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Terminus

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Title: Terminus
Author: Judith Gran
Series: TOS
Romance Code: K/S
Rating: NC-17
Summary: At the end of the five-year mission, Kirk and Spock find opposition
within Starfleet to the idea of their serving together in starship command
positions in the future. Nogura has his own plans for Kirk, and takes a dim
view of Kirk's and Spock's relationship. But the lover's own different needs
and desires are the greatest challenge of all.

 

TERMINUS
by Judith Gran

 

Promptly at 1000 hours, Commanding Admiral Heihachiro
Nogura called the holocom conference to order. The images of the
other six members of the General Staff already had solidified in his
office; each held copies of the material for today's meeting.
Admiral Sengumba materialized directly across from
Nogura--*a harbinger of impending confrontation?* Nogura
wondered. Tall, black and bristling with impatience, like a lion
wanting to spring from his chair, the African seemed larger than life
in holographic projection. *An illusion,* Nogura told himself. After
all, he himself had been told that holographs smoothed out the
wrinkles in his own parchment-like skin, emphasized his well-kept
white hair, made him seem slim and courtly rather than merely thin.
But it was uncanny how much of one's personality could be
transmitted through those literal electronic beams.


Nogura girded himself for the feat of strategy that lay
ahead: managing today's meeting. Looking around the room, he
counted votes: Rao and Krasnovsky, with him; Sengumba and
Mendez, against; Yuval and Abd al-Hamid--wavering. Deliberately,
he picked up the agenda and, after a perfunctory greeting, directed
the other admirals' attention to the first item: "*U.S.S. Enterprise,*
post-Five-Year-Mission assignment."


No sooner had Nogura finished reciting the topic when
Sengumba spoke, objecting to the arrangement of the agenda.
"Admiral, I question why you have asked us to discuss the
deployment of the *Enterprise* without first resolving the issue of
our policy toward long-term space exploration."


Nogura frowned as Mendez nodded agreement. He'd set the
agenda for today's meeting precisely to *avoid* a discussion of the
future of the long-term exploratory missions. He feared he could
not carry a majority of the Staff with him if the vote were taken
today. He thought it more strategically sound to postpone the
decision until after the *Enterprise,* the symbol of the five-year
mission, had been locked safely into another assignment, But
perhaps he'd have to confront the issue squarely after all.


"Gentlemen, it would be premature to debate the policy
issue today," Nogura said crisply, "not before we have analyzed the
outcomes of the first five-year mission. Without that analysis, we
cannot commit ourselves to a further long-term mission."


Jose Mendez drew a report out of the hard-copy folder he
held on his lap. "I'd have thought," he said drily, "that with these
materials we could make a reasonably educated decision. We've
read your own cost-benefit analysis of the current mission--" he
held up a thick document--"and now we have Captain Kirk's own
final report on the mission's accomplishments." He tapped an even
thicker report. "I believe we're all prepared to proceed with
discussion of these materials."


"The two perspectives balance each other nicely," Nur
Yuval added deferentially, a bit too deferentially for Nogura's
satisfaction.


"Quite,"Mendez nodded. "Your report concludes that the
five-year mission has been an expensive frill, while Kirk's concludes
just the opposite."


Nogura felt a surge of irritation. How unfortunate that
Kirk's articulate, carefully worded report had arrived last week,
well in advance of the final debriefing when it was actually due.
Nogura had just put together his own comprehensive analysis
demonstrating, in elaborate matrices of figures, that the costs of the
five-year mission had far exceeded its tangible benefits. He was sure
that Kirk had known, or guessed, what his own report was
designed to prove. For Kirk had had his own science staff produce
elegant mathematical models that, in essence, quantified the
substantial non-material benefits that the five-year mission already
had produced for the Federation, and sophisticated equations
projecting significant economic gains from the *Enterprise*'s
discoveries in the future.


The soft, gutteral voice of Admiral Promila Rao broke the
silence. "In view of the disparity between the conclusions of the
General Staff Office and those of Captain Kirk's crew, I suggest this
the discussion be postponed until after the *Enterprise* debrieifng.
That will give us a chance to go over Kirk's analysis with a
fine-toothed comb," she said smoothly.


Nogura shot the aristocratic Brahmin a look of disguised
gratitude.

Sengumba was frowning. "The Federation Assembly is
going to vote on next year's Starfleet appropriation in another three
weeks," he said testily. "The bill barely made it through the Armed
Services Committee, and the opposition nearly has the votes to
emasculate it on the floor. We need Captain Kirk's report as
ammunition for our supporters during the final debates. Kirk's data,
which show that the mission has had significant non-material
benefits, bolster the case for the appropriation the Defense Ministry
has asked for Starfleet next fiscal year, while *your* report--" he
looked coldly at Nogura--"only helps make the case against us.
We've argued to the legislature that Starfleet is a benign exploratory
force, committed to alien contact. Announcing our decision to
renew the five-year mission *now,* before the vote is taken, will
vastly improve our credibility."


Nogura squirmed. The sturdy African served as the General
Staff's legislative liaison, and his analysis of the situation in the
Assembly carried considerable weight with the other admirals.
Nogura knew Assembly politics as well as Sengumba, but he
composed his features and tried a bluff.


"The Coalition is a strong supporter of Starfleet," he said
blandly, "Commodore Ciani has represented us most effectively to
the New Humans. I don't anticipate any opposition from that
direction."


But Abd al-Hamid was gesturing in Sengumba's direction,
trying to get his attention. "Are you suggesting that the New
Humans may split with the rest of the Coalition on the
appropriations vote?"


Sengumba nodded emphatically. "Yes. The New Humans
are quite vulnerable to their opponents on the left--the Interstellar
Harmony group, the Focus on Universal Peace people, the Friends
of All Life Forms, the other splinter groups. The New Humans
claim to be anti-militarist, and the opposition enjoys playing on the
theme that Starfleet is an outmoded, militaristic fossil that is
retarding the development of an interstellar, trans-Federation
civilization."


Again, Mendez was nodding his agreement. So was Yuval.
Nogura leaned backed in his chair in annoyance. He felt
impatient with his colleagues' sentimental attraction to the romantic
appeal of space exploration. "In three weeks, gentlemen, the
*Enterprise* herself will be back in Earth orbit. Its very presence
will impact on public opinion. The effect on the Federation
Assembly will be far more powerful than any announcement we can
make. I suggest that we take full advantage of the symbolic value of
the *first* five-year mission, before we commit ourselves to vast
expenditures on the basis of speculation that it will win us a few
votes in the legislature."


Sengumba looked unimpressed, Yuval and Mendez openly
skeptical. Even the mild Abd al-Hamid looked puzzled. "Explain,"
he asked Nogura.


Nogura was annoyed that the discussion had drifted so far
from the plan he had so carefully composed. He leaned back again
and took a deep breath. "I am convinced that if we do as Admiral
Sengumba suggests and send the *Enterprise* off into space on
another five-year mission, the ship and its crew will disappear from
public attention with the same speed as the ship. We'll be left with
nothing--beyond a temporary propaganda gain--and we'll be
committed to financing another five-year mission, whether we can
afford it or not. On the other hand, if we keep the *Enterprise* here
for a while, with the ship and key members of the crew performing
appropriate symbolic functions, it will be an enormously effective
advertisement for Starfleet."


Abd al-Hamid still looked uncertain, and Nogura began to
fear that he would not find his majority this morning. "Admiral, a
significant body of public opinion considers that the Five-Year
Mission is virtually the *only* thing of value Starfleet has done in
the last five years. I'm not sure any symbolism will affect that."

"If we let the *Enterprise* do our PR for us," Nogura
countered stubbornly, "We'll get more public support than if we
sent the whole fleet on a five-year mission."


Abd al-Hamid's round face was still skeptical. "I'm afraid of
taking a chance and being proven wrong," he said.

Intuitively, Nogura knew that he'd be outvoted if he
continued to press the issue. Sengumba's political savvy had
impressed his colleagues. Whatever the other Admirals' opinions
might be on the merits of another five-year mission, they appeared
convinced that it was politically expedient to let the legislature think
they supported the concept.

Nogura paused a short moment to stifle a small inner qualm
before he resolved to play his trump card. He his not relish playing
dirty pool, nor did he enjoy trespassing in another Staff member's
domain. Only when the stakes were as high as they were here, and
only when he was utterly convinced he was right, as he was now,
did he allow his inner streak of ruthlessness to override professional
courtesy.

"All right. In any event, we'll be refitting the *Enterprise*
when she docks. Mission or not mission, she's going to be our test
starship for the new design specs."

Nogura smiled to himself as he saw smiles all 'round. *This*
decision inspired no controversy. His adrenaline rose in
anticipation. "Admiral Mendez, when will Design Engineering have
the plans completed?"

Mendez's answer was routine, almost automatic. "In six
weeks, sir, as scheduled."

Nogura tapped a button on his hand-held computer "Admiral, I
have here a report from a member of your staff, Commodore
D'Amico, a specialist in phaser design The report was submitted to
me in confidence, but I'd like you to look at it and give me your
reaction."

Mendez looked startled. "D'Amico? He paused a moment
while Nogura transmitted the file to him electronically. When he
finished reading it on the small device he held in his hand, his face
was aghast. "Admiral, this is D'Amico's own personal opinion. The
other designers have agreed--"

Firmly, Nogura interrupted. "According to D'Amico, major
problems exist in the powering of the ship's phaser banks that still
have not been resolved. He recommends that we not proceed until
they are resolved, and I quite agree with him."

Mendez was stunned, then angry. Nogura hardly blamed
him. Ordinarily, he would have checked with Mendez first before
even contemplating a discussion like this in the full General Staff
meeting. Going over a colleagues' head went against the grain with
him. But the report was a handy weapon, and he had no scruples
about using it in these circumstances.

"Admiral," Mendez said heatedly. "This question was settled
in our department long ago. The other designers rejected D'Amico's
proposal for increasing phaser power by channeling it through the
warp engines; they considered it far too dangerous. D'Amico has
remained a minority of one in the department. The other designers
are proceeding with the detailed specifications on schedule."

"Nevertheless, Admiral," Nogura interjected smoothly, "He
makes a very convincing argument. He brought it to my attention
because he knows that I am very concerned about our overall
weapons capability via a vis the Klingons. D'Amico's proposal
would enormously increase the efficiency of our phasers, and I
believe that it deserves serious attention."

Mendez looked uncomfortable. D'Amico was a specialist in
phaser bank design, he was not. If he'd had warning of this, he
could have gotten material together from other members of his
staff, but as it was ....

Nogura had the other admirals' full attention now. "All I
ask, gentleman," he said softly, his eyes sweeping around the circle,
"is that we give the phaser design issue the attention it deserves."

Mendez wriggled in his chair. Nogura was pleased to see
the looks of embarrassment not only on Mendez's face, but on
Yuval's and Sengumba's as well. He pressed his advantage.

"I think it's obvious that we must delay readying the new
design plans while we reconsider the phaser bank problem. It will
take twelve months to refit the ship as it is. And if we have to keep
the *Enterprise* idling in orbit for six, nine months, or even a year
while we wait for the designers--well, not only would that be
prohibitively expensive, it would be extremely embarrassing as well.
Public proof of our inability to meet our own deadlines. We simply
cannot risk a public image of incompetence to add to our other
problems."

Mendez looked stricken, and privately Nogura felt sorry for
him. Jose was perfectly competent in running his own department,
and D'Amico was an eccentric prima donna who didn't know how
to let a pet idea drop. Nogura knew that he had taken unfair
advantage of a minor disagreement among Jose's staff that the other
admiral had probably handled rather well.

The arguments in favor of the alternative phaser bank design
appealed to Nogura personally, though he understood perfectly well
why the other designers had rejected it. But, fortunately, that wasn't
the issue now, and for now he was satisfied. He knew he'd won his
battle to keep the *Enterprise* where he wanted her.

"What are we going to do with the *Enterprise* until the
designs are completed?" asked Admiral Krasnovski. We can hardly
send the symbol of the peaceful exploratory mission off to patrol
the Klingon borders."

Nogura rarely smiled, but he almost beamed at his Russian
colleague. Now he knew he had the group where he wanted them.
He leaned forward in his chair. "Actually, gentlemen, I do have an
interim measure for the *Enterprise* in mind ...."

The others looked at him expectantly. Even Mendez would
accept almost any suggestion that would get him off the hook.

"The Academy wants to upgrade its space flight training
program," Nogura began, "and they've asked us to arrange an
opportunity for their cadets to train aboard a Constitution-class
starship. Naturally, with only twelve starships in the fleet, that's not
been possible to arrange. But if the *Enterprise* were to be
available for, say, nine months prior to refitting, we could assign her
temporarily--for a couple of academic terms--to the Academy. The
costs would come out of the Academy's budget, which would save
us money. The *Enterprise* crew would probably
consider the assignment a well-earned vacation after a long tour of
duty. And it would have important symbolic value for us."
Abd al-Hamid looked enthusiastic. He was a former
Starfleet instructor, and Nogura had been sure he'd support the
idea.

"We can consider the future of the long-term mission,"
Nogura went on smoothly, "after debrieifng, and--" he shot a look
at Mendez, who shrank back in his chair--"*after* the designs are
completed."

None of the six raised a dissenting voice. Nogura felt a
small flutter of relief when Sengumba asked, "What about the
senior officers? Surely it would waste their valuable time to keep
them on the ship for nine months to train cadets."
Nogura nodded, the tension ebbing from his stomach, for
Sengumba's question fed into his next announcement as smoothly as
if he'd planned it that way.

"I agree. Besides, all of them are overdue for promotion.
We'll need to fill the post of Starfleet Operations when we split up
Operations and Personnel"--that was Krasnovski's
department--"and I think Kirk himself would be ideal for the job.
Perhaps with the rank of Rear Admiral."

A few murmurs of surprise met his announcement, but no
disagreement. Kirk was well-respected among the General Staff;
Mendez and Abd al-Hamid knew and liked him personally, and
Sengumba, Nogura's major opponent on the General Staff, had
often his admiration for the young starship commander.
Nogura smiled inwardly in grim satisfaction. He'd known
they'd react this way when he'd planned his strategy: Ground Kirk,
and call it an honor.

"In any case," Nogura continued, deceptively calm,
"Admiral Krasnovski's department can give us its recommendations
for the *Enterprise* officer corps ...I have just one further thought,
and that concerns Commander Spock. I believe that he would be an
excellent choice to head the new research center that Starfleet and
the Department of Stellar Research are setting up on the Outer
Rim. He is a superb administrator and a truly fine and original
scientist. I can think of no one who's better qualified for this very
demanding position."

Krasnovski was making hurried notes. "Excellent idea,
Admiral, excellent," he beamed.

Mendez lifted an eyebrow in mild surprise. Nogura sensed Jose
still felt chastised. "Why split up the best team in Starfleet?" he
asked.

Krasnovski shot him a look of barely-concealed distaste.
Nogura chuckled to himself. Krasnovsky was a born organization
man, with the soul of a Soviet bureaucrat. A slogan like "the best
team in Starfleet" had little meaning for him. If anything he
distrusted the close interpersonal ties that often developed on long
tours of duty. Just as Nogura did, he regarded them as potentially
threatening to an officer's loyalty to Starfleet.

It was enough, however, to reply to Mendez, "Surely you
will agree that Commander Spock has been overqualified for the
position of starship First Officer for some time. I'd like to see him in
a post that truly will challenge his considerable abilities."
And then he smoothly directed their attention to the next
item on the agenda.

***********************

At that moment, approximately 107.4 light years away from
Earth, it was precisely 0628 hours ship's time on the starship
*Enterprise.* One of the objects of the Admirals's discussion had
arisen at his customary hour and was attempting, as was also his
custom, to meditate. Normally he found the task easy enough. But
this morning he was not in his own quarters, and no firepot rested
nearby to help him focus his thoughts inward.

Moreover, he found the figure sprawled next to him on the
bed, still deep in a happy slumber if one were to judge from the
smiling curve of the lips, quite distracting. His companion was lying
on his back, one leg bent, one arm across his chest and the other
reaching vaguely out in Spock's direction. Spock had spent all night
in the curve of that arm, and the memory of that closeness still
lingered warm and bright, in his chest and belly and the corners of
his mind even as he tried to concentrate.

Suddenly his companion woke up. His face softened into an
open smile as he saw Spock looking down at him

"Thanks for staying," Kirk whispered.

Spock nodded, holding his gaze. Then, although he had not
really planned to, he sank down to the bed again into Kirk's
arms--stretched out full-length against him. How good it was to feel
the sleepy early-morning softness of his body, to inhale the rich
scent of his skin, as warm and sweet as fresh-baked bread. He felt
such peace, such a sense of order in the universe ....

His companion stirred and reluctantly loosened his arms. "I
suppose we'd better get up."

"I should return to my quarters."

"Stay for breakfast."

"No, it would be better if I--"

Kirk squeezed his shoulder confidently, as if to still his
twinge of doubt. "I can think of several things I'd like to talk over
with my First Officer over breakfast," he smiled as he rolled into a
sitting position. "Why don't I get us both breakfast from the mess
hall, while you see if you can find that change of clothes you
assured me you'd never need ...."

"Very well," Spock replied, stifling a twitch of the mouth
that threatened to become a smile.

He busied himself gathering his things together while Kirk
showered. The change of uniform he located easily enough, though
he had to hunt under the bed for one of his boots ... strange, he did
not usually disrobe so carelessly .... He looked up from the floor to
see Kirk giving him an appreciative smile as he left for the mess
hall.

When Spock emerged from the shower, Kirk was setting
out breakfast dishes on his desk. Spock's body was still relaxed in
the deep physical contentment of love-making, and the pleasant
mingling of early-morning smells enhanced his sense of well-being.

Fragrant steaming coffee and spicy tea, the warm toasty odor of hot
buttered muffins, Jim's clean scent of fresh-cut grass and lime.... He
noted from the corner of his eye as he brushed his hair in front of
the mirror that both breakfasts were vegetarian, and he felt an
irrational surge of pleasure at this small submission
to his own preferences.

Yet as they began to eat, the unease only half submerged at
the back of his mind began to rise again. It had been so from the
beginning: the joy, the illogical euphoria he always felt with Kirk
pushed those feelings of doubt out of sight for a time--and then
they would rise again unaided.

Kirk was studying his face thoughtfully. They had joined
minds the night before, and Kirk surely had glimpsed what was
troubling him. It hardly would be surprising if he could guess his
thoughts now.

"Spock something was bothering you last night, something I
couldn't quite put my finger on ..." Kirk said at last, putting down
his coffee cup.

Spock shook his head hesitantly, unsure how to reply.
"Are you still ... upset ... by what happened in the Beta
Carinae system?"

It may have been merely a guess, but Spock doubted it. He
returned Kirk's gaze levelly and nodded.

Kirk looked at him seriously for a long moment. "What you
did *worked.* You took a chance, but it worked. Perhaps you
should stop castigating yourself and congratulate yourself instead."
Spock sat stiffly, his neck rigid. "I placed the entire ship and
crew in jeopardy."

"But you got the ship and crew--and me--to safety."

"As you would say, I was lucky."

"I thought you didn't believe in luck."

"I do believe in unforeseen random occurrences."

Kirk sighed. "Spock, we live with chance every moment of
our lives. None of us would be on this mission if we needed the
odds to be on our side. The important fact is that you *acted*
correctly, regardless of our motives."

Spock put his hands on his lap; they were threatening to
tremble. "My motive was the emotional one of disproportionate
concern for your safety. As such, it was wrong." his voice was even
stiffer than his rigid body.

"I know the character of your motives is extremely
important to you--and to other Vulcans -- but that doesn't change
the fact that you made the right decision ...."

"Jim, the character of the motivation is just as important to
Humans. Your entire criminal code, for example ..."

"Blast it, what you did wasn't criminal!" Kirk erupted in a
sudden flash of anger. Spock flinched. And then, his anger gone as
suddenly as it had flared up, Kirk put his head in his hands in
chagrin. "Spock, I'm sorry. I *know* what it means to you to act
illogically. But if I castigated myself like that every time I took the
risk of losing you or the ship or both--"

"You would be unable to function as ship's commander. I
know that."

Kirk lifted his head, his chin tilted up. "I'd resign in a minute
if I thought I couldn't handle a relationship--any relationship--and
my command."

Spock relaxed slightly, knowing he must meet Kirk's candor
with honesty of his own. "I consider you extraordinarily capable of
dealing with both, and I think that is because you have your own,
Human ways of coping with contradictory emotional imperatives.
But perhaps the very balance you have achieved prevents you from
understanding fully how difficult it is for me to manage the same
conflicts."

Kirk shifted uneasily in his chair, caught off-guard by this
insight. "Look, Spock, you're the logical Vulcan. How can you tell
me an emotional Human can cope where you can't?"
Spock leaned toward him as though to drive the point
home. "I believe that you cope because your sense of responsibility
to the ship has deep emotional roots. You are able to call on those
strong feelings whenever you are forced to make a command
decision with unpleasant, even tragic consequences for you. I
believe that this is what you did, for example, when you had to let
Edith Keeler die."

"It was *you* who kept reminding me that her death was
logically imperative."

"Perhaps I helped by expressing the necessity in words--but
I believe that at some level, you reached the proper emotional
resolution by yourself--and that is what enabled you to act."
Kirk tried to shake his head in denial, but his eyes betrayed
that Spock's insight had hit its mark. "I'm not sure I would have,
without your disinterested logic. Spock, dammit, that's why I
admire you--your objectivity, your ability to control the emotions
that lead all of us Humans, and me especially, into selfish errors...."
"I am not sure that 'control' is the proper term," Spock told
him. "We Vulcans *suppress* our emotions, but I am not sure that
we *control* them."

Kirk shrugged. "Is there really any difference in practice?"
Spock nodded slowly and emphatically. "As a Vulcan, you
must remember, I've been trained neither to integrate logic and
emotion, nor to balance different emotional drives against one
another, as you are able to do."

Kirk squared his shoulders, still uncomfortable with what
Spock was saying. "Look, Spock, it's not all that easy for me,
either. In fact, it's one hell of a strain. Frankly, I'm looking forward
to taking a vacation from it at the end of this mission. I know I'm
going to enjoy the break. From making love to you one minute and
ordering you into danger the next. From having to worry whether I
can safely leave the ship in someone else's hands so I can spend a
few minutes alone with you. From never having any place to go
that's really private. If I had only my own subjective judgment to
rely on, I might not be so sure I *am* coping."

"Yet you seem confident that you are," Spock noted.
Kirk took another sip of coffee and shrugged. "That's what
McCoy's psych profiles say. I've had him check them out regularly
during the last six months."

Six months was how long they had been lovers.

Kirk put his cup down, folded his hands and continued. "Two
weeks ago, he ran a compete Robbiana Dermal-Optic, and he said
the results were fine. You know McCoy's always telling us it's the
objective measure of emotional health he has. He told me he thinks
I'm actually coping *better* with the stress of command than I did
previously."

Spock raised an eyebrow, but he was inwardly unsurprised.
McCoy's tests confirmed what he himself knew from his
mind-melds with Jim. But he added, wanting to take the issue to its
logical conclusion. "Yet you say you do feel stress because of your
relationship with me."

Kirk thought a moment, looking down at his folded hands.
"Yes, I do. But paradoxically, perhaps, McCoy thinks it's not a
pathological stress. He claims it's somehow functional to my overall
ego resolution, that balancing contradictory emotional drives is sort
of what keeps me going. And that it's an intensification of conflicts
I've always felt ... between caring about the people under my
command on the one hand and needing to drive them on the other.
He thinks I may burn out before I'm fifty, but that I'll go down in
good emotional health." A corner of his mouth curved wryly. "I'm
not sure that's such an enviable prognosis, but I think he's probably
right."

Spock nodded agreement. "So do I."

Kirk raised his eyes to Spock's, suddenly curious. "Hasn't
McCoy been running the same tests on you, Spock? Certainly, he's
never mentioned anything amiss."

Spock paused a moment so that he could phrase his answer
with precision. "So far as McCoy can tell, the results are within
normal parameters. However, the tests he employs were not
developed for Vulcans. I therefore have no assurance that his
results are conclusive, especially when I myself do not feel that I am
handling the situation constructively."

It was clear from the look on Kirk's expressive face that he
realized the importance of what Spock was saying. Knowing Kirk
was well as he did, Spock could tell that he was already, at some
level of his mind, contemplating the full implications of what Spock
was telling him. Yet at the same time that he was subliminally
carrying the idea to its logical conclusion, he was also sparring with
it, confronting it with all his natural aggressive resistance to a
notion that stood in the way of something he deeply wanted. "Do
you think McCoy can help you with this at all?"


"No." Spock's response was quick and definite. "He cannot,
for the same reason his psychometric instruments cannot detect my
emotional imbalance. Only a trained Vulcan healer with a Vulcan's
telepathic abilities could diagnose and treat my dysfunction."


"Does that mean you *could* be treated by a Vulcan?"


"It is probable," Spock conceded with a slight nod. "Vulcan
psychiatric techniques are much more effective with us than Human
ones, since they are based on direct mental contact with the
subconscious strata of the mind. I have concluded I must consult a
Vulcan specialist when the mission is over."


Kirk's face was an uneasy mixture of hope and
disappointment. "Does that mean ... that you'll need to spend a long
time on Vulcan after we reach home?" he asked warily.


Spock shook his head. "Unlike Human psychiatry, Vulcan
techniques are not particularly time-consuming. Our healers can
accomplish in a month or two what would take years for a Human
practitioner."


"Well, that's good to know," Kirk smiled in obvious relief.


"Yes. But Jim--" There was an edge of roughness, of
anxiety in Spock's voice, "it is imperative that I achieve some
resolution of the problem before we serve another tour of duty
together."

Kirk sighed morosely, his face mirroring contradictory
emotions. "I can see your logic, Spock, and I'm trying to accept it.
But right now, the biggest question is whether there's even going to
*be* another tour of duty."

Spock lifted his face, surprised. "I see no reason to predict
otherwise. Our mission has been successful beyond all Starfleet's
initial expectations."

"Well, the General Staff's got some new members now, a
new Commanding Admiral, and they may see it differently. From
what I've heard of Admiral Nogura, he's a Terran chauvinist who
thinks Starfleet's only purpose is Federation security and higher
profits for Federation corporations."

"Our report shows that our achievements on this mission
will bring important economic and security benefits to the
Federation in the future."

"They'll poke holes in our report."

Spock bridled. "The calculations were all made to the
highest possible degree of certainty. The margin of error in my
calculations is, in essence, negligible. Given the same data base, I
do not see how ...."

Kirk smiled at him fondly. "Your mathematical modeling
was brilliant, Spock. That's why I had the report completed and
sent in early. I know that the work you did is fifty times better and
more convincing than anything Nogura's staff can come up with.
But the decision will be made on the basis of politics--not logic."

"Indeed," Spock acknowledged, raising both eyebrows this
time.

They sat a moment in silent rapport, while Spock pondered
the basic irrationality of Humans. Then Kirk returned to their
original subject as they cleared the breakfast dishes and prepared to
leave for the bridge.

"We'll talk about your problem later, Spock. I admit it's
taking me some time to digest--" he shook his head ruefully. " I
know that acting from emotion is shameful to a Vulcan ..."

"I am not ashamed of my feelings for you, Jim."

"I know you're not, but ..." Kirk clenched his fists as though
trying to keep a rein on his own strong feelings. "I guess I'm a little
surprised because I thought--I suppose, I just assumed that you'd
finally accepted that you're half-Human, that you have Human
emotions, and that inevitably you're going to act on those
emotions."

"I do accept those facts, Jim. What you must understand is
that this recognition is not the end of my problem, but the
beginning."

************************

In the few weeks that remained before their final return to
Earth, Kirk and Spock had little time to talk. Although every
department's final report had been submitted well in advance, to be
incorporated into Kirk's final report on the Five-Year Mission to
the General Staff, Kirk refused to allow himself or the crew to
relax. He literally prowled the ship, investigating every nook and
cranny, seeing that all was ship-shape, that no loose ends were left
untied.

Kirk would personally inspect every tape and micro-circuit
of the *Enterprise* if he could, Spock thought. The crew would
have found his attention compulsive, if Kirk had not had the gift of
inspiring others to win his approval by meeting his own standards
of excellence. Spock understood Kirk's anxiety. The least flaw in
the ship's final condition might be held against him, a handy weapon
to attack the exploratory mission itself.

Spock had never fully understood the passions that underlay
Earth politics. In fact, he'd seen relatively little of Earth society
during the four years he'd spent at the Academy. But he had studied
Earth history well and had observed some of its recurring patterns.
Just before they reached Earth orbit, he and Kirk and

McCoy had a quiet farewell-to-the-*Enterprise* dinner together,
just the three of them, after the more "official" parties were over.
Inevitably, the discussion turned to the changes they expected to
find on Earth.

"When we left on this mission," McCoy reflected as he
passed the bottle of Bordeaux to Kirk, "the people making
decisions at headquarters were relatively open-minded--at least, as
much as you can expect in a military person ...." He shot a baleful
look at Kirk, who grinned back cheerfully. "From what I've heard,
it's just the opposite now. The new people in the Admiralty are
more interested in increasing a photon torpedo's range by some
fraction of a light-year than in meeting a life form we don't know
about. And aliens--might as well forget about it. They're Terran
chauvinists."

"Not all of them, Bones," said Kirk, picking up a warm
dinner roll. "Jose Mendez is on the General Staff now, you know."

