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FREELY GIVEN




by Jenna Hilary Sinclair




(This story first appeared in First Time 54)




"I do not deny that there is a place in various cultures for commemorations of tradition, McCoy."



The doctor stuck out his chin and abandoned the dinner before him. "But you think that all this gift giving is illogical, don't you?"



Spock assumed a look of long-suffering that was not entirely feigned. "Not for the humans for whom the celebration is a part of their heritage."



"You mean not for us illogical folks, right?" McCoy waved his fork in the air. "Let me tell you—"



He was interrupted when Kirk slid into his customary place, next to the crusty physician and across from his first officer. The captain offered Spock a quick smile before turning with a bland expression—belied by the twinkle in his eye—and asking McCoy, "Tell me what?" Then, already assessing the situation, he added, "Bones, for once can't we eat in peace?"



"Ah-hah! That's what I'm talking about. Peace on earth! Peace in the whole darned galaxy! Those are good sentiments."



"And you think because Spock doesn't celebrate with the rest of the crew this time of year that he's a warmonger, right?"



"I'm not saying that. I just think it wouldn't hurt for him to unbend a little. Come to the New Year's party next week, for instance. After the hell this crew has endured the last three months, everybody needs a break, even him. And the crew would love to see him there."



"If I did as you suggest, who would be available to take duty on the bridge?" Spock countered. "I would be depriving an individual of a celebration of significance to him or her."



McCoy was not to be deterred. "Or maybe he could join in the gift giving."



Spock dabbed at his lips neatly with a real linen napkin, a special luxury provided by food services only during the two- week period surrounding several of the most widely-celebrated Terran holidays. With deliberation, he resettled the Federation-blue cloth on his lap, then leaned forward over the table to fix the CMO with an innocent gaze. "Is this your way of hinting for a present, Doctor McCoy?"



McCoy sputtered, and Kirk laughed, a reaction that Spock was more than pleased to see. The pressure that had been on Kirk's shoulders through one difficult mission after another was finally starting to ease.



"Give it up, Bones," the captain said. "To a Vulcan, gift giving the way we humans practice it is illogical. Right, Spock?"



"And who's been giving you lessons in Vulcan culture?" McCoy growled.



"Don't need any," Kirk said around a mouthful of fresh green beans, grown in the ship's hydroponics garden for special occasions only. "You've just got to look at the situation logically."



"Correct," Spock agreed. "It is the element of guesswork that most offends Vulcan sensibilities. That produces inefficiencies. For example, McCoy, I might speculate about what you might wish to receive as a present, but there is a seventy-five point eight seven five percent chance that I would be inaccurate in my 'guess.' You would not be pleased, the product procured would not be used, and the effort I had expended to procure it would be wasted."



"I don't believe it," McCoy said. "You know me, you know what I'd like to get."



"You already have, at last observation, three bottles of Saurian brandy, one bottle of Scotch whiskey, and four bottles of Terran wine in the closet in your cabin where you store your alcoholic beverages. I have observed that alcohol is the most acceptable gift to be exchanged between acquaintances of the male gender, yet you already have more than you can wisely consume. Providing you with another bottle would be an operation in excess, which is, of course, against the Vulcan way."



"There are plenty of things you could get me besides booze," McCoy scoffed. "Food, a new jacket, a display case for that antique hypo Jim got me last year—"



"I was not aware of your desire for those items," Spock said flatly. "And what is the logic in expecting me to know you wish for any of those material goods? It would be more logical for you to purchase them for yourself."



McCoy's temper was fraying. "It's the sentiment behind it! The fact that you want to give me a gift. And it doesn't have to be a material something, it could—"



"I do not wish to give you a gift, McCoy."



"I know! Conversations like this remind me that I don't want to give you a gift, either!"



"Then we understand each other."



"No, we don't!" McCoy grabbed the glass of water before him, gulped it down, then placed it on the table with the air of a man trying to calm himself. "I think you're being deliberately obtuse, Spock. I was using a bad example. Gift giving at this time of year is designed to show someone that you care, that you appreciate them. The way the two of us argue, it's no wonder you don't want to add to my booze collection. But how about if we talk about Jim, here. Don't you want to give him a gift?"



Alarmed, Kirk looked up from his plate, shot McCoy a quelling glance, then turned to his first officer. "We know you don't share in our customs. No gifts are necessary."



"But I disagree," McCoy put in before Spock had a chance to reply. "This is the one time of the year when we tell the people in our lives that they're special, that they're important to us. Especially this year, when it's a miracle we don't have any casualties besides the four folks sleeping in stasis, and it's another miracle that the ship escaped without more damage that we've got."



"Doctor," Spock said wearily, "must I remind you of the Vulcan philosophy of reshana? The control of our passions has—"



"Has nothing to do with what I'm talking about here. Telling an emotional being that he's appreciated is logical. It enhances his well-being. Why, if you were to let Jim know that you appreciate him, I bet his reading on the Daniels-Poe scale would hit the roof. That's the point of this time of year, Spock, you do things for other people, not for yourself."



Gathering his composure, Spock looked carefully at his captain across the table; Kirk endured his scrutiny with a half-embarrassed, half-amused air. Spock took in his slightly pale face, thinner than usual because of the stresses they'd all endured recently. However, Kirk did look especially pleasing in the wrap-around command tunic that he'd recently taken to wearing. It was very seldom that Spock indulged himself by observing his captain in such a personal way, and he was careful not to allow his satisfying perusal to go on for too long.



After a few seconds, Spock turned to the doctor. "I have not observed, nor do I observe now, any deficiency in the captain's emotional status."



"Ah, give me a break, Spock, you wouldn't even know if his heart was brok—"



"Captain, do you require a sign of my regard for you?"



For some unknown reason that Spock could not immediately fathom, Kirk ducked his head to regard the table, almost as if he were mastering mirth or some other inappropriate emotion. When Kirk looked up within a few seconds to smile reassuringly, his face was slightly flushed.



"No, Spock, I don't," he said warmly.



McCoy was quick to interject. "What did you expect him to say? That he's tired of reminding you to call him 'Jim,' that he'd like it if you finally said 'yes' when he invites you on one of his shore leave expeditions, that he'd—"



"Bones!" Kirk's voice was sharp and instantly cut off the physician's flow of words. "That's enough."



An awkward silence descended on the table. Spock aligned his cutlery in exact position on the table, folded his hands in his lap, took a shallow, inaudible breath, and looked at his captain.



"Jim," he began, "I—"



"Please, Spock, don't let McCoy bait you into this."



There appeared to be real distress on Kirk's face, but McCoy's last tirade had struck a chord somewhere in the part of Spock that had changed in the past few months. His sincere regard for his captain had transformed into something considerably more personal. Perhaps McCoy was correct. Admittedly, he was deliberately inexpert in the emotional aspects of relationships. Nevertheless, when Jim's life had been in true peril four weeks previously, and then one week ago as well, Spock's feelings had leapt into his throat.



"I am not above acknowledging when even Doctor McCoy has a point. Jim, you are an excellent starship captain."



"Hmmf!" McCoy contributed. Kirk went very still, as if he were listening very intently or, conversely, as if his frozen attention were a shield against what he might not want to hear.



Spock did not understand this subtle reaction, but now that he had started to speak, he was determined to continue. He ignored McCoy and focused exclusively on the man who had awakened his slumbering emotions. "I have enjoyed my service with you, and I am looking forward to continuing our association."



"Now that's about as personal as a paperweight," the CMO observed with arms folded.



Spock took an audible breath this time. It was difficult to know what to say or how to say it. He did not wish to appear overly emotional; neither did he know how to reveal just a little of what he guarded in his heart. This confusion was one reason Surak had counseled against emotional display, including the giving of gifts: the potential for hurt, embarrassment, and humiliation was too great.



"Captain," he began, then he quickly amended that to "Jim." He was very conscious of the fact that he had awkwardly called his captain by his given name three times within the past thirty-two seconds, and before McCoy, too, but he forged on. "I…very much enjoy our weekly chess games."



It must have been the right thing to say. Kirk lost his stillness. He smiled again and said, "I do, too. I'm sorry we'll have to postpone again tomorrow since we'll be on Vaneeta."



"Wait a minute," the ever-obstreperous McCoy put in. "I thought we'd be back on the ship in less than a day. Isn't this supposed to be a cakewalk Command has given us so Scotty has a chance for repairs? Not to mention giving the crew and the two of you a rest."



Kirk's lips twisted in resigned amusement. "If you ever read the landing party mission files—"



"And all the updates," Spock put in.



"—then you would know that President Tashin has invited us to attend some sort of planetary celebration. The, ah…."



"Founding Day ceremony," Spock supplied.



"Right. So we'll be spending two or three nights on the planet. You'll need to pack a bag, Bones, and Spock and I will miss our scheduled game."



"It is not of importance," Spock said, though his chess matches with Kirk were very important to him indeed. "We will arrange to play another time."



"We haven't missed one yet," Kirk amiably agreed with a nod.



"What? You two haven't ever missed one of your weekly games?" McCoy asked, looking from captain to first officer and back again. "How's that possible with our schedule?"



Kirk shrugged. "If we're on a mission, then we play twice when we've got the time. Or three nights in a row. It's sort of a tradition. And not hard if it's something you want to do."



Spock judged that McCoy's attention was now sufficiently diverted that it would be possible for him to leave. He pushed back from the table. "If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I intend to examine the latest report from the Federation Committee on Membership regarding Vaneeta III. The planet intends to petition for admittance soon."



"I think you should be making a list of gifts you want to be giving, but don't pay any heed to me," was McCoy's parting shot. "Just in case you're wondering, my favorite color is red, but I think Jim's is blue.



Spock continued on his way out of the officers' mess, easily dismissing McCoy's comment, but he could not help but hear Kirk say, "Bones, stop trying to force Spock into what he's not comfortable saying or doing. Gifts don't mean anything unless they're freely given."



Those words, and the unusually dispirited way in which they were said, followed Spock as he returned to his office on deck eleven, but he tucked them away into the back of his mind. He was a creature of duty, and he applied himself to duty for the next four point six hours. Then he nodded a good night to the lab's beta shift staff, paced his way to his quarters, and prepared for bed.



Spock generally did not find it comfortable to think while reclining. When it was time for sleep, Surak taught, one applied the mind rules that governed such things and sent one's body into slumber. Over the past three months, this was but another change Spock had experienced: when he reclined to sleep, he tended to think of Jim before any of Surak's precepts could be implemented.



Jim, not Captain Kirk. Jim of the open, unafraid mind during their melds. Jim of the swift smile that never mocked him. Jim of the long, late-night discussions while their kings and queens and pawns mingled together on their sides by the board, discussions that Spock anticipated in a surely-emotional manner.



What did it mean, this preoccupation with his captain? Any of Spock's teachers from his youth would have told him that his fessantil was sadly out of balance, that he was being self-indulgent, and that he needed to expel this tiny seed of emotion from his life. On a polished katra, they would lecture, even minor imperfections could grate like blowing sand.



Spock turned over in his bed and kicked the covers off so they lay wrinkled over his feet. He did not believe his thoughts about Jim were minor; they felt very major to him, indeed.



But he was not entirely sure what to do with them. The sexual content was obvious; he had been attracted to Kirk's body from the moment they had met. But then, he had been attracted to other individuals, male and female, over the years, and the physical byproduct of hormone production had been as transitory as he had been told it would be.



No, this was different. The physical attraction to Kirk's body had lingered and intensified, and to it had been added the element of friendship. He knew what he wished that to mean; he was unbonded, he was lonely, and when he allowed himself to fantasize, his visions of the two of them entwined in conjugal passion literally took his breath away.



But perhaps what was so enticing to him would be anything but to his captain. Perhaps he was reading what he wanted to see in Kirk's glances, his warm regard, the time he seemed eager to share with Spock.



No, better not to consider such a possibility. On the face of it, the proposition was ludicrous. Kirk had never shown any sexual interest in men, and Spock had never given anyone on the ship any reason to believe he was interested in sex, period.



Better to turn his thoughts to other subjects, such as the interesting conversation with McCoy concerning the tradition of gift-giving. To his surprise, Spock saw some merit in what the doctor had said; Jim was an emotional being, accustomed to the giving and receiving of gifts, and human friends usually did exchange gifts at this time of the Terran year. If Spock were human, certainly he would have already procured a present for his captain, something that would convey his high regard without hinting at the emotional ambiguity in his soul. But what?



That question was still unanswered when Spock fell naturally into sleep.



**** ****




Kirk and Spock arrived separately at the transporter room early the next morning. Spock had stopped by the XO's office to make one final check of ship's business before leaving the Enterprise for a few days; Kirk had scheduled an early morning meeting with Scotty and his first assistant. They met at the TR door, each with an overnight bag in hand.



"'Morning, Spock."



"Good morning, Captain." There was something about Kirk's eyes, perhaps a slight puffiness, that moved Spock to ask, as they walked through the doors, "Did you sleep well?"



Kirk stifled a yawn. "Trust you to notice. No, I didn't. Or at least not enough." Together they walked across the empty room and deposited their suitcases on the cargo pads, then they retreated to stand in front of the console. "Admiral Francini called last night with some questions about our report on the Neutral Zone fracas last month, and I decided to make the modifications she wanted before we beamed down to Vaneeta. But it took longer than I expected."



