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“Captain’s Personal Log, Stardate 6089.3:

We’re en route to planet Kellan, with the mission to establish diplomatic relations and get a new member for the Federation.  Certainly, nothing new for this ship and its crew.  But for some reason I can’t explain, I feel strangely wary about it.  The Kellan are a very advanced society and a keenly intelligent species, but they’re also known for their arrogance and belief in their superiority in all things.  We’ll have to proceed with extreme caution and prove ourselves ‘worthy’ of their high standards of behavior.”

A long pause in the recording followed.

“Under normal circumstances, this mission wouldn’t represent too much of a problem, but after what we’ve gone through in the past two months, the crew is shaken and tired.  Too shaken and tired to face yet another mission of such responsibility.  Failure is a very real possibility.  But once again, duty takes precedence.  We’ll do our best.”

A second pause ensued.

“For me...  today marks my 15 month anniversary.  Fifteen months since I realized I’m in love with Spock.  Fifteen months of hiding and pretending, and so far, succeeding in keeping the truth from him.

Fifteen months of longing, of loving...”

“So many times I wondered if I should tell him and trust him to put me out of my misery one way or another.  And so many times I held back.

But now I’m glad I never told him.

He’s changed.  He’s withdrawn from me to such a degree that I hardly know him anymore.  He pointedly avoids me and when we’re together he stays physically away.  I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the silent treatment but I...  I just can’t take it any more.

I’m at the end of my emotional rope.  I miss him.  I miss his gentle eyes staring at me with that sweet smile only I’m allowed to see.  I miss our chess games, our late-night talks.  I miss walking the decks with him.  I miss looking at the stars together in the observation room.  I miss...  the simple joy of being addressed by my first name.

I loved the way my name sounded on his lips.  I always tingled inside when he called me...  Jim.

It meant so much...

It meant everything.

I feel so alone.  So bereft.  Brushed aside as if I was vermin.

Why?  What did I do, Spock?

Oh, God, no.  Not now.  Not another headache...”

 

The buzzer sounded.

 

Kirk stopped the recording and turned around.

“Come in.”

The door opened and Commander Spock and Dr. McCoy walked in, wearing their full dress uniforms.

Kirk’s heart skipped a painful beat in his chest on seeing that lean, innately elegant, mysteriously handsome body dressed in the blue uniform.

“Well!” McCoy’s tirade started as soon as the door closed after them.  “Here we are again.  Dressed like penguins to honor a bunch of snooty bastards who’re gonna look down on us, even from the bridge’s main screen.”

“Good evening to you too, Bones,” Kirk tried to sound cheerful.  Turning to the mirror, he fastened the neck clasp of his uniform.

McCoy grumbled unintelligibly under his breath.

“What did you say?” Kirk asked.

“I said at least it’s a comfort knowing that you’ll have the last word on whether the Kellan’ll make a good addition to the Federation or not.  As far as I know, that’s the first time Starfleet gave one of their Captains such a prerrogative.”

“If you’ll ask me, that only doubles the stakes,” Kirk looked at himself in the mirror, not liking what he saw.

“If you’ll ask *me,* I think it’s a testimony to your achievements as a Federation ambassador in First Contact missions.  The Headquarters finally understood it’s better to leave the final decision to the good judgment and intuition of the best Captain in the Fleet.”

Kirk let out a bittersweet smile and shrugged.

“If you say so...”

“Of course I do!” McCoy straightened up and turned to the silent Vulcan beside him.  “Don’t you think so too, Spock?” he prompted.

With his eyes fixed on a spot above Kirk’s head, the Vulcan replied in a cold monotone.

“Perhaps, Doctor.”

Kirk paled and swallowed hard.  Taking a deep breath, he turned around and adjusted the neck of his uniform.  His hands trembled slightly.

“What do you mean, ‘perhaps’?!” McCoy’s indignant tone of voice filled the room.  “I thought you’d say ‘undoubtedly’ or ‘unquestionably.’  Since when do you doubt Jim’s abilities as a diplomat?”

“I do not, Doctor,” Spock seemed unfazed by the doctor’s outburst.  “First Contact missions have indeed been very successful in the past.  I simply do not presume to know the motives behind the Federation’s decision without any further data on which to base my opinion.”

“Come on now.  Who needs any data when we know...?”

“Gentlemen,” Kirk cleared his voice and turned to his officers.  “We’re about to enter orbit and we all must be on the bridge to greet Premier Kel and his entourage.” He put out his arm.  “Shall we go?”

McCoy observed Kirk through slitted eyes.

“You’ve lost a lot of weight, Jim.”

