkling brilliance. Their seats were excellent, on the first row of the first balcony. They had witnessed the entire first act before T'Brita agreed to remove her cape as they walked to the lobby. Spock draped it over his arm and surveyed the traditional Vulcan dress she wore: the high-necked and long-sleeved tight black sheath seemed designed to accentuate her ample breasts and curved hips. In any other species it would have been provocative. Indeed, a human male watched T'Brita walk by, pursed his lips and gave a soundless whistle. Spock noticed the behavior and impassively followed T'Brita up the aisle. It was satisfying to him that he could appreciate her form without associating it with copulation as the humans did. Vulcans did not choose bondmates based on ephemeral appearance.

"You are most suitably dressed for the evening," Spock said after they had procured liquid refreshment. T'Brita had expressed the desire to taste champagne, and so that was what they sipped as they stood in the crowd.

"I believe the humans would say 'thank you,' would they not? That is the form to which you are accustomed."

"You do not need to conform your behavior or language to what I generally encounter, T'Brita."

"No, I do not. However, it is a courtesy to do so, and I wish to do this for you. It is true that you have spent much of your life among your mother's people. For example, I have been told by others at headquarters that you enjoy a close friendship with your former captain, Commodore Kirk."

"That is true," Spock said evenly, although he would have preferred not to speak of Kirk. So much emotion was tangled with his name, walled off until he could meditate, assimilate, dissipate his stupid turmoil, all over a simple physical act, over implied intimacies of the spirit. However, he congratulated himself that no undue emotion was apparent; his control held. T'Brita could ask what she wished and he would respond.

"I have wondered how this is possible. I have observed from our meetings with him that the commodore is very emotional. Is he much more restrained in your presence?"

"Negative."

"Then I do not understand."

"T'Brita, friendship with a human does not require a lowering of one's standards of behavior as a Vulcan. Mutual respect allows an expression of each being's personality."

"You describe IDIC."

"In part. It is a philosophy on which the commodore and I agree. You also appear to espouse IDIC, through your continued curiosity about human cultures and societies."

"It seems to be a logical way to conduct oneself when on an unfamiliar planet."

"And yet, deserving of mention. It is admirable."

She suddenly looked up, caught and held his gaze, and he could not help but find her unusually open expression somewhat pleasing. If she had been human, she would have smiled. If this had been Jim Kirk standing in the lobby sipping champagne with him, on the trip to the opera that they would probably never take, he would have smiled.

But Spock was not attending the opera with Jim Kirk, Jim was with Mai Tagnaki, and he was with T'Brita, and she was Vulcan, and female and attractive, although in a totally different way than Jim was attractive. She also had an engaging intellect. Spock evaluated. The time spent with her so far had been. . .pleasant. He relaxed his controls a small degree.

"I will use a human expression, in that case. Thank you," she said deliberately, as if tasting the alien phrase on her tongue. "It is a most fascinating language, this Standard."

That launched them into a discussion of linguistics that Spock was loathe to abandon when the house lights called them back to act two. T'Brita was a stimulating conversationalist. At any rate the opera was most unsuitable viewing, concentrating as it did on the sexual behavior of patently irrational humans. Mozart's music, however, was always compelling.

He leaned over and in a whisper directed T'Brita's attention to the upcoming solo. She turned her full face to his remark. He found himself staring from just a few centimeters down into her dark eyes, with his lips so close that just a small movement forward would have brought them into a kiss -- and he felt nothing.

He was totally in control; there were no obscene hormonal stirrings. He responded to T'Brita as a true Vulcan would. Perhaps an association with her was possible. Perhaps it would bring peace.

T'Brita did not withdraw. She returned his gaze while the chorus completed the last bars of the aria, before she whispered, "I thank you for the information, Spock."

A "shush!" from the row behind them destroyed the possibilities of pursuing their conversation.

The rest of the evening was satisfying. After the performance there was much to discuss concerning the opera, and as they slowly walked towards the transporter station they compared Mozart's genius to other musical prodigies from Vulcan, Andor, even Tellus. The conversation turned to a mathematical prodigy who lived in the same province where both T'Brita and Spock's parents resided.

But as they waited in the queue T'Brita asked about his plans for the next weekend, and that suddenly brought thoughts of Jim, and sleeping next to him under the stars, hearing him breathe in the night, and being awakened in the morning when Jim placed a hand on his shoulder, the way Jim always found a way to make that physical bridge between them. And Spock would open his eyes with his shields roaring into place, while his precious, heavy love paced and rattled the bars he imposed around it. And though the weekend would be satisfying, it would come to an end, they would part, and Jim would say "So long" and go back to his lover. . . .

Spock closed his eyes and counted the minutes until they would be back in San Francisco. He required meditation.

Back in North America, in silence he and T'Brita walked through the brightly lit station, and then through the late afternoon misty gloom towards the waiting ground cabs. However, T'Brita stopped on the black, rain-drenched tarmac. "Spock?" she called.

He turned and walked back a few steps so they were even within the harsh white halo of an overhead light. He looked down into her upturned, pale face. "Yes, T'Brita."

She hid her hands within the folds of her cape. "I hold you in high regard."

That seemed to require a comment. "I am honored."

There was more. "Before we met, I was impressed with your accomplishments and the way you represented Vulcan in Starfleet. Now that regard has increased. You are an honorable individual, well-spoken and with well-formed opinions."

She paused but he did not speak. He did not wish to extrapolate what her next words would be. Mixed anticipation and apprehension tingled in his fingertips.

"I am unbonded. I propose a meld between us."

It was automatic, this impulse to turn away, to deny, although his heart was pounding in his side. T'Brita's mind was free. He could reach towards her and relieve this need that so often lately had escaped his control. He could not have Jim in any way that satisfied any part of him. But he could have T'Brita. And he wished. . .he wished so much to touch someone. . . .

He denied that wish as he had denied so many over the years. It seemed to him that all his life he had been saying no, not yet, not for me. Once more. "I do not believe that such an activity would be advisable." The words sounded inadequate even to him. "Although I appreciate your offer."

"It is not lightly made. I had not anticipated speaking to you of this so early in our relationship. But you lack serenity, Spock. I perceive a degree of tension in you, and a simple meld would help alleviate it."

Simple? Since when had any act of intimacy been simple for him? His life had been a cataclysm of intimacies. "T'Brita, a meld at this time would not be. . .uncomplicated."

She cocked her head to one side. "I perceive no information that would substantiate your conclusion."

Ah, she was so Vulcan. Even as Spock abhorred the way she forced him into explanations, he admired her. And yet, she was not-Vulcan as well, for he had never met any other who would so pursue a personal subject. "This is not a suitable location for this discussion."

"That is not a pertinent comment. No one overhears us, and so long as it does not begin to rain again, I wish to remain here and discuss this subject with you."

"If you meld with me, the meld will not be typical. You may be required to overlook. . . discrepancies. And I have not melded with anyone for quite some time."

"I have already stated that I hold you in high regard. It is possible that future events may change that evaluation, and only you can decide if the possibility of that change is enough to cause you to deny yourself what you need. I do not know much of human emotion, but even on Vulcan, I would call your explanation a form of pride."

Spock stepped back, surprised. T'Brita knew how to attack, it seemed. She pursued her advantage.

"It is apparent to me that our minds would make a more than satisfactory meld. I do not see the logic in denying yourself what you need when no harm will come of it."

And suddenly Spock could not see the logic of it either. Why, after all, was he objecting? He bowed to T'Brita's logic. It was the physical he had rejected, it was only circumstance that had forced mental abstention upon him. To touch another's mind again, anyone's, the mind of this concerned, perceptive woman, one of his own kind. . . .

If Jim were to express an opinion on this subject, he would say: What are you waiting for, Spock? Do it! Jim would only be concerned for Spock's well-being, just as Spock was only concerned for Jim's well-being. Jim was even now fulfilling his physical needs, why should not Spock meet his mental ones?

"Agreed," he abruptly said. "Where shall we go? My apartment is ten point seven kilometers distant."

"I am housed in comfortable transient dwelling much closer. Let us go there."

Now that he had made the decision, Spock was anxious to accomplish his goal, and the short, silent journey he shared with T'Brita in the groundcar seemed endless. Finally she was at a door, keyed in the code, and they walked into her small apartment.

"I will make you some liquid refreshment. And for myself." Gracefully she moved to the kitchenette at the side of the compact quarters, and Spock surveyed the seating arrangements while removing his coat. There was a well-worn sofa where two beings could arrange themselves side by side, reach for each other and touch. Spock lowered himself to just the edge of the cushion and looked over at the food preparation area where T'Brita poured manshev into a cup.

She was making kikkle, a Vulcan drink that Spock had not experienced since he had left his home planet at the age of eighteen. The strong, bitter odor brought back many memories, of red sky and sand dust in his nostrils, of a peaceful people who meditated and traveled serenely through life. Serenity was perhaps the quality he valued the most in T'Brita, and what he lacked at this moment. He initiated the mantra for control. One breath, two, a brief foray into the first level of peace. . . . With a sigh he sank back against the cushions and instructed his tense muscles to relax. He would not think any further. What would be, would be.

T'Brita looked up from where she worked and regarded him for a moment, then she reached up into a cabinet and pulled out two ornately-etched Vulcan-style glasses. Finally she walked across the room with a tray. "The kikkle is warmed to one hundred and eighty-two standard degrees," she said as she seated herself and placed the tray on a low table.

"My mother often preferred that method of preparation," he replied, remembering Amanda leaning down to him, saying Be careful, it's hot and his childish reply It is good, mother. Had he been three? Four? There had been a fleeting, almost furtive caress of his cheek.

Love you, Spock.

That was Amanda, not T'Brita. T'Brita would not think of saying such a thing. She was Vulcan.

They drank in silence, one sip, two sips, until T'Brita replaced her drink on the tray and said, "Let us proceed."

He drew in a deep breath, turned against the cushions towards her, did not know what to do with his hands. They curled in his lap. "It has been some time since I have done this," he said too loudly for the quiet apartment.

"You mentioned that previously. It is reasonable to assume that you found few Vulcans or other psychically compatible beings to meld with while you were on the Enterprise. I presume your last meld was during the performance of your duties?"

He looked over her shoulder towards the kitchen. She seemed a mere child, sitting made her seem even shorter. "It was with Jim."

"Jim?"

"Commodore Kirk. His name is James Tiberius Kirk. The diminutive of James is Jim. His friends call him Jim."

"I see. He was your commander. There must have been an occasion that required it."

"Frequently, that was true. However, at that time he suggested we meld for personal reasons."

"I see." Not even so persistent a Vulcan as she would inquire further. "I suggest that you allow me to initiate, Spock. Remain quiescent. This first meld will be shallow. Just a. . . . "

touch.

Somehow, her hands were upon his face already, and her voice echoed in his mind without speech. He groaned out loud, he could feel the vibration in his vocal cords and was shamed, but he could not stop it. Just one moment of contact and already something leaped within him, cried. He knew his hands came up quickly towards her, knew he pressed against the skin of her face with power he could never use with a human, his Vulcan strength that he'd restrained for so many years. But T'Brita was Vulcan, she welcomed his strength and would not bruise.

Yes, she crooned. Come within me, Spock, lost one, find relief.

He was without control, lurching within her mind, wanting to encompass it all at once, not taking the time to stop and initiate any of the elementary grounding contacts, but it did not matter, she understood, she caught him and held him in the center.

Here, she said. Take this.

He touched. So good.

And here.

The smoothness of her mental energies. Not rough and jagged as his were.

Because they have lain fallow for too long.

He reached for more, she allowed it, guiding him, encompassing him, flowing her mind around his. . . .

Ahhh. T'Brita. . . .

*****

CONTINUED WITH CHAPTER THREE

Chapter Text

Spock told Kirk about the meld the next weekend, as they sat beneath the star-studded sky in the eastern Sonoran desert after an exhilarating day of companionship.

Spock could not remember another more satisfying day since the Enterprise's mission had concluded. All the old ease between Jim and himself slipped back into place, Mai Tagnaki was forgotten, painted fingernails were forgotten. Spock banished his frustrations and jealousy to the nameless depths and concentrated instead on just treasuring the minutes with James Kirk.

Jim looked healthy and appealing in a pair of well-worn blue jeans and a black and white checked shirt as they hiked along the faintly marked trails, or left them to blaze their own paths in the protected wilderness. Spock observed Jim's light, even step, the way his body balanced as they found their way over uneven terrain, he noticed the pull and release of fabric over thighs and buttocks as Jim's powerful legs moved. He draped his gaze over Jim's body defiantly, testing the controls Sontur had established, feeling them clamor to snap into place each time he acknowledged how very attractive Jim was to him, body and soul. Perhaps those controls were not as effective as they should have been, for Jim had never seemed so glowingly physical before, but Spock did not care. Anything that brought him closer to Jim at this time was acceptable, even the erosion of the carefully taught lessons from years ago. He could augment them later, but at this time if he could have torn down those artificially augmented shields completely he would have, even knowing how painful it would be to release his love and allow it to transmute to the sexual when Kirk was forever unattainable. Anything to be closer to James Kirk, to experience more of him, despite the pain.

As they hiked they talked about inconsequential things that had nothing to do with gravimetric docking mechanisms or the political games played at headquarters, and they sometimes walked without words, accompanied by the scrunch of boots on dirt, or the creak of the packs they carried, and the occasional squeak of a lizard scurrying to escape their tread. The hours passed like minutes; they were bright with pleasure.

In mid-afternoon Kirk stopped and pointed silently upwards, Spock came next to him and they watched together. The hawk swooped until it was only a few meters above the sagebrush and yellow rocks, then with a harsh cry it darted into the glowing sky again. Kirk placed a hand on Spock's shoulder, and Spock struggled to squash the shields that threatened to impede the affection that flowed from hand to body to his thirsty soul. He was partially successful, and before their bodies parted he perceived fleeting indications of Kirk's high regard for him, his warm friendship, his happiness that they shared this time together. The raw emotion warmed him beyond the desert's sunshine, and the pressure of Kirk's touch stayed with him as they walked on.

Spock did not know which activity in which they engaged he preferred, it was all satisfying. When during the day he stooped to examine flora or turn over rocks, Kirk would sit and tilt his head back to take in the faded December sunlight, his eyes closed, not knowing when Spock ceased his scientific perusal and turned to gaze at him, only him.

The meld with T'Brita had eased the pressures of Spock's mental abstinence, and he felt that he could think clearly for the first time in several weeks, without the burden of the emotional turmoil that had besieged him. He had a decision to make, and his future depended upon it.

If this were an ideal universe, he would take James Kirk, commodore and t'hy'la, as his bondmate, and his union with Jim would be the glorious, hectic culmination of all his dreams. Jim suffusing his mind, always there, everywhere around him and within him. . . . And he would be available to touch, eager to help Spock release his sexuality and explore with him the world that Spock had for so long denied himself. But the universe was not ideal, Jim would never turn to him and so he would most probably be forced to accept T'Brita, who would not expect him to even touch her except every seven years, and bond with her at the place of koon-ut-kalifee.

But not quite yet. He had not spoken of this with T'Brita during the week that had intervened since their first contact mind to mind, and he had no intention of doing so anytime soon. He had months before he must speak. For now he would seek out his friend, Jim Kirk, would bask in his presence while both he and Jim were still free.

But he would not deceive his friend nor himself. What was to be, would be, and so Jim must know of his new relationship with the woman and what it would mean to his future. To their future. He knew, once he was bonded, everything would change between them. It was inevitable.

And so at night Spock sat next to his friend before the crackling fire produced by the approved burning cubes, necessary in this protected area, and he told Jim: "I have melded with T'Brita." He was confident that those words would be enough without using the term "bond." He did not know if, at this time and place, he could. Jim with his quicksilver, agile intelligence would comprehend the wealth of meaning, the layers beneath the words.

He did not expect the reaction that he received. A startled gaze leaped from the flames to meet his eyes, but otherwise Jim did not move. It seemed a long minute of silence while Kirk sat as still as any statue before he cleared his throat and said hoarsely, "You did? Was it. . .good? I mean, was it. . .what you wanted it to be?"

Spock picked up the stick they were using as a poker and jabbed at the briskly burning cubes. He did not care to hear the sudden desolation in Kirk's voice. Or perhaps he was imagining it, assigning emotion that he somehow wished to hear, not what was actually present. Jim must understand. T'Brita, the melds, they were necessary. "It was satisfying. T'Brita has a well-disciplined mind."

"Not like a human mind."

"No. Not like a human mind at all." It was true. In his melds with humans, Spock had controlled and imposed structure on disorder. In Kirk's mind he had encountered a delicious, wanton, fascinating disorder, but still, no one could equate the eclectic chaos of humanity with the discipline of a Vulcan.

"It must have been a relief."

Spock looked up, not understanding, and Kirk explained further with a short sweep of his hand. "To meld with a Vulcan again. I mean, after all you went through on the Enterprise, all those melds with unknown minds, all the danger I put you through. . . . It must have been a relief, to join with someone of your own kind in safety, just because you wanted to."

"Perhaps."

"Well." Kirk moved with a rustle of the sleeveless vest he wore, looked one way out into the darkness, turned and looked the opposite direction, pressed his hands down the length of his thighs, then folded them back in their original position, elbows on knees. "I guess. . .I guess this means you'll be seeing more of T'Brita."

"It is likely, yes."

