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Belonging

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“Why the hell didn’t we know about this?” McCoy  barked, rounding on the Vulcan standing next to him as the third member of their party gave in to helpless convulsions of laughter. “I mean, didn’t you say you’d ‘thoroughly researched the customs of the  Vetansi’ and were ‘fully  conversant with the procedures and protocols of negotiating with this  fascinating race?”

"Oh come on, Bones, it’s not that bad,” Kirk spluttered as best he could through the gales of laughter.

Spock looked sternly at his companions, his hands folded staidly behind his back. “Indeed Doctor, I did carry out the research to which you refer, as far as was possible given the limited information available,” he said. “However, it appears the Vetansi have certain customs which they have not previously chosen to share with those from other worlds.”

Kirk wiped his eyes with his sleeve, still trying hard to control the mirth threatening to bubble over again at any moment. “That’s the understatement of the century,” he said. “So, who’s it going to be then?”

Spock and McCoy both turned towards him with their own, very different, versions of a stunned look on their faces and he had to try very, very hard to push down the fit of giggles lurking just below the surface.

“You mean you’re going through with it?” McCoy blurted, horror written all over his face. “No way am I having anything to do with this,” he added, folding his arms resolutely, plonking himself down on one of the chairs provided by their hosts and fixing his special ‘don’t bother arguing with me’ look on his best friend.

Kirk, to McCoy’s immense irritation, merely winked at him and turned towards his first officer with a speculative look. “Looks like maintaining harmonious diplomatic relations is up to me and you then,” he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Spock sighed.  He had already analysed the various courses of action open to them and had come to the same conclusion as the captain, albeit with resignation as opposed to the other’s obvious glee.

“So it would seem,” he replied, ignoring the doctor’s incredulous look as Kirk turned up the wattage on his already killer smile. “It would not be advisable to offend our hosts on our initial first contact mission, and Starfleet regulations require that we respect and, within reason, adhere to the customs of  other planets.” He fixed the grinning captain with an look that managed to be perfectly impassive while somehow imparting quite clearly his negative opinion of the situation. “However distasteful we may find those customs,” he added.

'Yeah, cos I didn’t get it from the look!’ Kirk thought, the Vulcan’s words doing nothing to dampen his enthusiasm.

McCoy shook his head in exasperation as he looked at his friend. God knows what Jim thought he was going to achieve with this one. The doctor was perfectly well aware of Kirk’s attraction to the science officer and had told him more than once that he was crazy if he thought even his, admittedly considerable, charms were going to crack the icy shield the Vulcan had kept firmly around him since Kirk had been given permanent command of the Enterprise. But the captain had steadfastly refused to accept defeat  - even McCoy’s protestations that Spock’s recently ended relationship with Uhura kinda pointed to his preferences being decidedly of the female variety had only prompted an enigmatic   ‘we’ll just have to see about that, Bones’, before the younger man strode out of the room, whistling cheerfully.

Now here he was fixing the Vulcan with that silly grin while Spock looked like he’d just been forced to suck on  a batch of particularly sour lemons.

The captain spread his arms wide. “It sounds like it could be fun, Spock,” he was saying, “Our first chance to explore the ways of another world with people who don’t seem, at least at the moment, to want to kill us!”

“Indeed, Captain,” Spock replied, choosing not to comment on Kirk’s idea that the ritual ahead could be ‘fun’. “The Vetansi have shown no indication of hostility towards the non-Federation worlds that have made contact with them. However, there are few records available of such meetings and those that do exist, it would seem, have certain omissions. The Vetansi appear to be a very private people.” He shot McCoy a look that dared him to make another comment, which the doctor ignored in favour of continuing to glare at Kirk.

The Vetansi aides who had greeted them at the beam down point had said little about the ceremony in which they were expected to take part as guests of the planet. In fact they had said very little at all, at least that the StarFleet officers could follow. The universal translator was having problems with the Vetansi language and Spock’s efforts to recalibrate it had so far had little effect.

Kirk laughed. “Private?” he questioned, his blue eyes twinkling as he fixed them on his first officer. “From what I got from the conversation on the way here, that ritual sounded anything but private!”

Spock’s posture stiffened as he folded his hands formally behind his back. “Captain,” he replied, “There are many worlds where touch is an important part of the culture. It would not be appropriate for us to judge this race by the protocols of StarFleet or, indeed, the habits of  those species whose home worlds are members of the Federation. There are many member planets where a touch that would be considered intimate on another world is regarded a part of everyday interaction. For example on Renius 5...”

"All right, all right,” Kirk interrupted, “I get the picture,” he grinned at his straight laced first officer. “and you’re fine with an ‘intimate touch’ are you?” he asked mischievously.

McCoy rolled his eyes and jumped up from the chair where he was sitting. “Jim, can I have a word?” he said before Spock could reply and reached out to grab the captain by his arm, dragging him towards the sleeping area off to the side of the room they were in, flashing a wan smile at the Vulcan on the way.

As soon as they were alone he rounded on him. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?”

“What?” Kirk replied, his blue eyes wide and innocent. “I’m just following regulations and doing what I have to do to make sure the mission succeeds.”

“The hell you are,” McCoy countered. “I’ve seen that look on your face plenty of times and I’m telling you, if you start messing with that pointy-eared computer, you’re gonna come out of it a damn sight worse off than he is!” The doctor was warming to his topic. “Have you forgotten what happened the last time you pissed him off, or the time before that? Do you have a fucking death wish or something?”

Kirk held up his hand as if to physically ward off the diatribe. “Bones, come on. We’re just doing what we have to do. Spock knows that. It’s not like this is my idea, is it?” He grinned at the doctor. “Look, we’ll get this over with, get the contract signed and we’ll be all cosy back on the Enterprise in time for the Christmas party.”  With that he turned to head back into the outer room, an unmistakeably happy bounce in his step. McCoy shook his head in exasperation and, muttering under his breath, followed after him.

 

*****

 

The Vatensi aide had obviously visited their rooms while Kirk and McCoy had been having their little tete a tete, as they found Spock holding up a scrap of brightly coloured cloth that hadn’t been there before. His head tilted to one side, he was inspecting it with the same slightly bewildered look  Kirk had seen on his face when observing some particularly illogical example of human behaviour.

“What in  holy hell is that?” McCoy exclaimed. Spock turned to him. “It is part of the costume we are expected to wear to the welcoming ceremony, Doctor.” He paused. “However, I will admit to being uncertain as to which part of the anatomy it is intended to cover.”

Kirk reached out for the piece of material, which Spock willingly surrendered, and peered at it, his grin widening even further as he took in the dimensions. “This, Spock,“ he said, “is supposed to cover your, er, modesty.”

“Modesty, Captain?” the Vulcan intoned. Kirk waved the garment loosely around the area it was intended to adorn. “Yeah you know, little Spock and the lieutenants.”

Spock’s eyebrow lifted as he gleaned the captain’s meaning. McCoy covered his face with his hands as he flopped back into the seat he’d previously vacated. “Jesus, Jim,” he muttered weakly.

“Oh come on, Bones, it’s no different to wearing a bathing suit,” Kirk said. “Look Spock, I saw some pictures of guys wearing these when I met with Ruler Kensu, you just fold it like this, wrap it round and tie it at the side, kinda like a sarong.” He held it up in front of him again and shrugged, “only maybe a bit smaller,” he conceded.

He approached  the long sofa on which the rest of the items that made up their ceremonial garb had been laid. “So, we each get a sarong and then there’s a band to go around your head and these,” he held up some short lengths of cloth, “are, if I’m not mistaken, to tie around our ankles.”

Spock raised his other eyebrow as he took in just how little there was to the costumes they would be expected to wear for the welcoming ceremony. The details of what was expected of them were unclear, given the problems with the translator, but the captain had decided the best way to find out was to go along with it, ‘wing it’ as he had whispered to Spock on their way from the beam down point to these rooms.

The aide who had shown them to their rooms had managed to impart the knowledge that the ruler wished to welcome them to the planet and that this was done in a specific ceremony. Kirk had then met in private with the aforementioned Ruler Kensu and had come back to tell them, a wide grin on his face, that the leader had said the ceremony was one of some intimacy.

Spock, not having been a party to the conversation, was unsure if the captain’s translation of what it was likely to involve was a correct one but, having now seen the costumes they were expected to wear, he suspected it was not a ceremony with which he was likely to feel comfortable. Despite that, however, he would do his duty and follow regulations. It was vital that this mission succeed and he would not allow his Vulcan sensibilities to stand in the way.

Vetan’s moon  was unusually rich in deposits of  tauralite, a mineral vital to the production of the vaccine for a Coridan virus that was easily preventable but could kill thousands in days if left unchecked. The last outbreak, several months ago, had been successfully controlled but had left stocks of the vaccine at a dangerously low level. The disaster that had befallen the Federation at what had quickly become known as the Battle of Vulcan  had led to what should have been routine missions being abandoned or postponed indefinitely. One of those missions was to replenish stocks of tauralite.

When Vulcan had been destroyed, although the incalculable loss of life was the most visible and devastating result, it was not the only loss. Vulcan was the main source of tauralite in the Federation. Other sources had been identified but all were either prohibitively distant given the Federation’s now  limited resources, in disputed areas or on planets with populations not yet considered advanced enough for first contact. Vetan was the best hope they had to try to ward off another large scale planetary disaster before it could happen. To further complicate matters the diplomatic situation between Coridan and the Federation was balanced on a knife edge. The planet was rich in the dilithium both the Federation and the Romulans needed to power  their fleets and, now more than ever, it was vital to keep the Coridans on side and away from the influence of Romulus.

Spock turned towards McCoy as the doctor examined the outfits left for them, a smirk on his face. “Doctor,” the Vulcan said solemnly, “as ours is essentially a medical mission, it would be unfortunate should you be seen not to participate in the customs of the Vetansi. They may choose to see your  reluctance to join the ritual as an indicator that our intentions are less than honourable.”

McCoy scowled up at him from the chair, one leg draped casually over the side. “Yeah, nice try, Spock,” he replied, “but I was there and one of the few things the aide said that I understood was that only two of any party of visitors have to join in.” He folded his arms defiantly. “And it sure as hell isn’t going to be me.”

Spock continued to gaze at him impassively, resisting the urge to sigh at yet another emotional Human outburst. “Very well,” he said, as Kirk flashed another grin and held the items of ‘clothing’ out towards him. “I shall change in the other room.” With as much dignity as he could muster, he gathered up the bits of purple and gold material and headed towards the sleeping area, ignoring the snorts of laughter that echoed behind him.

Kirk lost no time in peeling off his uniform. Modesty had never really been an issue for him. He had a good body and he was happy to show it off, not that it had any effect on McCoy, who’d seen it all before and was decidedly on the side of the unimpressed. The doctor looked on as Kirk kicked off his boots and pulled off his uniform, underwear included.

“God’s sake, Jim,” he said, shaking his head at the sight of the naked captain, “aren’t you even keeping your skivvies on?”

Kirk started wrapping the red and gold sarong around his waist as he looked over at his friend and smiled. “When in Rome, Bones,” he said, tying the garment at the side. “See,” he added as the cloth barely covered him, “it’s perfectly decent. Whaddya think?”

McCoy snorted in response as he looked him up and down. “Yeah, very Roman slave,” he said sardonically.

Kirk looked mildly disappointed. “Slave?” he repeated. “Don’t I at least pass for an off duty centurion?”

The doctor just stared at him. Kirk shrugged and  reached for the matching head and ankle bands, tying them quickly in place before going over and doing a twirl in front of a mirror their hosts had thoughtfully provided. Presumably, McCoy thought, so their guests could get a good look at how utterly ridiculous they looked before they faced their public.

