Land of Silver BirdsBy Gamin Davis
Rating: PG for general sappiness ;^)
For one of the few times since he had come to know them, Spock knew what both his friends were feeling. Both had just witnessed the death of social worker Edith Keeler in 1930s New York City before their return through the Guardian to the present; McCoy had seen Kirk physically prevent him from saving her life--something so atypical and out of character for the Enterprise's Captain that McCoy was confused and astonished to the depth of his being. Kirk...Kirk had been in love with Edith, and so far only Spock knew the reason he'd had to let her die--and the depth of the pain it had caused him.
Only Spock had been there to see Kirk fall tragically, deeply and more truly in love than at any time since he had known his Captain. Not that Spock had any knowledge of his own on the subject of romantic love to draw upon; it was one of many Human emotions that remained a mystery to him. But he had, in a sense more real than he cared to admit, experienced it vicariously through his close observation of Kirk on this occasion. He knew that Kirk had been genuinely happy when he was with Edith, and Spock himself felt an illogical but definite and growing sense of shame for having had to be the one to make Kirk see that she had to die. He wondered if Kirk wouldn't want to share all of this with McCoy, now; the Doctor was close to Kirk in a way Spock doubted he ever would be. But the wound was deep, and still raw.
Spock watched as Uhura, Scott, the Security men and finally the transporter operator filed out of the room and started to follow them. Then he hesitated, glancing back at Kirk and McCoy in veiled concern.
He did not have to wait long for McCoy to again voice his dismay. "Jim, what happened back there? Why did you let that woman die, when either of us could've saved her?"
Kirk couldn't answer. How could he make McCoy understand when he didn't fully understand, himself? Somewhere in the back of his mind were Spock's warnings about having to restore the future, but they were just words now, abstract and meaningless in the face of Kirk's loss. God, how he wished he were dead...
McCoy was confounded by Kirk's silence and the helpless, agonized expression in his eyes. "Jim, *answer* me! Why in God's name did you *stop* me from saving her?" he demanded again, shouting in Kirk's face because the Captain's mind seemed to be elsewhere and he wanted to be sure he had Kirk's attention.
Kirk just shook his head, still unable to think of anything to say. "I...can't. I can't tell you. Please, BonesÉleave me alone," he managed to say finally, then turned and hurried past Spock, out the door.
McCoy fixed his gaze on the Vulcan. "Spock, what the hell--?"
"I must ask you, for the time being, not to inquire further," Spock interrupted abruptly. "I assure you, he will explain everything in due time." Then he, too, had disappeared, leaving behind a thoroughly befuddled but determined McCoy.
One way or another, he was going to get to the bottom of this.
Spock, meanwhile, had come up with what he saw as his only chance to redeem himself in Kirk's eyes. It was not something he had much experience in; friendship was still a new concept to him, and his one previous conscious effort to be "a friend" to Kirk--after Gary Mitchell's death--had produced less-than-spectacular results. But he had to try. The first rule, as Spock recalled it, was to be available if Kirk wanted company.
He caught up with Kirk just as the latter reached the elevator. "Captain..." Spock began hesitantly.
Kirk looked up at him sharply. "Shouldn't you be headed for the Bridge?"
Spock could not help feeling taken aback by the unusual harshness of Kirk's voice. Seldom, if ever, had his friend spoken to him that way before. "I am quite capable of calling in the course change...if my presence is required elsewhere," he returned, somewhat stiffly, but still hopefully.
Kirk got the hint. "If you don't mind being yelled at," he gave in ruefully. "I didn't mean it like it sounded."
Spock nodded in acceptance of Kirk's attempt to apologize. "Your...emotion...is understandable, Captain. If there is... something I can do, you only need ask. I wish to help."
Despite Kirk's anger and pain, he almost smiled at the Vulcan. "Think you could run interference for me with McCoy?" he requested hesitantly. "I don't think I'm going to be up to telling him about Edith for a while."
"If I understand you correctly, yes, of course." Spock waited tensely for Kirk to ask him to join him.
Kirk stepped into the elevator and waved Spock in after him. He wasn't sure Spock's company was what he wanted, but he knew he didn't feel like being alone. "Come on, then--let's go," he urged resignedly, as Spock complied, then spoke into the voice pickup. "Deck 5."
Once inside Kirk's cabin, Spock dealt first with the course change while Kirk went into his study, sat down and collapsed across his desk. Afterward, however, Spock found himself at a loss as to what to do or say; Kirk remained uncommunicative, and the silence stretched out between them. In his growing discomfort, Spock found himself beginning to pace. Eventually, he was contacted again from the Bridge with the hourly position report (standard procedure after a course change and whenever the Enterprise was not in orbit). He passed the coordinates to Kirk, who took the information without commenting.
//This is pointless,// Spock told himself finally, striving to hide his frustration. //Obviously, I miscalculated. I would be of more use to him on the Bridge.// But Spock could not bring himself to leave without at least *trying* to offer his friend some kind of comfort. It was then that he conceived the notion of inviting Kirk to go back to Vulcan with him--back to the land of desert sands, silver birds and crimson sky which he had once called home. It was all Spock could think of at that moment--the best he could offer: a few days of peace, away from the ship and command responsibilities, hopefully time to heal.
Though this did evoke a verbal reaction--in itself, a small success for Spock--Kirk never gave him a definite answer.
Over the ensuing days, the only apparent change in Kirk's mood was a tendency toward increasing irritability. Spock became increasingly protective of his Captain, keeping his promise and deflecting each attempt by McCoy to obtain an explanation of Kirk's actions in the matter of Edith Keeler's death; this became Spock's primary function when he was off-duty and able to be with Kirk, since the Captain still seldom wanted to talk to him. Spock could have and perhaps should have left him alone during those times, but some illogical impulse told him that Kirk benefited from his presence, even when no words were spoken between them; never once did Kirk order him to leave, fail to protest (however futilely) when he had to, or fail to acknowledge his arrival in some way.
Then Spock made a disturbing discovery. Five days away from what they now referred to as "the Time Planet", he noticed the beginnings of a pattern in absences from quarters during a time when Kirk was supposed to have been off-duty. Knowing that Kirk would be in no mood for a lot of company and thus would not be likely now to spend a lot of his leisure time in public, Spock investigated and learned that Kirk had re-arranged Bridge crew schedules to increase his own duty time. Spock said nothing about this discovery to Kirk, but began to pay closer attention to him when they were both on the Bridge; the emotional stress that Spock was already aware of in his Human friend quickly became physical and openly evident as Kirk seemed to push himself more and more.
Finally, when it became apparent that Kirk was going to continue his irrational behavior beyond the point at which it began to affect the performance of his duties (and threaten his health), Spock decided that he had no choice but to let Kirk know he had noticed. This revelation brought only grudging acknowledgement and no reduction in work load from Kirk, leaving Spock with another unpleasant decision to make. He made it, confronting Kirk the next time they saw each other on the Bridge.
Spock approached the command chair when he reported for duty, and Kirk could tell from the expression on the Vulcan's face that there was a serious matter on his mind which he wanted to discuss. "Problem, Spock?" he prompted, in a tone that was more forbidding than inviting.
Spock strove to ignore it as he responded. "Captain, do you have any idea how long you have been on duty?" he asked.
"Not exactly," Kirk admitted, absently rubbing the back of his neck--a telltale sign of exhaustion that Spock noted with concern. "But I suppose *you've* been keeping track."
Spock nodded. "You have been on the Bridge for eighteen hours, forty-eight minutes and fifteen seconds--far too long for a Human to maintain peak efficiency without a rest--and this is not the first time," he pointed out quietly.
"What are you suggesting?" Kirk demanded.
"I am *requesting* that you allow yourself some time to rest--" Spock began.
"Your concern is noted," Kirk interrupted tersely. "As for your advice, if I need it, I'll ask for it."
"--before I am forced to relieve you of duty," Spock finished carefully, though reluctantly, making sure Kirk heard him clearly. Kirk glared at him, but Spock's dark eyes pleaded for acquiescence as they returned his gaze. "Captain, please...you are not yourself," the Vulcan added, almost whispering.
Kirk could feel the eyes of the other Bridge personnel on the two of them and knew what must be going through their minds as they listened to Spock's near-insubordination, but all that mattered to him now was that Spock was trying to take away the only thing that had kept him from going out of his mind with grief and pain. He was furious, but he could also see Spock's determination. "What if I refuse? Are you going to drag me back to my cabin yourself?"
"I could. Or I could summon Security." Spock appeared unperturbed.
"I wouldn't put it past you," Kirk retorted coldly, getting up finally from the chair and watching as Spock sat down in his place. "There. The Bridge is yours. I hope you enjoy my command as much as you enjoy running the *rest* of my life!" With that, Kirk wheeled around and marched off toward the elevator, throwing one last acidic glare over his shoulder at Spock as he reached the doors. //Damn you, Spock, why don't you get off my back?//
From the expression of pain that flitted across Spock's face as he met Kirk's gaze, he might have actually heard his Captain's silent curse--but Kirk was too preoccupied with his own pain and resentment to either know for certain or care.
Bridge schedules were subsequently changed back to normal and Kirk complied with his First Officer's wishes, though it did not seem to do him much good. Spock continued his protective vigil, still mostly in silence; Kirk still seemed afraid to discuss Edith, and nothing was said of the incident on the Bridge, either, though Spock knew that it was not forgotten. Nor was it forgiven, if Spock could trust his own judgement of Kirk's emotional state.
In this way, two weeks passed. McCoy finally decided that he had been shunted aside long enough and once again went to Kirk's cabin, this time determined not to leave again without convincing the Captain's personal guard-Vulcan to let him see Kirk. As usual, it was Spock who met him at the door, though this time he looked more tired than annoyed; the latter emotion was still visible within his dark eyes, however, when he saw that it was McCoy again. "Not yet, Doctor. I will notify you when the Captain is ready to talk to you about Edith Keeler," Spock told him peremptorily. "Therefore, if you have no other business to discuss with him--"
"Spock, wait," McCoy interrupted, as the Vulcan was about to withdraw and close the door on him. "If Jim's hurting this much, it *is* my business--as Chief Medical Officer--to know the details, for *his* sake," he pointed out. "You're not the only one who's concerned about him, you know."
Spock realized finally that McCoy was right and reluctantly, silently moved aside to let McCoy enter. Besides...he himself needed to talk to the Doctor, and this seemed as good a time as any.
"You look like Hell," McCoy observed anxiously, once he was inside. "Does Jim look as bad as you do?"
"He is...in some difficulty, and it does show externally," Spock responded carefully. "As for me..." but he let the sentence hang, for the time being at a loss as to how to verbalize his own turmoil. Instead, he led McCoy to Kirk's bed chamber, motioning him to be quiet, and they briefly studied their Captain as he lay sprawled face- down across his bed, in his black underclothes, half-covered by the sheet and bedspread. Then Spock led the Doctor back into Kirk's study. "He has only been asleep for an hour--for the first time in a number of days," Spock explained.
As McCoy sat down on the edge of Kirk's desk, regarding his Vulcan friend expectantly, the latter began to pace, searching for the words to tell McCoy what Spock knew he had to be told.
Finally, Spock spoke again. "Doctor, I allowed you to enter because...I do not seem able to deal adequately with the Captain's emotions," he revealed, with obvious difficulty. "I thought I knew him well enough to be able to do so, despite my...unfamiliarity with such things; clearly, I was mistaken. This requires me to tell you what we have been keeping from you since our return from the Time Planet. I...trust...that he will understand my motives in doing this, since I have certainly been of little help to him, so far."
"I'm sure he will," McCoy returned encouragingly.
Painfully and hesitantly, Spock then related to him the story of how Kirk had met and fallen in love with Edith, before his discovery that she had to die in order to correct the change in history wrought by McCoy saving her life--and his own unavoidable sense of guilt at having to convince Kirk that her sacrifice was necessary.
McCoy was stunned, but at least now he understood. "My God. It all makes sense, now," he responded faintly, then looked up sharply at Spock. "But why didn't you tell me this before now?" he demanded. "Did you think I wouldn't understand?"
"He...asked me not to. At the time, it seemed best to accede to his request, since I knew of nothing to do that would help him more," Spock admitted, lowering his eyes in discomfort. "I had not expected his mental state to remain so...disturbed...for so long."
McCoy looked past Spock, through the clear latticework of the partition, at what he could see of Kirk. "Poor Jim. He's not taking it very well, is he?" Spock shook his head silently. "What about you?" McCoy asked then, his eyes returning to Spock's face.
Spock sighed, turning away from McCoy to face the bed chamber and studying Kirk through the latticework transparency of the partition. "He barely speaks to me, now--whether out of anger toward me or a desire not to speak of the matter at all, I do not know," he confessed reluctantly.
"But you've spent so much *time* with him!" McCoy protested incredulously.
Spock hesitated for a long moment, knowing--as he had known all along--that he had no logical reason for remaining near Kirk for all this time, under the circumstances he had described to McCoy. But then, this situation had nothing to do with logic--as McCoy would have pointed out, if given half a chance. When Spock finally spoke, in a voice edged with embarrassment, he did his best to acknowledge that fact: "I...have some hope that my presence gives him some comfort. I thought it best that someone stay with him, and it is *I* who bear much of the responsibility for his present emotional state. However, considering the results--or rather, the lack of them-- produced by my decision, perhaps I am the wrong person to do this." He paused, turning back around to face McCoy. "Perhaps *your* company would be more beneficial to him, now. Do you wish me to leave you alone with him?"
"No, Spock, I think you were right to keep an eye on him--and to protect him from having to discuss Edith with anyone else, even me, before he was ready," McCoy assured him kindly. "It *should* be you, because you were there and you saw him go through this--but *not* because you were to blame."
"Doctor, *he* blames me," Spock told him, softly and matter-of- factly. He was as certain of it as he was of his own existence; it was the only possible explanation for Kirk's behavior toward him.
McCoy went to the Vulcan's side, instinctively wanting to comfort him. "He's just hurt, Spock--give him time," he suggested. "While we're between assignments, I could arrange some medical leave for him--give him a few days to sort things out..."
"I have spoken to him of that--of going with me to a place I know of on Vulcan, a place of...tranquility," Spock revealed quietly, his facial expression carefully controlled. "It is in the desert mountains, not far from the city where I grew up. There are caverns, so Jim could be kept out of the heat."
Vulcan was not exactly what McCoy had in mind as an R&R spot for Kirk--but if Spock were with him, Kirk would probably enjoy himself there. And McCoy trusted Spock's judgement. "Sounds good," the Doctor decided finally. "What did Jim say?"
"He has not given me his answer."
As McCoy was about to respond, they heard sounds of movement within the bed chamber. Both turned toward them, and Spock moved quickly around the partition to Kirk's side, sitting cautiously beside him on the bed when he saw that Kirk's eyes were open. "Forgive me, Captain--I did not mean to awaken you," he apologized.
"I heard voices. Who were you talking to?" Kirk asked curiously, rubbing his eyes.
"McCoy. He came to see you." Spock hesitated. "Jim, I told him about Edith. I thought he should know," he admitted finally.
"It's all right, Spock--I'm glad he knows."
Spock could not help noticing that Kirk didn't *look* glad; his manner and facial expression revealed only resignation, and the usual sadness. The intensity of Kirk's grief had nearly floored Spock on the few occasions since Edith's death that he had allowed himself to touch his Captain, and even sitting close to him like this subjected his Vulcan mental shields to a pounding by wave after wave of emotional pain--something that had been difficult to endure for all the time he had spent at Kirk's side. But more painful even than that was Spock's own uncertainty of what he could do to comfort his friend.
His thoughts were disrupted by McCoy's appearance at his side and Kirk's greeting to him: "Hi, Bones."
"How do you feel, Jim?" McCoy asked, though he was sure he already knew.
"I've been better," Kirk responded tiredly.
"Spock also mentioned he'd invited you to go to Vulcan with him."
Kirk suspected he knew what McCoy was leading up to, but he wasn't about to say anything that might encourage him.
"Go with him, Jim. I'm recommending medical leave for you, anyway," McCoy urged. "Give yourself time to get over this. You need the rest."
Abruptly, Kirk sat up. "I've had *too much* rest, as it is," he retorted defensively. "All I need is to keep my mind off it--to be on the Bridge. Now, Spock's practically keeping me prisoner in my own cabin--"
"I am doing no such thing," Spock protested, striving to keep the indignation out of his voice. "I have acted for *your* sake--asked you to sleep more and tried to be here in case you needed me. If I had not, you would have driven yourself to physical collapse. You have *been* on the Bridge almost constantly since we left the Time Planet."
Kirk regarded him dangerously. "Are you saying I'm unfit for command?" he demanded.
"You *were*, certainly; otherwise I would not have found it necessary to relieve you," Spock recalled, more calmly. Within him, however, was a new wave of turmoil as he remembered their angry confrontation on the Bridge. "I have yet to ascertain your current condition, since you have so far refused to allow Dr. McCoy to examine you, but from my own observation, it does not appear to have improved any."
"Well, suppose you let *me* decide what I need and leave me the hell alone!" Kirk snapped.
Spock stood up, hiding his growing agony behind an emotionless facial expression and suddenly formal manner. "If you wish me to leave, Captain, then dismiss me," he returned stiffly, knowing he had made a mistake by arguing the touchy subject with Kirk--but also knowing that this would be the first time since leaving the Time Planet that Kirk had expressed any displeasure with his presence.
Kirk's eyes flashed with anger that was directed less at Spock than at an intangible force consisting of time, fate, and history. "Dismissed!" he shouted, practically in Spock's face.
McCoy, having watched the exchange in growing alarm (and also having been told of the Bridge incident by Spock shortly after it happened), now came to life, grabbing Spock's arm with one hand and Kirk's with the other. "Wait a minute, you two, stop this! Spock, don't you *dare* leave!" he ordered.
"I must, Doctor. The Captain has dismissed me," Spock returned coolly, pausing but refusing to sit back down.
"For once, disobey. *Sit*," McCoy reiterated firmly.
Spock glanced back down dubiously at Kirk. "Captain...?"
But Kirk averted his eyes, bitterness still smoldering within him. "You can stand on my desk and do a strip-tease, for all I care," he muttered, just audibly.
Spock started to ask why he would wish to do such a thing, then thought better of it and reluctantly sat back down beside Kirk, keeping his head bowed and saying nothing.
"That's better," McCoy decided, then turned his attention to Kirk. "As for you, you know good and well that Spock's been worried about you. You ought to be *glad* he cares enough about you to look after you all this time, instead of making him feel worse than he already does," he chided.
Kirk's anger began to lessen abruptly as he looked at Spock; it had never occurred to him that *Spock* might somehow be affected by how he reacted to Edith's death. "Spock...you, too?"
Spock waited until McCoy had quietly withdrawn to let them make up with each other in relative privacy before he spoke. "You have every right to be...angry with me, but I only meant to help," the Vulcan explained softly, in a voice edged with guilt. "Please, Jim, at least allow me to *try* to make amends for my part in this."
At that point, Kirk was with terrible clarity what an idiot he had been. Taking his pain out on Spock, and all the time, Spock held *himself* responsible--and assumed Kirk did, too! "'*Your* part in-- '? Oh, Spock..." he managed incredulously, instinctively reaching out to touch the bowed, black head.
Spock flinched as if he expected to be beaten, but when Kirk then took him by the shoulders and he felt only concern and regret-- not anger--through his Captain's touch, Spock finally looked up at him. His eyes searched Kirk's for any sign of forgiveness; what he found there was an odd combination of understanding and complete unawareness of anything Spock had done that *required* forgiveness. "You are not angry with me?" he questioned warily, not quite able to believe it.
Kirk squeezed his friend's shoulders affectionately. "No. I never was, really. I guess you were just a convenient target," he apologized sincerely. "I'm sorry, Spock."
"It is no longer of any importance," Spock tried to assure him, without much conviction in his voice. "All that matters now is that *you* get sufficient rest."
Kirk released Spock's shoulders, but continued to study him worriedly, noticing for the first time how pale and drawn his First Officer looked. "Seems to me I'm not the *only* one who needs that," he remarked, as he lay back down again.
"I am all right," Spock insisted. "Vulcans require less sleep than Humans."
For once, Kirk was too tired himself to remind Spock of his Human half. He sighed, closing his eyes briefly and considering the situation. Maybe Bones was right. As much effort as he had expended trying to drown his grief (and his own sense of guilt) in command duties, that which he normally thrived upon--his life and career on the ship--held no interest for him now. Maybe Spock was right, too. And he'd always had a certain curiosity about his Vulcan friend's home planet... "Still want me to go to Vulcan with you?" Kirk asked cautiously, at last, opening his eyes.
Spock nodded, looking at Kirk with sudden hope in his eyes. "I *would* like to show it to you, this place I have told you of. You are the only Human I have ever known who might appreciate it," he reiterated, his voice pleading for acquiescence, though his manner and facial expression remained as controlled as always.
Lying on his back and cradling his head in one folded arm, Kirk studied him thoughtfully. "Are there really silver birds?" he questioned, after a time.
Spock almost smiled at him in response, inwardly amused by Kirk's incredulity but instinctively suppressing the emotion. "Yes, Jim, there are. You will see them in the mornings--and we will be close to one of their nesting places," he promised Kirk quietly.
"I'm not sure how much leave time Starfleet Command would authorize--"
"You let *me* worry about that," McCoy interjected, from behind the partition. "You just figure out how much time you want and when you want your leave to start. Vulcan's not that far off our present course."
Spock nodded in agreement, anticipating Kirk's next question. "Vulcan is 3.568 days from our present position. Will you go, Jim?"
Kirk sighed, giving in at last. "All right, what the hell. Couldn't hurt. But only for a week--I don't think it's a good idea for me to be out of commission any longer than that, with the Enterprise's schedule the way it is."
Spock got up immediately. "I will see to the course change. Doctor, I would appreciate your staying with him until I contact you," he told them, turning then and leaving Kirk's cabin. McCoy, meanwhile, got out his medikit and prepared to give Kirk the fullest mental and physical examination possible until he got the Captain to Sickbay, though he knew already from visual observation what the results were likely to be.
Sometime later, after Kirk had been persuaded to go back to sleep, McCoy was summoned to Spock's quarters, from which Spock contacted the Bridge and had Uhura get him a tie-in with Starbase 16. In moments, the face of Commodore Brackett, Starfleet Command representative for this sector, appeared on Spock's desk viewer. "Commander Spock? The Enterprise wasn't due to check in until after your rendezvous with the Excalibur," he greeted Spock, referring to their next assignment--a cargo pick-up from the Excalibur, which had an important assignment in another sector and could only transport it half the way.
"Commodore, is it possible for you to assign another ship to the rendezvous?" Spock began cautiously. "A matter has arisen which would necessitate a delay in our arrival."
"*What* matter?" Brackett questioned suspiciously.
"Captain Kirk is...unfit for duty, and our Chief Medical Officer has recommended medical rest leave for him."
Brackett addressed McCoy. "Will you verify that, Doctor?"
"Yes, it's all in my Medical Log--I've already ordered a copy transmitted to you, along with the approval request, but I want his leave to begin immediately."
"Where would he be, and for how long?" Brackett pressed, giving no hint of whether or not he intended to grant approval.
"On Vulcan, Commodore, for a week," McCoy informed him.
Brackett still hesitated. "Is his condition really that serious?"
"As Spock told you, he's unfit for command duties--I've certified it. Emotionally and physically, he needs a rest before the Enterprise undertakes any new assignments."
"All right, since Starship Captains have to maintain peak efficiency, I'll approve your request verbally," Brackett decided finally. "But no longer than a week--and I expect your formal request to provide full details of Captain Kirk's physical and mental condition."
"Understood, Commodore," McCoy replied.
"In view of this, I expect Commander Spock to proceed with the Enterprise to complete the assignment while Kirk is--"
"Sir, I cannot," Spock interrupted; he had expected Brackett to suggest something like this, and his muscles tensed instinctively, in preparation for a possible fight. "That is why I suggested that another ship be assigned. I will be accompanying the Captain."
"*You're* going on leave? Are *you* unfit for duty, too, Commander?" Brackett demanded to know.
"No, sir. However, Captain Kirk has never been to Vulcan before; he will need a guide, and I am the logical choice." //Simple, logical--and revealing nothing of my personal motivations,// Spock noted to himself. But this was no time to gloat.
"Hmm. I assume Kirk has already approved your leave request."
"Yes, Commodore." One advantage of being second-in-command and going on leave with the Captain, Spock reflected, was that the paperwork was far less troublesome.
Brackett examined an electronic notepad on his desk. "Well, let's see...the Potemkin's in port. Her crew's just coming off shore leave and she's just been overhauled--I guess captain Vanderbilt can take over for Kirk on this one," he decided reluctantly. "But I expect the Enterprise and its Captain to be ship-shape and Bristol- fashion after he gets back from that leave. Dr. McCoy, I want a follow-up report."
"I'll see to it, Commodore," McCoy promised.
After the screen went dark, McCoy turned to Spock and commented, "It's a good thing for you he approved Jim's leave."
"How so?" Spock questioned.
"You've already got us on the way to Vulcan, haven't you? Wouldn't you have been just *a little* embarrassed if you'd had to turn the ship around and head back toward the Excalibur?"
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "I calculated the odds to favor approval sufficiently that an immediate course change was not unwarranted," he returned mildly. "Besides...the Captain has occasionally violated orders on *my* behalf."
McCoy saw the Vulcan's expression change slightly and knew he must be thinking of his only mission command experience so far: the mission to study the quasar Murasaki 312, which had cost the lives of two men and *would* have cost the lives of all involved--including Spock and himself--if Kirk had not found a way around orders to abandon the search for them. Spock considered it such a disaster that he had never asked to command another mission. "You mean you would've taken Jim to Vulcan, anyway," McCoy concluded, somehow not particularly surprised.
"He cannot function as Captain as he is. It is necessary." Behind Spock's neutral-toned words was his awareness that *he* needed this as much as Kirk did. It was his best chance to undo the damage he believed he had done to his friend and Captain.
McCoy's eyes met his briefly in understanding and acceptance, then turned finally and headed for the door, leaving Spock alone with his inner turmoil.
Kirk remained unusually withdrawn during the trip to Vulcan, but at least now Spock was able to convince him to go to Sickbay for a complete evaluation to verify McCoy's original diagnosis, then get some rest and leave the Bridge to his First Officer. However, although Kirk spent the majority of his time in bed, sleeping seemed virtually impossible. Neither did food interest him now, though he was aware that he had barely eaten over the last week or so--ordering regular meals in the Rec Room and nibbling on them distractedly, returning the trays largely untouched.
Chastising himself for being foolish enough to fall in love with a woman of the past seemed foolish to Kirk, but he chastised himself for it, anyway. More than once during his sojourn in Depression-era New York City, he had caught himself wondering about the good Edith could do in her lifetime--even wishing he could take her back with him to his present and the Enterprise. With her unique attunement to the future, Kirk was sure that if anyone from the past could adapt to the 23rd century, it would be her.
That was before reality had come crashing down on top of him, in the form of Spock and his damnable logic about "millions dying who did not die before". It had seemed inconceivable to Kirk that the continued existence of Edith--of all people--could cause so much damage, but the facts, as revealed through Spock's tricorder, spoke for themselves. It bothered him that he had not realized the resentment he had been harboring toward the Vulcan until McCoy and Spock both confronted him over it, and Kirk reminded himself that Spock was not to blame for Edith's death--any more than McCoy could have been blamed for trying to prevent it.
//Perhaps, then, the responsibility is mine,// Kirk reflected. The plausibility of the thought sickened him, and again, Edith's face appeared before him as he had seen it that last time: confused by her sudden discovery of the fact that Kirk, Spock and McCoy all knew each other and determined to find out what it was that they were obviously keeping from her, moving steadily closer from across the street... then came the scream. She had never seen the oncoming truck.
Kirk buried his face in his pillow, as if that would block the memories out of his mind, wondering why--as much as he wanted to--he still could not seem to cry.
Spock, meanwhile, thought it best to leave Kirk to his own devices now, since logic told him he had done all he could for Kirk until they reached Vulcan and their leaves started in earnest--unless the Captain specifically requested otherwise. He was convinced he had already done his best to provide his friend with emotional solace --something Spock knew he was not much good at, anyway. Logic also told him that he had only done what was necessary by insisting that Kirk permit Edith's death, but the knowledge still did not erase his sense of guilt--and maybe that, too, was part of the reason he had stayed away from Kirk. Spock knew only that he would have sooner cut off his own arms and legs than do anything to cause his Human friend emotional pain...
The Vulcan's own emotions remained under rigid control while he was in the command chair on the Bridge, but in the privacy of his own cabin, he allowed himself to dwell on Kirk's condition and his own part in it. He dwelt also on the sudden, unusual intensity of his awareness of Kirk's emotions since their encounter with Edith; it had begun with knowing Kirk was falling in love with her before he seemed to know it himself, and was slowly escalating--and Spock's mental shields seemed increasingly unable to block the effect.
He knew what it meant. He had felt it within him for several months, but now the symptoms were becoming obvious: a mental bond was forming between himself and Kirk. He knew also that Kirk, not being a telepath, was unaware of anything beyond his own gradually deepening feelings of friendship for his First Officer. Custom and respect for Kirk's privacy demanded that Spock notify him as soon as possible, but now hardly seemed the right time. Perhaps after he had had time to heal, Spock would approach him with the revelation; for now, Spock knew deep within himself that he could not face the confusion and rejection which he was sure would be Kirk's response.
It was McCoy, therefore, who kept an eye on Kirk, monitoring his physical condition, making sure he at least tried to eat and sleep, praying that the leave on Vulcan would do Kirk some good.
On the day they arrived and assumed orbit around Vulcan, Kirk gathered a pile of desert and mountain camping gear on his bed in preparation, then began to stuff most of it into his backpack. He was checking a list Spock had given him to make sure he had everything he needed when his door buzzer sounded. "Come in," Kirk responded absently, his attention still occupied by the pile of equipment and the list.
The door opened to admit McCoy and Spock as Kirk turned to greet them. From the expression on McCoy's face, they had apparently been engaged in one of their favorite arguments, but Spock just as obviously had no intention of continuing it. He stepped forward, wearing a full backpack and carrying an extra bag for items he had not been able to fit into the backpack. "Are you ready, Captain?" he asked.
"Almost," Kirk replied, turning back to the pile on his bed. "I was just checking to make sure I wasn't missing anything."
As Spock watched Kirk pack his backpack, McCoy spoke to him, presumably continuing an earlier discussion. "I still say you're asking for trouble not taking a doctor along."
"I have told you that I have packed a fully-equipped medikit," Spock reiterated calmly, not turning.
"Oh? Did you happen to pack a medical license in there, too?" McCoy inquired dryly.
Spock deliberately ignored his sarcastic attempt at humor. "I assure you, Doctor, I have planned for every contingency," he told McCoy again, his voice now edged with impatience.
"Bones, I'm sure Spock will be able to handle anything that comes up," Kirk interjected, in no mood to listen to their sparring.
"Are you sure, Jim? Did you ever bother to ask him if there are any dangerous animals in this desert oasis of his?" McCoy persisted, pointedly ignoring Spock.
The Vulcan turned toward him finally with a raised eyebrow. "Dr. McCoy, I am quite familiar with the desert area to which we are going. I have visited it often. There is no animal life there at this time of year which should be harmful to either of us," he assured McCoy firmly. Their eyes met, and Spock's pleaded for understanding: he and Kirk needed this time alone. Spock had borne the responsibility of insisting on Edith's death, and now it was *his* responsibility--no one else's--to help Kirk overcome his grief.
McCoy finally nodded in acceptance. "Be careful, then," he admonished crustily. "You bring Jim back in one piece or I'll have your head on a platter."
//If Jim is *not* "in one piece" when we return, I will gladly oblige you,// Spock answered silently. Aloud, he said only, "I fully intend to do so."
Kirk, meanwhile, finished gathering stray odds and ends into an extra bag and wrestled the pre-fastened sleeping bag/backpack onto his shoulders, securing the shoulder straps before attempting to stand up. "All set, Spock," he announced, at last.
Spock reached past him to help him up. "Excellent. Then let us go." He paused as they walked past McCoy. "Do you wish to accompany us to the Transporter Room?" Spock asked.
McCoy shook his head. "I need to get back to Sickbay. You take care of Jim--make this work for him."
Spock nodded understandingly. "I will do my best."
"And let me know if you need anything."
"I will. Goodbye, Doctor."
"'Bye, Spock. See you in a week."
Spock had already pinpointed coordinates that would permit him and Kirk to arrive in the place he wanted Kirk to see without his Captain having to carry the heavy backpack up the mountain in heat and high gravity that he was not accustomed to, so within moments, they materialized on a mountain ledge at the mouth of a cavern. Spock looked around quickly, frowning, and spoke before Kirk could speak or move. "Be careful, Captain--I seem to have miscalculated the width of this ledge," he cautioned Kirk, pointing into the cavern. "We will sleep here. Most parts of the cavern are quite cool, so you may prefer to stay inside."
Kirk followed him cautiously into the cavern, glancing around furtively, startled that Spock would be so familiar with such a place. "Are you sure nothing lives in here?" he questioned dubiously.
Spock nodded, picking out a spot near a rocky wall and setting his backpack down there, then reaching to take Kirk's from him. "I scanned the area briefly before we beamed down, and I have never known this cavern to be inhabited, but if you wish, I will scan it more extensively." At Kirk's nod, he picked up a lantern and his tricorder, slung the latter over his shoulder and headed off deeper into the cavern.
Kirk went back to the cavern's mouth and sat down on the ledge, looking around. The mountain extended down before him and out to either side of him as far as he could see. Hundreds of feet below, desert sands stretched to the horizon, broken only by the occasional mountain range. A haze was visible behind one range, indicating the presence of hot springs or volcanic pits. And spread out near the horizon on his left, just visible beyond the mountain range that he and Spock now occupied, lay something that appeared cultivated or man- made, though at this distance, Kirk could not tell what it was. Above it all, the blue star Epsilon Eridani--Vulcan's sun--blazed down through a vermillion sky. The heat was stifling.
It took Spock a little over an hour to complete his walking sensor sweep of as much of the cavern as he was familiar with--and he had no wish to go further with Kirk left alone in what was, to him, a strange place; exploring would have to wait until Kirk was with him. Spock, meanwhile, had found nothing--only a brief reading, a suggestion of something passing over the exterior rocks above--and Spock was sure it was a false reading that indicated some minor tricorder malfunction. It did not seem possible that the reading could be accurate. Spock had never known the animals it indicated to hunt on this part of the mountain range at this time of year... besides, the reading had appeared and disappeared too quickly.
Spock permitted himself a slight shudder as he turned and headed back toward the main chamber, where he had left Kirk. He had forgotten how cold most of the chambers were, which explained why he did not remember ever spending more time than necessary inside. As he neared the mouth of the cavern, pausing to put the lantern back with the rest of his gear, he saw Kirk still sitting on the ledge and went to join him, sitting down beside him. "The cavern is safe, as I remembered it to be," he informed Kirk.
Kirk nodded in acceptance, turning to face him. "Since you had me bring my swimsuit, I hope that means there's somewhere to bathe," he ventured hesitantly, feeling vaguely embarrassed without knowing why. "After all, we're going to be here for a week..."
Spock nodded understandingly. "There is a large chamber further into the cavern with a sort of underground lake and crevasses in the rocks above which allow sunlight to get through. The chamber and water are both relatively warm during the day--I will take you there whenever you wish."
Kirk sighed, looking out across the desert again. "First thing tomorrow, maybe. Today, I just want to sleep," he decided, getting up and going back inside the cavern.
Spock got up and followed him, watching as Kirk went back to where Spock had left their gear, unrolled his sleeping bag, and stretched out on top of it, lying on his stomach and facing Spock.
"How is it that you know so much about this place?" Kirk asked curiously.
Spock hesitated. He had hoped to avoid discussing the details of that, but it was natural that Kirk would want to know. And somehow, he *wanted* Kirk to know, despite not having found it within himself to discuss it with McCoy when the need had arisen earlier. He had chosen *then*, with little internal conflict on the matter, not to elaborate--but now? Spock forced himself to try, even though he knew the effort would probably prove futile and he found his sudden desire for openness on the matter after so many years of uncompromised (and, in Spock's view, necessary) silence completely illogical.
He walked over to sit down next to Kirk. "I used to come here as a child, during the day, mostly," Spock began, with difficulty. "Sometimes I would stay overnight, then wake up before dawn so that I could see the silver birds flying overhead--I could see them from our home, of course, but not as well. I did not stay overnight often, however; our nights are cool, and it was cooler still inside the cavern. As you know, Vulcans have little toleration for cold."
Kirk could not help smiling at him. "So now you're staying in this cavern for a week?"
"It is different, this time. My physical comfort is not important," Spock returned quietly, meeting Kirk's eyes at last. "Jim, this has always been a place of healing for me--a place where I could come andÉ be at peace, at least for a time. I have never shown it to anyone else, until now. I have brought you here to heal, and that is all that matters."
Kirk's smile faded, and he looked at Spock with understanding and compassion. "Was your childhood so painful that there were times when you had to run away?"
Spock lowered his eyes in discomfort and shame, shifting his position so that he could sit leaning against the wall and debating within himself whether or not to speak further. Vulcan logic told him that he had already revealed enough to humiliate himself and that to say more would be unnecessary emotionalismÉbut the Human part of him ached to respond to the affection and concern he saw on Kirk's face and tell him everything. Jim, he was sure, would understand, without being embarrassed by the emotions Spock would have to reveal. But for now, Spock was still unwilling to risk rejection and ridicule by his friend, which he still believed continued discussion would elicit; instead, he simply bowed his head in response to Kirk's inquiry.
"That's all right--you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Kirk told him understandingly, accepting his silence. He hadn't really expected an answer, anyway.
When Spock finally looked back up at him, Kirk's eyes were closed and he had begun to drift off to sleep.
Kirk awoke abruptly several hours later to find the cavern and the sky outside both dark except for their two lanterns, now placed at equidistant positions in the center of the chamber. Spock was directly in front of him, a few feet away, huddled close to a phaser- heated rock outcropping and trying to warm himself. Presumably he had not so far been entirely successful, since Kirk thought he could detect a slight trembling of the Vulcan's body beneath the blankets he had wrapped tightly around himself.
Kirk had awakened in the middle of a nightmare--Edith Keeler calling out to him from across a void--but he fought to shake off its effects now and climbed out of his sleeping bag, picking up one of his own blankets from where it lay folded up nearby, getting up, and going to join Spock. Spock looked up as Kirk sat down beside him, concern showing in his eyes; though Kirk could not know it, his Vulcan friend had been acutely aware of the agony and sense of loss aroused in him by the nightmare. "Are you all right, Jim?" Spock asked.
Kirk was touched by the anxiety in his voice and nodded reassuringly. "What about you? You look cold," he noted worriedly.
"I am...not in difficulty," Spock replied evasively, not wanting to admit how much the cold was affecting him. It was going to take time for him to fully acclimate himself to the cavern again--possibly more time than they would spend here.
"Well, take this, anyway. You need it more than I do," Kirk suggested, wrapping his blanket around Spock.
Spock seemed a little reluctant to take it. "Are you certain...?"
"Go ahead. All I need is the sleeping bag."
Spock nodded finally in gratitude and acceptance, pulling Kirk's blanket around him more tightly. He reached into his backpack-- which, along with his sleeping bag, he had brought with him, in order to be able to stay as close to the heat source as possible--and pulled out one of the synthetic food bars that were standard Starfleet issue for use on occasions such as this. "Do you wish to eat now?" he asked, offering the food bar to Kirk. "I have already done so."
"Then I guess I'd better," Kirk decided, taking the food bar from him. He took a bite of it and was startled to discover that it was one of the beef-flavored ones. He looked at his First Officer in surprise, knowing full well that Spock, like all Vulcans, was a vegetarian. "Spock, have you been eating--?"
"No, Jim--this was from your pack. I thought it best to have all the food in one place, so since I have more room in my pack, I took the liberty of removing your food bars and putting them in here with mine," Spock explained quickly.
Spock allowed Kirk to eat in peace, passing him another food bar when he asked for it, then suggested Kirk might also want to move his sleeping bag and other gear closer to their heat source. Kirk assured Spock that he would be warm enough where he was. Spock watched him go back to his sleeping bag, noting that Kirk--as usual-- did not seem to be in the mood to talk; nonetheless, Spock wanted it known that he was *there* for Kirk to talk to if he was needed.
