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Spock walked down the streets of Tantris, the main city of Planet Delta 9, fighting the rain. He had not known the element as a child, had rarely dealt with it as an adult, and the few times he'd experienced precipitation, it had never been like this. When the hood of his cape was far enough forward to keep the rain entirely off him, he lost all peripheral acuity and most of his forward vision as well. But when he pulled back the hood to see, most of his face was well exposed. Water drilled into his head, tiny dots of harmless but nonetheless shocking cold.



From there the water trammeled down along his brow ridge, which was totally inadequate and utterly of the wrong design for catching water and guiding it away from his eyes. It slipped down the bridge of his nose, into his mouth, followed the curve of his ears into the outer canal, and laced its way down the sides of his neck. Within minutes he was as wet as if he'd submerged his whole body.



He walked briskly through the maze of streets, and tried to shut out the roar of the city, the clatter of voices and footsteps, and the ever-present, high-pitched, slightly off-key sound of rain spluttering against about a million square feet of transparent aluminum, steel, and concrete.



It hadn't taken him long to deduct where Captain Kirk had gone once he'd spoken to Dr. McCoy.



"Got some bug in his ear first day of shore leave, Spock-boy," said McCoy with only a slight slur in his voice. It was the fourth day of shore leave and McCoy never went very far without his detox pills. "The way he told me, I reckon he went tearing off on some mission."



Mission? It was highly unlike the Captain to undertake a one-man mission, not with two weeks coming so long earned, not with his insistence that every-man-jack was going to take leave, and that was how he'd said it, smiling, the flesh lifting around his eyes.



"You and Scotty especially," he'd said, attempting to look severe and failing. "Two humanoid sticks-in-the-mud. This shore leave, every-man-jack of us is going to have R&R. Two full weeks. Ship's in space dock, this is a well-patrolled sector. There's nothing for us to do but relax. Deal, Mr. Spock?"



"I hardly believe that there is anything I can do at this star base that cannot be done with more expediency, at less cost, with more privacy—"



Kirk's brows lowered at this point. He held both hands up, palms facing Spock.



“Look, if for nothing more than a change of scenery, you will go down to Starbase 11 and enjoy yourself. A change is as good as a reset, you know."



Spock considered this obviously human concept. He had often felt refreshed by the simple turning of his chair at his post to take in a new view of the bridge. Or to play chess with someone other than the computer, or in someone else's quarters.



“Agreed," he'd said and had made arrangements for attending a seminar in ancient music forms.



So when Spock had heard about this sudden change of plans for Kirk, he'd become concerned. And it wasn't just the fact that he'd planned a few off-chance chess games with the Captain; disappointment was not part of his makeup. The whole progression of events was most unprecedented. Tracing the human's trail became an intriguing puzzle through the base's security, requisition and supplies.



"He took public transport?" Spock asked the space travel agent. "Are you quite sure?



The agent was polite but firm.



"Quite sure. Look, I shouldn't even be telling you this, but you being a Vulcan...and I assure you Mr. Kirk took this shuttle to Delta 9 four days ago."



The thought of his Captain on a public shuttle was an incongruous one; he found he couldn't even picture it. And traveling incognito as well. Fascinating.



It had taken most of one solar day to arrive in dock at Delta 9 and another 45.8 minutes to make his way to the center of Tantris. Rain-drenched, swirling-grey skied, cement-bound Tantris. And for all the rain and damp, a thriving, somewhat soggy megalopolis, teeming with anything, everyone, and all of it looking for a way to get out of the rain. Spock restrained a sigh as yet another damp form bumped against him.



By the time he was climbing the stairs to Kirk's third-floor room (the man at the housing office had been obliging), Spock was truly concerned. To say the boarding house was old and dirty was an understatement. The banisters were black, and he surmised that it was not because they'd been painted that way. Dampness was crumbling the stairs, peeling the paint. The windows at the top of each flight were a permanently water-stained yellow. On the second landing he found a pile of smoking garbage. The overhead lights were continuously flickering. Several odors hit him at once, none of them pleasant. Even if Kirk were undercover, as Spock surmised, this was unprecedented.He knocked on the door (the buzzer did not work) and waited. From within he heard not a sound, and then a wary, "Who is it?"



"Spock," he replied. He could almost feel the astonishment from the other side of the door.



"Can you give me some proof?"



The Vulcan allowed his eyebrows to shoot up. "Captain," he said dryly, "when I inform the good doctor as to the unsanitary conditions of your present residence, I believe his candid reaction will be proof enough."



"You didn't bring him with you, did you?"



“I assure you that only I and the starbase travel agency know of our present whereabouts."



The door snapped open and a hand reached out and latched itself to the folds of his cape. He was pulled into the room and the door shut and locked behind him.



"What the HELL are you doing here?" Kirk snapped.



Spock knew that surprise flickered across his face before he was able to safely submerge it.



Kirk turned away, pressing his fingers across his eyes.



In the second that Kirk's back was to him, Spock took in the parameters of the room. To the right of the door was a bed and thin pillow, along the wall a slightly leaning dresser, on the far wall a table and two chairs; the next corner was taken up by a kitchenette with an assortment of devices and to his left a door which he presume led to a bathroom. In the middle of the floor lay scattered pieces of what seemed to be a very out-of-order space heater. Around it were scattered tools, including an antique phaser belt, and one overturned mug from which spread a quickly cooling liquid. Coffee, he surmised. It was then he realized that the room was not much warmer than the street below, with an excessive amount of damp.



Outside, it began to rain heavily, and a fresh gust of wind pushed another damp chill into the room.



Kirk turned resignedly to the space heater, his earlier harsh words nonexistent.



"If I could fix this damn thing, it won't be half bad in here."



Spock watched him silently, noting the tense line of jaw, the stiffness of the shoulders. It did not seem that things were going well, at least not to the Captain's standards. He debated offering his assistance, knowing that to do so at the wrong time would bring on a sharp example of the human's volatile temper.



Kirk sat in front of the now ice-cold box and began adjusting the interior contents of the temperature gauge with what looked like a very short knife.



The human waved it vaguely at him.



"This planet's concept of an old-fashioned screw-driver." Then he looked up, the smallest of smiles in his eyes. "Well, Spock, are you going to stand there all night, or are you going to help me with this thing?"



The Vulcan sat cross-legged next to the human and surveyed the situation. The contents of the space heater had been patched together in a very rough fashion; a Captain, by his very nature had to be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Kirk was an amateur electrician at best, but at the same time there were very few spots where wires had been attached incorrectly.



"There's this gauge here," Kirk said, as if to himself. "I put a piece of rubber there to keep it high, but what I can't figure is where this piece goes."



He motioned with his hand; Spock leaned in.



"It appears to be nothing more than a grounding wire, Captain."



"It doesn't look like a grounding wire."



"Nevertheless," replied Spock, as if they had been on the bridge and he was reporting equipment status, "there is nothing else that it can be."



Kirk tossed him the tool. "Here, you do it then."



Spock ignored this uncharacteristic flare of bad temper, reacting as he always had with a sigh and a slight shake of his head.



As he grounded the wire and hooked up the various loose connections, he heard Kirk behind him, moving several articles, pouring liquid from one container to another.



"Care for some coffee, Spock?" The offering was made easily, as if there was nothing wrong. "It's instant, can't get this damn coffee maker to work, but at least it's hot."



"Is there no tea?" asked Spock, snapping the cover of the space heater back onto the box and standing.



"Tea?"



Spock turned to look at the human, attempting to figure out the angry tone. Kirk was standing, cup in hand, taking short sips, his other hand resting stiffly on his hip, fingers slightly tucked in one pocket. His feet were bare, curling against the chill of the floor. He was wearing indigo jeans, blue jeans Spock corrected himself, and an overly large grey sweatshirt,the neck of which sloped away from his neck and collarbones.



If McCoy were here, he would, by past experience, know what to say to ease the tension from Kirk's jaw, some smart rejoinder to cut through the silence growing in the space between them. And take the sting from a remark Spock had not considered to be provocative.



"Tea?" asked Kirk again. He took one long swallow and placed his cup down on the metal counter.



Spock suspected only great restraint prevented him from slamming it.



"If I'd known you were coming, I would have stocked up, Mr. Spock, perhaps even your favorite, had it been available on this concrete wash." Even Spock could recognize the sarcasm. "But I didn't. Nor do I have freeze-dried Plumeek soup, or whole wheat bread. If I'd known you were going to be here I would have prepared quite differently."



"In what way?"



Kirk gestured to the room. "Some place drier, bigger bed, or two beds, more blankets, vegetarian supplies, a computer..."



Spock looked around the room at this, not realizing Kirk considered him to be so high maintenance and require so many amenities. As for the human and his comfort, Spock noted none of these things, only two books on the small table by the bed.



"It is not necessary to—"



"Oh, the hell it isn't, Spock, which leads me to ask, why the hell are you here?"



Why was he here? Up to this point, he'd tracked Kirk with the avidness of a Terran bloodhound, or an Andorian leehsaht, never questioning why he did so, only knowing that to find him was imperative. He had not wondered that the soul-lit urge to locate Kirk had overridden everything else; it had happened before. It was not new. When Kirk had been missing, such as on Triskelion, or lost in Tholian Space, he had never asked himself, nor had Kirk addressed the question to him—why were you looking?



And actually the question, now delivered with a great deal of hostility was, Why are you here? Spock mentally translated that as Why have you come for me? He blinked slowly and tried to keep himself from swallowing. He attempted to form his reply carefully.



“Why are you here?"



This pulled Kirk up short.



"What?"



“I asked, why are you here?"



The human seemed nonplussed. "I'm here on an undercover mission to recover stolen schematics." He looked straight at Spock, seeming to realize he could trust the Vulcan with the high clearance information.



Spock nodded. "But why you?"



Kirk frowned.



"Why," Spock continued, "did you volunteer for a mission of this type on the first day of a long-anticipated shore leave? A shore leave in which, I might add, every-man-jack was forced to participate. Why the sudden decision to go? And why did you not inform me of your intentions?"



"I told McCoy," replied the human shortly.



A small dense silence filled the space between them, and Spock realized he was missing the implications behind Kirk's reply. Some dark thing, some heat, worked its way up to his throat and he recognized the increase of adrenalin in his system. He remembered experiencing the same phenomenon as when McCoy had shot out: You mean Jim didn't tell you? That's a new one!



There was a name for this emotion, wasn't there?



He swallowed, ignoring the memory of this, concentrating instead on the fact that Kirk had not yet answered his first question.



"Why are you here?" he repeated.



"The mission, I told you. I was the best man for the job."



"With your forgiveness, you are not," replied Spock with surety. "The Federation has, at present 143 men and women more readily adaptable to this planet than you to go undercover on this particular planet. I say again, why are you on this mission?"



The human's mouth was closed but Spock could see the pull of muscles as he sought to contain some burst of emotion. Flesh around the normally smiling eyes tightened, and one of his hands came up in a gesture that on anyone else would have seemed empty. But to Spock it meant that his Captain wanted to communicate something, wanted to explain his actions, his anger, all of it.



"Jim..." The name came out as it always did, pushed from behind by what could only be explained as a small explosion, emotion-driven. He could never have admitted this to anyone, least of all to Kirk. But the Captain seemed so...lost. McCoy would have said Kirk was angry, and delivered a pat answer as to why. Kirk seemed instead unable to cross a certain bridge that would allow him to connect what he was going through to others. Spock knew this particular bridge well, had stood at one end of it many times.



At last the human turned away and Spock watched him press the heel of his hands to his eyes.



"Not now, Spock," came the muffled comment.



Spock repressed the urge to back slowly out of the room. Kirk's emotions always left him wishing he were a solid wall, something Kirk could butt his head against but of which there would be required no response.



"Captain," said Spock instead, "I did not mean to intrude upon you. I will find somewhere else to stay and return to Starbase 11 tomorrow."



The hands came down, flung themselves at the air. Kirk turned, his face tight and he bowed his head. "Spock, you can't go anywhere, it's coming down cats and dogs out there." He turned his head towards the now dark window. "At this late hour, you'll never find a room."



Spock arched a brow. "Cats and dogs, Captain?"



The smile came, as Spock knew it would.



”An old Earth expression, indicating that it's raining very, very hard."



"I fail to understand why a massive amount of precipitation should be described as plummeting canines and felines."



There was almost a laugh then, Spock could see the light in his Captain's eyes. But it faded quickly and he repressed the feeling of defeat. He realized then that he'd stepped towards the human when the other man put up his hands.



"Tomorrow, Spock, tomorrow. We'll talk then, but for now, I'm more interested in whether this space heater works or not."



"No doubt Mr. Scott would be able to repair it, were he here."



Kirk paused and looked at him. "Mr. Scott," he said, shaking his head, "would probably be, at this moment, too drunk to feel the cold."



***



Kirk rolled over for what must have been the thousandth time. The still figure in the too-small bed next to him would probably calculate that number more near 15 or so, even though the Vulcan had not move since his respectful "Good night, Captain."



Kirk tried to let the heat of the form next to him relax him. Tried to imagine Spock thinking Captain, that's the 128th time you've moved your leg, but to no avail. He wasn't sure if his restlessness was disturbing Spock, but the harder he tried to remain still, the more difficult it became not to move.



Plus the fact that the mission wasn't going well, he had no dry socks, and Spock was going to want an answer, a real answer, to his question tomorrow.



He didn't know if he could explain it to himself, let alone to Spock.



Oh, that was a big, fat lie. He knew why he was here. Voicing the reason to Spock, of all people, was another matter altogether.



Kirk moved his leg again, and then realized that a hard ridge of sheet was pressing against his ankle. Nothing large, but definitely there. Hard, pressing. He tried not to think about it, tried not to...



From the form next to him came a very small sigh.



"Captain, if you will simply permit yourself to relax, you would be able to sleep."



Kirk pressed his head back into the pillow.



"I'm sorry, Spock, I didn't mean to disturb you."



"Perhaps some deep breathing exercises would help."



"It's not that...I'm just not used to sleeping with anyone."



There was a small pause in the dark as the Vulcan seemed to consider this. "I find that highly unlikely."



Kirk frowned. "What does that mean?"



"I find it unlikely that you are unused to sleeping with anyone."



It took a moment for the human to realize what the other was getting at. "You mean all those women?"



"That is precisely what I mean."



"We never slept together...after...afterwards, we went our separate ways."



"And what of Miramanee, your wife?"



"I slept on the man's side of the tent," Kirk replied, surprised that Spock would bring it up. He rolled over and pushed at his pillow with his fist. "Damnit, Spock, it's none of your business anyway."



"It is if it prevents me from getting much needed rest."



Kirk scowled, knowing only the darkness would see, feeling the chill of the night

press down.



Fine," he said stiffly, "then I'll go and sleep on the table or something."



As he sat up, he felt Spock's hand close around his elbow.



"Captain," came the calm voice. "Jim, go to sleep."



Kirk wrenched his arm free. He sat there on the edge of the bed for a moment, feeling the cold floor beneath his toes, feeling the warmth oozing from beneath the blanket There was no point in this midnight anger. He slipped under the covers again, and rested his head on the pillow. For the first time in a week he felt confident, safe, almost warm.



All because Spock was there. And that was the problem.



***



To Kirk, the first day of shore leave was like the first day of vacation from school. The first day of any liberty was like being set free. On this particular shore leave on Starbase 11, he'd planned with care, everything enjoyable, nothing too arduous. In addition to various restaurants and brothels, he'd set aside time for a number of chess games with Spock. It was understood, though it had never been spoken of between them, that both men wanted to partake in at least one chess game without ship's emergency, Federation duty, or other irritants that would cause them to stop.



Kirk relished the idea of setting up a 3-D board and playing an entire match from beginning to end, imagined the conversations they would have, the silences they would share.



He made his way to a bar after separating from McCoy and Scotty, who were headed for some other fun, and picked out a place in which to while away the time until a reputable brothel opened. The high class ones didn't unlock their doors until noon, and he was determined to enjoy himself while he waited.



The bar he picked was fashioned after an old-style pub. He knew nothing of the era, and was amazed at the amount of paneled wood and the abundance of overstuffed chairs. To top it off, there was a real barman behind the bar, serving drinks from what looked like actual taps. There was not a replicator to be seen. Smiling, he settled himself on a stool next to the bar.



"What's the best beer here?' he asked, enjoying himself fully.


"Our hard cider's renowned this side of Andretta," replied the man.



"I'll take one."



The drink was served up in short order and Kirk tipped back a mouthful, pleasantly surprised at the sweetness.



McCoy would love this, he thought. This is great!



"Well, well," drawled a smooth voice from behind him. "If it isn't the great Captain Kirk."



Kirk whirled, keeping one hand on his drink.



Finnegan. As blonde as he always had been, young in his face, but with an old anger deep in his eyes.



"How proud your auld mother must be," said Finnegan as if they'd been conversing for some time.



It was just like old times, with Finnegan starting his taunts with vague, seemingly meaningless comments and Kirk opening his mouth to speak before he thought. Only now, years later, he opened his mouth and blocked the words that were to follow. McCoy had once commented that he looked like a gasping fish that way, and Kirk had responded that it was better to look slightly silly than to allow some unforgettable, unrepairable comment to come forth.



This is where I learned it, he thought. With Finnegan. Years ago.



"Yes," he replied noncommittally, wondering where this was leading to. "Yes, she is."



"But what she doesn't know," said Finnegan, smiling over a swallow of beer, "is that anyone could do your job if they had a ship as fine as the Enterprise and a First Officer like you do. What I'm wondering is, could you do as well without them?"