He watched as Kirk admired himself and shook his head again, this time unable to stop from smiling. If there was one thing you could never accuse Jim Kirk of, it was doing things by half. If he had to go out looking like some sort of living Roman sex toy, then he was going to do it with his head held high, and never mind what anyone thought.

There was a rustling noise from the doorway into the other room and Kirk and McCoy both turned towards it, the doctor craning his neck to see around the back of the armchair. McCoy failed to stop another smirk crossing his face while Kirk threw his head back and laughed uproariously. Spock was standing just inside the room, his face stoic, a slight tinge of green at the tips of his pointed ears the only thing betraying his discomfort.

Dressed in the same outfit as Kirk but in a plum colour edged with gold, Spock looked acutely ill at ease. He glared at the captain, who was holding one arm across his stomach and waving the other in the air vaguely in the direction of his first officer as he struggled to bring himself under control. Spock could see the tears of  laughter in the Human’s eyes. He glanced at McCoy, daring him to say a word. The doctor raised his eyebrows and gave a quickly repressed grin before looking away, fixing his eyes on Kirk, who had quieted slightly and seemed to have nearly triumphed in the hard fought battle against his own responses.

“Might I inquire what has prompted this hilarity?” Spock asked. The question prompted a fresh burst of hysteria, and Spock raised an eyebrow as he moved to sit on the sofa. “I fail to see why my attire should be the cause of such an outburst,” he continued, “since yours is, colour aside, identical.”

“Yeah,” Kirk managed to get out, swiping at his eyes with a bare arm, “but you wear it so well, Spock. You’ll be fighting them off with a stick when they get a look at you in that outfit.”

Spock’s eyes crinkled in one of the slight changes of expression that Kirk was quickly learning how to read. This one was the half-Vulcan equivalent of a frown if he was not very much mistaken. “To whom are you referring, Captain?” the Vulcan asked. “And I assure you I have no intention of fighting anyone, with a stick or otherwise.”

Kirk hooted with laughter and went over to sit next to his first officer. He slung one arm around his shoulders and gave him a light punch on the arm with his other hand. “Oh, give it up Spock, I know you know what I mean, and I know that you know that I know.”

Spock sighed as he quickly snapped his mental barriers shut to block the Human’s thoughts. He knew the captain was perfectly well aware of the Vulcan aversion to touch, but  Kirk seemed determined to ignore such sensibilities and treat his first officer as though he were not only Human but a close personal friend. Spock had never been on the receiving end of such treatment before - most Humans he had met tended to keep him at a respectful distance - and he had still not alighted upon a strategy of dealing with the irrepressible exuberance his new captain gave off in waves. He carefully extricated himself from the loose embrace and got up from the sofa, away from the disconcerting touch . “The ceremony is due to start in 11.3 minutes,” he said. “Shall we go?”

Kirk leapt to his feet. “Ready when you are,” he said. “Coming, Bones?” He gestured to Spock to lead the way and  McCoy rolled his eyes as the captain glanced at the back view of the Vulcan, flashing a grin and raising his eyebrows in appreciation before following after him.

 

*****

 

The Vetansi great hall was a huge room that had been decked in swathes of embroidered fabric of all different colours, stretching from floor to ceiling and giving the place an opulence that some might see as majestic but that reminded McCoy vaguely of a rather over the top brothel. The three Starfleet officers looked around. The rows of seats to the sides of the room were packed full of Vetansi, none of whom, Kirk noticed, were wearing anything like as little as he and Spock were, but were rather decked in long robes in colours as rich as those of the drapes covering the high walls.

The aide who had shown them to their quarters was at their side as soon as they entered the hall, bowing formally in greeting, touching two fingers to his temple in the way of his people. Unlike those seated, his inhumanly slim frame was encased in a form-fitting garment in a silvery colour that complimented the characteristic tones of his peoples’ light green skin, fine hair and the wide silver-flecked blue eyes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of the old Disney holovids that one of Kirk’s ex-lovers had been inordinately fond of.

'In fact,’ thought the captain, looking around him at the extraordinarily beautiful faces of the Vetansi and the opulent surroundings they inhabited, ‘this whole place looks like something out of a fairy tale.’

“Welcome feelings,” the aide said, or rather that was as near to what he said as the translator could manage. “You will be with me,” the young Vetansi added. He looked to one side, and another aide, dressed in similar clothing to the first but in shades of dusky pink came up to them and, inclining her head, offered McCoy her arm. The doctor gave her a suspicious look, and Kirk grinned at his friend’s habitual wariness. It was typical of McCoy to look askance even at someone who looked about as threatening as Snow White.  He nodded at the doctor to do as instructed and McCoy cautiously took the proffered arm, allowing himself to be led over to join the Vetansi sitting at the side of the hall.

The first aide led Kirk and Spock along a wide crimson carpet towards a stage-like area at the far end of the room. Kirk smiled as he followed - it reminded him of the red carpets regularly dragged out at virtually every human award ceremony he could think of. He inclined his head towards the Vulcan walking next to him.

“Got your acceptance speech ready, Spock?” he whispered, and suppressed a snort of mirth as the Vulcan gave him a look of blank incomprehension.

At the end of the room Ruler Kensu and three other Vetansi were sitting on long cushions on the carpeted floor. Each was wearing an outfit similar to those worn by Kirk and Spock. As the two StarFleet officers approached them, the four stood and offered the traditional greeting. Kirk bowed respectfully, touching his temple in response, aware of the Vulcan mirroring the gesture beside him.

The four beings on the platform were, as Kirk had come to expect on this world, almost ethereally beautiful. The garments that had seemed so ridiculous to him in their assigned chambers looked somehow right and dignified on the race they had been designed for.

Kensu took a step forward, holding out his pale hands at waist level, open palms facing upwards. “Welcome feelings,” the Vetansi offered. Whether the tone echoed the words or not, Kirk couldn’t tell, the imperfect translation making it even harder than it would be in any case considering this was the first time Vetansi and Humans had met. But he had found since starting at the Academy that the alien species he had met there and since were easier to read than you might at first think. Some gestures, among humanoids at least, seemed to be almost universal. Holding out your hands in this way was one of them, and he thought it highly unlikely it could be anything threatening.

He cautiously returned the gesture and the alien moved to touch his outstretched fingertips, inclining his head in a graceful nod. At the touch Kirk felt a warmth infuse his body; a tingling feeling seemed to spread from the tips of his fingers, up his arms and through the rest of his body. His eyes widened as he let out an involuntary gasp at the odd sensation.

Beside him, he felt rather than saw Spock turn sharply towards him. The Vetansi withdrew his hands and took a step backwards and the captain started as the contact ceased and the warmth in his body abated.  He took a deep breath. The tingling was still there but less all consuming than it had been in the moment the alien’s long, delicate fingers had touched his own. It was a strange feeling, but not unpleasant. If anything he felt more calm and relaxed than he had since he took on the captaincy of the Enterprise, something that was more of a burden on his young shoulders than he let even McCoy see.

“Captain,” he heard a familiar voice say as if from a long distance away. He turned, feeling as though he was moving in slow motion, towards his Vulcan companion. Spock was looking at him, as much concern as he would ever show etched on the sharp planes of his face. Momentarily unable to find the words to reply, Kirk summoned up a smile and reached out to touch his first officer’s arm. “Captain,” Spock repeated, this time more forcefully, “are you all right?”

Kirk straightened himself up to his full height and sucked in another deep breath as he composed himself and nodded in response. “Fine, Spock,” he managed, rather shakily. “I’m fine.” He turned back towards the Vetansi. “What?” he began, “uh, what was that?”

The alien looked at him, his head cocked to one side. “Welcome feelings,” he repeated and moved to stretch out his arms towards Spock. Kirk quickly stepped in between him  and his first officer, unwilling to let the Vetansi touch him without knowing what that strange effect was. “Wait,” he ordered.

“Captain?” Spock said questioningly. Kirk fixed his eyes on those of the Vetansi and Kensu took a step backwards, his hands still held out, and looked at his companions to the right and left. The two females and one male returned his gaze then looked back at Kirk. One of the females stepped forward.

“You well,” she said and Kirk looked at her curiously, unsure if it was a question or a statement. “I am well,” he replied, taking a guess, “but what just happened?”

The four aliens looked from him to Spock before giving another of their slight bows and stepping back to form a circle that excluded the Starfleet officers. They bent their head close together and their hands reached out seemingly at random to touch their companions, a low murmur reached Kirk’s ears but he couldn’t make out any words to give him a clue about what they might be saying.

Kirk frowned. He’d taken this ceremony light heartedly given what the aide had told them about it when they first arrived but now he was feeling less sure of himself. Despite his confident, even cocky, exterior he was acutely conscious that this was his first mission in command since his defeat of Nero. He was very much aware of the weight on his shoulders, of all the people on all the worlds of the Federation watching him, waiting to see what he would do next, wondering if his defeat of Nero was a fluke, a lucky shot never to be repeated. Truth be told he wasn’t entirely sure if that wasn’t the case himself.

He looked over at Spock to find the Vulcan returning his gaze with neutral brown eyes. Kirk quickly flashed his trademark grin - he was damned if he was going to let his first officer see he was even vaguely discomfited by what was going on, whatever that might be. Spock showed no reaction to the smile but leaned slightly towards him.

“Captain,” he Vulcan said, his voice low. Kirk moved closer to hear what he had to say. “I believe,” Spock continued, so quietly that the captain could barely hear him, “that there may be some form of communication other than verbal between the Vetansi.”

Kirk took a quick look back at the Vetansi in their little circle. “Why’s that?” he whispered back. “Can you hear what they’re saying?”

Spock gave a quick, almost impatient, shake of his head. “Affirmative,” he replied, “but it is what they are not saying that leads me to believe there may be some other form of communication. If you will permit the touch, I will...” He abruptly fell silent as the four Vetansi turned to look at them again. Kensu stepped towards Spock again.

“Understanding not,” he said, one hand reaching palm out in Kirk’s direction, while his eyes remained locked on Spock’s. “Hurt not, Vetansi StarFleet.”

Spock looked at Kirk and the captain gave a quick nod. He had the feeling the Vetansi had decided he was somehow deficient and that Spock might stand a better chance of understanding this culture and the ritual they were supposed to take part in. He didn’t like that idea at all and he was even less enamoured by the uncomfortable suspicion that the alien might be right.

“I do not understand,” Spock replied, and Kirk found himself half relieved that Spock hadn’t got one over on him and half exasperated that the usually know it all Vulcan appeared as unable to shed light on the situation as he was. “Are you inquiring if our intention is to harm you in some way?” the Vulcan continued. “If so, I can assure you that it is not.”

The Vetansi turned to look back at his companions and Kirk stiffened. He was unsure why but all his instincts were telling him that there was something wrong here. He hated not being in control of a situation and he certainly didn’t feel in control now, but there was more to it than that.  As the three Vetansi nodded at  the one facing Spock, he took a step towards his first officer. A stab of fear suddenly pierced him and he instantly regretted the nod he had given to permit the Vulcan to proceed. Kensu stretched out his hand towards Spock. The Vulcan reached out in response, his expression unafraid, showing merely a scientist’s curiosity at the unknown.  “No!” Kirk yelled as his instinct took over. He leapt towards Spock just as his fingertips touched the alien’s. The Vulcans eyes widened, shock written all over the normally expressionless face. He let out a silent scream as Kirk reached him just in time to catch him as his legs buckled underneath him.

“What have you done?!” Kirk yelled as he held on to the body of his unconscious first officer. There was a gasp from the auditorium at the loud shout. The Vetansi on the platform huddled together, staring at the two Starfleet officers, none of them saying a word. “What have you done to him?!” Kirk yelled again, frantically looking around the hall, seeing what he was looking for as a figure in blue sped towards them along the red floor covering.