McCoy's gaze turned to one of disapproval as he watched
Kirk spread butter on his roll. Kirk cheerfully ignored him.
Spock cut in frostily. "Doctor, the flaw in your analysis is
that you focus on personalities rather than underlying historical and
social processes." He knew that what McCoy was saying was true;
the current Starfleet leadership was unsympathetic to aliens. And
when he examined his own motivation, he suspected that perhaps it
was easier for him to face this unpalatable truth if he could place it
in an impersonal context. "The recent intensification of negative
attitudes toward aliens has obvious economic roots."
McCoy began to retort sarcastically, but Kirk, eyes
twinkling in anticipation of an entertaining sparring match,
forestalled him. "Explain, Spock."

"Students of your history," Spock replied, setting down his
fork and smoothing the napkin on his lap, "have noted a pervasive
relationship between politics and economics. On the upswing of an
economic cycle, Humans tend to be expansive, tolerant, and
optimistic--reflecting the abundance of economic opportunities for
all. On the downswing of the cycle, Humans are pessimistic,
conservative, protective of themselves and those they consider their
'own kind.'" His ironic tone placed verbal brackets around the last
phrase.

"Are you trying to rationalize prejudice, Mr. Spock?"
McCoy needled him. "Just seems to me some people are prejudiced,
others not. Sometimes I think folks are just *born* prejudiced.
Don't see what economics has to do with it. You don't hate another
person with that credit chip inside your belt, Spock."

"No, but it is illogical, even for a Human, to feel prejudice
for no reason," Spock replied evenly. "Prejudice arises from
self-interest, and from fear of competition with outsiders."

"I think that's true, Bones," Kirk added, putting down his
wine glass. "The five-year mission was launched in a period of
economic prosperity--full employment, high productivity, plenty of
opportunity. Industry supported the mission-- because they believed
we would discover new investment opportunities as well as new
life. And Spock's right--the economic situation--especially on
Earth--*has* changed radically during the last few years. Business
isn't expanding, and people are out of work. I think that's why we'll
find that a lot of the support for space exploration has evaporated."

"Well, you're probably right, but I was taught that economic
cycles are a relic of history," McCoy replied, attacking his salad.

"Maybe you-all developed an interest in them when you visited the
Great Depression of the 1930s, thanks to my antics with the
Guardian of Forever."

"Hardly the most serious economic depression in Earth
history, Bones," Kirk said mildly. "Twenty years after the Eugenics
War, for example ...."

"All right, all right," McCoy rested his salad fork in mild
exasperation. "I'm a doctor, not a historian. I just thought we'd
learned to avoid those kinds of extreme economic dislocations."
Spock spoke up politely. "It is true that your Earth, and the
worlds it is linked to economically, have overcome stark poverty,
unemployment and massive social dislocation as effects of business
cycles. Nevertheless, your economy seems to rely on unending
expansion as a source of prosperity for all. When expansion halts,
prosperity declines."

The three men were interrupted temporarily by the arrival of
the main course. "Well, I suppose that some adjustments are always
necessary in any system based on free enterprise," McCoy said
complacently when they resumed their conversation. "But we
Humans, unlike you Vulcans, feel uncomfortable in a rigidly
controlled economy. We value our freedom in economic matters as
we do in all other areas of life."

Spock favored the ship's doctor with a glacial Vulcan stare.
"The paradox,
more subject to those forces than you would be if you engaged in
deliberate planning."

Kirk leaned back, heartily enjoying the fray.

"Well, I don't know about *that,* McCoy retorted, "But in
any case, Mr. Spock, how do you fit the New Humans into your
analysis? They're not chauvinistic or anti-alien, and they've become
very powerful politically since we left Earth, even part of the
governing Coalition now. How do you account for that?"
Spock gave a shrug full of Vulcan superiority. "The New
Humans have no desire to participate in the established Earth
economy at all, Doctor. They have their own unique form of social
and economic organization; therefore, aliens are not a threat to
them."

"And *they're* not a threat to the other people in power,"
Kirk pointed out, pulling his chair closer to the table to attack the
main course. "Which gives them a logical community of interest
with the Federation Party. The Federationists want to keep the
status quo--no further peace initiatives with the Klingons and other
non-Federation powers--and the New Humans have their own
reasons for wanting to leave well enough alone."

"I believe that is the logic behind the formation of the
Coalition," Spock concurred.

"It's also significant," Kirk said reflectively, toying with his
fork, "that the New Humans have a basically passive, unworldly
attitude toward society. That's all right with the Federationists. The
New Humans feel the individual really doesn't matter in the larger
scheme of things, so they have little interest in social reforms
designed to benefit individuals."

"A logical position, given their assumptions," Spock
nodded.

"Well, they seem like strange bedfellows to me," McCoy
muttered glumly. "A bunch of crazy mystics aligned with industry
and the military. And speaking of bedfellows--" he added, casting a
meaningful look at Kirk, who blushed, divining what was on his
mind, "have you given any thought to how you'll present your ...
relationship ... to Starfleet?"

Kirk rubbed his chin in a gesture of embarrassment. "We
don't need to "present" them with anything, Bones. Legally, it's
absolutely none of their business.And you know as well as I do that
Starfleet doesn't really give a damn who goes to bed with whom, as
long as they don't do it on the job."
McCoy stared at him balefully. "Well, those are the rules,
but people tend to be very curious about these things, and a lot of
people aren't as open-minded as you, Jim."

"I plan to deal with it the same way we do here on the
*Enterprise,* Kirk shrugged. "Not advertise it, not keep it a secret
either."

McCoy took a long sip of his drink. "At least the part about
its not being a secret is correct."

Kirk stopped in the middle of raising his fork to his mouth
and looked at McCoy in genuine surprise. "Bones, I doubt that
anyone besides you, Scotty and maybe Uhura even knows.
Hand-holding in public just isn't our style."

"Tell that to the people I hear gossiping in my waiting
room."

Kirk's eyes widened in disbelief and he stared at McCoy for
a few moments. "Of course," he finally admitted, folding his hands
in his lap, "I may have to discuss it with Operations and Personnel,
just in case their computer decides to assign us to opposite ends of
the galaxy." His expression suggested that he considered this an
extremely remote possibility.

"I wonder if that would be wise," McCoy murmured. "I
have a feeling you'll find quite a few people at Headquarters who
are not going to be too supportive of your relationship."

Kirk looked surprised, but he continued eating and made no
comment.

Spock realized he'd been holding his breath for several
minutes. He let it out unobtrusively. He knew that McCoy spoke
out of deep concern for his two best friends. But the doctor's words
felt like a lead weight dropped to the bottom of his stomach, for he
knew McCoy was right.

Jim was looking at McCoy thoughtfully, turning over what
he was saying in his mind. As he looked at Kirk's expressive face,
Spock realized with a start what bothered him most about the
conversation: that the possibility of conflict between their
relationship and Starfleet was something Jim was only now
beginning to consider.

********************************

The ride from the debarkation point was short, but it gave
Nogura a chance to scrutinize James Kirk more closely than had
been possible in the glare of the debarkation ceremony, where he
had been on hand to greet the senior officers of the *Enterprise* as
they'd stepped out of the shuttlecraft *Columbus.*

Some of the crowd's roar still echoed in Nogura's ears, even
in the plush silence of the smooth-riding aircar. Kirk seemed
strangely subdued, almost distant. Nogura had the odd sense that

Kirk was not aware that the excitement was in his honor.
The Commanding Admiral made small talk as an excuse to
study Kirk's face. He had met him briefly years ago, just after he'd
been chosen to head the five-year exploratory mission; but he
remembered him only as a rather serious, clean-cut, astonishingly
youthful officer with an unusually brilliant record. He speculated
about the experiences that had produced the changes he noted. The
straight back and strong jaw were the same, of course. But now
Nogura could see subtle, complicated lines he was sure had not
been there before. The sensitive curve of the mouth, the candid eyes
with hints of hidden depths--Kirk's face betrayed the sort of
commander he had become. A leader who led by the gift of grace,
by touching others' souls.

Instinctively, Nogura distrusted charisma. He had always
seen clearly that Starfleet's business was defense. The Fleet needed
hard-headed strategists and clever tacticians. Kirk was both, but he
was also a dreamer and a visionary--too much so for Nogura's
comfort.

And yet, because Nogura was a realist, he knew that the
masses on whom Starfleet's fortunes depended wanted more than
effective strategy and sound military tactics. To the soft-headed, the
rule of force was an unpalatable truth that had to be disguised with
slogans and symbolism. The man beside him had become the most
important symbol in Starfleet, and Nogura had no intention of
wasting him on space exploration. Kirk had all the attributes of a
perfect figurehead: He was attractive, personally magnetic, and had
a record of heroics that stretched from here to Alpha Centauri.
Nogura *had* to have Kirk in the Admiralty. Not because he was
the best person for the job, although he'd do it well enough. But
because Nogura had to coopt him, use him, make him into
Starfleet's "noble lie." And through him, placate the peacemongers
and the ignorant.

They had not spoken for several minutes, and Kirk did not
seem disposed to break the silence. Nogura asked him, "Are you
surprised to see how popular you've become, Captain?"
Kirk turned and gave him a small smile of dismissal. "I don't
flatter myself that the reception was in recognition of me
personally, Admiral. It simply shows how deeply Humans have
responded to the five-year mission. I believe that most Humans find
the discovery of other life forms--different from ourselves yet at
least as highly evolved or more so--extremely exciting."

"Captain, I think you're going to discover that most
Federation citizens have come to identify the five-year mission with
you personally. It's a necessary shorthand for the average person,
the person who has no time to follow the technical complexities of
the scientific discoveries you made, or even follow your exploits in
the Federation Times science section.
"One doesn't have to understand the physiology and
molecular structure of a different life form to appreciate its
philosophical and moral significance for Humans," Kirk replied
mildly.

"Philosophical? Moral?! Nogura chuckled with mock
heartiness. "You give your admirers far too much credit, Jim."

"I don't think so," Kirk replied with an enigmatic smile.
Nogura was taken aback. He had counted on using Kirk's
own vanity to lure him into the gilded cage. Clearly, this was a
more complex man than he had expected. "Well, we'll test our
hypotheses when we watch the news broadcasts tonight," the
admiral concluded with forced humor.

They touched down after that, and it was not until after a
short meeting to confirm the debriefing schedule that Nogura had a
chance to steer Kirk away from his officers. The closeness of the
group was almost tangible, Nogura noted with disapproval: an
inevitable result of living and working together in close quarters.

"My wife and I are having dinner for the other members of
the General Staff tonight, Jim," he told Kirk was soon as he found a
moment to have a word alone with him. "If you're free, we'd like
very much if you could attend."

"I'd be happy to, Admiral," Kirk said politely.

"Good! Bring a companion, if you'd like--it'll be mostly
couples, the members of the General Staff and their spouses, and a
few others--my wife likes to have an even number at table ..."
Nogura trailed off awkwardly, remembering with a touch of
embarrassment that Kirk was not married.

"I'd like to bring my First Officer, if I may,"
Nogura's embarrassment turned to surprise. "Spock?" he
asked.

Kirk nodded, his clear eyes showing no sign that he thought
the request unusual.

Nogura was nonplussed. He thought of his wife' reaction,
how upset she'd be at having to round up the ingredients for a
Vulcan meal on such short notice. It was bad enough, having to
accommodate Promila Rao and er husband and their Brahmin
taboos. Why the Vulcan? Nevertheless, he forced himself to nod
with a warmth he did not feel, "Why, of course ... We'll expect you
at 1930, then."

**********************

Spock listened to the ring of Kirk's firm footsteps on the
flagstones of the Noguras' vestibule. He had not been enthusiastic
about attending. In his experience, Humans tended to have little
serious discussion at social gatherings, and the quality of the
conversation tended to deteriorate in inverse relation to the
consumption of alcohol. Nevertheless, he was curious to learn more
about the new Commanding Admiral and the other members of the
Admiralty staff. And besides, Kirk had wanted his company.

The apartment was large, a two-story penthouse
overlooking the bay. The furnishings (and the rooms Spock could
see definitely were overfurnished) were lush and florid. The
embroidered upholstery, the gold leaf trim on the elaborately, if
somewhat artificially, carved wood were all too ornate for his taste.

Nogura's wife Mai emerged from somewhere and greeted
them politely. The relative warmth she managed for Kirk did not
carry over to Spock. He had the impression that her reserves of
hospitality had been somewhat depleted by the other guests. He
wondered briefly if she were forced to entertain often because of
her husband's position. If so, she probably resented the illogical
intrusion on her time; and Spock knew that Humans did not always
respond to illogical demands with a logical refusal.

She showed them the bar, poured Spock some fruit juice
and got Kirk a glass of bourbon on the rocks. Spock was conscious
of conversations stopping and eyes turning around them until a
glance of acknowledgment from Kirk released them. Spock
recognized most of the members of the General Staff, and a few
other staff officers, most of them commodores and vice-admirals. A
slim, large-eyed young woman wearing commodore's stripes came
up and introduced herself as Lori Ciani, a member of Nogura's staff.
She glanced at Spock with mild curiosity, but her luminous eyes
were riveted on Kirk.

Kirk had scarcely had time to return her introduction when
Jose Mendez appeared out of nowhere, and Kirk's face lit up in
undisguised pleasure. "Jose!"
"Jim!"

Lori Ciani faded back unobtrusively as the two men greeted
each warmly. Spock decided not to join the conversation with
Mendez. The two were old friends, and he suspected that Mendez
might want to have a private conversation with Jim about General
Staff politics. His suspicion was confirmed when Mendez steered
Kirk out the glass doors to the large terrace. Spock sat down on the
nearest sofa and proceeded to drink his juice.

He found himself sitting near a middle-aged woman with an
imperious, aquiline profile and an Admiral's uniform; Spock
recognized her as Admiral Promila Rao. The man seated nearby,
with cream-colored skin and features as finely chiseled as those of
an Indian statue, was undoubtedly her husband. Spock searched his
memory briefly and placed him as a powerful Bombay industrialist.

They exchanged introductions politely and the couple
welcomed Spock into their conversation, which seemed to concern
a pet project of Admiral Rao's. She advocated setting up a network
of photon-warhead missiles on the Federation outposts nearest the
Klingon sphere of influence. She described in some detail where she
thought the missiles might be located, and asked Spock his opinion,
knowing that he had visited that sector himself. Her familiarity with
the region's topography was impressive, but Spock thought the plan
at best unnecessary, at worst, highly provocative. He told her so.

"The scheme inevitably would appear aggressive to the
Klingons," Spock said, his voice mild but firm, "since its only
conceivable purpose would be offense. It will not protect the
security of any of the Federation worlds; that goal is far better
served by the existing system of orbital defense satellites."

Rao dismissed the objection with a wave of her
long-fingered, aristocratic hand. "Ah, Mr. Spock, the best defense
is surely a strong first-strike capability. As you know, we are
currently in the process of redesigning our overall galactic strategy
to emphasize *deterrence.*" She said the word with a kind of
emphatic satisfaction as though she thought it had a force all its
own.

"I know," Spock acknowledged with a slight nod, "but the
new strategy does not yet have Council approval."

Rao gave him a sharp look, glancing at his Vulcan features
as though she blamed him personally for the presence of two
Vulcans in the Federation Council, both of whom were quite certain
to vote against her proposal.

"In any case," Spock continued politely, "a purely defensive
posture has served the Federation well in the past. Shifting to a
strategy based on deterrence would suggest to non-Federation
worlds that we are adopting an aggressive, even an expansionist
foreign policy." Rao's husband shifted in his chair, a frown
marring his ivory-smooth skin. "It is the *Klingons* who are
aggressive and expansionist. And sadly--" a hint of disdain shaded
his cultivated voice, as though he were expressing disappointment
at the failings of lesser mortals--"we have allowed them to get
ahead of us in preparedness. We have a lot of making up to do, and
we must now be prepared to counter force with force."

Spock's eyebrows rose in surprise. "The Klingons have been
quite scrupulous in observing the terms of the Organian Peace
Treaty during the last several years. I see no reason to provoke
them needlessly."

As they were at an impasse, Rao herself changed the subject
and proceeded to ask Spock a stream of questions about the
*Enterprise's* experiences in battle during the last five years. She
was quite knowledgeable about their encounters with the Klingons,
and she pressed him exhaustively for more details. In fact, it was
the only subject she queried him on. Their discoveries on other
worlds seemed not to interest her at all. And she seemed unaware,
or uncaring, that the odds of any Vulcan's being an enthusiast of
war strategy were practically nonexistent.

He was quite relieved when they were called to the table
and Jim and Jose Mendez came back from the balcony--relieved,
that is, until he saw the fighting look in Kirk's eyes, which Kirk
quickly stifled as they approached the dinner table. Bad news?
Spock wondered with a twinge of apprehension in his stomach.
Dinner was an awkward experience for Spock. He and Kirk
did not fit into the Noguras' seating arrangements, which alternated
men and women. Spock felt rather like a fifth wheel.

Most of the conversation at table concerned investments,
Federation corporations' merger plans, and military strategy. Kirk's
charm and Spock's own impeccable good manners carried them
through he evening, but Spock was glad when finally they were able
to make their excuses over brandy that it had been a long day and
by their ship's time it was now almost one a.m.

Spock felt the tension radiating from Kirk as they entered
the lift. But it was not until they reached the ground floor and
started walking back to the officers' complex that he spoke.

"I'm sorry I abandoned you to Admiral Rao, Spock," Kirk
said as they walked briskly across the paved courtyard to the
building where Starfleet was housing them temporarily. "Jose
wanted to brief me on the dynamics among the General Staff and
the options they've been discussing. The news isn't good." His
words were clipped, his voice grim.

"The Admiralty has decided against renewing the five-year
mission," Spock guessed at once.

"Not just yet," Kirk answered shortly. "Nogura would like
to scrap it, but doesn't have enough support in the General Staff to
bring it to a vote. But he has gotten them to postpone refitting the
ship."

"Oh?" Spock fully appreciated the ability of Human
bureaucrats indefinitely to postpone deciding to do something they
preferred not to do at all.

"Nogura claims to have found some last-minute glitch in the
phaser bank design. Jose regards it as a trumped up excuse." Kirk
tossed his head in a gesture that told Spock Kirk was inclined to
agree with Mendez. "Apparently he pulled this idea out of the hat at
a staff meeting when some of the other Admirals began pressing
him to announce a renewal of the five-year mission. The result was
they agreed to wait until the new designs are completed before the
issue is decided."

Spock knew that the redesign and refitting of Starfleet's
Constitution-class starships was a critical first step before another
five-year exploratory mission could be launched. It was illogical,
and probably unsafe, to send any of the Fleet's starships on a
long-term assignment far from home without upgrading to state of
the art standards. "How long is the postponement?"

"Probably nine months at least--and you know when they
say nine months it could easily mean fifteen.. And the refitting itself
is more extensive that we originally were told. It could take six
months in dry dock. Spock, it could mean nearly two years in
limbo!"

They were entering the officers' complex now, and Spock
could see Kirk's shoulders tighten as he clenched his fists in
frustration. "I'm sure they have plans for us in the interim," Spock
offered as they rode the lift to their floor. Almost automatically, he
followed Kirk to Kirk's flat and waited while Kirk let them in.

"Nothing official yet," Kirk frowned. Spock could see the
tension in the muscles of his jaw as they walked toward the living
room. "But the odds of Starfleet's giving us a temporary assignment
for a year and a half or so and then shifting us back to the
*Enterprise* are--"

Almost automatically, Spock opened his mouth to offer an
estimate, but a quick look from Kirk forestalled him.

"In fact," Kirk said with a taut sigh as they sat down on the
sofa together, "the General Staff *has* discussed where they are
going to reassign us."

The tone in Kirk's voice sent a chill down Spock's throat to
settle in his stomach. "And what have they discussed?" he asked
hollowly.

Kirk leaned back against the sofa cushions, trying to relax
the tension that stiffened his back and shoulders, then gave up and
leaned forward, his hands on his knees, and stared grimly at Spock.
"You, to a head a research station on the Outer Rim. Me--a
staff assignment."

Spock felt as though he had been hit in the stomach. "I shall
refuse, of course," was all he said.

"If they let you," Kirk said morosely.

Spock met Kirk's eyes cautiously. "The staff assignment
they have in mind .... I assume that would involve a significant
elevation in your rank?" Commodore at the very least, Spock
thought. Perhaps even Vice-Admiral.

"The Admiralty," Kirk said shortly, "They want me to head
a new department, Starfleet Operations, that will be created when
they split Operations and Personnel into separate departments." His
face was tight, closed, as though he hadn't noticed the mixture of
pleasure and surprise on Spock's face.

Yet Spock knew Kirk too well not to know that he was
flattered by the prospect of a three-step jump in rank. Cautiously,
he tried to sort out his own contradictory reactions.

"What do you see as our options?"
Kirk straightened his shoulders and took a deep breath.

"Well, the first choice I'm going to have to make is whether to
accept the Staff position. As long as the *Enterprise* is in dry dock
and doesn't need a commander, that will be damned hard to do. I'm
going to have to lobby for some other assignment, something
temporary enough that I can leave it when the *Enterprise* is ready
to go out again."

Spock struggled to keep his face from betraying his feelings.
He knew better than to be disappointed, but he found himself
wishing that Kirk's vanity resembled the standard Human variety
more closely. Most Humans would leap at the offer of the second
highest job in the command hierarchy.

If Spock's disappointment showed in his face, Kirk hadn't
noticed.

"Fortunately, Jose also told me the Staff has decided to assign the
*Enterprise* temporarily to the Academy while she's awaiting the
refit. The idea is to use her to give cadets some actual space flight
training on a starship. The fact that it's the *Enterprise* will have
all sort of symbolic value, raise morale, please the cadets' parents,
increase alumni contributions ... well, you get the picture." Kirk
waved his hands dismissively.

"And if you were to offer to head the program ...." Spock
guess where Jim's thoughts were heading.

"They would be too embarrassed to turn me down!" Kirk
finished with a grim smile of satisfaction.

"Highly logical," Spock nodded, enjoying the flush of
appreciation that spread over Kirk's face.

"And of course," Kirk continued, "I'll insist that my former
first officer join me as second in command. Then, when the ship is
in dry dock, we can tackle the issue of the next five year mission."
Spock acknowledged the plan's merits with a brief nod, but
he was dubious. "Jim, we may have some influence--perhaps not as
much as you think--over where we shall be assigned next, but we
have very little say in whether or not the exploratory missions will
be continued. Unless, of course, you do decide to become a
member of the Admiralty."

Kirk ignored the last suggestion, and Spock guessed that he
hadn't yet thought seriously about the job Mendez had told him was
about to be offered to him. Kirk leaned back on the sofa and sighed.
He was tired, and perhaps this was rather a lot to take in all at once,
even for him. But he snapped back with most of his normal
intensity.

"You saw the parade today, Spock. The *Enterprise*
mission was wildly popular, beyond anything Starfleet's ever been
linked with in the public eye. Plainly, we have public support on our
side. And according to Jose, we have a reasonable amount of inside
the General Staff. We may wind up having a knock-down, drag-out
fight with Nogura, but it's one we have a decent chance of
winning."

As McCoy would say, Kirk's Irish was up. He'd take on the
entire Starfleet bureaucracy if that would get him what he wanted.
Spock was more cautious. "What if your plan does not succeed?"
he pressed.

Kirk shrugged. "I'll try whatever will keep me in command
of a starship. Refuse the promotion to Admiral, if that's what it
takes. Meanwhile, we have to make sure they don't succeed in
shipping you off to the Outer Rim."

Sensing Spock's skepticism, Kirk reached out and put his
hands on his First Officer's shoulders, making an effort to erase the
fatigue and frustration from his own face with a smile. "In any
event, we can't do any more about it tonight." He massaged the
area around Spock's shoulder blades gently. His eyes softened in
concern as his fingers probed the taut muscles, stiff with anxiety.

And then Kirk added, almost shyly, "Uh, Spock ... could
you stay tonight?"

They were still so reticent about love-making. But outside
of work, they had scarcely seen each other during the rush of the
last three weeks, and Spock knew that Kirk must be even hungrier
for intimacy than he was. He nodded, his body gradually relaxing
under Kirk's hands, and he felt a small thrill of anticipation when
Kirk responded with a look of undisguised pleasure. "I shall go to
my flat for a few items first," he said, and Kirk released him happily.
Spock's flat was only a few doors down the hall, and when
he returned, Jim was undressing in the bathroom. Spock took off
his own clothes, laid them on a chair, looked up and caught his
breath sharply as Jim came out of the bathroom, carrying a towel.
Naked, Kirk exuded power and energy. He was already
erect--Spock had observed that it took very little direct stimulation
to bring Kirk to that state. He mused about the cliche he'd heard so
often, that the uniform of the Fleet lent a man authority he did not
otherwise possess. He did not think it applied to Jim. Quite the
opposite, in fact. Jim's authority was highly personal, with its roots
in his own primal, sexual magnetism. Unclad, he was if anything
more commanding than he
was in uniform.

Kirk walked toward the bed, looking quizzically at Spock.
"What's funny?"

"I was wondering how effective you would be, commanding
a starship without your uniform."

"You mean dressed like this?" Kirk dropped the towel on
the bed and spread his arms and legs wide, displaying himself. Heat
flushed through Spock's genitals, and he noted that he, too, could
become erect without any direct tactile stimulation.

"Do you have a theory you would like to test on the
bridge?" Kirk persisted, obviously amused by Spock's odd train of
thought. "Maybe the next time a red alert catches us like this?
'Course, then you'd have to participate, too."

He smiled, a smile that made Spock's heart turn upside
down, and Spock knew his eyes must betray the thrilling surge of
desire that smile made him feel. He reached out and grasped Kirk's
arms and pulled him over to the bed.

They dimmed the lights and lay down together. The sudden
shock of Jim's closeness, the feel of his compact, energetic body
against his own made Spock's pulse accelerate. It was still strange
to hold Jim like this, to cover his body with his own, and the
experienced not only aroused him sexually but had all the
new-minted excitement of a paradigm-shattering scientific
discovery. Their minds had been close before their bodies were. But
finally to have consummated that inchoate longing he'd held in for
so long ... it was wonderful, breathtaking, terrifying.

Jim was stroking his back gently, sending cool waves of
pleasure over his skin. Tentatively, Spock began to explore his
partner's body. With precise, delicate fingers he touched the
powerful shoulders, the fleshiness of the chest, the taut muscles of
the outer thighs. Wanting more, he slipped his hands between Kirk's
legs, enjoying the feel of the smooth, silken threads under his hand,
the lush softness of the inner thighs. He touched the plump sac,
explored its odd textures, pressed the two spheres within their
envelope of flesh, felt them slip away and evade his gentle search.

Kirk twisted away, afraid he would be aroused too suddenly.
Spock removed his hand and looked at Jim--in the half light
he could see that his lips were already swollen with desire. Jim
propped his head on an elbow and scrutinized him in return. In Jim's
eyes, Spock could see the reflection of how he must look to
Jim--tousled and slightly breathless.

Jim's mouth was beginning to curve in amusement, and
Spock leaned back, prepared to be teased. His body was taut with
desire and he yearned for sexual consummation, but he understood
Jim's need for the intimacy of play.

"Why, Mr. Spock, I believe you're actually beginning to
enjoy this."

Spock looked down at him and raised an eyebrow. "And
what had you considered my previous motivation to be?"

"Oh, I don't know," Kirk smiled. "Human indulgence
perhaps. Or indulgence of Humans ...."

"You think that I am merely indulging you?" Spock took
Jim's hand, threaded his fingers through his own, and bent his hand
back in mock-warning.

Kirk's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Wouldn't it be more
Vulcan to limit our relationship to a Platonic meeting of minds?"

"Negative," Spock shook his head firmly, "even if you are
using the term 'Platonic' correctly, which I rather doubt ... and as I
have often told you, sexual relations between Vulcans raise the
level of energy available for the mind meld, making possible a
deeper joining of minds."

"And that's the only reason you want it," Kirk teased.

"Of course," Spock shrugged nonchalantly.

"Well, forgive me, Mr. Spock, but I've found it hard to
distinguish your Vulcan sexuality from my Human sexuality at
times. Somehow they seem to lead to the same result."

Spock dropped Kirk's hand suddenly. "We could, of course,
meld without physical contact if you would prefer ...."

"Oh, no, I don't think I'd necessarily prefer that ...."

The heat in his belly made Spock suddenly very impatient.
"I think this discussion could more constructively be continued at a
later time," was the last thing he said before Kirk pulled his head
down to the bed and rolled over on top of him.

Jim kissed his earlobe softly, nuzzled his neck, and dropped
two velvet kisses on his eyes, closing them. He grasped Spock's
face in both hands and then his mouth was on Spock's, his tongue
thrusting against Spock's, joining them flesh to flesh.

They caressed each other's chests and bellies as they kissed.
Spock could have lain there with Kirk's tongue in his mouth, tasting
the sweet liquor of him, forever. But Jim broke the kiss and loved
his way down Spock's body until he lay between his legs. He inched
his way up to the swollen cock and took it in his mouth in a single
swift movement. As Jim sucked, Spock's mind and body blazed
with pleasure. Astonishing how that cool mouth could pull him into
a white-hot vortex of need that went far beyond sexual yearning.

Jim finally released his cock and moaned softly, with a
vulnerability that made Spock's heart swell with tenderness. He
rolled off of Spock and lay on his back, his mouth swollen, his body
arched in a tense agony of desire. Something in the curve of Jim's
neck, his head thrown back upon the pillow, and the innocent
sweep of the lashes over the fine bones of his cheek touched a
fathomless chord in Spock. And some dark god of Eros rose up in
his breast, transforming tenderness into passion in a swift and total
metamorphosis. He gripped Jim's face in his hands and kissed him
again, fiercely, thrusting his tongue deep into his mouth in a sudden
yearning for possession.

