--------------

I never thought it would come down to this. Me, chasing my first officer, my best friend. And why? I can tell myself it's for his own good all I like, but I'd be lying. I almost convinced myself I was checking on his safety before I beamed down here. But the honest truth is that I want to know what he's been hiding.

The whole thing started right after Spock's pon farr ended, with a personal note he received. I just happened to see it when I was in his quarters. My first glance at the note had me worried because it seemed connected to the nearly disastrous outcome of Spock's 'wedding'.

As a concerned friend, I needed to know about the rendevous the note referred to. Now, I know Vulcans are secretive about their personal lives, but this is a starship. Secrets have a way of exploding into problems around here. So I figured I should be informed if Spock was seeing someone or looking to marry again.

When I saw the note, I thought that Sarek might be pushing Spock into a new relationship. That made me angry because I had seen Sarek's insensitive side after the fiasco on Vulcan. He had sent a private message to me to make sure I knew, in no uncertain terms, that if he recalled Spock to Vulcan, I was to ask no questions other than 'how quickly do we need to be there?'. The Ambassador had made it clear that he had every intention of finding another mate for his son, whether he wanted one or not.

So my intensions started out as selfless. But the correspondence led me to other, more worrisome thoughts rather quickly. In fact, it was those few lines that started the chain of events that had me standing outside a hotel room with my ear to the door, hoping to hear my best friend's voice.

Let me repeat. I didn't deliberately sneak into his mail. I'm not that callous.

Spock actually asked me to sit at his desk while he finished changing before we went to breakfast. So it really wasn't my fault that I saw the note.

His screen was blinking when I sat in his desk chair. I must have bumped it with my arm when I shifted in the chair because the note was open the next time I glanced that way.

Once I saw it, my curiousity overcame my good sense. Of course, I respect Spock's privacy, but I couldn't help myself. Even though we had been good friends for a couple years, my first officer was sometimes so secretive that I'd do anything to figure out what he was thinking or feeling.

But it wasn't his thoughts that I found in that note. It was a huge question in the form of an invitation.

The opening greeting was what caught my eye. Although my ego wasn't as sensitive as the everyone believed, the greeting made me...uncomfortable.

The note itself was short and rather ambiguous. But the intimacy it implied jarred me. And because it was addressed to my rather private first officer, it raised a flood of questions in my mind. The most important question, of course, was who was this person who spoke so intimately to my best friend? And fast on its heels was: why didn't I know of this person's existence before now?

I surrupticiously glanced at the bathroom door to make sure Spock was still inside before I turned back to the screen and read, for the second time:

[My dearest friend,

I would be honored to meet you for the outing we agreed upon. Please come to the Firestorm Hotel in ten hours with the necessary supplies. I will be waiting in room 504.

Sincerely,

Your humble helper]

Dearest friend? Nobody referred to Spock that familiarly. Not even his mother.

Who was this person?

As far as I knew, all the beings Spock called friend were aboard this ship. But I could tell from the identification code that this missive came from Yeres, the planet we were now circling. That made me even more curious and concerned.

First, and most potentially damaging, was who does my first officer know on Yeres? We were here to negotiate a trade agreement. Any biases my crew had needed to be laid out on the table before they became reasons to stop the negotiations.

But then I remembered that Spock told me yesterday morning that he had never been here before. His parents, however, had. They had come ten years ago to help them sort out a dispute with a neighboring planet.

So maybe this was a friend of Sarek's. That would explain a lot...but it could also be an enemy masquerading as an old friend. This invitation could easily be a sign of trouble.

I sighed. I was starting to sound paranoid.

Spock was entitled to a personal life. The fact that I had seen a good portion of it on Vulcan did not change the fact that he was allowed to keep his private life private.

So why was I so determined to find out this person's identity?

Part of me knew that my problem was caused by the fact that I wanted to be his 'dearest friend'. Maybe my most secret wish was slowly driving me mad. It would be poetic justice after breaking so many heart in the Academy.

Still...something about the note reminded me of...I wasn't quite sure what, but I knew its tone sounded familiar.

But before I could remember, Spock returned from the bathroom. Not wanting him to know what I read, I quickly turned away from the screen and smiled a greeting.

'I am ready.' Spock said quietly as he gathered his tricorder and some of his lab equipment to use after breakfast.

'Good, I'm starving.' I stood up and headed for the door. As I did, I cautiously tried to get my friend to allay my fears. 'Did your father meet anyone interesting when he was here?'

Unfortunately, Spock didn't supply what I needed. 'I do not know. He did not tell me of anyone. Why do you ask?'

I shrugged. 'Oh, I'm just curious. We really don't have much data on this planet. I thought your father might have information that we could use for the negotiations.'

'I will ask him for his notes if you wish.' Spock raised an eyebrow.

I shook my head. I knew his relationship with his father was strained at the best of times. And I didn't think Sarek had the information I really wanted, anyway. 'No, that's okay. I'll check the Starfleet database. I'm sure he made an entry there.'

Well, I did get one fact out of my first officer. This person wasn't from Yeres. So was the 'humble servant' a friend who just happened to be in the area?

This was my first officer and my friend. Wouldn't he have told me if he was meeting someone? I did approve shore leave, but I don't remember Spock saying that he would go to the planet before the negotiations. In fact, it was rather unusual for Spock to exit the ship during shore leave. He preferred to catch up on his botany experiments while everyone was gone.

But after that botched wedding on Vulcan, maybe he finally realized he needed a break. Anyone would need to get away after that.

But still I worried.

It wasn't like Spock to keep secrets from me.

But then again, he didn't tell me he had a fiancee until his pon farr began to drive him mad...

Damnit, I couldn't let him do this, not without knowing what was going on. As we headed to breakfast in the mess hall, I convinced myself I needed to find out more...to keep Spock safe, of course.

------------

Spock did tell me he was heading to the planet later that morning.

But he lied about what he was doing. And he did it badly, which was very unlike him. His cheek actually *twitched* as he told me.

'I would like to go down to the planet to study the volcano near the north pole,' Spock announced as I read over the final schedule for shore leave.

I tried to hide my surprise at his lie by sounding concerned. 'That's fine, I'll mark it on the list. But are you sure you want to go all the way up there? This planet is like Earth. It's bound to be frigid up there.'

Then I appeared to accept his assurance that he would pack heavy clothes and an emergency heater. Basically, I acted like the friend who needed to remind him of his limitations.

But in my head, I was planning how to be the friend who interfered for his own good.

Surprisingly, the day went quickly after that. We spent it gathering information on how to negotiate with the Yerens for their dilithium three days hence. Most times, reading reports bored me to death. Then I realized that the time went so swiftly because I had spent much of it speculating on who I would find Spock with when I beamed down to the planet.

I was alternately shamed by my intentions and worried that I wouldn't get to him in time. But even in my shame, I never admitted what was really prompting this escapade: my jealousy. I was jealous of anyone who could be that familiar with my first officer. Because I wanted to be the only one to call him 'dearest friend'.

The jealousy was actually a recent development. I didn't realize how smitten I was until we had beamed down to Vulcan and faced Spock's fiancee.

When I saw the coldhearted, petty child Spock's House chose for him, I nearly cried. She was completely wrong for him. I could tell from the first time I saw her. T'Pring was a selfish woman with delusions of grandeur. What the hell was she doing marrying our practical, humble Vulcan who sought to help whomever we met?

And when she chose me as her champion, I considered chasing *her* with the lirpa. Pitting two friends against each other was cruel, especially when neither really wanted the prize.

But after all was said and done, I discovered that what I wanted was the man that smiled at me like I was the most valuable thing in the universe.

That revelation was quite a punch in the gut.

But as I sat there on the bridge waiting for the last few minutes of alpha shift to end, it felt like the kal-i-fee was happening all over again. Someone seemed to be using Spock to get what they wanted.

