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DEEP WATER




by Jenna Hilary Sinclair




(This story first appeared in First Time 50)








James Kirk went first, sweat-streaked and panting, setting as fast a pace as he dared in the deepening twilight over the rough, rock-strewn ground. Next came the woman, her weeping muffled against a gossamer scarf held to her mouth, her silver society shoes no protection for her abused feet. Then came her slender, well-bred son, his body almost a man’s, his frightened eyes those of a child. The woman and the boy stayed close to the man in the gold tunic, as if merely being near him provided some safeguard.



A few meters behind the boy Spock of the Enterprise labored. His uniform was torn so that it flapped open at both elbows, and though he did not pant from exertion like the humans, his face was begrimed with dirt. Gray dust sprinkled his hair. He carried a girl-child in his arms, no more than four; the dark head he pressed carefully against his shoulder. The child buried her face in his chest and clutched at him, once whimpered “Mama.”



“Hush,” he said softly, even as he jumped from a flat boulder down to balance precariously on a sheet of pebbles. He spoke as if he knew how to banish nightmares. His long fingers curved around and patted her head. “You are with me. Be quiet.”



“My leg hurts. I skinned my knee.” She moved against him restlessly.



“I know,” he said, and his arms gripped more tightly.



“I’m scared, too.”



“Fear accomplishes nothing. Be silent and hold on to me so you will not fall.”



Two red-shirted security guards, Hannigan and Ting, brought up the rear of the little column. They each carried small Type I phasers in their hands. Ting kept glancing backwards but saw nothing to shoot at. Hannigan limped over the uneven land that supported rock and scrub brush and mouthed soundless curses.



The woman lifted her head from her misery. “Can’t we stop?” she breathlessly moaned. “Can’t we?”



Kirk turned on her in a rush. “Quiet,” he hissed. He pointed to an outcropping of rock that glowed a ghostly white in the fading rays of the weakening sun. It was perhaps two kilometers away. She looked at it, looked at his uncompromising face, then down at her feet. She kept moving, but stumbled on a stone that turned her ankle.



It was very hot. The air was still.



The little group pressed onward. There was no other apparent movement in the barren wasteland, but still they hurried as if something deadly were chasing them, as if Klingons shouted behind them. But nothing stirred.



Four minutes. Five. Closer now to the white rocks.



A distant rumble reached them. Spock raised his head, then shouted, “Down! Everyone, down!”



Kirk turned and grabbed the gaping woman, wrestled her resisting, shrieking form to the ground, threw himself on top of her. There was a thud and a child’s cry of pain a few meters away, and then a rain of debris. Not a few pebbles, but a torrential downpour from the sky, enough to engulf a man, knock him off his feet. Rocks the size of a man’s fist, pebbles, white dust pelted them. Metal was mixed among the rocks: gray metal, white metal with jagged edges. Strips of it, shards of it pounded their exposed backs, their necks as they curved to protect their faces.



Something hard and sharp imbedded in Kirk’s right shoulder, making him jerk against the woman beneath him. She moaned but did not move from his protection.



The rainfall of weight and pain did not last long. Perhaps a minute and a half, but that was enough to almost-bury the huddling people. The captain waited another minute before he slowly pushed himself upright with difficulty, using his left arm for support and showering stones from his back as he moved. He blinked, trying to see through the haze, then wheezed as he drew in a ragged breath



On his knees, Kirk twisted around to see the gray strip of metal six inches long that quivered from his shoulder. Oddly, it caused him no pain. Nevertheless, with set lips he awkwardly jerked it out, noticed the black letters LIFE SUP that labeled it. He moved as if to fling it away, then looked at its knife-like sharpness and tucked it into his waistband. He turned to assess the condition of the people with him.



Hannigan was dead. His head had been crushed by a smooth, round rock lying innocently next to his outflung hand. Slowly Kirk’s eyes took in the man’s unmistakable lifelessness; there was no blood and he felt no instinctive revulsion. Most of the body was already buried in a coffin made of jumbled stone, evidence of the guard’s hellish luck in dropping at the spot where the rain of rock had been cruelest. Or perhaps, not luck. Spock always said he did not believe in coincidence. Design? Whose?



Ting, grim-faced, squatted next to the body, a white-plastered efficient statue even now standing to survey the horizon, his phaser still in one trembling hand, his shipmate’s weapon in the other.



The boy sat on the ground, crying, his tears making tracks down his dusted face.



Spock….



Spock….



“Spock!” Kirk’s voice echoed across the darkening plain, full of obvious fear. He scrabbled on all fours, away from the sniffling and unharmed woman towards an unmoving mound.



He pushed aside the debris, groped at and then heaved one big stone aside, another, a multitude of pebbles. He choked from the cloud he was stirring. Suddenly Ting was next to him, helping, but Kirk shook his head.



“No. Take the others towards the ridge. Do it now. Hurry.” He would uncover his first officer, his friend, alone. No one else could do it. Although he did not know what he would find.



Ting was a lieutenant from the elite corps of guards on the Enterprise. He pulled up the weeping boy by one arm, pushed the already-standing woman forward with a shove in the back. “Move.”



“My baby,” she cried with two arms outstretched.



“Move,” Ting repeated. “Mister Spock has her. The captain will find them. Don’t worry.” He did not look back into the gloom to see his commanding officer crouched and frantic.



The torn tips of Kirk’s fingers detected the soft velour of a Starfleet uniform and under it warm flesh. He dug into sinew, found bone, inched his fingers around the arch of his second-in-command’s shoulder. With a deep breath and effort he rolled Spock onto his back and searched the slack features for any sign of breathing.



Nothing.



He had thought he had known fear before, but not like this. This was what he had feared, what had stalked the recesses of his heart like a vulture. Life without Spock. For an endless moment he despaired



He hauled Spock into a sitting position, into his arms, the fine head lolling against his shoulder. Though he wanted to initiate life saving procedures, sub-section 7B, Vulcans, there was another being to consider. He twisted Spock’s body and looked over his still shoulder, down to the ground where his first officer had sheltered the child.



She stared at him with tears swimming in her eyes. “Is he dead?” she asked, her voice trembling. It became a wail. “I don’t want him to be dead!” She scrambled upright.



“No,” he answered savagely, and turned back to his Vulcan, gently resting him back on the ground.



The second and third thumps against Spock’s side—7B, 4a, inducing respiration when there is no heartbeat, he could see the page in his mind—must have broken a rib. They must have, because Kirk put all his desperation into them. Don’t—die. Don’t—leave me.



“Don’t do that!” A shrill voice cried, and small hands tried to pull his clenched fists away from their duty. “You’re hurting him. Stop it! Stop it!”



He pushed her aside without breaking rhythm. “No. I’m not hurting him.”



Still no response. Spock needed air. How long could the Vulcan brain go without oxygen? Not Vulcan, not human, none other like him. Spock, damnit, don’t die on me. You can’t do this to me.



Tilt the head back, close the nasal passages. Grit against his fingers, on Spock’s skin, mouth to mouth so dry. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Was that movement he felt against his lips, a response? No.



“Why are you kissing him?” Almost a scream in the plain’s twilight stillness.



The Kiss of Life, the instructors at the Academy had called it. He’d learned it for ten different species. But what species, really, was Spock? Unique. Irreplaceable. Loved.



They’d never kissed. But oh, how he’d wanted to.



No response.



“Stop it!” and this time she pounded fists against his shoulder where the metal had penetrated. He couldn’t help it, the breath that was meant for his beloved’s lungs hissed uselessly into the air. He rounded on her, his good arm raised to strike….



Just a child. She didn’t know, didn’t understand, cowered before his sudden anger that was checked as abruptly as it had erupted.



“He…needs to be kissed,” he found himself saying even as he turned back to the cardiac massage. Find the spark point just to the right of the diaphragm, push, one, push, two, push….



“He does?” Her thumb crept into her mouth. “Why does he need to be kissed?”



“To help him breathe,” Kirk gasped. “To help him live.”



A sudden gasp, a turning of the fine, dark head to one side. Kirk jerked forward, shoved his face towards Spock’s because the sun’s light was almost gone, and watched while his first officer came back to life.



Heartbeats later Kirk looked down at dark eyes looking up at him. He allowed himself one moment, one touch he had never dared before: he flattened his palm against the gaunt cheek. Hot and scratchy, not like he’d imagined it. “Spock,” he whispered.



“Jim,” with barely enough breath behind it to be heard. The special way that only Spock ever said his name.



“Thank God you’re back. You scared me, you were gone so long,” he whispered. “Are you all right?”



A slow nod that moved cheek against palm while their gazes held. “Affirmative. My head,” an unsteady hand touched blood in his hair, “and my side,” where Kirk had beaten him into life, “but…I am…functional.”



“Good, ‘cause we’ve gotta move.” Kirk cast an anxious glance back the way they had come, from where the explosion had rocketed. “Think you can walk?” He stood.



“I will attempt to do so.” Slowly Spock came to a sitting position. “Yes.”



“Then let’s go.”



Spock made a movement towards the child, but Kirk was there before him. “I’ll take her,” he said, bending.



“No!” she cried. “I want Mister Spock.”



Kirk ruthlessly scooped her up into his arms, grunted, then shifted her towards his left shoulder. “You’ll have Mister Spock right next to you, but I’m carrying you.” He reached down with an open hand and the Vulcan used him to lever himself up to a standing position. With his right arm Kirk took Spock’s elbow. The Vulcan walked gingerly, bent to favor his side. They stumbled through the gloom in the direction of the ridge, past Hannigan’s burial spot. Kirk marked it in his mind. Even though he didn’t like the man, if they got out of here he’d come back for the body. Duty. Respect.



They hadn’t walked more than ten paces before he stopped. “Look at that,” he said, and stared at a chunk of worked metal, incongruous in the wild landscape.



“The control panel. Shuttle.” Spock did not have much breath to spare for talking.



“There goes the homing signal.” With a push and a grunt from Kirk they were walking again. “I guess nothing is left of the shuttle now. Your experiments.” He remembered how carefully Spock had packed the symbiotic circuits on which he’d been working in the budget-destroying, expensive nutri-gel, symbol of how important this technology was to the Federation. His Vulcan, one of the most respected scientists in the Federation, was entrusted with the highly classified information that extended the solid basis of Daystrom’s theories. “All your work lost.”



“It can be replicated.”



Kirk thought about that and didn’t like it. Spock had already spent too much time immersed in his damned artificial intelligence project. Not again. He needed Spock by his side, not buried in the labs with his fawning technicians. He didn’t care what the big-wigs at headquarters wanted, he wanted his Spock back….



If they got out of this mess, no more, he decided. If they got out.



“How,” he gritted, “did the primitives who attacked us manage to blow up the shuttle and aim it directly towards where we were? Over what must be eight kilometers?”



“They could not have.”



“But that other thing, whatever it is….”



“Perhaps.”



“It’s still here. Behind us, forcing us forward. Not as great as it was at the shuttle, but still here. Do you feel it? Pure…fear. It loves terror.”



Spock shook his head once, abruptly, as if breaking through cobwebs. “I feel it. I am not immune. It is real. A psychic force of some kind.”



Kirk felt the adrenaline pumping, the sweat trickling down his back. “Definitely real.”



“I don’t like you!” the girl suddenly wailed, and she beat her legs against the captain. “I want Mister Spock! He knows what to do against the monster. Not you!”



Kirk suddenly grinned and hefted her into a more comfortable position, managing to pin her legs in the process. “It’s certainly affecting this polite little one who’s taken such a liking to you. She wasn’t this loud in the shuttle, thank God.”



“I can take her, Jim. I see you have injured your shoulder.” Uncharacteristically, Spock reached up and touched the wound that still did not throb despite the child’s assault on it. Kirk felt the hot fingers stroke the broken skin there. “Is it painful? I could….”



“It doesn’t hurt at all. I feel fine so don’t worry about it. I’m a lot more worried about you not breathing. So just walk and try not to fall, right?” He gripped Spock’s elbow again, tightened his hold. The child started to cry against Kirk’s shoulder, and by the time they had made their slow way to the ridge she was asleep in the captain’s arms.



Ting had found exactly what Kirk had hoped for in heading for the outcropping, some shelter in the arid wasteland. Boulders twice the size of a human male leaned towards one another, creating little protected spaces beneath. Others faced the way they had come, towards and above the plain, so they could crouch upon and behind them and be able to tell when their enemy approached. At least the enemy they could see. The painted primitives who had attacked them earlier when the shuttle had been forced to land were armed with spears and stones they threw with slings. They were not capable of more. Nor had they been the ones who had driven the little party from the shelter of the shuttle.



But what had? They did not know. Raw panic had gripped them all, and they had left with nothing but unfired phasers in their hands, herded as if they were animals fleeing before a storm.



Kirk placed the sleeping child in her mother’s reaching arms and ordered Spock, “sit and rest.” He watched to make sure he was obeyed, then went to where Ting scanned the horizon from atop the largest boulder that jutted from the outcropping. The captain inched his way up the smooth surface on his belly until he was next to the lieutenant. “Any sign?” Because it was almost completely dark now, he couldn’t see much, but stars were starting to provide some illumination. Maybe there would be a moon later.



“Nothing, sir. Sir, we can’t hold out for long here. No water, for one thing.”



“I know,” Kirk said grimly. “But our passengers can’t go on much further without rest and I don’t see how we can travel in the dark.”



“I could scout ahead and see—”



“No. We stay together.”



Ting nodded, then mutely offered Hannigan’s phaser. Kirk took it and automatically checked the charge. Fifteen percent. It had been the first warning sign once they’d landed, that somehow all their systems were being drained of power. But even if the phaser had been fully charged, it could only have affected the natives. They faced a larger enemy, one they could feel but did not see. The skin between his shoulder blades prickled.



“Half an hour,” he promised Ting, “and I’ll take a shift.”



He slid down the rock face, almost turning his controlled descent into a genuine fall and making far too much noise. Spock, a figure of shadows with a steadying hand, waited for him at ground level.



“I thought I told you to rest.”



“I have done so. Captain, we are in an untenable position.”



Kirk nodded and led the way back to where Spock had been sitting. He pointed to the ground, said, “Sit,” and then did so himself, leaning back with a sigh against the boulder. “What are we facing here, Spock?”



He could barely make out his first officer sitting cross-legged facing him, but he did see the movement of white skin as Spock brought one hand up to press against his side. Undoubtedly, he had hurt his friend with his pounding. He couldn’t regret it. Spock was alive.



“There is insufficient data to provide an answer. There is some force, perhaps a creature, which has created negative emotions in all of us. I was unable to ascertain whether it also operates upon the natives, but I believe it likely.”



“I think so, too. Look at this place. No water within kilometers, nothing growing, not a place to sustain any kind of a primitive population. What were they all doing there at the shuttle in the middle of nowhere?”



“Perhaps they were driven there, just as we were driven away.”



“And their attack?”