McCoy reached them as Kirk lowered the limp body of his, thankfully still breathing, first officer to the floor. There had to be thousands of beings in the room but even through his distress and rising anger, Kirk noticed that there was a deadly silence, none of the noise and commotion that might be expected had such a collapse occurred at a similar ceremony on Earth.

As the doctor started running his med scanner over Spock’s body, Kirk rose from where he had been kneeling next to the Vulcan and glared furiously at the Vetansi, his fists clenched at his sides as he struggled to control his first impulse, which was, as it had always been, to fight back. He took a deep breath. He was a StarFleet captain now and he couldn’t just rush in, fists first, there was more at stake here than any of their lives and as he looked at the Vetansi  he felt himself begin to calm down. They might not be Human or any other race he was familiar with but they were not acting aggressively and everything about their posture and the way their eyes were fixed on Spock suggested that they had not intended to do him harm.

“Hurt not,” the Vetansi who had touched Spock repeated. Kirk stared at him before turning back to look at McCoy.

“Bones,” he began, the question obvious in his voice.

McCoy didn’t look up as he spoke. “All his vital signs are normal, Jim,” he replied to the unspoken question, his tone a mixture of relief and frustration. “I don’t know what’s wrong.” He sat back on his heels as he finally lifted his head to look at the captain. “We should get him back to the ship, Jim,” he added then broke off as the Vulcan began to stir and quickly turned back to his patient.

Spock slowly opened his eyes and made a move as if to sit up. “Easy,” the doctor said reaching out a hand clasp his arm. Spock shrugged him off and finished the move to sit up, fixing his gaze on Kirk’s.

“Captain,” he said firmly, his tone as businesslike as it would have been had he been addressing his commanding officer from his station on the bridge. “I believe we need to talk in private.”

Kirk turned to look at their hosts. “If you will excuse us,” he said, moving towards the Vulcan. The four Vetansi bowed once again and Kirk swallowed a moment of irritation at the now familiar gesture that seemed to have myriad meanings on this world. He had no idea if that meant ‘go ahead’ or, even, considering the patchy help currently being provided by the translator, if they had even understood, but he moved to grab the Vulcan’s arm as McCoy re-established his grip on the other.

Despite Spock’s steady voice of a moment ago he accepted the help of the doctor and captain in hauling him to his feet, a certain sign, Kirk was sure, that he had been more affected by whatever the Vetansi had done to him than he was letting on. He might not know his first officer that well yet but he sure as hell already knew that his streak of stubborn, independent pride ran deep. There was no way Spock would be accepting the help he did as he supported him on the walk towards the exit of the hall unless he really needed to.

 

****

 

Kirk folded his arms across his chest as he gazed at the first officer, now sitting on the bed where the costumes they were still sporting had earlier been laid out. “Right,” he began, “what happened back there, Spock?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously as Spock appeared to shift uncomfortably. Until this moment he hadn’t believed that Vulcans, even half Vulcans, would ever shift uncomfortably, and it made him nervous.

McCoy was regarding the Vulcan equally as warily. “Come on, Spock,” he added. “Something knocked you out back there, and it was nothing that showed up on a med scan.” He turned to look at Kirk. “I still think we should get him back to the ship and get him thoroughly checked over,” he added.

"No,” Spock said firmly, cutting off the doctor’s next words before he could get them out. Kirk’s frown deepened at the uncharacteristic sharpness from his first officer. “No,” Spock repeated in a more measured tone. “It is not necessary to return to the ship, Doctor. I am quite well.”

“Quite well, my ass,” McCoy retorted, “Look at you, you’re even greener than you usually are, and who’s the doctor around here anyway…”

“Bones,” Kirk cut in, holding up his hand to gesture the doctor to be quiet. McCoy subsided, muttering under his breath as he threw himself into a nearby chair. Kirk looked back at Spock.

“Spock, look,” he started again, “I need to know what happened back there.”

The Vulcan took a deep breath and met his eyes for the first time since they had returned to the rooms where they had been quartered. “I was negligent in my research, Captain,” the Vulcan said. Kirk’s eyes widened. Even on their short acquaintance he knew what such an admission must have cost the perfectionist first officer. He found himself waiting for a moment and briefly wondered what for before realising it was the surge of triumph he generally felt when he had got one up on the often infuriating Vulcan, but he found it was missing this time. ‘Hmm,” he thought to himself, puzzled, and filed away his reaction to consider later as Spock continued. “I should have realised sooner,” the Vulcan was saying.

“Oh, for pity’s sake,” the doctor suddenly let out. “Realised what?!” he almost yelled, “spit it out, man!”

Kirk shot his friend a quick warning look, not pausing to catch the answering glower as he waited for Spock to continue.

“I should have realised,” Spock said again, ignoring McCoy’s outburst, “that the imperfect translation of the Vetansi language pointed towards a non-verbal form of primary communication.”

Kirk frowned as he took in the words and remembered Spock had said something similar just before his collapse. “You mean they’re telepathic?” he asked, the scepticism clear in his voice. His thoughts were racing. Something didn’t add up. Vulcans were telepathic. Why would Spock have collapsed at telepathic contact? Unless the Vetansi minds were incompatible with Vulcans, he supposed.

“Not in the sense you mean, captain,” Spock continued. “Telepathy in most races, my own included, is a way of sharing thoughts without speech.”

Kirk nodded impatiently. “Yes,” he said, “Everyone knows that, but what..”

Spock shook his head slightly as if to clear his thoughts. “The Vetansi are telepaths, Jim,” he said, not appearing to notice Kirk’s start at the casual use of his first name, something Spock didn’t seem to even realise he’d done as he continued to speak. “They are also empaths,” he added.

Kirk looked thoughtful as his quick mind quickly processed that information and came up with various implications behind  the knowledge his science officer had just imparted. “So,” he began, “when he touched you…”

Spock nodded quickly, looking almost embarrassed. “He was attempting to communicate but in a way totally alien to the telepathy  practised by my people,” he supplied.

The captain sighed and rubbed his arm across his eyes. “I think I get where you’re going Spock,” he said, “but I’m going to need a full report.”

Spock stood, appearing more steady on his feet now, and folded his arms behind his back in the posture he habitually took when giving a report on the bridge. “It is only a theory,” he warned, and Kirk resisted rolling his eyes. Nine times out of ten when Spock began a report with those words,  the theory in question turned out to be the only really possible solution and the ‘just a theory’ part was  the Vulcan’s way of saying that there was a 0.001 per cent chance that he might be wrong. Kirk was secretly convinced that he added it to the beginning of reports just so he could hedge his bets for that one time in a gazzillion that he might turn out to be mistaken.

“The Vetansi appear to communicate,” Spock continued, “primarily through emotion.” McCoy sat up straighter in his chair at the words, interested to see how the Vulcan, whose entire philosophy of life involved suppressing emotions, would deal with this situation. “Their verbal communication is limited and also appears to be concerned mainly with imparting information through the means of their emotional response to it.” He fixed his eyes on the captain’s. “You will have noticed, sir, that rather than bid us welcome they offered ‘welcome feelings’. I surmise that they did not realise that we were incapable of receiving and understanding the welcome they were broadcasting through their emotions and that we were reliant entirely on the spoken word.

Kirk frowned. “When the first Vetansi touched my fingers, I felt something,” he said thoughtfully, his face unaccountably flushing as he remembered the warm feeling that had spread through his body at the alien touch. He saw Spock note the change in his skin colour and felt himself blush even deeper, although why he wasn’t sure, perhaps just that the feeling had been unlike any other he had ever experienced. He looked up sharply. “I felt welcomed,” he said, “It was as if,” he rubbed his arm across his eyes again, “as if I belonged,” he looked at Spock to see the other nodding.

“Indeed, captain,” Spock responded, “it was undoubtedly the intention that we should feel, as Humans might say, ‘at home’.

McCoy smiled. “Well I’ll be damned,” he said. “How about that, eh Spock?” he drawled. “These people are like the anti-Vulcans - warm, friendly, emotionally open. No wonder that knocked you out!”

Spock didn’t dignify the statement with a response. He appeared deep in thought. “I regret my negligence, Captain.” he offered. “Although the Vetansi contact with other races has been extremely limited, there could have been clues in the reports filed by those that have visited this planet pointing to a non-verbal means of communication. I should have initiated further investigation.”

Kirk waved away what was the closest thing to an apology he had ever heard from his First. “Forget it Spock,” he said. “You weren’t to know. I read those reports as well.” He chose to ignore the Vulcan’s raised eyebrow  - a comment, he presumed, either on the fact that the brash young captain had prepared for this mission by reading the reports or the unlikelihood of his noticing anything Spock wouldn’t while reading them.

Kirk raised his eyebrows back in defiance of either interpretation. He might give off a devil may care attitude but he would never have gone into a mission without going over all the information available to him, and it was about time, he thought, to start letting his first officer know that he wasn’t half as careless as Spock seemed to think. “The reports weren’t exactly full of useful information,” he continued, “and since they’re from worlds outside the Federation,  I bet the information was just what they wanted us to read.” He smiled easily at the Vulcan. “No one would’ve got any more from them than we did,” he finished, sure that what he said was true.

“Well, that’s as maybe,” McCoy said, “but what are we planning to do about it? Seems to me, Jim, we’re still going to have to go through with this ritual if we’re going to get the mining rights but Spock here,” he paused to flash a look at the Vulcan, “can’t do it if he’s going to collapse the moment any of the Vetansi get near him.”

Spock looked mildly affronted. “Doctor, I was not prepared for the contact earlier,” he began, and Kirk thought he heard a note of  indignation in the voice. “I can assure you,” the Vulcan continued, “that with adequate preparation, I shall be more than capable of taking part as far as is required.”

Kirk regarded his first officer. “Spock,” he began quietly, pretending to ignore the sharp look the always perceptive doctor threw him at the uncharacteristic seriousness, even softness, of tone, “you don’t have to do this…”

“On the contrary,” the Vulcan interrupted, “I believe, now more than ever, that it is imperative to the success of our mission, that I participate.” At Kirk’s questioning frown, Spock folded his arms across his chest and opened his mouth to continue. “When the aide explained that the ritual involved ‘intimate touch’ you assumed, as did I, that the touch  involved would be physical.”

At the words the doctor let out a snort and Spock and Kirk both turned to look at him, the captain with a faint smile, the Vulcan with a look that Kirk had begun to categorise in his mind as ‘long suffering’. “Well what were we supposed to think, Spock?” the doctor continued, “and,” he added, pointing at the first officer, “those outfits would hardly seem to suggest anything else!”

“Indeed, Doctor,” Spock answered, “I myself was guilty of the same assumption but I have come to the conclusion that given the events that have transpired since we beamed down, it is logical to somewhat revise my initial supposition.”

McCoy widened his eyes in deliberated astonishment and thumped the arm of the chair. “Jeez, Spock, you don’t mean,” he paused dramatically, “that you were wrong?”

“I have just said so, Doctor,” Spock replied blandly and Kirk pushed away an uncaptainly impulse to giggle as the doctor broke into a wide grin. He had a feeling that the animosity between the doctor and first officer, which had flared up after Spock had unceremoniously jettisoned him from the ship during their first mission together was gradually turning into a sort of friendship - if a grudging, teasing friendship that he supposed neither was likely to admit to any time in the near future.

“Bones,” he admonished, holding up his hand to silence his friend. “Carry on, Spock,” he instructed, interested in what his first officer had been about to say before being interrupted. “Give me one good reason why I should let you go back in there,” he continued, folding his arms across his chest and fixing the Vulcan with a challenging stare.

