Notes: Part of the Keeping Love series, and sequel to 'Salt.'

Disclaimer: I do not Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.

Spock rose from meditation and instantly processed the heavy, warm aroma of spices: Kirk had returned.

He took his time, unfolding himself from the mat gracefully and changing into the heavy, dark sweatpants that had become comfort clothing, almost, throughout his recovery. In a fit of almost Human sentimentality, he obtained one of Kirk's white t-shirts from his bags and slipped into that as well, surrounding himself with the man's smell.

He padded out into the rest of the apartment - although the term was generous. On their return to San Francisco, Starfleet had set them up with an apartment on the campus of Starfleet Academy, originally designed for married cadets or officers, hundreds of whom were now dead and buried without dignity in the recesses of space.

The apartment, then, was merely a bedroom, a bathroom that struggled to accommodate both the toilet and the shower (water only, to Spock's muted disgust) and a kitchen that only qualified as a living area due to the couch crammed into one corner of it.

His gloomy observation lifted marginally, however, when Kirk turned from the kitchen counters and offered that smile.

"Hey," he said, abandoning his chopping and crossed the ten feet of space between them to catch Spock's face in his hands and kiss him quickly. "Everything go alright?"

"There was only minor discomfort," Spock allowed, raising his hand to brush a small kiss over the back of Kirk's fingers.

"Good," Kirk said firmly, kissing him again - slower, sweeter, more relaxed - before backing up and drawing him across to the kitchen to talk while Kirk cooked. "Homemade. I'll try not to burn the place down, but I figured we could use something better than replicated cubes today."

"I see."

"No mushrooms, I promise," Kirk snickered, throwing a handful of chopped onion into a frying pan. The haphazard methods of cooking had always eluded Spock, and he watched in strange fascination. "So I was talking to Bones today and he said they'd called him up for your hearing tomorrow."

Spock stiffened.

It was - no matter how the fleet dressed it up as routine procedure and no reflection on your performance and for your best interests - a competency hearing. They wished to assess if everything he had lost had affected his ability to do his job, and for once both sides of Spock's heritage were in complete agreement.

He did not want to do this.

"...asked if we were linked. Mentally. I mean, I know we're not bonded, but - are we? Linked?" Kirk asked.

"There is..." Spock hesitated. "There is a very light link, yes."

"How light?"

"I would," he almost flinched, but suppressed it, "feel it if you were killed."

"But I wouldn't?" Kirk guessed quietly.



"It is a natural part of Vulcan telepathy, to attempt to connect with other minds, especially those with which we are in continual contact..." Spock found himself rushing to explain, and without much notion as to why.

"Hey," Kirk abandoned the pan to reach over and squeeze his fingers. "Hey, hey. It's okay. I'm know, I'm not mad or anything. I just want what's good for you; I'm not telepathic. Links don't mean anything to me. But if they're good for you, then okay. It's just, you know, Bones asked and I didn't know what to tell him."

Spock returned the grip for a brief moment, and said nothing.

"Are you sure you don't want me there tomorrow?" Kirk asked quietly.

"It is unlikely that they would permit it," Spock said. "Such hearings are usually closed; in any case..."

"It wouldn't reflect well on your capability," Kirk murmured, and sighed. "Alright. But - comm me when you're done with it, and I'll come and meet you. We'll take the afternoon off - go round the park or find a spot overlooking the bay or something."

"That would be..." Spock began, then trailed off and simply nodded.

"Hey," Kirk murmured, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek reassuringly. "It'll be fine. Even if they do restrict your duties or something, it won't be permanent. It'll be fine."

"Humans often make such claims when they have no evidence to support them," Spock murmured, and Kirk snorted.

"Yeah, but I do have evidence," he said.

"Which is?"

"It'll be temporary, for one. Just until you're better - and you are getting better, anyone can see it. And for another, no matter what they say, it's not going to split us up," Kirk shrugged. "I'm not leaving you."


"I'm not leaving you, and that's final," he said sternly, before turning off the oven. "Plates?"

"This is not a court martial, Commander," Commodore Zielinski had said when the proceedings had begun. "It's all just informal proceedings; nothing big, nothing stressful. You're not on trial here."

If a trial was not their intention, Spock sourly thought that they could have operated the entire affair more efficiently.

