This story contains ADULT material of a same-sex nature. If you're UNDER 18, or if such things offend you, read no further.

Turning Point is reposted with permission of the zine publisher who was kind enough to print the thing, as well as patient enough to introduce this one-time newbie to the wonderful world of slash. Major, major thanks to Kathy for all her indulgences. For info on obtaining the zine, please
write to me.

James Kirk stood gazing at his ship.

Floodlights traced her outline, shaping her elegant curves against the gridwork of steel which housed her. The arc of her sheltering hull promised sanctuary. Unaware of the stir his presence had engendered, Kirk had been drawn irresistibly to the window-wall; he was quite oblivious to the busy comings and goings of the officer's club, and to the subdued hush which had followed his entrance.

The resident brass knew the significance of this homecoming, knew the finality of it. The low voices that had trailed in Kirk's wake carried mixed reactions: awe and respect from the younger officers, sympathy from those who knew better.

In the hangar bay, the Enterprise serenely awaited her fate.

Finally, recognizing the self-destructive direction his thoughts were taking, Kirk made a sound like bitter amusement and turned away from the glass, meeting his companion's gaze for the first time. "She looks like she's glad to be home," he said softly. The other blinked, and Kirk's lips twisted faintly in acerbic self-mocking. It was not a statement which could be answered logically. "Never mind," he sighed, and moved toward one of the small tables which did not face the hangar bay. "I guess I'm not making much sense. I think I need a drink."

The Vulcan sat across from him, watching in silence as Kirk punched in an order on the tabletop touchpad. "Probably should make it a double," Kirk murmured, the irony heavy in his voice. Spock did not comment, only reached to place his own order: Terran mineral water.

His concern, carefully concealed, was rapidly turning to unwelcome certainty. Kirk leaned forward, resting his elbows on the tiny table, covering most of his face with his hands. Weariness was written in the lines of his body, a kind of resigned defeat which served to confirm Spock's suspicions about what exactly had transpired behind the closed doors of Nogura's office.

The Vulcan had filed his own preliminary report with the Records office some hours before. It would be at least a day before they would call him for debriefing--and that would be a long, exhausting affair at best. Logically, he should have found quarters on the officers' level and made use of them, in preparation for the ordeal ahead. But he had delayed, trying to make himself inconspicuous in the commanding Admiral's outer waiting room.

He had waited nearly an hour before Kirk appeared in the doorway, looking faintly shell-shocked.

Kirk's eyes had registered Spock's presence, communicating grateful acknowledgment. Neither of them had spoken. Kirk had led the way to the officer's club in silence, and Spock had followed, knowing that Kirk would tell him what had happened in his own time. Now he found himself increasingly uneasy in the face of growing suspicion.

Their drinks arrived; Kirk's glass contained a conservative portion of amber liquid. Its potent aromatics teased the Vulcan's nostrils even from across the table, and his misgivings increased. Kirk was not, by habit, a whiskey drinker.

The human raked one hand through his hair, and tossed back half the contents of his glass. The liquor made his eyes water. He eyed the beverage wryly, eyebrows arching in an eloquent tribute, and he flashed Spock a fleeting grin of appreciation. He seemed content to drink in silence.

Watching him, the Vulcan found himself struggling with a steadily increasing tension, pressing on him from within.

All these last months he had succeeded in concealing the truth from himself--had gone on, allowing himself to imagine some future that would surelrise. Had not imagined himself anywhere but at Kirk's side, as if five years was not a finite measurement of time.

The self-delusion seemed painfully clear, now.

The Vulcan's gaze was pulled toward the great panes, toward the vessel which hung suspended beyond them, a silver bird captured in a durasteel cage. Somehow he had allowed the realities of Starfleet Command, the wanton capriciousness of the universe to catch him unawares. Somehow, he had managed to deafen himself to the voice of logic.

His eyes returned to the human's and found Kirk watching him over the rim of his glass.

Some time in the last few minutes, Kirk had polished off the shot of whiskey and ordered a second. Spock registered that fact, one eyebrow lifting involuntarily, and Kirk interpreted the look with a sardonic grin. The hazel eyes lowered a fraction, some kind of apology.

And then the human closed his eyes and sighed, looking suddenly weary to his soul. He took a sip of the fiery drink and grimaced, his blunt, square-tipped fingers cradling the glass as if he could draw strength from it.

Spock felt the sudden, irrational desire to flee, escape to a place where he would not have to hear Kirk's next words.

"They took her from me, Spock," the human said, in a small voice devoid of emotion.

The Vulcan was unable to prevent the convulsive contraction of the muscles in his throat.

Having gotten the words out, Kirk drew a breath and looked up again, capturing Spock's gaze with his own. The Vulcan saw him try to smile; he didn't quite make it. Spock's lips parted, but the human shook his head wearily.

"Don't say it," he said quietly, odd shadings in his tone Spock could not identify. "There's nothing you can do-- nothing anyone can do. It's out of our hands." He drained the whiskey in one swallow and set the glass down with a deliberate thump; he reached to order a third.

The Vulcan moved, preventing Kirk's hand from completing the motion with a touch, warm fingertips on Kirk's wrist. Surprised, the human looked up, hazel eyes wide.

Spock drew his hand back uncertainly, but did not drop his gaze. "Tell me what happened," he said in that low voice, the first words he had spoken.

Kirk swallowed, visibly touched by the simple fact of the Vulcan's hand on his wrist. He had obviously not expected it.

He smiled, the smile too bright, and suddenly Spock could read the anger in him, the despair. "I've been promoted," Kirk said, looking, for the first time in Spock's memory, every day of his thirty-seven years. "My friend, you're looking at the new Chief of Starfleet Operations." His lips curled downward, as if the news left a bad taste in his mouth.

Spock searched for words, but the chaos of his thoughts did not provide him with any. "It is... rather sudden," he said at last, and immediately chastised himself. He was not doing this well.

Kirk gave a derisive laugh, short and without humor. "But it's not, Mister Spock. I should have seen it coming." His mellifluous gaze slid away from Spock's; he stared into the distance. "Nogura warned me. He warned me, and I didn't listen. At least--not hard enough."

The Vulcan sought some logical response, some magical answer for the bitterness in the other man's face, for the finality of his words. But logic deserted him; the sinking feeling in his abdomen worsened. "It is an important posting," he offered quietly. "A great deal of responsibility." The words were true, of course. But he did not believe in them, any more than the man sitting across from him did, and Kirk had the grace to ignore them.

"They asked me for a recommendation," Kirk said softly. He met the dark, questioning gaze. "For my replacement," he clarified, and managed to keep his voice neutral.

Spock only gazed at him.

"I recommended you." His voice was even. But his eyes were hooded, unreadable.

The Vulcan could not immediately find words. He had never envisioned this moment--for the simple reason that he had never envisioned an Enterprise without Kirk at her helm. In that moment, certain self-truths struggled to make themselves known. There was suddenly an unsteadiness in the region of his heart.

"Captain," he began uncertainly, "your confidence is appreciated." He looked down at his hands, unable to hold to that bright, searching gaze. "However, I should like to..." The words lodged in his throat; he had to swallow. "That is, my preference would be to... remain here. At Starfleet Command." He looked up, unable to stop himself. The words were on his lips, inexorable. "With you."

His words fell into a sudden silence, a stillness which stretched out across the little distance between them, shaping truths neither of them had foreseen. For a long moment, they did not speak, or move, each testing the feel of the words, weighing them. They might have meant only, in that pedantic Vulcan fashion, "I see no logical reason to separate an efficient command team."

Might have... but Spock had been saying something else entirely, and both of them knew it.

At last the Vulcan could not bear the pressure of Kirk's gaze any longer, and he looked away.

Jim Kirk found himself studying the chiseled profile, searching his friend's face for answers to the chaotic jumble of questions in his head. He didn't trust his instincts, couldn't quite believe what they were telling him. He felt an uncontrollable need to get out of this place, to be somewhere far away from Starfleet and duty and the vessel which hung motionless in spacedock behind him.

He stood up, suppressing the rush of vertigo as the alcohol he had consumed worked its will on his equilibrium. Across the table, Spock stiffened, startled by his sudden movement. He looked up.

"You wanna get out of here?" The words came out in a rush. Kirk's heart was beating too fast, with an emotion he could not define--something willful, reckless, dangerous. It grabbed hold of him, and he was powerless to fight it.

Spock got wordlessly to his feet.

A warm breeze wandered across the open square, carrying with it the scent of the ocean. Midafternoon sunshine filtered intermittently through the sullen clouds, struggling for dominance of the skies, the clouds painting their shadows on the ancient bricks at Spock's feet. He stepped off the transport platform, breathing deeply of salt air heavy with the fragrance of magnolia.

The wrought-iron sign read: Garden District, New Orleans.

"I thought you might appreciate someplace warm for a change." The Vulcan turned in time to catch the glint of affection in Kirk's eyes. The expression unsettled him in ways he did not want to contemplate. "I know Earth-normal climates don't exactly agree with you."

Spock did not have an answer for such a statement, did not know how to react to the unexpected directness of the human's gaze. The first officer seldom admitted to any kind of physical limitation. He had certainly never complained about the ambient temperature aboard the Enterprise, though in truth, he had never gotten used to the persistent chill which humans found comfortable.

