McCoy and Kirk discuss the situation

The day had been a long one, considering it was supposed to be vacation. They hadn't been able to locate all the equipment, and then the point-to-point connections had been poor. After some delays they had finally reached the site. They decided they could live with it, though it was too far from the cliff face for Kirk's taste. They knew their Vulcan companion, when he finally arrived, would be interested by the many kinds of plants around the site.

Moving easily around each other, the two began to lay out their gear and set up camp. Rocks were gathered for a fire, sleeping bags unrolled, cooking equipment sorted and stacked, food hung in a tree to foil curious animals. It had been a long time since they'd been out in the woods together but the tasks went smoothly.

McCoy grinned to himself when he saw Kirk had brought his old beat-up cadet bag. Kirk claimed it was significantly wider than current regulation issue, and no one had wanted to get out the tape measure to prove him wrong. Spock, who could have measured it accurately with his eyes, in early years had always tactfully refrained from commenting on his captain's bed. Then he and Kirk had taken to camping alone, and McCoy guessed they were making other arrangements ...

But here they were again, trying things as a threesome, and the two humans were determinedly setting to work as if it were the most average activity in the world.

Kirk began going through his climbing equipment, making sure that everything was ready. As he checked the ropes and carabiners, he decided he'd try a free climb after all, at some point. Shoes, check. Chalk bag, check. Secretly McCoy watched him work--the captain *seemed* happy enough. But with Jim Kirk it could be hard to tell--he was a past master at concealing his deeper feelings, from others and from himself too.

By the time they were finished it was late afternoon, and the day was too far gone for a serious climb. McCoy suggested they take a hike down to the small lake not far below, and Kirk agreed.

The path was a little overgrown, but the lake itself was beautiful, nestled against pines on the far shore. A pleasant grassy area on the near side led to some shale and then the water.

Kirk gave a little hoot when he saw the small flat stones. He grabbed a handful happily and fingered the slightly gritty surfaces. McCoy said, "You gonna try to skip those?"

For an answer Kirk hurled one at the smooth mirror of water, getting five skips before the stone sank.

McCoy admired his technique and then confessed he'd never been any good skipping stones. "How d'you make it work? I hold it the way I'm supposed to, I let go at the right angle--and it sinks like lead. Annoyin'."

"It's all in how you hold it, and the angle of your hand when you let go. Come on, Bones, you're a surgeon. You should have the hands for this. Didn't they call you 'Golden Fingers' in med school?"

The doctor grinned. "You bet they did, Jim-boy, but it wasn't because of my *surgical* technique." Both laughed.

McCoy experimented for a few more minutes, imitating his friend as well as he could, but without much luck.

Finally Kirk grinned at him and sat down on a handy rock. "You're hopeless," he said. "Come on, let's look at the view. You know, water's one of the things I miss most in space. We can fake a sky, and gravity, and land--but no one's figured out how to create a large fake lake inside a starship. I missed it on Vulcan, too."

McCoy turned to study his friend. Mentioning Vulcan? Hmn. As casually as he could, he said, "How're you thinking about that these days, Jim? Doin' ok?"

A stillness, a silence like deep space came over the other. All his nervous energy vanished.

"You know, Bones," he replied after a long time, "I try not to think about it. And that chiefly means I think about it most of the time. Did I do something *wrong.* What did I *do* wrong. Did I say the wrong thing, could I have persuaded him otherwise. I *know* that it wasn't anything I did, I know that for a fact. But I can't stop gnawing at the problem. Sort of a runaway train, if you remember what those were..."

"Jim, it wasn't your fault. Spock did what he thought he had to do, for you and the Enterprise and the rest of us. Then the Vulcans did the best they could, but there's no record of fal-tor-pan ever being carried out on a half-Vulcan. I don't think it's that surprising that his human half didn't do as well."

"Would've been nice if someone had mentioned that possibility."

"I don't imagine it occurred to anyone." He almost pointed out that the current situation was better than the alternative, but decided that maybe it depended on the point of view.

Kirk stared blindly at the lake's green waters. It seemed like yesterday he'd first gone to see Spock, after the healers had finished their first work.

He'd swung up the path, breathing a little hard in the rarefied air, and burst into Spock's rooms. His t'hy'la was clothed in what Kirk couldn't help but think of as a bathrobe. Spock was staring rather blankly out the window at the severe landscape.

Before Spock had really even turned to greet him, Kirk slid in close and picked up his hand. Spock didn't pull away, didn't move at all--the hand felt like a stone.

Spock's eyes traveled around to his companion's face. "Admiral," he finally said.

"Jim, call me Jim," replied the other.


"Ah, because you always have? Because it would be appropriate between friends, to say nothing of bondmates?"

"Bondmates?" replied Spock. "I do not understand."

Kirk opened the flap of his shirt to expose the tattoo of linked rings showing dark against the lighter skin of his shoulder. "You have a matching set," he said as calmly as he could. "Or you used to."

"There must be some mistake. I could not be bonded to a human, to a superior officer."

A cold finger ran up Kirk's spine, and the whole hand began to close around his throat. He tried to sound calm. Taking a different tack he said, "Spock, what have the healers been doing with you these last days?"

"We have been reviewing a number of the intellectual disciplines, primarily."

"Have you studied interpersonal relationships at all? Abstract ones, or concrete?"

"Only indirectly, as issues pertain to scientific matters. We have of course covered xenobiology, xenology, and so forth. Why do you ask?"

Holding himself in check, James Kirk stumbled a little as he replied, "Well, we are bondmates, you know. Or maybe you don't know. . . We've been bonded for some years. We are more than just friends--you know, our whole ship knows this. Starfleet and our families, too. We've been sharing quarters on the Enterprise and elsewhere for a long time, when work didn't call one of us away."