“Possibly a result of their fear and anxiety, taken out on us because we appeared new and different and therefore threatening, or possibly also directed specifically by whatever entity does not wish us to be here.”



“The homing signal?”



“Was definitely operating for at least twenty-seven point three seven minutes, possibly considerably longer. Because we were approaching rendezvous with the Enterprise, I estimate a ninety-six percent probability that the ship has registered our predicament and is even now searching for us.”



“So it’s just a matter of time before Scotty finds us.”



“Agreed.”



“But how much time? Can we hold out until then? I feel as if…any minute…it will…. But I don’t even know what it is, what it can do to us.” Kirk twisted around to scan first left, then right, knowing his unease was not a product of his own emotions, knowing the sweat that prickled the hairs on the back of his neck wasn’t his fear, but totally unable to banish his reactions. “This…isn’t rational.”



“It is real, simply outside our realm of experience. That does not negate its power over us.”



“I’m not used to feeling this way. Look at me, I’m sweating, my hands are trembling.” He held out one hand, barely able to see it himself, but confident Spock’s superior eyesight would perceive its shaking. “I’ve always been able to control—”



Spock was quick to defend his captain. “Your feelings of unease are not your own, Jim. They are being artificially produced.” There was movement in the dimness as Spock also extended a hand. “And I, too, am affected.”



“But I am afraid.”



“I am also.”



“It doesn’t seem that you are.” Impulsively, Kirk brought their hands together, again something that he had never done before. He never touched Spock unless he had to. Their fingers curled together and he felt Spock’s trembling. “It must be harder for you than for me,” he realized suddenly.



“I have no reference point for comparison. But it is…difficult, yes. You need not fear for your command abilities, Captain. I would not have deduced that you are experiencing anything more than normal apprehension under the circumstances. We each are capable of projecting more confidence than we feel.”



“I don’t feel very confident.”



“But we act nevertheless.”



“Do we?” Kirk asked grimly. “We haven’t acted so far, just run like cowards. And it might get worse. You know humans can be paralyzed by fear. It was a lot worse at the shuttle, then it slacked off when we left, but now it seems to be getting stronger. Can you feel it?”



“Indeed. It is logical to assume that proximity plays a role in what we are perceiving.”



“Meaning that whatever it is, it’s getting closer.”



“I believe that is what I just said.”



Kirk allowed himself a small smile but it faded quickly. “So, two phasers rapidly losing their charge, three civilians and a bunch of rocks. This is not the most hopeful situation we’ve ever been in, Mister Spock.”



“You have found us an excellent defensive position and the Enterprise may yet intervene,” Spock quickly pointed out.



“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not giving up,” and Kirk got to his feet, one hand on Spock’s shoulder that provided a warm, solid support. “That’s exactly what this is all about, right? It’s what the entity wants, for us to give into our fears and give up. But it’s not going to happen.”



“I know you will not cease in your efforts to extract us from this most perilous situation. Given my current incapacitation, I cannot perform as I should. I rely upon you.” Spock looked up at him and in the gloom his face was just a pale blur. But Kirk knew the expression on that face, composed, determined, supportive….



…concerned, brow furrowed, the blue eyes staring down at him, a light shake of his shoulders….



“Jim. Jim. Come out of it now. Open up those eyes, that’s it, take a deep breath, one, two, three….”



Kirk jack-knifed to a sitting position, the sharply-scented air of the Enterprise sickbay pierced his lungs.



“I won’t give up,” he said through thick lips, his voice strained and gravely.



“I know you won’t.” McCoy’s arms were on his shoulders, supporting, while a medtech on the other side of the bed hovered with a hypospray. “Just take it easy for a minute.”



“Our passengers?” Kirk asked urgently. “Are they safe? Ting?” He swallowed hard and blinked; the lighting was too bright, it was hurting his eyes. “Is Spock okay? The entity…has it followed us?”



“Just give yourself a minute and you’ll remember. There isn’t any entity.”



“Remember?” He stared down at the incredibly vivid gold velour of his tunic, at the startlingly clear outline of his clean fingers. No dust or grime, no sickbay overalls. What? His hand came up to grope at where the metal had penetrated him. There was no pain, no bandage.



“There aren’t any passengers. Nobody’s in danger and Spock is right where he should be, on the bridge. Come on now, don’t make me give you the antidote, it’s got those side effects we talked about. Better if you come back to us on your own.”



Kirk’s brow furrowed. No passengers. He couldn’t remember their names. What did they look like? The girl’s face was clear, but the woman? The boy?



“Hannigan’s okay?” They’d have to go back for his body, he wouldn’t leave it there, but…now he recalled the bloodless scene. Maybe it hadn’t really happened.



“Who?” McCoy asked.



“Hannigan from security. He was killed….”



The doctor shook his head. “No redshirt I know with that name. Wait a minute, do you mean Hanek’kan, Spock’s new assistant, the fellow with the long red hair?”



Kirk considered, slowly nodded as the face came into focus. Definitely, it was the same man, pale-skinned and lightly-boned, webbed fingers quietly indicating non-human ancestry, and with flaming red tresses brushing his narrow shoulders in defiance of Starfleet custom. Spock had mentioned the man’s quiet determination helped make him an excellent scientist. But in his strange dream he’d changed the man’s name, his occupation, and he’d died….



“Hanek’kan’s safe and sound, Jim, probably waiting to snag Spock from the bridge again as soon as he comes off duty. Do you remember how they’ve been spending so much time on the AI project?”



He didn’t want to remember. “And there wasn’t any attack? No planet?” Even as he asked he knew the Enterprise was on route to Starbase Fifteen for the briefing with Commodore Romero. The Galileo was safely in the shuttlebay.



“No attack, just in your drug-induced imagination, Captain.”



Of course. And Spock was not injured but healthy and beautiful in the center seat while his captain submitted to Starfleet’s latest attempt to inure their top officers against the mind-sifter the Klingons were using too often. Safe, the Surgeon General had said. Beneficial, the Surgeon General had said. Not too likely to be effective but we’ve got to follow orders, McCoy had said, and so Kirk had submitted.



“Starfleet’s bright idea,” he said bitterly, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, “just about scared me to death. Literally.”



“We could tell, your vital signs don’t lie. But we had you here the entire time. What that fertile subconscious of yours dreams up, well, that’s another question.” McCoy nodded to his assistant. “Looks like the captain will be okay, Jensen, you can leave.”



Kirk watched the man’s broad back retreating while McCoy continued, “A few questions for formality’s sake, to make sure you’re back in your right mind.”



The doctor consulted the readings on the overhead panel but before he could speak again Kirk asked intently, “And just how many of those who’ve taken this ‘treatment’ haven’t ended up back in their right minds?”



“One experimental subject,” McCoy said shortly. “Which is why I objected like holy hell when we were told to do this even if the SG’s office did claim they’d ironed out all the kinks, and why you’re the very last starship captain in the fleet to go through this lovely little procedure, Captain, sir. Now tell me, who’s the Commander-in-Chief right now?”



“Sven Andersen, because Nogura’s on medical leave.” Kirk answered impatiently, as annoyed at the clarity of his own words, too loud, as much as he was at the stupid question. He wanted out, back to the bridge so he could reassure himself all was well despite the vividness of his “dream.” The last thing he’d remembered, Spock had been looking up him through the gloom, clutching his side in pain…. Kirk almost didn’t catch the next question.



“Where are the next Olympics being held?”



“Damn it, Bones,” he exploded, unaccountably annoyed, “I don’t have time to follow the news. Last I heard Simohon’s World was hosting, but—”



“Simohon’s it is. And who was nominated for both the Kangees and the Nobel Prizes in astrophysics last year?”



“And he should have gotten both,” Kirk said hotly. “Spock’s original research in Daystrom’s engrams not only saved our lives but opened up a whole new—”



“You’ll do,” McCoy said dryly, folding his arms. “Now, want to share with your kindly country doctor what got you going? Pretty high stress levels we recorded, Jim.”



Bones never, ever left well enough alone, which was probably why he was such a good ship’s doctor and so invaluable a friend. He never left Kirk to stew in his own juices. “Detrimental to the command image to have you blowing up on the bridge,” he’d once said. “Talk it out, Jim.”



Kirk looked down at his stockinged feet hanging over the edge of the bed. “I…. There was something chasing us on this planet we’d crashed on, and—”



“Us?”



“Spock, Ting and Hannigan, or I guess really Hanek’kan, and three civilians.”



“Uh-huh. Sounds logical that Spock would be in your dreams.”



Kirk’s head came up sharply. “What the hell does that mean?”



McCoy shrugged. “Just that you’d want him with you under those circumstances, wouldn’t you?”



“Yeah. Well, any circumstances.”



“Go on.”



Kirk knew their conversation was being recorded. This little interrogation was undoubtedly part of the protocol, and he had no choice but to cooperate. But he hated being dissected. He knew what it all meant, too well, what had been plaguing his thoughts the past few months.



God, it was so clichéd he could hardly believe it. Was he really so desperate that he would hallucinate artificial respiration just for a kiss? He was embarrassed at the banality of his subconscious. So trite! And the penetration of the metal, it was a mockery of another type of penetration that he’d wondered about, and a reassurance that it could come without pain or degradation. Spock had tenderly touched the wound….



He’d almost had it worked out, almost had convinced himself that Spock wanted an intimate relationship—with sex—as much as he did, convinced himself that the looks they’d exchanged, the new routine which meant they spent so many of their off-duty hours together, the meaningful silences during which he drowned in Spock’s gaze, all were deliberate signals he’d been getting, encouraging him, that Spock felt the same hunger he did and the next time they were together they would reach for each other in joy when….



Hanek’kan had transferred aboard. The man was a civilian who held the temporary rank of lieutenant commander, and he was a “gift” from Admiral Nogura, who’d plucked him from the AI team on Memory Alpha and sent him to the Enterprise because Spock’s own results were so promising. And that day his Spock had disappeared, mouthing extremely reasonable excuses about the importance of this research to the Federation. Spock wasn’t enchanted by chess games and strategy sessions or even casual conversations with his captain anymore, but only by what a scientist of the lieutenant commander’s abilities and he could accomplish.



Hanek’kan: the competition who had taken Spock away from their after-shift dinners and their casual workouts and their careful approach to the one trembling moment Kirk craved. All because the lure of the lab—with the new man in it—could not be resisted any more. Did he really want Hanek’kan dead?



No, none of that was going to the Starfleet shrinks and his permanent records, and not to Bones, either.



He took a deep breath and provided in a rush, “The entity worked on the basic levels, inducing real fear, and it chased all of us across some sort of dark, rocky plain. It pelted us with rocks and that’s how Hannigan died, and Spock was badly hurt.” He pushed away the image of Spock’s lifeless body covered with dust and pebbles, he couldn’t deal with it. “But we made it to some boulders just as night fell. We waited for it, even though I was shaking, I was so scared. But I had the civilians to think of, and Spock not being himself. I had to face it, but I didn’t, because that’s when I came to.”



“Face what?”



“I…I don’t know,” Kirk hedged. “Fear of failure, losing my crew?” Fear of the unknown, losing my masculinity, trying to kiss Spock and having him swat me with the back of his hand and sending me right through the bulkhead?



Or maybe fear that Spock wouldn’t do that, would follow me to my bed, or take me to his, and we’d have what I can’t stop yearning for….



Or maybe something else….




Sexual desire cut through him like a knife, exposing his acquiescence to the demands of the AI project for what it was, a sham. His cock stirred right there as he sat on the sickbay bed. God, he knew how it could be with them, he wanted Spock….



“Fear of failure,” McCoy scoffed while Kirk fought his own body. “That’s so much a part of what drives you I’d be worried if it weren’t there. It’s typical stuff.” The doctor tapped his teeth with one finger while he speculatively regarded his captain. “Anything been bothering you lately, Jim?”



Kirk pretended to think about it. He drew out his answer, too conscious of his lengthened penis. “No, nothing in particular.”



“No bad dreams, insomnia? How’s your mom been, doing okay?”



“Regulations: I tell you about it when I can’t sleep, and Spock would hear me even through the bulkhead if I had screaming nightmares, wouldn’t he? He hasn’t reported anything, has he?”



“No, but Spock’s been making himself a little scarce lately. I don’t think he’s been sleeping much himself.”



“He knows his duty as well as I do,” Kirk defended sharply, “and he’d tell you if I’d been having problems. So would I.”



“I know, I know,” McCoy mollified, holding up his hands in defense. “Our resident Vulcan has the regs tattooed over his heart and you’ve got them stitched on your ass. So that means there’s nothing you want to talk to me about.”



“That’s right.”



“And I’ll just assume this one-of-a-kind response to the therapy is an innocent anomaly and I won’t pursue it.”



“Bones, let it go,” Kirk said wearily. “You know I won’t let anything interfere with my command.”



“I know that, but sometimes we lose perspective. Remember that perspective is my job.” The doctor bent down, picked up one pair of regulation Starfleet boots, size nine and one-half, and handed them over. “You know you’ve got to report tomorrow for the follow up. I’ve got you scheduled for oh-nine-hundred.”



“I’ll be here. Will you be able to tell if the treatment was effective?” Kirk had a healthy respect for the mind-sifter and he wanted any protection from it he could get.



McCoy shrugged. “Who’s to say? I’ve got the regulation tests, but whether we can trust what they say….”



“You don’t.”



McCoy pointed one long finger at him. “Only way to find out is to put you under a real mind-sifter, and since the Federation has captured just one and you don’t want to be a volunteer in their experiments, the only way to find out is to let the Klingons have their way with you. I wouldn’t recommend it, Captain.”



“Spock fooled it,” he protested as he pulled the boots on.



“They’ve had two years since then to improve it and you’re not Spock. I hope we never find out whether this treatment works or not. You can visit the bridge for an hour, then knock off for the rest of the afternoon. I’m sure you can find something else to do.”



“Aye-aye, sir,” he mocked as he slid to his feet. “See you tomorrow.”



As he left sickbay and paced through the halls, he took with him tightly clenched fists, a quick, irritated stride and a simmering arousal that wouldn’t quit. Kirk ignored the too bright reds and golds of the uniform tunics, the sharp greetings that almost hurt his ears, and he concentrated with new energy on what the dream had revealed. He wouldn’t give up. He and Spock were meant to be together, and he had been stupid to let even the purity of science come between them. His heavy balls reminded him with every step of the need that resided in every part of him—his tensed-up, frustrated body as well as his heart.



With edgy anxiety he nodded at an engineering tech and then stepped into the turbolift, skewering the overhead bulkhead with a glance as the turbo raced to the top of the saucer. The hair on the back of his neck lifted the way it so often did when he faced danger. He felt poised on the tips of his toes, his body balanced, ready to confront or persuade or cajole. The lift slowed, the doors opened, he stepped out onto the bridge where it seemed he hadn’t been forever….



…where one quick glance revealed Spock’s dark head already turning to greet his captain from the command chair, and a flaming red one bent over the science scanners.