Being held in the Washington Atrium was, for a start, reminiscient of court martials. The Atrium was a former courtroom that had been bought by Starfleet early on in its existence, for the very purpose of military trials. The rooms were inaccessible to spectators and the military, allowing classified information to be voiced in proceedings, and were set out to the format of military hearings more so than civilian or criminal ones.

Which meant that Spock had been seated in front of a panel of three senior members of Starfleet, and forced to listen to testimony on his fitness for duty from a stream of personnel - the doctor that had initially examined him on the USS Yaxley, all four of the psychiatrists that he had been strong-armed into seeing upon their return to Earth, and the droning of Zielinski's overly sweet voice as she read, aloud, the reports produced by his psychiatric tests.

It may not have been a trial, but it felt like one: prodded and poked, his every - "telepathic stability" - motion and movement examined through critically impersonal Human eyes. They spat out meaningless phrases - "process of grieving" - as though they were reasons, and analyses steeped in Human bias. They tore him open with condescending and often contradictory - "concerns of fitness in a crisis situation" - statements that were drowning in their own emotions, in how Humans would react to such things.

"The patient does not express the impact that the loss of Vulcan must have had - emotionally, that is," one woman - Dr. Ebrushka, if Spock remembered correctly - voiced, as though he were a man in a psychiatric ward refusing to acknowledge the existence of the nurses.

Commodore Zielinski, of the too-sweet voice and the breed of civilian personnel that believed in what Kirk had always called "fluffy liberalism" - gentle exploratory lifestyles among the stars, and officers of open emotions with their hearts on their sleeves and peaceful ideology in their minds - was making frantic notes on her papers, and Spock noted it with dispassion.

"I think that..." she began, as Dr. Ebrushka stepped down.

"A moment, Rachel," Fleet Captain Petch interrupted. "Dr. Hanley, please step forward."

Hanley was the CMO of the Yaxley, but Spock only vaguely remembered him through the walls of agonising pain that had rushed to greet him when Vulcan had died. He was a short, balding man with a ruddy face and unusual, shockingly purple hair that suggested either alien ancestry, or a severe lack of taste and disdain for uniform regulations.

"You are the medical officer with the most experience in handling Vulcans in the imminent aftermath," Petch said. "You also saw to the Commander before he was returned to the Enterprise and the care of Dr. McCoy. I have two questions for you: firstly, in comparison to other Vulcans that you treated, what was the Commander's condition?"

"Moderate," Hanley said flatly. "He was non-functional due to the telepathic overload and severe medical shock, but he could and did recognise his surroundings and the people with him. After the initial wave of pain wore off, he could obey simple commands, which is more than can be said for at least half of the Vulcans I treated."

"And secondly, what was the core problem?"

Hanley snorted. "Not emotional, if that's what you're getting at."

"Elaborate," Zielinski's sweet voice had hardened somewhat.

"Vulcans are telepathic and constantly linked to each other. We're not talking emotional pain, here. I'd hope that did come later, or the man's a psychopath, but that wasn't the immediate problem. The loss of probably every link in the man's life would have caused immense and physical pain. We lost several patients due to bleeding on the brain or severe epileptic seizures. They were brain-damaged, Captain, every last one of them, the Commander included."

"Right," Petch said calmly. "And now?"

Hanley shrugged. "You'd have to look at his medical records. I haven't seen him or heard of his case until now."

"But your professional assessment is that his non-functionality was due to a physical impairment to his brain, rather than emotional compromise?"


"Thank you."

Zielinski frowned and leaned over to whisper into Petch's ear. Spock eyed her warily, unsure of her motives. It was quite clear that she wished to gravitate the assessment towards his emotional state, but he could not imagine to what end.

"Dr. McCoy, step forward please," the third member of the panel - Commodore Cavendish - called over the furious whispers. "You were Commander Spock's duty physician for the entirety of his tenure aboard the Enterprise, and from the point at which he transferred back to the Enterprise after the loss of the Hellenica?"

"Yes, sir."

"You have ceritification in Vulcan xenobiology from Starfleet Medical Institute?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you agree with Dr. Hanley's opinion regarding brain damage to the Vulcan survivors, including the Commander?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you agree that the Commander was also emotionally compromised?" Zielinski interjected.

"Yes, ma'am, once he was allowed to be."

"Allowed to be, doctor?" Petch demanded.