Spock returned the look. “Although my race is not empathic, we are touch telepaths. In theory this should allow me to communicate adequately with the Vetansi. Additionally,” he paused, aware that his next words would give Kirk little option but to allow him to attempt the ritual, “it may give me sufficient grasp of the nuances of their language to allow me to recalibrate the universal translator and allow formal negotiations for mining rights to proceed.”

“In theory?” McCoy butted in again, his southern accent more in evidence than usual, as it always was when he was agitated. “Spock, you can’t risk telepathic contact with a race we know next to nothing about!” He turned to appeal to Kirk. “It’s crazy, Jim, you can’t let him do this!”

Spock fixed him with a steady gaze. “Calm yourself, Doctor,” he intoned, the words having quite the opposite affect on the already twitchy medic. “Such displays of emotion will not change the situation.”

McCoy jumped to his feet, his fists clenched at his sides, and glowered at the Vulcan. “I am the doctor here, Mr Spock,” he said firmly, “and I can order you not to do this.”

Kirk mulled over Spock’s words, dimly registering the exchange between his two companions as he considered the situation from every angle. He could agree with Spock’s request to join his mind to that of the Vetansi leader, or he could order him not to do it. It was a question of weighing up the risk to his first officer against the risk of failing in their mission and potentially allowing the situation on Coridan to degenerate into  mass loss of life. The weight of command was feeling heavier by the minute. He and Spock hadn’t got off to the greatest of starts, that was true, but quite apart from his teasing flirtations with his first officer, which were as much to try to goad him into reacting as they were because he found him very attractive - which he definitely did - he had found himself growing more and more fond of the Vulcan, however impossible he might be at times. He sighed.

“Spock,” he began, “What are the chances this will work and what are the risks?” McCoy started spluttering again as he realised his young friend was seriously considering Spock’s suggestion. “Bones, hear him out,” Kirk cut in. “It could be the best shot we’ve got at protecting the Coridans.” McCoy subsided. His common sense and concern for the Coridans taking over from his immediate instinct to protect the lives right in front of him.

“If you have quite finished, Doctor?” Spock said. McCoy gave a resigned ‘go ahead’ gesture and the Vulcan turned his attention to Kirk. “I estimate the probability I will be able to communicate successfully with the Vetansi at approximately 73.18 per cent” he began, causing McCoy to roll his eyes at the precise ‘approximation’. “The risks, given the unusual circumstances, are somewhat difficult to quantify,” he continued. “It is possible I could sustain some damage from the contact, but I would judge that risk to be worth taking considering the importance of our mission.”

Kirk felt a stab of something he couldn’t quite identify but that felt a lot like fear go through him at the words. The matter of fact tone in which they were uttered did nothing to blind him to what the Vulcan was saying. Spock would be risking brain damage and, although he might not know that much about Vulcans he knew enough to understand that existing with a damaged mind must be a fate worse than death to a species that above all else prided itself on control, not just of emotions, he was beginning to realise, but of  body, mind - even soul he was willing to bet, should Vulcans believe in such a thing.

His blue eyes met the steady brown ones. “I won’t order you to do this,” he said, “but if you think the risk is worth taking, then I’ll trust your judgement.”

The flicker in Spock’s eyes was there and gone in a heartbeat, but Kirk spotted it and knew it for surprise. Spock hadn’t expected his captain’s expression of faith in him. Neither had McCoy if the rather more obviously startled pair of eyes on him were anything to go by. Kirk forced himself to flash the grin that usually came quickly and freely. “What?!” he said, looking from one to the other. “Do you not think I trust the judgement of the guy who had me chucked off the ship the first chance he got?!”

Spock looked slightly chagrined at the reminder but McCoy’s gaze softened. He knew Kirk well enough to know that the display of bravado was likely hiding his dismay at the possibility one of his crew was going to be put in danger. “Jim...” he began, casting a quick look at the Vulcan.

“Bones,” Kirk cut in, “We don’t have many choices, you know that. I don’t like it any more than you do..” He broke off as the Vetansi aide who appeared to have been assigned to them appeared in the doorway.

“Kensu address,” he said, his pale green head tilted to one side as he regarded the three StarFleet officers.

“I think that means he wants to see us,” Kirk hazarded a guess. Spock nodded and McCoy rose from his chair. The captain caught the Vulcan’s eye, the question clear. Spock nodded once again and McCoy offered no further argument as the aide turned to lead the way out of the room, the StarFleet trio following in his wake.

 

****

 

This time the landing party were taken not to the grand hall but to a private chamber just off to the side of it. Here they found just the Vetansi ruler, Kensu, and the female who had previously stood with him when Spock had collapsed in the hall.

Kensu moved towards them his arms held in front of him, palms open as they had been earlier. The three StarFleet officers returned the gesture and Kirk took a step forward to stand face to face with the Vetansi. Kensu touched his two fingers to his head and bowed and Kirk echoed the movement. He could feel his heart racing in his chest. He felt as nervous as he ever had, whether for the mission or on behalf of his first officer, or both, he wasn’t sure.

The Vetansi ruler tilted his head to one side as the aide had done earlier. It seemed to be a trait of the species, Kirk thought to himself. It was a gesture that could so easily be Human, or even Vulcan, but here it just served to remind him of how alien this species was to them. He had no idea how to read the body language and even less idea how he was to inform the Vetansi of what Spock wished to attempt. He looked over at his first officer. Spock looked as emotionless as he had ever seen him. Some might say the stony façade was only to be expected of a Vulcan but his first officer had shown emotion when he’d been pushed into it. Kirk felt a sudden echo in his mind, a flashback to the moment on Delta Vega when his mind had joined with that of an older version of Spock. That version had been from another time, another place, another universe, but he had certainly felt emotions. The strength of those emotions had been nearly enough to knock the young man he kept referring to as ‘old friend’ right off his feet. As he looked at the younger version, Kirk, not for the first time, wondered if all that feeling, all those emotions he had felt within the older Spock were locked in there somewhere, wondered if he would ever get to see them, even to feel them, in the way he had with the elderly Vulcan.

McCoy cleared his throat and the sound brought Kirk back to the present with a start. He glanced at Spock. The Vulcan took a step forward and held out his hand towards the Vetansi. The alien looked to his female companion who moved to his side and placed a hand on his arm. The two were silent, their eyes seemed unfocussed and Kirk imagined they were communicating, trying to work out how to proceed as much as they themselves were.

The female looked at Spock’s outstretched hand and then turned her eyes upwards to meet his. “Damage not,” she said, the words seeming to come with difficulty.

“Damage not,” Spock echoed. The two Vetansi clasped hands then Kensu released his grip and reached his hand instead to Spock.

Kirk found himself holding his breath as their fingertips touched. Every fibre in his being was poised to leap forward and intervene should Spock look like collapsing again. The Vulcan’s eyes were closed, a look of intense concentration on his face. He swayed slightly and McCoy, swearing softly under his breath, quickly pulled his scanner out of the med kit that was ever present on his person and started unobtrusively taking readings.

Kirk looked at him questioningly. McCoy frowned at the scanner, not taking his eyes off it but knowing the captain was waiting for his report. “Heart rate up, blood pressure up. Jim, he can’t take much of this,” he said, concern making his voice harsh.

Kirk took in the medical information but kept his eyes as firmly fixed on the scene in front of him as McCoy’s were on the med scanner. Spock’s face was impassive but every few seconds there would be a twitch at the side of his mouth, or his eyes would momentarily squeeze more tightly shut. The effort the contact was costing him was obvious, even without the medical signs of the strain he was under.

Suddenly, with a gasp, the two broke apart. Spock staggered a step backwards and McCoy, who was standing right behind him, quickly reached out to grab either arm to balance him. Spock took a deep breath, the slight ragged quality of the intake of air the only indication of the effort he had  been extending. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said, extricating himself from the steadying hands as quickly as was seemly, possibly more so. “I am quite all right,” he added, although Kirk had the feeling that he was assuring himself as much as he was the doctor.

The Vulcan turned towards Kirk. “As I had surmised,” he said, his eyes still fixed on the Vetansi who were now regarding him with what Kirk would guess was curiosity. “Their primary means of communication is emotional.” He looked back towards the two aliens, who inclined their head in unison and silently left the room.

“And?” Kirk said as soon as the three of them were alone, pushing aside his relief that Spock appeared unharmed knowing instinctively that the Vulcan wouldn’t appreciate a display of Human emotion when he had likely just been bombarded with the Vetansi version, which had been strong enough to knock him out earlier. “Did you manage to communicate with him?” he questioned. “Did you tell him about our mission?”

Spock gave a slight shake of his head, a flicker of frustration passing over his handsome features. “Negative,” he replied. “I was able to confirm that they mean us no harm, nor do they appear to harbour any concern as regards our intentions towards them. Their primary emotion is, as they have been attempting to communicate to us, one of welcome. They are pleased we are here but curious as to why.” He looked briefly down at the floor before meeting Kirk’s gaze. “However,” he continued, “I was unable to formulate an adequate response to that question.”

Kirk frowned in confusion. “Why?” he said simply. Spock seemed discomfited by the question. If he was Human, Kirk thought, he would be shifting uncomfortably right now.

“It is not within my ability to do so,” Spock replied. He paused and Kirk waited for him to continue. “Emotions are strictly controlled among my race, Captain.” Kirk nodded impatiently at the information he was already well aware of. McCoy raised his eyebrows and folded his arms as he too waited with interest for the Vulcan to continue. Spock seemed rather reluctant but nevertheless opened his mouth to explain further. “I could partially interpret the emotional input from Ruler Kensu,” he said, “but I was not able to comprehend the full nuances of his response, or to find a way of responding in kind,” he finally finished.

Kirk’s eyes widened as understanding dawned. “You mean that because Vulcans control their emotions so strictly you couldn’t use yours to respond to his?” he asked.

Spock nodded curtly. “I would not express it in such crude terms,” he replied, “but that is essentially correct.”

“Oh, great!” McCoy began, but Kirk glared at him before he continued. “Bones..” he said, the warning tone clearly imparting that now was neither the time nor the place. The doctor lowered his voice, but Kirk could still hear him muttering under his breath about the unhealthy repression of emotions. He ignored him and gave Spock his full attention. “Ok,” he said, “any suggestions where we go from here?”

Spock gave him another one of the close looks he’d found himself the recipient of ever since they beamed down to the planet, and Kirk allowed himself a moment of irritation. He was starting to get a bit sick of people seeming to assume that just because their first mission had  required him to be a little gung ho that that was his only modus operandi. He smiled to himself at the thought. Hell, Spock’s eyebrows would likely shoot through the roof that he’d even thought such a phrase. Just to put the Vulcan on the back foot again, he flashed him his trademark grin. This time, however, Spock didn’t react with his usual slightly affronted look at the captain’s easygoing manner, simply continued to gaze intently at him.

“There is one possibility,” the Vulcan began slowly. “As the problem appears to be my inability to process the emotional responses of the Vetansi when our minds are joined, it is feasible that the presence of another, an ‘interpreter’ if you will, within the joining may facilitate the communication.”

Kirk felt a strange mix of emotions wash over him as he immediately grasped what the Vulcan was suggesting. Fear was a part of it, but also he felt a jolt of longing. Ever since he had encountered the older Spock on Delta Vega and had joined with him in a Vulcan mind meld he had felt slightly bereft. He had never experienced a meld before and the feeling had been something he couldn’t have put into words even if he’d tried. It was something he had left out of his logs, had not even spoken to Bones about. The residual feelings left by that meld had become like a precious secret that was his and his alone, kept wrapped up inside him like a warm security blanket around his soul. Now, his first officer seemed to be suggesting he could join in what would surely be a similar experience and he wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that.

