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FROM THE DEPTHS




The beast that thou sawest was, and is not;

and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition:

and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder,

--Revelations 17:8





PROLOGUE:



Captain's Log Stardate 3376.1:

Having received approval for our little delay, the
Enterprise is back on course

for Altair Six and back in compliance with orders. Doctor McCoy has declared

First Officer Spock to be fit for duty and, on board, all is well.




Jim thumbed off the cabin desk recorder and chuckled to himself. The exact words of the doctor's report had been, "pedantic, hard-headed, supercilious, and insufferably fit for duty." When Jim had sent it back pointing out that the verbiage was not exactly objective medical terminology, Bones had simply added the words, "in my expert medical opinion." Some days it seemed those two would be the death of him.



Jim stretched his tired shoulders. The wound across his chest pulled and prickled with the motion. Bones had declared it barely a scratch, not even worthy of medical attention, but for some reason it irritated worse than any of the other physical insults of the day. Funny how something seemingly so innocuous could burn so deeply. But by now he should know better than to try to predict feelings based on appearances.



With that thought he toggled the intercom. "Mr. Spock, report to my quarters." He had put this off for the better part of a day already and Spock, of all people, would have deemed that illogical.



The door signal buzzed within a minute. "Come," Jim said. He stood up and moved out from behind the desk. The raw wound again pulled at his chest but he ignored it.



"First Officer reporting as ordered, Captain."



Spock indeed looked every bit of "insufferably fit for duty." With his uniform neat, his face composed and not a hair out of place, he showed no sign of his recent ordeal. In fact, he looked a damn sight better than Jim felt himself.



Vulcans. What can you do? Jim took a deep breath and jumped in. "Yes, Spock, I want a status report."



Spock responded primly, "We are 8.32 days out of Altair Six, running at maximum warp--"



Jim cut him off. "Not on the Enterprise, Spock. I want a report on your status."



Spock's voice changed noticeably, but he held his face neutral. "The pon farr is resolving. My physiological status is close to baseline and I am functioning normally." He looked unwaveringly at a point over Jim's left shoulder.



Jim moved away from the desk. His boots clicked the deck as he paced the short width of the cabin and back. He stopped dead in front of Spock--inches from his face. Spock found he had no where else to look.



"Yes, so Doctor McCoy has informed me, but that isn't what I meant either. You told me that you had a commitment on Vulcan. I assume that was T'Pring?"



"Yes," replied Spock warily.



"And now that commitment is dissolved?"



"Yes." Spock gathered the sum of his biological controls to keep his voice modulated and utterly free from anything a human, this human, would hear as stress.



Kirk gestured, his hands spread wide. "And so now you are free to choose--free to choose whom you wish to be with."



"No. As you have learned, Captain, that is not the manner in which Vulcan mates are chosen."



"But you are not Vulcan," Kirk argued. "You're as much human as you are Vulcan, and choosing with whom to spend one's life is almost fundamental to the human spirit. How can you just turn your back on that?" Jim's face was flushed now and animated with agitation. All evidence of fatigue had fallen away and he gave no hint of backing away from this battle.



Spock sank into the chair. A human strategist would have called it a mistake to sit--to yield the psychological high ground--but such a thought did not occur to Spock. It simply appeared that this was to become...a long night.



"Captain--Jim, I have chosen to live a Vulcan way of life. So much of what makes me an asset to the fleet, to this ship, to you, comes from that pattern of thought and total reason. If I were to disrupt that by giving reign to human sentiment, I would jeopardize everything that I am--everything that you have in me."



Jim drew his tongue across his lower lip. "But your father--"



Spock cut him off abruptly. "My father has a number of advantages that I do not. Among the most important is that he is fully Vulcan. He has the leeway of accepting an occasional indulgence without compromising who he is.



"I, however, am not in a position to be able to afford such a luxury. My human half already inconveniences me to a significant extent. I cannot give in to it further or I risk losing everything I have made of myself--everything that is of value to you. Can you understand that, Captain?"



"No."



Spock shook his head. "Then I am sorry for that. But my decision is pragmatic only. It is not a reflection of any feelings I may have for you."



Jim heard the concession in that choice of words, but he had other fish to fry. "'It's not you, it's me'? That's pretty cliche for a Vulcan, isn't it?" he observed sharply. "Can't you do any better than that?"



"Jim, as with all decisions, this one comes with costs and benefits. In my estimate, the latter outweigh the former."



Jim looked him straight in the eye. "Don't I get a say?"



Spock considered. "In a way, yes. The decision must be mine, yet you have more influence over me than you can possibly know.



"But consider this: if we do as you suggest, and if I were to become unable to function as your First Officer, then what?"



Jim squared his shoulders and felt the burn across his chest anew. "That's a lot of ifs, Spock. I think you can do anything you set your mind to. I think you can be anything you decide you want to be. You have the choice: human, Vulcan or both.



"Yes, I value the mental discipline that you have afforded as a Vulcan, but ships run just fine with all sorts of races and species wearing the braid. The vision of the Federation is not to exploit the strengths of the individual, but to combine all attributes of all people--of all peoples--to see how much more we can become.



"I value you for who you are, not what you are, and I don't foresee the Spock I know compromising anything just because--" Jim stopped and took his unresisting hand. "Just because he has allowed himself to fall in love."



