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The Strangest Thing by T'Guess

(PLEASE NOTE: Originally written in 2003, this is a revised version with 30+ new pages (along with various art pieces I did) published in the zine "Dark Fire 1".

*Scene break excerpts from “The Strangest Thing” by George Michael.

BETA: Special thanks to Carla Hagstrom, Kathy Resch and JS Cavalcante




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

take my life

time has been twisting the knife

I don't recognize

people I care for...



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




The cock rammed into him up to the hilt—the stabbing thrust driving his face deeper into the foul smelling cot.



The hips that were tightly pressed against his buttocks jerked spastically. With each hoarse grunt of relief, his tormentor dug his calloused fingers into Spock’s ribs, bones that now protruded through his emaciated flesh. Food, what little of it he had been given, had barely kept him alive.



When the semi-erect organ was withdrawn, a trickle of fluid pursued it, and Spock winced as the hot, stinging semen invaded the newly ripped fissures around his anus.



He had hardly drawn two full breaths before the weight on the cot shifted again, and another Romulan began to violate his body.



He had stopped calculating how many times he had been beaten, brutalized, and raped.



Sometimes they would come for him twice a day, three times if they had nothing better to do to amuse themselves. The door to his cell would unlock and five or six of the guards would subject him to interrogation. Their efforts were pointless; he revealed nothing of important military value, but the process was repeated day in and day out as weeks turned into months. It always followed the same pattern: first the questions, then the torture and, finally, the degradation of being forced to endure their sexual cruelty.



During the fourth week of his imprisonment—after the *fiftieth* interrogation—he had stopped resisting. He told himself it was only logical to submit, even cooperate; much of their pleasure stemmed from the small gasps they wrenched from him when his body tensed in protest against their assaults. Starved, dehydrated, weak and exhausted, he no longer had the strength to fight back.



On the first day, the titanium cuffs, which were still clamped around his wrists, had been chained to similar cuffs around his ankles, his legs stretched wide by a bar fastened to keep them splayed open.



Tethering and the bar weren’t necessary now. It no longer took three pair of strong arms to hold him down. When he heard their heavy footsteps approaching his cell, he simply knelt on the floor and waited to surrender his mouth or other orifice to their demands.



His passivity and submissiveness appeased them somewhat, and their viciousness was reduced to well-placed kicks or punches to his back or, occasionally, flogging him until he lost consciousness.



Spock’s eyes shifted to the surveillance vid-com mounted in the corner of the cell. The tiny green light below the lens blinked repeatedly and he concentrated on each small flash to occupy his mind. In the beginning, he had speculated on how many others were watching and if they took pleasure in his suffering. It no longer concerned him; dignity was something he had abandoned in his effort to stay alive.



His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a frustrated groan, then a stern order.



“Turn around.”



The cock inside him was abruptly pulled out. He lifted his head up from the soiled blanket and repositioned himself so he faced the turgescent organ at eye-level. He knew what was expected.



Opening his mouth, he slid his bruised lips over the head and engorged shaft. The musky odor of pubic hair assaulted his nostrils and he could taste a nauseating mixture of secretions on the unwashed skin. When the thrusting began, he willed his throat to relax and concentrated on suppressing his gagging reflex. Rough hands grabbed the back of his head as hips rhythmically forced the thick cock deeper.



“Take it all—you FUCKING half-breed,” the guard ground out between clenched teeth. “Suck it or choke on it!”



The cock-head pounded relentlessly against the back of Spock’s throat, making it difficult for him to breath.





“I said SUCK IT!”



He struggled to comply, pulling inward with his cheeks.



“Ah-Ahhhhh—” the guard grunted loudly, rewarding Spock with a spurting discharge that filled his mouth. Trickles of the bitter-tasting semen escaped from the corners of his lips and ran down his chin, while the rest pooled at the back of his throat.



When the ejaculations finally stopped and the cock was yanked out, Spock discreetly turned his head and spat the distasteful fluid onto the floor.



The guard didn’t notice. They rarely did.



“Who’s next?” another Romulan sneered.



A new sentry at the prison stepped forward. The others watched intently, obviously expecting their compatriot to provide them with fresh amusement at Spock’s expense. The brutish guard removed his jacket, tossing it to the side. He was generously proportioned with a barrel chest and his bare arms were roped with bulging muscles. Even his peers seemed awed by his physical strength and the cold, ruthless look in his eyes.



From the pocket of his pants, the sentry pulled out a leather glove covered with studs, then slipped it onto his right hand. Clenching his hand into a fist, he slammed it into his open palm and growled, “Let’s find out just how far we can stretch this Vulcan. I want to hear him *squeal* like a stuck pig.”



Two of his companions chuckled, elbowing each other, then they took a step closer in case they might be needed to hold the Vulcan down.



// 2…4…6…8... // Spock began reciting mathematical tables in his head, blocking out everything but the soothing flow of numbers in their logical sequence.



By the time he got to 314, he groaned in pain.



At 582—Spock cried out.




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



“But, sir,” Kirk switched gears, dropping his command tone of voice for that of a seasoned diplomatic, “surely a man in your position with your persuasive skills has the ability to convince the council to take action. Spock is the finest asset Starfleet has, and—“



“—Captain Kirk,” Komack interrupted, losing patience. “We’ve gone over this. The life of one man, regardless of how well respected he is by you and your crew, is not a sufficient reason to start a full-scale war with the Romulans. We’ve added extra patrols along the neutral zone, effectively stopping the raids. The matter is closed.”



“Sir, I can’t believe—”



“—Kirk, you have your orders. Komack out.”



The com went black, but not as black as Kirk felt. He stared hard at the blank screen as if he could somehow will it back to life and get the response he wanted.



“Now what?” Bones asked. “Disobey orders, fly half way across the galaxy, rescue Spock—that’s if he is still alive, which I doubt—and get out before we’re blown to bits?”



Kirk pivoted around, a slight grin on his face. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”



“No, but it might be the last. You know it’s impossible!”



“Highly improbable, maybe.” Kirk grinned wider. “But not impossible.”



“And the gap between improbable and impossible is a mile-wide with you, isn’t it?”



“If there is any chance—“



“—Any chance to get us both killed, you mean.”



“Stop complaining, Bones. I’d do the same for you.”



“Well, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to take shore leave within five parsecs of the neutral zone, not with the reports we had had of Romulan raiders crossing into Federation space and pillaging outposts.”



For once the captain remained silent.



McCoy was immediately suspicious. He knew Kirk well enough to know when he was hiding something.



“What is it you’re not telling me?” McCoy stood up, his lips compressing into a thin line. “Spock just wasn’t taking shore leave to do important personal research, was he?”



Kirk’s troubled expression revealed more than he was willing to admit.



“Jim!”



“I can’t talk about it, Bones. Starfleet orders.”



“Blast Starfleet! I’m a physician and anything you tell me will be kept in the strictest confidence.”



Kirk hesitated.



McCoy crossed his arms, determined to get his answer. “I’m also Spock’s friend or I would like to think I am.”



Kirk’s smiled, then exhaled a small sigh of surrender. “You two have a strange relationship, but I know that Spock wouldn’t disagree.”



Bones sat back down and Kirk pulled up a chair. “Spock had concluded that the next raid would be on the planet Alberant. It seems ripe for the picking; the colony had only a few hundred scientists, very little security, but there was a lot of valuable equipment—”



“—And Spock volunteered to be there, just in case.” McCoy’s piercing blue eyes lit up with anger. “And Komack was behind the whole thing, wasn’t he? Willing to send Spock into the lion’s den, unarmed and defenseless.”



“Starfleet needed hard proof: the timing of the raids, how many men, the spacecraft they used, and if they were employing a new type of cloaking device. Spock thought—“



“—Spock thought! He’s under a Romulan death-sentence!”



“Don’t you think I know that? He went undercover as a scientist from the Vulcan Science Academy with fake credentials and falsified ID. Every precaution was taken. He knew the risks, but he was the best-qualified person for the mission. We only had days to get him there before the next raid…” Kirk shook his head. “The chances that a Romulan raider would recognize him were virtually nil.”



“But they did recognize him and now Komack’s going to hang him out to dry. That miserable SOB.” After knocking back a substantial portion of his drink, McCoy finally said in all seriousness, “Remind me not to send that man a Christmas card this year.”



Kirk couldn’t help snorting with amusement. The SOB had been off his holiday list for years.



“So just how in the blue-blazes are we going to find Spock?”



“Through the Romulan Commander,” Kirk stated, his eyes mirroring the determination in his voice.



“What?! You think that after we stole the cloaking device and practically kidnapped her that she’s going to cooperate? Are you out of your mind?”



“Perhaps. But I won’t know until I contact her.”



“And just how are you going to do that?”



“If you remember, we didn’t drop her off at Star Base Nine when she beamed aboard with Spock. We were ordered to turn back and remain at the neutral zone so she could be returned to Romulus. The ship that arrived was not a ‘Bird of Prey’, but a personal spacecraft. I think it may have belonged to her family.”



“So?”



“The Enterprise data banks have the transmission codes for that ship. If a message is sent, someone onboard her will receive it.”



“Even if the message gets through, you actually think she will help?”



“There’s only one way to find out.”





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

the things that I know

nobody told me

the seeds that are sown

they still control me



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




His fingers were numb—lifeless.



Above his head, the handcuffs dug deeply into his wrists, cutting off the circulation to his hands. Spock could only hope that it was a temporary paralysis and not permanent damage.



The methods the Romulans favored were crude but effective; the torture was more primitive than mind sifters, however it had one distinct advantage - the pleasure it gave to the abuser. Although Spock had been mentally prepared to submit to various techniques used to extract information, he had not considered the possibility that he would have to endure actual sadism. Inflicting excruciating pain and humiliation while engaging in aberrant sexual behavior intoxicated the guards, and they reveled in it under the apparent sanction of the Romulan authorities.



To relieve the unbearable pressure on his wrists, he tried to shift his weight slightly. His ankles, horribly cramped from balancing on his toes, buckled—throwing him off balance. The slight sway yanked at the manacles, sending radiating waves of pain through his straining arms.



Blindfolded and naked, he had hung from the ceiling for hours—perhaps 3.2 hours, but he couldn’t be sure. His mind had ceased to function properly, his time-sense was distorted, and he could no longer think clearly. His ability to control the pain had almost deserted him, leaving him defenseless.



The guards had deliberately prevented him from meditating or inducing a healing trance, and under their unremitting surveillance, he was permitted no more than a few brief hours of rest. Their vigilance had the desired affect. His ability to repress the appalling flood of emotions had slowly diminished. As his control disintegrated, his human weaknesses had surfaced with a vengeance.



Losing command of his thought processes was infinitely worse than any physical pain. His mind, once so clear—so perfectly ordered and calm—had become a cauldron of hate, rage, panic, dread, and fear.



Suspended in total darkness, he was left alone in his misery to fight these emotional demons. But he had lost the weapons to defeat them; he was as helpless as a child in a pit of vipers.



He heard a sound and was instantly alert.



*Two pairs of footsteps coming down the hall.*



*The whine of the cell door deactivating.*



“Well—here he is.” Zor’s voice, the Custodio of the prison.



“So this is a Vulcan.” A masculine voice Spock didn’t recognize.



“Not much of a Vulcan now. But he’ll do for what you want.”



*Snickering*



“How much did you say?”



“You know the price!”



“If I bring friends next time, can we get a discount?”



“A group rate—yeah, it’s possible.”



“Are you going to leave him hanging like that?”



“You want him down?”



“No, perhaps later. Fucking him while he’s suspended could be quite entertaining. There’s a first time for everything, right?”



“I’ll ask him when you’re done.”



*Laughter*



*One pair of footsteps leaving.*



*The rustle of clothing being removed.*



*Thick-skinned hands touching him, roughly fondling him, swinging him around.*



*More laughter…*






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




She did not surprise easily.



But the message startled her nevertheless. How well she remembered that human, James T. Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise.



Although he was her enemy, he had treated her with dignity and respect. She even, begrudgingly, admired his bold daring in stealing the cloaking device.



She and Kirk were kindred spirits; they were both fearless and determined commanders with great responsibility—courageous and adventurous, but dedicated to the welfare of their crew. Yes, she understood him all too well.



Spock…Spock was someone less definable, but more fascinating.



She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, conjuring up his image in her mind: tall and lean with black hair and eyes to match. He possessed a melodic voice, a deep baritone that was strangely compelling. A Vulcan-human hybrid with a brilliant mind who was loyal, dedicated, logical, and emotionless—the perfect first officer.



And behind closed doors…



On that she could only speculate. If Kirk hadn’t stolen the cloaking device, she might have had the opportunity to discover what was behind Spock’s carefully constructed facade. She had enjoyed only a brief taste, a small tantalizing sample to satisfy her curiosity. If things had progressed further…



No. It was nonsensical to fantasize. It wasn’t meant to be.



And yet, she could vividly recall her time aboard the Enterprise. Spock had been solicitous, ensuring that she had food and drink to her liking, bringing her rare paper books and audiotapes he thought she might enjoy. He even played chess with her one evening when he finished his shift.



However, she always felt that there was an underlying tension in Spock whenever he was in her presence, some unfinished business between them that he didn’t voice.



That was until her last night aboard…





~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~





“The Enterprise will rendezvous with your transport at 21:00.”



“Thank you, Mr. Spock.” She glanced down at the book she had been reading; a moment passed—then another. Finally she looked up again.



Spock continued to stand in the doorway of her cabin, hands clasped behind his back.



“Is there something else?”



“This may be our last opportunity to speak privately,” Spock said, taking a step further into the room.



“Is there a need for privacy between us?” She put the book down, stood up, and rounded the desk that separated them.



“A need—no. Not a need, only a desire for your understanding.”



“What is it that you want?”



His shoulders slightly stiffened, but other than that, he continued to project perfect control.



“I wish to ask forgiveness.”



“You and your captain have been exemplary hosts. I had expected to be treated as a prisoner, but you have made me feel like an honored guest. There is nothing to forgive.”



Spock lowered his head, seemingly unwilling to continue eye contact. “In my performance as an officer, I have…dishonored myself as a Vulcan.”



She waited for him to explain. He paused for a long drawn out moment, then looked at her, his brows pulled together over somber eyes.



“I initiated an intimate link between us while on your ship. If necessary, I would have taken it to its ultimate conclusion to ensure the success of the mission. I cannot justify my actions…even in the line of duty.”



“I see. Do you take me for a child, Spock? It was my duty to bring the Enterprise back to Romulus. I could not accomplish that without your…cooperation. I seduced you as much as you seduced me. We are both equally culpable of doing what was necessary to achieve our own goals.”



// It is the truth // she thought to herself, still feeling an overwhelming attraction for him. // But not entirely. I wanted so much more from you, not as a commander, but as a woman. //



She carefully examined Spock’s face. The tiny signs of tension around his eyes had eased a little, but her words had not alleviated his discomfort. She remembered how his dark, penetrating gaze had softened when her hand had caressed his—an intimacy far more profound than a human kiss. She had felt his mind beginning to open and his growing arousal. This ancient method of touching created a telepathic link, effectively joining both partners in mind and body. If it had continued for more than a few brief moments, an intense bond would have developed between them.



She turned, slowly walked to the desk, and picked up the book. “If your captain had not stolen the cloaking device at precisely that moment, and if we had…I doubt very much that you would be having any regrets.”



She turned to face him. “Or were your words about us exchanging something ‘more permanent’ just that—words?”



“I will not deny that I was moved by your mind and the strength of your Romulan blood—so akin to mine. I had not anticipated this reaction when I beamed aboard your ship; I believed that I could control my responses. When I was escorting you to your cabin after we transported back to the Enterprise, I spoke the truth, as I perceived it at the time. The link between us was still influencing my thoughts and my behavior; however—“



“—However, now that you have resumed full control, you realized that any remaining link between us, if allowed to continue, would be…inappropriate.”



He slightly bowed his head in acknowledgment. “It is for this reason, I ask forgiveness.”



She took a step closer, looking deeply into Spock’s eyes. “There is someone else, isn’t there? Someone very special to you.”



At first she thought he wasn’t going to answer. Instead, he took a deep breath and said, “Yes.”



“And what passed between us troubles you because you feel you’ve been emotionally unfaithful to this other person?”



“Yes.”



“Then it’s not my forgiveness that you want. You should be asking the person whom you love.”



The com on the desk whistled. “Commander, your spacecraft has arrived. Please accompany Mr. Spock to the transporter room. Captain Kirk will meet you there. Bridge out.”



She moved towards the door, Spock turning to following her. Before it opened, she pivoted around to face him. “Your t’hy’la is a fortunate person, Spock. I am…envious.”





~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



The clarity of the recollection was almost painfully intense, triggering feelings inside of her that she had buried long ago.



She sat back, took a long moment to clear her mind, then considered Kirk’s message. If Spock was in the hands of the Romulan authorities, she hadn’t been informed of his capture or knew his whereabouts, but then, she was virtually an outcast. The prefects had stripped her of her commission, her command, and her rank. Those honors and most of her personal wealth had been taken from her.



The encounter with the Enterprise was a shameful failure, an insult that did not sit well with those in power, and with no Federation prisoner to punish, she had taken the brunt of their ire. If not for the prestige of her family, she would have been executed. Her father and grandfather were honored heroes; their granite busts still graced the People’s Great Hall. She had escaped death not due to her own impressive military record, but by the blood she carried in her veins.



But she still had a few friends in high places, those who owed her favors. They could find out where Spock had been imprisoned and perhaps orchestrate a plan that would allow her to secretly visit the Vulcan.



She had intended, in time, to use their influence with the prefects to have her commission reinstated. She needed all remaining support for herself.



And if she helped Kirk to rescue Spock and her involvement was discovered, nothing could save her life.



Was Spock worth the risk of losing everything?




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

take my dreams

childish and weak at the seams

please don't analyze

please just be there for me



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



“Touch me.” The hazel eyes, only inches away, were warm and inviting. A hand reached out to lightly brush his left ear, the cool fingers remaining to caress the pointed ridge.



“Beautiful—I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” Kirk sighed. “Don’t be afraid, Spock. Touch me. I want to feel your hands on me.”



Spock swallowed hard. He wanted to—he desperately wanted to touch and stroke and taste every part of that fascinating body. He wanted to explore that mind, to join with that vibrant spirit, and connect at the deepest level. But he couldn’t—he mustn’t. There was something dark and sinister hovering around them—something malevolent that Spock couldn’t see, but could feel pressing in.



“It doesn’t matter—forget them,” Kirk said, offering up a tender smile that he reserved for only Spock.



The fingers traced a soothing line down the side of Spock’s face and brushed across his lips. “Won’t you even kiss me?”



Spock ached to take Kirk in his arms, but they were watching.



“Jim, we cannot…not here.”



“Shush…it’s all right. This has nothing to do with them. Concentrate on us…only us.”



The firm flesh in Spock’s pants pulsated harder, straining against the fabric that confined it. Unable to resist any longer, he tentatively reached towards Kirk. His fingers of his right hand came to rest against the cool throat and he felt the rhythmic beat of blood against the pads of his fingertips. “So slow and measured…” Spock said softly. “Like an exquisite Adagio.”



Kirk closed his eyes and leaned forward, his lips seeking Spock’s mouth—



PAIN!



Pain so intense that Spock’s eyes snapped open, his body wracked with agony.



Another massive jolt hit him between the shoulder blades. His extremities exploded into spasms—and he doubled up, clutching his abdomen.



“I hope you slept well,” the Romulan smirked, snapping the electro-prod back on his belt. “Get your stinking carcass out of bed.”



Shaking uncontrollably, Spock struggled to rise, but a wave of nausea sent stabbing cramps through his stomach. Bile rose in the back of his throat, he heaved violently, and threw up. The small amount of vomit contained very little food, only bloody mucus. Acid burned the inside of his mouth, and he tried to spit out most of the vile secretions. He collapsed back on the bed, panting for breath.



“Please…a…moment,” he gasped.



“I said GET UP!” the guard barked, reaching for the prod again.



Spock labored to sit upright, then collapsed again. He didn’t have the strength to move.



Yanked off the bed, he fell on the icy, hard floor. The walls of the cell began to spin, his ears were ringing, his entire body shook in convulsive tremors. He was only dully aware of the vicious kicks to his ribs and back.