"I do...appreciate it," he said awkwardly. Kirk rewarded him with a smile, the first real smile he had displayed in several weeks. Spock felt himself responding involuntarily, a sudden lightness in his stomach, an irregularity in his pulse he could not quite suppress.

They descended the steps to the walkway below.

It was springtime in the northern hemisphere, but here at the mouth of the Mississippi, summer had already taken over. Heat rose from the uneven brick. There was something dreamlike about this place, about the lazy movement of the air, the enveloping warmth. Spock trailed in the human's wake, some Vulcan within him quietly apprehensive, asking in a small voice what he thought he was doing here.

The breeze off the gulf promised rain.

"New Orleans never changes," Kirk mused, as they followed the curving walk along the river. Out on the water, a riverboat made its stately way inland, carrying sightseers up to Audubon Park. "Ignore the superficial, and you could almost believe you'd stepped into another century."

They walked, watching the antique behemoth churning through the brown water. "I have never been here before," Spock said finally.

Kirk glanced at him sidelong, veiled meaning behind his too-long eyelashes. "Well, I'll have to give you the tour, then."

They passed a couple on the path, a young man and woman, deeply engrossed in one another. The two did not spare the Starfleet uniforms a glance, did not even seem to notice them. Spock averted his eyes. He felt a powerful desire to make Kirk stop, ask him the dangerous questions which hovered unsaid on his tongue. Demand an answer for that provocative look.

"What is our destination, Captain?" he asked instead, a much safer line of inquiry.

And then that, too, backfired on him. Kirk laughed, amusement mixed with bitter irony. "Captain," he repeated softly, in a tone which made Spock look at him. "Not for much longer, Spock." And then his face altered, as if making a conscious decision to ward off self-pity. "And not today. I intend to lose this gold shirt at the first opportunity. And as to where..." his eyes glinted mischievously "'ll just have to wait and see, my friend." The eyes widened, mock innocence. "You do trust me, don't you?"

They had stopped under the arch of a moss-draped oak. The Vulcan gazed back at him for a long moment, feeling as if he stood abruptly, inexplicably at the edge of some deceptively deep chasm. But there was, of course, only one possible answer to that question, and Kirk knew it without having to ask. "Yes," he said simply.

Kirk's lips smiled, but his eyes were suddenly serious. "Then no more titles, at least for today, all right?"

Spock could only nod, accepting.

At some point Kirk cut away from the river and headed up a residential street, ungainly antebellum houses looming out of snarled green jungles, manufactured diamond panes sparkling in the windows. Most had been restored over the last century. Here and there contemporary aircars gleamed through ancient foliage-laden trellises, a surreal juxtaposition.

Nature had triumphed in places, green vines and a tangle of tree roots taking over many of the old streets. No one had bothered to reclaim them; the sidewalks, however, had been fiercely defended. At Saint Charles Avenue, Kirk turned and began heading east again, toward the Quarter. The avenue still ran unhindered in a mostly straight line, though the old street cars had been replaced by their twenty-third century counterparts. Huge oaks drooped over the flagstones, heavy with Spanish moss and their own immensity.

It came to Spock that he was wholly exhausted, and he realized that it had been a month since either of them had gotten two consecutive nights of uninterrupted sleep. Recent Klingon forays into Federation space had meant weeks of Neutral Zone patrol for the Enterprise, on constant yellow alert. The resulting skirmishes had not left them unscathed, and the prolonged stress had taken its toll on both captain and first officer.

He glanced at Kirk, unobserved. And now he will lose his ship, he thought uneasily. That thought led to others, images of an uncertain future. He didn't want to think about what it would mean for James Kirk to sit behind a desk. Didn't want to think about the unnamed hollow feeling the idea gave him, an emptiness behind his sternum.

They came upon an ancient cemetery, crumbling stone and rusted iron, the crypts almost entirely smothered in tangled growth. Kirk stopped, leaning on the decayed fence.

"Look at this place," he mused quietly. "I wonder how old these are."

The Vulcan came to a halt beside him. What little was visible of the gravestones had long since eroded to illegibility. "Unusual," he said thoughtfully. "These above- ground sepulchers..."

"The water table's too high for proper graves," Kirk explained. "There aren't too many like this in the western hemisphere. And this one looks really old."

"On the order of five centuries, I would say," Spock agreed. "Perhaps older than the surrounding neighborhood."

Kirk wandered a few meters further down the sidewalk, studying the epitaph fragments. "I wonder who this one was," he murmured, reaching through the iron fence to brush fingertips across the barely discernible relief of a sailing vessel.

"A smuggler, in all likelihood."

Kirk chuckled absently. "Probably." He scrubbed at the inscription with his fingertips for a moment, trying to make it out. At last he gave up and resumed walking, more slowly than before. Spock caught up with him; the human cast a pensive look up at him as they walked. "I'm curious. Do Vulcans believe in such a thing as an epitaph?"

Spock blinked, eyes on the path ahead of him. It was a vaguely repulsive thought, though he was not certain why. He supposed that most beings found the death rituals of other cultures to be disquieting. Such customs were difficult to explain without a common frame of reference. "No," he said neutrally, "we do not." He hoped Kirk would leave it at that; it was not a thing he felt comfortable discussing casually. But Kirk only nodded, respecting the veiled hint.

Then he grinned, an expression of self-mocking. "What do you think, Spock?" he said, only half-joking. "What will my epitaph be? I shudder to think."

"Sir?" The Vulcan was startled by the question.

"Come on, Spock. Admit it. You and Bones never thought I'd manage to keep my skin in one piece long enough to see this day."

Spock had no words to answer that. It was only the truth, of course--one he and the doctor had shared for years, an understanding which had nothing to do with their frequent personal discord. But he had not known that Kirk was aware of their collusion, their unspoken agreement to protect their captain from himself.

Kirk was going on, unrelenting. "Now that the Enterprise is home, we can joke about it, right? How about this one... 'Here lies James Kirk--'"

"Jim, don't," Spock said harshly, wanting to stop him before he said too much. Not wanting to think about the images such words would shape between them.

The human stopped, taken aback by his companion's tone. He looked askance at the other man. "It's only a joke, Spock--"

"Not to me." The Vulcan halted a few steps further on, not turning. "It is not a joke to me."

They stood like that for a long moment, Kirk trying to find his voice, his throat suddenly very tight. "I'm sorry," he said when he could get the words out, his voice small. Spock only nodded, an almost imperceptible motion in the shadows. At last they walked on in silence, each lost in his own dark thoughts.

In the French Quarter, the noise of shops and restaurants seemed to revitalize the human, for he shook off his distracted look, inclining his head toward the Vulcan with a little smile. "What do you say? A change of clothes first, then something to eat?"

Spock had not intended to abandon his uniform, but a quick visual survey of the local population told him that their regulation garments would be painfully conspicuous here. "As you wish," he said resignedly. Kirk seemed entirely in control of this situation; the Vulcan surrendered to his will out of force of habit.

The human strolled unhurriedly from shop to shop. Near the waterfront, he found what he was looking for; the rich, unadorned fabrics in the window display drew him through the doorway.

Inside the shop, he pulled something from a display shelf and disappeared into a changing cubicle. The Vulcan chose a simple black tunic and stood looking at the garment for a moment, draped over the blue velour of his sleeve. It was the first time he had made such a purchase in years, having long ago ceased to feel comfortable in anything but Starfleet blue.

He brought it to the clerk, who ran his credit chit through her scanner with a laconic sweep of her wrist. She handed it back to him and asked if he wanted his purchase wrapped, her dark eyes watching him with some intensity. He declined, uncomfortable in the face of that open appreciation.

Just then, Kirk appeared, his uniform tucked under his arm. He had donned a pale green silk tunic and loose-fitting trousers in a slightly darker color. They suited him as if they had been made for him.

"Ready?" he asked cheerfully, handing his own chit across the counter, the question aimed at Spock, his attention on the young woman. He was smiling at her; she fumbled with the small storage wafer, the Vulcan forgotten.

"Affirmative," Spock said dryly, observing her reaction to Kirk's smile with a mixture of irony and something darker, more primal. He interred the flash of jealousy before it could fully register.

His own gaze had been drawn to the other man, captured by that frank physical appeal. Not for the first time. He subverted that, too, and moved to escape the suddenly confining space.

It wasn't until he was standing on the sidewalk, outside the shop doorway, that he realized he had forgotten to change his clothing. He stared for a moment at the tunic in his hand, blinked, as if seeing it for the first time. What was the matter with him?

"You all right?"

Jim, at his shoulder, hand half-raised. Not touching. Spock was saved from having to answer; at that moment, it began to rain.

Kirk gave a small, startled laugh, and looked up. Rain beaded on his face. He ducked under the balcony of one of the old row houses saved in some long-ago renovation project--pulled Spock in after him. For a moment they stood there under the cover of cast iron and oak, watching the water come down.

The shower was an unhurried, gentle affair, as rain often is in New Orleans. For the starship captain, it was boyhood memories, dimmed by long years in space. But for the Vulcan, a native of a desert planet where every drop of moisture is conserved, hoarded--it was a kind of scandalous excess. The very air seemed to coalesce in moisture. It puddled on the bricks, murmured secrets to itself on the ironwork above.

After a moment, Kirk smiled to no one in particular and stepped out from under the shelter of the balcony. He lifted his head very slightly, tilting his face toward the clouds, and closed his eyes.