"Commander Spock - and indeed any of the Vulcans I treated - was immediately preoccupied with the telepathic damage. It rendered the majority of them non-functional and non-responsive. The Commander was responsive to his partner, but only with considerable effort. I kept taking regular scans, and once his telepathic centres began to repair themselves, he began to experience emotional outbursts."

"Of what nature?" Zielinski demanded.

"Well, he didn't haul off and slap an ensign, if that's what you're getting at," McCoy drawled, and scowled at her almost belligerently. "He reacted as any normal person with a soul would have done, ma'am. He was short-tempered, restless, and veered between argumentative and upset at any given time."

"Dr. McCoy," Cavendish spoke over Zielinski. "If you would give us your professional opinion on Commander Spock's medical and mental state at this time?"

McCoy straightened. "Without a close physical and psychiatric examination, neither of which I have been privy to, I could not definitively do so - however, from speaking with the Commander and his partner regularly since the attack, I have seen a marked improvement in his mental wellbeing and stability."

"Would you recommend that he is restored to active duty?" Petch asked, as he had of every one of the medical staff traipsed through the proceedings.

Spock saw the trap coming.

"I would, sir."

"Would you recommend that he is restored to unlimited active duty, without proviso?"

McCoy - hesitated.

His eyes slid sideways to glance at Spock, and Spock caught the apology in them without hearing a word.

"I would hesitate to do so, sir," McCoy said slowly.

"On what grounds?" Cavendish asked mildly.

" not believe that the Commander is fully equipped to deal with the heightened stress levels and crisis situations of the front line as yet," McCoy said carefully.

There was a short, sharp pause, in which Spock knew the verdict had been made.

"Thank you, doctor, you may leave," Petch said.

Zielinski shuffled her notes quite deliberately until McCoy had taken his seat, then smiled over her glasses at Spock as though addressing a small child.

"You will hear our decision by the end of the working week," she said.

He knew it already.

Spock was halfway back - across the great green expanse of a courtyard that had once been heaving with cadets but now stood quiet - to the loaned apartment before he heard running footsteps and Kirk fell into stride with him.

"Hey," he said cautiously. "How did it go?"

"As I had expected."

Kirk winced. "So...why are you heading back to the apartment? If we go out, take your mind off it, then..."

"I do not wish to have socialise, and..."

"Hey, okay," Kirk soothed. He did not reach out, here in public, but he quickened his pace as they rounded the corner and came into sight of their temporary housing. "If you want to hole up for a bit, that's okay too."

"I need to meditate."

"Ah," Kirk stopped him then, with a light hand on his wrist that projected familiar warmth, and a curl of seeping worry. "Okay, stop it. You don't get to go off and shut down on me. We talked about shutting me out."

"I do not wish to..." Spock struggled.

"Just you and me for a bit?" Kirk coaxed, ducking slightly to peer at him in that way that Spock supposed was meant to be appealing - and was not entirely unsuccessful.

"We cannot afford - you cannot afford - to take more time away from Starfleet."

"For you, I can," Kirk said seriously, and shook his head. "Not what I meant anyway - just for the afternoon. Get a flash shuttle out to the Riverside ports. Mom's visiting her sister in New York, and I still have keys. Show you where I grew up. Just you, me and the corn."

Spock hesitated. The idea - to get away, to do something frivolous with the man that cared quite this much for him - was appealing, but even if he no longer had duties, Kirk did...

"C'mon," Kirk pleaded, deliberately beginning to exaggerate things now. "Please? I'll even throw in some awful baby pictures that my Mom keeps specially to show anybody I bring home."

"Very well," Spock capitulated.

Kirk beamed, and visibly restrained himself from kissing him in public, instead turning almost sharply towards their building and muttering something about an overnight bag. When the door of the apartment door clicked shut behind them, Spock took a moment from the privacy to brush their fingertips together, and caught a flash of bright white love that burst between them with startling vigour.

Kirk clasped his hand and offered a smile as he unlocked the door. "There's an attic room with a double bed."

Spock tilted his head. "I believe you suggested the afternoon."

"First shuttle back is seven in the morning," Kirk shrugged. "We can take the morning too. Plenty of time. Plus, it gets cold up there in March, and there's about a zillion blankets, and it means I can shamelessly plaster myself all over you."

"You do so regardless of the temperature."

"Touché, but this sounds more selfless."

"To whom? As I understood the proposal, it was to remain between you and I alone."