“I don’t believe this,” Kirk dropped his arm and rolled his eyes.  “Three weeks ago, your words were: ‘you’re putting on too much weight, Jim.  You should do something about it.’  Make up your mind, Doctor.”

“The key words here are ‘too much,’” McCoy pointed out.  “That uniform is positively loose on you.”

“I’ll worry about gaining some weight later, Bones.  May we go now?” Kirk’s impatience left no room for discussion.

Relenting, McCoy followed his captain and his First Officer out of Kirk’s quarters with the nagging suspicion that something was amiss.  As usual, he took his place beside Kirk, waiting for the Vulcan to take his own place beside their captain at Kirk’s other side.

His astonishment knew no bounds when the Vulcan placed himself beside him, thus leaving Kirk on their left, walking the corridor next to the wall.

If Kirk was as shocked by the Vulcan’s behavior as he was, he gave no outward sign of it, other than a noticeable stiffening of his body and a dignified squaring of his shoulders.

‘All right, what’s going on here?’ he wondered, stupefied.  ‘When did the relationship between these two deteriorate to the point they’re not even walking beside each other anymore?’

Surreptitiously, he studied both men as they walked beside him and quickly began to draw some conclusions...  and understand a few things.  Kirk’s sudden weight loss, the subtle rings below his eyes, his paleness...  and the pain he exuded through every pore.

Something inside him simmered with anger.  Here they were, two grown men who, whether they’d admit it or not, loved one another more than they’d ever loved anyone, acting like teenagers after a spat or a couple after a quarrel.

He started inside when the last thought coalesced in his mind.

‘No.  It can’t be...’

He continued studying his friends on their way to the lift, and the more he did...

‘Jeeeez, this is worse than I thought.  Let’s hope the crap won’t hit the fan at the worst time.’

The little hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as the lift started upwards and he found himself once again between his two commanding officers.  He braced himself inwardly.

The lift doors opened and the three men stepped outside, where they were greeted by the bridge crew, who looked impeccable in their full dress uniforms.  Uhura in particular looked stunning in her red uniform that glittered under the lights.

Automatically, McCoy took his place beside Scott on the upper deck.  Kirk walked up to his command chair and stood beside it as the Vulcan walked over to the science station.

“Mr. Sulu, prepare to enter orbit and activate the main screen,” Kirk ordered in a strained voice.

“Aye, sir,” the pilot nodded.  Beside him, Chekov pulled the neck of his uniform for the umpteeth time.

“If we’re invited to beam down, then we’ve got’em,” Scotty whispered to McCoy, clearly taking the success of the mission for granted.

“I wouldn’t count your chickens,” McCoy muttered to himself.

A loud, resonant voice suddenly echoed through the bridge.

“This is the Kellan space center.  You are now entering orbit.  Identify yourselves.”

McCoy’s eyes rolled.

“Here we go.  As if they weren’t expecting us.”

Scott shook his head.

Kirk took a deep breath and assumed his best military stance.

“This is Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise, representing the United Federation of Planets.  We respectfully request permission to assume standard orbit.”

“One moment.”

Kirk turned to his communications officer.

“Did you open a channel, Lieutenant?” he asked.

“No, sir,” Uhura replied, looking miffed.

Kirk nodded and threw her a soothing smile.  Few things bothered Uhura more than someone messing with the radio frequencies uninvited.

Instinctively, his eyes turned to his First Officer, looking for the kind dark eyes that would invariably be already settled on him, offering the wordless support that always put his mind at ease.

Not this time.  The Vulcan seemed to be making a point of not looking at him.  He stood half-turned to the screen, left eyebrow arched in a display of complete indifference that slashed through Kirk’s heart.

Not even that rock to lean on...

No mercy.

His hand reached out and took hold of the arm of his chair to ground himself.

From his vantage point, McCoy could see the failed exchange and Kirk’s pained reaction.  He looked down sadly, biting his lower lip.

‘Gratuitous cruelty doesn’t become you, Spock.  He needs you.  The life he’s chosen to live is hard enough already.  Don’t deny him the comfort of a compassionate look.’

“You have permission to assume standard orbit,” the voice echoed again on the bridge.

“That is most kind of you,” Kirk’s voice sounded incredibly sincere as he nodded at Sulu to proceed.  “Could I have the honor to speak to Premier Kel, please?”

“Premier Kel will speak to you at his own convenience.  Remain standing by,” the arrogance in the disembodied voice was almost intolerable by now.

Sulu and Chekov exchanged a pointed look that couldn’t quite hide their real feelings.

