The scene repeated itself for a week. Kirk took the aircar and visited various locations in his attempts to pin down a precise reason for a Starfleet officer to be framed for a Malkerian murder, and Spock stayed at the house, using the computer, speaking to McCoy, and doing all the research that he could from his restricted location.
They had discovered various random pieces of information so far. The woman who had been murdered had never been officially identified, and had no concerned friends or relatives who had come forward after the high-profile incident. She seemed to have been homeless in the most complete way, with no one to miss her or grieve for her, no apparent past, and now no future either. As an unattached woman with no home in the capital of Malker it was unlikely that she would have been allowed to survive for long anyway. Kirk had struck her off the list as no more than a useful pawn in the conspiracy that he believed he was uncovering.
The woman who had accosted Spock in the alley held far more promise as a catalyst for further information. She appeared at first to be no more than a chance passer-by, but Kirk and Spocks investigations combined, with help from McCoy, had put a name to her, and discovered an address somewhere out on the fringes of the city. On further investigation, making good use of his penchant for charming attractive ladies and listening attentively to everything they said, Kirk managed to elicit a slough of disjointed facts about her. She was lovely, but had a quick temper. She was deceitful. She always dressed so well. She was the daughter of a Malkerian minister. No, she was the wife of a Malkerian minister. She had been the secretary to a Malkerian minister before taking the job in the business that backed on to the alley where the murder occurred. She had nothing at all to do with Malkerian politics she just boasted of it, but then she was two-faced what did you expect? She had been a very good worker, no complaints, but she had moved on very quickly from that job after the murder, and had only been seen in glimpses since.
Spock was bewildered by this mixture of emotionally charged snippets of information, but to Kirk, at least, they seemed to make some sense. The only pertinent point to Spock was that the woman was, most likely, involved with the Malkerian government in some way. Kirk, however, had managed to build up a rough profile of her in his head from what other women said of her, and assured him that it would all be useful in the end.
For his part, Spock had spent interminable hours at the computer seeking any information that might help in their investigation, now matter how obscure. The Malkerian government, and its many spidering arms of political influence, were all intimately familiar to Spock by now. He had the names and faces of every individual Malkerian politician stored in the vast recesses of his brain, and had a good knowledge of the history of Malkerian politics for the past one hundred years, including all known political scandals and intrigues. He had not yet discovered how the woman in the alley might be connected to them, but between his and Kirks investigations it could only be a matter of time.
Through McCoy, Spock discovered that talks were ongoing for Malkerian inclusion in the Federation. However, Malkerian demands for freedom from certain Federation restrictions and exemption from various duties and taxes grew stronger every time that the murder case happened to be mentioned. It seemed clear that if the murder had been a deliberate attempt to frame a Starfleet officer then the aim was to use the event as political fodder to manipulate the best possible deal for Malker out of Federation membership. It was certainly working so far. It was the fact that the supposed murderer had been given a death sentence with such rapid certainty, and so swiftly executed, that galvanised opinion that he *must* have been guilty, and that Federation membership opened up the planet to obvious threats that had to be countered by greater benefits.
After five days of haunting the area near the murder site Kirk had developed a friendly relationship with one particular woman from the building where Spocks assailant had worked. Day by day he was drawing out more about her with a flattering attention to the woman and a pretended interest in idle gossip. He was out again today, having promised to dine with the woman that evening, and he had no expectation of being back before dusk.
Spock found himself illogically irritated that day by the captains absence. He had held a short conversation with McCoy that morning via the comm device, and carried out some research on the computer, but by mid-morning he felt he had exhausted all he could do without further information. He understood completely the reasoning behind Kirks all-day absence, but as he moved about the house completing various domestic chores and looking out of the windows at the ever-falling rain he found a sense of boredom and redundancy creeping over him. It was not in his nature to play such a passive role in affairs such as this. It was true that Kirk was the more physical one of the two of them, and was far better at pretence and deception, but he still wanted desperately to be out of this place and actually *doing* something more than abstract research in his attempt to clear his name.