Kirk's back stiffened, remembering that trying to retort to any snide remark like that would only open himself to even more well-aimed remarks. The good-natured presence of the tavern seemed very cold at the moment.



He watched Finnegan's throat as the other man took another swallow.



"Oh, yes, Jimmy-boy, you probably can't even admit to yourself let alone your old ma, that you're just an extension of your ship, just another button of destruction for the Feds to push whene'er they want."



If he were Scotty, Kirk would use that last remark to excuse the first punch that would engage a brawl. Pub fights were one of his Chief Engineer's unadmitted favorite plantetside activities. Kirk thought he would forgive Scotty for starting this fight, were he here. But he was no longer a hot-headed, unsure young ensign, nor did he have Scotty's passionate heritage to excuse such a course of action. Besides which, he had a very nice brothel to visit as well as an extended chess game with Spock later.



Kirk breathed to relax his shoulders. He smiled with his mouth only.



"Well, Finnegan," he said, "that remains to be seen. Goodbye."



With that he took one last swallow of his own very good beer, and turned to exit the bar. He made his pace appear unhurried, and not as though he were plowing his way through chairs and bodies.



He couldn't hurry fast enough. From behind him came Finnegan's lilting, clear voice.



"Run along, Jimmy-boy, run back to that great big war machine. You're just another cog in the wheel, just another cog..."



Ignore him, he told himself. Walk away clean.



Forget about it.



One and two were easy. He wasn't shaking with rage as he exited the bar. No, he didn't bump into several people he knew and ignore them totally as he concentrated on breathing in and out. He was the best Terran deep breather he knew, but after knowing Finnegan, he had to be. Most of his fights, especially the ones where he'd been severely thumped, had been because of Finnegan.



Breathe in, breathe out.



He was doing fairly well by the time he had two blocks between them. Finnegan was well-ignored; no fight today.



C'mon, Kirk!



He didn't have to prove himself, did he? Not to the Federation, not to himself, and certainly not to Finnegan. And Spock certainly wouldn't agree with Finnegan at all. Would he? No, definitely not.



He knew he was foolishly getting worked up over this, but number three was proving to be impossible.



It took Kirk under 30 minutes to find the base commander's office and less time that for the commander to ascertain what Kirk wanted.



"May I remind you, Kirk, that you're a valuable commodity to the Federation, I can't just send you out on a one-man mission just like that."



"Yes, you can," Kirk insisted. "It doesn't have to be life threatening, just a one-man mission."



"Well," the commander hesitated, "there's this one on Delta 9; I mean, there are serious aspects to the mission itself, but not this part of it. What level clearance do you have?”



"Q," answered Kirk. It was still the highest.



"Okay. I guess I can't change your mind and you are one leave. Probably no one will know you're even gone and I could sure use the help."



At that, the Base Commander proceeded to brief Kirk on the mission and his role in it. "All you need to do," he concluded, "is wait until word or other evidence of the stolen schematics surface and notify FHQ. Then they'll send their people in."



"Great," said Kirk standing, holding out his hand.



The commander shook it. "I still think you should undergo a psycheval prior per regulations."



Kirk picked up the mission info packet before the commander could change his mind. “I am fully capable of handling a one-man surveillance job."



He couldn't locate Spock, but he realized that he wasn't trying very hard. Frankly, it was much easier to face a half-inebriated McCoy and tell him quickly, melting away before the doctor could tear into him with any questions.



Later, on the bumpy, none-too-fast public transport, he realized that he should undergo a psycheval if only to discover the reason for the profound effect Finnegan's words had on him. And not only for himself, but for the future safety of the Enterprise.



After this mission, he promised himself. After I get back, Bones and I are going to have a long talk about this.



***



When Kirk woke, his hands were tucked up under the pillow, his legs up to his chest and his back was pressed against the warm wall of a brick oven. A cocoon of peace wrapped itself around him and he sighed. But there was some reason he couldn't stretch out his legs, to spread them until his toes could curl around either side of the bed.



He opened his eyes slowly. His back was pressed up against Spock's, obviously. He breathed slowly, feeling the rising and falling ribs of the other. It was an odd, totally new sensation, but then they had never slept together on a planet so cold.



"The power must go off sometime during the night to conserve energy," said Spock, sensing he was awake.



"Yes," replied Kirk. "I suppose so."



He sat up in one swift move and went into the bathroom. Then he flung himself into the shower as if he wished to become a drowning man. There was no water shortage on Delta 9 so he knew he could stay in as long as he liked. but as he lifted his face into the spray, he knew that it was unfair to keep Spock waiting for his answer.



He turned the water off, toweled himself dry and dressed as quickly as the damp floor would allow. The mirror above the sink was too fogged over to tell him which way his hair was standing so he merely ran two blind hands through it and exited the bathroom with a cloud of steam.



"Shower's free, Spock," he said to the Vulcan seated at the tiny table. In his long hands Spock held a cup that seemed small by comparison. Something hot in the cup issued forth steam in the chilly air. Kirk noted that the space eater was on but only making headway in the area next to the bed where it sat.



"I do not require a shower today," replied the Vulcan. Then he looked up. "But I have managed to discern the operation of the coffee pot and have percolated some of the grounds for you."



Kirk kept himself from smiling. McCoy would have merely said Coffee's on, Jim, or words to that effect, and any other being would have said, simply, Care for some coffee?



But not Spock.



He poured himself a cup and sat opposite his First Officer.



"Coffee, Spock?" he asked, "you?"



A dark eyebrow arched slightly.



"In lieu of the fact that there is nothing else warm to digest and as a reflection of your craving for the beverage upon rising, I have decided to try it."



Kirk allowed himself a smile this time and hid it behind his cup. He took a swallow; it was the perfect temperature, and though somewhat darker than he like it, had a woody, deep taste to it. It woke him up instantly.



Spock sipped at his cup and as the liquid hit his taste buds, his eyes narrowed and he replaced the cup on the table.



"You don't like it?" Kirk watched as Spock considered all his possible replies.



"The warmth of the smell is negated by the acid taste. I prefer...tea."



Kirk noticed Spock looking at him somewhat expectantly, a mild expression on his face. He curled his hands around his cup and looked down at the circle of brown liquid.



"I suppose," he began, not looking up, "that you might want to know why I’m on this mission as opposed to some agent with far more qualifications than myself."



"That is precisely what I wish to know," replied Spock, nodding.



Kirk debated. If this had been McCoy or even Scotty he were telling this to, it wouldn't really matter; they would understand. But this was Spock, and somehow it became imperative that he didn't come across as an idiot. But then again, why should it matter?



Spock is my friend, he thought, he'll understand. He always does.



Still, he found himself formulating his explanation very logically.



"First of all, I was more available for what is, for all intense and purposes, a routine surveillance job."



"And what, exactly, are you observing?"



"A number of schematics for experimental battleships were stolen from the new archives on Data Base I."



"Did they not have their security systems in place?"



"Apparently not secure enough. Anyway, they have traced those plans here to Tantris on Delta 9. And instead of wasting the agent's time waiting around for no reason, my job is to observe the most likely spots for any kind of exchange of these plans and notify the Big Boys. They step in and I step out, mission accomplished."



"It sounds as if there is a minimum of danger," said Spock, non-committally, as if waiting for more information.



Kirk shrugged. "Just think of it as a different kind of shore leave."



At last he looked up and into Spock's eyes. Their calm brownness said very little at that moment, seeming receptive to what Kirk was saying. But Kirk had an uncomfortable feeling that Spock understood that there was more that he was not saying.



"The mission," said Spock slowly, "and your qualification for it seem fairly clear."



Kirk smiled with the corners of his mouth.



"However," continued Spock and Kirk's mouth relaxed into its former position, "I fail o understand why you volunteered for this instead of enjoying your shore leave as planned."

Kirk refused to let himself squirm. Spock deserved the truth at least.



"I came because...because on the first day of my shore leave I ran into Finnegan."



Spock arched a brow but otherwise seemed as patient as the galaxy itself.



"He said something which kind of set me off. I'm afraid I reacted very emotionally."



"Obviously," prompted Spock. "But what was it he said?"



Kirk rested his head against one hand, digging his fingers through his hair. He took a quick glance at Spock who was waiting, quite still, for the rest. Then he looked away.



"He said that all my fame and glory could not have been accomplished without the Enterprise, without you. That I would be nothing if it weren't for those two things."



"Is that not true? Are we not a team?"



"Yes, but...."



"You must also consider that the reverse is true. The Enterprise, the female spirit with which you have embodied her notwithstanding, would be a mere hunk of metal without her Captain at the helm."



Spock eyed his Captain. The reaction to Finnegan’s remarks was understandable, at least from a textbook point of view. It reflected the fact that the Captain recognized some sort of truth behind them, truth he felt uncomfortable with, and also that Kirk considered the period of shore leave the perfect time to take action regarding it. The Vulcan considered that the odds for his Captain being in peak condition by the time shore leave was over to be fairly good. Staying warm and dry in the meantime would be another concern altogether.



Neither one of them commented on the fact that Spock had not really explained the other half of the equation.



"Why did you not inform me of your actions?" he asked instead, wondering why it was imperative that he be apprised of his Captain's every move.



Kirk bristled with anger as he sat up in his chair.



"I did not realize," he said in what the Vulcan could only describe as cold tones, "that you were my keeper, Spock."



The Vulcan considered this. "A somewhat simplified, but essentially true, definition."



The human stood with one swift motion and went over to the coffee pot. He made a pretense of filling his nearly full cup, and stood in front of the window, staring out of it. All there was to see was a solid sheet of rain, but that did not stop the eyes from being riveted there. As the human took an uneven sip from his mug, Spock ventured a comment.



"Captain...Jim...."



Kirk turned and leaned against the metal counter.



"Now that we have that squared away and you understand what I am up to..."



"Not really, no—"



Kirk interrupted him. "Why don't we discuss, instead, why you are here."



He put down his cup and walked over to where the Vulcan was sitting. The slow, careful strides remind Spock of a predatory creature, a Terran lion perhaps, or the lanky walk of a young Vulcan selaht. He stopped precisely one foot from Spock's chair and lowered his head until his chin touched his chest.



"Why did you follow me, Spock? Why did you use your own off-time to follow me all the way here to Delta 9?"



The Vulcan looked up into the human's face, into the friendly puzzlement there. Spock knew this expression, knew the charmed light in the hazel eyes. The slight curve of the mouth indicated that Kirk would be receptive to Spock's response, the thin crease between his eyebrows told Spock that Kirk was slightly confused about the possibility of that self-same response.



"Did you think," he said now, "that I needed protection?"



One of Kirk's hands came up and gently laid itself on Spock's upper arm. The Vulcan did not flinch, though he wanted to.



Spock realized that if he said yes, then that would only confirm Kirk's self-doubt regarding his ability to be successful based on nothing but his own talents. Which was ridiculous since Kirk, being the leader of many, was required to act on his own without consulting anyone else approximately 87.9% of the time. However, if he said no, it would be a lie. He had come because he thought Kirk was in need of him. There had to be some way of speaking the truth without sending Kirk into another loop of anger.



"It depends," he said carefully, "on one's definition of protection."



Kirk lifted his head and sat back down in his chair. "Spock, that's not an answer."



This was so. Perhaps there was another way. "If you mean that I thought you incapable of handling the mission itself, then the answer is no. If you mean that your unannounced exodus from Starbase 11 was highly unprecedented and had me concerned, then the answer is yes."



"So the answer is yes and no."



"I will be here only—" Something caught in Spock's throat and he swallowed. "Only if you need me."



Kirk stood and glared at him, and Spock read, very clearly in his eyes: I don't need anyone.



Why did I follow him here, Spock wondered, as he looked at the human standing over him. Why do I feel such a need to protect him?



And it wasn't as if Kirk needed protection, per se, Spock had seen the human extract himself from difficult situations with and without the ship, with and without any aid from the Vulcan. Spock had seen with his own eyes Kirk battle a Gorn, a creature physically stronger than himself, to a standstill. And he had seen the human, any number of times, go hand to hand and come out on top. And even if Kirk did lose, his opponents were so badly hurt that they appeared to regret winning at all. So it wasn't as if he were physically incapable of taking care of himself. His command training notwithstanding, Spock had seen the truth and knew that his abilities were without question.



He is everything he needs to be. How do I imagine that he even needs or is desirous of my protection?



Kirk obviously wasn't desirous of anything of the sort, at least not at the moment. And it occurred to Spock how illogical his actions were, and how odd they must seem to his Captain. He rose to his feet, feeling his face grow hot and knowing that humans would call it embarrassment but not knowing how to connect the two. As he stood he bumped into the other man and moved away quickly. He went over to the dresser to gather his cloak, not understanding how such a whirl of conflicting emotions could be described with just one word.



"I...." He stopped and swallowed, straightening his back. "I did not mean to intrude."



He swung the garment over his shoulders and fastened it at his throat. Looked up to find Kirk's eyes riveted on his hands.



Kirks' own hands were outstretched wide, and the human took a single step forward.



"Don't go."



Spock did not move. "I fail to understand why I should remain when you wish to prove to yourself your own ability."



And why I should want to do nothing more than what you ask.



Don't speak, he told himself. Don't say a word. And he tightened his lips to that very end.



Kirk moved forward in one swift motion and placed his hand on Spock's arm. "Don't go," he repeated. "Stay."



It was an entreaty Spock could hardly ignore.



And as if he were not aware of Spock instant acquiescence, Kirk went on, "I know I can do this mission myself, but your company would be welcome. Hell, we could even scrounge up a chess set somewhere and get in that game we were talking about."



Spock attempted to look serious. "If you are referring to the match during which we proposed there would be no interruptions then the answer is yes."



The hand on his arm gave a small squeeze and then fell away. A smile in Kirk's mouth moved to his eyes.

"Perfect," he said. "Now, let's go to a nice warm cafe somewhere and get some real food."



After the late breakfast, they walked about, searching for the appropriate seedy bar to stake out later.

"We'll keep our eyes open for the action there," Kirk told Spock. And it was raining. Again. Kirk couldn't put from his mind all that the poets had said about it...a whisperous weave of droplets by an Orion writer, or a shimmering sheen of silver fall by that Old Earth poet...what was her name? At any rate, it didn't matter. Whatever romantic thing the poets said, rain was wet, it was cold, and his turned up coat collar didn't seem to be able to keep it from sifting down his neck.



He wiped the moisture from his eyebrows with one hand and peered up at Spock. His First Officer was dressed in the dark layers of the lower class, as he himself was, of a dusty, stark black, and over it all a knee length cloak of dark grey. Only Kirk knew that underneath it all, the only thing that really kept the Vulcan from shivering was his ultimate sense of control and a layer of Star Fleet's finest thermal underwear next to his skin. Only the fringe of his bangs were streaked with rain as they came clear of the hood, and the barest moisture shimmered on his face.



"I do not understand what the appropriate parameters are that define your concept of a proper bar."



Kirk ran his hand across his mouth and stopped himself from tugging at his collar again. It wouldn't do to get angry at Spock, it wouldn't do to get angry at all; he had created this situation and there was no one to blame but himself. He wasn't even sure where the anger was coming from.



"I've told you."



"You have not. Your refusal of the last bar was quite illogical."



He glared at Spock. "Fine," he said, letting it snap out. "No, I didn't tell you in so many words but if I have to spell it out for you, mister, I will. That last place was too nice."



"It was dry," replied Spock and his voice told Kirk that although that was all that could be said for it, dryness, at least on this planet, was a highly desirable thing.



"It looked too comfortable," said Kirk. "If we're going under, as it were, we have to go and be among the culture we're attempting to become part of."



Kirk stopped in front of a grey building, placing a hand on the curve of Spock's cape to alert him.



"Let's check this one out."



"This is not a good neighborhood, Captain."



"That's the point, Spock. And by the way, don't call me Captain, we're undercover, remember?"



They were standing in the street as if they were on the bridge of the Enterprise and discussing some tactical maneuver or weighing the pros and cons of a certain decision.

Practically chest-to-chest now, Kirk's ribcage lifting, chin high, his shoulders thrown back as if in defiance of some great authority instead of the calm logic of his First Officer. Spock, in his turn, standing tall and still within the folds of his cape, eyes on Kirk's, head tilted slightly to one side.



"I cannot comprehend your propensity for, if not danger, a great deal of risk. This street has a great many safety lights that are broken and smashed, a volume of up-rooted paving stones, an abundance of litter, a surplus of skulking vagrants, and overall an unappetizing odor, in short an unsavory location. Your insistence on this illogical action borders on the fanatical."



Kirk thrust his chin out even more. "Then it's perfect."



As he entered the building there was nothing Spock could do but follow. He stayed at Kirk's side as the two of them found a table near the door. Kirk could feel Spock stifling annoyance and dismay as the proprietor neared them. The human made himself lean back in his chair, smiling as though it were unfeigned, as though there wasn't a sudden stale space-air odor as the man approached. As if they did this everyday of his life.



"Yar?"



Kirk swallowed and smiled again. "Yes, two beers please."



The man looked at him as if he'd suddenly gown three heads. Of course Vulcans didn't drink beer, but they couldn't order juice now, could they? His glance flicked to Spock sitting ever silent at his side, then back to Kirk again. Finally, he flipped out his credit pad and thrust it forward. Kirk thumbed it and the man went away.



"I still don't understand why you insist on exposing yourself to danger," said Spock, as if they were alone, carrying on the discussion as if they had never stopped.



"It's part of the requirements of the mission, Spock," said Kirk tightly.



Spock's brows lowered, and he looked truly confused. "Then why," he asked, "knowing full well the hazards of this mission, did you volunteer in lieu of shore leave?"