Spock's gaze followed beyond his will. He could still feel the place where Jim's hand had gripped his arm. He suddenly wanted to feel the drops on his own face, to step over that threshold and not look back. But the training went too deep in him; he stood watching the human from the refuge of the covered walkway, not crossing the narrow line of the curb.

They sat drinking coffee, dark and sweet, in a cafe that was open to the square.

The room was crowded, fragrant with spices and the odor of fresh seafood, but the great glass wall panels stood open, diffusing the noise. Green moss and wet brick smells wafted back in, so oxygen-rich, the Vulcan suspected, as to make one faintly euphoric. Kirk had found them a table in one of the open archways. The afternoon had turned considerably cooler, and Spock was grateful for the dark warmth of the hip-length velvet tunic he had donned in the restroom of the cafe.

"You don't have to drink that, you know."

Spock followed Kirk's gaze to his own rapidly-cooling beverage, realized he had been staring out at the rain for some time. "It is not unpleasant," he said quietly. "I was merely... enjoying the ambiance."

Kirk's eyes lightened, approving him. The lines of weariness in his face had eased considerably. "Spock, you never cease to amaze me."

The Vulcan gave him a questioning look. "Specify, please."

The other smiled, wistfully, studying his fingertips. Then he lifted his gaze to Spock's. "Why are you here with me?" he asked, his tone deceptively gentle, his eyes suddenly penetrating.

For an instant the Vulcan felt an odd constriction in his lungs; he forced himself to lightness. "You did not provide much alternative," he said, eyebrow canting, just the right shading of long-suffering tolerance.

But Kirk only smiled, a kind of private irony. "No, I suppose I didn't," he said softly. And now there was a sadness in him, fleeting and poignant. Spock immediately wished he had chosen another tactic.

"Jim..." he began awkwardly, had to drop his gaze " is not a hardship."

He risked a glance at the human in time to see him swallow heavily, something shimmering briefly in the gold- flecked eyes. Spock felt an answering tightness in his throat.

"Thank you," Kirk said unevenly, not specifying. He turned his gaze toward the fountain in the center of the square, and the Vulcan perceived the heightened color in his face. Kirk was, perhaps, as uncomfortable with the unaccustomed emotion as he.

That revelation made him brave.

"Jim," he said, and suddenly the question was on his lips again, the question he had not asked beside the river. And it was, after all, the same question Kirk had asked, or another side of it. Another step in a set formation, dancing around the truth.

Kirk's head turned slightly, waiting.

"Why am I here with you?" Spock asked simply, surprising himself with his daring.

Kirk was still gazing out across the square, still watching the rain fall into the moss-choked fountain. For a long moment he said nothing, as if weighing the answer to that, searching for a way to explain. His expression was distant, opaque. And then he turned back to Spock, smiling that little half-smile, eyes alight with some unidentifiable secret. "I believe I would like to postpone the answer to that question, on the grounds that it may incriminate me." There was an odd glint in the hazel eyes, daring Spock to speculate.

That look awakened unspeakable whispers of heat in the Vulcan's insides. Speculation ran rampant in the unordered tangle of his thoughts, despite his best efforts to subdue it, the possible answers too outrageous to contemplate. What was happening here?

He found himself sinking deeper into those liquid gold eyes, found himself unable to look away.

It was Kirk who broke eye contact finally, spreading his hands, palms down, on the table in front of him. "Are you scheduled for debriefing yet?" he asked, too casually.

The non-sequitur caught the Vulcan off guard. He had to make himself focus on the question. "No," he answered carefully. "It is unlikely that I shall be called before eleven hundred tomorrow, San Francisco time."

"Well, then..." Kirk's eyes flickered to Spock's, then down again. "...would you like to have dinner with me? If you don't have plans, that is?" There was a long pause, in which Kirk seemed to be holding his breath.

Spock gazed over the human's shoulder, seeing shapes of a future he could not guess at. It was a crossroads, one he did not fully comprehend--one he had never, in any forbidden corner of his most deeply buried imaginings, anticipated. Out in the courtyard, the rain had stopped.

"I do not have plans," the Vulcan heard himself say, in a voice not his own.

And the other looked up, searching his face. Whatever he sought, he seemed to find it; the ghost of a smile found Kirk's lips. "I'm glad," he said simply, his voice low, suddenly intimate. "I know just the place."

The late afternoon sun chased the last rain clouds out of the sky.

They took the monorail out onto Pontchartrain, the lake reflecting a sky streaked with madder and gold.

On the trip, they talked of history, safe subjects. Kirk waxed poetic about the heyday of the peninsula, a barbaric era of slavery, piracy and unrestrained carnality. When Spock expressed this opinion, the human evinced mock offense.

"You've got it all wrong, Spock. It was a slender line between those people and the wilderness. They carved a rich and lasting culture out of a few dozen miles of bayou. They were living on the frontier--and you know as well as I do that the same rules don't apply."

Spock knew he was being baited, but shook his head. "You cannot mean to say that you would wish to actually experience such a barbarous culture firsthand."

"But we are experiencing it," Kirk protested lightly. "That 'barbarous' enclave has outlasted more than four centuries of history. The Quarter has remained virtually unchanged since the 1800s--at least, unchanged in any significant detail."

The Vulcan gave him a knowing look. "I suspect it is the clipper ships of that period which appeal to you most, in truth."

Kirk chuckled softly. His eyes grew distant. "Yes, I suppose you're right," he admitted. "Some things never change." The image of billowing sails seemed to awaken unwelcome thoughts. Melancholy overtook him, and Spock could see the reflection of the morning's ordeal in his face.

"Nor would we wish them to," Spock murmured. Kirk shot him a startled glance, but the Vulcan kept his expression carefully bland. Their eyes met, something flashing between them, a fleeting communication.

The monorail slowed, nearing its destination, and Kirk leaned over to look out the window. "Look," he said quietly. Spock followed the direction of his gaze.

A crystalline structure rose gracefully out of the water. Silhouetted against the evening sky, it traced a single arcing line, upswept in an inverted wing shape. The curved transparent panes reflected the purpling sky behind them. Adjoining shapes annexed on to the original sprawled outward across the surface of the lake, making the little cluster of buildings an island unto itself.

Their car glided silently to a halt.

"Shall we?" Kirk smiled, and got to his feet. The Vulcan nodded slightly, followed him out onto the small docking platform. A number of private yachts and other vehicles of varying description were moored at the foot of the dock. Iron gas lamps swayed in the evening breeze. They strolled up the walkway toward the beckoning lights inside.

It was a club of sorts, Spock saw at once. Kirk led him through a kind of courtyard lined with Japanese trees in planters, tiny white lights winking from their branches. Through the latticework of the flooring, the dark surface of the lake reflected them like stars.

Glass was the predominant building material--real glass, made from silicon, with all its imperfections. Scatterings of iron and red brick mitigated the pristine austerity with hints of warmth. Abundant vines and bromeliads lined still, rectangular pools on either side of the elongated courtyard, and concealed the lighting fixtures overhead.

They reached the entrance, and the glass doors slid apart to admit them. A wave of sound spilled outward from the open portal, enveloping them, drawing them in. Spock caught a glimpse of the club's name, etched in glass above the door: The Lily Pad. Baroque representations of water lilies framed the words.

"Welcome, gentlemen," said a woman's voice, and Spock lowered his gaze to find a pair of large, blue-grey eyes meeting his own expectantly. "May I ask your pleasure this evening?"

"Indeed you may," Kirk offered warmly, and they moved off, discussing particulars. The Vulcan trailed a pace behind, allowing his gaze to wander over his surroundings as the hostess led them deeper into the club.

Tiers of tables with bench seats rose up to the right, following the sweeping shape of the glass enclosure. Many tables were occupied, though the room had not yet neared capacity. The acoustics directed sound upward, so that a hush subdued the animated conversations from above. To the left, at the base of the lowest terrace, there was a kind of raised platform. Spock suspected it was a stage of some kind, though he could garner no clues as to what type of entertainment might take place there. Soft music was playing from hidden speakers: a NeuRomantic concerto by a twenty-first century Terran composer.

The hostess led them up a curving flight of steps to the third level. Her long sweep of blond hair swayed as she walked. The Vulcan's gaze returned to her pleasing shape, admitting in some dark corner of his brain that she was, indeed, lovely--refusing to admit to that brief, sharp wave of possessiveness which rose as he witnessed the easy repartee she maintained with Kirk, the effortless exchange of trivialities.

She seated them at a table overlooking the stage. From this vantage, they commanded a one hundred-eighty degree view of the lake. To the west, the sun was just sinking below the horizon, while below, on the docks, the gas lamps were coming on. "Lovely, thank you," Kirk murmured to the woman, and with a final smile and a small nod, she left them.

The table was, in actuality, a kind of booth, with a semi- circular bench built into the floor in place of chairs. The high back provided a considerable measure of privacy and quiet; in addition, Spock perceived, the shape would allow the sound to carry from the stage below without amplification, catching and drawing it in like a shell. He turned to find the human watching him.

"Do you approve?" Kirk asked shyly, with the tone of a little boy, wanting to please.

"It is most pleasant. May I ask what sort of entertainment--?"

"Would you care for something to drink?" a soft tenor inquired, unintentionally interrupting. They looked up, unexpectedly, into the startlingly beautiful face of a young Deltan male.