He went to the sitting room window again and gazed up at the sky. He knew that it was unlikely that Jim would be back so soon, and he knew that it was almost a given that Kirk would not call him on the comm unit. They had both agreed that such contact should be kept as restricted as possible. But still, his eyes scanned the dull, cloud-swathed sky for a sign of the aircar in the distance, and again, found no such sign.
He let his gaze fall back to the forest and then he saw a figure of a woman really not much more than a girl standing at the side of the clearing, staring up at the window with the same impassive gaze that he had been using to look down. She was wearing a bright raincoat, her head almost hidden in a deep hood, but he could see the pale skin of her face, and that her features were what would be termed attractive. As their eyes met her face brightened as if she had seen an old friend, and she smiled, and waved, with no appearance of awkwardness at having been caught watching the house. Spock raised his hand automatically in response to her wave, and her smiled broadened. Then as the wind squalled and the rain intensified, she shook herself, and ran back into the trees.
Spock stood for a moment staring at the spot where she had stood. If he had been human he might have doubted that she had ever really been there. But he was not human, and his Vulcan eyesight was quite strong enough that he could see the ground clearly, even through the falling rain. Jim almost always walked no further than the aircar, and Spock himself had barely left the house in the past week but he could see footprints in the mud, hovering about the edge of the treeline, of a size that seemed appropriate for the girls feet. She had obviously been there more often than just today.
Spocks eyebrow rose. There was nothing suspicious about the girls presence of that he was certain. Using a good deal of what his mother would call intuition, but what he called subconscious deduction, the girl did not seem to be a suspicious type. She looked no more than a young woman from one of the local cottages here. If she had been human, he would have guessed that she was no older than seventeen. She was probably curious about the two strangers who had rented the holiday cottage. Spock had spent an unusually large amount of time standing at the window and looking out over the forest, using the soft, natural view to calm his frustration at the restrictions of his present existence. It was very likely that the girl had seen him there before, and today was the first day that he had seen her, too.
With the ease of one who had spent years learning to control his own thoughts, he put her out of his mind. It was easy enough to dismiss external events like this one. His internal musings were not quite as easy, however.
His eyes relentlessly tracked the raindrops that slithered down the windowpane. The ground outside, that had been hardened to a sheet of packed earth by weeks of sunshine, was now turned to an ever-widening slick of mud by four days of rain. Coming from a desert climate, Spock had never been overly fond of the kind of dull, drizzling rain that seemed to occur in such temperate climates as these. A swift, ferocious rainstorm of the sort that blasted dry sand from the ground and caused the mountains to run with torrents was one thing, but this constant, persistent dripping of moisture irritated his lungs, and, although he would barely admit it, irritated his mind too.
Spock sighed, and turned from the window again. What would his mother have called this mood? *Moping*. That was it. There were plenty of times during his childhood when she had found him gazing out of a window or sitting in solitude in his room, and she had smiled at him, and told him to stop moping. He had always said to her, Mother, Vulcans do not mope. Today, however, he was forced to acknowledge that if *moping* constituted a feeling of aimlessness, combined with a lack of enthusiasm for any kind of activity, then perhaps they did.
*Perhaps I should tell my mother that she was right,* he thought. And then he realised, *My mother believes me to be dead.*
That single thought shocked him into a more energetic mood. His parents would have no doubt that he had been executed for the crime of murder. He had been able to leave no words of farewell for them, or give them the comfort of his Katra to place in a katric ark for eternity. Did they believe in his innocence, or his guilt? His mother would be grieving
He turned to the comm unit on the table, and entered McCoys code. Contacting the ship twice in one day was risky at best, but, oddly, the level of risk itself made him feel less listless. As the connection began to go through he activated a small timer beside the comm unit. He had calculated that any communication of less than five minutes would be virtually untraceable by outside agencies, and he rigorously restricted all of his conversations with McCoy to that length.
McCoy here, came the voice from the other end after only a few moments of waiting. Is everything all right there?
Spock took in a deep breath. He knew that McCoy would never speak his name, and his voice was disguised by a filter so that even if someone did overhear the conversation then they would not instantly recognise his voice. Even so, such communication was always a danger.
