"God, Bones, he called me 'Admiral'. What was I supposed to do?"
"I'm not sure there was anything *to* do." McCoy absentmindedly swirled his coffee in the cup, trying to see how high up the sides he could make it go before it spilled. The light of their campfire had gradually sunk and it was hard to see very far into the pine trees beyond their clearing.
"I think I hit the wall when he said, perfectly calmly, that he would of course honor his previous obligations, that he'd arrange to move in with me immediately, to 'resume our previous status'. That's what did it. I could see he had no idea what he was talking about. He was handling it like a legal obligation, like a goddamn landing party assignment."
The captain of the Enterprise ran his fingers backward through his hair, uncrossed his legs and raised one knee a little. He tipped his head back against the log behind him and looked up at the brilliant stars glittering overhead.
"And how did that make you feel, Jim?"
"Feel? The usual, I suppose. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Grief. Isn't that the usual curve?"
"Well, you did leave out 'acceptance'."
"No accident. I'll never accept this, Bones. I'll learn to incorporate it. I told you I'll go on with my life--join the ranks of the walking wounded. But acceptance, no, I think that's beyond the reach of someone like me." He chucked a stick of kindling on the fire.
"Tell me what 'someone like you' is capable of. You've accepted all kinds of things, Jim. You've dealt with wildly alien cultures and not blinked, eaten the strangest food in the galaxy, dealt with the strangest customs, fought your way out of extremely tight spots. . . Surely if you can do all that you can cope with this?"
"Come on, Bones, you know it's not the same. The one is business, it's my job. The other is--me. It's Spock reacting against me, the man I am."
"Is he reacting, Jim, or is he just doing what feels right for a Vulcan?"
"Feels right? for a Vulcan? You don't hear those two phrases together a whole lot." Kirk half-smiled in the dim light. McCoy pulled a bottle from his pack, took a swallow, passed it across.
Kirk tossed his head back and let the liquid burn down his throat. McCoy was surprised to see his friend's apparent tolerance for hi-test bourbon. As a rule James Kirk hadn't been a big drinker. Hmn. He replied, "I suppose that does make it worse. It's harder when it's about you yourself, and not just your exterior, the face you show to the world."
The doctor shifted a little, rearranged himself and draped his hands across his upraised knees. Between them he looked at Jim. He was startled to find the captain's hazel eyes fixed on him. He heard a low groan. "Jim?" he said. "Jim? What's up?"
Spock sat on the edge of the great bed, upraised knees spread wide. James Kirk knelt on the floor before him, half-buried in the ocean of green silk that poured over the Vulcan's long legs.
// again, // murmured the inexorable voice in Kirk's head. // say it again. I want to *hear* it ... //
Breath rasping in his throat, Kirk struggled with the peculiar phrasing. It was hard to get the strange words just right, as he mind-spoke the words and uttered them aloud.Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
// you want it, // thought Spock. // tell me you want it. //and bend
// show me where. show me how you want me . . . //but Oh, to no end!
// reason will not save you when you burn, James, and you burn, we both burn . . . //But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
// no, you err, you are mine. Admit you are mine, James. I am stronger, my flame burns brighter, you could not get away if you tried. //
Kirk was breathing in heaving gulps now. He stumbled over each word.Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
"... ravish me." Kirk's voice died away in the clearing. McCoy didn't think Jim knew he'd been speaking aloud. The captain stared, unseeing, into the dark.
To ease the moment McCoy tossed another log on the dying fire. Flames licked up and welcomed the wood. The doctor dropped down on his sleeping bag again and jabbed at the small pillow behind him. Swallowing hard, he said, "And did he?"
"Did he what?"
"Body and soul, Bones. Body and soul."
McCoy gazed across the fire. He noted the deep hollows around his friend's eyes, the new lines around his mouth. "Is that what's eatin' you, Jim? That you had to admit you wanted him? That he was stronger than you, you wanted a man stronger than you?"
Kirk picked up a twig and absently peeled away the bark. He seemed to be returning from a great distance. "You know, I never really thought about the power of words. I knew that reading the poems from the k'lin was a wedding night ritual, I knew that the poems were powerful ones--I chose half of them, after all. But to read them together, to admit--to admit what you feel, like that--I just, it was, I didn't expect anything like that."