Or was I lying to myself to justify my jealousy?

If this turned out to be nothing, my actions would have consequences. His father was an ambassador. There would be questions, investigations, a loss of trust from my crew. I could lose my ship. I could lose my command. Who would want a commander who steps over the line?

I could lose Spock...his friendship at least, if he discovered what I was about to do.

That was the result that really made me pause. Did I really want to risk our friendship over a rendezvous on an approved shore leave planet?

My gut said yes. He had lied. That alone suggested something wasn't right. And then there was the tone of that note...

But I *was* putting everything on the line based on a hunch. So I decided stealth was the way to go...

------------

That was easier said than done. We were on shore leave, which meant I had to fulfill an obligation. During our vacations, Bones and I always had one drink together in the best establishment we could find before we parted to find other amusements.

It was rather hard to duck tradition, especially when I had picked our meeting place three days ago. So, to accomodate my more important appointment, I beamed down earlier than I was scheduled to.

If I was going to go chasing after my first officer, I needed to know what I was doing. So before I met Bones, I went in search of the Firestorm Hotel.

When I found it, I was honestly impressed. The Firestorm was a classy establishment. The place had the fine furnishings, the snooty service people, and the discreet clientele of a hotel for the elite. I had no doubt I would find this in the Zagat's database for this section of the galaxy.

This was not, however, a place I'd expect to find my first officer. Spock preferred more esoteric places. Large amounts of space, comfort and attention all tended to make him uncomfortable. He didn't like many luxuries.

And yet, I've seen him give a happy sigh when he took a dip in the hot water springs on Arvius. When I saw his reaction, I realized he did have a few hedonistic tendencies under all that logic.

Remembering that made parts of me tingle. But I tried to ignore my reaction. It was hard enough on me that Spock was reluctant to admit our friendship because friendship involved emotions. How the hell could I ever face a lover who wouldn't (couldn't?) love me back?

So I never admitted my attraction to anyone. Not to Spock, not to Bones, not to the crew, not even to myself.

But as I stepped into that hotel and made my way to the fifth floor, I decided now wasn't the time to be lying to myself. If I was going to risk my career, I had to admit I was doing it because I believed Spock was meeting a lover here in an hour, and I was as jealous as hell.

But I needed to get my emotions under control. I couldn't remain quiet and observant if I felt like punching a wall...or whomever Spock was meeting. So after I headed upstairs and found room 504 and a good place to hide near it (in an unlocked supply closet), I headed right back down the stairs and out the door.

Then I headed to the bar to meet Bones.

That in itself was a risk. Leonard McCoy has known me practically since the day I joined the Academy. So when I walked into the bar, I wasn't surprised to see his examining gaze directed my way.

My human best friend looked me up and down slowly, as if trying to discover the solution to a puzzle. Then he nodded to himself.

'You want to tell me about it?' he asked without any prelude.

'Not really.' I sighed as I sat down across from him. After ordering a local brandy, I leaned back in my chair. 'It's...complicated.'

'Isn't it always?' Bones agreed, nursing his own drink. 'Anything to do with that green-blooded hobgoblin ends up being complicated.'

My head snapped up so quickly that I almost gave myself whiplash.

Bones just laughed. 'You thought you were fooling us, huh?'

I raised an eyebrow in imitation of the being we were discussing. 'Who, exactly, is 'us'?'

'Oh, just the whole command crew.' McCoy's grin was wide...and infuriating.

'And...?' I prompted, knowing he had more to say on the subject.

'And what exactly are you waiting for? He's not going to send you an embossed invitation, you know,' Bones grumbled.

'So I should proposition my first officer without first knowing who or what he wants? Right now, all I know is what he doesn't want.' I gulped my drink to calm my nerves. I didn't want to have this conversation, especially not now.

'Well, you aren't anything like his first offering.' McCoy chuckled. 'So I'd say the odds aren't bad.'

'I don't even know which gender he prefers!' I snapped, venting my feelings at Bones without meaning to.

I *had* to get ahold of my emotions. If Bones was able to push me around, I could easily make a mistake when I was at the hotel.

I put my head in my hands and just breathed for a minute. 'Sorry. This whole situation...hasn't been easy.'

'Of course not.' Bones said sympathetically. 'Hell, I was amazed when you started to fall for him. I can only imagine how you felt when you realized...'

I looked up, shocked. 'Have I been that obvious?'

'Not to the brass, and not to him, apparently. But to the rest of us? Yeah. Hell, we all know if Spock looked your way, you wouldn't kiss another girl for the rest of your life.' Bones patted my hand.

I didn't know what to say to that, so I just leaned back in my chair and nodded. Hell, it was the truth.

We sipped our drinks for another few minutes. I tried to relax, but it just wasn't working.

Bones knew I was severely preoccupied. The minute I finished my drink, he waved his hand at me.

'Go, get out of here. You're not exactly good company right now. Find me when you've made peace with him.'

Laying down a few credits for our drinks, I nodded. 'Don't keep the kids out too late,' I teased him, knowing he was going to take in the sights with Uhura and Chekov.

Bones grinned and shooed me away. 'Bring him home with you. He either belong by your side, or in your bed and by your side. It's about time you figure out which.'

'I hope it's that easy.' I said to myself as I walked out the door of the bar. Heading straight for the hotel, I wondered if anything that involved my green-blooded best friend could be that simple.

--------------------

Of course, I had my doubts as I made my way back to the hotel. Who wouldn't, in my situation? But I convinced myself that I *had* to know who Spock was meeting, if only for his safety.

So I cautiously made my way into the hotel and up the stairs while hoping my first officer didn't see me. Luckily, I was early.

They came into the hallway about ten minutes after I had settled into my hiding place. I almost didn't recognize Spock at first. He was dressed so...well, attractively.

Now, it is true, I would find Spock stunning if he wore sackcloth. But these clothes... I forgot how to breathe when I saw him in them.

I saw the cloak first, even before I spotted my first officer's distinctive ears. And they are definitely distinctive, even for a Vulcan. The only person I've ever seen with ears pointed just like his is his father, Sarek. Of course, Sarek's ears just don't have the same effect on me as his son's do.

But the cloak...it looked like satin. It shimmered when he walked. It was as black as his hair and it flowed behind him in a way that made me imagine it was bowing in supplication to him.

Then I noticed the clothes underneath the cloak. My first officer had dressed up for his date. White shirt, cut to flow just a bit, and black...jeans! Spock was wearing a pair of old fashioned Earth jeans that looked like they were poured onto him. I couldn't see if they molded to his backside because of his cloak, but they did wonderful things for those powerful legs of his.

These garments weren't part of Spock's normal wardrobe. I know. I've seen his closet. Most of it consisted of uniforms and Vulcan robes, with the occasional sweater given to him by his mother. So where did these jeans come from? And could I convince him to wear them when I didn't have to sneak around to admire how they accentuated his...assets?

As I stared at Spock, another shadow passed by me. I had been so busy admiring my friend that I almost ignored the man beside him. And if I would have missed this man...well, I would have missed the key to the whole thing.

His companion was dressed similarly, though his shirt was in blue instead of white, and he was without a cloak. Not that he needed it. To replace it, he had a flowing set of blond locks reaching all the way down his back. Strangely enough, that hair was all I needed to recognize him.

When he turned enough for me to see his face, I already knew who he was. But what was he doing with Spock?!

I knew the answer to that question, too, even though I didn't want to admit it. Edan rendered a service. That service was pleasure. He would do anything you wanted, for as long as you wanted (and could afford).

Edan was a high-class prostitute.

I met him about seven years ago, half a quadrant away from here. That time now felt so long ago, but still only a heartbeat away. Edan was the reason it was so memorable.

I met him on Betazed while on shore leave.