Everything is quite fine, he said smoothly. But I have considered that there are those who might be anxious for my welfare. The more aged among us.
The more aged? McCoy echoed blankly.
A certain lady, Spock said patiently, and a certain gentleman of an even more venerable age.
McCoy said suddenly, Oh! Then, Yes, it doesnt do to cause extra stress to cardiac patients. Youre right.
Precisely, Spock nodded. It was obvious that the doctor had understood his meaning.
But do you think I should tell them? McCoy asked anxiously. Really?
Spock hesitated, then said, Certain people, in their chosen professions, understand the importance of discretion. Often the fate of an entire planet relies on such discretion. But I believe an indirect communication may be best. If you could impress upon both parties the imperative for the greatest of secrecy, and then tell the lady that someone of her acquaintance has very recently realised that he does, indeed, mope.
I beg your pardon, S-?
McCoy cut himself off with a curse as he almost spoke Spocks name.
Spock took in a quick breath. It had amazed him that so far McCoy had never come closer than this to revealing his name.
She will understand the meaning of the message, Spock assured him. And if she does not, then Im sure that your ingenuity will provide some other means of passing it on.
Im sure, McCoy said slowly. Yes, I think if I take a leaf out of your book I could probably relate the entire story of Genesis to her while making her believe that I was actually ordering a coffee and a chicken sandwich. Jesus
I have great faith in your ability, Spock said smoothly. He glanced at the timer beside the comm unit, and said crisply, Out.
He shut the communication off, and turned to the open fireplace on the other side of the room. If a successful cure could provide a retrospect diagnosis, then his mother had been right all these years. Her proposed cure for moping was to *get up and do something*. Spock had got up and done something, and he no longer felt the listless lack of motivation. He would light the fire, drive the cold and damp out of the house, and then see to the ever-growing pile of laundry that had been building up for the past week.
The fire had been lit for some hours before Kirk returned, and the heavy, damp atmosphere in the house had been driven away by the heat and lively crackle of flames. It was dark outside when his captain returned, and when he came in through the door wiping water from his hair and disgustedly shaking it off the tips of his fingers Spock almost smiled.
The fire is going well, Spock said quietly, nodding towards the blazing conflagration at the side of the room.
Ah, just what I need, Spock, Kirk smiled, shrugging his coat off and hanging it on the back of the door.
He sat down in an armchair and drew it closer to the fire, holding out his hands to the flames. Spocks eyebrow lifted as steam began to rise from the ends of his sleeves. He would have been in his room changing by now but humans never seemed as bothered by being wet as he did.
I will put the *laftin* on to boil, Spock said, going into the kitchen.
He carefully measured two scoops of the dried berries into the pot, filled it with water, and set it on the heat. The old-fashioned methodologies of this planet were time consuming compared with life in most Federation cultures, but he had to admit that the rituals and routines of doing so much by hand was calming, almost meditative. The drink would take a good ten minutes to come to maturity, but the ten minutes of waiting almost always proved a beneficial time in the evening.
He came back into the sitting room and took the chair opposite to Kirks, assessing his weary countenance and rain-soaked clothes. The scent of damp material surrounded him, but he could also smell the fainter fragrances of a womans perfume and makeup in the mixture of odours. Jim had obviously made the most of his meal out.
Did you have a successful day? Spock asked with interest.
Oh, so-so, Kirk smiled tiredly. Snippets and hearsay, thats all. I need to do some cross-checking with names and such but it wont hurt to leave that until tomorrow, Spock.
Spock nodded, sensing the captains desire to simply sit still and quiet after his long day. He sat staring at the flames as they flickered and licked their way sinuously up towards the chimney. An open fire was certainly not the most efficient way of heating a house, but it was definitely one of the more pleasing ones. The effect of the flames was mesmerising.
After a few quiet minutes he realised that Kirk was gazing at him with a look of curiosity in his hazel eyes.
You wish to ask me something, Jim, he said after a moment of waiting. But you are afraid?