"Could it not have waited until we returned to the ship?"



Kirk idly scratched the side of his face. "I suppose. Except I didn't want a big project facing me when we get back, I wanted clear decks. As clear as possible, anyway. I think we all need some down time. And it'll be New Year's party time when we get back. Candles and mistletoe and a chance for the crew to regain its equilibrium. Me, too." He made a face, then looked at Spock with a smile that did not reach his tired eyes. "Is that allowed? For a captain to enjoy himself?"



Spock pretended to consider the question gravely. There was no one he knew who deserved a period of rest and relaxation, of enjoyment, more than Kirk did. Spock attempted to lift as many burdens as he could from the shoulders of the captain of the Enterprise—a report here, an administrative detail there—but he labored under no illusions: Kirk was the one who carried the heavy responsibility for all the people on the ship. He made the final decisions that led to life or death. His failures burned into his heart like acid, and they lingered like scars on his skin.



Spock observed his captain with a sudden pang of affection. If Kirk wished to enjoy himself during the ship's commemoration of Terran winter events, he instantly resolved, then he would do everything in his power to see that he did. So after a few seconds, he responded, "I am not aware of any regulation specifically prohibiting a captain's positive emotional status."



"There probably is one. Frankly, I'd be satisfied with just a chance to relax. We have a milk run out to the Deshani colonies after this, it's perfect timing."



"And this visit to Vaneeta, as well."



"Normally I would have argued Admiral Dabney out of this one. They don't need a starship wasting time here waving the diplomatic flag, the planet's a perfect candidate for admission and it'll just be a formality when they apply for trading status. But this gives the crew a few more days of peace and quiet. And Scotty can repair to his heart's content." The captain surveyed the room, empty even of the transporter tech who usually manned the console. "Bones is late again, I see. And I suppose Buxton is answering the call of nature." It was the standard excuse for absent techs all over Starfleet.



"I would be surprised if Doctor McCoy were on time for an assignment. I have come to expect his tardiness."



"Set your internal clock by it?" Kirk asked with a lifted brow.



He provided the answer Kirk expected, one calculated to make him smile. "Thankfully, that is not necessary. Vulcan genes allow me a more reliable perception of time."



Kirk did smile, yet he seemed distracted. Spock observed him during the small silence that followed and was about to speak when Kirk forestalled him.



"Spock, about last night. I hope you know that I think McCoy was out of line."



Spock tilted his head in consideration. "I am not entirely sure that he was."



"I am. You have your customs and we have ours. There's no reason at all for him to impose an obligation on you that's just not necessary."



Spock regarded his captain. Jim was speaking with considerable heat, and there was a hint of the famous Kirkian intensity in his voice. Interesting. Spock had not expected Kirk to bring up this subject again.



"I would not wish you to feel unappreciated, Captain."



Kirk made a scoffing sound. "I don't! I don't know where McCoy is coming from, saying that about the Daniels-Poe scale."



"He is conversant with all your readings. As chief medical officer, he is responsible for your well-being." As was Kirk's first officer, although that was not Starfleet's official view of the captain-executive officer relationship. It was Spock's, though.



"Daniels-Poe isn't exactly one of the essential evaluations, is it? Besides, I'm fine, really, and I'm not going to pine away because my first officer follows his own cultural norms. You don't need to do anything you feel uncomfortable doing. I am not expecting a gift of any sort from you. Okay?"



Spock had his differences with the ship's doctor; theirs was an uneasy relationship that was half respect and half thorns. But he would acknowledge that McCoy was an excellent psychologist. For the first time, it occurred to him that there might have been a very specific purpose to the doctor's needling the previous evening. What was Jim's Daniels-Poe reading?



A saying he had previously heard only on the CMO's lips suddenly came to mind: Methinks he doth protest too much.



Humans. They could be exasperating for a being raised in the straightforward society of Vulcans. What was it, exactly, that Jim was saying, or not saying, with his words?



Spock was reluctant to promise to abstain from the gift-giving that had suddenly become even more of an issue, and he was saved from having to do so by the hurried entrance into the room of the CMO.



"Jim," McCoy exploded without preamble, "why didn't you tell me about this kissing stuff the Vaneetians do? I was reading the mission file over breakfast, and now I'm not so sure I want to go on this little expedition of yours. How about if M'Benga takes this trip in my place?"



"'Kissing stuff', Doctor McCoy?" Spock asked with raised brow. "That is rather an unspecific term."



"Oh, you know what I mean," the doctor growled. "We shake hands in our culture, the Vaneetians kiss. On the mouth! Men with men!"



Kirk was making no effort to smother his grin. "And men with women and women with women, too. C'mon, Bones, don't be provincial."



"I'm not provincial!" McCoy challenged. "I just don't like the idea of kissing a man. You know ninety-five percent of their leaders are men, and when we beam down, that's how they're gonna greet us."



"Bones, you can tolerate one little peck. Or a few. Besides, you should open your mind to a new experience. Try it, you might like it."



Spock threw his captain an astonished glance. Was Kirk speaking ironically?



"Not Mama McCoy's little boy," the doctor said with conviction.



"If Spock and I can do it, so can you."



"My psych profile," McCoy proclaimed, "is strictly hetero. I'm one of the sixty percent of the population that way. You wouldn't understand."



Spock looked from one friendly combatant to another. He had no doubt that McCoy would eventually accompany them, but he had not known what was implied by the doctor's statement. If the doctor was one of the sixty percent, what was Jim?



Spock's eyes narrowed. This information was exceedingly convenient, considering his current ambivalence about Jim and sexual desire. What had McCoy guessed? Or was the conversation last night and this one, too, merely serendipity?



Kirk was still intent on cajoling his CMO. "I understand that you're a pig-headed, narrow-minded coward, that's what I understand. You just want to stay on the ship and stand by the mistletoe."



The physician pointed a bony finger at his captain. "That," he said with fervor, "is a very good idea. Besides, M'Benga needs the experience."



"And you've already got the experience I want on Vaneeta. You're coming."



McCoy struck a pose: belligerent with arms folded and his lower lip stuck out. It was apparent that both he and Kirk were enjoying the confrontational conversation immensely. Spock observed their exchange with fascination. There had been a time when he had not perceived the strong undercurrent of affection during such mock battles. Now he knew to look beneath the literal meanings of words.



The doctor continued, "I'd like to see you make me."



"There's a phaser in the locker back there."



"Hah! As if you would. If you drag me down to that misguided planet, I won't give you your gift."



"What would I want with another mangy old sweater, you fake?"



"Not a sweater this year. Good Scotch whiskey."



"More likely some of Scotty's hooch."



"For Captain Kirk? You deserve better than that."



"I deserve my chief medical officer on Vaneeta without giving me any grief."



"I don't want to be sharing lip juice with any men!"



"Lip juice?" Kirk asked, amazed.



"Yeah. Suppose they want to kiss open-mouthed, huh? We don't know what style they use, do we?"



With more than a hint of exasperation showing, Kirk turned to Spock, his arms akimbo. "Mister Spock!"



Somewhat startled, Spock straightened. "Yes, sir?"



"Do you have a problem with kissing the male members of the Vaneetian leadership?"



Was it possible that Kirk, a master of the Terran Standard language, could be unaware of the atrocious double meaning to the words he had just spoken? If he were not aware, Spock thought rapidly, they had sprung from his subconscious, with all sorts of interesting implications. If he were aware of what he had said, that was even more interesting. It was true that Spock had contemplated kissing a certain male member on more than a few occasions, and he had imagined doing far more than just kissing it. Had Kirk been contemplating male on male sexual activity as well? Even if they had been merely stray thoughts, they spoke so loudly of hope to one uncertain Vulcan.



Behind the captain, McCoy was convulsed, laughing loudly. Spock had no trouble keeping his face straight and responding, carefully, "I am prepared to fulfill my duty as a Starfleet officer, sir."



Kirk swung around to his CMO and totally ignored his laughter, although Spock noted there were spots of color on his cheeks. "See? Why can't you be more like Spock?"



McCoy checked his chuckles, then said, "'Cause I don't wanna be." He looked pointedly at Spock. "You're willing to kiss another man, right? Jim needs to know that, because if you aren't, you shouldn't be going down to Vaneeta with him."



For a moment, Spock wondered if he were still in his bunk on deck five, dreaming. The conversation had taken a bizarre turn.



"I have already stated my intentions, Doctor McCoy. The captain can depend on me completely."



"Well, then," McCoy said with an abrupt change in his demeanor. He brushed his hands together briskly, as if shaking off the silly mood that had possessed him. "If Jim knows your intentions, we're just fine. I'll go along for the ride, I suppose, and see what it's all like. Hey, where is that transporter tech, anyway? Let's get this show on the road."



Buxton chose that moment to come hurrying through the doors. He was looking guilty and passed a hand over his moist lips before saying, "Sorry, sir, call of nature, sir. The coordinates are already laid in. Please step up to the pads."



Spock made a mental note to switch Buxton to third shift and assign him to kitchen duty as well, but he would take care of that only after conducting what promised to be a most fascinating visit to the planet of Vaneeta.



Of course the leadership of Vaneeta was not at the beamdown point to meet them. Vaneeta was similar to twenty-first century industrialized Earth in development and sophistication. That meant they were met by flunkies and functionaries, and though there was much bowing of heads, there was no kissing. Spock was forced to wait for that until they were taken to the center of the city in a large internal combustion vehicle that easily seated the three of them and their three escorts.



The trip lasted some thirty minutes, during which time he conversed with the laconic deputy secretary of external affairs, observed what little fauna and flora was visible along the concrete roadway, and tried to imagine Jim Kirk exchanging a kiss with anyone other than a devastatingly beautiful female or himself. He had already resolved, days earlier, when Kirk had first briefed him about this mission, to observe his captain closely in all his interactions on Vaneeta. How would he do it, exactly? Would he be perfunctory? Follow the lead of the other man? If Spock were to have any hope at all, he must have data.



And he needed to study McCoy as well. With wary respect, Spock eyed the physician, who was sitting in the seat across from him and chatting airily with a middle-aged woman.



Suddenly he became aware that he was being observed, and his gaze flew up to meet his amused captain's. Kirk nodded with a small smile towards McCoy, as if to say, "Isn't he something?" Spock warmed at the sharing even as Kirk turned back to his own diplomatically necessary conversation.



The almost noiseless car swished to a halt, and then they were ushered up two flights of white stone stairs into the seat of government, where the president and four of the seven members of his cabinet waited for them in a large meeting hall.



Spock, his captain, and the peculiar creature whom he had thought to be his nemesis, Leonard McCoy, paused in a large, arched doorway of dark wood. Before them stretched a long purple carpet, and at the other end of the carpet stood the Vaneetians waiting to receive them.



Sotto voce, Kirk said to McCoy, "Remember, you're not provincial."



President Tashin was a squat, rotund man with a fringe of white hair and a severe expression. He zeroed in on the captain of the Enterprise with the expected words of welcome and his arms outstretched. Kirk stepped forward, too, and as he moved so assertively in so many other areas of his life, it was he who moved into the pressing of lips.



The kiss the two men exchanged was not short, but neither was it excessively long. Four point seven seconds in duration, to be exact. Kirk made no move to pull back from the man, but remained still—endured?—until it was the president who terminated the contact. Although Spock attempted to observe as closely as possible, at his angle it was impossible to tell whether the kiss had been completely closed-mouthed or not.



And then Kirk was stepping back and saying in a completely composed voice, "My first officer, Commander Spock," and Tashin was advancing towards him. The president's lips were very dry and cold—not like Jim's would be—and the touching of mouths was over very quickly, a perfunctory brushing.



Different kisses for different ranks. Possibly for different occasions as well.



"My chief medical officer, Doctor Leonard McCoy." McCoy received even less attention than Spock had, for which he looked relieved.



Tashin then introduced his entourage: the first political advisor and the ministers of the arts, ecological welfare, and trade. Each man presented outstretched arms and a pursed mouth for a kiss, and Spock complied easily. What was, after all, this physical contact when there were no emotions propelling the act? He glanced at Kirk, who had finished all his ritual greetings and was standing to the side watching McCoy closely. If I ever were to kiss Jim, Spock thought, there would be emotion.



The rest of the day was filled with duty. Kirk went off with Tashin, McCoy to a local hospital, and Spock was taken in an air vehicle to a coastal city that was hosting a convention for the manufacturers of scientific instruments, primarily optical equipment and mirrors. Vaneeta hoped to export some of the delicate goods to Federation members once trading treaties had been established. There he met several competent businessmen, and all of them seemed to want to exchange a ritual kiss and discover his opinion of whether their product would be competitive in the crowded commercial markets of the Federation. He steeled himself to duty and managed to get through a tour of an optics plant, a tedious luncheon, and several hours on the huge convention floor without revealing his lack of enthusiasm for the day. Spock was much more interested in exploring the unknown and gathering new knowledge than he was in the assimilation of a planet obviously suited for membership. But eventually the day was done and the air vehicle arrived to take him back to the presidential dwelling.