He crawled on his hands and knees across the short distance between their sleeping bags, waiting until Kirk was settled in before speaking. "You had a nightmare, did you not?"
Kirk regarded him suspiciously. "How did you know that?" he demanded. "I didn't talk in my sleep, did I?"
Spock shook his head. "I...watched you for a while. You did not seem to be sleeping well," he managed to say. It was not a lie--he *had* watched Kirk as closely as possible from his spot beside the reddish-glowing rock--but it was not the complete truth, either. Spock longed to tell him everything, but his apprehension regarding Kirk's possible reaction to having his emotions and thoughts known to someone else kept him from doing so. To a Vulcan, an unwanted bond of the type that he seemed to be forming with Kirk would be an insult and an invasion of privacy, but to a Human...Spock had never bonded with a Human before. Very few Vulcans had. If only Kirk would *welcome* the bond..."Do you wish to discuss it?" he invited, then.
"No, Spock...not now," Kirk responded faintly, pulling the top of the sleeping bag up over his shoulders and turning over to face away from Spock.
Spock suppressed the upsurge of pain he felt in response to this, reminding himself that even if Kirk wanted to be left alone for the duration of their stay on Vulcan, all he could do was comply with his Captain's wishes; he could not *force* Kirk to share what he felt with him, just as he trusted Kirk not to try to force *him* into any compromising emotional revelations. A sigh of frustration escaped Spock as he got up and went back to his own sleeping bag.
As soon as Kirk fell asleep, however, the nightmare resumed. This time, he relived the brief time he had had with Edith...walking the streets of New York, standing with her under the night sky as he pointed out stars unnamed and unknown to Earth of that time period. Then he and Edith were walking, hand-in-hand, through that star- filled sky. This dissolved into an image of a black void; from somewhere, he could hear the sounds of Edith's last moments--the two of them talking, his and Spock's reunion with McCoy, Spock's shouted warning of "No, Jim!" when he saw her cross the street and moved instinctively to stop her, then practically throwing himself on top of McCoy to prevent him from doing the same thing, and Edith's simultaneous scream--and he saw her standing across the void. She was calling to him with her arms outstretched toward him, hopelessly out of reach.
He cried out to her--or imagined that he did--and awoke to find himself sitting straight up in the sleeping bag, shaking. Spock was sitting next to him, watching him with an expression of undisguised alarm, which Kirk could just make out by the dimmed lantern-light. "Spock? Oh, God...what happened?" he managed to whisper.
"You called out Edith's name. It must have been the same nightmare again," Spock told him, his expression unchanged.
"I think so," Kirk admitted, burying his face in his hands and rubbing his eyes.
"Jim, there must be *something* I can do. Please allow me to help," Spock entreated softly.
Kirk looked up at him again. "I don't know. If I *knew* of anything you could do, don't you think I'd have told you?" he asked, in frustration.
"*Would* you have? I am not certain. From your behavior so far, I am inclined to believe that perhaps you prefer privacy to my company." Spock spoke with his head bowed, and the pain behind his voice was jarring in its unexpectedness.
Kirk grabbed Spock by the arms as the latter started to get up, and Spock hesitantly turned to face him again. "I'm glad you're here, Spock," Kirk told him apologetically. "I'm sorry. It's *me* who's not good company, these days."
Spock nodded understandingly in acceptance of this. "You should go back to sleep. I could stay here with you, if you wish," he suggested hopefully, somewhat encouraged by Kirk's gentler tone and manner.
"You need to sleep, too," Kirk pointed out kindly.
"I will," Spock promised.
"All right..." Kirk lay back down again, pulling the sleeping bag up around himself and watching Spock as he tried to go to sleep again.
As the Human began to drift off to sleep, Spock silently took Kirk's hand in his and held it; he had seen both McCoy and Christine Chapel engage in this ritual with patients in Sickbay, and had observed that it seemed to have some therapeutic value--a Human and emotional gesture, but perhaps it was what Kirk needed, now. Certainly, Spock could think of nothing else to do, and logic had provided him with no guidance in this situation. When he felt Kirk squeeze his hand in response, he was sure he had made the right choice.
By the time Kirk was soundly asleep, however, Spock had decided he would not be able to bear the physical contact all night. The emotions flooding into him through Kirk's touch were too intense, and --more importantly--it was improper to allow himself such intimate access to Kirk's emotions without permission. Especially now, when Spock knew of the mental bond that was forming between them and could be seen as taking advantage of his friend's ignorance of its existence.
He released Kirk's hand finally, then got up and went back to his own sleeping bag, gathering it up with his gear and carrying it back to where Kirk still slept. Carefully and quietly, he arranged it on the cavern floor nearby, trying to divide his attention evenly between Kirk and his sleeping bag as he spread it our and climbed inside. From then on, Spock's eyes remained on Kirk and his concern grew as he tried to decide whether or not it would be helpful to make Kirk aware of their bonding *now*, at his first opportunity. If Kirk accepted the bonding, would it not immediately become much easier to help him deal with his grief? But if he rejected it--if the whole idea frightened him and he reacted with resentment or distrust, as Spock suspected he might--it would only make the present situation worse. Rejection of the bonding could quickly turn to rejection of Spock, himself.
It was this thought that plagued Spock and constrained him to silence on the matter. Kirk was still too vulnerable. As for SpockÉjust now, he found himself unable to deal logically with the possibility of his Captain's negative reaction. Under other circumstances, Spock would have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the silence and solitude for meditation--but now he knew he needed to stay available in case Kirk awoke in the middle of the night and wanted to talk. So Spock bundled himself in the sleeping bag and blankets, contenting himself with watching Kirk as he slept and trying to keep his mind off the increasing cold. Kirk still seemed restless, but he did not wake up--at least, not before Spock, too, finally managed to go to sleep.
Just before dawn, Kirk awoke abruptly and looked around to find Spock curled up near him. Kirk watched him silently, reflecting. The nightmare had returned after Spock's promise to stay with him, but this time, it had been different; there was Edith, crying out to him from across the void, as before, but now Spock was there, too--across the same void, yet seemingly closer, just out of reach. At the same moment, Kirk heard for the first time the words that Edith was calling out to him: //It wasn't meant to be, Jim. I'm gone. Let me go. Don't hold onto me--hold onto Spock. He's still there, and he needs your friendship as much as you need his. You've lost me; don't lose him.//
Edith's voice and image had begun to fade then, but the image of Spock had remained, stronger, clearer, and closer than before, reaching out to Kirk but still unable to touch him, an expression of agony on his face--and as the nightmare itself faded from Kirk's mind, he had resolved to stop shutting his friend out.
He stretched and sat up, reaching over to touch Spock's shoulder; Spock, who had only allowed himself a light sleep-trance, awoke instantly and looked up at him. "The sun should be coming up soon," Kirk told him.
Spock sat up, slowly extricating himself from the sleeping bag and other wrappings. "I had not expected *you* to be up so early," he observed hopefully. "You are anticipating the flight of the silver birds, are you not?"
"Are you feeling somewhat better, then?" Despite efforts to the contrary, Spock could not keep his inner anxiety completely out of his voice.
Kirk managed a weak smile. "I wish I could say I was, Spock, but it's a little early to tell, yet. Maybe the silver birds will help," he responded kindly, wanting to say something to show his appreciation for Spock's concern. With that in mind, he thought it best not to mention the new version of the nightmare he had experienced during the night.
Spock nodded understandingly as he got up, then turned to re-fasten his side of his sleeping bag. While he began digging around in his backpack, Kirk stood up, stretched elaborately, and went to turn up the lantern furthest from the cavern opening.
"Which one of these food bars would you like for breakfast?" Spock asked, as Kirk approached him again.
Kirk was not feeling especially hungry. "Doesn't matter to me, Spock. Just pick one," he returned disinterestedly.
Spock picked out one labeled "Fruit Compote flavor" for himself and selected another one labeled "Bacon Flavor"; he tossed it to Kirk, who caught it, unwrapped it and began eating it in silence. Wonderful things, these food bars--one just ate them straight out of the package, like children ate candy bars, without adding water or anything else. If only they tasted more like the food they were supposedly made of...but just now, even a five-course, home-cooked meal would not have drawn more than a passing glance of acknowledgement from Kirk.
As he finished off the bacon-flavored food bar, Kirk wandered dejectedly back toward the cavern opening, dropping off the discarded wrapper into a pocket of his backpack as he went. Downing the last of his own food bar, Spock watched him sit down on the ledge outside just as the sky began to lighten; finally, he got up and went to join his Captain.
Kirk appeared not to notice as the Vulcan sat down beside him, but instead continued to sit with his knees drawn up under his chin and his arms locked around his legs, staring straight ahead. As the sky's colors changed from the deep purple of night to the reddish- magenta of the approaching dawn, Spock saw him begin to look around in anticipation. "How much longer, Spock?"
"Soon, Jim. Be patient," Spock returned quietly.
As time passed, Kirk found himself fully absorbed in watching the changing colors in the sky above. Purple receded gradually as red- magenta spread out before it. Finally, an orange glow began to appear over the cultivated area Kirk had noticed yesterday, and it, too, began to spread across the sky. "Spectacular," he commented, at length.
As Spock was about to respond, his more sensitive ears picked up the sounds of stirrings of life in the rocky mountain crags above them, and he knew it was a silver bird preparing to fly. He looked up in the direction of the sounds and saw what he expected to see. "Now, Jim--straight overhead," he announced suddenly.
Kirk followed his gaze, watching a silver-colored bird with a long, streamer-like tail trailing behind it took wing some distance above them. For a moment, it was tantalizingly close--Kirk could almost make out the details of the spray of plumage at the back of its head-- but then it flew on, out over the desert. By the time it was joined by a second silver bird, both were visible mainly by their tails and the sun reflecting off of them.
It was then that their performance began in earnest--soaring upward, then back down and all around, in a dizzying series of loop-the-loops --all in tandem. As the graceful aerial dance continued, dawn broke and the sun peeked over the horizon. Kirk watched in awed silence, not realizing at first that the birds were gradually moving further away as they cavorted.
By the time they had disappeared entirely from sight, Kirk's only regret was that the spectacle had not lasted longer. And he realized something else: not since the birds' appearance had he thought of Edith. It was the first time since their return through the Guardian of Forever that Kirk's mind and heart had been freed from the terrible pain of that loss. Even if only for a few minutes, it had been like the lifting of an unbearable weight from his chest.
Spock studied him now with unguarded apprehension, wondering suddenly if the silver birds' flight *could* have the same healing effect on Kirk as it had always had on him, or if his Human friend was hurt too deeply to be helped by the sight. Spock realized that, in his desperation to help Kirk survive this tragedy, he had merely *assumed* that what had a therapeutic effect on a Vulcan would similarly affect a Human. He knew that if he turned out to be mistaken, he would regret succumbing to this particular burst of emotionalism for the rest of his life. But when Kirk turned to look at him, Spock knew somehow that he had been right to bring his friend here and let him see the silver birds. "*Did* it help you, Jim?" he asked cautiously, needing to hear it from Kirk to be sure.
"It didn't hurt," Kirk replied thoughtfully, reflecting on what he had seen and felt. "And they do this every morning?"
"I believe so."
Kirk looked back up at the sky, which by now had turned a deep orange, trying to see where the silver birds had gone. "I could get used to that, Spock. I really could," he decided softly.
Spock almost smiled in response to Kirk's tone; his Captain could not yet be called content, but for the first time in weeks, the heartbreaking depth of his agony was not evident in his voice.
Kirk's eyes fell again upon the cultivated area that had caught his interest yesterday and directed Spock's attention to the spot on the horizon still silhouetted against the sunrise. "What *is* that? I noticed it yesterday after we got here."
"The city of ShiKahr, where I grew up," Spock replied, using his hand to shield his eyes from the direct sunlight as he followed Kirk's gaze.
Not surprisingly, this piqued Kirk's interest even further. "Really? How far away is it?" he inquired, a little more eagerly than he had meant to.
"Too far for *you* to walk, in this heat," Spock told him firmly. He did not like the way Kirk's face lit up at this revelation, and he fervently hoped his friend would not suggest having the Enterprise beam them there; if there was one place in all the universe that he did *not* want to go, it was ShiKahr--nor did he want to have to explain why he did not feel welcome in his own home. There were too many terrible emotions involved, too much hurt and shame still smoldering deep within Spock, for him to want to share it...even with Kirk, though every emotion in his half-Human heart told him that Kirk would understand. It was not logical to risk humiliating himself more than he had in those days, back before he had joined Starfleet, when Vulcan was still his home and he had spent every waking hour in often-futile efforts to fit in.
For his part, Kirk knew Spock had been far too abrupt in his response; he knew also that Spock never did or said anything without reason. He remembered their conversation about the child Spock's need for a place to run away to, and he somehow understood what was behind the Vulcan's words. Rather than press the issue, he changed the subject. "You told me this cavern had an underground lake..."
"Yes." Striving to conceal his relief (though Kirk saw it, anyway), Spock got up, pulling Kirk up after him. "Come, I will show it to you."
They stopped off briefly to get swimsuits, towels, and a change of clothes out of their packs; Spock also picked up a lantern, the canteen, the medikit, and his tricorder, then led Kirk out of the chamber and deeper into the cavern.
Kirk found himself making his way through a series of tunnels and chambers. He also had the definite sensation that they were going down, though trying to keep track of the exact direction quickly became useless. It was almost as difficult keeping track of time, but Kirk estimated that something like thirty minutes passed before they entered a chamber in which the sound of a not-too-distant waterfall could be heard. "We must be getting close," Kirk guessed.
Spock nodded. "The lake chamber is at the end of the next passageway," he informed Kirk.
Both fell silent again as they reached the other side of the chamber and entered the last tunnel. It was a short one, and when they emerged in the lake chamber, Kirk had to pause and look around. The chamber was huge, its craggy walls patterned with shades of red, gray and brown, but the "lake" looked more like a large pond surrounded by enormous rocks. It was noticeably warmer than the other chambers they had passed through, and a faint mist hovered over the water. Kirk did not see a waterfall, but he could hear it clearly, and there was what looked like a large opening in the chamber wall on the other side of the pond. It was too dark to see anything through the opening, from their distance.
"This is it?" he asked Spock curiously.
"Part of it. Apparently, there is an underground hot spring some distance beneath this pond," Spock explained. "However, the lake is beyond it. We must go around the pond on these rocks, through the opening, and climb down approximately two meters. Follow me closely, Captain--the rocks are rather slippery, in places."
Kirk obeyed, and they made their way cautiously toward the opening. As they reached it and prepared to crawl through, Kirk saw that the pond became a waterfall that poured into another huge chamber. It was virtually identical to the one they were just leaving, but the water-line was much closer to the walls. Spock climbed over the edge first, then guided Kirk down behind him.
After finding a place to put their clothing and other things, they separated, going to opposite sides of the lake to change into their swimsuits. Then Kirk started to wade into the water, decided that the surrounding rocks were too slippery beneath the water to walk on, and sat down, scooting cautiously crab-fashion into the water. It was cooler than he had expected, but still pleasantly warm. For the first time, he noticed that parts of the chamber were illuminated by faint sunlight, and he looked up; high above the lake were the crevasses Spock had mentioned--four large gashes in the ceiling of the chamber. How many meters of rock the crevasses had to pierce to reach this chamber, Kirk could not tell.
He looked around for Spock and found the Vulcan still on the other side of the lake, approaching the waterfall. Presumably, there was a natural ledge beneath the waterfall, for Spock stepped into the latter, closing his eyes and letting the water splash over him as Kirk swam toward him cautiously. Spock stood very still underneath the waterfall for a time, enjoying the natural massage effect produced by the force of the warm water hitting his back, then turned carefully around, hoping to experience the same "massage" on his face, chest and forearms. As he turned around, however, his foot hit a slippery spot on the ledge and he felt himself beginning to fall. He instinctively lashed out with his arm, trying to grab onto part of the rocky wall nearby, but the force of the waterfall pushed him backwards into the lake before his fingers could latch onto anything.
Kirk quickened his pace in an effort to be there when Spock hit the water, thinking it was shallow and Spock might hit his head on the rocks; as he drew nearer, however, he realized the water was becoming deeper--not shallower--and Spock was in no danger. Kirk slowed down again, watching uncertainly as Spock hit the water back- first. When the resulting splash had subsided, there was an uncomfortable delay before Spock's head appeared above the water and he began what looked to Kirk like a frantic dog-paddle. For whatever reason, the Vulcan seemed to be having trouble keeping himself afloat. Kirk did not pause to question the situation further but swam over and grabbed Spock around the chest, pulling his friend after him as he swam to the nearest wide, flat rock. Spock climbed out onto the rock, coughing, as Kirk climbed out after him; Kirk watched him anxiously, waiting until the coughing had subsided to speak. "Are you all right?" he asked, then.
"What happened? Did you get a cramp or something?"
"No," Spock returned hoarsely, sitting hesitantly back down on the rock. He averted his eyes from Kirk, deeply embarrassed, wondering how he could explain. He could feel Kirk's eyes on him and knew his friend was worried and confused about what had just happened. He realized finally that there was no way to avoid it, now; he would have to tell Kirk yet another secret that he had kept buried within himself for many years. It was not nearly as personal as the revelation about his need for a healing place during his childhood, but it was embarrassing for a Starfleet officer--and not something a Human would be likely to empathize with. "No, Captain, I was not in pain. The fact is that I cannot swim," he admitted reluctantly, studying Kirk apprehensively as he waited for his Captain to react.
Kirk was stunned. He couldn't decide whether to shout in anger or laugh in amusement. "What do you mean? You can't be serious!"
"What reason would I have for creating such a fabrication?" Spock retorted, rather defensively. "I simply never learned how. Very few Vulcans *can* swim. Do you find that so unbelievable of one who comes from a planet where water is scarce?"
Spock's face took on a green tint as he spoke, and Kirk realized this was a source of deep shame for his First Officer. He realized also that his response wasn't making it any easier for Spock to discuss. "I'm sorry, Spock. I was scared for you," he explained, more calmly. "And now you're telling me that if I hadn't been here, you'd have drowned?"
"Yes, and I am grateful you were close by; certainly I would not have ventured into this chamber if you had not been," Spock assured him, seeming to be put a little more at ease by Kirk's change in attitude and tone of voice.
"I assumed, from what you'd told me, that you'd been to this lake before," Kirk observed carefully.
"I stayed in the pond in the upper chamber. It is warmer, and shallow enough to sit in," Spock informed him coolly. "I should have done so this time, but...I did not wish to leave you alone here, and you would have asked questions if I had never joined you. Also, I... was curious about the waterfall. I thought...that it might be pleasant to stand beneath it." Spock paused, reflecting that he would never have dared to admit such an irrational idea to anyone other than Kirk. "Illogical, I suppose, but at the time, I saw no harm in it, as long as I was careful."
"You did seem to be enjoying it until you fell," Kirk noted casually. When Spock did not respond, he turned serious again. "What about all those survival courses we had to take at the Academy?" he questioned.
"The survival curriculum was required, but the individual courses were elective, if you recall," Spock pointed out, becoming tense again, in spite of himself. "I calculated the odds of being forced to take an assignment on a water planet to be small enough that choosing not to take the swimming course would be permissible. It was not intended for beginners, and when I learned that private lessons were not available for beginners in my age group, the matter was decided for me. I was...uncomfortable...with the idea of displaying my lack of ability before the other cadets, and that reluctance did not dissipate after I graduated. I anticipated that others aboard the Enterprise would react as you did just now. Can you understand that, Jim?"
Kirk moved closer to him. "Yes, Spock, I think I can," he told the Vulcan gently. "But *you* have to understand that I don't ever want your life endangered again because you can't swim. You've got to learn." He reached to take Spock's hands in his. "Will you let me teach you?"
Spock permitted his touch only long enough to perceive something of the affection and concern that now filled Kirk. Grief for Edith had, at least temporarily, been overwhelmed by fear for his Vulcan friend's life, and it occurred to Spock that teaching him to swim would likewise help Kirk keep his mind off Edith. Besides... logically, Kirk was right; he needed to learn. "Could you do it within the seven days we will be here?" he asked doubtfully.
"Not entirely, but I might be able to teach you to float by the time you leave," Kirk opined. "Once you learn that, the rest is relatively easy. We can use the ship's pool to continue the lessons."
Spock was none too pleased with that prospect, but he knew it would probably be necessary if he really expected to learn. "Only if it remains between us," he acceded finally. If McCoy ever learned that Kirk was having to teach him to swim, Spock knew he would never live it down.
"Fair enough," Kirk decided, starting to get up. "Come on, we'll go back up to the other chamber."
"That is not necessary. I know you wanted to swim, and I have no wish to interfere with that," Spock objected firmly. "Part of this lake *is* sufficiently shallow, andÉperhaps later, you could begin my instruction in swimming."
Kirk smiled at him encouragingly--the first time he had really done so since Edith's death. "If you'd like to go *sit* under the waterfall, I'll go along and spot you," he offered kindly.
Spock hesitated; his fist instinct now was to *avoid* the waterfall...but he knew that he would be all right if Kirk stayed nearby. He got up and walked slowly back over the rocks, careful to stay clear of the slick parts, toward the waterfall, watching as Kirk swam alongside him in the water. Kirk moved as close as he could get to the waterfall while still seeing past the foamy spray at its bottom and watched as Spock disappeared briefly behind the wall of water, then partially re-appeared after he had managed to get himself settled. Partially, because only his head, shoulders and lower legs were consistently visible through the waterfall.
It was a relatively short waterfall, and Spock could feel the spray below him tickling the soles of his feet as he closed his eyes and allowed the water to massage his back again, firmly holding onto the only solid, non-slippery surfaces he could reach--protrusions in the rock behind the waterfall. He could relax a little now, but he made a mental note of the location of the slippery spot on the ledge and stayed clear of it; even with Kirk there, he had no interest in embarrassing himself further by falling into the water again.
He opened his eyes finally and looked over at Kirk, who was watching him worriedly from less than a body-length away, and wandered momentarily if Kirk had the patience for swimming lessons in which the student was a Vulcan.
Eventually, Spock got up and left the waterfall, stopping on his way around the lake to pick up his tricorder and check the location of the shallows (not wanting to rely exclusively on his own memory). Again, Kirk followed along in the water, watching as Spock finally set down the tricorder a safe distance away from the water's edge, then sat down and eased himself into the water. What concerned Kirk now was that Spock had not spoken since their brief exchange after the Vulcan had almost drowned. Apparently, the revelation precipitated by that incident had embarrassed him more deeply than Kirk had suspected. As Spock picked out a spot that was of a more comfortable depth for him--roughly shoulder-high, sitting--and settled into it, Kirk approached him.
Spock pretended to ignore his Captain's anxious expression, merely raising an eyebrow at him. "I thought you were going to swim, Captain," he remarked, seeming puzzled.
"I will." Kirk paused, wondering momentarily if broaching the subject again wouldn't just worsen the situation. But then the moment was gone and he spoke, driven by a desire to make amends for his own part in his friend's current emotional state. "Spock...you were right. I had no reason to take it for granted that anyone, even a Vulcan, could swim," he began carefully.
He saw the mask of non-emotion slip slightly as Spock tried to respond in a neutral tone: "This Vulcan is also a Starfleet officer. From a Human point of view, such expectations could only be considered logical."
"But you keep telling me you're *not* Human," Kirk reminded him.
Spock just lowered his eyes, unable to think of any response that would be appropriate for this situation.
"And as much as I might sometimes think--or wish--otherwise, you're probably right," Kirk continued gently.
Spock looked up at him sharply, not sure at first what Kirk meant to imply, but he was reassured by the tone of his Captain's voice.
"All I'm saying is that you have nothing to be ashamed of," Kirk finished.
His voice was full of warmth and affection, and Spock could feel it surrounding him. It was a pleasant feeling, but it still made him uncomfortable that Kirk was still so completely unaware of how open his thoughts and emotions were to his Vulcan friend's mind. He was careful to stay out of range of any possible physical contact with Kirk as he spoke again. "You do not find it to be...a source of shame...that your second-in-command must be taught something which most Humans learn as children?" Spock questioned, looking doubtfully at Kirk.
Kirk shook his head. "No, Spock. It's just...unexpected. You're so proficient at so many things that I'd come to believe there *wasn't* anything you couldn't do," he confessed.
This came as no real surprise to Spock; he knew the depth of trust and respect Kirk held toward him. It was not something he had ever experienced before joining Starfleet. "Even full-blooded Vulcans are not infallible, Jim," he returned softly, closing his eyes. He suddenly found himself thinking again of Kirk with Edith in 1920s New York City, how happy he had been..."I have discovered...a number of things in which I seem somewhat inept. One of them is thatÉ I cannot bring Edith back for you."
When he opened his eyes again, he was relieved to find that Kirk did not seem angry with him for bringing up the subject. He just smiled sadly at Spock. "Neither can I," he replied simply.
By some unspoken mutual agreement, they decided to drop the matter immediately. Spock watched in silence as Kirk turned with some reluctance and swam away.
Kirk enjoyed the swim. It felt good to relax and think of nothing but what he was doing, pacing himself so he could swim as long as possible without getting tired. He was out of practice--but that would change soon, if he really meant to give Spock swimming lessons. To the waterfall and back, Kirk swam--eight laps, if he counted correctly--and each time he returned to the shallow end, Spock had moved a little deeper into the lake.
By the time Kirk was ready to rest for a while, Spock was standing in about four feet of water, though still moving very carefully. It was one thing to be a nine-year-old child sitting in a wading-depth pond and trying to accustom oneself to the water, but doing the same thing as an adult made Spock extremely uncomfortable. He had thought it had something to do with being in the presence of someone who had mastered the art of swimming long ago--someone who had almost laughed at his shortcomings in the area--but the feeling had only gotten worse after Kirk turned his attention from conversation to serious swimming and left him alone with his own jumbled emotions.
He watched with interest and a twinge of envy as Kirk glided slowly through the water toward him, flipping over on his back and floating as he neared Spock again. Intellectually, Spock understood all the scientific principles behind this activity, but that knowledge and the ability to put it into practice were clearly not the same thing.
After a time, Kirk noticed that the Vulcan's eyes were still on him. "Something wrong, Spock?" he asked, puzzled.
"Is that...'floating'...difficult?" Spock asked hesitantly.
"Not really." Kirk found himself studying the chamber's crevassed ceiling as he spoke.
"How long did it take you to learn?"
Kirk's eyes returned to Spock's face, realizing that his friend still needed encouragement. "I don't remember, exactly--it was an awfully long time ago when I took my first lessons; I guess I must've been six or seven."
Spock returned his gaze uncertainly. "But you think I can learn to float by the time we leave Vulcan?"
Kirk nodded. "It's possible. After all, you should be a quicker study than I was," he pointed out reassuringly. "Vulcans are supposed to be more intelligent than Humans, remember?"
Spock studied him suspiciously, but there was no sarcasm in Kirk's voice; the warm smile and sudden sparkle in the hazel eyes told Spock that his Captain had, in fact, meant this last statement humorously. "Intelligence is not the issue," he responded quietly, at last. "I have never tried to swim before. It is also possible that a Vulcan of my age may be unteachable."
Kirk stopped floating finally and stood up, beginning to lose patience with Spock's atypical lack of confidence in himself. "That's a load of bull," he declared forcefully.
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "I assure you, Captain, that this region of Vulcan contains no bovine mammals from which--"
"Spock. *It's an expression*," Kirk interrupted, in obvious exasperation.
It was not the exasperation but the affection behind it which Spock perceived most clearly, and his expression conveyed this understanding. The only verbal response he could think of, however, was: "Oh."
"Want to try it now?" Kirk suggested hesitantly.
"Not particularly," Spock admitted. "However, I suspect you will need as much time as possible if I am to learn to float by the time we return to the Enterprise." He regarded Kirk warily. "What do I do?"
"Just lean back in the water," Kirk instructed encouragingly. "My arms will be underneath you--for now, all I want you to do is get used to stretching out and relaxing in the water."
Spock did his best to comply. He felt Kirk's arms beneath him, ready to support him as soon as his feet cleared the bottom of the lake; what he did not anticipate was the blind, irrational panic that seized him as soon as he pulled his feet away from the lake's rocky floor. Although Kirk instinctively tightened the grip of his arms around Spock's back, all the Vulcan could think of was the fact that only his upper body was being supported--and his sinking lower body was going to take the rest of him with it. He flailed about frantically with his arms for a few minutes, rolling over and trying to stand up, but his sense of depth seemed to have abandoned him; finally, he grabbed onto Kirk's nearest arm with a wordless cry and let his friend help him back into a standing position, keeping his eyes averted so that Kirk could not see his face and its deepening green blush of shame. "I am sorry..."
"No, it was my fault--I didn't have my arms in the right place," Kirk assured him, allowing Spock to continue to hold onto his arm.
"But my reaction...I do not ever recall experiencing suchÉdeep fear...before," Spock observed, in a confused whisper.
"It's all right, Spock--that's normal for a first attempt," Kirk told him soothingly. "Besides, you almost drowned a while ago. It's going to take time for you to get used to the water; we won't rush it." He encircled the Vulcan with his other arm and hugged him gently.
For the moment, Spock permitted the physical contact, allowing himself to feel the affection and compassion that Kirk had focused on him. "Then perhaps you will not object if I tell you that...I believe I have had enough swimming for one day," Spock revealed shakily, abruptly pulling away from Kirk.
Too abruptly, it seemed to Kirk; he noted it without commenting, attributing it to the general Vulcan tendency to avoid physical contact which frequently (though certainly not always) dominated Spock's thinking, and told himself he was being too sensitive. "All right, I guess I've had enough, too," he conceded agreeably, watching as Spock moved back toward the edge and climbed out.
Spock then stood up, walked carefully back to where his gear had been stored, picked up his canteen and took a few steps back toward Kirk as the latter started to follow him out of the lake. "Jim, wait --before you come out, we need to replenish our water supply," he called.
"Sure. Toss it here," Kirk responded.
Spock threw the canteen to Kirk, who barely managed to catch it without overbalancing, then drew as close to the water as he dared, watching as Kirk filled the canteen. "We are fortunate that this water is drinkable, since the closest source elsewhere is in ShiKahr," he commented.
Kirk nodded, replacing the lid on the canteen and looking curiously at Spock. "You did say water is scarce. How do your people manage to have enough water for bathing and drinking?"
"In some parts of the desert, we are able to drill for it, though often what little is found has too many unfilterable impurities to be usable. Fortunately, since Vulcan became a member of the Federation, we have been able to import much of it, making complete reliance on our own limited resources unnecessary," Spock informed him. "However, non-essential uses of water are still prohibited; only those few Vulcans who have ventured off-planet have even had the *opportunity* to learn to swim."
As Kirk climbed out of the water, he noticed that Spock seemed to be trembling slightly. "You're getting cold. Come on, let's get dressed."
Spock nodded as Kirk handed him the canteen, then they separated once again, each going to his own little bag of clothing and towels. There were no large rocks or outcroppings from the chamber wall behind which Kirk could hide to dress, so all he and Spock could do to preserve their modesty was pick spots at opposite ends of the lake and change clothes with their backs to each other--so Kirk was understandably startled when he finished dressing and turned around to find Spock approaching with the rest of their gear.
At that moment, however, the Vulcan seemed fully engrossed in trying to make his way over the huge rock surface with the backpack and other gear. When Spock finally looked up and Kirk's eyes met his, they studied each other curiously for a moment. "I don't guess I'm used to seeing you in civilian clothes," Kirk remarked wonderingly, approvingly taking in Spock's new attire--a simply-styled, forest- green tunic, made of some very thick material, over dark blue leggings with soft, brown desert boots.
"Nor I you," Spock countered, his eyes lingering on the red and gold short-sleeved shirt that Kirk now wore over light but sturdy slacks, which were tucked into ankle-high boots.
"It's not as if you've never had the chance to remedy that situation. I've invited you to go on leave with me before, you know," Kirk reminded him, half-chidingly. "You, on the contrary, hardly ever leave the ship except in the line of duty and always seem to be wearing your uniform. I was beginning to wonder if you even still *had* civilian clothes."
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "Obviously, I do," he returned, choosing not to respond to the rest of Kirk's accusation. The green and blue outfit, like most of his civilian clothing, was Vulcan in origin and styling--old but well-kept holdovers from his Academy days, since he had had few clothing needs since then beyond the regular replacement and maintenance of his uniforms. "I did not think it advisable to continue wearing uniforms under these conditions, and with no way to effectively wash our clothes here, I had to bring almost everything else I had. Are you ready to leave?"
Kirk nodded. "Let's go."
It seemed to take longer to get back to the main chamber than it had coming down, perhaps because Kirk was tired and had a somewhat more difficult time keeping up with Spock, or perhaps because going uphill always took more time. Either way, Spock's patience seemed as boundless as his energy; he stopped whenever Kirk lagged too far behind, keeping his friend engaged in light conversation while he waited for the Captain to catch up with him. They each ate a food bar on the way, and Kirk was ready for a nap by the time they were within sight of their sleeping bags and what gear they had left behind.
While Kirk went back to his sleeping bag and stretched out on it, Spock took their swimsuits and towels to the mouth of the cavern, hanging them over the outside ledge to dry. It was early afternoon-- the hottest part of the day on Vulcan--and Spock knew it would not take long. He went back inside then to check on Kirk, informed his Captain of his intention to meditate for a while, then retreated to a far corner of the chamber and settled into the appropriate position.
Spock's mind turned inward, and he found his thoughts and emotions in chaos. There was the old guilt he had felt, the responsibility for his part in Kirk's loss, and there was the fear and embarrassment associated with wondering how Kirk would react to the mental bonding that Spock knew was taking place between them; neither had ever really subsided. Then, too, there were other things: the satisfaction he felt in being able to share a part of his world with Kirk--and in Kirk's response to the revelations--and the strange, new combination of apprehension and anticipation which accompanied thoughts of Kirk teaching him to swim.
There was also a veritable sea of uncertain emotions regarding the all-important but unknown matter of how the rest of their leave would go for Kirk. Would he be able to overcome most of his grief in these few days? How would Spock's revelation about the bonding affect that progress? Even worse, might it not cause a rift between them that could gradually destroy their friendship? The intensity of emotions surrounding this last thought almost caused Spock to lose his concentration and break out of his meditative state.
He realized then that this, moreso even than his concern over Kirk's grief and his own part in it, was the major source of his current turmoil, and he focused on it. The Vulcan in him told him that he should be prepared for the worst, since there was no way to predict with absolute certainty how a Human would react to such a bonding, but the Human part of him was inclined to trust in Kirk's emotions. Their friendship was strong. If it could survive Edith's death, surely a mental bond would only enhance it. Also, there was a certain not-exclusively-Human logic to the idea that Kirk would give the matter all due consideration before deciding, rather than basing the decision on an initial, instinctive and probably irrational reaction.
Spock realized also that he himself could not fully accept the bond until and unless Kirk did. If Kirk did notÉthere was only one way to stop the bonding process, short of death, and it had to be done before the bond had deepened. But Spock had considered this option before, and he found the idea of death more pleasant. He would have to put insurmountable distance between himself and Kirk. Maintaining a strictly professional relationship on the Enterprise would not be enough; they would still have to work closely together on the Bridge, and Kirk's presence would keep the bond intact. Spock would have to leave--and the simple, unavoidable fact was that he had nowhere else to go.
Vulcan was certainly not an option. His father had virtually disowned him when he joined Starfleet, and--as one who was widely believed to have abandoned his own people--he would also be unwelcome *elsewhere* on his former home planet. And where could he serve within Starfleet that he would be certain not to ever encounter Kirk and risk re-activating this bonding process again?
Spock ended his meditation finally, aware that it had done little to calm his tangled emotions. It had, however, enabled him to reach a decision: he would tell Kirk about the bonding tomorrow. He got up carefully and went to sit beside Kirk, who was now asleep and seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Spock hoped that it would last, and that Kirk would not be disturbed by nightmares again tonight.
Kirk woke up only briefly a few hours later--long enough to eat another food bar, then take off his boots and climb into his sleeping bag--and Spock decided he had underestimated the degree to which emotional stress had drained his Captain. While Kirk continued to sleep, Spock retrieved their swimsuits and towels from the outside ledge, then spent the rest of the night huddled by the phaser-heated rock outcropping and trying to plan out what he was going to tell Kirk tomorrow. Somehow, he knew, he had to make the prospect of a mental bond between them sound *pleasant* to Kirk, so that his Human friend would accept it; the alternative was unthinkable.
Kirk awoke abruptly the next morning and saw Spock already sitting outside on the ledge. The colors of the Vulcan dawn had already started to spread in the sky, and Kirk unexpectedly felt a sense of panic--perhaps because Edith had appeared to him again in another nightmare vision. This one had left him with a feeling of finality, as if it would be the last time he saw Edith, even in his mind. At the same time as he had rebelled inwardly at this thought, Kirk became awake and aware enough to realize that he needed the tranquility of Spock's presence and the silver birds.
He got up hurriedly, grabbed his boots and ran to join Spock. "Did I miss it?" he asked anxiously, plopping down beside the Vulcan.
"No--I thought you might," Spock returned, trying to sound reassuring--trying also to use his mental shields to block out his awareness of Kirk's inner pain. It was useless, however, since they had not been able to completely block out Kirk's nightmare.
Kirk took the opportunity to pull on his boots and tuck his slacks into them as Spock watched, but then the latter's attention was drawn away by a sound overhead and he looked up. "Here they come," Spock told Kirk.
Kirk followed his gaze, watching a silver bird fly off from its nest high above. Once again, it joined with others of its kind in the not-too-distant sky, and they began their graceful aerial dance. Kirk could feel himself somehow relaxing physically and emotionally as he followed their movements.
At some point during the performance, however, Kirk became distracted by wondering what Edith might have thought of the sight. Abruptly, the old dream-image of him and Edith walking through the stars seemed to superimpose itself over the silver birds' acrobatics, as if in a final farewell, and he saw her face. The image again seemed to speak to his mind: //Our love will live forever, Jim. Honor it by living and giving of yourself to the best of your ability to those who need you, and a part of me will always live within you.// Edith's image mouthed a kiss--Kirk could almost feel it--then it faded and was gone.
Again, the silver birds cavorted before Kirk's eyes. //Goodbye, Edith...goodbye,// his mind responded. Profound sadness filled him, and he felt tears welling up behind his eyes.
The suddenly intensified agony filling Kirk went through Spock's mind like a dagger, and he instinctively turned from the sight of the birds to study his Human friend's condition. Kirk had lowered his closed eyes by now, and he was crying. His knees were drawn up against his chest, his head buried in folded arms, resting on top of his knees.
This was the reaction that Spock had long anticipated; now, perhaps, Kirk's healing could begin in earnest--if Spock could trust his own knowledge of Human emotions and psychology. The one thing he dared *not* trust right now was his own reactions. He could not recall ever having seen Kirk cry before. What was the proper thing for a Vulcan to do in such a situation, when his friend's pain was literally his own? Spock looked on helplessly, struggling to bolster his mental shields against the waves of grief and sadness emanating from Kirk. The Human part of him virtually screamed at him to reach out physically and touch Kirk, but the Vulcan in him sent up dire warnings that Spock would regret such an action.
"Let her go, Jim," he urged softly, at last. "Allow yourself to heal."
Kirk caught his breath in mid-sob, looked up and around at Spock --then unexpectedly turned all the way around to face the Vulcan and forcefully embraced him.
To Spock, it was an assault; for that instant, Kirk's need for his solace was irrelevant. All that mattered was that Kirk had just sent the pain of swords and needles stabbing, slicing and tearing its way through his mind. "NO!" he cried instinctively, recoiling so violently that he almost fell off the ledge.
Shock briefly negated Kirk's tears as he stared at Spock in confusion. "Spock--?"
"I am sorry. Please do not touch me," Spock whispered, understanding Kirk's reaction but suddenly far more terrified of how Kirk might react to his explanation.
"Why not?" Kirk demanded, hurt and angry at his First Officer's apparent rejection. It had many years since Spock had actually *pulled away* from him like that--and to do it *now*, when Kirk so badly needed to feel that he was not aloneÉ
"I cannot...tell you," Spock responded faintly, lowering his eyes and moving further away.
Tears returned unbidden to Kirk's eyes, and he got up, marched back inside the cavern and sat back down on his sleeping bag, leaving Spock, too, alone and in turmoil.