There was silence for a moment then the voices in the bar began to grow louder. He considered Spock's question, it was a good one. One that he knew, his heart knew, the answer to. He looked at his friend, at the dark brown eyes and pale-etched face against the curve of grey cape. But how could he tell Spock that it was some fragile human egotism that had brought them both to this sorry, chilly state? He couldn't. At least not yet.



"I don't know why, Spock," he said. "And, by the way, if it is so dangerous, why did you follow me here?"



He'd caught Spock off guard, it had been awhile since he'd done that. Spock's eyes became slightly distant as he considered his answer.



"Perhaps—" he started.



Kirk interrupted, not caring if he was rude; he didn't really want to hear the answer, he already knew why.



"McCoy put you up to this," he said, his voice becoming a whisper as the barman came back with their beers.



Kirk brought his drink to his mouth.



"Am I to believe that you are going to imbibe that untested?"



"Yes, I am," replied Kirk, and did so. "Will you forget about the beer already? And don't try to change the subject. I know McCoy put you up to this to keep an eye on me, like I can't handle myself."



"McCoy did not, as you say—"



Kirk put his beer back on the table. "Oh, forget it. I know he did, you know he did."



He felt Spock considering him, his bowed head, the cool damp, not quite packed bar, and appraising it all in one swift glance.



"I think," he heard the calm voice say, "that I will go procure some provisions and purchase another space heater, with your permission."



"Fine, Spock, fine." Beautiful, just beautiful.



***



Space heaters on Delta 9 came in a variety of colors to Spock's discovery, with blue being the most popular color for flame.



"Do you have one that glows reddish?" he inquired, thinking how much more familiar it would seem to him and to Kirk.



"Nar," came the bored reply, "not much call."



In the end he picked one with a golden glow and an enormous battery so they wouldn't have to rely on the sporadic electric supply. Kirk would appreciate the familiarity of the color, he knew. Up to the point of their disagreement, Kirk had been pretending to enjoy the raw weather, but it was not hard to miss the effects of chill: pale skin, wet streaked hair, and the narrowed eyes that signaled one of the human's tension headaches



As he strode back to the hotel in the now outright downpour, Spock considered the fact that the headache was probably what had caused Kirk's snappishness. Not to mention that the fact that his Captain was right: McCoy and he had conferred.



Stick by his side, Spock, McCoy had said, as you always do. And Spock had agreed that he would. McCoy had assumed that Spock was going to, as he put it, haul Jim's ass out of the fire, at which point, he'd suggested that McCoy go. Surely Doctor, he'd said smoothly, you would be better equipped to deal with this sort of thing than I.



I hardly think so, McCoy had snorted. You two know more about each other without saying a word. Besides, you won't catch me spending two weeks on damp Delta.



Spock peered up at the sky now and decided it was time to linger in a doorway. It was early evening and the dearth of streetlights and abundance of rain made the going very slow. He shifted the purchases in his arms and allowed himself to lean against the door jam as he prepared to wait out the worst.



He did not consider Kirk's anger with him to be of a personal nature; there was nothing he had actually done to warrant the sharp words and indignant looks upon his arrival.



Perhaps it was my mere presence that caused his outburst, he thought, then tucked the idea away for future reference. But to file it away was too easy. It was obvious his Captain did not want him here, had not wanted anyone along, and in fact resented highly the idea that anyone, let alone his First Officer, thought he was incapable in anyway of dealing with the present mission.



I knew that.



If so, why had he insisted on joining Kirk, on accompanying him on what was, essentially, a one-being job?



Spock shifted his parcels again and noted that the rain was backing off slightly. The scent of atmosphere rose through the drizzle and the street began to thicken with occupants once again. He found himself absorbed with the sound of his own feet on the slate colored stones as he walked. And actually, logically, none of his reasons demanded he accompany his Captain to this place. No real reason to act as Vulcan bodyguard or stand as patient counselor.



He stopped in front of the boarding house and looked up at their widow. The rain was almost completely stopped; only a slight drizzle dotted the rising fog. Their light was on. Why was he still on the planet? There must be something he could do to justify his presence.



***



The door opened and Spock entered the room, taking precisely three steps across the threshold before stopping. Water dripped from his ears and the edges of his cape.



Kirk walked forward, his hands and arms outstretched, feeling the coolness of the floor beneath his bare feet. He pushed aside the vague feeling of disorientation he felt for a moment—on a starship, there was never grit under one's feet, nor odd rough spots to contend with. There was a sudden realization, as he walked forward to help Spock with his packages, that the Enterprise wasn't a short communicator call away.



But that was the point of all this, wasn't it?



"I want to apologize for earlier," he said. "I must be tireder than I thought to snap at you like that."



He looked at Spock as he paused in the motion of taking the largest box from the Vulcan's hands. Spock let him take it and eased his hands around the reminder.



Kirk smiled. "Why don't you put the rest of that on the table and we'll go through it together."



The Vulcan seemed startled by this, as if he hadn't realized he'd been standing illogically in the middle of the room staring at his roommate. "We're both fatigued by our journeys, the weather," he said, by way of reply. He waited, absolutely still, as if for something more.



Kirk put the large battery on the counter when he realized that Spock was still standing there.



"I'm sorry I snapped at you," he said simply.



Spock finally nodded in reply, as was his way, and Kirk felt somewhat better.



They set to putting away the other articles that Spock had bought. Besides the heater and battery there were two extra blankets, some fruit and dried soup packets, bread, and a pan. Lastly, Spock handed Kirk a box tied with plastic string.



"What's this?" he asked, taking it gingerly, his eyes on Spock.



"It is for you. It is...a present."



His eyes widened then, a smile lifting his face from its former gloomy state. He sat on the edge of the bed and opened the box. There, nested in a million or so white bubbles, was a large brimmed hat. He lifted it out, shaking the bubbles off as he did so and placed it on his head. It was a perfect fit, which was amazing, as he never wore hats.



Trust Spock to know, he thought.



"It is for keeping the rain from running down your jacket collar."



Something tightened in Kirk's chest, wrenching around the core of his heart. He narrowed his eyes a fraction, as if to find the answer to his dilemma in Spock's face. Now he really felt like a jerk, in the face of all this...this kindness.



"Is the gift inappropriate, Captain?"



He hurriedly shook his head, and, ignoring the fact that Spock had slipped up once again and called him Captain, strove to rebalance himself.



"No, it's a lovely gift." He took off the hat and stared at it, and ran his fingers along the thin gold band at the crown. "Very thoughtful." He looked up.

"Thank you."



The smallest of lights glimmered in Spock's eyes, the tiniest of smiles curved his lips. "It will also help you to fit into the local population; it is, I believe, what every hoodlum is currently wearing."



Surprisingly, Kirk felt the laughter in his throat and released it. Now the smile was on his face.



"You are something else, Spock"



"What else would I be?" asked Spock, his expression suddenly intent.



"It's just an expression," Kirk assured him. "Just another way of expressing affection."



"Oh."



"I think I'll turn in now, how 'bout you?"



"I believe I will meditate before retiring, but, please, do not let me keep you up."



Kirk slid tiredly between the layers of blankets and signed as his head hit the pillow. He heard Spock set up the space heater and turn it on, but he couldn't muster the energy to say thank you again. But he wanted to. He wanted Spock to know how good it was to have him there, even though he half resented it. He didn't want to let sleep take him, but he could only remain half awake, listening to the hum of the heater and the silence of Spock's meditation.



Only when Spock himself slipped into bed, did Kirk begin to feel truly warm. Only then could he really fall asleep, and as he did, wonder vaguely why it was so.



***



Each new establishment they visited provided no information, no contacts. They went every night in the pouring rain, ordered two flat beers and waited. Waited for the action that never occurred, watched for individuals that never appeared. And spent part of each day for a properly disreputable place in which to repeat this odious chore.



Even had the bar been reputable ones, Spock knew that such establishments were more Kirk's area of expertise. To the Vulcan, pastimes such as bar-hopping were an abysmal waste of time. And he knew there was going to be trouble the second they entered such a bar one evening, once it was packed full of people wearing very damp garments and sour, damp expressions. But Kirk seemed to notice none of this, and indeed, immediately made his way up to the bar.



Spock watched the human make his jaunty way through the crowd, ignoring the stares of those he bumped into. Again he reminded Spock of an animal, again the young selaht, springy step unmindful of the den of nursing mothers.



Of course the fight broke out, Spock was not really very surprised. Nor, when Kirk threw himself into the fray, was he really amazed. Kirk's inactivity over the last week and his inability to obtain any useful information had made him restless. A small brawl was the perfect thing to allow the human to let off some steam, so Spock was willing to sit back and watch. Within reason.



At one point, when Kirk was straightening up after dodging a particularly vigorous swing, he flashed Spock an enormous smile. Spock had to stop himself from returning it.



A playful cub, thought Spock. Then another, totally unrelated thought, floated across his mind. If I were an animal, what would I be? What would Jim say that I was?



He stifled the thought as soon as he was finished with it. It would never do, of course, to present Jim with such a question. Amanda had introduced him to the animal concept years ago when he was a youth. You remind me of a colt, she'd say, all legs and eyes and awkward motions. His father, at that point, had corrected her with the fact that Vulcans were not awkward, and that had been the end of that. At least out loud.



Additionally Kirk was not the type, nor had, to Spock's knowledge, equated any person with an animal. Perhaps, thought Spock standing, one day I will ask him.



The noises of the fight began to subside imperceptibly, though Spock found that the surge of bodies caused him to move into the doorway. He noticed a number of other men standing along the walls or at the ends of the bars. They too seemed to be waiting for someone and most looked bored. As if, he conjectured, the fight was a regular activity, specifically designed for a certain purpose, such as amusement or the relief of tension.



At any rate, when Kirk's body came flying through the air to land on a table and roll to the floor, Spock decided it was time to leave. Time enough tomorrow to see whether their activities of the evening had had any effect on establishing them as part of the community.



He went to the human and knelt, running his hands over ribs, checking dilation of pupils.



"Can you stand, Jim?"



Obviously not. He pulled the semi-conscious man to his feet and took him from the establishment.



"Where we goin'?"



"To our room." Thankfully the rain had let up.



Once there, Spock laid Kirk on the bed; the human was not quite unconscious, but his neck was limp and he mumbled something incoherently.



"Did you sustain a blow to the head?" he asked checking the pupils again.



"Yeah," came the slow response," I think some...one hit me, yeah."



Spock moved his hands over the body, checking for major damage and regretted the absence of his tricorder.



"OW! Stop it, ow!"



Spock moved his fingers back to the side of Kirk's face, turning the head to one side gently. "Is there a first aid kit?" he inquired, realizing that if the answer was no, he would have to go out and leave Kirk alone.



"Under the sink."



The kit was adequately stocked, it even had a hypo with several different cartridges: a painkiller, two antibiotics, and oddly enough, one for snakebite. He pulled out the icepack, snapped it open, and applied it to Kirk's face.



"If you would maintain the pack at this position with your hand," he requested.

After administering the pain hypo, he applied a wet washcloth to the humans face, wiping lightly at the sweat there.



"Why did you let me get into that fight, Spock?" Kirk's voice was soft as the drugs took effect. His eyes were closed, but his head was tilted to one side on the pillow, expectant, listening.



"You needed the release," the Vulcan replied, just as quietly. "But I remained in case of an emergency."



"Which is why I wasn't worried about getting my ass kicked."



"Indeed," said Spock, inclining his head as if the other could see it.



"Remember," said Kirk, almost under his breath, "remember how I said...didn't need protector?"



"Yes."



The hand holding the pack dropped and it fell useless to the pillow. Spock leaned forward in his chair and lifted the pack into place. It would be another 15 minutes before it did any good. He found the base of his palm was almost clasping the curve of Kirk's jaw.



"Maybe...need guardian..."



Kirk sighed and rolled forward and Spock found himself staring at his Captain, waiting for his next words. His hand rested lightly on the pack to keep it in place.



"Dark angel," said Kirk, whispering now. "Dark angel," he said again and the words were followed by more that even Vulcan ears could not discern. And as he held the pack patiently for the required time, he found himself wondering again, If I were an animal, what would you say I was?



Spock sat in the chair by the bed, and, as the heat went off and the night air chilled around him, he watched the human sleep. It was not the first time, it would not be the last What then, made this night unusual, in what way was this guard duty different from the countless times he'd watched the human chest rise and fall, observed the mouth as it opened in sleep, and adjusted the blankets as was necessary?



Naturally, one had to consider Kirk's words as he fell asleep, christening him a dark angel. Naming him his guardian. Kirk was not normally vocal in this regard, but the words seemed to have come from a romantic place in his soul. The one Spock knew still believed the swashbuckling tales of good-hearted space pirates, found the Eden in every new planet he visited, and who honestly believed that the universe could do far better with far fewer computers. That soul formed the core of the man, stronger and more tensile than trillium, covered by flesh and bent this way and that by command duties, Federation decisions. But never broken. Never.



Spock shifted in his chair, tucking one finger along his lower lip.



This night was different in the way he had come to it—screaming across the star system in a public transport vehicle to protect a man who had, at any given moment, over 400 people at his disposal. And it wasn't as if he believed Kirk could not protect himself, this he had concluded already. What surprised him (there was no other word for it) was his willingness, his need, to remain, always, at Kirk's side.



And it wasn't a question of why Kirk, but why should he behave this way with regards to him. Any Vulcan would have agreed on the logic of loyalty to such a man: intelligent, courageous, non-judgmental, all the inherent characteristics which many a man possessed but, when embodied by Kirk, made up a more singular, unique individual.



Now Spock mentally threw himself at the crux of his confusion: why did he need to be always present? If it wasn't for Kirk's benefit, at least most of the time, then it had to be for himself.



It is for myself that I do this. The concept was a revelation to the weary Vulcan and seemed quite selfish as it echoed in his head.



What then do I gain from it? he asked himself, determined to follow the line of thinking completely, no matter where it might take him. Such was logic, such was the search for truth.



He knew he gained companionship, someone of a like mind with which to exchange ideas, 3-D chess games, occasional strolls in the observation lounge, workouts in the gym, late breakfasts—when Spock began to add it up, he realized how much time he did spend with the human.



If I am not with him, then I am usually alone.



But it went beyond that. With Kirk he was accepted as he was, as an individual who just happened to be half-human, half-Vulcan. Kirk understood that he looked at things logically, sometimes coldly, that he found the crystalline structure of a snowflake more absorbing than its aesthetic qualities, that he sometimes used his logical nature as a shield...Kirk took all these things, looked beyond and found the man, Spock, amidst the straight lines and angles that made up Vulcan remoteness.



And there was more.



Had anyone else, with the exception of McCoy, appeared at Kirk's door announcing, for all intents and purposes, that he was now the Captain's private bodyguard, Kirk would have, given his present state of mind, thrown the individual back into the rain. In addition, he realized there were only a handful of individuals who would have thought that Kirk needed help in the first place. He'd realized long ago that Kirk's do not disturb sign was a request for help. This connection between him and Jim Kirk was made all the more important by its rarity. They understood each other without words, and sometimes in spite of them. This was a connection that made him think he existed in a special place in Kirk's world, a section of his soul that no one had ever held, nor, besides himself, ever would.



And then he realized he was describing how he felt about Kirk.



When Kirk woke up he rolled over and looked up at the form of his First Officer, who was standing at the side of the bed. His arms were across his chest and his chin tucked down. His eyes were half closed in a meditative kind of way.



What are you doing?



"How long have you been standing there?"



"The majority of the night, Captain." There was no hesitation in his reply, only a certain tonelessness.



"All night?"



"I did not require rest and I needed to ascertain that your condition did not worsen."



"I was in a fight, Spock, not suffering from the Aldeberon flu."



Kirk waited for the Vulcan's pseudo-sarcastic comment, but none was forthcoming.

They went out, and Kirk decided that it was just the wet weather that was causing the Vulcan's quiet distance. The constant rain was getting to him, too. And none of the bars seemed to be open. During a heavy downpour, they ducked into a small shop and came across a single dimension chessboard. It was all they were able to find and they had decided it would do. Kirk purchased it with a handful of the local currency.



They went home and set up the game on the bed, Spock ensconced in one blanket at the head of the bed, Kirk wrapped in another at the foot.



"Best seven out of ten," said Kirk, and Spock readily agreed.



They were at the halfway mark and Kirk felt that he was winning too easily; he already had three out of five.



"You're quiet today," he said, using the opportunity to sneak up on one of Spock's pawns.

Spock looked up and not for the first time that day, his gaze contained a certain hardness. "If I seem reticent, it is because I am thinking."



"Look, I'm sorry about yesterday, but I needed to blow off a little steam."



"I am aware of that."



Spock watched his Captain staring, waiting for a reaction. He found himself recalling one of their first chess games together, years ago...



The game had been two hours underway, and it was obvious that Kirk was going to lose. But at the same time, he was taking a great deal of Spock's choice pieces as he went.



He tipped over the knight on the queen's side, he picked it up and examined it, rubbing his thumb over the tiny, ebony hooves.



"I've always like the knight best," Kirk said, with half a smile. "Something about the image of a man on a horse."



He looked up at Spock, his face open and expectant. "And if you tell me what your favorite piece is," he said, "I might let you win."



Spock considered the board realizing that this was another of Kirk's distraction techniques. There was no way the human, at this point, could win. He was attempting, as Spock understood it, to psych-out his opponent, insinuating that said opponent was about to lose, and badly too.



