Eye of the Beholder
by Weird Little Stories
Spock sat down at a table in the officer's mess with a group of the Enterprise's senior officers. Four years ago, when Kirk became captain of the Enterprise, he had instituted the twice-weekly dinners together as a team-building activity, but in recent years the officers continued to dine together simply because they enjoyed the companionship. Tonight would be the 417th time Spock had taken dinner with the others, and there was no advance indication that yet another dinner would change his life forever.
Once they were all seated, Dr. McCoy looked around the table and said, "Since dinner's a stag affair tonight, what with Uhura staying on the bridge to listen for those new orders we're expecting, that means we can talk about things we can't discuss with ladies present."
Spock was puzzled. "What topics of discussion can we not air in front of Miss Uhura?"
Kirk smiled at him. "What men usually talk about when there are no women around is ... women."
Scotty chuckled. "Aye. And they talk about us when we aren't around, so ye needn't worry that we're being unfair, Mr. Spock."
Chekov picked up a forkful of spaghetti. "Maybe you all can settle an argument that Hikaru and I have had. Which woman on the ship is the most beautiful, hmm?"
Sulu cut open his baked potato and began to butter it. "We won't give our opinions until last, so you won't have to worry about supporting one of us over the other."
McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov had a lively discussion in which each extolled the beauty of his favorite, even as each of them selected a different woman as the prettiest. Scotty talked about Palamas' face, McCoy praised Chapel's legs, Sulu's hands shaped generous curves in the air when he talked about Uhura's breasts, and Chekov's accent became nearly impenetrable in his enthusiasm over Landon's backside. Kirk agreed with each of the others without bringing up a favorite of his own; Spock suspected that Kirk was conscious of his status as captain and was careful to assume the appearance of impartiality.
Eventually Kirk turned to Spock. "You've been quiet, Spock. Surely you have an opinion."
Spock allowed some of his disapproval to show. "Vulcans find beauty in the mind and the character; the configuration of the exterior means little."
The humans all laughed. Spock was puzzled as to what in his response could have been considered humorous, then McCoy explained, "That's what we're supposed to think, but I don't think there's a man alive who actually does. C'mon, Spock, you can't tell me that Vulcans are above all that. Your fiancée was gorgeous, after all."
Spock put on the long-suffering look he used to signal to the humans that they had misunderstood his culture yet again. "T'Pring and I were selected for one another because our minds were compatible on the telepathic level when we were seven. We grew apart in the following decades, however, and by the time we were to finalize our marriage, our minds were no longer in harmony."
The humans blinked at this for a moment, evidently not sure how to even begin to think about telepathic harmony. There was a thoughtful silence, then Sulu restarted the discussion with, "Well, since I swing both ways, I'll ask the next question — who's the most attractive man on the ship?"
McCoy chuckled. "It's not just you, Sulu. Most Starfleet personnel swing both ways, since bisexuality goes along with the other kinds of flexibility that a Starfleet officer needs, to meet new lifeforms and explore new cultures. I'm the only one at this table who's attracted exclusively to women." He looked around the table. "Or am I giving away secrets?"
Chekov looked surprised. "Even Mr. Spock?"
McCoy pursed his lips. "He'll spout a lot of high-minded malarkey at you, but when you brush away the verbiage, Spock also swings both ways."
Spock had intended to preserve a dignified silence in the face of McCoy's teasing, but Kirk looked a question at him, so Spock unbent enough to say, "I have already said that the configuration of the exterior means little; this extends to the configuration of the genitals and secondary sex characteristics as well. What Vulcans seek is a pattern of mental similarity and complementarity that manifests as a certain telepathic resonance."
McCoy rolled his eyes. "See what I mean?"
Kirk smiled at the doctor. "Actually, I thought Spock's clarification was interesting. We all know that Spock's a telepath, but it's so far from the human experience that it doesn't necessarily occur to us that what a Vulcan seeks most of all is telepathic companionship."
Spock began to feel vaguely uncomfortable, as he always did when Vulcan mating became the topic of conversation. While he had no qualms about discussing sex in general, discussing pon farr with outworlders was taboo, and only two of the other five men at the table had been present for his disastrous koon-ut-kalifee. Before the topic of Vulcan mating could go any farther, he turned the conversation back to the humans: "Please do not allow me to derail your conversation. I believe the topic under discussion was the identity of the most attractive male."