He gazed wordlessly at the Vulcan. He knew Spock had been confused by the way his captain had sought out his company whenever he could since he’d officially taken over the big chair on the Enterprise. He knew his flirtatious behaviour and the way he’d done all he could to befriend the Vulcan had confused the hell out of him, given the way they’d clashed from the very first moment they’d met. Kirk hadn’t spoken to Spock about his meeting with the older Vulcan and even he wasn’t sure what he hoped to gain from the younger version , or why he felt so driven to be near him. He had felt constantly conflicted by the need for the Vulcan’s approval as the nearest thing he had to his alternative universe counterpart  as opposed to the irritation he often felt at the reality of the first officer who could not offer him the unconditional acceptance he had experienced with his ‘old friend’, a first officer who, in fact, often barely seemed to tolerate his presence.

“Perhaps,” Spock continued, “it would be wise to contact the ship.” Kirk started at the words as Spock broke eye contact.

“No!” he exclaimed, rather more loudly than he meant to, filled with a sudden determination that if this was going to happen then it sure as hell wouldn‘t be with anyone but him. “I mean,” he continued in more measured tones. “Why would we need to do that? You just need a volunteer who can read emotions, right?” He grinned as he held his arms out to either side. “Well, I’m right here,” he finished.

“Now hang on just a damn minute,” McCoy said, moving to stand next to the captain and fixing his eyes on Spock. “How do you know this will work, or even that it’s safe to try it?” he demanded.

Spock gave Kirk a quick glance as he raised an eyebrow at the argumentative tone in McCoy’s voice. “I do not, Doctor,” he replied simply, and McCoy’s glower deepened. “I do not have a precedent to which to compare the situation,” Spock continued, “therefore it is not possible to accurately estimate the risk involved, particularly as I am unfamiliar with the captain’s mind.” He turned back to look at Kirk. “I would suggest, sir, that it would pose less of a risk if we were to attempt the join with Lieutenant Uhura as the ‘interpreter’ since she is both familiar with the Vulcan mind meld and a linguistics expert.”

Kirk felt a brief surge of jealousy at the words, which confirmed that Spock and the communications officer had joined minds, presumably while they were still in a relationship with each other. The thought bothered him more than he would have expected, suggested an intimacy that to this moment he hadn’t been sure they had shared, the relationship being one both had kept as carefully private as possible. He immediately pushed his feelings aside and opened his mouth to speak. Of all the moments he’d imagined he might raise this subject with the Vulcan, this wasn’t one of them but the reality of the situation gave him little choice.

“I won’t place another crew member in danger unless I have to,” he said firmly. Spock looked like he was about to say something but the captain held up a hand to stall him and gave a wry smile. “Besides, you and I do know each other’s minds,” he said carefully, pausing to gauge the reaction to his words. Spock’s eyes widened but he remained silent, waiting for him to continue.

Kirk rubbed his arm across his eyes. “On Delta Vega,” he continued, “I met a future you.” Spock fixed him with an impassive stare that gave no hint that the information was the surprise it must have been. Kirk knew from the first officer’s thorough report that the Vulcan had encountered his other self, but the same reports had not indicated that the older Vulcan had mentioned meeting Kirk. “I know, I know,” he continued, “it was a you from an alternative universe,” he shot him a look that dared him to challenge his next words, “but it was still you,” he added firmly.

Spock looked as nonplussed as Kirk had ever seen him. “You joined minds?” he asked faintly, his tone one of disbelief that such an event could have occurred, that his counterpart must have voluntarily initiated an act that was an intimate one even between friends, even between lovers.

“Yes,” Kirk answered defiantly, “we did.” After a moment’s pause, Spock seemed to pull himself back to the present situation.

“In that case,” he said, his equilibrium apparently quickly restored, “it would seem logical that you participate in the joining.”

McCoy, who had been watching the exchange with curiosity clearly written across his mobile features, let out a sound. “Is no one listening to me?” he demanded, clearly fed up of being either hushed or ignored. “I’m not happy about this, Jim,” he continued. “You have no idea what letting someone mess around with your mind might do to you.” He threw another glare at Spock who gazed back at him with a haughty affront that anyone might describe his plan as akin to ‘messing around’ with their captain’s mind.

Kirk moved to place his hand on his friend’s arm. “Bones, we’re not out here to be safe. Sometimes you have to take a risk and,” a look of determination settled on his face, “this is one I’m willing to take.”

McCoy met his gaze and, recognizing the look the younger man got when his mind was made up and nothing was going to change it, gave a resigned sigh. He was a good doctor, one of the best, but he had never felt comfortable with the idea of mucking about with people’s thoughts. The brain was a delicate organ and the workings of the conscious, or unconscious, mind were largely a mystery, even to 23rd century medicine and, as far as he was concerned, best left within oneself, not shared with all and sundry. But faced with the combined wills of the captain and the first officer he knew he didn’t have a hope in hell of persuading them not to try it and, even if he did, he could see that this might be their best chance of  getting the ore they needed to safeguard the people of Coridan.

As if they had somehow sensed the StarFleet officers’ readiness, and maybe it was quite possible that they had, thought Kirk, the two Vetansi chose that moment to re-enter the room.

Spock looked at the captain, who gave a slight nod. The Vulcan stepped forward. He reached his hand up to touch his own chest with his fingertips before gesturing towards the Vetansi ruler then repeating the gesture, this time towards Kirk. Kensu touched his own fingers to his temple then indicated Spock and then Kirk, in much the same manner as the Vulcan had. Spock turned to address Kirk. “I believe we understand each other, Captain,” he said. At Kirk’s questioning look, he continued. “The Vetansi are a highly intelligent race,” he said, “I would surmise they ascertained the difficulty in the joining, as did I, and have reached the same conclusion as to a way to surmount the problem.”

Kirk hesitated.  Although part of him longed to be able to touch the Vulcan’s mind, a greater part of him shied away from the idea now it was being offered to him. The intimacy of the mind touch with the other Spock had been an experience like no other and although he yearned to feel that again, he was also unwilling to let anything sully the memory of something that felt so private with anything that didn’t match up in some way, which this might not. He was also wary of what this Spock might see inside him. Would the Vulcan be able to read his mind? Would he learn of what he had shared with his counterpart from the other timeline? Would he be able to see what that meeting had meant to him?

 

Spock noticed his hesitation and looked at him questioningly. “Jim?” he said softly. It was the use of his given name for the second time since they had beamed down to the planet that gave Kirk the impetus to moved forward and stand by Spock’s side, facing the two Vetansi. He was dimly aware of the whir of the medical scanner behind him as Spock lifted one hand towards his temple, the other towards Kensu. Kirk felt the hot touch of the fingers against the side of his head as he saw the fingers of Spock’s other hand link with those of the Vetansi. Kensu reached towards him and Kirk stretched out his hand to touch his fingertips to the delicate green fingers of the alien.

The world disappeared and suddenly all around him was a riot of colour. Streams of light in every shade - from rich, deep reds and bright blues, to rays of yellow as golden as sunshine and beautiful calming greens as smooth and radiant as the ocean - swirled around him as if chasing each other through the deepest reaches of his mind. He whirled around, not sure where he was, or even if he was him any more, but not finding it within himself to care. He tipped his head back, closed his eyes and spread his arms wide, inviting the light to wash over as much of him as possible. He felt a delicate warmth wrapping itself around him, cocooning him in a feeling of utter peace and contentment. It was as if he was floating, gently supported in a softness as welcoming as a mother’s arms cradling a newborn, and infused with just as much joy.

“Captain. Captain.” Kirk heard the word as if it came from a long way away. “Captain!” it came again, this time more urgently. Kirk forced himself to pay attention. With difficulty he opened his eyes and tried to focus on where the voice was coming from. He felt himself floating downwards and  was mildly surprised when he felt his feet hit solid ground. He looked around to see green grass stretching as far as the eye could see, a stream bubbling merrily in the distance and little yellow flowers carpeting great swathes of a gently sloping hillside to his right. It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. He turned slowly on the spot and saw Spock coming towards him.

He grinned at his first officer. “Spock!” he yelled happily. “Isn’t this great?” The Vulcan, drawing to a stop in front of him, looked puzzled.

“To what do you refer?” he asked.

Kirk laughed. “You mean you don’t think this is beautiful?” he said, gesturing with his arm to encompass their surroundings.

Spock followed the path of the arm with his eyes and frowned. “I see the chamber in the Vetansi building and the doctor,” he said. “Neither of which,” he added wryly, “I would describe as ‘beautiful’.”

Kirk looked at him in disbelief. “You don’t see the grass, or the water?” he asked, rather redundantly even to his own mind, but needing to ask nonetheless. At Spock’s shake of the head, he found himself asking if he didn’t see the flowers or the colour of the light. Spock was beginning to look at him as if he were slightly unbalanced but dutifully answered the questions, both in the negative.

Kirk shook his head in exasperation. “But don’t you feel it?!” he burst out.

Spock allowed himself one of his small sighs at the contrariness of the Humans he found himself working with. He folded his arms behind his back and Kirk smiled at the familiarity of the gesture in what were such unfamiliar and decidedly strange surroundings. “Indeed, not Captain,” the Vulcan said patiently. “If you recall, it was my inability to ‘feel it’ that resulted in you being here with us.”

Kirk felt too calm and buoyed up by the feelings of comfort and happiness that still surrounded him to be chagrined by the reminder but a small concern wound its way through the haze of wellbeing as he latched on to the Vulcan’s last word. “Us,” he repeated. “Where’s Kensu?” he asked, looking around but seeing no one other than Spock.

“Unknown,” the Vulcan answered. “I can sense his presence within the joining but I cannot see him or detect any attempt on his part to communicate.” He frowned slightly. “I admit I do not entirely understand what is happening. This is significantly different from our last joining. In that joining Kensu was with me and I could sense he was trying to communicate with me, but I could not understand what he was trying to say.” He shook his head slightly. “It was most frustrating,” he admitted.

Kirk smiled again, as much at the small admission of emotion as at the look of consternation on the Vulcan’s face. “Spock,” he said, reaching out towards him but stopping short of touching him. “Maybe he is here, but we just can’t see him.”

The frown on the Vulcan’s face deepened. “I see no reason to speak in riddles, Captain,” he said haughtily and Kirk chuckled. Apparently this joining was no less frustrating - a Human emotion if he wasn’t very much mistaken - for Spock than the last one had been. At the laughter, the frown turned into something that he might have labelled a glare if it had appeared on a Human face, and Spock folded his arms defensively across his chest.

“Spock, I’m sorry,” Kirk said, dropping his arm back down to his side. “I just mean, these feelings that are all around me - they aren’t mine and, I’m presuming,” he fixed Spock with a deliberately teasing look, “that they aren’t yours. So, I’m thinking…”

“That they are Kensu’s,” the Vulcan finished the sentence for him.

Kirk nodded  and reached out again, this time allowing himself to gently touch his arm. “You’re the expert on this mental joining,” he said, “So what do we do now? Do we need to go find Kensu?”

Spock shook his head, looking rather despondent. “I do not know,” he admitted. “This is beyond my experience and, it seems, that my perception of what is happening differs somewhat from yours. I am at a loss as to how we should proceed.”

Kirk could see how much that admission had cost the Vulcan. He opened his mouth intending to reassure him but just at that moment he felt something new. He caught his breath and tried to concentrate on it. It was like trying to pick up the faint melody played by the smallest piccolo amid an orchestra of a thousand instruments, its tiny presence struggling to break through a cacophony of sound. But as he fixed on the sound it grew stronger, almost as if the little instrument knew that somewhere out there was the one who wanted to listen to it, who would single it out even when it seemed impossible it would ever be heard.

