WARNING: This story includes NC-17 male/male material, suitable for readers 18 years of age and older. Please do not read if you object to the premise.
The shout of the security ensign brought Kirk running to where they had been attempting to phaser an entrance into the alien structure.
Nothing but darkness showed inside. Ensign Tolliver was saying, “Funniest thing I ever saw. All of a sudden, it just fell in. We hadn't stepped up the power or anything.”
Kirk called for readings.
“Nothing,” Science Lieutenant Chan said. “Hard vacuum. No sign of the methane atmosphere we detected earlier. Power usage stopped a moment before the entrance was made.”
“Two.” She examined the tricorder in the harsh light of her headbeam. “Vulcan and Caitian.”
Kirk stared into the dark interior. “Let's go.”
The party of six--himself, the science lieutenant, McCoy and three security guards--ducked through the narrow opening and moved inside. Headlights swept the seamless floor in front of them, revealing nothing.
“It's all of a piece, sir,” Chan said. “Walls, floor, ceiling--the same material.”
“No other life readings?”
A few moments and several hundred yards later, their beams picked up two figures. Kirk broke into a run, the team close on his heels. Kirk dropped down to his knees, reaching out, not able to touch through the safety of the environmental suits protecting them all.
Obscured inside their suits, Spock and the Caitian woman were locked into a tight embrace, eyes closed. McCoy studied his tricorder readings.
“Unharmed, Captain. I think they're in a meld, but these readings don't correspond with any I've taken in the past.”
Kirk looked at them, swallowing down a feeling of dread. “Let's get them back to the ship.”
McCoy spoke into his communicator, then locked gazes with Kirk. “We shouldn't separate them.”
Kirk nodded, finding no words. The harsh light of their headbeams etched out what little of Spock's angular features were revealed through the faceplate, threw shadows around his tightly-closed eyes. His expression was near to pain. He saw where Spock's hands tightly clasped the Caitian woman, saw her face locked in that same harsh grimace, and he thought of survivors, holding onto the end of a fraying rope.
“Let's get them out of here.”
In the noise and clutter of Sickbay Kirk watched as their suits were removed. Spock and the woman seemed aware on some level; certainly they clung to each other tightly, and the process of getting them out of their support suits and into Sickbay garb was a difficult one. They showed no reaction whatsoever to any outside sight or sound or touch.
“We need a Vulcan for this,” McCoy said, frowning at the readings.
“We don't have one. We sent them all over to the HEART OF TAENOR,” Kirk snapped. then turned away from McCoy's glare. He strode to the intercom. “DiFalco. Lay in course back the way we came. Let me know ETA to the Barrier.”
He was on the Bridge when they made the return journey. It was a rough ride. but it seemed less turbulent than when they first went through. Kirk rode it out with the rest of them, watching the seething energy mass. concentrating on his job, keeping rein on his own inner turbulence, on the gut fear in him, and the unworthy jealousy.
I should have been with you, Spock, he thought, thinking of Spock and Lt. Rea, twined on the Sickbay bed together, Spock holding on to her as if she were his only connection with life. We've faced it all before. Why without me this time?
Answers to his questions hovered in his mind, but anger forced them away. When the call from Sickbay came, he almost ran the entire distance.
When he arrived, Spock and Lt. Rea were both conscious and in separate beds. Hypersensitive, Kirk imagined something still connecting them, a joining, an invisible bond, and with a jolt he admitted his fear.
Spock had said it before, the warning he'd extended before dangerous melds: the loss of separate identity. Not only that. The bonding of compatible minds.
He stared hard at Lt. Rea, remembering when he would have found her exotic alien beauty a lure, the old words of charm and seduction reeling like a tape in his mind. And he remembered what he had said to Miranda, those harsh words about jealousy. He thought--so now it's time for me to experience what she felt.
If there had been anything in his mind to reach for, any trace of the belief that had followed his nightmare, the conviction he’d felt on the observation deck that Spock was still there with him... And then, for one bright instant just before they broke through the wall of the alien ship, he'd suddenly felt himself holding Spock in a strong embrace... But that impression had vanished and now all perception of their bond was gone, and he didn't understand why.
McCoy was hovering nearby, and Kirk directed his gaze to him. “How are they?”
“I am quite well, Jim.”
He turned to Spock, hearing the hesitant note in the deep voice, and faced the emotion in Spock's eyes. Was it concern? Or wariness?
Stiffly, not quite knowing why he couldn't relax, he approached the bed, moving in on the right side so Spock would have to look away from Lt. Rea to meet his gaze.