McCoy shook his head. "That'll be a short conversation, what with Jim sitting right here." He looked around the table. "Is it half of the women on the ship who have crushes on the captain, or is it two-thirds?"
Scotty shook his head. "Only half, because the other half have crushes on Mr. Spock."
McCoy grimaced. "No accounting for taste."
Sulu chuckled. "It's certainly true that Captain Kirk is extremely attractive — and it's lucky for us that he is, since he's used it to charm his way out of trouble dozens of times in the past four years — but I think Mr. Spock could give him a run for his money.
McCoy choked on his iced tea, and Scotty pounded him on the back. When the doctor could breathe again, he said, "Spock? You must be joking. Just look at them!"
Sulu smiled at McCoy. "I think this is one area where your heterosexuality is getting in the way. It's true that Kirk's beauty is classic, whereas Spock's beauty is unique and individual, but that doesn't make Spock less attractive; if anything, it only makes him more so."
Chekov nodded. "Da. It is true, Doctor; we do not lie to you to make a joke."
McCoy said, "Yeah, but you'd have to listen to him talk, and surely that's enough to put off anyone."
Sulu grinned. "Oh, I dunno; as long as I get to look at him, I think I could tune out the rest."
Kirk looked incredulously at Sulu. "Appreciating Spock primarily for his physical beauty is like hanging the Mona Lisa in your living room because its colors match your sofa."
Sulu laughed. "I just said that to wind up McCoy, Captain; I'm aware of Mr. Spock's finer qualities."
"Hrmph," McCoy said. "Why am I the butt of the joke when we have a Vulcan handy?"
"Because as the only heterosexual at this table, you are in the minority for once," Spock replied.
Everyone but McCoy (and Spock, of course) laughed, and the men stood up, their dinner complete.
McCoy went to check on a patient in sickbay, and Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov departed for their weekly bowling league.
Now alone in the officer's mess, Kirk turned to Spock. "There's something I'd like to talk with you about. Do you have time to come to my cabin?"
Spock had reports to write and experiments to plan, but he could postpone their completion until the humans slept; time with Kirk was precious. "I have no pressing duties at the moment," Spock replied, and the two men fell into step as they walked the short distance to Kirk's quarters.
Once inside the captain's cabin, Kirk turned to Spock. "I said once that you were closer to me than anyone in the universe, and that's still true. So I'm wondering what our telepathic resonance is like for you. Is my mind the kind of thing you're looking for?"
Because they were alone, and because this was a crucial conversation, Spock allowed himself to smile slightly. "Jim, your mind meshes so well with mine, it is as if you were made solely to complement me."
Kirk smiled. "Even though I'm human?"
Spock clasped his hands behind his back. "It is a truism on Earth that men tend to marry women who are much like their mothers. This pattern obtains on Vulcan, as well."
Kirk looked down at his broad, flat chest. "I'd say I don't have much in common with Amanda, aside from our both being human."
Spock shook his head. "Again, you humans place far too much emphasis on physical appearance. My mother was broad-minded enough to marry an alien, flexible enough to make her home on a planet not her own, and persistent enough to continue in this course of action in spite of the numerous difficulties faced by a human living on Vulcan."
Spock looked fondly at Jim. "You differ greatly from my mother in appearance, but like her, you are exceptionally broad-minded; like her, you are unusually flexible; and like her, you have a noteworthy level of persistence."
Kirk smiled. "So you like me better than T'Pring, even though I'm not a Vulcan woman."
Spock reached out a hand and caressed Jim's face, not yet melding with that tempting mind but allowing the nearness of it to tease his sensitive fingers. "T'Pring's katra — her spirit, in human terms — was so small that it could barely support her body, but your spirit is so large that I believe it could support the entire galaxy."
Jim gave Spock a sweeter smile than any Spock had ever before seen gracing the captain's face. "I hear you, Spock, because your spirit is so beautiful it takes my breath away." He raised a hand to Spock's face and caressed Spock's cheek. "Gad, you're gorgeous. I can't believe these cheekbones of yours."
