Doctrines and theories are best for weaker moments. In moments of strength, problems are solved intuitively, as if of themselves.
- Joseph Item
October 2, 2283
Classic shirt styles came and went, but the familiar head stayed the same.
Within the main salon of the El Presidio Boutique for Men (implication: of impeccable taste), pastel tints changed as fast and capriciously as James Kirk could say the word Next. His hazel eyes squinted in inspection as the sharp holographic images faded neatly from one style to another as though he were looking into a full-length mirror. For his long-suffering companion, he had thankfully narrowed his selection down to two. "Pink or ivory?" he considered aloud.
With typical Vulcan stoicism, Spock stared at him in bland consideration. "May I ask you why you are shopping for civilian clothes when we are about to embark on a mission where you are almost exclusively restricted to Starfleet regulation wear?"
The new Enterprise would be ready soon, with Captain James T. Kirk, formerly admiral, fortuitously reinstated as her commanding officer. The Federation Council had been both tolerant and harsh, as nearly five months earlier, James Kirk had blatantly disobeyed a direct order from a superior officer and as a result destroyed his starshipone of the most expensive Federation machines made on Earth. And saved Spocks life.
Kirk looked momentarily dejected and tossed the attending salesman an apologetic half-smile. "Youre right," he said to Spock. "Whats the point?" He started toward the front entrance that would empty them into the bustling five-story mall of San Franciscos Commerce and Mercantile Sysplex. As they left the boutique, Kirk leaned over the balcony railing studying the dizzying sight of the next level below them. It reminded him of the engineering section on the Enterprise. These days, thoughts of the new ship always made him feel playful. "Spock, what would I have to do to interest you in some ice cream?"
"I have no idea, sir."
Kirk sighed at Spocks literalness. "Lets get some ice cream anyway."
They took the escalator to the next lower level, and he sent Spock to find a table in the indoor patio area, which was arranged to look like the equatorial outdoors complete with subtropical plants and a two-story-high waterfall. Kirk called over his shoulder, "Your usual?"
Spock looked confused. "What is my usual?"
The Vulcan nodded in approval. "Indeed."
When Kirk returned, he had a double scoop of extra-creamy vanilla for his companion and double scoop of keelaberry swirl and dark chocolate cherry made with real cream for himself. He sat down at the table, handed off the cone and put his feet up on the extra chair.
"Spock, tell me something. Are you enjoying yourself this afternoon?"
The Vulcan was already losing his battle with the drips. "Should I be?"
"Yes, you should."
Spock stopped eating the cone. "Shopping complexes serve no purpose unless one is shopping. They are simply repositories for goods. One should make ones purchase quickly and leave. Yet I know that Humans like to spend copious amounts of time just being in them. Loitering." He went back to his cone. "For example, eating high-caloric, sugary concoctions of various exotic flavors that provide little basic nutrition."
Kirk had pursued his technique of taking a lick and then turning the cone, taking a lick and turning, with obvious success. He looked at the colorful movement of people around him. "Good place to people watch. Good place to meet your friends for lunch. Browse. Make new friends."
Spock pulled up again from the cone. There was ice cream on the end of his nose. He wiped it off with a napkin. "Sir, I may have misspoken earlier. I did not mean to imply that I am not enjoying being with you." He looked hard at Kirk, then asked tentatively, "Have you come here to make new friends?"
"Nope," Kirk said affably. "I came to shop, and people watch, and browse, and eat ice cream, and be with you."
Spock leaned forward in his chair. "Then we are enjoying ourselves." It was the logical conclusion.
"I am," Kirk said almost wistfully as his thoughts drifted away.
Spocks brow rose. "Are you really?"
Kirk didnt answer. He just stared straight aheadpast his ice cream, past Spock, out into the colorful crowd. He was suddenly distracted by a vivid, irrepressible chain of rapid thoughts, a connect-the-dots scenario of recent interstellar events: our easy little training cruise; Carols bewildering cry for help; the Genesis planet; Khan, my unexpected enemy from the past; David Marcus, my life that might have been; Sareks penetrable and all-knowing mind-melded; the death of my boy; Kluge, I have had enough of you!; the death of my ship; that big orange planet called Vulcan; the mystery offal-tor-pan; the destructive and unstoppable alien probe; two humpback whales named George and Gracie; transparent aluminum; Shit!-I-used-to-be-an-admiral ... keelaberry swirl ice cream. He stared at the mess in his hands as though a transporter had just beamed it there.
"Guess Im done," he uttered, getting up and dumping the handful in the nearest disposer. When he returned, he asked Spock, "When is the ship going to be ready?"
"Exact date unknown. I estimate between one point seven and two weeks."
"Really? That long?" Kirk glanced up at the sheer wall of the waterfall, and it made him think of possibilities. "Maybe white-water rafting. Maybe mountain climbing. What do you think? Theres enough time. Something challenging. Physical."
"Dangerous," Spock corrected.
"I feel restless."
As he finished the last of his cone, Spock said, "Perhaps a game of chess?"
Kirk frowned. "I said I need to do something physical. Something outdoors."
"We could take our board out of doors," Spock said as if it were the most reasonable thing imaginable and should be considered.
"Are you trying to be funny?"
"I was merely offering a sensible, alternative activity to your dangerous one. I have taken an oath to protect you."
Kirk began to rub his face, his chin, his jaw. Stubble. He felt itchy, twitchy. Mostly he felt like being alone. He looked at the man beside him, tall, dignified, brilliant, content to be by his side. And it wasnt enough. Only a Vulcan would notice how imperceptibly he began to shake his head. I cant bear this. Doesnt he remember more? He says Im only a duty to him...nothing but a damn ordinary obligation. I thought he was almost back to being himself.
Sorrow began to eat at him, undermining the animation and spirit of this place. He heard his own voice speak with a bitterness that he had been holding back all day. "Besides the obvious answer, Mister Spock, do you even know who I am?
Without a doubt, Spockhis body and soul having only recently been re-integrated with the details of his life as intercepted by an unwitting Leonard McCoy and interpreted by a myriad of Vulcan spiritual leaderspossessed Captain Kirks obvious answer. Sareks sons formidable IQ and memory were foremost on their things-to-get-right list. Therefore, Spock was well-acquainted with every fact the computer contained on James Kirks life history, and he had read and memorized every word. He could quote recommendations that 10-year-old Jimmy Kirk had received from elementary school teachers; he could list dates of childhood swim meets and the corresponding medals of excellence; he could recite Kirks academy transcript, his favorite colors, foods, music, vacation spots. He had seen the tapes from the first five-year mission. Of the second. Of their time at the Academy as instructors. He had even seen the tapes of his own death. The image of Kirk, slumped in engineeringas much a casualty of Khan as he would be etched in his brain forever. But he did not know what to say in answer to this question. It was similar to the How do you feel? question that the Vulcan computer had asked him. An easy jump for a full Human, somewhat more than a trick for half of one.
This Human wanted an answer about humanity. This Human, who looked at him now with the twin shadows of disappointment and sadness etched in his eyes, wanted so much from him. So much of what he could not giveany more. Because he did not have it to give. He wished he did. He knew he was missing part of himself, had been more at one time. But he was doing the best he could. Couldnt the captain see that? Right now, in the mall, surrounded by hundreds of bustling Humans and extra-terrestrials, Starfleet Captain Spock, with a brain that could calculate the combined effects of gravitational changes and an alien ships altered weight on their time re-entry trajectory, obviously had no idea how to answer James Kirks simple but ironic question.
So he said nothing and looked down at the table.
Kirk sighed and stood up. "Thats what I thought." He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Look, Im going home. Can you get out of here on your own?"
"Of course, Captain."
Kirk felt a sudden headache coming on. Rubbing his forehead, he saw the slight disappointment on Spocks face. "Ill see you tomorrow. Senior staff round table, you remember."
Kirk didnt look back as he exited the complex, hailed an air cab, and programmed his address. He sat in the rear seat as the driverless vehicle took him back to his cave.
Leonard McCoy walked into James Kirks apartment as though he were walking on air. "Great day! Great day!"
Kirk was working at his desk, simultaneously reading the daily news off the screen, working a tri-D crossword puzzle, listening to Chief Engineer Scotts audio recitation of ships preparedness reports and staring out across the waters of San Francisco bay. Aldebaran jazzthe only music he ever listened toplayed in the background. Kirk didnt bother to speak, but curtly waved the doctor inside. Of course, McCoy would notice.
Then the buzzer sounded again. McCoy turned in midstep to greet Spock. "Come in, my friend. Come in. Our host is in a foul mood, so Im the official greeting committee." He held out a hand and actually shook that of the slightly startled Vulcan.
"Im not in a foul mood," Kirk called up.
"Oh, pardon me," McCoy said to Spock. "Our host is in a wonderful mood."
"Theres coffee. Make it yourself." Their host had meant to say Help yourself. He didnt correct the mistake.
"What did I just tell you?" McCoy muttered.
Kirk still did not look up. The Scottish burr droned in the background.
When McCoy came back from the kitchen with his coffee, he pulled up a chair next to Kirk. "I ran into an old friend of yours yesterday."
"Youll have to guess."
Kirk rolled his eyes. He didnt feel like games. "Okay, how old?"
Kirk stuck the stylus he held in his hand between his teeth. "Male or female?" he muttered.
An old woman? Kirk finally looked at McCoy. The doctor was grinning. "An old woman." Kirk looked directly at Spock who had taken a nearby seat. Pointed ears, Ill bet. "Old friend. Let me guess: TPau on a holiday."
McCoy kept grinning. "Not even close. Old, as in three hundred years but doesnt look a day over thirty."
Kirk punched at the button that cut Scott off. "Gillian? You saw Gillian Taylor? Where?"
"Saint Cecilias Hospital. She was getting a physical. I was giving one." McCoy chuckled. "Oh, not to her. My loss. Anyway, she asked about you. How you were, how you were taking your fall from Starfleet grace, how to get in touch with you. The usual."
"What did you tell her?"
"I told her that youre having the time of your life, going out dancing and drinking every night, that you didnt give a hoot about being busted for insubordination in front of the entire Starfleet Command brass boardroom, and that if she did call, you probably wouldnt be home so not to bother. You know, the truth."
Incredulous, Kirk stared at him, barely biting back the words that leapt to his mind: Bones! You didnt! For a split second, he was overwhelmed by misery.
McCoy spat out a confession: "Only teasing. Shes in town for a couple of days. Shes going to call you."
"Today probably. Shes preparing to ship out on her first real whale observation assignment. Shes been in Hawaii in school, but this is the real thing. Leaves tomorrow or the day after. I forget."
"Bones," Kirk groaned. Tomorrow ...
The buzzer rang. Kirk pressed the release, and Uhura entered. "Hi, everyone. I just love these staff meetings." She walked to Jim Kirk and kissed him on the cheek. "How you feeling, sugar?" She looked into his eyes and glanced at McCoy for a mini-medical report. "Down or up?"
"He hasnt said much. We think hes not awake yet."
Kirk sighed as Uhura gave him another quick peck. "I saw a friend of yours this morning at the pool." Uhura straightened when all the men stared at her in silence. "Gillian Taylor. She said to say hi."
"You saw Gillian this morning?" Kirk said. Too?
"Yes, at the Port Rusty Pelican Yacht and Swim Club. I think her whale-team boat is docked there."
Uhura turned toward the kitchen. "Jim, she said she was going to call you. Made a joke about asking for your phone number. Wheres Sulu? Hes supposed to bring the Danish."
Kirk chuckled uneasily. The buzzer rang again, and this time he admitted Sulu and Chekov, who suddenly seemed to always be traveling in pairs. Sulu carried a neat little white box with a snap-on cover.
"Kyptin, guess who we ran into?" Chekov chirped happily, as Kirks mouth fell open. "Doctor Taylor. She was buyink bagels for her crew. Said she was happy that there were still such things. Bagels, she meant, I tink. Though she complained about a lack of jalape o cream cheese." He took the box from Sulu and thrust it toward his commanding office. "Anyway, have one."