An angry knot tried to squeeze the air from his chest even as he rejected the sight of Hanek’kan to feast on the vision he wanted to see, his first officer smoothly standing, his elegant hands sliding off the armrests. Indignation over Hanek’kan’s presence warred with the pleasure of simply being with Spock again, of being on the bridge again. Indignation predominated even as he realized how unstable his emotions seemed to be, as he wondered if Bones had been too generous in allotting him immediate time back on duty. He stepped down to the command well and faced his first officer with the captain’s chair between them. This newly-realized instability must just be a side effect of the treatment.



“Captain.” Spock nodded with angled precision and correctly stepped back to make way for him.



Kirk stopped in his tracks. He knew that impersonal tone, the flat intonation of his title, the same title said the same way to every one of the Vulcan’s commanding officers through the years. Captain.



In the first months of his command on the Enterprise, that was how Spock had greeted him whether he’d been gone from the bridge for two hours or two weeks, it hadn’t make a difference because Spock hadn’t cared. That was before they’d become friends, before they’d begun the slow, spiraling dance that had brought them closer and closer….



But perhaps the dance had ended. Perhaps it had never really begun. Kirk searched his first officer’s face, caught the dark eyes now looking at him with a hint of curiosity. He found not a trace of personal concern there. God. The way it used to be.



He wouldn’t let the sudden despair adding its weight to his heart show on his face. Could he have been such a genuine fool as to have mistaken a Vulcan’s loyalty for love? A slightly more accommodating attitude from Spock in private conversation for desire? Was his dream just that, only a dream concocted by his confused heart?



For a long moment he questioned everything, considered leaving the bridge as quickly as he had come, decided he could wear the mask of competent, impersonal commander best in the command chair. He slid into it, not knowing what to believe. It was easy to focus on the red-haired figure whom he had killed minutes ago in sickbay.



Irritation sharpened his tone. “Mister Spock, Commander Hanek’kan is not rated on the science scanner for the bridge. What’s he doing here?”



“Correct, Captain. Sensors have been temporarily routed to auxiliary control where Lieutenant Underhausen is on duty and tied in to the navigation console.”



“What for?”



“After our efforts testing the new pneumonic circuits last night, I deemed it wise that the primary computer lattice be recalibrated to insure optimal performance. Mister Hanek’kan is most qualified to accomplish this since I had the con, and the action is done most efficiently using bridge controls. I took the liberty of ordering these arrangements.”



“All right.” He passed a hand over his face, feeling four times the fool because he’d even questioned Spock about it. He should know better, the supremely-efficient Spock would always have a good reason for what he did. “Of course you did the right thing. Have you logged it?”



“Yes, Captain. Awaiting your signature.”



“Fine. How much longer until Underhausen passes control back to us?”



“Lieutenant Commander Hanek’kan,” Spock raised his voice so it carried across to the science station, “what is the estimated time to completion of your task?”



“Another twenty minutes or so, sir.”



Spock frowned and a few quick strides took him up the steps to the man’s side. Hanek’kan looked small and quite young next to the Vulcan, shrinking into inoffensive insignificance. “That is more time that we had allocated. Have you experienced difficulty?”



Their conversation turned to soft, intimate murmurs as their heads bent together, as Kirk watched a strand of red hair brush against his first officer’s arm. Already they were lost in the esoteric world of higher mathematics that Kirk could but dimly understand. He turned his head sharply away, not wanting to see, concentrating instead on the uninspiring starfield. Why was it that he suddenly saw his own folly so clearly? Spock could never share that most important part of his life with his captain; only another scientist would ever be able to give the Vulcan the special companionship that he deserved, the completion of his whole being. Not T’Pring, but not James Tiberius Kirk either.



He was not and never would be Spock’s. Spock was not and never would be his.



You stupid dreamer.



Help. I need help.



What’s wrong?




He became aware that his head was down, he was staring at the floor between nav and helm controls, the worst possible physical impression that a commander could give. He jerked upright only to find that Spock was back, standing next to him.



Really back, the old Spock, the Vulcan who had looked at him so steadfastly and with such confidence in that strange dream, the friend who would one day be a lover, the only lover James Kirk would ever need….



Caring radiated from the dark eyes.



He couldn’t help himself, despite his disconcerting confusion—why was he so suddenly seeing everything in a different light?—he hitched to the side, closer, closing the distance between them and making the connection private and intimate, as they had spoken privately and intimately on the bridge so many times before, even when they’d talked of Klingon incursions and fuel consumption and computer modifications.



“What?” he asked softly.



“I was concerned about the treatment in the sickbay,” Spock said just as quietly. “How did it proceed?” Jim…. His name, though unspoken, was still there, a caress coming from those stern lips. He could almost hear it, his name gently floating from Spock’s mouth along with I love you and I desire you and Let me help, help me…. He blinked and his Vulcan was not speaking, just waiting, but with that glint in his eyes that Kirk so needed.



“I…guess all right. Though I’m turning the con back to you in a little while.”



“You seem…” Spock tilted his head in that gesture he would miss if he never saw it again. Where had that thought come from? “…distracted.”



“A little. It, ah, wasn’t an experience I’d like to repeat.”



“Indeed. However it is preferable to being subjected to the mind sifter itself.”



Kirk allowed himself to grin, though he felt more like crying than laughing. Okay, the bridge was no place for a commander who had mood swings like this, who felt all the reality he thought he knew about his first officer slipping through his fingers. He stood and stepped down to the deck, pulling on his tunic in a familiar gesture that made him feel more confident.



“Mister Spock,” he said impulsively. “Would you care to join me in my quarters after shift for a…game of chess?” It was the same invitation that had been refused several times before.



Spock shifted uneasily from foot to foot, so unlike the officer who must have mastered military correctness his first day at the Academy. “Captain, that would be most pleasing, however….” He actually glanced over his shoulder to where Hanek’kan still labored before the scanner hood. “I had planned to spend several hours refining a crucial element of the—”



“You can still have several hours in the lab, just give a few of them to me.” He tried to speak softly, persuasively, but anger lay just below the surface.



“Captain, I—”



“Or have you decided you just don’t care for my company any more?”



He could tell that Sulu and Chekov each heard him because they were suddenly very busy at their consoles in the face of this too personal conversation between their commanding officers. He shouldn’t have said it, should have waited for a time of privacy between them, but lately there hadn’t been any privacy and, damn it, why shouldn’t he take a break from the burdens of command with someone whose company he craved?



Spock examined him gravely. “That indeed is not the case. I will arrive at your door at twenty hundred hours.”



It felt like defeat, and he didn’t care anymore what the bridge crew heard. “No, Spock, not if you don’t want to. I don’t want to take you away—”



“No. I…do wish to.” There was a hint of newly-discovered fervency in the deep voice. “I do. Perhaps I have spent too much time in the labs lately. I will—”



Suddenly Commander Hanek’kan was there between them, creating a trio where before there had been a duet—he and Spock almost communicating as they hadn’t in weeks—but before the man could speak Kirk said loudly, brashly, perhaps even triumphantly, “You’ll have to continue with your research on your own tonight, Lieutenant Commander. Mister Spock will be joining me this evening.”



“Yes, sir.” Absolutely correct, subservient even, but Kirk did not trust him. Had he ever looked Hanek’kan in the eye before, as he was doing now? Where had he obtained the impression that the man was young or even weak-willed? Lines radiated from the corners of his eyes and in the grooves of his cheeks, deep lines that spoke of hard experience and determination, and the defiance in the set of the thin shoulders belied the militarily correct words that Hanek’kan mouthed. Surprise and sudden foreboding flashed through Kirk’s resentment, but he instantly quelled their expression. Hanek’kan, he realized, was somehow not exactly what he claimed to be. Why hadn’t he deduced that before?



“However,” Kirk said easily, turning his body fully to the man so that his unspoken physical language would be open and appeasing, as innocent and encouraging as he meant his words to be, “I’m sure that you two will be able to pick up on your work tomorrow. I understand that last night was something of a breakthrough?”



“Yes, sir,” the man’s head bobbed up and down several times, an unsophisticated movement that almost—almost—masked what Kirk had seen. “Oh my, yes. It’s too early to tell if this is indeed the correct path, but our new approach does look promising, very promising indeed. It is a shame for anything to waylay us from our purpose, however,” he said delicately, “as all the Federation is waiting for a successful application from Doctor Daystrom’s theories, especially when it appears we are so close to a breakthrough. Who is to know if even a day’s, or a night’s, work will make a difference? Perhaps it would be better for Mister Spock to forego the pleasure of your company tonight and instead….”



He left the rest of the sentence hanging and looked expectantly from Spock back to the captain. Kirk maintained eye contact with the man longer than he wanted to, not allowing the fear or disdain he felt to show, then he turned and faced Spock.



Spock’s warm gaze was already resting upon him, and their eyes locked. With a jolt Kirk realized he hadn’t really felt the heat of his first officer’s full attention for too long, and his skin prickled again with sexual arousal, of how things might be between them. He couldn’t help himself, his eyes swept down and then up the length of the lean body he had come to crave, and he remembered, as if they were returning from far away, fervent fantasies of a wet Vulcan tongue in his mouth, a mint green cock erect and weeping against his fingers as he touched it for the first time, Spock beneath him accepting Kirk’s driving human cock up his ass, wanting it the way Kirk gave it to him—dreams of wild lust and deepest sharing. He remembered fantasizing the meld during sex, a meld he couldn’t really imagine but wanted because it would give him more of Spock, because he knew Spock, like all Vulcans, would need it. He took a hard breath and then he centered himself by settling in Spock’s gaze.



But Spock had changed again, he was not the formidable and indifferent Vulcan, not the caring almost-lover. For once he didn’t know what the look in Spock’s eyes meant, emotion unfathomable and undefined lived there, frustrating to Kirk in the silence on the bridge that had already lasted past the point of awkwardness.



“No, I don’t think so,” he said quietly, somehow feeling strength and equilibrium flowing with his words. “Everybody needs a break now and then. Mister Spock has the night off, and he’s spending it with me.” Yes, the night, not just the evening, with the two of us talking again, friends-into-lovers talking, I want to touch you, Mister Spock, I want you to touch me and I want what we almost had, waking up and knowing your lips upon my skin and I want you to fuck me right through the mattress….



“Not Vulcans,” Hanek’kan said easily, as if he were an equal to the captain and the executive officer on the bridge, as if he had the right granted through intimate friendship. “Vulcans have so much more stamina than humans do. I’m sure Mister Spock would be fine if—”



“No,” Kirk broke in when it became obvious Spock was not going to speak. His unmoving figure seemed almost paralyzed. “Perhaps it would also be a good thing for you to…” he was going to say take the night off as well when he suddenly realized he wanted this man to be occupied this evening. He checked for just a moment then continued with “…more fully engage your assistants in this project. It’s always a good idea to involve as many bright people as you can, and my people on the Enterprise are as good as they get. Mister Spock, who is the most promising of those who’ve been assisting you?”



Addressed directly, Spock immediately provided, “Lieutenant Hernandez.”



Hmmm. A young, brilliant woman of great enthusiasm and not much practical judgment. “And?”



“Lieutenant Bhatt.”



Perfect. He conducted one of the Enterprise’s ongoing classes in self-defense and was a commanding six-foot six-inch presence with a wise serenity that accompanied complete self-confidence. Kirk thumbed the intercom on the chair’s console. “Chemistry Lab. Lieutenant Bhatt.”



The delay was just a few seconds, which Kirk spent smiling at Hanek’kan, saying, “You’ll appreciate getting a different point of view, I’m sure.”



“Yes, sir?” came Bhatt’s voice.



It was the work of but a minute for Kirk to arrange for both Bhatt and Hernandez to replace Spock—“and assist Lieutenant Commander Hanek’kan throughout the shift” Kirk was careful to add—through oh-two-hundred in the morning. “Late enough for you?” Kirk asked solicitously.



“Oh, yes, indeed, thank you, Captain. However, it will take considerable time, days even, for me to inform the others thoroughly enough about our work to make them even marginally useful, and there is always the chance that the other team on Memory Alpha will make the breakthrough before we achieve it. I had hoped that the patent could be established in my and Spock’s names, as well as providing the Nobel Prize committee with irrefutable evidence that Spock should win what he so richly deserves.”



Kirk brushed away the shallow attempt to equate one night’s work with glory and honor. How dare this sniveling, scheming, interfering scientist call Kirk’s own Vulcan, his best friend, his anchor in every storm, “Spock?” More than anyone he knew, his first officer was worthy of respect, not casual familiarity. Kirk choked down overwhelming anger that tightened his jaw muscles and realized anew that he was in no condition to be holding the con. As he had told McCoy, he would not allow anything to interfere with his command, including his own temporary inadequacies. Nothing…nothing was right here.



Ignoring Hanek’kan, Kirk turned back to his center. “‘Prizes wait on brilliance,’” he quoted softly. “Will I see you tonight?” The real you, the one I care about? Or will you change again during the hours we’re apart?



“I will be there,” Spock said. “Twenty hundred hours.” Hanek’kan was moving away even as Spock spoke. He reached the upper level and Kirk’s friend said, “Jim. I…anticipate our meeting.”



“Me, too,” Kirk said, wanting to whisper but knowing if he did he would be calling even more attention to himself, to him and Spock together and the desires that flared between them. He had no wish to make himself any more obvious, or ridiculous, to the bridge crew. It had been ridiculous, suddenly he saw that, the two of them disputing over Spock’s time, and even if he didn’t detect the slightest hint of sexual interest in the red-haired scientist, what had just happened embarrassed him.



“You have the con, Mister Spock. See you later.”



The doors of the turbo closed behind his flight and ten seconds later the computer’s voice asked, “Destination, please.”



Destination. Destination. He passed a hand over his face and realized that he was literally sagging against the turbo wall, as if he were exhausted from long effort. He held up his steady hand in the light, almost expecting to see it shaking as it had in his dream. Where was he going?



Not his quarters, not on a walking tour of his ship, not to sickbay, at least not yet….



“Deck ten.”



In the gym’s locker room he stripped off his tunic, crumpled it into a ball and flung it down to the bench in silence. An engineering tech on the far side of the room gave him a sideways glance and was gone before Kirk had completely stripped and roughly hauled on his jock strap. He had to reach down and readjust his balls as a result; he took no care in touching his own flesh, hurt himself in the process. Good. He needed something else to think about other than the confusion that engulfed him. He’d played a game on the bridge with Hanek’kan, but he didn’t know why and he didn’t know the rules. And Spock…. What the hell was going on?



He stood head down, alone in the locker room, clad only in the elastic strap, his left hand cradling his testicles, and he tried to focus on what had just happened on the bridge but couldn’t. His thoughts kept diverting to long-fingered, strong hands holding him the way he was holding himself, then moving to wrap themselves around his shaft. God, it felt so good to even fantasize Spock’s touch after so long, it had been so long since he’d allowed himself this indulgence….