I had been the head of security on the Alexander then. That had been the one position that had made me question my desire to stay in Starfleet.

We had all needed the shore leave. Right before our arrival at Betazed, the ship had been overrun by a bunch of hostile Andorians. A diplomatic envoy had failed to produce enough dilithium as a bargaining chip for rights to the planet beneath us. The Andorians had considered that an insult.

To top it off, my department had been understaffed due to some sickness going around the ship. So I had spent the whole time above Goda II creeping around corners and looking over my shoulder. The only good part of the mission was that nobody ended up dead.

So when we got permission to vacate the ship, I didn't mind we were going to a planet of telepaths. Even if I was used to keeping my favorite form of entertainment a secret from most people.

Of course, it became public knowledge when I became captain. Kissing pretty girls, and the occasional handsome guy, helped a captain's reputation. And if I wandered away with them to more private accomodations, nobody really seemed to mind.

But as the head of security, sleeping around was a liability. It made you vulnerable.

So whenever I could, I found professionals to help me out. On Betazed, they were found in a small resort by a lake. It was a beautiful area, and very secluded. Perfect for my purposes.

When I went to the resort office, Edan ended up being the first and only person I met there.

I was drawn to his eyes from the first moment I saw him. I had heard of people having violet eyes, but I had never seen any before. They were the same shade of purple as the African violets Mom used to grow on the farm in Iowa. They complemented the air of caring that seemed to surround him. His beautiful blond mane and sculpted body were almost an afterthought.

'Hello, James,' he greeted me after I signed my name on the PADD he held out.

'I prefer Jim,' I said a little harshly. The mission had stressed me out even more than I had realized. Damn, that was no way to start my time off. I tried to smile apologetically.

He accepted my apology with a gentle smile of his own. 'Ah, but everyone calls you Jim, do they not? For a day, let yourself be someone different. It'll help you relax. While you're here, it'll give you an excuse to ignore Jim's problems.

'I'd be honored to get to know that person, if you're willing...' He trailed off suggestively.

I nodded, trying to shake off the strain of the past few days. Perhaps this man could help with that. He was certainly attractive enough...

So I followed him to a small cabin nearby. There, in his arms, I did find relief from the stress of my job aboard the Alexander. I also found much more.

Edan showed me pleasure the likes of which I had never felt before or since. He touched me in all the right places and in all the right ways. And because he was Betazoid, he was able to use his psy abilities to help me relax while his body gave me everything it could.

When our day was over, I went back to the Alexander a changed man. I was no longer the nervous, irritable wreck who had beamed down to Betazed. Instead, I was once again the competent but cocky kid who ran security. And it was all thanks to Edan.

So when I saw him enter the hotel room with Spock, I certainly didn't begrudge my first officer his services. He had been through hell lately. Because of that, part of me would have offered to pay for them if I had known.

But the other part, the bigger part, would have preferred to be the one entering that room with him.

---------------

The minutes after they entered the room were almost anticlimatic. I now knew who Spock was with and I could guess the 'why'. So I didn't really need to be there any longer. But I couldn't leave, not when part of me insisted I needed to follow them.

So after gathering my courage, I left my hiding place and crept closer to their door.

Of course, I should have left Spock alone with Edan. I knew he was in good hands. But I had to know what they were doing. I wanted to know what Spock liked, maybe even *who* Spock liked...if he was willing to tell Edan.

I had. I had blabbed to Edan about how much I had been in love with Carol Marcus, even though she had shoved me out her apartment door two months before and told me never to come back.

I always end up wanting things I couldn't have.

But Spock was one thing I couldn't do without. So, I put my ear to the door and listened. What I heard worried me. Spock sounded stilted, cold. Not at all the 'overemotional' Vulcan we had seen when he found out I had survived the kal-i-fee.

'I will not tell you the reason I need your services. It should be enough that I pay you for your time.' Although I could not see his face, I could imagine my first officer in a stern and imposing stance. He was never that cold unless something was bothering him.

Damn. I knew I should have made him talk to me about that fouled-up ceremony.

Edan did his best to entice Spock into a better mood. 'But my friend, I can serve you better if you tell me what has you so tense.' His voice was soft, cajoling.

I took a step back as I realized something. I could hear Edan *whisper*.

Then I noticed that the door wasn't completely closed. It was open enough that I could see the two men standing in the middle of the room.

My first officer appeared extremely uncomfortable as he stood by the bed that dominated the room. 'I am not your friend. I am your employer for this day.'

'Of course, of course.' Edan said soothingly, touching Spock's shoulders lightly. But Spock moved away from him quickly.

It didn't surprise me when Edan immediately backed off and gave Spock some space.

'Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps this will not solve my difficulty.' Spock looked around the room as if to avoid looking at Edan. His eyes touched upon the open door, but he did not appear disturbed by it. But the stress he was under pulled at his face as he turned back to Edan.

In that instant, my worry for Spock overwhelmed me. I opened the door and walked into the room before I knew what I was doing. Luckily, by that time, Spock faced away from the door. But then I noticed that the Betazoid was staring at me.

I froze in place, afraid that Edan would push me out of the room, or alert Spock. But all he did was smile. Then he spoke softly to Spock. 'Tell me what you want so I can please you.'

'You cannot give me what I want.' Spock sounded sad and resigned.

'Perhaps not. But if you're willing, my friend and I will give you what we can.' Edan encouraged Spock to move closer to the bed.

Friend? What friend?! I looked around the room, but there was nobody else there. Then Edan's finger beckoned to me from behind Spock's back.

I gasped, then covered my mouth to muffle the sound. He didn't want me to...did he?!

Edan nodded to me as Spock debated his offer. I slowly moved closer. How could I say no to the pleading in Edan's eyes? Or the pleading in my heart?

As I moved within inches of Spock's back, I heard my friend make his decision.

'I accept your offer,' he said quietly, with a catch in his voice. The sound startled me, but I wasn't in the position to ask him what was wrong right then.

How could I take advantage of my friend this way? I needed to be with Spock. How could I not?

But my biggest concern was the protection of my first officer.

I waved my hand at Edan to get his attention. I needed to remain anonymous. I didn't want Spock to face embarrassment because of my proclivities.

Edan understood. 'My friend is a bit shy. He would rather not reveal his identity. But he would be happy to help us if you would consent to being blindfolded.'

Spock nodded, then spoke to me without turning around or even trying to look my way. 'By not seeing your face, I will not be able to thank you properly for the service you are rendering. However, please be aware that it is much appreciated.'

My heart nearly broke at his sad tone. What did that woman on Vulcan do to him? Why hadn't I noticed his pain earlier?

At least now I could correct my oversight. I stepped back and watched as Edan pulled a black cloth out of his bag and handed it to Spock. Without hesitation, my first officer put it around his head.

Something about his actions worried me. Did he trust Edan that much? Or did he just not care that much for his own safety?

The concern must have shown on my face, because Edan motioned for me to relax.

He was right. If I was going to do this, I had to do it right. So I reminded myself that this was for Spock. That he needed this. That I could help him.

Cautiously, I reached out to touch Spock's shoulder.

Now, of course I should have known better. I knew Spock's skills as a telepath. But I didn't think of them as I caressed his arms.

Was it my passion for him that blinded me? Or did part of me know that I would be found out and actually wanted it? I can't say.

But I do know that the instant I touched him, my first officer sighed as if a heavy burden was lifted off him. Slowly, he leaned back into me.

Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around him. He felt so good in my arms, so warm and so *there*. I had almost lost him on Vulcan. I had tried to ignore that fact for the last few days, but it had poked at me from the back of my mind.

I, too, started to relax as Spock's presence seeped into me.

Edan just stood and watched us for a few minutes. His violet eyes twinkled as he leaned against the bed's footboard. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to.

But his smile brought me back to reality. I wasn't here for my pleasure. I was here for Spock.