Spock opened his mouth as if to say something, but to his surprise, no words came forth. His mouth drained suddenly dry, mocking his efforts at control. He swallowed and tried again, very quietly. "I think that you underestimate yourself, Jim. You are a most--overwhelming influence."



Human skin temperature was 3.38 degrees Kelvin lower than Vulcan, and yet Jim's hand seemed to burn hot around his. Finally, mercifully, Jim let it drop.



"So what will you do for your next cycle?" Jim asked. "You can't just ignore biology."



"My family will make arrangements for a suitable mate."



"So you'll just marry someone you don't love? Spock, that's insane!" Jim protested.



"It is not. You are making an highly ethnocentric judgment, which is beneath your position as a galactic explorer. It is--biology. It is long-standing Vulcan sociological custom. And it is my decision."



Spock continued, "Nonetheless, it does not change the fact that my heart belongs to another."



Spock stood before him, unmasked, but face as calm and still as Jim had ever seen it. They stared at each other for a handful of heartbeats, until at least one of them couldn't bear it any more. Spock leaned back in the chair as Jim turned away and spoke to the mesh divider.



"Spock, just so we are clear on this, you do know that I love you, right?"



"Affirmative."



"And you know that if you change your mind, I'll be here?"



"Affirmative."



Jim clutched onto the cold metal mesh until the edge bit into his palm. The sting helped him focus. He straightened his shoulders and took a breath and when he turned back to the chair he was again his old cocky self with the swagger in his step and the challenge in his voice.



"Okay, in that case you can go. Breakfast at 0600?"



Spock rose from the chair to parade rest. Whatever he had anticipated, it wasn't being let off the hook this easily. "As usual, Captain."



"See you then. Night, Spock." With a twinkle in his eye, Jim gave him a little nod and Spock slipped quietly from the room.



Jim threw himself down on the bunk and absently fingered himself before falling into a hard night's sleep.



Outside in the passageway Spock stood, one hand raised at the door call, before finally turning again to go.






Captain's log Stardate 5966.2 :

The
Enterprise is fifteen minutes away from arrival into Vulcan orbit,

having been approved for diversion there from our assignment on

the Romulan Neutral Zone. The plan is to be finished on Vulcan within

four hours and to be back at our patrol post within three days. My request

or a discretionary diversion with no accompanying details has no doubt

raised a lot of eyebrows at HQ, but the border had been quiet recently.

With the exemplary record with which it appears that we are about to

close out our five-year mission, my command opinions now pull a lot of weight.






The fact that there had been a reported sighting of a Romulan ship in the vicinity of the Vulcan star system may have helped his case, but still, Jim thought, taking a whole starship out of service for a week for a friend's wedding might be pushing the envelope just a bit.



In a way this whole thing had taken him as much by surprise as it had three years ago. He wasn't expecting it this soon. He had planned on having a little more time to--well, he didn't know what for, but he definitely thought he had a few more years. Bones said it might have something to do with Spock's abnormally aborted first cycle, or possibly with his hybrid physiology. Either way it didn't matter. Either way Spock was going home to be permanently bonded to--his wife.



Apparently T'Pau had selected the woman, T'Enno, and Spock had formed the preliminary link with her in a brief meeting during an academic leave more than two years ago. When he had come back, he updated his personnel file with a number of new professional credentials, but he had never mentioned a word about the engagement until three days ago.



Three days ago he had formally reported to the captain that he was in pon farr. Given the ship's current assignment, he had requested only leave time and a shuttlecraft, but had invited Jim and Dr. McCoy as a matter of form.



With the nearly disastrous surprise that had awaited Spock the last time still fresh in his mind, it had never even occurred to Jim to let Spock go alone. If he had any other more personal reasons for diverting a working starship and a crew of 421 to ensure that Spock wouldn't stand in the marriage arena without him, he preferred not to think about it. That matter had been settled long ago.



He pulled off his old shirt and put on a fresh one. Not that it would last long. According to the advance report, it was 44 degrees Centigrade in ShiKahr right now. Jim thanked his lucky stars at least it wasn't summer. He wasn't at all sure he could take the heat.



He hit the intercom. "Sickbay."



"Sickbay. McCoy here."



"We'll be there in ten minutes, Bones. You ready?"



"Pretty much. Just stocking my medkit."



"Medkit? What for?" Jim asked.



There was a long silence on the other end.



Jim screwed up his face. "Relax, Bones. You know what they say about lightning. Surely nothing can go that wrong twice in the same place. Fifteen minutes in the transporter room. Kirk out."



Reflexively, Jim checked himself in the mirror before heading out the door to Spock's quarters. There was no response to the call button, so Jim let himself in.



At first he couldn't see a thing. He could only hear the ragged breathing. He signaled for the lights and saw Spock lying on his back on the bed, eyes open to the ceiling. Jim walked over and shook him by the shoulder. Before he knew what had happened, Spock had grabbed his arm.



"Jim." Spock's eyes met his but wavered, glazed and unfocused. Spock's cheeks glowed unnaturally bright. His fingers bit into Jim's muscle with the unbreakable grip of a durasteel vice and pulled his captain ineluctably down towards him on the bed.



"Spock," Jim kept his voice carefully neutral. "We're here. At Vulcan. We are going to meet T'Enno, your wife."