Spock remained outside for a time, striving to regain his composure. He knew he had to tell Kirk *now*; instead of helping, he had worsened his friend's pain when Kirk was at his most vulnerable. He had no choice; he had to explain himself before he caused irreparable damage to Kirk's emotional health--or to their friendship.
He stood finally and went back inside the cavern, where he found Kirk collapsed face-down on his sleeping bag. From the movements of Kirk's upper body, Spock deduced he was still crying. Quietly and reluctantly, the Vulcan sat down next to his Captain and waited silently, gathering the inner emotional strength to say what he had to say.
His Vulcan training told him that there was strength in logic, and it was logical now that he tell Kirk the truth--but the Human part of him was not convinced. The Human part of him feared he had waited too long and forced himself into the revelation at the worst possible moment--a moment when Kirk surely could not accept it.
Finally, he spoke. "Jim? You need not look at me, or speak. Just listen. It is I who must speak to you," he began hesitantly. "I did not mean to...hurt you...but your touch has become painful to me. The reason has to do with the fact that I am beginning to mentally bond with you."
Kirk jerked his head around and glared up at Spock, his face still tear-streaked. "What the hell does *that* mean?" he demanded irritably.
"You are aware that, like all Vulcans, I am telepathic."
Kirk nodded. "So?"
Spock lowered his eyes. "I am...aware of your thoughts and emotions. They are becoming a part of me," he confessed, his voice full of shame.
Stunned, Kirk rolled over and sat up, staring at his First Officer. "'Becoming a part of you'?" he repeated incredulously.
Spock nodded painfully. "Among my people, it is called t'hyr arrath--literally translated, 'bond-awakening'. I have felt it growing within me for some months, but the symptoms have only recently become acute," he elaborated, so softly that Kirk could barely hear him.
"And it hurts you to touch me because--?" Kirk prompted warily.
"Because the major symptoms of t'hyr arrath are increasing empathy with the subject of the bonding and a simultaneous temporary loss of mental shielding ability. Physical contact between oneself and the subject becomes more and more painful because of the continued increase in unshielded emotional input; soon, even the subject's presence becomes unbearable," Spock continued quietly. "Until and unless the subject consents and opens himself to the bonding, such a bonding is considered a violation of privacy."
"So it's voluntary, then."
Spock closed his eyes, reaching for firmer emotional control as he prepared himself for rejection. "T'hyr arrath comes where it will. It cannot be controlled or predicted," he returned somberly. "But once a Vulcan feels it within himself and knows the subject of the bonding, that subject is--must be--free to choose. If you choose to reject it, it is still early enough in the bonding process for me to dissolve it."
"How?" Kirk asked, still in shock.
"By removing myself from your presence, permanently." Spock drew a deep breath, opened his eyes and told Kirk what he saw as his only alternative, little better though it seemed than returning permanently to Vulcan. "I have decided to request a transfer to the Intrepid, in the event that you do not wish to accept the bond- awakening."
"No!" Kirk cried, in protest. "I won't approve the transfer. I need you on the Enterprise."
Spock lifted his eyes slightly. "Then you will accept t'hyr arrath?" he guessed hopefully.
"I...don't know. But I *do* know I don't want you to leave," Kirk admitted helplessly.
Spock edged a little closer to him. "Jim, I am sorry. I should have told you of this when the symptoms first became serious, but...I could never seem to find the right time," he apologized, encouraged somewhat by the affection behind Kirk's voice and the unexpected (under the circumstances) expression of his need for Spock's presence. Spock looked his friend in the eyes again. "For myself, I would like the bonding to continue...and I have no wish to leave the Enterprise...but the choice is yours to make."
Kirk hesitated, gradually moving beyond his astonishment as he began to consider the matter. "Have you had this...bond-awakening... with anyone else?" he asked curiously.
Spock thought briefly about his Human mother Amanda and his bond- mate T'Pring--but there was no comparison between either relationship and what he had with Kirk. His matrimonial bond with T'Pring had been enforced, in accordance with ancient Vulcan mating customs--and his parental bond with his mother had disintegrated before blossoming. Consciously, Spock had always blamed Sarek for coming between them, but inwardly, it was one of the great regrets of his life that he had never found a way to balance following the Vulcan way with maintaining the closeness he would have liked to have with her.
He shook his head finally. "Nor have I ever bonded with a Human before, so I am not certain of exactly what to expect," Spock returned, with an edge of anxiety to his voice.
Kirk understood now why Spock had pulled away from him--and why he had been more careful than usual to avoid physical contact with him recently--but the Vulcan's apologies and explanations did not ease his pain. And at the moment, all Kirk could think of was that he needed something from Spock now that Spock seemed unable to give. How ironic it was that now that Kirk had resolved to stop shutting his friend out, *Spock* seemed to be shutting *him* out. The idea of being mentally joined to him in some way was too much for him to comprehend just now. "I'll...think about it, Spock," he assured the Vulcan, as calmly as possible. "Now, kindly leave me alone."
Spock fought down his instinctive disappointment, keeping his facial expression carefully controlled. "You do not wish to go swimming?" he questioned cautiously.
"No." Kirk got up and went to get one of the lanterns.
"But youÉwere going to teach me to swim," Spock reminded him, still hoping to divert Kirk's attention to a subject that he might find more pleasant.
Kirk picked up the lantern and checked to see that he had his phaser, then turned back to find Spock standing right behind him. "Not right now," Kirk retorted tersely. "I'm going for a walk."
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "Through these labyrinths and chambers? You would quickly become lost."
"Not if I take a tricorder with me," Kirk countered.
Spock picked up his tricorder by the shoulder-strap from where it had sat next to his sleeping bag, but hesitated as he started to hand it to Kirk. "Allow me to go with you," he requested quietly.
"Why should I? My presence is painful to you, remember?" Kirk snapped sarcastically. "Get this through your head, Spock: *I don't want you with me*. I have some things to sort out, and I want to be alone."
"Then I will go," Spock acquiesced resignedly, placing his tricorder in Kirk's hands while simultaneously taking the lantern from him. "You will need this more than I will, since you are unfamiliar with our surroundings."
Kirk stared after him as he left, then carried the tricorder over to his sleeping bag and set it down. Then he straightened and began to pace in restless confusion.
Spock, meanwhile, continued on through the passageway, at first not knowing where to go, concentrating instead on suppressing his inner turmoil. He had been apprehensive about Kirk's reaction to begin with, and Kirk's final words to him had torn him to the core of his being. Spock knew that he was not the only one who felt rejected; his physical withdrawal at a time when his Human friend needed to be comforted in his grief had brought forth similar emotions in Kirk. Under the present circumstances, however, this knowledge gave him no guidance.
The agony of a non-reciprocal mental bonding dominated his thoughts, now. He had done his best to try to explain t'hyr arrath to Kirk, but Kirk had hardly been in any condition to fully comprehend what it meant. All of which was complicated by the fact that Spock himself had not expected the bond to become so important to him. He began to analyze his emotions in the matter as he proceeded deeper into the mountain.
While it was true that Kirk and McCoy were both his friends, Kirk was the one whom Spock had found himself drawn to. No one else he had ever known had so consistently managed to respect his dignity as a Vulcan while simultaneously treating his fragile Human emotions-- which bitter experience as much as Vulcan custom had taught him to keep buried deep within himself--with kindness and compassion. Spock, however, had not (in his view) been much of a friend to Kirk in return--mainly because he did not know how.
Surely a mental bond would allow him to *know* what to do for Kirk in situations such as the current one, when Vulcan logic and emotional control could not quell Spock's need to ease Kirk's pain. One thought ran endlessly through the Vulcan's mind: if he *could* have *chosen* anyone in the universe to cause a bond-awakening within him, Jim Kirk would have been the only choice possible.
The Human had repeatedly and publicly acknowledged that Spock was his "best friend", and the intensity of the affection he felt for the Vulcan was enough to embarrass Spock--but deep within himself, Spock knew that he held similar emotions toward his Captain. No brother could have cared more about him than Jim did, and Spock longed to be able to provide the same quality of friendship to him.
He found himself walking down to the lake chamber, not bothering to stop himself when he realized where he was going--even though he had originally intended to stay within earshot of Kirk, in case the Captain needed him suddenly; Spock entered the chamber above the waterfall and went to sit down on one of the rocks surrounding the pond. He stared down into the water at his own reflection, thinking, and realized that Kirk's medical rest leave was a disaster, after only two days on Vulcan. Not only had Spock failed to make any progress in helping Kirk through his grief--he now appeared to have made it so much worse that even the silver birds and his special place of healing could no longer help.
The thought that Spock might have done more of what he had brought Kirk here to make amends for made the Vulcan physically ill. He felt a painful knot forming in his stomach as his shame deepened, and he knew it was all his fault; he had not done one thing correctly for Kirk since their arrival. Spock wanted badly to cry, but the tears would not come. And all at once, he realized that soul- searching and logical analyses of the situation were ultimately pointless if never acted upon. What he needed and wanted to do now was run back up to Jim, plead for his forgiveness, and try once again to discuss the bond-awakening with him.
It had been several hours since Spock left, and Kirk was becoming worried. He had had time to realize that he had over-reacted to his Vulcan friend's inability to touch him and was now ready to seriously consider this bonding thing that Spock had tried to explain to him-- he only hoped that his reaction had not hurt Spock irreparably. He knew that, like him, his First Officer had not been completely himself since their return through the Guardian of Forever, and Kirk's apparent rejection of their bond-awakening could not have helped. Kirk was assailed by guilt-born visions of Spock wandering through the tunnels and chambers, feeling alone and rejected, carelessly falling or tripping and injuring himself with no one around to help him.
As Kirk started to pick up the other lantern and go after him, Spock appeared in the tunnel opening at the back of the chamber. He lingered there, breathless, looking uncertainly at Kirk and clearly awaiting his Captain's permission to enter.
With his earlier behavior toward the Vulcan still on his mind, Kirk understood Spock's reluctance to risk exposing himself to that again. "It's all right, Spock--I won't bite you. I promise," Kirk assured him, half-jokingly.
Spock moved toward him slowly, still trying to catch his breath.
"Are you all right?" Kirk asked anxiously.
Spock nodded. "I...ran...most of the way backÉfrom the pond chamber," he managed to say.
"Come sit down," Kirk urged, turning and leading Spock back to where their sleeping were still spread out next to each other. Each of them sat down on his own sleeping bag, and Kirk waited until he was sure Spock had recovered and was breathing normally before speaking again. "You went all the way down to the pond?" he repeated, in surprise.
"Like you, I, too, had 'some things to sort out'," Spock returned evasively, keeping his eyes lowered.
Kirk's expression conveyed understanding. "You were gone so long, I was beginning to think something might have happened to you," he told the Vulcan.
"Under the circumstances, I hardly thought you would miss me," Spock answered neutrally.
Kirk couldn't very well blame him for that. "Spock, about the way I acted before: I'm sorry. There was no good reason for it. I just...felt terrible, and I was taking it out on you," he apologized contritely.
Spock shook his head in negation. "You are not at fault, Jim. You...needed me, and I could not respond; if anyone is at fault in this situation, it is I."
Kirk did not like the amount of self-recrimination he heard behind Spock's carefully-controlled voice. "You explained that. *I* just wasn't listening," he countered kindly.
Spock looked up at him slowly. "You are not still angry with me," he realized finally.
Kirk fought down an impulse to laugh; there was certainly nothing humorous about the situation, but Spock's tendency to shoulder all the blame whenever there was a misunderstanding between them often seemed to border on the ridiculous. However, the last thing he wanted to do--especially now--was give the appearance of taking his Vulcan friend's emotions lightly. Spock would become even more reluctant to share them with Kirk than he already was. "That's what I've been trying to tell you," Kirk reiterated.
Spock allowed himself a relieved sigh and shifted his position on his sleeping bag so that he was facing Kirk completely. "Then we must discuss t'hyr arrath," he decided.
Kirk nodded in agreement. "I've been thinking about that. You said...that my thoughts and emotions were becoming a part of you. That means *yours* are becoming a part of *me*, doesn't it?"
"Yes," Spock admitted, in obvious discomfort; sudden apprehension filled his dark eyes as he struggled to keep them in contact with Kirk's. "Though, not being telepathic, you may not be aware of it. Do you find the idea...distasteful?"
"We're friends, Spock. I already feel I know a good deal about you, and it only seems natural that we would become closer over time," Kirk opined thoughtfully. "I'd like to know more. I don't really know that much about Vulcans or Vulcan things, you know; that's part of the reason I'm here."
Spock was encouraged by this, in more ways than one. He had expected Kirk to say that he wanted to learn more about his friend's *Human* half--but then, perhaps it had already occurred to Kirk that such knowledge would be a natural by-product of their deepening bond and friendship (whether Spock wanted it to or not). It was difficult enough as it was to keep that part of himself hidden from Kirk; the type of mental/emotional bond that was evolving between them could one day become strong enough that hiding his Human half completely from Kirk was impossible. The idea should have repelled Spock, but he found it did not lessen his longing for the insight such a bond would give him into Kirk's emotional needs. "Then you accept the bonding?" he questioned, his voice rising in anticipation, despite his usual efforts at control.
"Yes, Spock. Maybe it'll help me be a better friend to you."
Spock lowered his eyes in embarrassment at his own thoughts, for he was convinced no Human *could* be a better friend to a Vulcan than Kirk had.
Spock's silence began to worry Kirk. "What about you? From what you said before, *you* seem to want us to have this bond," he noted uncertainly.
Spock wished he could bring himself to relate in detail all the anguish and inner turmoil he had experienced because of his longing for Kirk's acceptance of t'hyr arrath, but perhaps someday he would be able to share it with Kirk. For now, he told his Captain as much as he could bear to, choosing his words with care. "I have thought of little else over the last few days. No Vulcan *would* treat t'hyr arrath as anything but a serious matter requiring much contemplation and mental preparation, but I have decided that...this bond *is* important to me," he admitted softly.
"These two days that we have spent on Vulcan have only proven that it is *I* who do not comprehend the Human concept of friendship. You were in pain this morning, Jim, and I knew it; if I were a Human--or if there had been a fully functional mental bond between us--I would have known that the most important thing at that moment was that I *not* withdraw from you."
"Well, we both want it. I guess that settles it, doesn't it?" Kirk concluded.
"So it would seem," Spock concurred quietly.
"Uh...what do we do now?" Kirk asked, somewhat puzzled.
Spock looked up at him finally. "Nothing. The bond will progress on its own, though you should be aware that it is going to continue being mainly empathic, for a time," he explained. "Also, it may take some time for me to fully regain my shielding ability-- weeks, perhaps months; the bond will strengthen as we become more accustomed to it, and eventually, I will once again be able to block out your more unpleasant thoughts and emotions."
"That means you're going to be *exposed* to them constantly, possibly for a period of months," Kirk observed dubiously. "Are you sure it's worth it, Spock?"
Spock nodded slowly. "*You* have no shielding ability at all, yet you are willing to open yourself to whatever is within me. If you can bear my unshielded emotions for as long as the bond endures, surely I can bear yours for a few months," he asserted. "Yes, Jim, I believe the bond will be worth any initial discomfort."
Kirk was silent for a time. "Will it still hurt you if I touch you?" he asked, at length.
"It should not," Spock told him.
To Kirk, however, Spock did not look convinced. "Let's try it and see what happens," he suggested, offering his hand to Spock.
The Vulcan reached out hesitantly to touch it, brushing his fingers against the top of Kirk's hand; he felt no pain this time, only increased awareness of Kirk's emotions--deep affection and concern for Spock, covering his own persistent grief and anguish over Edith. Spock took Kirk's hand in his now, squeezing it slightly and regarding his friend with a small smile. "You have accepted the bond, now--accepted my thoughts and emotions as part of you; that negates the pain of physical contact with you," he assured Kirk, allowing his relief and satisfaction to show. It was not the full truth, but it was as much of the truth as Kirk needed to know, for now. "Now you can begin to heal, and I can begin to help you."
Kirk smiled back at him appreciatively as they finally released each others' hand. "It's getting pretty late," he noted, looking toward the mouth of the cavern. "What do you want to do?"
"It is almost dark, and I find myself rather fatigued," Spock responded, getting up with a sigh. "Perhaps we should just go to sleep."
"All right," Kirk acquiesced. It had been a trying day for both of them. He watched Spock return the lamps to their night-time positions, set them on their dimmest setting, and use his phaser to hear the large rock outcropping near his sleeping bag. As Spock returned to get out his extra blanket, Kirk spoke again. "Don't you think you'd better eat something?"
"I am not hungry," Spock returned, though he did pull out the canteen and drink some water before offering it to Kirk.
"Neither am I. No, I'm not thirsty, either," Kirk declined.
Spock gathered up the blankets and spread them out over his sleeping bag before removing his boots and climbing inside.
Kirk did likewise, rolling over on his side with his back to Spock so that he could watch the passing of Vulcan twilight into nightfall--the magenta-purple sky where more and more stars were beginning to appear. "The *sunset* here is pretty, too," he noted absently.
"Terran sunsets have their own attractions," Spock reminded him mildly.
"I'm not sure I'd know. It's been so long since I *saw* a sunset--there or anywhere else--that I think I've forgotten what one looks like," Kirk reflected wistfully.
"I...know of the Terran variety mainly from photos and descriptions I have seen," Spock admitted hesitantly, rolling over on his side and studying the back of Kirk's head. "I had ample time to observe such a sunset during my time at Starfleet Academy, but my studies seemed so much more important that I never seemed to take the time." As he contemplated the illogic of their present line of conversation, Spock was struck suddenly by the idea that Kirk might be experiencing what Humans call "homesickness" for his native world. Because he himself felt no such special attachment to Vulcan --only awareness and acceptance of the fact that he had once considered this planet his home and no longer did--Spock often forgot that others (especially full-blooded Humans) would be prone to these emotions. "Do you miss Earth, Jim?" he asked, at length.
Startled, Kirk rolled back over to face him. "I guess I do, sometimes. I hadn't really thought about it 'til now," he admitted slowly.
Spock felt deep within himself the sudden but inevitable pangs of envy that Kirk felt welcome enough to be free to return to Earth any time duty permitted. Kirk had been honored, not ostracized, among his own people; he seemed to have made friends (and a few inevitable enemies) wherever he went after his career took him away from his home planet. For Spock, the unwanted half-breed who could never be a "true Vulcan" to most of his people, acceptance by *anyone* had been far more difficult. Certainly he had not found it on Vulcan. "Perhaps someday you and I will go back to Earth on leave. Then you can show me the sunset."
"And all the things you were too busy to notice before? I think I'd like that, Spock." Kirk smiled as he spoke, though he suspected Spock was just trying to cheer him up. He had never known the Vulcan to accept invitations to go with him on leave, but perhaps that was changing; it had been *Spock's* idea, after all, to bring him here for his medical rest leave.
Spock sensed Kirk's doubt--sensed also his awareness that his Vulcan friend had never been very comfortable on Earth, either. But Spock knew somehow that it wouldn't be so bad if Kirk were with him to show him around and explain things he didn't understand. "We *will* go, eventually," he promised earnestly.
"I'll hold you to that," Kirk warned him.
Spock almost smiled at the playful yet serious tone of Kirk's voice. "Understood," he responded quietly.
Silence fell between them. It was dark by now, and Kirk found himself quite ready to sleep--if a little anxious about whether or not the nightmare about Edith would return.
He was startled to hear Spock speak again. "Jim?"
"What is it, Spock?" Kirk asked patiently.
"I...wish to thank you...for permitting the bond between us to continue," Spock told him softly.
Though Spock had not said so, Kirk somehow understood that by accepting the bond, he had accepted *Spock*--and it was this for which the Vulcan was so grateful. "It'll be good for both of us," Kirk reminded him kindly. "Good night, my friend."
"Good night, Jim," Spock responded. Their sleeping bags had been repositioned so that they were a little over an arm's length apart, and Spock knew he could reach out and touch Kirk if he wanted to. At the moment, however, there was no need; because his mental shields were so weak now, Kirk's affection washed over him like the warm waterfall over the lake in the lower chamber, and for once, the sincerity and depth of emotion did not embarrass Spock.
He fell asleep a short time later, and it was the first night he had ever spent in this cavern without feeling cold.
Spock awoke abruptly just as the sky was beginning to lighten, his sleep-trance broken by the sudden awareness that something was wrong with Kirk. When he saw Kirk's empty sleeping bag, Spock knew where to find him.
He got up and went toward the cavern opening, drawn there by the faint sounds his ears had picked up when he awoke. Kirk was sitting there, crying softly; Spock sat down beside him silently, so as not to intrude upon his friend's privacy until Kirk was ready to acknowledge his presence.
This Kirk did almost immediately, mainly out of surprise. "I didn't mean to wake you up. I was trying to be quiet," he apologized tearfully.
"You did not," Spock assured him, kindly but with embarrassment in his voice. "Your...pain...woke me. I could not have slept any longer, knowing of its existence." He moved a little closer and reached out lightly to touch Kirk's shoulder, giving a clear sign that he would not pull away this time if Kirk needed to be held.
Kirk turned toward him hesitantly, and cautiously laid his head against Spock's shoulder, drawing the Vulcan against him and relaxing when he felt Spock's awkward attempt to return his Captain's embrace.
"Was it the nightmare again?" Spock asked softly.
He felt Kirk shake his head. "I was...just looking out at the stars. Then I remembered that one night with Edith, when we were walking along and looking at the stars together. I was telling her their names, and she was *so* interested...I felt as if she *knew* I was telling the truth," he explained faintly, then raised his voice abruptly. "Spock, it's so damned unfair! She was ages ahead of her time. I know she would've been at home in the 23rd century--I just *know* it!"
As a fresh wave of tears engulfed Kirk, Spock shifted his position somewhat so that he could hold Kirk more tightly. "That may be true, Jim. But you and I both know...that her death was necessary," he reminded Kirk, as gently as possible. "Please believe me--if I could have been certain that bringing her back with us would have achieved the same result, I would have suggested it. But it was not possible; there were too many unknown factors..." Spock realized that logical explanations were not what Kirk needed to hear, now.
He decided to start over. "I know what she meant to you. I know of the...intensity and sincerityÉof your emotions toward her. And I know you believe that you will never feel those emotions for anyone else," Spock revealed, gently and painfully. "I...*can*... understand that, even if I often seem unable to. Whatever else happens between us, Jim, you must believe that I would rather have seen youÉmake a life with a woman who was truly worthy of you...than forced to sacrifice her to preserve history."
Kirk hugged him fiercely, being in no condition to offer verbal comfort, but knowing without seeing Spock's face that the Vulcan was verging on tears of guilt, himself.
"You must let her go, Jim. Please let her go, so you can begin to heal," Spock pleaded softly, by now in almost as much agony as Kirk.
Then he fell silent, simply holding his Human friend and allowing him to cry for as long as he needed to, all too aware of his need to make amends for his rejection of Kirk at a similar moment yesterday morning. Because of that rejection, Kirk had not felt free to express his grief, and Spock knew it was past time for his Captain to release it. He would not bother offering his usual token reprimands for Kirk's loss of emotional control, knowing Kirk would not have reprimanded *him* in any similar situation (something Spock appreciated more than he had ever allowed Kirk to know). Instead, now that Kirk had accepted their bonding, perhaps Spock could begin to do what he had come back to Vulcan to do: be a friend to Kirk and help him overcome his grief.
Dawn broke and the silver birds performed their aerial dance, but this time, only Spock saw it; he could still feel Kirk's tears on his shoulder, through the material of his tunic, and did not want to disturb Kirk while he was still so distraught. By the time Kirk had recovered enough to sit back and release Spock, the birds had passed out of eyeshot and the sun could be seen over the horizon. "Are you all right?" Spock asked, studying Kirk uncertainly.
"I think so," Kirk mumbled, wiping his eyes as he looked up at the Vulcan. "Spock, I'm sorry..."
"You have no reason to apologize," Spock assured him. "Under the circumstances, I found your emotional display quite logical."
Kirk heard the humor behind the calm voice, saw the beginnings of a smile tug at the corners of Spock's mouth and couldn't help laughing in response. "What would I do without you?" he managed to say, through his laughter.
"I assume that question is rhetorical," Spock returned dryly, noting to himself that the only answer he could have given would have had to come after he had lost Kirk's friendship. Silently, he hoped that neither he nor Kirk would ever have the opportunity to discover that answer.
Kirk stood up, still laughing softly, and reached to help his friend up. "Come on, I'm in the mood for a swim."
They each ate a food bar and drank some water, then gathered up their swimming gear and a change of clothes, heading off for the lake. When they arrived and put on their swimsuits, Spock immediately followed Kirk into the water, this time determined to maintain control of himself and any irrational fears he might experience.
Once again, he lay back in the water, feeling Kirk's arms beneath him--one this time behind his legs, which were still mostly vertical. Reminding himself firmly that Kirk would not let him drown and he had no logical reason for being afraid, Spock slowly lifted his feet from the bottom of the lake. Abruptly, however, it happened again--the sensation of being too far from the bottom, followed by stark terror-- just as he brought his feet about halfway to the surface. Spock struggled for control of his emotions with marginal success, but he could feel himself trembling all over as Kirk's arms moved to support his legs--and he knew Kirk would notice it, too.
Kirk felt the Vulcan shaking in his arms, but the tremors were so slight that he thought it was some tactile illusion created by the movement of the water around their bodies--until he saw Spock's green- tinted face and the shamed expression in his dark eyes. "It's all right, Spock--just relax," Kirk urged gently. "Relax as much as you can."
"I...am trying, Jim," Spock asserted, but his voice was full of tension and his eyes were locked with Kirk's, as if he thought he might drown if he tore them away.
Kirk smiled encouragingly at him. "Let your arms and legs go limp," he suggested, in the same tone as before.
Spock nodded slightly in understanding and attempted to comply, but it proved easier said than done. He fought once more to suppress his emotions and stop his trembling, knowing his body would then be able to relax more easily, but his normal Vulcan techniques of emotional control seemed thwarted by the very knowledge that being Vulcan in the first place was what had necessitated these lessons. Apparently, a different approach was needed.
Instead of concentrating directly on his emotions, Spock began to concentrate on the touch of Kirk's arms beneath him, providing a barrier between him and the terrifying, watery void below. With his eyes still fastened on Kirk's face, Spock slowly and firmly began to recite to himself a new litany of control: //I must trust Jim. He will not allow me to be hurt. It is not possible...not possible. He is my friend. Ignore the fear. Trust JimÉtrust Jim...trust Jim...// He repeated it to himself over and over, until he was certain it was beginning to have the desired results.
And gradually, a remarkable thing happened. Spock's body stopped trembling and his feet drifted upward toward the surface. Kirk could still feel the tension in the Vulcan's muscles, but the dark eyes seemed a little calmer now as they looked up at him. "That's it, Spock--you're doing fine," he told his friend reassuringly.
Spock felt himself finally beginning to relax. When the condition persisted for several minutes and he found himself somewhat more at ease, he allowed himself a slight smile, pleased that he seemed to be making progress, however fractional. Kirk smiled back, and for a moment, Spock's eyes wandered away from his Captain's face to study the position of his arms and legs.
Whether it was the loss of concentration on the chosen focal point of his efforts at control or simply the sudden movement of his head, Spock abruptly found himself unable to maintain what appeared to be the correct position. His body inadvertently began to fold up like a portable chair, and he felt himself sinking between Kirk's arms. However, before the Vulcan's mind even had a chance to register the panic in his actions, Kirk lifted Spock in his arms and returned him to a standing position in the water, all in one swift, smooth motion. Then he studied Spock anxiously, waiting for his friend to say something.
Spock appeared somewhat dazed by the sudden swirl of motion, but not hurt and no longer frightened. "I am sorry," he apologized, in a rather unsteady voice. "I...*was* doing it correctly, was I not?"
Kirk nodded. "But that's enough for now. We'll try again later."
"Very well," Spock acceded, returning to the shallowest part of the lake and sitting on the rocks while Kirk began his morning swim. Eventually, he got up and went to get the canteen so he could refill it, then returned it to where he had originally left it and resumed his previous spot in the water.
It was then that Kirk came swimming back toward Spock, speaking as soon as he was close enough to do so without shouting. "As long as you're just going to sit there, would you mind keeping track of how many laps I'm doing?" he requested. "I think this is my third."
"I would first need to know what constitutes a 'lap'," Spock pointed out, in a tone that indicated he had no other objections.
"That's from here to the waterfall and back," Kirk explained.
Spock nodded understandingly. "I will do so," he assented then. "Go on and swim. I will watch."
So Kirk continued to swim and Spock watched, giving his Captain lap updates when Kirk periodically asked for them. After completing his tenth lap, Kirk swam back to the opposite end of the lake, climbed out onto the rocks and went around to the waterfall, slipping behind it and onto the ledge beneath it. Then he stepped carefully forward into the waterfall, holding firmly onto the sides of the recessed area behind him. The feel of the water splashing down on his shoulders and back was wonderful, and Kirk could see why Spock had been so drawn to the waterfall and its natural shower-massage effect.
Spock watched him for some time from his vantage point at the other end of the lake, then climbed back out and made his way to the water's edge to join Kirk. He sat down quietly on the rocks near the waterfall, studying his Human friend curiously but being careful not to disturb him. He did not know what Kirk was thinking about, but what he could see of Kirk's face through the sheets of water bore a contented expression. Spock could not help feeling a twinge of envy toward Kirk and the relative ease with which he seemed able to relax-- something Spock never seemed able to let himself do, at least not completely. Constantly, unavoidably, he had to remain ever-vigilant against the emotions of his Human half, lest they cause him to do or say something to humiliate himself.
He had hoped that their shared leave would provide the perfect opportunity for such relaxation; no need for facades of logic or non- emotion *here*--ironically, surely the only place on Vulcan where Spock could dare to permit himself such openness. There was only Jim to answer to now, and Jim understood the Human part of him that had always caused him so much pain in the past. Just being on Vulcan aroused terrible memories within Spock that would not seem to go away, even when he slept, but Kirk's presence and the knowledge that his Captain would have understood these emotions if Spock had been able to speak of them seemed to help.
Spock reminded himself now that he had come here to help Kirk deal with his grief, not to relax (or wrestle with his own emotions)-- but he also knew that Kirk would *want* him to relax for a while. And perhaps it would help Kirk somehow to see his Vulcan friend relaxed and fully at ease in his presence. Spock studied Kirk's satisfied smile and resolved to at least try to follow his example.
Finally, Kirk stepped back out of the waterfall and into the recessed area behind it. He nearly pricked his finger on something pointed that stuck out of the rock wall behind him, then turned around to see what it was and was startled to discover several large crystals along one wall, glittering colorfully in the dim light. Fascinated, Kirk firmly grasped the one beneath his hand and was pleased to find that it broke off easily; he ran his other hand carefully along the surface of the remaining crystals, selected one that sparkled blue, and broke it off, also.
At length, Kirk emerged from behind the waterfall, not particularly surprised to find Spock still sitting on the rocks nearby and watching him--though the Vulcan had made no sound since his arrival and Kirk thought he had been oblivious to Spock's presence while under the waterfall. When Spock saw him approaching with the crystals in his hands, he stood, eyeing the crystals with interest. "Look what I found," Kirk announced, showing them to Spock. "I've never seen crystals like these before."
"Nor are you likely to. They are unique to Vulcan," Spock informed him, taking the crystals one at a time and examining them cautiously. "They are called 'sapohr'; we mine them from our mountains and carve them into everything from sculptures to jewelry. Doubtless they are scattered all through this mountain range at the lower levels, but the ones you found are rather rare."
"Oh?" Kirk returned curiously. "In what way?"
"The color. Most sapohr are more transparent in color, but these are so translucent they almost seem toÉproduce their own light from within," Spock elaborated, and Kirk had seldom heard such wonder and reverence in his First Officer's voice. "Seh'lian sapohr--in your language, 'star-crystals'."
Kirk began to wonder if he hadn't violated some Vulcan taboo by removing such rare crystals instead of leaving them to be mined. "Spock, it *is* all right for me to take these, isn't it?" he questioned anxiously.
Spock spoke without looking up at him. "Quite all right, Captain. I believe you will find them a pleasant...'souvenir', I think, is the correct term...of your visit to Vulcan."
As he started to give the crystals back to Kirk, Kirk moved to stop him. "I meant one of them for you," he told Spock, then. "Go ahead, pick one."
Spock nodded gratefully as he looked up briefly at Kirk, then focused his attention on the crystals again. He selected the one that had first caught his eye--it was colored a brilliant, sunny topaz with flecks of greenish-gold--and clutched it tightly in his left hand. "This one," he decided, offering the other crystal to Kirk.
Kirk took it eagerly. It was a deep yet silvery-blue sapphire color with flecks of red and gold; it reminded him of Spock-- generally cool and controlled on the surface (signified by the silver- blue), but holding within him the golden fire of many intense and often painful emotions. "I'm glad you chose that one. I would've fought you for this one," he revealed quietly, taking the crystal carefully in both hands.
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "Most illogical. You would have lost," he stated factually.
"You're probably right," Kirk admitted, grinning.
Spock did not smile back, but there was affection shining within the brown depths of his eyes as they met Kirk's.
"Come on, let's put these things somewhere where we won't forget them," Kirk suggested.
Each of them took his crystal and put it in his own pack, then they returned to the shallowest part of the lake. Without a word passing between them, Kirk followed Spock back into the water as some instinct told him that Spock still wanted to practice floating once more before they left.
They assumed their previous positions--Spock on his back in the water, Kirk with his arms underneath for support. This time, Spock was able to quickly gain control over his initial anxiety and actually relax in the water for nearly twenty minutes before the odd fear set in again. Kirk continued to encourage him, even after the Vulcan was upright in the water again.
"Would you like to explore some of the other chambers before we go back?" Spock asked abruptly, as they climbed back out of the water.
"By 'explore', I assume you mean 'go into places you haven't been'," Kirk deduced.
Spock nodded. "Some things are unsafe for a child, even a Vulcan child, to do alone," he admitted hesitantly. "Getting from the main chamber to this one and back was not difficult, but to go further into the mountain seemed an unnecessary risk. Vulcans are... uncomfortable...being in dark, cool places for extended periods. Especially alone."
Kirk approached his gear and dug out his change of clothing, looking back over his shoulder at Spock in puzzlement. "So what's different now, other than the fact that you're an adult and not alone?"
Spock lowered his eyes. "Perhaps that is enough," he responded evasively, turning suddenly away and starting off toward his own gear. The fact was that he was uncertain how to answer Kirk's question. The interior of the mountain had certainly not changed; it was as physically uncomfortable and emotionally disquieting as ever. So what *was* the difference? Perhaps, as Kirk had pointed out, it was only that he was an adult now, more competent, better equipped, and no longer alone--or perhaps his new progress in freeing Kirk of his grief had given him a sudden burst of self-confidence. Or was it just Kirk's company and the fact that his Captain seemed to have been in a good, upbeat mood for the longest sustained time period since Edith's death? Whatever the answer, Spock dismissed the question, burying his uncertainty within him, for now. "I assure you, we will not get lost if you wish to go," he added coolly.
"I know that, Spock," Kirk returned kindly, not certain why Spock should be so sensitive about the matter, but knowing better than to inquire further. "Any chance we'd find more of these crystals?" he asked then, deciding to change the subject.
"A very good chance," Spock replied, over his shoulder, in tones not quite as stiff as before; as usual, Kirk had managed to put him at ease again. He paused, turning partially back toward Kirk and meeting his friend's eyes with a somewhat embarrassed expression. "Perhaps you would like to pick out a sapohr for Dr. McCoy," he suggested softly.
Kirk couldn't help smiling slightly at the idea that *Spock* would have thought of bringing McCoy something from Vulcan. "I'm surprised you thought of that before I did," he admitted. "All right, I guess it's time we got down to some serious spelunking."
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "'Spelunking', Captain?" he repeated dubiously. It sounded like a word Kirk might have made up.
"It means 'cavern-exploring'," Kirk explained.
"A colloquialism?" Spock questioned doubtfully.
Kirk shook his head, faintly amused by his friend's puzzlement. "Just not used too often, these days."
"An archaic expression, then," Spock concluded, pretending to ignore Kirk's apparent amusement.
"To some people, yes. It's a matter of opinion. You can look it up when we get back to the ship, if you like; the derivation is Latin and Greek," Kirk suggested, then.
Spock raised an eyebrow at him again, noting that Kirk never failed to surprise and confuse him with his knowledge of Terran words whose usage dated from well before he was born--before the Federation even came into being. "Thank you; I will do so at the first opportunity," he decided, then sighed in resignation. "Very well, then. We shall...'spelunk'...after we change clothes," Spock acceded, still hesitating over the unfamiliar, odd-seeming word. He turned and continued on his way.
They met roughly in the middle of the chamber a few minutes later, Spock in the same blue leggings he had worn yesterday but with a light blue belted and embroidery-trimmed tunic, Kirk in brown slacks and a cream-colored shirt. Each was carrying his assorted gear, plus Spock had the lantern and canteen. "Ready?" Kirk asked.
Spock nodded, then turned silently and led Kirk back toward the pond chamber above the waterfall.
Within minutes after leaving the water-filled chambers, Spock had taken Kirk out of the familiar passageway through which they customarily went to the lake and led him into another passageway. It was dark and narrow, but not uncomfortably so--at least not for Kirk, though he strongly suspected Spock would have preferred to be elsewhere. Presently, the passageway began to slope noticeably downward before them, and it also began to get cooler. They walked in silence for some time before Kirk decided to mention that the Vulcan did not seem fully at ease.
"I believe we discussed the reasons for that earlier, Captain," Spock responded neutrally. "I would rather have explored the exterior surface of the mountain, but I am not in difficulty. Besides, I doubt you would find such strenuous activity pleasant, in view of the heat."
Kirk appreciated the priority Spock was obviously intent on giving his Captain's needs and wishes, but he decided it was time somebody cared what *Spock* wanted. This was his leave, too, even if it had been his own idea to accompany Kirk. "Tell you what, Spock-- you can explore outside after we get back to the main chamber. I'll just stay there and wait for you," he offered amiably.
It seemed a reasonable suggestion, though Spock was still reluctant to leave Kirk alone for any length of time. The caverns harbored no animal life to speak of, but most of the area was still unfamiliar to him. However, if Kirk stayed in the main chamber, which he was by now used to, Spock foresaw no problem for his friend, other than boredom. "Are you certain you would not object?" he questioned hesitantly.
"If I did, I wouldn't have been the one to suggest it," Kirk pointed out.
As Spock nodded silently in acceptance of this and of Kirk's suggestion, their passageway opened into a chamber. While Kirk looked around, Spock proceeded toward an opening on the other side, consulting his tricorder briefly as he neared it. He stuck his head through the opening, taking note of what lay beyond, then turned quickly back toward Kirk. "Jim, I think you will be interested in this."
Kirk hurried over to join him, and together, they stepped through the opening. They found themselves in a chamber whose walls glittered in the light of Spock's lantern. A closer look revealed that they were covered, floor to ceiling, with crystals of every size and color. "My God," Kirk stammered, as he was drawn inevitably toward the nearest wall.
"Sapohr--thousands of them," Spock acknowledged quietly. "Presumably, this part of the mountain range has never been mined for them; otherwise, I cannot conceive of such a large deposit being left so obviously untouched."
"You told me that no one else knows about these caverns," Kirk reminded him.
"Not precisely. What I said was that I never *told* anyone but you about the ones I discovered as a child," Spock corrected patiently. "That, in and of itself, does not preclude independent discovery of them by someone else."
"But if no one's discovered that lake and made use of the water yet, it's not likely anyone would be looking for sapohr here, either, is it?"
"No," Spock admitted. "I simply find it...remarkable...that it has all remained so unspoiled for so long. However, I am pleased that I am able to show it to you while it is still in its natural state."
Kirk glanced over at him, cracking a slight smile. "I'm glad, too, Spock," he told the Vulcan sincerely.
Spock watched as Kirk returned his attention to the crystal- covered wall, hoping that this meant Kirk was enjoying his stay here-- in spite of everything.
Kirk ran a hand carefully across the surface of the crystals, trying to examine each one individually. "Do you want to pick out one for McCoy, since you were the one to suggest it?" he asked, keeping his eyes on the crystals.
Spock thought this over for a time before speaking. "I think you would know better than I what sort of sapohr he would like," he decided finally.
"All right." Kirk searched the wall for a crystal that resembled the one he had taken for himself--a crystal that would make McCoy think of Spock every time he looked at it. The closest Kirk could find to what he was looking for was a blue crystal flecked with green; as he broke it off and turned it around in his hand to examine it, it reflected a blue, green and turquoise kaleidoscope of light patterns onto the chamber walls and ceiling.