The official residence where the president lived proved to be a low, one story edifice made of gray stone set among a scattering of tall trees similar to birches. Spock was shown to a satisfactory room—a narrow bed, a few chairs around a low table where his clothing had already been unpacked and neatly piled, a wall of communication equipment, and sanitary facilities in the corner behind a lacquered screen—undoubtedly a room of honor and luxury according to the customs of this planet.



It was not long before Spock heard familiar voices in the hallway. He rose from the seat where he'd just finished checking in with the ship, aware that he was too eager to see Kirk. He stopped to center himself—he was science officer, first officer, not lover, only friend—and opened his door. He stepped out in time to hear Kirk say, "It wasn't so bad now, was it, Bones?"



Spock distinctly saw the physician glance his way, then McCoy groaned loudly. "It was awful. The worst thing. That trade coordinator, Hessil, needed to shave, and Belta had bad breath."



Kirk chuckled and waved a hand towards Spock. "Mind if we come in for a briefing? Bones, it might be better to hold the complaints until the door's closed."



McCoy flopped down on a chair by the table and arched to rub the small of his back while Kirk advanced to the window. This was a habit of his, Spock had long ago noted, as Kirk always desired knowledge of unfamiliar surroundings.



Kirk swung around. "Okay, reports. Bones, how did your day go?"



The doctor groaned. "Seven, count 'em, seven kisses from men. You sure I can't beam back to the ship?"



"Quite bragging, Bones, I—"



"Bragging! If you think I want to have stubble rubbed into my mouth, you've got another—"



With a grin towards Spock that gathered him into the joke, Kirk continued, "I said I don't care about your romantic interludes. Just the facts, Doctor."



Amidst a great deal of sputtering that Spock was certain was mostly feigned, McCoy recounted how he had spent the time at the local hospital. His day had been no more interesting than Spock's, and Spock paid him scant attention, concentrating instead on the way Kirk prowled around the room, until he heard, "And so I thought that I'd better check out their sexuality if I knew what was good for me. You do know these are Preserver-seeded humans, don't you?"



"Page sixteen of the initial report from the first contact party," Spock answered dryly. "Yes, Doctor, we are aware of that fact."



"But they don't follow the usual sexual patterns. The entire population seems to be bisexual, and what's even more unusual, there aren't any committed relationships at all. I think that's odd. So be careful that those kisses don't get carried away." McCoy propped both booted feet up on the table, coming perilously close to the pile of Spock's underwear, pushed back on two chair legs, and yawned. "We're as likely to be propositioned by a fella here as we are by one of the women. You hear that, Jim?"



"I hear you, Bones," Kirk retorted, "but I'm not here to be propositioned. Spock, what do you have to report?"



After McCoy's loquaciousness, Spock determined to keep his remarks to the point.



"Good," Kirk said when Spock's summary concluded. "We've got the state dinner to go through tonight, and tomorrow night there's the Founding Day ceremony. Tomorrow during the day I want you with me, Spock, like we've planned, during the session of their legislature."



Spock nodded. One of the benefits of a human and a half-Vulcan serving together was that he and Kirk displayed the ideals of the Federation in their persons. He had long ago grown accustomed to Kirk using him in that way to make a visual, political point. "Are you expected to speak?"



"I don't think so, but Tashin seems to be the type that improvises a lot, so be prepared for whatever might come up. Both of us might find ourselves in front of the podium. Today I found myself being interviewed at a museum complex he showed me during what was supposed to be a tour. It could have been set up. Probably was. Their media were pretty aggressive." Kirk ran a worried hand through his hair.



"I am sure that you acquitted yourself well, as you are an excellent public speaker."



"Now that's what I mean," McCoy suddenly contributed from where he balanced in his chair, "by a gift. Something nice that you spontaneously say about someone you care about—that qualifies."



Very deliberately, Kirk walked over to his CMO. He stared down at McCoy with a frown. "What is wrong with you? First you go off on this tangent about gifts, then you get all hot and bothered about this culture kissing, now you're on Spock's back again. Not that that's unusual. Have you been overworking?"



Spock thought that it was about time he retaliated for McCoy's heated comments the previous night in the rec room. He folded his arms over his chest and observed, "The doctor's peculiar leaps of logic and odd topics of conversation are not the result of overwork, Captain, as I have observed such aberrant behavior almost since the time he first boarded the Enterprise."



"That's not entirely true, First Officer," Kirk said gravely. "There was that one occasion when McCoy made sense, back in, when was it…."



"Stardate 8722.4," Spock supplied promptly.



"That's right. Bones," the captain addressed his CMO, "enough with the gift business, okay?"



"I'm just trying to show him there's some value in—"



"Spock doesn't need to be shown anything, he's fine just the way he is, so drop it."



McCoy appeared to know a request that was almost an order when he heard one. He silently nodded.



"All right, then," Kirk said with some relief. "Let's give Spock some peace and privacy. Dress uniforms for the dinner tonight in…."



"One hour, eight minutes," Spock again provided.



"See you then. You coming, Bones?"



The room seemed much larger with his guests gone. With Kirk's dynamic presence gone, Spock acknowledged. He lifted and carried the chair in which McCoy had been sitting over to the window through which Kirk had looked, and then he sat down, steepled his fingers, and he thought. If some illogical hope was mixed in with his logical ruminations…. Spock believed the cause was sufficient.



**** ****




The Vaneetian state dinner was just like many other state dinners that Spock had attended over the years in similar cultures. There were toasts with an alcoholic beverage. There were artificial smiles pasted on the lips of political enemies. Somewhere, Spock was sure, there were surveillance devices that were making a record of this contact with the beings from the Federation. He carefully examined his cutlery to determine which was the primary eating instrument and then turned to courteously speak to his dinner partner.



He was again paired with the undersecretary of external affairs at one of the many round tables that filled the room. Although Spock was sure that the tall, thin man with an intense manner and an almost disfiguring overbite was very good at his job, for once he was not interested in gathering data. He already knew what he needed to know about the Vaneetians. Conversation did not flourish between them unless Spock made an effort, and the rest of Spock's table was also quiet. Perhaps they were intimidated by his appearance. It had happened before; at times even his shipmates felt uncomfortable in his presence.



Spock compressed his lips and resolved to think of something else besides how only a few people ever accepted him for exactly what he was. He distracted himself by looking across the room at McCoy. The physician had been seated with one of the women present, a middle-aged bureaucrat with whom he appeared to be having a lively exchange. Surely he was not considering a sexual assignation…. But McCoy was as sexual a being as any human, and Spock had known him to indulge in discreet liaisons. Four, to be precise. Now he exuded a sort of restless energy and relentless Southern charm. Perhaps other humans would interpret his manner as sexual in nature and find it attractive, although Spock could not imagine the physician as a lover. But then, as his mother had often said, to each his own.



Suddenly, the doctor cast Spock a quick look just as a vegetarian entrée was placed before him. Spock pointedly turned his attention to his food. He did not completely trust McCoy in the best of times.



Vaneetians seated their prominent individuals in the center of the room and not at a head table. Kirk sat between Tashin and the man who was his first political assistant. Spock speared a barely cooked green stalk of something, placed it in his mouth and chewed, noting that the first political assistant was an attractive human with black hair neatly braided down his back, astonishingly symmetrical features, and a well-developed physique. Many human women would find him appealing, Spock was sure. With courteous attention, Kirk was listening to the man expound about something. Tashin leaned forward and contributed a comment with a frown; Kirk turned back to the president and seemed to apply himself to soothing the older man's feelings.



Apparently Tashin was mollified. He took a long drink of the local effervescent wine, and Kirk's attention was immediately claimed again by the political assistant. Tran Bradbura Zona, that was his name. But even as Kirk was turning in his chair to politely focus on his handsome dinner companion, his gaze swept across the room and locked with Spock's. Ironically widened eyes and a shrug conveyed all Spock needed to know.



Kirk, after all, was not attracted to men. Although that was not exactly the consolation that Spock, and his budding jealousy, wished for, it would have to do.



A red-headed man from the other side of Spock's table cleared his throat, demanding attention, and asked, "Do you think that the Federation will negotiate over the land they're likely to request for a starbase, Commander? We'd like to suggest the northern continent, but experience shows that they prefer to put a base near a major population center. Compensation isn't nearly enough in our opinion, though."



He turned back to what was, after all, the reason for him being there.



**** *****




The red-headed man, Buta Leek Farna, provided the intelligent conversation that banished Spock's ennui, and after the dinner had been served and consumed, and Tashin had offered a short speech of welcome and Kirk had answered with a few words of his own, Farna walked around the emptying table to pull up a chair next to Spock. The two of them were engrossed in a discussion over water rights and the likely diversion of a river to provide land for the proposed starbase when Spock felt a hand close over his shoulder. He might have been startled, but he had experienced the same warmth, the same pressure, and the same silent approach many times before on the bridge of the Enterprise. Before he calmly twisted around to look up into his captain's face, Spock observed that Farna furrowed his brow at Kirk's fingers.



"Having fun, Spock?" Kirk asked. His hand did not budge.



"Fun, Captain? Mr. Farna is providing interesting options in the establishment of a base on this planet, and I am assimilating them."



"That's it?"



The intent of Kirk's question, filtered through the memory of McCoy's warning, became instantly obvious.



"Indeed, Captain," Spock assured him gravely, "that is it."



Kirk straightened and his hand fell away. "Well, in that case, Mr. Farna, I hope you'll excuse me if I steal my first officer for the rest of the evening. Important Federation business."



"At this hour of the night?" the Vaneetian asked with a smile, but he rose with good grace and a sudden peck on Spock's cheek that left him, surprisingly, somewhat gratified.



Spock, flustered and trying not to show it—a kiss he would have dismissed, this gesture had other meanings—nodded to the second most interesting man who had attended the state dinner and followed the first towards the front of the state house, where transportation would take them back to their lodgings. "Have you seen McCoy?" Kirk asked.



"I believe the good doctor has not taken his own advice."



"Oh?"



"Unless I am misreading the situation, the doctor has been propositioned by—or has propositioned, I am not entirely certain—a female with whom I am not familiar. They were among the first to leave approximately thirty-two minutes ago."



Kirk shook his head. "What am I going to do with him? That's not a good idea, but there's not much I can do about it now."



Spock refrained from pointing out that Kirk had been guilty of such behavior in the past. Then something occurred to him. It was McCoy who was now indulging in private with a local female and not the captain.



President Tashin and First Assistant Zona also rode in the vehicle that took them back to the official residence. Tashin was intent on explaining the Vaneetian position on commerce in textiles, Zona presented shipping possibilities, and Kirk patiently promised that he would mention the planet's concerns in his report in addition to transmitting the position papers that the administration had prepared. Spock had ample time to reflect that he had made an excellent choice in dedicating his life to Starfleet and not to the diplomatic or mercantile trades; if this were the Enterprise's typical mission he would not have remained her first officer for long. Not even Kirk could have kept him aboard. Although, from his captain's fixed smile, perhaps Kirk would have jumped ship with him. Kirk's weariness was finally showing. To Spock's discerning eyes, anyway.



The four of them were just saying good-night in the foyer of the presidential dwelling when Tashin mentioned that Kirk might want to tune in to the evening's broadcast on the video machine built into each bedroom. The interview Kirk had given at the museum was scheduled to be shown in about twenty minutes.



The president then said, "Good sleep to you both," and reached for Kirk, who stepped into the kiss with apparent willingness. But he was the first to remove his lips from the older man's this time. When Zona moved towards Kirk with outstretched arms, Kirk smiled and moved back. "Let me show you how my people exchange greetings and say good-night." He extended his hand, and when the first advisor did not match his gesture, he took Zona's hand in his and gave it a firm shake. "I know you're as interested in learning about the many peoples of the Federation as we are in learning about you. We call this a handshake. Mr. Spock's people prefer not to touch at all. Mr. Spock, would you be so kind as to show Mr. Tashin and Mr. Zona how Vulcans meet and part?"



Spock raised his hand in the ta'al and silently applauded his captain's diplomatic skills. "Peace and long life."



"And other peoples use other methods," Kirk smoothly continued, "as you will learn once your planet is open to trade. Good-night to you both." He shook the president's hand—Tashin looked baffled—and moved away from them down the hall. Spock followed with amusement bubbling within him. Jim was so often unexpected.



"I will watch the broadcast for you," Spock offered his tired captain, who was openly yawning now that it was just the two of them standing in the hall before Kirk's door. "You need not stay up for it."



"No," Kirk decided, abruptly snapping his mouth closed, "we probably should see how they present it to get the slant they're putting on the visit. Come on in and watch it with me?"



Spock accepted with alacrity—he treasured all the moments of unguarded companionship that Kirk offered.



Kirk's room was larger and more lavishly furnished than the one assigned to his first officer, with an upholstered couch, a few comfortable looking chairs, and some occasional tables grouped before a wall featuring a thin-screened video device.



"Why don't you figure out how to work that thing and get the right broadcast? I'm going to change, if you don't mind." Kirk tugged at the collar of his gold dress uniform. "I think Bones might be right about these things strangling you."



Spock did not mind, as the state of dress or undress had never been an issue between them. At least, it had not been until Spock's awareness of his captain as a potential sexual partner had leaped into overdrive. Kirk retreated to the privacy of the sanitary facilities and, after a few minutes of water splashing and body movements that Spock attempted not to follow and not to imagine visually, he emerged wearing the knee-length Starfleet regulation navy blue robe.