But the question did slow him down as he'd also never thought of any piece as being a favorite. His father would be outraged if he knew his only son was considering such a thing. In chess, no piece was better or worse than another, or could be distinguished by some inherent characteristic that would make it more appealing or desirable than other, special movements notwithstanding. They were each judged on their specific functions and how readily and to what success each of these functions could be applied.



A favorite?



He considered the knight. Obviously it would throw Kirk off somewhat if he were to say, It is my favorite also. He must continue as if he were really considering which piece he liked best. Let Kirk think his First Officer was distracted. This, he realized, was part of Kirk's game.



He dismissed both the king and queen: too obvious, too visible, too powerful. The pawns he disregarded to a man. The bishop? He picked the piece up and observed it at close range, judging peripherally Kirk's reaction as he did so.



Nothing. Not a muscle twitched as Captain watched First Officer.



Spock replaced the bishop and picked up the rook, or castle, as Kirk preferred calling it. It felt heavy in the palm of his hand, and he realized he had never considered the aesthetics of a chess piece before.



"Is that your choice?" asked Kirk.



Spock put the piece down, suddenly discomfited by Kirk's insistence.



"No," he said. "It is not."



"Are you going to pick, or aren't you?"



"No, I am not."



And Kirk proceeded to beat him in three quick moves.



Spock congratulated him with the flick of an eyebrow.



"Whew," said the human, wiping his brow as if there were actual sweat there, "that was close."



Again Spock understood: only after a goal was reached, could one admit to any apprehension regarding it.



He noted that only now was the Captain pressing the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.



"Something amiss, Captain?"



"Ahh...." Kirk dropped his hand and straightened up. "Just a stupid residual headache from that transporter snafu. Bones said they would surface from time to time."



The action was very Vulcan in its resulting demeanor to Kirk's appearance. He schooled his face even as Spock watched.



"I'll be alright," he said standing, "but maybe I better take some of those pills Bones left for me."



As Spock watched the man go, he was struck anew with the thought that he had more in common with his Captain than he had previously concluded. It certainly could be more beneficial, he reminded himself, were Kirk more all those things that Spock could use to belay any relationship. And beyond that, was the connection building between them, based on a handful of missions and taking them beyond the simple acknowledgement that they were of a kind.



What will I call you, he wondered, if we discover that we share more than what is normally found between comrades at arms?



If they were on Earth, they would be "friends", but there was no equivalent on Vulcan to this simple, all-encompassing term.



Of course he could not ask the Captain what this correct term might be.



Why did I not have this problem with Captain Pike?



He flicked his eyebrows to himself and brought himself back to the present game.



There still was no answer to that question.



Something was obviously upsetting Spock, Kirk knew, though he realized he was one of the few who would have known.



He said he understands about the fight,Kirk thought. Could it be something else?



This proud man with an IQ triple that of an average being, sat at one end of a single bed in a damp room wrapped in a ratty blanket getting the pants beat off him in chess by a mere human. There was obviously something going on in his First Officer's mind that Kirk wasn't aware of. Something that would cause his desert-bred friend to follow his maverick Captain to a very rainy planet to while away the hours with the Vulcan equivalent of a child's board game. That dark head with those dark eyes, so intent, peered at him from a cowl of blue wool.



Why are you here, Spock? Kirk wondered as he set up the board again.



For protection as needed, they had agreed. The problem was, there existed nothing for the Vulcan to protect him from.



The thought that the Vulcan preferred his company crossed Kirk's mind. They had never been apart for any extended period of time since Kirk had taken over the Enterprise. But Spock was such a private person, he could not imagine that the Vulcan preferred his company to solitude.



And what if he did?



You're so tense, Spock.



Kirk won the game as well and both bent forward to set up another. Their faces were inches apart and Kirk eyed the dark fringe of bangs.



"Spock?"



The Vulcan looked up then, quiet and somber, lips in a firm line, eyes dark and at that moment, unreflecting.



"Yes, Jim?"



Kirk leaned forward and very quickly gave Spock a light kiss on the mouth.



Immediately, he pulled back, even lowered one foot to the floor, tilting the board slightly as several pieces fell over. Spock remained perfectly still.



Kirk put up his hands as a barrier and gave the other his half smile.



"I'm sorry, Spock, I don't know what made me do that. You just seemed so tense, I'm...I'm sorry."



Kirk had seen Spock move fast before, snapping to attention, jumping to his station, leaping between Kirk and danger. But this move took the very breath out of him as Spock snaked one hand around Kirk's bare neck and drew their faces together with a snap. As close as breath, where even the slightest move of an eyelash could be felt.



He had no concept of what Spock would do. His friend, his companion of many missions, had become, in the slice of a second, a fear to be contended with. As Kirk stared at the flint in those dark eyes, and the stony demeanor, he was uncomfortably reminded of a Vulcan in a killing rage. A state with which he was uncomfortably familiar.



He could see the flesh beneath Spock's eyes tightening.



"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It was unpardonable. It will never happen again."



Of course it wouldn't. It had been foolish and stupid. What had he been thinking?

Why, if he were Spock...



The firm grip on his neck drew his face inexorably closer to Spock's own. Any closer and they

would be...



...kissing.



Kirk tasted the sweet and delicate salt of Vulcan flesh. Inhaled desert air. And found his eyes closing, absorbing more fully the sensation.



And just as abruptly, the hand released him and Spock pulled away. Kirk's eyes snapped open to find the Vulcan standing by the bed as if nothing had happened.



"Why did you do that?" Kirk demanded.



"Why, may I ask, did you?"



"It's hardly the same..." sputtered Kirk.



"I disagree. Did you think that there would be no consequences to your actions?"



Kirk bowed his head. "I only meant it as a joke. Just fooling around."



"Then you are correct," interrupted Spock. "The essential meaning behind each of our respective actions was different."



Kirk stood, disregarding the chess pieces, which fell to the floor about his feet and the fact that he'd somehow tangled the blanket around his right ankle. If he were reading the Vulcan right, then Spock's kiss meant something while his did not. It made him uncomfortable to imagine that Spock brought more to the relationship than he, as if his loyalty, even his love, was deeper and more meaningful than anything Kirk could ever bring to their relationship. That, in fact, he would be nothing without that loyalty.



"Goddamn it, Spock, I have enough on my mind without your Vulcan pontifications!"



A single dark eyebrow shot skyward. "Indeed."



"Oh, Spock, just stop it. It was a stupid, simple kiss. Trust you to blow it all out of proportion."



"I believe," said Spock, "that I will now take a shower." And without even a backward glance, he exited the room.



Kirk stared at the closed door miserably for some time.



Stupid, Kirk, he told himself. Real stupid. Kissing a Vulcan like that, unbidden, unmated, was like punching a clown in the face or kicking a baby in the head. Why in the universe had he done it?



As a joke. A joke. But it wasn't really funny.



McCoy, in the proper drunken frame of mind, would have fallen over backwards with laughter. But even he, Kirk, would not have tried a stunt like that on a sober CMO. Why had he imagined it would be alright with a bored, cooped up, rain-tense Vulcan?



Only a fool. A fool and the great Captain Kirk.



Spock exited the shower in a much shorter time than Kirk would have liked. There was no expression on the Vulcan's face, and no underlying meaning beneath the "non-emotion" and Kirk could not bring himself to say anything. He found he could not even bring himself to apologize, surely easy words to utter. Only stare at the back of the dark head while Spock bent to fasten his boots, and even once, catch the eyes of a man who has pulled a tunic over his head and is searching only to focus. The second Spock's eyes met his, they flicked away. And then Kirk knew he couldn't sweet talk his way out of this one.



***



The Vulcan equivalent of an old Earth saying came to Spock's head as they entered a bar the next night: actions communicate what words cannot. The Earth version of this had something to do with the volume of actions that were higher than the words. He found himself, as they seated themselves at a table, somewhat distracted by the repeated attempts of his brain to compare Kirk to a Vulcan. It was impossible of course, Kirk was entirely too human, illogical, passionate, emotional. But the fact remained that when a Vulcan experienced emotion, be it love or hate, he was likely to become that emotion, to metamorphose instantly into a body completely controlled by rage or lust, hence the need for emotion control. Hence the saying that meant, essentially, that if a Vulcan was unable to speak logically, his body was likely to take over for him.



Which is where Kirk's kiss came into the equation. Even if it was meant as a joke to release the tension that Spock was sure would have been observable even to an outsider, to Spock, that kiss, in all likelihood, revealed the deeper feelings of the man.



If it meant nothing, it meant nothing. If it meant something, what did it mean?



He understood also, even if only in the textbook sense, that Kirk was a man of action. If there was a problem to be solved, Kirk would pace vigorously while waiting for his opportunity to move. Of course, Spock realized he was presuming that Kirk meant to solve something with that kiss, and that he was probably reading into it. Even if he were willing to assume the language behind the action, it would be foolish to instigate any further response without an explanation from Kirk.



He could not bring himself, as yet, to question his own response.



When he'd walked into the bathroom, ostensibly to take a shower, he'd merely turned on the hot water and stared as the mist rolled to the ceiling and billowed down to surround his head. Telling himself that he wasn't shaking, that it wasn't affecting him at all.



A joke, Kirk had said. Just a kiss.



He'd watched as human lips formed the words, dismissing the entire matter. The same lips which had sent him into a state of shock nearing Pon Farr. His hands hung at his sides though he longed to cross them over his chest and block out the human with some physical barrier.



When he'd been younger this action had proved sometimes effective against the cruelty of the others of his age group. This folding of arms had always imbued a sense of aloofness so essential to Vulcan character and made him appear to be that which he was not: emotionless and removed. But Kirk's dismissive comments were already in his head, having skipped past all barriers and now his arms hung useless. Not that it would have mattered anyway; such a comment from James Kirk had been, would always be, totally unexpected.



And why did it matter?



He'd come a certain conclusion, even before The Incident, of his love for this man in a totally logical and, he believed, circumspect fashion. It was not something he ever planned to speak of or act upon. Not to anyone, not ever. That morning after he'd stood the entire night by Kirk's side, he'd forced himself to admit all of it, but only, ever, in his own mind. He loved, was in love with, Jim Kirk.



That same morning, Kirk's eyes had opened and drawn him in with a sleepy golden warmth. In the second before they focused with wakefulness he'd folded his arms. Resisted the pull, oh so hard, of laying his head down in the hollow of blankets and asking for forgiveness for even considering the deception.



I have found you, Spock thought, and I must let you go.



Kirk's eyes hardened as they looked at him now, narrowing, almost resentful. The entire earlier events played across his face and Spock knew he was recalling everything.



Something Spock was finding difficult not to do.



A joke. A stupid kiss.



That was the only thought that allowed him to take the action that he'd responded to like a slingshot and swallow it down. To bury it deep inside a soul already packed with black fragments.



But of course he never really could forget.



Kirk headed back to their table, with a beer in one hand, and a water in the other. Spock's being real "cool" about this, he thought to himself, knowing that Spock had his own reasons fore responding as he had and still more reasons for pretending as if nothing had ever happened in the first place.



Why did I kiss him?



For that matter, why did he kiss me?




He took a sip of beer as his mind went back to the moment. Even though Spock had been distant and they'd been arguing pretty much non-stop since the Vulcan's arrival, he realized he was glad that Spock was there.



In spite of what Finnegan said.



And hadn't Spock said, are we not a team? Two heads are better than one Jim-boy, McCoy would say.



So I'm happy he's here. Did I have to kiss him though?



No. Of course not. No.



But then there was Spock's reaction, that tight hand on the back of his neck, those firm lips on his own. A more passionate thing he'd never seen Spock do. A more open display of affection he'd never known of the man.



Kirk frowned into his beer as he realized that this wasn't strictly true.



When the Enterprise had been attempting a rescue of the U.S.S. Defiant, Spock, apparently, had been quite insistent about rescuing his Captain. As if he and he alone had territorial right to the man. McCoy had regaled his Captain with wild tales about Spock's behavior and his maintaining the Enterprise in a dangerous situation all for one man.



What about the needs of the many, Kirk had wanted to ask. But, except for the bare bones of the incident, Spock had been extremely closemouthed, so the opportunity for an explanation never appeared. There had only been a glimmer in Spock's eyes that brightened when Kirk had placed a hand on the Vulcan's shoulder to express his thanks, even though Vulcans never saw the logic in that Earthly tradition. One did whatever job was needed and the appreciation was expressed in the logic used to discover that the task needed doing at all.



McCoy had certified him dead on that mission, Kirk recalled now. Just how long had the Vulcan been planning on hanging around before giving up?



Knowing Spock, probably a long, long time.



Then there had been that incident over Triacus and the disastrous end of the Starne's scientific expedition. Spock had practically picked him up and carried him off the bridge when Kirk thought he was losing command. Had literally dragged him from the eerie influence of the Gorgan and gave him back his strength.



How still the Vulcan had been as the turbolift whisked them away. How firm and steady like a solid granite foundation carved out of living stone.



Not one word of reprimand had crossed Spock's lips while Kirk, to his present embarrassment, had clutched at the stalwart Vulcan. The Vulcan had allowed it, encouraged it, pulling closer to himself the arm to which Kirk clung. And he said only Kirk's own name, enveloped him with it, almost caressed him...and he remembered the feelings of strength and he had pushed away as pride and his command abilities flooded through his every pore.



My Vulcan friend, he'd said.



My truest friend, he thought now.



Lord, how his mind ran on.



It ran straight to Organia and Commander Kor. Though he now looked back at that incident as one of his favorite adventures with Spock (the two of them against the world), in the midst of everything, when the Klingons had dragged his friend off to subject him to the mind sifter, he'd been very much afraid. But only his mind had emitted a wordless scream as their eyes met across two meters of space. No words. Kirk had never found the words to describe the look in Spock's eyes or the depth of response in his own soul at seeing it there.



But what had he seen; what had he felt? What had led him to understand that if the Vulcan died under the Klingons' hands, he himself would have ripped each of their hearts out, even if it meant his own life? When had he known this to be true?



What are you doing, Kirk? he asked himself now. Why are you attempting to give serious explanation to an action you earlier dismissed as a joke?



He knew, however, that there was more to this than was on the surface, and his mind now scrambled frantically to bridge the enormous gap between A and Z.



He blinked rapidly, realizing that he'd been staring, dry-eyed, at nothing for some time. He glanced at Spock, and caught the Vulcan looking at him as if he too had been at it for a while. And in those Vulcan eyes was the same look he'd seen many times, a secret, sub-terranian glow lit only by a fireshrine somewhere in Spock's soul. As Spock blinked, he erased the light, replacing it with the everyday, alert shimmer. But not before Kirk realized where he'd seen it before. Not before he understood what it was.



He was looking at me like that on Organia, Kirk remembered. That's love in his eyes and the only reason I never realized it before was because I never looked.



Until now.



Love, Kirk thought. What did Spock know of love? Oh, he knew there was emotion there, under that thick exterior, emotion too overwhelming, apparently, to deal with on a day-to-day basis, submerged with the aid of generations of training. Kirk thought of Spock's emotions as a cavern of light and movement, a live thing, an almost separate entity. He knew what it contained. Had been grabbed and saved by arms of determination, been dazzled by the sheer brilliance of the man, confounded by his obstinacy, and even laughed out loud at his desert-dry wit, not to mention frustrated by Spock's inadmission of this secret place within.



There was something too precious there, deep, more subterranean than the devotion, loyalty, the meager skimmings of friendship Spock would only barely admit to. But validate it or not, Kirk knew that there did exist an endlessly flowing underground river. You just had to know where to drop your plumb line.



But love?



It was almost like foreign language to Spock, and unless you wanted to translate everything he did or said, it was not possible. The lengthy mental linguistics problem aside, to do so would mean that...



You can't love me, Spock, you can't!



Spock didn't deserve someone like him, someone who went through a relationship a month, sometimes even faster, to whom sex was a drug, for whom women had no souls, and an orgasm was the ultimate, transient high.



He stood. "'scuse me, Spock."



The Vulcan looked up. "Is everything alright, Jim?"



Kirk walked away before replying, allowing his words to be absorbed by the general hub-bub. "No, no, no problem...some more beer, I think." Even though he still had half a mug. Spock's puzzlement followed along behind him.



If he can feel that, then he can feel love, can't he? And why not.



But to be the object of that love, to be responsible.



He realized he was pressing his hand rather hard against his forehead, to the point where it hurt. Pulling it away, he placed it on the counter and assumed an air of one who didn't quite know what he wanted yet. Which wasn't far from the truth.



He did order another beer and paying for it, turned around and leaned back against the counter. Observed the Vulcan as he slowly sipped at his water and surveyed the room.



What did Spock see as he did this? Was it the general, slightly over-crowded mix of men and drink that signaled, at least to Kirk, the anticipation of pleasure and inebriation? Or was it more analytical, something along the lines of: so many beings of this height, so many of that; a louder volume coming from this side of the room, and so on—in short, an objective note taking that used nothing of personal reaction or opinion. And from this distance, seeing the slight deepening of light beneath his cheekbones, Spock did not appear to be anything other than a stoic, unemotional Vulcan. And certainly not a being who loved, and that at 100%.



Why am I thinking that he does?



He took in the rest of his beer in two lung-choking swallows. Slamming the mug down on the counter, he headed back, ostensibly to finish his first beer and then rid himself of some useless speculation. He had Spock's loyalty, and he knew that. Did he really need or even want more? More involvement, more entanglement, more...risk? The idea was terrifying.



He weaved through the tables, pretending nonchalance, as if idly observing the drift and flow of men. Watching his knees around askew chairs, dodging the occasional and exuberant outstretched hand instead of looking for what he was sure had been a trick of the light. It had to be a trick of the light instead of the love he hadn't realized he'd been looking for, needing, suddenly precious and desirable, for a very long time.