By noon, everyone had left but Spock and McCoy. The captain jumped a little when the operators voice chimed: "Message for Kirk, James T., person-to-person transmission."
McCoy was standing closest to the console. "Ill get it." He punched in Kirks private code, and Gillian Taylors pert, blonde head filled the screen.
"Why, Doctor! Long time no see. You screening calls for the admiral?"
"My dear girl, Ive been busy keeping all the other of the legendary Captain Kirks females away from this frequency until I knew it was you. I approve of this meeting no matter how sordid it becomes. You tell Jim that you want him to take you to an expensive restaurant and make sure he orders only the very best wine."
Before McCoy could say another word, Kirk literally pushed him out of the chair. "Bones, go home," he ordered as he settled in front of the BellComm unit.
"Admiral, er, Captain, I mean. Sorry. You available for dinner tonight?" Taylor looked expectant. "Im in town for just a short time, and we never really got to finish our last one." She giggled. "Dinner, I mean."
At Spocks insistence, he and McCoy finally moved to sit in the living room to give Kirk some privacy.
Kirk smiled sweetly. "Hi, Alice. How are you?"
She grinned in response to the nickname he called her as she literally was beamed into twenty-third century Wonderland. "Im...well, dazzled. So what do you say? Still game for Italian?"
He gave a mock-grimace at the memory of cold pizza. "Think you can stand eating in? My place at 1900 hours. I mean, seven oclock. We could go dancing later. I can come pick you up if you want."
"No, Ill catch a cab." How eager she sounded. "Whats your address?" She scrunched up her face. That was twentieth century talk. "Coordinates?" She frowned at her lack of correct terminology. "Where are you?"
He punched in the numbers and sent them to her. He watched her stare at the bottom of the screen and then grin again. "Got em." She did not write them down. Oh, yes, photographic memory.
She stopped for a moment, just smiling at him. She looked so good, happy and relaxed, as if this new century completely agreed with her. He smiled back, feeling relaxed himself for the first time in a week.
"Ah, well, see you at seven." She put a hand next to her face and wiggled her fingers. "Cant wait."
He was still smiling as the screen went blank. "Me, too."
Kirk walked leisurely back in with his friends, trying to act nonchalant around McCoy.
"So, Jim, you want us to help you clean up around here?" McCoy gave the place a cursory glance. "We dont want the poor girl to have to step over piles of dirty socks and underwear."
With that comment, Spock could not help but look around. There were no such piles.
"Bones, you are really starting to annoy me," Kirk shot back.
But of course, McCoy did not let up. "And dont forget to change the sheets and clean the bathroom."
Kirks voice flared. "Jesus, Bones, Im not a complete barbarian. Get out of here! Spock and I have several hours work to do, and Ive got to cook dinner."
Now it was McCoys turn to choke. "Youre not going to feed Gillian some greasy concoction that you once devoured raw in a low-life dive on Rigel!"
Kirk smirked to himself; it was always fun to make the doctor sputter. "Ive already notified the caterer. Shes bringing dinner. Relax, Bones. Wine, flowers, itll be everything that you could ever hope for."
"Except shell be with you and not me."
"Youre way too old for her." He grinned a grin that said I, on the other hand, am only slightly too old for her.
"The difference isnt in age, Jim-boy. The difference is in gentility, refinement, savoir-faire. Im a gentleman. Youre a girls fathers worst nightmare."
McCoys response had completely lost Spock by now. "Doctor, Doctor Taylor has no living father, and Captain Kirk is a Starfleet officer of the highest caliber."
"Spock, he was just kidding you."
"Yes, of course, Captain Kirk."
"Call me 'Jim'."
Spock nodded. "Yes, I will, Jim."
McCoy took Spocks arm. "Glad to see you two still sticking together. Spock said something about you dumping him yesterday in the middle of what he considers a downtown cultural wasteland."
Kirk frowned, suddenly very embarrassed. Every recent conversation he had with Spock was turning against him. Okay, not another word to anyone with pointed ears.
"Doctor, I did not use those words," Spock retorted. "And I shall not confide in you again if you continue to use my confidences to embarrass the captain."
McCoy blinked at Spocks directness. "Sorry. I just got the distinct impression that you two were not on the same wave length these days." He turned to Kirk. "Maybe you ought to take the afternoon off and try again."
Kirk was almost squirming in his seat, wondering why he wasnt just brushing off the doctors unasked-for advice like he usually did. Couldnt McCoy see that this entire subject was more than a sore point? "Bones, shut up. Leave me alone." He deliberately turned his back on the doctor. "I dont want to try again," he muttered softly.
McCoy sighed and refrained from pushing any furtheras he had learned to do whenever James Kirk was truly in a nasty mood. He turned and walked toward the door. "Well, will you give Gillian a kiss for me?"
"Yes," came a sullen answer.
"It doesnt have to be chaste."
"Im going, Im going. Bye, Spock."
"Good afternoon, Doctor."
Yet both remaining Star Fleet officers were more than a little sorry to see the doctor go.
As James Kirk looked up from the monitor, he found Spocks near black eyes staring at him. Will you please stop looking at me. What are you thinking? Are you remembering anything really important, or is all thats sizzling in your Vulcan super-brain just some personnel roster youve memorized or yesterdays shuttle fleet fuel calculations or a right-to-left recitation of the periodic table? He forced a stop to the mean-spirited thoughts.
"Mister Spock, I say lets tackle science and computer requisitions, then personnel requirements, then engineering and bio-labs budgets."
"I concur," came a low voice.
Kirk punched up a spreadsheet. The figures and columns were a blessing, something to concentrate on that was concrete, each screen a problem to resolve, a place to hide. As the afternoon wore on, Kirk could feel the strain as they plowed through the work like two tireless draft horses hitched together, pulling in the same direction, more or less. They had worked so well together their whole professional lives. Now each decision came at the expense of several awkward and unnatural minutes. They were reacting like strangers or like friends who had had a fight. But they werent, and they hadnt. Maybe he was the only one who was fighting. Poor Spock. He was the victim, couldnt help what he was now, couldnt help being deficient. And who was labeling him that? How dare he presume to call a man who had single-handedly gotten them to the twentieth century and back again "deficient"?
He forced his mind to consider the numbers again. The budget, the budget. Focus on the goddamn budget. They plodded through each department list, one at a time. There was a lot of work. Screens and screens of it. Kirk found himself rubbing the back of his neck. Was it his imagination that Spock was asking for a higher than usual allotment? "Mister Spock, I understand the necessity of a well-equipped life sciences lab, but we also have to eat."
He had never once had a disagreement about Spocks budget requests before, and he was stunned that he was vetoing it, a budget as precise and thorough as any he had ever seen. Spock would not request one more credit than was necessary to run an efficient operation.
At first it seemed that they could not agree on an approach. Then Spock began to concede; then he did. It was not from consensus, it seemed, but fatigue. Kirk rubbed his eyes with each change of the screen. They lost track of time.
When the buzzer rang, Kirk surfaced from his reverie. The wall chronometer said 1820 hours. "Shit, Spock. Thats Marlene, the caterer from downstairs. Shes early. Can you let her in? Tell her to set things up in the kitchen. She knows what to do. Ive got to shower." He waved over his shoulder. "See you, Spock."
Spock stood. "Of course, Captain."
Feeling suddenly free, Kirk dashed into the bedroom, peeled off his clothes, and lobbed them into the laundry chute with a joyful jump shot. He usually took sonic showers, but today he felt like the luxury of old-fashioned soap and water. The spray hit him in the face, on the chest, the water ran down his legs in bubbly rivulets. He soaped his face and hair and let the suds tickle between his legs. He stood for several minutes as the water rinsed the soap away. He watched the bubbles swirl down the drain.
Something was making him suddenly happy, care-free. He toweled himself dry and put on a pair of simple brown slacks and a white short-sleeved knit shirt. As he combed his hair, he could feel the days stress float away, rise up and out of him with the mere expectation of an entire evening with Gillian Taylor. He considered splashing himself with expensive, off-world cologne but wondered if twentieth century men used such extravagant accoutermentsand decided against it. He stared at himself in front of the full-length mirror. Not bad for an old man. He laughed at himself for that particular thought, having already had his mid-life crisis on the Enterprise. He wasnt interested in having another oneabout age, anyway.
As he walked back out into the living room, he could hear the caterers busy movements in the kitchen. "Marlene, dont bother with the table. Ill do that!"
Kirk felt a bit of a shock when he saw Spocks dark head protrude from around the kitchen door. "Marlene has gone. I am helping."
"I thought you left."
"As I said." Spock moved toward the dining table with two fistfuls of eating utensils, plates, and glassware. "You ordered roast chicken. There are also steamed vegetables that you will have to reheat. And dessert. A blueberry confection of some sort. The wine is on ice. Marlene left strict instructions not to overheat the vegetables or fresh bread. I also arranged the flowers."
Bending low, Kirk stuck his nose into the center of a bright yellow dragon-rose to smell the sweet, fresh fragrance; instead, he sneezed loudly, blowing the arrangement to sad disarray. "Ohmagod, sorry."
With elegant efficiency, Spock brushed past him to once again arrange the piece, leaving it even more strikingly handsome than before.
Kirks eyes widened. "You are a big help."
Spock returned to the table, completing his task. "When I was recovering on Vulcan, I found a book on ancient Terran flower arrangements that my mother owned. I browsed through it. My memories of those photographs inspired me. Fortunately, many compositions are quite flexible."
Kirk felt true admiration for the three floral pieces Spock had concocted - and now, of necessity, a fourth. They really were quite striking. He fingered the stem of a red-orange poppy. "Spock"
"Captain, I must apologize for my lack of discretion at relating the instance at the shopping mall to Doctor McCoy. I thought he would honor the confidence. I believe that he felt it so trivial that he could speak openly of it to you without breaking doctor/patient privilege. However, I fear that it was not as trivial as he imagines."
Kirk sucked in air. Doctor/patient privilege? Surely you two are far beyond that, like joined at the mental hip or something? "Im the one who should apologize, Spock. Ive been rude to you." He reached out briefly to squeeze Spocks arm. "Lets forget it."
Spock nodded, placed the last fork next to the plate, then spoke again. "Captain, is there something wrong with your food dispenser? If so, I can attempt to repair it."
Kirk laughed; of course, catered food in an age where automated food processors could prepare a wife variety of meals fell far outside the realm of Spocks Vulcan logic. "Mister Spock, what do the men on your planet do when they want to impress a woman?"
Spock raised a brow. "Nothing. That would be illogical."
As he opened his mouth to continue his discourse on the relative merits of machine-generated versus hand-made, labor-intensive food, he was cut off by the sound of Kirks buzzer. Kirk pressed the door switch from over the credenza. Waiting a few seconds to collect himself, he turned and headed for the entry.
"Captain! Where are you?" The voice was unmistakable.
At the sight of him coming toward her, looking fresh and handsome, Gillian Taylor felt a flood of emotions at seeing an old friend whom she just realized that she adored, and she let the feelings overtake her. She took two quick steps and threw her arms around his neck in a joyful embrace. In response, he lifted and twirled her in a wide circle that carried the momentum of her movement. Just like one of those corny commercials, she thought, where the two lovers run across a field in slow motion, only this was happening at hyperspeed. Wow!
He let her kiss him as he whirled around again. They were both laughing between the kisses. He remembered when she jumped into his arms before he didnt like it then... But this is different. When he stopped, she beamed at him, her face open and a little shy, but glowing with the knowledge that she had surprised him and that he had liked it.
Someone else in the room caught the corner of her eye. She saw Spock move into her view, and she jumped away from Kirk with a start. "Oh!" Her eyes widened and her face turned red. "Mister Spock! I thought we were alone!" Double damn. Like Siamese twins. These two are never separated.