"That's better," the captain sighed as he plopped down on the sofa and put his bare feet up on the low table before it. "Have you got it?"



"I believe this is the official government channel. I will set it on low audio until the event we are waiting for is broadcast." Currently the screen featured a group of women singing.



"Good." Kirk patted the space next to him. "Sit down and get comfortable."



Spock walked over and stood next to the couch. Despite the possibilities of this intimacy that were singing through his veins, he was, indeed, very comfortable in Kirk's presence, even with Kirk's bare legs showing and only the faint impression of his briefs through the robe to indicate that he was wearing anything at all beneath it. Spock could control his responses to the sexual nuances that Kirk was probably not even aware he was projecting, and at the same time he could simply appreciate the friendship that had been so seldom offered to him before Kirk took command. This was a scenario that appealed to him a great deal: comfort, ease, companionship, and trust, with the soupçon of Kirk's outrageous attractiveness to brighten the mix. This was what he wanted, he decided, more of Jim. As much of Jim as his captain was willing to share, even if that did not include sexual intimacy and the lifelong union that was Spock's secret dream.



He looked down at the slouched position into which Kirk had descended, at his head resting carelessly against the embroidered cushion and his hands folded loosely over his stomach, and most especially at his gaze as he brightly returned Spock's regard. James Kirk did not particularly look like the captain of the mighty Enterprise at this moment.



"Are you comfortable?" Spock asked, and he allowed some of his pleasure in the moment to show in his expression.



"Immensely," Kirk declared, and to prove it he stretched and wriggled his toes. "I'd like to see you relax like this."



Spock thought it was possible he could release his almost constant self-discipline, at least with this man. Lately, he had wondered what it would be like to lie in bed next to his captain after sex. Would Jim consider that relaxing? Spock certainly would.



But Spock was not prepared to say that, so he contented himself with a small smile—it seemed to come so much more easily with Jim than with any other being. He sat and eased himself against the sofa back. "I hope this posture meets your specifications?"



Kirk chuckled. "No, no. You've got to put your feet up to really slow down at the end of the day. Try it."



Spock regarded the tabletop, already hosting Kirk's feet, dubiously. "I do not believe—" he began.



"You don't have to take off your boots, and I won't tell whoever has to polish the furniture around here."



Although it was not a position of which Surak would have approved, Spock put his feet up on the table as requested by his commanding officer. He looked at Kirk, bemused. "This is bizarre," he said without much thought.



"But much better," Kirk declared. "I would have felt like an undisciplined hedonist if you hadn't joined me. You know, with our schedule and the stress we're under so often, we've got to deliberately find the time to rest and unwind."



Spock surveyed his size 14D boots. They seemed inordinately large from this perspective, especially when compared with Kirk's smaller unshod feet less than half a meter from his. He stared at the stubby pink toes, each with toenail carefully trimmed, at the high arch and naked ankle…. And suddenly an electric thrill raced down his chest, swirled for a moment in his stomach, and then ran directly to his penis. His penis stirred and Spock took a deep breath.



Now this was bizarre, becoming aroused over the contrast between his booted feet and Kirk's bare ones. He would apparently need to keep a tighter control over his reactions to Jim than he had thought, although somewhat wistfully Spock wished that he could allow his sexual excitement to continue, to translate it into action. He would have liked to touch Kirk's feet, run his hand up the lightly-haired leg, up under the concealing robe….



And that undisciplined thought was not going to aid him in reducing his arousal.



"This is definitely different from our routine," Spock said, and was pleased that his voice sounded normal.



"But," Kirk reflected, "it occurs to me that I might be guilty of doing right now exactly what I accused Bones of last night: forcing you into something you don't want to do or don't feel comfortable doing."



"I am not uncomfortable in this position."



"It's supposed to have the opposite effect. Sometimes, you know, you humor me too much. All the time. But I never want you to do anything that's against your standards just to accommodate me." Kirk tilted his head back to examine the ceiling. "And sometimes I have a problem figuring out what's acceptable to you and what's not."



"Perhaps," Spock said quietly, "it is not necessary for you to 'figure it out.' I do not need to be protected, Jim. You may act in the manner that is natural for you, or you may ask me if I would be offended by a particular action."



"That sounds like good advice in the abstract, but it doesn’t work in practice. For example, I thought I knew last night how you felt about gift giving: it's not something your people do, you've never done it before, so I thought Bones was pushing inappropriately. But tonight, I wasn't sure about you and that Farna fellow. I still don't know if I walked into something I shouldn't have."



Gravely, Spock asked, "Of what were you unsure?"



Kirk looked around as if he wanted to pick up something; his fingers plucked at the fabric of his robe. "Of whether you were doing what Bones did."



Spock blinked and realized: Kirk's perception across fifteen meters of a dining hall was extraordinary. He had barely been aware himself of his reaction to Farna until they had parted. "Attempting to arrange a sexual encounter?"



"Yeah. I've noticed a change in you since your…the incident on Vulcan. You're more open to people, more…aware. And they've always been aware of you." Kirk shrugged. "I don't even know what Vulcans think of bisexuality. Of homosexual conduct." His eyes sought Spock's. "And I don't know if this conversation is offending you, either. See my problem?"



Spock saw it—and also a great opportunity. Any conversation between them concerning sex was one he wanted to pursue, so he could at least attempt to define the undercurrents that swirled beneath Kirk's words. What prompted them? The genuine friendship that he knew they shared or something more like the thoughts that had shaped Spock's bedtime reflections? Or was the hope that had so uncertainly bloomed simply a result of this unique society and McCoy's peculiar behavior?



"I am not offended. You may feel free to speak on this topic or any other. I will not…I believe the expression that McCoy would use is 'bite.'"



Kirk laughed softly. "I like it when you do that. Bite, that is."



Spock cocked his head and regarded his companion fondly. "You enjoy my verbal confrontations with the doctor."



"Keeps me amused," Kirk said lightly. "Okay, then, tell me."



Spock considered the several spoken and unspoken questions hanging between them and decided to provide the most important information. Jim could do with it what he would. "Vulcans," he said, "encourage heterosexual activity between bonded mates to ensure the propagation of the species." Kirk's mildly inquiring face did not change expression, somewhat to Spock's disappointment. "Bonded mates of the same sex have other obligations to the clan. However, we also acknowledge the attraction that occasionally exists between unbonded members of the same sex."



"And?"



"And what?" Spock asked, because he enjoyed putting an exasperated look on his friend's face.



But Kirk did not smile. Seriously, he said, "Acknowledging attraction is one thing, acting on it is another. Do Vulcans act on it? On attractions to members of the same sex?"



"Unbonded Vulcans do. On occasion." In truth, Spock had little knowledge of the sexual practices of his people; it was not spoken of. But he knew what he was capable of, therefore….



"When it seems logical? Then I shouldn't have stepped in between you and Farna."



"Although I found Mr. Farna an interesting conversationalist, I was not contemplating sexual activity with him at any time. And I believe you knew that."



Kirk twiddled with the tie of his robe. "I guessed. The dinner was breaking up, Tashin said he'd wait for us in the 'car, but I would have made some sort of excuse if I'd thought—"



The way Spock had made excuse after excuse for his captain when Kirk had disappeared with women on various planets? Spock did not care for that image. He wanted to get closer to Kirk, not emulate behavior that had always scuffed against his somewhat straight-laced Vulcan soul.



"No," he found himself saying. "No. You will not have to do that. Even though I am now free of T'Pring, I cannot contemplate that sort of meaningless encounter. One that involves only the body."



Quickly Kirk looked up at him. "Nothing casual for you."



"Correct. If I am to pursue an out-of-season mating, it will be…" with you, "in a meaningful relationship that has the possibility of becoming permanent. Gender will not be an important issue." Spock was amazed at his own audacity. He and Jim had shared few conversations so intensely personal, and now Spock had just delineated to Kirk his requirements for a relationship between the two of them. If the possibility of mating with Spock had ever occurred to him, his captain now knew the parameters. Spock's parameters.



However, Spock did not know Kirk's. Or rather, he reminded himself, he did: Jim's partners had been female, usually blonde, most often petite, and for as long as Kirk had been on the Enterprise, each relationship had been transitory, as if that was how Kirk preferred it. All the things that Spock was not and that Spock did not desire.



And, as if to validate that thought, Kirk did not walk further down the path newly opened between them. He murmured, "I see. I always knew you were a serious kind of guy," and then he stretched, extravagantly, with arms up over his head. He glanced over at the video screen and asked, "I wonder how much longer until the interview comes on."



Keen disappointment flashed up into Spock's throat, a physical tightening associated with an emotion that Surak said he should not be feeling at all. He subdued his body's reaction and reminded himself that he also enjoyed Kirk's company, that their friendship was fulfilling.



"Approximately five minutes, if President Tashin was correct in his information."



"I guess I can stay awake that much longer. So, what do you think of this so-called mission that Admiral Dabney has sent us on?"



"Our presence here is unnecessary, not stimulating, and wasteful of our time."



"Trust you to tell it like it is. God knows I've been bored, so it must have been even worse for you. I don't know how the diplomats stand it."



"This culture is not different enough from the typical Federation member to occasion special treatment of any kind."



"Except for the kissing," Kirk reminded him with a deliberately straight face meant to show that he was hiding a smile. "The exchange of lip juice, as Bones would say."



"A remarkably inelegant term."



"Does it bother you, really?"



"After the initial experience, no. I am able to divorce myself from the associations that humans typically make with such an action."



Kirk passed the tip of his forefinger over his lower lip reflectively. "If there isn't a physical attraction behind a kiss, and there isn't genuine emotion propelling it, what's the difference between that and any other kind of greeting? I told myself, not much."



"And yet you declined to continue to participate in the Vaneetian norm with the first political advisor when we parted."



"Oh, that. That was because—"



But Kirk was interrupted by a change in the music that had been a quiet background to their talking. The singers had disappeared from the vidscreen and a woman standing in front of a white sculpture was speaking instead.



"Here is your interview," Spock said unnecessarily, and he rose to adjust the volume. When he returned to the couch, he kept his feet on the floor.



As Spock had predicted, Kirk acquitted himself well during the ten minute dialogue. Part of that, Spock told himself ruefully, was the charm his captain displayed so effortlessly, and which every female seemed to appreciate. Kirk's smile was effective everywhere the Enterprise went.



Unlike on Earth, where the piece would have been edited into only the most interesting snippets and reduced to at most a minute's feed, the entire interview was aired from beginning to end. And the most pertinent part came at the very end, when the reporter offered Kirk a rather shy kiss and Tashin and Zona came back into the picture. Spock witnessed once again Tashin's four point seven second kiss—he must have it down to a routine—and Zona's obvious use of his tongue in a blatant open-mouthed assault.



"That," Kirk said as he rose and walked to the wall to click the screen blank, "was why I taught Zona how to shake hands."



Spock didn't know what emotional reaction to permit himself: a sense of outrage that such physical intimacy had been forced on Kirk when he was not in a position to reject it, jealousy that he himself was denied that same contact that he craved, or…arousal. He could imagine kissing Jim like that….



Spock cleared his throat and said, "I do believe that there was indeed a sexual intent in his action. I have not observed others employing such a technique."



"Oh, there was sexual intent all right," Kirk said with a twist to his mouth, still standing by the vid. "It wasn't too hard to recognize, even coming from another man. But I didn't like it too much."



"Of course you did not."



"I hope I made the point tonight that I'm not interested in him."



"He is an obviously intelligent and sophisticated man, though his mores are different from yours and mine."



"It's interesting, isn't it," Kirk said, striding over to the window and looking out at the night, "how this culture uses a sexual gesture for rather ordinary communication duties: hello and good-bye, how're you doing? It's easy for them to slip over into sexual conduct or at least an expression of sexual interest. There aren't any clear boundaries that I can see. No…understanding of when it's all right to be sexual and when it's not."



"Undoubtedly there are cues of which we are unaware," Spock supplied uneasily from his spot on the sofa.



"I guess." Kirk turned around to look at him from across the room, grasping the lip of the windowsill behind him. Spock could not turn his helpless eyes away. Here was an attractive, intelligent, virile man standing only in his briefs and a bathrobe in the same room as Spock, who desired and loved him so much. But Kirk was unaware of the thrumming of his first officer's heart or the quickening in his loins. He knew nothing, because Spock would reveal nothing.



"I wonder…how we'd fit in this society. What it would be like to live here. Having sex with anybody, male or female. No ties of marriage or any permanent commitment. What do they do with the feeling that springs up between two people?" Kirk gestured with two hands held apart, looked down at them, then he spun around and tugged the curtains closed with more emphasis than necessary. Spock's memory captured how the robe his captain wore rode up on his buttocks and legs as he reached up, how for a moment the curve of his well-developed buttocks was caressed by the concealing-revealing cloth.



Kirk turned around again suddenly and caught Spock's intent stare; for a long moment their eyes lingered on each other, and Spock knew that he had to leave, soon, for the sake of his friendship with this man. Then he wrested his gaze away and contemplated the surface of the table. He was ashamed, and he hoped his perceptive captain, who had not liked Zona's demanding, questing kiss, had not seen too much in his eyes.