The crystal was not the same shade of blue as Kirk's--rather, it was a deeper, less silvery tone--but the green colors in it were sure to make McCoy think of the Vulcan blood that gave him such fits every time he had to examine or treat Spock. Or so went the thinking behind Kirk's selection of this particular crystal. Wordlessly, he lowered his pack to the ground, placing the new crystal inside with his own, then shouldered the pack once again.
They continued on out of the chamber and into another one, then another--far enough for Spock to deduce that there were several chambers in the area with untapped sapohr deposits. Then he decided to take Kirk back up to the main chamber, and Kirk, upon arriving, decided to take a nap. "Why don't you go explore outside while I'm asleep?" he suggested again.
"Very well," Spock decided finally, still with some reluctance. But I will not be gone long. I will be here when you wake up."
Kirk nodded in acknowledgement, then went back to his sleeping bag, unburdened himself of his swimming gear, and stretched out on his stomach. Spock offered to take Kirk's swimsuit and towel and put them out to dry along with his own as he went, so Kirk sat up briefly again to dig the requested items out of his pack and toss them to Spock; Spock caught them with little apparent difficulty and headed off toward the mouth of the cavern as Kirk once again stretched out on his sleeping bag.
After spending so much time in the caverns, the sunshine felt pleasantly warm to Spock, even though he had to allow himself a few moments for his eyes to re-adjust to the light. Then, after laying out the swimsuits and towels on the ledge, Spock moved carefully along the ledge to his left; once he was clear of the opening, he selected a suitable spot and began climbing.
It was not a particularly difficult climb; this was not one of the higher parts of the mountain range, and the warmth seemed to invigorate Spock. Also, the sides of the mountain were not smooth, but rocky and riddled with crevasses, bumps and indentations of various sizes. Spock was careful to give a wide berth to the silver bird nest as he climbed past it, even though the current occupants were not likely to be there at this time of day, because they were known to attack anything that got close enough to their nest to disturb them. Soon after passing the nest, he reached the top.
He took a moment to consult his tricorder, setting it to scan the surrounding area within a 100-mile radius. As had happened on the day he and Kirk had beamed down, one set of suspect readings turned up. Spock checked his tricorder for possible malfunction, but found none; the reading persisted, indicating the presence of an animal-- far enough away that Spock could not tell if there was one or many, but still within the tricorder's current scanning range.
Spock knew that animal. He had encountered more than one of its kind during his childhood forays into the desert mountains, and had no wish to do so again. Hopefully, it would continue to maintain a safe distance.
Spock sat down finally and looked around, surveying the desert panorama and picking out distant landmarks that only a Vulcan would be able to identify--landmarks that indicated places Spock had learned of long ago. To the south--straight ahead, from his point of view--a smoky haze behind a far mountain range marked the location of the Temple of Gol, dwelling-place of the priests and priestesses who were the Masters of Kolinahr and who remained there to help other Vulcans reach that state of total logic.
To the west was a continuation of that mountain range, and its summit was Mount Seleya--the temple site of the Hall of Ancient Thought, which housed the katras (souls and mental essences) of every Vulcan who had ever died here. Behind Spock, further to the north than even *his* eyes could see, lay ShiKahr's nearest neighboring city, ShalKahr; to the east, beyond ShiKahr, were the ancestral lands of Spock's family, which included ceremonial grounds and at least one structure that had once been a fortress.
Spock's eyes lingered on the ShiKahr skyline, and he found himself inexplicably thinking of his mother, wondering how she was. It had been longer than usual since he had heard from her. Spock would have liked to see her during his visit here--but Sarek, at least, had made it quite clear that he had no interest in seeing his son again until the latter gave up his career in Starfleet, and Spock had no wish to provoke another confrontation. He regretted the anguish his mother had suffered because of their estrangement and enforced separation, but it seemed too much to hope for to find her alone while he was here.
Finally, Spock tore his eyes away from ShiKahr and decided to meditate for a while. This was a good place for it, quiet, peaceful-- and as far removed from the critical, disapproving eyes and voices of his own people as he could get without leaving Vulcan. That was what had drawn him to these mountains as a child; when his pain and confusion had been too deep even for his mother to comfort, it had been the only thing that seemed to help--getting away, however illogical he knew it was, for however brief a time, to meditate and heal as best he could, alone. It was a poor substitute for having someone else--a peer, a friend--to confide in and gain insights from, but the child Spock could never have conceived of such a thing being possible for him.
Spock bowed his head and assumed his customary position. Once he had attained the necessary mental state, his thoughts began to coalesce around Kirk--not particularly surprising, since Kirk was usually such a calming influence and source of reassurance for him that Spock often found himself focusing on his Captain during meditation as a method of relaxation; it was particularly appropriate in this instance, when his mind had been filled with memories of Vulcans-- condescending adults and scornful children--who had contributed so greatly to his personal Hell of isolation and loneliness.
//If only I could have known you then, Jim,// Spock thought to himself, allowing his mind to wander back through his memories of Kirk and the things they had shared since knowing each other. He was reliving the aftermath of his friend's emotional collapse this morning, the moment when Spock had finally allowed himself to comfort Kirk as the latter needed to be comforted, when something unfamiliar invaded the memory.
A great, black shadow seemed to fall between them, obscuring the mental image of Kirk from Spock's view; in a moment, the blackness had receded. Kirk was there again, not as he had been before, but lying on the cavern floor, cold, still, and pale as..."Jim!"
Not until Spock had broken out of his meditative trance a second later did he realize he had spoken aloud--cried out, in fact. He looked around, naturally but briefly embarrassed to find his only answer in the soft, intermittent chirping of the newly-returned silver birds in the nest some distance below him. All else was silence.
It was getting late. The sun was setting. As usual when Spock meditated, all concept of time had been lost; he had never meant to stay out so long. Jim would be worrying...the unsettling vision came back to Spock abruptly, and he knew he had to get back down to the cavern immediately, however irrational his fear seemed. He got up and carefully but quickly made his way back down the mountain to the mouth of the cavern, nearly tripping over the swimming apparel still lying out on the ledge and hurried inside.
He pulled up short as he approached Kirk. Kirk was indeed lying down --on his stomach, on the sleeping bag, much as Spock had left him. Rather than disturb him, Spock went back to the cavern's opening to retrieve the aforementioned swimming apparel, then went to turn on the lanterns, silently chastising himself for his unwarranted emotionalism.
After setting the lanterns at an appropriately dim setting--enough light to see by, but not enough to disturb Kirk--Spock went to check on him. As he covered his Captain with a blanket, he noticed a sapohr crystal in Kirk's hand, sparkling blue and reddish-gold in the lantern-light. Apparently, Kirk had been looking at it when he fell asleep. Spock looked at the peaceful expression on his face and knew he was sleeping well, at least for now; he reached out hesitantly to touch Kirk's shoulder--lightly, so as not to awaken him--and for a moment allowed himself to directly experience Kirk's emotions. The Vulcan received a clear impression of remaining grief, but without as much accompanying pain as before.
As Spock withdrew his hand, he silently willed Kirk to remember only the pleasant aspects of his experience with Edith Keeler. Then Spock moved back to his own sleeping bag, took off his boots and climbed inside, casting one last concerned glance at his Captain before settling into his customary sleep-trance for the night.
The third day of their stay on Vulcan began much as the previous days had. Again, they woke up in time to view the morning flight of the silver birds, then went swimming. When they returned to the main chamber, Spock again decided to go outside for a while. He had left instructions with Scott and McCoy that any ship-to-surface contact should be directed to *him* instead of Kirk--and it was as he was climbing up from the side of the of the cavern opening opposite the one he had used yesterday that Spock's communicator beeped.
Reluctantly, Spock reached beneath his tunic, removed the communicator from where he had been keeping it--on a Velcro patch sewn to the waist of his leggings (he had made similar modifications on all his civilian clothes)--and opened it up to respond. How he had hoped that their leave would be undisturbedÉ"Spock here," he answered finally, striving to give no evidence of his disgust at the interruption.
"It's McCoy, Spock," the Doctor's voice greeted him. "Scotty asked me to relay this to you. The Enterprise has received orders from Commodore Brackett. Apparently, the Potemkin's overhaul has been extended for another two weeks and they won't be able to make the rendezvous with the Excalibur for us--and that assignment's just been dumped back into our laps again."
As various emotions waged war within Spock, he tried to fathom why Scott had left this revelation to McCoy and could only conclude that the Chief Engineer had somehow thought that such unpleasant news would "be easier to hear" from a friend. "Then the Captain and I are being recalled," he deduced, and this time, his disappointment was too profound to keep entirely out of his voice.
McCoy heard it and did the best to reassure the Vulcan with his response. "No, no--you and Jim stay where you are. I talked the Commodore out of that. We're completing the assignment with Scotty in command, and you two stay on leave," he told Spock kindly. "However, we may be gone for another two weeks or so, and you and Jim are going to be on your own until we get back, so we wanted to see what you were going to need in the way of additional supplies."
Inwardly, Spock breathed a sigh of relief; the additional rest would be good for Kirk--and perhaps for him, too. "We will need to requisition more food bars, and you will have to go to each of our quarters to get more clothing," he informed McCoy.
"I'll take care of that and beam everything down before we leave orbit," McCoy acknowledged. Fortunately, it was not customary to lock cabin doors on the Enterprise, so he would have no problem gaining access; exhaustive Security investigations insured that there were no thieves or vandals among crewmembers on Starfleet ships. Then McCoy realized he couldn't let Spock go without asking one last question. "Spock...how's Jim doing?"
Spock hesitated, not certain where McCoy was or if it was safe for him to speak freely. "Are you--?"
"I'm in my cabin," McCoy assured him understandingly. "It's all right--tell me."
Spock sighed, then spoke cautiously. "I...believe...that he is healing. He seems...relatively content...and he has not spoken of Edith since yesterday morning."
"Hmmm...it's a good thing you don't have to be back for this assignment, then," McCoy decided. Then he added emphatically, "He needs to start a normal grieving process, Spock. He needs to cry. I know that probably makes no sense to you, but--"
"He *is* grieving, Doctor," Spock retorted coolly, but with pain behind his voice, cutting McCoy off. "Spock out."
McCoy had not meant to seem insensitive, but something about the tone of his last words had that effect. Did the Doctor really believe that Spock did not have *some* understanding of Kirk's emotional needs, after spending so many years among Humans? Spock decided, however, that perhaps McCoy could be forgiven for what was more ignorance than insensitivity; after all, he had not so far given the Doctor much of an opportunity to really know him. //And as long as he continues to behave like a predator ready to pounce on my first hint of emotion, that is not likely to change,// Spock reflected silently. For now, at least, that was the way it was.
Slowly, Spock climbed back down to the mouth of the cavern. He found Kirk sitting just inside the opening, out of the sun, looking out over the desert. Kirk looked up as Spock approached him. "You weren't gone long," he observed.
"I thought you might wish to know that I have just learned we will be here two weeks rather than one week," Spock returned.
Kirk was understandably startled. "But I only have one week's leave," he reminded Spock.
"It seems that the Potemkin is not going to be available for the rendezvous after all," Spock explained, sitting down beside Kirk. "It is therefore again the Enterprise's responsibility, but Dr. McCoy has persuaded Commodore Brackett to accept Mr. Scott as Commanding Officer for the duration of this assignment and extend our leaves until the ship returns."
"Oh. So they're going without us," Kirk realized.
Spock nodded. "The Doctor will be beaming down more food and clothing for us, so it might be advisable for us to remain in this chamber until then."
"All right," Kirk acceded agreeably, moving back a little so that he could sit with his back resting against the chamber wall. He studied Spock in silence, waiting for the Vulcan to speak again; for the moment, however, Spock seemed intent on looking out over the desert terrain.
Finally, Spock spoke without turning toward him. "Do you...feel... better than you did before we came here?"
Kirk looked out over the desert again, hesitating a long moment as he considered how to answer. "A little," he responded, at last, in a quiet voice. "We haven't been here very long."
Spock fell silent again, reflecting on how grateful he was that their leaves had been extended. *Any* leave time, he knew, was considered a luxury by the crews of active-duty starships, whose schedules seldom allowed time for extended R-and-R--something Spock had always found illogical. Surely regulations created by the Human-controlled Federation/Starfleet Headquarters for a Fleet complement composed largely of Humans should have taken into account the emotional and physical needs inherent in the species.
Even he, a Vulcan with no such requirements and no need--as he had repeatedly explained to Kirk and McCoy--for what they would have called a "vacation", sometimes found it pleasant and interesting to get away from the ship for a while and see different things. To have two more full weeks to themselves, away from the responsibilities of the Enterprise, just when Kirk needed it most, had seemed too much to expect.
It was well over an hour before Scott contacted Spock to tell him the fresh supplies were about to be beamed down to their coordinates. The supplies materialized shortly thereafter, just inside the mouth of the cavern, and when Spock contacted the Enterprise to acknowledge receipt, he was somewhat surprised to be answered by McCoy instead of Scott.
"Scotty just told me they'd beamed down your supplies. I knew he'd hear from you again soon, so I asked him to channel it to my quarters," McCoy explained. "I wanted to talk to you once more before we left. What I said to you before about...Jim needing to cry...as if you hadn't figured that out on your own...I didn't mean to imply that; it was a damn fool way to put it. I know that you know more about emotions--especially Jim's--than you'd ever let on, and I'm sorry."
McCoy had spoken quickly, as if he were afraid of losing his nerve before completing his apology, but his voice was so sincere and contrite that Spock had no thought of refusing acceptance. "You have no reason to apologize, Doctor," Spock told him gently. "Your concern is for the Captain."
"So is yours," McCoy pointed out dryly. "I would've done well to remember that."
"You did. What you said just now proves it," Spock returned quietly.
McCoy seemed to accept this. "See you in a couple of weeks, Spock. Take care of Jim--and yourself, too," he said finally.
"I shall endeavor to do so," Spock replied.
Spock de-activated his communicator and looked over at Kirk, who was studying him in puzzlement from his spot by the cavern opening; he had remained there while Spock went to unpack the supplies, and had not heard much of McCoy's side of the conversation. "What was that all about?" Kirk asked curiously.
"Never mind, Jim--it is not important," Spock responded crisply, but with warmth in his voice. "I will put these things away," he decided then, getting up and moving further into the cavern.
"I'll help you," Kirk offered, getting up to follow him. Once this was done, Spock and Kirk ate, then Spock went back outside to resume his interrupted climb and Kirk returned to his previous place at the cavern opening, overlooking the desert. This time, though, he paid little attention to the view; he was thinking--reflecting on his still-unsettled emotions. Spock had asked if he felt any better now, and Kirk had not really been certain of how to answer him.
The respite from the usually hectic pace of his daily schedule on the Enterprise ad not negated his grief. He could feel it within him, subdued but persistent. And yetÉ*something* about it was different-- something was changing. He was glad Spock had brought him here; the place did, as the Vulcan had led him to believe, have a certain kind of magic to it--though whether or not it could bring the same degree of "healing" to him that it once brought to Spock remained to be seen.
In this way, several days passed. Spock balanced his forays around the exterior mountain with expeditions in which Kirk could share through the various inner chambers, and Kirk discovered that many of them had beds of sapohr crystals. As uniquely beautiful as each one was--and Kirk did his best to examine each separate crystal--none appealed to either him or Spock as much as the ones they had first selected as souvenirs.
The swimming lessons continued also, though as Kirk's mood lightened and he began to allow himself to enjoy his leave, they developed a tendency to degenerate into rather one-sided splash-fights after a period of time. But they seemed to be accomplishing their purpose; slowly, Spock was learning to be more at ease in the water.
Almost a week to the day after the Enterprise left Vulcan, Spock again left the cavern to explore the outside surface of the mountains. He had been going a little further each day, and today he knew he dared not stray any further afield; his expeditions had already become so wide-ranging that Kirk began to worry about him before he got back, and Spock now half-expected Kirk to try to join him--even if it took the Captain a while to catch up. However, this time, Spock soon found himself having to devote equal time to his tricorder. The animal he had detected before was back, and it seemed to be moving closer.
Kirk, meanwhile, was restlessly pacing back and forth in the main chamber. He had wanted Spock to have some time to himself without worrying about his Captain, but the Vulcan had been gone longer and longer each day, and Kirk couldn't help feeling uneasy about it. Today, however, what he felt was far more than uneasiness--it was a foreboding, a sense of approaching danger, vague but persistent. It had invaded his dreams last night and remained with him ever since he awoke, and Kirk had slowly begun to realize that it was somehow directly related to Spock himself.
The sense of foreboding worsened as the day wore on, and as afternoon advanced toward evening, Kirk decided he could bear it no longer. Seized by a sudden, terrible awareness of urgency, Kirk felt compelled to go out after Spock. He had no real idea where the Vulcan was, and of course, *Spock* had the tricorder (Kirk had insisted he take it); Kirk only knew that he had to find Spock, and immediately, before...what? The question echoed oppressively through Kirk's mind, like the reverberations from a giant gong. But whatever it was that had filled him with this inexplicable apprehension refused to yield up details--or answers.
Even as Kirk made his way up and around the mountain, ignoring the heat, guided only by intuition and the sense of impending dread that seemed to draw him forward like a magnet, Spock had realized that the animal he had been tracking was no longer maintaining a safe distance and was on his way back to the cavern.
Kirk's progress was frustratingly slow, since he had to stop frequently to rest and catch his breath; he had forgotten Spock's pre- beam-down warning about the thinness of Vulcan air, since it was not nearly as noticeable inside the cavern. He was moving in a horizontal line around the mountain's rocky face, inching upward as he went. An indeterminate time seemed to pass before he caught sight of Spock in the distance, coming down from the summit and apparently in a hurry, for some reason.
Alarmed, Kirk increased his pace, scrambling with difficulty up over the rocks toward Spock. As he drew within earshot, something appeared over the edge of the summit behind Spock; moving closer, Kirk realized it was an animal--a huge, green, lion-like creature with larger fangs than any of its kind on Earth--and it was stalking Spock. Kirk knew instantly that the Vulcan was concentrating more of his attention on the effort of climbing than on his tricorder and could not know the animal was nearly upon him.
Loose rocks slipped away beneath Spock's boots, and as he struggled to keep his footing, the lion-like animal froze on the rock ledge scant feet above him, gathering itself on quivering haunches as it prepared to pounce. *Now*, Kirk realized, was the time to act. "Spock, look out!" he cried, at the same time whipping out his phaser, already set on "stun", and firing at the startled animal.
Spock flattened himself against the mountain's craggy surface and watched anxiously to see what would happen. And what happened was that the animal was hit in mid-lunge, dropped back to the mountain surface, and rolled down over the rocks to come to rest in front of Spock. He saw Kirk approach cautiously from in front of the animal and sat up abruptly. "Jim, no! Stay back!" he warned urgently.
Kirk froze, but it was too late and he was too close; the huge, green animal was only stunned momentarily, and now threw off the last of the phaser's effects and reared up before Kirk, enraged. With a roar, it leapt toward Kirk and was on him before the Human even had time to activate his phaser again. Spock, however, had no such difficulty. His phaser came out--set on "kill"--and as soon as the animal's back was to him, he fired.
Then there was again only him and Kirk. Spock moved quickly to Kirk's side; the Captain was curled up on his side, trembling slightly, and his upper left arm was torn open. He appeared to be in pain, but conscious. How long he would remain so, Spock had no wish to speculate. "Jim, can you hear me?" he asked, leaning close.
"Can you climb? We must get back to the cavern."
"Don't know," Kirk muttered, forcing himself into a sitting position and trying to stand. His legs seemed functional, but soon he found another impediment. "My arm...left arm...can't use it," he told Spock softly.
Since climbing back down the mountain required one to be down on all fours at various points, this was clearly going to be a problem for Kirk. Thinking quickly, Spock maneuvered himself around Kirk so that he could precede his Captain, moving to a position to Kirk's left and a little below him so that he could stop Kirk if he started to fall. Then they began to make their way down the craggy surface, Kirk frequently assisted by Spock.
The unaccustomed heat seemed to worsen Kirk's condition; it was as if some sort of creeping paralysis was slowly spreading through the left side of his body. Kirk could not account for it, since the wound alone seemed to have nothing to do with it. "Spock..."
But Spock was all too aware of his friend's condition. "I know, Jim. Wait a moment..." He moved back against Kirk, then underneath his left side. "Put your arm around me; I will carry you the rest of the way," he instructed patiently.
"Are you sure?" Kirk asked doubtfully.
The expression in Spock's eyes was reassuring. "It is not much further. Hurry, Jim."
Reluctantly, Kirk looped his right arm around Spock's neck--being careful not to choke him--and Spock helped Kirk position himself on top of his Vulcan friend, then Spock carried him piggy-back down the mountain-side toward the cavern opening. The hardest part for Spock was not the added weight on his back inhibiting his movements; it was the physical contact and the intensified knowledge it gave him of the seriousness of Kirk's injury.
As the physical sensations of Kirk's pain and dizziness and his emotional fear flooded over Spock, the Vulcan could only think of his own culpability in the matter. He knew that if he had not insisted on exploring further and further away, Kirk would not have felt it necessary to come looking for him. Kirk had saved his life--again-- but Spock could only think of his knowledge that his life was not worth the sacrifice of Kirk's. Clearly, the poisonous venom released by the animal bite was beginning to work on him, and Spock had no idea if he should expect the same symptoms in him as in a Vulcan.
When they finally reached the mouth of the cavern, Spock cautiously disengaged Kirk's arm from around his neck and turned around to face him, not certain if Kirk would be able to walk. Kirk made the effort as Spock followed close behind him, but he seemed to be having increasing difficulty moving his legs, and Spock suspected he was beginning to lose consciousness. To avoid the possibility of Kirk falling and hurting himself further, Spock stopped him abruptly, then silently reached around Kirk to lift his Captain into his arms and carry him over to his sleeping bag.
While Kirk was trying to get comfortable there, Spock went to gather up some blankets, along with the medikit, before returning to Kirk's side.
"Spock...what was that?" Kirk managed to ask, as Spock spread one of the blankets out over him.
"A le-matya. They are highly resistant to phaser-fire, as I tried to warn you. I had not anticipated its presence, since they do not usually frequent these mountains at this time of year--but sometimes they change their hunting grounds for no apparent reason," Spock explained, reaching for the medikit and removing a hypo. His voice was controlled, but edged with guilt. "The le-matya's fangs and claws produce a venom, Jim; undoubtedly, you are experiencing its effects. I know the poison is fatal to Vulcans, and on that basis, I am going to administer the antidote in the customary dosage..." He paused to check the hypo's contents, then looked back uncertainly at Kirk as he was about to proceed with the injection.
"I have no past experience with *Human* le-matya victims to draw upon, nor even any knowledge of any such cases existing," Spock pointed out reluctantly. "It may be that the poison is not fatal to Humans, or it may be that the antidote is ineffective on them..."
"Just do it," Kirk interrupted, closing his eyes against the pain. "You can only do...what you know to do," he added faintly. "You knew that when you packed that antidote in the medikit. Go ahead, Spock ...I trust you."
Spock pressed the hypo against Kirk's arm, just above the wound, discharging the contents into his body; he said nothing in response, but inwardly he hoped that Kirk had not just written his own epitaph. Afterwards, he quickly set about cleaning and treating the wound with other supplies in his medikit. By the time he finished, Kirk appeared to be either asleep or unconscious--and Spock was infinitely relieved when the physical contact he had maintained intermittently via a clasp of his Captain's hand told him that Kirk was just sleeping.
While Kirk slept, Spock checked to see that he had everything Kirk would be likely to need close at hand, finally going to move his own sleeping bag and other gear closer to Kirk. He knew he did not dare stray too far now, with Kirk injured and him none too certain of what would be likely to happen. Kirk could just be very sick for a while-- or, if the antidote failed to work, he could die.
The thought sent a cold chill through Spock. He could not let *that* happen, no matter what he had to do. He watched Kirk as he slept, after a time reaching for another blanket, folding it up carefully and placing it underneath Kirk's head. Then Spock settled into the position in which he planned to spend the rest of the night--sitting on the sleeping bag next to Kirk with a blanket pulled around himself, hoping with all his being that the antidote would take effect soon and Kirk would be all right.
It was afternoon of the next day before Kirk woke up. Sunlight illuminated most of the chamber, and Spock, still sitting beside him, seemed to scarcely have moved since the Captain had fallen asleep. Spock had obviously been monitoring Kirk's condition continuously; he still held the medscanner in one hand. Of the Vulcan himself, only his eyes betrayed his increasing concern for Kirk's well-being. "How long have I been asleep?" Kirk asked, barely audibly.
"Approximately eighteen hours. The antidote often acts as a sedative, so I would not consider that abnormal," Spock observed cautiously. "How do you feel?"
"Sort of...numb. Except my stomach--it hurts."
Spock considered this information for a time. He remembered that the Terran drugs McCoy usually used on him gave *him* nausea, so it was likely that this Vulcan concoction might be having the same effect on Kirk--but the numbness did not bode well. It meant that the le-matya venom was still affecting him. And Spock did not need to use the scanner to know that Kirk's temperature was rising; their growing mental bond gave him intimate awareness of Kirk's physical sensations --often *too* intimate. Spock struggled to erect his usual mental shields, but to no apparent avail. How he wished this "awakening" period would pass...it was painful to experience Kirk's illness and associated emotions so intensely. "The numbness should pass soon," he told Kirk finally. "And some water and food might help settle your stomach," he suggested, then.
"I *am* a little thirsty," Kirk admitted slowly.
Spock reached off to his right and pulled the canteen out of his pack, offering it to Kirk, who took it in his right hand and lifted his head with difficulty, starting to gulp down the water. "Slowly, Jim," Spock urged softly. Then he asked, "Could you eat something?"
"I'm...not sure I could keep one of those food bars down," Kirk responded, between sips of water.
Spock nodded understandingly. "Very well, I will not force you," he decided. Insistence was not necessary--not yet; hopefully, Kirk would be hungry later.
Kirk continued to drink in silence for a time, then handed the canteen back to Spock. He still felt sick, but the odd paralysis seemed to have slowed--at least, for now--and Kirk was in the mood to talk. "You said...you weren't sure if this bite was going to be fatal," he recalled, clearly inviting Spock to elaborate.
The Vulcan complied hesitantly. "Humans seldom visit this planet, and those who do tend to stay in the cities, because they are somewhat cooler. Thus *I*, at least, have no knowledge of any encounters between le-matyas and Humans." Spock paused, folding his hands in his lap and reflectively cocking his head sideways. "Our family physician may be able to provide further insights on the matter," he observed finally. "If necessary, I will go into ShiKahr and seek his help."
From the reluctance in his friend's voice, Kirk understood implicitly that this would be a last resort; Spock had already made it clear that he had no interest in going to ShiKahr--nor, Kirk suspected, did he now want to leave Kirk alone in this condition for any extended period. "I'll see if I can recover before things get to that point," he returned sardonically, smiling weakly.
Spock did not smile back, but the expression about his eyes clearly showed his appreciation of Kirk's attempts to ease his anxiety with mood-lightening humor. "I *will* do whatever is necessary," Spock reiterated, though it was as much an effort to reinforce his own determination to ignore the unpleasant childhood memories as it was an attempt to reassure Kirk.
"I know that, Spock," Kirk responded quietly. "I just don't like not knowing what's going to happen."
Kirk was not someone who frightened easily, and the unaccustomed apprehension now touching his voice drew the Human part of Spock to the fore like a moth toward a flame. "Nor do I," he admitted, just as quietly, laying a hand gently on Kirk's forehead (ostensibly to check his temperature)--and for one unguarded moment, his own fears for his friend's safety were plainly evident in his eyes and every line of his face. The fact that Kirk's temperature did not seem to have gone down only made it harder for Spock to suppress what he knew Kirk had seen. "Jim, I will not permit you to die," he blurted out then, the words coming out before he even realized he had spoken the thought aloud.
Now it was Kirk's turn to provide reassurance. Since his left hand was still fairly useless, he reached over with his right hand to take Spock's in his. "I *said* I trust you; that's not going to change," he told his First Officer firmly.
"You should not have to say so; the situation necessitating it should not exist," Spock returned, with apparent difficulty, lowering his eyes in discomfort and removing his other hand from Kirk's forehead.
Kirk squeezed Spock's hand encouragingly. "All that matters is that *you* obviously needed to hear it," he countered kindly.
"Yes," Spock admitted, too softly--he hoped--for Kirk to hear. He seemed to have relaxed noticeably, and soon the faade of logic and control was back in place; curiously, however, he found himself unwilling to let go of Kirk's hand and instead tightened his hold on it. Kirk gave no evidence of objecting, and Spock reminded himself of the gesture's therapeutic effects as he continued to watch his Captain.
Shortly thereafter, Kirk again fell into a fitful sleep, which lasted most of the night. He woke up abruptly an hour before dawn and immediately tried to sit up; instinctively, Spock moved to stop him. "Jim, what is it?" he asked anxiously.
"Gonna be sick. Got to throw up," Kirk managed to respond, trying to push past the Vulcan's restraining arm and get up. Spock released him immediately, but his legs still seemed too numb to function. "Dammit," Kirk muttered in frustration. He could *not* let himself be sick right there, in front of Spock, all over his sleeping bag. "Oh, God ...I can't..."
Understanding the situation, Spock quickly grabbed Kirk around the chest and helped him to his feet. Half-pulling and half-supporting him, Spock then somehow managed to get Kirk to the back of the chamber. There, at a narrow but apparently bottomless crevasse that Spock had long ago learned to use as a latrine, he sat quietly nearby and waited for Kirk to finish.
Afterwards, Kirk collapsed, trembling and exhausted. He was still nauseated, but there was nothing left in his stomach to disgorge. Again, he felt Spock lift him gently to his feet, this time actually carrying him when it became apparent that Kirk was simply too weak to try to walk, but the Human was conscious of little else until he was again lying on his sleeping bag with Spock sitting beside him.
"Try to drink some water," Spock suggested, offering Kirk the canteen; Kirk gratefully tried to take it, but it was as if even his good arm had suddenly become too heavy to lift. Spock lifted his Captain's head, carefully guiding the canteen to his mouth and allowing the water to trickle in.
Kirk swallowed eagerly, wanting to soothe his raw throat and get the horrible taste out of his mouth, until he had had enough water to fulfill both purposes. "Thanks, Spock," he told his friend weakly.
Spock replaced the lid of the canteen and set it aside, silent for the moment. "You...still feel numb...paralyzed," he concluded then, in a voice edged with disappointment and concern.
Kirk closed his eyes and nodded wordlessly, not wanting to tell Spock that the feeling had worsened.
Spock permitted himself a sigh of frustration, once again running the medscanner over Kirk's body. The Human's temperature was still too high, and Spock was certain the antidote should have begun to work by now--if it had been assimilated into his system before Kirk was forced to vomit. Cautiously, Spock touched his Captain's forehead; its warmth came as no surprise. His awareness of Kirk's pain and nausea--and the growing apprehension buried somewhere beneath it-- intensified abruptly, and Spock responded with a nearly-audible gasp, born more of his own inner agony and feelings of guilt than anything perceived within Kirk. Kirk's condition was not improving, and a decision had to be made. Spock made it, reaching for the medikit. "Jim...I am going to give you more of the antidote, in a much smaller dosage than before," he warned Kirk, uncertain if Kirk would be willing to trust in his judgement again.
Kirk opened his eyes and looked up at Spock, his expression mirroring the Vulcan's doubt. "Do you really think it'll help now?" he questioned.
"You yourself said I could only do what I know to do," Spock reminded him hesitantly. "It is possible that the previous dosage was...too much. And now that it has been purged--"
"So do it already," Kirk interrupted, trying to smile reassuringly at his friend; there was both affection and pain in his eyes as he looked at Spock.
Spock complied, pressing the hypo briefly against Kirk's left arm, which was still in the process of healing with the help of the spray- on artificial skin that the Vulcan had initially applied. Then he sat back and resumed watching his Captain anxiously. "If you had followed my advice and remained in the cavern, this would not have happened," he chided Kirk quietly. There was no anger in his voice, only a note of increasing frustration. "I appreciate your concern for my safety, but it is *your* safety that is important. You are the Captain."
"And I suppose the fact that I'm your friend has nothing to do with it," Kirk challenged dryly, but softly.
Spock lowered his eyes uncomfortably, knowing he could not truthfully deny his emotions in the matter.
"Never mind," Kirk continued tolerantly, ending the Vulcan's obvious struggle to find the words to make what they both knew he felt sound logical. "I had a feeling--a sort of 'premonition'--that something was going to happen to you," he tried to explain. "It'd been nagging at the back of my mind since the night before. I know that sounds strange, but--"
"No," Spock assured him, perhaps too abruptly, remembering his own "vision" during meditation on his first day exploring outside the cavern. It seemed ages ago now, but it had only been a little over a week since that day. And he had not forgotten the waking nightmare- image of Kirk lying cold and still on the chamber floor. Was *this* the event it had foreshadowed--a fatal le-matya wound that could have been so easily avoided? Spock could not have anticipated Kirk having a similar premonition, but he *could* have soothed the emotions that had nurtured it by not staying out so long each day. How ironic that he had spent most of that time outside trying to insure that the le-matya was not close enough to bother them. "Such things are not unheard of where a mental bond is involved, even if it is only t'hyr arrath," he informed Kirk. "Try to get some rest now, Jim."
Kirk once again closed his eyes, but found himself unable to sleep. He hurt too much and felt too hot to get comfortable enough, so eventually he settled for lying as quietly as possible and watching Spock. As his First Officer ran the medscanner over him, Kirk was again reminded how worried Spock was that his Captain might not survive; the truth was that he blamed himself, not Kirk, for the injury. It was clear from the expression in his eyes as he examined the medscanner's readings. Suddenly, Kirk ached more for his friend than he did from the le-matya venom. Spock had taken enough blame on himself lately. "Spock, it's all right. I'm going to live," he assured the Vulcan softly, reaching to take Spock's hand.
Despite the disturbing physical sensations that immediately flooded into him, Spock allowed Kirk's touch and squeezed his hand appreciatively in response, though he did not appear comforted. It was not supposed to be this way. He had anticipated two, perhaps three weeks of quiet and solitude, during which Kirk would be healed of his grief over Edith and they would get to know each other better as they adjusted to their awakening mental bond. He remembered McCoy's final words to him before he and Kirk had left the ship--his threat to "have Spock's head on a platter" if Kirk were hurt. What would he say to McCoy if the Captain died now?
Spock set aside the medscanner and felt Kirk's forehead with his free hand, eventually moving it to rest briefly first on the Human's cheek, then against the side of his neck. Kirk's temperature was going up again; his face was patched with sweat, his hair beginning to stick to its sides and forehead. Spock reached to pick up the canteen, and from its weight, he deduced it was about three-fourths empty. He let go of Kirk's hand in order to get a piece of cloth out of his pack, using the remaining water to dampen it, then wiping Kirk's face and neck with the wet cloth.
"That feels wonderful," Kirk told him, with a relieved sigh.
Spock left the cloth lying across Kirk's forehead. "I will have to go and refill the canteen," he informed Kirk apologetically. "I must have water at hand if your temperature is to be lowered. Will you be all right here alone for a time?"
Kirk nodded hesitantly. "Don't be gone too long," he admonished softly. "And be careful. Stay away from the deep part of the lake."
Spock almost smiled at the idea that Kirk could be so concerned for his First Officer's safety in his current condition. "I will be back as soon as possible, Jim," he promised, picking up the canteen again and getting up from Kirk's side. As Kirk watched--rather anxiously, Spock thought--he turned and headed toward the passageway opening at the back of the chamber, meeting his Captain's eyes for a moment with an expression of regret; he would have preferred not to leave his friend unattended--but water was essential, now more than ever. Hopefully, the antidote was working as intended, now.
Reluctantly, Spock turned away finally and hurried off down the passageway.
The trip down to the lake chamber seemed to take far too long, even though Spock moved as fast as he safely could in an underground environment full of oddly-shaped tunnels and chambers that were not always easy to go through quickly. His mind was on Kirk, and he was haunted by thoughts of his Captain's condition worsening in his absence, despite continuing efforts to suppress his emotions in the matter.
Finally, he reached his destination. He passed up the upper chamber's pond because the water was too warm to suit Kirk's needs, making his way cautiously down into the lower chamber, around the rocky perimeter of the lake, toward its shallowest area, for the moment intent only upon the business at hand--refilling the canteen as quickly as possible and getting back to Kirk; however, as he sat down at the water's edge and leaned over to dip the canteen into the water, he caught sight of his own reflection there and paused, staring at it.
He looked more like a ghost of himself than the real thing--more tired than two days without sleep or food should have left him, with pale, drawn features--and suddenly he realized that he had not bathed or changed clothes since Kirk's injury. Such, apparently, were the effects of all-consuming anxiety and fear for his Human friend's life.
Spock sat back momentarily and looked around the chamber, listening to the sound of the waterfall at the other end of the lake and the gentle lapping of the water at the surrounding rocks--the only sound in the chamber, now. As a child, he had found the peace and seclusion of the upper chamber and its pond soothing, but *this* chamber belonged to Spock and Kirk *both*. It would forever carry the memories of their times here together--of the swimming lessons, waterfall, sapohr crystals, and a certain half-Vulcan whose life had been saved--because Spock's first visit to this chamber had been with Kirk. And without him, it seemed little more than a huge, flooded catacomb--empty, lifeless and purposeless. As he looked around in growing discomfort, Spock vowed to himself that it Jim died and the pleasant memories that now filled the chamber became painful, he would never return--if indeed he came back to Vulcan at all.
//Enough emotionalism,// Spock told himself, dragging his mind forcefully back to his purpose in coming here. //That will not happen if you care for him properly, and to do that, he must have water.// Without further hesitation, Spock dipped the canteen into the cool water below him, submerging it completely until he was sure the canteen was full. He double-checked as he withdrew it, replacing the lid and reaching to pick up the lantern as he slung the canteen over his shoulder, then got up and headed quickly for the chamber opening.
He was slowed down slightly by having to climb up the rock wall alongside the waterfall to reach the opening, but once he had traversed the upper pond chamber, he continued at an unstoppable pace, determined that no impediments this mountain interior could produce were going to keep him from Kirk any longer than necessary.
In reality, Spock had only been gone a total of about twenty minutes-- surely the fastest trip to the lake chamber he had ever made--but Kirk was asleep again by the time the Vulcan returned. Spock sat down quickly beside him, examining him again with the help of the medscanner; Kirk's temperature had not changed since he left, so Spock immediately set the medscanner aside and picked up the canteen, opening it and trickling a little of the water onto the still-damp cloth lying on Kirk's forehead.
As he had earlier, Spock mopped Kirk's face and neck with the cloth. The sensation of cool wetness penetrated Kirk's sleep, and he stirred into consciousness, opening his eyes and looking up at Spock with a relieved expression.
For his part, Spock looked somewhat embarrassed at having disturbed him. "Your fever has not gone down. I thought this might help," he explained guiltily. "However, I did not mean to awaken you."
Kirk smiled at him reassuringly, despite his continuing discomfort. "Don't apologize for taking care of me. You're doing a good job," he responded gently.
Spock lowered his eyes momentarily, then looked back up dubiously at his Captain, none too certain of that, himself.
Kirk sensed his uncertainty and strove to encourage him. "You *are* doing a good job," he repeated, as emphatically as possible, calling Spock's attention to his left arm. "Look, I can move it a little bit, now."
With obvious effort, Kirk lifted his left hand to rest on Spock's arm, then squeezed it slightly. Somewhat hesitantly, Spock covered his friend's hand with his own. "Perhaps the antidote is finally beginning to work," he suggested faintly, studying Kirk's hand hopefully. He knew through its touch that Kirk did not feel quite as bad as before, but he was still very sick, and Spock could still sense apprehension and uncertainty within him. He could also sense gratitude and affection. Spock met his Captain's eyes again. "How do you feel, otherwise?" he asked.
Kirk took the time to consider his friend's question for a moment. "Well...my stomach doesn't hurt as much...and I'm thirsty," he admitted slowly.
Spock let go of Kirk's hand as Kirk released his arm and reached for the canteen again, opening it and placing it in Kirk's right hand; the Human took it and drank deeply. "Do you think you could eat, now?" Spock asked anxiously.