Kirk barely suppressed a grin. "Mister Spock was just leaving."
"I am sorry, Doctor Taylor," Spock apologized. "I did not mean to interrupt your reunion with the captain. I simply wished to extend my greetings. I know I shall not have another chance for a long time as your work will take you to sea soon. However, may I inquire about the health of George, Gracie and Little-Swimmer?"
Taylors embarrassment faded quickly; there was nothing she liked better than whale talk. She grinned openly at him, forgiving him with her smile. "Theyre all doing fine. The calf is quite a rascal at times. Anyway George has asked about you. Were now using old-style killer whale language panels, and he and Gracie are learning fast. George wants to know when youll come visit again? I think he really enjoyed communicating with you at the Institute and out on the ocean with me."
Spock allowed the hint of a smile around his eyes. "Please extend my good wishes to George, Gracie...and Little-Swimmer. I shall endeavor to visit them the next time I am on Earth. I have enjoyed seeing you again, Doctor Taylor. I trust you will enjoy your evening with the captain."
"Jim," Kirk reminded. "I mean, call me Jim, Spock. Jim."
Spock nodded. "With Jim, Doctor Taylor."
She giggled. "Gillian."
Spock looked dazed, as if all the ebullient informality was shorting out his circuits. As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone, and Taylor couldnt help but notice an audible sigh of relief leave Jim Kirk.
He took her arm, turned her toward the living area, and settled her on the sofa at the far end of the room. They sat half-facing each other, more than half-expectant. For several very long seconds, he just stared, grinning as though he were happy just to be in her presence. She fidgeted and pulled on a wisp of her hair at his concentrated attention.
"So, how is he?" she asked, moving her head toward the place where his dark Vulcan friend had just stood. "Any better?"
Leonard McCoy had filled her in on the frankly unbelievable story of Spocks death, return from, and hocus-pocus restoration on Spocks home planet. For futuristic scientific types, they seemed awfully gullible. She didnt know if she quite believed the whole story, but obviously they did. Besides, he seemed fine to her several weeks ago when they had taken a trip out on the open seas to visit George and Gracie during the birth of their calf.
Snapping back from his blatant admiration of the woman sitting next to him, Kirk sighed at the thought of Spock. He shrugged. "He tries. I try." He shrugged again, a lesser effort his time. "I miss him. I dont think he misses me."
"But hes here with you. Obviously, he wants to spend time with you."
"Yes, we spend a lot of time together, but its not the same."
She kept looking into his eyes, so large, and the way the light hit them. Kind of golden. Big like a womans, with long lashes. Shed forgotten how good-looking he was.
"Still the melancholy admiral, er, captain. Sorry again," Taylor said. She remembered in the pizza parlor when shed asked why he traveled around with Spock, how hed gotten the most peculiar look on his face, like he was remembering an entire lifetime in just a moment or two, like for a split second he was about to cry.
But Kirk was feeling awkward embarrassment. He took a deep breath to steady his resolve. "I really wanted to show you a good time, Gillian, and Im getting off to a terrible start." He shook his head as if to brush the cobwebs away. "Ive thought about you, Gillian. Wondered how you are. If youre unhappy or regret your choice to beam inside the ship with me." He cringed as soon as his own words left his mouth, because he knew that she hadnt come along to be with him, but to be with her whales.
She smiled, touching her lips with her index finger. "I dont regret a thing. Its so exciting trying to teach your universal translators to learn the language, the songs of the whales. The computer theyve installed on our boat is as big as a car! You should see it!" He noticed how she always got excited when she talked about the whales. Then she refocused her attention on him. "And Ive been thinking about you too. I really felt like we connected, that we speak the same language."
God, the very words Edith Keeler had used. Hearing them said by another beautiful woman sent a pang of sorrow, of lost love, through his heart. Then he remembered that Edith and Gillian were actually from the same century. How amazing.
"I knew I kind of missed you," she continued. "I wanted to see you, but I didnt know if youd want to see me. Frankly, I had no idea if I was even your type."
He nodded, understanding completely. "I didnt either. If youd want to see me."
"I wanted to."
He grinned suddenly. "That was quite a greeting a moment ago." He nodded toward the entry. "I was sorry when Spock interrupted"
"Me, too. Id like to try again."
Kirk laughed gently and found himself inching closer. He wanted to kiss her, but something kept him talking. Hed never before been the least bit reluctant to make the first moveall confidence, a starship captain, armed with the techniques of fifty different Federation worldsbut he felt, with her, that he couldnt be a hundred percent sure of himself. She had to be feeling a little off-center. Or maybe he was just projecting. Was she, because she was from the past, more vulnerable, or was he because he wasnt? He took her hands in his and sighed. He wanted her to feel comfortable, so he asked her questions about herself. "So, hows the catch-up work going?"
Now it was her turn to sigh. "Barely a dent. The advances in technology are almost overwhelming, and people take them for granted like it was an everyday thing!"
"Well, it is," he pointed out.
She giggled. "And the hospitals. Nothing but completely painless tests. Where I was today...it was mostly a preventative medicine clinic. All the diseases from the twentieth centuryeven AIDS, West Nile and most forms of cancerhave been cured."
He frowned, trying to understand what she was referring to.
She asked, "You dont know, do you?"
"Thats McCoys department."
"AIDS is a virus that devastates the immune system."
"Really? Sounds terrible." In the back of his mind, he remembered something about an immunity problem in the San Francisco area centuries ago, or was he completely mixing that up with the xenoimmunity series Starfleet administered to all third-year cadets?
She shrugged her shoulders as though dismissing the unhappy thoughts and resumed telling him about her life now, a clear note of excitement in her voice.
"I like everyone Ive met, but Im afraid to take a driving test." She didnt pause at the non sequitur. "What I really miss is knowing about pop culture. No ones ever heard of Seinfeld or Reeboks or Snickers bars. Only the ETs seem more out of touch."
"Extra-terrestrials. See what I mean?" A look of hard concentration fell across her face. "Though its nice not having to worry about correct change."
"Tell me about it."
"Only now I cant really tell if Im really ever getting a gonga." He leaned forward as though he were hard of hearing. "You know a good deal, or not," she explained, and he relaxed. "Sorry," she continued. "Maybe we should stick to standard English. No slang."
He leaned forward again to take the white wine out of the ice bucket. "Slang no. Wine yes?"
He poured them both a glass. Handing her a goblet, he tipped his until it touched hers with the tiniest, clearest chink.
"Welcome to the twenty-third century, Alice," he said. My century, my life. Now yours. Dont be a stranger. They each drank from their glasses.
Kirk swirled the wine around in his mouth before he swallowed it, coating the back of his throat with a silky oak flavor that made him think of late night chess games and brandy.
"Spock really liked what you said about George, Gracie and Little-Swimmer. I think hes proud of how things turned out. I think Sarek was proud, toofor once."
"His father seems stern, but nice. I didnt get to meet his mom. Whats she like?"
"His Mom?" Kirks eyes danced. "I have a Mom. Spock has a mother."
Taylor looked a little chagrined. "Stern, too, huh?"
"Its not that. Amanda has a bit of the devil in her."
She giggled. "That where he got those ears?"
He found her last quip amusing, but he just couldnt let himself fail into the merry moment. He forced a laugh at her joke, but everything they said about Spock seemed to make him melancholy.
Taylor watched the emotions play across Kirks face and felt her own curiosity stir. She wanted to understand their relationship, but she didnt know how to ask. This was San Francisco, after allstill cosmopolitan in all things cultural, culinary, and sexual. Yet he seemed so attracted to her that she had a hard time imaging that Spock meant that to him, too. No, it was something else. Something more substantive than sex.
"You know, Captain, George and Gracie have asked about you, too."
He tucked in his chin in surprise. "Me?"
"You saved their lives. They know they would have drowned if you hadnt risked your neck opening the ships locks so that they could escape. They know that Humans have a hard time underwater." She reached out and touched his cheek with her fingertips. "I was very proud of you."
He turned into her touch. "To come all that way, to go what we went through just to let them drown. I couldnt"
And she couldnt either. Stop herself. Shed been dying to kiss him. She initiated this one, but he immediately leaned into it and, in a moment, had taken her shoulders in his hands and pulled her closer to him. She hadnt necked with anyone in ages. Jeez, hes a great kisser. When he let her go, she was gasping, and she couldnt help but notice immediately that he was, too.
She caught his face in her hands, looked into his eyes, and began to kiss him again. His lips were so soft and yielding, and his tongue insistent with desire. He piled kisses on top of more kisses on her lips, her eyes, her cheeks, her throat, returning to her lips. Shifting his weight so that he could lean her back, he tipped her face up and kissed her some more. At some point, they had to come up for air.
Jeez, what a guy. Sexy, willing and obviously able. She bit her lip to keep from saying it, but just couldnt stop herself. "So, Captain Kirk," she said breathlessly, "is that a banana in your pocket or are you just glad I dropped in for dinner?"
He looked confused for a momentas though he didnt know the old jokethen his gaze dropped. She thought she might have blown it by bring a little too crude, but he only threw his head back and laughed, a genuine sound this time. She could see he was embarrassed but willing to laugh at himself.
He sputtered, "Youre not doing much for my poor male ego."
"But youre a starship captain," she said, running a series of tender kisses across his cheek and lips. "Certainly your ego is secure."
Her words stopped him cold for a moment.
"I was an admiral. My egos pretty bruised. It was for a good cause though."
"Spocks life, right? You saved his life, and then you saved the entire Earth!"
That she had summed it all up so succinctly and passionately made him grin. "They could have busted me to cooks assistant, and Id have been happy over that one." He pulled her close again. "And now Im happy to be with you." He leaned forward into another kiss, in fact, insisted on it.
And she responded in kind, rolling onto his lap, straddling him, kissing him with everything she had, every urge and honest feeling that she had within her. She became pliant in his arms, and a wave of passion seemed to wash over them both. Her kisses were as insistent as his. She took his head in her hands, and their tongues met and dove for one another, like two whales at play.
He could hardly believe it was happening this fast, but he scooped her up and carried her to the bedroom, depositing her on the bed. It came as no surprise that Gillian Taylor was not a passive lover. She rolled up and grabbed him, pulling him down, making the kisses like chocolate candy in his mouth, forcing his breaths to catch and hold and release like he was on the ocean catching the waves. Quickly, she helped him off with his shirt.
In a few more seconds, she was out of control.
"You have protection, dont you?" she gasped between kisses.
He couldnt stop kissing her, didnt want to. "Protection?"
"You know, condoms?"
The kisses slowed. Stopped. Did she really mean old-fashioned birth control? He propped himself up on one elbow, the mood suddenly leaving him. Shit! Did twentieth-century lovemaking always include explicit discussions of birth control methods and sexually transmitted diseases? He hoped she didnt consider this foreplay, because it wasnt working for him.
"Well, no. I receive annual injections." He was almost shocked to hear her ask."Modifies the sperm so that theyre infertile. Ive been taking them for the past ten years, a personal choice many in Starfleet make. Dont worry; you cant get pregnant." He took her hand. Obviously, she feared unwanted pregnancy. And how could she be expected to know the current status of modern Human birth control techniques? Somehow her ignorance seemed quaint and sweet to him, reigniting his desire. He began to kiss her again, hoping he had had managed to ease her immediate concerns.
He had. Suddenly, everything was a Go again.
"Im sorry, forgive me," she whispered, apologizing between kisses for the stupid interruption. She pressed up against him. He hadnt completely lost his erection. Oh, thank God! And she was determined to jump start him again, or die trying, to get them both back in sync. How stupid of her to not have seen that the twenty-third century was perfect! He was perfect! Just look at him!
A feast for the female eyes. What a lovely chest he had. So big. She leaned over him, rubbing her palms across his nipples. When he shuddered, she leaned across him so that his hands could move all over her, over her breasts, between her legs, catching her buttocks when she straddled him again.