Kirk walked back to the couch, and by the time he was there, Spock was back in control of himself. And Kirk: Kirk was his captain again.



"We're all used to the way we do things, aren't we?" came his captain's contemplative voice as Kirk stood by him. "Lots of times that's all right, because if we don't have our own unique perspective and judgments to bring to the universe, what's the sense of it all? We are who we are. But then, sometimes, something new comes our way and we manage to see it differently. We can accept it, maybe because it's right. Or maybe because it just happens to fit into our world view or because we're making the effort." A pause. "Like being willing to kiss a man on Vaneeta or understanding that you don't want to give gifts on the ship. Life brings us…interesting challenges sometimes, does it not, Mister Spock?"



Never more so than this evening, with the sweet honey warmth of Kirk's confidences—who else had ever shared their innermost thoughts with Vulcan's son in exile?—surrounding him. "Indeed it does," Spock answered, and he was careful to keep irony from his tone.



The sound of a yawn brought Spock's head up to look into Kirk's tired face.



"You are fatigued."



"Yeah. I think I'd better turn in or I won't be much use tomorrow. I'll check in with the ship and then call it a day. Good-night, Spock. I'll see you in the morning."



"Good-night, Captain."



**** ****




That night, Spock wove a waking dream. He found himself in his quarters on the Enterprise.



It was night-time there, too, for the corridor was dimmed for gamma shift as he watched Kirk leave the turbolift and pace down to their cabin. Their cabin, the one that they shared.



From above, Spock watched himself greet Kirk with a nod and a word from his desk, as if this were any ordinary night, one of many nights they shared filled with ease and intimacy. A night such as the one they had already shared on Vaneeta, only different. For Kirk was suddenly wearing his robe, his bare feet were up in Spock's lap, and Spock reached to touch them. He ran a finger firmly along the well-defined arch, then up over the toes. Under to the sole, where he knew Jim would enjoy it. He had the right to touch now.



"Ah," Jim said, visibly relaxing back in his chair as Spock pressed and scratched. "That feels good."



Feels extraordinary, the Spock-watcher said, and he knew arousal and clutched himself through the fabric of his Starfleet issue pajamas. But the Spock with his captain's feet in his hands was not erect; his black uniform pants were not strained. Not yet.



"Hard day on the bridge. You were on the scanners for hours. I bet your back aches."



It often did. So then Spock was sitting on their bed (large, not regulation, larger than this one on which he reclined on Vaneeta, but perfect for two, and he wondered how they'd had it installed), arching his back and Jim's strong, capable hands were on him, running up under his uniform shirt (so strangely arousing, for Jim to be half-naked and Spock to be clothed), kneading, skimming the tips of his fingers along the hollow of Spock's back.



Impossible not to know sexual feeling at the scenario. Impossible not to touch himself. The Spock-watcher reached within his briefs and wrapped his hand around his hardness as he seldom allowed himself to do.



But on the bed the two were talking quietly and innocently. Jim said something outrageous (what? Not important) and Spock twisted around, dislodging the massage, to present his mate (yes, mate) with an admonishing but amused eyebrow. Jim leaned in closer to him, gently saying, "You are fascinating," and then he was so close that their lips had to touch.



The kiss. Like…. Like…. Not like Leila. Not like Zarabeth. Not like the single nameless man he'd bedded two years before when he realized it was a man's strength for which he yearned. Not like the first deputy minister of trade at the lens factory who was an attractive, intelligent man with whom Spock had shared a kiss that afternoon; their auras had brushed and Spock had acknowledged that they might be compatible sexual partners, though he had no interest.



He did not know how Jim's lips would taste, how they would feel, how that part of Jim's body would react when joined with him. But it would be different, definitely, a different quality, for all their kisses would be a continuation of the most profound intimacy of body and mind. An intimacy that would banish all Spock's loneliness and fulfill the physical ache that throbbed in him whenever he saw his captain, but especially in a navy blue robe with only briefs underneath….



And then Jim pulled back from what after all had been the merest, most chaste contact and he went into the bathroom. A thrill went all the way through the Spock-watcher when he realized he wanted to see Kirk pull out his penis to urinate, but he couldn't because then the com sounded from the other room. So then Spock stood up from the bed and walked over to the desk (flash of flesh, Kirk's hand on himself, a generously-sized penis even though not erect, of course he had known that was how it must look from the way Kirk filled out his uniform pants, but in his desire to preserve his captain's privacy he'd never really seen it clearly before. But if they shared the nights in sexual activity and ease then of course he would already know) and he pressed the com link button.



Engineering had a problem, but he would not leave his beloved for a minor difficulty a junior officer should be able to fix. Environmental? Too dangerous to ignore. Antimatter imbalance? No. Ah, cross-circuiting in the inactive conduit.



And then Jim was emerging from the bathroom, the bulk of his penis tucked back into his briefs and his robe belted tightly. He stood behind Spock and his hands went up onto Spock's shoulders, just the way Spock had felt Kirk's hand on his shoulder after dinner.



"Up," Jim whispered, "arms up so we can get this off you."



So Spock continued to talk to Lieutenant…Fermi and Jim undressed him as he spoke. The touch of Jim's hands: skimming along his side as the shirt came off (careful that his words were not muffled, he didn't want the lieutenant to guess what was happening in the cabin the two lovers shared, although that thought, too, was arousing), then Jim's fingers around his waist to unhook his trousers, then his thumbs in a smooth sweep down Spock's legs as the pants came off.



One stroke, just one stroke up his penis the Spock-watcher allowed himself, and it opened every sexual nerve in him. He gasped and wanted more. More of what was going on in their cabin on the Enterprise. More of Jim. Jim.



Now his captain was removing Spock's boots and socks and then his briefs were gone, and he wanted to ask for what was pounding in his brain and demanding in his body, more, for a touch to his aching penis that jutted out in the air over the desk, over the little grid into which Spock's words about cross-circuiting were going, if only Jim would touch him just once (or touch him anywhere, anywhere, he was crying out for a touch, I am lonely, I want to kiss you, Jim, to fuck you, to live with you). But he couldn't make a sound or the lieutenant would know that he was standing naked while Jim in his blue bathrobe stood behind him.



And then Jim moved. Forward. To press against Spock's back and buttocks. Jim's penis was free from his briefs and poking through the opening of his robe (again the juxtaposition of nakedness and being clothed, Jim's penis extraordinarily framed by the cloth) and it found a place up against the crack of Spock's buttocks.



What he wanted, yes, but not exactly the stimulation he needed now, so Spock turned around and took his bonded lover in his arms to press their organs together and kiss his captain….



And again he did not know how Jim would taste or act in such circumstances and it seemed very important to know that. Why didn't he? If they were bonded lovers?



Because none of this was real and these images in his brain were fantasies.



With a sigh Spock opened his eyes to the darkness of the room the Vaneetian officials had given him in the presidential dwelling. It was impossible to sustain the scene if he stopped to tell himself the events were not real. He did not seem to have the trick of it the way the humans did. He was left with his lonely longings instead.



His hand was still wrapped around his penis, but it was softening of its own accord, and he did not have to apply any concentration to deflate the appropriate cells. He realized he had the urge to urinate and let loose a small ironic smile. Undoubtedly that formed the basis for his wondering about penile size when his captain had visited the bathroom.



But Spock's wry amusement faded as he rose from the bed and carefully picked his way to the unlighted corner where the sanitary facilities were. In the heat of masturbatory imaginings there had not appeared to be anything improper about such thoughts. Now, he blushed in the darkness and had difficulty emptying his bladder for the tension that suddenly invaded his body.



How inappropriate. How embarrassing. This was not right.



Spock walked back to his storm-tossed bed and pulled the sheets straight. Then he sat down with a sigh and leaned his elbows on his knees. He could not continue to conduct himself as he had the past day. Listening to McCoy's incoherent ramblings and attempting to make something of them. Being influenced by the kissing required of him on Vaneeta—he must have been aroused throughout the day and not truly realized it. Reading too much—much too much—into the innocent evening he had spent with Jim.



How dishonest he was being. For what he had imagined was unlikely. There had been so many opportunities that night for Kirk to move past the ordinary words and into the extraordinary possibilities that lay between them: Spock's subdued flirtation with Farna, his revelation about the sexual behavior of Vulcans, Zona's unwelcome advances. Kirk had not pursued any of them. If there had been even the smallest hint…. There had not been.



Perhaps it was time to accept what he had already repeated to himself several times recently but which he had also spent some considerable time ignoring: Jim Kirk was not attracted to men. Jim did not wear the bathrobe to engage in subtle sexual foreplay but because he was tired, he needed to be comfortable, and he trusted Spock implicitly.



In the stillness of the Vaneetian room, Spock drew in a long, cleansing, determined breath. Centered himself. Yes. There was truth in that.



Spock lay back, pulled the sheet over himself, and composed himself for sleep. Resolution filled him. He would cease to live in possibilities and deal instead with the here and now. It was, after all, where Kirk lived.



However, the morning light proved that his resolution might be difficult to keep. His captain knocked on his first officer's door just as Spock finished combing his hair and was ready to face the day, and he swept into the room with the same controlled vitality that had attracted Spock's interest from the moment Kirk assumed command.



"Ready to go?"



He tugged on his dress uniform tunic, though its stiffness did not yield. "I am prepared, Captain. Did you sleep well?"



They strode out into the corridor and turned towards the formal dining room, where they were scheduled for a working breakfast with the minister of trade. "Like a baby. And you?"



"Adequately." He did not know what prompted him to inquire, perhaps his determination to continue to enjoy the basics of their friendship. He had been surprised early in Kirk's captaincy to learn that he had the ability to amuse his commanding officer. "How, exactly, does a baby sleep? I presume you mean you slept soundly, but so far as I know, human babies do not often achieve restful repose for any length of time."



"And how do you know anything about human babies sleeping?"



"From my extensive reading, of course."



"Well, then you don't know it all. When a baby does sleep, he really sleeps. Gives his full concentration to it." Kirk looked at Spock with an imp of mischief in his eyes. "A little like the way you do."



Spock furrowed his brow in pretended concentration. "The way I sleep? Or the way I concentrate?"



That brought a full smile to his captain's face. "I've seen you sleep, Spock, and you give that as much attention as you do everything else. That's why I wanted your feet up last night; you need to relax more."



"I will endeavor to do so."



They walked along the brightly lit, carpeted hall for a few moments in silence, while Spock wondered in some consternation what controls would be necessary before he would not perceive Kirk's sexual attractiveness. Was this condition similar to the Terran fable of Pandora's box? Some containers, once opened, could not be closed again. Last night Jim's feet, this morning simply the sound of his friend's voice filled Spock with possibilities. Not just sexual ones, for there was an expansiveness to the day that just walking together with Kirk brought, as if all things were possible, as if the two of them could accomplish whatever they set out to do.



They rounded a corner and Kirk inquired, "Did you hear Bones come back last night?"



Spock cast his memory over the sounds of the previous night. Could he have missed the doctor's entry to his room next door during his embarrassing reverie, when the man striding next to him had been aroused, behind him, pushing….



He cleared his throat. "I do not believe so, sir."



Kirk immediately reversed course and started back the way they had already come. "Then we'd better make sure he's here and awake."



The presidential dwelling sported heavy interior doors that yielded only a dull thump when a captainly fist pounded on McCoy's door. Spock watched the performance from a few steps back with his arms folded and some trepidation. It would be just like McCoy to come boiling out of his room filled with loud indignation.



Another series of thumps from Kirk. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead. Time to—"



The door opened before Kirk had a chance to finish the sentence. McCoy stood there in the formal uniform he despised, looking like a man who needed five more hours of sleep.



"No need to wake the neighbors, Jim, I'm here," McCoy said mildly.



Kirk threw an amused glance Spock's way. "Barely, I'd say. Are you ready to come down to the breakfast meeting? We've only got…."



"Four minutes," Spock supplied.



"Four minutes," Kirk repeated.



McCoy spread his arms. "Doesn't it look like I'm ready? Never let it be said that I held up some vital negotiations over eggs and oatmeal. Just let me get my tricorder and I'm all yours."



Spock trailed the other two down the hallway with his hands loosely clasped behind his back.



"Have a good night, Bones?"



The physician stretched as he walked. Spock heard his spine crack. "Fine and dandy."



"Hmmm. Were you trying to make a point last night?"



"A point, Jim? Funny you should put it like that. The point that I made was nothing other than what came naturally."



Kirk choked down a laugh. "Right. I don't think you should make a habit of it, though."



"Spoken," McCoy said sagely, "by one who should know."



But then they were being greeted by two deputy ministers and their chief, more kisses needed to be exchanged, and for the rest of their breakfast Spock wondered what Kirk would have replied to this gentle criticism of his lifestyle.



McCoy went off with the deputy minister of public health to spend a day helping his staff decide how much aid Vaneeta could request to upgrade its sanitary facility infrastructures. Kirk and Spock went with their hosts to the legislative complex. The session there was at least interesting to the extent that Spock could compare the governing body to others that he had observed in the course of his travels. Kirk, it turned out, was not asked to give a speech before the full assembly, although later in the afternoon, when they were attending a meeting of the standing committee on defense, he was asked to compare the military duties of the Enterprise with her exploratory mission.