"Yes," Kirk said after a moment, forcing himself not to stare, feeling the sudden warmth he knew must be visible in his face. "Spock, may I?" He glanced at his companion, was surprised to find the Vulcan equally discomfited. Spock blinked, finally, and seemed to shake himself.


Kirk ordered a beaujolais, the warmth fading slightly in his face by the time he got the words out, though his body was still painfully aware of the proximity of the young man. "Very good sir," the waiter said when he had finished, the model of propriety and restraint. Poor kid Kirk thought fleetingly, all these immature, uncouth humans lusting after him all the time. How does he stand it? Then it occurred to him that hiring a Deltan wait staff in this place could be nothing but intentional.

Well, he had known what he was getting them into, even if the Vulcan had no idea.

And that thought awakened a voice of rational conscience in him, and he suddenly asked himself what the hell he had thought he was doing, bringing Spock to a place like this. For a long moment he hovered on the brink of chickening out, one breath from standing up and running down the stairs, making a break for it. It wasn't too late. Yet.

Then he looked up, his gaze resting on his enigmatic companion, dark and severe and supremely elegant in his black velvet, and Jim seemed to hear that deep voice, caressing him. My preference would be to remain here. With you.

Now, or never, Kirk thought fatalistically. He did let me order the drinks... He decided to take encouragement from that fact. The moment passed, and he did not make a dash for the door.

Instead, he picked up the translucent sheet of display crystal in front of him and began to peruse the menu.

Kirk glanced up, over the top of his menu, catching his companion's gaze.

"Do you trust me?" he said aloud, for the second time that day. He had spoken casually--had referred only to the selection of the evening's repast. But when the words were out he heard the vulnerability in his voice, the search for some unnamed reassurance.

Spock inclined his head, an eloquent gesture of acquiescence. Had he heard? Or was it only the spoken question he answered?

The young waiter brought the wine, and Kirk found that preparing himself in advance for the effect of the man's blatant sensuality made little difference. Intellectually, he knew the Deltan pheromones didn't give his body a say in the matter--but that didn't help much, sitting here, in this place, next to his imperturbable Vulcan first officer.

Kirk glanced at the bottle, hardly seeing it, and nodded to the waiter. A pleasant buzz of awareness was singing in his nerves.

The Deltan uncorked the bottle with practiced smoothness, pouring the rich liquid into two glasses. He turned, fluidly graceful, and set them on the table, his lithe, white-skinned hands seeming to caress the stems before leaving them. Kirk couldn't quite make himself look away.

Then the waiter bowed faintly, and stood waiting with an expectant air. Kirk realized, belatedly, that he was waiting for them to order. "Um, yes," he said finally. It sounded all right. He ordered for both of them: Altairan truffles and pasta and green nut salad for the Vulcan, shrimp creole and spiced rice for himself. He added a loaf of dark bread, and more wine.

"Very good, sir," the young man said, with another faint bow of his head. He turned and headed down the steps; Kirk prevented himself from watching him go with some effort.

He looked up to find the Vulcan's eyes on him, and his face felt suddenly very hot. He suspected that he was blushing furiously. He lifted his wineglass and smiled brightly to cover it. "What shall we drink to, Spock?"

Spock's eyebrows quirked upward a fraction, and he tilted his head. He lifted his own glass slowly, considering . "To homecomings," he said finally, the rich timbre of his voice a low murmur. He met the human's gaze above the rim of his glass.

Kirk smiled at Spock's choice of toast, eyes approving. "To homecomings," he echoed, and they touched their glasses together with a low chime, eyes locked as they sipped the sweet, tart liquid.

Warmth followed the wine down Kirk's throat, heating in his stomach. He knew it would go straight to his head; he had eaten nothing all day. But that was what he wanted, what he needed. If he was going to go through with this, he definitely did not want to be cold sober. He watched the Vulcan surreptitiously, relieved to see that he displayed no visible hesitation in downing the pungent liquid.

Jim wasn't sure what effect the wine would have on that alien physiology, but figured it couldn't hurt.

The idea had seemed so natural, so right, sitting in the cafe with the rain falling all around. Now that they were actually here, the nervousness which had been curiously absent up till now was catching up with him. Butterflies in my stomach, like a goddamned teenager, he thought uneasily. Spock seemed to sense his agitation; Kirk could feel the weight of the dark eyes studying him. He couldn't make himself look up, face that self-possessed curiosity.

Kirk glanced toward the stage involuntarily. Perhaps an hour before showtime, or a little more. And then there would be no more veiled hints, no more unreadable looks between them. Even a Vulcan would have little difficulty reading that message, loud and clear.

He gulped down another mouthful of wine, found it reassuringly fortifying.

The room was fast reaching capacity, though the soundproofed booths kept the noise to a low murmur. The sun had dipped below the horizon. As if in response, the indirect lighting dimmed a fraction. Out on the lake, stars danced on the surface of the water, the lamps swaying gently in the evening breeze. They looked a little like living creatures, made of light.

Kirk gazed into his glass cradled between his hands, feeling the Vulcan's scrutiny. He couldn't know that his eyes were pale green, in this light, the precise shade of his elegantly cut silk tunic. He couldn't know how the soft light played over his face, shaping his sensuous features as if sculpting him out of shadow, concealing the expression in those eyes behind the dusky crescent of his lashes. Couldn't know that the afternoon spent out of doors had drawn a golden flush from his pale skin--or that the combination of these things was awakening a curious feeling in the Vulcan's stomach, like a hunger for something other than food.

"So," Kirk said, the silence finally too much for him. He was gazing out over the lower terraces, as if there were something fascinating down there inviting his attention. "What do you think of Dixon?"

Spock blinked. It seemed to take him a long moment to realize that Kirk was referring to the composer of the cello sonata currently playing over the club's speakers. It took him a longer moment to assimilate the uncharacteristic question, to formulate a coherent response. "Somewhat romanticized," he said at last, as if musical critique were something James Kirk asked his opinion on every day. "However, extremely compelling."

Kirk turned, meeting his gaze curiously. "I'm surprised. I would have thought him a bit too... theatrical, for your taste."

The Vulcan gifted him with a brief softening of the severe mouth, fleeting and sardonic. "I suspect it is my long association with humans which allows me to appreciate many forms of Terran art," he said quietly. Kirk smiled, sharing the long-standing joke. The low, warm notes of the adagio washed over them.

"Don't worry," Jim offered in the same tone, "I won't tell McCoy."

"Appreciated." Spock lifted his wine glass to his lips. He sipped at the tart liquid and sat back.

Kirk sensed the restoration of that unspoken accord, that indefinable rightness which had always existed between them. It spread through him like a low current, and suddenly everything was all right. He sighed, surrendering to the inevitable tides of fate without regret. It was out of his hands, now--no going back. He had lived his life by following his instincts, and he would just have to hope that this time they would not prove faulty.

"More wine?" he asked innocently.

They had finished the bottle by the time dinner arrived.

Kirk was feeling dangerously euphoric, alternating between nervous anticipation and morose fatalism. As far as he could discern, Spock remained unaffected, though the first officer had downed two glasses of the potent beaujolais. Jim's own face was very warm, the warmth spreading outward from his belly, curling pleasantly in his extremities.

He could not keep his eyes off the waiter. Something about being in this place--or maybe it was just biochemistry, and months of deprivation. Kirk's body didn't seem to care which.

Impervious, the Deltan arranged the dishes before them and opened the second bottle of wine, setting it on the table in front of Kirk. "Will there be anything else, sirs?" he inquired in that low, melodious voice.

"No--" not unless you want to do something about this incredible hard-on you've given me "--no, thank you. That will be all." Kirk murmured aloud, amazed at his own acting ability.

I guess bluffing your way out of a confrontation with a Klingon battlecruiser is good practice for something, he thought, a little hysterically. He barely managed to keep a straight face until the man had gone.

The smell of garlic and cayenne reminded him that he had not eaten since the previous day, and he dug into the peppery shrimp with enthusiasm, a different kind of gratification, but no less satisfying. The food was as good as he remembered.

Spock, too, appeared to be eating with relish, though his precise maneuvering bore little resemblance to Kirk's all- out attack. Nevertheless, the truffles disappeared with alacrity. The Vulcan caught the direction of his glance, and bowed his head slightly. "They are delicious," he acknowledged. "Thank you."

Kirk felt himself redden slightly with pleasure, and inwardly cursed his fair coloring. "I'm glad you like it," he returned. He had felt a little uncertain about ordering for both of them after he'd done it...after all, Spock was a grown man, perfectly capable of deciding such things without Kirk's intervention. Command had become very ingrained in him, and it occurred to him now that he would have to watch that. It could get him in trouble.

"Your judgment has always proven sound, in my experience," Spock said, as if reading his mind.

Kirk made a choked sound, amused disbelief. "You may not think so, after tonight," he muttered, under his breath.

The sharp eyebrows drew downward in puzzlement. "I beg your pardon?"

"I said, you didn't always think so." He looked up at the Vulcan, a sidelong glance, enigmatic and unreadable. A little smile played about his lips.

Spock considered that, nodding finally. "It is true that I did not, at first, understand your methods of command. But I always respected them," he said with that guileless honesty.

Kirk's smile deepened, reaching his eyes, full of shared memories. "We've come a long way since then, my friend." He looked shyly down at his hands. "Can I tell you something?"