Almost suspiciously Spock regarded the human, who was offering such odd suggestions. Curious no one else had mentioned to him that he was bonded to a human.

"Spock, touch my mind. You'll see what I mean. That should convince you."

Hesitantly the Vulcan reached out one hand and almost distastefully touched the other's forehead and cheek. Briefly he closed his eyes. Suddenly he recoiled.

"So," he said, almost whispering.

Kirk stood up and began pacing about the room.

"Admiral," said Spock. "I perceive you speak truthfully. We indeed have been bondmates. We have a shared apartment in your home city of San Francisco, where you have recently been based. I admit I do not remember this myself, but it clearly is so. I will honor the bond even though I do not remember it. I will arrange to transport such few belongings as I have accumulated here to Terra."

Kirk drove a palm against the window frame. "Spock. You can't just -- you need to *want* to do this. You're not my cleaning service. You live with me--lived with me--because you *wanted* to."

After a pause, the human said softly, "Don't you love me? Don't you remember what we've meant to each other?" Kirk gazed at the dark eyes, at the head framed and fenced by the deep hood. "Spock," he whispered. "Don't you remember your last pon farr? How we . . . " He began to move toward his erstwhile lover, hands opening.

Spock sheathed his hands in his long sleeves and for a moment said nothing.

Then from a great distance the velvet baritone rumbled, "It would be illogical to pretend that I remember. I accept the truthfulness of your memories, however, and as I said I am prepared to resume our relationship as it stood."

Kirk let his head drop back, and his hands massaged the stiff muscles in his neck. "Spock, let me try this again. You can't live with someone, you can't love someone, because your mind knows you ought to. Love is not a logical contract. //God, I'm shooting myself in the foot.// Yes, I want to live with you. I love you, we're bonded. Never and always, touching and touched. But--if you don't remember, that's--that'd be living a lie."

Spock dropped his hands and stood silently, trying to make sense out of the illogical puzzle presented to him.

Kirk seized his advantage and stepped forward. He abruptly tore apart the sides of Spock's robe, leaving him bare to the waist. He stripped his own light shirt off, and matched their torsos skin to skin as best he could He rapidly raised Spock's arms sideways, wove their fingers together. He closed his eyes and tried to chant the words he'd heard Spock use so many times.

"Linvod sha'tha," said Spock in a dead tone.

Kirk opened his eyes, pulled his head back from where he had been about to kiss Spock's shoulder. "Yes."

"Where did you learn this private ritual? It is little known among off- worlders." As he spoke, Spock moved delicately but pointedly away.

His heart beginning to break, James Kirk replied starkly, "From you, Spock. I learned it from you."

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McCoy found that his technique had improved greatly. He could get as many as four skips now. Having his conscious attention taken up with his friend's terrible story meant the muscles in his arm were able to loosen up and get the right snap on the stone.

"That was when you first knew?" he asked.

"That was the beginning. Denial, first. Hours talking with Sarek and Amanda. Trying to learn all we could about the ritual, its successes and failures. Then anger, I think, was next. Anger at Spock for injuring himself so gravely. Who was he to do that, anyway? What gave him the right to take it on himself to save the whole ship? That was rank insubordination. Amanda and Sarek were of course only too happy to have their son back. Well, Sarek was sort of happy. You know what I mean.

"But what about me? Was my marriage, my bond . . . was that the price of saving the ship? I'd rather have gone down with it. But Spock never gave me that chance. The anger has been hardest to deal with. Some days I want to shake him, to say What gave you the right?" Kirk stared at the water and sailed two stones straight into the green depths.

"Then we were crammed on that damned Bird of Prey, and I had to pretend like everything was fine. Gillian, well, Gillian. Female trouble, as always. A nice kid, and easy on the eyes--but she's no Spock. Hardly. She felt more like a daughter than . . ." Kirk seemed to lose his train of thought for a moment.

"Finally, Spock said he'd 'stand with his friends'. I thought maybe he had something else in mind--but no go. So. I'm trying to take it a day at a time, now. I can't even get Spock to talk about it, not that I ask him, anymore."

"How come?"

"We had a pretty blazing fight when he claimed all his stuff. I came home one day to my apartment and there were all these crates with the red diplomatic seal of Vulcan on them. That was his way of saying Goodbye, I guess. I can't let him go, Bones--he's a top-flight officer as you know. And it's my only chance to--to know how he's doing."

Whew, thought McCoy. There's a load of information. Good lord.

"More than you wanted to know, eh, Bones?" said Kirk with a sardonic grin.

"Maybe you need to talk to one of us from time to time," he responded uncertainly. "Loss, that's a big one. None of us is very good at dealing with loss."

"Well, it may be a big loss, but I'll damned well go on with it. I *will* live with it," said the other with clenched teeth. "On good days I think how much Spock risked to allow us to be here, and I think to myself I *will* use that."

"And on bad days?"

"I try not to have bad days," replied Kirk.

McCoy accepted his friend's effort to turn the conversation, and he concentrated on the little pile of flat stones next to him. After a while they agreed to explore the bank a bit farther down, and then as dinner time approached they returned to camp.

McCoy had brought along some sort of pot-meal that he quickly heated. The two men ate in a comfortable near-silence. McCoy thought Kirk had perhaps said more than he wanted to, if less than he ought. Kirk convinced himself that McCoy wasn't interested in his personal affairs, and he concentrated on getting the last of the gravy up with one of the biscuits they'd warmed in the coals.

Efficiently they cleaned up after dinner and made a few preparations for the next day. They were still missing some equipment, but they expected Spock would bring it with him when he arrived. In the meantime they could improvise.

They settled themselves on their bags, the flickering glow of the camp fire casting a comfortable yellow sheen over everything.

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