Kirk sighed unenthusiastically. "I'm not really hungry, but I guess I could try."
"Good." Spock leaned around to get into his own pack and pulled out the first food bar he encountered, hoping it would be one Kirk would be able to keep down. "It appears to be...bacon and egg flavor."
Kirk handed the canteen back to Spock, who then gave him the food bar. "Appropriate, since I haven't had breakfast yet," Kirk decided.
As Kirk nibbled on the food bar, Spock looked toward the mouth of the cavern and estimated it to be late morning, perhaps noon. "If your fever has not broken by this time tomorrow, I will have to go to ShiKahr," he told Kirk reluctantly.
"Maybe not," Kirk countered hopefully. "The antidote is working, now. Surely it's only a matter of time before--"
"I *must* be certain I am doing all that needs to be done," Spock interrupted, with an atypical edge of impatience to his voice "There are too many unknown factors involved. If the Enterprise were here, Dr. McCoy would undoubtedly provide assistance using the medical computers in Sickbay. As it is, I have not been able to reverse your condition. I have no choice but to go and seek advice from our family doctor."
Kirk studied the Vulcan worriedly as he continued working on his food bar. He knew Spock was right; he also knew that the increasingly apparent necessity of seeking help was forcing his friend to suppress all the painful emotions surrounding whatever childhood memories he had of ShiKahr. //Well, hopefully, he won't have to be there very long,// Kirk thought to himself, at last. "How long will you be gone?" he asked warily.
Spock spoke with his eyes still on the mouth of the cavern. "If I hurry, the trip itself might take half a day--excluding, of course, whatever amount of time I have to spend in town. I will have to run most of the way."
Kirk knew that any number of things could happen to him in half a day, and he knew Spock was as aware of that as he was; since it seemed pointless to mention it, he set the matter aside and concentrated on one that seemed to be of more importance. "You haven't eaten or slept since this happened, Spock. Are you sure you're up to that much physical activity?" he asked doubtfully.
Spock finally turned back toward him. "I have been before, after longer periods without food or sleep," he informed Kirk quietly.
Kirk gave in with a sigh. "If you say so."
"I do," Spock assured him.
They fell silent for a time, each thinking his own thoughts--Spock struggling with his fear that Kirk might get sicker or even die in his absence and Kirk just worrying about his friend's physical and emotional state in general as he finished off his food bar.
At length, the need Spock had felt growing within him to verbalize the emotions of shame and guilt he had felt since Kirk's injury finally overwhelmed his usual Vulcan emotional controls. He was uncertain how Kirk would react, since his Captain had enough to worry about with his own physical condition, but always before he had *encouraged* Spock to talk to him about his emotions--especially if the Vulcan found them troubling or confusing. Perhaps it *would* help, this time, Spock thought to himself; as it was, everything he had tried to do for Kirk since they had left the Enterprise seemed to have gone wrong in some way, and by now, Spock was beginning to feel useless to his friend.
He studied Kirk apprehensively. "Jim, I am sorry," he began hesitantly. "Bringing you to Vulcan was obviously a mistake."
Kirk immediately recognized the tone of self-recrimination, and nothing could have turned his mind more quickly away from his own problems. He looked up at Spock in confusion and concern. "Why do you say that?" he questioned.
Spock could barely meet his eyes as he responded. "Because I brought you here to heal. Now, look at you--all because I stayed outside too long for you to keep from becoming Éconcerned about me. I was trying to establish a perimeter--determine the maximum radius, using the cavern as the center point, within which we would be safeÉin case you decided to come outside with me. I...miscalculated the perimeter's boundaries and went too far out. I really had no idea the le-matya had been stalking me, though I am certain it could not have been for very long."
"Then you were justified in staying out there," Kirk assured him.
Spock shook his head, refusing to be comforted. "I seemed to lose all sense of time. I should not have been out so late," he insisted.
"Spock, it's all right," Kirk reiterated, as emphatically as he could with his voice not up to its usual strength. "You haven't been to Vulcan in a long time, and you weren't going to see much of it staying inside the cavern," he reminded Spock understandingly.
Spock looked up slowly at his friend, startled, and wondered if Kirk had any idea how perceptive he had just proven himself. "It is not what you would call 'homesickness'. I do not wish to go 'home'," he admitted then, with difficulty. "But...*this* place holdsÉpleasant memories for me. I wanted to see the sky and the desert--and the sun was so warm, Jim...but I would have stayed inside if I had thought it meant you would be hurt..."
As Spock trailed off, continuing to chastise himself in silence, Kirk regarded him in astonishment. He always ached for his Vulcan friend at times like this, but this time, it was more than the usual heightened compassion and concern that he felt. It was one of those rare, precious moments when Spock was being completely open with him about his emotions, and his inner agony and shame leapt from the brown depths of his eyes; this time, more than ever before, it tore at Kirk's heart--as if the emotions came from within *him* instead of Spock--and for one of the few times when they found themselves in such situations, Kirk knew what his friend needed from him in response.
What force it was that gave him the strength to do what he did next, Kirk could not have said--but somehow, mainly using his uninjured arm for support, he managed to sit up. And before Spock even had time to protest this action, Kirk caught him in a surprisingly energetic one- armed hug. "Oh, my friend...I know that. It was my idea for you to spend some time outside, remember?" he reminded Spock softly, his voice choked with emotion. "You didn't do anything wrong. I don't blame you for any of this."
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Spock was aware that Kirk had no business sitting up, but this knowledge manifested itself only in his response to Kirk's embrace. Hesitantly, yet determinedly, he allowed himself to put one arm and then the other around his Captain, gradually maneuvering himself so that he could take Kirk's weight off his one good arm and onto himself. Once freed, Kirk's right arm, too, went around Spock--partially just to hold on and keep himself from falling backwards, but mainly because Kirk was determined to do something to comfort the Vulcan--and Spock had expected the action.
He could not bring himself to resist, even though Kirk's impulsive hug had initially startled him; Spock recalled that it *always* startled him when Kirk reacted to his lapses in emotional control in this way--perhaps because he knew that his Captain usually kept himself from doing so (unless he was sure they were alone), out of fear that Spock would somehow be offended. Just now, however, the need Spock felt rising within himself to be forgiven--for everything he believed he had done wrong toward Kirk since Edith's death--was too great for him to consider objecting.
Compassion, affection, anxiety and sincerity came flooding into him through Kirk's touch, and for once, Spock realized he needed to feel every intense, illogical, expected or unexpected emotion that Kirk had to offer him. "I took it upon myself to bring you here," he persisted despondently. "*I* thought I would help you deal with your grief. I, of all people--a half-Vulcan who does not even understand *his own* emotions. How could I have considered something so illogical?"
Incredibly, now that he had steadied himself with Spock's help, Kirk was sitting under his own power, still holding Spock but not leaning on him. "Because you wanted to help me," he reminded the Vulcan gently. "And if you remember, nobody twisted my arm. I'm here because I *want* to be."
Spock bowed his head, no longer able to maintain eye contact with Kirk. "You trusted me. In so many ways, I have failed youÉas a friend *and* as your First Officer," he countered softly. "Jim, if you die...it *is* my responsibility..." On the word "die", his voice began to break, eventually becoming so unsteady that Spock did not dare continue. The tears of shame that had burned behind his eyes when he was afraid Kirk would reject t'hyr arrath returned unbidden now, and this time Spock felt them forming, actually filling his eyes. He lowered his head even more, so that Kirk would not see them.
Kirk, however, had no need to see his friend's tears; somehow, he could feel the depths of Spock's turmoil and knew he could no longer suppress them. Kirk had never heard of a Vulcan crying before, but how it was possible did not matter, now. Silently, he lifted a hand up to touch Spock's hidden face, wiping away the wetness he felt near Spock's eye; he could feel the Vulcan's muscles stiffening in apprehension and embarrassment. Then Kirk repeated the gesture with his other hand, wiping a tear away from Spock's other cheek. There wasn't much more he could say to his friend--at least, not truthfully --since he did not know for sure himself if he was going to live, and since Spock *would* be held responsible by the crew and Starfleet if his Captain died, but Kirk knew he had to say something.
He took the bowed head on his shoulder, again drawing Spock close, and felt his friend's muscles relax again finally in response to this sign of acceptance. "Shh, Spock--it's all right," Kirk told him soothingly, again. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. All you've thought of since Edith died is me, and I don't know how I'd have gotten through it without you."
Spock seemed finally ready to accept Kirk's attempt to comfort him. "Then, you think I *have* been...a friend to you?" he questioned doubtfully.
"Yes," Kirk assured him. "I still need you, you know. I'm relying on you to get me well." He smiled back at Spock's green-tinted, slightly tear-streaked face and the anxious expression in the dark eyes that now met his as Spock lifted his head and moved back a little. "You're one of the few constants in my life, Spock," Kirk continued then, encouragingly. "Whatever else happens to me, I know I'll always have you."
Spock nodded slowly in acceptance, but said nothing.
"There's something else I have to tell you," Kirk added hesitantly. "When you told me about the bond-awakening, you said your emotions would become a part of me. I think that's starting to happen. I've been...well, feeling your emotions...for the last few minutes. Very intensely, too."
Spock lowered his eyes again in embarrassment, remembering now that Kirk had no way of shielding himself from his friend's emotions--and it was not due to a temporary loss of ability, as it was in Spock's case. "I am sorry. I had forgotten," he apologized softly. "Perhaps if I did not touch you..."
But Kirk stopped him as he started to withdraw from his Captain's arms. "It started before I touched you," he pointed out gently. "It's all right, Spock. I don't mind. I just wanted to be sure you knew."
Spock kept his eyes lowered as his shame deepened and he struggled to re-assert his customary emotional controls. "I had not meant for you to even *see* such an open emotional display, to say nothing of... permitting you to *experience* it. Forgive me," he murmured, just audibly, ironically giving up his fight against Kirk's physical display of affection even as he apologized for needing it.
"There's nothing to forgive," Kirk assured him, in the same gentle tones as before and hugging him briefly.
Spock sat back far enough to look up at him slowly. "You will not speak of it," he requested, softly but urgently. He was reminded once again of his long-held conviction that the emotions of affection, trust and respect which he held within himself toward Kirk were too precious and fragile to risk exposure. The pain of ridicule or disapproval from any quarter would surely overwhelm and destroy them--as it had destroyed every good and gentle emotion he had ever allowed himself to feel for anyone--especially if that ridicule or disapproval came from Kirk (as unlikely as he told himself that was). His revelation seemed humiliating now, his need for forgiveness from Kirk irrelevant.
Kirk met his friend's eyes understandingly, smiling again. "You know me better than that," he reminded Spock consolingly.
Spock's eyes remained locked with his for a moment, searching for any sign of reproach or disapproval; finding none--as he had hoped and expected--he bowed his head briefly in acceptance and gratitude, then lifted his eyes again to Kirk's face. "You should be lying down," he pointed out, finally.
"All right," Kirk acceded reluctantly, allowing Spock to help him reposition himself on his sleeping bag and pull the blanket up over himself. Not unexpectedly, he suddenly found himself very tired.
Spock moved slightly away from Kirk, reclining on his own sleeping bag and feeling rather emotionally drained, himself--a most illogical state for a Vulcan to find himself in. He watched Kirk in silence, reflecting on their conversation. Once again, he had given in to the needs of his Human half and allowed himself to pour out to Kirk some of the painful emotions which had been building inside him--and as always, he had underestimated Kirk's perceptiveness. It was Kirk's understanding and acceptance that made it a little less difficult to speak to him of such things, that Spock knew; now to discover that even direct exposure to Spock's emotions through t'hyr arrath did not bring forth any kind of disapproval in his Human friend seemed too much to hope for.
As Spock lay on his side with his eyes still on Kirk, the latter turned his head to look at the Vulcan. "Are you tired, too?" he asked.
"You reminded me earlier that I have not slept recently," Spock pointed out evasively. "I do seem to need...rest...if I may have to go to ShiKahr tomorrow."
They continued to watch each other for a time in silence, then Spock softly spoke again. "Jim..."
"Thank you...for listening to me, and forÉaccepting my emotions without criticism." Spock spoke now only with great difficulty, but he was determined to let Kirk know what it meant to him to have his Captain's compassion and friendship at a time like this. "You know that I am not...accustomed to discussing them. A Vulcan would have considered it quite improper and refused to permit it, or to listen."
Kirk gave him a warm smile. "You always listen to *me* when something's bothering me," he reminded Spock kindly. "That's what friends are for."
Spock averted his eyes briefly, sighing. "Friendship. It is still a new concept to me, sometimesÉa difficult concept," he noted quietly.
"It beats the hell out of the alternative, doesn't it?" Kirk returned knowingly.
"Yes," Spock admitted slowly, as his eyes returned hesitantly to Kirk's face. "Sometimes it can be...painful. But other times...I find it pleasant to have someone to talk to, someone who always has time for me and values my opinion on personal matters. It has not always been so."
"Well, I think anything I've ever given you in the way of...emotional support...has been returned. And then some," Kirk countered sincerely. His smile faded as Spock fell silent again, clearly preparing to go to sleep, and Kirk decided to do likewise. Just before he closed his eyes, he reached over with his left arm and clasped Spock's hand; presumably, the Vulcan was not yet fully asleep, for he responded to the gesture by holding Kirk's hand tightly and pulling it toward him. Then, finally, he relaxed and let himself sleep.
Not surprisingly, Spock slept through most of the rest of the day. He awoke shivering in the middle of the night, since he had long ago given up most of his blankets it help in caring for Kirk, and found himself still clasping his Captain's hand. He did not like the sensations filtering into him now through Kirk's touch. Ignoring his own discomfort, Spock quickly sat up and reached for the nearest lantern, turning up its light and moving it closer to Kirk. Then Spock himself scooted closer and carefully examined his friend.
Kirk was still soundly asleep, but his face was once again beaded with sweat. Spock released Kirk's hand to lay his own briefly on Kirk's forehead; it was very warm now, almost hot. Spock picked up the medscanner and ran it quickly over his friend's body, permitting himself a soft sigh of frustration when the scanner showed that Kirk's temperature had now gone up nearly two degrees since his injury. Apparently, the period Kirk had spent sitting up had somehow worsened his condition--something Spock had, at the time, feared would happen, but in his emotional state had chosen to ignore.
Spock had put off giving Kirk anything to lower his temperature out of uncertainty about possible drug interaction with the le-matya poison antidote, but now he realized he could wait no longer. Unfortunately, the anti-fever drug was in pill form and he would have to wake Kirk up--something Spock was reluctant to do, since Kirk probably would not be able to get back to sleep for some time. For a few moments longer, Spock weighed the logic of giving his Captain the pills now so that his temperature could start coming down immediately against the possible wisdom of letting Kirk get as much sleep as he could, but, as usual, logic won out. Spock set aside the medscanner and dug the pills out of the medikit, then moved the canteen closer and prepared to wake Kirk up. He took Kirk carefully by the shoulders and shook him gently into consciousness.
Kirk awoke with a gasp, staring at Spock in alarm; he had been having a nightmare in which the images were too blurry to identify and awoke in a disoriented state. His first thought was that some emergency had arisen and Spock needed help. "Spock, what--?"
Spock tried to calm his Captain with his voice, though he doubted his words would be of any comfort. "Forgive me, Jim. I did not wish to wake you...but your fever is still rising, and you must take something to reduce it."
Kirk took the pills unquestioningly from Spock, popped them into his mouth, and took the canteen as Spock offered it to him. After Kirk had swallowed the pills, Spock took back the canteen and used it to soak the cloth that still lay on the sleeping bag near Kirk's head. Without bothering to squeeze out the excess water, he slowly wiped Kirk's face and neck, letting water trickle down their surfaces. "Thanks, Spock," Kirk said weakly, beginning to wonder even as he did so if anything Spock did for him now would help.
Spock sensed the returning apprehension within his friend, but did not comment on it. "Can you tell me how you feel? Are you still experiencing paralysis?" he asked anxiously, then.
"My legs...still feel a little numb, but I can move them. Stomach still hurts, but not like before," Kirk informed him faintly.
Spock allowed Kirk to see the relief he felt in response to this, continuing to mop his Captain's face with the wet cloth.
Kirk's eyes caught the Vulcan's then and held them. "What about this fever? Is it normal?"
"It is a common symptom in le-matya victims--but it does not usually remain elevated for this long," Spock admitted hesitantly, trying unsuccessfully to avoid Kirk's gaze. He felt a brief upsurge of anger at his apparent helplessness, knowing a Vulcan would simply have taken the antidote and recovered within a matter of hours. Quickly, he suppressed the anger before it manifested itself outwardly; emotionalism of that type would not help his Human friend now. "However, your other symptoms seem to be giving ground," Spock noted, instead, with guarded hope in his voice as he finally set the cloth aside. "Jim, can IÉdo something for you? Are you hungry?" he asked, at length.
Kirk shook his head painfully in negation. "I think you're already doing all there is to do," he remarked softly.
"Then you should sleep some more," Spock urged gently.
"I'll try," Kirk acceded, though he was not sure he would be able to. He looked at Spock with sudden anxiety as the Vulcan slowly sat back up. "You'll wake me up before you leave tomorrow, won't you?"
"Yes, Jim," Spock promised, in the same gentle voice as before. "Try to go to sleep, now. I will be here when you wake up."
As if to reinforce this vow, Spock reached hesitantly for Kirk's hand and took it in his own; Kirk responded by squeezing it reassuringly. Spock reflected that he was grateful for his Captain's willingness to expose his thoughts and emotions through physical contact (and accept Spock's in the same way), since it had by now become a useful method of keeping track of Kirk's physical and emotional state. With his other hand, Spock pulled his blanket more tightly around him as he began to again become aware of the chamber's coldness. There was little else he could do, since heating the nearby outcropping rock with his phaser would only have made Kirk more uncomfortable than he already was.
Spock therefore chose to concentrate instead on his thoughts of Kirk-- the deterioration of his condition, what he could sense of it now through Kirk's touch, and his own determination that Kirk survive his injury. He tried vainly to meditate as he continued his vigil, not knowing if it was his Human friend's emotions and physical sensations flooding into his mind or his own mounting anxiety that thwarted him in his efforts--but it did not seem to matter. He was not about to let go of Kirk's hand, since he sensed that Kirk needed the physical contact as much as he did.
Eventually, Spock lay down again on his sleeping bag in an effort to go back to sleep himself, but it was too cold and he was too worried about Kirk. The image of the cold, lifeless Human that had filled his mind when he meditated on the mountain's summit still haunted him, and deep within him was an irrational but persistent fear that if he fell asleep now, he would awaken to find Kirk dead.
So Spock stayed awake the rest of the night, feeling himself begin to tremble as time wore on--whether from the cold or from fear for Kirk, he could not truthfully have said--and periodically running the medscanner over Kirk's body, mainly to check his temperature. However, it remained constant: 104.2 degrees.
The next morning, shortly after dawn, Spock decided he had waited long enough to go for help and woke Kirk up after examining him one last time with the medscanner. It seemed to take longer than usual for Kirk to become fully awake, but Spock waited patiently at his side until he was sure his friend was conscious enough to understand what he had to say.
With his eyes still closed, Kirk yawned and made an abortive attempt to stretch, only to discover that he was too stiff to do much of the latter without some degree of pain. He decided it was more attributable to the le-matya venom's effects--or those of the antidote--than to having been flat on his back for three days and turned his attention to rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Finally, he opened them and looked up at Spock, squinting slightly in the sunlight that now poured through the mouth of the cavern. "Leaving already?" he asked, somewhat groggily.
"Soon, Jim," Spock asserted quietly, his voice and manner now tightly controlled. "You requested that I awaken you first, and I am about to go down to the lake for a bath."
Kirk watched the Vulcan silently as he turned away to rummage through his pack, then sat back abruptly, frowning at the open pack as if it had committed some crime. "Problem?" Kirk inquired curiously.
"A slight one, yes. I do not seem to have any clean clothes left," Spock observed ruefully. "You may remember my mentioning some time ago that I had *brought* almost all the civilian clothing I had, and that was before our leaves were extended..."
"Yes," Kirk recalled, suddenly also remembering something else. "McCoy left a note about that with the extra clothes he beamed down for me before they left. It's in my pack."
Spock was not sure how this solved his problem, but he was curious enough to move back toward Kirk and reach across him to get a hold of Kirk's pack. He pulled it closer, setting it down near him and digging cautiously through it until he found something that felt like paper and pulled it out. Spock examined the piece of paper and discovered that it was, in fact, a hand-written note from the Doctor. For Kirk's benefit, he read it aloud. "'Jim--I turned Spock's cabin upside-down and could only find two complete sets of clothing that he hadn't already taken, so what I did was pack about twice the amount of clothes *you're* likely to need, and you two can share. Have a good rest--McCoy.'"
Kirk looked up at Spock in time to see the Vulcan raise an eyebrow at him in startled uncertainty; apparently, the idea of borrowing Kirk's clothes had not occurred to him. "Go ahead," Kirk invited amiably. "They'll be a little big for you, but at least they're clean."
Spock nodded gratefully and began to sort through the clothes he found in Kirk's pack.
Kirk, meanwhile, suddenly became aware of his own sweat-soaked shirt and realized Spock wasn't the only one who needed to change clothes. "Get me out a clean shirt, while you're going through that stuff," he requested then, softly.
Just then, Spock came across one of Kirk's black undershirts and handed it to his Captain. "This should be sufficient. Anything else will be too hot for you until your fever breaks," he pointed out. After Kirk took it from him, he turned his attention back to the clothing, becoming more aware than ever before of the differences in their tastes. Spock, like most Vulcans, preferred dark colors-- especially blues, grays and black; Kirk, however, was not so discriminating, and his wardrobe presented a rainbow of colors to Spock as he continued to look through the assortment of clothing in Kirk's pack.
After he had selected a blue and gold tunic with medium-length sleeves and blue slacks for himself, Spock turned back to Kirk and found him fighting to get his shirt off, apparently hampered by not feeling like sitting up. Spock moved quickly to help him, and in a matter of minutes, his Captain was wearing the fresh, black undershirt. The effort required left Kirk feeling strangely tired, however, and he sighed at Spock as the Vulcan tossed aside the sweaty shirt. "Too bad *I* can't take a bath," Kirk muttered to himself, though he was certain Spock heard him, then returned his attention to his First Officer. "What did you pick?" he asked idly.
Spock held up the tunic and slacks for Kirk's inspection before sticking them into his own pack; Kirk weakly nodded his approval. Spock then picked up the canteen, testing its weight and concluding it was still about three-fourths full--but there was no way of knowing how much water Kirk would be likely to need in his absence. Spock just hoped a full canteen would be enough. "I will refill this, also," he told Kirk, gathering up the canteen, the lantern, and his pack as he got to his feet. "And I will not be gone long," he added. "You will find a food bar near your head; please eat while I am gone."
"I'll try," Kirk replied, though he was really in no mood to eat. As Spock started away from him, Kirk admonished, "Don't forget to--"
"--stay in the shallows," Spock finished for him quietly, glancing back over his shoulder at Kirk. "Do not concern yourself, Jim; I will do so," he assured Kirk, with an expression of appreciation in his eyes. He was as aware as Kirk that it was illogical for him to go down to the lake chamber alone, since he still could not swim, but could easily slip and fall into the deep end of the lake, and Spock was no more pleased with the necessity of going by himself than Kirk was. But they both knew it had to be done if Spock was to either bathe (since the pond was not really deep enough for that) or keep them supplied with fresh, cool water--and today, it was essential that he make himself look as presentable as possible. For reasons he had not explained to Kirk--but which Kirk probably suspected--he needed to make a good impression in ShiKahr.
He turned finally and continued on his way out of the chamber.
When he came back, Kirk was still nibbling disinterestedly on his food bar, not seeming to have eaten much of it at all; he also seemed to have lost a good deal of energy, which Spock chose to attribute to the fact that he was probably about to fall asleep again. And that was probably just as well, Spock reminded himself. Kirk looked up as the Vulcan approached, now clad in the clean, fresh outfit of blue and gold. The tunic, especially, hung rather loosely on him, and his hair was still wet and in some disarray--but on the whole, Spock looked much better. What the bath had not been able to rid him of, however, was the tension and tiredness which filled his every word, movement and expression now, no matter how hard he tried to control them--and they filled the dark eyes as Spock sat back down beside Kirk.
"You need to eat, too," Kirk pointed out entreatingly. "You'll need the energy. Please, Spock."
Mainly to humor his Captain, Spock reached into his pack and pulled out a food bar labeled "Corn on the Cob flavor". As he ate he set down everything else he had been carrying, moving the canteen and anything else Kirk would be likely to need in his absence so that they were within an arm's reach. "Is there anything else I can do for you before I go?" the Vulcan asked finally, finishing off his food bar.
As Kirk started to give him a negative response, he noticed the canteen and felt compelled to protest. "You better take the canteen with you," he advised quietly.
Spock shook his head. "You will need it more than I."
"Walking through that desert for God-knows-how long?" Kirk challenged testily.
"You forget, Jim--I am accustomed to the heat. I grew up here," Spock reminded him kindly.
"You'll still need water," Kirk persisted.
"I will get it in ShiKahr. I will be able to wait until then," Spock assured him, gently but firmly. "Jim, *you* are the one with the fever. You will need to have water available to you at all times."
Kirk gave in finally, in no condition to continue the argument. "My own fault. Should have brought my own canteen," he grumbled, just audibly.
"It was *I* who told you that one would be sufficient, since I planned for us to stay together, anyway," Spock recalled uneasily. "And under normal circumstances, it *would* have been. Neither of us could have foreseen your being injured and having such a high accompanying fever for so long." He paused, taking a moment to smooth down his hair, glancing at Kirk as he did so and relying on his friend to tell him if he missed any part of it; Kirk, however, studied his First Officer's hair in silence after he was done, appearing to find nothing left amiss. Spock knew his hair had grown out somewhat since they had been here, because Vulcan hair tended to grow faster than Human hair, but there was little he could do about that. At least, he did not appear as unshaven as Kirk; ironically, Vulcan male *facial* hair grew much more slowly than its Human counterpart, and very few male Vulcans managed (or wanted to go to the trouble) to grow beards.
"Spock...you don't think one of those le-matyas would come in *here*, do you?" Kirk asked uncertainly.
"No. They prefer exterior rocks and small recesses to caverns." Spock studied his friend for a moment longer in silence, remembering the pleasant times they had shared during their stay here. He thought of Kirk's delight with the sapohr, and another thought struck him, born of something he had read as a child--a piece of lore about these star-crystals that had supposedly been long ago discredited... but after all, Kirk seemed to need all the help he could get.
Spock reached over, grabbed Kirk's pack and dug around inside until he found the sapohr his friend had picked out for himself and took it out carefully, holding it in both hands as it reflected the sunlight into spots of blue and red-edged gold on the chamber walls. "Jim, there is a legend among my people which dates almost from the beginning of our recorded history. It says that if someone who is ill or injured holds a seh'lian sapohr in their hands, he will be healed," he revealed softly, placing the crystal reverently on top of Kirk's chest. Kirk locked his hands around it as if he were afraid it might roll off and shatter on the chamber floor. "I was always taught that it was *only* a legend, with no factual basis," Spock admitted then, appearing rather embarrassed. "It does seem rather illogical, but perhaps..."
"It can't hurt," Kirk cut in kindly, understanding the Vulcan's motivations. "But I may not be able to hold onto it after I'm asleep."
"It only requires physical contact, as I understand it--just your touch," Spock elaborated uncomfortably. "That is...according to the legend."
Kirk smiled at him encouragingly. "I'm willing to try anything."
//Even a legend?// Spock responded silently, suddenly depressed again. He had not known he was capable of such deep desperation. He spoke with his eyes lowered. "I would have much preferred not leaving you alone for so long in your condition. I should take you with me, but I must go on foot...and I am not certain I could carry you that far."
"I know, Spock. You have to do what you have to do," Kirk tried to console him.
Spock nodded, meeting his Human friend's eyes finally with an expression of resignation. "I...must go now, Jim, if I expect to get back by nightfall. I prefer not to be travelling in the desert after dark; it becomes too cool, and there are a number of nocturnal animals wandering the desert floor which I would not care to encounter."
Kirk, also, nodded understandingly, letting go of the crystal with one hand and offering the hand to Spock.
Closing his eyes, Spock took Kirk's hand, holding it tightly for a moment and feeling the warmth and sincerity of his Captain's emotions --and the weakening of his body. The Vulcan could not bring himself to say the words, but he thought it, and knew instinctively that Kirk would sense the thought through his touch: //Please, Jim, please...do not die before I return.//
With that, Spock released Kirk's hand, sat back, stood up, and headed for the mouth of the cavern. Kirk watched him go worriedly, but by the time his Vulcan friend had climbed down below the opening and completely out of sight, Kirk was asleep again.
Spock would have preferred to be able to enjoy the familiar desert scenery and warmth of the Vulcan sun, but his mind was too preoccupied with other thoughts; most of them had to do with Kirk and whether or not he could be saved, now that Spock's own emotionalism-- his irrational fear of exposing himself once again to the disapproval and rejection of his own people, even briefly--had compelled him to wait until the last moment to go back among them seeking medical help. //Jim's life is more important than your emotional comfort. You knew that...why did you wait? He trusted you...// he chided himself endlessly as he continued toward ShiKahr at a constant loping run--as fast as he could go for that distance without exhausting himself. Spock could not help noting, however, that surely nowhere else but on Vulcan would he have *had* to make a choice between his emotional well-being and Kirk's physical well-being.
Spock made surprisingly good time and managed to reach the city gates by early afternoon. He entered and continued along the central road through the outlying parklands, with their outer wall of thorny brambles, ignoring the people scattered across their wide, atypically green lawns. Soon he had passed beyond the tree-lined inner boundary of the parklands and into ShiKahr proper. The city medical center was still some distance away, and Spock thought it best to go there in person--but he was not looking forward to dealing with the Healer Satik, physician to the family of Sarek.
As the only healer in ShiKahr with any knowledge of Human anatomy, Satik had been the logical choice for the position after Vulcan's Ambassador to the Federation brought back the Human woman Amanda to be his wife...but oh, how often Spock and his mother had wished there were someone else Sarek could have chosen.
No one knew quite how--or why--Satik had acquired his Human medical knowledge, since he had always vehemently denied that he had ever studied off-planet, but somewhere he had picked up a distinct distaste for Humans. And it was unlikely to have come from Vulcan, because Amanda was the first Human to live there, and the attitude was already apparent in him when they met--so she had told Spock. Illogically, Satik had never explained this attitude, not to Spock, certainly not to Amanda, and not--as far as Spock knew--to Sarek; Spock knew only that Satik considered it an honor to treat Sarek, descendant of an ancient and revered Vulcan family that traced its lineage back to Surak, but when he had to treat Sarek's Human wife or his half-Human son...
Spock's only memories of Satik were unpleasant, like his memories of other fellow Vulcans--yet somehow, moreso. Mercifully, they were also vague, since he and his mother had not often required Satik's services--impressions, mostly: medical care so coldly professional that it could have been dispensed by a computer (somehow, he had always been different with Sarek, Spock reflected), ordering Amanda around as if she were either his personal slave or a complete imbecileÉand treating Spock with utter contempt. Spock could still remember what he saw in Satik's eyes every time the Healer looked at him--not hatred or anger. It was too cold for that; it was an expression that said Spock's very existence soiled the Vulcan people, their culture and the planet itself.
To Sarek's credit, he spent a great deal of time trying to logically convince Satik to change his mind, peremptorily ordering the Healer out of his home when these efforts failed and Satik carried his condescension too far. Still, Spock had been very vulnerable during those years, and the damage had been done...one more Vulcan looking down on him, one more reason for him to consider himself un-Vulcan and therefore worthless. Nor had it helped to see Satik always hurting his mother, wanting to defend her honor but not knowing enough about Humans to do so effectively.
And this was the Vulcan Healer whom Spock was now forced to entrust with the fate of his Captain and friend...his *Human* friend. He could never have brought himself to tell Kirk of the possibility that Satik might refuse to help because Spock was seeking assistance for a Human; it might have been technically logical to do so, but it would also have been cruel. Kirk had already experienced more emotional pain and turmoil in the last few weeks than Spock would have preferred--what with Edith Keeler's death, an awakening mental bond forming between himself and his First Officer, and now, the combination of his wound and dealing with Spock's recurrent bouts of emotionalism. He did not need the added burden of the knowledge that they were dependent on the skills of a Vulcan "healer" who would not really care whether Kirk lived or died.
At last, Spock reached the ShiKahr Medical Center and paused outside the front of the building to rest and collect himself, brushing sand and dirt off his clothing, straightening his tunic, and checking to see that his hair was not too wind-blown. Ignoring the stares and raised eyebrows with which passers-by greeted his shaggy hair and (by Vulcan standards) brightly-colored clothing, he composed his features into the most convincing mask of Vulcan logic he was presently capable of erecting. Then, finally, he went inside to see Satik.
It was the first time Spock had ever had to contact Satik personally at work; he had a rough idea of where Satik could be found, based on a childhood memory of Sarek's description of the office location and Satik's comm code number, given to him "in case of an emergency" when Sarek was away. Spock moved quickly down the hallways, struggling to pull up any of the old information that he could remember and reciting it back to himself as he noted each point of reference on a mental checklist: //Entryway, left at information desk...yes...down the hallway to first...intersection, turn left...or was it right? Yes, right...to elevators, yes, there...second floor...hurry, hurry ...second floor, turn left, down hallway to...Outpatient Clinic,yes ...past...appointment desk...to end of hallway, yes...General Practice, right...Emergency, left...//
Spock hesitated a moment in confusion, then headed off down the hallway to the right. It ended in a sparsely-occupied seating area before a reception desk. He slowed down as he neared it, waiting to catch his breath again. The receptionist, a Vulcan woman who seemed to be about Spock's age, turned toward him as he reached the desk and raised an eyebrow at his appearance. "How may I be of assistance?" she greeted him, politely but coolly.
"I must see Healer Satik immediately," Spock began carefully, deliberately addressing Satik by his proper Vulcan title instead of the Human equivalent, "Dr. Satik", which he and his mother had often used. It always seemed to annoy him, and Spock knew it would not help Jim for him to immediately alienate Satik. "I am Spock, son of Sarek; Satik is our family physician."
"I see." The receptionist consulted an electronic notepad before looking back up at Spock. "I am afraid that that will be quite impossible. Satik has surgery scheduled all day," she informed him. "If it is urgent, I can refer you to another healer."
"It is," Spock returned, as calmly as possible. "But it must be Satik."
"Surely it can wait until tomorrow."
Spock shook his head emphatically. "No. It must be now--or as soon as possible," he persisted. At the rate his fever was rising, Jim could be *dead* by tomorrow.
"An emergency, then," the woman concluded.
"Yes," Spock asserted.
She hesitated, then reached for her comm button. "I will try to contact him. It is possible he may be between surgeries," she acceded reluctantly. "I will try his office first."
This got Spock another raised eyebrow, since Vulcans considered gratitude unnecessary; it was his Human mother who had taught him to value it, and his Human friends who had reinforced its value to him. Spock realized that his mask had slipped and his Human half was no longer as strictly controlled as he would have preferred, but he had no time to waste now trying to reassert that control.
The receptionist was speaking into a voice pick-up on the comm terminal before her on the desk. "Healer Satik, report to General Practice reception desk. Healer Satik, to G.P. reception desk."
After a few minutes that seemed to Spock an eternity, there was a response. "Satik acknowledges. What is it, T'Mina?"
A look of relief crossed T'Mina's face. "The son of Sarek wishes to see you, Healer. He is most insistent," she explained, deliberately speaking loud enough for Spock to hear her.
The silence this time lasted so long that Spock began to fear Satik would refuse even to speak to him. "No doubt," Satik returned coolly, at last. "Tell him I will speak with him tomorrow morning, early."
"Healer, he says it cannot wait."
There was what sounded like a sigh of exasperation from the other end of the comm line. "Very well, I will see him--briefly. Send him to my office."
"Yes, Healer." She turned off the comm and looked up at Spock, pointing behind her to a door. "This first hallway, right side, middle door."
Spock hurried off in the indicated direction, managing to remember *not* to thank her, this time.
Satik was waiting in his office when Spock arrived, standing stiffly behind his desk with his hands clasped behind his back. He, too, reacted with obvious disdain to Spock's slightly disheveled appearance. "So. You have returned," he observed factually. "And I thought Vulcan finally free of you."
"I have only returned briefly, Satik," Spock returned neutrally, though with just the faintest edge of bitterness to his voice. "Vulcan may still legitimately consider itself 'free' of me, since I have no intention of staying any longer than necessary."
"Does Sarek know of your presence here?"
"No. I saw no reason to contact him, since he did not invite me, and I had no wish to see him."
"And little wonder," Satik remarked dryly. He nodded finally in acknowledgement of the fact that the preliminary niceties were out of the way; just what, exactly, Spock was doing back on Vulcan after his open defiance of Vulcan tradition would, he assumed, come out during their discussion. "Now, then, Spock...I have no time today for your customary emotionalism. Please state the nature of this 'emergency'," he directed tersely.
"An injury. A le-matya attack while exploring the L-langon Mountains--"
"I see no evidence of injury," Satik interrupted, coming out from behind his desk to fully look Spock over.
"Not me," Spock elaborated uncomfortably. "My Captain. We were on leave, and--"
"Your Captain. And what were you and your 'Captain' doing in such a place?" Satik demanded, cutting in again.
"That is not your concern, nor is it relevant to this conversation," Spock countered coolly. "I am here because he requires medical assistance which I am not equipped to give. Have you ever dealt with a Human le-matya victim?"
"Yes--as you might expect, your mother. It happened during the first year of your parents' marriage. She wanted to see the desert, and Sarek took her; they strayed too far into the le-matya's hinting grounds." Satik might just as well have been reading off items on a lab inventory, so disinterested and inflectionless was his voice-- yet, not totally. There was *something* in it resembling reproachfulness, as if Sarek were a disobedient older child who had no excuse for not knowing better but misbehaved anyway without being able to justify his actions.
"Mother..." Spock echoed softly, briefly startled; he had not known this before. He thought of his mother lying listlessly, unable to eat or even move much, being consumed with fever...just as Jim was, right now...
"She had no reason to tell you," Satik supplied, anticipating Spock's thoughts. Then he returned to the matter at hand. "In what manner was your Captain attacked?"
"A bite on his arm. Blood was drawn."
Satik nodded, understanding. "It was deep, then. And a le-matya's fangs carry far more venom than its claws. I presume you gave him the prescribed antidote."
"Yes, but I was uncertain of the dosage. The first time, I gave him too much. It made him violently ill."
"Humans cannot take a full dose, Spock. You must give him one-fourth the dosage a Vulcan would require--2 cc's--every eight hours until all the symptoms are gone."
"Yes. Mother lived," Spock noted, as if he had just realized it.
"Obviously," Satik acknowledged dryly.
"Then le-matya venom is not fatal to Humans!"
Satik frowned in disapproval at the hope and joy suddenly filling the younger Vulcan's voice. "Not to my knowledge. However, he will be very ill for some time. When did this happen?"
"Approximately four days ago."
"What other symptoms has he shown?"
"Nausea, pain, some degree of paralysis in his left sideÉand a most persistent fever. It follows a pattern of rising, leveling briefly, then rising again. I gave him something to lower it just before I left--"
"See that you do not do it again," Satik admonished harshly. "Terran fever-reduction drugs all interact with the antidote. It negates their effect, and in fact the combination of the antidote and such Terran drugs causes a chemical reaction in the body that aggravates the fever. Also, Humans are apparently allergic to the equivalent Vulcan drugs. The fever will subside on its own, though it may remain dangerously high for a few days, and your Captain will probably be delirious for most of that time. The nausea is caused by the antidote--an unavoidable side-effect in Humans--and the pain and paralysis will fade as the antidote begins to work consistently. It took Amanda a month to recover fully, and hers was a claw wound; a le- matya bite's venom may affect your Captain for much longer."
"So your advice to me is to...wait?" Spock questioned incredulously, too disappointed to hide the emotion any longer. "Is there nothing more I can do for him?"
"Immerse him in cool water if his temperature rises above 108 degrees. Beyond that, nothing but watch him and allow the antidote time to work."
Satik's relative nonchalance was trying Spock's patience, and he was hard put to keep it under control. "And you? Captain Kirk should be under medical surveillance, and I cannot bring him here."
"Then, will you come to him?"