With a sudden, painful jerk his hands fell away to his sides and he hastily turned towards the row of lockers. It would have been great, just great, for someone to come in—and his command image would have been shot to hell. He could control himself, he wasn’t an adolescent.



Physical activity always cleared his mind. He reached into his locker for green shorts and even pulled on a white tank top though he usually didn’t wear a shirt in the gym. But this afternoon he needed one, he needed the protection, the covering up before his crew.



Kirk stepped out into the main gym thinking to run his arousal and his confusion into submission by taking laps around the track, but a group of about fifteen had gathered in one corner just starting some stretching routines which he needed anyway. He joined them towards the back without comment and concentrated hard just on the movement of his body. Reach, stretch, reach again, move, down to the floor, over, swing, over and up, swing down….



His head was down touching his calf when a voice said, “Captain! Didn’t know you were here, sir. Want to lead the class?”



“Carry on,” he grunted out. Just what he needed, over-eager junior officers too conscious of his rank.



Someone started some nicely-cheery music to go along with the group and he grimaced but didn’t let it break his steady movements. Kirk generally hated music when he exercised but knew he was in the minority, had heard Bones mention often enough that anything that gave people a desire to move was good. The urge to move was a part of him, though, always had been, that was something he was born with that he’d never lost, only now it meant more than physical fitness and the restless energy that always propelled him. Kirk led his ship into the unknown, encountered new beings and their civilizations, protected his crew from danger and solved the problems that threatened life. The Enterprise moved and he moved within her.



Swing his hands up, overhead, to the side, clasp into a fist and stretch, pull towards the ceiling, up towards the bridge and over it, towards the darkness that cradled the warp envelope in which they sailed. He could have abandoned the group for the track now, he was loosened up enough, but he was already caught in the rhythm of the movements, and in his shadowed vision. Sometimes he thought of himself as a swimmer caught on the crest of an enormous wave at midnight, riding through the darkness towards the unknowns of the sparkling sea. He gave himself up to that image, a dolphin in the endless ocean, roaming, not thinking about Spock or Hanek’kan or the treatment, instead freeing himself, being gloriously free, breaking through water that moved against his skin effortlessly, nothing would stop him because the world was water and he would glide and swoop forever….



Twenty minutes later his skin glistened with the barest sheen of sweat and Kirk was calmer, though his heart rate was up and his lungs were expanded with fresh, clean air. When the group dispersed he shook his arms out as he strode with certain steps over to the weight area in the center of the high-ceilinged gym. The ship’s athletic facility took up three stories of the engineering section with its multiple suspended tracks but no ship designer would eliminate it. The gym—not the bridge or a rec room or a mess hall—was the heart of the ship.



None of the bench press equipment was in use. He talced his palms, changed the settings and slid beneath the weight rod smoothly, still sliding within water….



Only now the water was heavy against him. The iron bar of resistance was solid in his hands, a delight, this was what he was made for, to fight against what opposed him. He pushed and the bar moved up, he extended his arms, then down, rest, then move those muscles, watch the weight fight gravity again because he willed it, down. Up, down, his muscles bunched and smoothed.



He’d set the machine to add weight slowly, he’d started with fewer than fifty pounds, a weight he had bench-pressed practically as a child. But a long, challenging workout was what he wanted, one he’d have to concentrate on, one that would test his limits. This was his favorite way to spend time in the gym, he’d developed his shoulders and arms and chest this way and he grinned as the minutes passed. He’d seen Spock looking at him as he exercised, watched the Vulcan surveying his pecs glistening from effort, and he knew Spock had liked what he’d seen.



A moment’s lack of concentration, he faltered, and the load was suddenly more than he could handle and the computer swiftly shifted the resistance down. “No,” he gasped, aware of sweat on his face, “Resume.”



This time he drove himself harder and fell into a smooth rhythm of effort. Push, extend, hold, down, control, breathe, then over again and each time he lifted and held the bar over his head was a triumph, like a runner crossing the finish line. I can do this. I can do this. His arms began to tire just a bit, then the forearm muscles to burn, with the faintest hint of cramping across his chest but he welcomed it and knew he was far from exhausted, far from his limits.



Air whistled in and out of his lungs, his chest heaved with effort, and his erection, which had persisted from the bridge and through the stretching, strongly tented the fabric of his shorts, he could feel it. There was nothing unusual in that, he often got hard during physical exertion but his body tingled and he knew there was an additional source. But he wouldn’t let himself think about it, how much he wanted Spock and his doubts about where Spock really stood and who he really was, no, push, extend, hold, down, control, breathe, and then again. Again. He was covered in sweat now, that was good, let it all weep from his body’s pores, the sensory disorientation and the strange scene on the bridge and his wondering thoughts about the man he wanted to walk by his side forever. Which Spock would arrive at his door? No. Again. Push, extend, hold, down, control, breathe. Again. Don’t think.



The digital display on the machine showed the weight resistance as it changed every few minutes, higher and higher still, creeping towards his personal best. Yes, that was his goal, to achieve at least his best, on the ship only Sam Garrett and Spock could bench press more than the captain of the Enterprise could.



The display blinked, his muscles burned but he was a machine and this was more weight than he’d ever pressed before, one pound, three pounds, five pounds more, the sweat was pouring off his face, it pooled in his eyes and it was hard to see but still he went on….



“You are approaching physical stress points, workout will be curtailed within one minute,” the machine told him.



Fuck it he thought because he wouldn’t spare the breath to speak. At least another five minutes. Ten minutes. I can do this.



But he couldn’t argue with the machine that had of course been monitoring his physical condition throughout the workout, and abruptly all resistance left the bar and he fell back against the pad panting.



He became aware that a crowd had gathered around him and they were clapping and cheering.



“Great job, Captain!”



“Way to go!”



“You’ll be beating Mister Spock next, sir.”



Somebody handed him a towel as he sat up and he mopped his face and chest and smiled in the way he knew best connected him with those whose lives were constantly in his hands. Their faces were a blur.



“Need a drink, Captain?” A quick-replen bottle was thrust forward and he took it gratefully. As he drank the group dispersed, and when he glanced back at them there were only three young men standing over by the pommel horse talking. One of them was Lieutenant Mike Ting.



Kirk stared at the Asian man intently, forearms on his knees as his breathing returned to normal. He remembered how the security officer had been responsible, even resourceful in the dream, how he had relied upon the man. Why had his subconscious produced Ting when there were any number of security redshirts with whom Kirk worked more regularly? The Asian wore a flashy, golden unitard that stretched the bounds of Kirk’s tolerance for personal expression in fashion, and that made him realize—the world looked normal again. Kirk looked around the gym, evaluating. Colors had resumed their common hues, sounds weren’t too loud anymore.



And his erection had disappeared at last. He looked down between his legs at the wrinkled green material of his shorts and realized one reason for his persistent sexual arousal had to be that he hadn’t jerked off in at least…. He counted the days. Seventeen. Since Hanek’kan had come aboard. Before that, the frustration of being slowly seduced by Spock, of slowly seducing him and loving it, had demanded self-release, often within minutes of leaving the Vulcan’s company. But, oh God, the joys of that frustration, knowing, really knowing that it would end with them together. Like an exquisite torture he’d welcomed.



He frowned down at himself, not seeing anything anymore. He hadn’t been afraid of entering a relationship with Spock, had he? Spock and he were meant to be together, there had been joy in that courtship and he had been sure of Spock and himself. The memories were clear now. Then why the hell had he thought otherwise until this minute, and what the hell had that dream meant, that he had so immediately and blithely interpreted for himself? What had he so feared?



And why had his desires and his body both gone into deep freeze for seventeen days, only to erupt today?



He took a deep breath. It was time to find some answers.



“Lieutenant Ting?” he called.



The man approached with a respectful if curious, “Yes, sir?”



“What’s your specialty?”



“Hand to hand with the blade, Captain.”



Kirk waved a dismissing hand. “Not that. I mean your tech specialty.”



“Oh. Encryption. Data disguise. I worked with communications on those codes that we intercepted last month.”



Codes which the Enterprise had broken, or at least bent. Kirk examined the toes of his dirty-gray gym shoes and pondered. Perhaps somewhere in the back of his mind he had known that fact, an entry he must have read two and a half years ago when Ting had transferred aboard or maybe…. Yes, he could recall Uhura’s voice in the mess saying how much of a help Ting had been with the codes, that he had real talent and should consider switching departments. That was why the man had been in his dream. “Lieutenant, I have a very sensitive job that needs doing. Are you up to it?”



One of the too-eager, young redshirts might have drawn themselves up to their full height and snapped out, “Yes, sir!” Ting, veteran of many landing parties and investigations, smiled slowly and nodded. His body bowed forward and his voice was low with the same calm competence he had exhibited on the planet. Or that Kirk had imagined he would. “Where to?”



“The shower first.” Kirk swung his feet off the bench and took Ting’s narrow hand to bring himself upright. It reminded him of Spock’s hand, warm and sure, and how Spock’s hands were essential to what he was thinking he’d have to do. “Then…are you familiar with storage room 27?”



SR 27 nestled snugly between the arms of secondary cargo hold #2 and the refrigerated hold, where currently two hundred and fourteen cartons of various foodstuffs waited for the Enterprise’s cooks to retrieve them. The small, narrow, easily-overlooked room held a table, shelves, and, most important for Kirk’s purposes, a computer console that was primarily used for checking inventory. Kirk had marked it during the second month of his command as a place where he could go if he needed to perform some sensitive operation without the knowledge of his bridge crew or anyone else, but he had never had occasion to use it. Until now, when he knew he had to hide from Hanek’kan. And Spock.



He sat before the console, his hair still wet from washing and drying in little curls, and pulled up Hanek’kan’s records. This was a chance he had to take, that they hadn’t been flagged to notify the man when retrieved.



“See this?” he pointed and swiveled in the chair towards Ting. “This came on board with Lieutenant Commander Hanek’kan, with an accompanying memo from Admiral Nogura and supposedly straight from Memory Alpha. I don’t think it’s accurate. Something’s been changed and I want to know what.”



Ting frowned. “This might take a while. Anything in particular you’re looking for?”



Kirk shook his head. “I don’t want to tell you anything right now, I’ve got a pretty wild idea about this but I don’t want to taint your investigation with my speculations. Just see what doesn’t look right. I’m especially interested in routing.”



“That’s going to be difficult to do without a subspace uplink.”



“No. Nobody on the bridge can know about this. Got it?”



“Got it, sir. I’ll do my best, I’ll have to analyze the substructure and of course the routing codes, compare them to the database we’ve got already—it should be enough.”



“Good.” Kirk rose from his chair, watched Ting roll his into place before the screen, already peering at the data displayed. “When you’ve got something to report, do it on a secured line.”



“Aye, sir.” The man’s fingers flew across the board. “I’ll run an inventory scan in the background, just in case anybody gets curious….” His words trailed off and Kirk left the room, satisfied he’d done what he could.



Three hours later Kirk sat staring at the blank screen of the computer in his quarters, thinking furiously. He was finally finished with the investigations that had taken him through medical files, classified material from the last command packet about Klingon activity in their own empire, and a thorough review of the mission where the Enterprise had encountered Commander Kor, the Organians, and the mind-sifter. It had been difficult re-reading Spock’s dispassionate report of his experience enduring the mental invasion of the machine. They had talked about it once, and Spock had admitted feeling pain. “You would not have survived it,” Spock had told him, and Kirk didn’t doubt it.



He spent twenty minutes dictating a report with his speculations, and after some sober thought included absolutely everything he remembered about his hallucination. On the surface it didn’t look pertinent, perhaps the recording was just an indulgence, but Kirk had learned to trust his hunches. McCoy would probably laugh at him if he ever had access to it. But just in case….



Kirk somberly informed the computer, “Route this memo to ship’s chief medical officer Leonard McCoy and chief engineer Montgomery Scott, with a copy to Starfleet Command, twenty-four hours from now unless I countermand this order. In case of my death or incapacity, execute routing immediately. Is the memo in queue for transmission?”



“Affirmative,” the non-corporeal voice told him.



He glanced at the chronometer. 1832. It was possible Bones would still be in sickbay.



The head duty nurse nodded him into McCoy’s office, where Kirk found him bent over a portable microscanner set up on his desk, next to a stack of slides six inches high. “Be right with you,” the doctor murmured without looking up.



But Kirk didn’t have the luxury of time. “Bones,” he said, “I need your help.”



*****




Half an hour later they were ensconced in McCoy’s comfortable quarters and Kirk was sipping Bones’ exquisitely awful blend of chamomile tea and Argellian danta juice, trying to pretend that he didn’t care that he had just told his CMO his most intimate secret and that McCoy had first laughed, then joked, and only now was hunching forward to ask questions with a disbelieving look on his face.



“Let me get this straight. You and Spock…. I mean, it’s a little hard to believe. You really mean….”



“Yes, I really mean it. Bones, you know the two of us, is it so hard to accept? I love him. And he loves me. Getting together sexually only seems…logical, doesn’t it?”



“Jesus.” McCoy passed a hand over his face. “Great Buddha. Jim, I guess I could accept all that, believe it, if only you weren’t using it for evidence of all this other stuff about Hanek’kan. You think that Hanek’kan is a spy, that he’s been mind-controlling Spock and to a certain extent you as well, all because Spock suddenly turned off to you? Even if you’re right and Spock really was, well, attracted, have you considered that he might have just changed his mind? Maybe it’s not as logical to him as it is to you.”



Kirk carefully set the hot drink down on the floor, leaned forward in McCoy’s overstuffed visitor’s chair with his forearms on his knees. “Bones. I’ve been confused about a lot of things in my life—I was damned confused this afternoon—but I have always been in tune with Spock. From the first moment we took the ship out of orbit, even when we were just officers working together and not friends, even when we’ve argued. Spock and me, we connect, we always have.”



“Which is why,” McCoy said thoughtfully, “anyone wanting to get to the AI project to sabotage it through Spock would also have to go through you. Hmmmm.”



“And there’s the question of the sensory distortion At first I thought it was a side effect of the treatment, everything was so loud and bright. But as the afternoon wore on I realized it wasn’t that, it was that everything the previous two weeks had been depressed, gray, lifeless, and I was only today returning to normal. Like my,” he paused for just a moment, “sex drive.”



McCoy valiantly smothered a grin. “Right. I can’t believe we’re having this conversation, but what the hell, it’s for the good of the ship. You’re saying that you were hot and horny for Spock for what, weeks while you and he danced around each other—”



Kirk nodded. “Months. For sure, two months and three weeks.”



“Now you’re sounding like him.”



“I’ll take that as a compliment.”



“Not a chance. So you suddenly lost your, uh, desire as soon as Hanek’kan beamed aboard? That seems a mighty short peg to hang your hat on, Jim. Desire’s a tricky thing, all sorts of influences can change the way we see people, and maybe you just realized how improbable you and Spock—”



Kirk sighed. McCoy was going to force him to be crude. “Bones, I’m not talking about something ethereal like you see in the vids. Yes, I love Spock, yes, I’ve been thinking that if things worked out between us we’d end up bonding, and I’ve even thought of marriage, but—”



“God!” McCoy interrupted. “You’ve got it bad.”