"Then that's. . .okay. She's a good person, I think. Does her job well."

"Yes, she is a graduate of the University of Technology in Karatwa. It is a highly regarded institute of higher learning on Vulcan. Her parents are also engineers. And she has done well with Vulcan Central Construction, having advanced from an intern position to one of responsibility and leadership in just eight years."

Kirk seemed to be fascinated by his fingernails. "A good little Vulcan lady. What's her IQ?"

Spock frowned and Kirk gave a low sound that might have been a chuckle, or perhaps not. He reached over and punched Spock on the arm. Spock allowed his body to rock with the force of the gentle blow.

"I'm just kidding. That's not important. What's important is: do you like her?"

The way I 'like' you? Never. "We are compatible in many ways. Time spent in her company has not been wasted."

"Spoken like the Spock I know and. . . . " Kirk's mouth closed with a snap, but of course Spock knew the proper ending to that sentence. The Spock I know and love. That was what Kirk had started to say.

He stared at Kirk across the fire, in the desolation of the desert, in a circle of light surrounded by darkness, and James Kirk stared back. Love hung heavily between them, not the screaming, possessive, twisted love that Spock held captive, that was destined never to find expression in a touch, an embrace, or the mysterious penetration and release of body upon body, but affection forged by the trials of experience and that unique openness of mind that was perhaps his former captain's most laudable quality. Love was in the way he reached towards Spock, and love was in the way Spock could not help but reach back. They were brothers, he and Jim, they shared the compatibility and affection of friends and brothers. That was what Jim, the lover of women, the lover of Mai Tagnaki, had almost said, what he meant.

Kirk was still staring at him. He reached out one hand, golden and flickering with the shadows of flame. Spock stared at its curling fingers, then touched it with his own, shields up. Their fingers entwined in a handclasp, the first they had ever shared. Jim's hand was warm, his grasp strong, just as Spock had imagined.

"Happiness, my friend," Kirk whispered. "Happiness with whomever you need."

Kirk's hand tightened, just once, a squeeze that Spock would remember, and then suddenly they were separated as Kirk drew away. The commodore turned and adjusted his bedroll. "It's late. Let's go to sleep."

They bedded down as they often had on landing parties when with the Enterprise, in an "L" shape head to head, where Spock would be able to hear the sound of his captain's, his former captain's, breathing ease into the peace of slumber.

" 'Night, Spock."

His hand remembered Kirk's touch. He drew it within the warmth of the insulated cover, cradled it upon his chest. This is what he would always have, this memory, the words almost said, even when he was bonded to T'Brita.

"Good-night, Jim," he whispered.

The stars circled overhead, an armadillo squeaked ten point four meters away, Kirk stirred and turned away over onto his side, and Spock struggled with the consequences of deliberately weakening his controls during the day. For the first time in more than five years, his penis awakened from its slumber. He did not attempt to force it down, nor did he touch himself. His arousal was a pleasure, and a curse he bore willingly. Too soon his sexuality would be fixed on T'Brita, or some other willing Vulcan woman who would tolerate his mind in hers. Tonight was for truth.

Jim.

It was hours before his body's ache subsided and he fell asleep.

He awakened before the dawn, watched the stars fade and listened to the howl of coyotes. When Kirk stirred as the sky turned to gold, he closed his eyes and waited for the touch that had somehow, over the years, become ritual between them.

A hand upon his arm. A tightening, a movement up and then down the material of his shirt, stroking the flesh beneath. A whispered sigh, and then finally the vigorous shake he'd been expecting. "Spock. Wake up, time to get cracking."

Kirk was somewhat subdued in the morning, but his spirits appeared to lighten as the sun rose higher and they hiked across the morning beauty of the desert. The personal communicator he wore, necessitated by his rank and duties, beeped about noon, before they'd stopped for food.

"Damn it," Kirk swore, dropping his pack with a thud. "This had better be good."

It was Commander Tagnaki, and when Spock heard her voice he moved away towards a group of scattered rocks that might well serve as shelter for any number of interesting animals. He had no desire to overhear the conversation, but he could not help but perceive his friend's aggrieved tone, nor the almost-angry, staccato nature of his words. When he heard the snap of the communicator closing and steps coming towards him, Spock twisted from where he was down on his haunches and asked the question with a raised brow.

"Nothing. She wanted me to come back early to help negotiate with a caterer, for God's sake."

"A caterer?" Spock asked, somewhat bewildered.

They re-shouldered their packs and continued across the rough-packed scrub land. There was no particular path so they walked side by side.

Kirk gave a short laugh. "Yeah. Mai's got it into her head that I've got to start playing the game at HQ. Says I've got social obligations to fulfill, and the best way to start is by throwing a New Year's Eve party. That's just two weeks away, so she's already a little late getting it organized."

Spock's heart sank. The role of political wife was well-known to him, he had grown up in a household where his mother fulfilled those duties, but it was not one that Spock felt Ms. Tagnaki should assume. It presumed a certain attitude on Kirk's part, a desire to play the 'Fleet HQ games for which he had thought they shared a profound disdain. It presumed a permanence to Mai's role as Kirk's companion, and a willingness on Kirk's part to display her in that role.

Low-lying clouds drifted on the horizon. Perhaps it was just as well that T'Brita had been sent to Earth at this time.

Kirk was eyeing him sideways as they walked. "You'll come to the party, won't you?"

"I do not believe -- " he began.

"Spock, please. Mai's inviting half the genuine idiots at headquarters. I've got to have somebody sane to talk to or I'll go out of my mind."

"I was about to say that I do not believe that I have ever attended a human New Year's Eve celebration."

"You haven't? Not even on the ship?"

"As you may recall, I regularly scheduled myself and others who did not share such a custom for duty at that time, so that the rest of the crew could participate."

Kirk hitched his pack into a more comfortable position on his shoulders. "You haven't missed much. One of the traditions is champagne at midnight and lots of booze the rest of the time, so by the end of the night most people are drunk. That's why there are always so many traffic accidents that night."

"I am surprised that you are adverse to such a celebration. You have been known to over-indulge in alcoholic intoxicants upon occasion."

"Yeah, but that's the point, on occasion, when it's the right circumstances, when I'm with the right people, when I want to. I don't like the planned nature of the thing. 'You will get drunk.' I don't always want to. Hell, on the Enterprise I was captain, I never could."

"Perhaps you should consider the occasion of the party the same as one of your infrequent shore leaves."

Kirk brooded. "I suppose. I wish Mai didn't want to do this so much. It feels hypocritical."

"If you have not yet sent out invitations -- "

"No, I can't back out now, she'd kill me. Just have to make the best of it. Which means," Kirk swung around and walked sideways, facing him, "being certain that you'll be there."

"If it is possible, I will attend."

"Good." The commodore straightened and looked towards the low mesa where an aircar awaited them. They wouldn't reach it for another four or five hours. "And. . .maybe it would be a good thing. . . . Why not bring T'Brita with you, Spock? Would you like that?"

T'Brita would appreciate the exposure to human customs, and if she were there perhaps her presence would distract him enough so that he would not be forced to witness the intimate interactions between Jim and Commander Tagnaki.

"I will extend the invitation to her."

"Good." Kirk's stride lengthened as the path narrowed, and Spock allowed him to take the lead. He said over his shoulder, "Wouldn't be right to have a party and not have my best friend there, would it?"

It was an honor and a pleasure to be Jim Kirk's best friend, was it not? It was illogical to wish for an elusive "more" when that was clearly unattainable. What more was possible between them when T'Brita was to be his future, and Mai would in all probability be Jim's?

After the intimate pleasures and frustrations of Jim's company in the desert, it was an effort to return to the impersonal routine at headquarters, where T'Brita -- with her intelligence, her serene countenance and the mind that had merged with his -- was there to remind him of what must be. He found himself that Monday scheduling meetings he knew she would not be able to attend, and then reproved himself for illogical action. Instead he called her on the comm line, invited her to join him for lunch, and was relieved when she could not accept.

"I have been invited to a holiday luncheon that apparently holds cultural significance," she told him, then logically cut the connection.

On Earth, the weeks immediately preceding the celebration of the New Year included the observance of several important religious and cultural holidays, what humans called "the Holiday Season," a seemingly endless procession of planned gatherings, the consumption of high-calorie food, an over-indulgence in intoxicating beverages, and a traditional exchange of material goods that penetrated even the business-like discipline of Starfleet headquarters. Spock had never partaken in any of these customs, and Jim Kirk had honored that and never imposed them on him. However, T'Brita returned from her mid-day meal on Monday with an intense curiosity about them, and she enlisted Spock's aid in her quest for enlightenment.

Over the comm line late in the afternoon, she expounded. "There appears to be an underlying religious element to some of these celebrations, but from my initial observations they are in fact primarily secular. And these customs. The destruction of a living tree, for example. Where may I go to observe this? Are you familiar with these curious actions?"

He had never seen her so animated. Although he was not enthusiastic about pursuing this particular type of knowledge, accompanying her would provide an opportunity to get to know her better. It was only logical. He could not live in the memories of the desert air forever.

And so the next evening, after he had spent the weary day in meetings with patent attorneys intent on protecting Starfleet's rights to key elements of his docking design, Spock escorted T'Brita to the District of Columbia, center point of the Atlantic Coast metroplex. There it was traditional for the North American Confederation to erect a large conifer decorated with lights and various colorful artifacts.

The tree was surrounded with a forcefield that prevented any approach closer than five meters, but it was still a magnificent sight. They walked around its substantial base in silence until T'Brita said quietly, "If Vulcan were blessed with resources of this type to spare, we would be a different people, would we not?"

Spock could not help but agree. Vulcan had no trees of this size at all; wood was a valuable commodity on his home planet.

Other visitors to the site included numerous children, many of them quite young, who did not hesitate to express their delight with shouts and erratic, darting movements away from their care-givers.

"I surmise that this is a social occasion where children are traditionally not under parental control?" T'Brita asked hesitantly.

Again, she amused him with her questions. "Or perhaps the parents are not capable of exerting such control." He nodded through the muffler that swathed his neck at a child no older than four dashing away from a woman who held an infant in her arms.

The woman shouted, one arm uselessly outstretched to capture her offspring, "Come back here or Santa Claus won't bring you any presents!"

T'Brita disapproved. "This myth of a magical being inhabiting a castle at the Earth's northern axis, it is most reprehensible that adults lie to their children about his existence. I cannot conceive of a Vulcan parent perpetuating such a falsehood."

"Indeed, I also have never understood the mythology surrounding the celebration of the secularized version of the Christian holiday. However, I have not observed anything other than amusement by adults who were so involved, and eager wonder by the children who are being deceived. Ji. . .an acquaintance of mine speaks of his days when he believed in the Santa Claus myth with much fondness."

"That may be true upon the surface, but surely there is some detrimental effect on an immature mind. Falsehoods and inadequate control of children in public settings may be the norm on Earth," T'Brita said with a set look, "but that is not the way I would wish to instruct any child of mine. I would not wish to raise a child anywhere but on Vulcan."

He glanced down at her swiftly, but T'Brita was still observing the unpredictable behavior of human young. Of course. One consequence of bonding with T'Brita would be the conception, birth, and raising of a child. Perhaps, if she were exceptionally fertile, several children. A chill shivered through Spock's body, but it had nothing to do with the weather. He did not know if he wished to repeat the mistakes his father had made in raising him; he did not know if he wished for children at all. He did not know if he could contemplate the thought of coming together with T'Brita in the intimate congress that would conceive a child, of exposing himself so completely in the madness of pon farr. To be in the arms of this woman at that horrifying time, even this understanding, exceptional woman. . . .

He took a deep breath, exhaled, watched the mist his breathing produced. For his continued existence he must contemplate it. Perhaps when he knew her better the concept would not be so distasteful. He must remember that he had not encountered any other Vulcan female as pleasing as T'Brita. And T'Brita's children would have genetic advantages. It was a point in her favor.

But if he bonded with a male, Spock would not be required to face the specter of children at all.

A choir of teenagers began to sing what Spock recognized as traditional holiday songs and, grateful for the distraction, he silently left T'Brita's side. He stood for nine point two five minutes in solitude, simply listening, then T'Brita reappeared with two steaming drinks and a wrinkled bag of hot chestnuts.

"I took the liberty of assuming you would wish to consume a warm beverage."

They drank and ate while listening to the music without exchanging words. A short time later T'Brita said, "I appreciate your company this evening, Spock."

He looked down at her. She was well wrapped in a long gray winter coat, a black knit hat pulled firmly down over her ears, and like him, a scarf wrapped about her neck. Only she had pulled it up to cover the lower half of her face, so that her words were muffled. He also noted that her hands were jammed into the pockets of her coat.

"You are chilled," he realized. The hot beverage had been for her benefit, not his, although he had been too insensitive to recognize it. "I believe it would be wise to return to San Francisco."

The entire excursion lasted but one hour and forty-five minutes, but it had been an enlightening evening. There was much for him to confront, and consider, before he could speak to T'Brita of bonding.

After that T'Brita invited him to accompany her to a performance of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, the celebration of Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and a presentation of The Nutcracker ballet in Melbourne, Australia. She was obviously attempting to travel widely on Earth while she had the opportunity. Spock was able to honestly decline attending any of these occasions because of his responsibilities in San Francisco. As he had done on the Enterprise, he volunteered for duty while others attended to their cultural celebrations. If he immersed himself during daily sixteen hour shifts in the familiar, bridge-like ambiance of the Operations Center, no one was there to notice it. James Kirk had taken a six day leave to visit his mother and other relatives in mid-America. Spock did not know if Mai Tagnaki accompanied him, and he did not care to know.

And perhaps it was just as well that events prevented his usual social interactions with Kirk. Although their desert excursion was already almost two weeks in the past, his body still tingled with the wanton, forbidden sensations he had allowed himself. His schedule had prevented him from taking the time to augment Sontur's lessons, or perhaps he did not wish to take the time, and twice when he awakened in the morning his sexual organ stiffly proclaimed the content of his dreams. The second time he had tentatively reached down and touched himself, wrapped his hand around his penis and moved the loose skin up and down. He'd gasped and jerked away from the intense pleasure that shot through his body, the same sensations as when he had copulated with Leila. All from a touch. . . . He had almost forgotten. That day during shift he had been unable to prevent the physical sensation from replaying in his memory, and he had wondered: Is this what Jim feels with Commander Tagnaki? More tantalizing had been a thought he had not allowed full expression, but it was there, denied but hovering in the back of his mind: If I were to copulate with Jim. . . .

Sooner than he wished it to, the day before the New Year arrived. Spock used a small amount of time attempting to decide whether he should meet T'Brita at the party -- after all, Kirk's home was easy to find, she was an adult capable of traveling on her own -- or whether he should take an aircab to her apartment and escort her from there. On Vulcan, the logical answer would be obvious. But T'Brita was perhaps expecting an escort, for she must have absorbed enough of human behavior by now to understand that individuals interested in each other for mating purposes acted in certain ways. An action of this sort on his part would be a silent declaration to her. Was he or was he not contemplating a bonding with her?

Contemplation was not commitment, he reasoned. He contacted T'Brita and arranged to be at her apartment at approximately 9 p.m.

When he arrived she was dressed in a dark green, long velvet skirt and a sleeveless, draped-collar ivory blouse that was daringly cut to expose her décolletage. Spock remembered the time immediately after his pon farr when such a sight would have been arousing to him, and he was grateful that the pale white skin of T'Brita's neck and chest, the clearly-seen upper curve of her breasts meant nothing. But it was curious that she should dress in such a manner. He restrained his eyebrow from expressing his surprise and made no comment on her appearance as she swung into the dark cape on what was a bitterly cold night.

"I understand that Commander Tagnaki is to be our hostess tonight," she said as they walked down the steps of her apartment to the waiting cab. It was not necessary to take her elbow, she had excellent balance and Vulcans were notoriously sure-footed. "We met three days ago and I was impressed with her. She appears to be an accomplished woman."

"Where did you encounter her?" Spock asked, not understanding how the two could have crossed paths.

"I was attending an art exhibit in the tourist area near the wharf and she approached me. Apparently Commodore Kirk has made mention of me, and she deduced that a Vulcan female attending such an event alone was likely to be the Vulcan of whom he spoke. We conversed agreeably during the event and she imparted considerable information about the exhibit. I was interested to discover that she was aware that you and I shared an acquaintance and had attended the opera. She thinks quite highly of you, Spock."

Spock did not believe that required a response. He had seen the commander in a black lace negligee, and he did not know of her competence in any area but seduction.

"Have the commander and Commodore Kirk decided to enter into a marriage contract?"

"I do not know," Spock returned shortly. T'Brita was a most unusual Vulcan, or perhaps this prolonged association with humans was contaminating her, for such personal inquiries were most unsuitable.

"Then it must not be the case," T'Brita reasoned as she entered the automated aircar. She waited until he also was seated in the back seat next to her before continuing. "You and the commodore are close with the ties of friendship, are you not? He would tell you if he were contemplating such an important change in his life. Just as you would tell him, would you not?"

"That is true, T'Brita."

"I find it quite interesting, the human concept of friendship." She arranged her cape about her. "I have just seen the Lethal Weapon video quartet, which I have been told is an idealized version of male to male friendship from the twentieth century, although I found it excessively violent. I compare this with the relationship between the men in the even older The Leatherstocking Tales, for example, or between Sandor and Pierre in Mars by Night from the last century. There is a common thread in the presentation of emotion, is there not, one of sacrifice mixed with uncommon affection?"