"My wife," Spock repeated blankly.



"Yes," Jim pressed. He felt the hot swell of Spock's erection pressing into his stomach and swallowed hard. Someone had to keep control. He focused on the pain in his arm and took a breath. He struggled to catch Spock's eyes. "Your wife. We have to go--now."



Spock wrinkled his forehead in concentration and his face seemed to clear just a little. His hand fell away to the bed and he pushed himself to his feet, swaying unsteadily at first.



"Thank you, Captain," he said formally.



Jim smiled just a smidgen. "Any time." He reached out as if to usher Spock by the arm, but Spock shied away from the touch.



"After you, then," Jim said, and waved him out of the door.








They beamed down to the same millennia-old arena. Everything appeared eerily the same as the last time they had arrived. Doubtless it had been the same for hundreds, if not thousands of years. A soft tinkle of bells was barely heard over the rocks.



Spock paced the clay restlessly.



Jim caught his attention and brought him back. "Spock, is it really all right for us to be here--after that little charade we pulled last time?"



Spock looked off in the distance. "I predict no dissension from T'Pau. She is a most logical woman. While in her current position she is obligated to uphold the traditions that the planetary council has elected to follow, she values all life most highly. Albeit, I have no personal knowledge of her opinions, I would venture to surmise that she would not only fail to censure the doctor's actions, but actually find them to be commendable."



Jim glanced at Bones who rocked on his toes. Jim said, "See, Spock, even T'Pau agrees that sometimes breaking tradition--"



Suddenly there was a great crack and a bang from the rocks to the right. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim caught just a fleeting glimpse of silver and black shimmering on a patch of rock. Then it disappeared, as the alien waves of heat made the rocks themselves appear to shift and move in the glare of the harsh Vulcan sun.



"Romulans!" Kirk shouted and dashed up into the cliffs. Spock peered hard but saw nothing but haze. Nonetheless, he took off close at Jim's heels. McCoy started after them, but in the thin air made it only a few dozen yards before realizing he was doomed to be left behind. Panting, he rested hands on his thighs and watched his friends run.



Suddenly the ground gave way under Jim's foot. Caught in a rockslide, he was swept off his feet and away in a river of rock. Spock lunged for him, missing him by inches and succeeding only in getting carried away himself in the tonnes of rock now cascading down the tor.



"Spock!" Jim rolled toward him and strained an arm out to its limit, but the flow only peeled them farther apart. Caught in the flow, Spock was carried into a rocky crevasse and disappeared out of sight; a flood of rock poured in on top of him. Jim looked backwards in helpless dismay until the landslide carried him over a cliff and into another pit himself.








When the slide finally stopped, Spock found himself buried deep in the bowels of his planet. He was unable to estimate how far he had fallen; he had lost track at 852 meters. He blinked and waited for his eyes to accommodate, but after a time he accepted that they would not for he was in the true absence of light.



It was also totally silent. No water dripped. No insects crawled. No wind blew at all. The only sounds were the strumming of his own pulse, harsh against his ears and the rasping of his own breath. They seemed strange and coarse companions to him now.



Although the air was fresh and cooler than on the surface, no more than 40 degrees Centigrade, perhaps, he could detect no movement at all. He calculated the probability that the rock flow had stopped only because the passage to the surface was now sealed. The odds of escape were not in his favor.



He tried the communicator. It failed to penetrate the planet's crust. Tentatively he felt his immediate surroundings with his hands and, respectful of the ominous pain in his right ankle, he attempted to stand.



He was correct. He leg was fractured, likely both the distal tibia and fibula he surmised. He put his weight on his left leg and just balanced with his toes of his the right.



The ceiling was high enough. He called out and, by the amount of sound dispersal, estimated a large volume to the cavern. Unusual echoes came back to him as well, haunting, repeating from all directions at once.



Spock reached back for his phaser. He put it on the lowest setting and aimed in front of his feet. A small boulder began to glow brown, then plum, then red. The air temperature rose to a more comfortable level and the cavern took on an eerie monochromatic cast.



The cavern was rough and jagged, at least two hundred meters across. Rocks jutted and perched at all angles and the sides sloped harsh and irregular up to the high ceiling. Large boulders sat at intervals as did huge slabs and sheets. The right side was filled with the debris of the landslide all the way from floor to ceiling. Any egress through there was surely long gone. But the peaks and shadows in the other areas were a mystery indeed. They could easily conceal a passage and where there was a passage there may well be a way out.



The floor, as it was, was strewn with rocky debris. In places channels ran vertically like tubes. Spock called out again and surmised it was these pipes giving the eerie echoes to the room. He tossed a pebble down a nearby tube. He listened for over a minute, but never heard it land.



Spock took a tentative step towards the left and the rock slipped under his foot. He caught himself, barely, and sat back down to reconsider. With the debris and hidden channels underfoot, movement would be treacherous at best. Even if he found a passage, the improvised light was already fading. His phaser would not last for long at his rate of progress. Assuming his ankle was to tolerate it at all. Assuming there was anywhere to go that would still reach the surface.



But Doctor McCoy had witnessed the approximate site of their disappearance. There would be a search and, with modern scanning techniques, the probability exceeded 94.9% that he would be found--unless he was beneath a deposit of achilillite, which would block the bioscans entirely.