Spock's hand moved slightly on the coverlet as if he wanted to reach out to Kirk, but he was always mindful of propriety and dignity; they never touched in public. The long fingers curled in on themselves as their gaze locked. Kirk knew his eyes held a stormy brew of concern and anger, love and pain.
“What happened out there?” He'd intended to be gentle, but his words sounded harsh to his ears.
“It is difficult to explain.” Spock sat up and steepled his fingers, his gaze distant as he searched for words to reconstruct the experience. “It was similar to my experience with V'ger, Captain, but on a different scale. This entity was completely alien to our perspective, and what communication resulted was limited.”
“You contacted it mentally.”
Spock nodded. “Our thought patterns were very alien. Before my mental contact with it, I don't believe it ever precisely understood our existence as separate life forms. It studied us in great detail mentally, but it could not fully integrate the data. It was as if we were to receive complete records of another culture, but had an incomplete translation, one missing key components. Mutual points of reference were minimal.”
“Yet there was some communication,” Kirk pressed.
“Some,” Spock agreed. “Enough for me to understand a little of its nature. Enough for it to understand some of ours.”
“Is it gone now?”
“Can you explain it at all?”
Spock frowned down at his hands. “Perhaps the word should be 'they' more than 'it', though that term isn't entirely operative. They were not individual minds as we know them... more of a hive-mind, all unified by the same thoughts and purpose. That structure we entered was the outward manifestation of their encroachment into this universe--a 'bubble', so to speak, from another dimension. Wherever they are from, their Universe does not operate on any of the principles we understand. The closest I can explain it is that they are one with their universe--more than that, that their dimension of existence is an isolated pocket in the space/time fabric, and that the entire dimension is sentient. It would be fascinating to discover what principles operate--the question of entropy, for example--”
“Will they be back?” Kirk interupted.
“I don't think so. Their intrusion into this universe was more accidental that intentional...an analogy would be...being in a room without doors or windows, then suddenly finding a small hole to look through. They found that 'hole' and looked through--but I do not believe they have any interest in further exploration of our universe. They did evince curiosity regarding the existence of more transcendent planes. They were quite interested in my encounter with V'ger.”
Kirk considered. “If they were to find V'ger's dimension--would they join with V'ger? Would they return here?”
“Doubtful. I believe their interests would lead them into other realms, imperceptible to our frame of reality.”
“Can we be sure of that?” Kirk pressed.
Spock was silent. Kirk watched as he traded a look with Lt. Rea. “No, we cannot be. But I would say the chances of their returning are very small.”
“Lieutenant,” Kirk turned his attention to Rea. “Do you know why you went out to that planet?”
“I'm not sure.” She sounded very tired. She glanced at Spock as if looking for an answer. Her glance held total trust, and a kind of intimacy Kirk could not name and yet which stabbed at him with a clear kind of pain. “It called me, I suppose. It's not clear anymore. I wanted to protect my children.”
Kirk glanced at her belly despite himself, and took his eyes away. “You went out there to protect them?”
She frowned at his words. “It wanted to understand my children--I felt this in the meld...I really don't understand. Perhaps Spock does.”
McCoy interposed, “Jim, they both need rest. You could do with some yourself.”
Kirk frowned, avoiding Spock's concerned eyes. “All right,” he said and headed to the door without further argument.
Kirk didn't return to his quarters. He found himself on the Observation Deck instead, watching the stars as they headed toward a rendezvous point with the HEART OF TAENOR. He found himself thinking of Gary Mitchell.
Images from his nightmare returned: Spock, eyes gleaming silver, showing him his grave. Reality was a little more subtle, a little more elusive. All he had were a few glances traded between Spock and a strange woman. All he had lost--the security of the bond--replaced by emptiness, a terrible, unfamiliar emptiness...combined with a toxic mix of hurt and bewilderment and anger.
What the hell's the matter with you, Kirk? He's back. Alive. Well. Sane. The ship's out of danger. The danger itself is past. We can go back to normal...
Normal. Yeah, what's that? He thought of how easy, how right the last year had been. He'd never felt so fulfilled. He'd never even thought of anyone else; he'd caught himself looking a few times--beautiful women, shapely female bodies were always eye-catchers--but it wasn't what he wanted anymore.
He settled back into his seat and thought of Gary. He'd known what Gary was capable of; that he could be a manipulative, charming bastard, callous and indifferent to other people. But he had charm in plenty, and Kirk wasn't sure now just why he'd cultivated that friendship. Could be he saw some of himself in the other man. Could be that it was safer to watch someone else use charm to manipulate others; made it easier to disguise that same ability in himself.