"T'Brita," he said, eyeing her with some small feeling of astonishment.

"Yes, Spock?"

"When have you had the time to watch ancient videos, read human literature, attend as many holiday events as you have told me you intended to attend, visit art exhibits and also fulfill the responsibilities of your position with the VCC admirably well?"

"I am curious and possessed of abundant energy," she said simply. "And you yourself are an excellent example. You held the positions of both first officer and science officer on board the Enterprise, did you not?"

There was no rejoinder to that, but Spock had managed to turn the conversation away from Kirk and the concepts of sacrifice and affection. They generally discussed human literature, in particular the parallels between Moby Dick and T'Shan's work Loss and Redemption, for the rest of the trip.

It was Mai Tagnaki who greeted them at the door to James Kirk's townhouse, who spoke warmly to T'Brita -- "It's so good to see you again, T'Brita, you are looking lovely this evening. Is that a Vulcan fabric?" -- more reservedly to Spock -- "Good evening, Captain" -- directed them to the buffet -- "You'll find plenty of vegetarian dishes, Jim told me to make sure they were there for you" -- and finally left them to their own devices with an "I'm sure you know most of the people here. I don't know where Jim is, maybe upstairs."

The party was surprisingly casual, with a mixture of Starfleet officers and administrative personnel balancing plates of food on their knees in the living room, dancing in the den, and peering through Kirk's latest telescope while shivering on the back deck. There were people everywhere spread throughout the expensive dwelling, and it was true that Spock knew most of the guests, even if they were not individuals with whom he would normally choose to consort. A quick survey told him that former shipmates were conspicuous by their absence, and that instead he would spend the evening with the powerful, the power-minded, and the scheming. Even Admiral Kyzynsky was present.

Before they even had the opportunity to take the three steps down into the main living area, where there were at least twenty individuals gathered, Spock was not pleased to be accosted by the assistant provost to Starfleet Academy, a dour woman who had been intent on leaving her post for the past five years, and who wished to induce him to take her place. He had no interest in teaching, he had told her that already three times over the past year, he was more than content with his scientific work and staff work with Kirk until the Enterprise refit was completed, yet she persisted.

T'Brita followed them as Hitchins took his arm and forcibly led him to a seat on the couch before a wide picture window, now framed with artificial greenery. He barely listened to the woman's blandishments while looking about what had been the spare and masculine lines of Kirk's dwelling, for it was transformed by an artful and no doubt expensive holiday decorator's touch. He did not care for its gilt and green overdone effusiveness.

But T'Brita listened to Hitchin's monologue with interest, interjecting at one point, "This is a logical suggestion, Spock. I also perceive the talent for teaching in you. However, it would be more suitable if you were to assume that responsibility for the Starfleet center on Vulcan, would it not?"

He escaped by offering to procure liquid refreshment, and returned to find T'Brita in conversation with an aide of Admiral Lopez's who worked with Commander Tagnaki. They were discussing the upcoming budget sessions with considerable vigor. Spock attempted to stand by the window and listen without comment, but Admiral Kyzynsky spied him and tried to extract information on the cost overruns associated with the JupSat station. Spock did not like the admiral but had no difficulty conducting an acceptable conversation with him while imparting no data at all. Eventually Kyzynsky snorted and left.

That was when Spock saw Kirk across the room.

A half second later Kirk looked up and their gazes met. So many times they had connected like this, a silent, warm acknowledgment that had come to assume too great an importance in Spock's life -- except this time the genuine smile that was just for Spock did not blossom. Instead, for a time that he could not measure, Kirk simply stood there, drink in hand, ignoring the red-haired woman talking to him, his gaze riveted on Spock, looking sad and lonely in the midst of the talk, the music, the gaiety.

This is not possible, Spock groaned silently, his gaze devouring his friend's form and face, and being battered by the force of Kirk's sexual attraction with nothing to protect him from it. This is not healthy. Where is my control? This must stop.

But he could not stop, he wanted to look and look and even more, and Jim was walking towards him with a measured, deliberate step. Spock stood there and let him approach, and not once did their eyes break contact. Jim had beautiful, compelling eyes.

"Hello, Spock." Kirk's voice was hushed, as if they were standing alone in a cathedral. But Spock could hear him perfectly well, anywhere.

"Good evening, Jim."

"I'm glad you made it tonight. I haven't seen you in eleven days."

"I have been serving double shifts as you know. And you have been away. How was your trip to Iowa? Your mother?"

"Mom's okay. It snowed while I was there, made me remember when Sam and I were just kids. It always seemed to snow then."

Spock could not help but note that Kirk said "I" in reference to his trip to Iowa, and not "we." For reasons he wished he did not have to acknowledge nor understand, his spirits lifted. "I have often noticed," he said, "that our childhood memories are distorted to accentuate the extremes. Your tales of life on the farm make it sound quite idyllic."

Kirk reached out and gently touched the cuff of Spock's sweater, an unhurried grasp between thumb and forefinger. He tugged once, and as he did the side of one finger brushed the inside of Spock's wrist, seemingly a casual, accidental gesture, but the warm touch of skin against skin nonetheless caused a startling and altogether sexual thrill to streak from his solar plexus straight up into his tingling throat. Jim, he wanted to say, longingly, hopelessly, foolishly. But he did not know what else to say, or once said, what he would do.

Kirk released him and said, "And you, my friend, perhaps remember too much of the pain?"

Spock nodded. "Perhaps." The trauma of his childhood seemed like nothing compared to this exquisite mix of pain and love and desire and frustration that roiled in his chest. His control was in tatters.

"Spock, I. . . . "

"Yes, Jim?"

"I. . .nothing. I did a lot of walking when I was in Iowa. It was beautiful."

"I am pleased that you had the opportunity to indulge yourself. I know you have an illogical fondness for frozen crystallized precipitation falling from the sky."

Kirk gave him a small smile as Spock had hoped he would, then he turned and slowly the two of them walked across the room, intent on each other, secure in their single-minded privacy. "My mom had a house full of relatives staying with her, and I just had to get away. I went out once during the storm, more an ice storm in the beginning than anything else. The wind was so strong I cried." He looked up at Spock. "Has that ever happened to you, that you were caught in the wind and cold so that your eyes teared?"

"On several occasions. Most notably on Ephenius VII."

"I remember. We thought you were going to lose your toes to frostbite."

"A forgettable occasion."

"Not to me. McCoy couldn't have done transplants of that complexity, with so much rehab time. You would have been stuck on Starbase 37 for months."

"I am fortunate that I maintained my extremities intact. You were speaking of walking through the storm in Iowa?"

"Uh-huh." They stepped up to the deserted foyer, the hubbub of conversation from the living room cradling them from one side, the music from the den a cushion from the other. Kirk leaned back against the wall and looked down into his amber drink, his voice reflective. "It turned from ice to snow and we got a good eight inches. There's a sort of peace right after a snowstorm that I've never known anywhere else. Everything is hushed, you can't hear anything except the crunch of your own footsteps, and if you stay still, all you eventually hear is the beating of your own heart. I. . .discovered I had a lot of thinking to do. I spent a lot of time listening to my heart."

Spock closed his eyes, he did not wish to consider what his friend's thoughts might have revolved about. A change in marital status? He pushed the thought away. Jim's happiness must be his primary concern.

"I hope the occasion allowed you to resolve whatever problem is concerning you."

"I don't know," Kirk spoke into his glass. "Some situations don't have solutions."

Spock cocked his head to one side, genuinely concerned now. "That does not sound like the starship captain whom I know." And love.

Kirk gave a short, rueful laugh. "I know, it isn't like me. I think I've figured out what to do. But some things are. . .well, difficult." He looked up suddenly and straightened, as if startled to find Spock actually standing there. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be talking to you about this. Please, forget it, it's nothing."

"Jim, I would not wish to presume upon your privacy, nor upon our friendship, but I would like to think that unencumbered communication is possible between us at all times, if you so desire it."

Kirk looked him full in the face, finally gave him a slow, melancholy smile. "I know. I can talk to you about anything. It's so ironic." He took a long drink from the glass, looked about him as if seeking another topic of conversation. "Is T'Brita here?"

Spock tilted his head towards the living room. "She is sitting on your blue divan, conversing with Professor Chan."

"I see her. She really is a beautiful woman. Any man would be proud to be seen in her company." Kirk sounded especially earnest.

"Vulcans do not place the same importance on physical appearance as humans do."

"I know. So, you two getting along okay?"

Spock did not know what to say to that. He finally settled on "Sufficiently."

"Good, I'm glad. Are you going to dance with her?"

"Dance? I had no such plans. I do not believe -- "

"It's part of the tradition, Spock, at least in Iowa it is. On New Year's Eve, as the clock strikes midnight, you need to be dancing with the woman you. . .with your date. And then you kiss her for good luck."

Was Kirk joking, or teasing him as he so often did? He appeared to be serious. "We are not in Iowa," Spock pointed out gently. He knew that these comments were simply a distraction for Kirk, from whatever it was that was interfering with his peace of mind. Spock thought darkly of tall, thin women with political aspirations for their lovers. "I do not believe that I would wish to indulge in such blatantly emotional behavior, nor would T'Brita expect it of me."

And he could not imagine doing so in front of Jim, where his friend could see him holding T'Brita in that oddly intimate, public embrace of human dancing. With a sudden chill Spock remembered Kirk coming upon him and Leila together, how his hands had not wanted to leave her body, how later he had been so disturbed that Jim had seen him with the woman. And then how events had catapulted him into this sexless, frustrating behavior. . . .

"But you said T'Brita was very curious about human behavior. Suppose she wants to. She might talk you into it."

"Jim, I -- "

But he had no opportunity for more speech. The door signal chimed, there were late arrivals at the party, Kirk was swept away by them and Spock was left standing alone in the foyer.

It had been a mistake to attend this occasion, for even though Kirk had requested it, Spock anticipated that there would be no opportunity to provide the sane conversation and companionship that his friend had implied he needed, nor the chance to explore and possibly relieve Jim's inexplicable melancholy. Spock would do that if he could, regardless of the consequences to his uncertain equilibrium. Slowly he turned on one heel, observed the press of bodies which he did not wish to re-join, heard the voices and the music raised in an artificial kind of joy that he did not comprehend and would never share. There were too many beings in this house. What had he been thinking, escorting T'Brita to this excessively emotional celebration? Already, two hours shy of the arrival of the new year, there was a marked increase in the noise level, indication of carefree human activity enhanced by growing intoxication.

Spock returned to T'Brita's side more by default than through any other motivation, for there was nowhere else in particular he wished to be and no one with whom he wished to converse. He surmised that it would be a breach of manners to leave before midnight. There were but one hundred and seven minutes to go.

T'Brita welcomed him back with a nod of her head and a question. "Did you enjoy your conversation with Commodore Kirk? I would appreciate the opportunity to get to know him on a more personal basis."

T'Brita was an intelligent woman, a professional whom he respected, a fellow Vulcan with a self-contained assertiveness which he appreciated in any being, but Spock was more than a little weary of the way events seemed to have been taken out of his hands in recent weeks. He seemed to be treading some pre-destined path, with everything manipulating his responses except his own desires. If he decided to bond with T'Brita, if he thought Jim would appreciate enlarging the acquaintance, then he, Spock, would initiate a social meeting.

"Perhaps," he said shortly, and then regretted the undeniable harshness of his tone.

T'Brita did not react to his emotionalism but turned to her conversational companion. "Spock, I believe you are acquainted with Professor Chan?"

Spock applied himself to adult behavior, and he succeeded. Eventually he and T'Brita visited the buffet, found agreeable companionship in the dining room in the form of two chemical engineers with whom Spock had worked before. They ate, lingered over flavored klava and enjoyed a stimulating conversation until the engineer named Mary glanced at her watch and said, "It's almost twelve o'clock, time to dance." She held out her hand to her partner, Susan, and with smiles they went off to the den.

"I investigated the customs pertaining to this occasion," T'Brita commented. "I would prefer not to indulge in this particular one."

"I agree."

"Although it would be possible since you and I have melded. The touch would not be too distressful if we maintained our shields, and that could be done without undue effort on our part because of our familiarity with each other's mental pathways. If you desire to participate in this ritual, I could accommodate you. Perhaps it would be possible for -- "

"Negative, that will not be necessary. I have no desire to dance with you in the way of the humans."

"I understand. Nor do I. However, I do desire to meld with you again. Perhaps later this evening at my apartment -- "

"I think not, T'Brita, I am somewhat fatigued."

"Another time, perhaps, when it is mutually convenient. Would it be possible tonight then to observe the dancing even though we do not participate in it? I have not seen such behavior with my own eyes, only on educational materials. Is it true that the humans touch, hold one another closely?"

"And occasionally engage in pre-coital sexual behavior as well." Spock could not seem to prevent himself from saying that, as he thought of Jim and Mai Tagnaki swaying in a sensual embrace.

T'Brita's eyes widened the smallest fraction. "Indeed. Then perhaps it may not be wise -- "

But a perverse masochism gripped Spock. He rose and indicated the room from which the rhythmic beat of slow dance music emanated. "Let us go with the others."

No one stood in the doorway with Spock and T'Brita, everyone else was three steps down in the cleared space and holding someone in their arms, moving to the melody. Spock attempted not to look at faces, forms, to see the room as a whole and regard the experience as T'Brita must be regarding it, as an interesting insight into a culture and society foreign from his own. But inevitably his eyes focused, and of course it was on one golden head that his gaze fell.

"Thirty seconds," someone shouted.

Kirk held Mai Tagnaki, his arms rested lightly upon her waist. Her cheek nestled against his, their bodies were familiarly pressed together, and Kirk's face was downcast, obscured in the drift of his partner's black hair. Spock saw them and did not allow himself to react. This was the future and he must become accustomed to it. This dance was but a re-enactment of an intimacy that Jim and his partner must have shared many times; it was an excuse for humans to engage in sexual behavior in a social context.

But then Jim stirred from his easy, comfortable position. He looked up, and of course his eyes met Spock's, he witnessed Spock staring at him.

"Ten," someone shouted.

Jim did not look away but Spock had to. He glanced down at the long polished planks of the hardwood floor. The music played on, bodies moved, T'Brita next to him shifted her weight from one foot to another as if she were uneasy, and the last seconds of the year counted down --

"Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!"

-- T'hy'la. If only you and I --

"They do not all kiss," T'Brita calmly observed beside him. "Perhaps thirty percent retain a genuine sense of decorum. See, your friend Jim does not."

He looked up, caught Jim's sad eyes locked with his own over a feminine shoulder, and then Mai Tagnaki pulled back to take Kirk's face between her hands and joined their lips.

"I err. Perhaps he was waiting for Ms. Tagnaki to initiate. I have much to learn of the gender roles normally assumed by humans."

"Yes," Spock said, turning away towards he knew not what. "You do."

There was an excessive amount of noise, several loud retorts that were startling until it became obvious that balloons breaking were the cause. A hired waiter came by with a tray.

"Champagne," Spock said, and procured a glass for both T'Brita and himself. In the time it took to silently consume the drink already people were breaking away from the crowd and donning their outerwear. Spock decided that it would not be inappropriate to end this confusing evening immediately.

Mai Tagnaki stood by the door at the top of the flight of steps down to the sidewalk outside, Jim Kirk next to her, saying good-bye to their guests who were leaving. Mai held out her hands to the departing Vulcans.

"You forget," T'Brita told her, "My people do not touch casually. I found the evening of considerable interest. I thank you for including me."

"Of course, any time. I'm looking forward to getting to know you a lot better." Mai withdrew her offered handclasp and sent a speaking glance Spock's way. "And you too, Captain Spock, of course. I hope this is just the first of many New Years we celebrate together. Good-bye." Already she was turning her attention to the people behind them.

Spock nodded at her, at Kirk standing so far silently beside her. "Good-night, Jim."

Kirk turned, walked with them out into the bitter weather. "Spock, I. . . . I. . . . " Again the self-assured, golden-tongued commodore could not find the words to complete his sentence.

Spock stopped mid-way down the steps and turned to look up as T'Brita proceeded to the sidewalk. "Yes, Jim?"

A swift, self-condemning shake of Kirk's head. "Nothing. I don't have any right to ask."

Spock took a step up, closer, one hand on the frigid metal rail. His open coat flapped in the blustering wind. "You do."

Kirk's hand was on the rail too, he stepped down and slid it forward until their fingers almost touched, almost over-lapped. "No, I don't."

"Jim, please, tell me what is troubling you."

Kirk's face twisted into a false smile. "It's nothing. Nothing at all. I just. . .want you to be happy, Spock."

"Happy? I am not certain the term holds relevance for Vulcans."

"It does, Spock. It has to. You can find happiness and satisfaction and belonging just like any other being. I've got to believe that and so do you. Now, go on, you're gonna catch your death of cold if you stay out here in this wind." He grabbed both sides of Spock's coat, pulled them together, pressed the cloth and the length of his forearms against Spock's chest -- and then paused, looking down. Jim exhaled heavily, Spock felt the kiss of frosty breath against his lips, and for the third time that evening he and Jim became locked in a visual embrace.