Keeping his cool and drawing upon his training, Kirk stood by the command chair, one hand behind his back and the other still grasping the arm of his chair.

Endless seconds passed until the main screen activated itself and a group of exquisitely dressed men and women filled it.  At the head of the group stood an imposing and even mildly intimidating middle-aged man, dark-haired and green-eyed.

Unimpressed, Kirk plastered a friendly smile on his face.

“Am I speaking to Premier Kel?”

“You are,” a low, masculine voice replied.  Not particularly cold, but not particularly warm either.

“Good evening, sir,” Kirk bowed his head in deference.  “I’m Captain James Kirk.  I’ve been sent by the Federation to establish diplomatic relations with your people.”

Premier Kel didn’t respond to Kirk’s greeting.  He limited himself to stare at him.  After a few seconds, a tiny quirked smile appeared on his lips.

On his part, Kirk made some studying of his own.  The group stood in a vast oval room that likely belonged in an official building.  Their robes, long and elegant in brown and dark green colors, were almost regal in their design.  Physically, they looked Human, except for one small detail.  They had no eyebrows.  Perhaps for that very reason, their eyes seemed larger than they probably were.

Their eyes.  Something about them felt...  relentless.  As if they could penetrate straight into his soul and read him whole.

Shaking off the preposterous notion, he proceeded ahead.  He had a job to do.

“Whenever you’re ready, we’ll beam down and begin the negotiations.  We’ll be happy to answer any questions and dispel any doubts you may have regarding an alliance with the Federation.”

Premier Kel’s little smile widened a fraction.

“That will be...  quite satisfactory, Captain Kirk.  Because we do have serious reservations about joining your Federation.”

Kirk tipped his head to one side, a bit taken aback by the Premier’s bluntness.

“May I ask what are your reservations, sir?” he released the arm of his chair and placed his hand behind his back as well, in an unconscious reflection of his first officer.

The Premier’s big green eyes gleamed with an almost aggressive look.

Kirk felt like wincing, but he managed to restrain himself from actually doing it.  The throbbing in his head increased tenfold, and he had to close his eyes a couple seconds.

“Our people pride themselves in honesty,” the Premier’s voice echoed in the bridge.  “The biggest sin in our society is falsity in any form.  Lies and half-truths are anathema to us.  Even the smallest fib is severely punished.  Consequently, the association with an alliance of creatures that would permit sophism or be lenient with duplicity in any circumstance, is unthinkable.”

The last thing Kirk expected was to engage in a moral discussion on the bridge of the Enterprise.  It wasn’t the place nor the time.

“Premier, I assure you that the Federation’s intentions are sincere.  There are no ulterior motives to our request.  We seek nothing but peace,” the passion in his eyes was unmistakable.

“Still, we cannot allow you to beam down until we have been sufficiently convinced of your sincerity,” Premier Kel insisted.  “History has shown us that first contact between two disparate cultures is usually fatal to the most vulnerable one.  I am sure that has also been the case in your own worlds.”

“Indeed, sir,” Kirk nodded, in understanding.  “And as I said, I’ll do everything in my power to dispel your fears.”  He made a pause.  “As a Federation representative, I uphold all its principles and precepts.  I wouldn’t have joined such an organization if it were otherwise.”

“Ah,” the Premier’s expression brightened at that.  “So you are saying that your Federation doesn’t tolerate falsehood either?”

This time Kirk did wince, inwardly.

“Well, not in principle,” an in-depth discussion about the subject seemed inevitable, so Kirk took a deep breath and forged ahead.  “But you must remember that this is an alliance made up of hundreds of planets, each of them different and unique unto themselves; each of them upholding a unique set of principles, customs and beliefs that to others may seem unthinkable.  And that’s where IDIC comes in,” he couldn’t help a fast look at the Vulcan to his right, who still refused to look at him.  “IDIC is a Vulcan philosophy that translates as ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.’  Ultimately, every sentient being aspires to the same things – to live and thrive in peace.  And that’s what we’ve found in our alliance - an understanding of our intrinsic differences, and a way to combine them so that we can coexist and bring out the best in each other.  This very ship is the living example of that philosophy.”

McCoy swallowed the lump in his throat.  That was one of the many reasons why Kirk was the best captain in the Fleet.  He embodied everything good about the organization whose values he had sworn to spread throughout the galaxy.  He spoke with such earnestness because those values were the foundation of his deepest, most sacred beliefs.

He couldn’t help a swift look at the impassive Vulcan standing across the bridge.  He was opening his eyes, and his introspective look told him everything he needed to know.