He was six feet away when Spock looked up, glass frozen partway to his mouth, hand curved around the clear fluid. The movement of his features were slight: eyebrows tipping up, a bare lift of the chin, and a flicker of dark fire in a pair of Vulcan eyes.



A trick of the light, a trick of the light...



He convinced himself of this as he sat down. As he swallowed some more beer and looked around the room for the 100th time that evening. And then, as if observing a huge accident, or some aberration of nature that the eye cannot help but be drawn to, he placed his palms flat on the table and looked Spock square in the face.



There.



Oh, shit. It had been as clear as daylight, a black fire, like a sunspot, suddenly erupting. A momentary shift of essence and muscle that to any other would either be non-existent or self-evident. Kirk did not doubt his senses or his interpretations of them in ordinary circumstances. But this went beyond that. The flare of love.



He was about to say something, anything that would lead them into a conversation so he could clear his mind, when Spock's attention was alerted to the far side of the room.



"What is it, Spock?"



Spock nodded in that direction, his dark head dipping down, his voice low. "I believe there is a gentleman trying to get our attention."



Kirk did not turn around instantly, but allowed himself to move as if looking for someone he'd been waiting for. He saw the man Spock was referring to and brought him closer with a nod.



"I heard you boys were looking for that Fed sale that was going," he said without preamble.

They walked back from the bar in the slanting wind. There was no rain, not precisely, only a circular mist which eased its away into every opening of their clothes.



"I believe," said Spock evenly, "that we should arrange to contact the Federation and alert them to what we have discovered."



Kirk responded in kind, businesslike, pushing his earlier thoughts to the back of his head. At least until later.



"I think we should get a description of the guy with the schematics before we contact anyone."



"The danger..."



"There is no danger," Kirk asserted, "in making sure this contact is valid and getting a solid I.D. on the man."



There was no answer from Spock as they entered the building and began climbing the moldy steps.



"C'mon Spock. Surely a positive I.D. can only increase the chances of catching this guy. I mean, what would those percentages be?"



As they entered their room, he saw Spock relenting.



"It does increase the probability of his imminent capture by 58.3%," Kirk heard Spock say as he stepped into the bathroom for a quick shower. He ducked his head quickly under the spray to disguise a sharp snort of laughter.



Statistics. Gets him every time.



***



They lay in bed together, stiffly, side by side like two twins in a morgue. Questions and comments pushed to the front of Kirk's awareness; even so, he discarded them one by one. Each as too blatant, too awkward, too emotional. What did one say to a Vulcan bedmate whom one had kissed, and whom one thought one might want to kiss again? Or at least (at the very least, Kirk assured himself) find out what had inspired the response to the original kiss.



It was too much, really, to imagine that there had been no reason for it. Kirk felt he knew Spock fairly well, and his friend never did anything without a reason. If he were to open the issue up for discussion, what would he discover?



"Spock," he asked quietly, "are you awake?



"Yes."



What did that mean? Why not "affirmative" or "indeed?" Oh, stop analyzing everything and get on with it.



"About that kiss...."



"Kiss?"



Horror pierced Kirk's heart. He's going to pretend it never happened.



"You remember, before you went out to get more tea."



"Ah, yes. My confusion arises from the fact that you earlier referred to it as a...joke."



Kirk's body sat him straight up in the bed, propping himself on one hand, the other reaching for his companion. In the near dark room, glints of light from the heater bounced off Spock's eyes. His face was an impassive mask of chiseled stone. He looked at Kirk without moving his head, arms across his chest.



"No, no, not a joke, Spock, really."



Instead of touching the Vulcan, he brought the hand across his forehead, sweeping back his hair.



"At the time it seemed like a joke, but then it got serious."



There was no response in the dark night.



It almost seemed hopeless. He brought up one knee and bent his head against it and curved his arm around it. Put all of his will into his next whispered words. "I didn't mean to be a jerk, Spock. I know I can be thoughtless, sometimes, because I know you'll always be there, but I never meant to hurt you."



"You did not hurt me."



Kirk dismissed the Vulcan's reply as mere cover-up.



"I know I did, taking you for granted like that. Just because you don't go about with your heart on your sleeve doesn't mean you can't be hurt."



Kirk expected Spock to be distracted by the idiom, but there was no ready question.



"I was...surprised," the Vulcan said instead, hesitating over the term as if unsure of its usage.



Kirk lifted his head. "Surprised?"



"Yes, surprised that you would facilitate such a gesture."



"What?"



The other took a breath and Kirk watched in the dim light as Spock resettled his head against the pillow. Kirk propped his own pillow against the headboard, sat back and waited.



"I have seen you," began the Vulcan, "employ the action called a kiss for various apparent reasons and to varying degrees of intensity."



Kirk nodded in the darkness. This was true.



"On the simplest level, I have seen you press your lips against Jamie Finney's forehead in a gesture that was at once full of comfort and forgiveness. On an incline from that, I have seen you give to both Uhurah and Nurse Chapel what I believe is called a peck on the cheek, done with friendship and great affection."



Kirk was amazed. To him this was an instinctive thing, done on impulse and without thinking. Which, of course, had caused his immediate problem. He'd had no idea Spock had thought this through so thoroughly.



"Lt. Areel Shaw received such a peck, except it was on her mouth, and as such, exhibited an increased intensity. You seemed to want to transmit a less innocent affection, but at the same time, something less than real passion."

"Spock, please..."



"To Sylvia, on Pyris VII, you engaged in what is known as a stage kiss, and each of you attempted to convince the other of your passion, your intent, your desire. To various degrees of success.



"And, lastly, there was Edith Keeler, with whom..."



Kirk raised his hand. "My interactions with Edith are not open for discussion."



"I was only going to say," continued Spock, ignoring Kirk's frown, "that with her your kisses seemed to display true warmth, affection, and desire."



"What," said Kirk, his lips stiff, "is this leading up to?"



"I was only attempting to explain my confusion with your earlier gesture. Your kiss to me did correlate with your five known levels of kissing."



"Everything cannot be designated into categories, Mr. Spock," Kirk replied wearily. "Each situation is surrounded by different circumstances and if there is a kiss, it too will be guided by these boundaries."



My god, I'm starting to sound like him.



"What, may I inquire, were the circumstances that led to that kiss?"

Kirk sighed, knowing that Spock would not quit until he had his answer. And realized that afterwards, he could ask Spock what his kiss meant in return.



"It was impulsive, I admit," Kirk began.



"Not premeditated," confirmed Spock.



"No. Definitely spur of the moment."



"And it's intent?"



"To...express my joy at your being there."



"Yet you dismissed it as a joke."



"Only because your reaction made me nervous."



"My reaction?"



"You looked like you were about to break my neck. Instead you kissed me back. May I ask why?"



"You may not."



Kirk sat up again, thumping his fist against the mattress.



"Damnit, Spock, I told you what my kiss meant. I kissed you because I was happy you were here, and dismissed it as a joke because I was confused, at the time, as to why I had done it. The least you can do is reciprocate!"



"Again?"



Anger rose up in Kirk like a flag reaching the top of its pole and unfurling in the wind with a snap. It was too much to reveal himself over and over again to Spock, only to come away with the feeling that the Vulcan himself was hiding something. There had been only one thing that had jolted Spock out of his self-assured silence before.



He bent and pressed his lips against Spock's, inhaling the other's quick snort of surprise. It was an Areel Shaw type kiss, he noted absently, level three.

He pulled away abruptly, curling his hands into fists against his chest. Again, he had allowed Spock's silence and calm to goad him into some stupid and impulsive action.



"There's a Level Three kiss for you. Satisfied?"



In the near darkness came Spock's answer.



"No."



Kirk turned his head. "What?"



"No, I am not satisfied."



In the Vulcan's face was a calmness, and a hint of expectation in the slight lift of his brows. He reminded Kirk, in that moment, of Shaana, wanting more but not really sure what it was more of, nor how to ask for it. Nearly all of his anger drained away, like water through a floodgate, and what remained was aimed at himself for being so stupid. Again.



He slipped down once more under the covers, facing Spock, his head propped on one elbow. This time he would ask.



"May I kiss you again?"



He wasn't really surprised at Spock's acquiescence in the form of quickly lowered lids and that slight nod. It was slightly egotistical to realize that he'd seen that look of wanting a hundred times before and known exactly what to do. What did amaze him was that Spock had not, as yet, tried to deny his need, nor explain it away as mere scientific curiosity. Perhaps that would come later. For now, Kirk intended to oblige his First Officer.



He pulled Spock towards him, until the other's head was even with his on the pillow. Leaned up and placed his lips briefly against Spock's forehead, pushing the dark bangs aside with one hand.



"Level One," he murmured.



The peck on the cheek was done swiftly against skin over hard bone. "Level Two."



He found his pleasure rising, partially because the game was new and partially because this was Spock. He wouldn't allow himself to think how unreal this all was. At least not yet.



He placed his lips now directly against Spock's, as he had done before, with only the slightest of pressure.



"Level Three," he said softly, pulling back and smiling into Spock's eyes, "otherwise known as an Areel Shaw' with which you should already be quite familiar."



Kirk leaned forward and placed his hands on either side of the Vulcan's head. Suddenly, two strong circles of steel clenched his wrists.



"If this is to be Level Four," said Spock in low, almost inaudible tones, "I do not want it."



Kirk allowed his hands to remain where they were, cupping gently over crisp dark hair, and the curve of warm ears. The dark night swept around him at that moment when he realized what he had before him, a thing so fine and rare, a single entity in all the galaxies never to be duplicated, not for thousands of lifetimes to come. The being that was Spock, the entity that carried with him more knowledge than Kirk would hope to know, more loyalty than he deserved to have. He felt the push of a solar wind through his soul.



"Shall I go directly to Level Five?"



There was no reply from Spock, only that pale face with its eyes gazing at him intently, a wordless look of expectation.



"Level Five, then."



Kirk found himself on his knees, crouching over Spock, still with the palms of his hands curving around that firm jaw line. Still with his eyes drinking in the wonder of the sight of Spock waiting for his kiss as if for a benediction, lowered gaze, head to one side, lips slightly parted.



And waiting while the moment spun itself out as he paused, poised, his mouth only an inch from Spock's own. His breath drawn into Spock and released, and the quick tease of Spock's breath on his own tongue.



It was like coming into contact with an unrealized part of himself. Everything else faded away as the sensation in his lips became the only thing known to him, his lips pressed against Spock, the Vulcan mouth plush and full and warm beneath his own. This single contact was the only thing, it was everything.



And it was with a shock of recognition that he pressed into the kiss with his tongue to find a force that met and matched his own.



I know this mouth; I know this face.



He'd kissed it a thousand times before.



I know this man.



Of course, he'd never kissed Spock like this before, nor had he ever fantasized about it. The shock of recognition came as did the feelings of familiarity, of rightness. As if he'd always known Spock and always would.



The kiss moved into a full embrace, his arms around the Vulcan, pressing the dark head into the pillow. He felt words of love rise within him and he quelched them, all but one.



"Spock," he said, pulling back for only an instant, "Spock..."



At that point, the Vulcan shoved the human away with a thrust that sent him tumbling to the floor between the bed and the wall. Kirk leaped to his feet, his breath fast with confusion, hands raised towards the backing away Vulcan.



"Stay away," Spock's voice rumbled low in his throat. "Stay away from me, human."



It was almost a curse.



"Spock?" asked Kirk, coming around the bed fast. He reached towards his friend, who took another deliberate step backwards. The realization hit him that Spock was going to bolt; that fact was imminent if he didn't act fast.



There was an acid glitter in those brown eyes as if Spock were observing some fearful, uncontrollable thing.



Kirk moved forward carefully, crossing the floor in slow motion. Allowing the air between them to adjust to his passage, caressing each segment of floor with his bare feet.



The only thing that kept Spock from continuing into the hallway was the locked door. He found it with his back and a small thud, his head coming up in a way that was, for the Vulcan, tantamount to dismay. Dismay that Kirk was now standing so close and that there was no-where else for him to go.



"Spock," said Kirk, bringing his hands up to the other's face. "Spock, don't be afraid."



Kirk was amazed that that was what he did sense, that not only was Spock displaying this emotion, but that he was feeling it at all. He leaned forward, almost rising to the balls of his feet.

"Please, please, Spock," he whispered.



Spock's hand slashed out, missing him by the barest of millimeters as Kirk jerked back.



"Do not kiss me."



Kirk stepped back immediately. "No, no," he assured. "No." He moved back into the center of the room, well away from the door.



"Spock." He willed the Vulcan to look at him instead of some arbitrary spot on the far wall, but to no avail. "Spock, come to bed. I, I promise I...I won't touch you."



There was no movement, nor even a sound; it was as if Kirk were not even in the room.



Kirk felt the pressure from both sides. If he moved, there was no telling what Spock would do. If he did not, then he would be denying himself.



"Spock, what's wrong? What happened?"



Spock seemed as if some full horror had struck him. His gaze jumped to Kirk, eyes full and wide, his face carved from chalk. And then he swallowed. Closed his eyes once in a blink that eradicated all the tension, uncurled his fists, and moved away from the door.



"It is late. I believe I will retire."



Kirk felt his jaw drop. "Spock—"



"Captain."



There was nothing he could say. He felt the full weight of the evening land on him.



He had to let this go, had to let the Vulcan go.



"Alright, Spock. Let's just go to bed."



Kirk climbed into the bed and pulled the covers up to his chin, turning his face to the wall. He felt the bed shift its springs as the Vulcan climbed in as well, and the pull of sheets as he adjusted them around his body. The darkness and the quiet settled once more, and they became again as two twins in a morgue.



***



Kirk awoke in the early hours of the morning with his back pressed against Spock's. The chillness of the room was one factor, the narrowness of the bed the other. And that's what Kirk told himself, though he really knew that he found he liked sleeping this way. However, the temptation was strong in the second between sleep and real wakefulness, that what he really wanted to do was roll over and press his front to Spock's ultrawarm back, snug his knees behind his First Officer's, and wrap his arms tightly around that slim middle.



Only a short week ago, such thoughts would have scared or confused him. What confused him now was not this sudden rather unsexual affection-needing drive to press against his bedmate, but instead the almost automatic, quiet exodus from the bed itself. He pulled up a chair quietly to Spock's side of the bed, and sat in it, wrapping himself in the room's only extra blanket.



Somehow, to wile his way into an intimacy with Spock's body, no matter how many times he'd effortlessly done it to other bodies, was now impossible. And it was not just Spock's fear or inexperience, it was himself that was unable to move. But not for lack of desire, no. The hardness between his legs made him shift in his seat, readjust the blankets.



An unwilling Vulcan was no fun, but more than that, he wanted Spock to want him. Others did, why couldn't Spock?



I am a selfish bastard, he thought. And what about what Spock wants?



***



"What are you doing?"



The voice awoke him from a stiff sleep and he jerked his head up and stared at his First Officer. Kirk gave him a half smile.



"I couldn't sleep; didn't want to disturb you."

Spock continued to eye him silently, in an almost questioning manner, brows slightly drawn together.



Then Kirk realized where he actually was: his chair was as close to the head of the bed as possible, his feet tucked under the mattress right beneath Spock's pillow. If he'd meant to remove himself, he hadn't gotten very far.



The eyes were still watching him, almost glaring now. There was an unspoken truth as one Romulan commander might say, and Spock seemed very aware that there was something Kirk was not saying.

Kirk stood, letting the blanket drape around him, letting the chill air ease its way beneath his clothes.



"You were too much the temptation, Mr. Spock," he said honestly.



Spock jerked slightly on the pillow.



"Temptation, I?"



Kirk turned and walked towards the bathroom. "Yes you, Mr. Spock.

Satisfied?"



***



Their contact had turned up, they got their information, their conformation, and their positive I.D. and now they were headed back to their room.



"I thought," said Spock into the wet wind, "that you agreed that when we made our connection, you would contact the Federation?"



"I want to go in and do it myself."



"I do not think that would be wise."



"Spock, the Feds will never get here in time."



"No doubt they have operators standing by for your signal."



"Spock, it's a cake walk."



One brow swiftly shot up. "Nevertheless, I will be unable to protect you."



"Why not?"



"Because you are backing out on our agreement, the one where we decid—"



"But I have to go, I have to prove..."



Spock was staring at him, as if he were some incomprehensible new data that defied investigation. "I do not understand," he said finally.



"There's nothing to understand, Spock. Just let me be."



***



Spock observed, with a detached air, Kirk leaving the room. Their argument, well practiced by now, had been brief and almost unnecessary. Words had become redundant after their earlier discussion. Just one pointed look was enough to convince Spock of Kirk's intent, that he meant to go through with it no matter what. But, in spite of all this, he'd asked anyway, just to be certain.



"Am I to understand that you are going to meet this man instead of alerting the Federation?"



Kirk, filling a small sack with packets of freeze-dried food, answered almost pleasantly. "You understand correctly, Mr. Spock." He hefted the bag, tying the string closed at the top. "Think that weighs as much as 100,000 tantrins?"



Spock did not answer. Kirk had promised him that the second that they discovered the contact, they would turn the information over to the proper authorities. Such were the parameters of the mission. And, privately, Spock had been hoping that they would have enough shore leave left over to discuss The Incident. Not only was Kirk rushing headlong into danger, he was also pretending with great alacrity that The Incident had not happened at all.



The door slammed behind the human and Spock was left alone in a room full of silence.



***



Four hours later and he was still staring at the closed door. He noted absently that the rain had let up briefly, though he estimated only 20.8 minutes until it would begin to pour.