Kirk refused to be sidetracked. “But when I talk about desire I mean something more, um, definite. Physical. You know.” He gestured with his right hand in the way every human male would recognize.



“Oh.” The doctor sat back. “You mean masturbation.”



“Right.”



McCoy had on his most impersonal, let-me-help face suddenly. “You’d been doing that a lot with your first officer as the focus and suddenly you stopped and you don’t know why?”



“When Hanek’kan transferred aboard. And all my sexual reactions came back with a vengeance once I came to in sickbay. I’ve been walking around with a hard-on half the day.”



“And your theory is that….”



“The treatment really works. Whatever Hanek’kan was doing to depress my interest in Spock, allowing him to spend all his time in the labs instead, was negated somehow by this defense Starfleet has come up with against the mind sifter.”



“Okay, I guess that’s one interpretation we can put on it. Let’s follow it a little. Let’s assume Hanek’kan isn’t the scientist we think he is, that he’s here for no good. What’s he want? Why is he doing,” McCoy waved both hands in the air, “all this?”



“Do you know,” Kirk asked grimly, “how the Klingons got the mind sifter? We know they’re not as technologically advanced as we are. How’d they come up with something that took so long for us to even find a small defense for?”



McCoy stared at him, still obviously skeptical but inviting him with a nod to continue.



“According to Intelligence’s best guess, the mind sifter was originally an artificial intelligence project of its own, probably never meant to be used the way the Klingons use it. Somewhere in their sphere of influence they came across a race of beings, and like they always do they conquered that race and stole their technology. Who knows if those people resisted, if they were exterminated, or maybe if they’re a subsidiary planet in good standing in the Empire today? I don’t. But the sifter was apparently modeled after the mental functioning of this race of beings, different enough from any other telepathic race that we’ve run across in the Federation that it took our people almost three years for an inadequate analysis and a defense.”



“And you think that Hanek’kan is….”



“Somehow functioning on the same wavelength as the mind sifter.” Kirk shrugged. “It’s stupid to speculate further, maybe he’s one of this race that Intelligence says exists or did exist in the Empire, maybe he’s just somebody like them. But whoever or whatever he is, Hanek’kan has been messing with my mind and the mind of my first officer.” A pure shot of anger squeezed his chest at the thought of anyone invading the sanctuary of Spock’s mind, or witnessing his own private desires for his first officer, and his voice was low and tight as he continued, “and I’m going to stop him.”



McCoy regarded him with sudden alarm. “Jim, supposing, just supposing you know what you’re talking about, how do we know he’s not aware of our conversation right now?”



“We don’t except from my subjective evidence. I’ve got my own free will back for the first time in quite a while. I wouldn’t be sitting where I am right now talking to you if he could stop me, would I? Whatever it is he can do, it has its limits. My guess is that taking care of Spock is almost as much as he can handle. Spock has a hell of a formidable mind, Bones.”



“But do you think Hanek’kan realizes what’s going on, that you’re back to yourself?”



That had been one huge problem in his contemplations. Kirk catapulted from the chair and began to pace. “I don’t know. We weren’t exactly advertising I was having the treatment, were we? It’s a chance we’ll have to take, and it’s also why I decided to brief you about all this.”



McCoy sketched a quick, half-hearted grin. “Not because you wanted to test out your outrageous theory on a rational mind? Or titillate me with tales of your nonexistent sex life with Spock?”



“No and no. Because it’s too dangerous for me to be the only one in on this, and also too dangerous to spread the information too far. So you’re the one, Bones.” He spoke slowly, distinctly. “I’m hoping I’ve picked the right person to tell.”



McCoy examined him soberly. “You’re really serious about this, Jim, aren’t you? Have you considered that you had an idiosyncratic reaction to treatment, and this…paranoia…might be tied in to that?”



Kirk stopped in the middle of the room, stared at his CMO. “If I’ve learned one thing as a commander in Starfleet, it’s that I’ve got to trust myself, what I believe and my own instincts. Who else can I trust if not myself?”



McCoy stood and paced forward. “Your doctor. Jim, I don’t know about this story. It’s flimsy. It’s totally subjective and it falls apart if I just don’t believe that Spock would be, uh, interested in you that way. He’s not a very sexual being, you know.”



“No, I don’t know. I see somebody different than you do.”



“All right, all right. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re right one hundred percent. What are you going to do about it?”



“I,” Kirk said grimly, “am going to seduce Spock tonight.”



McCoy took a long moment before he spoke. “That’s crazy,” he said flatly. “You’re gonna get knocked on your ass.”



“Can you come up with a better plan at the moment? I’m supposed to meet Spock in my quarters in,” he checked the cabin’s chronometer, “twenty minutes. I’ll be able to gauge his reactions to me. We’ll talk about the project, about Hanek’kan. I know I need some hard facts because what I’ve got so far is speculation. But this way, well, I’ll have a lot better evidence to decide if I’m right in my suppositions,” his grin lived for but a moment, “or if you are.”



“You’re assuming a hell of a lot. If you’re right, he could be dangerous.”



“On the bridge, he was…different. Like a light being turned on and off, and some of that time he was himself, almost as if he were fighting it.”



McCoy considered. “And you think that was because you were yourself again?”



“Uh-huh. If Hanek’kan were really controlling him in a micro fashion, Spock would never have agreed to spend the evening with me. Hanek’kan put pressure on him not to go but it didn’t work. I’ll trust myself with Spock.”



McCoy threw his hands up into the air. “I don’t get it! All right, all right, go and try to lay your first officer. What do you want me to do?”



“Remember this conversation. Ask me about it tomorrow morning when I show up for the testing, and if I don’t remember it, well, contacting Starfleet Command might not be a bad idea. I’ve got a summary already made up and ready to be transmitted.”



“You’re assuming that I’m not involved, that I’m not affected. Big chance, Jim.”



“Life is full of chances, Bones. If I didn’t know the treatment takes several weeks to be created for each individual, I’d order you to undergo it right now. But that’s not going to happen, so we chance it.” He glanced at the time again. “I’ve got to go.”



“Jim?”



Kirk stopped before the closed door, half-turned and looked over his shoulder with a question.



“Be careful.”



“I will.”



“And don’t go too far. Seduction might not be a good idea. I mean…. You do know that Spock, like Vulcans in general, needs mental contact for sexual release, don’t you?”



Kirk nodded, feeling the weight of the decision he had already made, the desire and the logic that propelled it. “Not only do I know it, Bones, I’m counting on it. See you later.”



*****




James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise, representative for the United Federation of Planets, and the keeper of a certain Vulcan’s heart, paced the confines of his cabin and wrestled with his fear.



Fear is your friend, the instructor on command tactics at the Academy had lectured a class. Any commander who won’t admit that they’re afraid is a fool, and you don’t want to be on their ship. Fear is a natural consequence of our reaction to stressful situations, and it’s only logical, as the Vulcans would say. Danger provokes fear, fear encourages adrenaline and other hormones to flow so they prepare our bodies for action. It can sharpen our minds, too, if you learn to use it. Do you hear that? Use your fear as a tool. Don’t let it overwhelm you.



He hadn’t done too well on the mythical planet where they’d crashed in his dream, had he? Sweat had soaked his tunic, his hands had been shaking and he’d sat next to Spock on the ground with false bravado and no effective plan at all. He’d awakened before any confrontation had been resolved.



The time was twenty hundred hours and four minutes. Spock was late.



Was Spock also afraid? Somewhere in that incomparable consciousness—the spark that made him uniquely who he was and gave him life, personality, purpose—did the being who was Spock of Vulcan know of Hanek’kan’s exercise of power over him? Did he cringe from the touch of an alien mind within his deepest, most intimate soul?



Abruptly Kirk turned on his heel and smashed a fist against the bulkhead. Damn. It. To. Hell.



Like a rape.



Kirk remembered lines from a ‘fleet psychologist’s report that had been appended to Spock’s detailing of his experience under the mind sifter. “I would recommend psychotherapy, except that Commander Spock is Vulcan. The mental probing appears to be as much like a rape as it can be without physical violation, but Vulcans are well able to deal with the consequences of such an experience.”



So that faceless, honorless shrink sitting in some safe office somewhere had dismissed Spock’s pain. He’d been violated.



And now somebody else controlled Spock’s mind, directing his will, obscuring his memory, replacing his motivations. For a moment Kirk thought he was going to be physically sick. He leaned one forearm against the wall and fought the bile that threatened to flood his mouth.



No. He wouldn’t let it overwhelm him. He straightened and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.



This was dangerous. This evening, yes, and what might happen that night, and the way he felt about Spock was dangerous, too. His first officer was his weak spot, his Achilles’ heel. He cared too much about the Vulcan, had always found it a little more difficult to send him on death-provoking missions than anyone else. Spock had clouded his perspective from the start, made his duty more difficult, because somehow, as he had told McCoy, the two of them connected. He looked at Spock and saw a piece of himself that was missing. They were two parts of a whole.



He couldn’t let that affect him. There was an unknown enemy threatening his ship, the AI project, ultimately even the Federation. It wasn’t just Spock, for whom he would do anything, give anything except what duty prevented him from giving.



Twenty hundred hours and six minutes. What did that mean?



A quick tug on his tunic and decisive steps into the bathroom at least gave him the illusion of action. He brushed his teeth again, remembering that his plan required him to kiss Spock, to take him to bed, to touch his cock and make it hard, to pump him or maybe suck him, maybe spread his legs for his friend so that a heaving, panting Spock hovered on the brink of orgasm….



He had to lean against the counter as the weakness of extreme arousal buckled his knees. God, he wanted this too much, and hated Hanek’kan so much, and was so afraid of what he would find in Spock’s mind, maybe that his Vulcan would be lost to him forever….



No. Kirk straightened and looked himself in the eye in the mirror. That wasn’t going to happen. Vaal’s Planet and Gideon’s World and Tholian Space and the red sands of Vulcan. They’d already given each other their lives countless times over.



He paced back to his office and stood next to the chess table he’d set up, lifted his chin high and felt the adrenaline coursing through his veins. It was possible that this plan was a very bad idea, that his own desires blinded him to its inadequacies. Despite McCoy’s apparent disbelief, Kirk felt that he was dealing with a very dangerous and vast unknown. Maybe he should have rousted out security instead, cornered Hanek’kan and thrown him in the brig.



But that had obvious dangers of its own—dealing with a being with mental abilities was tricky and frontal approaches just wouldn’t work. Spock had beaten the mind sifter once, he and Spock together were uniquely compatible in every way, and he himself was now armed with some defense that might help them both. And he had gone to McCoy, done everything he could there. To expose Hanek’kan, to gain evidence, to help Spock…. This was the way. As in the dream, he would uncover his first officer, his friend, alone. No one else could do it. Although he did not know what he would find.



Spock would come to him, wearing whatever face—officer, friend, lover-to-be—and they would talk. He’d suggest something from his personal stock to drink and Spock would pick, as he often did, the Gathinian liqueur that would have put Kirk under the table but that Spock claimed had no effect on him other than providing its mildly refreshing flavor. He’d hand Spock the glass and maybe that’s when the seduction would start, with a lingering glance and an accidental touch. Kirk knew how to play the game well, he’d done it often enough—except never with anyone who meant so much to him, never with Spock.



To use sex as a tool. He’d done that, too. He didn’t want to do it with the man he wished never to hurt.



The king commanded the upper level of the tri-dimensional board, and Kirk picked it up, gripped it in his hand and made its solidity propel him forward in his plan. Next, he’d suggest a game of chess. He’d remind Spock of the game they’d played the night before Hanek’kan beamed aboard. That night…. If it hadn’t been for the interruption from the life sciences lab, he knew they would have…what? Kissed? Embraced? Taken each other to bed? Or maybe they would have just continued to dwell in a land of infinite possibilities, poised on the edge of something wonderful that was never to be realized.



And after they were seated across from one another and had each made a few moves, Kirk would ask about the day’s work, and that would lead to the project and then to Hanek’kan. He’d improvise, decide how far he could push, find a moment when it would be right to catch Spock’s gaze, hold it, lean forward and join their hands.



And from there….



The intercom buzzed, and Kirk advanced towards it with trepidation, fearing to hear his first officer’s voice—and yet not his voice—on the line. But it was Lieutenant Ting, reporting that the original point of origin for the records that the Enterprise had received on Lieutenant Commander Hanek’kan had definitely been disguised.



“It looks like this file came through normal channels, sir, but it didn’t. There’s a tracking code I’m not familiar with obscured beyond the source code from Memory Alpha. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to make this look legitimate. And one more thing. Most personnel files are created over time, with deletions and additions that can be traced. This one has those bumps, but they’re—I don’t know how to explain it in layman’s terms, sir. They’re not genuine data signatures from Starfleet, there are subtle differences.”



So, Kirk thought as he signed off. Now at least he had some hard evidence to match this feeling in his gut that Bones had laughed at. It was possible Starfleet didn’t even know of the existence of a red-haired scientist on the Enterprise, that the offer of assistance from Nogura had been fraudulent. Why was Hanek’kan on the ship and what the hell was he doing with Spock?



The door signal buzzed.



Twenty hundred hours and nine minutes.



Kirk moved to the center of his office area, strongly called, “Enter.”



The door opened and water rushed in, all the deep, dark, mysterious oceans of the universe that Kirk explored with his silver, shining ship, and with it came his shadowed companion, the one without whom he did not wish to travel further.



The sound of the waters roared in his ears, rose up and brought Spock to him, sleek, supple, infinitely attractive in body and in spirit and perfectly suited to the enchanted life they led together. Spock spoke and he listened, Spock advised and he acted, they stepped in matchless harmony. Now Kirk could only watch as his love, his perfect love moved closer. The seas washed against his skin, arousing him because it connected them, moved upon Spock to move upon him to loop around and draw them ever closer together. Kirk’s breath caught in his throat.




“Captain. Good evening.”



Spock’s voice was strength overlaid with gossamer, his skin brushed with the deep copper light of a setting sun. But he was far, still too far away. Kirk had opened his personal harbor to his Vulcan friend long ago, offered him safe refuge, and Spock had anchored there. But not tonight. He stopped too many steps away, buffeted by the raging seas, the swells that could kill.



“Spock, I’m glad you’ve come.”



The broad and endless sea washed against them both, and Kirk did not try to resist it. Every eddy brought him closer to Spock, did it not? Every moment of his life, every hour on the Enterprise had existed to bring his soul and Spock’s soul together. His plans—hospitality, conversation, seduction—he released to drift away. Spock needed him. He needed Spock, against Hanek’kan, to be his forever companion on an infinite journey. Artifice had no place in the face of honest need. Kirk abandoned safe harbor, moved closer, close enough to see the storm that raged in his love’s eyes.



“Spock,” he whispered, “tell me what’s wrong.”