It was as close as they had been since the pon farr, when he had lain upon his captain's body. Precious memory, life and warmth and solid strength, midnight hour of the dream so carefully concealed, this is what I have always wanted. . . . He could not move, did not want to move, wanted to stay on the steps forever staring into Kirk's golden eyes with his body a captive of his t'hy'la's strong arms. . . .

"You've got to go, Spock," Kirk whispered. "I've got to let you go."

"Jim. . . . " The barest sigh, escaped from the caged love in his heart.

And then the voice of reality intruded in clear, feminine tones. "Spock," T'Brita called from the sidewalk, "I believe that our aircab has just landed further down this residential street. Will you walk with me to it?"

"I will call you tomorrow," Spock breathed with conviction. "Will you talk to me then?"

Kirk shook his head. "Nothing to say, my friend." He released his grip on the coat and stepped back and up. "Go. Go home with T'Brita. Meld with her. Find what you need."

There was no choice. If Jim would not talk to him, if Spock could not understand what this frustrating, unusual evening meant, if he would not allow his long-guarded hope to blossom just because Jim looked at him, and looked at him, and looked at him -- then there was nothing else for him to do but escort T'Brita to her apartment, and then to retreat to the solitary stillness of his own dwelling. He would think about Jim, and his touch, his words, his apparent unhappiness in the deep hours of the night, or he would attempt to sleep and not think about Jim at all. What his dreams brought him, that he could not control.

"Good-bye," Spock said. Then he turned, walked down the steps and followed T'Brita across the street, from the darkness through the splotches of lamplight to the shadows again and up to the opposite sidewalk. There was indeed an aircab hovering approximately twenty meters away, and T'Brita was already almost there.

Then came the voice that he would always answer. "Spock! Wait! Wait!"

Hope flared, impossible hope that lit a fire in his belly and he turned back, down off the sidewalk, he started across the black asphalt towards where Kirk stood at the top of the steps, towards whatever words Kirk would give him, and the wind was blowing Jim's hair back from his face and making him look so beautiful, the wind that was strong, so strong that it sounded like a machine, a ground car engine very close and out-of-control, merging with a beloved voice now shouting "Watch out! Watch -- "

Spock clearly felt the impact of rushing metal against the right side of his body, the shift of momentum from car to vulnerable flesh, the acceleration as his feet lifted from the ground and pain shot through his leg, his chest and arm, everywhere, the rush of air against warm blood already spouting, and then the thump! as he landed somewhere hard and splintering. Broken bones, the rational part of his being told him, but then his head followed where his body had impacted, and his world exploded in a million blots of color, he cringed away from them, they were too bright, too much light, too much pain. . . .

He emerged from dizzying chaos to Jim's frantic murmur, "Oh, God, oh, God, I did this, I can't believe I did this, if I hadn't been weak and called you, damn all drunk drivers," a shout, "for God's sake, don't just stand there, call Emergency Services, we need a doctor, and blankets, coats, anything!" Something heavy settled against his chest, fire lanced through him and he groaned.

"Spock!" A touch upon his cheek, more pain, but it was Jim and he attempted to move towards it, he would endure anything for Jim, would he not? But he couldn't move. Better to remain still, some nebulous voice declaimed. But Jim was talking to him and he wanted to see him, but he couldn't, he couldn't pierce the cruel, biting colors and open his eyes.

"Spock, can you hear me? Damn it, why didn't I insist we invite Bones? Damn Mai! Damn her! Bones would know what to do, he would have come from Arcturus if I'd asked him to. Spock, can you hear me? Oh, God, not now, don't take him away now. Spock, talk to me."

A settling movement on the other side of his body. "Do not touch him." It was T'Brita, commanding. "He must initiate pain control as well as make an effort to stop the bleeding until medical help arrives."

"Damn it, lady," Kirk snarled, "don't you tell me about emergency first aid. He's bleeding all over the street, I'm not lifting my hand until it's stopped."

"You should maintain the pressure on the arm wound, but you must cease your distracting emotionalism. Remove your hand from his."

Jim was holding his hand? He had not known until the warmth disappeared and he was bereft.

T'Brita's competent, controlled voice sounded in his ear. Possibly she knelt in the street next to him? He thought of the green velvet skirt. Until it stiffened, no one would be able to see his blood against its fabric. "Stop the bleeding, Spock, descend into your body, step one, breathe, eran don'de, krathlene. Again. Stothen, eran don'de, krathlene. Breathe. Breathe."

He tried, but the paths of mastery were very far away and there was so much fire sparkling through his body. And he was cold, very cold. Control was beyond him. T'Brita had an inflated opinion of him, he could not live up to her expectations, he was only Spock, not-Vulcan, not-human, he was Spock, Jim Kirk's friend.

The sound of running footsteps, then Mai Tagnaki's voice. "ES says they'll be at least fifteen minutes. There's a twenty car wreck on Esplanade that's got them tied up."

"Too long," Kirk almost moaned. "He's going into shock already." Spock felt a hand fumbling for his wrist. "Runaway pulse, even for him."

"I do not believe he is capable of initiating mental controls," T'Brita announced. "Observe the head wound, which appears to be serious. It is undoubtedly affecting his capabilities."

"He's unconscious!" Kirk shouted. "How the hell do you expect him to. . . . "

Spock would have winced, he wanted to go far away from the hurting sound and the panic Jim exposed to the world, but he was already so far gone, trapped in pain, down deep away from any possible expression, down deep where his love lived. That was where he would stay, with his hopeless melancholy, his truest companion.

"Get his legs up, Mai!"

"What?"

"T'Brita, help her. Check to make sure they're not broken, then elevate, shove some of these coats under him. Hold them up if you need to."

Mai's uncertain voice. "Why?"

"Don't ask stupid questions, just do it!"

A fumbling about his body, he knew there were negative physical sensations caused by his injuries, but he allowed himself to drift, riding the pain, he would hide and merely listen to Jim's voice.

"His right leg has sustained a compound fracture." T'Brita's calm had not faltered yet.

"Then raise his left leg. Do it!" Ahh, a touch to his fingers. Jim again. An endless period of time passed while he heard other voices but could not process what they said. There was some movement imposed on his body. He tried to curve his fingers around Jim's -- it is all I have ever wanted, to touch you -- but did not know if he succeeded.

"Mai, go call ES again. Tell them they've got to get here, this is serious." Suddenly Jim sounded very calm, almost like a Vulcan. "T'Brita."

"Yes, Commodore Kirk?"

"Do you agree he's in shock?"

"You are perhaps more competent than I to judge, since you are familiar with his hybrid physiology."

"I just want an opinion."

"I agree."

"Then you've got to meld with him."

"I do not understand the reason for your statement."

"To sustain his life processes, damn it!"

"What you suggest may not be possible. It is an advanced discipline that is very difficult, and it also carries its own dangers."

"Spock did it."

A short silence. "I had not known he was capable. May I ask the circumstances?"

"When we were on the Enterprise, he melded three, no, four times to keep people alive, once with me."

"I. . .see."

"Can you do it?"

"I am not sure."

"Will you try? T'Brita, he's still bleeding, he's in shock, he could be. . .dying." Jim's voice cracked in a sob on that last word, and something inside Spock broke because he had caused his t'hy'la such sorrow. He wanted to tell him do not cry, but he was caught by a vision of tears streaming down that perfectly formed face, the way that Jim had said the wind in Iowa had given him tears during the storm.

"I bow to your judgment, Commodore. I will make the attempt."

A shifting, a hand upon his face, but it was Jim who leaned over him and whispered, "Spock, don't leave me, please don't leave me."

"Your emotionalism is hardly useful, Commodore, it is the extent of his injuries that will determine Spock's survival."

"Just do it."

He knew what to expect because they had joined minds before. T'Brita infiltrated herself past the pain, past his retreat with a skill and determination that created admiration. She was, indeed, a worthy individual.

A twist and the pain receded, held at bay by her will. Gratitude swept over him. Now he could feel Jim's hand in his, and hear a very familiar sound, a transporter materializing individuals.

"Thank God!" Kirk's voice, heartfelt, although he knew that Jim was not a religious man.

T'Brita was there, over him but not through him, cradling him. Spock, do not fear, life beckons. I will sustain you.

More hands, more voices, something hissed into his veins, he felt T'Brita relax slightly, but she was still there as a male voice said, "We'll transport all of you to St. Francis. You say they're mind-linked?"

Jim explaining, the whirl of the transporter, and then the meld was stretched, ripped, T'Brita was gone, his hand was lifted, stroked, Jim was gone, and he went whirling down into a rainbow that closed in around his mind. . . .

*****

CONTINUED WITH CHAPTER FOUR

Chapter Text

The first thought that achieved coherence with a groggy consciousness was: it is five hundred hours in the morning. His Vulcan awareness of time was intact.

With the passing of the slow minutes Spock's other senses returned. He lay upon a hospital bed: he heard the soft swish-swish of the monitoring equipment, he smelled the same antiseptic odor he had encountered too often in the Enterprise's sickbay, and his thoughts were obviously impaired by painkilling drugs such as McCoy had occasionally imposed upon him. There was no pain, but he suffered from lassitude that forced him to debate opening his eyes for what felt like a very long time.

But eventually he decided it was worth the effort. Someone was professional and considerate for the lights in the room were dim, and once he had forced his lids up Spock was able to see without squinting excessively.

Jim stood beside the bed, his head bowed, and Spock allowed his gaze to rest upon him gently. There were dark stains on Kirk's silken beige shirt and about the waistband of his brown trousers. His hands grasped the rail that ran along the side of the bed. Perhaps he was in prayer.

Spock licked his lips but did not know what he should say, or even if he could speak. He remembered the voices and the touches as he had sprawled in the street before Jim's home, but he was much too tired to interpret any of it. But that did not seem to be important. Jim was here.

He attempted to raise his hand but was hindered by an intravenous unit that seemed impossibly heavy. But Jim saw the minute movement. His head jerked up, his lips mouthed a breathless word.

"Spock?"

Spock's nod was pitiful, but at least he managed to move. It was a small triumph.

Kirk disengaged from the railing, he leaned over it and very slowly, very carefully placed one hand on each side of Spock's white pillow. The mattress dipped with the weight, Spock rode down with it, but he could not take his eyes from Jim's face so close to his.

"How do you feel?" A whisper.

" -- ficient."

A small smile, and a flick of a thumb against his cheek. "That's my Spock. Can I get you anything? Water? The doctor will probably be in here any minute."

He managed to get out, "Negative. Only. . ." before breath failed him.

"Only what?"

"Nothing. You."

The smile grew. "You've got me. I'm not going anywhere."

It was good to see Jim smiling so close to him, he could see each individual eyelash, and the flawless complexion that glowed with health, looking so lush and soft that he wondered for what he knew was the thousandth secret time how it would feel to stroke that skin with his fingers. He saw the moment when joy turned to sorrow, and the welling of tears held back.

" -- not weep," he hoarsely whispered. His throat was raw, but it was important that Jim hear him.

"I won't," Kirk said with a gulp. "What's important is that you're alive. The doctor says there isn't any lasting injury that won't heal eventually. But it was a close thing, Spock. Only T'Brita kept you alive."

Spock's eyes flicked about the room, Kirk read the question there.

"She went home a few hours ago. She said it was illogical to wait for you to wake up when she knew there wasn't anything else for her to do. You can't fault her for her logic."

Spock returned his gaze to Kirk's soft eyes, staring down at him with what he could only interpret as affection. But he might be wrong. The drugs were interfering with his perception of reality. The edges of his vision were blurring, Jim's face seemed to pick up the light and glow.

"Spock?"

"Um?"

"You're going to fall asleep again, aren't you?"

" -- es."

"That's okay, you need all the rest you can get. But before you leave me, there's something I've got to say. I can't delay it any more. Are you awake? Can you hear me?"

Spock forced his eyes wide open again. "Yes."

Jim's form seemed to sway, moving away and then closer, perhaps with indecision and then resolution? Illogical. It was just the drugs. . . .

"I've been wanting to say this to you for a while. Weeks. Remember. . .remember our last meld? On the day before we docked?"

They had never spoken of it after their final mental joining on the ship, but he would never forget those moments of perfection. "Yes." It seemed to take a long time to get the word out, he could almost see it in the air between them, traveling to bridge the enormous distance between them.

"It was special, Spock. The most special moment. I want to do it again. Do you think we could, you and I? Join our minds?"

If only the sedatives were not so effective, he would be able to formulate the correct reply, he would manage to find a way to convey to Jim without unseemly, overt manifestations how much he wished to engage in a meld with his friend again. He would find a way to translate the most unVulcan joy in his heart into a small gesture, a word that Jim would be able to understand. . . . But none of that was possible. He was falling, sinking into darkness again, and all he could take with him was the luster in Jim's incomparable eyes, and the smile there, and a small whisper. "When you're better. Don't forget."

*****

He did not forget over the next week that he spent in the hospital recuperating. He could scarcely escape the promise from reverberating in his befogged mind every second. Kirk visited him often but never made reference to that hazy, sedative-filled night, and so neither did Spock. After a few days he questioned whether the memory were but a figment of his imagination, perhaps caused by the severe concussion that also prevented him from initiating a healing trance, but he did not think so. Kirk smiled at him when he came to share the evening hours, but it was a soft, withdrawn expression, hinting at words so far unspoken and events yet unlived. Their conversation about melding had been real. Spock did not allow himself to analyze beyond that, and he resigned himself to a slow recovery in the human way, without the aid of the Vulcan gifts that could have speeded his body's return to health.

He took the healer's and the doctor's advice and allowed himself to sink often into slumber. It was not a burden, for he took with him Jim's face so close to his, close enough for the meld that they would share as soon as he was well.

Thoughts of the joining dominated his waking hours too, and he was so without control that his body reacted to his shamefully emotional contemplations. His breathing accelerated, his chest grew tight. Once a nurse practitioner checked him while he was lost in the meld that was-to-be because his readings had suddenly gone awry.

Nothing, he assured her. He was recovering. There was little pain. So she left and he was able to think again, to remember, to anticipate, and to finally slip into slumber. Yes, such fixation with fantasies was juvenile, yes, such indulgence in raw emotion was most unVulcan, but Jim had injected a far more powerful hallucinogenic drug into his veins than any doctor ever had. He could not resist.

And yet. . . . And yet. . . . Even with this unlooked for gift, even with this most fortunate outcome the result of such an unfortunate event, still there was a whispering voice that asked for. . .more. What more? his rational self asked, but it was not rationality that knew or could comprehend the answer to that question.

So Spock welcomed the enforced idleness of sleep, and that mystical area between awakening and dreams where anything could come true, and where all questions were answered, all truths exposed.

Eventually the dream-like quality of the minutes retreated and the world became brighter, louder, and ever more painful as the sedative doses were reduced. One early evening Spock awakened slowly, trying to deny the ache in his arm and his broken leg, the headache that throbbed behind his temples most of the time, and before he opened his eyes he heard the soft hiss of voices. People were in his room, talking to one another in low tones. From the intensity of their words, arguing? He remained still and listened.

"There is no need for you to take time off from your duties, Commodore, I am perfectly capable of assisting Spock when he is released from this institution."

"Of course you are, T'Brita, but that's not the point. I think that Spock would be more comfortable if I were the one to settle him back in his apartment. I could stay with him for a few days just to make sure he's okay."

"As could I. We Vulcans do not subscribe to your human moral code, it would be acceptable for me to reside in Spock's home and provide him with the help he will need."

"Morals don't enter into this, we just have to figure out what's best for Spock. I've already re-arranged my schedule so that I can do this."

"And it would not be difficult for me to do the same. My contribution to the project is important, but others do not depend upon it to the same extent that they depend on yours."

"There's a perfectly acceptable comlink at the apartment where I can take care of emergencies."

"But would that be the ideal environment in which Spock can regain his strength?"

"He's comfortable with me, we've known each other for years. You've only just met him."

"We have melded."

"I know, I saw you do it. I told you to do it. What difference does that make?"

"On Vulcan, such an act between unbonded adults carries with it certain presumptions. . . . "

"But you haven't talked about bonding yet, have you?" Kirk's voice was assertive.

"No. However -- "

"Then it doesn't make a difference."

A short silence. Spock could imagine T'Brita tilting her head to one side and examining his fierce, determined friend. Kirk's shoulders must be set, his torso tilted slightly forward. That was the way Jim always looked when he was intent on getting his own way.

T'Brita spoke. "The resolution of this situation is important to you. There are emotional undercurrents I perceive but do not completely understand. You wish to do this for Spock?"

"Because it's best for him, that's all."

"Then I will not interfere. If he requires assistance that you cannot provide, you will call upon me."

"Fine, I will."

He had never doubted that Jim would prevail. He had confidence in his former captain.

Before Spock could reveal his awakened state a personal comlink sounded and Kirk was called away by a male voice. Spock was pleased it was not a feminine one instead. Mai Tagnaki had been conspicuous by her absence from his sick room. "Tell him I was here, T'Brita," Kirk said as the door closed behind him.

"Of course, Commodore."

So when Spock abandoned his pretense and opened his eyes, it was T'Brita alone who greeted him.

"Good-evening, Spock," she said. "You are looking more alert this evening. Is there anything I can procure for you?" Before he could answer she took the chair at the side of the bed, sitting with the erect posture which would have been an affectation in any Terran woman but was second nature to a Vulcan female. Tonight she was wearing the navy blue coveralls she preferred, accented by a woolly red turtleneck sweater. Her hair was gathered into a loose bun at the nape of her neck, a new and not unattractive style.