Kirk smiled, the flickering light of the fire bronzing every contour of his face. Spock let his eyes focus unwaveringly on Jims face in a way that disconcerted most humans those humans that were not friends with a Vulcan, at least. His captain looked a little thinner that his usual average weight. His face seemed to have acquired more lines since Spocks incarceration and supposed execution, and there were the minute signs of over-consumption of alcohol. Spock had not noticed that until now. He allowed himself to be reassured by the fact that his captain had drunk no more than his usual intake of alcoholic drinks since they had been together in this house, and had certainly been eating well enough.
I wouldnt say Im afraid, Jim said at length. But I dont know that its a question youd want to answer.
You can only know by asking, Spock pointed out.
Jim chuckled, nodding and then his face became serious again.
Spock, whats it like to die?
Spock regarded his friend. Of all the things that Jim had faced without fear, death had never been one of them. He had not flinched from it he had continued his duty to the end but he had never been totally unafraid. It was logical, a healthy fear. Evolution dictated that one must fear ones own demise.
I did not die, he pointed out.
But you *thought* you were dying, Jim insisted. You had no idea, until you woke up in that trench, that you hadnt died.
That is true, Spock nodded, his gaze seeming to internalise until he was remembering that moment of imagined death with a clarity that he did not desire. That moment of white oblivion that total lack of thought and reason and logic and *everything* was not something that he ever wished to repeat. In some ways the void was similar to the void of meditation but it was the terrifying lack of control that chilled him.
He refocused on Kirks face. Jim, with all of his human insight and empathy, had been right it was not a question that he wanted to answer. Perhaps logic demanded that he feel the same taboo around death as Jim evidently did.
There is a wealth of difference, he said, between dying, and being executed for a crime one did not commit.
Kirk was silent for a long moment, then he nodded, and said gravely, I guess there is.
Spock could read the lines of unspoken words Jim was sorry that he had had to experience that, he was sorry he had not been able to save his friend from it, he was suffused with relief that a blessed difference in biology had kept the final solution from being final. Then Kirk made a deliberate effort to break his gaze, flicking his eyes towards the kitchen door where the pot was bubbling on the stove.
Ill go get that coffee, he said, heaving himself out of his armchair.
Spock shook his head, not bothering this time to correct Kirks misplaced nomenclature for the brew in the pot. Whatever the drink was, it most definitely was *not* coffee. But it seemed that in calling it such, Jim managed to garner some of the benefits that coffee had to him, with all of his illogical human susceptibility to the placebo effect.
*I* will get the coffee, he said. Your trousers and shoes are quite wet, and your shirt is certainly wet enough. Go and change. You will catch a cold.
Kirks eyes sparkled at him.
Is that really logical, Spock? Has anyone ever caught a cold just from being wet?
I imagine that at some point in the history of the universe a person has succumbed to a viral infection due to being wet, and therefore cold, and therefore less resistant to illness especially on an alien planet where that person had no natural immunity.
Not being specific, of course, Kirk grinned. All right, Spock. Ill go change. Therere some fresh clothes in the laundry, arent there?
Indeed there are, Spock nodded. I saw to that while you were out. You can put your wet clothes straight in the machine.
It was almost amusing how they had fallen so naturally into living like a couple in their own home. Kirk seemed to be struck by the same thought, but he said nothing. He simply smiled, and went through the door into the small laundry room.
Spock went into the kitchen and quickly removed the coffee pot from the heat. He held it poised above two mugs, and then recalled that sometimes Kirk preferred a small amount of alcohol slipped into the dark liquid after a day such as this. He put the pot back down and went back into the sitting room.
Jim? he called.
The door into the laundry was half open.
Yes, Spock? Kirk replied. He sounded as if he was bending over presumably he was taking off his shoes.
Did you wish for *alcet* in your coffee? he asked, naming the fiery copper liquid that passed for whiskey in Kirks eyes.
Yeah, sure if youll take some too, Kirk said wickedly.
Spocks eyebrow rose at Kirks response. There was something so inviting about that tone that he almost felt inclined to agree.