As he concentrated the new feeling grew in strength and suddenly Kirk knew it for what it was. The little worm of doubt that he was sure was coming from his first officer threaded its way determinedly through the blanket of wellbeing that had cloaked him ever since he came to this place and, without really knowing why, Kirk reached out with his mind and drew it into himself. 

Spock jerked his head up and fixed him with a wide-eyed stare. “What…?” he forced out, “what is that?” he said, seemingly unable to find any more words.

Kirk returned the stare and suddenly he heard another voice in his head, the voice of a Vulcan who had seemed so impossibly old and yet unquestionably wise, unfamiliar and yet somehow known in the deepest part of him. “I am emotionally compromised. What you must do is get me to show it.” The words echoed around his head as he continued to stare at his first officer.

He moved forward until he was so close he could feel the other’s warm breath on his face. “Spock,” he whispered and, in a movement he would never have dared to make in the real world, he reached up to touch the other’s face. Spock stiffened at the touch but he did not move away. He closed his eyes as Kirk gently drew his fingertips from his temple, across his cheek, tracing the strong jaw line as tenderly as he had dreamed of on many a night. He could feel the Vulcan tremble, but still he didn’t move away.

“It’s ok,” Kirk soothed, “it’s ok to feel this.” He reached up to run his hand through the silky smooth hair above the tip of a pointed ear, reaching with his other hand to grasp the Vulcan’s in his own. He raised the hand to his lips and pressed his lips gently to the palm.

Spock gasped and pulled his hand away. He stepped back so suddenly he almost lost his balance. He was staring disbelievingly at Kirk as if he had never seen him before.

Kirk felt a blast of emotions rush at him, the intensity ripping away the blanket of contentment that had covered him, casting it roughly aside to land in a crumpled heap that vanished as if it had never existed. He fell to his knees, instinctively squeezing his eyes shut and raising his hands to cover his ears as if that might block out the whirlwind that surrounded him.

“Spock!” he forced out, the attempted shout coming out as little more than a whimper.

The tempest subsided as quickly as it had begun and Kirk cautiously opened his eyes to see Spock crouched on the ground a short distance away, in a mirror of his own position, his hands still clamped firmly around his ears. The captain forced himself to his feet and staggered towards him, the strength of the explosion of emotions that had blasted into his consciousness leaving him feeling as unsteady physically as he did mentally.

As he reached the Vulcan he crouched down beside him and put out a tentative hand to touch his shoulder. Spock shrugged him off, the anger clear in every line of his body. Kirk could feel nothing of the wellbeing that had been so omnipresent in this place before, only a deep sadness. Spock looked up at him with accusing eyes. “I did not know,” he said.

This was what Kirk had feared. He knew without asking that Spock could now see the place around them, feel the emotions that sustained it as clearly as his captain could, but he also knew that the Vulcan had seen into him, into that place he had kept hidden, the cherished secret that he had feared to let anyone see, especially him. For once Kirk had nothing to say. He couldn’t even begin to try to put an answer to Spock’s statement into words he might want to hear. He sat back on his heels and gazed out over the beautiful meadow, which now seemed rather empty and meaningless.

There was a figure coming over the brow of the hill, striding gracefully through the carpet of flowers. As he approached them, Kensu held out his hands in greeting.

“Spock,” Kirk said, not wanting to intrude on the confusion he could feel radiating from the Vulcan, but conscious of the job they were here to do. But it seemed Spock didn’t need reminding. He rose to his feet as Kensu stopped in front of them.

“Ruler Kensu,” he  acknowledged, his voice as calm as if it had never been otherwise, and the Vetansi nodded.

“Mr. Spock,” he said, “and Captain Kirk. On behalf of my world I welcome you with arms open and ask that you be friends to my people as we will be to yours.”

Despite knowing intellectually that this new understanding was a result of the connection the three of them had formed, Kirk marvelled at the words. He felt a strange mixture of joy that they could finally communicate with the people of this world, that all was now open and understood between them, and despair that it had been at the expense of forcing Spock to lose control of his emotions, doing what damage he didn’t yet know to the fledgling friendship he was hoping they could learn to nurture together until it could fly, as free and unfettered as he knew it had in another universe. He thought he saw a ghost of a smile cross the Vetansi’s face, then everything began to blur in front of his eyes.

With a start Kirk found himself back in the Vetansi chamber. He gasped at the sudden shock of finding himself once again in the real world, his thoughts and feelings his and his alone. His eyes automatically searched out Spock. The Vulcan was standing just in front of him. His arms were folded behind his back, the tension obvious across his narrow shoulders, his eyes looking anywhere but towards him. Kirk felt a tightness in his chest, a shortage of breath that felt like the cold hand of fear taking hold of his heart and squeezing it tightly.

 

****

 

The Vetansi ruler had learnt all he needed to know about the mission of the Enterprise and its crew from his joining with the captain and first officer and, as Kirk had been sure of within that joining, he and his people placed no obstacle in the way of the extraction of the ore, in fact they even offered the expertise of their own engineers and miners to facilitate the removal of the ore as quickly as possible.

Back on the ship he flicked off the viewer on the desk in his quarters. Admiral Nogura had been effusive in his praise and gratitude at a job well done, but the captain couldn’t find it in himself to rejoice at the man’s obvious relief that the Admiralty’s tentative faith in its youngest ever captain had paid off. He knew he should feel vindicated that he had proved he wasn’t just a flash in the pan, that he could carry off a diplomatic mission as well as go in all guns blazing, but instead he found himself mired in a fog of regret and frustration.

Spock had been avoiding him in the days since they beamed back. He had, of course, shown up for his shifts on the bridge, had done everything asked of him, but he was distant even by his standards. In the months they had been serving together Kirk had felt they had been moving  closer together, albeit tentatively. His overtures towards the Vulcan, if not exactly welcomed with open arms, had begun to make inroads into the rigid, proper façade that was the face his first officer showed to the world. It was only the occasional work out in the gym, a chess game here and there, or a shared meal in the mess hall, but it had been progress. Now he felt as though he was back to square one, back to that day at the Academy when he had first clapped eyes on the being fixing him with accusing eyes,  branding him a cheat.

He sighed and leant forward over his desk, resting his elbows on the surface and propping his chin up on his hands. It wasn’t even as easy as being back to square one, was it? He asked himself. At square one they had been strangers. Then they had been enemies, then finally comrades forced to work together to defeat a common enemy in order to save the only world that they had left that both could call home. Now everything was different. Rather than the slow progress he had hoped would eventually bring them near to the relationship he knew their counterparts in the alternative timeline had shared, the knowledge of that union had been forced on Spock before he was anywhere near ready, and he had no idea how to approach the subject with the Vulcan, or even if he should. Maybe the knowledge had pushed Spock so far away from him that he would never return, never let his guard down again in the way he had been forced to on Vetan. He squeezed his eyes shut as he remembered the shock and horror that had assailed him as the mental shields were stripped from the Vulcan. Shock and horror - that had been Spock’s reaction to seeing what was inside his captain. Kirk had let go of his most precious secret and, far from acceptance, he had felt only dismay from the other.

The comm signal beeped, startling him out of his reverie. He flicked the switch to answer it. “Kirk here,” he said, forcing his voice to sounds businesslike, despite how he felt.

“Captain,” came Uhura’s voice, “just to let you know, everything’s ready for the party. I assume you will be there?” There was a slight accusatory tone in her voice and he knew what had put it there. Despite the many species and therefore the many cultures, beliefs and religions represented on the Enterprise, he had, before their mission to Vetan had taken over his time, approved a Christmas party. He’d believed the crew needed a chance, if not to forget, which he knew none of them ever would, then to at least let their hair down and relax for a short while. The idea had been embraced with great enthusiasm and, in the days before the mission, the normal workings of the ship had been punctuated with requests for authorisation for replicator to be modified to produce Christmas pudding or for the observation deck to be adorned with tinsel and various other things, all of which he had cheerfully approved.

Christmas had never been his favourite time of year. As a child his mother had rarely been around for the holidays. His stepfather hadn’t ever  made a big deal of the season and his brother, in his memory at least, had always seemed so angry - at him, at everyone, maybe just at the world at large. For young Jim Kirk all the merriment and celebrations around him had simply brought home how fractured and dysfunctional their little family was - there had never seemed much point in building it up to something monumental in the way many of his schoolmates had.

But despite his feelings about the season, he had hoped this year would be different. He felt as though he had finally found a place where he could belong once he had joined StarFleet. The Enterprise was his home now, and the people on board felt like the closest thing to a family he had ever had. He’d entered into the preparations with enthusiasm, personally requisiting a stock of real mistletoe on their last stop off at Earth, surreptitiously hinting to Scotty that the makeshift still he definitely didn’t know the engineer had going  might be modified to provide something near the bourbon Bones was so fond of as well as the scotch it was currently producing. But since their return from the planet he was finding it hard to summon up any sort of enthusiasm and Uhura, who had taken on the lion’s share of the organisation of the celebrations, had noticed his distinct lack of zeal and, even as he assured her he would be there and would be addressing his crew as planned, he could feel her disapproval as clearly as if she were in the room with him. “I’ll be there in an hour,” he said again, firmly, and disconnected the comm link.

 

****

 

On the observation deck Uhura looked thoughtfully at the sprig of mistletoe in her hand. The huge room, one of the biggest on the ship, was now decked with every conceivable trapping of the season. A large pine tree that McCoy had somehow managed to purloin from somewhere stood in the corner, and there were piles of gifts heaped up underneath it. The ‘secret Santa’ she had persuaded Chekov and Sulu into organising had been a monumental effort, but the pair had come up trumps, even managing to get the non-Human crew members involved. The celebration was centered around Christmas, sure, but everyone involved had made the effort to make sure it wasn’t solely about that very Human celebration but was something that encompassed the whole crew.

She looked in satisfaction at the food being laid out on the tables arranged all along one side of the room. In among the mince pies and the chocolate logs were Vulcan vegetable selections, Andorian meats and even slivers of the sickly sweet Orion beltza root that her roommate had once insisted she try. She felt a pang of sadness as she thought of Gaila, lost with so many others at the Battle of Vulcan. She allowed herself a moment to remember then forced her mind back to the present. She firmly believed that those who had survived owed it to those who hadn’t been so lucky to carry on, to live their lives in the best way they could and to make the most of the chance fate had handed them. She refused to dwell on what was past for too long, preferring instead to look to the future.

She glanced down at the sprig of mistletoe in her hand again and a thought occurred to her. “I’ll be right back,” she called to the crewmates who were bustling around the room, adding the final touches as the start of the party grew closer.

As she hurried out of the room her mind mulled over the impressions she had got since the landing party had returned from Vetan. She had read the reports from the mission, or at least those that weren’t classified to a higher clearance level than she possessed. There was something about them that had been bothering her ever since. There was more to what had happened than was contained in the mere facts of the report, of that much she was certain. Kirk had been nothing like his usual exuberant, if occasionally mind-numbingly irritating, self since he, McCoy and Spock had returned. He had been quiet and withdrawn, remaining in his quarters while off duty, not mixing freely with the crew, or chatting openly with them as was his habit. And Spock, there was something not quite right about Spock either.

Despite ending their relationship, Uhura was still deeply fond of the Vulcan. They had found during their time at the academy that they had much in common. Both were extremely intelligent and possessed of inquiring minds that soaked up knowledge much as a sponge soaks up water. It was their intellects as much as anything that had drawn them together. Uhura had always found herself growing quickly bored with most men she had dated, finding few could match up to her exacting standards and that many were intimidated by her in a way that she found made a long lasting relationship untenable. With Spock it had been different.