The room expanded and contracted—the light spiraling in on all sides—until darkness closed in, and his beloved once again appeared.



// “I love you,” Jim said, reaching out to take Spock in his arms, holding him tight. “I won’t let them hurt you anymore…”//




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




Kirk could hardly contain his excitement.



Alive. Spock was still alive!



He read the secret communication from the Romulan Commander again.



[ He is being held on Ruutast. The coordinates are: 15.34.27.1. Quadrant is regularly patrolled. Planet strongly fortified. I am en-route to prison. Will send additional information. ]



Kirk saved the message under the highest security code, ‘his eyes only’, then activated the com on his desk.



“You’ll be happy to hear that there’s a certain green-blooded friend of ours who is alive.”



There was a long pause. Kirk could almost see the huge grin on McCoy’s face.



“Damn thick Vulcan hide. I’m starting to think he’s indestructible,” Bones grumbled, but he was unable to hide the delight in his voice. “So she helped after all. For the life of me, I don’t understand why.”



“Come to my quarters when you’ve finish your shift. There’s a lot to discuss. Kirk out.”



Kirk leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin; he didn’t completely understand why either. During the entire time the Romulan Commander had been onboard the Enterprise, Spock had been courteous to her, but there was nothing in his attitude—or hers—that suggested anything more than a polite respect for one another. And yet…there was something in Spock’s demeanor that changed whenever the three of them were together; Spock only spoke if asked a question, he seemed more withdrawn and stiff, and he avoided looking at the Commander directly. If Spock had been fully human, Kirk would have thought that he was feeling…guilty.



Spock had never told him how he had kept the Romulan Commander preoccupied while Kirk was stealing the cloaking device. When Kirk finally asked, Spock’s reply bordered on terse; “The Commander and I entered into a discourse.”



It was clear that Spock didn’t want to talk about it and Kirk didn’t push.



Now, Kirk couldn’t help wondering what Spock had meant by discourse. Obviously, more than a polite conversation about star fields or navigational charts happened in the Commander’s cabin while they were alone.



There had to be a compelling reason why the Romulan Commander, even at this point, was still willing to help them rescue Spock. Kirk, an expert at interpersonal diplomatic relationships with women, could only think of one.



And he didn’t like it. No, not one damn bit.





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



The smirk on the Custodio’s face grew broader. Without even trying to hide his uncouthness, Zor’s gaze swept lasciviously down her body and back up again. She had worn the cheap, vulgar outfit she had purchased, and had dyed her hair red. Although she doubted that anyone on this miserable rock of a planet would recognize her even without the disguise, she wasn’t taking any chances.



“He’s not usually visited by…women although there have been a few who didn’t mind slumming it.”



She ignored the vulgar remark and kept her voice neutral. “I’d heard that he is rather unique—a Vulcan-human hybrid. I was naturally curious.”



Zor gave her a knowing look. “Then for the right price, your curiosity will be satisfied.”



“How long has he been here, Custodio?” she asked innocently. “I thought prisoners were executed immediately.”



“They are—unless they have information that the prefects want. Any day now, Spock will tell us exactly what we want to know. After that—”



Zor made a cutting motion across his throat.



//"Our people are warriors. Often savage. But we are also many other pleasant things…"// Her words came back to haunt her.



Spock had only seen the most loathsome side of Romulan ruthlessness in these prison walls, sadistic brutes that were hand picked for their cruelty. How information was obtained was of little concern and the guards were given free rein; the end justified the means. She had heard that such men existed—to serve the prefects in their quest for power—but until now, she had never had the displeasure of meeting one.



She pulled back from such dark, disturbing thoughts and focused again on Zor. She needed information as well; only her methods required nothing more than an indispensable dose of feminine wiles.



She smiled warmly at the Custodio, running her hand slowly over her hips in a smooth caress. While his eyes followed the trail of her fingers as they inched towards her thigh, she casually remarked, “So the rumor that a Vulcan can’t be broken is a myth? I thought that their minds were impenetrable—”



Zor snorted with laughter. “Their minds, maybe, but not their bodies!” He slapped his hand a couple of times on the desk, obviously enjoying his own humor. She forced out a laugh to appease him.



“Anyone can be broken if given enough time and enough incentive," he bragged, "especially a prisoner who is half-human.”



“I’m impressed. I can see that he wouldn’t stand a chance against such formidable men such as yourself.” She paused just long enough for the compliment to fully register, then pointedly glanced at her wrist chronometer. “May I see him now?”



“He is, let’s say, occupied at the moment.”



Zor glanced at one of the video monitors mounted into a rack beside his desk. From her angle of view, she couldn’t see the images, but she knew he was observing Spock’s cell.



“Return in an hour or two,” he said, his eyes still glued to the screen.



“I’m sure you don’t expect me to wait,” she replied smoothly, placing a chit of Romulan credits on the desk. “I can only stay a short time and lingering outside a prison outpost is no place for a lady.”



He glanced first at the substantial amount of money, then at her. “You’d be surprised at the clientele who have waited to enjoy this half-breed. Through word of mouth, he has become quite the attraction.”



“A profitable attraction for you and your men, undoubtedly.” She smiled again in an attempt to hide her disgust. “If I am unable to see him now, then I must return to Romulus straight away. My transport won’t wait.” She reached to take back the chit, but his hand beat her to it.



He quickly placed the credits in the pocket of his jacket, then pressed a com button under the monitor he had been viewing. “Time’s up,” he barked. The reply was curse, followed by a garbled protest, but he cut the connection immediately.



Rising to his feet, Zor turned and opened a locked cabinet on the wall, retrieving something. He placed the object in his pocket, and then said, “Follow me.” Ten minutes later, they were standing at the doorway of Spock’s cell.



Deactivating the security beam, he escorted her into the stark, windowless cell. The air was stale, permeated with a strong combination of odors, none of which smelled pleasant.



The entire room was constructed of bonded steel panels. A vacuum commode stood against one wall, but there was no sink or water outlet. On the opposite wall, a cot was bolted into place. Titanium rings were attached to the walls at various places and at different heights, and heavy toggles were embedded in the ceiling. The video com was recessed into a corner, and below it stood a portable gurney equipped with thick restraints.



In the center of the room, a heavy-set man was hastily dressing, partially blocking her view of the prisoner who lay on the cot. The stout brute glanced over his shoulder, the scowl etched between his brows instantly replaced by an expression of surprise. It was obvious that he hadn’t expected Zor to be accompanied by a woman.



He adjusted his pants and reached for his jacket, which still lay folded on the floor. “I paid for two hours,” he grumbled. “I still have 30 minutes left.”



“So sue me,” Zor smirked.



The man finished pulling on his jacket, then moved towards the door, finally giving her an unobstructed view of Spock. Her eyes remained riveted on his motionless form; he was sprawled face down and naked. Even at this distance, she could clearly see the sharp outline of bones that protruded through his skin. Angry, yellow-green welts and extensive bruising marred his back, legs, and buttocks. They had prevented him from bathing by denying him access to water and a layer of filth covered his entire body. She had never seen a more wretched prisoner.



The sight sickened her and she couldn’t contain a sharp intake of breath.



“Disappointed?” Zor asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. “If he’s not what you expected, there are no refunds.”



“Did I ask for one?” She replied lightly, repressing her outrage at the treatment Spock had received. “I had merely thought he would be more…energetic.”



“Oh, he’s lively enough,” the fat man chuckled. “He’ll do anything you want—anything at all.”



“Get the fuck out, and wait for me in the hall,” the Custodio snarled, and the man quickly disappeared.



Reaching into his pocket, Zor pulled out the object he had taken from his office. It was a hypo capped with a murky liquid.



“What is that for?” she asked.



“You'll want him fully functional, right? Sex doesn’t arouse him. If I inject this directly into his cock, he’ll get a powerful erection whether he wants one or not. He won’t come, but he’ll stay hard for hours. A Vulcan with an excruciating hard-on who can’t experience any relief is something to see.”



“No—that isn’t necessary!” Then she quickly added more softly, with just the right hint of embarrassment in her voice, “I’m more interested in him…satisfying me in other ways.”



“Makes no difference to me,” Zor shrugged, putting the hypo back in his pocket. “If you change your mind, press the com button.” Then he turned and walked out of the cell.



For a long moment after he left, she remained fixed to the spot, staring at the pitiful figure that lay silent and unmoving. If not for the slight rise and fall of his ribcage as he breathed, she would have thought Spock was dead.



Finally, she slowly approached the cot, her attention divided between him and the video surveillance.



Keeping her back to the vid-com and her voice low, she whispered, “Spock?”



There was no response. She took a step closer. “Spock?”



His head moved slightly.



She tentatively sat on the edge of the cot. His eyes were closed and there was a slight sheen of perspiration on his brow. His wrists were encased in shackles, the surrounding skin badly discolored and swollen.



Hesitantly, she reached to touch the limp hand that lay next to his face. As she gently brushed the top of his fingers, he seemed unaware of the contact, then his eyes slowly opened.



At first, he only stared blankly at the wall.



“Spock, it is I,” she murmured softly. “There is nothing to fear.”



His gaze shifted towards her and he stared vacantly at her face. She continued to stroke his hand, hoping she could somehow connect with him by touch alone. She could hardly believe that the composed mind she had once fleetingly known was the same one that Spock now possessed.



Gradually, like a mist lifting from a dark lagoon, the dull light in his eyes began to brighten in recognition—then recollection changed to dread. “Not possible,” he gasped. “A delusion…”



“I am not a figment of your imagination.”



“Not real,” he said louder, but his tone was shadowed with uncertainty. He blinked rapidly as if he could erase her image if he tried hard enough.



Wary that he might inadvertently say or do something that would tip off the guards, she shifted closer to shield his face from the vid-com. She leaned over him, breathing into his ear, “If you know who I am, squeeze my hand.”



His fingers slowly slipped from under her palm and crept over the back of her hand. He enveloped it in his clasp, squeezing lightly.



She breathed a deep sign of relief, then said, “Your captain is going to attempt to rescue you. Do you understand?”



Once again, his fingers tightened.



“Do whatever is necessary to stay alive a little while longer. I will do everything in my power to see that you escape this…hell.”



A slight moan of gratitude escaped his cracked lips, a heartrending sound that instantly caused her stomach to twist into knots.



Unable to stop herself, she tenderly kissed his cheek and ran a soothing hand along the nape of his neck.



But he suddenly tensed, squeezing his eyes shut, as if he couldn’t bear any gentleness after enduring so much pain.



Devastated, she reluctantly slipped her fingers from his grasp, stood up, and walked to the com.



“I am finished,” she said.



“That’s it?” Zor asked over the speaker. “I thought you wanted to—“



“—He’s not that interesting, after all,” she shrugged. “I was hoping that he would look more exotic, more human with cool, pale skin and rounded ears. Hardly worth the visit.”



“I can make it up to you, if you like,” Zor replied in a crude attempt to seduce her. “I’m more of a man than he ever was.”



She smiled to herself. If handled right, she could find out more about this prison from that lecherous, thickheaded thug without getting intimate with him. A few well-placed caresses—interspersed with silly female concerns about the lack of privacy and safety measures in the facility—along with a promise to return would be all it would take.



“Yes, I’m sure you are,” she said, almost purring. “Perhaps we can talk about it before I leave.”



She had made up her mind that getting Spock out of here was worth whatever sacrifice she had to make—now more than ever.




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



“We can’t delay much longer,” Kirk said, opening a bottle of Saurian brandy.



“Can she help him escape?” McCoy asked, riding high on hope.



“No, not alone. It’s up to us now.” He poured the golden amber into two glasses.



“Just you and little ol’ me—right? Komack will personally shoot you out of the sky if you try to take the Enterprise across the neutral zone.”



Kirk grinned, “I’d like to see him try, but I have another plan.” He passed a drink to McCoy, then reached for the other glass.



“Which is?”



As if on cue, the com whistled.



Kirk walked to his desk and pushed the relay to the bridge. “Kirk here.”



“Captain,” Uhura’s voice said. “A private message for you from Ambassador Sarek. Shall I transfer it there?”



“Yes, Lieutenant.”



The screen on the com switched on; Sarek’s face instantly appeared on the viewer.



“Captain,” he said, “I have received the final directives directly from the Romulan Commander. All arrangements have been made. I will leave immediately.”



“We will be waiting at the rendezvous point. I know that Vulcans don’t believe that success happens by sheer chance…but good luck, Ambassador.”



Sarek’s eyebrow arched up. “I do not need luck, Kirk. As you humans say, ‘I play to win’. Sarek out.” The screen went black.



Astonished, Kirk began to laugh. “You know, I believe him.”



“So are you going to fill me in or do I have to guess?”



Kirk picked up his drink, then took his seat in the chair opposite McCoy’s. “Only a Romulan can get into that prison—“



“—Or a Vulcan pretending to be a Romulan, you mean.”



“Sarek can pull it off, I can’t, even with another ear bob like we used before.”



“Why?”



“The prison security system uses retinal scans for visitors. Only Romulans are permitted entry. One look at my red corpuscles and the jig would be up. Romulans and Vulcans may be culturally and emotionally different, but their physiology is practically identical.”



“And just how is Sarek going to get there—in a Vulcan transport?!”



“Only until he reaches the neutral zone. Then he’ll beam onto the Romulan Commander’s spacecraft. She will take him to Ruutast and then bring him back with Spock. We’ll be waiting at the drop off point.”



“It all sounds very logical—except how in hell does Sarek intend to get Spock out of that prison?”



“He said he’d formulate a plan once he personally spoke to the Romulan Commander.”



“You mean, right now he has no idea what he’s going to do?”



“He’ll do whatever is necessary. He won’t leave without his son.”



“You’re right. He might not have the option. He could end up in prison with Spock, or one or both of them could wind up dead, or—”



“—Your point is?” Kirk threw up his hands in exasperation.



McCoy abruptly turned his head away. “Damn it, Jim. Sarek needs all the blasted *luck* he can get.”




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

take my hand

lead me to some peaceful land

that I cannot find

inside my head



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




He was slowly smothering.



Panic coursed through his body. His fingers clenched and unclenched at his sides, scraping uselessly against the smooth cover of the gurney. He strained at the restraints that held him in place, but he couldn’t move an inch.



The thick towel that covered his face was cold and sopping wet. They had put plugs in his ears to increase the effect. Noises were muted, undistinguishable, like drowning under water.



He could barely breathe, gasping helplessly for air, his mouth and nose plastered against the drenched shroud. His lungs burned—straining to fill, and his temples throbbed relentlessly. Every primitive instinct of self-preservation screamed to survive.



He could feel their hands applying the dabs of cool gel to his groin and to his penis and scrotum, attaching the pads, running the wires over his thighs to connect to the mechanism under the table.



His heart raced wildly. He knew what was coming. But they let him wait—let him think long and hard about the pain they were about to inflict.



Even before they threw the switch, he was begging for them to stop. But his muffled pleas through the sodden towel only sounded like garbled noises.



A harsh voice, close to his head, was loud enough to hear. “You can’t hold out for much longer, Vulcan. Days—hours? It makes no difference. You will tell us what we want to know. Then there will be no more pain. Think of it—all this will end. Don’t you want it to end?”



But then a different voice, familiar and soft, was speaking to him.



// If you know who I am, squeeze my hand. //



Spock curled his fingers against his palm, squeezing as tightly as he could.



Then Jim was beside him, whispering in his ear.



// Shush…It’s all right. Concentrate on us…only us. //



Another voice spoke, but it sounded as if it came from far away.



// In my performance as an officer, I have…dishonored myself as a Vulcan. //



The first voice spoke again, only it was alluring and seductive, tempting him.



// Don’t you want it to end? //



The voices confused him—he didn’t know if they were in his head or in the room.



// Concentrate! // He commanded himself. // Think! //



In one singular moment of brilliant clarity, Spock realized that he was going mad.



An instant later, a massive jolt of electricity exploded throughout his body. Rational thought was burned to ash and even the voices deserted him—fleeing the roaring flames of hell that devoured him without mercy.




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





Sarek’s somber gaze remained focused on the blur of stars through the portside window. The Commander’s spacecraft warped steadily onwards through Romulan space.



“And that is the only option?” His voice remained unemotional, but his hands were clasped tightly in his lap.



“Yes, Ambassador,” she said, a sympathetic apology in her voice. “I’m afraid so. It’s the only way.”



Sarek steepled his fingers together and remained quiet.



She looked at her cousin, Tal, then back at Sarek. “If you can’t do it, Ambassador, then perhaps Tal can—“.



“—If my son is as deteriorated as you say, he may not understand that Tal is there to help him. We cannot take the risk. I will visit Spock.”



Sarek drew his eyes away from the stars and finally looked at the Commander.



“Agreed,” she said. “Only you can calm his mind enough so that he will be able to comprehend what is happening.”



Sarek nodded his head once, then asked, “Why did you withhold the facts about Spock’s condition from his captain and me, all he has been forced to endure?”



“You are his father, Kirk is his friend. Would it have eased both your minds to envision the torture inflicted upon him—the rapes, the physical and psychological torment? I only tell you this now because you need all the information in order to know what you’ll face in that prison. If you had not agreed to assist Tal and me, and Spock was left to die, I would not subject you or Kirk to the details.”



Sarek exhaled a deep breath. “For a Romulan, you are most logical.”



She couldn’t help being pleased at the seemingly backhanded compliment.



“I have my moments,” she said, throwing a glance at Tal.



“She is a remarkable woman,” Tal said. “I am honored to be her cousin.”



“Enough,” she said, but her eyes smiled back warmly. “Tal, you know that I couldn’t do this without you.” She then turned her attention back to Sarek. “We have a Romulan outfit for you, forged ID papers, and Romulan credits. Have you brought the drug?”



Sarek reached into his robe, pulled out a small box, and carefully opened it. Inside lay two tiny color-coded cylinders, each only 3mm long and 1mm wide. “A Vulcan narcotic made from the roots of a rare plant found in mountain crevices. It produces a state not unlike death. And the antidote. The antidote must be administered within four hours or Spock will die.”



“How long for the drug to take affect?”



“Once the cylinder dissolves in stomach acid—30 minutes.”



“If all goes according to plan, we’ll have Spock’s body out of the prison morgue with time to spare.”



“How will you retrieve my son’s body?”



“Tal paid the morgue attendant handsomely to hand over any fresh corpses—all in the advancement of science, of course. Unclaimed bodies are frequently used for research and body brokers provide a respectable service on Romulus. The only problem…” She glanced sheepishly at Tal.



“Yes?” Sarek asked, his eyes moving from one to the other.



“The only problem,” Tal continued, “is that we currently have two corpses from the prison in our refrigerated hold. The morgue attendant was most anxious to turn over what he had in stock.”



Sarek raised an eyebrow, but his face remained stoic, almost grim.



“That’s another problem,” she said, staring intently at Sarek. “Romulans express emotion. You’re going to have to try to be more…animated. If a guard makes a joke, you’re going to have to laugh.”



“I—laugh?”



“Yes. If you don’t react, they’ll get suspicious.”



“Vulcans do not laugh.”



“They don’t laugh with emotion, but anyone can laugh. It’s just a type of noise, really, like coughing rapidly.”



She faked a long laugh. “See, just pull your lips back over your teeth and force the air from your throat in short bursts.” To demonstrate, she started to laugh harder.



Sarek glanced pointedly at Tal, seeking the other man’s consolation. But the Romulan merely shrugged his shoulders and starting laughing as well.



Outmatched, Sarek finally pulled his lips back in a taut grimace and began making a weird panting noise, not unlike a dog dying of thirst. Flabbergasted, the Romulans stared wide-eyed at one another. The harder Sarek tried, the worse he sounded.



The Commander and Tal, unable to control themselves for a moment longer, burst into real laughter.



But twenty minutes later, Sarek could pull off a reasonable facsimile of a genuine chortle. It was one of the strangest evenings he had ever had.



But the next night would prove to be the most difficult of his life.




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





“You are extending to the prisoner the courtesy that he deserves?”



Zor chuckled at the sarcasm. “Of course, sir, we go to great pains to ensure his comfort.”



On the com monitor, the hawkish face of the prefect remained composed, but his voice suddenly took on a hard, threatening edge. “Then why haven’t you been able to obtain the information we want?”



The menacing tone shattered the relaxed mood and Zor snapped to attention.