Despite himself, he glanced through the gap in the door. The firelight had slipped through too, highlighting a wide strip of the captains torso. Then, as he raised his arms to slip his shirt off over his head, the light bronzed the muscles of his flank, then rippled across him as he moved, now catching one hard nipple, now slipping over the dimple of his navel, now catching the proud curls of hair as he unfastened his trousers and began to push them down.
Spock gasped in air, turning his eyes resolutely back to the fire. He had actually *forgotten to breathe*. He had stood there transfixed, like a love-struck teenager, and he had forgotten to breathe
He closed his eyes, clenching his fists, steadying himself. When had this begun? When, in his immensely controlled, disciplined, focussed brain, had this one golden human slipped beyond the areas reserved for friendship, and imprinted himself in those deep, repressed recesses dedicated to lust?
Spock? Spock, are you all right?
Spock snapped his eyes open, aware of Jims hand touching his shoulder. He looked round. Kirk was dressed again, in a loose t-shirt and trousers, a towel around his shoulders that had evidently been used to scrub the water from his hair.
I am quite fine, Captain, he said automatically.
It still bothers you, doesnt it? Kirk asked gently.
Spock blinked, and asked, Bothers me?
Youve never come so close to dying, Jim said in a tone of understanding. I can understand how it haunts you. Hell, it haunts *me* badly enough. I thought Id lost you
Spock looked at him, then nodded minutely. Perhaps that had not been what had distracted him at that precise moment but Jim was right. For all of the human romanticism of the phrase, the execution *did* haunt him.
Well get you out of here, Spock, Kirk said firmly, coming to stand in front of him, putting his hands on both of his shoulders. Well find the person who did it, and well prove your innocence, and youll be back on the ship, where you belong.
Yes, I know, Spock said in a low tone.
At this precise moment, he did not want to be in the cool, sterile grey enclosure of the ship. He wanted to be here, in this forest-bound cottage, with the blazing fire and the silence and the solitude, and
with *Jim*. Jim was staring into his eyes, trying to give him the reassurance that he would help him. He stared back, suddenly aware of every flame-like striation of Jims irises the hazel and the gold and the brown and green and
He had never noticed that there were so many colours in Jims eyes before, circling about those pure black pupils like something on the edge of a whirlpool, a vortex, a black hole
A place you could fall into and never come out.
he said. Then, tasting the long, so rarely used syllable like a delicacy on his tongue, he said, James
Jims lips moved as if to speak, or as if to taste something, or as if to move forwards and touch his own in all of their cool, human softness. Spocks own lips suddenly felt as if they were burning, and being brushed by roses, or or
All thought, both logical and illogical, broke down as his being disappeared into the kiss.
He seemed to be surfacing from a long time underwater. Again, he had forgotten to breathe. He had forgotten to do anything but to let his own lips keep moving against those cool human ones, keep feeling their ripe softness, keep tasting the scent of the air in Jims mouth, and the wet red insides of tongue and cheek, and feeling the smooth, perfect teeth with his own tongue. For a long moment, nothing in the world had existed but those two mouths, in perfect communion.
Then he became aware of the strong hand on his back, that had slipped under his shirt and was pressing against his naked skin, and of the fact that his own hands were exploring the short brown-blond hair of Jims head, and that his entire body was pressed against his captains as if, unconsciously, they were trying to become one being.
Jim, he murmured, an unaccustomed fear suddenly rippling through him. Jim, are you ?
For a moment Jim paused in his movement, then he said very seriously, Spock, if you break this moment with one word about logic, I swear Ill
I can barely remember what logic is, Spock said honestly.
He gasped audibly as Jims tongue touched the skin just below his earlobe, and began to trail down towards the neckline of his shirt. He tilted his head back, trying to control the heady urge to moan as the languorous, tickling touch moved to his collarbone, and traced along it. His chest seemed to exploding with sensation, the touch of Jims tongue travelling along nerves he had barely been aware of, sending electricity through his nipples, making his stomach tighten, culminating in a wild maelstrom at the base of his pubis that he had no idea how to quantify. His clothes suddenly seemed like stupid encumbrances, and Jim had obviously thought that too, because his hands were fumbling at the fastenings of Spocks shirt, and Spocks own hands, strangely unsteady and uncontrollable, were actually *ripping* at Kirks freshly donned clothes as if he were unwrapping a present.