Jeezus, lets get out of all this stuff, she thought. If that doesnt do it, nothing will. She slipped off her blouse, her slacks, and then helped him pull off his pants, though this was always the most awkward part when two people were out of control. She could see he was shaking as he turned back to her and covered her with his body, and she could see that he was ready again.
He was almost too ready. He wanted it to last. He didnt want to go so fast; but he could barely hold himself back, and he sensed that they were both on a sexual collision course, racing at the speed of light. She seemed to want him as much as he wanted her. Maybe more. He slipped inside of her and she wrapped her legs around him. He heard her moan his name"Jim, Jim, Jim!"the first time she had dropped his rank and replaced it with who he really was. He was filled with emotion for her. He wanted so badly to say "I love you," but he knew it was the passion of the moment, and so he didnt say it. But he wanted to. I like you so, he thought. But then the thoughts went away and he was consumed with such exquisite pleasure, that he was not sure he would survive the ride.
And she was as swept away as he was. Oh, god, Ive died and gone to twenty-third century heaven, she thought. Please dont stop. But it was she who couldnt stop. Couldnt stop kissing him, couldnt stop kneading his chest, his shoulders, wondering how the heck she had ended up here, boinking an admiralOkay, ex-admiral!and loving every moment, about to climax, so close. Who was this guy? Where did he come from? Iowa. Yeah, land of corn. But he was no corn cob. Not this one.
He tried to slow down, make it last. What if this would be their only time and she stormed out of here because he had taken advantage? What were the sexual mores of twentieth-century females? His only previous experience with the era hadnt progressed this far. But he couldnt hold the thought, couldnt care about that. He only wanted to slow down to please her, but make sure that if she did leave when it was over, she would know that he had done his best and that his best was pretty damn good. So he slowed down and began a controlled undulation that drew a gasp of surprise from her. She settled down to his rhythm and in another minute, he felt her spasm and groan and press her face into his shoulder. It would be all right now for him. She wrapped her legs tighter around him, and he thrust with passion and heart and love.
And when he came, he thought he saw starsHow appropriate!and when the little sob came, too, without warning, welling inside of him, it was full of emotion that was not of sex but of connection. He buried his face in her golden hair. It had been such a long, lonely time.
She found herself lying beside him, her head on his shoulder, his arms around her. One small leg draped across his stomach. Absently, she rubbed his chest. "You okay?" she whispered. She had heard something strong come up out of him, something deep that nearly choked himwhether from passion or something else she didnt know.
He turned and kissed her. "Im fine. Really. How could I be anything but fine?" He was planting kisses all over her neck, her face, her chest. "Youre so amazing," he said. "So eager."
She nestled closer, her body molded to his side. "Yeah, one thing for me, Im enthusiastic."
He sighed to think that she had slept with other men. Had those men been as moved as he was by this little slip of a pink and gold body, by her giggle, her funny faces, her quick wit? No, he decided, he was the first to appreciate her. He was the first lover to make her bloom. Some ego. "So youve had your share of lovers," he prompted, curious.
She nodded. "Lovers only. Never been married. Men are too needy. Half of them are so insecure they wont even eat quiche." It was an observation of all the others, he decided, misunderstanding the quiche reference. "I was on a mission to save the whales. Couldnt stop for any mortal man." She hugged him. "Until I found one who was on the same mission."
He knew she meant him. Ironic, that the whale chase had sneaked up on him virtually overnight. Believe me, he wanted to say, Im as mortal as they come.
She watched him sigh and could tell that as the air rushed out, it was taking him away. "Ill be in space in a week," he said softly.
Now it was her turn to sigh. "Ill be back out in the middle of the Pacific tomorrow."
"Tomorrow! So soon?"
"The whales have hung around Hawaii for awhile, but theyre starting their migration now. Well be following them for at least four years."
"Ill be gone longer than that probably."
She frowned, raised her head to look down at him, then dropped it to his shoulder again in pure defeat. Phooey. She could imagine waking up every morning with him for awhile.
He rolled up toward her. She seemed to have no one, nothing, but her work back in the twentieth century. Could that have been true? He wondered aloud, "Gillian, dont you need...love?"
Her tone was neutral. "Dont you, Admiral?"
He didnt answer right away and stretched his arm out toward her so that she could use it for a pillow. He ran his other finger up and down her face. God what a face. As cute as a... There was no image, except he had never forgotten how she looked to him, as they drank beer and he made his confessionhad he actually felt a pang of guilt?about who and what he was.
Not so much a place...as a time.
Im from the twenty-third century.
Yeah, sure, you big dumb ass, her face had said. But he could tell she wanted to believe. She just couldnt.
"Every once in a while I miss it. Feel sorry for myself that I dont have what other men have. Family, to come home to. But I seem to have so many people who love me. Im lucky."
"I heard about your son," she said. "Im sorry."
He shifted his weight, but his gaze never left her face.
"I have mixed feelings. I grieve that he died so young because of events I set in motion sixteen years ago. But I hardly knew him. We connected, and now hes gone." He looked away. "Thats happening a lot these days."
Now it was her turn to touch his face. "You and Spock?"
"We connected, and now its gone too." Only its ten times worse than losing David... And he had been absolutely broken-hearted about his son. What might have been...
She could hear infinite sorrow in his voice and see his body slump, even though he was lying down, not moving. Perhaps he had been fighting the thought and just to say those words made it so, and that so-ness was almost devastating to him. She couldnt bear to see him depressed. She couldnt let that happen.
"Say, Admiral, what happened to that dinner you promised me? Or was that just a ruse to get me up here to your swinging bachelor pad for sex?"
He looked startled, then sat up. "I have dinner. I really do." He rolled out of bed and stood up. He looked back at her perfect nakedness. "Dont get dressed yet. Maybe our dinner could be informal?"
"Got a T-shirt or robe or something?" she asked.
He went to the bureau and took out an extra-large bright pink tee that said BerengariaPlanet of Enchantment on the back. He tossed it to her, and she shimmied into it. He put on a deep blue silk robe and cinched it around his waist.
"God, you look beautiful," she said, and he actually blushed. "Why, you act like no woman has told you what a hunk you are?"
"A hunk of...what?"
"Just hunk. It means gorgeous man."
"Oh. Well, not lately."
"Maybe you just havent made yourself available lately." Her face took on a mock seriousness. "So how long have you worked with Uhura?"
She remembered on the bird-of-prey how Uhura seemed to know so much about him: how to speak to him, what to say, when to touch, when to merely do her job and support him with her cool efficiency. There was more to this relationship than just friendship. She was curious, but it was none of her business.
Jim Kirk smiled to himself as he wandered away from her into the kitchen and began to warm the food, being extra-careful not to overcook anything per Marlenes instructions. He was suddenly starving. He hadnt eaten a thing since the bagel that morning.
Taylor snooped around his apartment for a few minutes, inspecting his collection of antique weapons and off-world artifacts, then wandered out to the kitchen. She leaned over the flat grill. "You cook, Jim?"
"No. Mostly I order food from the autochef." He pointed to the food processor. "On the ship, thats what the entire crew usually eats. There are units in everyones quarters as well as the rec rooms. I usually eat in my quarters or with my senior staff in the rec room or VIP observation deck." He didnt mention names. "There are a few times that some of the crew actually prepares a meal the old-fashioned way in the ships galley. Once we ran out of turkey, and the chief mess officer used meatloaf to fashion some turkey-shaped loaf. Of course, we..." He let the remembrance of Charlie Evans substitution of real roasted turkeys for the meat loaf die before he voiced it. He started to take food out to the dining table until he saw a look of dismay cross her face.
"I dont think Im dressed to eat in here." She grinned mischievously at him. "Lets move all this to the coffee table and sit on the floor."
Unusual girl, he thought. But why not. He noticed the first things she moved were the candles. Ah, candlelight. On the floor, theyd already be almost horizontal. A wave of desire swept through him, and he closed his eyes to let it pass. Cant you wait until you give the poor thing something to eat? He could hardly believe he had recovered this quickly. What a fiend you are!
"Come on, Jim," he heard her call. "Im famished." He brought out the chicken and vegetables. And in the meantime, she had poured them more wine and lit the candles. She watched as he went to a wall console, programmed some music, and dimmed the lights. He pushed a button and a cozy fire popped up in the fireplace, and with another button, the room filled with the sensual sounds of the Aldebaran jazza sexy mix of alto saxophones and off-world percussionhed been listening to earlier.
As he lowered himself down beside her, it was all he could do to keep from pulling her down all the way and taking her right there on the rug. He sat back on his heels to distance himself from her, but she reached out to give his arm a little squeeze. "I guess youre looking forward to dessert," she teased. When he returned the gaze, she was already digging into a chicken leg.
He sat down close to her and attacked the other leg. They were both ravenous, as hungry for the food as they had been for each other. It was a pleasure to watch her eat and talk, her cheeks bulging with bread and broccoli. And she kept licking her fingers to the point where he finally put down his own fork and grabbed her hand and licked one of them for her. She laughed and fell backward.
"You can be ditzy, too!" she wisecracked.
And in a bare instant, she could see the change come over him. For a moment, he went away again. He had that same look as when Then she remembered that was the word she had used in the restaurant to describe Spock, whom she really did think was ditzy, weird in fact, only she had no idea how much, or why. Kirks sadness crept up on him again, just at the edge of him, where she could see it well before he even knew it was there.
"Back in my time," she began, sitting up, "I dont think you knew how much I wanted to believe you. All that stuff you were saying. You were so earnest. But everything sounded preposterous, ridiculous. Frankly, hilarious." Her eyes lit up. "Okay, a little intriguing, too." She dropped her eyes, but they popped back up like bubbles springing to the ocean surface. "You didnt even know about pizza!" She cocked her head, studying him. "I liked that you didnt try to bully me. You were polite. You asked. You didnt take. Most twentieth-century men wouldnt have been so patient."
"They would have taken?" He took another drink, considering just how honest he should be. "I thought about it."
"But you didnt."
"No, I was prepared to go to sea, but I wanted to take your whales."
"Yes, my gift to you." There wasnt time for anything more.
"It was the perfect gift, Jim."
"Thats why I couldnt let them drown."
She beamed at him, her eyes filling with tears. "Oh, sorry, but Im such a sap for whales." Sniffling, she quickly wiped her eyes with her napkin. "And you, youre really remarkable, you know that?"
She obviously meant it as a compliment, but he couldnt take it that way. "Yes, I am remarkable," he said dryly. If you only knew...
"Uh, this place," she said finally, looking around to collect her emotions. "It doesnt seem like you exactly. Too full of shiny things."
"Ill get rid of it," he teased with a straight face. He looked around, too. Yes, hed maintained this condominium for several years, but it was really the opposite of who he was in space. This place was a museum, full of bright, shiny objects and the latest devicescollectibles hed bought through the years and shipped back here, stuff he didnt need. "Things are pretty austere in space. Or they used to be. The newer ships are more luxurious, especially officers accommodations. In the old days, we had a bed and a desk and that was about it."
He downed the rest of his wine and poured himself more. "When in space, I used to let my nephew Peter use it on the weekends when he wanted to get away from Starfleet Academy. Hes in space himself nowadays."
"So you do have family," she said.
"Three nephews, but two of them are estranged. Peters really my only living family, and he and I are not all that close these days." An image of David Marcus flashed through his head at the word living. Oh, David, how could you know that your own father would be both the life and the death of you?
He stood up and moved to the far end of the room, away from her. He pulled his robe tighter as if he were cold. "You said I was remarkable earlier. You have no idea. Ive managed to kill just about everyone Ive ever loved." He chuckled drolly. Was he including Spock in that count? "Ive also managed to kill several hundred citizens of alien empires who certainly didnt love me. And a couple of hundred people who simply had the absolute misfortune of working for me."
She looked stricken. "I didnt realize that your job was so dangerous."