Spock traced the outline of Jim's lips with his thumb, brushing the area that he planned soon to kiss. He couldn't reciprocate Jim's compliments on his appearance, because the unfortunate truth was that Jim was quite physically unattractive by Vulcan standards.
Although humans' conviction that all peoples were — or should be — just like humans was frequently annoying, it was perhaps fortunate in this regard. It would probably never occur to Jim that Vulcans possessed different standards of beauty than humans, or if it did, he would probably think it limited to the shape of one's ears. Jim need never realize that his pale hair, light eyes, and pink skin were considered unattractive among Vulcans, nor that his bulky muscles and small nose were undeniably ugly by Vulcan standards. Jim would not expect a Vulcan lover to compliment his appearance, anyway, and Spock could give him enough compliments on his mind, character, and personality to assuage any doubts he might feel as to Spock's opinion of his desirability.
Vulcans preferred not to lie, but they were past masters at concealing inconvenient truths ... as any species afflicted with pon farr had to be. It was impossible to lie in a mind meld, but it was possible to retain secrets in one, except when melding with a telepath who was both stronger than oneself and exceptionally ill-mannered. It seemed especially likely that Spock could retain this particular secret, given that he'd be melding with a non-telepath, one who was not adept at navigating the telepathic world or in determining its limits. If Kirk never discovered Spock's opinion of Jim's appearance in his mind, it would almost certainly never occur to him to go searching for it.
Physical appearance was so unimportant to Vulcans that Spock truly did not mind Jim's physical ugliness; it faded into complete insignificance when compared to the beauty of his mind and character. And if he kept his appreciation of those features of Jim's at the forefront of his mind, it was unlikely that Jim would ever realize that anything was missing.
Spock decided to create a mental list of compliments that he could give Jim, since compliments seemed to be a necessary feature of mating with a human. Spock had thought that complimenting Jim's katra would be enough, but more seemed to be necessary. Very well. Compliments did not come naturally to him, but he truly did value Jim tremendously, and if it would please Jim to hear these things, Spock could give voice to them.
His thoughts had taken only seconds; there was still time for him to reply to Jim without a noticeable gap in the conversation.
Spock's voice was husky with undeniable emotion as he said, "It is difficult to speak of the telepathic senses in Standard, since the language contains no words for the necessary concepts, but I shall use metaphor where the vocabulary is inadequate. A telepath can perceive the liveliness of a mind in a way that is very similar to the way in which eyes perceive light. This is not the same as intelligence but is another, related, quality, one that speaks to how much that mind generates new ideas." He gazed lovingly into Jim's face as he said, "Your mind shines with a brilliant golden light that is like no other in my experience. No Vulcan, no human, no alien that I have ever encountered has a mind that shines so brightly and with such a warmth to the light."
Jim said, "So you do want me, then."
Knowing that doing so would please Jim, Spock allowed himself to smile slightly. "I have wanted you since the link with T'Pring dissolved two years ago, but until McCoy's disclosure at dinner tonight, I had believed you to be exclusively heterosexual."
Jim smiled. "And I thought you were straight until McCoy spilled the beans."
Spock did not pretend to misunderstand the idiom. "From your questions, I gather that you desire a romantic relationship with me, but you have not actually stated as much."
Jim laughed as he moved from caressing Spock's cheekbones to rubbing the tips of Spock's ears lightly between his fingers. "I don't usually caress a person's face unless I'm trying to start something with them. But I know you've had to meld with several different people in the line of duty over the years, so I wanted to be sure that your touching my face meant you wanted me."
"More than I can convey to you without a meld. Even in private, Vulcans control their expression of emotion, but within a meld, all is permitted."
Jim looked searchingly at Spock. "Then I can't wait to meld with you, and that's a problem, because I also can't wait to make love with you, and I'm guessing we can't do both at once."
"We cannot — at least not yet — but not for the reason you suppose. A permanent bond is formed by melding while engaging in sexual intercourse, so we should not meld while having sex until we desire to take that final step."
Jim smiled. "Then we'll have to pick one to do first. While I'm eager to meld with you, I think I'm even more eager to take you to bed."
Spock swallowed. "While my desire to meld with you in the way of lovers is strong, I confess that my desire to express our affection physically is also quite strong; perhaps it is a manifestation of my human heritage."