Spock concentrated on recalling the distribution pattern of achilillite deposits on Vulcan, but the information eluded him. It seemed that he should know that data, but try as he might, he could not recall it now. And so he simply sat himself down on a boulder and watched his world view close in tighter and tighter as the last of the precious light ebbed and dwindled and finally died completely as the little rock at his feet went black.



What thoughts enter a man's mind when he is buried alive--alone in the dark--waiting to live or to die? Some men might rue the chances not taken, the opportunities forever lost. Some men might wonder at the unknown mysteries of the things that they would never see or feel or know. Some men might bargain, might make a deal with whatever powers that be that should they survive this, that they would never know such emptiness again. Some men might be paralyzed, too overwhelmed by the immensity to think anything at all. And some might just go quietly mad.



If Spock of Vulcan thought any of these things, that will never be known. But under the cover of the darkness, in that vast empty cavern where there would be no witness to his weakness, as the fever burned high and hot within him, he buried his head deep in his hands and surrendered to that which boiled within him in the dark.



One point three eight hours later there was again the rumble of gravel and rock pouring in. Out of ingrained reflex, Spock looked around, but of course he could see nothing at all. Absently, he wondered if this was to be his end, crushed under the press of debris, but then a huge slab gave way and a shaft of sunlight broke through high up near the ceiling.



The slab fell far to his right. Only a small belt of rock moved through a tunnel high up on the right wall. Then with a whoop and an excited cry Jim Kirk slid out on his ass.



"Spock!" He rolled off of the rock slide and down the wall, coming to land rather ingloriously at Spock's feet. Jim picked himself up and grinned, "Miss me? Sorry it took so long. There must be kilometers of passages in here."



He was a mess. He was covered, absolutely covered in dirt from head to toe. His shirt was ripped in several places and his trousers were gashed so as to be beyond useless. His phaser and communicator had been dropped somewhere in the chaos. There was a swollen, ugly laceration on his forehead and bloody, swollen scratches all over his torso and yet he grinned from ear to ear.



Spock blinked at him in undisguised dismay. "Captain, surely you were not moving through tunnels in the dark? I cannot overemphasize the dangers involved in such a course of action. Aside form the rock slides, there are sheer drop-offs, overhangs-- "



Jim rubbed his impressive goose-egg ruefully. "Yeah, I found one of them. But I got here, didn't I?" He flashed the predictable cocky grin.



"Captain, the fact that you have managed to succeed does not alter the fact that the action was recklessly inadvisable."



"Doesn't it, Spock?" said Jim, now deadly serious. "Are you sure that outcomes aren't the only thing that do matter?"



Jim tilted his head and looked around the cavern. "But now, we've got to get out of here. You have a pressing engagement, I believe."



The single shaft of sunlight bore down almost exactly where Jim stood and, after the long hours in the dark, Spock's eyes almost burned to look upon him. Spock opened his mouth as if to reply. And then they heard the growl.



Jim crouched and whirled, reflexively reaching back for his phaser that was no longer there. His eyes searched the shadows. "Spock, what was that?"



Spock had drawn his phaser and he too scoured the edges of his vision. "Unknown, however, 99.2% of planetary animals capable of emitting such a sound, are also capable of mutilating or killing an adult Vulcanoid."



"Great." Jim straightened and looked up at the wall. Huge boulders obscured the view. Anything up there would be in a position of tremendous advantage.



Spock added, "It is also possible that it is not a creature, but simply the wind moving through the tubes and chimney. The caverns may distort sound waves in an unusual manner."



Jim scratched his head dubiously. "If that was the wind, it sure sounded hungry. Come on; if an animal can get in, then we can get out. Let's see how." Jim made as if to set out over the rocky floor.



"Jim." Spock called him back. "I will not be able to travel. My leg is broken." Spock gestured calmly down at his foot.



Jim rubbed his forehead smearing blood and grime even further, although it made little difference now. "Okay, give me your communicator. I'll try to make it up to signal range." Jim stuck out his palm.



Spock surrendered the communicator as ordered. He eyed the chimney in the middle of the ceiling. The closest wall was hundreds of meters of steeply inclined and grossly unstable debris. "That would be highly imprudent, Captain. Our mishap was witnessed and a rescue detail is no doubt underway." Nonetheless, Spock pressed the communicator into the sticky skin of Jim's palm. As their wrists crossed, Spock felt the unacclimated human's pulse racing dangerously fast just beneath the surface. Spock added, "The logical course of action would be to wait."



As if to punctuate the thought, a low growl rumbled through the air, seemingly coming from everywhere at once. Jim spun. Something flickered on the right and a small rock rolled down the wall. Spock took aim and they waited, but all was quiet and still.



Jim cocked his head, decided. "Yes, but which one will find us first? I'm not willing to take that chance." He trotted off to the wall.



Spock called out after him. "Jim." He held the phaser extended.



Jim shrugged. "I'm out of hands, Spock." He indicated his tattered pants, the utility clips long gone. "You keep it." He winked and began to clamber up the wall as Spock watched with feigned control. Another growl rumbled from somewhere and Jim looked around once then continued climbing steadily. Spock kept Jim in his sights, kept the phaser raised and ready for any enemy unseen.