An obvious, difficult swallow, painful to watch as it spoke of some inward struggle in which Kirk did not share, in which he had not helped.



“Captain. I…I must be suffering from some…. I confess, I do not know why I am here. There seems to be some memory lapse, perhaps I—”



All the nights spent wondering, in one moment fantasy fulfilled as he stepped forward and placed a finger against the moist, perfectly-sculptured lips, as his other hand settled upon the curve of the narrow waist, anchoring.



“Shhh. I know why you’re here.”



The undertow was pulling them in, he’d been caught in its swirl the moment Spock had stepped in the room, and he watched as the pressure of his finger against the warm lips registered, as Spock’s eyes widened and he sucked in a quickly indrawn breath.



“Why am I here?” Spock whispered, not rejecting him, the movement of his heated lips on skin a caress between them. “It is disturbing not to know.”



“Because…” Kirk slid his hand up against a masculine jawline, around the curve of a strong neck, loving the living warmth, wanting to pull Spock to him so their bodies touched but resisting the compulsion. “…because what the mind forgets, the heart remembers. And the body.”



“I…” Spock gasped and tried to twist away, took an almost staggering step to the side that Kirk deftly followed, his hands never losing hold of the body of his dreams. He and Spock were partners in this dance. The Vulcan found strength by wrenching his head to the side and burying his gaze in the deck. “Captain, this is not logical. I should return to the lab.”



Spock could cleave the dark, susurrating mysteries of the ocean as well as he, the Vulcan could easily break the grip Kirk had on him. But more bound them together than hands on body.



“Don’t leave,” Kirk breathed, his words whispering against the side of Spock’s neck, skin he longed to kiss, so close and compelling before his lips. The impulse to drag his fingers through the dark hair was almost overwhelming, they twitched as he denied himself that touch as well and forced them to be satisfied where they were. He could barely remember, like Spock, why he was there—his purpose. A shuddering, deep breath firmed his resolve. “Trust me. Do you trust me, Spock?”



Slowly the Vulcan relinquished his retreat, caught his gaze again. His eyes were deep mysteries, deep down in the darkest depths Spock was trapped, caught by something he could not overcome alone, but there was some part of him that still swam free. “I do not understand. You are…touching me.”



It broke Kirk’s heart to see the confusion in the brown eyes, when the Spock he knew was so committed to understanding, concluding, explaining. Confusion was a contradiction to his own understanding of his beloved friend. “You don’t remember.”



“No,” Spock said softly, his arms still trapped behind his own back, but his body stood unresisting, a captive of Kirk’s circling hands upon his waist, his neck, and their faces so close together. “We have not done this….” A whisper still, just the two of them alone in this room with no one else to mar their concentration on each other but one who might be hovering nearby….



“Not yet. But I want to. You want to. Feel your body, Spock, what it’s telling you. That’s truth.” Daring, Kirk tightened his grip, took the one step forward that brought them against one another, chest to chest, belly to belly, groin to groin, the way he knew Spock had wanted it to be. He must have, because Spock did not pull away but settled with a sigh against his captain….



“I do not know….”



“Trust me, Spock.”



Suddenly the warm hands loosed their grip on one another and hung, empty and open by Spock’s side, a gift of self that filled Kirk’s heart as nothing else ever could. “I do. Always.”



“Then….” With infinite tenderness Kirk released that part of himself that had been wanting for weeks, for months, for the forever that bound them, he released the noble part of himself that he could not claim alone, that defied Hanek’kan. He leaned forward with a sigh, took his beloved’s face between his two hands and pressed their lips together.



He’d meant it to be a gentle caress, to move away within a few seconds, to make sure Spock would follow him and there would be no chance for him to escape. The safety of the ship and everybody on board it depended on the success of the soft seduction that Kirk planned, with which he was familiar through so many coy feminine bodies.



But Spock was not feminine and he was not coy, and Kirk had only imagined what passion between the two of them would be like.



Like an irresistible wave that could destroy with its force if anyone attempted to stand against it, the only recourse was to dive down deep and follow it on its crashing, relentless journey….



Glorious, to kiss this man full on the lips and have those lips soften, open, inviting, to hear Spock groan from deep in his chest at their first touch of tongue upon tongue. He hadn’t known what to expect, what the feeling of that tongue in his mouth would be, what the taste would be, but he swept past the words that would have described it, lost himself in Spock’s willingness to share this with him, to give this to him, and to take, even when he did not remember why….



Strong arms rushed up to his shoulders, then over his back, desperate, rough, hurting just a little as they took possession of him and pulled their bodies even closer, oh, God, so close while they were kissing. He was dizzy with wanting already, and the long foreplay that he’d always thought they’d enjoy, that they would need so he could creep into that brilliant mind and look for Hanek’kan, coalesced into this one first and best kiss, this one groping embrace, this way that Spock’s body wanted to make love with him.



With a grunt Spock suddenly broke the kiss, his chest heaving, and though Kirk read the intention in the tiny, abortive movement, Spock seemed incapable of separating their lower bodies. So Kirk gave a little thrust, cock against cock, thrilled at the firmness at Spock’s groin, and witnessed raw, sexual pleasure being born in the dark eyes.



“No!” Spock grabbed Kirk’s chin with one hand, wrapped the other around his waist and forced their gazes together.



“Yes!” Kirk rested the flat of his palm against the pounding Vulcan heart, slid it down to the hem of the blue velour tunic, then up against the wonder of silken bare skin—has anyone ever touched him this way before?—and onward to the already pointed nipple that teased his fingers. He never retreated, held Spock’s gaze and forced himself deeper and deeper into the place where he had always been, from which he had been cruelly evicted.



“Jim,” Spock shuddered, and suddenly his forehead was down against Kirk’s shoulder, as if he were defenseless, as if he were overcome. “Should I not…should I not be in the lab?”



Again the confusion rent Kirk’s heart and if Hanek’kan had stood before him he would have murdered the man in cold blood. As if Spock’s eternal divisions were not enough, now there were more, and the memory of their first time together would always be tainted because only part of Spock was really here. Kirk asked for trust, but what he yearned for was conscious desire from a passionate heart and mind as well as from a needful body. He cast about for some reassurance, some words that would make sense but all he could think to say was, “You belong with me.”



Another shudder rippled its way through the whole lean body and then there was stillness. Slowly the fine head rose and Spock stared at Kirk with such smoldering determination that a frisson of fear, liberally laced with desire, iced its way down Kirk’s spine.



“I wish to achieve sexual completion with you. Now. Immediately.”



Spock rode the wave with him—of course now, of course here—they tumbled together in this ceaseless frothing, this constant striving to race to the shore.



Spock stepped back and Kirk let him go, for his first move was to strip his shirts over his head and reveal the flat muscles of his chest, the coppery sheen of his nipples before he bent to fumble at the clasps of his boots. Yes! Kirk mirrored his movements, trying to watch his Vulcan’s body emerge from its cocoon even as he struggled to shove his pants past the stiffness of his erection. He grabbed the waistband of his briefs and tugged them down and suddenly the captain of the Enterprise was nude, aroused, standing in his cabin with his first officer.



They faced each other for but an instant, a frozen moment in time where all things came together in rightness and in truth, when Kirk’s purpose and Hanek’kan’s betrayal did not exist. Then Spock moved, or perhaps it was Kirk, and they were upon each other.



Hanek’kan’s interference had made their bodies too hungry. Their lips joined and did not separate, their arms wrapped around each other, they were animals in pursuit of basic pleasure. But even as Kirk loved the tastes—lips like cinnamon, the patch of silk below a pointed ear ambrosia—and the textures—nipples hard and yearning, the skin at his love’s waist soft as suede—and the sounds—Spock breathing in little breathy pants, there, a groan speaking his body’s need—still Kirk aimed for his goal. He thought reach for my mind and ran his hand down the length of a long arm to entwine their fingers, as he shivered because his cock was so hard and it screamed for the touch of a warmer-than-human hand.



Move to the bed? Impossibly far away when Spock was kissing the base of his neck, when Kirk flung his head back, arched himself within the strength of his lover’s embrace so Spock could feast on more of him. A hard, pulsating penis pressed against his thigh and deliberately Spock lowered them both to the deck.



No words, no fervent cries of “I love you,” or “I’ve waited for this so long,” no soft woman’s voice and inner mysteries that Kirk had plumbed too often and too easily, just Spock’s hard body fitting itself over his, the touch of a long penis—barely glimpsed as the Vulcan adjusted himself, a flash of mint green—settling against his own seething organ.



Not even a moment and Kirk strained up to grab Spock’s shoulders, Spock braced his elbows against the floor covering and they were thrusting against each other in perfect harmony, the way they led the rest of their lives. Push, gasp, pull back, push, oh, God, God, so damn fucking good. Kirk closed his eyes and gripped harder, he was awash in sensation and struggling against it, knowing he couldn’t give in to the sexual tidal wave that threatened to engulf him. He was here—naked on the floor heaving against Spock, matching his thrusts and welcoming every puff of heated breath against his face—because he had to get into Spock’s mind. But, oh pantheon of the Forge’s ancient gods, this son of Vulcan had captured him, in the ideal world they would come together in triumph on the floor and fall asleep exhausted in each other’s arms only to awaken to make love again on the bed, where Kirk would say, “I need you,” and Spock would look into his eyes and take his mind in honesty and truth….



The lightest touch upon his left temple and Kirk’s eyes popped open. Spock’s wild gaze devoured him, consuming him and now the other hand came up to touch him and Spock was taking his mind the way all male Vulcans did when they were close to ejaculating….



The wind roared and stirred up thirty foot waves, he was caught by one of them, a monster’s force, he tumbled and somersaulted and he felt the crest of the wave gathering, he moved along with it high, higher—where was Spock?—he straightened, an arrowed swimmer now as water flowed over his electrified skin and he loved it, stretched out his arms, pointed his toes, he flew upon the water up into the sky his destination, the bright orange sky, froth bubbled about him, the roar deafened him and there he was at the top, the very top of the world, of the wave, and there was no place to go but down.



Poised between two worlds, he looked down. There was Spock, arms outstretched, waiting to catch him.



He rode the wave to where he wanted to be.



Together.



A swirling whirlpool that threatened to rip Spock from his embrace—hold on to me—thunder that roared through his very bones—I’ll always hear you, anywhere—and finally a lance of light that caught Spock in the spotlight as he threw back his head and shouted, “Jim!”



They floated without counting time, Spock was drowsy in his arms, and sparks of rainbow color settled in the dark hair. “Beautiful,” Kirk whispered, and brushed through the dark strands, sending droplets of red and blue and purple and green to hang suspended in the warm clear waters.



The gentle swells of peace. In Kirk’s experience, they had never lasted long enough.



With a sigh he turned Spock to the shadow that roiled beneath them, down deep where the waves had not gone. “Let me see,” he softly commanded, and even as the words formed there was light enough for both of them to gaze at what was there.



“Lieutenant Commander Hanek’kan?” Spock whispered. Then, as if coming awake after a long sleep, he raised startled eyes to Kirk’s face, he pushed back within their embrace and surveyed the lengths of their floating, ethereal, yet undeniably naked and intimate bodies. “Jim?”



The twilight, the sea, Spock’s warmth against him wavered, blinked, and with a hoarse cry Kirk surged forward. “No!” On the physical plane where they were two men entwined on the floor of his cabin, Kirk knew his hands were now clamped upon Spock’s, keeping them pressed tightly against his face, and that his legs were locked as fiercely as they could be around the narrow hips. The world in which they drifted re-formed and Kirk pushed himself urgently against the vision of his first officer.



“We’re in a meld, don’t break it,” he commanded. “Do you remember?”



“I remember…” Spock said slowly, “…everything, I believe.”



In the meld where they were joined in this peculiar place, Kirk experienced a jolt of over-riding emotion that was not his: raw anger, a sharp, withdrawing sense of abiding shame, immediately followed by the stabilizing blanket of control.



“Then you know we’ve got to break Hanek’kan’s hold on you,” Kirk said, although what he wanted to do was explore those emotions, newborn from Vulcan’s primal source, understand that tight control, and offer his own emotional insights to help Spock come to terms with what had happened. Later. For now, neither one of them could think about the position they were in, Kirk’s arms around his first officer’s shoulders, Spock’s hands resting lightly on his hips, with the echoes of Spock’s orgasm still drifting colorfully in the water around them. “I thought in the meld there was a chance I could reach you because of the protection the mind sifter treatment gave me. We’re sharing that now, I think.”



“Correct. You wish to know the extent of Mister Hanek’kan’s powers, his intentions against the project and the ship.”



His Vulcan’s incisive intelligence was working for him again, relief washed over Kirk as he realized that at least Spock’s mind had not been harmed by the alien. Yet. “And you, I want to know his intentions against you.”



Kirk watched as that quicksilver brain accessed memories from the past seventeen days, he marveled that in the course of a few seconds Spock was able to analyze, draw conclusions from such an avalanche of data.



“I regret that I cannot tell you, Captain. Although he has been privy to my own thoughts and actions, I have been but a puppet, and I have little idea of his motivations.” In the world outside the words would have been delivered in a flat monotone that few could have penetrated. Here, the bitterness could not be disguised, it stung. “However, undoubtedly sabotage, as the project has turned in a new direction since he arrived. I am unable to determine if he has direct ambitions against the Enterprise, but—”



“We can’t let him continue, this is dangerous to you.”



“I suggest we conclude the meld and you incarcerate me in the brig immediately. I am a threat to you and to the ship.”



“I have a better idea. The meld is protecting you right now, would a link between us do the same? Like what you did on Melkot to convince us the bullets weren’t real?”



“I will not expose you to such a risk. It is too dangerous.”



“Mister Spock.” Kirk caressed the side of his Vulcan’s cheek with the backs of his fingers, an intimate action belying his serious, formal words. “I need you, First Officer. Hanek’kan is not going to be easy to catch and you’ve got special knowledge of him that I need. Besides….”



So strange to see a raised eyebrow in this place, under these unique conditions. “Besides?”



“Besides, I won’t tolerate you not being yourself for another second, if I can help it.” He grinned ruefully. “Illogical, my logical friend, but true.”



“It has been difficult for you,” Spock guessed, and his hands moved around Kirk’s back, touching lightly, with comfort. “Jim….”



Kirk suddenly couldn’t meet Spock’s eyes. “I couldn’t think of anything better to do to get you to meld with me. And I thought—it’s what you wanted. What I wanted too.”



The deep velvet voice wrapped itself around Kirk’s heart. “And you were correct. I have wished to experience sexual congress with you for many months. I regret that you were forced to employ the means you did without my full cooperation, but you must know…I have dreamed of you, Jim.”



Raw emotion swelled in his heart and kept him from answering right away—God, he loved how the two of them were always, always in tune with each other. They were so different and yet like interlocking pieces of a puzzle, essential to each other for completeness. He slowly looked up into the face of this man, this incredible, precious, intoxicating man without whom he did not wish to live, and he saw everything there that he had yearned for: conscious passion from a freed heart, desire that matched his own.