Spock sat up carefully and instructed the bed to assume a supporting position. "I require nothing. I am well."

"Your recovery is proceeding as the doctors expect, although of course it would be much more efficient if only you were able to enter a healing trance. Spock, I wish to speak to you on a matter of import, something I believe I have been remiss in not mentioning before this time."

He cocked a weary, wary eyebrow at her.

"I wish to speak of our. . . . "

He actually saw her lips purse into the "b" sound, but at the last second she retreated and substituted another word for what she had intended to say.

". . .our relationship."

He would not help her in this, and a slight feeling of shame emerged. T'Brita was a good woman. There was a high probability that she would be his bondmate and bear his children. There was no real reason for him to resist her -- but he did. "Indeed?"

"Yes. It is fortunate that you and I had melded that one time before your accident. My familiarity with your mental configuration is the only element which enabled me to initiate and maintain the fl'ntar. I am impressed that you were able to support the life processes of beings from the Enterprise with whom you had not melded before, because I would find such a task quite beyond my capacity."

"I am fortunate in my mental abilities."

"Yes. Individuals are blessed with different gifts, but you appear to have developed yours through application. The commodore told me you had melded with four different individuals in the same manner that I supported you."

"That is true. However, I was familiar with one mind, they were not all strange to me."

"Yes." T'Brita paused and looked down at the carefully composed hands in her lap. "Commodore Kirk's, when he was your captain. You know his mind. You have joined with him frequently, I presume."

"But not recently." Jim, touching him. Even if not in the way that was Spock's secret dream, still, touching him. . . .

T'Brita wrenched his attention back to her by rising and standing next to his bed. She appeared to gather her thoughts, then spoke slowly. "It occurs to me that you perhaps do not place the same interpretation on melding between unbonded adults that I do. I had thought that when you agreed to meld with me you were exploring the possibility of a bonding between us, as I have been doing. Am I in error?"

Spock's ride on the wings of euphoric dreams came to an abrupt, disconcerting halt. She had him neatly pinned. Again she showed the same talent in direct speaking, in verbal attack that she had displayed before. It was quite similar to Kirk's forthright style.

He did not wish to speak of this, but he must respond, and he would not do so untruthfully. The bedclothes rustled as he slowly twisted his bandaged right leg under the sheet, an acceptable manifestation of the level of his discomfort. He resented this severing of his false serenity, this confrontation with hard truths. T'Brita reminded him: one meld with Jim Kirk would last but a few minutes. Spock must still consider the rest of his life.

"No," he said slowly, "you are not in error. It is logical that we consider the possibility of a bonding between us."

"Yes, it is. I desire a bondmate, Spock. It is not good to live alone, especially for our people. My childhood mate died in an industrial accident many years ago, and I have rejected all those advanced by my clan since then. I have done so because I desire to bond with someone whom I respect, with whom I can form a satisfying life, shared by compatible beings. It is necessary to me that I share interests and goals with my bondmate. There are not many male Vulcans who would appreciate my career and my off-world travels.

"I wish to pursue the compatibilities we have already ascertained, and to discover if there are more. To do this most effectively, there must be truth of intention between us, do you not agree? It would be illogical for us to continue if you have already determined that I am not a suitable prospective partner. Have you?"

It was difficult to acknowledge. "No, I have not. Nor have I decided that a bonding between us is inevitable."

"That is only logical," she said smoothly, and with a slight fervor which Spock easily interpreted as relief. She resumed her place in the chair. "You have not accumulated enough data. You do wish to do so, however, do you not?"

How could it ever be a matter of choice, of wishing, for a male Vulcan? Spock was driven to T'Brita by the inevitable approach of his pon farr, by Jim's confirmed heterosexuality, by Mai Tagnaki in seductive nightwear.

"I will accumulate more data until I can inform you of whether I wish to initiate a bonding sequence between us. Or not."

"And I will do the same. I presume that in the future there will be more melds for us to share. You have seemed oddly reluctant to initiate another. Was the initial joining between us unsatisfactory?"

"No, T'Brita, it was not unsatisfactory. It was beneficial in many ways."

"Indeed, that one encounter was responsible for my being able to sustain your life. So, we will proceed. It is good that we have had this conversation, is it not? I bring you greetings from the rest of my team, Spock, they are most concerned for your recovery. And Siddorn has a question about the parameters of the change in section 4B of the schematics. Did you intend a ratio of five point six or five point seven?"

They spoke only of business after that until a nurse entered the room, stared pointedly at the fluctuating readings on the diagnostic panel built into the headboard, and announced, "My patient requires rest, ma'am. I believe he is over-tired."

"Of course, I will leave at once. It was not my intention to remain this long. Spock, I will anticipate future melds between us with positive thoughts. Good-evening."

T'Brita retreated from the room, but a moment later she re-appeared in the doorway. "I neglected to mention that Commodore Kirk was here earlier while you were sleeping. He was called away on some business and particularly requested that I inform you of his visit. Good-night."

Spock stared at the swinging door as the nurse adjusted a dial on the panel. "It's not a good thing," she said kindly, "to have agitating conversations when you're recovering, Captain Spock. Your body needs rest, not confrontation. Perhaps it would be best if I had a word with your lady friend."

"No," Spock said bleakly. "No."

It was only logical to face the truth. Nothing had really changed, had it? As soon as he was stronger, perhaps the day he returned to his own dwelling, he must spend time strengthening his controls. He had been unforgivably lax. Despite the meld-to-be, Jim was not for him.

It was a subdued, realistic Spock, sitting on the edge of his bed, who welcomed Kirk when he arrived the morning he was finally to be released from the hospital. But Kirk did not seem to perceive his somber mood, the commodore was all genuine cheerfulness. Dressed in crisp black slacks and a bulky, cream-colored sweater, he stood in the middle of the room, rubbed his hands together and exclaimed, "At last! You've been in here forever. Want some help with your shoes?"

Spock could not help but agree, the last few cloudy days had felt like forever, and yes, he did require help with his footwear as his leg was still painfully stiff and his arm was little better. Kirk winked, then bent to assist him, his square, capable hands as efficient and as gentle as any nurse's. Spock forlornly observed the fair head bent in his service, and did not allow his body to react to the touch upon his extremities at all.

"Thank you," Spock said when his now-shod feet were released.

"My pleasure," Kirk said with an odd little smile. "Any time."

They tussled with the overly-solicitous, excessively-young discharge nurse who emphasized the limitations on his activities: "get lots of rest, don't overdo, stop when there's excessive pain or fatigue, and don't forget what the healer said about not trying any of your Vulcan mind tricks yet. Come back in five days for your follow-up appointments with Doctor Gates and Healer Sunta." Then she attempted to deposit him in an anti-grav chair, but he and Kirk overruled her by ignoring the mechanism and proceeding out the door, albeit with Kirk's supporting hand under his elbow. It was a maneuver not unlike those they had accomplished while they were still the command team of the Enterprise, although of considerably less import, but nevertheless there was a certain satisfaction in working with his former captain in the unstated conspiracy. When they stood before the hospital turbolift doors, Kirk released his arm and looked at him with a twinkle in his eye.

"Feels good to escape from prison, doesn't it?

"Indeed, it is a relief to be returning to my apartment."

"I guess I haven't mentioned that, have I? Hope you don't mind, but -- "

The turbo doors opened, the lift was already occupied by two white-coated technicians, and Kirk extended his arm to usher Spock inside. They remained silent during the long ride to the ground level, and as Spock limped through the lobby and slowly out to where Kirk's seldom-used aircar was parked in the front. To Spock's disgust he was already fatigued, and his leg ached abominably. It was possible that his arm was actually. . .yes, it was trembling.

"Here, let me get that." Kirk reached beyond him and opened the aircar passenger door. "There you are." Of course the commodore owned the latest model sports version, requiring an effort to hoist oneself into the front seat even for healthy individuals. Spock did not believe he fell into that category at the moment.

An awkward hesitation and then Kirk's arm was around his waist, his other arm braced against Spock's thigh, and with a lift -- "Up you go" -- and a slide Spock found himself in the front seat with minimal effort on his part, and no additional jarring to his throbbing leg.

Kirk smiled at him through the open door, heedless of the cold rain that was just starting to fall from the cloudy gray sky. "There. I don't imagine T'Brita would have been able to do that for you."

If Jim wanted to tease him with that overtly affectionate tone and that devilish spark in his eye, then Spock would allow it and return it in kind. "You forget T'Brita's Vulcan strength. She is fully capable of assisting me in the same way, I am sure. However, I am also sure such an action would not have been necessary, since she would not be driving such an illogical and pretentious aircar."

"Illogical and pretentious?" Kirk sputtered happily. "I'll have you know this is an X-1411 Skylark, with dual cam acceleration chambers -- "

"Which you will have no occasion to use in the metropolitan San Francisco area. Jim, would it not be wise for you to come in out of the rain?"

With a quick grin Kirk scrambled to the driver's seat, wiped the drops of water from his brow, started the 'car, and with careful, exaggerated precision -- "Don't worry, you can trust me, haven't had a citation in at least a week" -- lifted them up into the designated air lanes. Really, it was impossible not to share his good humor, it was infectious. Spock allowed himself a small smile which Kirk caught and returned.

Spock waited until they were airborne and locked into the metro grid control before he continued their conversation. "I believe you were about to mention something concerning my apartment?"

"Right. Hold on, let me punch in this code. . . . " Kirk relinquished the controls and shifted in his seat to face Spock as the aircar reverted to automatic; his right arm went up to extend across the back of the seat. His expression was suddenly serious. "I'm not taking us to your place, Spock. I thought it would be better if you spent the first few days at my house. I should have asked you first, but. . .I guess I just never got around to it. Okay?"

Spock was caught between conflicting reactions. He was touched that Jim offered him such personal hospitality, but on the other hand. . . .

"Would not my presence interfere with your relationship with Ms. Tagnaki?" He could not imagine sharing living space with her. If she were actually inhabiting the same dwelling, as Spock suspected she had been at the New Year, then he could not --

"No." Kirk was definite. "She's not around any more."

He examined his friend's face to see if perhaps this were a perpetuation of Kirk's jocular mood, but he appeared to be completely serious. "You have terminated your relationship with her?" Spock tried not to allow his tone to appear too hopeful.

"Absolutely. It wasn't going too well anyway, you know that, don't you? Oh, she's a nice woman, but she looks at the world differently than I do."

"Indeed."

"Indeed is an understatement, my logical friend."

"She is. . .I believe the word would be ambitious."

Kirk's mouth quirked. "And pushy."

"She believes strongly in the benefits of the subtle political system that permeates San Francisco base."

"And she wanted me right in the middle of it, exploiting it for advancement. God."

"But she is quite talented in her administrative work, I believe. The party was well organized."

"And she's really pretty, don't you think?"

"It is difficult for me to judge the beauty of Terran women, Jim."

"Definitely pretty. But not the one for me."

"This termination of your relationship was not. . .difficult?"

"Well, I wouldn't exactly say we parted with no hard feelings. She, ah, didn't want to let go. I think she saw me as a ticket to a new and influential life. It was quite a scene."

"I regret the pain that you have experienced -- "

"Don't. It would be much worse if I had stayed with her, knowing that I don't want what she wants, that I've discovered I want. . ." Kirk's voice turned reflective, "I want something completely different."

Spock wished very much to ask what that "something different" was, but he would not do so. It was up to Jim to speak of whatever personal revelations he had experienced. He shifted his sore arm from the armrest to his lap, twisting slightly closer to Kirk in the process at the expense of some small pain. The sound of the wind rushing against the 'car changed from a cutting hiss to a softer purr as the vehicle dropped down into a lower airlane. Kirk glanced once out the front window, then his gaze came back to Spock. There was something different in Jim's eyes, something that was hard for Spock to interpret: a gentleness that he had often seen and admired, because so many men were not strong enough to be gentle, and also a. . .vulnerability? When Kirk spoke again, his voice was hushed and sincere.

"My house is free, Spock. Free for you to come and stay there, for a few days or longer, as long as you want to stay. And I'm free, too." A pause and mechanical pings as the aircar downshifted to a slower speed. "I've arranged things so I can spend the next several days at home with you. Okay?"

"If you are sure it will not be an inconvenience."

"For you?" Kirk asked softly. "Never. You know that, don't you?" The arm that rested along the back of the seat moved, and Kirk brushed his cool fingertips against Spock's cheek, just barely, and then they were gone.

The warning beep from the console, alerting the driver that the car was about to be released to manual control, prevented Spock from responding to the raw affection Kirk had suddenly energized between them. It was just as well, for he was startled by the. . .by what could only be called a caress, and he did not know how to react to it. Was he so lost in his dreams that he interpreted every small thing Kirk did in a way to substantiate his longings? He stared at his friend's profile and attempted to deny all hopes, all expectations, but it was difficult. Perhaps. . . .

"Almost home," Kirk said as he activated the driver's console.

Try though he might, Spock could not hide his trembling fatigue as he slid out of the vehicle, found his way through the back entrance into Kirk's dwelling, and finally down the three steps to an over-stuffed chair in the living room. "You need to sleep," Kirk said firmly, standing over him with hands on hips.

"I will be fine after a short rest here."

"Hah. I'm not going to spend my first day as a nursemaid by letting you relapse. Doctor's orders. Upstairs you go, I've got the spare bedroom all made up."

"Jim, it is not even noon. . ." Spock protested, but Kirk was not to be denied.

"You're not being very logical. Come on, I'll help you."

"I am capable of traversing the distance without assistance, thank you," Spock said with as much dignity as he could muster, which was not much considering that he was having difficulty even keeping his head upright against the chair back.

Kirk snorted. "Right. Let's go." Kirk had lost none of his command abilities, and McCoy would have been proud of his dictatorial medical mien.

Spock took the steps one at a time to the upper floor -- "Damn, I never realized this house had so many stairs, take your time" -- and carefully levered himself down to a sitting position on the expansive bed that was piled high with gray and white striped pillows and an assortment of folded quilts. Kirk bent before him and tackled the laces of his shoes without comment. Spock had always hated incarceration in medical facilities in part because of the personal and embarrassing services which were foisted upon him, from necessity, by the medical staff. But it did not bother him when Kirk slid the shoes off his feet, one at a time, or rubbed the flat of his palm against Spock's sore soles for just a few seconds, and then rose and gently lifted his legs to the mattress. It did not bother him; to his shame it aroused him, and roused in him an ache deep inside someplace undefined, someplace where need had never been satisfied. It could never be satisfied, could it?

Spock settled back against the pillow and watched in silence as Kirk covered him with one quilt, then another, and he was reaching for a third when Spock held up his hand. "Enough, Jim. You will smother me."

"All right. Sleep as long as you want to, I'll probably be in the office across the hall if you need anything." He went to the window and pulled down the shade, then retreated to the doorway and instructed the house computer to extinguish the overhead lights. "Spock?"

The soft glow from the hallway outlined Kirk's trim, athletic form, his broad shoulders and narrow hips and balanced stance, and despite his need for sleep Spock could not tear his gaze away from that so-attractive picture. His feet still tingled from the touch of his friend's hands. "Yes, Jim?"

A pause, as if Kirk were searching for the right words. Finally he softly said, "I'm glad you're here."

The door shut and Spock closed his eyes. He wanted to stay awake and contemplate the journey from the hospital to Kirk's home. He wished to touch upon the pleasure and find a place for it somewhere between his resignation over his relationship with T'Brita and his joyous anticipation of the meld with Kirk, but that proved to be impossible. He did indeed require sleep.

When Spock awakened in the darkened room, his time sense told him it was sixteen hundred hours. He had slept the afternoon away. The soft shush of an indrawn breath told him he was not alone.

Slowly he opened his eyes. The rain had passed; the late afternoon sun filtered through and around the drawn shade, draping a surreal, dim glow over the objects in the room. The glow washed over Jim Kirk, who was on his knees at the side of the bed.

Spock's heart thumped in his side. "Jim?"

Kirk leaned in closer, his hands gripped the edge of the mattress, his voice was a whisper. "I've been watching you sleep. I suppose it's an invasion of your privacy, but I couldn't help but think that maybe you. . . . Do you mind?"

He trembled, not his leg or his arm, but inside a wild cacophony beat against the bars he had erected so many years ago, back when he hadn't known he loved this man, this golden human who had become essential to his happiness.

"No," he managed to get out beyond his stiff lips. "I do not mind." He shifted his head on the pillow, closer, ignoring the discomfort of his injuries, aware only of Jim's face, his eyes luminous and liquid.

"Good."

Very slowly, Kirk reached out and rested his open hand against Spock's cheek, each finger coming to rest separately, as if Kirk were wary of rejection. Spock wanted to close his eyes, to savor the pressure and coolness of this new and even more daring caress against his skin, but he could not abandon the sight before him. Kirk's gaze searched his face, touching his eyebrows, his mouth and lips, returned to look earnestly into his eyes as if seeking the answer to a question that had not yet been spoken.

There were more words, words that drifted over him, touching him everywhere like gentle rain in the desert, like a sand storm that reshapes all before it. "You're very. . .I don't know the word to use. Not beautiful. I've told so many women they're beautiful. Handsome? I don't know. I came in to check on you, and I couldn't stop looking. Compelling. I find you very compelling, Spock. Does that embarrass you?"