"To my conscience," Kirk snorted. "C'mon, help me pack an overnight bag. With warm clothing for you, so we can go wander the cornfields and I can tell all those crappy ghost stories that I totally didn't believe when I was six."

It was a distraction of inane talk and little else, and Spock recognised it for what it was - and yet regardless, it eased and calmed his turbulence as surely as meditation would have done, and he reached to touch Kirk's hand lightly before he retreated to the bedroom to pack.

"Thank you," he said.

Kirk simply smiled.

Spock had never been to Iowa. In his own Academy training, the Riverside ports had not been mandatory for all cadets - the Arizona ports were been more important for science-track cadets, and so Iowa had not been recommended for his specialism.

Despite a lack of familiarity with the place, he remained uninterested in the views during their descent - one flat plain was much like another - and during the majority of their journey. Riverside was not a particularly pretty town, and had grown rapidly after the establishment of the spaceport. Many of the houses were rapid-builds: square, squat and displeasing to the eye.

The Kirk house, however, was not.

The Kirk house was on the older side of the town: it was not especially old (perhaps eighty years or so) but built in the style of the last pre-modern homes: a series of squashed boxes smashed together to form a building, with old-style doors and windows, and no electronic security system. It even had old-fashioned keys, which Kirk rattled loudly as they stepped in.

"Mom?" he yelled, dropping their bags on the kitchen floor (the illogic of a front door opening into a kitchen was not lost on Spock) but abandoned the endeavour quickly. "Yep, she's always. So. Welcome to my old house."

He promptly sneezed and grimaced.

"She hasn't dusted."


"Okay, I'm going to ramp up the fire - not real, but it blasts out a good heat - and you keep your coat on until I do because she never leaves the basic heating cycle on in here."

Indeed she did not: the house was remarkably colder than outside, and while Spock toed off his boots out of polite respect for another's domicile, he was quietly pleased that Kirk had commanded him to keep the coat.

The house was not a large one: a brief exploration of the lower levels showed a kitchen based in oak furnishings, a weak personal replicator adorning a unit above a pantry and a cold storage unit, and a main living area of squashy, hideously pink couches, a dominating television, and oak spiral stairs that rose out of one corner and into the ceiling.

The fireplace dominated the east well, and Kirk rose from it as a blast of heat was flung from it, like opening an oven door.

"There," he said. "Okay, c'mon, coat off - and grand tour. There's not a lot to see, really, but I can lift the delivery adverts from the study and pretend I still know all those numbers by heart."

"That would not be impressive."

"Guess not," Kirk grinned, drawing him by the hand into a quick kiss before tugging him over to the staircase. "Don't worry, I know that Raj's is still open, and they make a mean vegetarian curry."

"I do not wish for a meal to be cruel."

"Pedantic," Kirk teased. His hand, where it still clasped Spock's, transmitted pure affection: little pulsing waves, like a heatbeat. It was comfortable.

It was clear to see, on the upper level of the house, where the bedrooms of Winona Kirk's sons had been: one had been transformed into a plain guest room (at least, that was Spock's assumption, as he was led to believe that Humans typically personalised their living spaces more than than the cream-and-white room allowed) and the other into a cramped study, overflowing with papers and old-fashioned books. Between Winona's bedroom and a small bathroom rose another spiral staircase, and Kirk drew him up again, still by the hand, into the attic room.

The attic was exposed: the bare roof hung low over the room, and heating units were crowded into each of the four corners of the room. It was also small, and entirely dominated by an iron-framed double bed, covered with over ten inches deep with blankets, quilts and sheets. There was no further furniture, bar a small naked lamp on a shabby-looking table by the left side of the bed, and yet it was...

It was oddly...homely. It was a room that appeared lived in, in a way that the ugly furnishings and bare tidiness of the house below was not.

"It gets cold up here at night, so you're officially banned from the rest of the room," Kirk grinned, tugging Spock over to the bed. "This bed is, like, magic or something. It doesn't ever get cold in there."

"Is that a guarantee?"

"Yep," Kirk said, drawing him into a long, languid kiss in which he moulded himself to every inch of Spock's body - and then twisted them and pushed so that Spock landed on his back on the mattress, arms coming up automatically to catch and secure Kirk above him.