She had always found the Vulcan’s calm logic soothing. His apparent obliviousness to her looks and acceptance of  her intelligence was a welcome change. And his isolation and the loneliness he had never admitted, even to her, had reached out to her , made her want firstly to be his friend and then more.

Their relationship had progressed slowly. He had been almost shy in the way he had reacted to her, something that she had found endearing and completely different to way many men, James T. Kirk included, had approached her. She smiled to herself as she remembered the first time she had met Kirk in that bar in Iowa. Back then she’d thought he was a complete idiot. Sometimes she still did, but even though there was still a lot of that  brash, angry young man in the captain, he had more than proved himself to her. There was another side to Kirk, one that made him into a great leader, in a way the yin to Spock’s yang, the calm and logic of one balancing the fire and passion of the other.

In the end it had been the lack of fire and passion that had led her to end her relationship with Spock. It wasn’t that he didn’t have it in him to be passionate, she was sure of that, but there was something missing between them when it came to igniting that passion. She had been reluctant to let the relationship go but matters had come to a head when they had melded for the first and only time. Far from the intimate and special encounter she had hoped it would be, the experience had left her deeply uncomfortable.

Spock had been tense and she knew he was not truly letting himself go, was not truly relaxed in experiencing that joining with her. He had reassured her that even Vulcan couples - most of whom she had been rather shocked to discover were, in a way his parents had chosen to eschew for him, mentally linked at just seven-years-old to their future partner - often had to work at establishing compatibility. She hadn’t believed him and she didn’t think he really believed it either. Deep within herself she felt that if they were meant to be together it would be easier than it was, and when she saw her own doubt reflected in his eyes she knew it was time to end it. He had accepted her decision without argument and the two of them had gradually settled back into the friendship that had always been there behind their attempt to make it into more than it was.

Now, however, she was worried about her erstwhile lover. He had been through so much but she had thought he was coming to terms with the dreadful events that had overtaken them all, but him perhaps more than anyone.  She made her way along the corridors of the Enterprise towards his quarters and buzzed to be let in.

“Come,” came the quiet invitation, and as the doors slid open she stepped inside. Spock was sitting at his desk. He snapped off the view screen as she came into the room and looked up expectantly, waiting for her to speak.

“Ok, Spock,” she began, deciding to get straight to the point of her visit, “it’s obvious something’s wrong. Do you want to tell me about it?” Indecision flashed briefly across the Vulcan’s face before he gave a minute shake of this head.

“I cannot,” he replied and Uhura fixed him with a belligerant stare.

“Can’t?” she asked, “or won’t?” She perched herself on the edge of the desk in front of him and reached over to grasp his hand in hers. “Spock, it’s me, Nyota, you know you can tell me anything.”

He looked up at her and she thought she saw a moment of desperation in his deep brown eyes. “Spock…” she said, the name just a whisper on her lips. He looked down at their clasped hands and took a deep breath.

“I do not know how to proceed,” he said, a hesitation in his voice that she had seldom heard there. She tightened her grasp on his hand but remained silent, knowing that if he chose to confide in her he would do so at his own pace. He took a deep breath and, still focussed on the hand that held hers, began to talk.

 

****

 

Kirk looked in the mirror in his quarters, the medals on his dress uniform blinked back at him from the reflection and he impatiently pulled at the tight neck of the tunic. Bones was right, he thought, whoever designed this uniform was a sadist who got his kicks from the near strangulation of StarFleet officers in the name of duty. He checked his reflection once more then turned, with a heavy heart, to leave the peace of his quarters to face the celebrations now underway on the observation deck.

When he got there the party was in full swing. McCoy greeted him jovially as he walked through the door, slapping him on the back and foisting a drink into his hand. He automatically took a sip and grimaced - evidentally Scotty had succeeded  in modifying the still but the liquid in the glass was still only an approximation of anything he really felt like drinking. McCoy, however, seemed to feel no such compunction and already appeared to be several sheets to the wind.

“Heya, Jim-boy,” the doctor proclaimed. “Happy Christmas!” Kirk attempted a smile back and the doctor, in his current state, didn’t appear to notice anything amiss. McCoy briefly tightened the arm around his shoulder before heading off once again into the throng. A few months back Kirk would have been in there with him, knocking back the drinks, charming anyone who strayed into his path, and generally being the life and soul of the party but, even if his heart was in it tonight, which it wasn’t, those days were past. He was the captain now and that position required a certain amount of decorum. He’d made the decision early on to restrict his carousing to shore leave. Right now he just wanted to make his speech, wish his crew a Merry Christmas and make his escape as quickly as possible.

He looked around him. Several of the crew members were already pairing off. There would doubtless be a few closer relationships forged tonight and, more than likely, a fair few red faces in the morning, but that was how it should be. He was, despite his own despondency, truly glad to see the way his disparate crew had bonded.

He decided, given the level of merriment already surrounding him that it would be best to address the crew sooner rather than later. He gestured for the music to be turned down and stood on the platform at the end of the room flashing a glare at McCoy, who had appeared again and was enthusiastically banging a spoon against the side of his glass and yelling ‘speech, speech’, for all the world as if he were at a rather rowdy wedding and Kirk was the reluctant groom.

The captain fixed a smile on his face as he surveyed the expectant faces now all turned towards him. He felt his heart lift slightly at the sight. They were a good crew, the best, and they deserved to be told that. He took a deep breath and launched into the speech he’d been practising in his head all the way there. He congratulated his crew on all they had achieved in such a short time and made sure he got in all the individual commendations that had been passed to him by his senior officers for those who had excelled in whichever department they served. Each mention was met with whoops of joy from the friends of those whose names he spoke and by the time he finished the mood of the room had lifted his own somewhat. He still didn’t feel like staying though, and as the applause died away and the music came back on he took the opportunity to slip quietly away, back to his quarters.

 

****

 

As Spock finished talking, Uhura brushed away the tears that had formed unbidden in her eyes as he had confided in her, all the time looking steadfastly down at the desk in front of him. “Spock,” she said softly and, finally, he looked up at her. She released the hand she had been holding since he began to speak and held out her other instead. He looked down at her open palm in which the little sprig of mistletoe she had until then forgotten she was holding still sat. He reached out and took it, holding it up in front of him, looking questioningly from it back to her.

She gave a shaky laugh and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “It’s mistletoe, sweetie,” she told him.

Spock looked confused. “I do not understand,” he replied. “Is there some significance to this plant?”

“It means you should go and give it to him,” she answered. “Go and tell him what you just told me.” She reached out and put her hand on his chest. “Spock, if he can make you feel so much then you don’t have a choice.”

Spock gazed at her silently for a moment then gave a slight not as he rose from the desk and started to move towards the door.

“Spock?” At the sound of her voice he turned back and she reached out to grab the hand holding the mistletoe. She raised his hand up to the side of his head and leaned in to kiss him softly on the lips. “This is what it means,” she said.

Spock lightly brushed her cheek with the fingertips of his other hand. “Thank you, Nyota,” he said gently before turning and walking out of the door.

Left behind in the Vulcan’s quarters Uhura sighed. ‘Ah well,’ she said wistfully to herself, allowing a moment of poignancy for her lost relationship, ‘you win some, you lose some’. She got up and left the room, heading off to join the party.

 

****

 

Kirk looked up from the reports he hadn’t really been taking in at the sound of the door buzzer. He was stretched out on his bunk wearing his uniform trousers and a black undershirt, his boots and the uncomfortable dress tunic having been abandoned as soon as he got back to his quarters. He frowned. Since everyone not on duty was at the party, and he himself wasn’t due on shift for another 10 hours, he had no idea who it was likely to be. “Come,” he said, giving a resigned sigh.

At the sight of Spock framed in the doorway he leapt to his feet, forgetting the data pad he’d had balanced on his lap, which clattered noisily to the floor between them. Both he and the Vulcan moved to pick it up at the same time and he suddenly found himself virtually nose to nose with the first officer who taken great pains to avoid any off duty contact between them for days.

Spock straightened and took a step backwards, relinquishing the retrieval of the data pad to its owner, folding his hands behind his back as Kirk picked up the pad and  reached out to put it on the cabinet beside his bed. He turned towards the Vulcan, regarding at him warily.

Spock looked acutely uncomfortable. He even cleared his throat before opening his mouth to speak, something that was as highly uncharacteristic as the discomfort he was displaying. “Nyota said I should speak to you,” he began. Kirk raised his eyebrows, of all the opening sentences that was not one he had expected. Spock shifted his stance slightly. “That is,” he started again. “She suggested it would be appropriate for us to converse at this time.”

Kirk frowned at him, not all sure what the Vulcan was getting at. “Um, Spock,” he said, feeling as ill at ease as the Vulcan looked, “converse about what?” he asked, half expecting a report about the linguistics databanks.

If anything the Vulcan’s body language became even more closed off at the question. He stood ramrod straight, gazing at some point just over Kirk’s left shoulder. “About what I experienced…what we experienced on the planet,” he finally got out, still looking anywhere but at the man he was talking to.

Kirk swallowed. A thought occurred to him. “You told Uhura about that?” he demanded, surprised at the sudden flash of anger that coursed through him. Spock looked startled at the vehemence of the question and looked straight at him for the first time since he’d entered the room.

“Yes,” the Vulcan answered. “She is my friend,” he added, the statement simple and straightforward but one that caused a flare of jealousy to add itself to the echo of the anger Kirk was feeling.

“Yeah, right, I know that,” he said, the tone sounding petulant even to his own ears.  He turned away and fixed his eyes on the bulkhead. “So,” he continued, unable to stop his resentment seeping into the question, “what did our lovely communications officer tell you to say to me?” He stiffened as he felt a hotter than Human hand lightly touch his shoulder. He turned slowly to the face the Vulcan to see him holding up his other hand between. Kirk stared at the little sprig of mistletoe being held towards him.

“She said,” Spock answered, “that I should give you this.”

Kirk looked in confusion at the little green frond in front of him and slowly looked up to meet the Vulcan’s eyes, which seemed somehow softer than usual. “Wha..?” was all he managed to get out before Spock moved quickly. It happened so fast that Kirk immediately wondered if he’d imagined it. Nonplussed, he moved his hand up to touch his lips. Spock had just kissed him - quickly, lightly, but he had just kissed him. He stared at him. “Wha…?” he said again.

Spock’s eyes flickered downwards before he raised them and met Kirk’s with a determined stare. “The other Spock,” he said, “you saw what he shared with the Kirk in their universe.” It was a statement rather than a question. Of course, it would be, Kirk thought. Spock had seen it all in his thoughts, had experienced all the emotions associated with what had happened, both his own and the echoes of those of their counterparts, whose lives were so inextricably linked together. He nodded wordlessly, wondering where this was leading.

Spock gazed at him. “You wish it to be so with us,” he said. Again it was a statement rather than a question, and not one Kirk could argue with, even if he had wanted to. He realised he was holding his breath and let it out as the Vulcan continued.

“I also wish this,” Spock said. The words, uttered in the same tone his first officer might use to impart a status report, washed over Kirk in a tide of disbelief.

“You wish?” he echoed faintly, wondering somewhere in the back of his mind if this was some sort of Vulcan idea of a practical joke. He made a determined effort to pull himself together. He was the captain he told himself firmly, the least he could do was try to form a coherent sentence.

He moved to lean against the bulkhead, thankful for the support, and stared at Spock. He had to be sure about this, that Spock was saying what he thought he was saying. “You saw it all, right?” he asked.

Spock nodded. “Yes,” he responded. “They are T’hy’La.”

Kirk tilted his head at the unfamiliar word. “T’hy’La” he repeated, the sound of it foreign to his mouth.