About halfway up, Jim fell. Perhaps it was the roar that startled him, but it sounded more like the roar came afterwards. Spock leapt up, heedless of his broken leg, and stumbled to where Jim rolled to the cavern floor.



Jim coughed and pulled himself to a painful sit as the dust settled around him.



"Jim, are you all right?" Spock's voice was pitched just a fraction higher than usual.



"Yeah, nothing hurt worse than my pride." Sweat poured off of him and his breathing was fast and deep in the hot, thin air. He shook his head as if to clear it and struggled halfway to his feet.



Spock reached to reassure himself that the words were true. He touched the clammy skin of Jim's chest to feel the heart thrill beneath his fingertips, then pulled back in dismay. What was he doing? How far gone was his body that it would betray him in this manner? His hands trembled and he laced them together to hold each other still.



But Jim wasn't paying attention. He had turned his back and cast his eyes around the rocks as the roar came again. It had a hollow sound like and echo in a wind tunnel. Jim hopped up and peered around a corner. "Spock, what the hell is that?"



Spock focused all his energy on the question. He closed his eyes to the man and thought only of the discipline. He was the Science Officer. He had been asked for information. Think!



From the cool recesses of a mind almost buried under the flood of primal need, the answer came almost to his surprise. "The creature most likely to inhabit this area and emit such noises is one that was known as the wy-dygu."



"Was known?" Jim snapped. "And what's that?"



Spock explained, "The wy-dygu was a carnivorous reptile with powerful limb structure and sturdy claws that could tear prey to bits. Although their jaw musculature was relatively weak, they produced a potent poison in an oral sac and, like your Terran rattlesnake, could opt to deliver a single dose through hollow fangs, killing a victim instantly. They were about the size and disposition of an Earth cougar, with a scaly silver hide and a black mane."



Jim started. "Yes, black and silver! That could've been what I saw creating the disturbance on the rocks."



Spock inclined his head. "Possibly. That would be intriguing however. For one thing, they lived almost exclusively subterranean lives. But of even greater interest is the fact that they are a highly endangered species. In fact, up until now, they were believed to be extinct. Despite our current situation, I hope to be able to leave this specimen for later study."



Jim stared at him incredulously. "You're kidding?"



Spock shifted his weight off of his injured leg. "Of course, I will protect you at all costs. In a choice between you and the animal, there is no choice. I merely state that there are qualities of value in its life as well, particularly in such a rare specimen. I do not understand its reappearance and I am reluctant to destroy that which I do not understand."



"Spock, you just said that it's a killer."



"Its capacity for viciousness is not in doubt, Captain, only its current motivation. Until we have more information, it would be a shame to destroy such magnificence out of fear or ignorance."



Jim rolled his tongue. "What else do we need? That didn't sound like a party invitation to me. And I don't see what other prey it could be after. As far as I could tell, these caves were lifeless."



Apparently moving on with his thoughts, Jim's gaze drifted to Spock's ankle. "Come on, take a load off that thing--"



Jim swung his arm around Spock's back and tossed Spock's arm around his neck. Spock felt his blood surge. His vision went red and the world spun. He gave a high pitched cry in from the back of his throat and collapsed to the ground.



Jim's face loomed in front of him, calling his name as if from afar. Jim's hand burned iron hot against his hip and Jim's barely clad groin pushed in against his side. The sweaty masculine musk assaulted his nose in wave after wave and he reached out blindly for Jim's mind, but the link he sought was not there and he broke into a sob of frustration.



"Spock!" Jim shook him in genuine alarm now. "Talk to me! What is it? Spock!"



Spock gripped his own knees with his fingers and dug into them with all his strength. With the pain as a new focal point his mind began to clear a little. "Captain, please remove your hands." Spock would never have recognized that strained voice as his own.



"Spock--"



"NOW!" Spock roared.



Jim dropped his hands.



Minute by minute Spock's breathing returned to near normal.



Jim licked his lips. "It's the pon farr, isn't it? It's bad," he surmised.



Spock opened his eyes and responded with forced candor. "It is presenting difficulties, but I am not in immediate danger."



Jim met his eyes and said with perfect equanimity. "You have to know that I won't let you die."



The growl echoed again--maybe farther away this time. Maybe not.



Spock said, "Captain, may I point out that we are trapped in a waterless underground cave with a vicious carnivore and you are proposing a sexual congress. While I am certain that Doctor McCoy would have an amusing retort to your proposition, I myself find it highly inappropriate."



Jim would not be dissuaded. "I mean it. You said that the pon farr was a mating drive. Mate or die. It doesn't have to be your bondmate, does it? And we both know that I won't let you, anyone, just die if I have any say in the matter."



Spock ignored the question. "The odds of our being rescued within the next six hours are," he floundered, "--excellent. I do not believe your suggestion will be necessary."



Jim pounced. "So I'm right! If necessary--"



Spock interrupted. "Yes. The hormonal cycle can be assuaged by any copulation, however the insanity accompanying the pon farr makes this highly inadvisable without a kal-i bond.



"However, as there should be several days remaining in my cycle, I believe defense from the wy-dygu should be our prime concern until the rescue party arrives. And I would be more comfortable with a different topic of conversation." Spock's face was flushed and his voice cracked with effort, but he slowly peeled his hands from his knees and laid them lightly on his lap.



"Baseball?" Jim offered hopefully.