The afternoon's activities swept them into the evening while still in the company of their Vaneetian hosts. McCoy joined them for a working dinner at the presidential house that they shared with twelve other beings, and from there they went immediately to the Founding Day ceremony. It was to take place in the same large banquet hall where they had eaten the night before, only this time most of the space was given over to rows of seats that were filled with people of all sorts from Vaneetian society.



"It's a long tradition," First Advisor Zona told captain and first officer and CMO as they stood just inside the doors of the noisy, crowded room and waited for the ceremony to begin. This evening Zona's long hair was unloosed and rippled over his broad shoulders. "We've been doing this for more than one hundred and fifty years. That would be…I am not certain how that translates into your measurement of time." He looked from Kirk to Spock, and the captain deferred to Spock with an amused inclination of his head.



Spock had not been able to detect anything other than scrupulously correct behavior from Zona through the day, evidenced by several handshakes, and Kirk appeared not to harbor any resentment towards him. Nevertheless, Spock could not quite feel comfortable around the man who had reached to take—even if unsuccessfully—what he wanted for himself.



"There are many members of the Federation," he told Zona somewhat stiffly, "and they all have their own way of measuring time. However, by Earth reckoning, that would be two hundred and twelve years, two months, and approximately four days."



McCoy leaned into the conversation. "That's one of the benefits of joining the Federation, sir. Some of our members are walking calculators. Spock here lives by numbers and computers."



"Indeed not," Spock defended himself. Since beaming down to Vaneeta, he had unfortunately felt very physical indeed. "No being could."



"Oh? Well, sometimes it seems like that to me, anyway. You mean you realize there's more to life than can be found in a computer?"



Spock did not find that query to be worthy of a response, and so he turned pointedly back to Zona, who was observing them with a small sarcastic smile.



"Please continue, First Advisor," Kirk asked with a quelling glance thrown his CMO's way. "You were going to explain the procedure for the evening and our part in it."



"I see your own advisors do not always agree with each other, Captain. I am fortunate in that I do not have any voice opposing mine in counsel with the president."



"Oh, Captain Kirk doesn't have that problem," McCoy put in. "I know I'm number two on his list."



"I am fortunate in having the wise advice of many excellent officers," Kirk said smoothly. "You were saying, Advisor?"



"Yes, I was. On this day the president acknowledges the debt the leadership owes to all the people who help to make our society work. Selections are made from the different guilds from each province: the artisans, the scientists, the business people, and the others, and of course often the subguilds also present candidates. There are also certain people picked because of their heroism during the year. Last Founding Day we acknowledged a woman who had saved three hikers trapped by an avalanche in the Escher mountains."



Spock looked over the mass of people gathered in the seats; he estimated five hundred at least, not counting the elected elite who were finding their way to a raised circular dais in the middle of the room. Five sets of stairs marched from the room's floor up to the stage. "How are they acknowledged?" he asked. If Tashin greeted each person, this event might last until dawn.



"They each receive a gift from a representative of the government to indicate filial devotion." Zona gestured toward the tables that circled the base of the dais. They were piled high with objects of all sorts, from writing instruments to photographs to crystal glasses. "The guilds rotate each year as to which minister they go to, although the heroes of the people always receive thanks from the president himself. That is at the end of the ceremony. This year, of course, the three of you are included."



Kirk nodded graciously. "I don't think we deserve to be included with your heroes."



"Allow us to disagree, Captain Kirk. And then, of course, you will give your own gifts and acknowledgment to the president and the cabinet. The items that were transported from your ship are on that decorated table. The ceremony will conclude with acknowledgments from the president to all the members of his cabinet, and you to your two officers."



Spock stared at the advisor in startled realization, and only prevented himself from transferring his gaze to Kirk with a definite effort of will. Kirk giving gifts to McCoy and Spock in this formal Vaneetian ceremony?



But Kirk regarded Zona with a deep frown. "Is that really necessary? To include Doctor McCoy and Commander Spock? It would be better to end the ceremony with our presentation of appreciation to President Tashin."



But Zona shook his head. "No, that would leave the Founding Day unbalanced. The giving, the receiving, it must be the same. The people give to all of us in sometimes unacknowledged ways, so we have this day to recognize how we all contribute, how we are joined together. Your officers, surely they serve a similar function for you?"



"Yes, of course they do. They're essential to the safety and success of the Enterprise. No captain acts alone."



"Then you will want to acknowledge their value in your life."



Kirk blinked and seemed, to Spock's fascinated eyes, to be taken aback. "Zona," the captain said sincerely, "no gift, no matter how valuable, can possibly represent what my people mean to me."



"I understand, but, nevertheless, in this ceremony we make the attempt. You are the last on the schedule to give what you have to your men."



Kirk's mouth twisted as he contemplated. "I presume all this is accompanied by a kiss?"



Of course, his captain's quick understanding had imagined the scene as soon as Spock had, had drawn the connection between the gift-giving and a kiss. Naturally, the Kirk who had not pursued their conversation last night and who had made it clear to Zona that he was not interested in him would not want to give such kisses. Kirk would feel uncomfortable making such a gesture towards men with whom he worked every day.



But the spirited part of Spock that had always managed to escape his control surged in anticipation. Despite his resolution in the night, he wanted this….



The dark-haired advisor raised a brow at the stupidity of the question. "Of course there is a kiss as well. Out of common courtesy."



"But you know that's not our custom, especially for Spock," Kirk said with some heat. "He's been making a special effort to comply with the way you do things on this planet, when it's completely against his customs. He doesn’t even like to touch people."



"Captain," Spock said quietly, "it has not been an—"



"I know it has. I don't like it when you're forced into behavior you wouldn't otherwise consider. It just isn't right."



Zona looked from one to the other. "But you have accommodated yourselves to our ways so far. Just as we will be doing once trade begins with all your peoples. For now, would it not be possible for you to continue to observe our customs?" Then, apologetically, "The handshakes and," Zona looked towards Spock, "the gesture that Commander Spock's people use, they would be difficult to explain as changes to a ceremony that has remained the same for so long."



For a moment Kirk stood undecided, a most uncharacteristic pose. But then the captain looked over at where Spock stood next to McCoy, although he could not help but notice that Kirk did not meet his eyes directly. "Well, gentlemen, a small addition to our duties. Think you can stand it, Bones?"



The physician shrugged, and a twinkle appeared in his eyes. "My dreams come true, my captain. And I can't wait to see what my gift is."



"Bilge water for somebody with no taste in booze," but there was no bite to Kirk's words, he said them almost absently. "All right, looks like I've got to arrange a last minute delivery." He pulled out his communicator, surveyed the crowd, and said, "I'll do this outside so there won't be any beaming interference."



"Of course, Captain. If you'll come this way, Doctor McCoy, Commander Spock, you may take your seats in the first row on the stage while we wait for your captain." Zona gestured towards the spot.



Once they were seated and looking out over the crowd, now swollen to at least seven hundred strong, McCoy commented, "I wonder what Jim'll come up with."



Spock crossed his arms over his chest. "I do not know." And he did not care, either, as he was focused on the act peripheral to the gift-giving as well as being engaged in a vigorous internal debate. The logical, first officer, Vulcan part of himself was attempting to remind him that this gesture would have no meaning, that indulging in anticipation of this sort would only bring disappointment after the event. For Kirk would not be kissing him the way he wished to be kissed.



But another part of himself, the part that had been awakened by his captain, was determined to gather as much sensory experience from Kirk as he could. How ironic that his fantasy of the previous night had ground to a halt when he could not imagine Kirk's lips on his.



The ceremony began once Kirk returned and slid into his seat in the center of the row between Tashin and Zona, a few chairs from where McCoy and Spock sat. The master of ceremonies, displaying a crystal goblet that must have had some historic significance, emerged from a far curtain to a musical fanfare and applause from the audience.



An extremely tedious two hours and seventeen minutes ensued, but eventually all the representatives of the various guilds had been recognized and it was time for the heroes of the people to stand before Tashin. The president descended the stairs to the floor of the room with such measured steps that Spock was certain there was some symbolic meaning to the act, perhaps that all people stood before one another equally. One of the ushers came to the edge of the stage and gestured toward the Starfleet officers to join the other heroes, so Spock gathered McCoy with a glance and followed his captain to the end of the short line.



This was the sixth kiss he had shared with President Tashin, by far the longest, and for the first time Spock experienced a sudden surge of distaste. He didn't wish to be making this intimate gesture with this man when he would soon be sharing it with his captain. Would soon be kissing his captain.



Spock mastered his frown, accepted the length of woven fabric pressed into his hands, and retreated back to his seat.



He witnessed Tashin presenting gifts to the cabinet members as if from the wrong end of a telescope: the event and the people seemed very far away, and time moved ever more slowly. All a result of excessive emotion, he understood that, but he seemed helpless to prevent the sensory and temporal distortion. The Founding Day ceremony was almost over, just one more small giving….



Spock rose with McCoy again and stood back while Kirk presented Tashin with an Arcturan crystal mounted on a onyx base; impossible to tell what the president really thought of what was a rare and valuable gift, but he mouthed the appropriate thanks and stepped forward into yet another kiss. Then the cabinet members, all seven of them, were given magnums of champagne and the captain's lips. Spock concentrated hard and concluded that he, too, had noticed the Vaneetians' fondness for sparkling wines. Kirk had made a good choice.



And then only two Starfleet officers stood before their captain.



Kirk reached behind him for a wrapped package and commanded McCoy forward with his eyes.



"Lieutenant Commander Leonard McCoy," he said, as the others had named the ones before them. Then, very softly, "This isn't from ship's stores, Bones. Here's your New Year's present. Go ahead, unwrap it."



The paper fell away easily to reveal an antique edition of Gray's Anatomy. McCoy caressed the cover of the book and looked at Kirk with a shining gaze.



"Jim. Thank you."



Kirk was obviously pleased at the success of his selection. "Two hundred and forty years old, so treat it well."



And then, in accordance with Vaneetian tradition, he extended his arms and kissed his chief medical officer full on the lips, maintaining the contact for a full four seconds.



"Happy New Year, Bones."



"Happy New Year, Jim."



And then McCoy stepped aside and only Spock stood before Jim Kirk.



So many times he had stood before his captain, so many times they had looked with meaning at one another. This was no different, Spock told himself as he advanced a few steps. He attempted to school his features to impassivity, as a true son of Vulcan should, but he did not know if he succeeded. Spock did see his captain's eyes, they seemed to consume him as he came closer. They spoke of the affection Spock knew Kirk harbored for him. They spoke of all the days and nights that they had already shared, and the affinity that had made them the most efficient command team in the 'fleet. They spoke of the sort of friendship that Spock had never known with anyone before.



"Spock," Kirk said, and then he stopped. "Commander Spock. You and I, we don't need gifts between us. It isn't your tradition, and it isn't ours, either. So there is no gift for you today."



And then Kirk reached with arms outstretched. With a heart that pounded suddenly and completely out of his control, Spock bent his head. Kirk tilted his up, and for the briefest of moments their lips met.



Only to be separated, because Kirk stepped back hastily, as if he couldn't endure to have the contact last longer. Spock blinked and looked at his captain, whose face suddenly said nothing at all. Their kiss had been the most perfunctory possible.



Kirk turned away, and Spock returned to his seat. The master of ceremonies took the crystal goblet he had brought into the auditorium and smashed it to the ground. McCoy looked at Spock curiously, and then at Kirk, but he kept his silence. The Founding Day ceremony was over, and Spock had been kissed.



He did not sleep that night for thinking.



**** ****




Four days later Spock strode with purpose through the darkened late-beta shift corridors of the Enterprise. The ship was halfway through the one hundred and seventy-two light year cruise that would take them to the Deshani colonies; Kirk had ordered a leisurely warp two. The ship's wounds had been healed by Engineer Scott and his talented technicians; the crew's psychic hurts had been made well by time and a succession of holiday parties. Doctor McCoy reported that psych readings were well within acceptable limits.



The previous night the crew had celebrated the passing of the old year to the new, observing Greenwich Mean Time on Earth. There had been one large shipwide party in rec rooms eight and nine, whose common wall had been collapsed to join them. Kirk had presided over the gathering, where Spock understood many gifts were exchanged. Some, however, he knew were given in private, especially if there was a romantic intent between people.



As he had done every year since he had assumed his position as first officer, Spock headed a skeleton crew on the bridge for two successive shifts, for sixteen consecutive hours, while the party continued. Kirk had sincerely thanked him. McCoy had taunted him. Spock had known this was the correct thing for him to do. He was a Vulcan, and he did not enjoy parties very much.



He was not nearly so sure of what he was about to do. Much thought had gone into his decision, but emotion was at the heart of his analysis, and his life experience of emotion did not give him any certainty.



After his double shift, Kirk had excused him from alpha shift duty—and I don't want to hear that you're working in one of the labs, either. Get some rest. A pause. Put your feet up—and so he had dutifully slept, completed his own necessary paperwork, finished some of the captain's paperwork, thought some more, and then worked on one of his ongoing projects in an attempt to steady his supposedly non-existent nerves. Eventually he had gone to the deck five officers' mess for dinner.



Kirk was not there, but McCoy was.



"Evening, Spock," McCoy had said when he had put down his tray across from the physician's half-eaten meal.