Satik raised an eyebrow at him, appearing insulted. "Nothing in Vulcan law or medical code requires me to treat an outworlder who brought an injury upon himself by poking around where he had no business being in the first place."
"He was injured while saving me from the le-matya," Spock retorted coldly, through teeth clenched in rising indignation.
"Perhaps if you had anticipated that possibility and brought a doctor with you on your desert excursion, neither you nor the Human would now be in this situation," Satik pointed out reprovingly.
"You will not come, then."
"Certainly not. I have a full schedule--surgery, as my receptionist must have told you. Your Captain's life is not in danger, and I have duties elsewhere."
"You could come tomorrow," Spock suggested insistently.
"Tomorrow at mid-day, I leave for a medical conference in ShalKahr. I will be gone for a week."
Spock could barely fight back the anger and pain he felt surging against his faade of control. "Speak the truth, Satik. These are only logical pretexts--excuses. You refuse to treat my Captain because he is Human. Is that not correct?" he challenged darkly.
"My reasons are my own concern," Satik returned neutrally.
"In this instance, they are also mine," Spock assured him gravely, not elaborating.
"How emotional you are, Spock. You take much upon yourself for this Captain of yours," Satik observed, with a clinical detachment that was not quite free of emotion, itself.
Spock struggled to keep his voice neutral, now. "My duty as his second-in-command is to preserve his life."
Satik regarded him skeptically. "Duty, indeed. It is not 'duty' that fills your eyes and your voice now, nor do you speak in the proper Vulcan manner, as one motivated only by logic," he chided disapprovingly.
"Neither do you," Spock retorted, defensively and rather irritably. "You condemn me for my emotions, yet how much emotion there must be in *you* to view with such contempt someone who has done neither you nor any other Vulcan any harm. His life is of value also, Satik--as much as any Vulcan's. What *is* this regrettable prejudice you have against Humans, and how did you come by it? Why did you study Terran medicine if you had no intention of using the knowledge?"
"That is enough," Satik shot back sternly. I am not required to answer to you for my beliefs." The truth was that he had never discussed these beliefs and the reason for them with anyone outside his own family, not since...for a moment, Satik's mind wandered back over the years to a time before he had become a practicing physician.
Long before Amanda had come to Vulcan as the first (and so far, only) Human to mate with one of the Vulcan people, Satik himself had been off-planet. Curious about alien physiologies--including those of Humans--he had requested and been granted an assignment at a medical facility on a far-flung planet as part of his internship. It was in a system near he outer bounds of Federation space and populated mainly by Humans, but with much traffic in other alien life--an ideal laboratory situation, Satik had thought at the time.
However, being so far away from the Eridani system, these Humans had never seen a Vulcan before; their initial curiosity had turned to suspicion and evolved quickly to hostility after one of their number, a Human colleague of Satik's named Greg Stevens, returned from a supply run with stories of an attack by Romulans--and a description of the attackers. It had been a massacre, leaving only a handful of passengers alive, and Stevens had been the only one of his family (taken along on what Satik had considered an illogical whim) to return.
Satik's situation had become increasingly untenable as he immediately fell under suspicion of being a Romulan spy and was soon spending more time on trying to prove his identity than on his work. Less than a month after the Romulan attack, Satik's bond-mate, T'Sylva, came to visit him; shortly after news of her presence became public knowledge, the revenge-obsessed Stevens and others cornered the two of them in a public market-place, attacking them with what he said was a Romulan dagger taken from the body of his wife. As other Humans held Satik in place and forced him to watch, his maddened colleague forced T'Sylva to the ground, raped her repeatedly and slit her throat.
Her screams of protest and horror were drowned out by the cries of the growing crowd of Human spectators as they cheered her attacker and clamored for more blood. In response, he mutilated her body--then, since the crowd was still cheering him and obviously wanted more, he turned on Satik, with words seething with hatred and rage that still echoed in Satik's mind: "Now, 'Vulcan'...see how we deal with Romulan spies and murderers! Your kind killed my wife and daughter, and I'll see you suffer as I have!"
Before peace could be restored, Satik had received a number of cuts and stab wounds, all fortunately superficial. Just weeks before finishing his internship there, he was then abruptly recalled to Vulcan--for his own safety, he assumed--where he buried his bond-mate and tried to go on with his life. But he had had enough of Humans; they were cruel, barbaric, undisciplined, irrationally emotional and inconstant as quicksilver. The Human who had so brutally murdered T'Sylva had initially been close to Satik, and he knew he could never forgive or really trust them again. And he was reminded of it all every time he had to be around Spock or use his Human medical knowledge to treat Amanda.
As Satik studied the desperate but defiant half-Vulcan before him, he decided that Spock was a fool to waste such emotion on a Human. His Captain Kirk would turn on him one day and leave the debris of Spock's illogical devotion strewn around him--just as surely as a Human had befriended, then savagely betrayed, Satik. Finally, Satik's mind returned to their conversation and he spoke again. "Your Captain's condition is simply not serious enough to demand my personal attention," he reiterated.
"There is a margin for error, Satik. You cannot be certain that my Captain will respond exactly as Mother did," Spock pointed out.
Satik moved closer to him. "If you doubt my expertise, then disregard my advice," he snapped, as anger began to build inside him.
Spock had passed beyond anger some time ago. "I do not doubt your expertise. But I to find your professional commitment to duty... lacking," he commented, his voice still controlled, but on the brink of betraying his emotions. "He is a patient. His condition needs to be monitored."
"Then do so. I have told you what to do; go back and do it."
"You are the physician. What if you are wrong and he dies?" Spock demanded accusingly.
"What, indeed? *You* brought him to Vulcan, where he had no business being and where you are held in disgrace. It was *you* who chose not to bring a physician with you, and you have admitted that he was injured while protecting *you*," Satik countered, matching Spock's coldness. "I have played my part on his behalf. The rest is up to you. Go back to the desert and nurse your sick Human as you will; if he dies, his death be on *your* head."
Spock was almost shaking now with the effort it was costing him to keep his mounting agony and fury from showing visibly. Satik's words had gone through him like a knife, right where he was the most vulnerable. He *knew* the degree of responsibility he bore for Jim's fate; he did not need Satik to remind him of it. Since logic and control had gotten him nowhere, Spock cautiously allowed a little of the pain of his anxiety over Kirk and desperation in the wake of Satik's rejection to surface. The result was a pathetic yet heart- wrenching final plea for what might be his friend's life. "Satik, please...he is important to me. I would have taken the le-matya wound myself if it could have prevented his injury."
A Human would have been moved, perhaps even to tears, but Satik appeared untouched. His expression in response to this was terrible to see--not quite a smile or grin of triumph, but perhaps something close to it, with the corners of the elder Vulcan's mouth drawn a little further apart than usual and a sort of smug satisfaction in his general manner. At that moment, he knew with bedrock certainty that he could agree to visit this Human and then demand anything his mind could conceive of in return--and *Spock would do it!*
For a moment, Satik was tempted by tantalizing visions of forcing this ill-bred freak accident of genetic experimentation with delusions of Vulcan-ness to abase himself and for once show proper respect for a full-blooded Vulcan; he pictured Spock groveling at his feet on command, begging forgiveness for every remotely un-Vulcan thing he had ever done in front of Satik (including being born)...How important is he to you?
Satik had not spoken, but he may as well have; Spock read his thoughts in his expression. It was one of those horrible moments of mental union that sometimes come to Vulcans, whether they want it or not. Satik was barely aware of it, since his mental shields automatically reinforced themselves--but Spock had no choice to endure it for the mercifully brief time it lasted, since he still could not shield effectively because of the t'hyr arrath with Kirk.
Any further entreaties he had thought to make on his friend's behalf were abruptly stifled as his customary emotional controls reasserted themselves. It was true that he would have been willing to do almost anything if Satik would come back with him to help insure the Captain's survival--anything but grovel, as Satik seemed to want him to. His Vulcan pride might have long ago become tainted with an encroaching sense of inferiority born of his mistreatment by his own people, but he maintained his own unique blend of Vulcan *and* Human dignity--as his Human colleagues had come to recognize. And Spock knew instinctively that Jim would *not want* him to abase himself in that manner, even to save his Human friend's life; he respected Spock too deeply for that.
Spock stood straight and tall before Satik, his manner as stiff and formal as he had tried to keep it throughout most of their conversation. He had tried to be honest with Satik--he had expressed a bit of his emotions in the matter in the hope of making him understand, even though he knew that the method he had chosen was illogical--and as usual, he had been rejected and slapped down. When will I ever learn? Why did I permit myself such a display--in front of Satik, of all people? Spock reproached himself now, striving to suppress the sudden upsurge of bitterness and pain he felt.
He would not try it ever again; Satik's reaction only served to reinforce his belief that he could not safely share his emotions with anyone other than Jim, or sometimes McCoy--and even *that* was painfully difficult. This had been excruciating--and to what purpose? It had gained him nothing. In fact, it had only served to give credence to Satik's opinion of him.
Despite his tight control, Spock's eyes were full of turmoil. There was pain in them--the old hurt that had never completely left him and resurfaced every time he was reminded that his own people could never accept him, as he was, as a Vulcan--and also a burning contempt for Satik and his apparent disregard for non-Vulcan life. Wordlessly, he turned and headed for the door. He paused there briefly, turning back one last time and giving Satik a deadly look. "I would advise you to insure that no situation arises in which *your* life is dependent upon a *Human* doctor, Satik. It may be that your life expectancy would be even lower than my Captain's is now," he opined darkly, his voice touched with sarcasm. Then he added softly, in Vulcan, "Yaevni yaevnisha veej"--the Vulcan translation of an old Terran therapeutic technique: "Healer, heal thyself."
Satik merely raised an eyebrow at him in puzzlement as Spock turned away finally and continued out the door, then went to sit down at his desk, hoping for a few minutes of meditation before he had to return to surgery. He made a mental note to contact Sarek later to inform him that his son was back and making a nuisance of himself again.
As Spock left Satik's office, he retreated behind a granite wall of emotional suppression that would have put the most tradition-minded full-Vulcan to shame; it was unbreachable as he made his way back through the medical center to the outer door on the ground floor, and he maintained it as he continued on through ShiKahr, pausing briefly at a public drinking fountain to take a long but necessary drink of water, and then running on as if in some sort of shock, barely seeing where he was going.
Only when he was well outside of the city's outer bounds, beyond eyeshot and earshot of any of his people, did Spock allow his wall of control to crumble. He paused to catch his breath, sinking slowly to his knees in the desert sand and pounding it with his clenched fists in anger and agony--then remained there, resting for a moment on all fours as if he had lost the strength to stand up. All the pain and humiliation he had just put himself through--for nothing. He could not bring Jim help, now--only advice that his friend would have to trust him not to misinterpret. Worst of all was the time lost, hours of separation that Spock should have spent caring for him. //I have failed him again,// Spock thought despairingly, then pushed the thought determinedly aside. Now, at least, he knew what to do; Jim was not dead *yet*.
By sheer force of will, Spock dragged himself shakily back to his feet and took off at a dead run, back through the desert toward his mountain cavern refuge. As his pace inevitably slowed and he drew nearer, he became increasingly anxious as to what he would find. He told himself over and over that Jim could not die because Satik had told him that le-matya venom was not fatal to Humans--but the more he tried to explain it to himself, the more uncertain he became. He had never fully trusted Satik, and their encounter today had done nothing to ease his uncertainty--however, as usual, he had no choice but to take Satik's word.
Kirk had held onto the sapohr crystal for as long as he was physically able to do so. For a long while after he had awakened, he had cradled it in hands resting on his stomach, looking into the golden fire within its sapphire depths and thought of Spock, wishing he would return and hoping his fellow Vulcans would leave him in peace instead of adding to the emotional scars he already seemed to be carrying. Eventually, however, he had fallen asleep again, and this time been afflicted by a fever-induced nightmare--vague, disjointed images of Spock in some kind of trouble.
He was still struggling with the nightmare when Spock finally returned. The Vulcan climbed impatiently over the last level of rocks and onto the ledge before the cavern opening, then rushed through it to Kirk's side, dropping to his knees next to Kirk. Spock studied his friend anxiously for a moment; he clearly was still alive, but his face was bathed in sweat and he squirmed restlessly in his sleep. Silently, he picked up the medscanner and ran it over Kirk's body. It showed his temperature up another two full degrees. Gently, Spock lay a hand on Kirk's forehead, which was now hot to the touch; Kirk's body seemed to quiet itself somewhat. "Jim...Jim, I am here. I have returned," he told Kirk softly.
His voice broke through the nightmare at last, and Kirk opened his eyes cautiously, looking up at Spock as if he were unsure the Vulcan was real. "Spock...? You're...not hurt?"
"No," Spock assured him.
"Nightmare...must have been...damn nightmare in the middle of the day," Kirk decided faintly, fighting to keep his attention focused on Spock. "About you. Something...someone...hurting you."
"I am unharmed," Spock reiterated emphatically, trying not to think of Satik's mental and verbal abuse. "All that matters now is that *you* are still alive."
//But for how much longer?// Kirk wondered. Aloud, he asked, "What did you...find out? Is...doctor coming?"
"No," Spock revealed reluctantly. "But he told me how to take care of you. For one thing, I have to give you one-fourth the normal antidote dosage every eight hours. I think I should do that now."
Kirk was silent as Spock reached for the medikit, took out the hypo and adjusted the amount of the drug inside down to the proper dosage, then injected the antidote into Kirk's arm. "What else?" Kirk inquired finally.
"Le-matya venom is *not* fatal to Humans--that was the most important revelation," Spock continued carefully. "Also, I cannot give you anything more to reduce your fever, since such drugs interact adversely with the antidote. The nausea is a side-effect, as I surmised, and Satik says the pain and paralysis will be gone when the antidote begins to work consistently."
Kirk could feel himself getting tired again, but he had to know one more thing. "The fever...how long...?"
"How long will it last?" Spock shook his head uncertainly. "I do not know. Satik said only that it would pass--and that the effects of the venom from bites take longer to overcome than those caused by venom from claw wounds...possibly several weeks before you fully recover." Spock paused uncomfortably and reached for Kirk's hand, wanting to be sure he still had Kirk's attention. "Jim, your fever is likely to go very high, at least for the next few days," he told his Captain urgently.
"Higher...than it is now?" Kirk responded doubtfully.
"Yes," Spock asserted hesitantly. He let go of Kirk's hand to pick up the canteen, noting that it still seemed full, and took the lid off, offering it to Kirk. "Here, Jim--try to drink some water," he recommended kindly.
Kirk took the canteen in his right hand and drank thirstily from it as Spock lifted his head up a little to make it easier for him.
"Is this the first water you have had today?" Spock asked suspiciously.
Kirk nodded weakly as he handed the canteen back to Spock. "I was... awfully tired. Paralysis...pretty bad today. I knew...you left it ...for me to drink. I'm sorry, Spock."
"It does not matter now. However, it could not have helped your condition," Spock noted quietly, pouring some more water out to saturate the cloth he was using to wipe down Kirk's skin before putting the lid back on and setting the canteen aside. Once again, he laid the wet cloth briefly on Kirk's forehead, moving it slowly around his face and down his neck; he could feel Kirk's reaction of relief and a slight relaxation of the tension within him even before he took his Human friend's hand again.
Kirk quickly fell back to sleep, and Spock--quite tired himself by now, and infinitely relieved to be away from the disapproving eyes of the Vulcans in ShiKahr--stretched out on his sleeping bag next to Kirk, maintaining his hold on his friend's hand. However, the last thing Spock wanted to do right now was actually sleep, so he lay awake, quietly watching Kirk as he slept, periodically wiping down his face and neck with the cloth and running the medscanner over his body to check his condition.
Sometime later, in the wee hours of the morning, Kirk's nightmare returned--not vaguely or confusingly, as it had before, but in images that were painfully clear. Spock was in trouble again, and this time, Kirk could see him surrounded by throngs of Vulcans, all of whom had daggers and were stabbing him repeatedly as they shouted insults at him. Spock seemed unable to defend himself, and as his body became increasingly blood-spattered, he turned toward Kirk and cried out to his Human friend for help. Kirk tried to respond, but found himself unable to move.
Then the scene switched to the lake chamber, with Spock there alone, and he was drowning; again he called out to Kirk for help, and again Kirk found himself incapable of responding. Then the sequence repeated itself, and Kirk heard his friend speaking as if in a voice- over: //Jim, Jim, please...I do not wish to stay here. It hurts too much...please take me away.// Kirk ached to respond, feeling a need to go to his friend and comfort him, but again came the infuriating inability to move.
Spock, meanwhile, saw Kirk moving around restlessly beneath his blankets and sensed, through the hand which he still clasped, something of Kirk's nightmare. He sat up, reaching to turn up the lantern light and moving closer to Kirk as his Captain mumbled incoherently: "no, no...leave him alone, damn you...stop, stop it, you're...hurting him! Spock! Spock...? I won't let them...I won't, but I can't...I can't move! I can't...no, Spock...I want to, but I can't...dammit, I can't...I'm sorry, Spock. I'm sorry..."
Spock listened to his voice rise and fall until he saw tears mingling with the sweat on Kirk's face. Gently, he laid a hand on Kirk's cheek, leaning over him and looking into his face. "Jim...I am here with you. Can you hear me?" he asked softly.
Kirk opened his eyes, but appeared not to see the Vulcan. "Yes...but you sound far away," he answered faintly, reaching up to touch the hand lying on his face. "I can feel your hand. Are you...really here?"
"Yes, Jim," Spock assured him gently, moving a finger to wipe away the tear that was creeping toward it.
"They were...hurting you..."
"Not any more," Spock reiterated, understanding now that Kirk had been concerned about how his friend's own people were treating him in ShiKahr. It came as no surprise to Spock that this could be the catalyst for the first manifestations of delirium in one who felt such deep affection and compassion for him. "I am safe in this cavern; it is unknown to them, and you are with me," Spock continued reassuringly.
"But you called to me for help...and I couldn't...do anything. I couldn't move...I couldn't help you," Kirk lamented, a new wave of tears welling up in his eyes.
For a time, Spock used both hands to wipe away the tears as fast as they came, but eventually he picked up the wet cloth and began to use it, instead. "No, Jim. It is only the le-matya wound--the venom, remember?" he told the Human soothingly. "I know...I know that you would never permit me to be hurt, especially not...emotionally."
Some perception of the difficulty with which Spock spoke finally penetrated Kirk's remaining delirium, for the moment allowing him full rationality. He could see Spock and the pain in the Vulcan's eyes as he continued to mop his Captain's face with the soaked cloth. "You're...not hurt," he realized, then.
Spock shook his head, filling with relief as he sensed Kirk's returning lucidity. "And you? Can you see me and hear me normally, now?"
"Yes. The...nightmare, or...whatever it was...is gone," he admitted uncertainly. "God, it was terrible...and I know it...could come back. I feel like...I'm burning up, Spock..."
"I know," Spock responded understandingly. "I will keep you as cool as I can. In the mean time, you should sleep."
"But the nightmare--"
"We will deal with it."
"Could you...hold my hand again?"
Spock silently took Kirk's hand in his and held it tightly.
"And don't leave me?"
"I will be here, Jim. You will feel my touch," Spock reminded him, squeezing Kirk's hand briefly.
He set aside the cloth and ran the medscanner over Kirk's body again; the Captain's temperature was still inching upward, another three- tenths of a degree since Spock had last checked, and all his other life signs continued to weaken. Despite the degree to which it would directly expose him to Kirk's delirium, Spock maintained his hold on his Human friend's hand. He had promised to continue the physical contact, and it had become and increasingly useful barometer of Kirk's condition.
Finally, Spock lay down on his side again, watching Kirk and paying careful attention to the emotions and physical sensations flowing into him through his friend's touch, mentally counting down the time until he could give Kirk another dose of the antidote. When the time came, sometime after dawn, Spock sat up long enough to give Kirk the injection and wipe down his face again. As he lay back down, he could see Kirk still squirming uncomfortably in his sleep. Spock covered his friend's hand with both his own now and squeezed it reassuringly. "Try to lay still, Jim," he urged softly, knowing that Kirk would not hear him, but might sense the thought.
Eventually, Kirk's body quieted. But Spock, unable to sleep or even relax, finally gave up trying to get any kind of rest and sat up, remaining hunched over his Captain as time passed. Inevitably, the delirium returned and Kirk moaned in emotional agony as he was forced to relive the earlier nightmare. This time, Spock discovered, much to his shame and despair, that he could not penetrate the Human's incoherent gibberish with his voice. Kirk remained unable to hear or see him; Spock was still holding his hand, but that, too, seemed insufficient.
At that moment, Spock abandoned all efforts to protect himself from the painful intimacy of Kirk's emotions and the current instability of his mind by limiting their physical contact; more was needed, whatever the risk to him, and he was certain Kirk would have done the same if Spock had been the one injured. Cautiously, the Vulcan took Kirk's face in his hands, willing him to sense his Vulcan friend's presence. "Jim, I am here. I am all right. Hear me...feel my touch," he told his Captain, softly but intensely. Pain and mindless fear poured into him through Kirk's touch, but Spock endured it determinedly.
As if from a great distance, awareness slowly began to filter through the clouded layers of Kirk's mind. He could feel Spock's presence, his growing anxiety for his Human friend, but still Kirk could not see him and could barely hear him. "Spock...where...?" he managed to say, faintly.
"Here, Jim. Beside you," Spock repeated anxiously. "Can you hear me?"
"Yes. But you're...far off."
Spock picked up the canteen and opened it up, this time pouring the water straight into his cupped hand, spreading it around Kirk's face with his fingers and then doing the same on Kirk's neck. This allowed him to maintain physical contact during as much of the process as possible.
"I feel you," Kirk admitted hesitantly, as the combination of cool water and Spock's touch began finally to break through the last of his delirium. In a moment, he could see Spock again; relieved, he reached up with one hand to clasp the Vulcan's shoulder. "You... *are* here, and...you're not hurt," he realized, at last.
Spock nodded, not knowing what more to say. He had put the lid on the canteen and set it aside again, noting that it was almost empty-- which meant that he would soon have to leave Kirk again to go down to the lake chamber for a refill. And soon, he knew, Kirk's delirium would become constant. He saw the sapohr crystal lying near Kirk and picked it up, placing it in his Human friend's left hand; Spock no longer hoped for any miraculous healing from it, but perhaps looking at it would remind Kirk of more pleasant times. "Lay quietly, Jim. Try to sleep," he advised gently.
Kirk released Spock's shoulder and tried to relax, but he was determined not to go to sleep. It was when he was asleep that the delirium and the nightmares always came; maybe if he stayed awake, he would also stay rational. With some difficulty, he lifted the crystal to rest on his chest and tried to divide his attention between it and Spock.
Spock, meanwhile, sat back and allowed himself a moment to rest and collect his thoughts. He looked toward the mouth of the cavern and, from the amount of sunlight streaming into the chamber, deduced it to be about mid-day. He stood carefully and stretched, walking quietly to the front of the chamber, intending only to look out briefly at the desert and then return to Kirk's side.
As he looked across the desert plain, however, something in the distance caught his eye. It was moving quite fast, and Spock thought at first it might be an animal--but as it drew closer, he realized it was larger than any desert animal he knew of. And it was travelling in a straight line, seemingly headed directly for Spock's part of the L-langon Mountain range. Spock watched its approach warily until it got close enough for him to see that it was not an animal at all, but an aircar.
To Spock, this could only mean one thing: Satik had changed his mind and postponed his arrival at the medical conference so that he could come here and help Kirk. Filled with relief and hope, Spock turned back toward the interior of the chamber and called to his friend. "I will be back shortly, Jim."
"Where are you going?" Kirk asked anxiously, his voice almost inaudible from Spock's distance.
"Just down the mountain. Satik has come after all, and I must go down to meet him."
Spock turned away then and began to climb hurriedly down over the rocky mountain surface. As he neared the bottom, he could see that the aircar had pulled to a stop before the base of the mountain--but the person standing beside the aircar was not Satik. Spock stopped and stared in shock when he realized who it was, then slowly climbed down over the last tier of rocks and stood on the sandy ground to face his visitor. He had known instantly who it was; no other Vulcan resident would have worn such bright colors--or greeted him with such an obvious expression of pleasure. "Mother--?"
Amanda smiled at the astonishment apparent in his voice and facial expression. "Satik called us, looking for your father. He told me you were here, that you came into town looking for help for Captain Kirk," she explained. Spock still kept in touch with her, despite being estranged from Sarek, so she knew all about her son's cautious but sincere feelings of friendship for his Captain.
"But how did you know where to find us?" Spock questioned.
"Oh, I've followed you out here many times--not closely enough that you would've noticed, though--just to make sure you were all right," Amanda informed him.
Her eyes looked at Spock kindly as she spoke, and Spock could not bring himself to be angry with her, since he knew she had been motivated only by concern for him; he was still uncomfortable with the idea that someone else had known about his special place of healing, however, and his face colored slightly green as his eyes met Amanda's. "Does Sarek know?" he asked apprehensively.
She shook her head. "No one knows but me."
"He would not approve of your coming here," Spock pointed out, relieved that she had kept his secret but concerned about what might await her when she returned home. His voice was now carefully controlled, but he was certain Amanda would read the emotions behind it, anyway.
"Don't worry, Spock--he's off-planet," she assured him.
Spock nodded understandingly. He was torn between his need to have someone to talk to about Kirk's condition (and his emotions of guilt in the matter) and his knowledge that he could not afford to spend any time away from Kirk unless it was unavoidable. "If I had known this before, perhaps I could have planned to visit you before I left. But I cannot do so now," he told her, his voice edged with regret. "I must be here for the Captain."
"Satik told me he was bitten by a le-matya," Amanda responded understandingly.
"Yes--while attempting to save *me* from it. I brought him back to Vulcan; it is my responsibility to take care of him, now--alone, since Satik would not deign to come and monitor my efforts himself." There was an unusual edge of bitterness to Spock's voice, but he did not care. The anger he had felt toward Satik for refusing to help Kirk because he was Human still smoldered within him, controlled but persistent.
"How is he?" Amanda asked worriedly.
Spock would not have bothered to respond if not for the genuine concern apparent in her voice and manner. "He is very ill, Mother-- sometimes delirious...soon that state will be constant. His temperature is almost 107 degrees, now..." As he turned to leave, he paused, trying to suppress the agony and grief he felt welling up within him.
Though his back was to her now, Amanda sensed his turmoil and stepped forward, touching his shoulder gently.
Almost unconsciously, Spock turned back toward her, permitting the embrace that he knew she wanted to give him. He stood still as she held him tightly, feeling her warmth and love wash over him, then finally spoke again. "Oh, Mother...what if Satik is wrong and Jim dies? It will be my fault. He is...my friend...the first friend I have ever had. Perhaps the only one I will *ever* have. I do not wish to lose him, now..." His voice was barely above a whisper.
Spock felt thinner than Amanda remembered, and he had always been underweight. She hugged him carefully before releasing him. "I know how important he is to you, my son. And you won't lose him," she promised gently. "I brought something that might help. Come with me."
Spock followed her curiously back to the aircar, where she reached into the storage compartment and began struggling to get something out. Spock moved to help her, and his eyes widened in an atypical expression of surprise when he saw what it was: a huge, plastic water jug--he estimated roughly a twenty gallon capacity--with heavy-duty shoulder-straps attached for ease in carrying. Most bottled water on Vulcan was sold in smaller containers, imported, and expensive--and this one was likely the most expensive size available; Spock was not sure when his mother would have gotten it, but he saw no reason to question her generosity. Eagerly, he took it from her and slung it with some difficulty over his shoulder.
"Can you make it all the way back up there with that?" Amanda asked uncertainly.
"Yes," Spock assured her, meeting her eyes with an expression of gratitude. "Thank you...from both of us."
Amanda nodded in acknowledgement, smiling involuntarily at him.
"Now I must go back to him--and you must go back home and get out of this heat," Spock admonished gently.
"It was worth standing around in the heat to see you again...and to find out that sometimes you *can* still let yourself share your emotions with me."
Spock could think of no suitable verbal response to this, but neither --oddly enough--did he feel much embarrassment at having his emotionalism pointed out to him. His Vulcan training told him that this was very wrong, but he had too much else on his mind to spare it much thought now.
Amanda reached to take his hand in hers as he started to go. "Don't forget to take care of yourself, Spock. You don't look very well," she pointed out, in concern.
Spock squeezed her hand before releasing it. "I will be all right-- as soon as the Captain has recovered," he returned, his voice once again tightly controlled. Then he turned and started back up the mountain.
Amanda watched him anxiously until he had climbed about three-fourths of the way back up to the cavern opening, wishing she could go with him but understanding the importance of Spock being the one to take care of his Captain. For so much of Spock's life, he'd *had* to face every difficult task and decision, every traumatic experience, alone-- not always of his own choice; how she hoped Captain Kirk would survive so he could continue to fill that void for her son. Reluctantly, she got back into the aircar and headed back toward ShiKahr.
As Spock re-entered the main chamber and made his way as quickly as he could back to Kirk's side, Kirk could not help noticing that he had returned alone. "Where is he?" he asked Spock in puzzlement.
"It was not Satik," Spock told Kirk, as he sat down beside his friend. "It was my mother--apparently, she knew about this place and kept the knowledge to herself all these years. But she brought something for us that might be as beneficial as Satik's presence would have been. Look, Jim..." With some effort, he unburdened himself of the huge water jug and dragged it forward until it was close enough for Kirk to see.
For the first time in days, Kirk cracked a smile as he looked at it. "You won't have to...go down to the lake chamber so often," he noted.
"No," Spock agreed quietly. "Your condition requires constant supervision. I was away too long yesterday, as it was."
"Couldn't be helped," Kirk reminded the Vulcan consolingly. "We both ...knew that."
"Nonetheless, it will not be repeated." Spock said nothing to Kirk of the emotional torture he had endured during the trip to ShiKahr-- only part of which had been caused by Satik; it was not necessary that Kirk know, and Spock was not sure he could have found the words to explain it even if his friend had asked him to. Besides, Kirk might well become aware of it on his own through their new and growing mental bond, especially if Spock could keep up the physical contact--which he intended to maintain as constantly as possible for as long as Kirk's illness lasted. It still made Spock noticeably uncomfortable, partially because he was simply unaccustomed to prolonged physical contact with anyone, but the therapeutic effects on Kirk of even merely holding onto his hand were undeniable. And therefore, Spock reminded himself, well worth any personal discomfort to him.
Just then, as if already aware of his First Officer's thoughts, Kirk reached out and cautiously took hold of Spock's hand. Spock was startled, but somehow he understood the emotions behind the impulsive action--and he could not bring himself to pull his hand away. He settled finally back into his previous position, sitting beside his Captain on the edge of his sleeping bag, making sure everything he would need was ready for instant use (including the big water jug) and prepared to resume his long vigil.
Days passed as Kirk continued to weaken. Spock's strict adherence to the prescribed dosage schedule for the antidote was rewarded by the gradual passing of Kirk's paralysis, but his fever continued to rise, despite Spock's attentive care. When his temperature rose above 108, Spock peeled off his Captain's sweat-soaked undershirt and opened the large water jug, using both his hands and the thoroughly-soaked cloth to spread water over Kirk's face, neck, shoulders and upper body, knowing he had no way of immersing his Human friend in water and hoping this would work just as well. He bathed Kirk in this manner continuously, despite the latter's near-constant delirium, resting Kirk's head in his lap, holding his hand during rare moments of lucidity and trying desperately at other times to break through the fever hallucinations.
Five days after the trip to ShiKahr, Kirk's temperature was still hovering around 108.6, and Spock was truly beginning to believe his Captain was going to die. Kirk seemed completely unaware of his presence now, though Spock continued bathing him in the cool water and remained in physical contact with him. For Kirk, the nightmare visions of Spock in trouble had been replaced with other, far more ethereal visions. Now he saw Edith, draped in white and standing in the midst of a bright and beautiful light, holding out her hand to him; each time he saw her, she seemed a little closer--and each time he saw her, Kirk's desire to reach out, take her hand and join her became more intense as his will to fight it and live began to fade.
Spock, having to some degree experienced these visions through Kirk's touch, was alarmed by their persistence. With his usual emotional controls now eroded by exhaustion and stress, he gave in to desperation, holding Kirk's face in his hands as if keeping his Captain's head still would bring him back to full rationality and speaking urgently to him as if he thought Kirk might actually hear him. "Jim, listen to me. You must fight this--you *must*! Your life is important!"
It seemed to have no effect. Kirk's mind was still imprisoned by the fever-induced vision, and Spock's words echoed faintly within his mind, like the distant reverberations of sound in a catacomb: //...Your life is important!//
But Kirk could see only Edith. She did not speak, but she was tantalizingly close, and her pull on him continued its inexorable increase. //Life means nothing without love, Spock. You'll find that out for yourself someday,// Kirk's mind responded, quickly abandoning the strange presence and disembodied voice of his friend. Finally, he reached out physically toward the vision and cried out, "Edith! Wait for me, Edith...I'm coming...don't go without me!"
Without even thinking, Spock reached out and grabbed Kirk's hand. "No, Jim--no, please! You are needed here..."
And this time, Kirk could see as well as hear Spock entering the nightmare vision as if through a fog, and his mental presence continued to speak: //You are needed here...and you *are* loved, Jim, even if some who feel the emotion have difficulty speaking of it.//
Finally, the Vulcan's anguished protests broke through. Kirk felt Spock take his hand and begin to pull him back, though whether physically, mentally, or both, he could not tell. He looked longingly at Edith one last time, but she withdrew her hand now, smiling understandingly as she spoke to him finally: //Not yet, Jim. They still need you, and *he* needs you most of all. Live, Jim--for them, for him and for me. I'll be waiting for you when the time truly comes for you to join me. Farewell.// Then she stepped back into the light and was gone.
With a cry of agony, Kirk finally came out of it. The first thing he saw and felt was Spock gripping his hand, an expression of naked pain and terror on his face; in the next moment, Kirk began to shiver. "Cold..." he managed to whisper.
Spock immediately released his hand and pulled the blankets up over Kirk's still-wet body, tucking them in around him so that everything except his head was covered. Then he pulled out the medscanner and ran it briefly over his Captain. "Your fever is down...four-tenths of a degree from the last time I checked," he reported wearily, too tired to even sound pleased.
He had never intended to be in such intimate mental union with his friend, certainly not without permission and a formal mind-meld, but it had seemed unavoidable to Spock; instinctively, he moved away from Kirk now, settling down on his own sleeping bag, knowing he needed to meditate for a while in order to calm his mind after its disturbing exposure to Kirk's emotions--*if* he could free himself sufficiently of concern for the Captain and if he could stay awake long enough.
"Spock...don't leave," Kirk pleaded then, almost inaudibly.
"I am here, Jim. Do not be concerned," Spock responded quietly, trying to prepare himself.
If Kirk had been fully himself, he would have recognized Spock's effort to meditate as he looked over at the Vulcan, but he was not, and the idea did not occur to him; he knew only that the comforting sensation of Spock holding his hand or resting his own and on his Captain's forehead had been abruptly withdrawn. "You're too far away," he told Spock weakly. "Please..."
Despite his need for rest and meditation, Spock could not resist his Captain's plaintive voice. Without hesitation, he moved back across the foot-or-so space between his sleeping bag and Kirk's, slipping his hand underneath the blankets and laying it softly on top of Kirk's hand. For the first time in a while, the Human allowed himself to sleep--and though he did so with difficulty, there was only occasional delirium.
Spock ran the medscanner over Kirk's body every couple of hours, anxious to see if the Captain's temperature would continue to drop, still occasionally releasing Kirk's hand to get more water, wipe down his face and make him drink. He discovered Kirk's temperature was falling at a fairly steady rate of two-tenths of a degree every three hours. Still, Spock was haunted by fears that the fever was breaking too slowly and too late to save Kirk's life; perhaps his Captain's recurring fits of trembling were not a result of dropping temperature, but rather a death rattle--a sign that the end was near.
The next morning, Spock finally succumbed to stress-aggravated exhaustion. Unable to drag himself back to his sleeping bag, he collapsed across Kirk's chest during a time when his Human friend had been sleeping quietly for over three hours. Spock tried vainly to meditate in that position; the physical contact with Kirk combined with his own inability to concentrate due to tiredness made it impossible. Instead, he thought briefly of how it would be for him if Kirk died.
He knew he would become Captain of the Enterprise, a position he had no interest in (especially since something had to happen to Kirk for him to attain it) and probably did not merit--judging from his performance while in command of the shuttlecraft crew investigating the quasar Murasaki 312. And now this--failure to protect his Captain from injury or death. He was already certain that McCoy would never forgive him or fully trust him again. Would anyone else? Spock concluded that some people--even Vulcans--were meant to follow, not lead. And he was meant to follow Jim Kirk to the ends of the universe.
How would it be for him personally? Spock did not even want to think about that, but he knew he had to face it now as part of the possible reality of Kirk's death. But to lose the friendship he'd been searching for all his life, now that it had been sealed with his Captain's acceptance of t'hyr arrath...it would leave an emptiness within Spock worse than any normal Human concept of loneliness, because he knew it was unlikely to be filled again. If Jim died, Spock was determined never to share his emotions with anyone else to the extent that he sometimes had with Jim. It was not logical to permit himself to feel friendship for anyone if it--or they--could be taken from him so easily.
However, at the bottom of these thoughts remained Spock's awareness that he *needed* a friend--or he would never have permitted his Captain's efforts to be one to him for so long. And Spock doubted anyone else could have been so patient with his inability to express reciprocal emotions without shame. So intense were the despair and grief that he felt now and had no energy left to control that Spock expected tears to burst from his eyes, but none were forthcoming. Perhaps he was just too tired.
The Vulcan's last agonizing thought as he drifted off to sleep was that he would awaken to find Kirk dead. Impulsively, his hand moved to clasp Kirk's shoulder, and he began--literally, because of the positioning of his head on his friend's chest--speaking to Kirk's heart. "Please...please...live, Jim. Your fever is going down. I have given you all the antidote I brought and you should be able to move about when your strength returns. I have done all I can. It is up to you, now...you must fight back, and I know you have the strength of will to do it," Spock whispered entreatingly. "Please live. You must. Please, Jim...for me...for me...my t'hy'la...live."
T'hy'la? Spock was startled to hear this Vulcan term cross his lips as he illogically blurted out his most fervent wish, but perhaps it was appropriate, considering the emotions involved. The word translated literally to "bonded one" and had a variety of meanings and uses--but the most common referred to a person with whom one became brothers through a mental and emotional bond. It was one of those words arising from pre-Reform days whose meaning had been couched in emotional terms but could not be changed without changing the word or destroying its significance (and thus remained intact).
It indicated more than friendship--a fraternal bond as deep and profound in its own right as the matrimonial bond. Yes, it was appropriate for Jim, Spock told himself, especially since the arrival of t'hyr arrath between them. Someday, perhaps, Spock would tell Jim about this word, its significance and history, when the latter was awake and aware enough to appreciate it. If he lived.
While Spock slept, Kirk's temperature continued to drop. They both slept until well into the next day; Kirk woke up hungry for the first time in days and finally able to move his limbs without pain or numbness. He was startled to find the Vulcan's head and one arm lying across his chest, but thought it best not to disturb him. Cautiously, Kirk pulled his left arm out from underneath his own blankets and Spock's chest, which lay on top of it, to reach past Spock to his pack. As quietly as possible, he pulled it over onto its side, reached in, grabbed the first food bar he encountered and pulled it out. He watched Spock anxiously as he opened the packaging of the food bar, hoping his friend would not be awakened by the crinkling sounds he could not seem to avoid making. Spock, however, appeared to be sleeping quite soundly.
Kirk, aware that he would not be able to keep down a lot of food at once, nibbled slowly on the food bar, grateful that it was "Ham and Cheese Flavor" he had managed to pull out instead of one of Spock's vegetarian food bars (Spock might be able to wear his clothes, if necessary, but he could never tolerate Kirk's omnivorous diet if he ran out of his own food), keeping his eyes on the sleeping Vulcan. Most of Spock's body was sprawled across his own sleeping bag at a diagonal angle to Kirk, with only his head, upper chest and one arm resting on top of his Captain; the other arm appeared to be folded underneath Spock.
It was such an unnatural position for him that Kirk quickly understood what had happened; obviously, since his First Officer had been sitting beside him, he finally became too exhausted to do so any longer and just fell over onto Kirk's chest, probably moving his legs out from underneath himself when it became impossible for him to continue sleeping comfortably with them folded beneath him. Kirk decided he must have fallen asleep instantly; he was certain it was the first time Spock had allowed himself to sleep since his Captain had been injured, over a week ago, now.