"Ive also managed to blow up my own ship." Damn it! In the back of his mind, he knew the thoughts were incongruent, but he said them anyway. "Do you know how much a starship costs?"
Are they making you pay for it? she wanted to tease, but managed, for once to keep her mouth closed. He looked so unhappy, so caught up in himself. What was she doing there with him? Who was this friendly, cheerful, sweet guy, now suddenly so morose and self-pitying? He had been famous, honored, a heroshed already heard the stories. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, she supposed. Timber!
"My ship," he continued soberly. "I would have died a hundred times to keep her safe."
Taylor felt she had to speak up, correct the direction he was taking their talk. A ship was just nuts and bolts, wasnt it? Surely he meant the people. "The ship or your crew, Jim?"
"At least she was empty when she went down. Except for a few bastard Klingons."
"Is that why that Klingon ambassador hates you so much, because you killed his men?"
"I hate them, and they hate me. It goes way back. A long ways back." Serenidad, Stradia, Shermans planet... The list seemed endless.
She scrunched up her mouth in consideration. "You know in my time, the United States government had a great enemy: another super power. But when the walls came down, they came down fast. Ive read in the history tapes that the two countries and a few others formed a space cooperative that became the early basis for Starfleet. Dont you think that someday that might happen with the Federation and the Klingons?"
He frowned. "Id rather put a phaser to my head right now and get it over with."
She looked startled by his vehemence. "So when I asked if you were from the military, you lied to me. You really are. You take that bright, shiny ship of yours, and you go to war."
He couldnt keep the flash of anger from his eyes.
"Not that day, not on your Earth, but out there somewhere. Mankind still makes war."
The lie hed told himself his whole lifethat he was space explorer, that the Enterprise was a ship of peace, that Starfleet was an agent of galactic conciliationhit him in the gut like an enemys kick.
"You know, Gillian, Spocks people are pacifists. He is, too. But on my order, hes killed many times. Hes killed to save my neck. I always thought I gave those orders because I had to. Maybe I gave them because I could." Another sudden thought chilled him further. "I wonder if the Vulcan healers removed that part of him. I wonder if, on my order, he would kill again?"
"Maybe hes just getting more gentle as youre getting more violent," she said pointedly, remembering the violence of the 20th century. She had been naive to think she could escape it. She sighed. The mood was spoiled, and she began to clear the dishes; but in a moment, she stopped, not wanting things between them to be spoiled. She put everything back down again and stepped away, folding her arms. She looked at him and cocked her head. "What the hells the matter with you, Admiral?" she asked outright. "Id really like to know, and Im not going until you tell me."
He stayed where he was, away from her. He knew he was acting like an ass. He had wanted to connect with her, not drive her away. Maybe now was the time for a little confession. Something to bridge the centuries between them. He pursed his lips, then unpursed them at the memory. "I wanted to kiss you in the bird-of-prey when I first took you to the hold to see George and Gracie." He had quoted poetry instead.
"Why didnt you?"
"I was afraid that we werent going to make it back. I liked you, and I was afraid Id killed you." That wouldnt have deserved a kiss.
"You should have had more faith in Mister Spocks computations." She looked hard at him, wondering why he was so demanding, like a father, like Spocks own father according to Kirk himself.
"Thats it, isnt it? Ive lost my faith in him."
"What is it that you want from him, Jim? Everything he does and says disappoints you so much."
"I feel like ... ." He struggled for the words. "Like the better part of me is gone, like Im only half here."
She couldnt see in the candlelight that his eyes had filled with tears, but when he put the heels of his hands to his eyes to stop the flow she knew. Why was this grief imposing itself on them so much this evening? She was a greater reminder than she could ever imagine. Damn, I dont know how to help him. I want to! Desperately, she was trying to understand. She went to stand beside him.
Tentatively, her hand touched his and their fingers entwined. "Were you lovers?"
He didnt look shocked or surprised. "No, not lovers. Something else. Something that has no name. What men in battle become to one another. What men who live such isolated lives become to one another. I have no idea what to call it. Comradery isnt even close. We were bonded by the lives we led, by the ship, by the weight of command. He was drawn to me because I was confident and he needed that, and I was drawn to him because still waters run deep. He was Spockunique and nearly unknowable. I wanted to know him, and he always let me. I cant know anymore, because he doesnt know."
She could feel his losshis need for Spockthat had turned to an obsession, reminding her of male power trips that she had rejected three centuries ago and that she would still reject now. Poor dumb Spock didnt fit Jim Kirks mold anymore, and so he found himself out on his ear: dismissed and imperfect. How many times had that happened to her with some man who invented ways to make her feel that she was coming up short? Why were bright, powerful men always trying to control somebody else? Always thinking it was their right to?
"You know what I think, Admiral Kirk? I think youre quite a guy, and obviously everyone around you thinks that, too. But you havent learned one very important lesson in life." Her eyes bore into his face. "And that is, that everything in this galaxy isnt about you. Ill bet not every Klingon man and woman wakes up in the morning wondering how to fuck up the momentous decisions of Captain James T. Kirk. Ill bet Mister Spock doesnt spend all his free time pouring through dictionaries just to find the right word to use to hurt you. And Ill bet Im not the first woman to be taken in by your great big eyes and your great big" She stopped. Feeling angrier than she had ever meant to be, she let go of his hand. "I just hope Im the last."
Her anger was like ice water thrown in his face. He felt a rare panic well up inside. Dont go! Im sorry, Gillian. But he was a starship captain, first and foremost, and disconcertedness gave way instantaneously to bluff and bluster. They didnt call him the best tactician in Starfleet for nothing. "Big what? he said with a snap. "Big ego?"
She squinted with displeasure. "The biggest."
He went back to her and they both knelt down. "Im very sorry. Dont leave. Ill make it up to you."
He touched her face. "With my big ol eyes."
She fought away a grin and playfully pushed his hand away. "Youre a jerk."
"At least half the galaxy and the two star empires would agree with you."
"Part of your problem, Admiral, is that youre used to thinking about yourself in galactic terms. Its time you thought about yourself a little closer to Earth."
"Ive been knocked down a couple pegs lately. Youre right; Im not used to it."
"And you dont like it."
"Not one damn bit."
She stood up and walked away from him, hoping he would follow. She went to the etagere and picked up a photo of a young boynot him, maybe a brother. She put it down and stared at the fire. It was fake. No burning wood. This is an environmentally conscious century, thats for sure. At least, the musics real enough. With its alien tones and rhythm, it touched her blood and made her sway.
"I like this music," she cooed. She didnt know what it was exactly, but it had a cool, sensual, eerie quality to it: sexy and sad at the same time, like him.
He watched her for a moment, backlit by the fire, moving to the music; then he stood up, took her hand, and pulled her to his chest. They began to dance, a slow dance, their bodies pressed together. "Do you dance this way in your century?" he asked.
"Too bad. Let me know if you dont like it."
"You can count on it, Captain."
They danced with his cheek on the top of her head, and her face pressed into his shoulder. They danced a long time. Sometimes he would stop and they would kiss, but the music always carried them away again. He felt a little embarrassed about some of the things he had said. She was a stranger. Why had he thought he could dump his harshest, most emotional feelings on her? Thats what McCoy was for. He got paid for it. But her? He wanted to see her again and all he had done was put her on the spot and acted like a baby. To use her word, he was a dipshit. But she was in his arms again. Did he dare?
"Gillian," he whispered, "I want to make love to you again." He braced for a slap, but it didnt come. God, she could be forgiving.
"Captain," she whispered in return, "you dont know how. Let me show you."
She slipped her hand through his robe, and it fell open. Then she slipped off the pink T-shirt and snuggled naked inside his robe with him. They kept dancing. He felt her hands around his waist, roam his back, cup his buttocks. She began to kiss his chest, his nipples, his navel and down. He stopped dancing, and she fell to her knees. In a moment, he couldnt stand.
When he was inside of her again, the music kept the languid rhythm for him. This would be no quickie, no incessant carnival of sexual appetites. This would be slow, deliberate. He would last for as long as she wanted, pushing out the devils of his memory with minute moves of each muscle, with his breath held and released, with his entire body pushing forward, easing them through space. Steady as she goes ... steady as I go.
Gillian Taylor understood what he wanted to do; each time she hovered on the edge, she would stop him, making him withdraw. And each time he was about to let go, he would with supreme effort, stop himself and wait, his breathing ragged and the muscles in his back, shoulders, and arms trembling. Sometimes he would pause to drink some wine and kiss her, and she would take tastes from his tongue and look into his eyes, the color of white wine at dusk.
What kind of sex is this? she thought. This was serious, this was the stuff of legends. She would never forget this one. She thought of the whales and wondered if their foreplay and sex could be as sensual, as lilting.
She watched his face, which had become as flushed as his chest. His eyes were hooded and he had lost some of his handsomeness because his eyes were half-closed. But the rest of his face was mobile, moving like the tides washing over rocks, swirling, turning, pushing on and pulling back. He was like the sea, fathomless, like the whales swimming forward, always moving, on the edge of breaking the surface, on the edge of drowning. Air breathers, they dove to the bottom again and again, and came up for air when their lungs were bursting. They held onto each other as they dove down, and their kisses, like long cool strands of kelp, lashed them together as they rose again to the air.
She rolled over him and took him in her mouth, and she didnt care if he could hold on, but he stopped her, pulling her face up to his, bathing her with kisses.
He only wanted to see her face, shining and bright like the brightest day, turned to wanting him like the whale wants the open sea. He could see on her face how much she wanted him. He could see the way her breasts heaved, the way her hips moved in answer to his hands.
He began to thrust harder, a little faster. She began to moan, the sound deep within her. Dont stop, he thought he heard her whisper. Impossible to stop. As contractions began deep inside her, he felt a rush like a dam breaking, like a tidal wave that breaks the shoreline. His heart pounded; her lips went numb.
Her groans were like nocturnal sounds of sunken ships that creak in the night, in the deep midnight water. She came and then he came. He thought the top of his head would come off, his heart on overdrive. She dug her fingertips into his flesh to hold herself down. She wondered if this was a dream and had the sensation of falling back to earth like deceleration after the sling-shot effect. Floating back to Earth.
A long while later, the sea coughed them up again, and they found themselves in each others arms, safe on the beach of Jim Kirks living room floor.
With him sleeping like a baby beside her, Taylor woke up in Kirks big bed, amidst forest green comforters and oversized pillows. She didnt remember how she got there, and wondered if hed put them both to bed in the middle of the night. She yawned and rolled out of bed, found his blue robe, and wrapped it around her. What time was it? Some natural light had penetrated the room, and she stumbled around looking for a watch or clock radio. She shuffled out into the living room and found the dinner dishes still on the coffee table. The candles had burned down to stubs, and she could see the indentation on the area rug where they had lain. The pink tee-shirt lay in a heap.
Picking up the dinner plates, she took them into the kitchen, still searching for a clock. Where was her watch? "Damn it," she muttered, "what the hell time is it?"
"The time is zero-seven-sixteen hours," came a womans even voice from somewhere above her head.
She laughed at her own ignorance and, for a moment, felt totally out of place. Ask and you shall receive around here. Okay, now that she had the time, if only she could figure out how to get a cup of coffee out of these slick, shiny contraptions? She stood in front of the autochef and asked it for coffee. Nothing happened. There was a panel on the front with numbers, but she was afraid to push any of them. She started to read a panel with instructions, but gave up and went back out into the living room, clearing away the dishes. Sunlight, streaming into the living room through great, high windows, was beautiful and clean; it was going to be a lovely day for new beginnings.
A minute later, she wandered through the bedroom into the bathroom. Kirk had turned on his back, but his eyes were closed and his breathing deep and steady. He was still asleep. She had learned how to use a sonic shower and jumped in the cubicle and set the dial. She began to think of last night, their love-making, their passion. She was amazed, even now, at how excited he had made her. Was he just a time-travelers conquest? Was she to him? When the mechanism shut itself off, she stepped out, stood in front of the mirror, tousled her hair, and thought that she looked remarkably good, considering.