Spock, who I truly believed didn't know I was there. I had totally blocked his psychic abilities out of my mind. I was sure if he knew I was there, he'd reject my advances.

So I leaned back to try to separate myself from my friend a little. But he wouldn't have it. He moved with me until he almost fell over backwards.

Startled, I grabbed him again and held him against me. It took all my concentration to keep my mouth shut at that point. I wanted to ask him what he needed, what I could do to ease his pain. But I had trapped myself in a corner by hiding my identity.

Then Edan took pity on me. He took Spock's hands and guided him onto the bed. 'My friend needs to prepare himself to help you. Let me make you more comfortable.'

I gasped softly as Edan started to divest Spock of his clothes.

------------

Edan knew I was watching him work. I could tell by the way he held himself away from Spock's body as he removed each piece of clothing from that gorgeous body. Edan wanted me to watch. He wanted me to see what I could have...only for the night.

The thought made me want to scream. But there was nothing I could do about it now. If Spock found out that I was the one with him...well, I was sure that'd be the end of our friendship.

But my body wasn't worrying about the consequences. My eyes were glued to Spock's form as Edan coaxed him to lay down. He was so tempting that my hands reached out to touch even before the Betazoid beckoned me closer.

I shuddered in relief as I laid my palm on Spock's hot skin for the first time. And when Spock moved to get closer to my touch, I almost lost my composure completely.

Edan smiled at me as he whispered in Spock's sensitive ear. 'Will you let my friend touch you? He wants to help you relax.'

'Yes...' Spock whispered back with that catch in his voice again. To my ear, it sounded like a small sob. But that had to be me projecting my emotions onto him. He just needed relief after the events he recently went through.

That was all it was. Right?

I took a deep breath and reminded myself of my anonmity as I ran my hands over Spock's skin. Hot and dry, it prickled slightly at my touch. I was causing him goosebumps because I was significantly cooler than him...

'Like a cool breeze.' Spock said softly. He shivered a little as my breath ran over his chest. I distanced myself a little, afraid that I'd chill him. But he reached to pull me back. 'Please.'

How could I refuse that? My Vulcan asking for what he wanted was a rare and wondrous thing. I imagined that he knew who he was asking, just for a moment.

I let my hands wander, caressing the planes and muscles I had dreamed about. My exploration seemed to calm him, so I climbed up on the bed next to him.

'My friend would like to lay with you.' Edan said softly so my actions didn't startle the Vulcan. 'But his clothes...' He made a gentle tsk'ing noise and came over to my side of the bed. 'Let me remove them. They will be too rough on your skin.'

With soothing hands, Edan helped me remove my civilian garments. His touch was far from heated. He seemed more focused on making me comfortable than arousing me. I guess he could tell that I didn't need any help in that department.

When I was naked...a state that I was usually uncomfortable in with others, but I was oddly at ease in now...Edan whispered in my ear.

'He has told me a little of his distress. I will help, but I think he needs you more than me.'

I looked up into Edan's unusual eyes, feeling an unexpected moment of fear. 'Me?' I mouthed, not wanting Spock to hear my voice.

'Trust your instincts.' Edan smiled and took a step back to watch.

That should have made me nervous, but I was so entranced by the sight before me--Spock, blindfolded, anticipating my touch--that the Betazoid slipped out of my mind within seconds.

I reached out to touch my Vulcan's hot body a second time, and this time he *moaned*. His hands began to move restlessly on the sheets beneath us. 'Please let me touch you,' he whispered.

I wanted him to. But I hesitated. What if he discovered it was me? Would it ruin us? Or would it bring us closer together? The former would devastate me, but I needed this moment. Badly. So I decided to risk it.

Gently, I took his hand and placed it on my chest. I could feel his hand tremble slightly as it moved tentatively, reaching up to trace my pectoral, running down to feel the edge of that plumpness I just couldn't get rid of on my abdomen. Strangely enough, he seemed to like that part of me. His hand lingered there, caressing and resting there as his other hand wandered elsewhere. Even though he didn't say a word about it, he obviously 'saw' my body differently than I did.

I didn't have to worry about him touching my face. His hands never ventured above my collarbone. I guessed it was because he was imagining someone else, the one he truly wanted to be with. The thought made me sigh.

Spock's head turned toward mine as he felt my sudden exhale. 'You are exquisite. Do not be concerned.' His voice was soft, a mere breath compared to the confident tone I was used to hearing.

It compelled a response from me, even before I knew what I was doing. 'But...' I quickly shut my mouth after that one word. Oh, God, did he recognize my voice?

'T'hy'la, please do not worry so.' His hand reached up to my face finally, gently resting on my cheek. 'The fault is mine for not telling you of my regard earlier.'

I didn't understand what he was saying. I didn't realize the gig was up. I heard his endearment but the significance of it didn't really register until he said...

'Jim, please do not leave me.'

------------

At those words, I practically jumped off the bed. 'What?!' I slammed back into Edan before I knew what happened.

'Shh. James.' Edan started to wrap his arms around me, but we both saw the look on Spock's face as he did. I had seen kinder looks on enraged Klingons.

Hold it. Spock shouldn't have been able to see us. There was something odd going on here.

'You can see through the blindfold!' I accused my first officer, suddenly as mad as hell.

'I cannot.' Spock said quietly as he sat up on the bed.

'Then how did you know?!' I fumed, but Spock said nothing.

'Goddamnit, answer me!' I yelled as I pulled away from Edan and headed back to the bed. Roughly, I pulled the blindfold off Spock's face. 'How did you know I was here?!'

'I allowed you to see the missive from Edan.' Spock bowed his head as if I was supposed to send his world crashing down upon it. He had deceived me and he knew I wouldn't allow that to go unpunished.

I certainly was tempted to take my frustrations out on him. My fists formed without conscious thought, but I couldn't use them. This was my best friend, for God's sake.

I took a few steps back. I didn't want to be near either of them, not now.

I avoided looking at both men as I tried to gather my thoughts. 'You...you set this up!' I hurled at Spock. 'Why would you...Do you hate me that much?!'

'Jim, no!' Spock leaped out of bed as I reached for the doorknob behind me. 'Please. Forgive my ruse. I did not intend for it to hurt you. I merely wished to...let you discover the truth of my affection.'

He looked towards Edan, who blushed sheepishly when Spock said, 'I was led to believe that if you saw me refuse a rival, you would accept my regard for you. I only attempted this because none of my attempts to 'flirt' were successful.'

'You were flirting? When?' I looked Spock straight in the eye. He appeared sincere. But I didn't remember anything...wait. Spock was half-Vulcan. The human ways of flirting would be foreign to him. He wouldn't be inclined to show off his body...

Vulcan flirting, on the other hand, would be more intellectual. Vulcan flirting might be chess games, or insults that aren't real, or something as simple as making sure your captain has his coffee in the morning.

Oh my God! Spock had been flirting with me the whole time we had been on the ship together. And I had missed it.

So he had tried a more human way after his failed marriage. Suddenly his strange behavior during these last few days made sense.

I had seen him in the exercise rooms that morning, putting those beautiful muscles to use. He had also spent a lot of time bent over the science station in the past few days. He had even seemed to cater to my whims more than usual.

And I had missed the intention behind those actions too.

Damn.

Spock didn't say a word as I contemplated all of this. He just watched my face. 'You didn't know.' He bowed his head after a few minutes.

'He didn't know what to look for.' Edan whispered gently.

'Why are you here?' I asked Edan as I moved back to Spock. I couldn't hold Spock responsible for his desperate act. He hadn't known what else to do. But why drag Edan into this?

'I understood parts of you that Spock did not. And I have some experience helping bonded humans.' Edan smiled as he settled into a chair a few feet from us.