He was still asleep when Kirk finally finished his food bar. Slowly and carefully, so as not to awaken his friend, Kirk slipped an arm around Spock's back, using his other hand to hold the Vulcan's head against his neck and chin. Then he hugged Spock gently in gratitude and affection, knowing he would never have survived without Spock's care.
Kirk's emotions washed over Spock, and their intensity and sincerity startled him into wakefulness. He stirred within Kirk's half-embrace, struggling to move away and sit up, staring at his Captain with a shocked but hopeful expression; the amusement and affection in the hazel eyes that met his now were enough to confirm the mental impressions he had just received. The fever had broken, and Jim was returning to himself again. He was going to live.
Spock's first instinct was to confirm it with the medscanner, but as he reached for it, a wave of dizziness overcame him and he swayed suddenly, having to steady himself against Kirk's arm.
"Better lie down, Spock," Kirk advised kindly. "You've been driving yourself a little too hard, lately."
Spock, in no condition to argue, complied silently. As he stretched out on his sleeping bag again, he wondered why he was so exhausted. Vulcans could survive or weeks and months at a time without food or sleep, when necessary, so why should he seem to require either after only a week without them? Perhaps the constant exposure to Kirk's emotions had somehow imparted an additional draining effect--some result of his temporary loss of shielding ability that Spock could not have anticipated. If not, there was only one other possibility that he could think of, and it was not one he was prepared to consider--because, if true, it meant his Human half had far more influence over him than he had ever suspected.
He had experienced emotional stress before, much to his embarrassment, but to agonize over someone's illness so much that it affected his own health was surely impossible for him. Any Vulcan would have known that allowing his emotions to rule him to that extent in such a situation was illogical and pointless, and Spock was a Vulcan, any Human ancestry on his mother's side notwithstanding. No, it was not possible...
At that point, Spock's thoughts faded as sleep finally took him again. He awoke near dusk just long enough to notice Kirk sleeping again with no apparent difficulty, then quickly fell back asleep himself and slept through the night.
It was mid-morning when Spock finally awoke, and he found that Kirk at some point had taken the trouble to cover his Vulcan friend with the blankets--including the ones he himself had been using. More startling than this was the sight that greeted Spock's eyes as he looked over at Kirk; the Captain was sitting up on his sleeping bag and appeared to have changed clothes, or at least put on a clean shirt. He was watching Spock anxiously, and Spock got the impression that he had been doing so for some time.
"How do you feel?" Kirk asked worriedly.
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "I was about to ask you the same question," he returned neutrally, but with the same concern in his eyes that he heard in Kirk's voice. "You look...better."
"I *feel* better," Kirk acknowledged pleasantly. "My temperature must be almost back to normal, now. No more pain and nausea...and I seem able to move without any problems, now." He demonstrated this by moving his legs around and flexing his knees several times.
Still, Spock studied him doubtfully; he was certain he had never seen his Captain looking so thin. "You seem to have lost considerable weight," he noted, some unavoidable dismay touching his voice.
Kirk gave him an encouraging smile. "Just as well," he decided. "Maybe I can get McCoy off my back, now--he's been after me for the last couple of months to lose a few pounds."
"It is...quite possible, Jim, that you have lost *more* than 'a few' pounds," Spock pointed out; in fact, based only on visual evidence, he estimated that Kirk must have lost at least ten pounds since his injury.
"Maybe. But it's nothing I can't handle," Kirk assured him. "What about you?"
Spock lowered his eyes, pushing aside the blankets and sitting up slowly. When he spoke, he did his best to keep his voice from revealing the uncertainty he still felt about whether or not his physical condition could have been the result of his recent emotional turmoil: "I seem to have...needed rest."
Despite the Vulcan's careful control, Kirk sensed that Spock was hiding something from him. "That's certainly an understatement," he commented dryly. "Come on, Spock--what is it?"
"I do not know," Spock admitted uncomfortably, still not looking up at his friend. "Something does seem amiss within me; a week without sleep or food should not affect a Vulcan to this extent."
Kirk smiled to himself, aware that Spock was always the last one to recognize the power of his own emotions. "Maybe it's more than that that's affecting you," he suggested quietly.
Spock looked up at him finally, knowing somewhere deep inside that his Captain knew what had left him so physically drained but refusing to consciously acknowledge that awareness. "What more is there?" he asked coolly, keeping his facial expression as unreadable as possible.
"You know what I'm talking about. Are you going to deny now that you were ever worried about me?" Kirk challenged.
"Since the facts of the matter are known to both of us, denying them would be illogical," Spock returned calmly, but with enough of a catch in his voice to indicate that those painful emotions were still fresh in his memory--too fresh to discuss yet, even with Kirk.
Kirk understood this instinctively now and did not press him further on the subject. "So Éwhat are we going to do today?"
Spock raised a startled eyebrow at him. "*You* are going to rest. You are not yet well enough to engage in any of our usual activities," he admonished.
"How would you know? You haven't even checked me over yet," Kirk returned sardonically.
"True," Spock agreed, reaching for the medscanner.
"I've been on my back for a week, Spock. I've had enough 'rest' for a while," Kirk opined, rather impatiently, as his First Officer examined him. "I need to stretch my legs a bit..."
"Temperature, below 100, now...blood pressure, pulse, all bodily functions approaching normal," Spock noted, half to himself. Then he looked up at Kirk. "The readings appear to support your self- diagnosis. However, you are still dehydrated."
"Working on it. I can only drink so much water at once, you know."
A faint echo of the Human's amused smile touched Spock's lips. He could relax a bit, now that Kirk was out of danger. "Have you eaten, Jim?" he asked, then.
Kirk nodded. "One food bar during the time you were using me as a pillow and one last night."
"Good. I think you should eat another now," Spock recommended kindly.
"If you join me."
Spock's eyes met Kirk's understandingly; there was no longer any need to continue his guilt-induced fast. It would only worry his Captain more--and if his own current physical condition was any indicator, it might for all he knew be dangerous, now. "Very well," he acceded finally, reaching for his pack, pulling out two food bars and handing one to Kirk. "I must remind you, however, that you are not likely fully recover for several weeks...so Satik told me, at least."
As Kirk bit into his food bar, he noticed his sapohr crystal still lying next to him, where it had presumably landed after falling off his chest during his delirium. He studied it speculatively for a moment before looking back at Spock. "Oh, yes--Satik. This wonderful family doctor of yours who didn't show up when he was needed," Kirk remarked dryly. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you *did* originally intend to bring him back with you, didn't you?"
Spock nodded, his expression clouding over as he thought of his encounter with Satik. "I had hoped to, if possible--at least, I expected him to come as soon as his schedule allowed," he admitted slowly. "However, he did not believe your condition was serious enough to require his personal attention...and he had a medical conference to attend the next day."
Kirk knew from something about the Vulcan's expression and the controlled disappointment in his voice that there was more to this than he was revealing, something too painful and embarrassing to discuss, and Kirk decided his need for details was not great enough to warrant forcing his friend into what might be a difficult revelation. He returned to their present conversation topic. "Well, I can't spend 'several weeks' in bed, anyway. I have a ship to run," he reminded Spock grumpily.
"Assuming command during times when the Captain is ill *is* a primary duty of the First Officer," Spock pointed out quietly.
"Spock, I'd go stir-crazy," Kirk insisted. "I need to start getting up and around. Besides, you know Bones will have a fit if I can't even walk when you bring me back."
Spock noted the humor in Kirk's voice without appearing to be aware of it. "I see your point. The Doctor *is* prone to undue emotionalism," he concurred. "Perhaps it will not be necessary for you to remain constantly recumbent--but I do not think it advisable for you to engage in any extensive or strenuous physical activity."
"You know I'm going to have to go down to the lake chamber. I need a bath," Kirk reminded him.
"I do not think you are strong enough yet to walk such a distance," Spock cautioned. He saw Kirk trying to stand up and stood also, expecting his Captain's legs to be unable to support him. An expression of alarm filled his dark eyes as he watched Kirk trying to steady himself without help. "Jim--!"
"It's all right, Spock...doing fine here, doing fine," Kirk muttered, watching his legs warily, trying to reassure himself as much as Spock. At length, he felt confident enough to look up at Spock, spreading his arms out at his sides. "See? I can stand," he announced triumphantly.
"But can you walk?" Spock asked dubiously.
"Let's find out." Cautiously, Kirk lifted a foot and moved it off his sleeping bag, stepping down a few inches to the rocky floor; when nothing catastrophic happened, he moved his other foot in the same manner, taking several steps toward the mouth of the cavern. Slowly, he turned back around toward Spock, who had followed anxiously. "Okay, I wouldn't want to try running, at this stage, but I seem able to walk," he concluded.
"Nonetheless, Jim, I cannot permit you to go to the lake chamber yet. Your muscles must first re-adjust themselves to physical activity, and you must get more food into your system."
Kirk sighed impatiently, but any annoyance apparent in his voice or manner was feigned--mainly for Spock's entertainment; under the circumstances, he found it impossible to be genuinely upset with the Vulcan. "Spock, you're a tyrant."
Spock responded to the manufactured exasperation and humor in his friend's voice with an equally artificial affronted expression, one eyebrow raised as if in indignation. "I am your second-in-command, attempting to fulfill my duty to my Captain," he retorted, with too much pomposity to be taken seriously--an intentional attempt of his own at humor. And for once, it seemed to have worked.
Kirk laughed as he moved back toward Spock. "Oh, no, you're not. I've been out of it for too long and you've gone power-mad on me, *that's* what's going on!"
Spock smiled just perceptibly as Kirk's laughter continued. He was pleased that his friend was in such a good mood. "Come finish your food bar," he urged gently, turning away but watching over his shoulder as he proceeded back to the sleeping bags and Kirk followed him carefully.
After they had both sat back down on their respective sleeping bags, Spock discovered that Kirk was not the only one who had failed to finish his food. They ate in silence, since Spock was so full of joyous and relieve emotions that it seemed futile to try to verbalize them. He still felt drained and rather embarrassed from his last lengthy effort to express his emotions to Kirk--back on the last day before fever had overwhelmed the Human--an atypical and un-Vulcan emotional display of guilt and shame that had ended with Spock in tears. He was not ready for another such "release". He had not meant to be so open with Kirk that first time; to risk such emotional exposure again would be unthinkable. Even if the emotions involved were pleasant and he wanted to share them with his friend.
Once they had both eaten, Spock took some time to meditate--the first time he had been able to do so successfully since before Kirk's injury. The time had come finally for him to directly examine the emotions responsible for his recent turmoil and determine once and for all whether or not they were also responsible for the unnaturally rapid deterioration of his physical condition. A part of him knew the answer to this already, but the Vulcan in him refused to believe it--and even the forewarning of Kirk's astute insights on the matter had not induced acceptance.
Spock would have to deal with this the hard way. Meditation afforded no opportunity for self-deception, since one saw one's thoughts and emotions as they were, much as in a mind-meld, but without the luxury of being able to shield oneself from negative mental emanations. It was the one time when Spock could not hide the truth from himself.
Spock meditated frequently over the ensuing days, always with the same unsettling results. Kirk ate, exercised his legs and got gradually stronger, beginning to gain back some of his lost weight, but he could not help noticing how quiet and withdrawn the Vulcan had become. Efforts to get him to talk about whatever was bothering him quickly became exercises in futility; Spock stubbornly refused to talk about anything not directly related to Kirk's condition or when the Enterprise might be likely return, so Kirk gave up trying to persuade him to do so.
A week and a half later, with the Enterprise officially considered overdue and Kirk's physical state drastically improved, Spock decided his Captain was recovered enough to go down to the lake chamber. They took their time on the way down through the chambers and passageways, Spock allowing Kirk to go at his own pace and carrying all of their gear himself, stopping occasionally to give Kirk time to catch up. Finally, they arrived and changed into their swimsuits, then Kirk, as usual, scooted across the rocks and down into the water first.
Spock lingered at the water's edge, examining his own reflection on the water's quiet surface for the first time since the day of his trip into ShiKahr and wondering if he still looked as tired and pale as he had then. After a few minutes of this examination, he decided he was in no position to judge for himself; Spock knew he had been eating regularly, but he did not appear to have gained any weight, and his condition seemed to him not to have changed.
He sat back and glanced over at Kirk, knowing that *Kirk* would have been able to look at his Vulcan friend's haggard features and thinner- than-usual body and tell instantly if emotional stress were still affecting him. Spock, after all, had no previous experience with such a phenomenon--at least, not to this extent--but recent meditations all pointed to the same conclusion: he himself was just as susceptible to stress-induced physical collapse as Kirk or any other Human. This time--he hoped--it had been stopped before the point of collapse could be reached.
But some of the emotions still remained within him, especially the guilt that had never really gone away since Edith's death and the intensity of Kirk's grief in its wake; it was guilt that had prompted pock to invite Kirk to Vulcan in the first place, and indirectly causing his Captain's nearly fatal le-matya wound had only intensified those emotions. But not talking to his friend except as necessary for fear of revealing these emotions and the shame he felt for them (and for himself) was not working; it only seemed to be making Kirk feel alone. And that, Spock decided, was far worse.
After filling their canteen and setting it aside, Spock slid carefully into the water, noting that it seemed cooler than the last time he had come down for a bath, and made his way slowly over to Kirk. The latter had made no moves to start swimming yet, but instead remained in the shallows, seeming intent on just soaking himself. He had just leaned back in the water to wet down his hair when Spock reached his side and looked at him with an expression that said he wanted to talk. "Well?" Kirk prompted warily, sitting back up and wiping away the water that had started to trickle down into his eyes.
"I...wish to explain my recent behavior toward you," Spock began hesitantly. When Kirk waited silently without turning away, apparently still willing to listen, he continued cautiously. "I was not deliberately ignoring you. I have had much to think about--and emotions I did not wish to expose."
"Not even to me," Kirk concluded understandingly.
"No. Even though you areÉthe focus of many of them. You have seen so much already of what has been within me during this time, and there is so much I cannot shield you from because of t'hyr arrathÉit did not seem logical to me to reveal anything more," Spock elaborated painfully. "And I knew that if I spoke to you, you would do or say something to make me think it might be permissible to do so."
Kirk sighed, shaking his head at the Vulcan in an odd mixture of sadness and exasperation. "I think you're making this harder on yourself than it has to be," he counselled Spock gently. "If you need to talk about it--and you must, because keeping it locked up inside obviously isn't helping you any--then start talking. You ought to know by now that I'd rather share your emotions than watch you putting yourself through Hell trying to keep them suppressed. Why fight it if you don't have to?"
"Because I *do* have to. I am a Vulcan, and no Vulcan's emotions should ever be a topic for discussion," Spock countered reluctantly. "Sometimes...often...I have to *fight* to remember that, because of my Human half. Especially when you and I are alone together--because I *know* you accept my emotions and would not object if I exposed you to them. But that part of me has controlled me for so much of the time since we came here that...Jim, I do not think I have the strength for another emotional revelation such as the one that occurred the day before I went to ShiKahr."
"I'm not asking for one," Kirk assured him, in the same gentle tones as before. "But I know you must need *something* from me. JustÉlet me help you, Spock. Let me be your friend."
Spock felt the Human's hand rest lightly on his shoulder and lowered his eyes in embarrassment. "There is...one other thing I meant to tell you," he admitted faintly. "Perhaps it will come as no surprise to you, but you were correct about my physical state; I have discovered that it was indeed emotional stress which caused it to decline at such an accelerated pace."
Kirk cracked a smile. "You'd save yourself a lot of time and effort if you'd just *believe* me, occasionally. I know you pretty well, you know."
Spock felt the warmth of his friend's smile on him and looked up, encouraged by the touch of humor in Kirk's voice. "I had to verify it myself, in my own way," he explained quietly. "However, something else still puzzles me. You appear to have recovered almost completely, and yet my condition seems unchanged."
Kirk's smile faded and he squeezed Spock's shoulder. "Maybe it's because you still feel guilty," he suggested cautiously. "As long as you still feel that guilt, you're not going to recover fully."
Almost unconsciously, Spock reached up and touched the hand on his shoulder, resting his own hand hesitantly on top of it as he spoke. "It is still within me. I can control it, but I seem unable to rid myself of it entirely," he admitted softly. "You have already heard...and felt...as much of it as I have been able to express. I do not know what more to do."
Kirk heard behind his friend's voice a silent plea for help and advice. "Just give yourself some time, Spock. Try to get your mind off it," he recommended.
Spock took Kirk's hand now and removed it from his shoulder. "And how do you suggest I do that?" he inquired curiously.
"Well, let's see..." Kirk thought for a moment and found himself looking around. Then it came to him. Of course; the answer was obvious--but for maximum effect, it would have to be a surprise. He hoped that was still possible with this new mental bonding that had started between himself and Spock. He continued now, cupping his free hand underneath the water's surface but watching Spock to make sure the Vulcan did not notice. "Considering where we are how about a...water fight?!"
Before Spock could react, a wave of water propelled by Kirk's hand sloshed upward over his face and shoulders. As he wiped the water from his face, an artificially insulted expression appeared there. "I have told you, Captain--Vulcans do not engage in 'water fights'," he returned, with mock formality, standing and turning to move off slowly into deeper water.
Undaunted, Kirk got up and went after him. "Not even in self- defense? Come on, Spock!" he laughed, catching up with his friend, grabbing him around the chest from behind and pulling him backwards into the water, eliciting a wordless yelp of surprise from Spock.
When Spock turned around to face Kirk, he was not laughingÉbut there was an extremely un-Vulcan smile on his face as he inexplicably gave in to the mood of the moment, imitated Kirk's action and splashed his Captain with a powerful wave of water, almost submerging him.
This precipitated an unusually spirited splash-fight, remarkable if for no other reason than that Spock for the first time was taking an active part. They moved gradually further out into the lake as they continued their horseplay, but Kirk managed to keep track of the water's depth and stayed close to Spock; just as his First Officer was about to go beyond what would have been a safe depth for him, Kirk stopped the splash-fight by tackling him from behind again with an affectionate bear hug. Kirk was still laughing and Spock's amused smile remained--though Kirk doubted the Vulcan was aware of it.
Spock did not resist, but it occurred to him that he had been trying to avoid physical contact such as this, and Kirk undoubtedly knew that; it occurred to him also that this unexpected hug might have been planned in advance, in spite of this--or maybe, knowing Kirk, because of it. His smile began to fade a little. "You...*tricked* me into this," he accused softly.
"If I did, it was for your own good," Kirk replied, rather cryptically, still holding him. "I had to think of *some* way to cheer you up and convince you that I don't blame you for any of this."
"So you chose to force your emotions upon me through this physical contact."
Kirk was taken aback by this. He had not thought to look at his action from that point of view--a normal point of view for a Vulcan. Still, he was convinced he had done the right thing. "Does it hurt?" he asked quietly.
"No," Spock admitted, his voice just above a whisper; Kirk's emotions were, after all, pleasant and reassuring. "However, I would have *preferred* that it be...my idea."
"I was afraid you wouldn't think of it, and...I thought you needed it," Kirk explained ruefully. "I'm sorry, Spock. This bonding business is new to me, but I *was* trying to help."
"I know. And perhaps you are right; I would not have initiated it."
Kirk released him slowly and turned the Vulcan around to face him. "And you needed it?" he guessed uncertainly.
Spock lowered his eyes uncomfortably. "I...objected...only to the suddenness," he responded faintly.
Kirk hugged him once more, this time slowly and deliberately, and this time, Spock allowed himself to enjoy the affection and gratitude that washed over him through Kirk's touch. Clearly, Kirk knew his own mind; there was, as he had indicated, no resentfulness, anger or disapproval in the emotions he now focused on Spock. Finally, Kirk turned and walked back toward the shallower water, one arm still around his friend's shoulders. "Come on, let's get you back down here where it's safe," he urged gently.
When they had sat back down again in the shallowest part of the lake, Spock said softly, "Thank you, Jim...for trying to 'cheer me up'."
Kirk smiled understandingly at him. "Want to try swimming again? I bet you've forgotten how to float."
Spock raised an eyebrow at him and responded with no emotion apparent in his voice or on his face. "Vulcans never forget."
Kirk's smile became a grin. "We'll see about that." He led Spock back out a little further, to where the water was around three or four feet deep, and watched as his Vulcan friend leaned back in the water; he still seemed to have trouble keeping his lower body afloat. "Get your legs up," Kirk told him.
Spock tried silently to comply, but he was inevitably forced to kick his legs to keep them from sinking back down. There was no longer the stark terror that had accompanied these frustrated efforts in days past, but a little of the fear remained within him, and it still surfaced at such moments. Spock doubted now that he would ever be completely at ease in the water, certainly not enough to swim alone; he could only hope that Kirk would have the patience required to teach him the basic techniques before he found himself in some situation where his survival depended on swimming ability. It was obvious that that was not going to be achieved before they left Vulcan. He looked up at Kirk finally in embarrassment. "I *am* trying," he assured his Captain.
Kirk moved his arms underneath Spock's legs and held them there to keep Spock's legs near the water's surface, withdrawing them slowly when the Vulcan seemed finally able to do it on his own. "Now, you've got it," Kirk declared enthusiastically. "See? You're floating! I *knew* you could do it."
"I believe you are reacting with undue emotion, Jim," Spock responded, looking not at Kirk but at some point on the cavern ceiling, trying to concentrate on something other than the lack of anything tangible underneath him to keep him from sinking. It was all he could do to maintain his current position without giving in to the persistent fears that all his logic had not been able to banish completely. "Very well--I am floating. What do I do now?" he asked hesitantly.
By this time, Kirk had realized that Spock was lying still--almost rigid--in the water, as if he were still afraid that any movement would destroy his concentration and make him sink. "Now, if we can just get you to move your arms and legs..."
A panic-stricken look appeared momentarily in the Vulcan's eyes before he thought to close them tightly.
"You know you can't swim just lying there like some kind of hollow, sea-going statue," Kirk chided him gently.
Spock opened his eyes slowly, hearing the understanding in his friend's voice, and met Kirk's eyes pleadingly. "Not yet. I think ...that it has been too long since my last lesson. I...need more time...to practice this 'floating'," he told Kirk softly.
"All right, there's no rush," Kirk acceded warmly. "You just float for a while. But try to relax, for God's sake--you're way too tense." He watched silently for a few minutes as Spock continued to float, staying within reach but out of his First Officer's way. Still, Spock's muscles remained locked into rigidity; Kirk could feel the emotional and physical tension within his friend without even touching him. "Spock, *relax*!" Kirk reiterated, in exasperation.
"Jim, I am trying...but I seem no more able to do that than to move my arms and legs," Spock returned, in obvious embarrassment, with his eyes still apparently fixed on the chamber ceiling. Cautiously, he lowered them to look at Kirk, uncertain what emotions he could expect to feel focused on him now. "There is still a kid of...fear...that I feel only when I try to do this," he tried to explain. "Perhaps it is irrational, or perhaps it is normal for a Vulcan to react in this manner. I do not know, since I personally know of no other Vulcan who ever learned to swim."
Kirk moved closer to him, placing his arms again underneath Spock, one under his back and one under his legs, this time deliberately touching him. "It's all right, Spock. I've told you before--that's not irrational. It's normal," he assured his friend kindly.
"For a Human, it is normal. But surely a Vulcan would maintain control of..."
"Shh. Just pretend you're going to sleep," Kirk urged him softly.
Spock could almost feel himself beginning to relax somewhat in response to Kirk's touch, and his Captain's emotions seemed unexpectedly soothing. "I did try to warn you that I might be unteachable. Perhaps you are wasting your time," he continued now, more calmly.
Kirk smiled encouragingly at him. "As long as you're willing to try, it's my time to waste. And it'll be worth it to know you won't drown the first time you have to beam down to a water planet," he asserted quietly. As Spock relaxed more and more, Kirk gradually withdrew his arms until he was simply standing next to the Vulcan and watching him.
Spock's eyes remained on him as if he were afraid his Human friend would suddenly move back out of visual range. "Are you going to swim?" he asked, unable to keep the anxiety out of his voice.
"I thought I'd do a couple of laps," Kirk admitted, pretending to misinterpret the apprehension he detected within Spock. "Why? Don't you think I'm up to it?"
For whatever reason, the deception worked. Spock's thoughts immediately shifted from his own incomprehensible fears to Kirk's physical state. "It seems unlikely to me. However, I also find the pace of your entire recovery quite implausible," he commented uncertainly. "Perhaps the information I was given was... inconclusive. After all, Satik had only my mother's injury to base his analysis on."
"Well, *I'm* sure not going to complain," Kirk decided.
"Nor am I," Spock concurred kindly. "Still, your recovery is remarkable. I cannot help wondering if...if the seh'lian sapohr had anything to do with it," he added hesitantly.
"The crystal? You said it was just a legend," Kirk reminded him doubtfully.
"But it *was* in physical contact with you for much of your illness. It would not be the first time a legend has proven to be true."
"Even on Vulcan?" Kirk questioned.
Spock found himself thinking of other Vulcan legends. He himself had become such a legend, unwillingly and (until he had become old enough to be aware of such things) unknowingly, because of his mixed heritage--a legend of shame and disgrace whose burden he had largely escaped from beneath by leaving to join Starfleet, but which his family still had to deal with. As with any legend, details had been created and embellished by others--but Spock had been careful not to inquire too deeply about such details; most that he had heard of were not ones he wanted to verify, and what others might have been fabricated he did not want to speculate on. It had always been enough that he was considered inferior to full-blooded Vulcans and his hybrid birth considered the beginning of the end of Vulcan culture. "Yes, Jim, even on Vulcan," he returned finally.
"Hmm. Then anything's possible, isn't it?" Kirk concluded thoughtfully.
"I have...begun to think so," Spock reflected.
Kirk studied Spock and tried to figure out if he was thinking of their present conversation, something else that had happened during their stay on Vulcan, or something that had happened before (perhaps months or years before), to make him more open to the possibility of miracles. But Spock's expression told him little that he had not already deduced: many things had changed for Spock since he joined Starfleet, especially during his service under Kirk's command.
During the silence that had fallen between them, Spock realized that the tension had gradually left his muscles during their conversation, and he was floating in a fairly relaxed state. He was also drifting further and further away from Kirk. "Jim..." he began anxiously.
"I know," Kirk replied quickly. He began moving further out in order to keep up with Spock, and now he realized that the water was coming up over his shoulders--and Spock, still a little ahead of him, had already drifted beyond the last point where he would have been able to stand up and touch bottom. Kirk swam the remaining distance between them in a couple of strokes. "Just stay relaxed, but try to hold still so you don't float any further away," he admonished, reaching toward Spock.
From opposite sides of his field of vision, Spock saw Kirk's hand and the waterfall at the deep end of the lake, the latter looking much too close. Involuntarily, his mind flashed back to his near-drowning and he realized abruptly that he had drifted to where the water was no longer shallow enough for him to feel safe. With a gasp, he flung out an arm to grab onto Kirk's hand; the sudden movement seemed to throw his body out of balance and his lower body began to sink, despite his frantic leg-kicking as he tried to maintain his previous floating position. In his sudden panic, he lost track of where Kirk's hand was.
Kirk sensed this immediately. "I'm right behind you, Spock. Don't fight me; just hold onto my hand and let yourself go limp," he told the Vulcan gently.
Spock managed to find Kirk's hand again, then grabbed it and used it to pull himself closer--but he found it impossible to "go limp" until he felt Kirk's arm go around his chest as Spock continued to cling to it.
"That's good. Just relax, now...I've got you."
Spock did not move or speak until Kirk had pulled him all the way back down to the wading depth part of the lake and they were sitting next to each other, Kirk's arm still around the Vulcan's shoulders. "I am sorry," Spock whispered finally. "I know I would not have been in any danger of drowning if I had simply done what you told me to. It...happened again. The fear--I told you it was irrational. I cannot seem to maintain control of it."
Spock's eyes were averted from his Captain, but Kirk could see his profile--a cheek and ear beginning to color faintly green in shame-- and he could feel Spock trembling slightly under the touch of his arm. "You'll overcome it, eventually," he assured his friend soothingly. "I'm sure you'll do better on the ship. There won't be any waterfall to remind you of that near-death experience--and you'll be away from Vulcan again."
"You have not forgotten your promise that theseÉswimming lessonsÉwill be conducted in private, have you?" Spock's voice, like his body, shook slightly with the effort it was costing him to regain control of his fear and shame and suppress them again.
Kirk gave him a one-armed hug. "No, Spock, I haven't forgotten," he returned softly, concerned about the Vulcan's continued trembling. "Spock, it's *all right*...it's nothing you need to be ashamed of," Kirk told him then, urgently.
Spock sensed through his Human friend's touch that he had suffered no ridicule or loss of respect in Kirk's eyes, nor did Kirk feel any shame for his First Officer's seeming relative slowness in this matter--and Spock's trembling finally began to subside. But a certain anxiety remained within him. "Jim...what if I can *never* learn?" he questioned hesitantly. "I think we must at least prepare ourselves for that possibility."
"Then I'll just have to keep you away from any bodies of standing water more than five feet deep," Kirk responded, shrugging.
"You would not tell anyone that I...cannot swim?"
"We've already agreed to keep it between us," Kirk reminded him kindly. "Have you ever known me to pass on anything you told me in confidence?"
Spock shook his head, knowing he would never have found himself bonding with Kirk if he did not fully trust his Captain. Sometimes, he recalled, Kirk shared what he had learned with McCoy--but not if he knew the Vulcan did not want him to and there was no medical necessity for it.
"Spock, don't worry. You *will* learn; you're doing just fine, and I've never known you not to be able to do anything you set your mind to," Kirk told him encouragingly.
"Perhaps. But I seem extremely...inept," Spock observed doubtfully.
"Beginners usually do--especially adult first-time swimmers," Kirk consoled him.
"Even Vulcans?" Spock wondered.
"It is unlikely that I, being half-Human, would be considered an accurate representation. I must research the matter after we return to the Enterprise," Spock decided.
"I wonder where the hell they are," Kirk ventured then, finally removing his arm from Spock's shoulders. "Seems to me they ought to be back by now. A simple cargo pick-up shouldn't take this long."
"It may not have been as 'simple' as they anticipated," Spock remarked quietly, lying down where the water was the right depth to completely soak his hair and partially cover his body.
"That's what I'm afraid of," Kirk returned dryly. He looked down at Spock as the latter lay quietly on the water-covered rock with his eyes closed and wished that his Vulcan friend could be as relaxed when he floated. After a time, Kirk cupped his hand into the water between them and gently splashed some of it across Spock's stomach. When the Vulcan appeared not to notice, Kirk splashed more water over him, this time eventually hitting his face.
Spock almost smiled before making a sound that bore a suspicious resemblance to a brief, muffled laugh and opening his eyes. "Jim, stop it," he protested softly, knowing he was reacting with playful, frivolous emotion, but unable, at the moment, to be very embarrassed about it.
Kirk responded with a wicked grin. "What's the matter? Afraid I'll make you laugh again?" he teased his friend gently.
"I *would* prefer not to," Spock returned, but he was still smiling slightly, and there was no way he could sound as reproachful as he meant to.
"I know that. Do *you* know how long it's been since I saw you laugh?" Kirk countered good-naturedly.
"A long time," Spock replied understandingly, sitting up. He knew also that Kirk enjoyed being able to get him to relax enough to express such emotions--and maybe it seemed somehow a little safer to do so now, as long as they were alone, because of the mental bond growing between them. The Vulcan within Spock warned him that he had been behaving in an undignified and inappropriate manner during this visit to the lake chamber, but Spock chose for now to attend to the needs of his Human half.
For whatever leave time might be left to them to spend here, he needed to let himself relax as much as he could, enjoy Kirk's recovery as it continued unfettered by command responsibilities and shipboard duties...and try not to be too embarrassed if he sometimes needed to release the stress that had been building within him during Kirk's illness. "But the fact that you have seen it *at all* is a direct result of your efforts to make me feel...comfortable...in your company," Spock added quietly.
"I would think, Spock, that even Vulcans need to open up to someone occasionally," Kirk opined carefully.
Spock lowered his eyes briefly as his smile faded. "Perhaps not *all* Vulcans, Jim, but...*this* one seems to find it beneficial, sometimes," he admitted hesitantly. When he looked up, Kirk was scooting out into deeper water.
"I think it's time I got some swimming in," Kirk explained, as he continued to move away. "You just try to stay out of trouble for a few minutes."
Spock raised an eyebrow in puzzlement at Kirk's words, but the humor behind them gave him a warm, pleasant feeling inside. "Remember to stop as soon as you get tired. You must not over-exert yourself," he admonished, trying to make it sound like logical advice with no emotional undertones--but still, he could hear his concern for Kirk's safety invading his voice, in spite of all he could do. The concern rose in him as he watched Kirk swim, filling his eyes, as well--for Spock knew that if something happened and his Captain started to drown, he would be unable to do anything but stand and watch.
Kirk swam at a leisurely pace, not pushing himself, and estimated that it must have taken him half an hour to finish the three laps he had been determined to do. When he returned to the shallow end of the lake, Spock had moved out to where the water was a bit deeper and was sitting in it up to his shoulders, his eyes on Kirk as the latter approached.
"Getting tired?" Spock asked anxiously.
"No, just being careful," Kirk returned easily, moving past him to the water's edge and scooting up onto the rocks. "Ready to go?"
"I suppose so."
Kirk looked back at the Vulcan in puzzlement as Spock followed him out of the water. "You don't *sound* ready," he noted curiously.
"I...regret the necessity of leaving," Spock admitted, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. "Although I am not inclined to be comfortable in or around water, this time has been...pleasant for me." His eyes met Kirk's with an expression of gratitude and affection, since he was certain it was Kirk who had made it easier for him to endure displaying his emotions in the ways he had.
Kirk smiled slightly in acknowledgement of this and stood up, reaching to pull Spock up after him. "Come on, let's get back to the main chamber. I'm hungry."
After they had quickly changed into fresh clothes, Spock packed up their things and they headed back. Kirk seemed to have somehow recharged his personal energy stores, and Spock found he did not have to spend nearly as much time waiting on his Captain to catch up as he had on the way down to the lake chamber.
Once back in the main chamber, they ate and spent the rest of the day watching each other sleep, since Spock thought it best that at least one of them remain awake at all times, in case the Enterprise tried to contact them.
The next morning, oddly enough, it was Spock who slept late for once and Kirk who got up in time to watch the flight of the silver birds. As before, it was an enjoyable and relaxing sight--but without Spock there to enjoy it with him, something was missing. Kirk decided that at least half the pleasure he himself got out of it must have come from seeing its effects on Spock--the physical and emotional relaxation which the Vulcan so seldom allowed himself to experience, much less reveal visually.
But the aerial dance of the silver birds had already served its purpose; the all-pervasive grief that Kirk had felt when Spock first brought him here had become part of his other bittersweet memories of Edith--edged with pain, but cherished and tolerable. And Spock... hopefully, Spock would no longer need to rely on silver birds for inner peace and any ability to relax when he needed to. With a little help from insights gained through their new mental bond, Kirk was determined to help his Vulcan friend find those things within himself when he seemed unable to do so on his own.
With a sigh, Kirk got up and left the mouth of the cavern as the birds moved out of eyeshot, returning to his own sleeping bag. He noticed Spock still asleep inside his, still about an arm's-length away, and sat down quietly next to him, watching the Vulcan as he continued to sleep.
It was just past mid-day when Kirk reluctantly decided to wake him, taking Spock by the shoulder and shaking him gently. Spock awoke with a start and stared up at Kirk. "I thought you should eat something," Kirk told him apologetically.
Spock unfastened the side of his sleeping bag, pushed back the top part, and sat up slowly. "I will do so, but only if you will, too," he acceded cautiously.
"I plan to," Kirk assured him.
Spock pulled two food bars out of his pack and handed the non- vegetarian one to Kirk, glancing toward the mouth of the cavern and realizing how late it was. "Why did you not awaken me earlier?" he asked.
"Because you needed the sleep. As a matter of fact, I want you to go *back* to sleep after we finish eating," Kirk told him quietly.
"As you wish. But I do not think my condition will improve until we return to the Enterprise," Spock returned dubiously. They continued to eat in silence. "What about you, Jim?" Spock asked, in concern, after he had finished. "You need sleep more than I do."
"I'll sleep when I get tired," Kirk promised him. "Right now, I'm fine."
Spock was not convinced, but neither did he feel up to arguing the matter with Kirk. Instead, he lay back down and watched Kirk as the latter finished off his food bar, thinking to himself that the Enterprise had better return soon; he had counted six food bars left after these two.
Just then, his ears picked up a faint sound that could not have been naturally produced, and he sat suddenly upright again.
"What's wrong?" Kirk demanded, in alarm.
"Go to the cavern opening. Look out into the desert, and tell me if you see anything coming this way," Spock instructed urgently.
Kirk had no idea what the Vulcan thought he had heard, but he had learned long ago to trust Spock's special abilities--including his extra-sensitive hearing--more than his own. "What am I supposed to be looking for?" he asked, getting up.
"Something moving in a straight line--specifically, an aircar," Spock told him, with just a trace of impatience edging his voice.
Kirk nodded in acknowledgement, turning away, continuing on to the mouth of the cavern and sitting down on the ledge before it. He scanned the desert floor for a time, shielding his eyes from the sunlight and wishing they were as sharp as Spock's--then he saw it, a moving line of motion-disturbed sand and dust that formed the wake of something whose exact size and shape he could not identify. But he was certain Spock would be able to.
He turned back into the relative darkness of the cavern and called out to Spock. "You were right, Spock. Something's coming!"
Spock slipped out from within the sleeping bag, pulled on his boots, grabbed the large, now-empty water jug, and hurried to join Kirk. "Where?" he asked.
Kirk pointed, and Spock looked in the indicated direction. "Is it an aircar?"
Spock nodded, and they watched until it reached the foot of the mountains and stopped directly below them.
Kirk turned back to Spock, noting the empty water jug slung over one shoulder. "You think it's your mother again?"
"Let us say that I consider her return the most likely possibility," Spock responded quietly. "She was...most concerned...for both of us."
Kirk stopped the Vulcan as he started to climb down. "Can I go with you? I'd like to meet her."
Spock almost smiled at his friend's eagerness. "I am certain she would wish to meet you, also--but the climb would be too difficult for you, in your condition and this heat," he chided Kirk gently. When Kirk appeared crestfallen at this refusal, Spock added, "You *will* meet her someday, Jim; I promise you this."
Kirk's expression in response was one of resigned acceptance rather than satisfaction or anticipation, but at the moment, Spock could think of nothing to do or say that would be more encouraging. His thoughts just now were focused on getting down to his mother so she would not have to stay down in the desert heat any longer than necessary.
Moving as fast as he could, Spock estimated that he made it down the mountain in a little less than twenty minutes; he found Amanda waiting for him, wearing a loose caftan of yellow and orange and a wide-brimmed hat. This time, there was no debate over whether or not she should be here. Spock assumed Sarek was still away and accepted her presence with unquestioning gratitude, silently offering her the water jug.
"You still don't look too well," she noted anxiously, taking it from him and tossing it into the back seat of the aircar.
"I have had...much on my mind," Spock reminded her neutrally, clasping his hands behind his back.
Amanda nodded understandingly, moving closer. "How is he?"
Spock noted the genuine concern in her voice and wished that Satik had shared it. "Out of danger. Recovering," he replied, letting her see a little of the relief he felt. "Your water jug may have been largely responsible for saving his life."
Amanda smiled at him knowingly, shaking her head. "It may have helped. But it was *you* who took care of him all this time. If he's safe now, it's *your* doing--not mine, and certainly not Satik's," she assured him. "I'm certain Captain Kirk recognizes that."
"Yes. But he also knows--as I do--that you *did* help," Spock pointed out truthfully.
Amanda reached out to take his hands in hers, not daring to embrace him, as she had during her previous visit, no matter how much she wanted to. "I just did what any mother would've done for her son. I wish I could've done more."
Spock squeezed her hands appreciatively. "You have already done more than most Vulcan mothers would have," he assured her softly.
"I've never claimed to be a Vulcan," Amanda reminded him kindly. "Not even a reasonable facsimile...as much better as it probably would've been for you and Sarek if I had been..."