She went back into the bedroom and, curious, began to look around. There was a silver brush and comb set on the dresser; it looked like an antique, something made even before her time. She moved away and smiled to see that he had picked up her clothes and draped them neatly across the back of the chair. Stooping down, she picked up her shoes and a pair of panties, and around the side of the bed, she found his briefs. She grinned when she saw the Starfleet insignia sewn on the regulation waist band. Even his privates belonged to Starfleet. Oh yeah? Suddenly, she wanted him again. Before breakfast? Yeah. Here he was, naked, just waiting for her. She smiled to herself, deciding to wake him with a surprise.
Kirk woke to find her making love to him with her mouth. He was startled for a moment, then settled back with relief. "God, Gillian, what are you doing?"
"Nothing," she muttered coyly.
He was moaning softly now, his fingers and toes curling with the deep-felt sensations. You call this nothing? he thought. Oh, God, this is happening fast. He tried to take her shoulders and pull her off of him, but his heart wasnt in it. She stayed where she was, until he came. Then she kissed his belly and one hip and rolled off the bed, leaving him trembling and disconnected.
"Good morning, Captain," she said smiling down at him.
He threw his arm across his face, turned on his stomach, then with supreme effort rolled up to his feet. He had an odd look on his face, almost stern. "Why did you do that?"
She tipped her head. "Because I wanted to. Why do you think?"
He took her in his arms and pressed her close to him. "I thought we could make love again. Now...well..." He didnt think he could recover before they would have to leave this morning.
She touched his mouth with her fingers, and he took her hand and kissed the palm. "Im sorry. I just wanted my way with you. Didnt you enjoy it?"
He sighed. "Of course, I did." He sat back on the edge of the bed. "I just didnt expect it. No ones ever..." He smiled at an old memory. "I mean, not first thing in the morning."
She sat beside him, proud of herself. "My ship leaves at ten. I need to check out of my hotel and have my stuff there by nine thirty. Youre going to see me off, arent you?"
He nodded, feeling so disappointed.
She put her arm around his shoulder. "So how do I get a cup of coffee out of that twenty-third century kitchen equipment of yours?"
He stood up, resigned, took a deep breath, and headed off into the bathroom. "Push number two. The selection ready light comes on when you can stick your hand in." He disappeared into the shower.
She dressed herself, combed her hair with his antique comb, and headed back into the kitchen. His instructions worked perfectly, producing a cup of good black coffee like she liked it. Him, too, she guessed. She managed to find last nights uneaten blueberry cobbler in the cooler. Breakfast. Yum, almost as yummy as him.
When he joined her, she was standing at the computer screen reading the morning news. "Tornadoes in Kansas, forest fires in Canada, a tidal wave in the Pacific islands. Nothing but bad weather news." She shook her head in amazement. No murders, no hijackings, no bombings, no government coups. What has this world come to? She turned to him. "Feeling better about things?" He shook his head, but she could tell that he was kidding. "Coffee and last nights dessert for breakfast. I ate mine already."
He took a sip of the coffee and then put it aside. "Cant you stay for a couple more days? I can have you beamed to wherever your ship is."
She shook her head. "You have your orders, Captain. And I have mine."
He pursed his lips. "Doesnt hurt to ask."
"Drink your coffee."
He did as he was told.
An hour later, they had checked her out of her hotel and forwarded her trunk and duffel bags by courier to the pier where the Orca Lights, the science vessel that would take a crew of twenty-five out to sea, was docked. Waiting for her.
Instead of taking a cab, they decided to walk the eight blocks through the gates of the Port Rusty Pelican Yacht Club down to the dock. They passed the ship, a ten-deck, microimpulse-powered beauty, flying the blue and white flag of the Federation Oceanic Institute, with state-of-the-art sensor equipment, the whale language panels up on hoists, and two full life-support mini-subs. In an emergency, she could even convert to a hovercraft.
"Shes impressive," he said.
"To me, shes astounding," Taylor marveled. "I cant tell you how happy I am. How proud." She hugged him. "I owe it all to you."
He patted her hand as they continued to walk up the pier. "You got here all by yourself, Alice. You helped me immeasurably when I had to get George and Gracie back. None of this would be here if it werent for you. Youre quite a woman."
"And youre quite a man."
He gave her a look that said, If you say so.
The pier jutted out to sea for about a quarter mile. The morning fog was lifting, and gulls swept by them in lazy loops, calling down to them with each gentle pass. They walked slowly, enjoying each others company, the sunlight, and the touch of their hands. Sometimes, he stopped and kissed her, and with each kiss, he impressed the details on his mind, as a person presses a dried flower into a book of poetry to evoke the emotion a year from now, a decade. It struck him how young she was.
"Im so much older than you," he said wistfully, as though trying to come up with a reason why it was best for her to go.
"How old are you, Jim?" she asked out of curiosity.
"Thats pretty old." Her tone was mocking, because he didnt look it. "But dont forget, Im three centuriesgive or take a decadeolder than you. Our age difference doesnt seem to matter where it counts, does it?"
He accepted her kindness and couldnt dispute the accuracy of her observation. Repeating the line he had quoted aboard the bird-of-prey, he was reminded of last night, and this morning. "They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all."
He recalled the rest, " ... and the wildest, the most urgent."
"I dont know, Captain," she said, already beginning to miss him. "I dont know about that."
Only thirty minutes remained before Taylor had to be aboard the Orca Lights, so they continued walking along the pier, arms entwined like a thousand lovers had walked before them, getting used to the idea that this was really good-bye. Each of them had started several times to say something, but they lapsed instead into frustrated silence. Finally, James Kirk knew he had to speak.
"I spend my whole life saying good-bye to people that I care about, Gillian. I dont want to go now or want you to go. I just want to stay here and play house for a while." He looked down at the sturdy wood planks at his feet. "Like you said, men are needy."
She smiled. "Wed get on each others nerves."
"No, we wouldnt. Wed make love every day."
"That would be nice." She stopped and looked up at him. "Jim Kirk, youre an old-fashioned guy. Love-making in a regular bed, with wine and music." She caught the look of puzzlement slip across his face. "I figured twenty-third century sex would be doing it flying around in the air, or with mind-altering drugs, or virtual reality helmet stuff."
"Well, Ive done it that way, too."
She wrinkled her nose with a giggle. "So since Im from the past, you thought you needed to humor me."
"Believe me, Gillian, I nearly had a heart attack. It was plenty exciting. Dont underestimate yourself."
Taylor took his arm, pressed close to him, and put her head on his shoulder as they walked. "Whats it like? Life in space?"
"I love it."
He repeated for emphasis, "I love it." There was wonder in his eyes.
She looked out at the sea. "Like I feel about the ocean probably."
He smiled down at her. She understood.
"Every cadet waits for the first deep space flight. All those classes and pressure to do well just for the chance to become a spacer. I knew the first time my training cruiser left the solar system, when that first rush into warp drive hit me, that I was home. I would never go back to Iowa." The memory of the feeling filled him as completely as the clean salty air now filled his lungs. "Funny, I feel safer out there than I do down here."
"But its so dangerous. Youre in a sealed environment. If the seals ever fail..."
"Shes never failed me yet."
Taylor cocked her head and looked hard at him. "The ship is like your mother," she said matter-of-factly.
"I go to bed each night cradled in her arms," he said wistfully. "She protects me and mine, and I protect her. And we roam the stars together." That his words presented an overtly romantic picture of the situation didnt embarrass him. On some level, it was true.
"Then shes your lover, too," Taylor said, smiling up at him.
He nodded. "Thats how they say you have to feel. There are so many metaphors when it comes to starships. Thats one of them." Mother, lover, friend, and home: she was everything to me. "Also sailing the stars. Returning to the womb. Warp-speed ant hills. There are more, even less glamorous." He paused. "Some captains think of themselves as father-figures and their crew as their children. I never did. Maybe because I was so young. Because of that, sometimes people thought discipline on the Enterprise was lax, but it wasnt. I just thought that all of us were in it together, that we should help each other." And we did. "So I guess youre right. I did love her, and I was nothing less than a protective lover, passionately committed to see that she came to no harm. Thats why it hurt so bad to destroy her."
Suddenly, Jim Kirk leaned hard against the railing and focused his eyes as far out onto the horizon as he could. He lifted his chin into the breeze and breathed in a salty lung full. He thought about his ship and how different this was, this natural, clean, cool air that tickled your nose and lifted your hair like a caress. Why couldnt he stay down here? What called to him from the cold vacuum of space and made him want to give himself over completely to technology and an artificial world called Enterprise? Who made him want to do that? Nobody now.
Taylor leaned her head against his shoulder. "Sometimes you just go away. What are you thinking about?" She knew he was thinking of his friend. She remembered how she had called them hard luck cases, and now she knew her instincts had been right.
"This is your sea, Gillian. My sea is up there." He pointed up with his eyes. No stars in the daylight, but he knew they were there. Waiting. His gaze fell again to the mysterious water. "But all ships captains are pulled to the ocean: to the answers out there at the horizon line. When I looked out there just now, I had my answer. I knew for certain deep down inside where it hurts that hes not coming back. Its not his fault. He cant."
"I think hes trying."
Kirk nodded. "Rage, rage, against the dying of the light. Ive been raging. Its time for me to let him go. Youve made me feel whole again. Ive been half empty. Worried, pushing, trying to willno, to commandthat the old Spock come back. You made me know that I can feel good about myself, that I can love someone away from whats happened to him."
She looked up to his sky, then out to sea. Hers. "Dont fall in love with me, Jim. I cant stay."
"I cant stay either. But its too late; youre completely lovable."
"And you are, too. You big stud."
"Is that good?"
"That means youre"
The Orca Lights horn sounded twice, giving her the return signal.
"Shoot, I gotta go, Jim."
"Only if you promise that well see each other again."
"Just tell me where and when, Captain."
"Ah, thats the problem, isnt it?"
Their final kiss was passionate, long on tenderness and yearning, and it hurt him when their lips slipped from one another, and then their arms, and then their hands.
Gillian Taylor turned, stuck her fists into her pockets, and left him leaning against the railing looking out to sea. A few minutes later, he walked back along the pier, returning toward the boat, just in time to see her being escorted on board by a tanned, shirtless blond god of a boy who made him instantly jealous. She kept waving to him as she moved along the deck. As the ship moved out of port, his last sight was of her blowing him kisses.
James Kirk spent the rest of the morning walking along the beach. He left the pier and lowered himself along a rocky incline leading to a sandy path that wended from pier to pier for at least two miles. He followed this path, stopping occasionally to stare out to sea, watching for boats. Such fragile things, they seemed to him, as they bobbed on the ocean surface. Not like flying craft, all of which seemed so much more sturdy. Wondering if Gillian would be safe, it never occurred to him to question if he would be. The boat sinks in water, at least youve got life rafts and an oar; the boat "sinks" in space, youve got instant implosion and an eternal mess.
About a quarter mile down the beach, he found a sea lion basking on a rock about thirty yards away from shore. He laughed when the sea lion raised a fin and roared, waving raucously. Unable to decide whether it was waving hello or go away, he smiled but didnt wave back. The morning was already turning from bright light to gray, and Kirk wondered if a storm were coming in. Usually by noon the fog had burned off, but today it was the opposite, and he felt Gillians loss, his body sighing for another chance to take her in his arms.
Stopping to sit on a rock, he found a stick and made marks like a Starfleet insignia in the sand. The seagulls swept past him in lazy loops, seeming carefree as they flew by and squawked at him. He stood up and stretched. It felt good to have the entire day to loaf. He had already decided not to report in, to let whoever was looking for him stew in their own high-ranking juices. James Kirk had a reputation for being a renegade, so let them think him one today.