"Yes, of course." The Vulcan was obviously intrigued and trying not to show it. James Kirk seldom volunteered any information of a personal nature. In that respect, he had always been as reticent as any Vulcan.

The blush in Kirk's cheeks darkened, spreading to his ears. "I was terrified of you, back then," he blurted. "I mean, not literally, but--"

"Of me?"

"Well, yeah." He grinned self-consciously. "I mean, there I was, thirty-two years old, still wet behind the ears, and suddenly I've got command of a starship. And not just any ship, but Chris Pike's--Pike the paragon, the textbook example of what a starship captain should be. And there's this Vulcan science officer, see, and he's brilliant, and experienced, and superbly aloof and unreachable, and I'm so scared of screwing up in front of him that I can't bring myself to talk to him for two whole weeks except to give a direct order, and that only when necessary--"

"I was...'terrified' of you, too," the Vulcan said quietly, when Kirk stopped to take a breath.

Kirk's eyes went wide, incredulous. "You?"

Spock nodded. He folded his hands in his lap. "Yes. I knew something of your history. You had become known to me, your actions aboard the Lydia Sutherland... your penchant for ending up in the middle of any spectacular crisis. I did not know if I could trust you. But more than that... I did not know if I would be able to work with such a person without losing--perspective." He glanced up.

"You thought I'd be a bad influence on you," Kirk translated, eyes glinting with wry humor.

"Indeed," Spock conceded, making Kirk smile. Then one eyebrow lifted eloquently. "Unfortunately, I did not foresee the arrival of Doctor McCoy."

Kirk chuckled outright at that. He reached to pour more wine, his eyes on Spock's as he did so. "And am I not, Mister Spock?" he asked provocatively. "A bad influence, that is?"

"Frequently," Spock admitted, in a tone of chagrined resignation, and lifted his glass to his lips. Kirk raised his own, making the Vulcan hesitate.

"To the Enterprise, for bringing us together, all those years ago." He saluted the Vulcan, and drank.

The words were out, the affirmation of that presence, that shape which had been sitting invisibly between them all along, waiting to be spoken. Kirk had said the name, and now the other truths were there, crowding silently into the space left by that acknowledgment.

Kirk's eyes were on the Vulcan, suddenly bleak. They locked gazes for a long moment.

"To her captain," Spock said at last, surprising them both. He set the glass deliberately on the table in front of him.

And then the waiter was there, clearing their dishes away, shattering the moment with perfect ease. Kirk gave a start, blinked. He broke the hold the dark eyes had on him. Then realization hit him, and his breath caught, and he turned to look out over the terrace.

On the stage below, the footlights were coming on.

Kirk turned back to his companion, a sinking feeling in his stomach that did not seem to end. An expectant hush fell over the room, as the last melancholy strains of the sonata died away softly.

The wall sconces dimmed further, until the Vulcan was only a shadow across the table from him. Kirk opened his mouth. He didn't know what words he intended, knew only that he had to do something, now, before it was too late.

Spock was looking at him. Kirk made the muscles in his throat let go. He started to say the Vulcan's name.

But then the stage went dark, and there was music, and it was too late to stop the inevitable downhill course of events. Too late to turn from the path he had chosen. As if in slow motion, Spock turned and looked down on the stage below.

The music whispered through the hushed audience like a fluid thing. Soft at first, the liquid, silver notes unfurled, undulating ripples of some stringed instrument played with the fingertips. Haunting and ethereal, the sound wove its spell in the expectant silence. For long moments, there was only the music, and the darkness.

Then there was a faint sound, like a sigh. At first, the subtle illumination of the footlights made it difficult to understand what was happening. The mosaic set into the stage floor seemed to be moving, the stylized lilies reshaping themselves, as if the visual metaphor had suddenly become reality and they had transformed themselves into real flowers, floating on the surface of the lake. Tiny points of light appeared, spreading outward in a slow bloom, faint and incorporeal.

The mosaic set into the floor had concealed an elaborate seam. The stage, which had appeared solid, was in fact comprised of several curving shapes independently mounted on a sophisticated hydraulic system. These shapes had begun to separate. The center of the stage had risen slightly, while the flanking sections had withdrawn into some hidden recess in the floor. Hidden beneath the stage, now revealed, was a semi-circular pool; the tiny lights were stars, reflected in the water through the transparent ceiling.

The music paused, as if taking a silent breath. In that hush, Kirk was certain the Vulcan would hear his heart pounding audibly, even from across the little table. He felt sudden dampness on his palms.

Pinpoint lights came on beneath the water, all at once. At the same moment, the music began again, slightly faster now, the first instrument joined by others, minor key of exotic harmonies and soft percussion. The lights began a slow, rhythmic dance in time with the music. The wall sconces had dimmed entirely, so that the only light emanated from those underwater lamps, and from the stars overhead. The firefly glow silhouetted the single remaining section of stage which remained.

The visual metaphor was now complete. They were now looking down into a sea of stars, upon which the shape of a single lily pad, sculpted in mosaic tiles of green and blue, appeared to float serenely.

"Remarkable," Spock said faintly, under his breath, and the human felt his heart skip, felt a dark blossom of hope in the center of his chest. He swayed toward that lean shape in the darkness, his pulse suddenly accelerating in anticipation.

There was movement, then, where there had been none a moment before. A tiny ripple, a silent, collective intake of breath, ran through the audience. Outlined by glints of light from the water below, supine on the glistening tiles, a figure moved languidly. Separated itself from the shadows in one luxuriant, unhurried motion.

Spock blinked.

Beside him, the human was holding his breath. He, too, was captured by the unfolding drama.

He was like some dark water nymph--or a god, risen from the sea. As they watched, the fingers of light found him, tracing his shape for a moment. Shadow sculpted the smooth curves and planes of him, the dark mane of his hair spread beneath him, and he turned his head, very slightly, toward the audience. His eyes were closed. And then the music altered, and he moved, a fluid gesture of muscle and bone.

It was a kind of dance, hypnotic, that sinuous figure always in the shadows, never quite entirely visible. There was something disturbing, darkly exciting about the way he danced with such unselfconscious sensuality--the eyes closed, as if totally unaware of anyone watching him.

Then he moved, so that the rippling light from the pool touched him for a brief moment, and it became apparent that he was touching himself, caressing himself with unabashed pleasure as he danced. A graceful, dark-skinned hand teased one erect nipple for an instant, before melting away into the shadows. The music pulsed softly, expectantly.

Spock went very, very still.

And suddenly he could feel the human close beside him, could almost feel the low, heavy pounding of the other's heart. Spock's own pulse was racing in his throat. His mouth was suddenly very dry. There was a moment in which he could not think, would not have been able to move or speak if his life depended on it.

In that instant, he felt something fundamental give way inside him.

He could not look at Kirk, could not summon the necessary strength that motion would require. He thought that if he saw Kirk's face in that moment, it might drive him right over the edge. Incoherence was shouting in his head, a ragged cacophony of disorder.

Did he know? Did he mean--no, no, he cannot have meant--

I know just the place, Kirk's voice said in his memory, that low, intimate invitation.

The Vulcan's eyes were riveted beyond his will to the stage below. The music had altered again, the pinpoint spotlights shifting with it. And then there was another figure in the shadows, pale hands entwined in the dancer's dark hair. And the second figure moved, and Spock could see his face clearly, chiseled features under a shock of dark gold silk. The image imprinted itself on the Vulcan's brain

Absolute clarity. Inarguable certainty.

Even a Vulcan could not fail to see it.

Kirk felt it, in the moment when the second dancer appeared--felt the abrupt stillness in the other's body, sensing it across the scant inches between them. That's it, then, he thought despairingly. And then a sudden calm came over him, the visceral relief of knowing it was out of his hands. His stomach unknotted, sending tremors through him. It felt like the fleeting moment of serenity after falling from a very high place, when one comes to terms with the inevitability of hitting the ground.

For a long space of heartbeats, the Vulcan did not move. He could not seem to draw air. All thought deserted him. And finally he could not bear it any more, watching the erotic performance below, feeling the heat radiating from the human beside him.

He turned, feeling like the effort tore something out of him. He felt his hands trembling, locked them together beneath the table. A tremor he could not suppress ran through him, and he looked up.

Kirk was sitting very still, less than twenty centimeters away on the velvet bench seat. His hands were clasped around his empty glass. Spock could not see his eyes.

A lifetime of training reasserted itself, slicing mercilessly through the Vulcan's awareness, setting off a chain reaction of inner alarms. Get up. Now. Go far away from here and do not look back, it commanded, the cold voice of reason. Sudden rationality returned, shocking him with the reality of the unspeakable thing which had risen in him, a terrifying beast looming out of some dark fissure within. The shape of it filled him with profound mortification. The need to escape became an imperative, driving him inexorably away from Kirk and that perilous chasm.

Then his companion looked up, met his gaze across the little distance between them. The human's eyes were burnished copper in the shadows, clear to their depths, full of the single, overwhelming question, which had grown so large it seemed to fill the room. In the face of it, Spock could not make his limbs obey the directive to flee.

Do you trust me, Spock?

The Vulcan's heart had begun that uneven pounding again, a nearly unbearable pressure against his ribs. He felt himself answering silently, against his will, the only answer there could ever be. Yes. Always.

Acknowledgment of that, in the wide, expressive eyes.

Kirk moved then, a subtle shifting in the dim light, and awareness narrowed to the two of them, shutting out everything else. He brushed the back of the Vulcan's hand lightly, an almost nonexistent caress.