Jim met his embrace, strength for strength and need for
need. When they finally separated, Jim touched his cheek, a silent
answer in his eyes. Spock buried his face in Jim's neck wordlessly.
Beneath him, Jim spread his legs and bent his knees, giving Spock
access to his iron-hard cock. Spock gripped the taut organ with
strong fingers, enjoying Kirk's sharp breathless gasps of pleasure in
response. He bent his head first to one nipple, then the other, then
wormed his way down the bed and sucked Kirk's cock, hard, until

Kirk begged him to stop.
Spock knew what Jim wanted. He lifted his head and looked
toward the table at the side of the bed, wondering if Jim had put the
lubricant anywhere nearby. Kirk shook his head and pulled Spock
back up toward him. "I already prepared myself," he whispered. He
opened his legs and drew them up, as though to make his meaning
clear.

Spock needed no clarification. His body left him no choice
when Kirk lay down for him like that. He centered his hard cock
and held himself to try to make the entry gentle, but after Kirk's
small gasp of discomfort ended he let go helplessly and simply
thrust.

Kirk grasped Spock's buttocks, and tried to pull him even
closer.. "More," he whispered tensely. "Deeper." He twisted
beneath Spock, and Spock knew he wanted his cock to press and
rub against the place that gave the most pleasure. He sank even
deeper into Kirk, and Kirk moaned, letting go of Spock's ass and
reaching for his hand, pulling his fingers toward the meld points.

Spock positioned his hand on Kirk's face and the meld flared
to life between them. He felt the melting agony of Kirk's pleasure,
how he craved Spock's hard thrusts, the deep gratification he felt
from being filled with Spock. He felt the glow of Kirk's satisfaction
when his cock found the small spot that gave him special pleasure.

And underlying the heat of desire he felt the soaring feeling of being
"in love," the sense of bright wings beating through his mind--a
Human feeling, but not very different from his own. And at an even
deeper level than that, he experienced Jim's strength, integrity and
deep commitment to him, like a bottomless well whose depths he
could not plumb, not even in the mind meld.

Finally Kirk shuddered under him, and almost in the same
moment Spock's own orgasm spread up from his belly to the
quivering fingertips pressed against Kirk's temple and down to the
tips of his toes. "T'hy'la," he gasped, clinging tightly to the perfect
moment.

Kirk lay flat on his back, breathless. Spock laid his head
down on his chest. He had come a lot. They both had.
As if he'd read his mind, Kirk sat up, mopped them both
with the towel, then rolled off the bed and padded off to the kitchen
to get them something to drink. For Spock's desert-based
physiology, ejaculation could be genuinely dehydrating. Spock
watched Jim silently, loving the grace with which he moved. Jim's
face was relaxed and slightly flushed, his skin glowing. "It is merely
the effect of dilation of the blood vessels," he told himself, "Yet it is
quite pleasing aesthetically."

He felt the lush aura, the sense of peace, that hung in the air
after they had been to bed together. As a mental exercise, he tried
to analyze it into its component parts. The softly lighted room, the
companionable silence between them, the tinkle of glasses in the
kitchen. Jim's face, calm and happy as he assembled glasses and
pitcher. The scene of Jim's body that clung to his own like
sun-warmed grass. The feeling of utter repose, the fruit of orgasm,
as though every muscle in his body had been turned inside out.
Jim returned with the pitcher, handed him a glass, and got
back into bed. Pushing the pillows behind him, he pulled Spock up
to half-sit beside him. Spock leaned against his shoulder
contentedly, silently, Jim's arm around his back.

Jim pulled away slightly to look at him, to savor the sight of
his austere, composed features, then pulled him back and stroked
his sleek hair, traced the line of an eyebrow with gentle fingers.

Spock was too sleepy to sit up any longer. He leaned across
Jim, put his glass down, then sank back against his chest. Jim
disposed of his own glass and pulled them both down beneath the
covers. Spock slipped his arm around him and a protective leg over
his for good measure. If there was a contest to see who would fall
asleep first, Jim had probably already won.

Spock's last waking thought was an odd but increasingly
familiar mixture of joy and regret. The closer he and Jim became,
the more he regretted that they would probably never know the
most profound, and profoundly Vulcan, mating with each other.
But he put the thought out of his mind. He would not impose his
own culture's values on Kirk. What they had was deep and
satisfying enough. If they could keep it, he would never want
anything else.

********************

Early the next morning, Admiral Igor Krasnovsky of
Personnel Services received a call from James T. Kirk. His aide had
tried to divert the call as per the Admirals' standing instructions, but
Kirk was impossibly stubborn, and with a sigh he opened the
transmission. Kirk wanted a very short meeting with him during the
break in the debriefing sections that he promised would take not
more than five minutes. Krasnovsky thought of excuses to put him
off, but Kirk had a reputation for boundless persistence, and
instinct told him it would be easier to meet with the
*Enterprise* commander than put him off.

Promptly at 1015 hours, Kirk's holographic image solidified
in his office. The young captain's voice was amiable and his manner
low-key and apologetic. "Admiral, I hope you don't mind my asking
about the status of the *Enterprise* refit and your plans for my
crew. It's just that they are asking me questions that I can't answer,
and I though you could help me know what I should say to them."

"Ah--yes," Krasnovsky hemmed and hawed. He tried to be
indefinite as he could, but under Kirk's delicate but probing
questions, he finally decided there was no harm in telling him about
the postponement of the *Enterprise* refit and the Academy
assignment.

He wasn't prepared for Kirk's response. He'd expected
impatience and annoyance. Instead, Kirk appeared to be pleased
with the news. "I'm sure the crew will be as honored as I am to hear
that the *Enterprise* has been chosen for the assignment, Admiral,"
the captain said suavely. "And what shall I tell them concerning
their own assignments?"

With a certain amount of discomfort, Krasnovsky told him
that the crew would have the option of remaining with the ship
during the Academy assignment, of taking accumulated leave time,
or shifting to other line or staff positions. He was even more
astonished when Kirk beamed in response. "Good! I expect that
most of the crew will exercise their option to stay with the ship.
They'll enjoy the opportunity to train Starfleet cadets as much as I
will."

Krasnovsky was stunned. "As much as I will"? What was
Kirk thinking? Did this man who had just returned from one of the
most responsible assignments in Starfleet really think it would be an
honor to train midshipmen?

"Admiral, let me be the first to sign up," Kirk added
smoothly.

Krasnovsky felt his jaw drop and closed his mouth firmly.
He could think of nothing to say in response.

"Of course, I can't speak for Mr. Spock," Kirk continued in
the same calm, pleasant voice, "but I'm confident he will also
choose to stay aboard."

Krasnovsky slowly collected his wits, but Kirk had already
risen to terminate the holo transmission, adding only, "I'll pass the
news to Mr. Spock, Admiral. I'll ask him to get in touch with you
shortly."

A few minutes later, Krasnovsky received a call from Spock
to notify him formally that he would be willing to remain as First
Officer of the *Enterprise* during the Academy assignment. The
Vulcan's manner was polite and serious, and the call left
Krasnovsky even more confused than ever. To him the assignment
seemed a waste of talent for two of the Fleet's most experienced
officers of the line, but he knew his counterpart at the Academy
would be thrilled with the news.

Moreover, the political context of the decision to assign the
*Enterprise* to the Academy created an extremely unpromising
climate for rational personnel decisions, or any other kind of
decision. He sighed and punched in the transmission code for the
Academy Provost.

*********************

The briefings dragged on all that day and the next. Spock
spent most of that time meeting with Starfleet's senior science staff,
and Kirk missed his help. Nogura's staff were determined to tear his
report apart paragraph by paragraph. They questioned his
conclusions incessantly, taking him to task for decisions on which
the record had closed long ago.

Kirk stood his ground. No one knew the *Enterprise* and
its missions better than he did. His decisions had not been made
rashly, and he'd reflected on them deeply in retrospect. He knew the
supporting data for the report like the back of his hand. The
sessions were stressful, but he fought back energetically, gaining
confidence as he fended off their attacks. He left the second day's
session with a sense of accomplishment, and decided to do some
politicking with Nogura's trusted assistant Lori Ciani at the
reception that evening.

****************************

Nogura studied James Kirk from across the room. He was
thoroughly ready to send him off into space again and be done with
him. Kirk was lobbying brilliantly for a second five-year mission
with himself in command, and already, he'd come close to
persuading the wavering Admirals. Even the hard-headed Igor
Krasnovsky had told him earlier that evening what a fine team Kirk
and his first officer had made on the *Enterprise,* how well they
balanced each other's strengths, how unusually well-coordinated
their work had been. He'd said it would be a shame to assign such
excellent line officers to staff duty.

In spite of himself, Nogura felt a grudging respect for Kirk's
tactical skill. By volunteering to head the short-term Academy
space flight program, Kirk had taken the initiative away from
Nogura and assured that he and Spock would be positioned to
resume command of the *Enterprise* when she was ready to go
into space again. Kirk's offer had had the predictable effect on the
Academy staff. If Nogura refused, he'd have the Provost, the
faculty and the Trustees all over him.

Once it became known that Kirk was willing to head the
space flight program, most of the General Staff had indicated
privately to Nogura that they liked the idea of his remaining with
the ship. Kirk had made it very clear that he would insist on keeping
Kirk as his First Officer. Spock, like Kirk, was a public symbol of
the Five Year Mission, and the longer the two of them remained on
the *Enterprise,* the stronger the pressure to renew the Mission
would be. Moreover, in the cautious feelers he'd sent out, Spock
had shown no interest in the Outer Rim post. That surprised
Nogura; he'd thought the Vulcan would be attracted by the choice
scientific assignment.

Perhaps his plan to coopt Kirk into the Academy wasn't
such a bright idea after all. Kirk easily could be more trouble than
his considerable symbolic worth, since he was certain to use the
Admiralty as a base to lobby for space exploration. His skill at
defending the *Enterprise's* achievements in the debriefing sections
was considerable.

Nogura looked at the two of them, Kirk and the Vulcan,
chatting with Lori, and muttered a silent imprecation. Even his
trusted assistant hadn't been much help. Already, like a gushing
schoolgirl, she'd developed a crush on the attractive starship
captain. He wouldn't mind that if Kirk had responded in kind. But
he hadn't. Right now, he was smiling amiably enough at Lori, but
Nogura had the impression he really wasn't interested in her as a
woman.

He heard a sound at his elbow and turned around to see the
portly figure of Admiral Husam Abd al-Hamid at his elbow, a wide
grin splitting his broad peasant's face. "Enjoying the party?" he
asked and laughed at Nogura's expression of distaste. Everyone
knew that Nogura was a workhouse who tolerated official
receptions, even for honored starships, only as a necessary
administrative chore.

Still, Nogura was glad to see his pot-bellied colleague. Abd
al-Hamid's earthy good humor was one of the few things that made
him relax. Husam waved a pudgy finger in Kirk's direction.
"You know, this is the first time I've seen Jim Kirk since he
took my course in Navigation, Constitution Class. I prided myself
that it was one of the hardest courses at the Academy. I used to
give the class the toughest problems I could concoct--and Kirk
hardly ever did them the way they were supposed to be done. He
always managed to come up with a unique solution of his own. And
they were really some of the best I've seen--he had really quite an
original mind."

Nogura forced himself to smile. He was getting a little tired
of hearing how much other people admired James Kirk.
"It will be a real privilege for the midshipmen to work with
him in the space light program. And you know, Heihachiro,
although I'd enjoy having him on the General Staff, the same
qualities that make him such an excellent line officer--imagination,
creativity--can be quite counterproductive in a desk job."

"He's an able administrator," Nogura replied neutrally.
"Quick, decisive, thorough. You wouldn't know it from his personal
style, but he ran the tightest ship in the Fleet."

"He is still so young, though," Abd al-Hamid countered.
"Five more years on a starship might be best for him--and for us."
"I've asked Igor to have his department look at all the
options," said Nogura noncommittally.

Abd al-Hamid continued to look appreciatively in Kirk's
direction. "He was terribly serious at the Academy, you know, a
very hard-working student. But he could play hard as well. Always
a young woman--or a bevy of them--in his life. He was what we call
*zir al-nisa,* a 'jug of women'...."

"A womanizer," Nogura translated absently. He had little
interest in the sex lives of his subordinates, no matter how colorful
they were--unless, of course, their sexual proclivities detracted from
their work performance. In his own observation, "womanizing" was
often an effective way for an officer in a high-pressure position to
let off steam.

"Actually," Abd al-Hamid continued, "I used to wonder if a
weakness for beautiful women might turn out to be Kirk's Achilles'
heel. But I see that hasn't happened! Even poor Lori doesn't seem
to be having much success in her campaign, and if she flirted like
that with *me*...."

Listening to his colleague's hearty chuckle, Nogura was
suddenly aware of Kirk, Spock and Lori Ciani, of their body
language. Lori was leaning toward Kirk, as though trying to draw
him into her own aura. Spock hovered protectively at Kirk's
shoulder. And Kirk himself was holding his drink in front of his
body as though it were a symbolic barrier between himself and Lori.
He was leaning slightly toward his First Officer, turning his head to
look up at him from time to time as he spoke to Lori. It was as
though a taut, invisible thread held the two men together.

The scene came into sharp focus for Nogura. If Spock were
not a Vulcan, he thought, and if Vulcans did not have their
marriages arranged in childhood ... but of course, he remembered
that Spock's marriage had been dissolved years ago, on Vulcan.

Suddenly Nogura remembered an incident they'd gone over
in the debriefing session the day before, the events near Beta
Carinae in which Spock had almost burned up the *Enterprise*
going after Kirk in a disabled shuttlecraft. His colleagues had been
impressed with the result, he'd thought it impossibly foolhardy. And
he found it frankly astonishing that any Vulcan, reared on logic,
could justify such a risk.

After the meeting, he'd spent some time going over
*Enterprise* logs in his office, looking at other incidents in which
one of the pair had taken unusual risks to protect or rescue the
other, and had found a large number. It appeared to be a pattern
that he planned to bring up at an appropriate time.
Nogura hated to leave bits of information unconnected.

Always, he moved them about in his mind until they fit together in a
single whole. And in a sudden flash of insight, he saw that whole.
The pieces of the puzzle came together and fit. Kirk's
insistence that he and Spock remain on the *Enterprise*; Kirk's
disinterest in Lori; the Beta Carinae incident and a score of others;
Spock's lack of enthusiasm for the Outer Rim ....

Nogura *knew,* with the sureness of instinct honed over
years of manipulating others, that Kirk and his First Officer were
lovers.

With a heartiness he did not feel, Nogura took Abd
al-Hamid's arm and steered the two of them toward the bar to refill
their drinks.

*******************************

As the party was breaking up, Nogura took Lori Ciani aside
and asked to speak to her alone. She was the only person he could
trust to carry out this assignment, and he knew she'd be motivated
once he told her what he wanted. She'd be shocked at first at the
idea of prying into the personal affairs of fellow officers, but she'd
accept it when he told her that the good of the Fleet was at stake.

"Find out for me if Kirk and Spock are involved ...
romantically," he told her bluntly. "I don't care what you have to do
to find out, what confidential files you need to access. Look at
every record on the *Enterprise* if you must--communication logs,
medical records, whatever. Just do it."

Her eyes widened in disbelief at first, but then she saw the
grim expression on his face and nodded. "First thing tomorrow,
sir."

****************************

After he left the party, Nogura did not go home but went
back to his office, let himself in, and engaged the computer tie-in
under his own confidential highest security level code. He accessed
the classified intelligence files on Vulcan, and his questions were
brief and direct. They concerned the Vulcan practice of telepathic
bonding and a certain clause in the treaty between Vulcan and the
Federation that was known, within Starfleet, only to members of
the General Staff and officeers with the highest level of security
clearance.

The computer's soft monotone told him all he needed to
know. The phenomenon he knew only from rumor had a name, a
scientific explanation, and a long history of examples. The files
pointed him toward a single policy conclusion. If Kirk and Spock
were bondmates, he could never allow them to serve on a starship
again.

Nogura left the office and walked across the still, moonlit
courtyards to his apartment, his footsteps muffled in the mist. He
felt a grim sense of satisfaction. He reflected that although he'd
never gambled, if he to start now he could safely stake a year's
salary on the answer Lori would produce to his question.

****************************

He didn't have to wait long. During the noon break in the
debriefing talks the next day, Nogura went back to his own office
to look through some personnel files of promising officers who
might be interested in heading a space flight training program for
midshipmen. He'd barely started when Lori was buzzed into his
office. She looked deeply embarrassed, and he asked her to sit
across the desk from him.

She bowed her head, then handed him a pair of data wafers.
"I believe the answer to your question is 'yes,'" she said softly. "No
evidence of any formal relationship, but I found ship's
communication logs that show that they spent the night in each
other's cabins and took shore leave together. And medical records
show that each of them was having sexual relations with a man. Not
just on leave, but during long stretches when the ship was in deep
space." She swallowed uncomfortably. "And sir, the records show
that Kirk was meticulous about avoiding sexual contact with
members of his crew." She had to force herself to meet his eyes.

"Members of the crew, yes. That would rule out anyone not
of command-grade rank."

Lori nodded miserably. Nogura felt a little sorry for her.

"Any other data?" he asked.
She sighed and made a noncommittal gesture. "I don't
consider ship's gossip to be 'data,' sir, but I inquired, and it's
certainly consistent."

Nogura nodded, thanked her, apologized tersely for the
unusual assignment, and hinted that he needed the information to
help him evaluate Kirk's and Spock's performance during the
Mission. Lori looked puzzled, and he didn't think she really believed
him, but she rose politely and let herself out

**************************

Later that afternoon, Nogura buzzed Igor Krasnovsky and
gave him the name of a young officer whom he wished to
recommend personally to head the Academy training program. Yes,
he knew that Igor wanted Kirk and Spock to stay on, but nine
months was far too long to allow two such valuable members of the
Fleet to vegetate in a public relations job. Yes, he knew the
Academy people would be disappointed, but he'd take care of that.

He'd handle the Provost and the Trustees personally.
Nogura waited calmly as surprise and chagrin played
themselves out on Krasnovsky's stiff
features. Nogura rarely exercised his influence by making a
personnel recommendation to Krasnovsky, and Krasnovsky knew
the consequences of ignoring the Commanding Admiral's
recommendations well enough. In clipped tones he assured Nogura
he'd beginning processing the assignment immediately.

****************************

Twenty-four floors above the city of San Francisco, Lori
Ciani sat motionless on the overstuffed sofa in her
elegantly-decorated living room. The drapes were swept back from
the large picture window that faced the sofa, and the stunning view
of the lights and the harbor mocked her silently.
*'Nogura's whore,'* said a tiny voice in her mind--a scrap of
conversation she had overheard long ago, when she was new to her
present position on the Commanding Admiral's staff. She had
dismissed it scornfully at the time; now, it seemed terribly
appropriate. *By God, I will never pry in a fellow-officer's private
life again.*

But at least Nogura had saved her from the embarrassment
of rejection by the man she had tried so hard for the last several
days to seduce. She turned her head fractionally and stared at the
bedroom door, open just wide enough to reveal the large bed piled
high with cushions, the bouquet of peonies on the bedside table, the
bedclothes turned down suggestively.

She thought back bitterly to her sense of anticipation that
morning, as she had readied her apartment before leaving for work.
The decanter of brandy and two glasses on the sideboard, the
bedroom sensuously appointed. She was going directly from her
office to a dinner date with Jim Kirk, and she had not even
questioned that he would come home with her.

That was before she had done as Nogura had asked her, and
searched the *Enterprise* records for the details of Jim Kirk's sex
life with his First Officer.

Lori rose and walked over to the sideboard where the
brandy decanter rested, untouched. Angrily, she twisted off the
stopper and poured as much brandy as the small glass could hold.
Staring out the window, she gulped, rather than sipped, the liquor,
welcoming the sting as it went down, burning her throat like bile.

After what she had learned about Kirk that morning, it was
easy to figure out that he was using her, using the dinner invitation
as an opportunity to pump her for information, to use her influence
with Nogura. And yet he was so passionate, so forthright about his
desire to go on
commanding the *Enterprise* with his superb First Officer, that she
could not help feeling compassion for him.

Finally, at the end of a long, slowly-savored meal in one of
San Francisco's most splendid restaurants, she had told him. She
was careful not to betray how she had spied on the intimate details
of his life, of course. But she told him of Nogura's suspicions and
his conviction that lovers should not serve together in a particularly
sensitive field command.

She didn't know what she had expected. Embarrassment,
evasion, even anger, perhaps. But surely not the open honesty, the
blazing pride.

"Hell, yes, we're lovers. And you can tell Nogura that I am
far more honored to be the lover of Spock of Vulcan than all the
medals and commendations in Starfleet."

She had flinched under the heat of his withering scorn, even
though it was not directed at her. Gently, she tried to explain
Nogura's reasoning, but he would have none of it.

"We were the best team in Starfleet before, and we're an
even better team now. I intend to spend the rest of my life with
Spock, and I don't care what Nogura thinks. Just let him try to
separate us!"

She had no answer for that. She stared back at him mutely,
thinking that Nogura would be only too pleased to take up that
challenge. Her voice sounded weak and strange when she finally
said, "Jim, do not take this lightly. He is a very powerful man."
But Kirk had scarcely heard her. He pushed his chair back,
stood up and gestured for their server. The evening was over.

*********************************

It was nearly midnight, and still Kirk had not returned from
his dinner appointment with Lori Ciani. Spock meditated longer
than usual, toyed with the idea of waiting up, and finally decided to
go to bed. Even in meditation, he could not suppress two warring
emotions--his pride in Jim's total commitment and fidelity to him,
and a dark current of fear and jealousy sparked by his memory of
how Lori had looked at Jim at the party, how plainly attracted to
him she was.

Jim had invited her to dinner to obtain information about
Nogura and the rest of the Admiralty, and to try through her to
influence Nogura. The tactic made sense, but Spock knew well his
captain's capacity for manipulation, and when the stakes were this
high ... it was unproductive to guess what was happening between
Jim and Lori, he told himself firmly,
and forced himself to sleep.

The door whooshed and woke him up and he saw the
outline of Kirk's body in the darkness. He half sat up and moved
over to make room in the bed. Kirk lay down heavily beside him,
not bothering to disrobe or even to shake his boots off, simply
hugging him and burying his face in his neck.

Spock touched Kirk's head lightly and was surprised when
Kirk caught his hand in a tight grip and placed Spock's fingers on
his own temple. But he readily initiated the mind-meld his partner
sought.

He was unprepared for the torrent of vivid emotion that
poured from Kirk's mind, so intense that he almost drew his hand
back from the shock. But those feelings were not for him. They
were anguish and passion for the *Enterprise.*

"They've taken her away from me, Spock," Kirk whispered
even as Spock saw it in his mind. Saw him meeting Lori in the
restaurant, pumping her for information. Saw her reluctance to talk
eventually melt under the full force of his charm. Saw her admit that
someone else had already been appointed to run the space flight
program. Felt Jim's shock and dismay when she confessed that
Nogura suspected he and Spock were lovers. Flinched and then
flushed with pride at Jim's blazing defense of their relationship.

The meld was too intense to hold. Spock drew back, broke
the connection with a small mental apology. "But our conversations
with Krasnovski? I thought it was settled. What happened?"

Kirk shook his head despondently. "I left Lori at the
restaurant and called Krasnovski. I asked him if it was true, and he
confirmed it." He laid his head down n the pillow beside Spock in
despair. "Said Nogura had talked him out of it. He said he'd decided
that running a training program was a waste of my skills and
experience. He even implied--" Kirk's voice took on a caustic
edge-- "that I was interested in the job because it would be a soft,
easy assignment. That I want to stay on the *Enterprise* because
I'm lazy! I'd be insulted, if it weren't so absurd."

Spock felt Kirk's tight-leashed energy and tension against
his own body. "Did Krasnovski indicate what assignment you will
receive?"

Kirk shook his head against Spock's shoulder. "No. But he
hinted that a big promotion is in store, that the General Staff thinks
I should be placed in a 'much more responsible' position." He sighed
wearily, then rolled over on his back and threw an arm across his
eyes. "Shit, I don't
mind a promotion. I deserve it. Plenty of Commodores have
commanded starships, and I don't see why a Vice-Admiral couldn't
hold a flagship command. But I can't see myself in a paper-pushing
job."

"Krasnovski is not incorrect, Jim, in suggesting there is
considerable responsibility in an upper-echelon staff job," Spock
pointed out, trying to sound objective. "As a member of the general
staff, you could be an effective advocate for space exploration."

"Yes, I know," Kirk said wearily. "Jose keeps telling me he
needs my support. That I could tip the balance against Nogura's
Terran chauvinism within the Admiralty. But Spock, dammit, I
don't want the job."

"But if another starship command is not available--" Spock
said tentatively, wanting to hear Kirk draw the obvious conclusion.
Kirk lifted his head and looked down at Spock. "It's
available if I can get it. Jose told me today that the commander of
the *Lexington* is due to retire in four months. They haven't
picked out a replacement for her yet, and the timing is right."

Spock felt a tiny stab of disappointment. He wondered why
Kirk had failed to state the obvious. "Jim, you just showed me what
Ms. Ciani shared with you--that Nogura will do everything in his
power to prevent us from serving together as long as he believes
that we are lovers."

Kirk touched his face apologetically and gave him a rueful
half-smile. "I haven't forgotten that, Spock--I just don't believe
Nogura can make it stick."

Spock's disappointment turned to
warmth, and he decided that a discussion of the practical problems
could wait for another day. Although they were no longer linked,
he could still feel Kirk's fierce love for the *Enterprise,* his anger
at Nogura and Krasnovski for tearing him away from his ship. And
underneath Kirk's anguish, he could feel a sharp surge of sexual
energy and desire. He pulled reached down and pulled their bodies
together, and with some satisfaction felt Kirk's cock hardening
through the cloth of his uniform. If he could not restore the
*Enterprise* to Kirk, at least he could give him this.

Almost apologetically, Kirk stirred away from him. "Spock,
I didn't come here to impose my own needs on you. "

"You are hardly imposing," Spock murmured into his hair.
He pulled away then, rose, helped Kirk undress, then lay back down
on the bed again and gently eased Kirk down beside him. Jim bent
over him and groped for Spock's mouth. The kiss that began almost
awkwardly took hold, and they locked together in mute hunger. A
current of desire spread down Spock's
body, deepening, gaining force with Kirk's touch, with each testing
of the expert ways Kirk knew would give him pleasure. The soft
pressure of Kirk's lips against his skin brought a new set of nerves
to life, left them glowing and warm and vibrant, as though the
neurons existed only to
transmit his lover's touch.

Gratefully, Spock sighed as Kirk leaned back and crouched
over him, preparing them both for intercourse. He reached out to
touch Kirk's stiff organ, to pull it toward his own body. "Careful,"
Kirk gasped as he rolled Spock back and leaned over him. And then
the thick cock was inside Spock, making slow velvety
strokes--impossible pleasure. Spock sank his fingers into Kirk's
round buttocks, pressing him deeper, into his very core ... .With
each stroke, a bright, glowing burst of energy pulsed and swelled in
his belly ... pulsed and gathered and coalesced, until the tide of
energy broke and sank back upon its center.

Kirk's whole body shuddered as he came, all his pent-up
energy vented in the ejaculation. He collapsed on Spock's chest,
gasping heavily. Spock stroked his hair, his broad back, its
hard-muscled flesh now soft and moist from orgasm.
Kirk leaned mutely against him, still breathing too heavily to
speak.
"I needed you," he finally gasped. "Oh, Spock, I'd give
anything to be back on the ship--making love like this after a crisis,
after we'd survived losing all our dilithium crystals and being
surrounded by a horde of Klingons ... sounds silly, doesn't it?" He
shook his hair out off his
eyes with a sad smile.

"I understand," said Spock quietly.

Gratefully, Kirk laid his head down on Spock's chest. Soon
he was asleep. As he listened to Kirk's regular breathing,
Spock tried to sort out his own emotions. They were far from
simple. He was tempted to conclude that Kirk was being stubborn,
even irrational, to refuse to consider a Staff promotion a welcome
next step in a brilliant career. But Spock could not, in good
conscience, be sure that his own response was grounded in logic
and not in the illogical emotion of protectiveness--and perhaps even
baser feelings of jealousy and possessiveness.

To be honest with himself, Spock admitted that he would
find it convenient if Starfleet were to make a decision for Kirk that
Spock would never ask him to make for himself. And there were
demands that he would make of Kirk if he would--demands that
were far from logical.

*I should feel shame,* he acknowledged, *that he means so
much to me. If I am to become an emotional being, it is better to do
as he does, to balance this emotion with others. It is far healthier for
him to feel love for a starship than it is for me to be jealous of it.*
But even for a Vulcan, nothing is as impossible as to call up
emotions where they do not exist. And sometimes nothing is more
unsatisfying than *almost* to have the one thing you want, but not
quite to have it. Especially when that one thing is a person, whom
you can never really possess anyway.

Those were the thoughts chasing round in Spock's mind as
he drifted off tosleep.

*****************************

Areel Shaw was no longer a Starfleet staff attorney. She had
spent most of the last several years working in the Antitrust
Division of the Federation Department of Justice, but had resigned
recently when the new administration weakened its enforcement
activities. She was now in private practice. When Spock arrived at
Kirk's apartment on Friday afternoon, ready to leave to visit to
Kirk's mother in Iowa for the weekend, Areel was already there,
chatting with Kirk in the living room over drinks.

"Spock, come join us," Kirk's voice rose in welcome as
Spock let himself in.

"One moment." Spock walked to the other end of the
apartment to search for some tapes and papers he had left there
and wanted to take along for the weekend. As he gathered up and
packed the materials he need, he caught snatches of the
conversation.