He walked some more and found steps made out of old rail ties that made a staircase to the next pier, where he found himself deposited along a side street with a few shops. He went into a cafe and seated himself. It was old-fashioned with Human servers and printed paper menus. No chrome or shine. They sold sandwiches, bound books, andof all thingsreal printed greeting cards, which were making a commercial comeback, to whatever locals and tourists wandered in.
"Hi," a demure voice said. "What can I get you?"
Kirk looked up and smiled at a very young woman, ordering his usual chicken salad on wheat and treating himself to a coffee mocha. She took his order and his menu, and he imagined that as she turned she smiled at him, flirting. He shook his head at his own rampant ego.
As he ate, he thought of Bones and what a good friend hed been all these years. McCoy was lonely too, but he kept the reason for that loneliness hidden deep under the surface. Even the ships captain didnt know its source even though theyd had countless conversations about personal topicsto Kirks chagrin, mostly about the emotional state of the commanding officer. Someday its going to come out, and its going to be ugly, he thought. But Leonard McCoy was so gentle, too. Nobody on the ship took other peoples suffering as hard as the doctor did; he hated it. Sometimes Kirk thought McCoy wanted to rail at God for allowing so much suffering in the world...in all the worlds. Kirks heart felt full when he thought of McCoy.
At first, hed been jealous when hed found out that it was McCoy who carried Spocks katra. How had that happened? Had Spock generously spared himor deliberately rejected him, preferring the feisty doctor to the man whod gotten them into that whole ugly mess? He sighed. He knew he would never know. Oh, Spock, if you had melded with me, I would have had youhad you!known everything Ive ever wanted to know. Instead, I sit alone and wonder where youve gone, how I ever let you slip away.
So let him go, Jim, a mental voice advised him. Let him be a fine moment from your past, like Edith and Miramanee, and Dad and Sam, and Lori and all the other beautiful people that youve loved. He still has possibilities. Hes by your side (how right Edith was: as if he always has been and always will). Hes alive, and thats all you wanted. That was the bargain you madeto trade your career and the Enterprise for his life. You specified nothing else. So you traded ofa little more.
He thought of Talos IV and Vina. He hadnt thought of her in years. If only he could be absolutely sure, that the Vulcans had put Spock back together again correctly. Surely, theyd never seen anyone like him before. He flinched with the idea that theyd simply found extra emotional nuts and bolts and tossed them aside.
Theyre gone! Those parts of himparts of meare gone! Damn it!
Okay, all right, so theyre gone. Accept him the way he is. Be kind. Be patient. Be as kind and patient as hes been to you a thousand times. Be his father and his brother and his best friendeven if he cant be those things to you. Be there to help and not because you pity him or yourself. You can build a new life, a new bond between you, you can create again. Is that such a bad thingsuch a despicable thingto create again?
Kirk left the restaurant, walked to the first cab in line and got in, programming his address to head for home. As the cab rose in the air, Kirk pressed his forehead to the glass trying to scan the ocean for Taylors ship and then the streets below for Spock walking among the crowds. He looked and looked for the entire fifteen-minute ride home.
James Kirk crawled head first into bed. He was tired and hoped a quick nap would revitalize him. But before anything else, he reached over and placed a call to McCoy.
"Jim, where the hell have you been? And where are you? The receptions crappy. Are you all right?"
Kirk grinned. "Im horizontal. In bed." ...playing hooky.
"No. I feel fine. Just wanted to know if youd go shopping with me tomorrow?"
"Shopping for what? Whats this sudden urge to go shopping all the time?"
"Do you know anything about cooking?"
"Im from the South. Of course, I know about cooking! Whats come over you?"
"I think Id like to learn to cook. Ive been told that twentieth century men made their own quiche."
"Ah, little Miss Cutie Pie Whale Doctor told you that."
"How hard can it be, Bones?"
"You or cooking?"
Kirk rolled his eyes. "Very funny."
"So how did you two get along?"
"We got along."
"Well enough not to want to go into details."
McCoy was grinning ear to ear. "Hope you were a gentleman."
Kirk propped himself up on his arm. "I was." Sort of. It was difficult to tell. His face took on a dreamy quality, and he sighed. "I miss her, Bones, and shes only been gone for a few hours."
Perhaps McCoy could hear the real disappointment in Kirks voice. At least, he refrained from teasing. "Sorry. Maybe youll see her again."
"Why does it always have to be this way?" Kirk didnt wait for McCoys answer. "With women. Her, Kate... We connect for awhile, and then theyre gone."
"Because youve left them."
"Shoes on the other foot this time." He hesitated, pondering. "Do you think that well ever be able to take families on starships, Bones?"
"Terrible idea. Too dangerous."
"But if there was real peace, say, between the Federation and the Klingons, it wouldnt be so dangerous."
"What are you talking about, Jim? The Federation and the Klingon Empire are going to be at each others throats until the end of time. At least as long as space jockeys like you are willing to play push-me/pull-you with well-armed starships at the edge of the Neutral Zone. There are plenty of Klingons who are happy to do the same."
Kirk sighed again. "Its my job."
"And mine too, I guess." The doctor didnt sound so sure.
And Spocks. "Is Spock with you, Bones?"
McCoy shook his head. "Havent seen him. Told me he was going to be spending the next few days in some library somewhere studyinglet me thinkHawkings arrow of time theory as it pertains to Stefan of Araco Fives postulation of Sulvek of Vulcans complete unification theory. Or something like that."
Kirk frowned. "Sounds like hes planning another time trip."
"Who knows what goes on in that pointy-eared mega pea brain of his?" He shrugged at the mixed metaphor.
Kirk reached around, grabbed a pillow, and punched it into submission. "I need to find out."
"Try the Federation Council Science Library. He likes that one."
"Uh, Jim," McCoy said finally, "Hes feeling kind of down."
"How can you tell?"
"I just know."
Kirk understood. Since hed been the keeper of Spocks katra, the doctor had come to know more than he ever wanted to about what made the Vulcan tickand he had wanted to know a lot!
McCoys blue eyes stared from the comm units screen. "You need to ease up, Jim. Hes still the best first officer in the fleet. Hes sorry he cant be more yet."
"Ill fix things, Bones. Gillian gave me hell for the way Ive been treating him. Ive been thinking that maybe shes right."
"Let me know if I can help," McCoy offered.
Kirk felt a sudden wave of emotion for the man he was talking to. "Bones, Ive never thanked you for everything you do for us. Youre always there to take care of us. I want you to know that I couldnt have made it without you all these years. Youre a wonderful friend."
McCoy looked momentarily startled, then embarrassed at Kirks effusiveness. "Just doin my job, Jim-boy," he drawled lamely. "Uh, you and Spock are kind of my own pet science projects."
Kirk smiled. "And just who takes care of the doctor, Doctor?"
McCoy nosily cleared his throat. "Im a physician. Everyone knows we just heal ourselves."
Kirk lay back into the pillow, wondering if Leonard McCoy was truly as strong as he pretended to be. Didnt he ever need someone to talk to? How could taking care of other people day and night be enough? But it seemed enough for now. Kirk decided to say one more thing.
"I want you to know that if you ever need someone, Bones, I hope youll think to come to me."
"I know that, Jim," McCoy answered simply.
Both men took a moment to nod quietly at the screen.
"Good night, Bones."
"Good night, Jim." The screen went dark.
By the time Kirk dressed and got to the library, it was half past six. That didnt matter though. He knew he would find the Vulcan sitting before a computer monitor reading as though neither time nor food nor sleep meant a thing. Once Spock became enthralled with some science topic or another, he could spend days on end pursuing everything on the subjectespecially if he had no other duties elsewhere.
He was right. As Kirk approached, the Vulcan continued to concentrate on the computer screen, not looking up until the captain was standing right before him, when his dark eyes moved slowly up from the screen to meet Kirks gaze. Despite the glad-to-see-you message Kirk sent with his eyes and smile, Spock didnt respond. He just hung his head.
"Can we go somewhere private?" Kirk whispered. He was surprised to see so many other beings with their heads buried at computer stations; even with sonic barriers between them, there was no feeling of privacy.
Spock nodded and shut down his station. Without a word between them, Kirk found himself following the Vulcan out of the building, across the plaza, and into the dorm quarters that the Federation kept for visiting scholars and dignitaries. A visitors lounge or small conference room would have done nicely, Kirk thought to himself, but obviously, Spock was worried about a showdown of sorts. The Vulcan was holed up here until the ship was ready; poor Spock, any place he hung his head was home.
They rode the turbolift and went into a small two-room apartment. Kirk saw none of Spocks personal possessions except a small valise sitting on a chair. When Spock moved the valise and sat down, Kirk took the other desk chair near the computer, though it had not been offered. This place wasnt any bigger than a closet. And there he had been in his big gaudy apartment all by himself, like an Arabian prince on some bacchanalian holiday. Some friend I am. But thats why Im here, isnt it?
"I owe you an apology," Kirk said seriously.
"I accept," Spock replied, imitating Kirks seriousness.
Kirk laughed softly. He deserved that. "Okay," he said, a little chagrined. "But first Id like a chance to explain..."
Spocks chest rose slightly. "There is no need." His dark eyes were steel. "You have lost a friend."
Kirk squirmed in his chair, feeling as guilty as he ever had. "It does seem...that way." He let his mind take him back to those painful memories on the Enterprise, where elation at their having cheated death one last time had given way to a grief so great that he couldnt bear to dwell on it, even now. "My friend..." Did he mean direct address or something else? "... Spock died six months ago from radiation poisoning. He saved the lives of over two hundred of his fellow shipmates, mostly young cadets. And I owe him my life."
Spocks face softened slightly. "If he were here to speak to you, he would say" He cocked his head as though trying to touch a distant part of himself. "We are even, Jim."
Kirk understood Spocks attempt at communication, knew that it was difficult. "If he were here..." he repeated. Two sets of eyes met and held tenuously, before the dark ones looked away. Kirk tried to reach out with his words. "Id like to believe that hes still here."
"He is not," Spock answered abruptly. "I am." The tell-tale brow rose at the decisiveness of his next words. "If you think it for the best, I can transfer to another ship."
"No!" Kirk snapped. Damn Spock for wanting to run away. Some things never change. "Thats not what I think best!"
Spocks eyes said, Fine, sir, since you wish to speak of it, we must. "If you believe your friend is dead, it is understandable that you grieve at his absence. Logically, however, you must accept your loss of him and continue with the resources that you have at hand." Though unspoken, the words Namely me were understood.
Kirk had been listening, silently running his index finger across his lips. "He told me not to grieve." He looked down, at nothing. "But I cant seem to stop myself."
"Vulcan teachings say that grief is illogical. It serves no purpose."
"Easy for you to say," Kirk shot back in sarcasm. "Youve never lost anyone that way!" He instantly regretted the words and tone.
"That we are having this conversation demonstrates that I have."
Kirks voice softened. He was starting to give up. "What do you think I should do?" He knew he meant, Feel.
"I have already presented your only logical alternative."
Kirks face was all angles, and his eyes held a steady fire. "Im not talking about logic. You have a heart as well as a brain. Ive been letting my heart drive me, ever since Genesis. What about yours?"
Spock paused, obviously considering the question, then seemed to reach a decision. "As you wish, Admiral." He folded his hands with careful deliberation. "I offend you. It appears I cannot stop offending you."
And Kirk heard the pain in that neutral observation. He wanted to take back every single harsh word hed ever said to Spock since they returned from the twentieth century. "Im really an asshole, arent I?"
"Its just that I never got a chance to know" He turned toward the other man, letting down his guard. "Youre going to think Im egotistical..."
"It is too late to forestall that estimation."
He had forgotten that Spock was capable of stinging and accurate put-downs. He would rather they werent aimed at him, but his own pettiness made him a bright and bold target. He decided to confess anyway. "I wanted to know what he really thought of me." Here was definitely the most petty part. "I wanted to hear him say the words."