Jim cupped a hand around the side of Spock's face. "I know you like being as Vulcan as possible, but in this one area, let me show you how good being human can be."
Spock inclined his head in agreement, so Jim led Spock behind the gridded partition that separated his office from his bedroom and began undressing him. Spock reciprocated, removing Jim's clothing. Once they were both naked, Jim gestured towards his bed. "Lie down, and let me make love to you." Spock assumed a supine position on Jim's bed. Although he possessed a great deal of theoretical knowledge about sexual behavior, his practical experience was rather limited, and he was content to let Jim lead for the moment.
Jim seated himself on the edge of the bed, then leaned forward and ran his fingers through Spock's hair. He rubbed a lock of it between his fingers and smiled brightly at Spock. "It feels just as silky as it looks! You know, I've always wondered." Jim ruffled his bangs and chuckled in apparent delight when they fell back into their usual perfect order afterwards. Jim pushed his bangs up again and placed several kisses across the width of his forehead. He pulled back and smiled down at Spock. "So much knowledge under there! I can never quite believe just how much information you have stuffed into that head of yours."
His nose came in for attention next, as Jim kissed the tip of it. His mother had kissed his nose frequently until he was seven years old, but after his kahs-wan, she had desisted, presumably because he had chosen the Vulcan path. He had not realized that he had missed this form of affection, yet he found himself unexpectedly moved by it.
Next Jim placed a kiss over each cheekbone, exclaiming again at their beauty as he did so. Spock was beginning to become uncomfortable, because praising physical features seemed to be a rather larger component of sex with a human than he had realized. He thought quickly, trying to add additional praiseworthy features to his list of Jim's admirable but intangible characteristics. Of course, Jim had many such characteristics, but Spock had not been prepared to explain all of them aloud. He thought rapidly, so that he could give as good as he'd gotten, once Jim allowed him to take a turn in the leading role.
Jim pressed his lips to Spock's in their first-ever kiss, and at this point, Spock stopped cataloging the steps in their mating dance but lost himself in the moment. He gathered that this was part of the point of sexual activity — to ground oneself in the physical and to revel in sensations rather than in intellectual activity — and since he desired both to experience this new area of his life fully and to give Jim the best he was capable of, he allowed himself to become lost in the physical.
Once they had finished making love, Jim laid his head on Spock's shoulder, slung an arm across his chest and a leg over one of Spock's, and cuddled up, seeming determined to maximize their bodily contact even though their sexual activities had ended for the moment. Spock had not realized how desirous he was of physical contact until he got it and found himself soaking it up with great satisfaction. He had thought his desire for a romantic relationship with Kirk had been mostly a desire for telepathic contact with the captain's wonderfully lively mind, but as it turned out, his body appeared to crave physical contact nearly as much as his mind craved mental contact. Given how much Jim seemed to enjoy both their sexual congress and their post-coital snuggling, perhaps that was just as well. Jim subsided into slumber, and Spock followed him shortly thereafter.
Spock awoke for the day four hours later, intending to slip quietly from the bed and allow his captain — now his lover — to rest. Kirk awoke, though, and grabbed Spock's arm as he was trying to depart noiselessly. "Where do you think you're going, Mister? I'm not done with you yet."
Spock looked at his sleep-rumpled captain, and a softness filled him at the sight of his magnificent lover, ugly though he be. "We have slept for only four hours; your night's rest is only half done."
Kirk smiled. "And I'll go back to sleep after you leave, but not until you meld with me." He sat up and used the pillow to prop himself up against the ledge behind his bed.
Spock found himself easily persuaded, partly because melding with Jim was what he desired above all, partly because five hours remained before the captain would need to arise for alpha shift, meaning that there was ample time for both melding and sleeping.
Spock placed his fingers on Jim's face and felt the meld begin even before his fingers had reached the optimal location for a meld. So attuned were their minds that melding with Jim was nearly effortless, and he had no need for the "my mind to your mind" mantra. Indeed, his fingers needed only to be on Jim's face in order to achieve a meld, not directly over the psi points, as was needed with most individuals.