But Gary could be hurt. He'd known that, too. They'd gone back a long way.
They'd been on a camping trip once, out by the banks of a redirected, artificial river in some ag project in the American Midwest. It was surprisingly easy to remember just how the firelight had looked, easy to remember the pattern of light and shadow it cast on their faces, remember the sound of their voices as they talked.
Kirk didn't know why he'd brought it up, and to Gary, of all people, but his own words came back clearly. “Haven't you ever really want to be close to someone?”
“Sure. Who hasn't?”
“I mean close in every way...close enough to share everything.”
“You're an incurable romantic, Jim.”
“Well, maybe I am,” he said, annoyed at being defensive. “I never thought of myself that way, though.”
“Think about it, Jim. How many people could you trust that much to? And for how long? It's always popular in entertainments, but I haven't seen much of it in real life.”
Kirk thought about his parents and all the difficulties they had had; he thought of his brother's disasterous first marriage. “You're probably right.”
But something inside him had still wanted it...an intimacy that he rationally knew was impossible. All the corny romantic phrases. Soul-mate. A love to last forever. Total trust. The funny thing was, he'd had them all, up until a short while ago.
Spock, he thought with pain. What do we do now? What's happened to you that you aren't saying?
He didn't leave the Observation Deck until the Bridge informed him of their approach to the HEART OF TAENOR. Various duties occupied him for the next several hours. He checked in with Sickbay twice, heard that Spock was sleeping the first time and studying tapes the next. He didn't ask about Lt. Rea, and McCoy didn't volunteer any information.
He went off shift and headed straight to his quarters. He didn't think he'd sleep, but fell off right away.
“The sleep signal is on in his quarters,” McCoy reported to Spock.
“I know,” Spock replied, aware that their dormant bond had begun to re-establish itself.
There wasn't much to it yet; he had not consciously tried to reinstate the bond. Jim hadn't been there long enough; they hadn't been alone. He had assumed they would need privacy; that he would need to see Jim, to speak to him in order to re-establish the bond... but his unconscious mind, recognizing that the danger was gone, had already made tentative moves toward repairing what he had so damaged.
He had been aware earlier, on a low level, of Jim's whereabouts. Nothing else had come through, and even while he found himself craving contact, part of him shied away from it too. His soul still ached, as if a chill wind had ripped through it, and the experience had now settled upon him like sunburn--a minor pain, unless touched. To go out, to seek contact--it was like inviting a wound to be deepened.
And yet, not to have that contact again, not to be with Jim again--that was death.
He needed rest.
A little time. Perhaps something else.
He glanced up as Lt. Rea entered the room, dressed in a fresh uniform. Her gold eyes appraised him silently, and he felt passing between them a kind of poignant sorrow. Their sudden intimacy had lasted for a brief time; now it was time for parting.
He went to stand beside her, still not speaking.
“I am glad to have met you,” she said. “My Brother.”
It was no longer the polite form of Caitian speech she used. She had chosen to use the intimate form. He had become family.
He held out his hand in the Vulcan salute, and she matched the gesture.
“Live long and prosper, my Sister,” he said, giving the last word the inflection it required.
“I shall let you know when my children are born,” she said. “I am glad to be able to share with another at last.”
“This link we share is residual...it will not last,” he said cautiously. Her presence in his mind was already waning; their rapport had already begun to fade.
“Then I rejoice, for I have known it once.” She inclined her head. “And I will call you Brother for all my days.”
“Sister,” he acknowledged.
She left then, ears pricked back to listen as she paused by the door. Then she went out.
He stood there for a moment, the background bustle of Sickbay a low buzz behind him. Need washed over him, a need to see Jim again. He glanced around and saw the room was temporarily empty.
That decided him. He was going to see Jim now.
Kirk stared at the viewer, trying to concentrate on ship's business. For awhile he counterfeited it, managing enough concentration to run past the latest fuel consumption reports and a few of the more recent Starfleet updates.
The door slid open suddenly.
He started and turned to find himself looking at Spock.
How long has it been since I was surprised when you entered this door? A year ago? Never? Before we were bonded, you never entered my cabin without signalling... and after the bonding I always knew where you were.
Their gazes held, uncomfortably long, without any words to break the stillness. Kirk considered what to say and discarded several false starts. Spock moved further into the cabin, for all the world as if he intended to follow his usual routine, as if nothing had ever happened.