I could see Edan remembered me well. He knew once I chose a course, I stuck with it. He knew I was loyal to a fault. He knew if he made a move to get in between Spock and me, I'd bust his head open.

'Of course I know that, Jim.' He grinned broadly as he read my thoughts, using my preferred moniker for the first time.

'Oh, now it's Jim?' I drawled out, still not sure of his intentions.

'Now I am only your friend. Your mate has chosen another name for you.'

'T'hy'la.' I looked at Spock, who was flushing a rather attractive shade of green. 'T'Pau called us that.'

'She knew what was in my katra.'

I shook my head ruefully. 'If she should have told me. She would have saved us both a lot of trouble.'

'It was my secret to share. But I failed to tell you.' Spock clenched his hands together.

'I wouldn't say that.' I reached up to touch the point of Spock's ear almost automatically.

I had to laugh when Spock bent his neck so his ear was closer to my hand. Oh, what fools we had been. 'Those jeans went a long way towards convincing me that I needed to get closer to you.'

'Then I must inform you that they are not my own.' Spock took my free hand, turning it over in his. He was fidgeting. There was still something bothering him.

I let it pass for the moment. 'Can we have that pair, Edan? I'll pay you for them.' I turned to Edan with a questioning glance. He saw my second question clearly on my face. His eyes smiled.

'Consider them a gift.' He waved his hand casually. 'And Spock, my friend, you should not hide things from your captain. He is too curious to not find it.'

'Hiding? What is he hid...' Then I felt it. I felt Spock trying to hide from me. *In my head!*

'What the hell?!' I grabbed Spock's arm and pulled him around to face me. 'How long have you been in my mind?'

'I do not know.' Spock stiffened and tried to back away from me, but I wouldn't let him.

'He may have been there for years, Jim.' Edan said soothingly. 'The connection revealed itself when Spock reached maturity. You finally found what you were looking for.'

'What I was looking for?' I looked between Edan and Spock in confusion.

'Your soulmate. I could see your quest the day I met you.' He walked over to us as I remembered that day. 'Carol wasn't it.'

'No, she wasn't.' I grimaced at the memory of my break-up with Carol. It had been rather ugly. And she left me with the sense that she was hiding something.

'But he is.' Gently, Edan took my hand and guided it to Spock's face, to fall at his meld points. 'Feel.'

And I did. Spock's affection for me came forward as soon as the meld started. And it was so much stronger than I expected. I felt an ocean where I had thought there was only a sparse desert. I felt a fierce heat where I thought there was only coldness. I found a garden of lush vines where I thought there was only a single small flower.

His feelings floored me. Literally.

The emotions flowing from Spock seemed to press down on me. They engulfed me. I felt like I was drowning.

-----------

I fell to my knees, gasping for breath. My conscious wavered and everything went black. Seconds later, I felt like I was falling through my own mind into an abyss.

And I kept falling. I couldn't stop. I fell until the abyss overwhelmed every part of me.

I screamed into the darkness.

'Jim!' A voice yelled down at me. There was desperation in the tone, almost panic. It sounded all wrong to me.

Not pausing to wonder why that would bother me, I tried to see into the darkness. I reached out, trying to find handholds, trying to climb back into the light. But it was futile. My mind slipped further.

I might have been falling for minutes, hours, or days before I landed on a hard, cold floor. I shivered as I felt the frigid temperature. This was a desolate place, dark and lonely.

But it wasn't a safe place. I realized that when I heard the pounding. Pounding steps. Something was coming toward me. Feeling vulnerable, I tried to curl up in a ball to hide myself.

The steps slowed as the being came near me. The sound became softer, more like footsteps than drums. Then a voice echoed softly through the darkness. A whisper.

'Jim? Captain?'

That voice was so familiar, so important to me that I wanted to reach out to it. I found my hand stretching out into the darkness. But I pulled it back.

That voice had hurt me. That voice had put me in this place. I had to protect myself from it. Part of me knew it could kill me.

I tried to move away, but found myself frozen to the spot I was in. 'Please, no.' My whisper was a frantic plea.

'I will chase you until the end of our lives. You will never be alone.' The voice said in my ear. But it didn't sound like the threat I had expected. It sounded...like someone reassuring a loved one that everything will be fine.

It sounded like...'Spock,' I rasped, trying to shake off the fear.

Why was I scared of him? He didn't do anything to me except...

'I attempted to open the bond,' Spock said quietly as he lifted me and helped me climb back into the light.

---------------

When I came back to the hotel room, Edan and Spock were discussing what had just happened.

Through the haze that filled my mind, I could vaguely hear Edan's voice. 'I can see why your doctor went searching for me. I can help him, don't worry. I'll have to remove the barriers he put up. Their reverberation are causing the shock.' Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him reach for me.

'Do not touch him.' Spock growled. I looked up, blinking rapidly. My head moved at my commands, but I was unable to rise or even to tell Spock that I was okay.

'I won't.' Edan straightened and backed away calmly. 'But I will need to touch both your minds if I am to help stabilize it.'

'You will tell me what you are doing before you procede.' I saw Spock bend down. Then strangely, I began to rise as he did. He was lifting me. It should have embarrassed me. But I only felt a sense of rightness that he was caring for me.

Edan bowed respectfully toward Spock. 'I will not get in between you and your bondmate.'

Bondmate? Me? But I wasn't even Vulcan...

I tried to focus on Spock's face. I tried to ask him what was going on. But my head ached. It made thinking difficult.

'All will be well, t'hy'la. We will help you.' Spock said softly as he moved me to the bed and laid next to me. After making sure I was comfortable--I could feel him probe my mind for that information--he turned to Edan. 'Were you given the details?'

'A spontaneous bond, formed before your wedding was supposed to take place. You were expecting it to break when you got married, but it didn't. And when Jim acted as if it didn't exist, you asked for help and were referred to me.'

'I was told you could help me respond to his sexual needs as well as helping him with the bond.'

'You don't need my help making love to him, my green-hearted friend. But helping him open up to you...for that I can offer assistance.' Edan sat on the bed on the other side of me. 'He's afraid of letting anyone close. He has been hurt before and is now wary. That is why his mind created the barriers.'

I wanted to protest but my body still wouldn't respond to my commands.

'That is illogical. He knows I will not hurt him.' My first officer responded as he gently ran his fingers through my hair.

'Logic is rarely considered in matters of the heart, especially by humans.' I could see Edan smile at Spock as he leaned over me.

Spock drew me away from Edan and pulled me more securely into his arms. I wanted to yell at them both to stop. This was absurd. Why was I laying here watching them fight over me?

'So that we can help you.' Spock said softly. But his mouth didn't move.

Was he talking in my mind? How? And how did he dive into my mind to save me? What, exactly was this bond?

'What?' Finally, my body was starting to respond to me. I sat up slowly, pulling away from Spock. Although his touch felt good, I needed to regain my composure and my dignity. Something that was hard to do while reclining in my first officer's arms.

'He's starting to come out of the shock.' Edan said unnecessarily. He seemed to be in my head too. I could feel something reaching, trying to open my mind.

I glared at him in frustration. If he was going invade my head, I was going to...I let my mind fill with angry thoughts to try to ward off Edan.

But I forgot Spock was in there, too. 'Jim, please stop.' My first officer held his head as if in pain.

Confused, but realizing I had an active role somewhere in this odd triad, I let go of my anger. 'Sorry.' I said, reaching out to touch Spock. But I pulled my hand back at the last second. I didn't want to cause him more pain.

I also didn't want to get caught in some psychic trap.

'It is no trap.' Spock folded his hands in front of him, not to cover his nakedness...but to appear...normal to me? 'Edan did not cause the connection between us. I did.'

'But how?' How did we get that close without either of us realizing it?

'Time, chess games, close calls with death.' The Betazoid stood up and came closer to where we were against the wall. 'In other words, life. How do any bonds develop? By contact, by communication. By caring.'