“If we move too quickly, we risk killing him before he divulges anything of importance. But we’re getting close. His mental shields are rapidly deteriorating.”



“You’ve had him for almost four months, Custodio. Our patience is wearing thin. Do whatever is necessary, but we want him broken. You have one more week, not a day longer.”



Zor ran his hand over his chin, calculating what could be done in such a short amount of time. “We will escalate the process, but if the Vulcan cannot withstand it and dies, I will not be held responsible.”



“You will be held responsible. Do not forget that you and your men are trusted servants of the state. The Enterprise has already forced the destruction of one of our ships and its entire crew, as well as shamed every Romulan by the theft of our cloaking device. Obtaining information from one of their officers that participated in both affronts is an opportunity that can not be squandered.”



“It is said that some members of Romulan Senate do not agree with the measures to expand our borders past the neutral zone, either into Klingon or Federation space,” Zor said. “War with two enemies would be costly and difficult—”



"—We cannot accept decisions made in the Senate by fools or traitors. We must obtain new territory, new food supplies and resources, or our entire society will collapse. We are warriors and warriors do not negotiate like beggars with the Federation; we will take what we need to survive. No one can advise us not to save the lives of Romulan women and children.”



The prefect paused, then added with a chilling finality, “We have put our faith in you to protect our Empire, and the Federation is a threat to that security. For the sake of your family—your children, I would advice you not to disappoint me.”



The transmission ended and the screen went black.



Zor slumped back in his chair and rubbed his throbbing temples. There was no guarantee that torture would work the way the prefects wanted it to, much less reveal any military secrets of great value. While the body and the mind of a prisoner could be used and abused, exploiting physical frailty was not the issue. Over the years, Zor had discovered how little reliable information could be extracted from a victim. It seemed to him that torture produced more fabrications than truths; the agony made men confess to conspiracies that did not exist and profess loyalty to dogma that they did not believe in.



Spock, of course, was a special case. It was said that Vulcans couldn’t lie, but over the last few days, his responses to torture had become increasingly erratic; frantic nonsensical outbursts were followed by trance-like states of mute compliance. Perhaps he was incapable of lying, but if he was now psychotic, it was a moot point.



He grudgingly admired the Vulcan; he had survived torture that would have killed most men weeks ago. But his death was inevitable and growing closer by the day. Zor would keep him alive long as possible, but Spock was not much more than a cadaver who still breathed.



No matter, he had a job to do and as a loyal Romulan he knew his duty.



Zor punched the com button. “Prepare the Vulcan for interrogation. I will be there in 15 minutes.”



He stood up and walked over to the hexagon aquarium he had set up on top of a cabinet. Floating at the top, a dragon fish lay belly-up, its bright red gills fluttering rapidly, eyes bulging in distress. Its bladder was distended; the huge internal mass pushed its scales out, revealing the tender pink flesh underneath. Zor had seen this before; a virus had caused the condition and it was fatal. He knew of no cure. By the end of the week, the exquisite iridescent-colored creature with its long wing-like fins would be dead. Already the other fish were viciously pecking at the helpless thing with their hard mouths, tearing tiny chunks from its tail, slowly eating it alive.



Zor reached into the tank and gently scooped out the fish with his hand. It lay quietly in his palm, gasping for air. He soothingly stroked the top of its boney, ornate head, careful to avoid the sensitive feelers that could be easily irritated.



With a heavy sigh, he hurled the creature down on the hard tiles of the floor, the impact killing it instantly.



It was the fastest and most merciful way to end a fish’s suffering, but as he bent down to pick it up, he felt a profound sadness. He loved his watery pets and this one had been his favorite.



He wrapped the body in a trilax bag and placed it on his desk. He would not flush it down the commode; when he finished his shift, he would bury it outside the prison walls. This rare, proud creature deserved nothing less.




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





The Commander’s spacecraft docked without any difficulties.



Ruutast was more than just a prison outpost. It was one of the few Class-M planets in the quadrant, a stop-off point for travelers heading to Romulus. Not that many bothered if they could avoid it; it was a harsh, forbidding place with substandard accommodation and few luxuries.



Tal, on the pretext of procuring more corpses, had contacted the prison’s morgue attendant. There was a new body waiting for pick-up. Tal would time it so he would arrive just after Spock’s body had been taken to the morgue and purchase both. The Commander would remain onboard, ready to take them out of orbit.



Alone in his cabin, Sarek prepared himself, then he beamed down to Ruutast.



Sarek passed the retina test, a precaution used at the prison gates to keep all but loyal Romulans out. He also passed the first security check, a scanner that detected metal and any other synthetic objects that might be hidden under his clothes. It was here that he was asked for his traveling papers. He handed them over to one of the guards, who thoroughly scrutinized the documents. After being questioned about the purpose of his visit, the Romulan cleared him to continue.



When he reached the main building that housed the cells, he underwent a third check, but this time the scanner was programmed not only to detect synthetic objects and hidden weapons, but a variety of legal and illegal drugs—Romulan drugs. It was not calibrated to read Vulcan narcotics. It failed to find the minuscule cylinder concealed in Sarek’s body.



His purpose for being there had already been relayed to Zor by the guards, so by the time he was escorted into the Custodio’s office, the senior officer was waiting for him.



Zor, behaving no better than any pimp, did not waste time with the new customer.



“Your name is Telus?” Zor snapped gruffly, his piercing gaze inspecting Sarek as if he was nothing more than an unfamiliar form of parasite.



“Yes.”



“Your business here?”



Sarek was well aware that Zor knew both his falsified name and the reason he had come. “I understand that you have a Vulcan-human in your possession. I wish to see him.”



The Custodio took a long drink from his mug, then he wiped away the froth that had accumulated on his fleshy lips. “I see. And how did you come to know of this prisoner?”



“Friends told me. Friends who practice the same…religion as me.”



Zor smiled coldly. “Ah, a man who worships a different God.”



“You might say that.”



“You have credits?”



“Yes.”



“How much is seeing this Vulcan worth to you?”



Sarek didn’t take the bait too easily. For the game to be successful, he would have to negotiate.



“It depends.”



“On what?”



“On what I am permitted to do.”



Zor snorted. “Anything you damn well please as long as he is still alive when you’re done.”



It was his cue to laugh. Sarek forced himself to chortle, but even to his own ears, it sounded strained and hoarse.



“Are you sick, Telus?”



“A slight bronchial problem. A physician is treating it.”



Sarek reached into his pocket and pulled out the chit, holding it in a way that Zor could easily see the amount. “How much time does this buy?”



“One hour.”



Sarek’s allowed his eyebrow to rise in an expression of disbelief. He knew the chit was worth at least a week’s wages for someone in Zor’s position. “Only one hour?”



“Only an hour,” Zor stated firmly. “After that—we have other plans for him. I’m on a schedule here, so take it or leave it.”



“It is a significant amount of money…” Sarek pretended to vacillate for a long moment, then said, “But it would be—“ Sarek almost said ‘illogical’, but instantly substituted the word with a less Vulcan expression, “—a ‘shame’ to leave after traveling all this way without paying my respects to the prisoner in question.”



The Custodio grinned and took the chit. “Then we understand each other. Follow me.”



During the time it took to reach Spock’s cell, Sarek used every moment to prepare himself for what he might find. He must focus only on maintaining complete control. But even his Vulcan discipline could not totally prepare him when he finally set eyes on his only son.



Spock lay curled on the cot in a fetal position. His physical condition was shocking, and Sarek refused to dwell on the atrocious symptoms of extreme starvation and torture. The body could be healed. It was Spock’s mind that was of critical importance.



“You have a visitor, Vulcan,” Zor snapped. “Attend him.”



Like a whipped dog, Spock obeyed his master’s command and slowly pulled himself off the bed. He sank to his knees on the floor, hung his head, and waited.



“One hour, Telus,” Zor stated again, then left.



Sarek noted the position of the vid-com, then crossed the room until he stood in front of Spock. He reached out, faltered for a brief moment, then laid his hand on the crown of dull black hair. There was no reaction from his son; Spock remained motionless and quiet, as if he were in a trance.



Sarek’s hand swept downwards, brushing against Spock’s temple, his fingers finally finding the meld points.



Instantly, Sarek felt only chaos and pain—a torrent of emotions that battered his psyche. But worse, much worse, was that Spock had retreated so far into himself that his son had no conscious recognition of his own identity or his heritage. Spock the Vulcan, Spock the officer—had ceased to exist. “Starfleet” and the “Federation” were merely words, without meaning.



All that Spock had been had been effectively erased by the psychosis that now enveloped him.



// My son! // Sarek groaned silently, unable to repress his own grief.



Spock jerked his head back slightly, breaking contact. The reaction was unexpected and Sarek’s hopes soared; his thoughts had reached some part of Spock that still responded.



Sarek reached out again, cupping his hand under Spock’s chin, tilting his face upwards. Spock’s blood-shot eyes remained vacant, dark bronze circles ringing the sunken sockets. Small, ulcerated sores covered the corners of his cracked lips, and the planes of his face were sharply pinched with malnourishment.



Sarek once again reached for the meld points on Spock’s face. This time, he probed deep into Spock’s mind, desperately trying to find that part that still held the core of Spock’s identity, his son’s ability to comprehend and reason.



But his concentration was suddenly interrupted by a physical sensation. Spock’s fingers were undoing the closure on Sarek’s pants, reaching into the confines of fabric to withdraw his penis.



Sarek’s back stiffened and he fought against the instinct to pull away.



Then Spock’s mouth took him in.



Sarek’s organ remained limp—he could not achieve an erection. He had never been in such a terrible state of discomfort. It was awkward and shameful, and he was filled with disgust. But as distasteful as it was, to feel his son’s hand and tongue stroking him, Sarek knew he must permit this act to happen.



// I am a Vulcan // he repeated over and over to himself. // The body is of no concern. The deed is of no concern. It is only a means to an end. It is logical.//



He closed his eyes and thought of Amanda, and he forced himself to imagine it was her hand, her mouth, that enclosed him. Slowly, the vision of his bondmate stimulating him began to produce the desired results. His penis began to fill and the organ slowly grew rigid.



Now he must find a way to communicate with Spock, to warn his son not to react in any way when the tiny cylinder entered his mouth. Spock must not spit it out, but ingest it as quickly as possible.



// Spock, do as I say and you will be free, my son. Within my body is concealed a drug that will help you escape this prison. You will feel it enter your mouth. You must swallow it. Do you understand? //



Sarek probed deeper into Spock’s mind, repeating the message.



For a long, drawn out minute, there was nothing. Then…as if from deep inside a well, a question formed.



// A drug? // Spock weakly asked, the thought clouded by bewilderment.



// Yes! It will help you. Swallow it and you will be free. Do you understand? //



// Free? //



// Yes. Free of this place. There will be no more pain. //



// No more…please, no more pain. //



// Trust me. //



// You seem familiar…to me. Who? //



// One who loves you, Spock. //



Spock still did not realize the identity of the man who stood before him and Sarek did not press the point. It was best that his son remain unaware exactly who he was fellating.



There was only one thing left to do.



With an anguished gasp, Sarek released his control and climaxed into Spock’s mouth. With the first powerful contraction, he could feel the tiny cylinder eject from the end of his urethra.



His abject misery over such unpleasant intimacy was replaced with relief as he felt Spock swallow, then swallow again.



It was done.



He immediately withdrew from Spock’s mouth and tucked his flaccid organ into his pants.



// You have done well, Spock. Now, sleep. When you awake, there will be no more pain.//



His fingers slipped from Spock’s temple, then he bent down and gently lifted Spock up, placing him on the cot. Spock simply closed his eyes and curled up into a fetal position again.



Sarek turned and walked to the vid-com.



“I believe the hour is almost up.”



“So Telus,” Zor smirked. “Did you get your money’s worth?”



Sarek paused before answering. He had just engaged in an act of incest with his son, a sexual familiarity that in any other case would have been morally and ethically reprehensible.



“My visit,” Sarek said with complete honesty, “was well worth the *price*.”




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




The Commander and Tal were anxiously waiting when Sarek beamed back to the ship.



“Everything went according to…plan?” she asked delicately.



“It did,” Sarek replied, his dark gaze steady and sure, not betraying even a hint of emotion. The experience, she knew, must have been appalling, and yet, he still maintained his dignity and composure. He was truly a remarkable man.



// Like father, like son // she thought.





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




When Tal beamed down to the prison morgue, he was alarmed to find out that there was only one body to purchase—and it wasn’t Spock’s.



Had something gone wrong?



He glanced at the chronometer on the wall.



“…I should have another by the beginning of the week,” the attendant said, sealing the single body bag that lay on the examination table. “There’s an execution scheduled on the weekend.”



Tal stalled for time. “How long have you worked here, Treva?”



“Too long. I’m just filling in. When I’ve raised enough money, I’ll return to Romulus and finish medical school.”



“Then our arrangement should help facilitate that. I’ll buy any corpses that become available and I pay above market value. But I’m curious, do the prison officials know you sell the bodies?”



Treva grinned. “Hardly. Corpses are supposed to be cremated. They want to destroy all evidence of their handiwork. But the guards have easy ways of making extra money off the prisoners, so why shouldn’t I?”



“Why indeed,” Tal agreed.



There was a sound in the corridor, then the door swooshed open, and two guards entered pushing a sheet-covered gurney.



They glanced suspiciously at Tal, then at Treva.



“This is my cousin, Tal,” the attendant said smoothly. “He stopped by for a visit on his way to the frontier.”



Treva crossed the room and lifted up the sheet covering the corpse’s face. “The Vulcan! Did Zor finally—“



“—Fucking half-breed just up and died. Zor is infuriated. He wants an autopsy done on this one right away. He’ll have to convince the prefects that the Vulcan died of natural causes, beyond his control, or he’s in deep shit.”



“Very well, but what if I find out that the Vulcan died due to torture or starvation?”



“Then Zor will be less than pleased. I’d suggest you write up the death certificate keeping that in mind.”



“Help me get him on the examination table.” The guards lifted Spock’s body off the gurney, dumped it on the table, then left.



“May I?” Tal asked, “I’ve never seen a Vulcan.”



“Half Vulcan,” Treva sighed, pulling up a trolley that contained autopsy instruments. “He is—was—half human as well.”



“Remarkable,” Tal said as he pulled the sheet back to stare at Spock’s face. The drug had worked perfectly. There was no movement in the chest to indicate breathing and the pupils were fixed and dilated under the half-closed lids. Tal lightly touched the forehead; it was cool, evidence of a sharp drop in body temperature that always accompanied death.



“How much for him?”





“Unfortunately, he won’t be very valuable after I’ve finished, but I may be able to salvage some parts.”



Tal turned to Treva. “Whole and untouched, I could get a considerable amount for him on Romulus. The labs are short on fresh specimens and a Vulcan-human hybrid would be of great anatomical interest.”



“You heard. Zor wants an autopsy and what Zor wants, he gets.”



Treva sprayed his hands with an impenetrable coating and then picked up a scalpel. He paused, examining the body carefully, deciding where to begin. “Most likely the electro-shocks short-circuited the heart and he went into cardiac arrest. I’ve warned them about this before.” Treva shook his head. “The idiots never listen.”



Tal panicked as he saw Treva push against the Vulcan’s right flank with one hand—while the blade in the other dipped towards the area that contained Spock’s heart.



The scalpel broke skin, a bead of green blood welling up around it—



Instantly, Tal grabbed Treva’s wrist and pulled it back.



“What the—“



“—Zor wants the death certificate to read ‘natural causes’, right?”



“Yeah, so?”



“Then give him what he wants - the Vulcan died from some genetic malfunction of the heart. Then Zor’s off the hook and you and I can make a lot of money. You don’t actually have to do the autopsy.”



“I don’t know…I’m curious to know the truth—why he died. That way, I can blackmail Zor should the need ever arise.”



“Blackmail? Treva, think! You know Zor would kill you if you tried anything like that.”



Treva thought about it for a long moment. “He might try, but—”



“—But what? If he didn’t kill you outright, you might remain here forever—locked in one of those cells. One day, it might be your body lying here. Make money while you can, Treva, so you can get the hell off this rock and return to civilization. I’ll pay twice the amount for the Vulcan.”



Treva returned the scalpel to the tray. “Triple the usual rate and you have a deal.”



“Done.” Tal smiled broadly. “As always, a pleasure doing business with you.”




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




Once Spock was safely beamed onboard the ship, they removed him from the body bag, Sarek injected the antidote, and then Tal carried him to her cabin.



Although the spacecraft was filled with the most advanced technology for a ship of her class, the size and layout were significantly smaller than a ‘Bird of Prey’. There was no medical facility. Her quarters were the most spacious and comfortable sleeping compartment available.



She waited with Sarek outside her cabin. “I am not a physician, but I took the precaution of stocking my cabin with medical supplies. Romulan drugs may be effective or may worsen his condition; he may react adversely due to his human biology. But there are topical creams and lotions that might alleviate some of his external discomfort until he can be beamed aboard the Enterprise.”



“You have been most thorough and you have my gratitude, Commander,” Sarek replied. “I am not a healer either, but I will attempt to assist Spock in achieving a healing trance.”



“I have not been a Commander since—“ She did not want to dwell on past events. “I have not held that rank for some time.”



“You successfully orchestrated Spock’s escape with courage, meticulous planning, and determination. The formal title may no longer be precisely applicable, but permit me to use it in recognition of your competence and adeptness.”



She couldn’t help smiling, unsure how to respond to his compliment in any other way.



The door to her cabin slid open.



“Is there anything else you wish me to do?” Tal asked.



“I have brought a robe for Spock,” Sarek said. “It is with my belongings, in the brown valise.”



“Tal, please fetch the robe from the Ambassador’s cabin, then return to the main controls and increase power to warp three.”



Her cousin nodded, then walked down the hall. She turned back to Sarek. “If all goes according to plan, we will rendezvous with the Enterprise in six hours.”



“Then, if I may, I would like to have an undisturbed period of time with my son.”



“Of course. When you are finished, I will have food prepared. You can eat and then rest.”



Returning with the robe, Tal handed it to Sarek.



Sarek turned and entered her cabin, the door automatically closing behind him.



She released the deep sigh that she had been holding and struggled with her apprehension. They had come far, but still had a great distance to go. The danger did not diminish as they left Ruutast behind, but increased. The perimeter of the neutral zone was well patrolled; the heavily armed military ships were equipped with long-range sensors and firepower. Her small craft could offer little resistance; she couldn’t outrun them or outfight them. She would be as easily captured as a cat pouncing on a mouse. And then…



She forced herself to stop thinking about it. She had successfully avoided detection when she had picked up Sarek and, if the gods were with her, she’d do it again. She did not pray to deities often, but now she said a small prayer asking them to grant her success.



She could only hope that the gods were in a good mood.




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




The door to her cabin slid open and Sarek stepped out. Three hours had come and gone. The slack muscles around his mouth betrayed his fatigue and his dark eyes were clouded with more than a touch of distress.



“Sarek,” She walked down the corridor towards him. “You look exhausted. Has the antidote taken affect?”



“Yes, he is no longer in danger. His temperature has returned to normal and he is breathing unaided.”



“Were you able to help him achieve a healing trance?”



“It is difficult—so many emotions, so much pain. He is slowly becoming aware that he is no longer in the prison and knows who I am, but he has vivid relapses. He cannot fully differentiate between current reality and memory.”



“Rest for now, then you can try again later.”



Sarek dipped his head in agreement.



“You will find food and drink in your cabin.”



He gathered his hands in the sleeves of his robe and walked down the corridor.



She waited until he had disappeared into his room, then she entered her cabin.



The room was warm, the lights dim. Spock lay on her bed asleep with one hand resting on his upper body, the other lying by his side. The layers of fifth had been washed off, revealing dark, ugly bruises that marked his face and neck. He was dressed in the plain charcoal-gray robe that now seemed two sizes too large for him, but even the long sleeves couldn’t obscure the swollen and discolored wrist that lay upon on his chest.



Stacked on the side table, along with a half empty pitcher of water and a glass, was a selection of medicinal ointments. Sarek had attended to his son’s needs as best he could, and she hoped that Spock had found some relief in the healing lotions.



She quietly approached and took a seat on a chair that had been pulled up to the edge of the bed. She gazed down at Spock for a long time, then gently took his hand in hers, pressing it against her cheek.