The physician passed a hand across his face, ran it down his throat. Silently he studied his captain, his friend. "And you found you liked it."
Now it was Kirk's turn to look up, to study McCoy. "Yes. I liked it. To give up power, making decisions, having to be on call, in charge, every minute of every day. To lose myself in another. And then, to admit that I needed that. Needed comfort, needed someone else's power. Needed. . ."
Kirk wound down like a slow clock. McCoy parked his tin cup on the ground. Without speaking he pulled off his sheepskin jacket. He loosened his bootlaces with swift fingers, not looking down.
Gracefully McCoy stood and stepped around the fire. He crouched, straddling Kirk's outstretched legs. He curved his hands around his friend's face and kissed him deeply.
Surprised, Kirk jerked his head back. "Hey!" he said softly. "What are you doing?"
Huskily the doctor whispered, "I'm not honestly sure. Seems like the thing to do. Let me love you, Jim. We could both use it." He ran his hands over his captain's chest, feeling muscles even through the wool shirt. "What do you think?" In a darker voice he rumbled, "It would be a fascinating experiment, do you not agree?"
They both started a little at the resonances in the doctor's voice. Their eyes met, locked. Wordlessly Kirk ran his arms around his friend, rolled him over onto the ancient sleeping bag. Breathing faster, he clumsily struggled with McCoy's shirt. He stopped, loosened McCoy's belt, and then tugged the shirttails free. He felt McCoy working the boots off his feet and he struggled to do the same. Briefly they rolled apart, pulling at fasteners, shedding clothing left and right.
After a moment they lay gazing at each other in the dim glow. They came together with a graceful ease that belied their need. An observer would have thought this was an act of old habit. The two men slid into Kirk's sleeping bag as one, and held each other close. Kirk felt strangely familiar to McCoy, almost as though he had been here before. He knew this body, knew it well, and not as a physician. He found himself automatically touching certain spots, angling for certain positions. And the other seemed to sense it too: he was maneuvering himself to accommodate, sliding an arm here, a hand there.
Warmth and comfort swirled together with excitement and release. They fell out of time, seeking only the sensual pleasure each offered the other. Breaths came quickly, then raggedly; deep voices murmured together in the night.
As Kirk's hands caressed him toward oblivion, McCoy whispered, "Rhe, rhe--" Kirk opened his eyes and stared. Jaggedly he asked, "When did you learn Vulcan?"
The doctor drew a hand over his eyes, rubbed one shoulder where Kirk's mouth had been moments before.
"Vulcan?" said McCoy.
A long silence fell between them. Kirk lay on his side, drawing lazy circles on McCoy's sternum with a finger. At length he said, tentatively, "Bones? Is he still in there?"
McCoy turned his head toward his friend. Finally he replied, "Not the way you mean, I don't think so. But in a manner of speaking, yes, a little." He traced the rounded curve of Kirk's ear with two fingers. Then with his tongue.
Kirk ran the back of his hand across McCoy's chest. "Bones. I don't know what to say."
"Don't have to say anything."
"I feel like I'm using you to get at him, whatever of him is left."
"It's not a problem. I'm comfortable with this, whatever is going on. We're both adults. And I'd say we're adults who could use a little comforting, even if the reasons are complex."
"You've spent your whole career fixing me up," Kirk observed with a lopsided grin. "Doesn't it ever get old?"
"Actually, I'd say I've spent my whole career reminding you I'm a doctor not a bricklayer, nor an elevator, nor a security officer. Feels good just bein' a physician, Jim, and a friend. Just let the rest slide."
James Kirk relaxed in the soft cocoon and allowed his friend's hands to soothe him. Physician's hands, knowing where the hurt was. Knowing where to touch him, to make him feel *that,* and *that*-- He tried to reciprocate, to wander his hands across the other's welcoming body, to bring his friend the same intense release. He thought he heard a dark voice in his ear say, "No, t'hy'la, you are mine." He asked no more questions. He let himself drift out on a sharp surge of pleasure, warmed and comforted by the glimmering voice.