Then trust me.

Spock's lips parted slightly. A current seemed to follow the touch of Kirk's fingertips on his skin, electric and overwhelming. And suddenly he wanted more, wanted to feel those hands on him, the wanting a bright flame he could not deny. It threatened, in that instant, to ignite the dry tinder of his soul.

He couldn't look at Jim. Couldn't bear it, that too- familiar gaze reading him without effort, witnessing this catastrophic breakdown of Vulcan discipline. Couldn't bear it any more than he could escape it.

And so he turned, and there was nowhere for his eyes to go except down.

The dancers twined together now, and still it was a thing of stark beauty, more than a seduction. The dark one's shape appeared in flickers of light, in relief against the other's luminous paleness. The alabaster hands wove a dance of their own on that ebony skin. Still the first dancer's eyes were closed, as if the pale one were some dream conjured from his private imaginings, touching him with innocent reverence...his hair, his hands.

The Vulcan's pulse throbbed dully in his ears.

Then Kirk touched him, warm fingertips brushing his thigh under the table. The touch was feather-light, only centimeters above his knee--but Spock felt it like an electric shock. Liquid heat curled in his stomach. His hands clenched into helpless fists.

Kirk felt him stiffen at the touch, felt the tiny, aborted movement, as if Spock would leap to his feet and run from him.

But he did not.

Kirk was having difficulty breathing. Some voice of sanity was demanding to know what abyss of dementia he had jumped into. But he could not take his eyes from the place where his hand rested against the Vulcan's thigh, trembling almost imperceptibly. The sight was making him utterly crazy with disbelief, and dismay, and sudden, crippling desire. He tried to swallow, couldn't.

He realized, with a kind of dull shock, that he was picking up the barest trace of Spock's own natural scent: charcoal and copper and something fainter, indefinable. The melting in his belly seemed to go on forever.

He could feel Spock trembling.

And that undid him. He couldn't stop himself--he reached up with his other hand, very slowly, and stroked the ebony silk of the Vulcan's hair behind one elegantly upswept ear. He was utterly hypnotized by the vision, by the feel of that inhuman softness against his fingers. He thought he made some sound.

Spock's eyes closed.

There was a slackening in the Vulcan's rigid form then, a kind of shudder passing through him. Kirk felt it touch something vital in him. Spock leaned back, very slightly, pressing his body against the velvet cushion; his face turned imperceptibly toward the human, lips parted.

Kirk thought he would go right out of his head.

His fingers were laced in the dark strands now, beyond his control. Then lower, tracing the warm, soft hollow behind that gorgeous ear, feeling the rapid pulse leaping beneath the skin. His touch trailed along Spock's throat, slid around the back of his neck, that heated softness cupped against his palm. The short, silky hair at Spock's nape teased his fingers. The angular face was still, expressionless, eyes closed so that Kirk could not read his reaction--but there was a kind of taut vibration in the Vulcan's stillness, which told him all he needed to know-- told him his instincts had not been wrong. Kirk's other hand trembled with the effort it was taking to keep it still, on the Vulcan's thigh, and not slide it upward.

He suddenly knew that he was perfectly capable of ravishing Spock right here and now.

It occurred to him, like an afterthought, that they were sitting in the middle of a crowded room. There was no way they were going to get out of this place unseen before the performance ended. For an instant he didn't care. Darkness and the curve of the booth enclosure would have been shield enough for him, he was so hot. But this was Spock--and Kirk's fear of screwing this up gave him strength to gain some margin of self control.

He felt the slender body tremble in response to his proximity. The rush which followed that realization almost undid his noble intentions. He had to stop for a moment, master the overpowering desire to press his lips to the place his fingers had caressed at the Vulcan's throat.

When he was able, Kirk leaned forward, until his lips were only millimeters from that delicious curve of the other's ear. He had to draw several steadying breaths before he could make the words come.

"Spock," he whispered, very softly.

The sound of his name in that breathy, intimate voice, the feel of it teasing his ear and throat, sent a wave of shivery electricity all down one side of Spock's body. He was drowning.

"Spock," the human said again, in that rough-soft rasp, "I want to take you somewhere. Where we can be alone." He had to stop, had to swallow against the sudden upsurge of emotion. "But I'm scared to death that if we move from here, you won't let me keep touching you like this." The Vulcan's head moved against the cushion, a tiny, involuntary response. Kirk found Spock's hand, clenched on the seat between them, covered it with his own. "Will you promise me that if I get us out of here, you won't change your mind?"

He waited; after a long hesitation, Spock nodded, once.

Kirk swallowed, had to hold himself still against an overpowering flood of lust, and relief, and a deeper emotion he could not name. When it subsided, he reached a trembling hand to the side of the table, touched the control which would signal their luscious Deltan waiter to bring the check.

That silent promise was the only thing which prevented Spock from bolting to the nearest available ground transport station--back to San Francisco and Fleet Headquarters and the safe haven of familiar sanity.

Somehow, Kirk got them down the steps past the room full of curious eyes. Spock could not have said what thoughts were in his head during that seemingly endless journey, could not have said what force of physics prevented him from simply splintering into unidentifiable fragments. They reached the foyer and Kirk said something to him, words which barely managed to penetrate the numb disbelief cloaking his brain.

"Don't go anywhere." The words meant little; it was the sharp vulnerability in his eyes which communicated itself, pleading with the Vulcan silently to do as he asked. Spock managed to nod affirmation. Kirk left him standing there beside the oblong reflecting pools, went to find the hostess.

Spock waited, eyes fixed on nothing. A curious stillness seemed to hold him in place. It was not a sensation of calm, not an absence of feeling--but a kind of inert panic, as if any motion might shatter what fragile control remained to him.

By the time Kirk finished making arrangements over the club's comphone, his body's urgency had damped down a little, enough for him to breathe. He had to force himself to focus on this linear course of action, not to think too much about just what he was doing, and with whom, or he would lose it. In spite of his fiercely exerted control, he kept remembering the feel of that midnight silk sliding between his fingers. His feet carried him across the lobby on autopilot.

Then he saw the Vulcan standing motionless in the lamplight, all planes and shadows and ebony softness, and that electric vibration started again, singing up from some deep place. I'm going to make love to him, the thought came, very clearly. He stopped, neural commands shorting out somewhere between his brain and his feet.

Spock's eyes lifted, dark and unreadable.

After a small forever of looking at him, drinking in the unreal, forbidding, utterly beautiful sight of him, Kirk managed to make his lungs perform their function again. Words deserted him; he could only turn and lead the way back through the courtyard in silence. He heard, after a moment, soft footsteps behind him.

The taxi he had summoned was waiting at the dock, idling on its air cushion a meter above the surface of the lake. The passenger door slid open at their approach. Kirk stopped at the edge of the walkway and half-turned toward the Vulcan, a little motion of uncertainty. The dark eyes were distant--as if Spock had gone somewhere far away inside himself, leaving behind only a physical shell. That look sent a stab of unease through the human. He hesitated, searching for words. But Spock only moved past him, stepping up into the little craft, without looking at him.

Then, unexpectedly, Spock turned in the doorway. Looked down at him, his eyes beckoning, an infinite velvet darkness. He extended his hand.

Kirk knew, then, that it was going to be all right. Better than all right. His heart was suddenly beating very fast. Knowing Spock would hear the ridiculous, illogical jumble of his thoughts when they touched, not caring, he reached up and took the Vulcan's hand. The warm, strong fingers closed on his; Spock lifted him easily inside.

For a moment, they held to each other, standing too close, not speaking, their joined hands the only point of contact. Then Spock let him go, even that touch more than either of them could bear for long. Kirk turned away, felt for the chair behind him. Sat in it before his knees could give way entirely.

Somehow, he managed to give their destination to the navigation computer.

They sat next to each other, facing forward, in chairs separated by a small aisleway. The aircar pivoted silently away from the crystal contours of The Lily Pad, and began its long, slow arc back across the lake, toward the winking lights of the peninsula. Unreality seemed to cloak them. The little craft sped soundlessly across the silvery surface of the water.

Kirk ventured a glance at the Vulcan. Spock was facing away from him, gazing out the window as if watching the moon. It raced alongside them, painting fragments of itself on the wavetops. Seeing him like that, silhouetted against the transparent pane, moonlight tracing his outline, Kirk felt a painful tightness somewhere. It came to him, in that moment, just what Spock had risked for him this day, just how vulnerable the Vulcan had left himself.

Just when I needed him, he thought wonderingly. He tried to remember back to the morning, to that hour-long purgatory he had spent in Nogura's office. But it felt like another lifetime, someone else's. How the hell had they arrived at this moment? He decided he didn't care. Didn't care how, or why, or what this constant, sweet ache in his chest meant. Soon he would be able to pull the Vulcan to him and just bury his face against his neck, just inhale the essence of him, and in the face of that, nothing else mattered.

Soon! God, not soon enough, he thought wryly, and turned to look out the front window of the taxi.

They were over land now, featureless dark as they passed over the bayou--protected acreage which had been allowed to return to its natural state two centuries earlier. Once the city had extended to the lakefront, smothering the cypress and palmetto; in this century, there was only darkness, speeding below the aircar's nose.

In moments they were crossing over the park, faintly illuminated boardwalks snaking between the trees, and then they were in the city proper.