Slipping into Jim's mind was astonishingly pleasurable; it was as if Jim's mind stroked and caressed his, even though Jim was no telepath and had no knowledge of how to perform such an activity. Once fully inside Jim's mind, Spock felt the whole of Jim's personality, not just the command persona that Jim wore on duty and not even the broader persona that he allowed his closest friends to see. Spock knew and loved the parts of Jim he'd seen already, and now he eagerly made the acquaintance of the deeper parts of Jim's personality.
While he was delightedly knowing and cherishing more of Jim than he'd seen heretofore, Jim was perusing Spock's mind with wonder and delight. Kirk gravitated toward the part of Spock's mind where his emotions lived, which Spock had, of course, expected. Kirk's reaction was anything but the teasing Spock was used to hearing from him whenever Vulcan emotions were the topic of conversation, however. Deep within the meld, Kirk's reaction to Spock's emotions could only be described as awe. Jim evidently found Vulcan emotions far stronger than he'd expected — unsurprising, since Vulcan emotions were approximately 50% stronger than human emotions — and to be permitted to witness them filled Jim with ... surely that wasn't reverence?
He felt Jim's amusement at his reaction, and the meld deepened until there was no awareness of personality or memory but only a sense of love meeting love, of respect meeting respect, of an affection so profound that it dwarfed every love that had come before it. For one brief moment, there was no separateness, and they became a single being, their minds blending into one. Melding so deeply with Jim felt not like melding with a human but like tapping into the Immanence that underlay all things, merging with the universal life force and experiencing the essential Oneness of the universe, a deeply spiritual experience.
Even Vulcan minds could withstand such an experience only briefly, and they ended the meld by mutual consent.
As they came out of the meld, Jim had a look of wonder on his face. "I've been searching for something my whole life, and I think I've just found it ... inside my first officer's mind."
Spock decided that he needed to make this point perfectly clear, so he shook his head. "No, Jim."
Jim looked taken aback. "What do you mean, no?"
Spock allowed himself to smile slightly. "You will never find that which we just experienced in your first officer's mind; you will only ever find it in your lover's mind."
Jim smiled. "Point taken." He caressed the side of Spock's face, and the look of wonder was back. "That was the most profound experience of my life, and I can't believe that it was sitting ten feet from me on the bridge for the past four years."
Again Spock shook his head. "It was not. You contributed equally to the experience which moved us both, and the blending and sharing could only have been this profound after we had come to know and value one another as deeply as we do now."
Jim yawned, then looked embarrassed.
Spock placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. "No matter how enjoyable such an experience is, it is also draining, and you have had only half a night's sleep. Rest now, Jim. I will be available for further conversation when you awaken."
Jim slid down in the bed until he was horizontal, adjusted his pillow, and clasped Spock's hand in his own, turning on his side and holding that hand tightly to his chest.
Since Spock was sure that Jim would fall asleep quickly, he did not protest but sat beside his human until Jim fell asleep, then disentangled his hand and went to complete the reports and experiments that had been pushed aside to make room for last night's activities. His professional efficiency would undoubtedly decline by a few percentage points if he continued to spend his nights with Jim, but he found himself unable to regret it.
Given unlimited time at his disposal, Jim would have been willing to engage in sexual activities daily or even multiple times per day. However, the unfortunate fact was that the captain of a starship had little leisure time, and as both first officer AND science officer, Spock was the only person aboard the Enterprise who was even busier than the captain. They had managed to engage in physical lovemaking on 57.12% of the days since the beginning of their romantic relationship, five months ago. Even more satisfying, on the days when they did not have time for physical expression of their relationship, they usually managed at least a brief meld, and it pleased Spock greatly that Kirk looked forward to their mental joining at least as much as he, himself, did, and at least as much as he enjoyed their physical union.
On the seventeenth occasion of physical lovemaking, Spock found himself peppering Kirk's face with small kisses and thinking fondly that Kirk's ridiculously small nose was actually rather pleasing. No, it didn't fit Vulcan standards of beauty, but it was Kirk's, and that was reason enough to love it. As for the bulky muscles that were aesthetically displeasing by Vulcan standards, their presence saved Jim's life on a regular basis. Spock knew he'd appreciate them for that reason alone, and yet he seemed to be growing fond of their appearance, as well.