'You saw it.' I said matter-of-factly.

Edan nodded. 'From the moment I first saw Spock, I saw the bond. It's beautiful. But it's been hurting you. That's why you had the reaction you did. You've been holding it shut.'

'I what?' Suddenly feeling the urge to find another perspective, I stood up carefully. Luckily, my body had been returned to my control. 'When, exactly, did this bond form?' I turned to Spock.

'We had a preliminary link after we encountered Dr. Leighton and Anton Karidian on Planet Q.'

I blinked. 'That long ago?'

'Yes. I--'

'You what?' I asked suspiciously. He was avoiding my eyes again.

'I created a shallow connection with you at that time to monitor you in case your nightmares concerning Tarsus IV reoccured. However, without my conscious will or knowledge, it began to turn into a mating bond. I only discovered its true nature when I fought you in the kal-i-fee.' He glanced up at me at the end of his explanation.

I stared into Spock's eyes. His guilty gaze actually proved how surprised he had been. When he lies, he does a hell of a better job than this.

'Why didn't you tell me when we got back to the ship?' I asked him softly.

'You did not appear to desire anything more than friendship.'

'Because I didn't realize you wanted anything more!' I turned toward the mirror on the wall and watched my own reflection. My frustration was making me fidget.

'I should have attempted to communicate my intentions in a more human fashion.' Spock came up to his usual handbreadth behind me. But suddenly that felt like thousands of light years. So I took a half-step backwards. I sighed in relief as his arm automatically reached around my chest.

'And I should have read up on Vulcan mating rituals.' I leaned back into Spock, realizing *this* was the perspective I needed. I needed to know what it was like to be a part of a bonded pair.

Did I want to try to be part of what Spock was offering me? Oh yes. 'I'm sorry I couldn't see what you were trying to tell me.'

'I was also somewhat blinded. Dr. McCoy was the one to point out to me that I was harming both of us by...beating around the bush, as he put it. He was the one who suggested that I needed help.'

'Bones playing matchmaker? What is the universe coming to?' I chuckled. I ignored the rest of Spock's words. I didn't really want to know how Bones figured out our predicament. At least not yet. Maybe in 50 years or so...

'The situation is most disturbing.' Spock said in his usual serious tone, but somehow I could tell that he was amused. It wasn't anything on his face. I could just *tell*.

'Good.' Edan interrupted as he read my thoughts again. 'You can access the bond.' I could feel his mind reach into me to adjust something.

I had a moment of panic when I felt Edan's mind enter mine. Which, surprisingly, caused Spock's hand to shoot off of my waist and head straight for Edan's neck. 'You will cease your intrusion!'

Edan pulled out of my mind immediately and nearly fell.

This had to stop. I grabbed Spock's arm. 'T'hy'la.' I pronounced the word carefully, respectfully. 'He's just trying to help.'

How we got to this role reversal was a mystery to me. I now trusted Edan to do what Spock hired him to do. Spock now looked upon him with suspicion...because he dared to touch me.

But Spock trusted my judgement.

'I apologize,' he said to Edan, his head bowed over my shoulder.

'You did try to warn me.' Edan chuckled softly. 'Now can we try this again?' He ushered us back to the bed, where we laid down facing each other. 'What is Spock thinking, Jim?'

I searched my mind for that voice within me. The one that had comforted me, supported me, eased me into sleep on hard nights.

I had thought it was my conscience. But now I knew what it really was. It was Spock.

If I had known earlier, if I had understood, all this subterfuge wouldn't have been necessary.

That voice scolded me now. It wanted me to focus.

'He's cold, and worried. And he's reprimanding me for not paying attention.' I grinned as Spock raised an eyebrow.

Edan laughed. 'Good, good.' He sat behind me on the bed. 'Now try to send something to Spock.'

Because I was rather thirsty, I sent Spock an image of a large glass of water.

Spock immediately got up and poured me a drink from the carafe on the table beside the door. 'You should not neglect your needs so,' he said as he handed me the glass.

'I've been a little distracted.' I smiled my thanks and drank the water in a few gulps.

As I did, I could 'feel' Edan and Spock conversing, but I couldn't make out the words. 'Hey, shouldn't I be part of this conversation?'

'My apologies, Captain.' Spock adjusted something so I could hear his thoughts more clearly.

I glared at Spock. There was something wrong with him using my title when we were sitting here with no clothes on.

'Jim,' he said, trying to placate me. 'Edan is concerned that my emotions will cause you to go into shock again.'

I shook my head. 'You're in my mind. I understand that. You want me sexually. I understand that too.'

But was it anything more than that? I tried to hide the question from him, afraid of the answer.

Of course he heard it anyway. Spock had one of the highest psy ratings on all of Vulcan.

'The mating bond would not have formed spontaneously without regard to our internal states. It was the affection and attraction between us that caused it to form.'

'You mean...?' I asked hestitantly, but I shouldn't have worried. Something was being sent to me through the bond. Spock was giving me the proof I needed without words. But I wanted more.

'Must I be crude in front of an audience?' Spock raised an eyebrow. He was teasing me. He knew what I wanted.

'Yes. Please. If I hear it, I can convince myself it's true. If you think it will shock Edan too much, we can have Bones wipe his memory later.' I'm sure Spock could see the laughter in my eyes, or feel it through the bond. I could feel his laughter too. Oh, my. I amused him much more than I had realized...

But it wasn't amusement I felt from him when he said the words. 'Of course I love you.'

My whole being reacted to his declaration. My hands and mind both reached for him at the same time.

But there was something blocking me in the bond. What was that? I pushed the barrier aside.

And Edan almost fell off the bed. 'I guess I don't have to help you with that part.' He laughed as he righted himself.

'Sorry.' I blushed, causing my bondmate to chuckle in my mind.

Suddenly, I understood Spock's protectiveness. There wasn't room for three in the bond. 'Does Edan still need to be here?'

'Yes. The bond was injured by your barriers. Edan will need to monitor it as we repair it.' He sent me a few images of what the repairs would entail. I was hard in an instant.

But how were we going to do that with Edan here? I was afraid to ask, but I had to know.

'He has to watch?' I never performed for an audience before. And I certainly didn't want to now, not when I was loving my lifemate.

'He must be here, t'hy'la.' Spock whispered in my ear. I could feel his mental shields tighten around us as he gave me the privacy I desired, at least on the mental plane. 'I will not risk shock again. It is sometimes lethal.'

'I recovered from it. Shouldn't I be okay now?' I could feel Spock in my head. He could feel me. Wasn't that enough?

But Spock stopped me before I could get up and shove Edan out the door. 'No, my star. There is still cause for concern. You have not been exposed to the full force of my emotions. My father...' He paused, flushing green. 'Father said that Mother nearly went into shock their first time together. He had to call a healer afterward, as she had turned very pale and wouldn't respond to him.'

Oh. Amanda was a rather strong and even-tempered woman. If she needed help, then...

'Okay, he can watch.' I turned toward Edan. 'But stay out of the way.'

'Of course.' Edan bowed respectfully, then climbed off the bed to sit in the recliner in the corner. 'Spock, you may keep the shields up until you are ready to meld. He should be fine until then.' For a moment, he sounded like Bones. Clinical, practical.

I sighed in relief. I didn't think he was here just to be a voyeur, but it was nice to have some proof.

Spock, wanting us to have *some* privacy, pulled the covers over both of us.

But it wasn't enough for me. I knew Edan was sitting in that corner, watching us. It made me nervous.

Of course, he would have made me nervous if he had watched me have sex with Spock when Spock was blindfolded. But at that point, it had been different. Edan had invited me in. I had been grateful to have the chance to be with the man I loved.

But now I knew he didn't belong anywhere near Spock. So I had trouble ignoring him.