Spock just raised an eyebrow.



They moved in and sat back to back, not quite touching, as daylight turned to dusk overhead in their little window to the sky.



The heat was oppressive but the stillness even more so the hours drifted by and they waited for something to happen.



It was Jim who finally broke the silence. "How can you do it?" he asked.



"Pardon?"



"Marry someone you don't love. How can you do it?"



Spock responded easily, "And how can you copulate so readily with so many you don't love?"



Jim drew himself up a little. "Well, Mister Spock, that's different, that's just sex. We part and I go back to the life I want with the people I really care for."



"It is not different at all. It is precisely the same idea born of a different culture and given a different label. This system is a design of Vulcan tradition calculated to meet the needs of Vulcan society. Individual preferences are secondary to the greater good.



"And, I would ask, if place such value on this, why do you not seek out a sex partner you truly desire?"



Jim grinned wistfully. Of course, seated back-to-back Spock couldn't see it, but the tone was clear enough in his voice. "I tried. He turned me down. I'm sure you remember.



"Spock, you know that this is wrong; even your body is telling you it's wrong. You have already broke Vulcan custom in so many ways, what's one more time? Why don't you seek out the partner you desire?"



Spock said, "As I am sure you remember, I told you there are dangers inherent in what you catalyze within me. That has not changed. Jim, I offer you my loyalty, my devotion, my life, everything that I am except this one detail. Does it matter so very much?" Back-to-back, Jim could make nothing else out of the strictly regulated equilibrium of his voice.



Jim drew his arms around his knees and chucked softly as he lay his head down on his knees. He would take Spock under any circumstances whatsoever as the consummate friend and officer that he was. But the waste. The great empty, aching, tragic, waste of it all just sometimes seemed too much to believe. Jim said gently, "I don't know. You tell me, my friend. You're the one who burns."



There was another growl and Jim leapt to his feet. The chamber was all but in darkness now. Jim almost glimpsed something out of the corner of his eye. He whirled and fired. Rock slid to the ground and all was silence.



"Do you see anything?" he asked Spock.



"Negative."



Jim rubbed his eyes. "Here you take the phaser. You can see better in this light."



Spock demurred. "Inside of twenty minutes it will be dark and neither of us will be able to see. My reflexes are down and my capacities are--uncertain. You should retain the weapon."



Jim shook his head and pressed it into his hand as he sank back to the floor. "No, between the heat and the thin air, and the adrenaline surges, I've had it. I've got to take a nap." He put his head back down on his knees.



Spock's eyebrows shot up. "Captain, that is highly inadvisable."



"I trust you Spock. Just give me an hour or two," Jim yawned and was asleep almost before the last syllable was out.



Spock watched his chest rise and fall as the last of the gray twilight darkened ominously to the black of night.



It was then that the beast attacked. With a feral cry, it leapt at Jim's back digging fangs and claws into the soft flesh. Jim's scream tore at a place in Spock's heart that he hadn't even known was there. Oblivious to the danger, he wrapped himself around the animal. He pressed and thrust against it with every ounce of his weight and applied every bit of his strength and might to wrest the beast from his captain. The blood fever pounded hot and wild in his ears. The world spun. He couldn't breathe. He had only moments of consciousness left. He reached for the wy-dygu's neck where it intertwined with Jim's and squeezed with all he had left. As consciousness faded he couldn't tell whether the hot roar in his ears was the triumphant wy-dygu or the equally fatal hot blood of his own pon farr.








Spock awoke to a clean white world. The domed ceiling vaulted high overhead and joined seamlessly with smooth, curved walls unmarred by any mark of window or door. He lay on a white bench in a thin, white sleeveless shift. His arms bore neither scratch nor bruise nor any other sign of his battle. He reached up and felt his neck. It was equally unscathed. And more than that, the madness was utterly gone.



His inexplicably restored mind ran through the possibilities, pausing on the various cultural mythical depictions of an afterlife. At the moment, that seemed, logically, to be the top contender.



He reached out and poked a finger against a wall. The material was soft and smooth and pliant to the touch. It gave under pressure maybe 2.73 centimeters. Spock wished absently for a tricorder, if for no other reason than to present a certain physician with an objective analysis of heaven at the time of his arrival.



He shifted as if to stand and felt the bench give with his weight. Apparently it had been formed out of the same gel-like substance. As he rose to stand, he felt something bang against his foot. Looking down he realized it was a force-cast, which had been applied to his ankle.



He pulled the shift up to study his body. The skin was bruised dark olive, but the bones had been adequately set. There was a dusky hue to the overlying skin suggesting that the bone had been knit while he was unconscious. The force-cast was standard Federation medical technology.



Spock revised his previous assessment. He doubted that a god of any culture would have need of a Federation medi-cast. He tested his footing gingerly. The anticipated dysesthetic sensation shot up his leg, but the cast held. He tried a step.



"Commander Spock. You will be interviewed by an intelligence team. Please wait there." The voice came from nowhere in particular and spoke in Vulcan.



Spock spoke to the air. "Is Captain Kirk here and is he well?"



"Captain Kirk is in the Xenology wing making a satisfactory recovery. Please wait for the intelligence team."



Spock resumed his seat and waited.