Kirk had not returned. And though, it seemed, their previous easy friendship was at an end, he was still responsible for his Captain's safety and well-being. Even if said captain was behaving in a foolhardy fashion.



What was he going to do with all that had occurred? How to safely catalog each angry word and lowering of brows? Under what to file the rain-induced bitterness and the dull uselessness that he felt following Kirk unbidden? And most of all, hardest of all, where to put the handful of gentle words, the firm hands and tender lips met in night-covered kisses?



And he could completely not understand his final reaction of that night, remembering only dimly the sweep of Pon Farr-like fire through his veins and the sudden, aching desire to surround Kirk with his own body...



No, he told himself, NO. It had all gotten quite out of hand.



He put on his cloak, latching it securely at his throat. There was nothing in the room to take, he decided surveying it; anything they had purchased here would look severely out of place anywhere else. On his way out, he paid the desk clerk and informed him they would be vacating the premises. The desk clerk looked at him vacantly.



"We will no longer be needing the room," Spock said slowly.



The man looked down, recounted the credits, and nodded.



By the time Spock reached the assigned rendezvous point, it was raining again. As he neared the place, he saw a figure in the rain, running towards him. Only one being ran with those forceful, depth-pushing strides. Only one whose aim while sprinting was true as an arrow. Spock caught the small disk with one hand well before Kirk's hurried shout.



He turned on his heels to follow Kirk just as the other sped past. He didn't have the human's quarter-mile abilities; Vulcans were much better over the long haul and it would take Spock some seconds to catch up. As he turned, just as the folds of his cape spun to catch the falling rain, he heard the silvery whine of a projectile blast. Felt it seconds after he heard it and, off balance, tumbled to the ground, still clutching the recovered stolen schematics in one fist.



He knew he had not uttered a sound but still Kirk heard body hitting the ground and came rushing back. Water dripped down from Kirk's hair onto Spock's face. Spock felt disoriented, somehow, displaced as Kirk pulled him between damp knees and steadied him there.



"Hold still, Spock," came a distant voice.



He obeyed instantly, of course. No other recourse available when...



A sharpness ripped through his left shoulder as Kirk pulled back and immediately Spock clamped down on the pain. That was the easy part. But there was something else...



“Captain," he said, "I believe there..."



Kirk thrust something in front of his face and Spock forced himself to focus.



"Poisoned dart, Mr. Spock," came the voice again.



Poisoned dart, indeed.



Kirk managed to drag Spock beneath a set of metal stairs. The contact and his men went pounding past, dart guns out, faces angry with rain. He held Spock between his knees, one hand curved around the hot neck, the other pressed against the hard bone of a shoulder.



Emerald blood seeped between his knuckles so that Kirk despaired of it ever slowing, and still Spock clutched the disk in his hand. Kirk knew the wound wasn't fatal by Spock's breathing and his color. And even whatever poison they had used was probably of the stun variety. Information was always easier got from a groggy prisoner than a dead one.



Spock was well into a healing trance, as he should be, his body trunked between Kirk's bent thighs. Kirk held him there, petting the rain from the dark hair, watching the face. He wanted very much to kiss Spock now, now when there'd be no ramifications. To taste Spock again as he had the other night, to wrap the Vulcan in an embrace to his heart.



No, he told himself. NO.



But before pulling the Vulcan across his shoulders, before trotting through the rain to a medical facility, before finding them Federation transport back to Bones and the Enterprise, Kirk allowed himself one small thing.



With the back of one blood-covered hand, he pushed away the damp locks on Spock's forehead. Pressed his lips gently on the side of that forehead and, his eyes tightening, wished somehow, oh somehow, that all of it could have worked out differently.



***



When Spock awoke, he was in a sickbay, which, by the too-loud voice through the doorway, appeared to be on the Enterprise. He was vaguely aware of the wrist and waist restraints, peripherally conscious of the aftereffects of a hypo on his arm and laser surgery on his shoulder.



But foremost in his mind, in the uppermost layers of his conscious ability was the memory of Kirk's eyes, focused on him. Pulling him closer, even as his arms encircled him in the rain. Holding him tightly with reflections of concern, distress, and even a small bit of laughter the second it became apparent that Spock's wound was not fatal.



"Bones'll fix you up," said that voice coming from the pair of lips so recently experienced.



The eyes, the mouth, those arms began to fade, and Spock realized that McCoy was standing over him.



"You're shaking like a leaf, Spock. Not a Vulcan leaf, of course." McCoy pressed a hypo against his arm. "Looks like you got a touch of pneumonia, too. This'll take care of it. You'll be as right as rain in 24 hours."



"No," managed Spock. "No more rain, please."



He imagined he heard McCoy chuckling but couldn't really be sure. A phantom Kirk was again holding him now. Pressing Spock's head against his chest gently with one hand, sweeping the hair back from Spock's fevered face with the other.



"You," said Kirk as the darkness took over. "You."



***



There was an awards ceremony of course, given on Starbase 11 the day Spock was released by McCoy. The Federation decided that medals would be given, it would be good P.R. The doctor had confirmed to Kirk the nature of the poison; indeed, not fatal and very much a truth serum. Kirk made himself stay away until McCoy had satisfied him that the stuff was completely out of Spock's system. There were just too many things Kirk could have found the answer to, and even though those answers would have been the truth, those same answers, however much he wanted to hear them, would have left a bad taste in his mouth.



He was disgusted at himself for having thought of it at all.



So it was dress gold and royal blue and pomp and circumstance and a hall filled with the presence of beings with nothing much else to do except imbibe freely on the Federation's tab. Of course, his loyal contingent from the Enterprise was there to watch Spock and him receive the Validictorious Medal of Honor, as well as a great many more of his crew, delighting in his moment in the spotlight as if it were their own.



By the time he was standing next to Spock to actually receive the thing, after about an hour of speeches, he almost couldn't stop a yawn.



The starbase commander pinned the medals on their chests, bowed and stepped away. Kirk allowed himself a quick glance at Spock, but the other looked at him as if they had just met and he really did not know Kirk at all. There was a long roll of applause and the real party began.



Peace, truce, pax, he said to himself. C'mon Spock, let me in!



But he had betrayed Spock, lied to him, put him in danger, but of course, the worst part was the lie. And for what? To save a world? Restore the integrity of the Federation? To get another medal to add to the useless stockpile he already had? Spock knew that wasn't the reason, but still Kirk had proven beyond any stretch of a wormhole that he could not be trusted.



He found himself a short while later, clutching a brandy and waving away overly hearty congratulations. He'd stuck a smile on his face some time ago and hoped desperately that it was still there and all the while his eyes were on Spock, blue-clad shoulders and smooth hair standing at the edge of a small group of people, beyond the beverage table at the far end of the room.



"You gonna nurse that thing all night?" commented McCoy coming up beside him.



"Yes," Kirk replied, somewhat more grim than he meant to. He broadened his smile.



"Got to maintain the image and all that."



He jerked his eyes to his hands when he realized McCoy was surreptitiously following his line of vision. One look at McCoy and he realized it was too late.



"Anything wrong between you two?"



Kirk allowed himself one small glare.



"And don't' give me that don't ask look. It's really quite simple. First, you never visited him in sickbay, second, you haven't spoken a word to each other since your return, and even when you were standing side by side, you two never so much as looked at each other, so don't tell me nothing's wrong."



"Leave it, Bones," said Kirk, walking away.



"You can't avoid this, Jim," said Bones almost too loudly, "otherwise it's going to come back and hit you in the face."



Kirk strode towards the beverage table, his earlier promise to himself fast on its way to becoming a lie. And ran smack into the path of the Base Commander.



"I wanted to give you one more congratulation before you get swallowed up in the festivities," said the Base Commander. "And I guess you don't know what you would have done without that Vulcan of yours."



Kirk's brows lowered of their own accord. "Pardon me?"



The commander went on, blithely unaware. "Everyone should have a Vulcan like yours."



"I don't...." Kirk stopped, then started again. "I don't own Spock."



"Well, not in the normal sense," amended the man easily, "but you two make quite the pair. Congratulations again to you both." With that he turned and disappeared into the crowd.



Kirk whirled around and bumped, unseeing, into McCoy, his eyes scanning the crowd.



"You won't find him," said McCoy extricating himself from Kirk's grasp.


"Why not?" shot out Kirk, not even questioning now that McCoy understood who he was looking for.



"He just left. Back to his cave, I'magine."



Kirk looked at McCoy sharply, realizing the other was just drunk enough to have a heightened sense of awareness and no compunctions whatsoever about revealing what he observed. There was no way to hide anything from the doctor now, any attempt to do so would only complicate things.



"I'm going to find him, Bones," he said, stepping backwards towards the door. "I'm going to find him."



As he spun on his heel and headed towards the door, he could hear that voice trailing after him.



"And whether or not you do, I want to see you in my office at 0900 tomorrow!"



Kirk waved his hand above his head in assent.



"You can run," yelled McCoy, "but you cannot hide!"



The trip back to the Enterprise was taking too long, way too long. His ancestors back on Earth had patiently traveled across the planet at a mere 60 miles an hour and considered it fast. Air travel had been only marginally better, and Kirk knew that technology had come, literally, light years since then. But even though he now traveled 100,000 miles through airless space in the twinkling of an eye, it still wasn't fast enough.



He moved through the corridors without running, but there must have been something of haste in his movements because every member of the skeleton crew stepped briskly out of his way.



There was nothing in Kirk's mind except the realization of one supreme concept, he must tell Spock the truth. No matter what it might cost him personally, and frankly he didn't care if rumors did carry faster than debris in an ion storm, truth was the one thing Spock revered above all things. To lie was a painful thing to him and only the conscripts of duty or the needs of friendship could cause him to do it, and never, ever for personal gain.



He grabbed the medal from his chest and stuffed it into his utility pocket just has he skidded to a halt in front of Spock's quarters. It didn't occur to him to question that Spock might have gone anywhere else. It didn't occur to him to hesitate before he palmed the buzzer.



There was a silent pause.



"Come," said a voice.



Spock had pulled off his dress-blue jersey and laid it over the back of his desk chair. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at it, watching the blueness recede before him. It was rather, he decided, like meditating using a totally new mantra that, for some reason, worked much better than the old. Great pockets of emptiness began expanding in his head, packing in the corners and exploding towards the center. It wouldn't be long now before he felt absolutely nothing at all.



He know the truth of course, had known it long ago. He would always love Jim Kirk. But of course, that didn't make any difference now.



The door buzzer rang. His adrenaline glands shot into high gear, and he subdued it, and forced the slowing of his too-rapid heartbeat.



But how did he know it was Kirk? The mere sound of the buzzer betrayed no more personality than a computer-generated voice, so how did he know? He quickly shut that thought away with all the others and sealed them behind locked doors.



"Come," he said.



Kirk stepped into the room, his upper body in shadows cast by the Vulcan night lighting. Spock could see that he still wore his dress gold, held his body in the stance of command, hands in fists at his sides. He knew the chin was jutted out, assurance and battle blazing in his Captain's eyes.



Then Kirk took another step forward, and Spock realized this wasn't strictly true.



Oh, the chin was thrust out, but in symphony with the clenched fists and tight mouth, became instead a representation of determination and, beneath that, fear. His Captain was not sure of himself at all.



This thought alone made Spock sit very, very still.



"Please come in, Captain."



Kirk came forward and seemed somewhat surprised to see him sitting on the bed.



The human went over to the chair, picked up the tunic and sat down, gripping it in his hands. His back was to Spock now, and he watched Kirk's neck lengthen as he bent his head forward.



He was about to inquire as to the nature of this visit, when he heard Kirk's voice, almost inaudible. "I came to explain something to you, Spock," Kirk said, and Spock could see that he was looking at the tunic in his hands quite hard.



The human stood up and stepped over to where Spock was sitting. As he neared, Spock stood up, causing Kirk to look up at him. Kirk swallowed visibly and stepped back, handing Spock his shirt. Spock took it and let it fall on the bed.



"You were going to explain," he prompted.



Kirk nodded at the wall, the heel of one hand locked in the palm of the other. "About why I went on that mission, about everything...and I told you before what Finnegan said to me."



Spock nodded, his eyes never leaving Kirk's.



"I'm here because what Finnegan said was true. And I reacted badly not because it was true, but because I hadn't realized it until he told me. Finnegan has a number of talents that will never be tapped by the Federation, namely his ability to lay his hands on the absolute truth, no matter how improbable, or painful.



He looked at Spock expectantly, eyes wide, waiting for a response. It seemed to Spock that Kirk desperately longed for the Vulcan to understand without him having to go any further. But Spock could not bring himself to base anything on supposition alone. He drew the conversation from his memory.



"I believe," he said, his voice perfectly without inflection, "that this was the conversation we never finished. I was about to encourage you to explain further as to the depth of your response. You seemed reluctant to do so and changed the subject."



Kirk sighed. "You know why I was angry, Spock?"



The Vulcan shook his head silently.



"Because when you followed me to Tantris, you validated everything Finnegan said. You intended to be my bodyguard, because, of course, I can't manage without my Vulcan. And did you know that the Base Commander thinks we're a couple?"



"I did not—"



"Everyone on the ship, even, links our names together. We are an established pair, and when Finnegan made his remark, it scared me because I realized I had grown used to seeing you there."



Kirk began pacing the room, and Spock stood very still, watching him go back and forth, like a lemata approaching a water hole he knows to be dangerous but also that he can't do without. And the Vulcan listened.



"Wherever I go, Spock, there you are. I look down and your shadow is locked with mine. I stand, I feel your breath on my neck. I cannot move but to have you there. And you know what?"



Spock raised his eyebrows in response.



"I have grown to depend on the fact that you are there, right at my side, always. When you showed up at my door, I wasn't really surprised, just angry that, even for once, I wouldn't be able to function without you. Not like I wanted to, you understand, but like had to. Once you arrived, there was no way I could let you go. I wasn't going to be able to do without you, and then I realized I didn't want to."



Kirk lifted his face, tight and earnest with his desire to have Spock understand.



Spock found that he could hardly believe this wealth that was being given him. He doubted that there were many to whom Kirk would reveal so much.



"I discovered that I need to have someone following, some who, when I shout here we go! is only a half-step behind me. Like a faithful hound, or a best friend. And I sometimes feel bad that I seemed to need you only for the assistance you give me, the boosts to my career, for example. Half the medals I have I owe to you."



Here he paused to bring out the medal that Spock suddenly noticed was not pinned to his chest. He laid it on the computer desk with a small clink.



"More actually, if you count the ones I got because you stayed behind and I could go forward because I knew the Enterprise was in safe hands.



"And then you came to Tantris." A hand through his hair, a distracted look around the room as if recreating the scene on the planet. "We established that you didn't need to stay; it was a one man-mission. No danger; no need for a bodyguard. But I asked you to stay because I wanted your company, and you stayed because I asked.



"And there you were again, filling all of my needs. It seemed to make me even angrier, because I felt guilty about being so selfish and had, at the same time, no concept...It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what you needed. I never have.



"And I began to wonder if it was possible that your accompanying me or that my need to have you there was more than a command function or an officer's duty...anyway, does that make sense?"



Spock lowered his head and laced his hands behind his back. Kirk came to stand in front of him, head also bowed, hands locked tightly behind him. Spock tried to catch his eye.



"Why do humans," he began conversationally, "have so much trouble revealing the truth, when concealing it alters nothing?"



He sensed Kirk start, but forced himself to remain perfectly still.



"Sometimes...well, sometimes it can be...scary."



Spock allowed himself to look at the captain intently now, raising his head slowly and made no move to go forward.



"Scary? Please explain."



Kirk took a huge breath. "Because Finnegan revealed to me how much I depended on you, how much I needed you. To, to need like that makes me afraid, unselfsufficient. When I welshed on our agreement, it was one final attempt to be self-sufficient. I don't like being dependent."



"Why?"



"Because, when that happens, I'm no longer a singular entity."



"Is that preferable?"



"Normally, yes, but not when the other half of myself is you."



"Your argument seems rather circular, Captain."



"Yes, I know."



Spock ignored his disappointment that the human trailed off just as he seemed to be arriving at the very crux of his dilemma. He wanted to know more, to inquire further into the complexity that was his captain, but the human had reached his limit. He stood stock-still, shoulders slumped, a grey cast to his face.



But what could he do? What should his response be? He had no practice at this type of interaction, and he could never be as brave as Kirk in this regard. Of course, they could both go at a group of Klingons even if outnumbered. Kirk would even go at them himself, outweighed by kilos, though this was a mark of his devil-doesn't-care-I'll-go-down-if-I-take-some-of-them-with-me attitude. But Spock knew it went beyond the physical.



This was a bravery that he knew he was missing, that extra burst of confidence that would allow him to approach his friend and reveal himself inside. To humans, he knew that it was an extremely humble thing to apologize, but Spock felt the stirrings of something within him.



I am the one who is humbled, he thought. You are a good man, James Kirk.



To follow where Kirk led was not a thing he did blindly, but, instead, gladly. It was a quiet gladness to be sure, and its subtle nature aside, he was sure Kirk could detect it. But this time, he could not follow, nor reciprocate.



"I know this is not the Vulcan way," said Kirk, with his half smile, "but, friends?"



He didn't hold out his hand, Spock noticed, or did he move any closer as Spock had noted humans did when making relationship affirmations like these. But Kirk needed this assurance, this closure. And Spock bowed his head, making his shoulders relax, his hands drop to his sides. "Friends."



He watched Kirk go, and remained where he was, stationed in the middle of the room, for a number of hours.