“I wasn't sure if you'd come,” Kirk said.
“I belong here,” Spock said quietly. Kirk saw the question in his eyes, the need for...forgiveness? acceptance? forgetfulness?
“I wish you'd remembered that earlier.” There was even more bitterness in his words than he'd expected. The harsh sound of his voice hit Spock; Kirk saw the hurt in the brown eyes and was perversely glad.
“You did it to me again,” Kirk bit off the words. “You cut me off and ran away. How many times does this make it?”
“You are right.” He paused a moment. “We must talk.”
He took a seat by Kirk. Too close. Kirk could feel the heat from his body, too clear a reminder of what was so dear to him.
Lover. But there was a chasm between them; one, he had thought, after V'ger, had been filled in forever.
“I'm getting sick of it, Mister,” he said, and what he remembered was the harsh pain at hearing the news after the end of the first five year mission that Spock had gone back to Vulcan without a word of explanation. “It's becoming too much of a goddamn pattern.”
“Jim--you know my reasons.”
“Yes. Your reasons. I'm having a hard time figuring out which one would apply here.”
Spock closed his eyes briefly. His hands made a convulsive move forward, stopped, clenched into fists instead. He opened his eyes again, looking at him levelly. “We discussed all this before. That if I--if our bonding ever presented a danger to the ship--or to you--”
“We discussed that, yes. But I don't remember ever talking about this particular subject.”
Spock looked away. “It did seem inherent in the subject--”
Kirk cut him off. “That if danger threatened, you'd leave without a word of explanation? I don't recall that conversation. And it isn't always danger, is it? What about before we were bonded? Going to Talos 4--when you knew I would have understood. Going to Vulcan--when just a few words would have saved us both a lot of misery and wasted time. Going out to V'ger--nearly getting killed--all because you needed your answers--you didn’t go out there for the sake of the mission--”
“That brought us together.” Spock's words had taken on a vehemence Kirk seldom heard, but his eyes still betrayed hurt, the look of someone unjustly accused. “You are my answer.”
Kirk took a long breath, mind still roiling with anger and pain and love and pure tenderness for this man before him. “I thought you trusted me, after V'ger. I thought if we were bonded you would never leave me again.”
“No, you didn't, did you?” Kirk cut him off again. “Well, I've been thinking a lot. About what your lack of trust in me implies.”
“I have trusted you with everything,” Spock said in a hoarse whisper.
“Everything? What the hell do you think I'm talking about? Just how far does your trust extend? Obviously not far enough to let me participate in a decision that will affect my entire life. Obviously not enough to even talk it over before you walk away.” Spock's gaze held his, his face naked with emotion. He took a deep breath and went on. “I'm tired of your leaving me, Spock. I want to know why you did it again. Or do you still not know I'm not going to do it to you first?”
“You always--must make the decision,” Spock said, stumbling a bit, a sudden fire in his eyes. “What would you have had me do? I could not stay here. Would you have let me go?” He stopped, drawing in a shuddering breath.
“I wanted to share this with you--”
“Share what?” Spock's words blazed with anger. “Share insanity? Is that what you're asking of me--to allow something to hurt you that I could prevent? To ask you to make this decision? Don't you remember what the probe was like?”
“Yes--” The word came unwillingly from Kirk, overshadowed by the shock he felt. They had never argued, during this past year--he'd never heard Spock defend himself in emotional terms--more than defend himself. “What happened to you?” he asked.
Spock stared at him. “On the planet?”
“Yes, on the planet.”
“I have told you that.”
“You didn't tell me anything!” he flared.
Spock looked at him in confusion.
“What really happened down there?” Kirk's thoughts blazed through as clearly as if he had spoken them aloud: between you and that woman.
“Lt. Rea and I--” Spock broke off and they stared at each other, the awareness building between them that Kirk's last words had been on the mental level only.
“The link--it's still there,” Jim said slowly.
“Are you sorry?” Spock demanded. “We were speaking of trust.”
“No. I'm not sorry,” Kirk said defiantly. “I'm glad. Now let's work from there.”
“I had not expected you to be jealous.”
“I hadn't, either,” Kirk admitted, shocked. This couldn't be the reason for his anger... could it? “I think was looking for one more way to say you'd hurt me.”
A faint sigh escaped Spock, and this time he did reach out, touching the tips of Kirk's fingers lightly with his own. They both felt it, the struggle for the subtle attunement, like a pendulum swinging wildly in two directions, but slowly finding a balancing point. And Kirk wanted it-- grasped for it--seized it in both hands.