Leonard McCoy saw that Kirk slept, and he was pleased. He clasped his friend firmly in his arms. Might not be regulation Fleet technique for grief-management, but it seemed to work. He felt comforted too, as if a door had opened somewhere.
Jim Kirk was an old friend, his oldest, maybe. Still, McCoy had to admit to himself that he felt a tiny triumph--undeniable pride at having bedded the man known as the best lay in the Fleet. He didn't admire the feeling, but he recognized it for what it was. And he also knew that while he didn't want this forever, maybe not even for more than tonight, yet--it had been good. Very good. Almost as good as the first time, when they'd sheltered by the Golden Gate Bridge under his big Vulcan cloak . . . Kirk's Vulcan cloak? his own Vulcan cloak? what memory was this?
Before McCoy could sort it out, a brilliant image burst into his mind: the captain of the Enterprise removing his wedding finery, padding sensuously across a green-lit room like a jungle cat. Pulling aside the white silk scarf, unpinning the brocaded robe, undoing the trousers loose for the Vulcan heat. McCoy could see him coming straight toward him, eyes glittering, lips moving. He could barely catch the words, some kind of quotation:
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear . . .
I learn by going where I have to go . . .
A log in the fire settled, and the sudden whoosh of sparks brought McCoy back to the present. He lay still for a moment, pulling himself together. A flashback like the old days. He'd thought he was done with those. He sighed gently, thinking he wouldn't have guessed Jim Kirk would know any of Roethke's poems. Always full of surprises, Jim was, and then some.
As carefully as he could he slid from Kirk's arms. Shivering a little in the night air, he nabbed the small husk-filled pillow from the head of his own bag, and tucked himself back in with his friend, settling his head on the pillow.(%) (%) (%) (%)
Early birdsong woke them, arms and legs wrapped closely together for warmth and comfort. McCoy kissed his friend on the forehead, said "G'mornin', Captain," and calmly went about dressing himself with fresh clothes from the pack leaning against the tree.
Kirk was a little surprised by McCoy's very casual manner. It was almost as if he didn't remember . . . He shrugged and followed suit, moving quickly to stay warm. Maybe Bones wasn't a talker--probably an occupational hazard.
When Kirk had dressed, he skillfully stoked the fire and heated coffee. In companionable quiet the two ate breakfast, hardly speaking, then cleaned the dishes and doused the fire. Kirk consulted his chronometer.
"Spock should be here shortly," he said, checking the clouds above them.
"Yeah, I set him a nice little problem or two with the ship's memory banks," grinned McCoy. "Wanted to see whether I could tamper with that store of knowledge he's got. Just couldn't resist, after all these years."
"You misled him?" said a surprised Kirk. "Is that a good idea?"
"Ah, Jim, calm down. I just put a few new little facts into the computer. Coupla Earth customs have new meanings. You'll see." McCoy settled against a log with a mug of coffee smoking in the cool air. He grinned. "Just think of it as my little way of tracking how he's doing on recovering his memory. It's not like he'll let me run the usual tests."
Kirk again studied the sky overhead and the fluffy clouds that drifted gently along. "Looks like a good climbing day."
McCoy sighed loudly. They had had quite a few heated arguments about free-climbing vs. what he thought of as "proper" climbing, climbing with ropes. He had hoped that even now Kirk might come to his senses.
"I'll help you carry some of the equipment. Maybe you'll think straight at the last minute. Weeeeeeeelllllllll, Spock'll probably fetch in while we're gone. He can help me scrape you off the ground later."
Kirk left a small beacon on his sleeping bag so that Spock could easily find them in the wilderness. They set off across the valley in the direction of El Capitan.(%) (%) (%) (%)
On a small knoll nearby, a gentle glimmer showed that Spock had arrived. He set down his pack and consulted the instrument in his hand. When he had located his friends' beacon, he set off with a long loping stride, and in a few moments he found the campsite.
With taciturn approval he took in the minor evidence of breakfast, the protected food, the other camping preparations. Apparently his companions were out reconnoitering. He sat on a log and reflected briefly. After a moment he pulled out a canister of fuel and lit the wick. He filled a tin cup from the water bottle McCoy had supplied and peacefully made himself some spiced tea.