Spock picked up his fork, but he was not interested in the food in front of him. "Doctor McCoy, may I ask you a question?"



"Shoot."



"Is the captain's Daniels-Poe score a reason for some concern?"



McCoy blinked, then leaned back in his chair with his hands over his stomach. His drawling accent was obvious when he spoke. "Well now. So you've got that bee in your bonnet."



"There are no insects on board the Enterprise except in the lab on deck eight." Spock knew McCoy hated it when he took colloquialisms literally. "You have not answered my question."



Much more briskly now, McCoy provided, "Medical records are privileged information."



"Except that the first officer must be kept informed of changes in the captain's health."



"Daniels-Poe isn't exactly health, more like state of mind. Happiness."



"The captain's state of mind is of great importance to me."



"To you? To First Officer Spock?"



"Indeed."



"Not good enough, Spock. You don't have a need to know this one."



Spock controlled a grimace and buried his gaze in his casserole. "McCoy…" he started, but he did not know what to say.



"Jim's all right, Spock."



"There is a difference between 'all right' and 'well,'" he said quietly.



"He could be happier. But then, couldn't we all? We all have to find a way to our own happiness."



Still Spock could not find the words for what was in his mind. He and the doctor ate in silence until McCoy finished and stood with his tray.



"Good-night, Spock."



Spock twisted in his seat. "McCoy, one moment, please."



"What?"



"Your behavior recently has been somewhat…atypical. Even for you."



That raised both of the physician's eyebrows. "'Even for me'? I think I'm insulted."



"I did not intend…. McCoy, why?"



"Spock, in your book 'atypical' means irrational. I'm not fooled. So why ask an irrational man why he's crazy? Just as soon ask a fish to hop into the frying pan. Good-night."



That had been four hours ago. Now Spock stood before his captain's cabin and raised his hand to ring the buzzer for admittance. It was a simple action, but it might be the most emotionally courageous act that Spock had ever performed, although only someone who could see into his confused but yearning soul would know that. It was quite possible that he was about to make a fool of himself. Vulcans should be immune to the criticism of others, especially when their fessantil was in balance, but Spock desperately wanted to remain Kirk's friend if his analysis of this situation were incorrect.



Kirk was certainly still awake. It was only twenty-two hundred hours and seventeen minutes. Unless Spock had miscalculated and….



"Come on in."



There. Kirk was present and awake. Spock stepped forward and the door opened.



He had deliberately not brought any reports with him. No sheaf of papers, no computer records, nothing with which to occupy his hands or to hide behind. He found Kirk in his living area, sitting on one of his two cushioned office chairs and reading some bound documents. His feet, without boots but still wearing socks, were propped up on the other swivel chair.



For the moment while Kirk looked up to see who was there, before he could move or respond, Spock absorbed the scene—casual relaxation of the muscular body in the cradling chair—he absorbed the scent—Kirk had been drinking a glass of wine, there on the small table by him, his mouth would taste of it—and he absorbed the overwhelmingly sexual aura of the man. How had he resisted his captain's allure for so long? He did not know. He did know that tonight, with honesty on his mind, with his body already half-aroused at the thought of what he wished they would do together, James Kirk was so attractive to him that his mouth was dry. This was desire.



"Spock." Down came the feet, which Spock understood for the sake of dignity, although he felt a pang at the loss of his captain's position, so reminiscent of their time together on Vaneeta that he had dissected and dissected over the past four days.



Kirk leaned forward but did not stand. "What can I do for you?" He waved at the other chair in front of him. "Have a seat."



"Thank you, Captain, I will." This was perhaps the ideal situation for the conversation he wished to have, sitting face to face with the object of his…interest. Regard. Intent. Desire. With nothing standing between them. Spock so wanted nothing to stand between him and this man.



"Everything all right with the ship?" Of course, that is what Kirk would ask first. "Except, you're not supposed to be on duty."



"I have followed your instructions about resting, sir, and I have not visited the bridge since I left at oh-eight-hundred hours this morning."



"Good."



Spock's determination to be truthful with Kirk compelled him to add, "However, I did check in with the officer of the watch one hour ago, and all is well."



Kirk's eyes smiled. "I didn't intend to exile you, just give you the opportunity to relax."



A small silence fell between them. Kirk was undoubtedly waiting for him to open the topic of conversation that had brought him here, but Spock was unsure as to the best way to start. He had attempted to assign probabilities to various conversational openings but had quickly discarded the exercise as a futile one. The direct approach would be best.



"Jim, I would like to ask you something."



"All right."



"I wish to know if…if your repeatedly stated desire for me not to engage in activities that are against my wishes or beliefs has a particular focus. A reason."



Kirk went very, very still. It was almost frightening, the way tension collected in his captain, along with a rush of gathering power that accentuated the purpose, the competence of the man. But Spock had never been frightened of his captain. He had seen that power wielded in all sorts of situations, and it had always been—he admitted it to himself—intensely exciting. Kirk on the bridge outmaneuvering the Klingons, Kirk determined to gain diplomatic concessions, Kirk with head bent trying to outthink Spock over a chess board: all had been intensely, sexually exciting to Spock.



Kirk sitting in a chair regarding him with bright, considering eyes. Yes, so sexually exciting. This Pandora's box would never be closed for him, never.



The captain nodded slowly. Feeling his way in the dark. He placed his elbows on the arms of the chair, folded his hands in the air and said, "Yes. It does."



"And that is?"



"You do have a tendency to indulge me."



"I endeavor to do what I can as first officer to ensure the smooth functioning of the ship. The captain need not be distracted by trivial matters."



"But the captain doesn't need to be catered to. It's a fine line and sometimes you've crossed it. I don't want you doing things to…to please me when it's not what you really want to do. I respect you, Spock, and your belief system, your code of conduct. The way you've decided to live your life. I would never want you to change that in any way just because you think it would please me."



"Or make you happier."



"Or that, either. Do you understand what I'm saying?"



"I did not understand for many months, although I thought I did. Now, I believe I have a new perspective."



What emotion was that flashing across Kirk's expressive face? Hope, quickly concealed? Let it be hope.



"And what perspective is that?"



"Vaneeta gave it to me."



Again, a stillness, and something more, perhaps…excitement? But still, Kirk was cautious, not giving anything away, and so Spock was still unsure. Kirk said, "Vaneeta was an interesting place."



"Yes. Different from any other planet we have visited because men exchanged kisses there so freely."



"I've been meaning to tell you that I really appreciated how you handled that. I know it couldn't have been easy. You weren't like Bones, giving me a lot of grief."



"I did not see what alternatives we had. For us to fulfill the mission as Starfleet asked, it was necessary to conform to their traditions. As you said, the kisses meant nothing without desire or emotion behind them."



"Yes, I did say that."



"Vaneeta was also different in the way they conducted their Founding Day ceremony. The exchange of gifts."



"Except that I didn't give you anything. I hoped that you would understand it was out of respect."



"On the contrary, you did give me something."



"And that was?"



"Understanding. I have now reassessed my position on the need for giving gifts. I wish to give one to you."



Kirk very quietly said down to the carpet, "You don't have to."



"No, but this gift has…emotion propelling it. And I wish, very much, to give it to you. That is, perhaps, a very important difference to you, is it not?"



Slowly his captain's head came up. His expressive eyes were shining with a light that Spock had never seen before. It was not the affection that had always been there. Something different, something…fascinating.



Dare he name it to match the emotion that throbbed in his heart?



Kirk whispered, "It makes all the difference in the world, that you want to."



Convulsively, Spock reached out with one hand, caught his captain's fingers in his own, a bridge over the space between them. "I do wish to give you this. Jim, will you stand?"



Silently, Kirk rose, and Spock went with him, not breaking the contact between them. Without his boots on, Kirk was shorter than usual, but that only seemed to heighten Spock's feelings and his desire. That so much power and force and skill and emotion could be contained in this smaller, compact body….



Spock stepped close to his captain, then even closer, and at no time did their gazes part. If Spock had thought Kirk's eyes had consumed him at the Vaneetian ceremony, he had been foolish, for now it was even more so, he was drowning in Kirk's gaze, those blazing hazel eyes expanded and filled him, so that all of Jim seemed to surround him. Spock took a loud, deep breath. This was what he had wanted. All of Jim….



Their arms bent to accommodate their handclasp, and Kirk's fingers tightened hard around Spock's. Now, now. They were close enough to kiss. But Kirk did not move, and Spock understood why. His captain would not make this decision; Spock must. For a very long moment they stared wordlessly and motionlessly at each other.



"You will forgive me," Spock said hoarsely, "if I have come to the wrong conclusion, will you not? If this is not the gift you wish to receive…."



"Oh, God," Kirk breathed, and he visibly trembled. "You've never drawn a wrong conclusion in your life. You just needed the right data. Please…."



And so Spock bent his head to kiss his captain.



This sharing would be as different from the sterile pressings of the Vaneetians as it was possible to be. As night and day were different, as Vulcan and human were different. Except that, in this case, what Vulcan and human wanted appeared to be the same.



Astonishing.



For Jim raised his mouth to be kissed. Hesitantly Spock placed his lips against his captain's, still not quite believing that this was happening, and in an instant he felt Jim respond. A tremor ran the length of Kirk's body, and his free hand came up to grip Spock's shoulder, then up to clutch the back of his head. Jim's firm, insistent hand anchored them together, and a thrill coursed straight into Spock's penis as a result. Jim…wanted him.



He would not move.



Except he had to move, to get closer to the cool insistence of Jim's lips against his. No Vaneetian meaningless greeting, this was Jim Kirk desiring this contact, Jim Kirk moving in his arms—when had his own arms come up around his captain's muscular shoulders?—Jim Kirk making a startlingly sexual moaning sound deep in his throat, and opening his mouth….



It was Spock who moaned when their tongues touched. He had wanted this, yes, wanted exactly this, the coolness of Kirk's mouth and the stabbing power of his searching tongue, he had wanted to suck on Kirk's tongue and know that it gave his captain pleasure by the increasing tension in his body and the way Kirk pressed up against him as they kissed and panted. He had wanted to perform all the sexual acts with his captain that two men could share, but he had never been able to translate his meager experience into a semblance of reality. He had not known how pressing his tongue into this cool mouth could make him dizzy with wanting or cause his penis to ache because he wanted so much to be touched there.



It had not been like this before with his other sexual partners. Those few encounters had been slow and measured. Spock had been aware of each stage of sexual excitation, as if checking it off on a list, knowing that when he reached a certain level then orgasm would ensue.



Not here now with Jim. He trembled and felt ready to erupt with each caress of lips, each time their tongues lay wetly over each other. He felt as if his penis was on fire, as if he could never stop kissing because Jim's kisses were food and drink and air, as if he could never let go of this precious body in his arms because some fundamental tenet of his universe required Jim to always be there for him.



Spock growled and thrust his tongue back into Kirk's mouth, thrust his body full against his captain, thrust his pelvis against the hardness opposite his own.



"Wait," Kirk gasped, but he did not pull himself away, just separated their mouths enough for him to look into Spock's face and speak.



"Jim," Spock said in frustration, and he bent to press his wet lips—wet from Jim's kisses—against his captain's cheek.



"No, I've got to see you." Kirk took Spock's face between his two hands and stared at him. Wonder danced in his eyes. "I have been waiting for you," Kirk said huskily, "for a very long time."



"I regret that it took me so long to come to you," Spock whispered.



"You're here at last. But not close enough. Not nearly close enough. Come here." And Kirk bestowed an exquisitely delicate kiss on Spock's lips, one filled with longing and joy and sheer exultation of the spirit, and Spock matched it, because his heart was singing, too.



And then they shared another kiss, and another. Tiny, jackhammer kisses Kirk pressed on his lips as slowly his captain moved against him and exerted enough pressure so that Spock took a step backwards. And then more kisses, and another step backwards, and Spock went because he knew the bedroom was in that direction, but he was distracted by his exploration of his captain's body above the waist. He wanted to touch below the waist, he was so tempted, but there was time, time. For now he would content himself with running his hands over the swell of biceps covered by the uniform tunic, evidence of Kirk's power and strength and the hours that the captain spent keeping his body in peak physical condition. He could sweep his hands down to the trim indentation of waist, its luscious curve that fit the measuring of his hands just so. And he could kiss Jim under his ear, so soft, and along the line of his jaw, and he could hear murmurs of appreciation, and he could tilt his head so that Kirk's kisses could rain on his own skin, there, on his chin and his cheek and his neck, tiny fiery points of pleasure—this is Jim kissing me.



As they shared these caresses of the mouth and of the heart, Jim grasped him, so tightly, about his upper arms, holding as if his life depended on it. And Spock already saw that his life depended on this man, the sharing he had always offered, as well as the psychic strands that they might weave that would bring them together in pon farr. But too soon for thinking of that, for now there was this glorious present of Jim kissing him, giving him certain bruises where fingers possessed him. He wanted such marks of possession, because they would tell him this was real and Kirk had touched him in passion and pushed him back….