It was impossible not to respond to the open emotion held out to him in the same way that Jim had always given him emotion, like a gift. Spock untangled his hand from the bedclothes and over Kirk's caressing hand he pressed his own. He could not believe that he was touching Jim in this way, that Jim did not pull away from an unwanted intimacy. But there was no withdrawal, only a light that seemed to burst into being, suddenly transforming Kirk's face. Contemplation and hesitation to. . .joy?

"I am not embarrassed, I am. . . . " He struggled to find the right words, but he had never been required to use terms of affection, endearment, or even emotional truth. He'd never spoken the truth that had been incarcerated beyond reprieve for so long, but he wanted to speak now, and was frustrated when only the same restrained words came to him. "I am gratified. You are. . .I also find you. . .compelling. I have for some. . . . "

The ghost of a smile touched Kirk's mouth, in the dimness that was like the pregnant twilight before the stars blazed. "Compelling. I think I know what that means, coming from you. Tell me that I know, that we mean the same thing."

Kirk leaned even closer, his poised, parted lips were but a few inches away, it was the way they had stood face to face in the wind outside Jim's home on the night of the accident. Only now Jim was not pushing him away.

He could barely form the syllables to perhaps the most important words he would ever speak. His heart was seized by a wild fluttering, anticipation raced through his veins. Was this really happening? "You must know how I feel."

"I think I do. I pray I do. You know I've never been one to go slowly, it's one of my faults. You're just out of the hospital, for God's sakes, and I thought I'd wait for days before I. . . . But I can't help myself, I can't keep this to myself anymore. Forgive me, Spock. Tell me. . . . " With a small sound that keened in the back of his throat, Kirk very slowly moved forward, until they shared breath, until he encountered the barrier of Spock's flesh, until their lips came into gentle and definite contact. Jim kissed him.

Immediately war ignited. The shields behind which Spock had hidden for so long roared into life to block his perception -- Jim's mouth, his body so cool, his heart in my hands -- and just as fiercely Spock fought them.

Foolish, foolish! Not to experience this? Find a way, under, around, through. . . . You have done it before in the desert, you have not augmented in weeks, do it!

His body stiffened in his struggle and, before he even realized he was creating a sound, he moaned in effort and despair.

Instantly Jim's lips were gone, his body pulled back from all contact, and Spock ached as if his arms had been torn from their sockets. So empty. He had not even fully assimilated Jim's touch, did not have a memory. . . .

"Spock?"

Large, seeking eyes gazed down at him, uncertain, rejected, sad. Jim Kirk's life-long heterosexuality had been laid at his feet in surrender and he had not even responded. . . . Spock wished he could weep.

"I. . .I thought you wanted the same. . . . I guess I was wrong."

No!

But he couldn't say it. The word stuck in his throat, the truth a captive just as it had always been, and it was wrong, so wrong for a lie to stand forever between the two of them who were one in spirit and should be one in body as well. That's what he'd been doing, lying all these years, perpetuating an untruth that had only brought him pain, and now looked to be inflicting pain on the one he would never see hurt.

In a moment he traveled back down the long difficult years to when he had fled to Gol, and he saw the action for what it was, the retreat of an immature, frightened Vulcan youth who could not cope with the emotions that humans forced him to confront. He had been attracted to, perhaps had loved Jim even then. Coward! What was important? His attempt to protect himself, resulting in a half life, a pain-filled, inadequate life? Or the truth of his soul, revealed to his soul's mate?

Truth.

Anything that prevented its expression must be wrong.

"Jim," he said, as truly and as surely as he could, though he was ice-cold inside. Soul's mate. Memory of the sweetness of their last meld sustained him. They were meant to be together. He could do this.

Trembling, he reached out and touched Kirk's face -- a first caress and Jim did not pull away, ah, his finger pads slid over that flawless skin, it was just as he had thought, soft, smooth, so achingly beautiful on this masculine man -- then his hand drifted over Kirk's cheek and down around to the back of his neck. The firm touch would be an anchor in a stormy sea. Surprise flared in Kirk's sad eyes, and then hope appeared again. His t'hy'la swayed, moved towards him.

"What?" Kirk whispered, and it seemed to Spock that he bent over him and breathed upon him, giving him all the strength he would ever need.

"Jim," Spock started again. "I -- " he would not be alone any more, T'Brita had said it, it was not good to live alone -- "I love you."

Not the twilight but the desert dawn brightened in Kirk's eyes, sparkling with life-giving dew.

"I've wanted to hear you say that," Kirk breathed. "I love you too. Not the way I've pretended for so long. This way. Every way."

Tentatively, as if he still feared rejection, Kirk gently placed his lips over Spock's, and this time there were no shields, there was nothing to even battle, there was only one man expressing love for another man, body upon body, flesh upon flesh, and Spock accepted it all. It was right. It was good. It was truth.

Jim.

This was life.

A great calm spread through Spock as his incursion past his ingrained controls grew longer, as Jim shifted on his knees and their innocent, closed-mouth labial contact softened and then firmed, as his own hand moved up to tangle lightly in Kirk's honey hair, and with the calm came a strange familiarity. Was it possible they had never joined their bodies in this way before? It felt like the most natural event in Spock's universe. Never had he consciously fantasized what Jim's lips would feel like locked with his, but now he knew he must have entertained a thousand unacknowledged dreams, for they were just as he knew they would be: soft, commanding, an exactly-perfect fit for his own yearning mouth.

This breaking of barriers, this forging of new steel, this tantalizing flick of Kirk's tongue lasted but a few seconds, but it blasted through time and space and every preconception Spock had formed of how the long years of his life would pass.

They eased apart as slowly, as gently as they had come together, but Spock's anchoring hand would not allow Kirk to retreat very far, and Kirk seemed disinclined to move further than an inch from where his mouth had found a home. The commodore, smiling, breathless, and with eyes glowing, was the most beautiful sight Spock had ever seen.

"Are you okay?" Kirk whispered. "Are you sure about this?"

"I have never been more sure of anything."

"I was afraid that I'd read you wrong, that you might just want to be friends."

"Jim, friendship between us is not enough. It has not been enough for me for a considerable time."

"I want to give you so much more. Everything."

"I will take everything. Come here."

He pulled Kirk's head down again, Jim came willingly, and this time the most basic expression of sexual interest became more than a tentative question asked between them, this time it was Jim slowly opening his mouth and breathing life into Spock's, it was the ecstatic, most intimate moment when the tips of their tongues came into moist contact for the first time. Spock moaned again, Jim surged forward and hissed, "Yes!" directly into their joined mouths. Then Jim's broad tongue was in his body again, sliding, claiming, and Spock twisted his own in a desperate attempt for more contact, they moved their labial surfaces against one another frantically, as if to separate would be death.

Spock's heart thundered, a green mist passed before his half-closed eyes when Jim growled "Come here" and his tongue was sucked forward into his captain's mouth. For one panic-stricken moment he believed it was possible that he would lose consciousness because of too much pleasure. He had not known it could be like this. Jim was altering his definition of self, they were doing it together, he was being redefined in the whirlwind of Jim's desire for him, in the desire that was even now hurtling into existence in every cell of Spock's own body. He arched upwards, glorying in the weight of Kirk's arms and chest leaning upon his own torso, yearning for more weight, more pressure on the rest of his body that was not there because Jim remained stubbornly on his knees. Spock wanted more, he could not possibly express how much he wished this sexual contact to continue, to grow, how he wished for this moment to lead to more moments ablaze with sexuality. He wanted to stand in Jim's light and bare everything, body and mind.

He reached over and to the side and wrapped his arms around the man he loved above all beings, hard, and without even thinking his hand slithered down Jim's back, to his trim waist and over to his buttocks. They were perfect. He squeezed their yielding curve and wondered hazily how he and Jim would complete this sexual act, he was so inexperienced but he knew that they would find a way together, and he had a dream that he had never had the courage to actually dream. . . .

And then abruptly Kirk pushed back on stiffened arms. "No," he gasped. "Spock, we can't do this, you're not well, we've got to slow down."

But his body was just awakening to the delights of what conjugal relations with Jim Kirk might be like, and Spock did not listen. He placed his injured right arm around Kirk's waist and heaved. A moment later Kirk left the floor and rolled completely up onto Spock's body, and just as quickly -- and in concert with an undisguised gasp of pain from Spock -- he rolled over onto the other side of the mattress and up onto one elbow.

"Are you all right?" Kirk asked, his chest heaving, while regret, concern, and rampant lust mixed in his eyes.

It took several moments for Spock to respond. The controls he needed for the pain searing his right leg were so far away as to be in another galaxy, or at least the Klingon Empire. He curled up on his left side, closed his eyes and concentrated. It was a long journey back from his arousal, and he witnessed its diminution with real regret. Finally he was back in control, his breathing even, his heartbeat steady, and the exquisitely sharp throbbing around his shinbone had gradually retreated to a manageable ache. He opened his eyes again and Jim was but inches away, staring into his face anxiously. Kirk pressed up close to his curled form, one arm draped over him and cautiously began rubbing the small of his back. No one had ever ministered to Spock's body in this way, purely from concern, from love, and he pushed back minutely to firm the contact.

"Better?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry, Spock. We shouldn't have done that. You're still recuperating."

"Jim, I am not that injured. The leg and arm are well on their way to healing or I would not have been released from the hospital, and. . . . "

"No." Kirk was adamant. "I'm not going to cause you pain when we make love for the first time." His hand and voice stopped, then he went on slowly with an awe-struck look. "When we make love. God, Spock, I want to make love with you."

Sexual response returned with a vengeance as even the innocent area of his back that Jim was touching flared into arousal. "Jim," he pleaded hoarsely, hitching forward and reaching.

Kirk snatched his hand away and retreated to the edge of the mattress. He threw his arm over his forehead, stared up at the ceiling and laughed shakily. "I can't believe this. I'm the one showing some restraint, and you're the one who's chasing me all over this bed. Spock, come on, you know we shouldn't."

"It will be at least five days before the doctors certify me fit for light activity. Do you believe you can wait for. . .for consummation that long?" Five days had never sounded such an eternity to Spock.

"Absolutely," Kirk proclaimed, and rolled over to face him again. "And so can you. Because this isn't a one-night stand, this isn't some relationship like the one with Mai that will be over in weeks or months that we need to rush. This is. . . . " Suddenly his voice was different, soft and whisper-sincere. "This is us. Spock, I don't know how it happened or why, but I'm serious about us. Lifetime serious. Does that sound illogical to you? Too soon?"

"Negative," Spock croaked around his swelling joy. "We do not require a period of experimentation and personal proximity. I know that the emotion I harbor for you encompasses the human definition of love." Spock found the forbidden word waiting inside himself, wholly defined by how he felt for James Kirk. "It includes a desire to co-habitate with you on a permanent basis. I love you."

Kirk laughed shakily. "God, you don't know what it does to me to hear you say that, my controlled, logical Vulcan friend. You must really mean it."

"I do." It was easy to say aloud, gratifying to witness the joyous response in his friend. "However, that does not mean we cannot continue to pursue our physical ac -- "

"Oh, yes it does."

Spock easily recognized the stubbornly out-thrust jaw and intransigent attitude. But bowing to James Kirk in battle was not a disgrace. Truth be told, as much as he wished to immediately remove all their clothing and indulge in acts, whatever they might be, that would lead to mutual orgasms, he did not know how he would be able to manage the undeniable fragility of his limbs with the activity needed for such relations.

"Besides," Kirk continued quietly, "I've already caused you so much pain. All of this," he indicated Spock's arm and leg wrapped in the supporting bandages, "it's my fault. If only I hadn't been weak, if I hadn't called you back. God, when I think that you were hit by that idiot because you were coming back to me, because I wasn't strong enough to keep quiet. . . . "

"I admire your strengths, and you have many. But I cannot regret your lapse. If you had not called me. . . . " He reached and Jim met him half-way, their fingers entwined and rested on the sheet between them. "I do not know whether we would be here now."

"I couldn't let everything you went through be for nothing. That night in the hospital, when we didn't even know whether you would. . . . I swore to myself that as soon as you were well I'd talk to you. I just didn't expect it," Kirk offered a small smile, "to be so soon."

Spock cocked his head against the pillow. "When you did call for me. . . . What were you going to say?"

Kirk's eyes misted, and one hand came up to caress the side of his face. Spock turned and daringly licked the capable, loving palm.

"That feels so good," Kirk whispered unsteadily. "God, you are so tempting." He heaved in a deep breath. "I. . .I was going to say that I couldn't let you just go off with T'Brita without giving us a chance first. I'd tried so hard to step back, to give you your chance with her for a more normal Vulcan life that I thought might make you happy, only I couldn't. I was jealous."

Spock tested the idea and found it incomprehensible. James Kirk, who could consort with any being he chose simply because of the force of his incomparable personality, jealous? "Indeed?"

Kirk shrugged against the sheet. "I don't know what else you would call it. Suddenly I was counting up the years since your pon farr, and seeing how beautiful T'Brita is, and how well matched the two of you are. It was hard to think of the two of you together. I didn't know what to do."

Spock was reflective. "She is a good person."

"But not for you," Kirk said definitely, echoing their conversation from the aircar.

"I believe you are correct. Although I was prepared to establish a bond with her because I believed I could not. . .do so with you."

Kirk smiled a soft, confident smile. "And now you know that you can. I meant what I said in the 'car, Spock. I'm free."

"No," Spock said roughly, "you are not. You are mine."

He shocked himself with the possessive tone and jealousy that streaked through his limbs, but Kirk only laughed and stroked his cheek again. "That I am. And you're mine. Equals," he said with evident satisfaction. "I've always wanted that."

A vision of what his life beside Jim Kirk would be like unfolded before his gratified eyes. They would be equals in life, in love, joined through commitment and shared goals. There would be days and nights of Jim's presence, the ease and friendship that had developed on the ship, the passion that they had just discovered between them. . .and the chance to indulge in melds frequently, enhanced by a bond that would draw together their minds as well as their bodies. Perhaps theirs was a perfect universe after all.

Kirk was continuing. "T'Brita is why I brought you here instead of to your apartment."

"You have always been an excellent tactician."

"Damn right. Your place is neutral ground. Here, she'll have to venture into enemy territory to get to you."

"Really, Jim." Spock was amused. "I am not a prize of war over which to fight."

"That depends on your perspective, my friend. My. . .precious. . .friend."

Kirk hitched forward, Spock brought their bodies into gentle, pressing alignment. "Careful," Kirk whispered, already in tantalizing contact with his lips, "just a little. Don't let me hurt you again."

They kissed because they wished to, from affection and the desire to experience more of each other, and because Spock could not imagine responding to Kirk's softly spoken endearment in any other way but the one his body demanded.

Their kiss was long and deep and open-mouthed and everything that Spock had never allowed himself to imagine, his body in service to the emotions he had so long denied. This was right. This was truth uncaged. He closed his eyes and lost himself to the wonder, to the solid, hard strength of Jim's shoulders in his grasp, to the barely-remembered but now welcome sensation of his penis slowly filling, lifting away from his body and matching Jim's own tumescence, to the wondrous taste and wanton sounds and wet touch of a human tongue possessing his mouth.

And when their lips parted their bodies did not. Jim held him, and he held Jim. It was the most satisfying, most fulfilling action in which he could be engaged, kissing Jim, holding him. Spock smiled.

"I like to see you like this," Kirk breathed, and traced his smile with the tip of his tongue. Every moment with Kirk in bed, it seemed, was to educate him further about sexual activities, for electric tingles streaked from Spock's mouth up his cheekbones, his face flushed, and his penis throbbed. He had not known that his lips could feel so alive, nor that his entire body could be energized by one touch. "You're happy. I don't think T'Brita could make you happy, Spock."

Spock ran his hand up and down Jim's back in delighted, tender possession. "Nor could Ms. Tagnaki fulfill your needs. I will tell you that I harbored. . .negative emotions concerning your relationship with her."

"She was almighty jealous of you, too."

"You revealed to her -- "

"No! Of course not. But women have a kind of long-range scanner for their rivals, I think. She knew without really knowing."

"I am not sorry to see her out of your life."

"And you here. It's. . . . " Kirk drew a long, shaky breath, then slowly pushed Spock against the pillow, following to lean over him so closely, like the lover he would be. The desire shining from the hazel eyes was still a surprise to Spock, and he stared up at Kirk, entranced.

"I was wrong before," Jim whispered. "You are beautiful, so beautiful to me. How did I live so long without you? I want to touch you so much. Your body," his hand swept down the length of Spock's chest to rest on his hipbone, "your mind. We'll meld again soon, won't we?"

"Always," Spock promised.

"Not always," Kirk said shakily, "Starfleet would lose one middle-aged commodore because I wouldn't want to do anything else but rest in your mind. And your body. God, Spock, I wish we could. . .touch, just a little. I'm so hard, and I want you so much."

Spock's penis was throbbing so wildly against his pants that he believed he might achieve climax simply through the excitement of Jim's words and their matched desires. He wrapped his arms around Kirk's back and attempted to pull him down. "Jim, let us. . . . "

"No!" Kirk resisted and shook his head violently. "That's it. I can fight what I want, but don't make it harder for me. If I don't get out of this bed right now, I am not going to be responsible for my actions." He shrugged from Spock's embrace, sat up and swung his legs over the side, then swiftly turned around onto his stomach so that he was poised over Spock one last time. "I am going to get us some dinner, and then we'll spend a nice, quiet evening together, and you are going to go to bed early. To sleep. Because we can't make love until you're well. Okay?"