The taxi descended toward a lamplit, walled expanse of gardens. Flagstone paths curved away from a central patio, disappearing into a profusion of green leaves and hibiscus blossoms. Spock caught a glimpse of the oak-lined street beyond the wall. Then the craft touched down, quiet hiss of hydraulics and pressure valves.

He turned, as the passenger door slid open, and caught the breath of sweet humidity which swept into the antiseptic interior of the taxi, washing it clean. And then he was looking at Kirk, couldn't help it. The human's hands were very pale, clenched on the arms of his seat, and for a second Spock thought Jim would look at him, break this silence which held them captive. But Kirk moved, swift economy of motion, swung down from the aircar to stand on the rose-colored flagstones. His back was to Spock, and he did not turn.

There was something so vulnerable, so irresistible about the way he stood there, compact form outlined in flickering light. Standing in the hatchway, Spock felt it reach out across the intervening space, grab hold of him. He wanted, with a sudden, overpowering intensity, to just go to him, hold him, protect him from the willful wrath of a universe not made for such brightly lit souls as his.

It was no more than he had wanted to do for years.

That truth came home to the Vulcan in the instant before Kirk turned, met his gaze. They stood like that for a long moment, speaking in the silence things long left unsaid. Then Kirk smiled, small upturn of the sensual lips. "Come on, Spock," he said softly, the words filling the silence as if they had been shaped long ago, for just this moment. "We've waited long enough."

His words freed something in the Vulcan, and Spock stepped out of the hatchway, crossed the little distance between them. Took Kirk's upraised hand in his own. The falling sensation he had been feeling for the last hour ceased, as the human's fingers closed gently on his.

Kirk led him deeper into the garden, following one of the broken, twisting paths through clusters of jasmine and oleander. His hand was warm in Spock's. That low current hummed between them.

They came out into a second, smaller courtyard, an overgrown pool at its center. Ancient cherubim observed their approach with wise, knowing expressions. A little cottage stood beyond. Cloaked in vines, windows glowing softly, it invited them closer.

Spock stopped beside the crumbling basin.

Kirk felt the Vulcan's hesitation, turned, smiling reassuringly. "It's all right. I arranged everything through the reservation desk."

But Spock only looked at him. The Vulcan's fingers tightened on his, holding him there, an insistent pressure. The dark eyes threatened to swallow him up. And then Spock let go of his hand.

Without warning, the panic rose up in Kirk, total and overwhelming. The terrible certainty gripped him, that Spock would refuse to go on, would leave him here in this garden and not look back. A wave of desolation threatened to close his throat. "Spock--please, if you can't... I mean..."

"Jim," the Vulcan interrupted him, the familiar baritone soft, layered in enigmatic shadings. It made Kirk stop, made him catch his breath. Still Spock was looking at him with that peculiar intensity, as if he would consume Kirk whole, where he stood. Very gently, he reached up, brushed the backs of his curled fingers fleetingly against the human's temple. And Kirk became aware, with a kind of visceral shock, that he could feel the whisper of Spock's thoughts as he did it--brief and indistinct and exquisitely intimate. In that moment there was nothing but honesty between them.

"I am not so fragile," the Vulcan said at last, a low murmur. And suddenly, astonishingly, there was amusement in Spock's eyes, in the warm tone. "You need have no fear that I will run away from you." His gaze deepened, a look that made Kirk's knees go suddenly watery. "I could not, even if I wished to."

Kirk made a sound, low in his throat. His heart's pounding made it impossible to breathe.

And then that heat was flooding through him, threatening to incinerate him. He stepped forward, a motion he could not control, and his hands were lifting, his fingers twining in the dark hair, and he pulled Spock down, lifted himself up. Their lips touched.

The shock jolted down the Vulcan's spine. For a second it was all he could feel, a white-hot impact like raw voltage. Then Kirk moved against him, the velvet of Kirk's lips so much softer than Spock had imagined--

--and that awareness came crashing through him, tearing down layers and levels of carefully placed defenses. Imagined, yes, in all those dark, forbidden hours of the night. Dreamed of, yes, though Vulcans claimed not to dream such things. He had wanted this for so long that he could not remember a time before he had wanted it. His eyes closed against his will, and he moaned faintly against the human's mouth.

Kirk felt it, felt the shudder which ran through the Vulcan's body. He drew back a fraction, ran his thumbs down the soft hollows on either side of Spock's nape, coaxing the other to open to him. They were kissing in slow motion, ragged, clinging caresses, little retreats, pulled back each time by the inexorable current of electricity between them. That feather-light contact was almost more than Kirk could stand. His fingertips were pressing lightly against the base of the Vulcan's skull, trembling with the unbearable exquisiteness of it.

Something shifted, and Spock moved, his hands closing around Kirk's waist, sliding against the silk of his tunic, pulling the human against him with irresistible power. The feel of that compact form, steel softness and silken warmth, sent fingers of heat through the Vulcan's insides. And suddenly he could not stop ravaging Kirk's mouth, could not get enough of him.

Kirk gasped, leaned into that embrace, the Vulcan's hands at the small of his back the only thing holding him up. They were kissing open-mouthed--deep, soul-shattering kisses, the heat of it a forest fire, out of control. Spock tasted-- incredible, indescribable, like some forbidden drug. He could not think. Somehow he had backed Spock up against the fountain. The Vulcan's arousal pressed against his own rigid erection through their clothing, throbbing between them. Kirk knew suddenly that if they did not stop, he was going to come right here and now.

He broke away, clinging to the Vulcan for support, crushing the velvet of his tunic. Fought for breath. "Spock--" he grated, battling for some measure of control.

"Yes," the Vulcan breathed, interrupting him. He was shaking, waves of tremors overwhelming him. "Anything you want. Yes."

Kirk swallowed, pressed the side of his face against the other's sharp collarbone. That exotic, heady scent reached him again, and he had to close his eyes. "Let's go in," he choked, hardly able to find breath for it.

For an instant Spock's arms tightened on his waist, as if the Vulcan would not let him go. Their trembling seemed to reach some kind of harmonic convergence. Kirk pushed slightly against the other's chest, a gesture that did not have his heart in it. But Spock, after a long moment, released him. They stood unsteadily, inches apart, fighting for the will to move. Kirk made himself open his eyes, focus on the stone walkway beneath his feet. He couldn't look at Spock. If he did, he would never be able to move from this spot.

Those last steps, up the little path to the French doors of the cottage, were the most difficult Kirk had taken in his memory. His feet did not want to obey. In the end, Spock took his hand and led the way.

At the threshold, a small keypad glowed expectantly; Kirk gazed at it blankly for nearly ten seconds, before remembering that the desk clerk had given him an access code. His hand was shaking as he entered it.

Candlelight and flowers greeted them within, flickering illumination glinting in the deep luster of antique mahogany. A great four-poster stood in the center of the room, draped with muslin. Glass bowls stood on a low table near the door, white blossoms floating in water. The faint scent of magnolias embraced them.

Kirk found himself standing on the Spanish tile of the entryway, staring at that bed, his mind utterly blank.

Then Spock touched him. It was only the barest brush of his fingertips, warm on Kirk's wrist--but it broke the spell which had captured him. He turned, lifted his eyes to Spock's solemnly.

That electric jolt again. Spock felt it in some deep place, couldn't breathe for looking at him. Kirk was all softness, in this light, gold and copper and rose, eyes misty green with desire. The molten heat in Spock's insides welled up, threatened to drown him. Sudden unspeakable urge to bury himself in that softness, throw the human down on the deep pile rug, right here on the floor, and just take him in all his golden glory. The violent, terrifying need robbed the Vulcan of breath.

And then Kirk's hands were on him, gently demanding, and they were kissing again, Kirk's tongue in his mouth, stroking him, and the need burned white hot, consuming him.

Spock's hands were in the human's hair. He didn't know how that had happened. That crisp softness slid between his fingers, the whisper of the human's thoughts dancing just below the surface. Kirk's hands spread against his back, pulling him closer, Kirk's arousal a searing heat against his stomach.

Spock felt the dark imperative closing in on him. His fingertips were close, so close, the scintillating pattern of the other's thoughts a siren call, tantalizing. Just a slight motion, just let go for a moment, and they would be one. The instinct to reach for that link was almost irresistible.

He fought it, barely retaining enough control to remember why he must not do it.

They were moving together now, an inferno between them, a kind of swaying dance, clinging to each other to remain upright. Kirk moved against him, delicious scrape of silk and velvet and hot human flesh against Spock's urgent erection. The flood of pleasure surged in the Vulcan's blood, nearly sent him over the edge into oblivion. His knees gave out. Kirk caught him, held him against it, held himself up.

Their mouths broke apart, and they stayed like that for a long moment, trembling against each other.

Kirk wanted to make this feeling go on forever. But his body was warning him otherwise. It overrode his efforts at self-control with laughable ease. He could feel the Vulcan's readiness, too--wet heat through the layers of clothing.

He backed up, pulling Spock with him, until he felt the soft crush of the small, luxuriant rug beneath his feet. He made himself draw several deep, steadying breaths. Then he buried his face against the velvet-clad shoulder, found Spock's hands with his own. "Spock," he managed, a hoarse whisper. "I can't--I'm not going to be able to wait much longer." He made himself hold to the hands. "I'm sorry--I wanted..."