"What if Starfleet does assign us to opposite ends of the
galaxy?" Kirk asked anxiously. Spock tensed, partly at the question,
partly at the idea of Kirk's confiding in an outsider. But they had
agreed that Kirk should talk freely with Areel. He trusted her as an
old friend and lover, and she was their best source of legal advice if
they should need it.

"Do you expect them to?" asked Areel.

"I don't know yet," Kirk sighed. "I've submitted a request
for reassignment to another starship command. I've asked for
Spock as my First Officer. But I've heard by the grapevine that
Nogura is dead set against our being assigned together, and Spock
is being considered for a choice scientific assignment--running a
research station on the Outer Rim." Kirk's voice was even, with
only the slightest hint of sarcasm.

"And what can you do if they refuse to honor your request?
Jim, you know as well as I do that you can't challenge a Starfleet
assignment unless it's completely arbitrary and capricious." Areel's
voice was sympathetic, but her tone said, *be reasonable.*

"Areel, it's ridiculous to refuse to let us go on doing what
we do best, and better than anyone else in Starfleet." Kirk's voice
was testy.

"How do you think *they* see it?" Areel asked softly.

"Look at our record!" Spock winced at the rising anger in
Kirk's voice. He did not seem to be listening to Areel.

"Jim--" Areel said firmly, as though to get Kirk's attention,
"You've already said Nogura has figured out that you and Spock
are lovers. And Nogura and Krasnovsky are notorious for opposing
too much personal loyalty in a starship crew. They think it fosters
too much independence of Starfleet Command. That may be stupid,
but they don't have to justify their assignments--any more than you
did aboard the *Enterprise.* You can see their point of view,
surely. How often did you let personal considerations override
professional ones with your own crew?"

*Never,* Spock supplied the answer to himself as he stuffed
a portable computer into its case.
Kirk paused, and for a beat the conversation stopped.
Spock could feel him weighing what he would say next.

"Areel, if Spock and I had a legal relationship, Starfleet
would have to take it into account in assigning us. Formal ties are
weighed heavily in making long-term duty assignments."

Spock almost dropped the tape he was holding. He and Kirk
had never discussed any formalization of their relationship.
Federation law recognized many legal arrangements for sharing
property, inheritance, pension and insurance monies, for couples
and groups of almost every conceivable composition. Kirk tended
to dismiss legal relationships as empty formalities--and Spock's
culture knew only a single, absolute form of marriage. Any lesser
tie seemed like a business arrangement than the true Vulcan
meeting of minds. He did not want anything less.

Areel sighed. "They'd have to consider it, Jim, but even then
they wouldn't *have* to assign you together. No assignment
involving either one of you will ever be 'routine.' And you know
that professional considerations always have priority when the best
interest of the Fleet is at issue. As long as they have a decent reason
to assign you to opposite ends of the galaxy, they can do it."
"And be content to see each other on leaves," Kirk retorted
bitterly.

"Or one of you could take a leave of absence," Areel added,
and Spock heard the compassion in her voice as she said, "know
what this means to you, Jim, but you know that the only partners
Starfleet *has* to assign together are Vulcan bondmates."

"By special treaty arrangement between Vulcan and the
Federation," Kirk supplied.

"That's right."

Kirk's next words were so low that even Spock had to strain
to hear them. "*Spock* is a Vulcan."

Spock gripped the desk he was standing next to. Kirk's
meaning was clear. And Spock had the uncanny sensation that this
was not the first time Kirk had thought about the subject.
A part of him hoped, with a wild, irrational passion, that Jim
was as serious as he sounded. The rest of him counseled firmly:

*Do not indulge in fantasies. You must make clear to him --*
"Spock!" Kirk's impatient voice called from the living room.
Spock stilled his pounding heart as best he could, finished the much
simpler task of organizing the materials in his case and went to join
them.

But evidently Jim and Areel were finished talking about
their being reassigned together. They chatted about the
*Enterprise,* about Areel's work, about a case she'd just won
against her former employer, forcing Starfleet to install safety
locking devices on all seats aboard its vessels--until finally, Spock's
internal time sense told him they must leave to catch the 1521 air
tram for southern Iowa.

It would take them 7.6 minute to reach the station. Spock
glanced at Kirk, who read his expression with the ease of long
habit. "We're due at my mother's for supper, and I gather from the
look in Spock's eye that if we don't leave in the next 60 second, the
tram will take off without us."

Areel smiled and gathered up the case of microtapes she'd
brought with her. "Have a lovely weekend, both of you. Give my
love to your mother, Jim, and if I can do anything, please let me
know."

Kirk kissed her warmly, she squeezed Spock's hand
affectionately, and was gone.

*******************

It took them only a little longer than the projected sixty
seconds for Kirk to collect what he needed for the weekend. Once
aboard the air tram Kirk seemed visibly to relax. He leaned back in
his seat, stretched his legs and turned to Spock with a sign of relief.

"What a week. Thank God it's over." And then, a smile of
anticipation tugging at the corners of his mouth, "I can't wait for
you and Mother to meet, Spock."

"And I am extremely curious to meet your parent."
"I think you'll like each other," was Kirk's considered
response. "In fact, I expect her to fall head over heels for you. She's
always had a soft spot for Vulcans, you know ...."

"Understandable, although such a reaction would be most
undignified, even for a Human."

Kirk laughed happily. "Well, be prepared for her to lavish all
sorts of attention on you this weekend. She says she's canceled
everything else on her agenda, and for Mother, that's pretty serious.
Especially since she was elected head of LADR last month."

Spock knew that "LADR" --which Kirk pronounced
"ladder"--was an acronym for the League of Advocates for
Disability Rights, and he had a rough idea what Kirk's mother did as
its volunteer president--but he was eager to know more. Indeed, he
felt a great deal of unsatisfied curiosity about Kirk's mother.

It wasn't that Kirk hadn't told him a great deal about her
over the years--he had. Spock knew that Margaret McAlister had
married Kirk's father, a Starfleet officer, when both were still quite
young. She had been a sensitive, scholarly young women with a
strong conscience and a streak of creative brilliance in her chosen
field, electronic engineering. Her specialty was the design of
electronic devices to assist Humans and other life forms to do
things they could not do for themselves--communicate, manipulate
objects, go about the myriad tasks of daily living. She and Jim's
father had settled in Iowa so that she could work at the Center for
Applied Medical Electronics near Riverside. When her sons were
born, she had devoted herself to raising them with the same energy
and concentration she brought to her work.

Jim's father was gone in space most of the time, and Maggie
had filled the evenings with her sons with books, art and music.
Later, as Jim and Sam grew older, she had gradually extended the
range of her work to include advocacy for the persons who used
the devices she created. She discovered in herself an innate gift for
leadership and began to employ her great reserves of energy to
community organizing. She had never remarried after Jim's father
was killed in deep space, but had used political and social activities
to fill the void in her life.

It was these activities that aroused Spock's curiosity.
"I do not understand precisely what LADR does, Jim. You
have told me that most of its activities are concentrated in the
Federation colonies and some of the newer member planets. Is its
function to provide information about services for people who need
assistance, or educate the community about Federation law?"

"Well, partly," Kirk replied. "But LADR is basically an
advocacy group. Its mission is to ensure that Federation civil rights
laws are enforced, and that government policies are responsive to
the interests of people with disabilities. They do a lot of their work
in the colonies, trying to make sure that the newer worlds don't
repeat the mistakes of Earth's past--like building group homes and
sheltered workshops."

"That sounds like a simple task--at least, it would be on
Vulcan. Perhaps that is why we have no need of specialized interest
groups such as LADR. But, knowing Human illogic, I am sure that
LADR plays a much-needed role."

Kirk smiled at him affectionately. "I told you, Mother has
always found Vulcans appealing."

Spock reflected that he had never really had a "feel" for
Human politics, and he knew that it was because of this gap in his
experience that it had taken him so long to develop the ability to
exercise leadership among Humans. Like everything else in Human
society, Human politics were ruled by Human passions. A chaotic
mess of clashing interests, opinions and organizations, the Human
political process was light-years removed from the logical,
well-ordered manner in which resources were distributed on
Vulcan.

Kirk looked nervously out the window as they reached the
end of the twenty-minute tramride. Spock guessed the reason for
his anxiety.

"Have you told your mother that we ..."

"No," Kirk replied quickly. "I've been rehearsing how I'm
going to break the news. And I know I'd better figure out how to
tell her before we unpack, or she'll put you in the guest room."
Spock raised an eyebrow quizzically, curious to see how
Kirk would handle a situation that even a Vulcan would find
challenging.

At 1741 local time, the train descended and coasted to a
halt at the Riverside station. The platform was small, plain and
uncrowded, with none of the bustle of San Francisco and its many
races and cultures. A short woman with grey hair was standing on
the platform, fidgeting with obvious impatience as they docked.
"That's Mother," Kirk said unnecessarily, and rushed out of
the tram, almost leaving his bags behind in his haste. "Jim!" the
woman called in a voice resonant with joy. By the time Spock had
followed him out of the car, Jim had already smothered her in a
bear hug.

"Oof! You've gained weight!"

"All muscle," Kirk shrugged as he stepped back and looked
at her.

Unimpressed, his mother poked him in the stomach. "That's
muscle? I'd like to talk to the dietician on your starship about the
food they let you eat."

Kirk turned to Spock with an enormous grin and introduced
them with a flourish. As Kirk's mother shook his hand firmly, Spock
felt the strange shock of seeing Jim's features on someone else. The
wide, expressive mouth was the same, and the curve of the high
forehead. They even shared the same broad shoulders and tapering
back. Although Maggie McAlister was well into her sixties, her
body was still straight, her eyes clear and candid. Her hair was a
short, unassuming gray, and she'd made no attempt to disguise the
lines of age etched into her face. It was as well, Spock thought, for
they were lines of character, depth and humor. Instinctively, he
knew he would like her immensely.

It was only a few minutes in Maggie's aircar to the large old
frame house just outside of town--the house where Jim had grown
up. Although the air was warm and heavy with humidity, the fresh
green lawn and crisp white-painted wood, the trees lining the street,
casting long, peaceful shadows in the sun, made a cool and restful
contrast to the heat.

They left their bags by the door and followed Maggie into
the kitchen, for she insisted they have drinks and snacks before they
unpacked. Spock was startled by the variety of fruit and berry juices
she had to offer, and even more surprised by the Vulcan cookbook
he saw on the table.

"Mother probably knows as much about Vulcan cuisine as
you do, Spock," Kirk explained mischievously, seeing the surprised
on Spock's face. "You see, she's always been a health food fanatic
..."

His mother groaned and turned to Spock for support. "You
wouldn't believe how difficult it was to keep this child away from
junk food when he was growing up," she said ruefully as she
poured them all some juice. "George was different--he never ate
anything that wasn't good for him. But this one ...." she nodded
reproachfully at her younger son, "as soon as he was old enough to
walk over to the other kids' homes, he learned how to con their
parents into giving him white bread and chocolate cake."
Kirk acknowledged the reproof with a grin. "Mother, you
would have loved to have Spock for a son. I don't think he's ever
eaten an unrefined carbohydrate in his entire life."

"I have, however, had glucose administered to me in
Sickbay," Spock countered, entering easily into their banter. "It was
enough to convince me that I much prefer carbohydrates in their
natural state."

Maggie laughed appreciatively. "We'll have our drinks in the
study," she apologized as they left the kitchen. "The living room's
full of LADR stuff that I haven't gotten organized yet." As they
passed the entrance to the living room, Spock saw that it was
crowded with cabinets, cartons of tapes and equipment waiting to
be installed. A large D-687 duotronic computer, not hooked up yet,
sat next to an equally sophisticated communications console in the
corner.

"Central will have to run a cable in so that we'll have
enough power to supply the computer," Maggie explained. "The
solar unit on the roof can't supply the energy to run it. We put in a
request weeks ago, but they haven't gotten around to it yet."
"Maybe they'll let Spock and me put it in ourselves
tomorrow. At least, LADR must be doing well to afford this
equipment," Kirk smiled.

"That's just the trouble," Maggie sighed. "We bought it a
couple of years ago, when we had a big grant from the Social
Welfare Commission. But then the Coalition came to power, and
our only source of funds apart from membership dues is private
foundation money. And we have to stand in line for that along with
all the other groups who're in the same boat."

"What does the Coalition have to do with it?" Kirk frowned.
"The Commissioner of Social Welfare for the Coalition is a
New Humanist. She doesn't think highly of LADR."

"Why not? Who could oppose the work you do?"

"The New Humanists think LADR is too individualistic.'
They believe the solution to issues of unequal status is not civil
rights, but submersion in the collective identity. They accuse us of
caring too much about personal fulfillment."

"Oh," Kirk shrugged, raising his glass in a mock salute as
they entered the study. "At the risk of sounding
individualistic'--here's to personal fulfillment!"

The study was a pleasant, light-filled room, with warm oak
paneling and comfortable furniture. The room was orderly, but it
was a complex, idiosyncratic sort of order. Plants, books and
portraits crowded the walls and shelves in a logic that obviously
was Maggie's own.

Spock surveyed the artifacts on the wall with interest. His
eyes were caught by a portrait of a tow-headed, round-faced child
whose even rounder eyes were full of mischief. Jim. There were
family portraits with a youthful Maggie and a serious, strong-jawed
man with Jim's eyes. Later portraits showed only the two boys. It
was as though both parents had vanished at once, Spock thought,
as though she had died with her mate like a Vulcan--a strange
illusion, since obviously she was very much alive.

The most visually striking picture on the wall was a large,
lovingly detailed drawing that hung over Maggie's desk. It was a
portrait of two children, but they were not Jim and Sam. One child
was a little Andorian girl of about five or six standard years, whose
face bore the classic signs of Therin's syndrome, a developmental
disability common among Andorians. Her eyes were small, her
antennae curved at the tips. The other was a Human child of the
same age. They were playing a hand-patting game with each other,
and their faces were alive and joyful. The little Andorian girl's head
was thrown back in laughter, and the little boy's face was lit up with
an elf-like grin. They were beautiful.

Moved, Spock had a sudden insight into the roots of Jim's
open-mindedness. He remembered the conversation Jim had had
with Alexander, the dwarf they had rescued from Platonius. Jim had
asked him if there were any other Platonians like you,' that is,
without the Platonians' psycho-kinetic power, and Alexander's face
had lit up when he realized what Kirk had meant. "I thought you
were referring to my height," he'd explained apologetically. Kirk
hadn't been.

Kirk sat down and propped his feet up on a small table
covered with books and pamphlets. Spock was surprised at the easy
rapport between Jim and his mother, at the fact that they genuinely
liked each other. Not wanting to intrude, he turned his attention to
the books on the shelves. His eyes met a row of books, highly
technical ones from the look of them, on the design of sophisticated
mobility aids.

"Come and sit down, Spock," said Maggie. He was
surprised at how easily their rapport stretched to include him.
Maggie's interest in him was genuine and not merely a product of
her hospitality. In fact, she was soon showering him with questions.
How did he reconcile Vulcan pacifism and service in Starfleet? Did
he have much opportunity to pursue pure scientific research aboard
the *Enterprise,* or was he forced to compromise his scientific
interests in favor of more practical concerns? Was he often
uncomfortable with Starfleet policies? Jim leaned back and listened
fondly as he answered her questions, honestly, without
oversimplification.

At a pause in the conversation, Maggie caught Jim's eye and
said reproachfully, "I wonder how Spock felt when you violated the
Prime Directive on Gamma Trianguli VI."

Jim's eyes referred the question to Spock with an amused
twinkle.

Spock looked at Maggie in sympathy, sensing that she was
on his side. "Indeed, I did have grave reservations about our actions
there."

Maggie looked at her son in triumph. "You see? Even your
own First Officer didn't agree with you."

Kirk grinned at Spock. "As you will remember, I fought that
one out with Starfleet all the way up to the Federation Council.
They finally saw it my way, but I could never convince Mother that
I did the right thing."

"Of course not!" Maggie replied with a rhetorical flourish.
"You had no right to destroy another society's scheme of
organization because they didn't believe in *your* work ethic!"

"Mother, you should talk!" Kirk grinned with relish. "Look
at the energy you put into getting people with disabilities into
boring, meaningless jobs. Remember how you and your
organization ganged up on that colony government that wanted to
give people government benefits instead of forcing them to work?"

"That was a civil rights issue," Maggie retorted. "People
have a right to work."

"A right, or a duty?"

"People need to feel that they have a meaningful place in
their own society, and ours happens to be organized around work."

"And Federation colonies can't decide to organize their
societies any other way?"

Maggie's sigh was exaggerated for effect. "Only people with
disabilities were eligible for government support instead of having
to work for a living. It was an issue of equality."

"Was it? You've always told me that the state can give
people with disabilities privileges it doesn't give others."

"The benefits may have been labeled a privilege, but they
robbed people of dignity, the dignity of doing something
productive."

"Sounds a lot like what I said to the people of Vaal."
Maggie turned to Spock with an expression of mock
exasperation. "I know that other societies have developed
approaches that are better than ours. I wish we had more contact
with our counterparts on Vulcan, Spock; we could learn so much
from you ...."

Spock acknowledged the compliment carefully. "I agree that
more contact would benefit both parties," he said slowly,
wondering what deep waters the conversation might take them into,
wondering what she would think if she knew the nature of his
relationship with Jim.

"For instance, I've heard that Vulcans never segregated
people with disabilities, never sent them to live separately from the
rest of the community." Her face was open and serious, her grey
eyes alight with curiosity. "I've always wondered why.'
Spock nodded, matching her seriousness with his own.

"That is true. Partly it is because we were spared the affliction of
eugenic attitudes and the other ideological offshoots of your social
Darwinist era. More fundamentally, it may be because we do not
identify ourselves so much by ability and achievement as by our
connections with others in the community."

"Explain." Maggie's gaze was focused on him,
single-mindedly.

"We define ourselves by our role within the family, within
the larger clan, by geography--for example, I am considered by
other Vulcans to be first and foremost the son or Sarek and
Amanda, of the clan headed by T'Pau, of the city of Shikahr. A
family member with a severe disability would be defined no
differently."

She continued to question him, and he felt the space
contract around them, Jim's comfortable presence in the
background, as Maggie focused single-mindedly on him. Spock had
decided he could continue the conversation for several hours when
Maggie suddenly started and turned toward Jim, a guilty expression
on her face.

Maggie rose from her chair and retrieved a small hand-held
recorder/viewer from her desk. "Jim, I almost forgot. I have at least
a hundred messages to give you. People have been calling here
non-stop since the Enterprise got back. I copied them on this
machine so you could play them back in your room or whatever.
Eighty percent of them are women, I might add. Some I didn't
know you were still in touch with ... " She thumbed the directory
button and read the names off slowly. "Danielle Marchand called,
and Felicia Quintero ... Melissa Wright ... Miriam Benrubi ... Amal
Nashat ...Fusako Yamaguchi ..."She pressed the button that made
the directory cycle more quickly, "Anna Redemskaya. Jocelyn
Thaxton. Isabelle Aulas. Ingrid Isaksen, Ting Pei, Saniya al-Khalidi,
Ipek Menderes, Indira Sabharwal, and--oh, yes, something even
came in from Ruth Davidow. She said that she and her husband
have just separated, and she'd like very much to see you...."

Maggie shot her son a look full of significance, and Kirk's
face reddened. Spock realized that this must be *the* Ruth.

"Uh, Mother, that's all right. I'll just take the tapes and play
them over when I have time." Kirk grabbed the viewer from his
mother's hand before she had a chance to read any more names.

Maggie looked up at him, puzzled and mildly amused. "All
right, I'm sure you'll want to spend some time deciding whom to see
this weekend. Just don't make the same date with more than three
women at a time ...."

From her Sibylline smile, Spock could tell that this cryptic
remark had a history attached to it. Kirk continued to blush in
embarrassment; plainly, enlightenment was not going to come from
him.

Finally, Maggie broke the silence. "Spock, when Jim was in
secondary school, he became quite popular with the young women
at Oak Manor, a secondary academy in this area. Whenever Oak
Manor had a dance, or a hayride, or a boat trip, Jim always went as
someone's date. Jim's junior year, Oak Manor had a camping trip,
just after he'd finished his entrance exams for Starfleet Academy.
What with taking the exams, apparently Jim didn't notice that he'd
accepted three different invitations for the same weekend. By the
time he discovered the mistake, it was too late for any of them to
make other arrangements. So Jim went as the date of all three of
them --"

"Mother--" Kirk's face was scarlet, and he was obviously
trying to think of a way to keep his mother from saying more.

Spock attempted to pass a tray of raw vegetables in an effort to
distract them.

Fortunately, Maggie noticed that their glasses were empty
and leaped up to refill them. As she headed for the kitchen, Kirk got
up and followed her without a word to Spock.

From the hall, their voices carried to Spock's sensitive ears:
Jim's low and exasperated, his mother's louder and clearly puzzled.
"Mother, you don't have to dredge up the history of my
romantic exploits.'

"All right, I won't, then. But why are you so upset?"

"Mother, I am thirty-seven years old. You can credit me
with a little more maturity than I had when I was sixteen. I don't go
out with three people at a time --"

"Oh!" Sudden understanding sounded in Maggie's voice.

"You've found someone ... something ... permanent." Her statement
was somewhere between a conclusion and a question.

Spock felt, rather than heard, the catch in Kirk's breath. Jim
must have nodded, because his mother went on, "Jim! Oh, Jim, oh,
please tell me about her! But ..." her voice grew puzzled again,
"why can't you talk about it in front of Spock?"

"Mother ...," Kirk's voice was low and intense. "It *is*
Spock."

Spock jumped as he heard the sound of a sharp intake of
breath, as though Maggie had been punched in the stomach. His
own insides turned over in fear. And then his fear turned to relief as
he heard Jim's mother exclaim in unmistakable joy, "Oh, Jim, I'm so
glad! Oh, he is such a fine person!"

Spock heard a muffled *oof* from Jim that sounded as
though his mother had just hugged him, and some incoherent
noises. Maggie's voice caught as though she were crying.
"I was afraid you would never find someone to settle down
with. Or that if you did, it would be someone you liked for her
body."

"There's nothing wrong with Spock's body," Kirk protested,
and his mother laughed. They must have gone into the kitchen then,
because Spock did not hear any more until they re-emerged with
freshly-filled glasses on the tray, Maggie's face tear-streaked but
radiant, Jim's eyes glistening with joy.

********************************

After that, Maggie treated him as one of the family. They
had a quick conference about how to spend the weekend and
decided to have some of Jim's old friends over for an informal
spaghetti supper on Saturday. Jim took their bags up to his old
room, and Maggie announced they had reservations at an excellent
vegetarian restaurant in Des Moines. Jim returned some calls, got in
touch with the friends he wanted to invite for the next evening, and
by the time they arrived at the restaurant, they were so hungry that
even Jim attacked the alfalfa sprouts with relish.

********************************

Afterwards, Spock was full and pleasantly tired. They said
goodnight to Maggie and mounted the stairs to Jim's room
together.

Kirk closed the door and gave him a fierce hug. "Welcome
to the family, Mr. Spock."

"Indeed, your mother is most welcoming. I had expected
her to be--surprised."

"She was. But she said it was a pleasant surprise. Mother's
never felt that sexual preference is immutable. Actually, she used to
say that the reason a mother likes to see her son settle down with a
woman is that it flatters her, the mother--she can identify with her
son's partner and tell herself her son chose a wife just like Mom.
But Mother says she became immune to that temptation long ago ...
"

"Why?" Spock asked, puzzled.

"Because the women I was attracted to were usually so
different from her--or so she says," Kirk grinned.

"She did not know Edith Keeler," Spock said seriously.
A cloud passed briefly over Kirk's face. "No, and I could
never tell her about it, because it's classified."

After a small silence Spock continued, "But given your
brother's death would your mother not prefer to have more
grandchildren? I have seen the concern with carrying on the family
line' in so much of your literature ..."

Kirk shook his head firmly. "You won't find much of that
since the Eugenics Wars, Spock, though I admit it's there in
pre-War literature, certainly. We fought a war over the issue of
whether one person can ever be more important than another
because of the genes he carries, and most of us regard that question
as settled, once and for all. And concern for the fate of one's
lineage' is just another variant of Eugenism. I know that Mother and
Father certainly felt that way."

Spock nodded in agreement. He was relieved and happy
that Kirk's mother accepted their relationship. Now they would
have to face the far more serious problems that remained.
Kirk was offering the bathroom, and Spock accepted the
invitation to take the first shower. "Don't drown," Kirk warned him.
"No sonics here, only water."

Actually, the abundant warm water was very pleasant, and
Spock emerged feeling refreshed, renewed and with a sense of
well-being. As Jim prepared to take his own shower, Spock looked
around the room as curiously as an archaeologist examining the
evidence of a long-buried civilization.

"Put on some music, if you like," Jim told him, gesturing
toward the tape player. Spock rifled through a large collection of
popular music, which appeared mostly to be strenuous, sexually
suggestive dance music, until he came to the classical tapes. He
chose Oryanale's Concerto for Four Violins because it had always
reminded him of Jim: high-soaring strings punctuated by warm,
assertive brass and soft questioning notes from the woodwinds.

One wall was covered with rows and rows of books and
tapes--everything from poetry and philosophy to hyperlight physics
and topology. A small computer console stood by the desk, flanked
by shelves covered with plaques and the small metal statues Spock
recognized as awards for achievement. He spent a few moments
picking out successively younger and younger pictures of Jim in the
group portraits that hung on the wall: athletic teams, debating
teams, chess tournament teams, Student Council. "Annual
Mathematics Competition, North American
Division, Earth Secondary Schools Association, First Prize, 2252."
"Atlantic Region Annual Swim Meet, 2253, First Prize, Freeform
Event." "First Prize, Elena Santore All-Terran Essay Contest in
History, 2255." Vulcans did not reward intangible achievements
with tangible objects, but Spock acknowledged the flush of pride he
felt.

Jim emerged from the bathroom, swathed in a large towel,
and sat down on the bed damply. He looked at Spock with a hint of
embarrassment. "Those things make the place look like a museum.
Mother hung them up while I was away ..."

"Obviously, you had an active adolescence," Spock mused,
raising an eyebrow. "Indeed, I'm surprised that you still had time,
after all those activities, to entertain the young women at Oak
Manor ..."

Jim threw a pillow at him. Spock ducked, caught it expertly,
and tossed it back. It took Jim only a second to recover from the
return blow--he was about to throw the pillow again when Spock
pounced on the bed, caught the pillow between their bodies and
pinned Jim's arms down to the mattress.

"Help! I give up!" Kirk exclaimed in mock terror.
Spock released him, unable to suppress the impulse that
tugged at the corner of his mouth. Kirk responded, as he always did
to the barest hint of amusement on Spock's face, with a brilliant
smile of his own, a smile that made Spock's heart stop in its tracks.
Jim lifted himself back up on the bed, his grin slowly fading
to seriousness. "Spock, we've got to talk."

"I know," Spock agreed, straightening.

"You heard my conversation with Areel this afternoon."

"Yes." He looked at Kirk, who looked young and
vulnerable, shrouded in the big white towel, his hair damp and
tousled from the shower.

Kirk took a deep breath. He looked down at the bed briefly,
then back up at Spock, his eyes large and candid. "Spock, this is
how things stand. Soon, I can expect Nogura to start pressuring me
to accept a staff position at Headquarters, and you to run a research
station on the Outer Rim. Our only chance of getting back on a
starship together is the Lexington."

Tension began to rise in Spock's chest. "The problem has
two separate aspects," he offered hesitantly, the words sounding
dull and pedantic to his own ears. "Remaining on a starship and
remaining together."

"All right," Jim crossed and legs and sat tailor-fashion on
the mattress. "Let's face them one at a time. First, we have to make
it as difficult as possible for Starfleet to separate us."

Spock shifted uncomfortably. "As Ms. Shaw pointed out,
Starfleet has no obligation to assign us both to the same location."
Kirk lifted his chin firmly and took a deep breath. "They
would if we were bondmates."

They stared at each other for a long moment, holding each
other's eyes. Spock knew Kirk was serious. That was the problem.
Even if Spock could make him understand exactly what a Vulcan
bonding involved, he would dismiss the problems. Once Kirk
decided that he wanted something, knowledge of the risks was
more likely to whet his appetite than to deter him.

For a brief moment, Spock considered melding so he could
show Kirk all the dimensions of the problem, but he rejected the
idea. They had to sort through the issues step by step.
He had to begin somewhere, so he started with what he
thought was perhaps the central difference between Jim's
assumptions and his own. "Jim, a Vulcan bonding is not something
one enters for an -- instrumental purpose. It is not the equivalent of
a Human contract marriage."

As soon as the words were spoken and he saw the wounded
look in Kirk's eyes, Spock realized he had mis-stated the issue. "Do
you think that's all I want, a temporary contract marriage? Spock, I
thought we've been clear with each other that we have a permanent
commitment."

Spock nodded and held Kirk's eyes for a long moment that
affirmed that commitment. "I did not mean that. What I mean is
that the bonding is not simply a formality like a Human marriage."

"Many Humans in life-long marriages would say their
marriages are not just formalities,' either," Kirk said wryly. "To me,
a bonding, or a marriage, would have great meaning--as an outward
symbol of our inner commitment."

Spock's heart swelled to hear Kirk say those words, even as
he struggled to make Kirk understand. "Jim, a Vulcan bonding
permanently changes the partners."

From the expression on Kirk's face, Spock deduced he was
responding to the word "permanent." "Mister, I didn't know you
thought this was some casual affair." It was Kirk's command'
voice. Spock replied with equal firmness.