‘So, Jim’s speech has gotten to you too, hasn’t it?  I’ll never stop wondering how you can uphold your precious IDIC, and at the same time deny everything it stands for in the way you’re treating that man.  He’s made so many concessions, sacrificed so much so that you two could share a common ground, and this is what he gets?  Callous, cold-blooded rejection?  I don’t think I’ll ever understand you, Spock.  Accept your love for him and just love him, for heaven’s sake!’

His musings were interrupted by the Premier’s energetic voice, only now it sounded unequivocally annoyed.

“I can see why you were chosen to mediate in the negotiations, Captain.  You certainly have the gift of the gab.  But we will not be fooled that easily,” his stare hardened.  “Is your tolerance of peoples’ ‘intrinsic differences’ tantamount to turning a blind eye on deceit and hypocrisy whenever it suits you?”

The pounding headache was making it harder and harder to concentrate, and the added difficulty of engaging that unforgiving man through the bridge screen instead of face to face, made Kirk feel that his reasoning was falling on deaf ears.

“I’m afraid hypocrisy is an integral part of the human condition, sir,” he reminded them all stoically.  “We’re not claiming to be perfect or free of those ugly faults that often make life so hard to live.  What I’m telling you is that we’re willing to see past those faults and help each other despite everything; because only through mutual cooperation we can survive.”  He set his hazel eyes on the unrelenting green ones.  “If you are so far above those faults to consider becoming a member, we will leave.  But I honestly believe we have much to learn from one another, and we could greatly benefit from our different approaches to life.  Respect for our differences, compassion and openness of mind and heart are paramount, if we truly want to make any relationship work.”

A long silence followed.  Every crewmember on the bridge waited with bated breath, silently supporting their captain for not putting up with the Kellan’s superior attitude, and making such vehement defense of the principles all of them stood for.

Finally, a broad smile appeared on Premier Kel’s features.

“You are one remarkable individual, Kirk.  You speak with passion and conviction.  You do have firmly rooted beliefs.”

“I do, sir,” Kirk stood straighter and took one small step forward.

“With such strong beliefs, you will be someone worth talking to.  You will not compromise on unacceptable behaviors and defer to inferior ethics only because it is convenient.  A man of your integrity will not settle for anything halfway, for doing so would be a betrayal of the excellency you obviously seek in everything.”

Kirk ground his teeth at those words.

“With all due respect, sir.  There is no such thing as ‘inferior ethics’ in our worlds.  Different doesn’t equal inferior, and if you truly think so, then you’re making a big mistake.  And for the record, you would be surprised at the things people would compromise on if they thought the reward is worth the sacrifice.  Life is all about compromise, about accepting the things that we can’t change and living with them.”  Kirk couldn’t believe he was explaining this to an adult person.

Something moved behind the Premier’s eyes.

“That is a lousy way to live, when absolute openness and sincerity could solve things easily.”

“Absolute sincerity can be harmful sometimes.  I’m sure you’ve also learned that lesson in your culture,” a sudden wave of blinding pain behind his eyes almost made Kirk double over.  He bit his lower lip and took a deep, calming breath.

“One thing we have found, Captain Kirk, is that a sustained lie is infinitely more harmful than the harsh truth, painful as it is.  I dare you to deny that.”

“Everything’s subjective, sir,” Kirk was finding their conversation tiresome at this point.  Moreover, it was hitting too close to home, and it hurt to speak about some subjects - especially when it was becoming clear that the Premier’s unyielding beliefs would make the negotiations impossible.  He was seriously considering quitting and ordering Sulu to break orbit.  Still, the point he was trying to make was too important to just give up.  “It depends on everyone’s personal circumstances.  Respect for each other’s sensibilities is basic if we don’t want to live in perpetual conflict.”

“Even if regret is the most likely outcome?” the huge eyes gleamed with unerring conviction.

The saddest smile crossed Kirk’s face.

“Part of living is making mistakes, regretting courses of action taken and not taken.  Living is all about ‘what ifs’; that’s the nature of existence.  It’s the basis of the learning process, of growing up and maturing.  Pride and intransigence are useless in the long run.”

“If that is so, if it is neither pride nor intransigence what is holding you back, then what is it?  Fear?” the green eyes suddenly seemed to close in and bore into Kirk’s.

Starting inside but miraculously managing to not show it outwardly, Kirk straightened up.

“What are you implying exactly, Premier?”

“I am not implying anything, Captain; I am making a statement about your own hypocrisy, that you are conveniently leaving out of the picture,” Premier Kel let out a knowing, crooked smile, leaning forward until he covered the entire screen.