// It's hard to believe that I can be so moved by the touch of an alien hand. // She had said that to Spock once and nothing had changed since then.



Devotion and affection welled up inside of her until her chest constricted into a tight, painful band. She swallowed hard to remove the sudden lump in her throat, but her eyes continued to burn with unshed tears.



She had wanted so much to speak with him and to listen to the deep, velvety resonance of his voice: to hear of his adventures in Starfleet, to know more of his home world, to discover what he was like as a child—to condense an entire lifetime into a few short hours. She felt closer to him than any man she had ever known, and yet…they were virtual strangers.



// Do you still love another? // She wondered, studying Spock’s face. // That I would change, if I could, but it doesn’t lessen what I feel for you—what I always will feel for you.//



She continued to hold his hand and watched him sleep for over an hour until she heard the door slide open.



Sarek stood waiting in the corridor.



Placing Spock’s hand back on the bed, she rose, and came to stand in the doorway.



“You care for him to a great extent,” Sarek said. “But you have known him, all totaled, for only the briefest of hours.”



“Yes, but is true friendship, once formed, governed by either time or distance?”



“No, although even friendship has its limits. You have endangered yourself to save Spock’s life. I would know why.”



She shifted her gaze to stare at Spock for a long moment. “He is *worth* it, Sarek.”



Then she turned to look deeply into Sarek’s puzzled eyes. “I knew that the moment I met him. A strange question coming from a father; I wonder how well you know your son?”



She brushed past Sarek, leaving him to contemplate her reply.




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




Kirk paced the bridge.



“How long before we are in transporter range?”





“Four point two minutes, Captain,” Chekov replied. “We have the Commander’s ship on our sensors.”



“Any sign of trouble—Romulan patrols?”



“No, sir. All clear.”



Kirk wouldn’t relax until Sarek and Spock were safely aboard.



He pushed the com link to the transporter room. “Bones, do you have everything you need?”



“Yes, medical staff is standing by. We’ll move Spock to sickbay as soon as he arrives.”



“I’ll be down as soon as we’re clear of the neutral zone. Kirk out.”



The captain rubbed his chin anxiously, then turned to Uhura. “Maintain signal silence. We don’t want any patrols picking up messages and homing in on our location.”



“Yes, sir,” she responded.



Kirk intensely watched the main viewer; only stars and endless black space stretched out before him.



“We have visual contact,” Sulu reported.



A tiny speck could be seen moving towards them.



“Magnify image,” Kirk ordered.



The screen instantly dissolved into a closer view. The outline of the ship was growing larger, but was still fuzzy. Each second seemed like an eternity and Kirk realized that he was holding his breath. He had to force himself to breathe.



The contour of the ship took form and shape.





“They have dropped out of warp, sir. It shouldn’t be long now.”



Kirk moved back to his seat and sat down. // You’re home, Spock // he thought, dizzy relief flowing through him. // We’ve done it. //



“Kaptain,” Chekov said, “I’ve picked up something on the long-range scanner, possibly a ship.”



“Identify.”



“I can’t, sir, not at this distance.”



Kirk was instantly on his feet. “Would the Commander’s ship be aware of the threat?”



“I doubt that her smaller craft would have the capability or range of our sensors.”



“Shall I relay a message to her?” Uhura asked, unable to hide the concern in her voice.



“No. If it’s a Romulan patrol, a message would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”



Kirk stared intently at the viewer; the Commander’s ship was clearly visible, still moving towards them.



“How much longer until they can transport?”



“Two point three minutes,” Sulu replied.



Kirk began to pace again. He couldn’t lose Spock, not a second time.



“Kaptain, I’ve identified the vessel,” Chekov said. “She’s a ‘Bird of Prey’—heading in our direction!”



“Has she seen us yet?”



“I don’t believe so. She’s maintaining cruising speed, but she should pick us up on her scanner any moment.”



“Go to yellow alert,” Kirk ordered. “Stand by to warp out as soon as Sarek and Spock are aboard.”



“But, sir,” Uhura interjected, rising to her feet. “What about the Romulan Commander? She will be taken prisoner and...”



The communications officer’s words hung like a pall over the bridge, each member of the crew completing the sentence in their thoughts: ‘…and executed for treason for helping Mr. Spock.’



Every pair of eyes came to rest on the captain, awaiting his response.



For the first time in years, Kirk felt ill over issuing a command; his stomach churned and bile rose up in the back of his throat.



“We can’t risk starting an intergalactic war, Lieutenant. My order holds.”





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




Sarek, an arm around Spock’s waist, eased his son onto the transporter platform. Spock was barely conscious, unable to stand on his own two feet; he slumped into Sarek’s embrace, his head slightly rolling against his father’s chest.



“One minute until range is established,” the Romulan Commander said, reading the console monitor. “I cannot beam you directly to sickbay as I do not have the coordinates, but medical staff should be standing by when you arrive.”



“Will you not reconsider? You would be a welcome guest in our home. You would be safe in Federation space.”



“A Romulan living on Vulcan? Really Ambassador, my very presence would complicate things for you and your son—I would be difficult to explain.”



“You are…worth it,” Sarek said.



Taken aback, she dipped her head and replied with the traditional words, “I am honored.”



“The honor is mine,” he replied, unshielded sincerity in his voice.



“I thank you for your offer, but Romulus is my home. I will seek to have my commission reinstated and one day I may once again command a starship. I would not follow Spock as a refugee or a criminal on the run, but as an equal. If your son and I meet again…” She swallowed her words, even now unwilling to share the secrets of her heart. She glanced at the readout over the controls. “Twenty seconds. Stand by.”



“Live long and prosper,” Sarek said.



“Long life, Sarek of Vulcan” she responded. “Take care of him…”



She took one last look at Spock, then eased the control down, activating the transporter.



// I hope that you and I exchanged something more permanent.// The deep baritone echoed in her mind as Spock vanished once more from her life.



// We did, Spock…we did.//



Tal’s voice over the speaker startled her. “‘Bird of Prey’ closing fast—mark 7 point two nine.”



“The Enterprise?”



“Preparing to go into warp, but the Romulans are firing…”



The ship rocked beneath her feet and she grabbed the console to steady herself; it was a shock wave from a massive discharge of weapons.



“Has the Enterprise been hit?”



“Affirmative. A direct hit, but her shields are holding.”



The small ship shook again, then the speaker crackled back to life. “The Enterprise has taken another hit—starboard side. I don’t understand why she isn’t fighting back!”



“I do.” She knew Kirk’s reason as clearly as if it had been her own.



“Tal—I’m on my way to the bridge.”




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




Another blast smashed through the Enterprise, followed by a second just as powerful.



“Damage to engineering decks five and six,” the science officer reported. “Shields on the starboard side are buckling, power down twenty-five percent and dropping.”



Kirk punched the com link to engineering. “Scotty, get us out of here!”



“I’m trying, Capt’n—the warp core in tube three has been badly damaged. We’re channeling all power to tubes one and two and reconfiguring the power balance.”



“How long?”



“Four minutes.”



Kirk cut the switch, staring at the main viewer. The ‘Bird of Prey’ was almost at optimal firing range.



Sulu’s hand moved towards the weapons control unit. “Shall I arm photon torpedoes, Captain?”



“No. Under no circumstances do we fire on that ship, not unless we want a war on our hands.”



Kirk moved quickly to the upper science console. Lieutenant Commander Fredrick, Spock’s temporary replacement, was worrying over his readings. He turned as Kirk stepped beside him. “Shields nine and ten have buckled. Power down to sixty-five percent.”



“Captain,” Sulu exclaimed. “The female Commander’s spacecraft is on intercept course with the ‘Bird of Prey’!”



Kirk spun around.



On the screen, it was clear that the small ship was streaking like a bullet towards the underbelly of the Romulan patrol ship.



The bridge crew held its collective breath, watching the inevitable with a mixture of hope and mute horror.




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




She squeezed Tal’s hand.



“Tonight, we will dwell in the eternal halls of our ancestors,” she said. “We will be greeted as warriors. It is as it should be.”



“I have always loved you,” he said, staring ahead at the viewer that was filled with a vast sea of gray—the massive underbelly of the patrol ship. “Not as your cousin, but as a man.”



“I know,” she said softly. “And I have always loved another, and he cares for someone else. Ironic, don’t you think? Perhaps in the next life, we’ll get it right…”



She closed her eyes and thought of Spock, his soulful brown eyes staring into hers just as he did in her cabin so long ago.



It was the last thought she would ever have.




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




A small blast ripped through the underbelly of the ‘Bird of Prey’ as the Commander’s ship impacted. It seemed inconsequential—the damage was fairly minimal.



Kirk couldn’t believe it; it had been a brave attempt, a noble sacrifice, but she was dead, with nothing to show for it. Now, he must do what he had to do to save his own crew.



As he turned away from the screen—a powerful shock wave rocked the Enterprise, lighting up the bridge like an exploding nova. Spinning around, he saw that a massive secondary blast had torn through the ‘Bird of Prey’, followed almost immediately by a third. The entire rear section of the patrol ship was gone!



His heart leapt in his chest. She had done it—she knew exactly where to hit in order to set off a chain reaction. The initial impact, although small, must have set off a larger, more extensive charge in their rear tactical artillery.



His admiration for her was immense. She may have once been his enemy, but she was one of the finest women he had ever known.



Then something occurred to him, a thought that filled him with a profound sadness—he didn’t even know her name and probably never would.



He scanned the faces of his crew. They were relieved…and yet they were also quiet and pensive. The memory of the lady’s courage would be with them, and him, for a long time.



“Captain,” Sulu said, still monitoring his controls. “Warp drive is back on-line.”



“Bring us around to 872 mark 4.”



“Speed, sir?”



“Warp four,” Kirk said, exhaling a deep breath. “Take us home, Mr. Sulu.”




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



Kirk rounded the door into sickbay.



The main reception area was empty. So was the recuperation room.



“McCoy?”



“In here, Captain.”



Kirk followed the sound of the doctor’s voice to a rarely used diagnostic room around the corner.



McCoy stood stiffly beside the examination table with Christine Chapel beside him. Sarek was nowhere in sight nor were there any other medical staff nearby. The only sound in the room was the ominously low throb of the sensor panel above the bed. Spock lay motionless, clothed in a medical gown. A sheet had been pulled up to his waist. McCoy glanced up as Kirk approached.



“He’s sleeping,” McCoy said, his voice low, but the underlying tension in his tone and stiff body language did not bode well.



“Diagnosis?”



“He’s in rough shape: anemic, dehydrated, exhibiting both acute and chronic symptoms of starvation—he’s lost almost 26 pounds of body weight. We have him on an IV drip and massive amounts of antibiotics, which should help stabilize him.” Bones took a deep, uneven breath. “There’s extensive bruising and lacerations all over his body as well as burn marks on his genitals, Jim. They tortured and electrocuted him. And…”



McCoy hesitated.



“And?”



McCoy turned to Chapel. Her eyes were red and glistening and she seemed on the verge of tears. “Nurse, please see what’s holding up that lab report. I want the blood analysis on Spock stat.”



“Yes, Doctor.” Chapel glanced at the captain, then did her best to compose herself. She left immediately.



Once they were alone, McCoy turned to Kirk.



“Spock’s been sexually assaulted—horribly abused. I’ve never seen anything like it. The area has been treated for infection and I’ve given him a strong analgesic to kill the pain. I’ll do reconstructive surgery in the morning when he’s stronger. Right now, we have to stabilize him properly.”



Kirk turned and paced back and forth, unable to contain his anger. “I’d like to strangle those Romulan bastards with my bare hands!”



“Then you’d have to stand in a very long line,” McCoy muttered harshly, letting his own temper get the better of him. “It’s barbaric what they’ve done to him—sickening.”



Kirk came over and stared at Spock for a long moment: his skin was ashen, eyes sunken, and the hollows in his cheeks were pronounced. His lips were cracked and ulcerated beneath the salve that had been applied. His arms, lying limp at his sides, were stick thin—the muscles wasted away. Even his once glossy hair was dull and lifeless.



He glanced at the sensor above the bed; five of the six triangular readings hovered just above the critical range. The bleak, throbbing beats echoed in his ears, mirroring the thudding of his own heart.



“When will he be conscious?”



“Come back in a few hours after we’ve moved him into the recuperation room. He should be awake by then.”



Kirk hesitated.



“There is nothing you can do for him right this second. Come back later. I’ll be able to tell you more then.” When Kirk didn’t move, McCoy put his hand on Kirk’s shoulder and squeezed it lightly. “Go—I have a patient who needs me.”



Kirk nodded, smiling weakly, then slowly made his way to the door.



“Jim…”



Kirk pivoted around.



“When Sarek beamed aboard, Spock was semi-conscious, but he wasn’t rational—he thought he was still a prisoner of the Romulans. It only lasted for a few minutes, then he realized where he was and calmed down.”



“But he is going to be all right?! You said—“



“—He’s alive and back with us. That’s what is most important…for now.”



Icy chills crawled up Kirk’s spine. The “for now” reverberated in his ears all the way back to his cabin.




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



Kirk stood looking out at the stars on the observation deck. He needed to be alone. Fortunately, other than a few of his crew sitting quietly in the rear of the room, he had some privacy. He could not bear to remain in his cabin any longer—not with the walls closing in on him.



// For now… // No, Kirk wouldn’t accept that Spock might be irreparably damaged. He would get better—had to. Kirk wouldn’t let himself think of any other outcome. Spock would pull through. The Vulcan had done it before and he would do it again, and then things would be as they always had been.



// Not as they always had been // Kirk corrected himself.



He replayed the events of the last few months over in his mind. Ever since Spock’s capture, he had spent many endless nights thinking about what the Vulcan meant to him.



Spock was more than just his first officer. He was his friend—his best friend. Gary had been his close friend too, but the feelings he had had for Mitchell were very different, based on camaraderie and a ‘buddy-buddy’ relationship.



Kirk had never been jealous of Gary’s girlfriends, or boyfriends for that matter. But the moment he thought of Spock with anyone in an intimate relationship, woman or man, he went cold inside. It wasn’t the idea of Spock actually having sex that bothered him; sex, as he well knew, could mean little or nothing depending on the partner. But he couldn’t stand the idea that Spock might have deep emotions for anyone but him.



At first such a thought seemed completely unreasonable. It didn’t make sense. It was petty and selfish, and Kirk loathed himself for even thinking it. During Spock’s imprisonment, he had wrestled with his feelings while trying to fall asleep each night, unable to fully understand his reaction. And then, he had had a dream…



````````````````````````````````````````````````````


// As the lift door opened on E-deck, he felt his breath catch in his throat. Kirk could see Spock waiting for him outside the crews’ storage area. The Vulcan was dressed in white shorts and matching T-shirt, duffle bag over his shoulder.



Kirk never forgot how good Spock looked in civilian clothes, but now he was truly striking. The crisp white material complemented his verdant skin color and glossy black hair, and the cut of the simple clothes showed off Spock’s tall, lean physique to its best advantage. Seemingly without much effort, Spock always looked meticulously groomed and poised.



Normally, Kirk would have felt a twinge of envy. No matter how carefully he combed his hair, an unruly lock always fell over his forehead, and weight gain was a constant problem. But today Kirk was feeling proud of himself. Over the last two months, he had lost twelve pounds by exercising strenuously. The black sleeveless athletic shirt he wore flaunted his newly chiseled biceps and triceps. He was, all modesty aside, in great shape.



The Enterprise was circling Daga III, and most of the non-essential crew had already beamed down to the planet for four days of R&R. The well-deserved shore leave was long overdue; everyone was exhausted. The Enterprise had been on patrol for over four months without a single break.



“I can’t wait to hit the courts,” Kirk said, stopping in front of Spock. “McCoy said the resort has excellent facilities. He was into his third Bourbon when I spoke with him, and by the noise and laugher it seems Bones has already surrounded himself with an entourage at the pool bar.”



“I am not familiar with the drinking establishments, but the sports and recreation complex is well known in this quadrant. Championship tennis matches are held here on a regular basis.”



They entered the storage area, where each of the crew had individual lockers for storing items that were rarely used or that wouldn’t fit into their quarters.



“A grass court, just like Wimbledon, with sunshine and fresh air,” Kirk said enthusiastically as he turned down a small corridor, Spock following on his heels. “I can’t remember the last time I played outside.”



Kirk rounded another bend and stopped at his locker. Spock’s cubbyhole was right beside his. As they both deactivated their individual locks, he added, “Don’t forget to grab a pair of swimming trunks, they have two Olympic-sized pools.”



“Three,” Spock corrected him. “As well as an apparatus called ‘a water slide’.”



Kirk chuckled softy. “I doubt that would be something you’d be interested in. Racing wildly down a twisting, slippery slide and plunging headfirst into a pool full of kids isn’t your style. You wouldn’t enjoy it.”



“Indeed? What is my style?”



“Dusty old museums, austere research institutes, tedious lectures—anything that most of us avoid like the plague.”



“I will be content to join you on the water slide, Captain.”



Kirk smiled to himself. Whenever he wanted Spock to try something, all he had to do was suggest that Spock wouldn’t like it. Worked like a charm every time.



Kirk found his racquet and whirled it in his hand. He practiced a forehand, then a backhand volley. It felt good. “I’m going to beat the pants off you.”



Spock’s eyebrow quirked up. “I assume you mean that figuratively and not literally, Captain?”



Kirk grinned and he tried to think of a reply. But everything he thought of sounded trite or sleazy.



As it happened, he didn't have to say anything. He twirled the racquet again and it slipped out of his hand. They both bent over to pick it up off the floor.





If it had been a comedy skit, they would have bumped heads. Instead, their faces collided, and their lips accidentally pressed together for an instant. If it hadn't been so clichéd, Kirk would have sworn that a jolt of electrified plasma passed between them.



With a quick, mumbled apology, Spock immediately straightened. Kirk was a little slower on the rebound. He forced himself to pick up the racquet casually as if nothing had happened, then stood up.



Spock remained frozen to the spot, his face taut with apparent consternation. Kirk was ready with his own apology, prepared to move the conversation quickly onto relatively safe ground, but then he saw Spock’s eyes. The Vulcan was gazing at him with a look he had seen many times before—the soft-focused, almost dreamy kind that women gave you when they wanted you to kiss them.



He almost dropped the racket again. Spock wanted Kirk to kiss him!



Never in his wildest dreams had he ever considered the possibility that Spock might be attracted to him in that way. Kirk’s heart began to pound in his chest and the thumping seemed to go straight to his groin. His palms began to sweat, his stomach twisted into knots, and his throat constricted. He couldn't believe he was so nervous; one would think he had never been sexually excited before.



He knew they shouldn't, couldn't, and wouldn't kiss—a member of the crew could appear at anytime. But the temptation was irresistible. A warning, louder than a red alert, rang in his head. Kirk knew they were only moments away from starting a fire that couldn't be put out with a kiss. It was wrong; the wrong place, the wrong time and the wrong—



The thought was abruptly cut off—for Spock was kissing him! Not just kissing him, but his hands were gripping the sides of Kirk’s head and pulling him closer.



Need and desire, stronger than any magnet, pulled them together. Their tongues sought refuge in each other’s mouths, and Kirk became dizzy with the torrent of sensations that seemed to multiply by the second. The kisses became wetter and fiercer as hot, eager fingers investigated Kirk’s face: caressing his brow, his cheeks, his chin. Lips followed hands, down the side of Kirk’s neck, exploring every square inch as they traveled lower.



And Kirk wanted Spock to kiss, lick, taste, bite, but most of all—he didn't want Spock to stop. But he did stop, just long enough to pull his T-shirt over his head and drop it on the floor. Then he pulled Kirk down as well. The thin material of the shirt hardly cushioned the hard floor, but any discomfort was negligible compared to the exhilaration rising in them both.



The electricity between them ignited into an inferno. Impossibly hot Vulcan lips smoldered on any exposed skin. Kirk felt a tug at his waistband. It couldn’t be—but it was—Spock’s fingers snaking under the fabric, wrapping around his cock, and stroking him; one long, slow, unbearable stroke. He grasped Spock’s hair in his clenched fist, unsure if it was to slow him down or urge him on.



He reached for Spock, to kiss and fondle him, anything to hold back from climaxing too soon. But Spock pinned Kirk’s hands, holding him in place, and there was nothing Kirk could do but take it. The only pleasure he could give Spock in return was in the form of frantic moans and small cries of delight. But even those were choked off by breathless, panting gasps as Spock stroked more firmly.



Kirk tried to prolong the incredible sensations, knowing it was utterly hopeless. His legs tensed, his balls tightened, and he clung desperately to the edge for a precious second longer. As the rush burst forth, he thrust into Spock’s feverishly-hot fist.



The orgasm hit him with a mind-blowing force. He cried out as he bucked and rocked, hands clenched at his side. One tremendous spasm followed another until he thought he’d have a heart attack.



“Spock…Spock…” he pleaded, “…stop…”



Spock didn’t stop, but he slowed his strokes into long-drawn-out caresses. The silky touch of fingers, now moist with semen, set off sparks along Kirk’s shaft, flooding him with new levels of pleasure. Finally, mercifully, Spock let him go, and for the first time, Kirk could catch his breath. Little by little, the pounding in his ears stopped as his heart rate returned to normal. He floated in a haze of bliss, marveling at the fact that when he opened his eyes, Spock would be there.



And Spock was.



He lay propped on his side, the tips of his fingers lightly massaging Kirk’s outer thigh.



“That…that was…” Kirk let out a whistling exhalation. “There are no words to describe it unless ‘ahhhmmm’ is a word.”



“It is not,” Spock replied softly, his eyes smiling, “Although I must admit, I would find much satisfaction in prolonging your inability to articulate properly.”



Kirk couldn’t think of a finer way to spend the rest of his life, but if they didn’t get out of this room soon, there was the very real chance that he and his first officer could be discovered in a very compromising position.



“We have to go. Anyone could walk in.”



Spock nodded in agreement. “Jim…”



“Yes?”



“I find I no longer desire to ride the water slide.”



Kirk burst out laughing. “Neither do I. My place or yours?”



“I believe my quarters will afford us more privacy. I am rarely disturbed unless on ship’s business.”



“Yours it is.”



Their lips met in a sultry, passionate kiss…





...Kirk suddenly woke to an empty bed - his bed - but with his penis so hard that he could see it standing erect under the sheets.



He blinked, then sat up. It had been nothing but a dream.



//My God// he realized. // I’m in love with Spock… //




``````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````




Kirk rubbed his chin. Even now the memory of the dream—and his reaction on waking up—was so vivid that the brilliant stars outside the observation deck window paled in comparison.