“That was how I knew something was wrong, seriously wrong,” he whispered. “How could I have stopped wanting you, when I want you with me forever?”



The sudden swelling of the sea could not have brought them any closer, in the meld the essence of what Kirk felt flashed from him to his matchless, matched lover, and all the emotion in Spock—so carefully controlled, so painstakingly understood over difficult months—washed over Kirk, joining them more definitely than any touch of body on body ever could.



He closed his eyes and felt Spock all over him, the meld deepened, he opened himself and there and there and there, everywhere he turned Spock was within, and how the Vulcan needed him, treasured him, wanted him.



It was overwhelming, the strength and truth of what Spock harbored in his heart. Kirk felt he could not ever be worthy of such devotion.



I love you, Spock’s being whispered within the strange powers of the Vulcan meld, to every cell of Kirk’s body, to his mind.



And in return, it was overwhelming, the strength and truth of what Kirk harbored for Spock in his heart. No one but Spock would ever live there.



“I love you,” Kirk whispered, using words as humans do.



First time truths revealed. Rightness.



And anger, pure blazing anger suddenly lived next to the gentler emotions in Kirk. This was what Hanek’kan had tried to thwart, what he had denied them for too long a length of days—any day Kirk did not live within his t’hy’la’s heart was forever—and until the man was stopped their lives together could not start.



“I hate him,” Kirk said, thinking of Hanek’kan still lurking and dangerous. “We’ve got to find a way to stop him. Will a link between us work?”



“Jim, I recommend caution. His powers are unknown, he might even now be aware of us. It would be safer for you if you—”



“What are the odds?”



“There is a sixty-two point one two five percent probability that a link will extend the protection you have to me.”



“Then do it. End the meld and give us the link. Now.”



“Yes, sir.” And along with the correct military response that any subordinate in Starfleet made to his commander came the whispered words that made Kirk, for some unknown reason, shiver. “For you, my captain, for whom I will do…anything.”




In the next moment he was on his back on the floor of his quarters again, the deck covering hard and scratchy against his abraded skin; a heavy masculine body was draped over him. Spock was no lightweight and it was hard to draw in a breath. “Spock?” he wheezed. “Get off.”



But Spock did not move. What? In a sudden panic Kirk grabbed his lover’s shoulders, could hardly shake their inert mass. “Spock?” He pushed, got one arm between them, but the smeared and liberal Vulcan ejaculate lubricated his path until he finally found a dry spot and got leverage to shove up. The limp body slid off and over, Spock’s head hit the deck and bounced with what must have been a painful thump.



But Spock did not react, he was too obviously unconscious. Or…. Kirk was up on his knees next to him an instant later. Oh, God, was he…was he dead? Dead? Above all things he’d wanted to protect Spock, bring him back to dignity and life beside him….



Frantically he searched the slack features for signs of breathing as his hand descended on the exact spot, he’d always known it, where Spock’s unique half-human, half-Vulcan heart beat. There, a thin thrumming, and there, a tiny movement of nostrils barely flaring.



With relief came weakness and Kirk rocked back onto his heels. Thank God. But what the hell had happened? One moment they were together in the meld, Spock was himself and offering everything Kirk wanted, and now….



Kirk’s mind raced. This had to be Hanek’kan’s doing. Time to get reinforcements, get security on the man’s trail, confine him and find a way to force him to undo whatever it was he’d done here.



But he never had the chance. He was only half-way to his feet when the door to the hall opened, Hanek’kan stepped in and a beam from the weapon he held in his hand washed its painful light over Kirk.



He fell like a sack of discarded engineering components to the floor, all in a scattered heap, his limbs flying out without dignity, twitching, until he came to rest heavily on his right shoulder.



But the light didn’t force him into unconsciousness. He shivered and blinked in the typical reaction to a light stun, knew that within thirty minutes or so his nerves would painfully come back to life, but until then he felt nothing.



Heavy black boots, non-Starfleet issue, came into range of his vision, passing him as the steady tread advanced to where Spock must still be sprawled. Kirk wanted to growl Get your hands off him but it would be several minutes before his vocal cords would work again. Come on, Bones, figure it out!



And then webbed hands were upon him, turning him with a grunt onto his back, and he stared helplessly up into the red hair and sharp features of Lieutenant Commander Hanek’kan.



Kirk tried to put all his hate, as much challenge as he could muster into his stare—Get off my ship, leave my people alone, damn you for what you’ve done to Spock—knew he’d managed to communicate when Hanek’kan pulled back one hand and punched him squarely on the jaw.



His head whipped viciously to one side, rebounded off the deck. “That,” Kirk heard while he struggled through the flashing lights to hold onto consciousness, “mister stubborn starship captain, is for your interference. I wasn’t ready to leave yet.”



He must have been a stronger being than his slight frame suggested, because Hanek’kan stood and pulled on Kirk’s arms to drag him across the room without apparent effort. Kirk couldn’t feel a thing but imagined his shoulder muscles being stretched; the scientist was quick and none too gentle and worked with a quiet efficiency that caused his estimation of the danger they were in to skyrocket.



After a few seconds during which he couldn’t imagine the man’s intent, Hanek’kan dropped his arms on the floor without caring where or how they landed, then he was maneuvered until he rested on the deck immediately next to a very warm, breathing presence. Spock. Kirk couldn’t see him because of the way his head was tilted, but they were pushed together so their sides touched. What did the man have in mind? If only he could move! He tried to speak at least, words had so often been his best weapon, but his tongue lay inert in his mouth. So again he invested defiance and anger in the glare he flung out from his weakness.



The man laughed and gently booted him in the ribs. “You’d like to kill me right now, wouldn’t you? There is an art to it, you know.” His expression suddenly turned deadly serious. “An art that some species have mastered. Quick and merciful,” Hanek’kan squatted down on his heels, drew an imaginary knife across Kirk’s throat, “or slow and painful,” a finger traced a path across his abdomen, symbolically disembowelling him, “or the high art form, truly agonizing.” With one hand he picked up Kirk’s hand, with the other he took Spock’s and joined them, carefully intertwining their fingers while Kirk looked on in fear and puzzlement.



“Agonizing,” Hanek’kan repeated intensely, “To live on when everything you love is gone. That is something to fear and I have been taught by the masters.” He laid their joined hands down across Kirk’s upper thigh, reverently released his hold. “I’ve been with you from the beginning, Captain Kirk, from the moment the treatment released you from my influence. I’ve seen it all even when I haven’t been able to change what you’ve done. And so now, through this,” he touched the joined hands again, “I’m giving you and your Mister Spock a gift.”



The same dark sky above, only now lit by a brilliant three-quarters moon, the same gritty sand beneath, the same boulders surrounding them. Ting’s silhouette moved against the unfamiliar stars as he shifted in his guard duty, and the small girl-child whimpered as she sat within her mother’s arms.



And Spock, holding his ribs, painfully rose from his seat against the rock to stand beside his captain in the oppressive night-time air.



“It can’t be real,” Kirk exclaimed, slapping a hand to the phaser at his side. He pulled it off the belt and checked: twelve percent charge and dropping even as he watched.



“Captain, I assure you, the predicament in which we find ourselves is indeed quite real. The entity is getting closer. Can you not perceive it through your emotional response?”



A sudden boom that was just the pounding of his heart, beating in time to the threat of whatever it was that was out there—the thing that he realized he feared more than anything—coming closer.



“It can’t be,” he whispered. “We’re not really here.” He scrambled over pebbles and small rocks to a chink in the protection the boulders gave them, peered out at the dark and threatening plain, saw nothing but shivered nevertheless. It was almost here.



Spock was right there beside him. “If we are not here, then where are we?”



Kirk shook his head as if to clear it of illusions. “Back on the ship, in sickbay. Or at least, I was in sickbay, and this is just a hallucination I had there, a dream.”



“I am a figment of your dream? And these others?”



“No. No, you’re not part of the dream, I know you’re real, you’re with me now, you’re always with me….” The thought wouldn’t go away, it snagged at his heart and filled up his throat. He rounded away from the invisible threat they faced and caught Spock’s upper arm. “Spock. You’re always with me. Don’t leave. Ever.” He heard his own words as if they were far away, as if he were desperate. He didn’t know why but it was important that he communicate, release some of the terror that was building in his chest.



“Captain. Jim.” Spock did not pull away, even took a half-step closer. “I am here. I will not leave.”



Shakily, Kirk released him, wiped his mouth with the back of his forearm. “Good. I think.” He looked out again at darkness, tried to control his now trembling hands. Not too much longer now, it was closer even than it had been at the shuttle, driving them towards this spot. Except the shuttle wasn’t real, these rocks weren’t real, this planet didn’t exist. He pounded a fist against hard rock, oblivious of the pain of bruised skin. It was frustrating to know he couldn’t remember, that the truth lingered somewhere just beyond his reach.



He turned and pulled on his tunic, found decision in the action. “We’ve got to face this. Come on, let’s get the civilians further back against those two boulders.”



Before they could Ting shouted from above. “Captain, the natives! Hundreds of them! Estimate fifty meters away and advancing!”



“The odds are considerably against us,” Spock said grimly. “Unless the Enterprise suddenly arrives our chances of survival are not good. Jim, I wish you to know—”



A wild cry from outside their little camp, a cry that seemed to rise up and up with a whirling wind, higher and closer like a missile flying, and then suddenly it was a spear in the air headed in deadly slow motion straight for Kirk’s human heart….



And of course, of course, of course Spock jumped in front of him, took the spear that was meant to claim his life. It pierced his body cleanly, driving in from the front near his waist, and the tip emerged, quivering and with a gush of dark blood, from his back.



Kirk didn’t even have to move, the force of the blow drove Spock backwards into his useless, outstretched hands. He collapsed to his knees with his beloved dying in his arms.



And he remembered Hanek’kan. On the floor of his cabin, where he lay hand in hand with Spock, Hanek’kan had just practiced the art of murder.



He had thought he had known fear before, but it was nothing. Nothing.



The battle cries of the natives dwindled into silence, the wind stilled, the whine of Ting’s phaser abruptly ceased. Kirk looked down into Spock’s fading eyes.



“No! Don’t die!”



But he did. Kirk watched as Spock took one rattling, torturous breath, as his lips frothed with the struggle to say words forever unvoiced, and then eyes closed and his features went slack.



Nothing. Nothing. Nothing was there. Nothing existed.



His worst fear writhed in his heart, that their love would be inevitably followed by the pain of loss, that he would lose Spock to a mission, a landing party, a careless accident with the matter-antimatter pods, to the malevolence of an unknown scheming alien named Hanek’kan.



An agony howled in his gut, screamed for release as he doubled over the lifeless body of the only one who would ever live in his heart. He squeezed his eyes shut because he couldn’t bear to see. No. No. No!



For an endless time he fell as blackness pulverized all his bones.



They had never truly loved, never touched, never lived together in the peace they could find in one another’s hearts. He had never awakened with Spock’s warmth next to him, never stood with him in pride at Koon-ut-kalifee, never filed a public dependency posting with Starfleet sent straight to Admiral Nogura.



Never walked with Spock’s hand in his.



He wanted to die.



Regret nibbled at his fingers and toes, consumed him whole.



He opened his eyes, saw that his tunic and pants and the ground around him were soaked with green blood. “Spock,” he moaned, and rested his palm against the lifeless cheek, stared at the lips that had consecrated his name. The years stretched out before him and Spock’s body decayed and vanished from his lap, he walked along the halls of the Enterprise, Bones beside him and he grieved for what he did not have, he stood before the Federation Council as Admiral Kirk and he longed for what he did not have, he took another, different silver ship out to the stars and he lay awake at night yearning for what he did not have, he felt death’s hand upon him and he welcomed its frosty breath, it would release him….



“Do you understand now?”



Slowly Kirk raised his head to see Hanek’kan standing before him, before Spock’s body, only he wore startling red robes that swirled even in the breathless air.



“This,” the scientist gestured towards the shell of Kirk’s most precious love, “is my gift. You will thank me for it.”



“You….” Sluggishly Kirk got to his feet, staggered forward accompanied by his hate only to fall to the dust at the man’s feet. He spat out dirt, scrabbled his feet against the ground but could not get up. Spock….



“You can’t teach me a thing,” Hanek’kan threw the words at him, unseen over his head. “I teach you. The Klingons destroyed my world, fire-bombed it without mercy. Do you hear me? My world is gone! My mother, my father, my wife who was so beautiful, our small girl-child. Yes, we had powerful minds, but they couldn’t stop the ships, not the bombs or the deaths.” He drew in a sob, mastered it. “Can you imagine what it was like for me, to be so far away on my ship alone, and hear their screams for help as they died? My dear Cama, I loved her more than you loved your Spock, more! My whole race is dead, Kirk, I heard them die!”



“No,” Kirk moaned into the dirt. “We didn’t do it. He didn’t do it. Why did you…. Spock never—”



Abruptly Hanek’kan bent over and jerked Kirk’s head by up his hair, his jaw scraping the ground. Hanek’kan had startlingly blue eyes, cold as any wandering, homeless planetoid, and they seemed to grow larger, larger as they held Kirk’s gaze. “Because this is what you fear. And it is the worst,” he hissed, “the very worst you will ever know. Endure this and you are invincible, you can do anything. So I wanted to share it with you. My gift.”



There was no duty, no mission, no oath to the Federation, not even any belief in this tale the monster told, all that was so far away and buried like Spock’s body would be buried, instead he and Hanek’kan were together in one screaming universe of pain, flat and featureless with no flaw or faultline, just pain stretching into dark infinity….



“You think you grieve! You! You know nothing of it. I’ve allowed you just a few moments to know what I live with all the time. Take your grief and multiply it, Kirk. Swallow it, stuff it in your body and make it one with every cell, live with it night and day, and every second know that you will hopelessly call for your Spock.”



Abruptly Hanek’kan released him and his chin hit the ground so hard that he bit his tongue, tasted blood, but it didn’t matter. From above him, unseen again as he had been unseen in his true form for seventeen days on the Enterprise, the scientist who harbored a lifetime of pain spoke. “Go back, I’m finished with you. Don’t come looking for me.”



It seemed to take a long time for his limping soul to journey from the cataclysm with Hanek’kan back to the world that included the Enterprise, the center seat on the bridge, and duty. There was part of him that didn’t want to go, that wanted to grovel in the dust and wallow in his pain and sorrow rather than to force his eyes open on the floor of his cabin, turn his head against the rough carpet and look to see if Spock were alive. What would happen if he discovered a lifeless body next to his? To go through that again when the wound was still new and gaping…. He didn’t know if he could. Life without Spock.



It occurred to him in the gray dimness through which he labored that very little recently had been founded in the real world. The hallucination in sickbay, the meld—that incomparable meld—and Hanek’kan standing over him in his red robes. What was real and what was not? He could swear that he heard Spock’s voice even now, but then the words faded and he was left in silence. He could not be sure, and surety might be devastating.