Oh God, Spock, I want you, Jim said in a low voice that did not sound like his own.
And he was leading Spock closer to the fire even as they shed layers of clothing, and Spock almost froze as he unwrapped the final layer, and saw *Jim*, complete in his nudity, a symphony of taut muscles and bronzed skin touched by firelight, and that so-human, so-uncontrollable hardness that was growing purely for the desire of Spock himself.
He was suddenly aware of the burning heat of the fire on his own skin. Jim had peeled his clothes away and flung them somewhere, in a corner somewhere. It did not matter. He never wanted to wear clothes again. They were standing before the fire, basking in its heat, both seemingly more naked than they had ever been in their lives. Jims hands seemed to be everywhere at once, running up the muscles of Spocks back, exploring the flatness of his chest, the dimple of his navel, catching the curve of his buttocks and seeking so very briefly between them before flitting to another place to explore.
Oh my God, Spock, I dont think Ive ever wanted so much to be inside of someone, Jim said in a rushed, fevered voice.
Uncertainty suddenly crashed over him at Jims words, despite the enticing, mesmerising feel of Jims hands slipping all over his body.
Jim I dont he began.
And you think I *do*? Kirk asked incredulously, almost laughing. His hazel eyes met Spocks ebony ones. Spock, do you think Ive ever, *ever*, done something like this before?
Spock shook his head minutely, staring at Jim, his lips parted. He felt like someone newborn. He did not know how to walk, how to speak, which way to turn. And then all decisions were made for him, as Jim tackled him with something approaching a growl, bringing him down to the rug in one easy movement, straddling him and then cradling his hands behind Spocks head, weaving his fingers through the dark strands of Spocks over-long hair, and gently, ever so gently, lifting Spocks mouth towards his so that he could taste the sweet insides of his cheeks and tongue and teeth again.
Please, Jim murmured, stroking his thumbs across Spocks forehead. Spock, please, he continued, planting a kiss on a different part of his face between each word. Please, let me be in you. I need to be part of you. Oh, God, I thought Id lost you, Spock. I really thought Id lost you.
And through the touch of Jims fingers on his face Spock felt the crashing wave of sharp agony like an unexpected tsunami as Jims realisation of the magnitude of what he had lost and what he had regained surged through his mind. The emotional peak was almost painful to Spock as it rushed into his own thoughts, and back again into Jims, and he realised that whenever Jims face came close to his now he could feel the salt wetness of tears against his skin.
Jim, he whispered, tracing a thumb over the wetness on his cheek. You need not grieve for me. I am here. I will always be here.
Jims eyes closed, hard, as he pulled control back with an almost Vulcan discipline. He nodded mutely, then opened his eyes again, looking down at the man whose fever-hot body he held clenched between his thighs. Spock was so undeniably real, so solid, down to the exquisitely warm, exquisitely hard erection that had grown beneath Jims body as he straddled his hips.
*What a thing to feel burning along the underside of your thigh*, he thought as he resettled his weight. *What a thing to know that Spock has made just for the desire of *you*, and nothing else. Oh, God, I want to bury myself in the heat of him. I want to lose myself
As if Spock had understood his thoughts he continued softly, I wish you to do whatever you desire with me, Jim. I want nothing more.
Spock, he murmured in a low, drawn out voice, then said more nervously, You know, Ive never done this before
You had mentioned, Spock said with the hint of a smile on his face, and a definite smile in his eyes.
He didnt think he had ever felt so relaxed, lying here in utter nakedness on the floor, with the heat of the fire stroking at his side, and the human-cool of Jim astride him, dominating him completely.
Jim, if you do not initiate yourself soon, then I may be forced to do so, he said in utter seriousness. I am capable of admirable self-control, but
Jim growled, and proceeded to initiate himself with all of the verve and skill that he applied to every other task in life.