*In love with Spock*. And he had probably been in love with his best friend for years.



It wasn’t that surprising, really. While he had had many satisfying relationships with women, in the end, there was always something missing; something Kirk couldn’t quite put his finger on—a piece of the puzzle that didn’t fit.



And he didn’t feel that with Spock. When he was with Spock, he didn’t want or need anything more.



But how did Spock feel?



Spock seemed to take pleasure in their closeness, but he had never expressed any emotions other than those of a close friend. Spock also was very protective, but perhaps that stemmed from his Vulcan loyalty, his vigilant need to keep his captain safe from harm.



In truth, he had no idea how Spock would react if he confessed his love—would Spock feel disgust, pity, anger, sadness, or would he withhold all emotion and merely respond with stoic silence?



Or was it at all possible that Spock might be…pleased?



Kirk honestly couldn’t think of one reason why. Why should Spock be pleased to hear that his commanding officer—who just happened to be a man and his friend—was in love with him? Not only ‘in love’, but wanting to express that love fully in an exclusive relationship.



More than likely such a confession would send Spock fleeing back to Vulcan on the next shuttle.



Of course, there was only one way to find out. And there was the rub; confess and face possible rejection, perhaps destroy their friendship, even irreparably damage their working relationship or not confess and go the rest of his life searching in vain for what he already found.



For once, Kirk was stumped.



What would Spock do if the situation were reversed? What was the logical way to proceed?



Kirk couldn’t help smiling.



The Vulcan had worked his magic on him in more ways than one.



//You define my universe // Kirk thought in amazement, awed by the absolute truth in those four simple words.





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

there's a liar in my head

there's a thief upon my bed

and the strangest thing is

I cannot seem to get my eyes open


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




Kirk reached out and took Spock’s limp hand in his. The wrist was bandaged, but he examined the long, elegant fingers that lay unmoving in his palm. Even now they seemed too graceful to be truly masculine. The olive hue of the skin was shadowed with a grayish cast, but the fever-hot heat still radiated against his grip.



When he glanced up again, he was startled to see that Spock’s eyes were open.



“Spock…” Kirk said, tightening his grasp and smiling. “We thought we’d lost you.”



But there was no recognition in that chilling gaze, only a strange bright light that burned from within.



“Spock?”



“Please…no.”



“What is it? Are you in pain? Do you need something?”



“No more…” Spock turned his head away, clenching his eyes shut.



Within his grasp, Kirk felt the lean fingers begin to tremble.



“Spock!”



“Do not hurt me. I beg you.”



“I’d never hurt you!”



The vein in Spock’s neck, a dark green streak, pulsed wildly against the ashen tone of his skin.



“It’s Jim! Don’t you recognize me?” Kirk immediately released his hold on Spock’s hand and gripped him by the shoulders.



“You’re safe—you’re on the Enterprise!”



Spock recoiled into the bed.



Appalled, Kirk broke contact immediately, releasing his hold on the sharp, bony shoulders.



Awkwardly rolling onto his stomach, struggling to rise, Spock weakly pushed himself up until he was on his hands and knees. The IV tube pulled precariously at a shunt in his arm, and the blanket, now a tangled mess, fell off his back. His short medical gown bunched at his waist, barely covering Spock’s hips. His naked buttocks were painfully thin, the flesh badly bruised in various places, still bearing the welts and scars from recent beatings.



Spock buried his face in the pillow, a move that hiked his hips higher. Then he spread his trembling legs, giving an unobstructed view of his burned genitals and his anus. The sphincter muscle was loose and savagely torn—the surrounding tissue distorted, swollen and horribly discolored.



“Oh God…Spock.”



“I submit…” Spock moaned, now visibly shaking all over.



“Christ—What the hell did they do to you!?”



Kirk backed away in horror.



“McCoy! Get in here!”



Within seconds, McCoy was at the bedside, a hypo in his hand. He immediately injected Spock in the upper arm and helped to turn him around, settling him back in the bed. The sedative worked instantly and Spock fell into a tranquilized sleep.



After McCoy rearranged the blanket, he turned to Kirk.



The captain stood as rigid as petrified wood.



“Are you all right, Jim?”



“He—didn’t know me.”



“Confusion, dissociation, even delirium are to be expected after what he’s gone through. They used to call it ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.”



“But he—Spock—thought I was going to…” Kirk didn’t finish. He was too aghast to even say the word.



“He thought you were going to rape him? Yes, he’s having flashbacks. Half the time, he is here in the present—the other half he thinks he’s back in that God-damn prison.”



“Isn’t there any way to stop it?”



“Other than sedating him in the short term, it’s best to let him work though the flashbacks in a safe environment.”



“That’s it?” A sharp, bitter spike of anger burst through his shock and grief. Kirk turned on McCoy. “That’s all you can do for him!? With the best medical equipment in the galaxy at your disposal, you expect him to just suffer through this on this own?”



Kirk waited, hoping for an equally heated response from McCoy. He was suddenly itching for a fight; even anger felt infinitely better than the confusion, pain, and overwhelming helplessness that consumed him.



McCoy took hold of his arm, surprisingly gently, and pulled him aside. In a calm, professional voice, McCoy said, “We can put the gloves on and duke it out in the gym, if that will help you deal with this. If you need a punching bag, I’m your man.”



The anger within Kirk evaporated as quickly as it had appeared. When the chips were down, Bones had the uncanny ability to tell Kirk exactly what he needed to hear; it was one of the reasons Leonard McCoy was the best damn CMO in the fleet.



Kirk’s smiled weakly and shook his head ‘no’.



“Then how about a stiff drink? I think we both could use one.” McCoy didn’t wait for an answer; instead he turned and walked into his office. Kirk followed.



Reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk, McCoy pulled out two shot glasses and a bottle. Kirk stood in the doorway and watched.



“If you want to help Spock and yourself, you are going to have to accept the situation as it exists,” McCoy said, pouring the amber-colored liquid into the glasses.



“Which is?”



“Spock is experiencing the equivalent of cognitive death.”



Any sentence with ‘death’ in it that applied to Spock produced a reaction in Kirk that was instantaneous: heart-stopping dread.



“Explain.”



“When a victim of torture is denied the most basic modes of relating to reality, the self is destroyed, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. The rate of suicide amongst torture victims after they have been rescued is ten times the norm.”



McCoy held out one of the drinks and with all seriousness said, “Doctor’s orders”. Kirk took it without hesitation, even though they were both technically on-duty. They both drank deeply, almost draining the glasses. The smooth, mellow Whiskey easily slid down Kirk’s throat, blossoming into a steady warmth that helped loosen the knots in his stomach. As he wiped the residue from his lips, a pleasant, mild buzz began to steady his nerves.



“When the Vians captured us,” Kirk said, stepping further into the office, “they tortured me and then you to the point of death while testing Gem. Spock is stronger than the both of us put together, and I don’t mean just physically. If anyone could survive torture with his mental faculties intact, he could. What went wrong?”



McCoy sat down. Kirk took the chair opposite the desk.



“Do you have any idea what prolonged physiological torture does?” McCoy asked, abstractly fingering the rim of his glass.



“All officers are trained in what could happen if they are captured by the enemy—it’s part of basic training. You know that.”



McCoy snorted; it was a nasty sound that he made when he was thoroughly disgusted with something. “Theory and real life experience are two different things. I learned that the minute I cut into my first cadaver. I tossed my lunch right then and there, all over the pathologist’s shoes.”



Kirk nodded in sympathy. “So what are you saying?”



“What we experienced while being tortured by the Vians was only the tip of the ice-burg. Prolonged, systematic torture robs the victim of everything familiar: their surroundings, work, personal belongings, family, friends and, in some cases, their language, culture, and their very identity. Space and time are warped by sleep deprivation. Slow starvation depletes the body to the point of collapse. Without the proper intake of water and food, the higher, rational parts of the mind simply cannot function and the primitive brain stem takes over in a last ditch effort to survive. The victim becomes, quite literally, a rudimentary animal fighting for its life. But the worse part is, at the deepest level, Spock doesn’t blame the Romulans, but himself.”



“That’s ludicrous.”



“Ludicrous to someone who is rational, yes, but a torture victim’s own body becomes his worst enemy. When the most basic needs are denied—sleep, food, water, comfort, privacy, even using the toilet—it’s a never ending cycle that leads to degradation and loss of self-worth. Morality, integrity—his or her entire belief system slowly disintegrates. Throw in horrific sexual abuse and the collapse become complete. As Spock sees it, his destruction was not the result of the sadists around him, but due to the failure of his own flesh. It is very common for a victim to blame his own weaknesses as the source of his breakdown.”



The knots in Kirk’s stomach twisted again; the booze was rapidly loosing ground to new fears. “I don’t care what it takes: how much money, how long, or how many experts you need to call in, but you have to help him.”



“We’re doing everything we can.”



“That will not be adequate.” Another voiced filled the room.



Kirk and McCoy turned at once. Sarek stood in the doorway.



“Ambassador Sarek,” Kirk said as he rose from his seat, “this ship has the finest medical facilities in the fleet. I’m sure Doctor McCoy can—“



“—McCoy is a fine physician. I do not doubt his skills and experience…with humans.” Sarek took another step into the room. “Spock is Vulcan.”



“Half Vulcan,” McCoy pointedly reminded him as he stood up.



Sarek dipped his head in acquiescence. “But his Vulcan biology dominates, Doctor. He needs a Vulcan healer.”



Kirk turned to McCoy. “Well?”



“I don’t know, Jim. He’s my patient and—“



“—And you want the best care for him,” Sarek pressed. “That can only be found on Vulcan.”



“I’ve treated Spock for the last four and a half years.” McCoy stood his ground. “I’m not about to give up on him.”



“It will take three weeks to reach Vulcan. Will that be enough time for you to determine if your treatments are having any affect?”



“Three weeks is hardly enough time to—“



“—To repair his mind? I agree. His physical injuries will heal by then, under your excellent care, but it might take years until Spock is able to function as before. I assume that Starfleet will not permit a patient who requires long-term psychiatric treatment to remain on a starship. Eventually Spock will be sent to another medical facility, one where you are not his primary physician. Would you see him treated by strangers?”



McCoy’s eyes narrowed a fraction and his lips compressed with resentment. It was obvious that Sarek had backed him into a corner with logic that could not be refuted; Starfleet wouldn’t allow a severely disturbed patient to remain onboard indefinitely. With apparent difficulty, McCoy forced out the word “No.”



Satisfied, Sarek turned his attention to Kirk.



“Captain, I will contact a healer on Vulcan who will be waiting when we arrive, unless you have any objections.”



“No objections.” Kirk paused, then asked, “How long will it take for a Vulcan healer to treat Spock, to restore him to health?”



“That remains to be seen. But it would be logical for you to make the appropriate arrangements for a new first officer, one who can remain…indefinitely.”



Kirk set his glass on the desk. Without saying a word, he brushed by Sarek and marched out the room.




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




Over the next ten days, Kirk visited Spock in sickbay as often as he could. Unfortunately, Sarek always seemed to be present whenever Kirk arrived so he had no opportunity to speak to Spock privately.



The Ambassador had done all he could to help his son achieve a healing trance, but Spock seemed unable to reach the almost comatose state needed. Regardless, Bones worked diligently and the damage to Spock’s body was mending. His mind was another matter entirely.



When not in the grip of an occasional flashback, Spock was withdrawn, pensive, and edgy. Any small noise caused him to instantly shy away as if danger or pain would automatically follow it. One day when Christine accidentally dropped a small tray in the storage closet, she exited the room to find Spock curled up under his bed.



Even with Kirk, Spock spoke only when asked a question and then in short, halting sentences. He barely glanced at Kirk whenever he was in the room, all of Spock’s attention remained focused on the bed covers.



Kirk finally cornered McCoy and asked point blank, “How is the patient doing?”



“He’s recuperating as expected. His weight is up ten pounds. When it reaches fifteen, I’ll put him on a physical therapy program to build muscle. He’s taking in solid food and the extra protein/vitamin supplements are helping.”



“I’m talking about his mind.”



McCoy shifted uneasily. “The flashbacks are diminishing. It’s a good sign.”



“And?” Kirk prompted him.



“Unfortunately, Sarek is right. Spock will need long-term treatment on Vulcan.”



“Then you can’t—“ Kirk bit back the question.



McCoy answered it anyway. “Can’t find some way to keep him onboard, to pull a rabbit out of my hat and make everything better? No, I’m not a magician, just an old country doctor, and the intricacies of the Vulcan mind are beyond my expertise.”



Kirk’s troubled expression said it all.



Bones knew what Kirk was thinking. “Only six months until we return to Earth. Spock’s not returning to duty, Jim, at least not before our five year mission ends.”



Changing the subject, Bones asked, “So I hear that Komack was furious that you disobeyed orders and took the Enterprise into the neutral zone.”



“I never expected him to be pleased.”



“Or expected him to ground you.”



Kirk glanced up in surprise. “Bad news travels fast, doesn’t it?”



“So to punish you, they’re promoting you to Admiral where they can keep you on a short leash. What are you going to do?”



“Join a circus and run away from home,” Kirk grinned sadly. “Hell, I don’t know. If Spock…”



Kirk didn’t complete the sentence, but McCoy did. “If Spock was still your first officer, you’d push for another mission for you and him.”



“Yes, but now…I just can’t see myself as captain without Spock by my side. We worked so well together as a team.”



“You’ll have come to grips with it, Jim. Spock may never be able to return to duty.”



“Captain, may I speak with you?” Kirk and McCoy turned at the sound of Sarek’s voice.



“Certainly.”



“In private, if we may?”



Kirk glanced at Bones, then said, “Please follow me to my cabin, Ambassador.”




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





“Would you care for a drink, some Saurian brandy perhaps?”



“No, thank you. Alcohol would interfere with my ability to shield against my son’s…anxiety.”



“Please have a seat.”



Sarek sat in the chair opposite the desk as Kirk took his own seat.



“I assume you wanted to speak to me about Spock, Ambassador?”



“In part, Captain Kirk. I also wished to speak to you about…you.”



“Me?”



Sarek folded his hands carefully on his lap. “During my attempts to help Spock achieve a healing trance, I became aware of something that needs to be addressed.”



Kirk’s eyes widened slightly, but he waited to hear what Sarek would say.



“Understand that it was not my intent to pry into Spock’s private thoughts…his feelings. But in order to reach the centers of his mind that control his immune system, certain emotions cannot be avoided—emotions that are interfering with his ability to cope with the current situation.”



“I’m not exactly sure what you are saying?”



“Spock’s memories of the events that happened at Ruutast are fragmented, some are vivid and others vague. Several recollections are based on fact, things that actually occurred, while others are manifestations of his psychosis. And a few memories are totally eradicated, perhaps permanently which, under the circumstances, may be beneficial.”



Sarek paused; Spock had no recollection of performing oral sex on his father and Sarek hoped that he never would.



“In my son’s mind, there is a very compelling vision, one which comforts and disturbs him at the same time. I would know if it is merely a delusion or if it actually occurred. Only in this way will I know how to react when I encounter it as I help him to restructure his thought processes.”



“What is this memory?”



“You and Spock are touching one another intimately. You wish for him to kiss you and he also desires it.”



Kirk stood up abruptly. “I can assure you, Ambassador, Spock and I have never…It didn’t happen.”



// Only in your dreams…// Kirk thought, swallowing hard.



“Thank you, Captain Kirk.” Sarek stood up and turned to leave.



“Ambassador, I too have a question and I would appreciate your complete frankness.”



Sarek pivoted around.



“Will a Vulcan healer be able to correct the damage that has been done to Spock’s mind?”



“I doubt that even a healer could return Spock to you as he was. He is unable to control his emotions and, for a Vulcan, this is unbearable. No physical pain can compare to the mental anguish when this occurs. There is only one solution.”



“Which is?”



“He will need to go to Gol.”



“Is that a treatment facility?”



“It is a way of life—the complete and total eradication of all emotion. At Gol, a Vulcan does not have to struggle to control his emotions; they simply do not exist anymore.”



“No emotions—none?”



“Correct.”



“But what of his human half—the part of him that can feel friendship and empathy?”



“It is his human side that caused his breakdown. A full-blooded Vulcan, although he could be physically destroyed by torture, would not have succumbed to the type of mental derangement that Spock experienced—is still experiencing.”



“But if Spock were to find someone who cared deeply for him—someone who loved him, would that not reassure and comfort him, and help him deal with his emotions in a positive way—rather than simply eradicating them?”



“That, Captain Kirk, would be the worst thing that could happen.”



“Why?”



“One does not throw oil on a raging fire that must be either contained or extinguished. More emotion, especially one as powerful and all encompassing as love would terminate any chance of recovery.”



“I understand,” Kirk finally said, his legs suddenly unsteady. He sat down again, grateful for the chair’s firm support.



When Sarek left, Kirk gripped the corners of the desk in an effort to stop the ache in his heart. Now he knew his ‘confession’ would be pointless, even detrimental.



Soon, Spock would be gone, packed off to Gol, where the essence of who he was would be wiped out.



In a matter of weeks, the Spock he had fallen in love with wouldn’t exist anymore.




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




“Doctor McCoy wouldn’t approve.”



“Is that your opinion or a medical order, Nurse?”



The tone of Spock’s voice was condescending, but Christine refused to take it personally. It was an improvement over him merely answering questions with one-word responses or not talking at all.



Even in the best of times, he had been a difficult patient and the enforced bed-rest had only worsened his attitude about recuperating in sickbay. As he had regained some of his strength and become more lucid, he had shown increasing signs of irritability. It meant he was getting better, but his occasional outbursts weren’t helped by the fact that he was still unable to control his chaotic emotions.



“Our CMO wants you to rest, Mr. Spock,” Christine replied, using her most soothing tone, “and rest doesn’t include using a computer.”



Spock shifted in the bed again, seemingly unable to get comfortable. “While humans might find prolonged inertia agreeable, I do not. If there is no such order, then it is not prohibited…unless you are now my primary physician.”