Suppose Spock were alive and whole? Suppose the chance was still there for both of them to grab life and live it together according to their needs and their passions?



Or suppose there was no chance? Kirk shuddered away from the thought.



Hanek’kan was not human, so perhaps he had no understanding of what he had done to Kirk, the hole he had dug in his aching soul through which a cold wind blew. Spock, falling back without even a cry into his open, useless arms, dying. Or perhaps he and the alien scientist were joined by sorrow so they were brothers, and they understood each other as lost souls understood each other’s desperate moaning.



They were joined by more than grief. Hanek’kan had spoken of love as well, his Cama whom he had loved and lost.



Spock, whom he loved.



Yes, love and grief bound them, perhaps as they bound every sentient being. Was that what Hanek’kan had been looking for, some company in his solitude?



This is the worst, Hanek’kan had said.



A gift, Hanek’kan had said. And then an echo: Now you can face anything.



This had been his fear. As he had hovered on the brink of committing himself body and soul and future to Spock, a commitment that Hanek’kan had delayed, his subconscious within the hallucination in sickbay had asked whether he could endure the risks—so much a part of their lives in space—with the love. And somehow Hanek’kan had known, had identified the mysterious entity that had stalked him across the rocky plains and manufactured—what? Dream or reality?



Kirk did not consider himself a courageous man, he did what he had to do, and now he knew that he had to open his eyes and embrace it all, the truth and the joy that he craved and whatever grief there might be.



Post-stun dizziness made it hard to focus. The ceiling, the bulkhead with the picture from Arcturus IV, a chair fallen on its side, his discarded gold tunic on the deck….



And Spock, gloriously naked like a newborn, standing before the desk and giving orders into the intercom.



A sudden weight exploded in Kirk’s chest and made it hard to breathe. So many emotions expanded within his body, there was no possible means of expression. He devoured the sight of his lover and cursed Hanek’kan even as he blessed him. No ritual murder. They had been at Hanek’kan’s mercy, surely the weapon he had used was capable of killing them as they lay upon the floor, helpless. But the man had instead given Kirk these strange insights….



He tried to get up but managed only an uncoordinated heave that flopped him back to the deck. But Spock heard and saw him, said, “…to me with any results, Spock out.” Four long strides brought him to Kirk’s side.



Now Kirk had a focus for his jumble of emotions. A slow, genuine smile took possession of his face as Spock went down on his knees; Kirk lifted a shaky hand that was immediately captured.



“Jim.”



“Spock.” He hadn’t meant to say anything, but the choked words came out anyway. “I thought you were dead. Hanek’kan created this crazy nightmare….”



Sudden wonder in the dark eyes. “I also had that hallucination, that you were lost to me. Except I could not distinguish it from reality. It was…” a convulsive swallow, “most difficult. Jim….”



Suddenly Kirk remembered something from his first time on the rock-strewn plain. “It must be harder for you than for me,” he whispered, and knew it to be truth. The sharing of self that he and Spock were about to embark upon required openness and honesty, and a willingness to embrace all the emotions which Spock had for so long attempted to suppress. Who was the braver being?



He unclasped their hands and with a grunt of effort brought his recalcitrant body upright, aided by splay-fingered support on his back that warmed him. He reached further to bury his fingers in Spock’s dark, thick hair. “I’m here,” he promised, reveling in the touch, loving the softness newly revealed in his first officer’s eyes, and knowing Spock’s need for reassurance as he knew his own. “I’m not going to leave.”



“And I am here at your side,” Spock said, as fervently as Kirk had ever heard him utter words. Both hands settled flat on his chest. “I will not go away.”



“One of us will someday. Duty, an accident. Fate. Hanek’kan made me feel it.” He had to clench his jaw against the memory, it was still so fresh.



Spock nodded, the precise movement evidence of the tight control he was exerting. “I, too. I was more emotionally disturbed at your…loss…than I believed possible.”



“But not now. Not yet. It didn’t really happen,” Kirk said, as much to convince himself as to erase the sadness from Spock’s eyes. He could still feel Spock’s last effort to move on that dry and barren planet, the way his body had shuddered into eternal stillness, and to counter that memory he ran his hands through the silken hair, let it tickle his fingers, then he touched the joy of living flesh on jaw, neck and shoulders. He started to shake in inevitable reaction, tried to stop himself and was relieved instead when he felt Spock’s trembling hands against his side. “You’re really here. Alive.”



“Jim.” Nothing more, just his name, but Spock leaned against him until their faces touched and they supported one another with arms wrapped around each other’s backs.



This was how it would be between them. Strength exchanged, support given, touch of the flesh, touch of the mind. Kirk calmed within Spock’s embrace, wanting to stay within this reassuring space for longer than he knew he could.



Spock drew a sustaining breath just as he did; they drew apart because of duty and responsibility that neither would ever willingly relinquish.



“Have you contacted security?”



“I have alerted security to search for and apprehend the lieutenant commander, but I do not believe he will be found. The impression I received—”



“They won’t find him,” Kirk said definitely. “How much time since—”



“One hour and seven minutes have elapsed since we terminated the meld.”



“Plenty of time for him to get away, using…transporter room eleven? Why would I think that, and where the hell could he have transported to out here?”



“I, too, am certain that T.R. 11 is involved. He is undoubtedly so certain of his ability to escape us that he felt it unnecessary to conceal the information. Perhaps he had a vessel in the vicinity?”



“Cloaked, or maybe he just hid it from us by changing our perceptions of the instrument readings and it’s been with us all along. We have a lot of re-calibrating to do.”



“Agreed, and I am anxious to access the secured records in the AI lab. Mister Hanek’kan may have left clues in his files.”



Kirk nodded slowly as sudden dizziness made the room swim.



“Jim, allow me to call sickbay, you are not—”



Kirk waved a hand. “No, I’m all right. Hanek’kan stunned me, but it couldn’t have been more than setting three. Just give me a minute, you know this’ll pass.” He swept a look up and down Spock’s bare skin, unselfconsciously displayed. “Are you okay? What was it that Hanek’kan did to you that knocked you out?”



“Unknown. However, I am suffering from no ill effects.”



“I’m glad,” Kirk whispered. “I don’t ever want anything to hurt you. Seeing you under Hanek’kan’s control…. Is he really gone? From you, I mean.”



In answer Spock lifted a hand without hesitation, settled it on Kirk’s face as if the move were long practiced and not still new between them, and they were in the meld again. For just a moment, floating, they looked down at the depths where Hanek’kan had taken up residence in Spock’s will. The shadows no longer lingered. Bright light filtered through the green and golden sea.



“Beautiful,” Kirk murmured even as they slipped out of the joining and he was back staring at his lover’s face. This utterly masculine being, this tremendous intellect, this precious love who allowed himself to care…. Overcome, he took his Vulcan’s face between his hands and kissed him hard, forcing his tongue past lips and teeth faster than Spock could receive him. “This is just the beginning,” he said fiercely, pulling back abruptly and then leaning forehead to forehead as if to mimic their mental union. “Never apart again until death. Right?”



“Affirmative.”



That so-Spockian confirmation of the vows they would always keep together made Kirk laugh, and Spock swooped in on his mouth to capture him in a long and hearty kiss. Kirk rose to his knees and they pressed against each other—so wet, warm and wonderful, a moment stolen from time—when duty inevitably intruded again.



The door buzzer, ringing loudly and long, jerked them apart.



McCoy’s voice came through the door. “Captain, you’ve got five seconds to…uh…you’ve got five seconds and I’m coming in!”



“Make that twenty seconds, Bones,” he called, and grabbed for the pants lying wrinkled on the floor.



“Ten!”



“Bones, we’re all right! Fifteen!”



“Sure, and my Aunt Matilda is an admiral. Ten seconds and that’s all you get.”



“Just wait a few more—”



The door flew open and with a superb sense of timing McCoy stomped in, phaser in hand, just as Kirk was zipping up his fly. Spock, at least, had already accomplished that and was pulling his tunic over his head.



Bones didn’t even blink at their dishabille. “Damn it, Jim, don’t you ever dare do that to me again! It took me more than an hour to figure out you wanted me to be your backup, to come check on you.”



Kirk righted the chair, plunked down on it and shook out his socks. “I couldn’t tell you outright, could I? The whole point was that if Hanek’kan got to me through Spock, he’d know everything.”



“Well, it woulda helped if you’d been a little clearer! I wasted too long fuming over the risk you were taking, stupid in the extreme, when it occurred to me that Mama Kirk’s boy might be a bunch of things, but he isn’t stupid.”



“I knew I could count on your unfailing ability to never leave well enough alone.”



“Darn right. I got here as soon as I could, along with two security guards.” McCoy jerked his head towards the still open door where two armed, tall, and female redshirts lingered, looking very interested as they peered in at their two commanding officers getting dressed.



Kirk suppressed a groan and pushed his toe in a boot.



“So.” McCoy’s phaser wavered from first officer to captain and back again. “Everything, uh, go according to plan? You okay, Captain? Spock, how you feeling? Or do I shoot somebody?”



Spock rose smoothly to his feet. “There is no need for a display of force at this time. Although our primary goal must be to confine Mister Hanek’kan and ensure he can do no further harm, I believe that a check of the secured computer in the AI lab would be the most productive action I can take.”



“So Jim was right about Hanek’kan?” McCoy boggled. “About you and him and—”



Spock was at his coolest, most controlled as he replied, “Substantially. Please examine the captain as he was stunned approximately one hour and nine minutes ago. Captain, with your permission.” He swept past the guards and left.



Kirk was still sitting when McCoy rounded on him. “So, what happened?”



What had happened? An unknown alien with inscrutable motives had boarded the ship and influenced the direction of the AI project. Hanek’kan had blurred the lines between what was real and what was not. Spock had died in his arms, he’d died in Spock’s, and still they hungered for life and for each other, whatever the eventual consequences.



He stood and tugged on his tunic, already planning the ship’s search, the scan of space nearby that he was sure would yield nothing, the thorough re-calibration of all sensors. Finally, the report that he would have to write for Starfleet. It was only when I made love to my first officer on the floor of my cabin that I was able to confirm the truth of my suspicions. Not a chance.



“So?” McCoy prompted.



Kirk turned to his CMO and smiled sweetly. “Tell you later, Bones.”



*****




Kirk had never been so content. A night-time sky ablaze with stars arched overhead as the hypnotic shussh-shussh of waves quietly kissed the sandy beach. He sat upon that beach and looked out upon an ocean that stretched all the way around this world. And encircled by his arms, sitting between his legs, was the man he loved.



Triple paths of moonlight from the planet’s three satellites danced across the black surface, beckoning he knew not where. Resting his chin upon the strong shoulder before him, he allowed his gaze to wander along the sparkling path over the sea, then up into the sky. The Enterprise awaited them. The ship would sail into a vast and unknown future, and he would stand next to Spock, Spock would stand next to him—it was one truth he was sure of.



The investigation into Hanek’kan, his origins and his motives was now in Starfleet’s hands. He and Spock had traveled to this water-swept world about which Starbase Seventeen orbited to give their information and provide ‘fleet investigators with as much information as they had, along with their suppositions.



Spock stirred within his embrace and so with affection Kirk’s lips caressed the enticing curve of his lover’s upper arm. “What are you thinking?”



“I was attempting to calculate the angle of the dynamic forces that are responsible for that small eddy to the right of—”



He now knew Spock as well as he knew himself; they had spent eternities immersed in each other’s minds. The kiss turned into a nip. “No, you weren’t.”



A sigh, a tightening of the arms that rested upon his. “I should not attempt to prevaricate with the one who holds my thoughts. I was speculating on Mister Hanek’kan again. A most unproductive exercise.”



“Me too. It’s hard not to try to figure him out.”



“He is a most enigmatic figure. Did he wish us ill or did he act to benefit us? His actions say one thing, his results another.”



“I know, it’s frustrating.”



“The project would not be as advanced as it is now were it not for the insights he provided.”



“But if he wanted to help the Federation with artificial intelligence, why the secrecy, the deception, interfering with you and me? We’re an open society, he could have found a way.”



A shooting star streaked across the sky. They both watched it die before it reached the water.



Spock’s voice was quiet against the night-time sounds of wind and wave. “I believe we will not know the answers to our questions unless Mister Hanek’kan—whoever he really is, whatever his real name—wishes us to do so.”



“Not true.” Kirk squeezed the long, lean, masculine body he’d spent the day loving and exploring. The touch of curling chest hair against his palm provided a cascade of new, arousing memories. “I know the answer to one question. I’m positive he really was trying to help us with those ‘gifts’ he gave us. As crazy as it seems, as violent as he was and as filled with anger, I truly do think he meant it for the best.”



“He has been grievously wounded.”



“And didn’t know how else to communicate except through his grief and rage. I really hated him, you know, for what he’d done to you, but now I just feel…sad for him. Pity.” He pulled back for a moment to allow the cooling night air room to move between his chest and Spock’s curved back, then pushed forward into as much skin to skin contact as was possible. “I was jealous of him for a little while, did you know? I thought he was interested in you.”



“You will never be jealous again,” the deep voice asserted. “You know how it is with me.”



“Yes,” Kirk sighed with quiet happiness. “I know how you feel.”



Silence fell between them, broken only by the soft song of the waves and the far-away caw of a hunting bird.



“Hanek’kan was far from all-knowing despite his mental powers,” Spock eventually continued.



“Hmmm?” Kirk was thinking of how he had awakened in the morning wrapped in a warm and fervent embrace.



“His actions can be interpreted to mean that he believed the two of us would not have chosen each other were it not for his interference. His ‘gifts.’ But I would have kissed you, that night when the call from environmental interrupted us.”



“I would have done more than kissed. I was aching for you, Spock.”



Spock turned in his arms with a look no one else had ever seen glowing in his eyes. “And I,” he said huskily, pushing Kirk down to the sand, covering his body with non-human warmth, “always. Despite the fear of losing you, I choose this.”



“Despite the fear.”



For a long while Spock kissed him. Kirk allowed it, freed through their understanding of each other to remain passive when he wanted to. It was wonderful to lie on the beach, his body for once fulfilled and content from their love-making all through the day, to allow his gaze to roam the starry heavens while Spock pressed undemanding butterfly lips over his face: his cheeks, his forehead, eyebrows, jaw. Every once in a while his fingers sought the dark hair, or he fondled an eartip with a twist of his fingers, but mainly Kirk rested in his lover’s arms while the dark night dripped down from the sky to surround him.



Spock whispered in his ear. “This is a world of water and we have not yet tasted the sea.”



Kirk twisted onto his side for a long kiss. He would always remember their first one. “Do you want to go swimming with me? Now, at night?”



“It is what you wish to do. And…we have done it before.”



“In that first meld—”



“Here and now.”



Kirk rose, dusted off the sand, extended a hand to help Spock up.



Hand in hand, they slipped into the sea.



THE END
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