“I first offered Lt. Rea a mind touch to ascertain the status of her children--how they had been affected by the alien,” Spock said.
“You don't need to explain.” Now it was sorrow he felt over his willingness to cause Spock pain. But he wouldn’t apologize.
Spock raised a brow. “I think I must. When I became convinced the only way to make contact with the alien was to attempt a mind probe, Lt. Rea became fearful of being 'left alone' as she put it. She wanted to face the alien with companionship--not to have me die or go insane, while she waited helplessly. And being without telepathic abilities, there was no way for her to attempt such a contact herself.”
Kirk was listening intently. His hand moved forward to completely cover Spock's.
“It was impossible for me to even attempt to contact the alien's mind. Once I entered the meld with Lt. Rea, it--possessed us, I think is the best term. It knew us, far more intimately than any other ever could. It is just as well that we remained aware of only a small fraction of what occurred. Our minds--moved together as a form of protection. Perhaps you have surmised--we did maintain the link even after the initial contact was removed and we were returned to the ship.”
“Are you still linked?” He had to ask the question.
“Only on a subliminal level. Since the link was artificially induced, it will fade completely with time, and--” he gave Kirk a smile, “your presence in my life, in my mind. The essence of our bond will be restored completely.”
“Does she--want you?” Again, honesty; the words were beneath his mind, coming out like lava bubbling up from under the earth.
“As a brother, yes. But not as a lover. It is not the way of Caitians to remain with sexual mates after their time has passed. Rather, they return to their own families. Lt. Rea has no family--but her instincts are those of her people. Though she has felt alien to her people all of her life, yet she could choose no other way.”
Kirk was silent a moment, absorbing the peace of the cabin, the warmth of Spock's hand, but the ghost of his earlier anger was still there. “We've yet to discuss the real problem.”
“All I could think of was--you promised the bond would last 'ever and always'. And then you cut it off.” His words flat and nearly devoid of pain, drifted in the silence between them.
“I could not think clearly, Jim. I had to be alone, to be away from other minds.”
“Will you tell me--next time? Before you walk away to do whatever you think needs to be accomplished without me?”
Spock shifted his hand, rotating it beneath Jim's, grasped his bondmate's hand hard. “Despite our bond, there are levels we have never touched. Perhaps I did not want to know how deeply I had hurt you before. When I left for Vulcan. When I went out to V’ger.”
That wasn’t an answer, Kirk thought. “Maybe I didn't want to tell you,” Kirk admitted.
“When I was inside the alien structure I wished for you to be with me,” Spock said. “I thought of you, to give me strength. But I am glad you were not with me, for it meant that you were safe.”
“Safe--what does that mean? Maybe if we were posted planetside--” he quirked his mouth in disgust “--we could talk about safety. But that’s not who we are. Take me along next time.”
“I cannot say what circumstances will occur in the future.” Spock swallowed and folded his hands together.
So you won't make that promise to me, will you? Kirk kept those words to himself. He held Spock’s gaze. Spock did not look away. Spock’s face revealed every bit of his stubbornness and strength of will; his ability to rely, when necessary, on an interior compass that would allow no deviation from his planned course. The determination that wouldn’t permit persuasion or argument from any other. Not even a bondmate.
Would I really want you to be any different than who you are?
He looked at the man before him; the man he had fallen in love with. The man he loved. The man who loved him, in part because Kirk had always accepted him, just as he was.
He knew he’d never again ask Spock for that promise.
He leaned forward and hungrily kissed Spock's lips. When he drew back he was rewarded by the glow in Spock's eyes. The warmth of his bondmate's hand radiated peace.
“We still have much to learn about each other, I guess,” he said.
“May there never be a part of me which is a stranger to thee,” Spock whispered, tangling his fingers with Kirk's.
Kirk squeezed back hard, then got up, pulling Spock to his feet as well. “I need you more than I have ever needed anyone,” he said, gathering Spock to him in a fierce embrace. His mind played back those words from a summer's night by a campfire with Gary Mitchell.
Haven't you ever really want to be close to someone... close in every way...close enough to share everything?
He inhaled Spock’s scent, felt the pressure of his lips, the strength of the body now carrying him to his bed.
He’d always struggled against paradise. That didn’t stop him from seeking perfection. They stripped the clothes from each other’s bodies and fell on the bed together. Lust and love and pure need fused. Their bodies and minds moved against each other, striving for a instant of purity.
Close enough to share everything?
Gary's cynical voice had said, How many people could you trust that much to?
Only one, he thought. Only one...