He swooped in to claim one last kiss, then a moment later strode out of the room, tight-fisted and determined, fleeing temptation.

Spock lay back upon the bedclothes and stared at the open door. The late afternoon sun had barely changed its angle of penetration into the room, only seventeen point two five minutes had passed from the moment he had awakened. It was such a short period of time to have transformed his life. Could it have indeed been so easy? One conversation, one moment of confession, a caress, a kiss to erase the years of longing and doubt and sacrifice?

There had been several kisses, he amended, and lightly traced his lips. It felt strange, to be touching his own lips with his fingertips, to know his body had been sexually stimulated with his full, conscious cooperation, that the echoes of that arousal still reverberated in all his limbs. Jim had kissed him, here, he had used these same lips to stimulate Jim into considerable excitement. What was to follow? In approximately five days, if his body cooperated and recuperated to the doctor's satisfaction, then he and Jim. . . .

With a groan Spock rolled over onto his side, his face cradled on his hands, and he attempted to subdue the intense longing that centered in his solar plexus but encompassed the rest of his body and his mind as well. If only he were completely well now, if only Jim were to reappear in this room and lay down upon him, covering him with the desire and weight of his arms and chest and legs and. . .and his penis, so they could complete what they had started, and then begin it again, and spend the entire evening in each other's arms and in each other's minds. He had waited so long for this to happen, he did not know if he could wait another hour, much less most of a week.

And when that time came, what would they do?

Spock's swallow was so distinct in the quiet room that it sounded explosively loud even to him. He had never permitted himself to contemplate -- only in the most general way. He had no experience, only inspecific knowledge of male to male sexual practices, but he had considerable desire. Mutual manual masturbation, frottage, oral intercourse, mutual oral intercourse, anal penetration: the technical terms paraded before his mind dry of content and devoid of meaning, as he had always imposed his controlled disinterest on any sexual terms. But now. . . .

Hesitantly, he experimented with an image, to test if he had truly learned how to bypass the barriers that had been a part of his life for so long. He thought of Jim as he would look breathtakingly naked, presenting a beautifully human and impressively erect organ, kneeling before him to take Spock's own penis in his mouth. . . .

With a gasp, Spock rolled over onto his stomach and stabbed his suddenly demanding organ against the mattress, then gasped again as the extension and strain of muscle shot consuming pain through his leg. If he had been human, he might have resorted to the audible utterance of an expletive. As it was, he hung on the edges of intense arousal and considerable discomfort for long seconds, until finally he was left drained and shaking.

This condition was not acceptable. The activities that it was absolutely necessary he pursue were in conflict with his abilities at this time. What could be done to resolve this dilemma? An application of rudimentary reasoning produced an obvious answer: the Vulcan healing trance that had been denied him by the consultation of the 'base healer.

But Jim would never agree to be there to rouse him from the trance, not until the healer certified him fit, even if he were capable of initiating the complex mental discipline. Spock pondered deeply. Another possibility loomed, but there was a degree of risk involved. Spock was not certain the possible negative consequences were justified, and Jim would surely object, perhaps with reason. It might not be the wisest decision to initiate the lar'gnatlu. Prudence cautioned that two mature men could wait five days. But prudence had never sounded so. . .irrelevant. Perhaps he would be able to --

"Spock?" The call came from the foot of the stairs. "Coming down for dinner, or do you want help?"

He moved with as much alacrity as was possible, already regretting the few minutes he had spent apart from Jim. This time was precious.

The evening spent in Kirk's dwelling was as different from the previous evening he had spent there as it was possible to be. There were ease and comfort, blessed privacy during which he could gaze upon his beloved as often as he wished, and revel in the looks Jim gifted him with in return. The turmoil and doubt of the party were banished, and his distaste for the openly displayed emotions of the humans celebrating the turn of a new year was replaced with a profound gratitude that he could express, and share, the best of emotions with the man he respected and treasured.

They witnessed a quiet sunset from the deck at the back of Kirk's dwelling, leaning on a wooden fence side by side, their forearms comfortably pressed together through the jackets that Kirk insisted they both don. It was not a spectacular display, but one made special by contentment. The disk of the sun slid behind the ordinary houses that blocked the clear line of the horizon, and again deja vu swept over Spock. He had never stood with Kirk in this way, and yet it felt as if he had done so hundreds of times, as if the sight of Jim's face tipped with flame and staring out into the fiery sky were a familiar one.

Spock turned, pulled Kirk back against his chest so they could still observe the deepening twilight and the first appearance of the stars together, and was moved when Kirk yielded to him, leaned against him so easily with such trust. He brushed his lips against the side of the golden head. "You are beautiful," he murmured into a rounded human ear he found intoxicating, and it was true.

After a simple dinner -- "You won't be getting much of a cook, Spock, all I can do is punch buttons" -- they settled upon the same blue couch that Spock had shared with T'Brita. Spock could see the doubt in Kirk's eyes in the next moment of silence, felt his own desires rising.

"Perhaps a news vidcast?" he offered. As Kirk had said, they could wait, even if Spock had no intention of putting off the consummation of his desires for the long length of days.

With obvious reluctance Kirk nodded and instructed the computer to start the holographic news display, then fetched an ottoman so that Spock could elevate his leg. They wrangled over which media consortium produced the broadcast most favorable to Starfleet's interests, and Spock found even their disagreement to be intensely stimulating. He had not known Jim favored the less well-funded Arcturans because of their more technical, precise approach.

The discussion was an excuse for them to touch -- hand upon shoulder, fingers dancing together -- the touch an incitement to move closer -- arms reaching to encircle his shoulder, the warm pleasure of thigh pressing against thigh -- and before the broadcast was over Spock not only was familiar with Kirk's views on the excessive power the media had over Starfleet funding requests, but he also knew what it was to rest comfortably within the circle of his t'hy'la's embrace, and not to pay any attention to the droning voice or flashing vids that were being created on the holographic home-stage. The look in Jim's eyes, the soft kisses they shared were all he wanted.

Shortly after Kirk quietly commanded, "Computer, holo-cast off" so that they could bask together in silence and content, looking, gently exploring faces with fingertips, keeping their arousal tuned to a gentle simmer, the vidphone buzzed.

"Damn," Kirk said, tracing the length of Spock's nose with his forefinger. "I'd better get that in case it's headquarters."

It was not headquarters, it was T'Brita. "Good evening, Commodore," Spock could hear from across the room. Abruptly he sat up from where he lay virtually sprawled upon the couch, where Kirk had left him.

"Hello, T'Brita."

"It was an unanticipated event to contact Spock's apartment and not find him there. Am I correct in assuming that he is instead with you?"

"That's right." Kirk moved to block Spock's view of the pick-up. He also, Spock noted, was not giving T'Brita an inch of cooperation.

"I do not understand why you found it necessary to escort him to an unfamiliar dwelling; surely he would be more comfortable in his domicile. However, what is done is done, and it is not necessary for you to justify your decisions to me. I would speak with Spock if he is well enough to do so."

"I don't think that's a good idea. He was exhausted by the trip here from the hospital. I sent him to bed."

And followed me there, Spock thought wryly.

"I. . .see," T'Brita said, and Spock wondered if indeed she did.

"Should I tell him you called?" Kirk offered generously.

"Yes, please do so. Relay my best wishes for his comfort and complete recovery. Is there anything that I can do at this time which will be of help to either you or Spock?"

"No, everything is going fine."

"Very well. I would caution you, Commodore, not to allow Captain Spock to become overtired. I am sure we are united in our hopes for his rapid return to health."

"We are, T'Brita. I'll take good care of him. Good-night."

"Good-evening, Commodore."

A completely unabashed Kirk turned away from the vidphone and advanced towards the couch. "You heard the lady, time for you to go to bed."

Spock looked down at his hands clasped between his knees. "Jim, that was. . .not well done of us. I should have spoken with her."

"You will, Spock, when it's the right time. I know you, talking to her now would just get you feeling guilty, which isn't good for your recuperation, and would be disastrous for my chances of a decent good-night kiss. You think too much, you know."

"James Kirk," he accused as he was carefully helped upright by Kirk's caring hands, "you are outrageous."

It was disconcerting to Spock to find that his body rebelled against the day's activities. He experienced unmistakable discomfort as they made their slow, step-by-step way up the stairs, and was somewhat alarmed to be required to stop mid-way to catch his breath.

"I think T'Brita would have reason to be upset with us," Kirk said grimly as he waited, supporting with his arm about Spock's waist. "You definitely overdid it."

"With considerable assistance," Spock replied acerbically.

So the passionate kiss that Spock craved, which he knew Kirk wanted, became instead a sweet, innocent pressing of lips after Spock had once again been covered with an excessive number of blankets. "Good-night," Kirk whispered, breathing against his lips. "Call me if you need anything."

"Besides you?"

Kirk smiled into their mouths' contact. "I love your sense of humor. I couldn't marry anyone without it, you know. Now go to sleep."

"Good-night, tyrant."

The door had not even closed before Spock knew that sleep was impossible. A new and determined fire burned inside him, consuming Spock's prudence and the cautions of the healer. It destroyed his analysis of the dangers of the lar'gnatlu. He would not spend this night nor any other night half-realized, half-loved, half-discovered, his cocoon incompletely opened. The evening's soft caresses could not possibly be enough.

He could not have all of what he craved, Jim's mind moving within his in the light of the meld, but he would this night share his body. It was necessary.

Very well. No meld, no healing trance. But one other option beckoned him. Carefully he accessed his strength -- meager -- his will -- considerable -- and his desire. Together Spock judged that they would just be enough.

Closing his eyes, he sought for the first truths. I am. I am Spock. I am the mind and the body.

I am loved.

*****

Spock paused in the doorway of the bedroom where James Kirk had made love with many women, most recently with Mai Tagnaki. The tiny glow of the chronometer reading 02:47 and the leech of moonlight from around the drawn shade provided the only illumination in the room, but he could make out the bulky shadow of a wooden wardrobe to one side, the outline of the window and the long desk before it to the left, and the bed that sheltered Jim between the two.

He took a step closer, moving easily and without pain, and gloried at the life that tingled through his veins. He perceived his whole unclothed body moving through time and space to this precise moment, to this exact room, as if it were a predestined event he had been avoiding for years. But now he yielded to its inevitability. He yielded with his skin, kissed by warm air, with the prickle of the hairs on his arms as he came closer to his sleeping love, he yielded with his sexual organ swinging freely between his legs, to be openly shared with Jim Kirk.

This was to be his future; he would have the right to observe Jim sleeping, to waken him and stand before him unclothed, to move against him in the night. Although this invasion of privacy went against the precepts with which Spock had lived his life, his life was changed now.

Another few steps, his knees gently brushed against the side of the bed. Now that he had finally lifted the veil of his feigned disinterest, he could feast upon the sight of the object of his desires, and know that he had always loved Jim's body as well as his spirit and his mind. Hadn't his dreams of Jim Kirk's body sent him to Gol?

Jim was curled up on his right side facing the window, breathing softly. His naked torso gleamed, the white skin seemed to shine in the star-touched darkness, the sheet draped its way haphazardly across his lower body to reveal the outline of briefs snugged across the delicious curve of his buttocks. To Spock, his beloved looked the epitome of masculine beauty, a rare combination of strength and sensitivity that enticed him beyond bearing, a being to whom he could surrender in absolute trust, and who would surrender to Spock's own strengths in wanton delight. He knew how it would be between them now, he could close his eyes and imagine it. . . .

Soon, Spock would touch that body, make it his own, shower it with all the love of which he was capable. He would learn to make that body sing with pleasure. All he had to do was reach out and touch, or call Jim's name, and his life would be transformed. His heart's desire would fall into the palm of his hand. Soon.

As quietly as he was able, Spock dropped to his knees beside the bed and daringly grasped the edge of the mattress. Kirk did not stir, did not react to Spock's breath blessing him.

His day had been a cataclysm of profound intimacies, from Jim's arrival at the hospital, the revealing conversation in the aircar, the astonishment of awakening and finding Kirk's lips so close to his, but all of that was merely a prelude. Spock would not be able to rest until they had joined their bodies in the sexual act, until he ached with the force of Jim's hands upon him and had revealed everything, everything. For so long he had hidden, remained passive, waited for events to unfold around him because of his fear, his reticence, his inability to expose his love. But now his true self was unfurling, like a seed hidden and dormant in the crack of a stone in the desert, suddenly nourished by spring rain. He knew what he wanted, and would not wait any longer. He desperately needed to be seen entire.

"Jim," he murmured, "wake up."

His love had been a starship captain, and men of that breed do not take long to gather their wits. The hazel eyes flew open, accessed Spock kneeling there, and a moment later Kirk smiled with instant comprehension. "What," he breathed, "have you done?"

"The lar'gnatlu. It is. . .not important. But I am no longer injured."

"The lar . . ." Kirk's brow wrinkled, "the small trance?"

Spock nodded solemnly. Like everything else that had occurred between the two of them that day, kneeling at the side of Jim's bed in the darkness, totally naked and having a conversation, did not seem unusual at all.

"Not as effective as the G'natlu, nor does it require the presence of an outside agent." Most of the time, when it works properly, he amended to himself. Jim did not require every detail. "I deemed it necessary to initiate it tonight, along with meditation, and it has improved my condition by seventy-six point four percent."

Kirk put out his hand, rested it palm flat against the hair on Spock's chest, between his nipples. Spock looked down at it and sucked air between his teeth.

"Seventy-six point four percent," Kirk said slowly. "Tomorrow, am I going to get some information on this lar'gnatlu and discover that it was dangerous for you to do? Am I going to be madder than hell at you?"

"Possibly," Spock said without a hint of regret. "However, I anticipate that you will also be gratified and satisfied because my actions will have allowed us to spend the night together."

"Should we?" Kirk asked, his eyes suddenly large and looking deeply into Spock's. "Should we really do this? I don't want to talk you into this just because I -- "

Abruptly Spock wrenched himself away and to his feet. "Look at me, Jim," he commanded, taking three steps back and extending his arms wide, feeling foolish and exposed and desperate to convey the depths of his wanting. "This is who I am. Spock of Vulcan, of Starfleet, with an inexperienced body and no proficiency in expressing the emotions with which you are so familiar. See me? I am not one of the women to whom you are accustomed, but I love you, more than anyone else could. I want to share with you, everything, to take and to give. Will you? Will you see the truth of what I am?"

Kirk did not abandon him, even for a moment, to stand alone in the center of the room. In a flash he was up and out of the bed, skinning his briefs off and kicking them away, advancing to stand but a foot in front of Spock.

He reached his arms wide, grasping wrists that Spock still held suspended.

"See me, my friend," he said thickly, his deep sincerity stabbing truth into Spock's eyes, "wanting you, only you, wanting everything you are. I'll spend the rest of my life accepting what you are. Can you accept that truth? That I love you and want you so much, in every way?"

Jim was so close. Their arms were vibrating with the effort of their emotions, with the force of their desire, a last physical barrier keeping apart two who were meant to be together. Slowly Spock brought their joined arms down from their suffering, to their sides, he linked their fingers together. "Let us make love, Jim," he whispered. "Now."

Did it matter that he had only one sexual experience to draw from, that Kirk's many encounters had never included a single one with another man?

. . .Jim's mouth as he moved from lips down to Spock's neck, the side of his jaw, sucking and licking, it was so sensitive, ahhh, he had not known. . . .

. . .Human nipples hardening against his palm, so firm as he pinched them, rolled them between his fingers in delight, wanting to hear Jim's soft exclamations again and again. . . .

The brush of a hand against his penis, oh, yes, touch me there, touch me! and fingers wrapping around him, how do you know, exactly, exactly, yes! hearing his own voice in a moan, a sound he had surely never made before, but it was right with Jim who would know everything, right here with knowledgeable, loving fingers pumping his erection, this unfamiliar wellspring from his body, a gift he gave to his beloved. A voice whispering, "You are hard and beautiful, I love your cock in my hand," and there was no reason to hide, he would show it all, oh, Jim. . . .

A demanding stab against his thigh and his own fingers seeking, finding, his heart thumping so loudly and was it possible, here standing in this bedroom with Jim's hard penis ready for copulation against his palm and he fell to his knees with a cry and tears staining his face, not even knowing what it was that drove him but he must have it, all of it, if he didn't have it, what he wanted, Jim's penis jutting into the starlight, so beautiful he had to touch it, cradle it in both hands, kiss it, put tongue to the leaking slit, first taste of promised ejaculate, ambrosia, he would have more, down the years he would do this, taste Jim, Jim would erupt into his mouth screaming his joy, but for now this first time he would suck the leaking penis into his mouth.

Startling truth suddenly revealed: he had wanted to suck Jim's penis for years, had dreamed of the warmth against his tongue, the frantic thrust forward, Jim's moan of pleasure, the heft of human testicles in his hand. All of it imagined in the midnight hour of the dream, all of it familiar. Satisfaction. Ahhhh. Yes. Give it to me, your steel softness, your silken strength, just like you, your penis is you. Hands tangled in his hair, caressed the tips of his ears, pulses of sexual energy trickled down his spine and he thought he would explode from wanting Jim's cock so much. . . .

"Oh, God, Spock, oh, God!"