"I don't, Jim, but you should know that the bonding involves
some values that are quite foreign to your culture."

"Such as?" Kirk asked.

"For one thing, bondmates are treated legally as a single
entity, a single person. They hold property by entireties, each
having full possession of everything the other owns. It is a system
not unknown in your society, but outmoded on Earth for several
centuries."

"So what?" Kirk shrugged as though their mutual
indifference to property and possessions was not even worth
mentioning.

Spock continued to look at him deliberately. "Also, each
partner assumes full liability for the responsibilities, obligations and
civil and criminal wrongs of the other."

Kirk returned his gaze levelly. "I think we are already used
to doing that, Spock," he replied in a steady voice. Then, lifting his
hands impatiently, "Dammit, Spock, you're throwing up smoke
screens. If you've got any *real* objections to being bonded to me,
let me hear them."

Spock relaxed slightly, Jim was right; his arguments were
smoke screens. They were not the real reasons for his hesitancy. He
looked at Kirk for a long moment, not certain how to proceed.
"Jim, a Vulcan bonding is not merely a symbol.' It involves
a real, material transformation in the partners. The difference
between a marriage and a bonding is the difference between a legal
arrangement and a transformation in the neuro-psychological
makeup of the partners."

Kirk looked back at him, puzzled. "I think you explained
that when you told me about the bonding link you had with
T'Pring--you said you had your minds locked together' so you
would both be drawn to the same place at the time of mating. Is
that what you mean?"

"In part," Spock nodded, drawing in a breath.

"And you think I wouldn't want our minds locked together'
that way? Don't be silly! Spock, we've talked about the *pon farr* a
hundred times--you know I'd never let you go through it with
anyone else but me. And I think the idea of our both being drawn
together at the time is--well, let's just say it's the most romantic idea
I've ever heard."

Jim gave him a lopsided smile, and Spock knew his feelings
were genuine. He, of all people, knew that Jim was a deeply
romantic and emotional being. How to explain how little about the
bonding was merely romantic'?

As he struggled to frame his response, Spock could see that
Kirk was making a real effort to curb his impatience.

"It is true that I described the bonding as a 'locking together'
of two minds," Spock began slowly. "That is actually a loose
metaphor for a specific transformation in the nervous system."
"What do you mean, a transformation?" Kirk asked,
puzzled.

"In your psychology, perhaps the closest approximation
would be the phenomenon of the a conditioned reflex," Spock
replied.

Kirk's eyes were focused intently on Spock, his brows knit
together in curiosity. "You mean that bondmates learn to respond
to each other sexually the way a dog can be taught to salivate at the
sound of a bell?" Obviously he remembered the old psychology
experiments of Earth's European behaviorists.

Spock paused without nodding. "The connection is similar,
but much deeper. In fact, it is not simply a conditioned reflex, but
an absolute one like the sensation of hunger or thirst. Vulcan
bondmates look to each other as the exclusive source of relief from
the hunger of *pon farr.*"

Kirk's face lit up in a broad smile. "Sounds wonderful. It
also sounds like a good reason for posting bondmates together."
Spock looked down at the bed, his long fingers tracing an
abstract pattern on the coverlet. "That is true."

"How is it done, Spock?" Kirk's curiosity reasserted itself.
"A healer, a gifted telepath with extensive training in
neurology, psychic techniques and the structure of the brain,
'reaches into' the minds of the two partners and diverts the neural
transmission paths of their minds."

Kirk drew in a deep breath in astonishment. "I had no idea.
Have ... Vulcans always known how to do this?"

Spock looked up and shook his head. "No, but it was
discovered several thousand years ago, when Vulcans left the
hunting and gathering phase of economic development and began to
live in settled communities and make their living from agriculture.
Quite frankly, it was a technique advocated by men who wished to
stabilize their access to women and through them, their children,
who had become an important source of economic power in the
new agricultural society."

"So Vulcans learned to bond only when patriarchy raised its
ugly head," Kirk grinned. "For a telepathic people, that must have
ranked with the discovery of fire."

"Indeed," Spock nodded calmly. "It is considered a
historical watershed. At first the telepaths did not understand the
scientific theory of what they were doing, of course. They were
regarded simply as mystics and magicians in their own time. But
they learned how to reach into the subcortical centers of the brain
and direct the transmission of neural impulses so that the male in
*pon farr* would perceive a single, specific partner as the only
means of satisfying the mating drive. Once bonded, the man would
cease to mate with the first available partner. He would
automatically and reflexively return to the bondmate at the first sign
of pon farr."

Despite his personal stake in the subject, Kirk's eyes were
alive with interest. "This is the most romantic neurology lesson I've
ever heard, Spock. But why can't the connection be formed through
repeated experience, the way a conditioned reflex is formed among
humans and animals?"

Spock raised an eyebrow in acknowledgment of Kirk's
logic. "Because the bonding is different from an ordinary reflex--the
bonding takes place at a much deeper level of the mind, one that an
ordinary telepath can reach only with difficulty. Theoretically, it is
possible for two persons to become bonded through repeated
sexual experience combined with the mind-link, but it is extremely
rare. Only a handful of cases have ever been recorded."

"Oh," Kirk shrugged the information off as a passing
curiosity--plainly, he was eager to return to the earlier topic.
"Spock, as you've described it, the bonding is basically a guarantee
of sexual exclusivity, at least during the time of mating. Surely, you
don't think that will be a ... problem for me?"

Kirk's face was open, serious; his eyes begged for
affirmation. "Spock, you've seen ... in my mind ... how I feel ... you
know I haven't wanted anyone else since we've ... been together.
Don't you believe what you see?"

Spock's heart ached and he wished he could put an end to
Kirk's distress. Instead he said, simply, "It is not that, Jim. It is
something completely different. It is why Vulcan bondmates cannot
serve together in combat."

Kirk stared at him in surprise. "What? That can't be right.
What about the *Intrepid*?"

"That was an all-Vulcan ship," Spock replied. "It is the only
exception allowed."

"What are you talking about?" Kirk's brows were knit, his
entire body radiating tension and disbelief. "That's ridiculous!
There's nothing like that in the personnel regulations -- I know them
practically by heart."

Spock stared back at him in dead earnest. "The proscription
is not in the personnel regulations. It is a matter of internal Vulcan
law."

Seeing disbelief gave way to astonishment on Kirk's face,
Spock went on to explain, "The treaty between Vulcan and the
Federation that authorized Vulcans to serve in Starfleet contains a
clause that allows Vulcans to seek exceptions from Starfleet
personnel regulations based on Vulcan law."

Understanding lit up Kirk's face for a moment. "Oh, the
famous reserved clause!" But his eyes clouded again in confusion.
"But that's the provision that allows Vulcan bondmates to insist on
being posted together, and to be granted leave on Vulcan during
the pon farr. You're saying the provision covers other Vulcan rules
as well?"

"Yes, it does. Its practical effect, in this case, is to exempt
Vulcan bondmates from personnel assignments that would require
them to serve together in combat positions."

"I've never heard of it," Kirk frowned, still struggling with
disbelief. "But then, I never had occasion to."

"No," Spock agreed. "The provision would come into play
only if Starfleet had sought to assign a married Vulcan couple to
your ship, and they had invoked Vulcan law and requested the
exemption. Given the small number of Vulcans in Starfleet, it is not
surprising that it simply has never happened."

"I see." Kirk's face was closed and guarded, but his
expressive eyes revealed his confusion. "And this is binding on you,
not by Starfleet regulation, but by Vulcan law."

"Affirmative," Spock nodded tersely, aware how hard this
was for Jim.

Abruptly, Kirk's shuttered expression broke in pain and
denial. "But *why,* Spock?" His soft, fierce voice told Spock he
could think of a dozen reasons, but wanted to reject all of them.
"Jim, from what I have told you of the Vulcan bonding, how
do you think that a Vulcan male, dependent on his bondmate for his
very survival, would react if that person were placed in imminent
danger?"

Kirk pursed his lips together and considered the question
seriously. "Much as any of us would react if someone we loved
deeply were in danger." Something in his voice challenged Spock to
prove that a Vulcan bonding was really so different from the
emotional bonds among Humans.

"No," Spock shook his head firmly. "Vulcans can resist
emotional drives. So, even, can a highly disciplined Human like
yourself."
At that, both men allowed themselves a wry smile that
broke the tension for a moment, but only for a moment.

"Because the pon farr is life-threatening, the Vulcan male
has a strong, almost biologically-motivated interest in the survival
of the bondmate," Spock continued, trying his best to sound
dispassionate. "He develops a virtually instinctive reflect to protect
his bondmate from harm. If his partner is in danger, he will
experience an almost irresistible urge to rescue her--or him. He is
likely to become incapable of taking any course of action that
conflicts with that goal."

"You said *almost* irresistible, Spock," Kirk said hopefully,
trying as he always did to turn logic inside out. "That means it
*can* be resisted."

There was a moment of taut silence between them as Spock
struggled to find the words that would dispel Kirk's facile optimism.
"Jim, incidents are reported on Vulcan in which one partner
has gone to the aid of the other, even at the expense of their own
children."

Kirk was speechless for a moment. "Oh," he finally
swallowed.

"As you can imagine," Spock continued, "we are somewhat
... ashamed of the phenomenon. Nevertheless we have studied it,
documented it. We have even conducted controlled experimental
studies to verify it. The body of research attesting to the
phenomenon is considered quite conclusive. We can even state it as
a statistical probability."

Spock refrained from stating the numbers.
"Does this phenomenon have a name?" Kirk asked
curiously.

"It is called the *jarizat inqaz,* the "rescue instinct."
Kirk's brow furrowed and he spoke carefully, weighing each
word. "The male is ... instinctively driven to rescue the female,
because his life is in danger in the *pon farr.* That would be ... you,
in our case. I wouldn't be subjected to the same instinct, because
the *pon farr* isn't a danger to me."

"The male is more strongly affected than the female,
certainly," Spock acknowledged quietly. "However, because of the
profound metal link between the bonded partners, the other partner
inevitably is affected. A number of research studies have shown
this--that although the *jarizat inqaz* is weaker among wives than
among husbands, it is nevertheless discernible in both partners."

"Hmm." Spock could tell from the look on Kirk's face that
he was determined to find a loophole somewhere. "But I'm not a
Vulcan. Isn't it possible I wouldn't be affected at all?"
"Unknown, but possible. Still, even if you were not, would
that make a difference?"

"Spock, we've talked about this before, a hundred times. As
a *command* problem, I trust myself to handle the emotional
conflict our relationship creates. As long as I'm the one who is
faced with the actual command decisions--"

"Jim." Spock interrupted firmly. "You are being too facile.
As your First Officer, I frequently make the same command
decisions as you, and many of them have involved your safety. Even
without the bonding, I already have experienced serious difficulties
in weighing your safety against other factors. As you know."
Kirk's expression said he'd tried to maneuver his way out of
a tight situation, failed, and was trying to accept the consequences.
His jaw tightened, and he clenched his fists in frustration. "You
mean, in other words, that Vulcan bondmates can serve together
only in routine, non-hazardous assignments in which neither is in a
decision-making role vis a vis the other?"

"Precisely."

"And this is binding on you as a Vulcan citizen? No
loopholes, no possible out for your human half?"

"It is not binding as your Human codes and laws are, by the
power of the state behind it, but by its underlying logic. The
implication of the research studies have been discussed thoroughly
among Vulcan social scientists. The policy implications for Vulcans
serving in Starfleet were debated thoroughly in the Vulcan local
councils as well as the High Council of Vulcan. The result was a
consensus. And, in fact, I do agree that the decision was correct
and that it must apply to me as it does to others."

Kirk sighed, nodded and looked down at the bed. "I
understand, Spock, although I sure as hell don't like it."
For a moment they sat in silence. Spock watched Kirk's
expressive face, feeling compassion as his partner thought through
the implications of what he had just told him.

Finally Kirk looked up at him with something like
amusement in his eyes. "You know, Spock, there is a certain
elegant irony in all this. The only way to guarantee we'll be assigned
together is to bond. But unless we're unbonded, they can never
assign us together on a starship." His mouth curved wryly. "It
reminds me of Finagle's Fifth Law--'you have to be crazy to go into
space. But unless your psych profiles show you are certifiably sane,
the Fleet will never let you off the ground.'"

The tension eased and Spock responded in kind to this bit of
Academy lore they shared in common. "Indeed, that is a familiar
paradox. I believe it can be traced back to your Earth's twentieth
century, where it was known at the 'Catch-22.'"

The shadows left Kirk's face and he smiled openly. "My
ever-encyclopedic Vulcan. Sometimes I think your interests at the
Academy were not as different from those of the other midshipmen
as you've led me to believe."

Spock responded with an appropriate look of wounded
dignity.

More seriously, Kirk went on, "All right. The bonding won't
work as assurance that we'll get back on a starship together. But if
Starfleet *does* try to separate us, it would force them, at least, to
give us desk assignment together."

"You would be extremely unhappy in a desk assignment,"
Spock pointed out.
Kirk acknowledged the point with a rueful shrug. "It
wouldn't be my first choice, that's true. But if it's a choice between
that and losing *you*--"

Spock felt a warm urge of joy. *Oh, yes, make that choice,*
he wanted to say aloud. But he had come too far to abandon logic
now.

"Jim," he pointed out. "That would be the end of the life we
have known together. Our relationship grew out of our work on the
*Enterprise.* And I believe that you would ultimately come to feel
resentment if you were forced to leave the work you love most
because of me."

Jim's face shifted abruptly, and the sudden look of raw
vulnerability tore at Spock's heart and made him want to withdraw
his words.

"Don't you think I'd resent it even more if I were forced to
leave *you* for my work?"

Jim's word lit an irrational glow in Spock's mind. He let his
tense shoulders relax and nodded. They held each other's gaze for a
long moment in silent acknowledgment of their commitment.

Finally, Spock straightened up on the bed and squared his
shoulders, as if to throw off a burden that suddenly had become
uncomfortable. "Spock, let's hope we never have to face that
problem. We have a decent chance of being assigned to the
*Lexington* together. If we aren't, we can face our options after
that."

A tiny ray of hope died in Spock's breast--the hope that Jim
might want the bonding for its own sake and not merely for
expediency. He let it die, refusing to let himself feel regret. He had
never had any reason to shelter that hope. He was determined not
to expect of Jim what no Vulcan had any right to expect of a
Human. But he shut that thought out of his mind when Jim
took his hand, lifted it up from the bed and brought it to his own
temple. Willingly, Spock positioned his hand for the mind-link. As
the meld sprang to life between them, Jim's sincerity and
commitment lit up his mind.

*Spock, we'll find a way to stay together, I promise.*

*And I shall do all that is in my power.*

*Please let me show how much I love you ...*

A small erotic thrill stirred in Spock's belly. He was
suddenly very much aware of Kirk's bare skin and body, of how the
bath had softened his skin and left it glowing pink and gold. He
placed his free hand on Kirk' thigh and squeezed it gently. The
curling golden hair was fine and silky under his hand, and beneath
the softness, his flesh was firm and hard. He shivered and the
yearning rose in his body, to press against those complex textures
of silk and satin and muscle. And so he answered Jim by showing
him in precise detail exactly what he wanted.

Jim grinned, and his eyes shone in anticipation.

Spock broke the meld, and Kirk took his hand as he pulled
his fingers away, then grasped his arms and pushed him gently
down on the bed. When Spock was lying on his back, Kirk rubbed
his shoulders, then leaned down to nuzzle him gently with lips,
tongue and nose in the tender places between linking neck, ears and
chin. Each touch was a love-word in a secret language that had
grown up between them through months of loving and learning
what pleased the other.

Jim slipped his hands under Spock's neck and kneaded his
scalp with strong fingers, pulled his face close to his own and into a
kiss that was wonderfully deep and infinitely gentle. Spock opened
himself to the kiss, savoring the taste of Jim's mouth, the blunt
pressure of Jim's tongue curving and twisting within him.
Every pore of his body was alive, opening to Jim. He arched
his back in the tension of desire as Jim's other hand played with his
nipples, combing through the hair. Each tug of the separating curls
awakened a surge of pleasure.

He held his breath as Kirk squeezed and massaged his
thighs, longing for the moment when he would take his swelling
organ in his hand. Spock gasped at his own sensitivity when he was
finally rewarded, when Kirk's strong fingers closed over his cock
and pumped him rhythmically.

Jim slid down toward the end of the bed, slipped his hands
under Spock's buttocks and rubbed his cheek against Spock's stiff
cock. "You're beautiful," he whispered. As Spock groaned in an
agony of desire, Kirk applied himself to loving the large organ,
rooting at its base, playing at it with his tongue. Then he took it in
his mouth, and Spock could feel his determination to swallow it
full-length. As impossible as that seemed, Jim nearly did it--taking
him in, sucking, squeezing Spock's cock with the muscles of his
mouth and throat until Spock felt he would
dissolve into the bed with pleasure.

It was all Spock could do to reach down and try to
disengage them. Another moment and he'd come in Jim's
mouth--and as delightful as that prospect was, he had something
else in mind. Jim looked up, examined the fruits of his own labor
with a carefully appraising eye, and gave him one of his most
winning smiles. "Don't worry, I heard what you said in the
mind-link. Ready?"

Spock turned over on his stomach and muttered something
inarticulate into the pillow. Jim rose with a single swift movement,
and Spock thrust his hips upward, hungry to make contact.
"Wait--wait, Spock," Kirk whispered. He got up and fished
in his suitcase for the lubricating device he'd brought along and
quickly returned to the bed. Gently, thoroughly, he began to
massage Spock's buttocks. He pressed some of the slick fluid up
inside Spock and returned to the massage, melting him, relaxing
him until Spock's muscles felt like liquid wax.

When Spock's nerve endings could no longer tell where his
own body ended and Jim's began, Jim pressed softly into him, the
tip of his cock cool and firm and wonderful. Spock was eager for
the pressure, the sweet stretching and contracting of the muscles of
his own body, the intimate sensation of Jim alive and throbbing
within him. He sighed hungrily as Jim pushed in, all the way in, and
began to move, long velvety strokes that made him ache with
pleasure.

Jim moved one hand back and forth on Spock's cock, the
other gently squeezed his testicles, the motion of his hands
matching the rhythm of his thick cock's thrusting inside Spock.
Fluidly, effortlessly, Jim reached up into him, reaching for the core
of tautness somewhere deep inside him, probing, unlocking door
after door until he reached the final threshold of tension.

And then he crossed it, and released the damned-up core of
energy there at the center of Spock's being, let it flood out and fill
Spock's body with brightness, until Spock felt himself dissolve into
light, his body melting into the twin pools of semen, the one that
flooded his ass and the one that spread under his belly.

Jim lay damp and shaking on his back, awkwardly trying to
share the hair out of his eyes and kiss Spock's shoulder at the same
time. "That was wonderful," he gasped happily when he'd recovered
enough to speak. Ad he rolled off to lie down at Spock's side and
hug him.

"Mmm," muttered Spock, too contented to speak. All he
had energy for was to hug Jim back and let himself drift off to sleep
on a wave of utter contentment.

***************************

When Spock awoke, he was alone in the bed. The light in
the room was golden and hazy, and faint early-morning Earth
sounds drifted in the open window: the rustle of leaves, the twitter
of birds, the scurrying of a small animal. A far-off bird song made a
descant in the background. He concentrated on the sonorous notes,
trying to find a pattern in them.

Suddenly his musical analysis was interrupted by the 'thwap'
of a tennis ball on the side of the house. He sat up in the bed. More
'thwaps' followed in rapid succession.

Spock peered out the window and groaned. Jim, clad in
shorts and T-shirt, was playing with an automatic serving machine
set on the highest setting. He sank down in the bed again; the mere
sight of Jim chasing the flurry of balls exhausted him, He wondered
how Jim could display so much energy early in the morning,
especially on a weekend they had dedicated to "rest." But then, he
and Jim never had agreed on the meaning of "rest."

Abruptly, the sound of tennis balls stopped and he heard the
sound of a door opening. Jim must have gone inside. Minutes later,
he heard the unmistakable sound of Jim, bounding up the staircase,
and then the door opened and Jim was in the bedroom, carrying a
trayful of tea, juice, steaming rolls and butter.

"Breakfast in bed?" Spock was surprised by the unnecessary
effort. Kirk sat down on the bed and handed him the tray. "How did
you know I had awakened?"

"Intuition," Kirk grinned fondly, leaning down to ruffle his
hair and kiss the tip of an ear. "As for breakfast in bed, you need to
conserve your energy. Tonight it'll be your turn to do the work."
After breakfast, they decided to install Maggie's power
cable. A few carefully-worded calls to Central Power and Light told
Kirk where the chief administrator could be found. When the
administrator realized who Kirk was, he was all apologies for the
fact that the cable hadn't been installed sooner. The installation and
maintenance crew didn't work on weekends, and the administrator's
relief was palpable when Kirk offered to do the installation himself.

Jim and Spock went down to the utility company's offices in
Maggie' aircar, picked up the equipment and had it installed by
noon. Maggie kept them company while they worked, admiring
their easy coordination. "That's one thing your father and I never
shared," she told Jim ruefully, "we never worked together--we
couldn't even *understand* each other's work."

After lunch Maggie decided to go into town to pick up the
provisions for Kirk's spaghetti supper. Jim proposed to Spock that
they visit one of Kirk' old friends who lived within walking distance.
Jim had gone to secondary school with John Reid, but

John's roots in Iowa were deeper than Jim's, and he shared none of
the restlessness that sent Jim off into space. After finishing his
doctorate, he'd gone to work for the Center for Applied Medical
Electronics, where Maggie worked.

John was expecting them and came down the sidewalk past
the swings and children's toys that cluttered the deep front lawn to
meet them. He and Jim greeted each other warmly. A very pregnant
woman wearing a loose, filmy dress opened the door and walked
heavily down the steps to join them, and a tiny dynamo with golden
hair dashed from behind her mother's back and flung herself into
Kirk's arms.

"Jessica?" Kirk grinned up at John.

"Yup. She'll be three next month. Considering she's never
met you before, that's quite a welcome."

"Obviously very accomplished socially. And pretty--I see
she takes after her mother." Julie had almost caught up with her
daughter by now, and Kirk reached over and kissed her on the
cheek. "John, Julie, this is Spock, who was my First Officer on the
*Enterprise.*"

John directed them all to the back porch for tea and
lemonade. Their warmth made Spock feel at ease, but the domestic
surroundings made him vaguely uneasy for some reason he could
not quite define.

"When's the baby due?" Kirk asked after they'd all sat down.
"Any minute now," said John. He and Julie exchanged
glances. Julie was smiling happily, but John's mouth curved in a wry
smile. "And when it arrives, *I* have to go back to work."

"So you're taking parental leave in shifts?" Kirk queried,
sipping his lemonade.
Julie nodded. "Every six months, we alternate. I can't leave
my job for more than that at a stretch."

"It's too short," John said ruefully. "I just finished
organizing a playgroup for Jessie and her friends, and now my leave
is over."

Just then Jessica emerged from the back door with a
wagonful of toys and headed determinedly in Kirk's direction. She
pulled the overloaded wagon up beside him and began to unload it
piece by piece, explaining as she did what each toy was and how
she's acquired it. Kirk was amused at how seriously she took the
project.

"She's very articulate for her age," he commented.

"She likes you," John replied. "I can see you still have your
old touch with women." He and Julie exchanged smiles. Kirk,
looking a little embarrassed, occupied himself listening to Jessica's
lecture. Finally, after she'd finished and was deciding whether to
load up the wagon again, he swooped her up and bounced her on
his knee in an old Earth chant that had something to do with horses
and riders. The little girl shrieked with laughter, and John and Julie
looked at them in amusement.

"It's time you settled down, Jim," John said, his voice light
but not really joking. Kirk looked uncomfortable, and Spock could
see that he was avoiding John's eyes--and Spock's own.

They talked about the *Enterprise,* and Jim and John
caught up on news of mutual friends. Spock had a surprisingly
enjoyable conversation with Julie, a hazardous waste engineer,
about hydrogeology.

Finally Jim stood up to go. John and Julie were coming to
supper that evening, so they'd see each other later. Jim and Spock
said their goodbyes and set off in the direction of the town's small
central square.

They walked in silence for a few minutes. The visit had left
Spock strangely unsettled. It did not seem appropriate to compare
John and Julie with himself and Jim, yet he felt almost envious of
their marriage, the warmth and security he had felt in their home.
His parents' marriage had the solidity and stability of a
typical Vulcan bonding, but in spite of his mother's influence, he did
not think his father was capable of the emotional depth of many
Human marriages. His relationship with Jim had emotional depth,
but stability and security could never be part of life on a starship.
Spock thought back to those rare, coveted moments they
spent alone on the *Enterprise* and what they meant for him: joy,
comfort, relief--and always, the ever-present shadow of danger and
death hanging over them like a sword of Damocles. It was hard for
him not to feel cheated--although he knew Jim did not feel that
way--when they *could* so easily have both the emotional depth
and the bedrock stability and mental sharing of a Vulcan bonding.
They walked in silence for a moment longer, neither taking
the first move to break the uncomfortable silence between them.
Suddenly, as they turned a corner, Kirk's face lit up. "Spock, please
come with me to one of my old haunts," he urged as he led Spock
in the direction of a small shop in the middle of the block.
Kirk's old haunt turned out to be a store called 'Annie's Old
Fashioned Homemade Ice Cream Parlor,' and Kirk opened the door
enthusiastically. "Spock, they have the best ice cream this side of
the Rocky Mountains, and it's all fresh, natural and vegetarian. Let's
go in and cool off."

Kirk led him to a counter where they stood on an ancient
wooden floor and stared at the vast array of different flavors of ice
cream, and of candies, nuts, mints and sauces intended to serve as
accompaniments. Jim happily chose an impossibly rich dish
composed of buttered almond and rum raisin ice cream with mocha
fudge sauce. He waited in eager anticipation to see whatSpock
would choose, then pretended to look wounded when Spock
ordered a more conservative confection of lemon yoghurt with
berries on top.

"Spock, I'm sure that will taste delicious, and it's certainly
good for you," Kirk protested as they headed toward a table in the
least crowded part of the store, "but you're making me feel guilty.
Eating a rich dessert is practically *required* at Annie's."

"Jim, I feel compelled to point out that a dish like that--" he
nodded toward Kirk's fudge-drenched concoction--"provides
approximately the same number of calories as a full meal."

Kirk favored him with a brilliant smile, and for a moment, as
they sat down with their ice cream dishes at the small round table,
the differences between them were what they always had been, a
source of perpetual fascination and delight.

But the moment evaporated, and an awkward silence settled
between them again as Kirk resolutely tackled his ice cream and
Spock sampled the berries politely. Finally, Kirk looked up at him,
squared his shoulders, and broke the silence.

"Spock, we didn't resolve anything last night, did we?"
Spock put his spoon down, not altogether surprised by the
abrupt change of subject. "No," he replied slowly.

Kirk look down and toyed with his dessert, drawing a
pattern in the mixture of ice cream and fudge. "What you told me
last night was--shattering, Spock. I thought the bonding was a
simple way for us to win and force Nogura to let us stay together.

Last night I learned it's hardly that simple."
The pain in Kirk's eyes made Spock's heart contract in his
side. "Jim, the fault is mine for not telling you earlier about the
*jarizat inqaz*--"

Kirk hunched over the table and shook his head grimly.
"No, no, Spock. We had just never talked about the bonding
before. It was my fault for being so dense as to think it didn't
matter, that it was just a formality we could get around to when we
felt like it. God, I feel like such a chauvinist!"

"No, Jim, you are not." Spock placed his hand over Kirk's
on the table and squeezed it gently. Kirk looked up at him, his
mouth quirked in a half-smile of pleasure. Spock knew he loved the
rare occasions when Spock showed affection in public. He turned
his palm up and squeezed Spock's slender hand in his own.

"Spock," he said ruefully, as he released Spock's hand, "It
feels as though you and I and Nogura are in one of the oddest
triangles ever created."

Spock raised his eyebrows quizzically at the strange
metaphor. "How so?"

Kirk tipped his chair back on two legs, releasing some of his
tight-wound tension. "Until last night I thought it was the two of us
against Nogura. Now it's seems we're at odds with each other, too.
Nogura thinks our relationship should preclude us from serving on
a starship together. You agree with him that our relationship poses
a risk, and that if we were bonded, it would be an absolute barrier."
He attempted a wry smile, but the curve of his lips did not reach his
eyes.

Spock set his spoon down and grimaced. "It is disconcerting
to be on the same side as Nogura. Yet, you are correct and I do in
essence agree with him."

They stared at each other for a long moment.
Finally, Kirk brought his chair forward again with a thud.

"Spock, if we were bondmates, and I took a job at Headquarters,
they'd have to offer you a posting there too. If you wanted it.
Would you?"

"Why would I not?" Spock asked warily, unsure where the
conversation was leading.

Kirk looked back at him squarely. "Spock, there are no pure
research jobs at Starfleet Headquarters. You could be a scientific
bureaucrat, perhaps, but you know even better than I do that it's no
place for a research scientist."

Spock shrugged his shoulders. "I managed to combine
research with administration on the *Enterprise,*" he replied
noncommittally.

"Bull," Kirk replied testily. "On the *Enterprise,* you were
working on the frontiers of scientific knowledge in your field. You
weren't a bureaucrat."

"Starfleet headquarters *is* essentially an administrative
center," Spock replied carefully. His face said, *if you were willing
to take a job as an administrator, for me to do the same would be a
small price to pay for our remaining together.*

Kirk's mind was on his own train of thought, and he did not
read the look on Spock's face. "And what about the social
environment at Headquarters? Do you think you could stand
interacting with people like Nogura and Rao day after day?
Remember, as an Admiral, my time--and my social life--wouldn't be
my own."