The Vulcan didn't want to think. He wanted to be lost. "Jim, please. Do not talk any more." The words came out of him like wild, winged things released from captivity.

Kirk's grip tightened on his hands. There was an electric stillness, in which Spock could hear the human holding his breath.

Then Jim's lips were on him.

And Spock was falling, falling into the incandescent core of him, last shreds of control melting into nonexistence. His knees gave out entirely, and he sank down onto the bed, pulled the human down on top of him. Delicious weight, silk and heat and softness fitted perfectly in his arms. Jim's tongue was touching his again, licking him like cool flames.

The human's scent assaulted him, raw and overpowering. Spock thought he might drown in it. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this primal joining, this intoxication of James Kirk's mouth on his, devouring him entire. Jim was straddling him now, the incredible heat of him pressed against Spock's thighs, his sex pulsing against Spock's with every beat of his heart. The Vulcan wanted it never to end.

But they had to stop, had to come up for air. Oxygen reached starving nerves, and Spock gasped with the force of his own need, suddenly sharp and overwhelming. Jim's hands were at his waist, at the hem of his tunic--and then they were sliding underneath, spreading against the Vulcan's ribs. Kirk's fingertips drew upward, dragging waves of shivers along the heated flesh. Spock made a sound of incoherent pleasure. He clenched his fists against the bed.

He wanted, with a ferocity he could barely contain, to just let go, pull the human against him, rip the elegant green silk off of him with his hands. But the need had become too great; it would be impossible to touch him like that and not surrender utterly to the inner imperative. Impossible to put his hands on that golden, satiny flesh and not touch him everywhere, not reach for the link, reach into him.

"Don't fight it so hard," Kirk whispered, feeling the tension vibrating in the lean body under his hands. He stroked the inhumanly silky skin at Spock's navel, coaxing with his fingertips. He felt himself shaking with the effort to go slow. "Just let go, Spock," he urged softly. "Give in to me."

It reached something in the Vulcan, something unexpected, and a kind of peace spread outward from Kirk's touch on his bare flesh. He felt it shift in him, miraculous surrender, and suddenly he found that he could let go. It would be all right. Jim would catch him.

He said the human's name, breathless prayer in his throat. And then his hands found Kirk's hips, shifted upward, shaking with the sudden need to feel more of him, feel that rich smoothness of human skin against his fingers. Kirk was helping him, fumbling with the hidden seam. He found it; the silk garment parted, and Spock's hands were on his bare chest.

Kirk moaned, arching back at the feel of that superheated touch. His nipples were instantly hard, pulling a deep, tingling rush of pleasure up from the base of his cock. The soft slide of fabric as his shirt fell away was an almost unbearable sensation. Then the Vulcan cupped his palms over the hard nubs, brushing them gently, and the waves of pleasure didn't subside, only mounted, shuddering through the human's body. Helplessly, he began to rock back and forth against the other's thighs, his scrotum rolling gently, exquisitely against Spock's. He was breathing hard, nerves singing with that torturous, overwhelming vibration. Spock shifted under him, and the pleasure leapt upward, threatened to spill over.

"Gods!" Kirk gasped out, forcing himself to stillness, trembling on the edge of coming in his pants.

The sight of him made sudden heat rise in Spock's throat. Kirk was more beautiful than he had imagined, arching above him, smooth and golden and tousled, flushed with passion. The lion eyes were closed as he fought for control, the bronze softness of Kirk's lashes curling against his cheeks. The Vulcan had to swallow. "Jim," he said hoarsely.

A little tremor ran through the human; his hands closed on Spock's forearms, as if seeking to draw strength. Finally, he opened his eyes. They looked at each other, each seeing, in that moment, his own profound wonder reflected back at him.

Spock didn't say anything more, couldn't. But the communication passed between them, sent and received with crystal clarity.

Kirk slid backward, pulling Spock with him, moving to stand on unsteady legs. His eyes never faltered, only gazed at the Vulcan with that open certainty. His lips were trembling faintly.

Spock let himself be pulled upright, until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, his face centimeters from the warm satin of the other's belly. Breathing the scent of him. Then the human lowered his gaze, a curiously vulnerable gesture. That little, demure dip of the too-long eyelashes captivated Spock utterly, and he watched, breath held, as Kirk shrugged out of the silk shirt. It slid to the floor in slow, liquid motion.

Kirk moved, then, smooth poetry of muscle and sinew and bone, bending to unzip the side fastenings of his Starfleet boots. He stepped out of them, one at a time.

Little flicker of the molten eyes, up to Spock's and back down, as if he could not prevent himself from gauging Spock's reaction. What he saw in Spock's face made him blush, faintly; that shyness annihilated the Vulcan. Spock couldn't think, or breathe, for watching.

Incredibly, Kirk turned his back, with a little glance over his shoulder and that delicious heat in his face. He reached around to the side of the silk trousers, unfastened the hidden catch, the muscles of his back rippling fluidly under the skin. Pushed the waistband down, palms brushing the creamy skin at his flank. The fabric slid into a puddle at his feet.

Too-brief vision of luscious curves, assaulting the Vulcan's senses. But then Kirk was turning around.

His face was flaming, but a tiny curve shaped his mouth, sardonic acknowledgment of his body's eagerness. He stood still for a moment, as if waiting for some appraisal, some sign of approval. Spock could see him trembling.

But he could not spare eyes for it. Could not stop drinking in the vision of him, rose and gold and umber curves shaped by candlelight, hard little nipples, standing up against the golden expanse of his skin. His cock arched proudly forward, framed by bronzed chestnut curls. Moisture beaded at the silken tip.

The god made flesh.

Before the Vulcan could move, or draw breath, Kirk had dropped to his knees at Spock's feet. "Shh," he whispered, soothing the small, involuntary sound of protest the Vulcan made. "Let me..."

He was unfastening the boots, removing them, Spock sitting stiffly on the bed, looking down at the top of that tousled head with a kind of dull shock. The unreality of this situation was suddenly hitting him, hard. This is Jim undressing me...these are Jim's hands on me. He is going to--

Somehow Kirk was kneeling, in all his naked glory, between the Vulcan's bare feet. Gazing up at Spock with those molten eyes, tilting his head a little on one side, that recalcitrant lock of hair curling over his eyebrow. He was waiting.

Let me...

Asking permission.


Spock moved, in answer, hands opening in an awkward gesture of invitation.

And then Kirk was coming up from the floor, against him, into his arms, and the feeling of unreality shattered--and suddenly everything was very, very real. Kirk bore him down full length onto the bed. Then the human was working at the velvet tunic, his hands encircling Spock's narrow waist and drawing him up, his lips and tongue and teeth attacking the delicate place where Spock's shoulder met his throat. The Vulcan moaned aloud, unable to stop the sound. Delicious, unbearable suction, wet caresses against his neck. His hands found sweet curves, kneaded that luscious flesh with desperate force. The heat within seared his fingertips.

Kirk's head bowed for an instant against his shoulder, and Spock could hear him panting. The human's hands were between them, fumbling with the Starfleet fastenings, then shoving Spock's trousers down savagely. The Vulcan arched upward, struggling to help him. Between them they got the confining fabric out of the way, all the way off.

Kirk was between his thighs then, unbearable friction of skin on skin, simultaneously sliding the black velvet upward, off--and teasing the Vulcan's nipples with his mouth. Spock's sex was crushed between them, slick with arousal, sliding against the cool, satiny smoothness of Kirk's belly. The sensations were too powerful; Spock closed his eyes, unable to do anything but lay shuddering beneath him, little mindless sounds of pleasure escaping him. His hands opened and closed on the muscular shoulders.

Kirk lifted him, pushed them further up on the bed. For an instant they only held together, helpless in the tide of desperate hunger. Spock was aware only of the damp heat of Kirk's face against his neck, the infinitely hotter wetness pressing against his flank. He was burning, flaming, ablaze with light.

And then they were kissing again, Kirk's mouth on his, that unbearable, consuming, open-mouthed kissing--and the human began to move against him slowly, helplessly, grinding their hips together. His hands found Spock's ass, cradled that sensitive flesh gently against his palms. Guiding him gently into that overwhelming, voluptuous rhythm.

The rigid, silken heat of him scraped against the Vulcan's cock, his scrotum, the tender skin of his upper thighs; Kirk's tongue stroked his in slow counterpoint. Spock moaned into his mouth, again and again, felt the vibration of the human's answering cries against his lips. Waves of excruciating pleasure were welling up in the Vulcan, unlike anything he had ever experienced, shattering him utterly.

Too much, for both of them. Annihilating scrape of skin on skin, wet silk on silk, and the Vulcan's hands found the back of Kirk's neck, the long fingers lacing in his damp curls, and he went rigid in the human's arms.

Shuddering, obliterating explosion of heat. A deep, ragged sound was torn from Spock's throat, raw ecstasy, and he clutched Kirk to him, helpless in the face of it. His teeth found Kirk's shoulder. He cried out again, the waves of pleasure going on and on.

That suddenly slick friction, the throbbing pulse against his sex, that sharp prick of the Vulcan's teeth--orgasm crashed over James Kirk, slammed through him, destroyed him.

He fell into space, went on falling, until he couldn't bear it anymore. He did not recognize the sounds coming from his own mouth. Spock's hands in were in his hair, touching more than his body--that fierce, unendurable awareness of that presence, all around him, inside him--

Finally, mercifully, the pleasure released them.

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