. . .and it tasted so good, suck, lick, tongue, but suddenly not enough and it was as if they were in a meld for Jim knew, pushed against Spock's shoulders, pulled him up and pressed him over to the bed, down onto his back. . . .

. . .Climbed over him, lowered his body down upon Spock's. . . .

He would have shrieked if he had had the breath, but his exultation came out in a whisper, a sob of longing, of laughter, to know at last Kirk's body over his, skin to skin, groin to groin, its weight possessing him -- "Yes, Jim, yes!" -- he heaved up and wrapped his arms around his love, wrapped his legs around the strong human body he craved more than he needed air to breathe, closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of sex, of love. He tilted his pelvis up just as Jim thrust down upon him, nerve endings screamed rapture as their penises kissed for the first time with sheer masculine power, and he gasped Yes! they were men copulating, he had always wanted to copulate with Jim and now, unbelievably, he lay locked in a sweat-tacky carnal embrace with the man he loved, and again he jerked his hips up as Jim thrust down, and he did not have words for how he felt, how Jim was making him feel, how his body sang. He had not known there was this accumulation of joy in a single universe.

Frenzied movement, his body against that other he craved, must have, push, thrust up, the movement of back muscles beneath his hands as he clutched Jim to him, the sound of Jim's frantic panting, the slick sound of flesh against flesh as they rocked, moved, slid against each other, pushing. . . . And then stillness. Silence. Searching blindly for the soft mouth, finding it, kissing.

"Spock?"

His penis pulsed against Kirk's at the sound of his lover's voice.

Warm breath in his face. "Spock, what do you want? How should we finish this? I don't. . . . "

Spock opened his eyes, caught Kirk's hesitancy laid over fierce desire.

I have already said it, I want to share everything with you, my love.

Even this, see me for what I am, what I need from you, don't turn me away because of what I need from you, rolling over onto his stomach, raising his ass and feeling Kirk's swollen sex brush against him, maneuvering so that it nestled within the crack that led to the entrance of his body.

"This way," he said. Or did he think it, shout it?

He perceived Kirk's hesitation, felt the "no" form and then dissolve into acquiescence, felt Jim's hands grip his hips in just the right spot for leverage, as if they'd done this before, as if all the times they would do this thing in the years to come, this expression of love and lust and possession and knowledge had already been experienced. But this was the first time, and so the hands fell away and it was still awkward when Jim fumbled in a bedside drawer for lubricant, difficult to remain still and on display in this most sexual position. He rubbed his face against the sheet and sobbed when his upraised anus felt the first touch of Jim's finger bringing moist coolness, but Jim didn't ask him if the sound were pain or pleasure, he knew, he must know how every second burned into Spock's memory, he would always retain this touch, the first slide of a finger into his body, how two digits stretched him with sure knowledge of what was to come, and he would always remember the centering of Jim's penis against him, the certain, careful pushing forward that split him wide, opened him along with Jim's breathless words. . . .

"I love you, Spock. God, I want you so much, you are so tight!"

. . .and with the last exclamation finally holding Jim within his body.

He saw green, he couldn't breathe, his frantic reaching for air filled the room, but they were moans too as Jim began to move within him, he'd never thought, never known, this is anal intercourse with the one who will be mine forever, unbelievable that this they could always share, this would be their right, he could experience this pleasure again and again and then the rhythm of Jim's thrusts changed, slowed, he leaned forward over Spock and his hand came around. . . .

"Try to come with me."

. . .There was no way he could resist, Jim's thrusts rocked him forward against the hand laid flat against his penis, pushing his sex up against his belly, sweet fire, he recognized how close he was to orgasm, he thought of how they must look together, flesh upon flesh, his body gored by Jim's swollen penis, the single crown disappearing within his rectum and then reappearing, moist, wonderful, strong, always his, always his, they would do this again, Jim would open him so he couldn't hide and they would share everything. . . .

A movement never consciously felt before from that part of him so long ignored, a trembling in his testicles, energy flashing up and through his penis, Jim! he tried to shout, Jim! Here is my orgasm, Here I am! but he couldn't speak, it was too much, he could only close his eyes and with a groan pulled up from his deepest hidden places he rode the unbelievable peak of pleasure -- this is what drives the humans -- that caught him and shook him and his semen gushed over Jim's tightening fingers.

Even as the last tremors of his climax weakened his limbs, Kirk growled "For you, Spock, for you," and a deep thrust, another, and unmistakable warmth flooded his bowels deep inside, Jim was ejaculating inside his body, how could he ever comprehend this joy? Human seed, Jim's seed now in his keeping where Spock would forever guard it, it would forever link the two of them into one life, one love.

Slowly, very slowly so as not to dislodge the possession that he'd been craving for an eternity, Spock lowered himself and his once and future captain down to the flat surface of the bed.

Peace.

Ten glorious minutes later, minutes laying bonelessly flat with Kirk's full weight spread upon him, Spock finally felt Jim stir. His lips brushed the side of Spock's face and his words were a sweet breeze.

"All of this, and we'll have the meld, too."

****

Sixty-five hours later the chime to Kirk's dwelling rang, and T'Brita stood in the doorway.

"Good-evening, Commodore Kirk, Captain Spock," she said correctly as she crossed the threshold. "I appreciate your invitation to visit this evening."

"We are pleased that you are here," Spock said. "Your visit honors us."

"Hello, T'Brita," was Kirk's restrained contribution.

Spock escorted her to the living room in silence, the smallest hesitation to his stride the only evidence of his injury, and Kirk followed close behind. Although they had spent the last days in a new world set apart, forged with trust and touch and love, they had also agreed it was now time to re-embrace duty and obligation, appearing before Spock in the person of one visually-appealing, worthy Vulcan female. T'Brita's black hair, hallmark of her clan and race, cascaded down her back in a new style, with the curls and waves and froth of this new world on which she visited, not the stylized constructions that were popular on her homeworld. She took a seat on the blue couch with a rustle of the same red skirt she had worn when Spock had first become aware of her potential as a bondmate, coming to rest with her erect spine not touching the upholstered back. The two lovers sat on separate wing-back chairs.

"Spock, I am pleased that you are apparently improved."

"Yes, I should be able to return to duty within a few more days."

"That will be of benefit to the project. Your guidance has been missed, and no one from my team can match your expertise. Commodore Kirk, I have not heard from you requesting assistance, so I assume that your duties in promoting Spock's return to health have not been onerous?"

"Everything's been going fine, T'Brita," Kirk said quietly, as composed as the two Vulcans. "As you can see. Can I get you something to drink?"

"This is a custom that our people share with yours, Commodore, the offering of liquid refreshment to guests. Has Spock told you of that? I find it interesting. And yes, I have developed a fondness for a beverage called root beer. Is your synthesizer capable of its construction?"

"One root beer, coming up."

As Kirk disappeared into the kitchen, T'Brita picked up the package in her lap and held it out towards Spock. "It is not a custom on Vulcan to exchange material goods as you know, but I thought this suitable considering your background. I hope you find it interesting during your recovery."

Touched, Spock reached into the brown plastic bag and pulled out a leather-bound, weighty tome entitled Discovering New Worlds: Space Exploration and its Effect on Twenty-second Century Terran Poetry.

This confrontation with the woman who wished to be his bondmate was not going as he had planned. Spock flipped through the pages of the book in silence, realizing the genuine thoughtfulness behind its selection, and the effort T'Brita was making to adjust to his needs. Finally he looked up to encounter her intent gaze. "This gift is most perceptive, T'Brita. I thank you."

"I did not know if you preferred tapes or printed presentations, but an acquaintance of yours from headquarters said that he had seen you with such volumes before, so I made the selection based on that recommendation."

"Indeed, I do indulge in both types of reading material."

There was a short, awkward silence, broken by Kirk's reappearance with a glass in hand, his observation of the book, the necessary perusal and explanation of it.

"Do you enjoy poetry, Commodore?" T'Brita asked politely as Kirk, with a speaking glance, passed the book back to Spock.

"No, I'm afraid that's one interest of Spock's I don't share."

"Ah, then we are not likely to see you at one of the poetry readings. I attended one last night, Spock, and found several presentations of value. I regretted not having a recording device so that I could share the event with you."

"I imagine you'd have to get the permission of the artists," Kirk cut in.

"That is true. I had not considered Terran copyright laws, with which I am unfamiliar. However, I believe that the proprietor is considering a publication of selected poems in the near future. I will purchase one if it becomes available, and perhaps you would enjoy one as well, Spock."

"That would be an interesting addition to my library."

"It would also give us the opportunity to discuss one poem in particular which intrigued me last night. It is written by Allan Cohen, with whom you are familiar, and it addresses the issues which we have touched upon before: uncommon affection and sacrifice."

There was a pregnant pause, until Kirk rose from his chair. "If you'll excuse me," he said with an easy smile, "I think I'll leave you two to discuss poetry in peace. It would all go over my head anyway, and I have some work to do upstairs in the office that I can't put off any longer. T'Brita, it's been a pleasure to see you again."

Spock watched his lover retreating up the stairs, postponing the moment of revelation with T'Brita and substituting his pleasure in perceiving Jim across the room instead. They had been so close these past days, he literally had not had the opportunity to regard his lover from a distance. But he did not allow himself more than a moment's warm regard before evenly turning his attention back to an expectant T'Brita. His serenity was newborn, child of the days spent by Kirk's side and the nights in his arms, and it was challenged by the task he must now perform and which Jim discreetly supported through his absence. But the turmoil and doubts of the past were banished. He could speak to her with confidence. Regret was there, too.

"T'Brita, we must speak." She would appreciate a direct approach, in the way of their people.

"Indeed. When do you plan to return to your apartment? I am anxious to initiate another meld between us, and I do not believe it would be comfortable to do so in this house. Perhaps I am incorrect, as the commodore is always gracious, but I believe that he -- "

"T'Brita," he interrupted her, "You must know. There will be no melds."

"I. . .see." She composed her hands in her lap. Spock looked for a physical manifestation of disappointment, and perhaps perceived it in the careful way she folded finger upon finger. Or perhaps that was no sign at all. She was a most admirable follower of the ways of Surak, despite her eagerness to learn of other cultures.

She continued in a quiet tone, "You have decided that I am not suitable to be your bondmate."

Spock shook his head in the human gesture he had adopted when he first attended the Academy. "That is not the case. You are eminently suitable to become my bondmate, and I believe that a joining between us would be satisfactory."

She cocked her head in the habit she had, one that Spock realized with a pang that he would miss. "However? I am learning to interpret the emotional inflections humans impose on their language, and usually there is the word 'however' following such a sentence as you have spoken. You are about to give me the reason why there will be no more melds even though I am suitable."

He bowed his head and clasped his hands between his knees. "You have an admirable intellect and an inquiring mind that will enhance your career. I am impressed with your character, and your children will be fortunate in their mother. We are compatible in many ways. But you must know. . . . " He met her eyes, for he would never pronounce this truth with any shame. "There is another with whom I will join my life."

T'Brita gazed at him, blinked, gazed long again during the silence that was broken only by the ticking of a grandfather clock in the corner, an artifact that would not even exist on Vulcan. Finally she said, "I know of no other female with whom you are in close contact. Has your clan proposed another?"

"Negative. I am to bond with Commodore Kirk."

She assimilated that information in silence, and Spock permitted her that space of time that any Vulcan required to subdue emotional response. He had no doubt she was experiencing it, in the inner place which Surak taught must never be revealed or released -- except in the uncontrolled madness of pon farr.

"I confess that this is unexpected news," she suddenly said, her head coming up sharply. "And yet perhaps I have witnessed clues of an attachment between the two of you which I did not have the experience to evaluate properly. Nevertheless, it is not overtly logical to choose a sterile bonding. I can offer you children, Spock."

"T'Brita," he said gently, "life with the one who completes me could never be sterile."

"I. . . . " She looked down at the glass in her hand, carefully placed it on the small table nearby, adjusted the folds of her skirt. The retreat from the emotion he offered her was obvious, and yet. . . . "I do not understand. Or. . .perhaps I do," she said slowly. "Is this an example of a human proverb I have recently encountered? 'The heart has a logic of its own,' it said. The humans associate romantic emotion with the heart. So you are saying that your choice is a logical one, when viewed within the context of both reason and emotion?"

"Yes," he said with satisfaction. "You understand me well."

"No, I do not believe I do. I found our meld to be most stimulating, Spock, and I have a strong desire to repeat it. Perhaps I have not made my reaction to our joining clear enough, perhaps you require a more emotional response from me."

"Such response is not necessary, I am aware of your wishes. And I too found our joining to be. . . . I might say 'more than satisfactory,' in the way of our people, but instead I will say that our joining was a profound pleasure that I will not soon forget."

He hitched forward in his chair, held out his hands, and hesitantly, T'Brita placed her hands in his. They were small and warm. "I must thank you for what you have given me. Your kindness. Your understanding and your interest. I was in considerable confusion when we met, but the touch of your mind in mine cleared my path, provided me with some stability and a measure of perspective which I had lacked before."

She looked up at him with a touch of distress. "You say then that I am the instrument that led to your. . .arrangement with Commodore Kirk?"

"In a small way," he said as kindly as he could. Some truths were so painful to reveal. "Our friendship is of long standing, it only needed the correct time to mature into a. . .more formal attachment."

She searched his face. "This is what you truly want, a bonding with him?"

He nodded. "I love him."

"I do not understand love," she said wistfully. "I do not believe many Vulcans would even wish to, but much of what I have observed here on Earth has led me to contemplate its value. Perhaps there is the touch of such an emotion between long-bonded couples I have known."

"Yes, even though our people do not speak of it. T'Brita, I should not dare to presume that my own experience could be of benefit to you, but I offer it to you for consideration. Do not give up in your search for a compatible life partner. Your quest is logical and you are a most worthy individual. I have no doubt that your many excellent qualities will be appreciated by someone who will be more than acceptable to you, someone whose presence will be necessary for your well-being. Be patient, for there are occasions when time alone will provide you with what you desire."

"Much time has already passed for me, Spock," she said with longing undisguised. "It has been ten years since Solur died."

"And we are a long-lived people. Do not settle for the merely adequate, T'Brita, which is all that I could ever have been for you. I would see you happy."

"Happy? I am not sure that term has relevance for Vulcans."

"I have discovered that it does."

She nodded and looked down at their hands, then slowly drew hers away into her lap. "I will consider what you have said."

"I am pleased."

And suddenly she was on her feet and he rose to face her. "I do not believe it would be beneficial for either of us to continue this conversation. We have both said what we wish to say. Except that, I do most definitely regret that we shall not be bondmates, Spock. I do not entirely understand why you choose to bond with a human, and another male at that, but perhaps I will one day. This is your choice, and I can only entertain the hope that it is the correct one for you. Live long and prosper, Spock."

He matched her raised hand. "Peace and long life, T'Brita. And happiness."

She ducked her head and did not meet his eyes, and as he escorted her to the front door they did not exchange another word. Spock watched her walk down the steps towards her rented 'car, and then quietly closed the door.

He looked around the foyer of Kirk's dwelling. His dwelling, now, because there was no reason for him to leave. Within a few days they planned to cancel the lease on Spock's apartment and transfer his possessions. That would be a satisfying day. Or perhaps, in the truth-filled words he had used with T'Brita, it would be a profound pleasure, as all the days and nights that he spent with Kirk had always been, would always be.

He walked across to the foot of the steps that had proven such a challenge to him a few days ago, which were an easy part of his new life now. He looked up the stairwell. Jim was upstairs, waiting for him. He could hear the small body movements, the soft commands his lover gave to the computer as he worked and waited for the time that they would share tonight.

What a long journey he had been on, what a distance he had traversed and how difficult it had been to climb up from the depths of denial and despair. He looked down the long pathway of his life and could barely see the truth of the Spock who had been, who had hidden and denied so much of himself. No doubt there would be difficulties in the future, confusion and decisions not easy to make, but everything would be illuminated by the blazing joy he had found with Jim, as it was now. Despite his distress over the parting with T'Brita, still the very air that surrounded him sparkled with the happiness that he wished for her. He had happiness in his grasp. Even better, Jim offered him love and desire and the gift of his body.

Within a few days, the gift of his mind, too, for the healer would certify Spock fit to resume mental activities, and they would return to this house, he would turn to Jim with hands outstretched, and they would fall together into a meld. He longed for it. Last night Jim had awakened, reached for him and told him in hushed, sacred tones that he had dreamed of their minds coming together. His cheeks had been wet.

And Spock had no doubt at all that when they finally joined in an explosion of need and affection, the bond would form between them.

Easily he climbed the stairs and stood in the doorway of Kirk's office. Jim swiveled in his chair, looked up at him, then erased the distance between them. Spock took his love in his arms and kissed his perfect lips. They swayed against one another in silent support.

"No regrets?" Jim eventually whispered, his breath a butterfly kiss against Spock's cheek.

"You know there are none. You are the one I want, the one I cannot live without." He sighed with joy and tightened his embrace, still in wonder that his arms could claim the one he loved. It was so satisfying to be able to reveal the truth of his heart to Jim, only to Jim.

"I almost feel sorry for her," Kirk reflected. "She'll never really know you."

"Even if I had bonded with her, she would not have known me."

"But I do," Jim whispered. He pulled back and matched their gazes, and Spock saw the promise of the future they would share. "I will always know you."

At last he was free.

THE END