Spock found himself intrigued by the direction of his thoughts. As he and Jim accumulated ever-greater amounts of time spent melding, having sex, and interacting as mates, Spock was fascinated to discover that so great was Jim's inner beauty that he was beginning to generalize it to Jim's outer appearance. He no longer noticed the unattractiveness of the light hair and pink skin, and in fact he found them growing on him. Jim's body was still undeniably ugly by Vulcan standards, but it was the body that housed his beloved, and Spock found that he loved the look of it because it was Jim's, completely aside from its aesthetic qualities ... or lack thereof.
Humans had often claimed that love was a uniquely powerful force, and it intrigued Spock to discover that he could find beauty in Jim's physicality, simply because that physique harbored his beloved. It spoke of a growing sentimentality, one that he thought he should abhor, and yet he found it pleasurable, even compelling.
Later, Spock was to chastise himself for having failed to take into account the number of strange events that had befallen the crew of the Enterprise in the past or what this implied about the likelihood that more such events would befall them in the future.
Spock was well able to keep the Vulcan view of Jim's appearance to himself when he WAS himself ... but how many times had events forced him out of himself? The Psi 2000 polywater intoxication, the spores on Omicron Ceti III, the parasites on Deneva, the rapid aging they experienced on Gamma Hydra IV, the control of the Platonians, the time travel to a savage past on Sarpeidon ... how many warnings had he received that the galaxy contained a myriad of ways in which Spock Xtmprsqzntwlfd could be forced to think, feel, or behave in ways that were different from his usual self?
The Enterprise was exploring a new area of space when they were contacted telepathically by an alien intelligence who informed the bridge crew that they had entered space claimed by the people of Moedfarna. The senior officers were invited to visit the planet so that they and the Moedfarnians could become acquainted. Since this was, in fact, the Enterprise's mission, the invitation was accepted with alacrity.
"I am Jadom," the alien intelligence continued, "Speaker of the Moedfarna. I should warn you that our interactions with other peoples have shown us that we frequently disconcert non-Moedfarnans. Our culture prizes truthfulness and disapproves of secrets, and our telepathic power often forces the revelation of secrets. We will attempt to restrain this power so as not to force you to reveal yours, but the degree to which we can do this is limited, and it is possible that your secrets will be revealed in spite of our attempt.
Kirk looked alarmed. "While I have no personal secrets that I would conceal from you, as the captain of this ship, I have access to information — such as the command codes for this vessel — that I am sworn to conceal from everyone except my first officer."
Jadom sent them a feeling of reassurance. "We understand the necessity for professional secrets; it is only personal secrets that interface badly with our telepathic functions. Provided that you and whoever you bring with you is concealing nothing of personal importance, our interactions should proceed without trouble to yourselves."
Kirk pursed his lips and gave Spock a questioning glance. "Are you concealing anything of great importance, Mr. Spock?" he asked in a teasing tone of voice.
Spock thought briefly of Kirk's physical ugliness, but since that truly had almost no significance to a Vulcan, he decided that it didn't meet the standard of "personal importance" that Jadom had articulated. "Nothing significant, Captain," he replied, and Kirk smiled, then tilted his head towards the turbolift. Spock rose from his station and followed his captain into the lift.
Kirk and Spock beamed down to the coordinates that Jadom had given them and were met by a group of three beings. The Moedfarnans stood on four hoofed feet, with legs that looked very nearly equine. A humanoid torso rose from the horselike lower body, but their four upper limbs were much more flexible than those of most humanoids, almost tentacle-like. Each tentacle-arm ended in a spray of eight smaller appendages, ranging in size from almost as big around as the tentacle-arm itself to as fine as a human hair. Their lower bodies and torsos were covered with reddish-brown fur, while their faces were covered with pale yellow skin. Shoulder-length hair the same color as their fur grew from their heads, but they had neither eyebrows nor other facial hair.
Spock thought that such an array of fingers would make the Moedfarnans masters of manipulation, and he hypothesized that Moedfarnan engineers would have progressed much faster than their human or Vulcan equivalents, since they would have needed no tools until their culture reached the level of requiring microscopy.
Spock was jolted out of his observations and hypotheses by a mental force that his mind experienced as a type of squeezing. He concentrated his will and resisted, but it seemed that he was resisting the entire planet, and even his mental power was not up to the task of resisting such a force. When he found himself about to lose consciousness, he stopped resisting.