***



Kirk made his way to McCoy's office promptly at 0900 as ordered and briefly told McCoy the trouble with Finnegan.



"I mean, he was telling the truth Bones, that's why his comments always hit home. I guess this time I backed away from it."



"All the way to Tantris?" asked McCoy dryly.



"Pretty stupid, huh?"



"Well, you picked a good time to fall apart over it; but it looks like you figured it out alright."



Kirk nodded.



"Is there anything else I need to know about?"



"Well, I apologized to Spock so I think that's okay. There's a few rough spots, but those will smooth with time."



"Well, if you ever need any kindly, friendly advice, you know where my shingle is."



"You mean your template."



"Whatever. Now scram. And remember this, you have over 400 people counting on you, would it be so bad, really, to allow yourself to count on one of them once in a while?"



"Guess not," replied Kirk. "Thanks, Bones."



***



That night, Spock buzzed at the human's door, stationed himself in front of Kirk's desk, and without much aplomb, began to speak.



"I was considering what you said yesterday. It must have been difficult for you to reveal so much."



"Well," said Kirk with a small smile, "telling you the truth wasn't half as scary as knowing you didn't know the truth." He knew that sounded fairly ridiculous, but Spock didn't seem to mind.



"There were some other things I thought we ought to discuss." He seemed overly formal, even for Spock. "The Incident, for one."



"You mean, the kiss?"



"I realize that you tend to act upon your impulses, and allow your inner drives free physical rein. I wanted to know if you had additional information regarding the meaning of your...actions."



This was difficult for Spock, just as it had been for Kirk. But, true to form, the Vulcan squared his shoulders, laced his arms behind his back and plowed through it.



"Was your kiss related to your dilemma between what you dismissed as merely officer's duty and command function and the somewhat inarticulate gladness you attempted to explain it away as?"



"Huh?"



"Do you feel there is a connection between your kiss and your confusion between what you considered my duty and Finnegan's truth?"



"What?"



Spock sighed and tried again. "Did you kiss me because you were confused that you were pleased that I stayed even though there was no valid reason for me to do so?"



"I think so."



Spock waited for more.



"Well, it was like I said..." he began, and then realized that Spock need, deserved even, the truth.



"I think," he said slowly, "that the truth of the matter is...well, when I was sitting there, and we were playing chess, and you were there...right there with me like you always were, and suddenly what Finnegan said seemed to matter a little less, and how I felt for you a little more. And I remembered that I'd realized it long ago..."



"Realized what?"



"Realized how much I...cared for you."



Spock looked completely puzzled.



"Do you remember when you went blind and got your sight back...well, I was so glad, so very glad."



Spock nodded slowly.



"No," continued Kirk, for in his mind it was imperative that Spock understand. At all costs. "No, I mean it was then I knew what I would miss, and in knowing that, how much you meant to me."



The Vulcan looked at him sharply, and in that moment, his gaze felt quite heavy.



"Interesting," he replied, "and just what is it you would have missed?"



"I knew I would miss you looking at me."



The way you are now, your eyes liquid dark.



The Vulcan reclasped his hands behind his back and seemed to be on the verge of taking a step forward.



"When you told us you were blind," he said, desperation rising, "I thought I would have killed Bones had it made everything alright."



"My eyes are not worth a man's life," replied Spock.



"Oh, yes," said Kirk, "yes they are."



Spock blinked.



Something surged through Kirk like the push of a solar tide. "I never knew that loosing you to blindness would make me want to rip and maim and tear. A person who is blind can do a zillion things, Spock, being a First Officer on a military vessel is not one of them. They would have taken you away and I would have lost you forever. And you would never know how much I love you."



"I—I was not aware," said Spock.



There was an enormous silence; it filled the room. Kirk made himself meet Spock's gaze, the gaze that viewed everything in the world with the same intensity, everything from a recording disk to a stellar nova.



Had he just said it, had he just said those words? Yes, there was no denying it, he had. Not that he wanted to take them back, anyhow. He did feel that way. But telling Spock was another matter; telling Spock was always another matter.



Kirk forced himself to shrug. "Anyway, there it all is." He smiled, allowing himself to look away. "And kissing you, well, it seemed to express best what I wanted to say."



"I have noted," replied the Vulcan dryly, "that you have a somewhat kinesthetic personality."



Kirk sat on his chair, seeking solace from the surrounding artifacts.



"We've always been friends, Spock," he said. "Good friends. I'm just hoping, well I was hoping you could forgive me, not just for the Tantris stuff, but for embarrassing you now and putting you on the spot."



More silence.



He looked up. Spock was still standing there, ever stoic, hands behind his back, seeming to Kirk to be only waiting till he was sure Kirk had no more to say.



"Spock..." Kirk whispered to himself, only moving his lips, with no force behind the word.



"I have been thinking," said the statue, "of an incident which might have been, had I been you, addressed in a similar fashion."



Of course he means badly, thought Kirk.



"It regards the incident over planet Alpha 177, when I first began to notice you in some capacity other than that of a captain."



Now Kirk's eyebrows shot up to his hairline.



"Do you recall the trouble we had with the transporter?"



It was typical of Spock, Kirk realized, to diminish the unmitigated hell the transporter had put them all through as mere trouble. But that was Spock's way. Yes he did remember the incident; his life had been in danger, but then again, it had been a dozen times since.



"What about it?"



"When you were beamed up as two separate entities, I began to discover a great deal about you."



With a shock, Kirk realized that Spock was telling his own version of Kirk's when I noticed I really cared for you story.



"Of course I was fascinated by the fact that your so-called bad half was where you command capabilities lay, and that your so-called good half contained, as humans would say, a heart as soft as butter. But to survive, those two parts of yourself had to recombine and remain together, reminding me of a being not unlike myself. You became familiar, and I became...fascinated."



Kirk smiled. He'd never been the object of Spock's fascination before.



"Parts of you, I have since discovered, are more Vulcan than I could ever hope to be. At the same time, you never allow this part of yourself to take over. You seem to be able to maintain a balance of your inner selves. I respect this, I admire it. And when I am with you, I am better able to balance the dichotomy within myself. You give me balance, and I become more myself with you."



"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"



He looked at Spock, who did not reply. There on his face, in his eyes, was the brightness against the dark, the sudden flare that lit Spock from within. And Kirk knew that he didn't have to know what Spock's earlier kiss meant, or whether the Vulcan loved him. The answer was there, in his eyes, all the time.



It occurred to Kirk in one blindingly bright second that Spock said I love you in every thing that he did, every move, every word. Masked as loyalty, it was there, always. He stepped closer, willing his legs to hold him, clasping his hands tightly together.



"May I?"



Spock's face instantly drew itself into the planes of a Vulcan mask, the one he used to wear quite often, but that had recently, until this moment, become mostly obsolete. It seemed to be covering some deeper, inexplicable emotion, gathering, Kirk thought, like a tsunami might.



All this told Kirk, on the other hand, that what they were discussing did matter, that his kisses had affected the Vulcan. On the other other hand, that Spock had submitted to his kisses once did not necessarily mean that he would again, especially with everything out in the open as it was.



Why do I always ask for what I want?



Maybe to Spock, the physical connection was unimportant. Maybe he simply enjoyed the nearness they shared, their proximity with each other. Sometimes, on the bridge, they didn't interact for hours.



Why is it always what you want, Kirk?



Sometimes what he wanted was so clear in his own mind that he had trouble communicating it to others. Sam, for example, had understood why his younger brother wanted to take to the stars. But why, he'd asked, why the Federation, a starship? It didn't do dad any good. The then sixteen year old Academy entrant had an unintelligible answer; years in the Federation had taught him a well rehearsed, well received answer that went along the lines of to boldly go where no man, etc. Or something like that.



But to explain it really, oh, that was another story altogether. The answer to his wanderlust remained forever locked in the inarticulate part of his soul, vaguely linked with the pull of desire to know the unknown or explore the unseen.



Inarticulate, vague, unvocalized pulling...the same thing that urged him to desire Spock now, to make love to him.



And he knew, or hoped he knew, that he didn't want to make love to Spock simply because he'd never done so before. To make love with someone for the first time was always exciting, but a known partner was more deeply satisfying.



The anticipation of knowing Spock intimately was nearly sending him over the edge, but he contained himself. To lay hands on that slim, angular form and bring him to sexual satisfaction, or have Spock's body moving against him in that slow and careful way he had, to have Spock know him sexually as well as he did himself, the desire for that connection was riveting itself to his soul.



And so he waited, made himself wait, until the word was given. And he knew, more than anything he wanted Spock to understand, to know the part of himself of which he could not speak.



The Vulcan watched as the human watched him with eyes the color of moss covered stones that lay in the bottom of still pools in a fast moving river. Watched as he held himself, out of courtesy, absolutely still.



Spock did not want to admit that he was shocked at the request, but not to admit it would be a lie. He did not know which was worse.



And here again was the manifestation of Kirk's kinesthetic orientation, that all thought must be expressed in action, and that no action was on a more supreme level than that which had to do with sexual intimacy. Thus, so far, was his theory on Captain Kirk.



A kiss was what Kirk was asking for, asking for, Spock reminded himself, requesting instead of taking. With all the seriousness in his face worthy of a command decision.



He had several other kisses from Kirk recorded in his memory, carefully filed away. He analyzed them now, carefully taking them out, handling their phantom edges with mental hands.



There had been seven in all, and after the third, Spock had decided that his body had responded in such a way as to denote further study. So he had, he told himself, allowed it to continue, giving what, he thought, to Kirk was, the ultimate challenge: an unsatisfied sex partner. Years had taught him this; he was gratified to see his hypothesis validated.



But after the seventh kiss, like some ancient seal being ripped away, he had felt the vestiges of Pon Farr ripple, hot and unstoppable like migrating sand dunes. It had taken everything Vulcan in him to shove Kirk away; the memory was not pleasant. It lay like some mangled pile of flesh in the back edges of his mind, quite near, he imagined, the failed ans-whan and his father's ceremonial rejection. The only thing more clear in his mind than Kirk's muffled gasp was taste of human lips upon his own. Some alien, earthy salt, the rolling warmth of sea-born air across his cheek.



Before it had taken over, before he managed to fold the contours of Kirk's form to his own, Spock made himself clamp down with every Vulcan muscle he owned. They ached even now.



Kirk's betrayal the following day had made everything worse. Something akin to an ancient acid began to spin in his stomach, some familiar weariness made him want to close his eyes forever.



But...



Kirk had apologized, had explained. He had not placed any conditions on this, only that Spock understand. And, to his surprise, Spock did understand. He knew well what the taunts of others could drive a person to. So, he had forgiven Kirk. Forgiven him everything.



But still...



He didn't have to say yes. Didn't even have to reply. Just remain silent until he could go away and they resumed their former friendship.



But still, Kirk had asked, and he usually a man who did not. What amazed Spock, and yes, he was amazed, though he would never admit it aloud in case it should get back to the good doctor, that Kirk was willing to risk rejection. It seemed to Spock that Kirk was stepping off a cliff without knowing whether or not Spock would catch him. Either that or he trusted blindly that Spock would be there (and Spock realized that he tended to be rather predictable), or he didn't care. Or did care, depending upon the way one looked at it, so much that he would rather risk it and maybe have Spock or not try and never have him.



None of this was making sense.



Kirk was still waiting, brindling with impatience, and tempering that with a tight-mouthed stillness. But in his eyes was an acceptance Spock had seldom seen. The message there was as clear as standard, more clear than his own native tongue: love, always. No matter what.



And if Kirk could risk it, who was he not to follow?



"It," Spock said carefully, so as not to be misconstrued, "is permitted."



Kirk's face fell into a frown. "Spock, that sounds as if you don't want it."



"On the contrary, I do."



"But it sounds like you're willing just because you know I want it."



"What makes you think," replied Spock, realizing his voice was just this side of sharpness, "that everything I do is for you?"



Kirk did not move closer, but he seemed to, the essence of his force closing the gap between them while his body moved not at all. His hands came up. "Oh, but it is, Spock, and don't argue, 'cause you know its true. Do this," he waved one hand as if to define what he meant in the air, "this, because you want it, because we want it, but don't do it because you think I want it."



Spock considered this. It was true that if something were for Kirk's benefit, his well-being, even his pleasure, not to mention the Enterprise or its crew (almost the same thing for Kirk), than he was more inclined to take care of a problem or solution personally.



And now, here was Kirk, saying that even in this, this human pleasure, Spock's goal was to tend to Kirk's needs rather than his own.



Spock wondered what would Kirk say if he were to inform his good Captain that he had no idea what his sexual needs were let alone any concept of how to meet them. How much sleep, how much and what to eat, the boundaries of his privacy, the temperature of his room; these needs he knew to his bones and could recite in his sleep. But this...so vast an unknown, he didn't even know where to begin.



"You voyage uncharted seas," he said quietly, not thinking Kirk would hear.



But Kirk did and his head snapped up, eyes boring into Spock's.



And in that second, Spock for the first time knew something on an instinctual level without the benefit of empirical data: that Kirk understood. It was such a leap of faith for him that he almost felt his brain cells click with surprise. That Kirk not only knew what he meant, but that he felt the same way, that he too had struggled with communicating, even understanding, his own needs.



Still Spock did not know where to begin.



As if seeing Spock's hesitation, Kirk moved forward now. "May I show you?" he asked, this time inquiring whether he could give instead of take.



And Spock realized that he preferred to follow. In the tiresomely oft-repeated statement, he had revealed one of his essential truths: he did not want to captain a starship. To be second in command gave one the freedom and leverage to do far more interesting things. Like research, collecting data, working on pet theories, or recalibrating the ship's computer to his own exacting standards.



Bones had often scoffed at this, not understanding the underlying and essential meaning. But Spock had felt that it would take far too long to explain properly and Bones, true to his contrary nature, would still think, still insist that he knew there was some truer, deeper meaning.



And to follow Kirk, as he did now to the bed, being led by one hand, was an adventure in itself. The human had a zest for all things, and a lively mind that made up in exuberance and the embrace of IDIC for what it lacked in temperance. To engage with Kirk in any way was to find oneself going headlong into whatever the occupation or pleasure happened to be available. Spock picked up more data, experienced more new things firsthand by simply, as McCoy would put it, hanging on Kirk's coattails than he ever would on his own. And it was not that he couldn't, indeed, he sometimes even preferred to research on his own. But to accompany Kirk chanced him across concepts or conclusions it would have taken his logical, linear mind far longer to conclude at.



But as he lay face down on the bed as Kirk was indicating, he knew he also wanted to see what his body would to when Kirk touched him.



Kirk made Spock take off his blue tunic and then slowly pushed him down on the bed. He kicked off his boots and straddled his first officer's back, allowing himself to levitate in the moment. Not to pause or question, but to lay his cheek along the bare patch of skin just above Spock's undershirt. The heat radiating off him enveloped Kirk like a warm embrace.



He ran his hands up and down. Spock's body was hard all over with ingenious and marvelous indentations in the most unexpected places. As he stretched out his legs, overlapping the Vulcan's, he let his hands roam over the warm flesh of arms and shoulders. Felt the taunt line of muscles along the back of the neck and the smooth crease behind each tilted ear.



"You are so soft here," said Kirk almost whispering.



"Indeed," replied the low voice.



"Are you alright?" Kirk asked, his hands pausing, lifting his head slightly to look at the side of Spock's face. He didn't want Spock to just humor him in this.



"I am unused to being on the receiving end of these manipulations, Captain," came the muffled voice again.



Kirk shifted his body and slid off Spock slowly, allowing his weight to linger, letting one leg remain in the space between Spock's. All the while planting the smallest of kisses along the length of Spock's arm.



He planted one on Spock's parted lips. "Is this okay?" He would stop right now if it was, he swore to himself. Right now if Spock wasn't liking it.



"It is not," came the voice, and Kirk's heart froze for a moment before he realized that Spock meant to go on, "it is not unlike Pon Farr...."



Kirk raised his eyebrows in question, knowing he did not need to speak, running his hands along the curve of Spock's back.



"...except in that I am able to see and to speak quite clearly." There was another pause as Kirk ran his fingers into the Vulcan's hairline, sweeping the black strands everywhichway. "My thinking processes, however, seem to be somewhat muddled."



"Well," said Kirk, adjusting his face on the pillow closer to Spock's, "that's what a good hardon will do for you."



His own erection was singing quite strongly now, sending little shock waves up and down his back.

"Sorry, Spock, didn't mean to be so crude."



"Is that not the norm?"



Kirk moved in closer for another kiss, sighing as he absorbed Spock into his lungs.



"It depends," he replied, sighing again. "Some like the more romantic stuff. Which would you prefer?"



Spock seemed to consider this with as much care as he might have a question regarding ship's status, or whether an unknown entity was life as they knew it. Kirk felt his smile growing from within.



"Whichever," said Spock finally, "is standard for you."



"You're doing it again," Kirk growled, taking Spock's lower lip between his teeth.



The Vulcan responded to this, responded instead of reacted, by snaking one hand from beneath his pillow and curved it around Kirk's neck. Entered into the kiss with a responding nip of his own, and said, with a breath, "I, then, would prefer an eclectic mixture, depending upon the whimsy of mood and circumstance."



Kirk's smile became a groan, rising in his throat, and he leaned up to push Spock onto his back against the pillows.



"Could I...could you take this off?" He tugged at a black fold of Spock's undershirt.