Without meaning to, Kirk’s eyes turned to Spock.  The Vulcan’s dark depths were set on the viewer, eyebrows arched in a gesture of surprised incomprehension.  He then tried to turn his eyes back to the Premier...  And he couldn’t.  Something, an external force, was preventing him, physically preventing him, from looking away.

And just like that, he knew what that external force was.

‘No!’ he cried out inside.

“Your speech, although meritorious and of empirical value, is colored by your inner conflict.  You are making room in your beliefs to accomodate your own situation, that is contrary to everything you claim to uphold.  At this moment, you are not a valid mediator for your Federation.  Therefore, in an aim to clear your presently compromised ethics, reason dictates my next course of action.”

The Premier’s voice ceased to resound solely on the bridge to also echo through every corner of Kirk’s suddenly paralyzed mind.  Immediately struggling against the unspeakable mental invasion, he only succeeded in increasing the already searing pain in his head.

The paralysis eased abruptly, and the Captain of the Enterprise found himself moving forward, climbing the three steps to the upper deck and heading straight for his Science Officer.

Hearing him come close, Spock turned about with a blank expression on his face.  Upon seeing him, he raised a confused eyebrow that didn’t quite hide a nagging suspicion underneath.

Kirk staggered just before stopping right in front of his Second-in-Command, and that was the dead giveaway for the Vulcan.

“Is there something wrong, Captain?” he asked, brow furrowing in apprehension.

Kirk opened his mouth, desperate to communicate that his body was being used against his will, but to his outright horror, his right hand reached out and took the Vulcan’s, bringing it to his chest and placing it there, on his wildly beating heart.

“I am in love with you, Spock.”

Kirk’s brain exploded with shock and revulsion.  Never, never in his entire life he had experienced a greater feeling of violation.  His most precious secret, his purest, most cherished truth, that he had kept hidden and safe from every sentient creature for fifteen months, had been torn from the core of his being and exposed to the world in the bridge of his own ship, before his subordinates, those for whom he had sworn to maintain an unswerving image of duty and service, of an exemplary commanding officer they could look up to in every way.

And now that image had been irrevocably shattered, as the stunned, loud gasps that erupted everywhere confirmed.

With just seven little words.

But the horror wasn’t over.  Not by a long shot.

“I have been for over a year now,” his voice came out soft and tender, as if he and his First Officer were the only two people on the bridge.  “This truth has been rotting inside me for so long because I was afraid that my non-platonic feelings created a rift in our relationship and I would lose you for good.  I behaved like a lovelorn teenager, scared of facing reality.  I settled for playing it safe instead of taking the chance, as I have done all my life.  When the stakes were highest and my peace of mind was on the line, I betrayed myself.”

Feeling sick to the guts, Kirk saw Spock’s face go white.  His First Officer wasn’t only mortified by his words, he was thoroughly humiliated.

“But now I can be finally honest with myself and with you.”  There appeared to be no end in sight to this shameful scene.  “Everything’s out in the open, and I can get rid of all the obfuscations that compromised my conscience and burdened my thoughts.”

Then, giving his Science Officer a shaky smile, Kirk brought up his other hand to join the first and took the Vulcan’s to his lips, kissing the palm right on its very center.

A brutal shudder went through the tall, lean frame.

“Now you’re free to accept my love or, if you don’t return it, take my unconditional friendship, for that will always be yours.”

The following silence felt heavier than a neutron star, only broken by Kirk’s haggard breathing.  His eyes wouldn’t stray from the Vulcan male he’d just proposed to, horrified by the petrified look on his face.

His chin began to quiver and his eyes misted helplessly.

“See?  It wasn’t so difficult, was it, Captain?”

The nonchalant attitude of Premier Kel, acting as if he had done him a favor instead of destroying his command image in front of his crew, was the last straw.  Kirk saw his First Officer swallowing hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing convulsively in his throat, and a choked whimper escaped him.  Twin tears streamed down his cheeks, splashing on the deck at their feet as he was allowed at last to tear his gaze away from the man he’d humiliated and publicly put on the spot.

His eyes swept across the bridge, taking in every shellshocked expression, and tapping from every reserve of dignity and self-respect he possessed, he balled his hands into fists.  Staring straight ahead and shivering with the effort to keep his composure, he exited the bridge, the wet tear tracks on his face a mute testament to the denigrating event that had just taken place.

Apparently amused by his behavior, Premier Kel addressed the Vulcan next.

“A stubborn, inflexible man.  His self-image is more important to him than his moral integrity.  What is your opinion, Officer Spock?”