A great consciousness joined with his mind, one seemingly composed of all the minds of Moedfarna. They were individuals and parts of a whole, both at once, and Spock fought for enough individuality to observe this most fascinating phenomenon. World-minds were scarce in his experience, and world-minds whose component parts also retained an individual identity were unprecedented.
Spock realized that he had partially collapsed and was resting on his hands and knees when he felt Kirk's hands on his shoulders, moving him to a sitting position, and heard Kirk's voice shouting, "Stop it! Whatever you're doing to Spock, stop it at once. Can't you see you're hurting him?"
The center being in the group of three waved two tentacle-arms in the air, in a gesture that Spock supposed was calming to Moedfarnans, because Jadom's voice spoke. "Calm yourselves; we are doing no harm. We warned you of the danger of personal secrets, and you came to our world in spite of that warning. Once the secret is out, the pressure will ease."
Jim looked surprised. "Spock has a big secret? But he told me he didn't!"
Jadom waved his tentacles in a different pattern. "Spock judged the secret to be unimportant, because it is indeed unimportant to his kind. But the secret is generally important to your kind, and it is from you that he is keeping the secret."
Kirk looked at Spock sympathetically. "Do you want to beam back up, Spock? There are a lot of things we have to do in the line of duty, but revealing personal secrets shouldn't be one of them."
The being on the right spoke for the first time. "Our telepathy will damage his mind unless the secret is divulged; his will is very strong, but a single being cannot withstand the might of the massed will of Moedfarna. We perceive that he obeys you; order him to tell you his truth, for his own good."
Spock could feel that the being spoke the truth; he could feel his mind being sucked into the world-mind of the Moedfarnans. If he wanted to retain his individual identity, then he must share his secret.
Spock raised his head and looked at Jim. "I have complimented you on the beauty of your mind and character but have concealed from you the fact that your physical shell is quite unattractive by Vulcan standards. Although I was conscious of your physical ugliness at first, as our relationship continued, I have come to appreciate your appearance because it is yours. Even in the beginning, I did not mind your physical ugliness, and now that we have been lovers for many months, I find that my affection, respect, and admiration for your mind has generalized to my view of your body. You have become beautiful to me in spite of your deviation from Vulcan standards of beauty."
Jim gave him an enormous smile, and joy radiated from him so strongly that Spock could feel it even though his hands were clasped in his lap. Jim's reaction was startling, and Spock was at a loss to explain it. Humans did care about physical appearance, so why was Jim joyful that Spock had initially found him ugly?
Through his blinding smile, Jim said, "Spock, that's one of the best things you could have said to me." Jim shook his head. "By human standards, I've been good-looking all my life, to the extent that I've never been sure that anyone really loved me for ME, and not for what I look like." Jim gazed at him with adoring intensity. "But you, you thought I was physically ugly until recently, and you only like the looks of me because you love who I am." Again Jim gave him the blinding smile. "That's the best reason I can think of for someone to like the way I look."
Spock's resistance against the Moedfarnans had left him too drained to resist Jim's smile, and he smiled back. "Indeed, Jim; that is very nearly a Vulcan view of the situation."
Jim laughed and helped him to his feet, then took both of Spock's hands in his. "And here's my secret. I was already thinking of asking you to marry me, and now that I know your secret, I'm even more determined to do so." Jim gazed into Spock's eyes. "Spock, will you marry me? The human way or the Vulcan way, or both — I don't care about the ceremony; I only care about making it permanent, about having you to love for the rest of our lives."
Spock smiled, a full-on smile such as he hadn't felt on his face since the day he discovered that he hadn't killed Jim after all. "Jim," he said, only slightly embarrassed to hear that his voice sounded husky, "It would be my honor and privilege to do so."
Kirk's smile was like a sunrise for a long moment, then he became aware of the watching Moedfarnans, and a bit of wryness entered that smile. "Compelling as the personal is, we are Starfleet officers on a mission. Come on. Now that all our secrets are out, let's get to know the Moedfarnans."
Spock inclined his head in agreement, then followed his captain, a privilege he would have for the rest of that captain's life.