But as he had chased after my heart by setting all this up, and chased after my mind when I fell into shock, Spock chased after my attention.

He pursued me by doing something we do everyday. He talked about our shipmates.

He told me about Uhura's plans to take in a music festival. Scotty, as usual, was going to find the best alcohol the planet had to offer. Janice and Christine were going on a hike to find a rare flower that is said to bloom once ever fifty years...

By the time Spock asked me why McCoy would want to go to a market where they sold insects, and I explained to him that no, a flea market didn't actually sell fleas, I had completely forgotten Edan was there.

Of course, Spock had planned it that way.

Slowly, the bond began taking over my mind. I was entranced by the feelings coming from this gorgeous creature next to me. Not only could I see his love for me, I finally could see his affection for the rest of the crew. It was shocking and wonderful.

Then, as I relaxed next to him, Spock gave me an intent look and the shields he put around our minds began to lower.

----------------

Now, I've had sex plenty of times in my 35 years. I've adapted to the likes and dislikes of multiple genders and multiple species. But as Spock turned his attention to me and the attraction between us, I suddenly found myself shaking.

I felt like a sixteen year old who was making out for the first time.

How the hell was I supposed to make love to a being who wanted not only my body, but my mind as well? To me, sex was just a way to have fun, to let go.

My mind shut down during sex. That was really the only time I let it rest.

Sleep didn't really count because I had so many sleepless nights and nightmares to keep my mind busy.

So how was sex, my mind's time of repose, going to help us repair that connection in our heads?

'You have not copulated with a Vulcan before, my star. I do not believe your mind will want to remain uninvolved.' Spock put up a hand before I could argue. 'And I will help you rest when you sleep. I have seen your struggles at night, and have wished to help you for many months.'

'Thank you.' I gave him a grateful look as I reached for him.

My hand moved to his chest, then across it to his side where I could feel his heart beating. He did the same, putting his hand over my heart and closing his eyes to concentrate on feeling the blood rushing within. We both began to relax.

After a few minutes, Spock decided to move forward by putting me in control. I knew he was trying to make it easier on me. Strangely, though, his choice made things worse.

'Join us, t'hy'la,' he whispered into my ear as his hands began to wander.

'I don't know how.' I replied nervously. It was hard to enjoy his attention when he was asking me to do something that could hurt him if I did it wrong. 'You're the expert on these things.'

'Am I?' Spock raised an eyebrow but didn't stop his caresses. 'Perhaps you have more abilities than either of us know.' He kissed me softly and whispered in my ear again. 'Join us.'

'Why?' I hesitated as I automatically started to reach for his meld points. I tried to pull my hand back, but Spock gently grabbed my wrist and put my fingers in the proper places.

'So we may heal the bond.' He caressed my arm, heating my skin and tugging at my heart. It was that tug that convinced me. He made no declarations, he didn't say that I needed to do it if I loved him. He just told me that it needed to be done. That was so...Spock that I automatically reacted, with heart and mind.

I softly said the words that I've heard Spock say so many times, but contrary to my lover's assurances, nothing happened.

After trying five times, I realized something. I remembered a fact so elementary that I felt like a fool for trying this.

We were already joined. All I needed to do was let his presence into my mind.

Looking within, I examined the barriers my mind had put in the bond. I could see them blocking Spock's path to me. He could pick up signals, he could send me emotions because the barriers did not completely block the access point. But he couldn't reach me. He couldn't truly be with me because my defenes were in his way.

So I tried moving the barriers. I shoved them, trying to topple them. I tried pushing them out of the way. I even tried throwing my fists at them to break them. But they wouldn't budge.

Spock couldn't help me. The barriers wouldn't let him. They burned him when he tried.

I yelled out in frustration. Spock tried to soothe me, but his attempts at sending me comfort through the bond just frustrated me more.

Then, suddenly, Edan was there in my mind.

'Help me.' I pleaded. Edan nodded as he calmed my mind so I didn't start erecting new barriers.

After I had calmed down, we removed my defenses. Edan showed me how to touch the obstruction and think about how it was no longer necessary. As I convinced myself of this, the barrier disolved. We did this for each one. Soon, there was nothing keeping Spock away from me.

Once they were gone, Edan retreated to his sentinel position. I grabbed Spock's presence and pulled him into my mind. 'Is this 'joined' enough for you?' I smiled as Spock revealed his pride in my efforts and ultimate success in removing the barriers.

I could also feel Spock's amusement and a burning inside him that reached toward me. 'Not quite, my star. I would also have us joined in the way you have been the expert in.'

The physical. Spock expected me to guide him through the act of sex. Although my nervousness returned, I felt much more sure of being able to handle this than I had of acting on the mental plane.

That was when I got the first sense of what had nearly overtaken Spock's mother. Erotic thoughts began flooding my mind, too fast and too intense for me to catch them all. Various positions in various places, and all with this pulsing, driving *need* attached to them.

I reared back under the onslaught. Damn. Was this pon farr? No wonder he had been irritable, if that was what it felt like. But then I shook myself mentally. I could handle this. He didn't show me anything shocking. It was just the sheer volume of thoughts that had momentarily overwhelmed me.

But Spock had his doubts about this part of our relationship. 'I am sorry if it disturbs you. I am not completely recovered from the hormonal shifts.' Spock tried to shield his embarassment from me, but I wasn't having any of it. I didn't take my barriers down just so he could put his up.

I ran my fingers through his hair as I knocked his mental shield down with the technique Edan taught me. 'Then lets see if we can't speed up your recovery. What do you need?'

Spock seemed ashamed by what his body wanted, but he sent it through the bond anyway.

His request sounded logical to me. Hormones don't usually drive people to slow and loving encounters. They want the powerful, gut-wrenching type. And that's exactly what he needed: to pound me into the mattress.

But he was afraid. I could feel his fear overwhelming the connection between us.

But why?

I understood his concerns about shock. I had almost lost it earlier. That scared me too. That's why Edan was still in the room.

But his other fear had me rolling my eyes.

'You act as if I never had rough sex before.' I groused as I leaned against the headboard and examined his face. 'I know you haven't tried to pry into my personal life. But you should have been able to pick up the types of encounters I've had by the people I wandered off with.' He had seen me go with plenty of women, but I distinctly remember him raising an eyebrow before I left him to join a rather husky gentleman on Vokos.

'I am much stronger than you.' Spock said, standing up and moving away from the bed. 'I could seriously injure you.'

'So were a few of the others.' I replied, exasperated. 'Come on, Spock. You know me better than that. I can handle myself.'

'You should not have to. I am your mate. But...' Spock turned from me, trying to hide. The bond was blocked again.

'But what?' I growled, standing up. 'For God's sake, quit making me chase you!' I took the few strides needed to close in on Spock. 'Don't you think I have the right to know? Don't you think I *need* to know what's bothering you?!'

'Tell him.' Edan said softly from his recliner. 'He's right.'

At Edan's words, Spock turned to face me. I gasped at the crestfallen look on his handsome face. 'What is that terrible?' I asked softly, reaching around his waist, wanting to comfort him.

'I could...lose control.' Spock whispered. 'I could...kill you. My body still *burns*.'

---------------

I thought about this. I paced. From what Bones had said earlier, Spock was telling the truth. He was dangerous in the state his hormones put him in. But he had been able to handle being on the bridge the last few days. He had returned to his normal self. And yet...

I looked at Edan sharply. 'Do you know the answer to this one?'

Edan shook his head. 'Spock is my first Vulcan client.'

'Then I need to comm someone.'

Edan pointed to the comm unit on the desk next to him.

I took a deep breath. My bondmate wasn't going to like what I was about to do. But I didn't see any other choice.

'Spock, where is your mother right now?' I asked quietly, hoping to keep him calm.