In a short period of time two Vulcans in matching robes materialized in a transporter beam. They gave the customary salutation. "Commander Spock, we are Investigators Sktam and Stipek from the Planetary Health and Safety Assurity. We are here to take your statement as to the events of the seventh and eighth days of the month of Tasmin."



Spock returned the greeting in kind and began to relate the tale.



When he was through, the two Vulcans regarded him coolly. "The wy-dygu is thought to be extinct. There has been no confirmed report of a live specimen for over seven hundred years," Sktam remarked.



"I am well aware of that. This does not change the fact that the events that I have reported did occur," Spock responded. "No doubt, the Zoological Preservation Society will wish to investigate."



"It certainly bears investigation," Stipek agreed. "Pending that investigation, you will remain within the hospital grounds."



Spock raised an eyebrow. "If you doubt my word, you are free to verify it."



Stipek reached for his thoughts.



The contact was light and clinical, as painless and efficient as an ultraviolet probe. And when it was gone the memory was left as unruffled as it had never been disturbed at all.



Sktam said, "Your word is not in doubt. You will remain on the hospital grounds pending the results of the investigation. That is the order of the Assurity."



"I see," Spock responded. "In that case, may I see Captain Kirk?"



"That is permissible." One Vulcan touched an icon on his robe and all three were taken in a golden transporter shimmer.








They rematerialized in a small anteroom. Through a small glass pane he saw Kirk lying prone in the hospital bed with McCoy fussing about something at his bedside. Spock hastened through the doorway to join them.



"Spock!" McCoy spun around and grabbed him by the shoulders treating him to a big lopsided grin. "It looks like you're okay after all. But, Jesus, it's harder to get a straight answer out of these people than it is out of you."



"Most likely because, once again, you failed to ask the proper questions, Doctor. I am quite all right." Although Spock's retort was aimed at the doctor, his eyes devoured Jim.



Jim lay apparently naked beneath the sheet. His upper back was bloody and torn with multiple parallel claw marks and bites. Some sort of clear healing gel had been applied making the remaining skin appear to glisten. Seeing Spock, Jim pushed himself up on his arms and made as if to roll over, then winced painfully and collapsed, face first, back on the bed.



"I thought you were told to stay down," McCoy remarked dryly.



Jim contented himself with twisting his face to the side. "Spock." The voice was pure satisfaction. "I thought I was a goner--or that you were. The beast--when it attacked me--I could actually sense its bloodlust at some primal, telepathic level. It would stop at nothing to get to me. When you threw yourself on the animal, I was afraid--"



"We," McCoy interrupted testily.



Jim corrected himself. "We were afraid that you had taken the poison dose. Maybe even --for me, instead of me. Especially when no one would tell us what happened." He stared Spock hard in the eye, then looked him up and down. "But you seem to be fine." Jim tilted his head as if awaiting confirmation.



Spock replied, "While I would certainly have taken any action necessary to keep you from harm, I received no poison or injuries from the wy-dygu. The species has not been studied in over seven hundred years. It is possible that the saliva has mutated as to be no longer toxic."



Jim studied him curiously. "Yes, but no injuries at all, Spock? I remember; you were there, wrestling with us. You were wrapped around him, pulling him off of me. How can you not even have a single scratch?"



Spock checked again through the thin, white shift. His front side seemed absolutely unbesmirched. "Unknown."



McCoy's face darkened, "What about that, Spock? I can't find a damn thing wrong with you. And shouldn't you be, you know, on your honeymoon? Everything else seems to be back to normal too." He scowled at his first set of readings and reset the mediscanner.



Spock replied, "When I awoke here, the madness was gone. I presume it must have been dissolved by the combat, as occurred with the previous cycle. I have given a full report to the health authorities and the matter is being investigated. Although it is not a recognized phenomenon, it may have something to do with my hybrid nature and the finding may be useful for future physiological studies."



"Hmmf." McCoy made a second pass with the scanner and, apparently satisfied with the results, stuck it back on his belt. "Well, if there is going to be a next time, please remind me to send my regrets. I'm getting to be too old for this kind of excitement."



Jim wriggled up onto his elbows with a grimace. "What about next time, Spock? Now that this crisis is over, what about T'Enno?"



Spock responded so coolly that the other two were doubtless unaware this was the first time she had entered his mind since his return to consciousness. "She will be cognizant through our betrothal bond that I am no longer in pon farr. Therefore she will be aware that there is no need for the ritual. It will be deferred. I will contact her formally as soon as circumstances allow."



Jim pierced his eyes meaningfully. "Just, deferred? Not canceled?"



"Deferred until my next cycle." Spock clarified unnecessarily.



McCoy shifted uncomfortably and made as if to leave. "Uh, Jim I should go and--"



Jim flung out one arm and restrained him with a touch, but his eyes never left Spock for an instant.



"Spock, you don't have to go through with that. In fact, I'd rather that you didn't. These Vulcan weddings don't seem to be working out well for me either. It might be time to try it another way." Jim's eyes burned directly into Spock's.



"I believe I made myself quite clear in our recent discussion. Nothing has occurred to change my position on that," Spock responded, unconsciously averting his gaze. Despite the words, it didn't take a psychologist to see that the captain had won on some more primal, unspoken level.



"Exactly," Jim nodded. "I think our conversation was very clear indeed. It certainly was to me. So why in the world would you--?"