His eyebrow quirked up as if to say “well?”



“Mr. Spock! That was—” Christine bit back a sharp reproach. She was determined not to lose her temper no matter how much he provoked her.



He glanced up; it was the first time he had made direct eye contact. Although his words had been brusque, his somber eyes silently pleaded for her understanding.



She knew she shouldn’t comply, but she didn’t have the heart to deny him this request. He had been through so much and perhaps using the computer for a few minutes would ease his mind a little. Of course, it would only last as long as McCoy was in the mess hall with Kirk. If the CMO returned earlier than expected, Chapel knew she’d get a stern lecture and Spock would get that ‘no computer’ order on his chart—in bold print.



She walked into the storage room, wheeled out a portable terminal, then she adjusted the swivel arm on the cart so he could easily reach the computer.



“You have about 30 minutes before Doctor McCoy walks through that door. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if he catches you using this. And no ‘ship’s business’—got it? If I see one engineering report on the screen, order or no order, I’ll take it away and—”



They both heard the main door slide open; someone had entered the outer reception area. Christine sighed, frustrated at the interruption. She knew it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Spock might take advantage of her absence and simply ignore her grandstanding. But other than deathly boring stats on fuel consumption, warp-drive assessments, and supply lists, she couldn’t think of anything in the computer files that could agitate him. He couldn’t access any sensitive medical files, including his own, as those were stored on a separate system not accessible from this machine.



But just the same, as she turned to leave, she felt a growing uneasiness. She hoped the interruption would be brief. She didn’t want to leave him alone for too long…




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




“You haven’t said three words during dinner,” McCoy finally commented, pushing his plate away. “That is, if one mouthful of food is considered dinner…”



Kirk, who had been staring vacantly at the table for the last five minutes, glanced up.



“Well,” McCoy continued, “is it the food or the company?”



Kirk offered up a weak smile. “Neither. I was just thinking...”



“About?”



Kirk also pushed his plate aside, then sat back in his chair. “Have you ever heard the old saying, ‘Man makes plans and God laughs’?”



“Have you done something to amuse the Almighty?”



“No, but the joke is on me nonetheless.”



“Care to explain?”



“Not really.”



“Does it have anything to do with Sarek’s little talk in your quarters the other day?”



Kirk hesitated, then nodded, but he didn’t volunteer any information.



“Let me guess. He told you something about Spock that bothered you?”



“In part. He also told me something about myself that bothered me.”



McCoy was surprised. “It’s not like you to let Sarek get under your skin. What did our favorite Ambassador say?”



McCoy couldn’t help the sarcastic dig; Sarek was becoming a regular pain in the backside. More than once he had practically lectured McCoy on Spock’s care, stating how it would be more logical to do this or that, even recommending that the storage closet be reorganized in alphabetical order. It was damn annoying. How in hell did one alphabetize a sonic floor vacuum?



McCoy thought Kirk wasn’t going to answer, but then the captain leaned forward and lowered his voice so no one else could overhear. “When Spock returns to Vulcan, Sarek wants to ship him off to some place called Gol where all of his emotions will be permanently eradicated.”



“Absent a lobotomy, that’s impossible!”



“Impossible for humans, but apparently not for Vulcans. You said it yourself, the intricacies of the Vulcan mind are beyond your expertise.”



“Obviously, that’s what Sarek wants, what he has always wanted. It comes as no surprise that he’d like to eliminate Spock’s human feelings in order to have the perfect, dutiful son. But Spock is in no position to make this kind of decision; he isn’t thinking rationally—“



“—Once Spock is off this ship, Sarek will assume full control as his legal guardian. It’s his right under Vulcan law and there’s nothing we can do about it.”



McCoy made a sound of protest, but Kirk cut him off. “And even if we could step in, would we be condemning Spock to a life-long sentence in a mental institution, one where he would never improve? You told me that our treatments are ineffective. At least if he returns to his home planet, there’s a chance that the healers can help him.”



“And if they can’t?”



Kirk’s features hardened and his eyes narrowed. “I’m open to recommendations, Doctor. So far, you haven’t come up with one.”



“Damn it,” McCoy fired back, “if I knew of a blasted way out of this, don’t you think I’d be doing it?!”



The outburst carried over to the next table. A man and woman glanced in their direction, but McCoy pinned them with a withering stare, and the couple quickly returned to their own conversation.



Resting his elbows on the table for support, McCoy forced himself to breathe deeply. It took a few minutes before his frustration dissipated. It was clear that whatever happened to Spock after he returned to Vulcan was out of their control. He detested the idea, but as a physician there was nothing he could do other than treat Spock’s injuries while he was still onboard.



Kirk was another matter entirely. Obviously he was in some kind of emotional turmoil. Locking horns wasn’t going to help. The best therapy was to remain calm and encourage him to open up and talk about his feelings.



“I’m sorry, Jim. I guess I got a little carried away. I’m going to miss not having Spock around, that’s all. I mean, I used to badger him about not showing any emotion and now…”



McCoy swallowed hard, trying to remove the lump in his throat. Embarrassed at his own show of grief, he quickly changed the subject. “You said that Sarek told you something about yourself that bothered you.”



Kirk’s lips curled in a cool, tight smile. “Did I?”



“Yes, and now you’re trying to back-pedal and it won’t work. What did he say?”



The smiled faded. Kirk’s shoulders slumped and he stared at the table again. “That I was a fool.”



“Sarek said that?”



“Not in so many words, but that’s what it boils down to. And I am a fool to think that simply caring for someone could solve anything. Sarek is also right about another thing; one pays a heavy price for having emotions. In a way, I envy Spock. If he goes to Gol, his feelings, his pain, will simply disappear, and mine—”



Kirk’s stopped talking, then he abruptly stood up, pushing his chair back. “Mr. Scott is expecting me. I need to sign-off on the warp engine repairs.”



“It can wait,” McCoy said firmly. They both knew it was a piss-poor excuse for leaving.



“No, it can’t.” Kirk started towards the door.



“Jim…”



Kirk stopped, but didn’t turn around. “Get to the point, Doctor, if there is one.”



“Right now, you might envy Vulcans for their ability to suppress emotion, but don’t forget that they also pay a heavy price; they might not experience sorrow or hopelessness like we do, but they also can’t experience human joy or happiness.”



// Or love…? // It was the unspoken question that would haunt Kirk until he could find an answer.



“I’ll try and keep that in mind.” Kirk left without a backward glance.



McCoy frowned. Kirk had been on the verge of revealing the real reason why he was so upset and, whatever it was, it obviously scared the hell out of him. McCoy realized there was more going here than Jim was willing to admit. Since becoming CMO of the Enterprise, McCoy had seen Kirk annoyed, frustrated, sad, melancholy, disappointed, obsessed, disgusted, riled, and mad as hell…but he had never seen him fearful.



What in the world could James T. Kirk be so afraid of?




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

Wake me with love

It's all I need

But in all this time

Still no one said...

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




As soon as Chapel had left the room, Spock activated the bedside computer and, by voice command, logged on with his ID number and password. The first thing he did was open his electronic mail.



His account contained seventy-four messages. Almost all were communications accumulated during the first week of his imprisonment: ship’s reports, stats, research documents, and daily updates from the departments he had been responsible for. It was apparent that each had been dealt with months ago, redirected to his replacement, Mr. Fredrick. After the second week, the messages dwindled, then completely stopped.



It was an abrupt reminder that he was no longer First Officer of the Enterprise nor had he been for some time. Spock felt no resentment towards Fredrick for doing his duty; on the contrary, his replacement was both capable and experienced, and Spock might have recommended him had the situation been different. But Spock had always thought that he was somehow necessary to the ship, not indispensable—as that would hardly be logical—but inextricably bound to the Enterprise and her captain in a way that could never be truly severed.



But here, in front of him, was the evidence that proved he was not necessary. He had spent most of his career serving on the Enterprise and, in less than a week, any competent officer could fill his position and seamlessly replace him as if he had never existed.



Spock closed his mail program. There was no point in examining any more files; the ‘ship’s business’ was no longer his concern. He was just about to turn off the computer when he changed his mind and accessed the video archive.



“Computer, play the surveillance tapes, section B, subdirectory 2C, stardate 432.732.2.”



“Working.”



Instantly, the computer screen showed the entire bridge from a high angle camera—a standard recording made on the day of his rescue. The time stamp displayed 06:00 hours. Everything appeared normal, nothing out of the routine. The Beta crew was going off-duty and being replaced by the Alpha crew. Kirk had not arrived yet and the captain’s chair was vacant.



“Fast forward to the ‘Bird of Prey’ firing on the Enterprise.”



The tape stopped on 14:23:15.



Spock watched the entire scene unfold: the first massive explosion, the ensuing battle, Kirk’s determination to prevent a full-scale war, the valiant effort of the crew…



…and the Romulan Commander’s suicide.



Stunned, he turned off the computer.



Why hadn’t they told him she was dead?



He could vaguely recall her in the prison, promising to help. And he retained a recollection of her holding his hand and speaking softly to him, but he couldn’t remember the words. Where? Her ship? Her cabin? Disjointed memories came flooding back, a jumble of fragmented pieces without sequence; some were vivid shards of single moments, others vast, obscure stretches of time without end.



One vision became clear; he was on a transporter pad in an unfamiliar place and Sarek was holding him up.



‘Take care of him’, she said, then everything went black.



McCoy had said little about his rescue except there had been a brief battle with a ‘Bird of Prey’, but they were safe in Federation space.



Chapel had said all she knew is that they were on-route to Vulcan.



Sarek had shielded the knowledge from him.



Kirk had avoided the issue entirely by saying he would tell Spock all the details once he had recuperated.



Spock pushed the button that lowered the back of the bed. As he lay listening to his own heartbeat thump against his side, he realized that no one—no one he trusted—had been honest with him. Instead they had treated him like a child, withholding the facts to save themselves the embarrassment of seeing him unable to cope with her sacrifice.



He didn’t blame them, only himself. It was obvious that he was no longer worthy of hearing the truth from those closest to him.



He heard the outer reception door open and close again, and Nurse Chapel walked back into the room.



“Done so soon?” she asked. “I thought I’d have to pry the computer out of your hands.”



Spock turned his face away and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to look at her or even hear the sound of her voice.



“Is something wrong, Mr. Spock?” There was growing anxiety in Chapel’s voice. If he didn’t answer, she would continue to question him.



“On the contrary,” Spock said, knowing she would fail to comprehend his meaning, but be satisfied with his reply. “What was wrong has been put to right, or soon shall be. I will not require the computer again.”



“Oh…all right. If there is anything you need just—“



“—I will sleep now. If the captain or Sarek visit, please inform them that I do not wish to be disturbed.” Spock rolled over on his side, away from her, effectively ending any further discussion.



He listened while Chapel wheeled the computer back into the storage room, then she dimmed the lights and left.



But Spock did not sleep. He remained awake the entire night, considering his future.



Sarek felt the only solution was for Spock to go to Gol. The austere monastery, with its rigorous rituals and physical hardships, was a place few ventured and still fewer stayed. It was the most difficult and grueling of the philosophies to master, but if successful, all emotion was purged and only flawless logic remained. A disciple must willingly forsake everything: friends, relatives, home, personal aspirations, career, and even identity.



The irony did not escape him; his imprisonment had stripped away all that he had valued and going to Gol would require the same thing. In order to recover something of himself, Spock would have to renounce all that was originally taken from him by force.



And yet, now more than ever, he owed his loyalty to that man on the bridge. The thought of abandoning Kirk after all he had done, all he had risked to get him out of that prison, was almost too difficult to contemplate. He desperately tried to figure out the logical resolution to the dilemma. On one side stood Jim, Spock’s duty as an officer, and his career with Starfleet. On the other, waited the pure, cleansing light of absolute logic that would absolve him of all of his sins.



By morning, Spock had made his decision.




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




Four days before they reached Vulcan, it was decided that Spock was well enough that he could be moved into his old quarters. Kirk had issued an order that nothing be touched when Spock was captured; all his personal belongings remained. Fredrick, Spock’s replacement, had had to make do with a smaller cabin down the hall.



McCoy instructed his staff to set up a monitoring device beside Spock’s bed. It was linked to an electronic patch that Spock would wear on his chest. If the Vulcan experienced a flashback, the patch would instantly relay his heart’s palpitations and his rise in respiration, triggering an alarm in sickbay and on McCoy’s tricorder. Kirk ordered a similar alarm to be installed in his own cabin; that way, Kirk could immediately assist, even in the middle of the night.



Spock seemed grateful to have the privacy. Crew were always coming in and out of the main reception area of sickbay for various reasons and, with his bed just around the corner, it had made him uncomfortable.



McCoy fussed about Spock’s cabin like a bossy mother-in-law—this here, that over there—while a medic placed Spock’s prescriptions and various topical ointments on the bedside shelf and in the washroom.



As another medic propped Spock up in bed, McCoy ran through his mental checklist: “Three red tablets before sleep and two blue ones in the morning. The topical antibiotics are to be applied twice a day after you shower, and—”



“—I am well aware of what I must do, Doctor,” Spock said quietly, but with just a hint of irritation.



Kirk couldn’t help smiling. Spock sounded almost…almost Spock-like.



“Normally, I would require you to come to sickbay for these medications,” McCoy grumbled good-naturedly. “But I think you’ve seen enough of that place for a while so I’m cutting you some slack. You might be a bit more appreciative.”



Spock’s eyebrow rose slightly and it looked for a moment that he might say something, but instead he simply closed his eyes.



“I’ll stay with him for a bit,” Kirk said, “until he drops off to sleep.”



McCoy nodded. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours. See that he doesn’t move around too much or touch that blasted computer.”



When everyone had left, Kirk pulled a chair up beside Spock’s bed. “Do you want to sleep?”



“I am…not tired at the moment.” Spock opened his eyes again.



“Then we could talk, if you want. This is the first time we’ve been alone together.”



Spock remained silent, staring vacantly at a point somewhere beyond Kirk.



“Or we could just sit here. I don’t mind.”



“There is no need to coddle me, Captain. Your place is on the bridge, not—”



“—I’m not here as your captain, I’m here as a friend.” Ever since Spock’s return to the Enterprise, he only referred to Kirk as ‘Captain’ or ‘sir’, never Jim.



Spock dropped his gaze to stare even more blankly at the foot of the bed.



“I hope you’ll always consider me your friend,” Kirk prompted.



“I wish only…”



“Wish only what?”



“I wish only to be left alone.”



Kirk nodded, then stood up. “Yes, of course. I’ll look in on you a little later. Perhaps you might indulge me in a game of chess? I’ve missed our matches.”



Spock slowly shook his head.



“Don’t you feel up winning your usual three out of four games?”



“Such diversions are irrelevant, a waste of—“ Spock locked eyes with Kirk. “Do you understand? I am not the same person anymore. I-I am—“ Spock turned his head into the pillow and clenched his eyes shut.



Kirk sat down again. “Please don’t turn away from me. Tell me what you’re feeling, I want to—“



Spock’s head snapped around. His eyes were hard and bright. “Feeling? I do not want to feel anything—not for you—not for anyone!”



“It’s all right. Everything is going to be all right…”



Spock rolled over on his side away from Kirk.



“Please…go.”



Kirk hesitated, then slowly stood up. He desperately wanted to take Spock in his arms and comfort him. Instead, he walked to the door, only looking back long enough to see that Spock had pulled his knees up to his chest and was rocking back and forth.




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




“Well, Spock?”



“What is it that you want, Doctor?” Spock’s tone of voice was clipped and acerbic, and he made no effort to conceal his annoyance. Sitting propped up in bed, he continued to stare intently at the ceiling as if all the mysteries of the universe could be found in the diagonal lines of the plexiform tiles above.



A half-eaten bowl of mashya soup, two kreyla rolls, and a protein drink sat on a swivel tray attached to the side table. McCoy hadn’t intended to interrupt Spock’s meal, but after Kirk had cornered him in the hall, obviously upset over Spock’s most recent outburst, he had immediately come to administer his own brand of psychotherapy.



“An honest answer, that’s what I want.” McCoy took a few steps closer to the bed, determined to get Spock’s full attention. He had tried to discuss Gol and Sarek and, so far, Spock would have none of it.



“Honesty is not the issue, only your proclivity for irrelevant questions.”



Not be outdone, McCoy retorted, “And your propensity in avoiding answering is puerile.”



Spock suddenly lost interest in the ceiling and he focused his concentration on McCoy.



“I am not my father’s keeper,” Spock replied, his eyes radiating an escalating irritation. “Nor will I be drawn into discussions regarding my relationship with Sarek. It is a private matter.”



Ignoring the blatant dismissal in Spock’s tone, McCoy pressed on.



“Then you don’t think it’s strange that he disowned you for enlisting with Starfleet when he, himself, once made a decision that was more illogical than anything you ever did? Was it reasonable for him to marry a human woman, but insist that his half-human son be a consummate Vulcan? While Sarek could tolerate, even accept Amanda’s love, her demonstrations of affection, as well as her shortcomings, could he ever accept yours?”



“Enough! Our estrangement is in the past. Leave it there.” Spock’s eyes narrowed dangerously and there was a blaze of anger in their inky depths that passed quickly, but left smoldering embers in its wake.



Spock’s formidable stonewalling was nothing new, but his inability to control his wildly fluctuating emotions still had the power to startle McCoy. Regardless, he persisted in his pursuit of the truth even if he had to drag it out of Spock inch by excruciating inch.



“If Sarek is interfering with your recovery, if he’s pressuring you to make decisions you’re not qualified to make in your condition, I expect you to tell me.”



Spock’s cheeks brightened with color and his lips tightly compressed into a hard line. The hot, dry air around them seemed to vibrate with his hostility.



“Doctor, I urge you to stop. There is…peril if you continue on this course.”



The warning, and threat behind it, was real enough, and a chill ran through McCoy. Spock was reacting like any human might, with open aggression, but unlike humans, Vulcans knew efficient ways to kill using nothing more than their hands. Inciting Spock into a fit of rage was not a wise thing to do. McCoy had had a taste of Vulcan anger on Sarpeidon and he didn’t care to repeat the experience. He was secretly grateful that Spock was still extremely weak and had difficulty moving. It leveled the playing field between them. Still, he kept his distance and tried to keep his voice calm and matter-of-fact, a professional demeanor he hoped Spock could still respect.



“I’m doing my job, Spock. You know that. I’ve seen first hand how persistent Sarek can be; he’s an expert in coercing others into achieving his goals. While this might make him an excellent Ambassador, it also makes him a lousy parent in many ways. He has consistently failed to allow you the autonomy to make your own life choices; aside from Starfleet, he selected T’Pring, betrothed you to her at the age of seven, and forced you to—”



He abruptly stopped. Spock had stiffened and he had thrust the covers back. For an alarming moment, McCoy thought his patient would lunge at him. Instead Spock retorted heatedly, “Need I remind you that Sarek also risked much to save me from that prison?”



“True, but so did Kirk. Komack’s infuriated that he disobeyed orders and he’s been promoted to Admiral. You know what that means. And after all he has done for you, you shun him as if he was a leper.”



Almost instantly, the enmity in Spock’s eyes disappeared, replaced with a look that McCoy recognized all too well; Spock was retreating into himself, withdrawing to a dark, secret place where he didn’t have to communicate with the outside world. It was an escape route that offered no escape, but only self-imposed confinement of the worst kind. Spock had broken free from one prison only to create another for himself.



//”I’m losing him,” McCoy thought miserably. “I can’t let this happen…”//



He pressed harder, disregarding the risks.



‘I’ve been your doctor for almost five years, but I’d also like to think that we have developed some kind of friendship. I know you get defensive when I push, and I can push hard, but it’s not spitefulness despite what you might think; it’s concern for your welfare.”



“I am not interested in either your concern or your intrusive and offensive prodding. While your compulsive scrutiny may be admirable in a physician, it is not a trait that grants friendship. You criticize Sarek for his disapproval of my behavior, and yet you treat me in the same insolent manner.”



“Damn it, Spock, it wasn’t your inability to express certain emotions that exasperated me, it’s your blasted stubbornness not to understand them in others—just like you’re doing now!”



‘Are you quite through, Doctor?”