Spock lowered his eyes at the mention of Sarek's name and the inevitable discomfort it re-awakened within him. "For me, at least, it seems preferable that you are not," he observed hesitantly. "How would I have known what to expect when I left Vulcan for Starfleet if you never behaved in a Human fashion or spoke to me of Earth and Human customs? And now, with Sarek apparently disowning me..."
"I know," Amanda put in, when he seemed unable to continue. "I've tried to see his side of it. But you're my only child, and I *know* that there's something of me in you, however much you may want to believe otherwise. I can't justÉstop loving you, no matter *what* Vulcan custom dictates."
Spock nodded appreciatively, looking up at her finally. "That...*is* important to me," he admitted carefully, inwardly furious with himself for never being able to actually tell his mother of his love for her. He had not embraced her in years, before her last visit. He was sure she knew, somehow, but Humans needed to hear the words and see the emotions demonstrated toward them.
"You'll write me soon, won't you?" Amanda requested, concern still evident in her voice.
"Yes, Mother," Spock promised.
"Can you give your Captain a message for me?"
"Of course. What is it?"
"Tell him I want to thank him for being my son's best friend."
Spock nodded in acknowledgement. "He wanted to meet you," he revealed regretfully. "Perhaps, under other circumstances..."
"Bring him with you when you come back," Amanda suggested hopefully.
Spock shook his head in negation. "I will not be back, Mother. I cannot depend on Sarek being gone, and the Vulcan people will have nothing to do with me; it was made abundantly clear to me during my trip to ShiKahr that that has not changed, and may in fact be truer than ever now that I have joined Starfleet and Sarek will not even speak to me," he told her determinedly. "I realize it will be difficult for you, but...I seem to have no choice."
"*Satik* is hardly an accurate basis on which to judge all Vulcans," Amanda countered.
"Not true. He simply says what others feel too bound by custom to speak of in public, perhaps sometimes more directly than they would-- but he is hardly unique in his views," Spock reminded her, looking at her with the old, remembered hurt in his eyes, despite his controlled voice. "You should know that better than I, Mother...you have been subject to those views, yourself."
Amanda lowered her own eyes now in discomfort at the memories this aroused within her. "Sarek protects me from them, as much as he can, and I try not to think of them at other times. But you needed to get away and figure out on your own how to live your life; I understood that," she explained quietly.
Spock remembered wishing he could take her with him when he left to join Starfleet, and that regret returned now as he thought of her staying alone on this planet where she had never really been welcome. "I must go back, now. Jim is waiting for me," he told her finally, turning to go.
"You tell him what I said," she called after him. "And tell him...I want him to take care of you."
Spock glanced back over his shoulder. "I will," he assured her. "And you need not be concerned about my being 'taken care of'. I ...think we can both depend on him to do that."
He turned then and began to climb back up the mountain while Amanda returned to her aircar. As she got in, she sent up a silent prayer of thanks for the special friend Spock seemed to have found in Kirk, and for her son being allowed to keep that source of acceptance and friendship for a little longer.
Although Amanda had never met Kirk, she was sure now that she would like him when she finally did; he had already earned her respect for the gentleness and compassion with which he treated Spock, and it was obvious from Spock's previous stargrams--without him ever actually saying so--that he loved his Captain as dearly as if they were brothers. If their friendship endured, Amanda told herself, perhaps it would make up for all Spock's years of pain and loneliness; perhaps those memories would become easier to bear.
When Spock reached the mouth of the cavern, he found that Kirk apparently had not moved.
"All right, Spock, back to sleep," Kirk told him, as they both stood and headed back inside.
Spock followed him silently back to the sleeping bags and dropped tiredly back down onto his, stretching out on his stomach without even taking the time to remove his boots. He watched as Kirk settled down beside him, then spoke finally. "Jim...my mother asked me to give you a message."
"What message?" Kirk asked warily.
"She said to...thank you for being my 'best friend'. And she wants you to 'take care of me'."
Kirk reached out to rest a hand gently on the Vulcan's back. "She sounds like an exceptional woman--and a loving mother," he remarked warmly.
"My father and I considered ourselves fortunate to have her--one of the few opinions we held in common," Spock returned dryly.
There was a note of bitterness to Spock's voice that suggested there was more going on between him and his father than he was likely to ever discuss without much prodding by Kirk; Kirk was curious, but he knew Spock was probably in no mood for such a discussion now-- especially if it involved painful memories that were best not re- awakened.
"I...wish she could come back to the Enterprise with us," Spock admitted regretfully, still thinking of his discomfort with the idea of Amanda having to stay alone on Vulcan in Sarek's absence. It was not a question of safety, but of emotional health; if *he* had felt alone among his own people, even with both his parents there, how much worse must it be for her--separated from her own people with no one other than Sarek from whom to seek support and guidance?
"Are you *that* anxious for me to meet her?" Kirk questioned, faintly amused.
"That is...part of it," Spock responded reluctantly, hoping Kirk would not ask him to elaborate.
Fortunately, Kirk knew enough not to inquire further--despite his growing curiosity--when he heard the reticence in his friend's voice. "I'm sure she'll get to come aboard, eventually," he tried to reassure Spock.
Spock did not feel very comforted, but he knew there was nothing either of them could do about it. The Enterprise was behind schedule now, and there would be no time for a visit by his mother once they returned. Finally, Spock slept again. Kirk lay down on his own sleeping bag and watched him worriedly for several hours, eventually removing his hand from Spock's back to take hold of the Vulcan's hand, finally falling asleep himself.
Spock awoke briefly that night and found that Kirk had pulled off his friend's boots and tucked him into his sleeping bag. He sat up and reached to the medscanner, surreptitiously running it over Kirk as the latter slept, then over himself; the resulting readings indicated that the Captain's condition was improving steadily--but his own seemed to have stabilized well below normal. Spock knew he was not still concerned about Kirk's life being endangered by his le-matya venom-induced illness, though he was still determined to see that Kirk's recovery continued uninterrupted until it was complete, so that could have nothing to do with it.
Since *Kirk* had also made sure that *Spock* ate and slept regularly from the moment he was well enough to be aware of the Vulcan's condition, Spock doubted that any further physical problems had developed. Though it was true that it was difficult to gain back weight and muscle tone on food bars, especially when those food bars were now going to have to be rationed (something which Spock had, for various reasons, decided not to mention to Kirk unless it became unavoidable) and it took forever for him to gain back lost weight anyway, Spock knew instinctively that the problem was still his ever- troublesome emotions. Even in his special healing place--even with Jim by his side--it was impossible for him to feel fully at ease on Vulcan.
Painful memories invaded his mind so often that Spock could not even free himself of them when he slept. They had been easier to ignore when his thoughts were occupied with Kirk--first helping to ease his friend's grief over Edith's death, then agonizing alone over Kirk's injury and illness--but now that he could permit thoughts of himself, they had returned, in full force.
It occurred to Spock that they were probably stronger in this place, which had once meant peace and a respite from constant criticism and disapproval for him, because he had never come here unless his feelings of hurt and rejection had become too deep and too powerful for him to deal with in any other way. And now...?
Spock sighed, laying back down, knowing he needed sleep but not wanting to endure the memories again. He looked over at Kirk, who still seemed to be sleeping peacefully, and thought of the time they had spent in the lake chamber yesterday; for that hour-or-so, the memories had not bothered him. Jim had that ability--to make any time or place they could be alone together special, for himself as well as for Spock. He had honed and refined it into an art over the years that they had known each other, because he knew there was no other time when his Vulcan friend so nearly allowed himself to relax.
Spock tried to focus his thoughts on Kirk as he drifted off to sleep, hoping it would ward off the less pleasant memories that so often assailed him at such times. It lasted about half an hour, then--as they had every night since he had been here--the memories returned. Perhaps because there was nothing else of greater importance to occupy his mind now, they began to coalesce into a nightmare. He saw himself standing in the midst of a group of jeering, scornful Vulcans, much as he had sometimes been in his youth--except that these Vulcans were armed with daggers. As he pleaded with them to accept him, trying desperately to be heard over their shouted insults, they began to stab him, and the more he tried to resist, the more furious the attacks became. Spock heard himself cry out for help, but no one seemed to hear him, except for his mocking attackers.
Just when it seemed he was going to drown in a pool of his own blood, a golden light appeared in the surrounding darkness, and out of it stepped Kirk. Spock called out to him tearfully, and Kirk extended a hand to him. As Spock reached to take his hand and Kirk pulled him away, the light around and behind Kirk seemed to blind the other Vulcans, and they scattered before itÉ
Spock awoke abruptly, sitting upright with a shuddering gasp. When he was able to focus again on his surroundings, he was not terribly surprised to find Kirk awake and sitting close beside him with the lantern held in one hand and an alarmed expression on his face. His other hand was tightly gripping Spock's. "Are you all right?" he asked urgently.
Spock fought to regain control of himself as he responded. "Yes, I... believe so. It was...a bad dream."
"The same one I had when the fever was affecting me," Kirk concluded knowingly.
Spock stared at him in unguarded surprise. "Did you experience it again just now, at the same time I did? Is that why you are awake?"
Kirk nodded. "It wasn't as clear as last time, but I definitely got the impression that you were going through it, this time. I thought you might need me," confessed hesitantly. "Did you have it because I had it, or is it the other way around?"
Spock lowered his eyes now in embarrassment. "My...nightmare...was quite explicit, so it is far more likely that I unintentionally shared some of it with you," he admitted reluctantly.
"Does this have something to do with that...what did you call it... t'hyr arrath?" Kirk demanded to know.
"Quite probably," Spock responded faintly.
Kirk was stunned. "So we share each others' nightmares now--or *give* them to each other? Is *that* what having a mental bond with you means?"
Spock withdrew his hand from Kirk's grasp, bowing his head, drawing his knees up under his chin and locking his arms around his legs as his embarrassment deepened into shame. "I am not certain. I have never heard of such a phenomenon resulting from bonds between Vulcans, but as I told you, I have never bonded with a Human before, and there are undoubtedly unknown factors. I may be able to control it once my shielding returns...or it may be a part of our awareness of each others' emotions that we will have to endure. Since the bond is as much empathic as telepathic, it may be unavoidable. Or... possibly my Human half has something to do with it. As I said, I do not know."
Spock paused, reflecting that this was the wrong time to get into an argument with Kirk on such a subject. He was still shaken by the nightmare that had frightened and confused him beyond any ability to restore immediate and total control; the wound left by the old memories had been reopened, and Spock feared now that the surrounding emotions might overcome him if neither he nor Kirk did anything to stop it. And, at the moment, he himself seemed powerless to suppress them.
If Kirk rejected the bond *now*, after all, after initially accepting it...if Kirk rejected *him*...no. In his current emotionally vulnerable, nightmare-haunted state, he could not even bring himself to think about it. When he spoke again, it was the nightmare that lurked behind his words--the nightmare, and memories that would not seem to stay buried within him: "I am sorry, Jim...please do not be angry with me. You said...that you awoke because you thought I might ...need you. I...do seem toÉjust as you needed me when you were ill."
"I always need you," Kirk assured him understandingly, inwardly cursing himself for being so insensitive when he knew how painful that nightmare must have been for Spock. He reached out cautiously to touch his friend again, but Spock inexplicably pulled away from him. "Spock--?"
"I do not wish to be directly exposed to your anger," Spock retorted, in a hurt, slightly bitter voice. "It is painful enough to feel it directed toward me at such a close range..."
"If you think you're feeling *anger* coming from *me*, I suggest you do some preventative maintenance on your empathic ability," Kirk cut in dryly.
Spock lifted his head finally, glancing up at Kirk in confusion. "You are not--?"
"No, Spock, I'm not angry with you," Kirk assured him gently. "A little worried and afraid, maybe, about us living each other's nightmares...but that's all."
"I was always told that my level of telepathic ability was below the Vulcan norm...because of my Human half," Spock recalled hesitantly. "Perhaps this is another example of that...flaw."
Again, Kirk reached out slowly toward Spock--and this time, because he was anxious to confirm that Kirk felt no anger toward him, the Vulcan did not resist as Kirk took him by the arms and pulled his friend forward against him, allowing Spock's head to rest on his shoulder. Kirk then held him there for a time. "Does this nightmare have something to do with whatever's been bothering you lately?" he asked.
"Yes...a result, perhaps," Spock replied evasively. He did not really want to discuss his emotions now, but somewhere within him was the awareness that at least a part of him *needed* to. As he concentrated on the emotions spilling into him from Kirk, noting the depth of his concern and (as Kirk had told him) lack of anger, and began to relax more and more against Kirk's chest, he could feel his resolve weakening.
Kirk sensed both the need and the reluctance within his friend. "It's all right, Spock...you don't have to tell me what it is," he told Spock reassuringly. "But don't be *afraid* to tell me. It might help you."
"The...words...are difficult," Spock began softly. "I think it has been within me for too long." Though his voice reflected the shame he felt for this revelation, he plunged painfully ahead in hopes of gaining some new insight into what he had been feeling--while Kirk's willingness to listen gave him sufficient inspiration. "It is...only memories, Jim. I normally do not think of them, but they...have returned with some force since my return to Vulcan. They have become ...particularly difficultÉsince my trip into ShiKahr. When my mind is occupied with something else, as it was during your illness...as it still seems to be when we are in the lake chamber...I am relatively free of them. But other times, such as when I try to sleep...I remember."
"What is it you remember?" Kirk asked cautiously.
"Emotions. Events. Things I would have preferred *not* to remember-- ever." Spock paused, waiting apprehensively to see if Kirk would press him for details; as he had anticipated, Kirk did not--though he could feel his Captain fairly bursting with anxiety and curiosity to know. Someday, Spock promised himself, he would tell Kirk everything --but for now, it hurt too much to discuss it any further. "It is... being on Vulcan...that seems to be the problem. Illogical, I know... because it was *my choice* to come here, and to bring you," he continued, with difficulty. "This place in the desert held pleasant memories for me, once...but since our arrival, it has only reminded me of theÉsituationsÉthat made it necessary for me to come here as a child. I hope the Enterprise returns soon, Jim...because I do not wish to stay here any longer."
Kirk was jolted by the familiarity of this final plea. "That's what you said in my nightmare!" he recalled, in surprise. The words had been different, but the emotion--the longing to escape the unpleasant memories--had been the same.
"I...I know." Spock hesitated, but he could feel his discomfort beginning to inexplicably lessen. He squeezed Kirk's shoulder appreciatively as he tried awkwardly to return his friend's embrace. "Jim, you might wish to know...in my nightmare, you...*did* ...help me. You helped me..."
Kirk nodded knowingly, hugging Spock gently in response to the relief and strangely wondering appreciation in the Vulcan's voice. "We'll be leaving before too long," he assured Spock understandingly. "In the mean time, maybe we're making new memories for this special place of yours--*better* memories."
Spock held onto Kirk's shoulder for a little longer, then sat back, nodding silently in acceptance of this idea.
"All right, then--time for you to go back to sleep," Kirk decided.
Spock reluctantly lay back down, but showed no inclination to sleep. He kept his eyes on Kirk, who watched him expectantly. "Jim...the nightmare...if it returns, I am not certain how I will react. I would prefer...not to experience it again," he protested finally, still embarrassed.
"I don't blame you," Kirk agreed sympathetically. "Would it help if I stayed up with you?"
The temptation to accept Kirk's offer was almost too great to resist, but Spock's customary Vulcan logic reasserted itself at last. "You need sleep, too," he reminded his Captain neutrally.
"Wait a minute," Kirk said suddenly; he had an idea. He reached into Spock's pack and pulled out Spock's sapohr crystal, holding it in his hand for a moment as he placed it on top of the Vulcan's chest. "If this thing worked for me, maybe it'll help you. Just hold onto it while you sleep," Kirk suggested, then.
Spock started to object that the sapohr's supposed healing effects had not been proven, particularly not on afflictions of an emotional nature, but he thought better of it and simply accepted the crystal, taking it in his hand and examining it. It glittered and glowed in the dim lantern-light like a miniature version of Earth's sun, reflecting shades of green, yellow and amber onto Spock's face and around the chamber.
He saw the light dim, looked over at Kirk and found him lying down, getting back into his own sleeping bag. Once he was settled in, he reached out toward Spock, hesitantly offering the Vulcan his hand. Still holding the crystal firmly in his left hand, Spock reached out with his right, took Kirk's after a moment and held onto it tightly. His eyes continued to remain on his Human friend's face, reflecting his gratitude that Kirk somehow understood--without having to be told --that Spock needed this tangible connection to his comforting mental presence it he was going to sleep through the nightmare.
"Don't worry, Spock--I won't let go," Kirk promised kindly, understanding his apprehension and slightly squeezing his Vulcan friend's hand.
Spock said nothing, too tired to do anything but accept Kirk's apparent awareness of his thoughts as another effect of their awakening mental bond. He gave Kirk a faint but appreciative smile and just had time to see his Captain smile back at him before he finally managed to get back to sleep.
When Spock awoke the next morning after sleeping through the night, he found himself still holding Kirk's hand. He could feel the sapohr still in his other hand, though that hand had apparently slipped off his chest during the night; he picked it up, set it on his chest and examined it again in fascination. As he looked through the glittering topaz exterior to the glowing sunlight within, he realized with sudden clarity what it was that had first drawn him to this particular crystal; somehow, for no logical reason that he had so far been able to ascertain, it made him think of Kirk.
Spock considered the matter further as his eyes remained on the crystal. Topaz...yellow glow within. Sunlight. Terran sunlight... bright, warm, golden. A golden light? Kirk had appeared to him in his nightmare from within a golden light that had continued to surround him as he reached to rescue his Vulcan friend from his attackers. As he reflected on it, Spock realized that that was not the first time he had seen or felt the golden light and associated it with Kirk. It was also the form taken by Kirk's mental presence--and his most positive, reassuring emotions--when Spock permitted his touch.
An inner sunlight that warmed Spock as no external heat source could, driving out the cold of loneliness and uncomforted emotional turmoil, which he had long ago resigned himself to either dealing with logically or living with it when logic was ineffective. It was good to have that warmth available to him now when he needed it, Spock told himself; now, if only he could learn to accept the need when he felt it and *allow* that warm, golden light to penetrate his customary wall of logic and emotional control...
Looking through the sapohr and beyond, Spock suddenly realized that Kirk was awake, sitting beside him and studying him worriedly. When he saw that Spock was finally aware of him, he squeezed the Vulcan's hand reassuringly. "Feeling better?" he asked.
Spock's eyes sparkled with quiet affection as they met Kirk's. "I think so. The nightmare came back, but it did not wake me. It was not as...powerful...as before," he observed cautiously. "Your touch seems to have helped. I...could feel your presence so strongly, even through the nightmare. Jim, are you sure you did not object...to having your thoughts and emotions exposed to me for so long?"
"You didn't mind having *your* thoughts and emotions exposed to *me*," Kirk pointed out kindly.
"I do not know, of course, but I would think...that a non-telepath would have difficulty adjusting to the concept," Spock explained hesitantly.
"Oh, I never *said* I'd 'adjusted' to it. You're right--that *will* take time," Kirk agreed. "But I'm not afraid of it, either."
Spock responded to Kirk's gentle smile by sitting up slowly. "Perhaps it is just that...you have not yet felt anything you believed was too unpleasant to share with me."
"Maybe so," Kirk returned quietly, knowing he could not truthfully deny the possibility. He thought it best to change the subject. "You missed your silver birds again."
"I would have liked to see them once more before we left," Spock admitted, then shook his head determinedly as he continued. "But it does not matter so much, now. I think I have discovered...something that may be better."
He did not elaborate, and Kirk drew his own conclusions as to what the Vulcan might be referring to. The expression in Spock's eyes seemed to lend credence to what Kirk's intuition told him--that it was his Captain's friendship, perhaps the new dimension given to it by their new mental bond, which now seemed to provide Spock with a level of emotional support that the silver birds could not. "Come on--I feel like going for a swim," Kirk told him, then. "We'll eat on the way down."
Forty minutes later, they were in the lake chamber, splashing around in the water--or more accurately, Spock was moving erratically around the shallow end of the lake in an increasingly futile effort to evade Kirk's splashing. Eventually, he gave up, stopped where he was and turned to face Kirk, retaliating with one huge "spuh-LASH" that almost knocked Kirk off his feet. Kirk surrendered finally, laughing, and encouraged Spock to try to float again.
Spock managed to get himself into the correct position, with some difficulty.
"All right, now, remember what I told you yesterday--try to relax," Kirk instructed.
Spock obediently spent the next few minutes trying to concentrate on controlling his customary apprehension enough to unclench his arm and leg muscles. Eventually, he looked up at Kirk in embarrassment, knowing he was probably as controlled as he would *ever* be in the water--yet he could not seem to move anything but his head. An idea struck him as he recalled how Kirk had managed to get him to relax in days past, thinking again of yesterday's lesson..."Perhaps if you talk to me..."
Kirk nodded understandingly. "What should I talk about?"
"It does not matter. Anything." Suddenly, Spock had an inspiration. "Since I have told you...something...of what my life was like before I joined Starfleet, perhaps *you* could tell *me*--if you would not consider it an invasion of your privacy--what that part of your life was like."
Kirk was visibly startled. "This is the first time since I've known you that you've expressed any interest in my background," he observed.
"I always assumed you would consider any such inquiries...intrusive. But that does not mean I was never curious," Spock explained quietly. "I have wondered...if, for example, you...grew up very differently from me. *Would* you object to discussing it with me?"
"No, of course not," Kirk assured him. Then he shrugged uncertainly, not sure where Spock wanted him to start or how much detail he should go into. "Well, you already know I'm from the North American region of Earth--the United States of America, that is. I was born and raised on a farm in Iowa, and I grew up with my parents and one brother. What else would you like to know?"
Spock hesitated; he had not expected Kirk to be so eager to discuss his past. But if his Captain's youth and childhood had been pleasant, as Spock strongly suspected, then perhaps Kirk *enjoyed* reminiscing about them. Spock gave in to his curiosity and decided to take advantage of Kirk's openness. "Tell me of your school years, Jim. I...suppose...that you had many friends," he prompted cautiously.
"Oh, I guess I had my share," Kirk admitted thoughtfully. "School years? I did pretty well, I think. Graduated at the top of my class in high school--magna cum laude, in fact--before I enrolled in Starfleet Academy. Yes, I had friends during those years--I was lucky. A lot of them were people I grew up with. Most of them came and went, or we lost track of each other after I joined Starfleet. Some were close friends, and still are." He paused, looking Spock directly in the eyes. "Then there are *special* friends--most people only get one of those in a lifetime, if at all; they're very rare."
"You...*have* such a friend, do you not?" Spock ventured, thinking now of McCoy.
But it was obvious from Kirk's expression and the warm smile he gave the Vulcan in response that McCoy was not the friend he'd had in mind. "Yes, Spock, I do--and so do you," he told his friend gently.
Spock colored slightly green as he realized what Kirk meant. "We *did* grow up differently," he concluded, feeling something like disappointment rising within him. He realized, however, that it was probably just as well; he would not have wished his own childhood upon anyone, least of all Jim.
"We *are* different," Kirk reminded him. "Different philosophies, different lives...different worlds. It doesn't matter. Because--I think--some of the same things are important to both of us, otherwise we never would've become friends." He looked closely at Spock, beyond the mingled awe and understanding on his face, and noticed that his Vulcan friend was finally floating in a relaxed position, moving his arms a little bit, now. "Look at you--you're doing it!" Kirk declared suddenly.
The abrupt change of subject startled Spock, but he looked down at his arms and legs and could not help feeling somewhat pleased with himself. "Yes...yes. Now, if only I can continue this way."
They fell silent, watching and waiting to see how long Spock could keep it up. "Try to move your legs," Kirk suggested, at length.
Spock complied, moving his legs from side to side, rather stiffly. As he moved his arms further away from his side, the recurring, illogical fear that he was going to sink returned out of nowhere and his body began to fold up on itself again. This time, however, he grabbed hold of Kirk's hand and quickly righted himself in the water, standing up without a sound. "Sorry," he murmured ruefully.
"It's all right--you're starting to get the hang of it, now," Kirk reassured him, squeezing Spock's hand just before the Vulcan let go of Kirk's.
As Spock was about to respond, the relative quiet of their surroundings was pierced by a sharp, definitely out-of-place sound.
"My communicator," Spock informed him quickly, cutting off Kirk's startled, instinctive reaction and moving hastily back to the water's edge. Kirk followed him out onto one of the surrounding rocks, and together they hurried as fast as they safely could back to where Spock had left his clothing and other gear; Spock then dug out his communicator, which he naturally always kept with him, flipped it open and activated it. "Spock here."
"This is Mr. Scott on the Enterprise. Sorry for the long delay in gettin' back to ye, Mr. Spock, but we ran into a bit o' Klingon trouble on the return trip. Are you an' the Captain ready to beam up?"
Spock raised a startled eyebrow at the seeming abruptness of this as a brief image of him and Kirk beaming up wearing nothing but their swimsuits flashed across his mind. "We will require...a few moments of preparation, Mr. Scott. Also, not all of our belongings are with us at these coordinates," he returned carefully.
"Aye, we're already locked onto your other gear. Beaming it aboard now," Scott informed him.
"Very well, then--I will contact you as soon as we are ready to beam up. Spock out."
Spock and Kirk immediately separated, changed clothes, and gathered up everything else they had brought with them, a procedure that took perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, because Kirk insisted on checking around repeatedly to make sure they had everything.
Finally, Spock activated his communicator again. "Spock to Enterprise. Beam us up, Mr. Scott," he said quietly, looking around the lake chamber one last time and reflecting that he might have actually been content here. As his eyes came to rest gratefully on Kirk's face, they began to dematerialize and eventually faded temporarily from each other's sight.
Once they were back aboard ship, the first order of business after putting everything away was a shave and a trim for Kirk, a haircut for Spock, and real (sonic) showers for both of them. By that time, McCoy had contacted each of them and reminded them with his customary crustiness that Kirk was due in Sickbay for a follow-up examination.
When Kirk and Spock both arrived in McCoy's office, the Doctor greeted them with an expression of alarm. Before he could say anything, however, Kirk presented him with the sapohr crystal he had brought back from Vulcan for McCoy. "Here, Bones--a souvenir."
McCoy took the crystal, examining it curiously. "Pretty," he commented, in puzzlement, turning it in his hand and watching the dark sapphire crystal sparkle with green and turquoise light reflections. "Okay, I give up. What is it?"
"The Vulcan name translates to 'star-crystal'," Kirk explained. "They grow in the mountains on Vulcan. We each got one. I picked yours and mine because they both remind me of Spock--see? Blue, a 'cool' color, and green, like Spock's blood."
"That's a real good idea, Jim--just what I need around here: another reminder of that pointy-eared Vulcan," McCoy muttered irritably, still looking at the crystal. "Well, I can already tell it's got more personality than *Spock* ever did."
"This particular type of crystal is also reputed to have certain healing powers," Spock pointed out tolerantly, though he was in no mood for McCoy's teasing.
"Poppycock," McCoy snapped. Then he realized that Spock was actually beginning to appear hurt. "Spock, I was *kidding*," he told the Vulcan emphatically.
"Understood," Spock returned quietly. "But I was not. I would suggest that you not be so quick to dismiss this particular Vulcan legend. The Captain and I have seen it at work."
"And how, pray tell, is it supposed to work?" McCoy demanded dubiously.
"Someone who is ill or injured must touch it or hold it for a time."
"Oh." McCoy decided to say nothing more, since he could think of nothing else to say that was not sarcastic.
"Doctor, you *will* keep it, will you not? Jim picked it out especially for you." Spock's voice almost pleaded.
"Credit where credit is due. It was *Spock's* idea," Kirk put in.
"All right, all right. You two can knock off the mutual admiration society. I have every intention of keeping it," McCoy assured them, looking at Spock. "I'm sorry. I've been worried about Jim," he apologized, setting the crystal down on his desk. "Now you two walk in here, and...good God, you two look worse now than when you left!" He paused, focusing his attention on Spock again. "And I think I better look *you* over as soon as I'm through with Jim," he added, as they headed into the examination room. "What happened down there, anyway?"
As McCoy examined Kirk, Spock described to him in as much detail as he could bear to Kirk's injury and illness, emphasizing the medical aspects and striving to keep what he had gone through emotionally to himself--but McCoy was not so easily fooled. He heard the pain and embarrassment behind the controlled voice and thought he could guess what sort of emotions Spock had been experiencing.
"Well, considering what he's been through, he seems to be making good progress back to recovery," McCoy decided, after he had completed his examination and let Kirk back up off the table. "You're going to be fine, Jim. You're fit for duty, but I want you to take it easy for another week or so, at least--no strenuous recreational activities, and none of this double-shift stuff like you were trying to pull before your leave started."
Kirk nodded understandingly. "I'm not due to report to the Bridge 'til 0800 tomorrow, so I think I'll go back to my cabin and take a nap."
"Good idea," McCoy commented. Then he turned his attention to Spock. "All right, Spock, get up here," he instructed.
Spock complied hesitantly, watching Kirk as the latter headed back across the room toward the door.
McCoy saw the veiled anxiety in the dark Vulcan eyes as the followed the Captain's movements. "Don't worry--you obviously took good care of him; he's all right," he told Spock reassuringly.
Spock quickly pulled his eyes away and composed his features into a mask of non-emotion, which McCoy largely ignored as he checked to see that the diagnostic scanners had been reset for Spock's Vulcan physiology. "Well, Doctor?" Spock demanded, at length, a slight edge of impatience to his voice.
"Well, you're actually in worse condition than Jim is," McCoy returned dryly, after studying the diagnostic panel's readings. "You've lost about fifteen pounds that you had no business losing. Get some real food in you and some sleep before you go back to the Bridge; if you don't gain back some weight in a few days, I may have to prescribe a vitamin supplement."
"I do not think that will be necessary," Spock assured him coolly, getting up carefully from the table.
"Spock...thanks for the crystal," McCoy said, then. "I wasn't in much of a mood to appreciate it before, but it is very pretty. I've never seen any mineral specimens from Vulcan before, and I was just kidding when I said I didn't want to be reminded of you. Okay if I keep it in my office?"
Spock nodded in acceptance of McCoy's effort to make amends. "Quite all right, Doctor, though I would advise keeping it on a shelf, not on your desk--it is rather fragile," he recommended, then added understandingly, "As to the rest...I knew you were concerned about the Captain's condition, and that was sufficient."
McCoy stopped the Vulcan yet again as he turned and started away. "How did it go? Is Jim over Edith now?" the Doctor asked anxiously.
Spock thought of Kirk's final fever-induced vision, when he had said goodbye to her for the last time, and his eyes filled with uncertainty. "He...has not spoken of her, or thought of her since the fever passed," Spock admitted, still clearly concerned, despite his efforts to suppress the emotion. "But he *has*...'grieved'...in the way you wanted him to."
McCoy nodded understandingly, remembering their last conversation before the Enterprise's abrupt departure. "Then I suppose he's probably over her as much as he ever will be," he concluded resignedly.
"I trust that will be sufficient," Spock returned quietly, though inwardly, he was not yet convinced. He turned away then and departed before McCoy could comment further.
Spock was on his way back to his quarters when something he could not at the time identify prompted him to go to the Observation Deck. He found Kirk there, looking out through the viewport at the stars and the fire-red planet below, and went quietly to join him. "I understood, from what you told Dr. McCoy, that you were going back to your quarters to sleep," he observed, in a half-chiding tone.
Kirk turned away briefly to acknowledge the Vulcan's presence and found Spock standing beside him with his hands clasped behind his back in a reassuringly normal manner. Strangely enough, he felt no particular surprise at Spock's sudden appearance. "I never said I was going straight back to my cabin from Sickbay," he pointed out wryly.
"True," Spock agreed hesitantly.
"Besides--didn't I hear him tell you to go eat something and get some sleep, yourself?" Kirk challenged, then.
Spock nodded. "I intend to do so--but I wanted to speak to you first," he asserted.
"And you knew I was here," Kirk concluded curiously. "The bond again?"
"I would assume so. And on that subject, it may interest you to know that my shielding ability is beginning to return," Spock informed him. "I...experimented with it during the time I spent showering and changing my clothes, and for a few minutes, it seemed to work."
"Oh. Well, that's good." Kirk's voice, however, was full of ambivalence. He knew Spock had not been comfortable being constantly exposed to all of his Captain's emotions, but somehow, Kirk had allowed himself to believe that Spock had gradually gotten used to it --that none of his emotions could be *that* offensive; now he saw the folly of those delusions, and it was not that easy to accept it immediately.
Spock was all too aware of what Kirk was feeling. "Jim, you have no reason to feel offended or embarrassed," he assured Kirk calmly. "I have, in most instances, *needed* to have that awareness of your emotions. If I had been able to fully shield myself from them, I would have done so instinctively and consistently--and perhaps I would not have been able to take care of you as efficiently without that degree of empathy."
"You obviously aren't shielding now," Kirk noted warily, trying unsuccessfully to ignore Spock's slight but apparent discomfort.
"I am still unable to do it when we are this close together," Spock explained, in a controlled voice.
"You have my permission to stand across the room, if that'll help any," Kirk retorted, turning back to face the viewport.
Spock made a futile effort to ignore the veiled sarcasm in Kirk's voice, certain it was unintentional. "It will not," he returned evenly. "Besides, it *should not* be necessary," he added then, regarding Kirk with an eyebrow raised expectantly. The implication, he hoped, was obvious: he could bear their nearness of Kirk would permit it. Logically, it would be difficult to talk to Kirk from across the room...
Kirk sighed, half-turning toward him again. "You're right--it's not. I'm sorry--I guess I'm still having trouble getting used to this mental bond," he admitted ruefully. "I must need sleep worse than I thought. It's just...I know it doesn't make any sense, but I liked thinking that you were--enjoying--feeling my emotions."
"At times, I was," Spock responded understandingly. "As I told you, I...needed to do so...during this time. But Vulcans are taught early in life to shield their minds from the emotions of others, especially the negative emotions. Would you have me experience your anger and your fear, or anything *else* unpleasant that you might feel?"
"Not if you don't want to," Kirk assured him kindly. "I would never do anything that might hurt you, mentally or otherwise; you know that."
"Yes," Spock admitted, relaxing inwardly and grateful that they seemed to have reached a sort of mutual understanding on this matter. "It will take time for both of us to adjust to the bond, Jim. But the fact that my shielding ability is beginning to return means that the bond is strengthening, and somewhat more rapidly than I had expected. It will get easier for us as the bond solidifies."
Kirk nodded finally in acceptance of Spock's explanation. "Is that all you wanted to talk to me about?" he asked, then.
"No," Spock replied, searching Kirk's face with a sudden anxiety that he could not suppress. "Dr. McCoy asked me if...if you had recovered from Edith's death. I...was not certain what to tell him."
Again, Kirk turned back to the viewport. "I...think...I'm past the worst of it, Spock. I still have regrets, and it still hurts to remember watching her die, knowing I could've saved her but didn't dare--but I guess that's going to be unavoidable," he reflected softly. "If I think of other things, though--like how happy I was when we were together--it's not so bad, and I'm glad to have those memories." He paused, glancing sidelong at Spock. "I'd never have gotten past her death if not for you, you know--not to mention the fact that I'd be dead by now if you hadn't taken such good care of me."
Spock lowered his eyes uncomfortably. "I was only trying to beÉwhat you would consider a 'friend'."
"And trying to make up for something that wasn't your fault, anyway," Kirk reminded him sympathetically. "I hope you understand now that you weren't responsible. You said what had to be said--and I knew that from the first, or I wouldn't have paid any attention to you. I'd have saved her, anyway."
Spock spoke without looking up. "Logically, I knew it...but to see you in such pain because you allowed yourself to feel love for her... it made me think I might have kept silent and found some other alternative. I almost wish that we could have remained, even in that primitive period of Earth history, if it meant that you and Edith could have remained together," he admitted faintly.
"Or else that we could've brought her back with us?" Kirk added, smiling sadly at the Vulcan. "I'd hate to tell you how many times those ideas have run through *my* mind. But even if we hadn't had McCoy saving her and changing history to worry about, neither of us would've been happy there for long. And Edith would have noticed."
"She did seem to be...a most perceptive young woman," Spock recalled, somewhat wistfully, looking up again. "I will always regret the necessity of her death."
Kirk nodded appreciatively. "I think she knew, somehow, that I was going to need you--that I could search through all of time and space and not find a better friend than you," he reflected, looking Spock full in the face. "Remember what she said when you asked where she thought we belonged?"
"Yes. She said that I belonged...'at your side...as if I had always been there and always would be'," Spock recalled hesitantly. Shame and affection warred within the brown depths of his eyes as they met Kirk's, belying his otherwise controlled expression. "'Always' is a very long time, Jim. But that *is* where I would prefer to spend it ...if you would have me with you."
"Spock..." Instinctively, Kirk reached out to put an arm around the Vulcan's shoulders and drew him cautiously against his side, feeling the initial stiffening of Spock's muscles melt almost instantly; though Spock did not respond, he felt no inclination to object. "...oh, my friend. Don't you know by now that there's no way I could do *without* you?" Kirk continued gently.
Together, they looked out the viewport as the planet began to slowly recede from view. "Our leave on Vulcan seems to have served its purpose," Spock observed quietly, at length.
"Yes. But I gather you're glad to see the last of it," Kirk ventured cautiously.
"Oddly enough, except for your injury and illness, this may be the most...pleasant...time I have ever spent on Vulcan."
Kirk turned to stare at him in surprise, but immediately realized that it must have been his company that had made the difference for Spock, allowing him to enjoy at least some of his time there. "I told you we'd make some good memories for your special place," Kirk reminded him.
Spock nodded in agreement. "And we did. But I have no wish to return. *This* is where I wish to be," he assured Kirk, raising a questioning eyebrow at him. "What shall I tell Dr. McCoy if he asks me again about your recovery from Edith's death?"
Kirk thought about it for a moment. "Tell him...I can handle it, now."
Spock turned completely sideways to look him full in the face. "If it...becomes painful...again, you *must* let McCoy help you," the Vulcan urged, softly but intensely. "Talk to him, Jim. He can do things for you that I cannot."
"I will," Kirk promised him. "But don't *you* back out on me, now. I'll need *both* of you if that happens."
Spock averted his eyes now, looking at the viewport again. "I...will do what I can," he promised. Then he continued uneasily, "But you must *tell* me what to do if I seem...inadequate...not ignore me, as you did for so long after we left the Time Planet."
"Agreed," Kirk acceded kindly. He gave his friend another affectionate one-armed hug, and they watched Spock's homeworld get smaller and smaller in the distance until it disappeared entirely. Kirk removed his arm finally from Spock's shoulders and started away from the viewport, talking over his shoulder to his First Officer. "Come on, Spock--let's go get something to eat. And while we're in the Rec Room, we can work up a schedule for your swimming lessons."
A faint echo of Kirk's smile touched Spock's lips as he moved to accept his Captain's invitation. It was good to be back in a place where, given a choice that he had not really had in the caverns on Vulcan, Kirk still sought out his company. And others, too--McCoy, with his gruff sort of affection, and even Christine Chapel, with the love she felt for him and tried valiantly but futilely to hide-- welcomed Spock's presence, valued his opinions and respected him as a Vulcan and as a Starfleet officer.
It more than made up for his experience in ShiKahr, and it gave Spock a warm, secure feeling inside--which, for the moment, he wanted Kirk to share. Acceptance by one friend like Jim Kirk was worth all the custom-sanctioned condescension and intolerance that Satik and any like him could subject Spock to. Somewhere deep within him, Spock was aware that pon farr and his matrimonial bond with T'Pring might still force him back to Vulcan some time within the next year, but he stubbornly kept the knowledge buried deep within him; he did not want to think about that, now. Besides...surely after so many years among Humans, his Human half would now be strong enough to shield him from that.
//Jim is right,// Spock told himself finally. //I think I *am*... pleased...to be away from Vulcan. I am better off here. I am... home.//
He joined Kirk now, and together they stepped through the door, continuing on their way to the Rec Room. Spock contemplated the emotions he perceived so clearly within Kirk now because he was still unable to shield himself from them at this proximity--the affection, concern and contentment, all centered mainly on his Vulcan friend-- and Spock knew that they would be all right. Their mental bond would help, now; he would take care of Jim, and Jim--now that Spock was learning to allow him to do it--would take care of him.
Spock could feel that bond growing stronger and deeper, even now. Nothing on Vulcan or Earth, or in the universe itself, would dissolve it, now that Kirk had accepted it. And nothing on Vulcan or Earth, or in the universe itself, would prevent them from surviving this together.