A slight frown crossed the Vulcan features. "He died so that you could live. That is what he thought of you."
But Kirk was only half listening. "There were hundreds of people who counted on him. I was just one of many."
"No," Spock said stiffly. "You were the one."
"I cant believe that," Kirk said adamantly. "He would never do that. It wouldnt have been logical. That would make his leaving the bridge and walking into that radiated engine compartment an emotional actsuicide!over one man." He shook his head with vehemence. "He died for the ship! For everyone!"
But Spock, too, had a point to make: "It took his entire life to do that, but at the end he was capable. He conceived his final act logically, but for a completely emotional reason, so that Vulcan could not fault his logic, nor you and Doctor McCoy his emotion." He paused again. "As for the words you wish to hear. He told you: I have been and always shall be your friend. Surely you do not require more." He pulled the edge of his lower lip between his teeth. "As for me, I am the man who knows that I was once capable of that final burst of emotion. It is not an easy thing for a Vulcan to accept. Since my reintegration, I have processed my life through my brain only, not my heart. That process is in its infancy."
Kirks eyes got big. "You admit to having a heart?"
"The Human heart is not a Vulcan concept, but I know that I have one as well as I know that I have two hands. At the end, he defined his heart to himself, as I must."
Kirks face swam with a kind of amazed look, as though he were hearing the words all right, but wasnt quite believing them. "How do you know these things?"
"I know because I am he."
Kirk scratched his temple, then ran his fingers through the hair above his ear. This was damn curious. "Were talking about you like you really are dead. Im sorry."
"There is no him or me. Yet somehow I am different from him. You think of him as dead. I am only an intruder on his memory..." Spock raised his chin, a proud lifting that said, I am here now. Is not a live man the hell better than a dead one? He arched a brow in disdain. "...which grows more saintlike as the days progress."
Kirk felt chagrined to have carried on the way he did, at never having stopped carrying on. "You must really be disgusted with me."
"You cannot help being attracted to one who was so virtuous and self-sacrificing."
Kirk did a double-take at the insincere tone. He could see that Spocks pent up frustration was thick like humidity and smoke. He played along. "Spock, the venerable," he concurred.
"The positively beatific." Spock looked over at the computer screen. "At your command, sir, I shall add the traditional halo effect to all computer holograms in which he appears."
Kirk grinned. "That wont be necessary, Mister Spock. He had his flaws."
"On the contrary, sir, I am in awe of him for his abject purity to which I can never attain." Spocks brow went higher, and his eyes narrowed until he looked slightly demonic. "He was so good; his vices were virtues."
Kirks grin was growing bigger. "He was tall, dark and handsome, and all the women loved him." Thats for sure.
"He never had an unchaste thought."
Kirk had the deep-felt urge to giggle. "A regular boy scout."
"Obviously, he was too good," the lower voice intoned, "to live."
"Wed have to kill him for the trouble hes caused." Kirk burst out laughing. "If he werent already dead!"
Laughter swelled out of Kirk as if he had not laughed in a year. The incongruity of their words caught him, lifted him, took the breath out of him. To hear the character assassination of hisit was so true!near-sainted friend sent him further into the lamentable laughter. Tears popped to his eyes, but not from outrage. Spock would die of indignation if he could hear those words. But Spock was the source! Character assassin! Every word, either spoken or heard sent him into further paroxysms of mirth.
"Oh, he wasnt such a bad sort," the captain coughed out, clutching his sides. "Never a hair out of place."
"In that case, he was the worst of that ilk. A self-important paragon with a good barber."
With uncontrollable glee, Kirk found himself literally sliding out of the quaking chair. He caught himself, tried to compensate, and sent the chair tipping dangerously. "A legend in his own mind!" he managed to spit out. At that moment, he lost control and the chair toppled off balance. Spock watched in fascination as the captain and the seat fell backwards in seemingly slow motion. Spock made no attempt to catch him.
"Almost a legend," Spock corrected. He rose and stood over the fallen Kirk who had landed unceremoniously on his butt. "You should have left him dead," the standing man said sternly, not offering a hand.
Kirk doubled over, one knee pulled up toward his chest, his face still contorted, the tears rolling freely down his cheeks. "Couldnt do that," he snorted, out of breath. "I needed him."
The laughter was high-pitched and rapid. "For the good of the..." The one, the many? The good, bad and bureaucratic of Starfleet Command? His mind exploded with the irony. At the selection. He couldnt stop laughing. He was hysterical with it.
Suddenly, BellComm came alive, yelling an interruption that barked out: Attention, Mister! Wipe that shit-eating grin off your undignified face and answer me now!
Kirk managed to shove the chair upright, struggled to get into it, and failed miserably. Jeezus, dont let it be Starfleet. He could never pull himself together in time. Being caught on the floor by some tin-plated humorless admiral was both the most horrible and funniest thing he could imagine! At just the thought, he found himself flat on his back holding his sides.
The Vulcan leaned casually over the body and pushed a button. "Spock here."
Kirks worst fear, the most humorless admiral in Starfleets dark face filled the screen. Spock noisily cleared his throat, seating himself immediately so that his head, and nothing else, filled Admiral Cartwrights screen.
"I am looking for Captain Kirk. Is he with you?"
Kirk jostled the chair as he turned over and tried to get up. Spocks boot came down hard on his back. A woof of air came out of Kirk as he flattened, face first, into the carpet.
Cartwright hesitated. He thought he just saw Spock jiggle. "Then ... you havent seen him?"
"Captain Kirk was here earlier...but he was under the weather, and well..." Spock nodded agreeably, letting the admiral fill in the rest.
Cartwright frowned. "If you see him, youll convey that I have been looking for him all day."
"Certainly, Admiral ..." Spock narrowly avoided adding the appellation Cartwrong, a name hed once heard a much-vexed James Kirk mutter under his breath.
"Captain Spock?" Cartwright hesitated again. "Is everything all right?"
Spock lifted both brows innocently. "I assure you, Admiral, that all is well."
Cartwright harumphed under his breath. "I see. Very well. Cartwright out." The screen went thankfully blank.
Spock shifted his eyes. Downward. Below his foot, Captain Kirk fought for breath between laughpacked hiccoughs. Spock removed his boot from the middle of the captains back and stood up. Kirk managed to sit up, made a faint swipe for the chair, missed, and remained helplessly stuck, like a chuckling Buddha planted firmly on his behind.
A second later, the BellComm beeped again. Oh, God, Kirk moaned. I cant make it.
McCoys face popped on the screen, but this time, Spook failed to block the image of an empty chairback swinging wildly, tipping, rocking, a hand grasping at air, sometimes in front of the screen, then out of it.
"Whats going on?" the doctor demanded.
Spock folded his arms. "We are performing an exorcism."
"It looks more like a barroom brawl." As Kirk continued to laugh uncontrollably, the doctor recognized the voice. "Jim, its a little early in the evening to be hitting the bottle that hard."
Finally, Kirk made it up to his knees and faced the screen. "Im not drinking; Im hysterical. You should be here, Bones!"
"Spock, what the hells going on? Youre not taking swings at each other, are you?"
"To put it metaphorically, Doctor, the captain and I have melted the Wicked Witch of the West. Now we are clicking our heels and returning to Ohio."
Kirks giggles hit the stratosphere. "He means Kansas," he sputtered, winning the hard climb back into the chair.
"Nevertheless, we are casting out demons."
"Well, God bless pitchforks and pointed ears," McCoy said with a grin, obviously relishing the situation.
Kirks eyes glistened with mirth and happiness as he looked up at his friend. "And my soul," he said softly, the warmth of friendship in his voice. Then he shook his head in wonder. Had his ears deceived him? "My God, Spock I believe you just lied to an admiral!" He said it with the greatest admiration.
"I did not," came a sturdy answer.
Kirk did a double-take. "You said I wasnt with you."
"Technically, you were not. You were under me."
Now Kirk eyed him with rapt suspicion. "What was that about me being sick. Under the weather?"
Spocks face was the epitome of guilelessness. "I believe you misheard me, Captain. I am sure I said you were under the leather."
Good thing Kirk wasnt drinking anything, hed have sprayed the room. The belly laughs exploded away from him at Spocks cunning joke. He was laughing so hard, it even affected McCoy who now chuckled along with his friend.
"I dont even know what Im laughing about," McCoy complained.
Finally, Kirk caught his breath, giggled again, pulled in another breath, and brought his laughter to a controllable halt. He wiped the corner of his eye with a knuckle. "I think...Hoo, hoo, hoo!...dinner with us is in order, Bones. Your treat. Well fill you in on the little joke."
"Why do I have to buy?" McCoy countered.
"Ah, come on, Bones. You can pick the restaurant."
"Long Wo Fats in Chinatown? Eggrolls to die for."
Kirk looked back at Spock who was staring at the top of his head, then leaned forward so that his whole face filled the screen. "How about eggrolls to...live for."
"If thats what you want, Jim."
"Thats what I want."
"You game, Spock?" McCoy asked.
"The hell I am."
"Does that mean yes, Jim?"
"I believe so."
"Meet you two in half an hour then."
"Were on our way."
When the screen went blank, both men stood facing each other as Kirk tucked in his shirt and began to giggle again. And he was still giggling as they caught a taxi and even still, all the way to Chinatown.
"So what are we celebrating?" McCoy asked, after theyd been seated in a roomy booth. A dinner at Long Wo Fats to celebrate a special event was a tradition in Chinatown. The place was steeped in atmosphere: chop sticks, jade carvings, Chinese dragon screens, hot green tea, and fortune cookies. The place, though packed with diners, also remained unbelievably cozy, so that you never had to shout above the din.
Kirk held up his tea cup. "Lets drink to Spock."
Spock lifted a brow but not his cup. "Let us drink to Doctor Taylor, whose brief visit seems to have been gratifying to all."
Kirk sighed, but didnt see that Spock and McCoy both noticed. "To absent friends," he said softly.
This time all three clinked their cups and drank. For a moment, Kirk looked very sad, then as instantly, he was contented again. He was happy. Happy at heart. In his soul. He would see Gillian Taylor again someday, make love to her again, see the happiness skip across her face like starlight. He was lucky to have had any time with her at all. He was one lucky bastard. He looked at Spock. He was sitting next to another one.
Spocks dark, somber eyes had moved to McCoys face as though pondering whatever fates in the impersonal universe had brought him and this feisty, emotional Human together for so long. How could Vulcan philosophers deny that the universe had a clear sense of humorand that it was perverse?
McCoy took up the gaze and his blue eyes and upturned lips smiled back in simple friendship. Then the dark eyes moved to Kirk, who had been watching the exchange between Vulcan and Southern doctor for awhile.
And Kirks face held no disappointment, no distancing, sad-eyed looks that pushed him away. Six months ago, if someone had told any of themas the Genesis planet swirled like fire and a wall of radiation took them from each otherthat tonight they would feel like this, alleven Spockwould have said impossible. Clearly impossible.
They ordered dinner: a selection of eggrolls, house special duck, moo shu vegetables, almond fried rice, bean curd and black mushrooms, and shrimp fu yung. They ate with gusto. Finally, a black-haired woman in a silver brocade Chinese dress brought a full tray to their table and allowed them to pick their own fortune cookies from a large pile. Spock and Bones picked theirs from the sides. Kirk took his from the top. They broke open the treats and pulled the little papers out one by one. In seconds, they were comparing what the little cookies predicted about tomorrow.
Kirks said: A long voyage of discovery is in your future.
Spocks said: A long voyage of discovery is in your future.
McCoys said: A long voyage of discovery is in your future.
"I think weve been gypped," McCoy complained. He laughed at the coincidence.
But Spock only stared at the paper in his fingers for a long time. "I do not believe so, Doctor," he said with reverence.
Jim Kirk smiled benignly. "Spock believes weve been blessed, Bones." He smiled at the wisdom of his beloved friend. "And so do I."
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