No such luck. He turned around so fast that *I* felt my neck snap. 'No!'

'Find me a better idea then.' I kept my tone even.

He stood still for a few minutes, thinking. Finally he concluded, 'I cannot.'

'Then let me do this.' I came over to his side and ran my hand down his arm soothingly. 'We need to know how to handle this.'

Spock nodded resignedly. 'She is currently at home on Vulcan.'

I could see he was embarrassed by the situation, so I guided him to sit on the bed near Edan.

'Let me handle this. It'll only take a few minutes.' I kissed Spock softly, then put on one of the robes I saw hanging in the closet and sat in front of the comm unit. His mother answered my call promptly and with a smile on her face.

After exchanging pleasantries with Amanda, I carefully clued her in about the reason for my call. 'I need to ask you a few personal questions, about your relationship with the Ambassador. If you're willing, of course.'

The tone of my voice must have gave me away. She didn't ask why I was asking these questions. She knew. And that made it easier for both of us.

Amanda quirked her eyebrow in a good imitation of her husband and son. 'You have bonded with my son.'

I blushed bright red but nodded.

Spock's mother laughed joyously. 'I told Sarek that T'Pring wasn't the one for him. I could see that from the moment I met you. You fit with Spock like you two were made for each other.'

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Spock approach me. He was wearing the other robe I had seen in the closet. He looked at the comm screen over my shoulder. 'You approve of my choice?' He asked his mother quietly.

'Of course I do. Jim is perfect for you in so many ways. A mother can tell.' Amanda must have seen worry on Spock's face because she waved a hand at him. 'Let me deal with your father. He's just upset that T'Pring insulted you that way. Once he realizes that you found someone more 'logical', he'll give up this insane idea of finding you another wife.'

'Thank you.' I took Spock's hand in mine and caressed it gently.

'Now what do you need to know?' Amanda smiled as she noted how easily her son accepted my attention.

I was quiet for a minute while I considered how to ask a very delicate question. But then Spock took it out of my hands.

'What is his likelihood of being injured while being intimate with me?' He asked is a sharp voice. I could see he didn't like broaching the subject with his mother, but he knew it was necessary.

'Is that all?' Amanda smiled at us kindly. 'Did you have to run after him?' She asked me. 'Is that why you called?'

'Something like that.' I sighed in relief. It was good to know I wasn't the only one who has had to deal with a recalcitrant Vulcan.

Amanda turned her gaze to Spock. 'Stop that. You're not thinking. You won't hurt him. You can't.'

'But--' Spock attempted to contradict his mother, but she knew better than to let him speak.

'Try it.' Amanda insisted. 'Try to do something that would cause him pain.'

Spock looked horrified for a moment. Knowing what Amanda was trying to do, and wanting to get to the bottom of this, I grabbed his arm and started to twist it.

Of course, Spock's first instinct was to turn and twist my arm behind me. But he only got halfway before he abruptly stopped and let my hands drop. The bond spasmed. We both ended up gasping in pain for a minute before the bond settled again.

When we turned back to the comm screen, Amanda was looking rather smug. 'I trust I have proven my point. Quit running, Spock. That'll hurt him more than your physical strength ever will.'

'Yes, Mother.' The tension left him as he realized his fears were unfounded. Of course, only the smallest signs on his face showed his true feelings. But he wasn't fooling either of us, and we all knew it.

With a formal bow, my bondmate said good-bye to his mother. But not before we saw the smile in his eyes.

---------

As soon as the comm shut off, I stood up and pressed him against me. And was gratified to feel his arousal grow exponentially. 'Your mother is right. All this running is illogical.' Taking his hand, I guided him back to the bed.

'I concur.' With a gentle touch, Spock stripped me of my robe. I did the same for him before pulling him on top of me.

But when I reached to pull Spock into my mind, to share my feelings with him, I felt him hesitate. 'I do not want to overwhelm you.' He said quietly as he brushed my hair away from my face.

'He is stronger than he looks.' Edan quietly approached the bed. Seeing him there startled me. I had forgotten he was in the room.

'What do you recommend?' Spock wasn't upset by Edan's intrusion, but he did pull the covers over us to shield us...*me* from the Betazoid's gaze.

Edan ignored Spock's not-so-subtle hint that this interference should be hands-off. 'You know how to do this without overwhelming Jim, Spock. You have been doing it for years.'

'Doing what?' I asked curiously.

'Filtering the information he gives you.' Edan kneeled next to the bed and directed his gaze to Spock. 'All you have to do is treat your emotions as if they were reports you need to give your captain.'

I didn't quite understand what he meant, but I could see that Spock was intrigued by the idea. 'You will monitor Jim?' He asked after a moment of contemplation.

'Of course.' Edan said softly, turning to sit against the mattress and closing his eyes. 'And no, Jim, I will not watch. Although I imagine your first time will be stunning.'

I was glad he couldn't see me blush. But Spock's quirked eyebrow was enough to have me turning redder.

My bondmate chose to take his time joining our minds. I could feel him releasing his emotions, his pride in me, his affection, into our connection carefully, in small bursts. I understood that he felt the need for caution, but this was ridiculous. He was treating me as if I was a child.

I didn't want to feel 'affection'. I wanted to know how I made him *burn*. So I reached into his mind and pursued the emotion until I found it's origin.

And I burned with him.

I could hear Edan's delighted laugh, but I pushed it aside as I rolled on top of Spock with a growl. 'How could you keep this from me?' I accused as I slid my body against his.

'But Mother..'

'Was probably just surprised, like I was earlier. But I know you, Mister. I know the depths that hide under that mask of yours.' To prove my point, I nipped at his neck and revelled in the groan that resulted.

He still hesitated, so I moved my mouth down his chest, letting him feel how much I wanted to do this, how much I needed to feel what it did to him.

I kept it up until Spock's emotional wave crashed over me. It pulled me down into it. I drowned willing until it receded and left me gasping.

'Oh yes...' I groaned. I shuddered and clutched Spock to me. If I could have that every day, I would never have to orgasm again.

But Spock wanted more. His demand, his need drove through the bond with a force that had me breathless.

Remembering his request for my expertise, I ran my hand across his abdomen until I could fondle his cock gently.

'I need...' Spock gasped as he arched into me, his body demanding all I could give.

So I gave him everything: my hands, my mouth, my body. And now that he understood that I could handle the intensity of his feelings, he let them flow freely through the bond.

The explosion, when it came, was mindblowing. As we shuddered in release, I fell into my bondmate's dark eyes.

And didn't wake until the morning.

----------

When I next opened my eyes, I did so because the furnace at my back was overheating me.

Said furnace, hearing my complaint through the bond, woke enough to move a few inches away from me to allow my body to cool. I grabbed his hand so he didn't stray too far, then looked around the room.

And my eyes met Edan's smile.

He put his finger to his lips as he gathered his things. 'Let the commander sleep. I don't think he's gotten a decent amount of rest since he started his pursuit of you.' He whispered.

He grabbed the cloak Spock was wearing yesterday and put it on. 'The room is paid for until the end of your shore leave. Use it with my blessing.'

'Where are you off to now? Another exotic client?' I asked quietly.

Edan grinned. 'I had such a good time with the two of you that I've decided to reward the one who brought me to you. Leonard looks like he is in desperate need of some relaxation.'

Leonard...McCoy? I turned my head to look behind me at the man who had come to mean everything to me. He was awake and he must have heard Edan's words because his eyebrow almost reached the top of his head.

I had to laugh. Bones approaching a prostitute, even a high class one, for help must have been a sight to see. But he did it, and his plan succeeded.

He deserved Edan's services. Hell, I would pay for him to stay a few extra days if that's what Bones wanted.

But right now I had my own plans, and they all involved being close to my bondmate. So I turned into his arms.

And the door gently shut.

-
end of story