Spock stiffened. It was true, the thought of being part of the
Admirals' world, with their talk of arms superiority and interest
rates, chilled his soul. At times he would like to consign the entire
Starfleet bureaucracy to some other universe entirely.
But he had no separate universe that he and Jim could
retreat to. All he had was logic. So again, he tried to attack their
problem logically. "Any choice we make will have disadvantages,"
he began awkwardly, embarrassed at how weak his voice sounded.

Jim looked up at him intently, waiting for him to go on.
Again, silence hung between them for a beat.
Finally, when Spock did not continue, Kirk picked up his
spoon again and toyed with his
ice cream. "Of course," he offered almost casually, if we were
bondmates and you chose to accept
the assignment on the Outer Rim, they'd have to assign me there,
too."

Spock started. Was Jim serious? Or had he said this as an
afterthought, out of fairness to him? "What would you do at a
research station on the Outer Rim?" he asked gently. Kirk stirred
the ice cream in his dish, now melted down into an undifferentiated
gray puddle. He smiled, a small ironic smile, and Spock could feel
the sadness radiating from him. "I don't know," he said simply.

There was a long pause as they looked at each other
silently, not knowing what to say next. Finally Kirk pushed his dish
back and let his hands fall to the table, palms up in a gesture of
supplication.

"Spock, I wish you'd tell me what you want," he sighed in
frustration. "We've been talking a lot about what *I* want--another
starship command--as though it's a preference we both share. But
maybe it isn't."

Spock's shoulders stiffened. This was precisely the issue
he'd been trying to avoid. He did not want to tread those dangerous
waters, not openly, not now when Jim hurt so much from the loss
of the *Enterprise.*

Distantly, he said, "II have been trying to consider the
alternatives in logical fashion."

Kirk's body tightened in frustration. He turned his hands
over and gripped the end of the table. "Spock, I feel too strongly to
be logical about this. I want to stay with you and I want to go on
commanding a starship. I want both. I want them with every fiber
of my soul. But if I don't know what *you* want, I can't know
where we stand, can I?"

Spock flinched. Kirk was right. He nodded, mutely.
Kirk's eyes softened, and he let the tension in his shoulders
dissolve. "Spock, I know, I know--you're trying to be rational, and
I'm not." He sighed wearily. "Oh, hell, let's go somewhere where
we can talk properly.

****************************

A dilapidated old road--a relic of the days when people used
roads for transportation--skirted the borders of the agrocomplex on
the edge of the town. The two men walked slowly along the
cracked, grass-grown asphalt, over the crest of a hill, and then Jim
led them off the road to a tree-lined copse at the foot of a hill.

"We used to play here all the time when we were kids," Jim
told him, flopping down n his back on the grass. "It made a perfect
hideout, 'cause nobody ever bothered us." Spock followed his lead
more gingerly, making sure he was not going to encounter a nettle
or a honeybee before he allowed himself to sit.

Curiously, he examined the strange vegetation around them:
white filigreed Queen Anne's lace, exotic milkweed pods bursting
with silky down, thistles with their soft, shaggy indigo flowers. A
yellow butterfly drifted by on effortless wings. For once, Jim knew
the variety, he did not.

Jim reached up and stroked his cheek fondly. "You are ever
the scientist, Spock."

"The vegetation here is extremely rich," Spock muttered,
studying the drops of white fluid that seeped from a broken
milkweed stem.

"I'll bet you could spent a lifetime studying it." Jim took his
hand gently and lifted it from the grass to hold it in his own.

The cool, firm touch struck a deep chord of pleasure within
him, and he looked back at Jim, one eyebrow raised. "At least a
lifetime."

Jim squeezed his hand. "The hell with Starfleet, the
Admiralty, the *Lexington* and the Outer Rim, then. Let's stay
right here."

Spock's heart thudded ridiculously, so hard he had to turn
his face away, afraid his expression would betray him. "It is warmer
here than in San Francisco," he said irrelevantly.
Jim nodded, "Almost as warm as Vulcan. But you'd have to
hibernate in the winter."

"Actually, I would prefer to stay awake," Spock answered
drily.

Kirk pulled himself up by Spock's hand and leaned toward
him. "What would you do without your computers? I doubt there's
enough power in all of Riverside to run the equipment you're used
to having at your beck and call."

Spock hook his head ruefully. "My computers. And your
command."

He had not meant to sound bitter, but Kirk's eyes clouded
over, and he was silent for several moments. Finally, he looked
directly at Spock and said, "I need you too, you know."

Spock nodded, looking down at his hand, still holding
Kirk's. "I know."

"You're probably going to tell me now that both needs are
equally illogical."

The words pricked a schoolboy memory somewhere deep in
the recesses of Spock's mind, and a corner of his mouth curved
infinitesimally.

"Why're you smiling?" Kirk asked, puzzled. Spock looked at
him quizzically. Only Jim would read that gesture as a smile.

"You reminded me of a well-known problem in Vulcan
logic, the Paradoxes of T'Nira," he replied, his mouth still curving.

"Oh? And who was she?"

"A philosopher of the fourth century after Surak. She noted
that the concept of 'need' generates a series of logical paradoxes."

"Explain," asked Jim, his curiosity piqued.

"In your language," Spock began, crossing his legs beneath
him, "The word 'need' is ambiguous--it can refer to that which is
subjectively desired--what a person wishes to have--or that which is
objectively necessary, like food and drink. Some Earth languages
attempt to assign these different meanings to two different words,
but inevitably the associations of one will color the meaning of the
other."

Kirk leaned back on an elbow and toyed with a piece of
grass, surveying Spock. "Yes, I suppose that is paradoxical."

"Several paradoxes exist, actually--a whole series of them.
The First Paradox is that while we cannot equate what is
objectively necessary with that which any single person subjectively
desires, nevertheless it would be illogical to equate that which is
necessary with something that *no one* desires."

"In other words, what is logical is *illogical* if no one
wants it."

Spock raised an eyebrow at Kirk's rephrasing of the
argument, but he continued without further comment.

"The Second Paradox is that the necessity of the part, and
the necessity of the whole, each presuppose the other."

"A vicious circle? The chicken and the egg?" Kirk propped
his head on his hand, his eyes following Spock intently.

Spock leaned forward so that his elbows rested on his
knees. He steepled his fingers, trying to be precise. "Not exactly. It
is a problem of logical rather than of temporal priority. What is
logical is so only with respect to a particular purpose; but purpose
is always the intention of an individual mind. "Purpose" cannot exist
in general, in the abstract, without individual intention. The paradox
is that we cannot know what is 'necessary' for the whole unless we
know what each *part* of the whole intends. And yet, without a
knowledge of the whole, it is impossible for the individual to form a
logical purpose."

Kirk smiled and stretched his bare legs. "I can think of a
way out of the vicious circle, Spock. That is, to recognize that
logical necessity may very well be a product of a lot of illogical
desires."

"Perhaps," Spock shrugged. "But that would be absurd."

"Would it?" Kirk asked lightly, a little sadly.

There was a long pause. Kirk looked up at the sky as
though collecting his thoughts. Suddenly he sat up straight, turned
forcefully to Spock and cut through Spock's abstractions to their
actual, if unspoken subject.

"Spock ... you've always given me logical, hard-headed
recommendations whenever I've had a tough decision to make.
Now I need to know what logic says we should do. Should we ...
become bondmates--or not?"
Spock straightened and sat rigidly. "What I have been trying
to say, Jim, is that I do not think a logical answer to that question
exists. Or rather--that what is logical for me may not be logical for
you."

"What do you mean?" Kirk asked, puzzled, gazing intently
at Spock's face.

Spock had to look away from him then, up through the
trees at an astonishingly three-dimensional tower of clouds
suspended majestically over them in the deep inverted bowl of Iowa
sky. "For one thing," he answered roughly, "Vulcans do not bond
for--expediency."

He had to say it, whatever Kirk's reaction. But Kirk merely
nodded and looked down at the grass for a long moment. "I never
thought they did," he said with deceptive mildness, his face hidden.
There was a longer pause as Spock tried to subdue the ache
in his throat and it was apparent that Kirk was struggling with his
own strong feelings and inhibitions.

Finally, Kirk spoke again. "Spock, you *want* the bonding,
don't you?"

Spock looked away and nodded, simply, not wanting to
look at him.

"You'd choose it, wouldn't you, even though it would mean
never serving with me again, never working together on a
starship--"

Again, Spock nodded, his mouth curved wryly,
acknowledging the strangeness of speaking so candidly about his
own irrational needs--or desires; it no longer mattered what one
called them.

Kirk fingered a spray of Queen Anne's lace, wondering what
to say next. Finally he clutched at the plant and tore it out by the
roots. "You probably think I'm incredibly selfish and arrogant to
want to have it both ways."

Spock shook his head a little sadly. "No. Your needs are no
more nor less rational than mine. Besides, how could I expect you
to desire the bonding? Your culture has no experience of it. You
cannot know what it is, much less make a reasoned decision for or
against it."

Kirk threw the tattered plant down, hard. "I've thought
about it. I've tried to imagine it. I can understand a little of what it
must be like, from knowing you ...."

"Perhaps." Spock's voice sounded enigmatic to his own
ears, perhaps more so than he had intended. Kirk looked at him
earnestly, as though he feared that Spock did not take him
seriously.

"Spock, I do want that closeness with you. I want that
commitment. But ..." he hesitated and gestured helplessly.

"But you cannot be a starship captain forever," Spock
supplied for him. Kirk's eyes widened slightly, then flickered
acknowledgment. He looked down at the grass as Spock continued.

"It is quite understandable that you should wish to take advantage
of the time you have left in active duty."

Kirk shrugged. "It's true."

Spock went on, trying to sound matter-of-fact. "If we
succeed in receiving another starship assignment together, we
could, if you would like, consider the bonding later, after we are no
longer able to serve in line positions."

He wasn't sure whether the thought owed more to Vulcan
logic or Human compromise, but Kirk only sighed and looked at
him morosely.

"Bonding when you'll be taking care of me in old age,
Spock, that's no bargain."

Spock shook his head firmly. "I am merely trying to be
practical."

Kirk nodded fiercely. "You are. You are. But it wouldn't be
fair to you. Oh, dammit, Spock. You're right. I can only command a
ship *now.* If I don't get another command this time around, I'll
never have anther chance."

"*Carpe diem,*" muttered Spock.
"Something like that."

Spock looked at him, all the old anguish of unsatisfied
desire welling up in his breast again, the yearning he thought he'd
laid to rest when he and Jim had first made love. It was a desire that
required the union of the flesh, but flesh alone could not satisfy it.

Looking at Jim, his eyes captured what his body and even his mind
could not: his vitality, his completeness. Like some Earth-god of
field and forest he seemed to blend with, to rise out of the grass, the
trees and sky around them, with his tawny hair, his eyes turning
chameleon-like to green under the deep blue sky.

Other scenes, not of Earth, leaped out of his memory: of
Jim on the *Enterprise,* superbly in tune with his ship, leaving the
stamp of his leadership everywhere. Confident in his command
chair. Running down the corridors in a crisis, every nerve taut and
controlled. The quick-blazing anger at what he could *not* control.
The moments of relief and laughter, of hard play after harder work.
And the times of horror and despair and grief ... Spock had known
him more fully than he had ever dreamed or hoped, but no touch of
his could grasp, no embrace contain, that wholehearted pouring out
of energy, of life.

Yet knowing that, he still reached out to him, grasped his
muscular arms and gently, gradually, tilted him back until he lay on
the grass. Jim returned his gaze silently, anticipation lightening his
green-gold eyes, but he said nothing.

That nameless yearning made Spock lean down to seek
Kirk's mouth, and it opened willingly. The grass and weeds pricked
his bare legs as he lay down beside him, folded his arms around the
broad shoulders. Jim hugged him back tightly, and Spock probed
his mouth, the contrast of lush, rough-smooth textures against his
own sensitive tongue leaving him nearly breathless.

But the kiss did not yield the communion he sought.
Impetuously, he tugged at Kirk's tight shirt and pulled it up until
he'd exposed the nipple. He bent to suck the pink-gold flesh,
intoxicated by the scent and taste of it. Relentlessly, still hampered
by the shirt, his hands and mouth explored as much as he could,
until Jim finally unfastened the resisting garment himself and flung
it over his head in a single swift movement.

Spock pressed their bodies together, excited by the feel of
Kirk's chest, now beginning to rise and fall more rapidly. He moved
so that he was lying on top of Kirk, and thrust his now-swollen
genitals against his groin. It was not enough. He reached between
their bodies for the opening of Kirk's shorts and pulled at the fabric
with tentative fingers, torn between desire and discretion. He
wanted to thrust his hand under the waistband, to touch the smooth
naked flesh, to feel it swell under his caress. Still more, he wanted
to free it from the confining garment.

His eyes questioned Kirk, but Kirk caught his hand and held
it where it was. "Don't stop," he whispered, "We've plenty of
privacy here." As Spock fumbled awkwardly with the clasp, Kirk
thrust his body impatiently against him. Finally Spock found the
opening, and Jim's cock burst free, springy now in arousal. Spock
squeezed it, claiming Kirk's mouth again, filling it with his tongue
as he longed to fill his body.

Jim was trying to remove Spock's clothes, and Spock
paused a moment to cooperate, kicking off his shorts, throwing off
his shirt and shorts. A tug at Jim's open short and briefs removed
the last barriers between them, and with a sigh Spock sank down
and molded their bodies together, matched them, limb for limb,
wrapped his long legs around Jim's shorter, sturdier ones, trapped
his swelling cock tight against his belly and pressed his own stiff
organ against it. Jim groaned, threw his head back, and dug his
fingers into Spock's shoulders.

"Meld us ..." he gasped through lips swollen with desire.

"Not yet," Spock whispered fiercely. "The meld will be
deeper if I initiate it at a higher peak of sexual energy."
Jim could do no more than shake his head helplessly,
squeezing his shoulders, waiting for Spock to act.

With an effort, Spock lifted himself from Kirk's chest and
moved down to his loins. Kirk's cock was huge and hard in arousal.
Spock grasped his thighs and pushed them apart to make room for
his head, then bent and took Kirk in his mouth.

A great shudder ran through Kirk's body and as he gasped
with pleasure, Spock felt his orgasm gathering, powerfully. He
lifted his head, his hands still pressing against Kirk's thighs. "Jim,
please try to hold back," he implored hoarsely.

Kirk swallowed and clenched his teeth. "I'll try," he gasped
ruefully, "but you're not making it any easier."

Bending again to Kirk's body, Spock, massaged the soft
inner flesh of the muscular thighs with one hand and grasped the
thick ornate cock in the other. He tongued the velvety head
carefully, skillfully, circling it, pressing against the tip, testing its
resilience, thrusting the tip of his tongue into the tiny opening.

A part of him could go on loving Jim like this forever. But
then the single drop of semen welled up and he sucked it greedily,
wanting to swallow more, to devour all of Kirk.

He seized Jim's thighs in both hands and pulled him up,
lifted him so that he was almost perpendicular to the ground,
wanting the deepest possible joining. The heat of arousal beat hard
in his veins as he tongued the opening, positioned his cock,
watched Jim stiffen and then will himself to relax and accept the
pain of entry. He went into him slowly, too slowly, for Jim was
awkwardly trying to push up against him to hasten his penetration,
to push in deeper.

He thrust in as far as he could and Jim sighed, his tight flesh
contracting around Spock in a deep tremor of desire. Grasping
Kirk's cock, Spock moved within him, fitting their bodies
together--and because it was still not close enough, he bent his head
down ad took Jim's cock in his mouth, completing the circuit.

He opened the meld then, when their bodies were joined as
deeply as separate flesh could join. The mind-link was so strong and
required so much of his energy that for a moment he thought he
could not sustain it, but Jim's mind pulled him in like a magnet.

Willing, accepting, Spock opened to Jim everything he'd
ever known or thought, all he'd ever been. And he felt himself
drawn into Jim's mind, down through all the levels of consciousness
and beyond, through subconscious layers of forgotten memories,
drives and instincts--down to the very bedrock of Jim's sheer primal
energy, to the level of the collective unconscious itself.

When the orgasm came, it was as though he had ceased to
be himself and had become Jim--or rather, as though they had both
merged with everything in nature around them, had expanded to
become one with the clouds soaring overhead and the dense earth
beneath, the earth that hummed with the sounds of a thousand life
forms.

It was the deepest meld they had ever had, that Spock had
ever had with anyone.

Afterwards, they lay together silently on the grass, as still as
the shimmering mid-afternoon sunlight that surrounded them.
Spock nestled his head in the hollow of Kirk's shoulder, and Kirk
stroked his hair peacefully. Finally Kirk spoke. "That was ...
awesome."

Spock held him in silent agreement.

"Would it always be like that, if we were bonded, Spock?"

Spock raised his face from Kirk's shoulder and looked down
at him. "It is said that the bonding changes the quality of sexual
relations," he said quietly. "The word for sex between a bonded
couple, *na'rif al-kull,* means literally,
'when-one-knows-the-whole.'"

Kirk sighed deeply. "Well, I hope we'll have a chance to test
that someday. If it turns out to be anything like what we just
experienced, the words would be very accurate."

Someday. Spock laid his head back down on Kirk's
shoulder, heavily. They had reached a decision that afternoon, they
had made a choice, however *sub silentio.* They would not
become bondmates, not until Jim could never again command a
starship.

***************************

They lay together in the grass until the lengthening shadows
signaled that the afternoon was growing late. Kirk sat up with a
sigh of regret. "We'd better go home and get ready for the party."
They dressed and retraced their steps back to town, hand in hand,
unwilling to let go of each other.


Back in Kirk' home, Jim went straight to the kitchen where
Maggie had left the groceries and was soon cooking up the
spaghetti sauces by hand, claiming this method was "more
authentic" than using the electronic equipment. Spock and Maggie
offered to help, but Jim refused all offers and insisted that they relax
and keep him company in the kitchen instead. So the two of them
sat together at the kitchen table while Jim hovered over the stove.

They still had much catching up to do. They talked for the
rest of the afternoon about the *Enterprise* and the five-year
mission, and Maggie alternated tales about Jim's childhood with
questions about Vulcan and Spock.

The evening passed comfortably and companionably. The
aroma of the food stimulated even Spock's well-controlled appetite:
a heady sauce of fresh tomatoes, roasted garlic and long hot
peppers; another redolent with wild mushrooms and wine; still
another made of fresh herbs with the pungent tang of licorice and a
cheese with the fragrance of a sun-warmed Italian meadow. The
softness in Spock's belly was a pleasant aftereffect of the sex he and
Jim had had together, a reminder of something profoundly deep and
shared, almost as though an invisible umbilicus were attached to his
body, connecting him to Jim. The memory of that uncommon
intimacy stayed at the back of his mind, fertile and sustaining, as
though by it he had tapped into some new source of life-giving
energy.

Later, Jim's friends came in groups of twos and threes, and
Jim relaxed thoroughly in their company. He drew Spock easily into
the group, making him feel completely included. And when he felt
Jim's hand tighten over his own, resting on the arm of a chair, or
when Jim unself-consciously put an arm around his waist as they
talked with the others, Spock felt utterly certain that, bonding or
no, they belonged together in the very nature of things, so
naturally that no force in the galaxy could separate them for long.

Later that night, before they went to sleep, they talked
strategy. Spock had a great deal of leave accumulated, and no
pressing duties at Headquarters once the debriefing was finished.
His parents were pressing him to return to Vulcan for a long visit.
He planned to spend the time he needed with a Vulcan healer who
could help him learn to cope with the emotional stress their
relationship had begun to create for him during the last six months
on the *Enterprise.* If he left now, while the Outer Rim mission
was being staffed, he could neatly avoid having to commit himself
to the job.

"Spock, hundred of scientists are competing for the job,"
Jim told him as they lay next to each other in Jim's room, talking in
the darkness to the soft shushing of the trees outside in the humid,
starlit Iowa night. "It's a real plum. And the Department of Solar
Research has locked horns with Starfleet over which agency gets to
make the appointment. It's become a turf issue, and you're Nogura's
choice."

"Quite logically," Spock murmured into Jim's shoulder, "in
view of my qualifications and, of course, the fact that I am the only
Vulcan available for the job."

Jim rolled him over, ruffled his hair and gave him a gentle
swat on the behind. "It's a good thing hey don't assign jobs on the
basis of your singular Vulcan modesty, mister," he said sternly, but
Spock could see his fond smile in the dark. "Anyway, the fact that
Starfleet is pushing you for the job automatically makes you
somewhat suspect to DSR. Probably the decision will be a
compromise made by committee. And if you happen to be
incommunicado in the middle of some Vulcan desert while they're
making the decision--well, it will be that much easier for them to
settle on someone else."

Spock gave a sigh of mock resignation. "I suppose there is a
certain logic in your reasoning," he agreed, "although the process
by which Humans compromise their irrational differences is
generally just as illogical as the differences themselves. It would be
so much more logical--and efficient--simply to choose the best
person for the job."

"Well, for once, you can be grateful for our illogic."

***********************************

A week later, as they lay together again, this time in Kirk's
quarters at the starbase, Spock's neatly packed bags rested by the
door, ready to depart for Vulcan. Because it was their last evening
together, and because Spock's ship would leave in the middle of the
night, they indulged in the uncommon luxury of making love right
after dinner. The cool mist of early evening made Spock's skin
tingle as they walked back to the officers' complex from the
restaurant where they'd gone to dine. Unabashedly, Spock reached
for Jim just as soon as the door of Jim's apartment closed behind
them. Jim was easily aroused, as he always was when Spock took
the initiative with him, and they tumbled happily into bed. For
awhile Spock thought of savoring the simple sexual pleasure of a
purely human mating, but even as he bent to Jim's body, savoring
the taste of the warm, plump sac and the smooth stippled shaft,
swelling under his touch like ripe fruit, the need to join minds
overcame him after all.

Later, Spock's inner time sense woke him, although he had
set an alarm for midnight just in case. Actually, they had not
intended to fall asleep at all, but the meld had been intense and
exhausting.

He had opened himself utterly to Jim, had shown him the
paralyzing fear, the crushing sense of desolation that crippled him
whenever Jim was in danger, and the searing shame he felt
afterwards and letting those emotions immobilize him. At first, he
was unsure whether he ought to show all that to Jim, but the meld
took over and he could not have hidden it, even if he had tried.
He felt a wave of shock from Jim's mind--shock, denial and
resistance. *Spock, how could I have done this to you!*

*--YOU have not. The fault is mine, not yours.*

Jim struggled to accept that Spock, his logical, superbly
controlled Vulcan, had really been shaken to the roots by loving
him, that he had experienced the instability and emotional chaos
Spock had shown him. Spock was not surprised that Jim had such
difficulty accepting it. Although Jim was a deeply emotional being,
his emotions were not chaotic; emotion fueled his discipline, but
rarely did it distort it.

*After such knowledge, what forgiveness?* Sadly, Spock
leaned over Jim in the soft light they had never bothered to turn off,
so quickly had they fallen asleep in each other's arms. He half
expected to see disappointment, even disillusionment, in his
expressive face. But Jim was merely sleeping peacefully, a smile
curving his sensitive mouth and softening the curve of his strong
jaw.

Deftly, Spock disengaged himself and padded to the
shower. When he emerged two and a half minutes later, Jim was
sitting on the side of the bed, wide-awake already thanks to his
well-honed command reflexes. The lamplight gleamed on his broad
back. He turned his head to look at Spock. "Just a moment, Spock,
and I'll be ready."

"It is not necessary to accompany me," Spock pointed out.
"Don't be silly," Kirk murmured, shaking his head as he got
up from the bed and followed Spock to the bathroom. "Of course
I'm going with you."

Spock protested mildly at this illogical expenditure of effort,
but he was pleased that Kirk wanted to get out of a warm bed and
walk with him to the transporter building.

Jim carried one bag, Spock the other. The tip of Spock's
nose tingled in the cool, moist San Francisco night air, banishing
any lingering drowsiness. Fog had drifted in from the bay, muffling
their footsteps as they walked silently toward the debarking point,
shrouding the tall, austere buildings of the base complex.

Here and there an occasional light gleamed in the residential
towers in an erratic pattern. Spock lifted his eyes to a high, arched
window flooded with yellow light and wondered why the occupants
of that apartment were up at this hour. Perhaps they were talking or
simply too hungry for each other's company to go to bed ... as he
and Jim had been so often.

On a starship, that was a hunger one seldom could indulge.
But if they were living here, on the base, in ground posts ... his
disciplined mind readily conjured up a vision of the life they might
share here, at Headquarters, if they were bonded ... Jim in the
Admiralty, and he ... he knew he would have his pick of science
staff positions. Perhaps a post would be created especially for him,
to let Starfleet use his gifts to its best advantage and comply with
the Federation's treaty obligations to Vulcan at the same time. Their
lives would be full. They would have important, meaningful work.

And there would be time ... time and room for each other. Time to
share that the *Enterprise* never had allowed them. Time to
explore each other, to delight in their differences. Room for Jim's
exuberance and his own sobriety ....

The yellow-lit arched window loomed behind them as they
neared the transporter building, an ironic symbol of the security
they had agreed to turn their backs on. The lights and sounds of the
transporter building assaulted their senses.

They were early, but neither felt like spending the time in
small talk. They set Spock's bags down in the waiting room, but
neither made any move to sit down. They looked at each other
silently, and Spock read the look in Kirk's eyes and knew that he
was still shaken by what he had seen in the meld that night. They
did not need to speak. It was almost as though they were still in
each other's minds, although of course the link had been broken
hours ago.

It was time to walk to the transporter gate now, and they
picked the bags up again and turned in the direction of the beam-up
point for the liner to Vulcan. A handful of other passengers milled
past them once they neared the gate, but they held back by silent,
mutual asset, letting everyone else board first. Finally Kirk dropped
the bag he was carrying and put both hands on Spock's shoulders,
gripping him tightly. "Please come back as soon as you humanly ....
and Vulcanly ... are able," he said, trying to smile but managing
only a lopsided approximation. Spock grasped his wrist, returned
the grip as tightly as he dared, and nodded.

"And Spock ..." Kirk added awkwardly, holding him by the
arm as the last of the other passengers boarded the platform to
beam up, "Spock, when you come back ... please, let's ..." his voice
faltered for a beat, then steadied again, "... even if its not the
bonding, I'd still like to there to be some kind of formal tie between
us ..." He tried to smile, to cover his awkwardness with forced
humor. "I'd like to be able to introduce you as something besides
'my First Officer.'"

Spock managed a half-smile. His "Affirmative" was laconic
but conveyed some of the warmth he felt. The transporter operator,
anxious to finish his chores for the shift, was looking at them
pointedly. Spock was about to pick up his other bag, but Jim
forestalled him with a fierce hug. They clung together for a long
moment, neither able to let go, communicating love and passion and
anguish in a taut embrace. Spock had to force himself to break the
grip and turn to the transporter.

And then he mounted the platform and dissolved into light,
bound for Vulcan, Earth suddenly as distant as a rudely-awakened
sleeper's dream.

***********************

Igor Krasnovski glanced at his chronometer and made a
mental note that his appointment with James Kirk would begin in
three minutes. He suspected that Kirk was already in the anteroom
outside his office and had been for at least ten minutes. But
Krasnovski's aide knew that his superior officer liked to run his
appointment calendar by the clock and would not have bothered to
signal him that Kirk had arrived early.

He did not expect the young captain to react with surprise
when he made the brief, formal announcement he had called him in
to hear. By having asked Kirk to meet with him rather than with
Commanding Admiral Nogura, he had already given away the
news.

He knew, of course, that Nogura already had met privately
with Kirk and told him that the position of Chief of Starfleet
Operations was his, if he wanted it, with the rank of Rear Admiral,
Kirk had politely but firmly refused and requested that he be
assigned another starship command.

Krasnovski had never told Nogura that although he was one
of the Commanding Admiral's staunchest allies, he did not think he
could have supported Nogura if the issue had come to a vote. He'd
evaluated Kirk's performance himself, and on every criteria his
department recognized, Kirk stood head and shoulders above the
other officers of his rank in Starfleet. No doubt about it, he was
simply the finest starship commander the fleet had ever known.

Kirk had steadily worn down the Commanding Admiral's
opposition to his request by the sheer force of the support he
enjoyed among the other members of the General Staff. Finally,
Nogura recognized that he would be overruled by a strong majority
of the Staff if he continued to pressure Krasnovski to deny Kirk
command of the *Lexington* and surrendered to the inevitable.

Krasnovski pressed the button that would summon Kirk into
his inner office. Kirk entered his office like a sun lighting up a rainy
day. Although he'd seen a good deal of the former starship captain
since the *Enterprise* docked, he was still jolted by the force of the
younger man's personality." Please, sit," Krasnovski hemmed,
feeling slightly overpowered.

Kirk's body scarcely seemed to touch the chair. He leaned
forward, taut with anticipation.

"Ah, Captain, good to see you. As you've probably guessed,
I've called you in to talk about your next assignment."

Kirk nodded courteously, but he did not smile. His eyes
bored into Krasnovski's intently.

Krasnovski averted his eyes for a brief moment, unable to
meet the younger man's intensity. After a beat, he looked at Kirk
again, squarely this time.

"Jim, I'm pleased to offer you command of the starship
*Lexington.*"

Kirk's eyes widened, the corners of his mouth turned up,
and his body relaxed perceptibly.

In spite of himself, Krasnovski felt a surge of warmth
toward the younger man and his straightforward, obvious passion
for his job.

"The assignment carries the rank of Commodore. The ship's
primary mission will be space exploration and you will be expected
to serve a five-year tour of duty."