A deep shudder racked the Vulcan from head to toe.  He looked down at the hand that mere seconds ago had been in the gentle, loving grasp of his captain; the hand that had been held against a vulnerable heartbeat and kissed with a devotion and fervor that no one would ever match.  For no one would ever love him more.

Shaking his head as if coming out of a trance, the blank look on his face transformed in a matter of seconds into one of such blind fury that everybody on the bridge felt an icy chill run down their spines.

With cold, premeditated slowness, the dark head turned to the screen and for the first time, Premier Kel’s self-satisfied expression wavered, becoming one of startlement.

Spock’s nostrils flared and a loud, animal snarl left his throat.

“Kre’nath,” he gnarled, baring his teeth.  “Ku’rra sivash kaptah!”

Kel recoiled physically from the savage, pre-reform Vulcan glaring murder at him.  But then, Spock’s attention turned back to his hand.  A soft shudder ran through him again, and closing it into a fist in a spontaneous, reverent imitation of his captain, his tight lips relaxed.  The word that came out next was whispered like a prayer, a sacred offering, just like any and every time he had pronounced it.

“Jim.”

His eyes raised to the turbolift and as if drawn by an invisible force, he took a smooth step towards it, bringing his fisted hand to his chest, cradling it against it.

“Jim,” he said again, a bit louder.

And then he strode for the lift, bloodshot eyes fixed on the already opening doors.

“JIM!” he cried out right before the doors closed after him.

The ensuing silence was so thick that it could have been cut with a knife.  A silence dense and oppresive - permeated with barely repressed hostility.

Aware of the fact that he was the one in command now, Scott placed himself in front of the command chair, pulling himself together with impressive calm and restraint.  Setting his jaw, he faced the Premier with a look full of disdain, not bothering to hide his utter loathing for him.

But there was someone on the bridge that wasn’t keen on keeping his mouth shut and thus condoning implicitly the immoral act that had just transpired.  Someone who couldn’t care less about the cynical ways of diplomacy.  Someone who simply loved his friends and was always ready to stand up for what he considered just and right, and damned the consequences.

McCoy stepped forward and for a second, it felt like he was going to throw himself at the viewer.

“Do you realize what you’ve done?!” his voice shook with anger and indignation.

“I put an end to a ridiculous situation,” Kel replied to the bitter question as if the answer was self-evident.  “I presume you are intelligent enough to agree with me.”

“You humiliated the captain of this ship in front of his crew!  You raped his mind and forced him to put his naked feelings on public display.  Is that how you conduct your business in your pious, holier-than-thou society?” McCoy’s face was red with rage; the veins in his neck and forehead seemed about to burst.

“Actually, yes.  That is exactly how we sort out our differences of opinion and our moral quandaries,” Kel nodded, tipping his head to one side wryly.  “That is how we have become a successful society, free of any type of conflict.  We do not waste precious time and energy agonizing over issues that so often have an easy solution, when they are addressed head-on.”

“If that’s the way you expect all the planets in the Federation to start running their business now, molding themselves to fit your morals, you’re in for a big surprise, you pretentious moron!” McCoy was too worked up to hold back his fuming tirade.  “If it depended on me, I’d turn the ship around this instant and never look back.”

“I reckon that is the reason why James Kirk is the captain and not you,” Premier Kel dismissed McCoy’s passionate outpouring as a child’s temper tantrum.

“Doctor McCoy speaks for me as well, Premier,” Scotty’s brogue followed the sound of McCoy’s angry spluttering.  “And you only have to look at the faces of everyone else on this bridge to see how we all feel about your little...  demonstration,” his voice dripped with sarcasm.  “A person’s mind is holy ground.  What you’ve done is revolting and despicable.  I’m disgusted by you and your pompous attitude.”

Scott’s serene, level-headed comeback somehow had a greater effect on Premier Kel’s outward poise than McCoy’s impulsive rant.  He glanced around the bridge, noting every belligerent, scornful expression.  He arched his nonexistent eyebrows in bewilderment, but his look soon turned into one of condescension.  His eyes met Scott’s, acknowledging him as the one in command, if only for the time being.

“Fortunately, gentlemen, I have more trust in your captain’s critical spirit than you.”

Scotty shook his head and looked down.  Trying to make this man understand, let alone respect, a different point of view other than his own was a futile endeavor.

“Just so you know, the Federation gave our captain the final word regarding your membership.  So, I’d say you just shot yourselves in the foot, Premier,” McCoy relished disclosing that particular bit of information.

Kel’s eyes turned into slits, as if evaluating the reliability of McCoy’s statement.  When he became convinced, he gave them a proud smile.  Even then.

“We will wait and see,” he merely said, supremely confident in his position.