“No, not by a long shot. If you refuse to acknowledge our friendship, then let’s talk about your friendship with James T. Kirk. Every since Sarek’s private talk with him the other night, the captain has been under a terrible strain: he hardly sleeps, doesn’t eat, and he is not functioning normally. Jim refuses to tell me exactly what occurred between your father and him, but whatever it is has hit Kirk hard. Do you know anything Sarek could have said to affect him this way?”



Spock shifted uneasily several times. McCoy couldn’t think of any other movement except squirming to describe the action. After a lengthy few moments, it became clear that Spock intended to simply ignore him.



“If you are too pigheaded to help, than you’re not the man I thought you were.”



“You are correct, I am not.” Spock’s brows knitted into a scowl. “You state the obvious.”



“Once it was obvious that you wouldn’t have thought twice about sacrificing your life for Kirk, and not only your life, but the safety of the entire crew. When Jim was caught in the Tholian Web, you endangered the Enterprise to rescue him. Conversely, while enroute to Babel, you refused to risk the ship to save Sarek’s life when he needed a blood transfusion. Why is that, Spock?”



McCoy had once witnessed the wretched look of an animal caught in a snare, and the expression on Spock’s face came close. If the Vulcan could have run out of the room, McCoy knew that he would have fled immediately. Seconds ticked on, seconds where Spock’s eyes restlessly darted around the room, sweeping back and forth as if looking for a place of refuge where he could hide.



With no escape within reach, Spock abandoned his search, his gaze finally settling on his hands, which were tightly clamped together in his lap.



“As my…commanding officer,” Spock answered haltingly, his voice labored, “it was my…duty to protect the captain and—“



“—Hogwash! We all have our duty, but that’s not the real reason and you know it. Kirk is—was—the most important person in your life. And now, it seems that you couldn’t care less what happens to him. What the Romulans did was terrible, but not as terrible as what you’re doing to yourself or to your closest friends.”



McCoy crossed his arms and waited. This time his reward was absolute silence. In the span of a single heartbeat, the Vulcan’s face became stone, his eyes as cold and expressionless as a lifeless statue. The transformation was so rapid, so absolute, that it was far more chilling than any vehemence Spock had shown.



Nothing he had said had made the slightest difference, McCoy realized. In less than 24 hours, Spock and Sarek would beam down to Vulcan and that would be the end of it. Spock would vanish into the desert sand, Kirk would be chained to a desk job on Earth, and McCoy…hell, without his friends, he might as well pack it in.



Five years ago, he had enlisted with Starfleet to escape his problems: an acrimonious divorce, the death of his mother, and a drinking habit that was becoming a crutch. His decision had been the right one, helped significantly by the comradeship of both Kirk and Spock. For the first time, he realized how much his life was going to change; it was like seeing a mudslide come roaring down a mountain, watching it obliterate your friends, then waiting for the carnage to finish you off. As melodramatic as that sounded, he knew the analogy was horribly apt.



Now there was no reason to reenlist once the mission was over. Space exploration no longer held any fascination for him, and starting over on different ship with a fresh, gung-ho crew was the last thing he wanted to do. Jim was right; without those rare individuals who made serving together worthwhile, continuing on in the same capacity was pointless. Perhaps he should become a veterinarian. He always did like animals more than most people.



Defeated, he turned to leave.



“He feared she would turn me into a human…”



“Pardon?” McCoy swung around.



Spock exhaled wearily, almost in a sigh of surrender. “When Sarek chose Amanda as his intended wife there was immense opposition. It was said within our clan that she would turn him into a human, a mortifying concept to anyone born on my planet. He was determined that would not occur…either to him or to his son. I cannot fault him for his convictions, although there were times I did not agree with them. Regardless of what has brought me to this point in my life, I am what I am.”



“And what are you, Spock?”



For a long, almost painfully tense moment, Spock didn’t answer. Finally he said, “You wished for a truthful answer. Very well. I believe the correct term for someone who should be despised and avoided is a ‘pariah’. It accurately describes the person I have become. Does the honesty of my answer satisfy you?”



“Spock,” McCoy protested, “I can’t believe—“



“—Kaiidth.



“’What is, is’. That’s it? That’s supposed to sum it all up, thank you very much? Or have I finally seen the day when you’ve given up; when you’d rather wallow in self-pity than fight for what used to be invaluable to you?”



“That will be sufficient, Doctor. This discussion is ended.”



Spock abruptly turned away and whatever hope McCoy had of getting through to him vanished. He had never seen such a badly damaged individual, either human or alien. He felt impotent; all of his skills and training were virtually useless in such a case. While he could never know exactly what had happened in that Romulan prison, he knew that Spock had twisted that suffering into a crucible, and the internal forces that had tested him then still waged war within him now.



Continuing the anguish was the only anchor on which Spock could depend: pain and torment, his companions for so long, had in a perverse way become his only friends. They were the excuse Spock needed to abandon all that he had fought so hard to achieve. And for someone like Spock, who had struggled all of his life to integrate his Vulcan and human sides against objections from both species, the allure of stultifying complacency must seem almost irresistible. It didn’t take a medical degree to figure out that under Sarek’s formidable pressure, Spock had capitulated and accepted his fate at Gol.



With great sadness, McCoy was reminded of an old Earth saying, “The bow that is the most tightly strung is the one that will break.”



He cursed the Romulans all the way back to sickbay.





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

give me something I can hold

give me something to believe in

I am frightened for my soul


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




Spock sat on the edge of his bed for a moment, testing the strength in his legs. His limbs felt stiff and weak; the loss of energy was most noticeable in the muscles needed in standing and walking. With effort, he stood up and, step-by-laboriously-slow-step, made his way to the head.



As the door automatically slid open, the small white washroom was flooded with the glaring light from the illumination panel. Instantly, his image was captured in the mirror on the far wall.



He halted on the threshold; it was the first time that he had seen his reflection since—



He tried to block the memory, but the vision pervaded his thoughts like the mythical Furies who rose from the bottomless pit to torment their hapless victims…



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



"Get up."



With great difficulty, Spock complied. It was obvious by the unsteady tremble in his legs that he had lost most of his strength, but the look in Zor’s eyes showed that he was surprised that Spock could stand unaided at all.



It was a small victory; one that was short lived.



“Bring it forward,” Zor ordered. Two of the guards repositioned a full-length mirror they had brought into the cell, aiming it in Spock’s direction.



“Look in the mirror, Vulcan.”



Spock did as he was instructed.



He did not recognize the image reflected back; the being in the mirror was filthy, a shroud of dirt encrusted every inch of exposed skin. The hair was matted, the face taut, and behind sunken sockets, the eyes were listless. The battered body was wasted: skeletal shoulders were hunched over a concave chest, and the legs were so thin that the knees were thicker than the thighs. Unwashed secretions and bodily fluids left trails where they had dried, and sores broke through the grime like ulcerating islands emerging from a sea of gray.



Reaching out, his fingers inching forward almost of their own accord, Spock touched the cool glass. The pads of fingertips traced across the image, and with a dull awareness he realized this was no trick, no manufactured illusion that could be dismissed. The wretched creature in the mirror was…him.



“See what you have become,” Zor spat, his tone one of pure disgust. “You are a filthy, stinking animal that has debased itself. You are hideous, repulsive, nothing but a miserable failure that merits our contempt and deserves our punishment. Where is the Vulcan you once were?”



“I retain that which is most important,” Spock replied, the hollow emptiness of his voice surprising even him. “It is the one thing you cannot destroy.”



He forced himself to pull his hand away from the mirror.



“No? You have seen the disintegration of your body; your mind is decaying like your flesh. Both will fail you, betraying you as you betrayed our Romulan Commander when you stole the cloaking device. Such justice is apt, don’t you think?



“I was an officer doing my duty.”



Zor moved closer and softly patted Spock on the shoulder. It was the first time a guard had touched him without inflicting pain.



“And I am an officer doing my duty,” Zor replied quietly.



Spock looked at the Custodio, met the man’s eyes, and saw something that he had suspected but had not, until this moment, had to face. Zor was no sadist; he did not take personal pleasure in the suffering of others. Over the years, the Romulan had somehow justified his actions to himself and had come to the conclusion that his prisoners were nothing but objects. It was the reason that Zor had not participated in the rapes; he would no more force himself sexually on Spock than he would a stray dog. And yet, the Custodio was infinitely more dangerous than any of the other guards because of that fact; he did not see Spock as a person, but only an obstacle to be dealt with or a thing that could by exploited to make money. As far as Zor was concerned, there was no right or wrong in what he did, only purpose.



It seemed to Spock ironic that only a Vulcan could understand such detached, emotionless efficiency.



“But,” Zor continued, his voice gentle and persuasive, “I am not responsible for the condition that you are in. You are. This is what you accepted the moment you agreed with your superiors’ decision to attack the Romulan Empire. Nothing has transpired that you couldn’t have anticipated; nothing has been done to you that you couldn’t have prevented. Therefore, you alone are to blame. Can you deny it?”



Spock sought to refute the insidious logic in Zor’s words, but he couldn’t. It was true; he had known the risks as well as the repercussions. If Romulans had indeed sprung from the same seed as ancient Vulcans, he was also well aware of the innate viciousness that they were capable of.



Spock said nothing and after a moment, Zor realized that he wasn’t going to.



“You cannot deny it because you know that I speak the truth. Those whom you placed your trust in have abandoned you to your fate. They expect you and you alone to bear the full weight of their crimes. Is that honorable?”



“How can you look at my disfigurement and speak of criminal acts?” Spock asked incredulously.



A cold smile that started in Zor’s eyes did not make it to his lips. “Are you saying that Romulans are immoral, that our Empire is uncivilized, that I and my guards are barbaric and depraved?!”



“I thought I was the one under examination, Custodio, not you.”



The perspicacious remark did what Spock hoped it would; Zor was rendered speechless when he realized he had fallen into his own trap and Spock had turned the table on him.



It took a few moments before Zor recovered his voice, and he immediately tried to regain ground by launching into another assault. “Do you expect me to believe Starfleet propaganda; that the United Federation of Planets is impeccable in its conduct, that it has never caused injury to anyone, that it has never destroyed those who stood in its way?”



“It does not matter what you believe. The truth is there are no accounts of Federation death camps, no reports of the Federation attacking planets on raids meant to terrorize, no evidence of the Federation starving, torturing, and raping prisoners.”



“But what of sabotage, stealing, and trickery? How did you, a Vulcan, feel when they insisted that you play your part in the theft of our cloaking device? You compromised your principles; you forfeited your integrity and dishonored yourself for them. And what was your reward?”



Spock inwardly winced. The guilt he felt over the incident, something he had never resolved, came back to haunt him. He swallowed hard, forcing the anguish back down, but his reaction wasn’t lost on Zor, and he pressed harder, seeking an Achilles’ heel.



“Will they even know of your sacrifices, what you have had to endured as an officer? Did they ever appreciate how it tore you up inside to go against your nature; to do what you knew was ethically wrong? No. They only care about one thing – power. Power maintained at the expense of the blood and souls of men. What is the life of one Vulcan to them?”



Spock searched his mind for an answer and could only come up with one.



“The needs of the many—“



“—Outweigh the needs of the few. That is often said, but what does it mean? That the majority has more rights than the individual? In your so-called democracy, who will protect the minorities from the often self-serving and abusive excesses of the majority? Is it not true that a majority votes into power lawmakers whose values are the same as theirs, even if for others those values are abhorrent, based on bigotry, religious dogma, or intolerance? In such a system, who safeguards the needs of the few or the needs of the one? Who will save you, Vulcan, if you will not save yourself?”



Suddenly dizzy with the exhaustion that gripped him every waking hour, Spock felt Zor’s monotone words flow over him in hypnotic waves. The inundation was endless; continuous questions, statements, truth, and deceit—blended together in a seamless, relentless stream, numbing him almost to the point of oblivion. He was too tired to concentrate, too ill to dispute even the simplest of contradictions.



He was roused from his stupor by a seductive whisper close to his ear. “It serves no purpose to hold out any longer. You have fulfilled your obligation to those who have exploited you for their own gain. Now you must think only of yourself.”



A single comforting thought stirred in Spock’s mind.



"How long before I am put to death?"