Kirk was openly smiling now, a delighted grin that
transformed his face from merely handsome to--the only word
Krasnovski could think of was "radiant."

He said only "Thank you, Admiral," but his voice was
vibrant, musical.

Krasnovski had planned to spend the next few minutes on
small talk, and was rather taken aback when Kirk added, "I've just
sent you a list of the officers I'm requesting for the senior positions.
I've checked with all of them and they are available. The message
should be on your screen now."

Krasnovski was nonplussed. A staff officer for his entire
career, he harbored a secret admiration for line officers like Kirk
and their ability to shift gears in a split second.

Sure enough, when he looked at his viewer the message
corner contained a blinking message from Kirk. He must have set it
to arrive just after their interview began. He enlarged the message
and scanned it briefly--most of the names were familiar from Kirk's
command team on the *Enterprise.* He wasn't surprised to see
Spock's name at the top of the list.

He'd heard the rumors that coursed through the starbase
that the dashing young captain and his sober Vulcan first officer
were lovers, and he supposed they were true since he'd never heard
Kirk's friends deny them. Until Spock had left to visit Vulcan about
a week earlier, the two men had been inseparable. They went
everywhere together, and as far as anyone could tell, neither of
them frequented the standard after-hours Starfleet officers' haunts.
He wondered mildly why Kirk hadn't gone to Vulcan with
Spock--he certainly had plenty of leave time coming--but Kirk's
active politicking for command of the *Lexington* was answer
enough.

Kirk was waiting expectantly, tension bracing his muscular
body. Plainly, he expected a response on the spot. Krasnovski
considered simply telling Kirk that he might as well take his request
directly to Nogura, since even if he, Krasnovski, approved it, it
would certainly be countermanded by the Commanding Admiral.
Perhaps it was only his pride that stopped him from doing
that, from acting as though it were anything more than a routine
request that he would process through normal channels.

"Admiral, do you have any questions about the list?" Kirk
asked politely.

Krasnovski pretended to look over the list carefully.
"Ah--no," he hemmed.

"When may I expect a response?" Kirk's tone was more
pointed this time.

Krasnovski said awkwardly that he would accord his
request the usual deference and would get back to him shortly. But
as Kirk left the office, only slightly more relaxed than he was when
he came in, Krasnovski sighed to himself, knowing this was going
to mean another battle with Nogura.

************************

Spock lay on the healer's couch, feeling vaguely
apprehensive. He was not sure why he felt such anxiety; he had
known T'Lau since childhood, and he trusted her completely.
His family had not even been curious when he made an
appointment with her almost the moment he got back. No doubt
they expected that, having lived among Humans for so long, he
would have health needs that only a Vulcan practitioner could
attend to.

T'Lau was a woman of middle age, a healer of the classical
school. She did not rely only on external symptoms to divine the
onset of disease, but had developed the skill of engaging the
autonomic nervous system in direct mental contact, of "sensing"
telepathically any signs of incipient physical distress long before
symptoms were manifest.

Spock knew that T'Lau would sense his relationship with
Jim in his mind, but that did not bother him, although he had not yet
told his family, even his mother. It would be no more embarrassing
to T'Lau than an infection or an inflammation would be to any
healer, bound by her vow of discretion. After she had completed the
standard examination, he intended to ask her to refer him to a
specialist in emotional pathology.

T'Lau approached the couch, looking cool and detached and
clinical. She did not speak to him. She had been meditating to ready
herself for direct contact with the sub-cortical centers of his brain.
It was a unique art, one that required its own peculiar preparation.
Spock lay back, letting his body go limp and his mind
wander as she placed her hands deliberately on his temples. He felt
nothing in his conscious mind, did not even feel her mind trying to
contact his. All he could sense were odd muscular twinges, his
heart racing rapidly, his breath coming fast for a moment.

Finally, T'Lau broke the meld and went back to her desk.
She took a moment to recover and then wrote out some notes
without speaking to him. Spock sat on the couch and waited. At
last she finished writing, looked over the notes with a quick glance,
and closed her notebook. She walked over to the couch and looked
at him.

"You are in fine health, Spock," she said. "All
systems--digestive, respiratory, circulatory--" she waved her hand
to cover the rest--are functioning quite efficiently. You are
approximately at the mid-point of your cycle, hormonal levels
normal. All body functions are at par, and you have no health
problems that should concern you."

He acknowledged the information without thanking her, in
the Vulcan manner. The subject he had come prepared to speak
with her about was on the tip of his tongue. But she forestalled him
with a query of her own. "Spock. I was never told that you were
bonded."

He straightened in sudden shock. He knew she would see
Jim in his thoughts. It was an unorthodox relationship by Vulcan
standards. But he had not expected her to misunderstand it. He was
surprised that a healer of her telepathic ability and scientific
precision had been this inaccurate. Was she simply too provincial to
understand an intimate relationship with a person to
whom one is not bonded?

He groped for a way to tell her politely of her error. "T'Lau,
I am not bonded. I do have a ... a lover--" he used the narrowly
sexual term rather than the poetic *t'hy'la*--a Human whom I
served with, but he and I are not bondmates. As you know, I have
been living among Humans for some two solar decades and--" he
raised his chin pointedly, "I do attempt to practice IDIC."
T'Lau looked at him levelly. "If I had meant 'lover,' Spock, I
would have said 'lover.' I spoke of your bondmate."

"Please explain, T'Lau," Spock said stiffly, fearing he was
about to be treated to a lecture on Vulcan morality and the dangers
of the *pon farr* to an unbonded male.

"When I was examining you," she said simply, "I perceived
the bonding in your mind." And briefly, but with the utmost clarity,
she described Jim to him.

Spock's heart raced. "We have never been bonded, T'Lau.
We have been--lovers--for 0.613 solar years, but we have never
been before a *lakhaylar*--" the telepathic specialist with the skill
of joining minds in the marriage bond--"and I do not understand
how you could have seen such a thing in mind."

She reached up deftly and put her hand on his temple. He
felt a brief flicker in his mind as she satisfied herself that he was
indeed telling the truth. Her face was deeply puzzled as her hand
left his face.

"Very well, Spock, it is true, you have never been before a
*lakhaylar,* but you are bonded nevertheless. I know of only one
other possibility: the *khaylas,* the 'natural bond.' If no *lakhaylar*
has bonded you, it can only have happened spontaneously."

The words shot through him like an electric shock, and he
put his own hand to his temple involuntarily, as though he could
verify the news by examining his own mind more deeply. "That is--"
he wanted to say, 'impossible,' but an instinctive Vulcan precision
prevented it--"extremely improbable."

She nodded. "Indeed. The odds are ..."

"He is not even a telepath," Spock interrupted, his anxiety
rising, realizing as he said it that it sounded as though he were
trying to talk her out of the diagnosis. "He is Human, I am
half-Human--I do not see how--"

T'Lau shrugged. "You have melded, have you not?"

"Yes, but ..."

"In principle, a *khaylas* can be formed between any two
persons with an extremely high level of mental compatibility. In
practice, of course, it is so rare that we have had little opportunity
to study it, much less be able to predict or explain when and to
whom it might occur."

"Then you cannot tell me how it happened?" Spock asked
anxiously.

"No, I know only that it exists."

Never in a thousand turns of his planet's tri-star had Spock
expected this. It was said that a natural bonding occurred 'once in a
generation,' and Spock had never known personally or heard of any
living person to whom this had happened. His mind raced as he
tried to consider the practical consequences.

T'Lau was looking at him thoughtfully. She was, he was
sure, thinking of the scientific implications as well as the personal
ones for Spock. "This is a rare event, Spock, and both you and all
Vulcan will benefit if our profession is enabled to study it."
He felt helpless, knowing she was right but resisting the idea
that his relationship with Jim should be dissected. T'Lau sensed his
embarrassment and added, compassion in her voice, "I shall not
allow your privacy and your dignity to be invaded, Spock. But,
with your permission, of course, I would like to record some
further observations. If you are willing, I and some of
my colleagues who are specialists in this field will try to determine
the etiology of this event. Whatever understanding we gain will be
of great value to our science."

*Of course.* And*--the unbidden thought rose to the
surface of his furiously churning thoughts--*he would have to make
a decision, would need their knowledge to decide what to do, what
to tell Jim.*

They made an appointment with a group of T'Lau's
colleagues, and Spock went home, his emotions in disarray.

***********************

Admiral Heihachiro Nogura was absorbed in editing a
report to the Federation Council, and he declined to look up from
his desk when he heard the voice of his aide, murmuring
instructions to the person he had just ushered into the room. He
knew who it was and why he had come. And he preferred to keep
his visitor waiting for a few moments.

When Nogura finally raised his eyes, he projected the air of
a man who had little time for matters that were the responsibility of
his subordinates. He knew from Igor Krasnovski why Kirk had
requested this meeting with him, and of course he could have
refused to have this conversation at all. But Kirk was unbearably
persistent, and Nogura had decided that it was easier to have this
conversation than continually to have to come up with new reasons
not to meet him or than to try to put him off forever.

"At ease," he said tersely, and although Kirk did not stand at
attention, he did not relax or take the chair Nogura proffered. The
younger man's eyes were guarded; his face had the deceptive calm
and smoothness of a master poker player. He did not make small
talk or wait for an opening. "As I'm sure Admiral Krasnovski has
told you, Admiral," Kirk began, "I gave him the list of officers I've
asked to be posted to the *Lexington* over a week ago. All my
requests have been processed except the post of First Officer-First
Science Officer. I've asked Admiral Krasnovski several times in the
last few days for a response, and he finally suggested that I might
have better luck at your level."

Nogura frowned at this reminder of what he considered a
character flaw in Krasnovski, his willingness to reveal under
pressure that the Commanding Admiral's decisions were not
necessarily the same as his own. But nothing would be gained by
avoidance, so he nodded brusquely, "You've come to the right
place, but I don't think luck is what you'll get here. I've refused to
approve Commander Spock's assignment to a position I think he's
greatly overqualified for."

"Two positions," Kirk corrected him calmly, his face as
impassive as Nogura's own, "that, in combination, Commander
Spock is uniquely qualified to hold. Your own analysis of the Five
Year Mission showed that his ability to combine both posts
contributed enormously to the effectiveness of the *Enterprise*
command team."

Nogura was not about to debate the merits of his decision
with a subordinate. "Captain, I assume you've discussed all this with
Admiral Krasnovski. I also assume you understand that
Commander Spock is an extremely valuable resource to Starfleet
and that we cannot allow personal preference to dictate his
assignment."

Something unknowable passed across Kirk's steady gaze.
When he replied, his tone was impeccably correct but Nogura felt
the steel in the soft voice. "My relationship with Commander Spock
is no secret," he said quietly. "But I expect my request to be treated
on its merits, not on the basis of stereotypes about Vulcans."
So. Kirk had lobbed the ball into his court, asking him, in
effect, to admit or deny that his decision had been based on their
relationship.

Nogura hated to play someone else's game. "Why do you
bring it up?" he asked in a stiff, frosty voice that, he hoped, would
make plain to Kirk that he had no intention of stooping to the level
of discussing his private life.

Kirk stood his ground coolly. "Just in case you had any
misconceptions about us, Admiral." His hands were behind his back
now, his posture more military. "Spock and I know the rules and
the treaty terms. We are not bonded. You can verify that by
checking the legal records."

Nogura had checked, of course, and he could read in Kirk's
clear, relentless gaze that Kirk knew that he had. Kirk's drive and
energy practically leaped across the desk at him, and he had the
sense of being hounded into a corner. Looking into Kirk's clear
eyes, he had the uncomfortable feeling that he was transparent to
the younger man, that Kirk knew the grounds for his refusal and
would not let go until he had acknowledged it.

He wasn't going to be forced into either an admission or a
denial. With the instinctive tactical skill he was famous for, he
decided on a different tack. He paused, leaned back in his desk
chair and pretended to think for a moment.

When he spoke, his voice was sympathetic and avuncular.
"Jim, do you remember how many Vulcans we had in Starfleet
when you graduated from the Academy?"
If Kirk was surprised, he didn't let it show. He pursed his
lips slightly and shrugged. "Two dozen."

"Close enough," Nogura murmured, holding a stylus
between the fingers of two hands. "And now, it's ..." He looked at
the ceiling, as though the figure were written there instead of in the
computer on his desktop and his eidetic memory, "Two thousand,
four hundred and sixty-two. Even after the loss of the *Intrepid.*
Still mostly in ground positions, a few on all-Vulcan ships, but the
numbers are growing."

Kirk waited, not patiently, for him to get to the point.
Nogura swivelled his chair down and looked squarely at
Kirk. "Do you know how many of those 2,462 persons are not
bonded, Jim?"

Despite Kirk's carefully controlled expression, Nogura could
tell he was surprised by the question. The starship captain made a
small impatient gesture and replied, "I don't know, but I'd guess less
than ten."

"One," Nogura corrected him, tucking his chin down as if to
lecture the younger man.
Kirk was silent, unmoving, but Nogura could feel that he
was taken aback.

"We know much more about Vulcans than we did fifteen or
twenty years ago, Jim, when you were a student at the Academy.
And we go to great lengths to accommodate Vulcan psychology
and physiology. We assign bondmates in proximity to each other in
ground postings, even though we don't do that for any other
species. We exempt bonded Vulcans from deep space duty because
of the *jarizat-inqaz* and the *pon farr.*"

Nogura waited for a reaction, but Kirk merely looked at him
in stony silence. He continued, conversationally, "Our
xenopsychologists--did you know Lori Ciani is a xenopsychologist,
Jim?--tell us that the bonding serves a deep psychic need for
Vulcans, a need that is much more fundamental for Vulcans than
the Human need for the institution of marriage. I suppose they must
be right; it would certainly explain why so few Vulcans are
unbonded."

Despite Kirk's formidable self-control, Nogura caught a tiny
flicker crossing his face, and he knew he'd used the right tactic.

"If this is a conversation about my personal affairs,
Admiral"--Nogura could feel the effort it took Kirk to keep the
anger out of his voice--"I didn't come here to discuss them with
you. I *am* interested in the reasons why you've decided that
Spock and I can't be posted together."

"I know you didn't, Jim," Nogura deliberately made his tone
cordial and benign, sensing that this approach was getting under
Kirk's skin and make him reveal more. "Yet, as you know, if you
were bonded, you'd have the *right* to be posted together,
although it would have to be in a ground position. Most Starfleet
couples in your situation would take a 50% cut in pay to qualify for
the privileges we extend automatically to Vulcans."
This time Kirk flinched visibly, and Nogura saw he had hit
home. The younger man did not answer.

"Jim," Nogura spread his hands on his desk in a gesture of
sympathy he did not feel, "I know we don't see eye to eye on this. I
could give you a dozen reasons why it makes sense to assign
Commander Spock somewhere other than your ship. You could
give me a dozen in return, none of them motivated by personal
interests, I am sure. But I've made my decision. Admiral Krasnovski
supports it. I'm sorry, but you'll simply have to live with it."

Kirk recognized that the conversation was at an end, and
nodded shortly. "I see, sir. Thank you for your time." He drew
himself up to attention, turned on his heel and strode out of the
room.

Nogura knew this was not going to be the end of the matter.
But he had learned something useful in the last few moments. Kirk
had taken his remarks about the bonding as a reproach. Plainly,
those two had not worked out all the issues in their relationship.
Nogura was more certain than ever that his decision was correct.

***************************

As Spock waited out the days until he could meet with the
specialists, he found himself in an inner turmoil so profound that
none of the disciplines in his arsenal could quell it completely. He
was able to hide it from his parents, who were pleased that he was
in good physical health and did not inquire further about the results
of his visit to T'Lau. He spent a good deal of time alone, trying to
force his shaken nerves to relax so that he could think logically.
*Alternatives,* he told himself severely, as he meditated in
his bed chamber. *There are always alternatives. I shall decide
logically how to confront this problem.*

*Alternative One. To return to Earth, tell Jim of the
existence of the bond. To base my decision on his reaction.*
*Scenario A: He will accept it. He will tell me that he is
pleased, that he feels joy that this has happened (he was the one
who first suggested that we bond, was he not?) .... We shall be
posted together automatically, though not on a starship.*

Spock resisted the temptation to fantasize how pleasant this
alternative would be. This was no time for dreaming. *Continue
with the scenario. Eventually, Jim would long for another field
command. But he would not apply for one because I could not
accompany him. Eventually, he would become bitter and frustrated.
I would be the cause of his frustration.*

*Alternative One, Scenario B. A compromise of sorts. Jim
would return to space without me; we would see each other on
leaves ... Jim would have his starship, I would have the bonding.*
Spock shook his head as if to clear it of a drug, astonished at his
own capacity for far-fetched imagination. *No Vulcan would do
that, could do it. The pon farr ... impossible.*

*Alternative Two. To break the bond*--Spock did not
know if a natural bond had ever been broken, but theoretically any
bond could be, using proven techniques--*return to Earth, resume
our lives as before. Again, two possible scenarios arise. Alternative
Two, Scenario A. If we remain lovers, will not the bond form again,
as before? Scenario B: Suppose we forestall that possibility, by
ceasing to be lovers ... could either of us bear that? To serve
together as Captain and First Officer, as friends, but no more?*
He shook his head grimly. The only alternative that made
sense to him was to break the bond before he told Jim what had
happened, and to give him a choice. To let him choose between
loving him with the bond, or not loving him at all. It was easy to
convince himself that Jim would be generous, that he would accept
the inevitability of what had happened, that he would welcome the
bond and rejoice in it ... but honesty told him that he could not
impose this on Jim. He simply was not ready for the bonding.
Spock arose from the meditative position and lay down on
the bed, the bed of his childhood, and rested his aching head on a
cushion. Jim had already made his decision, that afternoon in the
fields of Iowa. Spock would not present him with a fait accompli.
He must free him.

**************************

From the look on Lori Ciani's face as she entered his office
for their regular briefing before the meeting of the General Staff,
Nogura could see that she did not have good news to report. "Sir,
the item that Admiral Mendez placed on the agenda regarding
Commander Spock--"

Nogura sighed harshly. "You're going to tell me you've
already counted the votes."

She nodded unhappily. "It doesn't look good, sir. Mendez will
carry the General Staff by all but one, if not unanimously. Even
Krasnovski is wavering."

Nogura scowled and resisted the temptation to clench his
hands. "You've talked to everyone?" He was asking, of course, if
she had plied the other Admirals with Nogura's own arguments--the
empathetic Ciani was extremely good at that.

Again, she nodded, looking downright miserable by now.
Nogura knew how much his aide de camp hated to fail. "Kirk has
strong support, as you know--Mendez and Sengumba and Abd
al-Hamid think he walks on water; the rest of the Staff merely
thinks he's the best starship commander in history. And that he and
Spock are the best team in Starfleet. And--" she paused and looked
down at her hands for a moment as though gathering the nerve to
say what she needed to say next--"there's something else, sir."
Nogura looked at her impatiently, waiting for her to finish.

"They're convinced you're ... punishing the two of them for
being ... involved with each other," she went on hesitantly, saying
the euphemism with difficulty. "As you can imagine, that's not a
popular position. Anyone who's ever had a romantic relationship
with someone he served with can empathize with Kirk's situation."
Nogura threw up his hands in exasperation.

"Sentimentality," he said shortly.

Ciani shrugged and frowned. "Perhaps it's not only that, sir.
Mendez has reminded the others of the track record of other
couples who've served together in line positions. Robert April and
his wife, for example. Several of the Admirals are asking if you
want to treat Kirk and Spock differently because Spock is a
Vulcan."

At that, Nogura knew he had lost. And sure enough, when
the members of the General Staff assembled for their regular
meeting at 1000 hours, he could sense from their body language
that the vote would go overwhelmingly against him. He did not
press it to a vote but allowed Mendez's recommendation to carry
without discussion.

*******************************

At last the day of the appointment arrived, and Spock met
again with T'Lau and a large group of eminent Vulcan physicians
and academicians. So many persons were going to examine his
mind that T'Lau had helped him enter a light trance before the
session began so that he would not feel the strain as deeply. He was
not really conscious of what had happened until he awoke
later, after they had gone, and was alone with T'Lau in her office.

"What did you learn?" he asked her anxiously.
She shook her head in regret. "We were unable to trace the
bonding to any specific event in your memory. That does not mean
that there was no specific incident that precipitated the
bonding--merely that it is so closely associated with the linkages
and neural connections in the sub-cortical levels of the brain that it
is impossible to locate it in time and space."

Spock mentioned the idea that had refused to let go of him
during the last several days--the time he and Jim had made love in
the field in Iowa, the joining that had been so extraordinarily deep
and close, deeper and closer than any other. Could that have
precipitated the bonding? She agreed this was possible. The higher
the level of sexual energy, the deeper the meld, and the greater the
portion of the brain that is actively involved in the meld.
If he wished to break the bond, T'Lau advised him--and
although she kept her face impassive, Spock could tell she was
stunned at the idea that he would want to break a bond so rare and
precious and celebrated in Vulcan legend and literature--it would be
useful to begin with the memory of an event such as that, and trace
it back into the depths of his own mind to the area of the brain that
responds to the stimulus of *pon farr* by a link to the bondmate.

It would require a great deal of discipline, T'Lau told him,
as well as the assistance of specially trained telepaths. She
recommended that he enter the neuro-psychiatric center several
hundred kilometers from Shikahr, in the desert, where the staff
could direct and monitor his own meditative mental effort, the
effort that would be necessary if he wished to break the bond.

****************************

Spock returned from his appointment with the specialists to
a joyous taped message from Jim. Jim's energy and elation
practically leaped off the screen as he told Spock the news. "Spock,
I have command of the *Lexington.* You've been approved as my
First Officer and First Science Officer. Nogura was dead set against
it and ordered Krasnovski not to make the appointment--but the
rest of the General Staff overruled him."

Spock's heart sank as he listened to Jim's cheerful account
of the politics of the decision--any shred of hope Spock had
harbored evaporated in the light of Jim's blazing happiness. The
tape continued with small talk, a description of the university
lecture tour Jim had agreed to as a consolation prize for Nogura,
and his plea that Spock return as soon as he could. "I miss you so
much," he said simply, the longing in his voice palpable.

******************************

Spock told his parents that he wished to spend time at the
center--he estimated the equivalent of four standard weeks--to
'compensate' for the effect of living for so long among Humans. His
father seemed unperturbed, but the news was plainly unsettling to
his mother. Late at night, he overheard his parents talking together
in his father's study, his mother expressing her
distress that he was still trying to suppress his Human heritage, his
father trying unsuccessfully to assure her that her son's need for a
period of intense meditation and discipline was a normal Vulcan
reaction.

Spock ached to tell his mother that it was not rejection of
Human emotion that dictated his decision, but its opposite--but he
could not bring himself to confide in her. He found he had a strange
fear of her reaction, for he knew it would probably be quite similar
to Jim's own. Although Humans tended to be believers in eternal
love, it was also true that involuntary unions--like forced sex--were
anathema to them. No, what had happened to him was something
only another Vulcan could understand.

So he sent a tape to Jim, telling him that he would be at the
center for about four weeks and that he would contact him when
he returned. "I love you," he said impulsively as he ended the
message--that Human phrase he had never said to anyone but Jim.

****************************

Kirk had not seen Leonard McCoy in six weeks, and he had
missed him enormously. After the debriefings ended, Bones had left
on a long visit to his daughter on Alpha Eridani, and for much of
that time Kirk had been away, too. After his political struggle with
Nogura had ended in triumph with his securing command of the
*Lexington,* Kirk had gone off on a speaking tour of colleges and
universities. He figured he owed it to Starfleet to talk up its good
deeds now that Starfleet had given him what he wanted most:
another five years in command of a starship; another five years
exploring the far corners of space.

Kirk's step quickened as he walked to the restaurant where
he and McCoy were meeting for dinner. He had sorely missed
Bones' insight and solid common sense. His ship's surgeon was his
confidante, and he badly needed a listening ear.
He'd had a lot of time to think in the last six weeks, as
summer had stretched into fall--a rich, brilliant fall of burgundy and
flame. The changing season had kindled an odd mixture of
melancholy and anticipation in his mind, and he missed Spock so
much it was almost a palpable ache. He had tried to keep busy and
bury himself in work but it wasn't enough to keep the longing at
bay.

Still, he'd had plenty to do. The*Lexington* was still in dry
dock and would be for another few weeks, but planning her next
mission consumed hours of meetings and study and the ubiquitous
Starfleet politics. Those chores, and heading follow-up and public
information on the *Enterprise's* mission filled his days, nights and
weekends.

Off-duty, he'd confined his social life mostly to old friends
who understood his sense of incompleteness without Spock. Last
weekend he had gone camping in the mountains up north in British
Columbia with group of friends and spent most of the time wishing
Spock were there. He longed to see the lush autumn splendor
through Spock's well-ordered mind, to banish the advancing
season's chill from his lean body with love.

Despite his loneliness, Kirk felt a sense of anticipation--for
the new phase in their lives that would begin when Spock returned.
In the two weeks they had spent at Headquarters before Spock had
left for Vulcan, he felt they had affirmed a commitment that had
never been explicit enough for him in the six month they had been
lovers on the *Enterprise.* They had acknowledged that they both
wanted a relationship that would endure not just for the duration of
a voyage but for the rest of their lives. He'd never doubted Spock's
love for him, but there had always been that fear in the back of his
mind that logic, and Vulcan, would one day take Spock away from
him ... in spite of the uncertainties ahead, he felt a sense of relief
and joy that they had agreed to stay together.

The exhilaration of the closeness they had achieved in those
two weeks on Earth had stayed with him, animating him, giving him
purpose. He looked forward to a future in which that closeness
would deepen even more as they explored each other's minds and
souls in love-making and the mind meld.

Perhaps he was being naively Human, Kirk thought, but he
even felt confident that with his own love for Spock and the
emotional rapport they shared, he could give him as much security
and intimacy as a Vulcan bonding. He was damned well going to
try his best.

He didn't fear the emotional discipline Spock sought to
strengthen on Vulcan. In his own way, Kirk was highly disciplined
himself, and he respected and understood Spock's need for firmer
controls. He was still a little stunned, though, by the emotion, the
intense fear, that Spock had shown him in his mind the night he left
for Vulcan. He had not realized how deeply Spock's control had
been upset by the stress he felt when Kirk was in danger.

Then as the weeks wore on, Kirk had begun to question the
solution they had agreed upon before Spock left. Was it fair to
Spock to force him to postpone a true Vulcan bonding, to bear the
burden of acquiring additional control just to accommodate his own
self-centered need to command a starship?

Yes, he needed his ship, had felt a great aching hole where the
*Enterprise* used to be since they'd debarked. Could Spock be
everything to him, make his life feel worthwhile even in a job he
hated? Could Spock become the true center of his world,
displacing his career and his ship? Could he accepted being
unfulfilled in his work as the price of giving Spock the one thing he
needed most?

Why had they agreed on a resolution that gave Kirk
everything he wanted, but forced Spock to take second-best? Yes,
he could justify it logically. They didn't make the rules for Starfleet
or Vulcan; they only had to live by them. They were the best team
in Starfleet, and being lovers had only made them better, regardless
of what Nogura thought. He could think of no reason why they
shouldn't repeat an arrangement that had worked so well in the
past--except what it was doing to Spock.

Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the questions had begun to
wear away at his own stubborn resistance to considering any job for
himself but that of starship commander. He had even begun to
question whether his decision to push for another starship command
had been right. Surely Spock's well-being was entitled to more
weight than he had given it.

As he took his seat in a snug booth across the table from
McCoy, he felt desperately eager for the doctor's advice. Over
drinks, he poured out the story of his discovery of the *jarizat
inqaz,* his discussions with Spock about the bond, the
machinations he had had to endure to secure another command
with Spock as his First Officer. With some chagrin he told McCoy
about the meeting he had had with Nogura, before he had asked
Jose Mendez to take the issue of Spock's assignment to the entire
General Staff.

"I felt awful when Nogura--Nogura!--reminded me how
important the bonding is to Vulcans, that Spock is the only Vulcan
in Starfleet who *isn't* bonded, and that we'd have our pick of
ground assignments together if we were bondmates," he said
ruefully.

McCoy listened thoughtfully, with his usual empathy.
"I'm afraid I've made the wrong decision," Kirk finally
blurted out to his friend, "denying Spock the bonding. Asking
Spock to go on serving with me. He's not used to dealing with
strong, contradictory emotions. I wonder if it's right to keep
subjecting him to the strain."

McCoy mulled this over in the short silence as their dinner
arrived. "He's a Vulcan," the doctor said at last, "with all kinds of
mental and emotional controls that you and I can barely imagine.
Why is it so hard for him and not for you?"

Kirk sighed and tore a small piece of bread from the loaf in
front of him. "I'm not sure I can explain it, Bones. I know that being
Spock's lover has made me a better commander. More centered,
more balanced emotionally. Happier, of course. I draw on all of that
when ... when I have difficult decisions to make. But Spock doesn't
make the decisions--he merely has to live with them. I think it's a
hell of a lot easier for me to act, even if it means sending one or
both of us into danger, than it is for him to wait passively."
McCoy picked at his food thoughtfully, then set his fork
down. When he spoke, Kirk felt compassion and sadness in his
voice. "Jim, you may be right, but changing jobs for someone else's
benefit can be awfully risky."

Kirk was startled. "What do you mean?"

McCoy looked at Kirk levelly. "Making a sacrifice for the
person you love may seem noble and romantic at the time, but
there's almost no way to avoid resenting it later."
"I could never resent Spock!" Kirk insisted, a little too
strenuously. He knew even as McCoy said the words that his friend
was right.