Spock complied, reaching down and pulling it up over his head. Kirk ran his hands through the mat of black curls, drawing through the tips of his fingers the heat of Vulcan flesh. Swept his hands up along the length of Spock's torso, with the adoration one used with a marble statue, with a feeling that museum guards were going to be along any second to order him to put his hands down and step away from the display. For he felt, somehow, that he shouldn't ought to be touching, should only be admiring and that from afar, the slope of the dusky ribcage or the curve of muscle in the front of each arm. He swept a hand, one each, along the undersides of Spock's upper arm and down again following the outer lines of his chest. Watched Spock's mouth open with a silent sigh, seemingly almost involuntary, and swept his hands up again.



"You like that?" he said against Spock's chest as he kissed it.



He felt Spock nod above him. "Yes, but how—"



"Your body tells me everything I need to know," Kirk answered, looking up. And in response, the

Vulcan nodded, a small, agreeable frown on his face.



"But how does the body tell you these things?" Spock asked, sitting up on his elbows.



Kirk rose on his knees and pulled his shirt and undershirt over his head and presented himself to the Vulcan with a flourish.



"The whole of the human body," he began, in teacher-like fashion, "is a tactile organ."



He saw Spock swallow a smile and went on. "When you touch it, it reacts. But," here he held up a warning finger, "the physical reaction is only half as important as the mental reaction to the same stimulus. D'you get that?"



"For example?"



Kirk took hold of Spock's hand and rotated it so that the inside of his wrist was exposed. He touched it with one finger. "There's touch number one," he said. "Now, I'm going to touch you in the same spot, with the same intensity, but in a different way. And I want you to listen to your body."



He placed his lips carefully over the raised tendon and touched it gently with the tip of his tongue. Spock's arm quivered.



"Your body told me that you liked that," Kirk continued, raising his head. "Had you jerked your hand or pulled your body away, I would have know that you did not. However, you also leaned towards me, almost as if asking me to continue."



Spock tipped his head to one side in acceptance. "This seems somewhat self-evident and I regret not having observed it before."



"Would you care to try yourself, Mr. Spock?"



"Yes."



"Then touch me. Anywhere."



Spock considered the half-naked human before him. Kirk had instructed Spock to touch him, seemingly aware of Spock's own hidden impulse to do that very selfsame thing.



And if Kirk wanted Spock to be selfish about his own needs and desires, then what was Spock to do but oblige him?



Spock had wanted this, longer than forever it seemed, but the actual idea was quite new, only half-formed when Kirk had first kissed him. And now, as he reached out, he wondered at ever having not known it. Was his hand shaking as he lay the last three fingers of one hand along the curve of Kirk's chest muscles? No, it was not, but the other one was, trembling in a rigid fist behind his back.



He withdrew the fingers, holding them aloft before him, and glanced at them only once more as he beheld Kirk.



"Cool and warm," he said, his voice low, "I was not aware that passion had a temperature."



Kirk reached for Spock's hand and with his own, flattened it to curve around his breast, wordless. The human's head tipped back as his throat lengthened, and Spock felt the push of his lungs as he emitted a sigh.



"Is that correct?" asked the Vulcan.



Kirk brought his head forward, his eyes half-lidded, lips fuller, a somewhat hectic flush to his cheeks.



“Whatever you want to do, Spock," said Kirk, a small, pleasurable smile curving his mouth as he did so.



From one touch, this. Wonderment.



Impulse was not foreign to Spock, not in the normal sense. But impulses were to be hunted and trapped like quarry, snagged in mid-flight and trampled ruthlessly until they lay quite still without twitching. Normally only logic ruled, and where it did so, impulse was an outcast.



But here in this room, where Kirk had asked may I and he had replied his permission, impulse was given free reign, limited only to this room and his secret desire.



Between that thought and his next breath, he pressed Kirk back among the pillows, and covered him with his own body, elbows and arms curved around Kirk's shoulders, his hands laced over the fair hair, his torso and legs on top of Kirk's and their faces only inches apart. Kirk's face was in half darkness, shadowed by Spock's body, trapped there, unable to move, and all the while his eyes shining, allowing Spock the courage to move into the deepness of his arms and kiss Kirk solidly on the mouth.



Kirk opened to him, moved to meet him, with the force that Spock had often wondered at, having watched Kirk kissing many a time. Now it was his to press against, to join with and taste: salt, tender satin, and the flavor of gold.



Spock drew back for air, and surrendered again, submerging himself in Kirk's breath, in ocean seas and human dust, the Kirk-scent he knew and now tasted for the first time. Moisture inhaled, fragrance tasted, all in the meeting of an orifice he'd previously only considered for eating and speaking.



His pulled his mouth away, and, sensing that Kirk was struggling for breath, slipped his mouth to the hardness of Kirk's jawbone, the tender resilience beneath an ear and the column of throat that ached beneath his tongue.



A new pleasure, this, to enjoy a taste instead of simply swallowing for sustenance.



He paused for a moment to savor the pulse, double-quick, of Kirk's heartbeat. The taste of salt intensified as he moved his tongue along the dip above the elegant curve of bone; heated salt in the center of his neck.



Kirk was having a harder time breathing now, hands moving up to clasp Spock's waist, and pushing as if lifting him slightly. Spock rolled up, recurved his one arm around Kirk's shoulders to draw him close, the other spilling itself over the warm flesh, soft where it was soft, more firm where it was so, and brushed against the hardness between Kirk's legs as he did so. Kirk suddenly pushed against him, startled, an anticipatory half-breath catching in his throat, eyes glistening, half-closed.



Watch the body, Kirk had said. See what it does.



The scientist translated: when you do this, he moves thus.



He swept his hands across Kirk's sex again; the human arched against him, a short, vocal sigh on his lips. His hand undid the fastening on Kirk's pants, and pushed to the warmth of its own accord. Kirk reached up with his one free hand as if to stay him; one quick adjustment brought Spock's curved arm beneath him in contact with that hand. He caught and held it against Kirk's own body, tightly, almost behind him. Pressed Kirk's chest against his own. Trapped the human there.



There was a quick snort of surprise from Kirk, swallowed even faster by the hunger that overcame Spock's mouth. Moved his hand up, felt the ragged breath against his own double-time one, and down again, at once catching the rhythm, the almost predestined rise and fall of Kirk's chest against his, the push and withdraw of Kirk's hips, and the small surface of flesh between cloth driving his hand, Kirk's heart, the heat of sex rising up and encompassing him. Occlusion impossible, separation impossible, and the meeting and his eyes never leaving Kirk's face.



Kirk pushed his head back into the pillows, the length of Spock's arm causing him to tip his head. Throat arched, mouth open slightly, an almost seemingly pained gasp.



Spock paused. Kirk's head whipped toward him, green fire in his eyes, flushed cheeks against his golden skin, mouth tight as if willing himself not to beg Spock to continue.



How many times had Spock watched Kirk exit with a woman on his arm, never allowing himself to imagine what went beyond that reality. Imagining without data was something Spock did not do; there had been nothing to prepare him for Kirk's whisper.



"Spock, please..."



Movement. Hand and hardness, Kirk's breath fast against his neck, the human body meshing against his own. This is what drove the human, all points narrowed to one, the ultimate focus, and the physical connection that almost transcended the mind-meld. Moving from undulation to an irreverent hammering, and the final sharp gasp of air, and Kirk's hot fluid searing his palm, slipping in jets through his fingers.



Kirk's sigh as he collapsed against Spock was almost a sob, but whether through profound release or regret at pleasure's end, he did not know. Perhaps it was both.



I have caused it thus.



The drying coolness against his hand, Kirk moving himself into the curve of Spock's body, humming against his neck as that body twitched with aftershocks, all of these gained nothing, learned nothing, created nothing. They were for pleasure and pleasure alone.



Perhaps there are benefits of which I am not aware, he thought, tipping his head down to brush his lips against Kirk's moist forehead.



He had never seen Kirk as he was now, body relaxed against his, in a sort of somnolence, a pleased exhaustion if the small curve of a smile was anything to go by. Perhaps a day at the beach relaxed him as much with far less exhaustion. But certainly eight hours of sand and sun did not reduce the human to this boneless oblivion.



I, thought Spock, am responsible. He felt, serenely, quite pleased with himself.



With one final shudder, Kirk could finally open his eyes, finally breathe with something resembling moderation, even though the waves of heat from Spock still warmed him all over.



"Spock," he said to the still face, "where did you learn how to do that?"



The Vulcan glanced sideways at him, and Kirk desperately hoped Spock wasn't embarrassed. He seemed so still, reflective...



"Just as you knew what my body wanted," Spock said carefully, "so my body knew what my mind wanted."



"But how?" To his knowledge, the Vulcan had no experience whatsoever.



"My hand did as you wished it."



Kirk froze. Stared hard at the tiny pull of muscle at the corner of Spock's eyes. No, not embarrassment. Instead, pleasure. Pride.



Could it be possible to move closer without becoming one body? No, it was not, but Kirk tried anyway, turning again into Spock's neck, feeling the broad arm sweep up behind him and draw him still closer.



"Let me show you," Kirk whispered. "Let me..."



Spock shook his head, eyes closing slightly. "It is unnecessary. Your pleasure is already mine."



"No," Kirk sighed into the pointed ear, "you need some of your own. Pleasure for no one else, no one but you."



"It is unnecessary," he said again. "Pon Farr..."



Kirk moved his arm out of Spock's now gentle grasp and reached up to touch Spock's face. It was the smallest of contacts but enough to turn the other to look at him. A small sadness pulled at Spock's face, dimming the underground fire.



"Pon Farr, population levels and controls aside," said Kirk, "is the ridiculous buildup of emotional and sexual drives."



"It serves its purpose."



"Look," said Kirk, "oh, I can't believe we're having this conversation now. Pon Farr serves no purpose except as a nod to tradition."



"It is the Vulcan way."



"I'm not knocking Pon Farr, Spock," he said, kissing the Vulcan on the chin, "just that now is not the time to adhere."



Spock lay, unreplying.



"If you want to know this experience, to know sex, you need to complete it. How can you decide if you want to do this or not again if you don't complete your observations?"



Spock blinked. "What observations?"



"Your body. Your body being pleasured."



There was only silence. Kirk switched to his earlier tactics. "If you have a buildup of water behind a dam, wouldn't it make sense to release the water a little at a time instead of allowing it to build to dangerous levels?"



"That would seem logical, however, I am not a dam."



"Yes, I know, and neither are you a fish." Kirk paused to smile. "Well, then?"



"What would happen next?"



"You allow me to give you what you need."



"What—what if I do not know?"



"I will watch you," Kirk promised, "and then I will know."



He watched the Vulcan's face as the clear logic and unmitigated desire washed over him. Spock almost jumped as Kirk cupped his hand around the other's jaw.



"C'mon, Spock," Kirk whispered against the parted lips, "let me give for once."



Spock's ribs pushed up beneath the surface of flesh, and Kirk trammeled his fingers along them, kissing bits of them, and petting them smooth. It was like playing with fire. Down the length of waist, impossibly slim, enticingly iron, hot iron. He undid Spock's black trousers and reached within, pushing aside the regulation undergarment, to gather the hardening beneath. Cupped in his hands the flesh between Spock's thighs and pushed Spock's sex towards his open mouth. Felt Spock's body jerk, and paused, turning his eyes only slightly to look at his first officer.



Spock's arms were wide outspread, hands fisted around wrinkles of bedclothes, dark head lifted from the white pillow. And in his eyes, the pain of resistance, the pain of acceptance. On the verge of begging for release; again, the wanting with no knowledge of how to go about obtaining that release.



Kirk's heart pounded in his throat. "May I?”



The voice that came forth was low and husky, an unused thing. "It is—" he began.



Kirk cut him off by lowering his mouth on that hardness, releasing the moisture of his mouth to absorb the first tart taste. Which eased into a bright sweetness as he moved along the Vulcan's length. One hand lightly stroked its base, the other still between taut legs, brushing against the wiry hairs.



Motion. Motion and hardness. Moisture. Again. The swirl of his tongue along the extra ridge. Submersion. Swallowing. It was almost like drowning. So much so that he could not at first feel the steel fingers on his upper arm. Not until his bones ached with the pressure of a Vulcan grip.



He stopped. Released Spock, eyes half-closed, seeing only a blood-haze, feeling only the pounding between his hands.



"I cannot control." It was a plea, and Kirk's soul ached.



"We come only to serve," he said, after the Vulcan fashion.



And then Spock allowed it, pushing his head and shoulders into the pillows and arching his hips towards Kirk's mouth. The human mouth accepted the Vulcan hardness, the pounding against the back of his throat. The tireless pushing of Spock's hips and legs, his one hand still on Kirk's arm, gripping till it began to go numb.



Release, thought Kirk, oh, release.



Release...



Release...



Spock's cry, a moan so low as to be almost inaudible, the push of liquid down the back of his throat, alien salt and heat. Taste of desert, tang of Vulcan wind. Almost bitter.



Swallow. Swallow again. It was on the edge of too much. Kirk's knees were liquid beneath him and he rested his head on Spock's stomach, eyes closed. And was astonished. Spock and he had gone to sexual completion he'd never known. Never like this, never in such a way, to a state they had just achieved with only his lips and Spock's hand.



I can never let this go.



Selfish.



Only two weeks ago he'd been running because he'd felt that he was too close, too dependent upon his first officer. Now he knew he would give just about anything to have Spock with him forever.



You are so easy to please, Kirk, he told himself. One good orgasm and you're hooked.



But wasn't sex the completion of everything else they'd been through? The fact that Spock was guardian, companion, friend, and now lover? Now he'd come full circle. He had it all. He would not let it go. Whatever it took; whatever Spock wanted.



Spock was filled with heat from within. He felt like the Red Plains of Vulcan, a vast, sandy wasteland whose beauty could only be seen with wide eyes upon the moment of death.



He reached down and grasped the first cool thing he came across, to assuage that heat, to cool the fire of his heart.



He found Kirk.



He drew the human close and it was like drawing a watery blanket up over his hips, pulling a sheet of cool, golden air against his chest. A wash in relief of ice, cool, smooth limbs over his desert.



One hand clasped the back of Kirk's neck and he felt the moisture there. Their efforts had brought forth the earth-salt from his veins and yet he moved closer, absorbing the waves of flame that emanated from the Vulcan, as if he cherished them. Both arms now encircled the supple shoulders, and he paused. His captain was enmeshed in the moment and Spock thought that this was one way Kirk was more advanced than himself, in his ability to live in the moment. Kirk lived in the present, always, never ruminating over regrets, never dwelling on the possibilities of the future. Each event, each hour of every day was grasped with two strong hands and released only when every ounce of experience was wrenched from it. As he did so now, staring at Spock, breath coming more quickly through dry lips.



There was a sheen of sweat to his skin, and Spock traced the rounded curve of one shoulder, moved up along the flushed throat and rested his fingertips across the cheekbone.



It was like coming to the surface after fathoms of water, each layer breaking to reveal the light from above. And when he broke through, struggling for reality, Kirk in his arms, solid gold, he took a deep breath.



"If I were an animal, what would you say I was?" he asked before his brain knew what he was doing.



Kirk's head moved against his chest as if he were looking up, but Spock, now, could not meet those eyes. He felt very naked and it had little to do with his state of undress.



"A horse," said his captain promptly. "At least, for the moment."



A horse? Spock thought, not willing to ask for more.



"A desert horse," Kirk continued obligingly, "proud, but ready to bolt."



Spock jerked his head down to get confirmation of the teasing note in Kirk's voice. There it was behind the light in his eyes, but he was perfectly serious too. And perfectly right. Spock's body was as tight as an overcoiled resistance wire. The human adage came back to him, no wonder humans picked up on emotions so often, their own bodies radiated it at all times. As his was now. He forced his chest to relax.



Kirk pulled his hair out of his eyes, pulled the blankets up over their waists and resnugged himself.



"Other times," he continued as if his first officer had indeed asked him for further clarification, "you're a black leopard, like you were that time back at Talos IV..."



"Which," said Spock, "do you prefer—"



"No, NO!" Kirk moved his hand up to encircle Spock's neck. His voice almost cracked in its astonishment. "Its YOU I prefer, the horse, the leopard, everything. All of it. All of you. There are parts of you that I can brag about to the whole universe, and then other parts which no one but I will ever see. Don't ever ask me what I want you to be." Here his voice grew stern. "The whole of you, all that you are Spock, and I love you."



For a moment Spock couldn't breath. It was disorienting, all these physical manifestations to emotions for which he'd previously only ever had names.


The body speaks.



He pulled Kirk up to kiss him, simply that he thought, but his arms tightened around the human almost too much, till Kirk was gasping in his ears. He might only have the courage to do this once, but he knew Kirk would never forget, even if it was never repeated.



"I will follow you forever, Jim Kirk," he said. "I have been and always shall be yours."



***



Kirk leaned back in his chair, legs crossed at the ankles, one hand across his stomach, the other elbow resting on the padded arm. Damn, he was tired. All he'd wanted to do when he woke up was sleep some more.



He heard the turbo lift doors open and close behind him, and nodded to himself. Bones was at his side in three quick strides. He felt the other lean in, but kept his eyes focused on the star-filled screen.



"Did you two patch everything up?" asked McCoy.



It wasn't said very loud, but he knew Spock had heard; knew also that the Vulcan would hear Kirk's response. He looked over at the blue-clad figure and saw that the fine tapered ears were cocked for the answer.



"Yes," he replied quietly. "Yes, we did."



Spock turned his head to look at him, his face impassive, his mouth in a straight line. But to belie all of this was the "eye smile", a secret expression of bright brown, that special message meant only for Kirk.



Kirk allowed himself a grin that felt like it pulled at his whole body and lifted him through the ceiling. Spock lowered his eyes in a nod and turned back to his station.



"Yes," he said again, "yes, we did."
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