The two robed figures appeared through the doorway. "Commander Spock, we require additional information; please come with us."



A red alert sounded in Jim's gut and he was moving up and off the bed, regardless of the pain. "Now hold on just a minute--"



"You hold on, bucko," McCoy restrained Kirk easily with one hand, a bad sign in itself. "You're in no shape to go anywhere."



Jim seemed to have little ammunition for an argument. He sank down on the mattress. "Fine, Bones, you go; just find out what the hell is going on here."



McCoy scurried out and after the three Vulcans just before the door swung closed.








"Your presence is not required," Stipek said, continuing their march straight ahead.



"Yeah, well, I'm coming anyway," McCoy rallied and picked up his pace. They continued through corridor after twisting corridor until they came to a sealed door, unusual itself on Vulcan.



One Vulcan keyed a complex sequence on the door panel. The other fingered his robe absently. The door swung open. They began to step through. A transporter activated taking the three Vulcans in a beam of yellow and leaving McCoy standing alone in an empty operating suite.








Back in the isolation room the interrogation continued in the form of indicative statements.



"We find it interesting that you have no injuries from your struggle with the wy-dygu."



"As do I," Spock replied. "I do not recall much of the event. It is possible I applied the neck pinch immediately."



"And yet Kirk's tissue was found under your finger nails and in your teeth."



Spock looked at his hands where dark matter lined the nails. "It was dark. He was already bleeding. He was in a violent battle with the beast himself. This is to be expected."



"Your semen was found on Kirk's body."



"I was in pon farr an wrestling a beast on his back. This, also, is not a surprise," said Spock.



"We have had the area where you were rescued re-examined. We find no trace of wy-dygu, or any reptilian DNA, anywhere in the vicinity."



Spock met their eyes flatly. "You do not believe that there was a wy-dygu."



Sktam answered precisely, "The mind cannot be trusted in the madness of the plak-tow. What is may not be, and what is not may be. So has it been from the time of our forefathers. This too, is to be expected."



"My captain heard it as well. He saw the animal on the cliffs and felt it as it threw itself on him."



"Your DNA was isolated from Kirk's rectum."



Spock drew in his breath and fell backwards to the bench. In an instant it all came tumbling down upon him, almost drowning him in the flood. A mirage. Echoes. Folie deux. How powerful the mind--no, the minds--could be when they wanted something so very, very much.



Spock's voice came as if dragged against his will from a very great distance. His vision turned inward and his face bore a queer expression, puzzled and yet more certain than he had been of anything for a very long time. He resolved, with the tone of a man speaking more to himself than aloud, "I am the beast."



Neither Vulcan responded.



Spock pressed his hands hard together and collected his remaining thoughts. It was not so difficult. There was only one that mattered.



"Have you told him?" he asked.



Stipek answered with a shake of his head. "We are of the opinion that there is nothing to tell. Captain Kirk believes he was violently mauled by an ancient beast--one unknown to the outside world--despite the best efforts of his First Officer to keep him from harm. We would assert that he is correct. "



Sktam added, "We see no reason to further expose the secrets of Vulcan. We believe the caves are safe and that you and your captain are safe."



Spock stared at his hands, which had served him so well for so many years. He watched as his traitorous blood coursed through the distended veins under his skin. It trailed from the tips, where the damming evidence clotted brown under the ragged edges of his nails and thick and fast, picking up speed all the way, to his heart. He studied the little wrinkles in the overlying skin--how fines line ran into thicker in the same way that earlier years ran into later--and Spock wondered for how many more years he would allow this travesty of their natures to continue.



He closed his eyes and cast his mind back over three thousand years of post-reform Vulcan philosophy. He set the machinery of his mind upon the task of finding the one tenet that would allow him to return to that bedside and meet the unconditional trust in those liquid hazel eyes with anything less than absolute honesty. No answer was delivered and, for the first time in his life, Spock considered that the equations of Vulcan might not hold all the truths that exist in the universe.



Spock shook his head in resignation. "Perhaps that is sufficient for Vulcan mores, but it will not do for me."



He stood and straightened, hands behind his back. True to the manner of his people, his face showed nothing at all. "May I go to him now?"



"Of course. When you are ready."



"I believe I said, 'now'."



One looked at the other. One pressed an icon on his robe, a transporter hummed, and they all materialized back in the anteroom.



The two robed Vulcans stayed at the window. Spock pushed through the door and this time Kirk did roll to a sit. The sheet bunched over his lap and his face screwed in concentration as he moved. He supported himself with his hands braced against the edge of the bed as he spoke. "Spock."



Spock's crisp voice filtered through the crack just before the door swung closed. "Captain, I have uncovered some new information that impacts us both. It may alter our relationship considerably. I must speak with you."



Spock approached him, lips moving in mechanical precision. Through the glass, the Vulcans watched. They couldn't hear a word, but Kirk's face clouded, then cleared and broke, telling the most amazing tale with nary a word. When Spock's lips finally stopped, for a moment all was still. Then Spock moved toward him as if to say something else, but Jim shook his head firmly and stopped him with an upraised palm. Jim drew his other hand roughly across his face. His lips and tongue moved briefly, any words muted to the outside world by the thick pane of intervening glass. Then Jim smiled and extended just two fingers. Spock reached back in kind.



Expressionless, the Vulcans turned away from the window.
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