“It is a word that denotes a friendship that goes beyond friendship,” Spock continued, and Kirk felt his heart sink a little, only to start racing as the Vulcan continued. “It means friend; brother; lover.” Spock paused  and took a step towards him. He was so close that Kirk could smell him. He breathed deeply. It was a scent like peat and cinnamon, and something uniquely Spock, something he didn’t think he could ever get enough of. Spock’s voice was low as he continued. “I would take thee as T’hy’La, James Kirk,” the Vulcan said, the words oddly formal but somehow fitting. Kirk shivered at the closeness of him. “If thou wilt accept me as yours,” Spock finished.

Kirk gave a nervous laugh that abruptly died away as Spock reached out to touch the side of his face. He leant into the touch, rubbing his face against the other’s palm like a cat. “Yes,” he whispered, that one word encompassing everything he needed to say.

The Vulcan kissed him again, and this time there was no mistaking it for his imagination. The kiss was deep and intense, reaching inside him, touching that hidden spot in his soul where he had secreted away what the other Spock had shown him was possible between them. He felt that kernal of love and tenderness unfurling inside him, reaching out to intwine itself with the essence of that which it needed to complete it, the other side of him that only this being in his arms could provide. For the first time in his life, he felt like he belonged.

He groaned as Spock pressed his hot body up against him and tried to pull him even closer. He wanted to take the Vulcan within himself, to lose himself in the uniqueness, the specialness, of him. He felt like shouting out in glee that of all the people he could choose, Spock had chosen him. Spock wanted him. But Spock’s demanding mouth prevented him from making any sound other than the moans he couldn’t help.

The taste of the hot tongue plundering his mouth was indescribable. His hands slid up the Vulcan’s back, over the strongly defined muscles of his upper arms and finally up to run his fingers through the cap of black hair. All the time they were kissing as if they would never stop, their mouths constantly moving, tongues flicking together, tasting, touching, as much as they could.

All of a sudden Spock broke away and Kirk let out an incoherent sound of protest. But Spock, his normally neat hair disarrayed, his lips swollen with the evidence of their passion, grabbed his hand. “Bed,” he said, the word coming in a breathy gasp.

Kirk laughed out loud in joy as he allowed himself to be almost dragged towards his bunk. In his imaginings he’d assumed the Vulcan would need to be persuaded, that he would probably be self-conscious, certainly less experienced than himself. But Spock was showing no evidence that he had any doubts at all. As if to prove his thoughts, Kirk suddenly found himself being swung off his feet and with an ‘oomph’ of escaping breath he suddenly found himself flat on his back on the bed, almost entirely covered by a hot Vulcan body.

He wriggled in pleasure as Spock moved to kiss his neck, leaning his head to one side to allow better access as the kisses rained down. It seemed as if the Vulcan was aiming to kiss every bit of exposed skin he could reach.

Kirk ran his hands down his back and then pushed them up under his tunic. Spock gasped against his neck at the touch of the cool Human hands against his bare skin.  Suddenly the Vulcan sat up, straddling Kirk in a way that made the Human thrust eagerly up against him. Spock groaned and closed his eyes for a moment then in one smooth moved quickly pulled off his blue tunic and undershirt to reveal his lean but finely muscled torso, a light dusting of hair covering his chest and tantalisingly tailing down his stomach, disappearing into his uniform pants.

Kirk reached up to trace his hand down the chest, along the line of hair, to linger at the waisband of the pants. Spock leaned his head back and let out another moan. The sound of it excited Kirk in a way he couldn’t remember having felt with any of his former lovers. Just the fact that it was Spock here with him, loving him, was nearly enough to send him over the edge. He bucked frantically up against him again. Spock looked down at him, his eyes dark with passion. Kirk felt a shiver run the entire length of his body at that look, which seemed to see into his very soul.

Spock reached down and took hold of his wrists as Kirk stared up at him, completely incapable of forming any words even if he had wanted to. He pressed his hips upwards rubbing helplessly against the Vulcan as his arms were raised up above his head.  Spock held his wrists there easily with one hand and moved his body so he was kneeling next to him on the bed. The dark eyes looked his body up and down and Kirk was acutely conscious of the strength pinning him to the bed, and of the gaze that seemed to be taking in every part of his body, inch by inch. He felt the heat rise in his face at the close scrutiny but he couldn’t help but wriggle again. He had never felt so helpless and yet so powerful as he did in that moment.

“Be still,” Spock commanded, and Kirk did his best to obey. Spock reached out with the hand that wasn’t holding his wrists in that iron grip and ran his fingertips up the length of his hidden cock. He let out another moan. He felt so hard he didn’t know how much longer he could last. “Shh,” the Vulcan soothed as he moved his hands to the clasp of the pants. Kirk watched as he opened  the clasp and pushed down his pants and his underwear. His erection sprung free and he threw his head back as Spock took him in a firm grip and started to pump him. He dug his heels into the bed as he thrust upwards into the hot hand, enjoying the strong pressure of the hold pinning him to the bed. He was coming almost as soon as Spock touched him. The ecstasy washed over him in waves as he groaned out the Vulcan’s name again and again. In a haze of desire he felt his hands released and heard the rustle of the bed clothes as Spock moved. He was barely aware of his pants and briefs being pulled off.

When he could focus again he saw Spock standing at the end of the bed, looking down at him with an expression of lust mixed with pure devotion. He stretched his body out and grinned blearily up at him. The gesture seemed to enflame the Vulcan, who hurriedly bent to pull his boots off, the rest of his clothes soon following. He moved to push Kirk’s legs apart and knelt on the bed between his knees. He reached out his hand to the sticky pool of semen on Kirk’s stomach and touched his fingertips to it, raising his hand to his mouth to taste it. Kirk watched, lost in the eroticism of the moment, waiting with anticipation to see what this surprising new lover would do next.

Spock reached out his hand to his stomach again and  scooped up more of his seed, then reached down to smooth it over his own erection. Kirk felt a pang of sympathy as the Vulcan groaned at his own touch against his straining cock. He scooted further down the bed until his thighs rubbed against the Vulcan’s legs just where his knees rested on the bed. He reached to touch the towering green-tinged erection. Spock looked down and met his eyes. “I want…” he said, the need in his voice almost painful to hear. Kirk met his eyes, for the first time a moment of doubt crossing his mind. He’d had male lovers before but there was one step he’d never taken, never trusted enough to give. He looked up at the beloved Vulcan face and the doubt vanished as quickly as it had fleetingly appeared. Spock needed him, that was all that mattered. He hooked his hands behind his knees and  drew his legs back, inviting him in.

Spock visibly pulled a semblance of control around himself. “Jim,” he said, his voice cracking with the strain, “are you sure?”

Kirk met his eyes. “I’ve never been more sure of anything,” he said, putting every bit of the sincerity he felt into those words.

Spock moved closer, holding himself in his hand as he positioned his cock at the puckered entrance to Kirk’s body. Kirk let out a gasp as he felt the tip of the penis enter  him and Spock froze. “I do not wish,” the Vulcan gasped, “to hurt you.”

Kirk shook his head vigorously in response. “Please, Spock,” he managed. “I want this. I want you inside me. I want you to…”

But still Spock hesitated. He reached instinctively towards Kirk’s temple then quickly pulled his hand back as he seemed to realise what he was doing. Kirk reached out and grabbed his wrist. “I want you to,” he repeated firmly.

Spock looked horrified at what he had almost done without asking permission. “You do not understand,” he said. “Once done it cannot be undone. It would be for life.”

Kirk held on tightly to his wrist. “I do understand,” he insisted, his mind running over the joy he had seen in the other Spock’s bond with his captain. “I want this, Spock, I want you to bond us.”

Spock drew back and pulled his arm away. Kirk gasped as he felt the Vulcan’s penis slip out of his body. “Spock!” he almost shouted. “For God’s sake, don’t you think I’ve waited long enough?”

The Vulcan looked back at him. “You truly want this?” he asked, doubt threaded through his voice.

Kirk reached out towards him. “Wouldn’t you know if I didn’t?” he asked softly. “Wouldn’t you have seen that when we joined on Vetan?”

 

Spock gazed at him and Kirk knew what the answer was. “You would’ve, wouldn’t you?” he asked again.

The Vulcan moved towards him, reaching out with his body and with his mind, and this time there was no hesitation. Kirk felt Spock’s penis fill his body as his thoughts, his very essence slipped into his mind. If the experience on Vetan had been intense, then this eclipsed that by a hundredfold. For long minutes all either knew was each other; their thoughts entangled and merged, whispered words of love that weren’t spoken aloud enfolding them in an intensity of feeling that neither had known before, or had even imagined could exist. Kirk felt the Vulcan’s body moving inside his own, each thrust driving home the love he felt. He heard Spock’s gasp as he came as if from a long way away and  he felt a corresponding flare in his mind before the Vulcan collapsed on top of him. He hugged him close as the burning intensity of emotions began to settle into a warmth that felt like a glow in his body and his mind. He opened his eyes as felt Spock’s hand moving through his hair.

“Wow,” he said as he looked ino the brown eyes just inches from his own. He knew he was grinning stupidly at the Vulcan but he couldn’t seem to stop. Spock looked solemnly down at him.

“Indeed,” the Vulcan said, making Kirk’s grin grow even wider.

Spock shifted his body so they were lying side by side, facing each other, occasionally Kirk planted a kiss on his lips, his cheek, the tip of his nose, while Spock ran his hand absently up and down his side, over his hip or the swell of his backside.

“What made you decide?” Kirk asked. Spock met his eyes, not pretending he didn’t understand what he was being asked but taking a moment to ponder his response.

“You did,” he answered. “I apologise for not coming to you sooner,” he added, “The experience on Vetan was somewhat overwhelming. I needed some time for consideration.”

Kirk smiled at him. “I thought Uhura told you to tell me,” he teased and the Vulcan gave him a light push on the chest.

“Nyota merely forced the issue,” he admitted. “She asked me to explain what had happened and as I did so I realised I already knew what I desired and that nothing was to be gained from further delay.”

Kirk pulled him close. “I’m glad she managed to get through that thick Vulcan hide of yours,” he murmured, burying his nose in the lightly furred chest of his lover.

The two of them lay there contentedly, limbs entwined around each other until, eventually, Spock stirred. “I should go,” he said, causing a moment of consternation to cross Kirk’s face. At the look he reached up to trace a fingertip over the Human’s eyebrow. “I promised Nyota I would attend her party,” he explained. Kirk pouted, unwilling to let him go, but Spock, apparently unmoved by the expression that had always seemed to work on women, simply looked at him.

“Oh, all right,” Kirk said, “but I’m coming with you and,” he ran his hand languidly down the Vulcan’s chest, “not for long, ok? I don’t want to share you.”

“Agreed,” Spock said seriously. “I too am reluctant to be anywhere but here for any length of time.”

 

****

 

The party was still going by the time they’d washed and dressed and reached the observation deck, with many crew members who had just come off shift joining in the fun and doubtless adding a new vitality to the mix. McCoy was still there, too deep in conversation with Scotty to manage more than a casual wave as he spotted Kirk and Spock come through the door. Uhura looked over at them from across the room. Kirk grinned happily at her, still feeling on top of the world, and she smiled back before winking knowingly at Spock.

The pair made their way over to the vast viewing windows that covered one entire side of the room and stood there in silent companionship, content just to look out at the stars. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it Spock?” Kirk said finally. When there was no reponse he turned to look towards his lover. Spock met his eyes and allowed a smile that Kirk knew only he would ever be privileged to see cross his lips. He felt the Vulcan press something into his hand and looked down to see the small sprig of mistletoe. He looked back up to find the soft brown eyes still fixed on him.

“Merry Christmas, Jim,” the Vulcan said softly; and  for the first time in Kirk’s life, it truly was.

 

FIN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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