…up against the grille that separated living quarters from bedroom, so that his back scraped against metal. But it didn't matter, he would wish to engage in this behavior with Jim anywhere. At that moment he wished to pull Kirk full against him, and because Spock knew he was wanted and welcomed, he grabbed his captain's buttocks in his hands and squeezed. Kirk gasped and wriggled, and Spock's world tilted and inverted itself—I can do this for him, he is such a sexual animal, so beautiful—because this was what he had wanted to do during his fantasy on Vaneeta. In that unfinished imagining, he had wanted to run his hands over this yielding masculine roundness, where he wanted to put his cock, to take his pleasure and ride on his captain's body, feeling Jim move beneath him.



Spock had no breath just thinking about it, what they would do, and then Kirk joined their mouths again, and Spock allowed himself to be ravished by his captain's thorough, unmistakable desire.



"Jim," he tore his mouth away and begged, but he did not know what he was asking for.



His captain reached between their bodies and pressed his hand against Spock's fire-rocket penis, for just a moment, and then before Spock could thrust into the pressure, Kirk was pulling him into the bedroom.



Spock stopped them just before the bed, and he drew Kirk towards him, hard, for an open-mouthed kiss that he hoped told exactly of his excitement, his desire, and of his whole-hearted participation in all they had shared so far and all they would create between them on the cool white linen of the bed.



Kirk was wild-eyed and panting when Spock reached for the gold tunic. He would have the smooth expanse of Kirk's chest for his fingers and palms and lips, he would, and so he lifted the cloth, and in his haste he might have hurt the human flesh with the force of his insistence that whipped the shirt over Kirk's head amidst a sound of ripping material. And then his captain was wrestling Spock out of his uniform tunic and undershirt, but Spock did not want to stop touching, and so they both overbalanced and they tumbled onto the bed.



Jim's bed.



I should have known being with him would be different, not calm and ease at all but fire and ice and more fire.



Jim rolled on top of him and Spock closed his eyes to experience that solid weight, popped them open again as he pushed up so he could have access to Jim's erect nipples. They were tiny hard balls beneath his fingers, and he twisted and pulled on them, watching Kirk's face all the while, watching and enjoying his open mouth panting and the glow in his eyes. A glow that reflected exactly the same emotion that had grown to stretch and define Spock's existence.



That thought produced a wild, tumultuous exultation. With a cry that filled the small room, Spock used his strength as he seldom did among humans, and he flipped them over so that it was Kirk looking up at him and Spock who pressed his body over the man he wanted. He desired no one else, not any woman, not the nameless man on a tourist planet, not Buta Leek Farna, and not any other sexually compatible person. Spock wanted James Kirk, and he wanted him now.



Without inhibitions or embarrassment Spock worked impatiently at the clasp of Kirk's uniform pants, but the angle was wrong, and Spock's passion made his fingers clumsy. Kirk made a small noise of impatience and swept his hand away, replacing it with his own intent fingers. He had the clasp undone and the fastening unsealed in a moment. With a gasp Spock lifted his weight off his captain so that pants and briefs could be skimmed off together with one motion.



But Spock didn't immediately see what he quite desperately wanted to see, because he jumped off the bed, pulled his boots and socks off, divested himself of the rest of his useless clothing that was an impediment to full sexual union, and then he spun around to finally see the naked man spread out on the bed waiting for him.



Though his heart was pounding, and the blood in his penis was throbbing, and every instinct Spock had screamed at him to lay himself down over Kirk and take his pleasure, he paused—and looked.



A moment out of time. They were still and silent, except for the sounds of their panting breaths. Kirk was looking up at him, too, and as Spock's gaze traveled the length of the tense body, his captain reached down and encircled the base of his penis with one hand, as if to better present it for his lover's perusal. Spock swallowed hard. Kirk was sharing everything with him….



Kirk's penis was large and dusky rose colored, perfectly shaped with a generous defining crown and a urethral hole on which a drop of clear fluid glistened. It was impossible not to think of all the things Spock wished to do with this penis, how he wanted to hold it and lick it and kiss it and take it into his mouth and take it into his rectum and how he would see it erupting with human sexual fury and experience the spray of semen against his tongue and within his body. And how he wished Jim to do all those things with his own penis. Oh, to see his organ disappearing into Jim's mouth….



Spock clutched at himself, hard, he squeezed until he felt pain, for if he hadn't a premature ejaculation would have sprayed through gentler fingers.



"Oh, no, don't hide yourself," Kirk hoarsely commanded, and he reached out a questing hand.



Impossible, unless he wished to end this sexual encounter right then, and Spock most definitely did not, so he dropped to his knees and pressed his urgency against the side of the bed. The better to see Kirk's masculinity. To touch it. He stroked the shaft with the back of one trembling finger. Everywhere else Kirk was cool, but here he radiated heat.



"Spock," Kirk managed to get out in a wavering voice. His framing hand fell away to his side, leaving Spock in command.



Better than his frustrated imaginings. Jim's penis was even larger in excitation than Spock had thought it might be from the way it seemed when hidden by clothing. Virile in all ways, commanding, and an experienced giver and receiver of pleasure, but softer, so much softer to the touch than his own organ. To prove it to himself Spock ran his fingertips from base to the top again, stopping to circle the flaring corona, barely touching it with care. Then lightly back down and up again, where the pre-ejaculate proved irresistible. He must touch it. Spock swirled it around and around, pressing harder, until a whimper stopped him.



"More," Kirk huskily demanded.



What Spock would have wanted himself. He wrapped his fingers around the shaft and pulled up and down, again, in the stroking motion he had used in solitary night time masturbation.



Kirk caught a breath and tensed, his hips rode up, pushing his penis up through Spock's worshiping, encircling hand, then with his chest heaving and his head thrashing against the pillow, he fought for control, and his eyes creased into slits of pleasure.



"Come here." His captain gasped and reached for him. "Come here!"



Nothing would come between them now. Spock slid onto the body he had dreamed of, and that first touch of their nakedness together stoked the fire in him to an unstoppable conflagration. Kirk's penis pressed against his own…. With a gasp he sought his captain's mouth, which was seeking his, and they were all motion, all togetherness as they pressed and heaved and rolled over onto their sides, much better, better to pull his hips back and jab his penis forward, nothing could come between them, between the total impact of body against body.



Frantically, breathing heavily into the mouth he would not leave, Spock sought what he needed, what he wanted to take and what he wanted to give and share with Kirk. He was so close. Jim's hand on his hip, anchoring, his own hand curved around Jim's ass, brutally pressing fingertips that would also leave bruises, his mark on his captain's body, jim jim jim.



Spock came with a triumphant cry. He thrust his seed forward with a jerk, and again and again, he was quivering and eager to bathe Jim's stomach with his hot emission. The last shreds of his orgasm were fading and he was subsiding into stillness when Jim convulsed against him silently, and he held the shuddering body and experienced for the first time his captain gripping at him in orgasmic delight, his mouth pursed in a tensed "O," and human seed splashing between them. Not wasted.



Panting and overheated, Spock fell away onto his back, releasing Kirk, who did the same although there was so little room on the small bed. Their shoulders touched and their steaming arms overlapped in one long hot line down to their wrists. Spock spread his fingers, searching, and wrapped his hand in wonder tightly about his captain's.



It was hard to breathe, he was desperate to pull in more oxygen, and his heart was thrumming wildly, but Spock had never felt so…. This was happiness. Anything else that Spock had labeled with that word paled in comparison with what he was experiencing. Like bubbly intoxicating wine, it coursed through his mind and his heart and what seemed like every part of him. This they had done between them, he and Jim.



And that was when a chuckle came from the man next to him in the wreck of a bed. "Oh, my God. That was…." Kirk rolled over onto his stomach with difficulty, propped himself up on his elbows and leaned over to press a fervent kiss on Spock's receptive lips. "Are you okay?"



Kirk looked fascinating, with his tawny hair tousled into an uncaptainly disorder, his face still flushed, his eyes sparkling. He looked supremely happy, not anything like the stressed and tired commander he had been just a week ago, and Spock did not prevent his own joy from spreading into a smile.



"Jim. I am—"



"Fantastic." Kirk accented his opinion with another kiss.



"Why would you think I was not well?"



"Because I must have imagined our first time together a hundred different ways, but I never thought we'd just…jump each other. God, Spock, you're wonderful. Better than I dreamed."



Somewhat shyly, Spock reached over to re-settle a strand of hair that had fallen over his captain's forehead. "Did you dream often?"



"Too many times to count. But that's all over with now." With a lazy smile, Kirk asked, "Do you know how beautiful you looked when you came? I used to worry about that, that you'd never be able to really let go and enjoy sex."



Enlightenment dawned. "Hence your desire for me to 'put up my feet and relax.'"



"Right. I'd say," Kirk surveyed the length of their bodies, "that you've got your feet up now."



"And I am relaxed." Spock extended an arm, an invitation for his captain to settle within his embrace.



"Wait. There's something I want to say first. And do." Kirk took a corner of the sheet and unabashedly wiped up the cooling puddle of their mixed seminal emissions from Spock's abdomen, then his own as well. "There." Lithely he pulled himself up to lay full length upon Spock, who welcomed his captain with a kiss. Even now that he was sexually sated, he could not seem to control his desire to kiss Jim, and he hoped he never would.



Kirk pulled back from their contact and sighed. He took Spock's face between his hands and said, with intense sincerity, "I love you."



Spock had never said those words to anyone, including his mother, when he was in his right mind. He regretted now that they had ever left his lips at all, so that they could be unsullied when offered to his captain. But the emotion was unsullied, he realized, pure and genuine and very, very certain. He reached to tangle his fingers in Kirk's honey hair. "I love you, Jim."



"God, I never thought I'd hear you say that to me."



"I have not been coerced in any way," Spock said seriously, "except by the illogical way you play chess."



Kirk smiled, but he was intent on pursuing something else. "What made you do it? Why did you finally come to me tonight?" He rested his chin on his hands. They were so close because of his perch atop Spock, almost nose to nose.



Spock considered all that had happened. "A variety of factors," he finally said, "but some of them are difficult to explain. I am not positive myself whether I was reacting to subliminal clues or something else. Primarily, however, it was the way you kissed McCoy."



"Ah. That's logical."



"You did not kiss me the same way you kissed him, but if you felt towards me as a friend, why would you not? I eventually concluded that it was because emotion and desire lay between us, even if unacknowledged. Not just friendship."



"I got so damn panicked at that stupid ceremony," Kirk admitted. "I didn't know what to do. Give you a gift or not? Try to kiss you like there was nothing between us when I wanted to kiss you…like this?"



He pressed into an indulgent, open-mouthed kiss that left them both panting. "Impossible," Kirk finally said when he pulled back, against Spock's faintly voiced protest. "So I did the best I could, which wasn't very good."



"On the contrary, it was excellent, for suddenly many things began to make sense to me. Did you know," Spock asked, "that you are most attractive in a blue bathrobe?"



Kirk laughed softly. "That got to you, did it?"



"Definitely."



"I tried so hard not to force your hand, not to be too obvious about how I felt about you, but sometimes I just had to…. I wasn't very proud of myself for that."



"Why?"



"You've figured it out, I know you have. My brilliant Vulcan."



"I was a most unhappy Vulcan for some time, when I thought you did not return my regard."



"I had to do it that way," Kirk said earnestly. "I'm your captain, and you have that gratifying but annoying habit of indulging my every desire. You're the best first officer in the fleet, the best friend…but I wanted a lover. I had to be sure, Spock, do you understand? Sure that whatever you gave me came from your heart," he reached around to tap Spock's side, where the Vulcan heart was thrumming with each word he said, "freely given."



"I freely give myself to you," Spock whispered, and he kissed his captain again, gently.



Kirk lay his head down on Spock's chest and hugged tightly. He sighed. "So good."



For a while there was silence between them, a silence filled with understanding. Spock rubbed gentle circles over his captain's back and marveled that it should come to this. For all his hopes, he wasn't sure he had ever truly believed it would, not even this evening as he rang Kirk's buzzer. And yet, he and Jim had always shared a fundamental connection, from the very beginning of the ship's voyage. A connection of the spirit and the mind that had called to the body as well. Why had he not realized the inevitability? If he had been drawn so strongly to his captain's body, he should have known that Jim would have the same desires.



Soon Kirk's breathing evened out into the unmistakable rhythm of sleep. Spock wrapped his arms around his captain with quiet joy. He contemplated the convoluted succession of events that had led to this moment where he lay in his captain's bed with Jim naked in his arms. It had all started with that conversation in the rec room with McCoy about gift-giving….



**** ****




The next morning, Doctor McCoy was surprised to find a large box on his office desk when he arrived two minutes before alpha shift began.



"What the heck?" he grumbled, but he opened it right away, because he was a curious physician, not one of those controlled Vulcans.



In the box were one bottle of Saurian brandy, one bottle of good Scotch whiskey, one bottle of red Terran wine, and one magnum of genuine French champagne. The bewilderment on the honest doctor's face grew until he found the small white card in the bottom of the box.



The card read: To Leonard McCoy. I believe these items are suitable as gifts from one male friend to another. Happy New Year. Spock.



"As I live and breathe," McCoy breathed. And then he began to laugh.



The technician in the outer ward heard the sharp bark of glee and wondered what the joke was. Then again, McCoy was known for having a strange sense of humor.



Eventually the chief medical officer stuck his head out the door. "Hey, Griswald, get set for taking some more Daniels-Poe readings, would you? I think it's time we got some updates."



THE END, HAPPILY
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