Scott sat down deliberately in the command chair, a dangerous smile on his face.

“Let’s wait, indeed,” he interlaced his fingers on his lap in a show of infinite patience.  For that’s how long every crewmember intended to wait for their captain’s return.

The next few minutes should have felt like an eternity of nerve-racking seconds as they ticked by, but they didn’t.  Instead, two dozen tireless eyes drilled Premier Kel’s image on the screen, explicitly showing their contempt and above all, their unwavering support for their absent Commanding Officer.

Eventually, the turbolift doors opened and the captain of the Enterprise walked in, standing tall and confident in his green dress uniform, flanked by his First Officer only half a step behind.  Both men’s faces were unreadable.  Whatever had developed between them in the interim was anyone’s guess.

Kirk and Spock bypassed the command chair and stopped next to the navigator’s console.  Kirk laid his left hand on it, readying himself.

“Captain,” Scott drew his attention in a soft but firm tone of voice.

Kirk turned his head to look at him.

The Scotsman rose to his feet, vacating the command chair.

“The bridge is yours,” he gave Kirk a solemn nod, a world of significance in his words.

Kirk paused, absorbing the meaning of those short syllables that said it all.  His eyes then swept around the bridge, taking in the intense, reassuring stares he received from everybody.  He nodded back to them, his features softening.

“Thank you,” he answered candidly.

“Why, welcome back, Captain!” Premier Kel greeted Kirk in an impudent, flippant manner.

Kirk’s face promptly hardened with a feral expression that made every crewmember cheer inside.  Ohh, how much they were going to enjoy what was coming!

The hazel eyes met the Vulcan’s dark ones and they received an imperceptible nod in reply.  Totally in sync with each other, they turned to the screen.

“Premier Kel,” Kirk nodded his head, humoring the man.

“Now that you have been liberated from the self-deception that clouded your ethical code, I can inform you that you are formally invited to beam down to our planet.”

The corner of Kirk’s lips lifted in a smirk.

“That is very...  tolerant of you, Premier.  But I am going to pass on that invitation.”

Kel blinked several times as if he was having trouble understanding Kirk’s words; as if the very concept of a veto was alien to him.

“Excuse me?” he articulated in the end.

Kirk grinned from ear to ear in a disarmingly charming way.

“I am officially declining your invitation.  You are not qualified to become a member of the Federation.”

Kel’s blinking increased dramatically.

“But...  But you cannot refuse,” he protested in overt confusion.  “You have been granted the greatest honor by our people.”

“But I am refusing that so-called honor, Premier,” Kirk enunciated very slowly, like he was talking to a mentally handicapped child.

It took a few more seconds, but Premier Kel ultimately realized the reality of his predicament.  He frowned in vague annoyance but most of all, in blatant incomprehension.

“I do not understand.”

“And that’s exactly the reason why you don’t meet the requirements to become a trustworthy member.  You’re just not ready yet,” Kirk explained with a hint of sadness in his voice.

Spock’s eyes roamed over the extraordinary man beside him in absolute awe.  Even after suffering a public humiliation, James Kirk still could find compassion in his heart for a race that, and that was the most ironical thing of all, was incapable of comprehending what was wrong with the execrable act they had committed.

Kel blinked some more, until his mind processed the implications of Kirk’s refusal and therefore, his own failure as a diplomat, representing and speaking for his people.  And that’s when the sense of personal offense set in.

“You cannot turn us down, Captain,” he argued, jutting out his jaw and snapping his head back in an attempt to look more majestic.  “I have given you indisputable proof that our society works much better than yours.”  He gave Kirk a sly, knowing smile.  “You are now a living example of our success as a species, are you not?”

Kirk’s eyes flashed with a blending of irritation and disappointment.

“There’s a very simple lesson that you still have to learn, Premier,” he said at last.  “This is a galaxy of diversity, and in that diversity a thousand civilizations have found an unfathomable source of strength and wisdom.  Embracing the things that make us different is one of the most enriching experiences in life.  You won’t get very far telling people they’re mistaken and that your way of conducting yourselves is better than theirs just because.  Don’t expect to be respected if you’re not willing to respect others.”

“You cannot be that naïve, Captain,” Kel seethed derisively.  “There will inevitably come a time when some cultural practices will be abominable to most morals.  Reaching a common ground will be impossible.”

Kirk nodded pointedly.

“And that’s when we’ll all have to admit that there is no common ground, and part ways.”

A profound silence reigned in the bridge as everybody witnessed how Premier Kel painted himself into a corner, including Premier Kel himself.