"Unless you tell us what we want to know, it might be a long, long time," Zor replied with a grim smile. “The tranquility of the grave comes at a price, one that you have only begun to pay…”




````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````


As the memory faded, disappearing like smoke into the black hole from which it came, Spock stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror.



It was not the filthy skeleton that he had seen in the prison: the scraggly hair had been washed and cut, the eyes were not longer sunken, the grayish skin had returned to its normal color. But the face – his face – was still that of a stranger.



The nose, mouth, arching brows, and even the angular planes of his face, although thinner, were exactly as he remembered. But he was not the same person. He knew this image of Spock was nothing more than a lie, only a resemblance of the man he used to be. The eyes that stared back mocked him, eyes that had once gazed upon the universe with an innocence that could never be recovered. They had seen too much cruelty and had witnessed too much malicious enjoyment in those who had inflicted it. The ebony irises flecked with brown were no longer just a color, but a window into the blackness of his soul.



He became aware of a low frequency hissing in his ears and frowned. The sound reminded him of holding a seashell to his ear, listening to the tides of an imaginary ocean. By standing after a lengthy period of lying prone, he realized that his blood pressure was unstable. It was to be expected and the pressure would normalize. But he found if he concentrated on the ringing, the noise helped block the disturbing thoughts that plagued his mind, giving him the ability think logically.



Or not think at all, which seemed preferable.



His brow furrowed. Why should such a peculiar idea occur to him? Why would he desire the cessation of cogitative reasoning? Erratic thoughts like this were constant unwanted companions, and it was extremely disturbing that he could recognize the neurosis and yet do little to stop it.



He entered the washroom, then locked both doors: his and the one to Captain Kirk’s quarters.



Disrobing, he looked at the mirror again, examining his nude body. The extensive bruises had faded and the remaining scars could be eradicated with additional treatment. He touched a large keloid on his right shoulder, running his fingertips over the raised, healed slash.



A gift from Zor, during one of the few times the Custodio had actually taken part in an interrogation. Zor had preferred to watch while his guards carried out his orders, but on this occasion, he had participated in the torture.



Zor was an expert with a laser whip, Spock thought abstractly, attempting to view the incident with objectivity. The strikes were precise; each blow had sliced deeply into the flesh to maximize the agony, but not so severely as to destroy the nerves that would have deadened the pain. Critical areas, those that would have caused death, had been methodically avoided. Spock could only speculate how and on whom Zor had honed his skills to such an effective degree.



Spock removed the sensor from his chest and placed it on the shelf, then he ran his hand over his pronounced collarbone. Although his weight had increased over the last two weeks, he was still unnaturally thin. His gaze followed his hand as it moved lower, sliding over his torso, stopping on his abdomen. He glanced at the mirror again, looking at his genitals, then quickly averted his eyes. It was a part of himself he couldn’t bear to examine after what had occurred at Ruutast.



He scanned the various medications that had been left on the sink shelf, noting which ones he must apply after washing, then he activated the shower, selecting the water option. Immediately, a sweltering dampness permeated the air as hot steam poured out of the stall.



Spock stepped into the shower and let the water pour over his head, turning his face upward into the stream. It felt soothing and he stood motionless for a long moment, just letting the calming cascade flow over his body. As his tenseness lessened, he began to relax, letting the super-heated water dissipate the aching in his muscles. He pushed a button that released the washing gel that automatically mingled with the spray, feeling the water transform into a slippery fluid. Slowly lathering, he worked the soap up and down the length of his torso with his hands. The white, frothy suds trailed down his legs and were swallowed up by the recycling drain beneath his feet.



Bending slightly, he began to wash the back of his thighs. But when his fingers accidentally slipped upwards and touched that place that had been the object of such pain, he abruptly jerked his hand away. Any touch, even his own, triggered a feeling of terror that was instantaneous. His heart began to palpitate, his throat constricted, and he couldn’t breathe. The low hiss in his ears became a deafening roar. He felt like he was drowning and he gulped desperately for air, taking in a mouthful of water instead. Panic surged and he reached out blindly as his vision narrowed on all sides into blackness, like a camera lens closing.



The bathroom vanished…



…and he was back in his cell on Ruutast; the smells, the sounds, the cold chill in the air were as real to him as the furious pounding of his heart. Before him, stood four guards, electro-prods in their hands.



// NO! // Spock’s mind raced wildly. // THIS IS NOT REAL! // With every ounce of effort, he fought against the flashback before it could take hold of him completely, before his still tenuous grip on reality was wrenched from him. He must stop it!



Spock reached out and his hand somehow closed around a lever that he couldn’t see, but knew instinctively was there. He jerked it counterclockwise, to the lowest setting, and instantly frigid water—colder and more biting than anything he had ever felt before—hit him like a phaser blast.



He clenched his eyes shut as the ice-cold shockwave ripped through him. Within seconds, his teeth were chattering, he was shivering, and his muscles spasmed in protest against the bitter assault. He felt nauseous and dizzy, and his mind reeled as memory and reality fought for control.



Shocking his system was his only hope; this sudden immersion in -3º Celsius water might disrupt the flashback by shutting down circulation to all but the body’s core. McCoy had said that there had been limited success preventing flashbacks by forcing the body into an overload of stress, and ice baths had been used as a treatment on 20th century Earth. But the doctor had refused such drastic measures; Cold Shock therapy could occasionally cause severe tissue damage, vascular collapse, even cardiac arrest. Spock noted that since McCoy hadn’t experienced a flashback, he was in no position to judge which was the lesser of two evils.



Little by little, in frustratingly slow degrees, the camera lens opened again, and the walls that surrounded him were not grey steel, but bright white. The cell had disappeared and once more he was safe on the Enterprise.



He could not repress the groan that welled up in his throat nor could he stop the tears of relief that that mingled with the sheets of freezing water that ran down his face. He stood in the ice-cold torrent until his legs began to shake and his knees threatened to buckle. But he refused to turn off the water lest the flashback return. He forced himself to endure the physical agony, bracing himself against the wall for a few more precious minutes.



Finally, his cramped and trembling fingers reached out and he turned off the water. He stood frozen to the spot, shuddering uncontrollably, his hair plastered to his head in freezing, dripping-wet strands. For a moment, he couldn’t move; his body was numb and wouldn’t respond. He waited until some feeling gradually returned to his limbs, then attempted to ease himself out of the stall. But, suddenly, his legs collapsed from under him.



He fell sideways onto the floor with a sickening thud.



“Spock?!”



Jim’s voice—just outside the door.



“Is everything all right?” Kirk’s apprehension and worry was apparent in the tone of his voice. Obviously he must have returned to his quarters and heard the loud thump.



Spock tried to stop the chattering of his teeth as he slowly pushed himself onto his knees. Fortunately, he hadn’t broken anything, but he had added several new bruises to his already battered body.



Kirk knocked on the door. “Spock?!”



He knew he must answer otherwise Kirk would use his command override on the lock and enter.



“I-I am…well,” Spock replied, but even to his own ears, his voice sounded hoarse and rasping.



“You don’t sound well. What was that noise?”



Spock couldn’t think of an explanation that wouldn’t arouse even more concern—and *concern* was the last thing he wanted from James Kirk. Hadn’t he already put Jim through enough anxiety—enough anguish? Kirk had put his career on the line and endangered the life of his crew by taking the Enterprise into the neutral zone against orders. He had even risked a full-scale war with the Romulans. It would have been better if he had let Spock die…for the Spock that had returned to him was useless. Worse than useless: he was mentally unstable, emotionally damaged, physically impaired, and quite possibly a traitor who had put the entire Federation into peril.



Here he was—once called by his captain, “the finest first officer in the Fleet”—on his knees, incapacitated, naked, and trembling. He was consumed with shame.



“Spock, unlock the door.”



“I have no need of your assistance,” Spock answered tersely, grabbing on to the edge of the commode for support and slowly pulling himself into a standing position. He wrapped his still shivering muscles in layers of warm towels.



“I’d like to talk, that’s all…Please let me in.”



“I would appreciate some privacy, Captain.” Spock stressed the title with as much umbrage as he could, hoping Kirk would leave him in peace.



There was no reply, and the uneasy silence went on for far too long. Spock concentrated on listening for any sound, but the muffled ringing in his ears interfered with his keen sense of hearing so he was unsure if Kirk still lingered.



“Spock,” Kirk finally said, “if you won’t let me in, then at least listen to me. God knows, I want to help, but I don’t know how…”



Spock flinched at the sound of growing anxiety in Kirk’s voice.



“Tell me what I can do or what you need?” Kirk pressed. “Holding it in, refusing to talk about it won’t alleviate the pain you are in, it will only make it worse.”



There was a soft thud on the door as if Kirk had balled his hand into a fist and struck the door in frustration. “Damn it, don’t shut me out.”



It was, Spock thought, both a literal and figurative statement that was ironically symbolic. More than a door separated them; the real barrier could never be breached or the experience shared. How could Jim, who had never had such a personally vile experience, ever understand the unthinkable?



It was his pain, Spock concluded, and he would deal with it. He had no intention of lightening his heavy load by burdening another.



“I will vacate the head momentarily, then I require rest. I am grateful for your offer, but it is unnecessary.” Spock tried to avoid any further discussion by saying with finality, “Goodnight, Captain.”



“Spock…” Kirk’s voice was filled with emotion, but Spock was unsure if it was disappointment, pity, or sadness. It triggered something in Spock that made him move towards Kirk’s door, but he didn’t open it. Instead, he reached out and placed his hand against the panel, fingers searching for Kirk’s presence through the metal plating.



// Jim… // he silently mouthed, taking what little comfort he could from the now almost nonexistent telepathic link that had once been so strong between them. In his current state of mind, he could only read vague impressions; it was like trying to visualize what a watercolor painting had looked like before it had been abandoned in the rain too long.



On the other side of the door—unknown to Spock—Kirk had also pressed his hand against the panel, and their palms overlapped, separated from touching each other by only a few centimeters thickness of steel.



Drained and weary, unable to endure the growing turmoil that clouded his perceptions, Spock slowly removed his hand and turned away. He picked up his sensor, the medications, and his robe, then he unlocked both doors and returned to his quarters. He hoped that Kirk wouldn’t follow him.



He didn’t.




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




McCoy found Sarek speaking with Nurse Chapel in the corridor outside of sickbay.



“My wife will not be transporting aboard, but I will convey your message to her when—“



“—Ambassador Sarek, may I speak with you for a moment?” The coolly professional tone of McCoy’s voice made it clear that he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.



Sarek raised a slight eyebrow at the less than well-mannered interruption, but before he had a chance to reply, McCoy added, “In private, please.”



McCoy walked into sickbay, then into his office, expecting Sarek to follow. When the doctor turned around, he wasn’t disappointed; Sarek stood in the doorway with a slightly perplexed expression on his face.



“Have a seat, Ambassador.”



“Does the discussion require one?”



“It does.”



As Sarek sat down, McCoy shut the door, then he took his own seat behind his desk.



“I’ll get right to the point, Ambassador. Tomorrow when we will arrive at Vulcan, my authority as Spock’s physician will end and his care will be your responsibility. It is my understanding that you intend to send him to Gol where his emotions, his human emotions, will be eradicated.”



McCoy leaned forward, staring hard at Sarek. “Tell me, how much of this decision is based on logic, what is best for Spock, and how much is based on your own aspirations to have the flawless son you have always wanted?”



If Sarek was offended, he didn’t show it, at least outwardly. He simply folded his hands in his lap and replied, “Is that a question, Doctor McCoy, or are you merely making a statement?”



“I’ll rephrase so we understand each other perfectly. For eighteen years you refused to speak to Spock because he chose Starfleet over the Vulcan Science Academy. You practically disowned him because you didn’t agree with his decision. I suspect that you thought his motives for enlisting were based not on reason, but on emotion, and you couldn’t abide that, could you? And now, here is the ideal opportunity for you to eliminate those pesky feelings once and for all by forcing Spock to go to Gol.”


“Your postulations, while entertaining, have no basis in fact. I would not force my son to do anything he does not wish to do. It is not I but Spock who has made the final decision. He wants to go to Gol of his own accord.



“Why?”



“When Spock was an adolescent, we disagreed over his entering Starfleet for number of reasons, but at the core, I knew he was seeking the one thing he would not find.”



“Which was?”



“Acceptance.”



“Now, wait just a minute—“



“—Doctor, we both know I speak the truth. Spock may have been respected on this ship due to his skills and abilities as an officer, but that does not equate to his acceptance as a person. He will always be regarded as an ‘outsider’. As a father, I had wanted to spare him the pain of this truth. As a Vulcan, I realized that I could not; I could only wait in silence until Spock was ready to acknowledge that his determination to prove me wrong had failed.”



“I think you have that backwards, Sarek. It was the lack of acceptance on Vulcan that drove him away. Spock did find a home on this ship and—”



“—A home is not decommissioned every five years. Regardless, Spock no longer desires to remain here. It is his wish that I contact the masters at Gol as soon as we arrive.”



“In his current mental condition, he isn’t capable of making any life altering decisions.”



“Agreed. Gol is not a prison; Spock is free to leave whenever he chooses. Only when his mind is clear and rational will the masters allow him to prepare for the Kolinahr, the final ritual of purification.”



For the first time in weeks, McCoy was filled with optimism. “Then it’s possible that he may reenlist with Starfleet at some point?”



“The mastery of pure logic will give Spock the peace and acceptance that he has always sought. It would be illogical to hold on to the hope that he will return to you one day.”



Sarek rose from the chair and turned to leave. He was almost out the door when McCoy said, “That’s the difference between humans and Vulcans, Ambassador. We *never* stop believing in miracles.”



Sarek stopped, but he did not turn around. “So my wife has informed me on occasion. Live long and prosper, Doctor.” Then he was gone.



McCoy exhaled a deep breath as he reached into his desk drawer, his fingers closing around a bottle of Bourbon. He couldn’t think of a better reason to celebrate Sarek’s last visit to sickbay than a shot of Kentucky’s finest.




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

If I had not asked would you have told me?

If you call this love why don't you hold me?


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




Later that night, Kirk checked on Spock, finding him in a deep sleep.



Returning to his cabin, Kirk wearily got into bed, then tossed and turned for hours, finally falling into fitful, dream-filled slumber. In the dreams, Kirk kept searching frantically for something or someone, an elusive entity that waited just beyond his reach. The harder he pursued, the more obsessed he became. It was like trying to capture smoke in a butterfly net, just when he almost had it in his grasp, it dissolved into nothing before his eyes. He didn’t know why he needed it so desperately, only that it seemed to mean more to him than life itself.



His eyes flew open in a panic and he was instantly awake. A loud whistle filled his ears with a strident din; the bedside alarm that was hooked up to Spock’s monitor had gone off.



He jumped up and ran through the washroom, finding Spock sitting up in bed. His hair was disheveled, the covers lay in a heap on the floor, and his dark eyes stared vacantly ahead.



Kirk turned up the lights half-power. A second later, McCoy was by his side.



“Spock?” McCoy asked, running his handheld scanner over Spock’s chest. “Are you all right? Did you have a flashback?”



Spock blinked a few times, the vapid, almost trancelike gaze changing slowly to one of awareness. Finally he looked at McCoy and Kirk. “No…merely a dream. I am awake. I know where I am.”



McCoy let out a deep breath. “Good. Everybody has bad dreams once in a while.” Bones glanced at Kirk and nodded. “He’s fine, Jim. Do you want to stay with him until he falls back to sleep or shall I?”



“You go, Bones. I’ll stay.”



McCoy checked the monitor and reset it, then left the room.



“I couldn’t sleep much either,” Kirk said, sitting down on the chair. “I get insomnia once in a while…when I have a lot on my mind.”



Spock remained sitting upright, breathing heavily. “I know.”



“You do?”



“Occasionally, I could hear you pacing in your cabin late at night.”



“You’re a light sleeper.”



At first Kirk thought Spock wasn’t going to reply, but after a long moment, he said, “When you were upset…it also disturbed me.”



“I see. And when you are upset, Spock, it worries me as well.”



Spock’s gaze shifted to Kirk’s face. “I-I am sorry.”



“I am too.”



The dark eyes clouded over with concern. “Why?”



“For a million reasons: I’m sorry you were captured, I’m sorry for what happened to you, I’m sorry that I can’t be of more help, I’m sorry that you’re leaving—“



“—None of this is your fault.“



“Or yours.”



Spock shook his head. “I was aware of the risks.” Zor’s words came back to haunt him and he spoke them aloud. “Nothing transpired that I could not have anticipated.”



“No one could have predicted that kind of horror. You’re alive and safe, that’s what is most important. In time—” He broke off, seeing a glimpse of unshielded misery suddenly appear in Spock’s eyes.



The Vulcan’s right hand tightened on the folds of his robe and he clenched the fabric so forcefully that his knuckles turned pallid. Yet when he spoke, his voice was almost too quiet to be heard. “Time will not change the outcome or what I have lost.”



“What have you lost?”



Hanging his head, Spock replied, “I have lost…myself.”



Kirk gripped the edge of seat of his chair harder.



“I know who you are and what you are. I’m proud to call you my friend.”



Pushing himself to the side of the bed, Spock slowly stood up. Kirk reached out to assist, but Spock raised his hand as if to say, ‘no’. Then, with halting footsteps, he walked a few feet to stand in front of the fire-pot. He stared intently at the flickering embers, the umber and crimson lights infusing his face with an unworldly glow.



“You are speaking of the past. You do not know what I have become.”



“Then tell me.”



“I am…” Spock clasped his hands tightly behind his back, “I am unworthy to be your friend.”



“Let me be the judge of that.”



Spock let out a half-laugh, filled with self-loathing. Such a sound coming from the Vulcan’s mouth startled Kirk and he rose uneasily from the chair.



“A judge who has never seen the evidence,” Spock’s voice broke with emotion. “If you had been there—“



Kirk made a noise of protest, but Spock continued unabated. “—If you had seen how I disgraced myself.”



Spock pivoted around. His face was flushed and his voice grew more agitated. “In the end, I was begging them—pleading with them to stop. I, a Vulcan, was willing to do *anything* to make the pain stop. I do not even know what I told them in the last few days: military secrets, Starfleet battle plans, communication codes—”



“—Spock, don’t—”



“—And the Romulan Commander died to save me. Me! Nothing but a weak, pathetic—“



“—Spock!”



Kirk glanced at the monitor. Spock’s rising heart rate and respiration would soon trigger the alarm. Followed Kirk’s line of vision, Spock glared at the unit, then he ripped the patch from his chest, flinging it aside.



“If you need proof of my unworthiness, there’s more! Much more—“



Spock took a step forward and stumbled on the bed covers that lay on the floor. Kirk’s arms were around him in an instant, holding him from falling.



“Oh God, Spock, don’t do this to yourself,” Kirk pleaded, burying his head into Spock’s neck. “Please…”



Tightening his embrace, he tried to pour all of his strength into the painfully thin frame. He could feel Spock’s heart pounding in his side, could hear his rapid breathing beside his ear, could smell the strong medicinal cream through Spock’s robe.



Neither spoke. Neither moved.



Little by little, Spock’s heart rate fell back into a steady rhythm and his breathing slowed.



“Jim…” Spock whispered, the timber of his voice hoarse with regret. “I am sorry.”



“Shush…Just let me hold you.“



A minute passed, a fleeting moment of time that that seemed all too brief. With supreme effort, Kirk finally relaxed his arms, and he took a deep, cleansing breath. When he let go and pulled back, he found that Spock’s eyes were closed and his lips were trembling.



“Spock, are you all right?”



“I-I…need to lie down.”



Kirk took Spock’s arm and helped ease him into the bed, then he sat on the edge. “You should sleep.”



“The dreams…they frighten me.” Spock’s brown eyes held fast to his. “Once, I did not know what *real* fear was, and now…”



Kirk slipped in beside Spock to lie next to him. He gently maneuvered his arm under Spock’s neck and around his shoulder, then pulled him closer.



“Sleep now,” Kirk said softly as if soothing a child. “I’m here…I’m here...”



After a few moments, he felt Spock relax, and within minutes, Spock had drifted off.



Kirk continued to stare at the ceiling for what seemed like hours, his mind running in circles. The future, once so bright, held only a bleakness that felt intolerable. He forced himself to think of the past, to relive the memories that filled his heart with joy. So many cherished moments spent with Spock: the evenings they had played chess, the private dinners where they could just be themselves, and the many nights they had stood together on the observation deck, not speaking, just taking comfort in each other’s company. How many times had he glanced at Spock on the bridge, knowing that he would always be there? How many times had he looked into Spock’s eyes and saw something that went beyond friendship—an intimate connection of such depth that it was staggering?



Dozens of wonderful memories sprung to mind, each one treasured. Why had it taken him so long to acknowledge his true feelings? The love that he felt been there all the time, perhaps right from the very beginning. But instead of giving it to the one person that deserved it the most, he had wasted it on partners that were merely pale substitutes. He would never forgive himself for that. And now, it was too late to make amends. Time and options had run out. He had never believed in a no-win scenario, but now, when it mattered most, he had lost both the battle and the war. Fate had delivered a bitter blow, destroying everything he had once believed in. His world would never be the same.



Then he remembered what Sarek had said, that somewhere in Spock's mind was a vision, a kiss that Spock had wanted as much as Kirk did. Was it just a manifestation without basis or an unfulfilled fantasy?



Kirk thought about his own wonderful dream: that incredible kiss, the instantaneous passion, and the utter fulfillment he had felt as if it had actually happened. Was it merely a bizarre coincidence? Or had he and Spock somehow connected through a vague mind link, each in his own way reaching out to the another with feelings they had never expressed?



He turned to look at Spock’s face in the half-light of the room. It was serene now: the ebony lashes lay softly against the olive skin, the noble features seemed softer, and the graceful curve of the lips was slightly parted.



For one agonizing moment, Kirk wanted to kiss those lips, to feel them, if only for an instant, pressing against his own. Instead, he leaned over and tenderly kissed the dark bangs.



A slight sigh reverberated deep in Spock’s throat and Kirk held his breath. But Spock didn’t wake; he merely shifted closer, then relaxed again.



Kirk exhaled in relief, then settled back into the bed.



He spent the entire night standing vigilant against any nightmares that might dare to disturb the man he loved, a Vulcan who slept peacefully in his arms.




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

Make love to me, send love through me

Heal me with your crime

You're the only one who ever knew me

We've wasted so much time...so much time...


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




The time had come to say good-bye.



Sarek had left earlier that morning in order to meet with the Vulcan healer who was awaiting their arrival.



Spock had asked to wear his science uniform, and he had paid careful attention to his appearance so that he would look presentable during his walk from his quarters to the transporter room. It broke Kirk’s heart to watch him meticulously smooth his hair, straighten his shirt for the umpteenth time, and brush the seemingly invisible particles of dust from his pants.



Some of the crew had come to say their good-byes in private. Scotty, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, a few of Spock’s former staff, and finally Christine Chapel. Each farewell was difficult and awkward. No one really knew what to say. Spock said very little, and Kirk could see in his eyes that he was fighting with his emotions and close to losing the battle.



When Christine reached out to shake Spock’s hand, Kirk quickly moved to her side and indicated that she should go. He knew that Spock’s composure was about to break and that he would be embarrassed over his lack of control.



While they waited for McCoy to arrive, Kirk took a last look around the cabin. All of Spock’s personal belongings had been packed and sent down to the planet’s surface; the room had been stripped of its distinctiveness and now it was stark and impersonal.



Kirk remembered when he had first laid eyes on it. He had come, uninvited, on ship’s business during the second month of his captaincy. As soon as he had entered, he was startled to realize that his austere science officer had a sensual side that was incongruent with his public matter-of-fact Vulcan persona. Rich, red curtains hung in the sleeping alcove, reminiscent of a nomadic tent. Artifacts and a collection of splendid weapons were expertly displayed, and a realistic fire-pot, in the shape of a mythical beast, smoldered in the corner. At the end of the bed lay a beautifully wrought textile. The air felt hot, scented with the some kind of exotic incense that transformed the utilitarian cabin into an extraordinary world, evocative of a desert oasis. It was Kirk’s first introduction to the private and fascinating world of Vulcans and he had spent many nights here, learning all he could not only about Spock’s planet and culture, but Spock himself.



Now, all that remained were the slightly discolored outline of weapons where time had left its imprint on the walls. By next week, even these ghostly reminders would vanish under a fresh coat of paint.



Kirk began to pace, unable to control his anxiety. He wanted this to be over, done, finished—it was too agonizing…but yet he clung to these last precious moments alone with Spock with a fierce determination. The conflicting emotions clawed at his guts and he suddenly felt nauseated.



He watched as Spock walked to his desk and retrieved something from the bottom drawer. Without a word, he handed it to Kirk.



It was his IDIC medallion, a family heirloom passed down through untold generations.



Kirk’s fingers closed around the silver disk and he gripped it tightly, so tightly that the round metal edge cut into his palm, the pain radiating up to his wrist. But pain was what he desperately needed: needed to keep him focused, needed to prevent him from saying something that would only embarrass them both, needed to stop him from taking the man who he loved into his aching arms.



McCoy appeared at the door and, together, they accompanied Spock down the corridor. Walking side by side—the pace of their steps falling into a rhythm born of years traversing these halls in unison—it almost felt like old times…almost. They didn’t speak, but they gave each other strength just being together for these final few minutes.



When they arrived in the transporter room, it was empty. Kirk had given the order that he would man the controls himself.



McCoy turned to Spock, then unexpectedly embraced him in a bear hug. “Take care of yourself, Spock,” he grumbled, but as he stepped back, his blue eyes were glistening.



“Doctor,” Spock began. “I wish to say, I wish to express my…” Spock faltered, then swallowed hard.



“You’re welcome,” Bones said with a smile that shook slightly, betraying the deep sadness he felt. Then McCoy left, graciously giving Kirk the opportunity to say good-bye privately.



For a long moment, Kirk and Spock just looked at one another, neither one sure what to say.



Then Kirk held out his hand. Spock did not shake it, but reached out and gripped it tightly. Dry Vulcan heat and cool Terran moisture merged, blended together—until there was only steady warmth; it was a bond of friendship that meant more to them than any words.



Spock slowly let go, letting his hand trail for just a second against the tips of Kirk’s fingers. Then, he turned and stepped up onto the transporter pad.



Kirk moved behind the console, and reached for the controls.



“Jim…”



Kirk looked up.



“I am…not *frightened* anymore.” Then Spock touched the exact spot where Kirk had kissed him on his bangs while they had slept together.



For a moment, Kirk was taken aback, then his eyes softened, and he smiled—a smile he reserved only for Spock.



Slowly pulling down the control, Kirk watched as Spock dissolved in a shimmering array of particles…until at last, he was gone.



He stood motionless behind the console, his hand still gripping the control, feeling the emptiness in the room fill his heart. He remained there for a long time, staring at the transporter pad where Spock had stood.



But then the hollow emptiness transformed into...hope. From somewhere deep inside Kirk, a small flame of optimism refused to be snuffed out, and it grew brighter until the void in Kirk's soul was not so unbearable. It was the strangest thing because even though he realized that Spock might spend the rest of his life at Gol, he also knew, without a doubt, that he would see him again.



Somehow, somewhere, everything would turn out all right.



He heard the door slide open.



McCoy stood in the doorway, an expression of compassion and concern on his face. “Well, Jim?”



“I’m all right. Really.”



The doctor observed him carefully. After a long moment, McCoy’s furrowed brow relaxed and relief softened his features. “No, you not, but you’re getting there.” He leaned against the doorframe and in a drawn-out Southern drawl said, “I just happen to have a bottle of very rare and very expensive brandy in my cabin, one that happens to have both our names on it.”



“Are you planning on getting me drunk, Doctor?”



“Not as smashed as I intend to get, Captain.”



Kirk smiled softly. “I’ll be there in a moment.”



McCoy responded with understanding nod, then left, the door swooshing closed behind him.



Kirk moved from behind the console and took one last look at the empty transporter pad. He slipped his hand into his pant’s pocket, fingers closing around the IDIC medallion. Now he did not grip it tightly, but ran his fingertips lovingly over the raised symbols, feeling the cool metal warm under his touch.



//Parted and never parted...// he remembered Spock saying, a vow spoken between bonded mates. Now he made his own vow, and he softly whispered the words to the silent walls and bulkheads that surrounded him.



They would keep his secret.





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

FINI

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