McCoy pressed his advantage. "Jim, hear me out," he
persisted. "When I was married, my wife interrupted her career so
that I could finish my internship and residency. She stayed home
with Joanna, pretty much raised her single-handed for the first few
years. I convinced myself that the universe needed me to work
eighteen hours a day learning to be a doctor, and that it was
unfortunate, but necessary, that her plans take second place. Oh, of
course, she agreed in the beginning that it was only the logical thing
to do. But eventually, she began to resent it--resent it so much there
was no way we could salvage the marriage, in the end."
Kirk flinched inside, protesting to himself that the
comparison wasn't fair, but Bones' words had hit their mark. He
kept his voice steady as he replied. "I'm not a martyr, Bones. I've
come close to getting married at least three or four times before
this. I never considered giving up my job or turning down a
command before."

"And that's why your women always broke it off, Jim,"
McCoy retorted, "for their own emotional survival. But now, you're
beginning to think of doing something you never would have done
for anyone else, because Spock means more to you than anyone
else, perhaps even more than your career. And all I am saying to
you is that you need to consider your own emotional survival as
well."

Kirk felt his stomach turn over in despair. Subconsciously,
he knew he had come to Bones for support in making the most
difficult decision he had ever had to make--giving up a starship
command. And Bones was not helping. He looked at McCoy
helplessly. "I care about Spock's emotional survival, too," he said
softly.

"Of course you do." The sadness in his voice mirrored
Kirk's own emotions. "Just don't make a hasty decision you'll regret
later. You'd be miserable in a ground post."

Unsatisfied curiosity tugged at Kirk's mind. "You admitted,
Bones, that your marriage fell apart because you gave priority to
your career. Are you saying that if you had it to do over, you'd put
your wife first?"

"No," McCoy shook his head grimly. "That's the tough part
of all this, Jim. When Nancy and I were first married, I needed to
become the best surgeon I could be just as much as I needed air to
breathe. Working those long days and nights was something I had
to do, just the way you need to command a starship."

"Bones, you make it sound like something mystical," Kirk
said with a crooked smile that he did not feel. He knew enough
about his friend--and himself--to know that the comparison was apt.

"I know your psych profiles by heart," McCoy went on,
"Hell, I know them better than my own. What they say about you is
that starship command is a perfect match for your psychological
needs."

Kirk shook his head miserably. "I need Spock, too."

"But you have him, and he has you. I can't believe that
Spock would want you to give up what you do best--and better
than anyone else in Starfleet--because of him. I think the
compromise you reached is a sensible one. You placed your
respective needs on the table and negotiated. That's a hell of a lot
more than most couples do. You haven't decided not to bond,
you've only postponed it. It was Spock's choice as well as yours--I
think you should respect it. He thought it was the logical thing to
do, didn't he?"

Kirk smiled in spite of himself. A wave of love and yearning
for Spock welled up in him, so strong he could hardly bear to pick
up his fork and finish the meal.

***************************

Kirk had planned to go back to his office after he and
McCoy parted at the door of the restaurant, but he changed his
mind and turned in the direction of his apartment instead. Today
was the day the mail shuttle arrived from Vulcan, and today he
might get a tape from Spock. It had been four weeks since Spock
had left for the neuro-psychiatric institute in the desert. Spock had
told him that he would be spending those four weeks in meditation
and total psychic concentration. Today was the first mail since
those four weeks had ended.

Anticipation quickened his step. The prickle of intuition told
him a tape would be waiting for him. A tape telling him that Spock
had finished his strenuous therapy in the desert, that he had righted
his emotional imbalance, that he was sound and Vulcan and in
control again ....

McCoy's words still rang in his mind, and he knew his friend
had not been wrong. But just as surely, he knew there was more
than one solution to the dilemma he faced with Spock. Somehow,
in the course of that conversation with McCoy, a different kind of
resolve had emerged from the discord of Kirk's own complex
feelings.

To put Spock first. As he had never done with another
human being, not ever, not since he had received that fateful
acceptance letter from Starfleet Academy. To honor Spock's needs
as truly as he would his own.

As the lights of his apartment building loomed ahead of him
in the dusk, the anguish he had felt at the restaurant with McCoy
lifted, and he felt light-headed with joy.

He would tell Spock the offer of the Admiralty position was
still open, and they would discuss it, calmly and rationally, and
make a decision. With choice comes freedom, and they had a
choice. They could choose to serve on a starship again; and, just as
freely, they could choose not to. He could give up his starship
command without playing the martyr. And he was going to make
damn sure that Spock didn't give up anything important for *him.*
Confidently, he entered the apartment building and called
the lift.

By the time the elevator neared the twenty-second floor, his
confidence had evaporated, to be replaced by a heart-pounding case
of the jitters. *Oh, please, let there be a tape. Let me hear from
him.*

He berated himself for feeling like a giddy schoolboy. But
he wanted so much to see Spock's austere features on the screen
again, to hear his slow, measured voice. *I'm setting myself up for
one hell of a disappointment if there's nothing there. It might be too
early. Maybe he hasn't come back yet. Maybe it's taking longer than
he thought. He may have been too optimistic.* Kirk reminded
himself that Spock had said four weeks, and Spock was never
imprecise. *Still, he may not be ready yet, may still be fasting and
meditating and whatever else he went there to do, and I'll just have
to be patient a little longer.*

By the time the elevator reached his floor, he'd convinced
himself not to expect anything. He looked away as his hand reached
into the small compartment outside his apartment and felt for the
tapes from worlds beyond sub-space range that the mail service had
deposited there.

But when he turned to look, he saw a tiny disk with the
familiar Vulcan marking, and a wave of relief and joy broke over
him, sweeping away his anxiety. He forced his hand to be steady as
he palmed open the door, rushed over to the viewer and broke open
the case.

*Easy ... easy ...* he told himself. *Don't rush. He has
something important to say ... wait. Wait 'til you calm down.* To
still the furious pounding of his heart, he forced himself to set the
tape down by the viewer and go get a drink of water. *Relax! You
and Spock have some important decisions to make, and you're
going to start making them now. Sit down like an adult and listen to
what he has to say.*

Kirk brought his glass over to the viewer, picking up a
blank disk from the dispenser as he sat down so that he could
respond to Spock after he'd watched his message. He was calmer
than he had been in the elevator, but his hand still trembled a little
as he put the tape in the machine and switched it on, holding his
breath.

Spock's familiar image flashed on the screen almost
immediately, and Kirk felt a lurch in his stomach. *How thin he is,
oh, what he must have gone through in the desert ... a wave of
tenderness and compassion swept over him. When we're together
again, I'll be damned if I ever let him go through anything like that
again ...*

So he was not prepared, when Spock's gaunt image spoke,
for what Spock had to say.

Kirk felt as though he were hearing Spock's voice in some
distant part of his mind, as though he were drunk or underwater or
watching an operation on himself while under anesthesia. He heard
Spock speaking words that made perfect sense to one part of his
brain, and left the rest of his mind in a state of shock.
The words Spock was saying were very clear indeed. He
just couldn't connect them with Spock. He couldn't believe that
*Spock* was saying them.

Then it hit home, in a sudden heartsick rush of insight, and
he understood that Spock was only telling him what he deserved to
hear. He had no right to be astonished at all.

And then that glimmer of self-revelation was wiped out by a
sudden hot surge of fury, and Kirk rose to his feet, knocking the
glass over as he did, hearing it clatter to the floor, not caring where
the water spilled. He lurched toward the viewer, fists clenched, as
though he were threatening to disembowel the machine and rip the
bitter message out of it.

"No!" He shouted at the unseeing image on the screen.

"Spock--no!"

The tape ended then, and the cry tore from his throat like a
strangled sob. "NO!"

******************************

Like most Vulcans he was adept at fasting, but he had never
gone this long without food before, and his body was so weak that
it was all he could do to lift it off the cot and into a meditative
position. He sat in the simple, round-domed hut, grateful for the
natural insulation its mud-brick walls provided against the heat.
The clarity of mind that comes with fasting and rigorous
mental exercise had long since arrived and was in danger of slipping
away, and if he did not finish his task soon, it would be too late. He
would have to break his fast or die. Yes, some men had died here in
this silent desert retreat, refusing to yield to their bodies' needs until
they had found the answer they sought. His own hold on life was
too strong for that, but his fear of failure had become desperate.

As the day grew hotter he grew drowsier and drowsier,
unable to keep himself from drifting into an uneasy, uncomfortable
sleep. His throat was very dry, and his body felt small and shriveled,
desiccated, as though all the life energy had been wrung out of it
during these last six weeks. He felt as still and lifeless as the sere
desert air.

*Thoroughly small and dry/Smaller and drier than the will*
... the fragment of English verse drifted into his mind, and he
wondered why an image of the Terran concept of submission to the
will of God had risen in his mind when the discipline he strove for
was the far more demanding submission to logic.
At mid-day he began to feel giddy. He was repeating the
exercise he had conducted, over and over, tracing his bonding link
with Jim back into the depths of his mind and, with the help of the
healers, breaking down the autonomic reflexes piece by piece. He
had broken some of the connections, but many, far too many,
remained.

The weakness of his body was affecting his ability to
concentrate. Yet if he broke his fast, so much of his autonomic
nervous system would be occupied in the digestive and other
functions triggered by the ingestion of food that tracing the link into
the subconscious levels of the mind would be almost impossible.
He closed his mind again and let himself sink into a
meditative alpha state. He tried to focus on the mind-meld in the
field in Iowa, the starting point of many of his meditations, because
it had been so profound.

But instead, he found himself remembering an incident that
had happened 2.78
months earlier, when they were still on the *Enterprise,* an incident
in the Beta Carinae system ... he was more than remembering it, he
was reliving it, almost.

A sun going nova, Romulan battle cruisers on their flank,
Jim alone in a crippled scout craft on the other side of the star, far
out of transporter range, helplessly buffeted by the nova's rapidly
shifting gravitational field ......

Aware that he was losing consciousness and control, Spock
fought the dream. But each time he slipped out of consciousness he
began again to feel the raw terror he had felt then--and the painful
memory was like an electric jolt that jarred him back to
consciousness. But he slipped back again ....

The Romulans blocked their way to port. The only way to
get to Jim was straight ahead, through the penumbra of the nova
itself. The heat seared his face, sweat beaded his forehead. He could
only imagine how his Human shipmates felt. The bridge crew
turned to him, reciting the unsurprising readings. Hull temperature
rising rapidly, shields disintegrating.

They stared in horror as he ordered them ahead, straight
into the star. "We'll be burned to a crisp," someone muttered, he did
not know who, his mind was a red haze, he couldn't tell where the
sounds were coming from.

Demented, he drove them on, far too near the sun, the only
fragment of thought in his mind how to reduce the distance
between them and Jim's shuttlecraft. Their only hope was to shoot
through the heat so rapidly that the ship did not have time to burn
up. To do that, they'd need all their engines' power, with none left
to maintain what was left of the shields, nor any for the emergency
cooling system that was now on full power.

As Humans said, out of the frying pan, into the fire.
"Cut warp power to the shields and cooling units," he
ordered Engineering. "Direct full power to the engines. Maximum
possible warp. Add impulse power to boosters. We must have at
least Warp 10 to get through the penumbra."

Scott was aghast. "The engines are overheatin' already, Mr.
Spock, and if they don't break up from the strain of making Warp
10, without any shields or coolant, they'll surely blow up from the
heat! We're going ta lose the ship for sure if we continue!"
The rest of the bridge crew looked at him expectantly,
sweat running down their faces. He could tell from their eyes that
they thought him mad. If it had not been for their loyalty to him,
and to Jim ... but in the suffocating heat, an even hotter fury drove
him on, to get through the nova and rescue Jim.

"Follow my orders, Mr. Scott. Give every ounce of power
you've got to the engines." He ordered medical units to the bridge,
ordered all hands into the
interior parts of the ship, as far from the hull as they could get. The
bridge crew, exposed at the top of the hull's bubble, would have to
rely on the more primitive expedient of cold packs to keep their
body temperatures low enough to avoid collapse. He ordered the
transporter room to prepare to lock onto Jim's crippled scout ship,
had Chekov drop everything else to plot its coordinates.

The ship gave a long, ominous shudder. The temperature
rose sharply and then, in a split second, they were through, and
Chekov, wiping the perspiration from his eyes with a towel, was
telling him, "Coordinates located, sair ..." and without even waiting
for Spock's order, feeding them into the transporter room. And then
Kirk was there, looking flushed and rattled and about to collapse
from heat stroke himself, but splendid and whole ....

Spock wondered afterwards what demon had possessed him
then. Now, reliving that hellish scene again, he knew. Wide awake
now, he sat up on his cot. He had thought it was Human emotion
that had gripped him then, had taken over his reason, made him do
what was wholly irrational, against all the odds.
Now he knew that there had been nothing Human about it
at all, that all-consuming urge to save his bondmate, no matter what
the risk to four hundred and thirty other lives. It was the *jarizat
inqaz*, the primitive "rescue instinct of one bondmate for another.

He knew then that they had been bonded long before that
afternoon in Iowa.

Other memories crowded into his mind: Tholia; the planet of the
obelisk; all the countless other times he had endangered the ship
and defied reason to rescue Jim ... if he traced it as far back enough,
he knew that he would find its roots growing back into the origins
of their relationship, long before they had been lovers.

He could not go back. Even if they did not remain lovers,
the bond would form and reform again, just as it had when they
served on the *Enterprise.*

He could never serve on a starship with Jim again.
He shuddered, the strong emotions draining the last
quantum of energy from his fasting body, and dropped down on the
cot again. *I cannot go back and tell him this. I will not force him
to give up his life's mission for me.*

He fell into a fitful sleep--he had not slept soundly since he
arrived at the center-- and it was near dusk when the healer who
attended him came to waken him and tell him it was now critical
that he break his fast. The older man shook his head grimly as he
took his hand from Spock's temple. "As we have told you, the
bonding connections in your mind are vast. Today we made little
progress with the severing. I have rarely, in my entire career, seen a
mind so imprinted with that of the bondmate. You have no hope of
completing the task."

The healer went toward the main building to bring other
members of the staff. "I am not finished ...." Spock whispered
hoarsely after him. "Let me have another half-day ...."
The arrival of the others jolted him back into sanity, and he
realized that the healer was right. The task was hopeless. And even
if he were successful, of what use was it? He had no solution,
neither for himself nor for Jim.

*Terminate torment/Of love unsatisfied/The greater
torment/Of love satisfied ....

There was only one thing to do now, no, two things ... first
to notify Jim that he had failed, that he would not return. Thank
Vulcan discretion that Jim would never know of the bond. Jim
would be hurt deeply, but better that than force a Vulcan bonding
upon him.

The other task was easy: to find something to do for the rest
of his life.

*And after this our exile ....*

***************************

Kirk sank down into the chair again, shaking, fighting back
a strangled sob, far past the point of shedding tears. "Spock," he
shook his head furiously, "Spock, you bastard--you don't mean it!"

The message had ended and only a grey, blank screen stared
back at him. He hit the machine savagely and shut it off. "Damn
you, Spock! Damn you to a million hells ..." He clenched his fists,
then clutched his head in his hands. Spock's words reverberated in
his mind, a terrible litany.

*I have learned in the last four weeks that I am no longer
the master of my emotions, if indeed I ever was. I cannot continue
as I am. I can no longer take the risk of serving by your side ...
Jim."

The gaunt throat had tensed in an awkward swallow and he
said the devastating words, *I have decided not to return to Earth.
I must remain here, on Vulcan.*

He had stopped then, as though the effort of saying those
words had exhausted him, and then pain rushed into his face and he
said hoarsely, *I am deeply sorry, Jim. I know ... what this will do
to you. If I did not believe this is better for both of us, I would not
have decided as I have.*

And then the dreadful finality of, *Goodbye--t'hy'la.*
One thought rose in Kirk's mind with awful clarity: *I did
this to him. I drove him to this. I knew he couldn't cope
emotionally. I saw the strain he was under ... and I couldn't love
him enough to spare him that strain.*

His eyes stung and the lump in his throat thickened. *But I
did, I do love him enough--I just had to put my own ego first. I
knew what he wanted, and I told him I couldn't give it to him.*

Perhaps he could never undo the wrong he'd done Spock,
but there was only one way to try. Swallowing hard, he went to the
communications console and punched up the shuttle schedule for
Vulcan. Nothing tonight or tomorrow morning, but with any luck
the mail shuttle was still in port. He had learned its routine by heart
in the last several weeks of mailing tapes to Vulcan.

He'd use every connection he had and every ounce of brass
to see that he got on it. He made a few quick calls, confirmed that
the shuttle was still in port, and located her captain in the shuttle
docking bay. She told him curtly--and predictably--that the shuttle
didn't take passengers.

As soon as the shuttle captain switched off, Kirk called her
superior. After a conversation that lasted nearly fifteen minutes, in
which Kirk went from charm to cajolery to veiled threats and barely
stopped short of promising the man the Andromeda nebula, he go
what he wanted.

Next, he left three messages for Starfleet. One was a notice
to Operations and Personnel that he was using accumulated leave
time to handle a personal emergency of an unspecified nature. With
grim satisfaction, he cited the precise section in the regulations that
entitled him to it. The second was a message to his administrative
assistant to see that his unfinished work was reassigned if necessary
and to cancel all appointments he had in the next few weeks
Considering the next message he was going to send, he'd be
canceling most of those appointments anyway.

The third message was addressed to Nogura, but it was
really a message for Spock, because it was the only way Kirk could
prove to him that his commitment to him outweighed his own need
to command a starship. "I have decided to accept the position of
chief of Starfleet Operations," he said slowly, deliberately, as
though weighing every word. "Please notify Personnel to make
other arrangements for command of the starship *Lexington.*"

He grabbed a few essentials, stuffed them in an overnight
bag, and half an hour later boarded the mail shuttle, ignoring the
remarks the captain traded with her first mate to the effect that he
was surely the most expensive piece of freight they'd ever carried.
He didn't blame them for resenting him because he'd gone over their
heads to get on this tub, nor for forcing them to double up to make
room for them. Later, they became more welcoming, but although
he accepted their whiskey, he preferred to drink it alone in his
berth.

It was four days to Vulcan, and he spent a good deal of it
pacing the floor of the tiny cabin, or lying on his back, thinking of
all the things he'd done wrong. His colossal ego. His selfishness.
His blithe assumption that with a few minor adjustments Spock
could be just as content to serve on a starship again as he was.

Well, things were going to be different. He wasn't going to throw
away the most meaningful thing in his life just to play Captain, the
center of the ship, the center of Spock's personal universe ...
In those four days he rehearsed many, many speeches to
Spock, some flowery and sentimental, some straightforward and
severely logical, some as clumsy and awkward as he felt. *Spock,
we just weren't communicating properly, you have to make
allowances for me, I'm dense sometimes, you've got to be more
blunt with me ....*

But Spock had been as open as Kirk could have expected
him to be. Kirk had known what he wanted. He'd just been too
stubborn to acknowledge it.

He tossed and turned on the narrow berth and conjured up a
million ways to compensate for what he had done. If Spock would
let him.

*********************

Kirk drummed his fingers on a communications console at
Vulcan Space Central, waiting for an answer from Spock's home.
Their machine did not answer and was not set to receive messages.
That was odd. He'd begun calling as soon as the shuttle came within
subspace radio range, with the same result.

He decided that having coming this far, he couldn't wait idly
at the space central hotel until he got an answer. He rented an aircar
and drove the thousand-odd kilometers to Shikahr, sensing with an
instinct he could not name that someone was home. But even if
Spock and his family were away, he'd rather wait until they got
back.

Vulcan cities were laid out so logically that he had no
trouble finding Spock's house from the map. He parked the aircar,
got out, strode up to the massive front door of the old stone house
and rang the bell, once, twice, wondering if Vulcans considered it
rude to ring more than once.

Finally, he heard footsteps approaching. Heavy
footsteps--not Spock's.

The imposing figure of Sarek filled the doorway. Kirk felt
suddenly embarrassed to burst in on him like this. An apology
formed on his lips, but Sarek nodded imperturbably and gestured
that he enter the house before he had a chance to voice it.

"You will forgive me," Sarek said impassively as he ushered
him into the great room, sounding strangely unsurprised to see him,
as though having people drop in to visit from a planet light years
away were an everyday occurrence. "My wife is unwell."
In spite of his problems, Kirk felt a surge of concern,
remembering Amanda's age and Sarek's own history of poor health.
The ambassador's voice sounded very tired, and as they entered the
room and Sarek turned to face him again, Kirk could see how
drawn and pale his face was.

"So I must receive you unattended." His voice was strained,
colorless.

A cold fist grabbed Kirk's stomach. "Spock ... is not at
home?" he asked hesitantly. *Maybe's he's on an errand, or at the
laboratory,* he argued to himself, fearing what Sarek was going to
say next.

Something almost imperceptible tugged at the corner of
Sarek's mouth. "No, Captain Kirk, he has not been at home for the
last 2.37 of our days. He left .... to join a meditative community, the
Masters of Gol, in the desert far from here ..." He stood straight,
his arms behind his back, but this time, he did not keep the sound of
defeat from his voice.

Kirk started toward him, his heart pounding. The hand in his
stomach squeezed his gut, sharply, sending waves of pain into his
skull. "What?" He was gaping at Sarek like an idiot. "The ...
Masters of Gol? Who are they? Why.... did he leave?"

But deep inside his outraged mind, he knew. He knew.
Sarek motioned him to a chair and sat down. "The Masters
of Gol are ... a contemplative order." His voice was soft and correct
as always. Kirk guessed he was not going to favor him with his own
views about what Spock had done. "Their goal is to purge all
remaining emotion from the mind. The end result of their discipline
is a state known as *Kolinahr,* which is--perhaps you might
understand it as complete depersonalization of all thought and
memory. It is ... the removal of all affect from mental images and
ideas. The subject no longer has any individual memory of those he
... cared for."

Sarek spoke slowly, precisely, his voice as dry and
impersonal as the state he was trying to describe. But Kirk could
tell that his words had been chosen with Kirk's own concerns in
mind.

*Of course. That's what Spock would have to do, once he'd
decided to run away from me .. become super-Vulcan, find refuge
in total logic and non-emotion, take them to their ultimate
conclusion .... And all because his experiences with Human
emotion--with me--caused him so much pain.*

Kirk fought back the rising lump in his throat, the panic and
guilt that welled up in his chest. He could not afford to let emotion
overpower him now--he had to think strategically, to move quickly,
to intercept Spock if he possibly could before he had completed this
devastating move.

Kirk pulled himself together and sat ramrod-straight in his
chair, thinking furiously. *I know, Sarek, you didn't want him to
go, either. I know that Amanda is alone in her rooms because she is
as devastated by his departure as I am. Please--please help me to
bring him back. For your sake, for his mother's, not only for mine.*
What he said was, "You say he left two days ago. I need to
speak with him. There is some news I must ... bring him. Something
that might have some bearing on his decision to join this ...
meditative community, which might change his mind ..."

Sarek raised an eyebrow. "The Masters of Gol do not allow
just ... *anyone* from outside their community to communicate
with a postulant, Captain. He has pledged himself to their
community; his decision is quite final. He has broken all his ties
with his old life."

Kirk barely heard the last two sentences. *Dammit, I'm not
'just anybody'!* his mind screamed. But he could not say that. He
looked at Sarek warily, struggling to find the right words to ask the
question it hurt so much to ask. *How much had Spock told him?
Can I ... tell this man that his son loved me, wanted to bond with
me?*

For several beats the two men looked at each other, trying
unsuccessfully to read each other.

Finally, Kirk spoke. "Is there any way I can obtain
permission to speak with Spock?"

Sarek looked at him a moment longer as though measuring
him, deciding how to phrase his answer. "I do not know if you will
meet their ... criteria. You must understand how difficult it is;
neither his mother or I, for example, are allowed to see him at all."
Kirk's heart sank, then rose a fraction as Sarek continued,
"You will have to go there in person, of course. They have no
communications devices at their citadel." His voice was carefully
noncommittal.

Kirk leaped to his feet, trying not to seem as over-eager as
he felt. *At least I can go there.* A current of hope coursed
through his mind. If he could only gain access to Spock, speak with
him ... surely they would let him see him, once they knew.
With a dry calm that made Kirk feel awkward, Sarek
walked to a sideboard and picked up a map. No doubt it was the
map they had used the day before yesterday to set Spock on his
journey to the desert community. He pointed to a marking on it.

"This is the location of the Citadel of Gol, and this is the route you
must follow ... you will have to park your aircar here, on this
plateau, and walk the rest of the way."

"I--I can find it, Ambassador," Kirk stammered, swallowing
the words of gratitude that rose from his throat as he accepted the
map Sarek proffered. When would he ever learn *not* to thank a
Vulcan?

He was just turning to leave when Sarek spoke again.
"Captain Kirk. Spock left a message for you in case you should try
to contact us. In case you are not able to speak with him yourself, I
shall repeat it. He said that you must understand that his departure
was ... not your fault."

Kirk's eyebrows knit in puzzlement. "Not my fault?"
Sarek looked at him quizzically, in the manner of one who
pretends to be merely the mouthpiece of a message he does not
understand. "That is what he said."

*************************

Kirk's throat was dry and his head was splitting from the
blinding light of the three suns. He felt as though he'd been walking
for hours, although it probably had been no more than forty-five
minutes from the aircar. At last, the citadel loomed up ahead of
him. a monstrous, carved stone gate stood at its entrance; it looked
as old as the mountains from which it had been quarried.

A brass gong hung beside the gate, and for lack of any other
instruction, Kirk struck it. The wizened old man who appeared a
moment later spoke to him in Old High Vulcan, but Kirk was
thankful that someone was there to receive him at all. He'd manage
to communicate with him somehow. "I wish to speak--briefly--with
one who has just joined your community, a man called Spock ..."

The old man listened impassively to Kirk's halting High
Vulcan, but at least he did not refuse outright. At that, Kirk felt a
glimmer of hope. He paused, unsure how to frame his request.
Expressionless, the old man asked him, "By which claim
would thee speak with
him?"

"I--" fearing he might say the wrong thing, Kirk foundered.
*Claim--right, obligation--what did he mean?*
"By which of the Three Claims would thee speak with him?"
the old man intoned again. It had the cadence of a ritual chant.

Kirk struggled to put the words together in the unfamiliar
language, to explain what he was to Spock.

"He was my best friend, and I his," he began slowly. "We--we
* loved* each other--we were lovers. We planned to spend our
lives together. We joined our thoughts. We were closer to each
other than to anyone else in the universe."

The elder gazed past him and without any sign that Kirk's
words were responsive to his question, repeated the ritual words
again. "By which of the Three Claims would thee speak with him?"

Kirk stiffened in frustration and tried again.
"We served together--" Kirk used the language of the
ancient Vulcan warriors--"as sword and shield mates. We loved
each other more than life itself. He called me t'hy'la."

Still, no response. The emotional language washed over the
elder as though he had not heard it.
"Hast thee one of the Three Claims?" the man said patiently.

Apologetically, Kirk confessed his ignorance of their
traditions. "I'm ...I'm afraid you'll have to tell me what the Three
Claims are, sir."

Stolidly, the man recited, "By Tradition, once a postulant
has passed through these portals, only those with one of three
claims upon him--three ties to him in the outside world--may ever
speak with him again."

"And ... what are those three ties?" Kirk asked, his heart
beginning to sink.

"The Claims are those of son, daughter or bondmate ..."
The old man seemed to be weary of explaining all this to an
outworlder.

Kirk's heart twisted in despair as he realized how close he
was. He opened his hands in a gesture of supplication and pleaded
with the man. "I intend to be his bondmate."

The gatekeeper stared at him abruptly, and for the first time
Kirk felt he was seeing him as a person. "Thee are Spock's
bondmate?"

"Not ... yet," Kirk said desperately, "But I *will* be."
"Thee will be in the future?" The old man looked at him
intently, as though to be sure he had understood his broken High
Vulcan.

"Yes!" Kirk insisted, every shred of sincerity and
persuasiveness he possessed poured into that single word.

"But thee have not bonded *yet.*" The man's gaze was
sharp, cutting him to the core.

"No," Kirk, "Not yet, but --"

But the gatekeeper was no longer looking at him and when
he spoke it was in the voice of ritual chant again. "If thee art not
son nor daughter nor bondmate, be thee gone from here, thou hast
no Claim."

Kirk's arms fell to his sides, heavily. Sarek must have
thought ... He stared up at the huge stone gates and imagined
himself storming them, running Spock down and pleading with him.

The fantasy evaporated in the blinding light of the Vulcan suns and
he looked back down at the frail stranger who was already
beginning to withdraw behind the gates, preparing to close them.
And he heard himself speak as though at a distance, the words as
disembodied and unemotional as though a Vulcan had spoken
them.. "No. We didn't .... we almost ... but we didn't ..." His voice
broke before he could finish.

The old man had already disappeared, as silently as though
the sun had melted him down, and with a final thud of stone on
stone the gates closed behind him. Defeated, Kirk turned and left.
Left the fortress, left the mountains, the desert, and Vulcan, and
Spock.

*************************

Promptly at 1000 hours, Admiral Nogura called the
holocom meeting to order. The images of the seven other members
of the General Staff had already solidified in his office.

The first order of business was to welcome their new
member. Nogura had planned to inject a note of ceremony into the
occasion. But James Kirk, the youngest Rear Admiral in the Fleet,
did not look at all celebratory. Was it an illusion of holographic
projection, Nogura wondered, that made Kirk look hollow,
defeated, drained of the energy and vitality he had always projected
whenever Nogura had encountered him in person?
No matter. Kirk was here, in the tidy world of the
Admiralty, and Nogura had his figurehead. And a figurehead may
be hollow. Indeed, if it is, it will only serve its purpose better.

The End.