“You are overreacting, Captain,” Kel accused Kirk with a scandalized scowl.  “There is no comparison!  What I did...”

“What you did,” Spock interrupted ferociously, unable – and unwilling - to remain silent any longer, “was invading a person’s mind, violating his most intimate thoughts and exposing them publicly.”  His steely features and clipped voice were a tell-tale sign of a Vulcan on the edge.  “On my home planet, forcing yourself on a non-telepathic species is a capital crime.”  His shoulder grazed Kirk’s briefly, reestablishing the flow of physical feedback between their bodies, and also opening himself to the shame and feelings of utter defilement his captain had experienced.  He saw green.  “Your culture knows no empathy, no compassion; only hubris,” he growled.  “That makes you ill-suited to be a member of the Federation; and I assure you that Starfleet Command will sanction captain Kirk’s decision.”

“And now, Premier,” Kirk took over ever-so-smoothly, “the Enterprise’s got business to attend to.  Good evening,” he turned to his helmsman.  “Mr. Sulu, prepare to leave orbit.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Sulu’s half-grin betrayed his neutral response to his captain’s order.  His hands moved on the controls with practised ease.

“You will not cut me off, Kirk!” Kel called out, losing his cool altogether.  “This is not over!”

“Premier Kel,” Spock addressed the man tiredly, “stuff it.”

The viewer went blank for a second before showing a vast landscape of stars.

A different kind of silence befell the bridge, as everyone’s bulging eyes stared at the Vulcan as if seeing him for the first time.

Spock looked around at his astounded shipmates.  He could sense their stupefaction, as it was to be expected after hearing him use a Human swear word; not to mention in such a context.  But beneath it, he sensed something else.  Something that felt like a rumble of static.  Delight?

He turned his head towards his captain, needing to verify he hadn’t overstepped his bounds and gone too far with his expletive.  Kirk was gaping at him in wonder.  The loving fondness in the green-gold eyes reawakened the feelings he had been fighting to control; the same feelings that had driven him to shut out - and deeply hurt - the being he loved more than his own life.

There had been no time in the empty corridor where he had stopped Kirk to comfort him properly, only to convince him that his feelings were reciprocated before duty demanded them to return to the bridge and complete the mission they had been assigned.

But now the mission had been completed, and his captain was looking at him with those adoring, sparkling eyes that had always battered at his Vulcan defenses and made him weak at the knees.  He shrugged whimsically, wanting to throw caution to the wind and compensate his beloved T’hy’la for every minute of every day that he had wounded him with his moral and emotional dishonesty.  The need grew in his chest until it became an unbearable ache.

Kirk seemed to read his intentions in a nanosecond, attuned as he’d always been to his Science Officer’s state of mind, and his enraptured look changed into one of absolute acceptance of whatever Spock was ready and willing to do.

Just thinking about all the weeks of cruel rejection that had been topped with a public outing of Jim’s feelings for him was enough.  Spock turned to his superior officer.

Kirk responded in kind, turning earnestly to him.

Unhurriedly, the Vulcan’s hand raised to a soft pink cheek and began to caress it with the backs of his long fingers.  Gently, languidly, rejoicing in this so longed-for touch that felt like a balm to his soul.

Healing Jim.  Healing them...

He saw the tears gather in the hazel eyes anew, and Kirk bit his lower lip in a herculean effort to hold himself together.

His tingling hand moved down to the perfect chin and cupped it with breathtaking tenderness.

Peripherally, he became aware of the air being sucked into the lungs of every crewmember around them.  It was a collective holding of breath, but somehow he could feel it was laden with anticipation, not shock or distaste.

And then it dawned on him.  He was about to kiss his captain on the bridge of their own ship, before their subordinates, in flagrant disregard of any sense of propiety and modesty...  And he didn’t give a damn!  Not only that.  In the strangest way, he felt he owed it to Jim, to them.

Jim’s sweet thoughts suddenly brushed his mind like a fragrant breeze.

‘Are you sure, Spock?  Here?’

The immense wave of affection that swept him away in that moment, having the man he loved care more about his public image than the kiss he was almost literally dying for obliterated any other consideration.

Truly, they all were past those pesky reticences after today’s events.

With a tiny nod of acquiescence, Spock pulled the unresisting face towards him, leaning down to meet it halfway.

The instant their lips touched and merged, and the overpowering feeling of homecoming enveloped them both, everything ceased to exist - the Enterprise blasting off at warp 2, the wild cheering and hollering of the exultant crew...  Everything but two pairs of arms coming up and enfolding the desperately loved bodies in a crushing, heart-wrenching hug.

 

THE END.

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