"No, I know," Kirk agreed, kissing his way up one pointed ear. "I know, you're not relaxed enough to try that. But I've fantasised about kissing you in this bed, and damn it, I'm going to do it."

When he proceeded to do just that, Spock allowed it, curling his arms over Kirk's waist and back and felt the idle flex of muscle and life under his hands. Nyota had once described Kirk as a mess, and perhaps it was true, but that mess was full of such strange, energetic life that Spock could not help but be entrapped and fascinated by it, drawn into the light that waited for him, and the seemingly limitless emotion that reached out for him whenever he came close enough to feel it.

Kirk's mouth worked at his lips, chapped and familiar - and he was not perfect, but he was more than adequate all the same.

Spock stirred when the coccoon of intense Human heat burst, and a stubble-roughened kiss was pressed into his temple.

"Ssh," Kirk murmured. "S'early. M'just goin' for a shower."

Spock let him slip free, curling into the warm patch that he left behind on the mattress. It smelled of him, and Spock shamelessly transferred himself to Kirk's pillow as well, burying himself in the heat and the smell and the comfort, illogical as it was.

If love was tangible, then this was it, and he basked in it, dozing lightly in a most reprehensible manner and strangely uncaring of the fact - and when he idly examined that not-care, he found it, too, wrapped up in Kirk.

The air outside the nest of sheets and blankets was chill; mid-March pierced the exposed attic room to an uncomfortable degree, and the pipes groaned under the floorboards in complaint of Kirk's decision. Spock felt no inclination to move: let Kirk expose himself to the chill air and the unnecessarily unpleasant water shower if he pleased, but Spock was quite comfortable, lethargically so.

So much so that when Kirk's tread creaked on the attic stairs again, Spock stirred from a half-doze, similar to the first layer of meditation, and broke back into full awareness when Kirk, dressed in fresh boxers and nothing else, scrubbing his fair hair dry with a paper-thin towel, sat on the side of the bed.

"Lazy," he teased, and Spock curled deeper into the blankets, away from the chill. "You were totally asleep."

"I was meditating."

"No you weren't," Kirk dropped the towel onto the chair in the corner and tweaked up enough of the sheets to slide back into the warmth. His skin was still faintly damp and flushed with shower-heat. "You were asleep. All relaxed and dozing. It was gorgeous."

He pressed in for a kiss; he had not shaved, and the stubble rasped at the edges of Spock's mouth. He brought his fingers up in a long-denied fantasy to stroke along the growth, catching the roughness and sending sharp sparks of burning, branding lust skittering down his hands and arms.

"Jim..." he breathed.

"Expecting someone else?" Kirk quipped, spreading out over him, flushed skin to skin. He was not aroused - yet, at least - but the lights and the faintest wraps of attentive lust began to seep from his skin. He explored - with his tongue, probing deep into Spock's mouth, and with his hands, digging into all the crevices that had not received such attention in so long, relearning his old paths.

Kirk did not typically drag out foreplay, and so Spock found himself vaguely confused by the prolonged kissing, and the almost absent thumbing of his nipples between wide, random strokes over the rest of his upper body. He had almost convinced himself that Kirk had nothing much sexual in mind, when Kirk's right hand began to head south and found its way into his boxers.

"Jim...Jim, I..."

"Ssh, it's okay," Kirk soothed, nipping at his lower lip. "Come on, baby, that's it."

His fingers were deft and skilled, stroking light, fleeting touches to the underside of his cock until the half-hard interest swelled between them and he could wrap a fist around it. The lust was thicker now, but still...oddly muted, unrecognisably so, and allowing him to breathe...

"S'it, sweetheart," Kirk murmured, lapping kisses to the seams of his mouth. "Focus on me, that's it."

"Jim," Spock whispered as his hips gave an involuntary jerk and began to match the rhythm of Kirk's hand. Even as his mind began to struggle with the overwhelming sensation, his body knew what to do, and he found himself reaching for Kirk in a semi-desperate plea. "Jim, please, I cannot..."

"Ssh, it's okay, you can," Kirk murmured, clasping Spock's hand with his free one and bringing them up to that rough jaw. "Focus on me, on what I'm doing, how I feel. Focus on me, sweetheart, just me..."

He drew himself with effort from the telepathic abyss, and wrapped his attention around the rasp of that stubble and the darts of pleasure it produced. He felt the calluses on Kirk's damp palm, and the powerful flex of his spine, and the light-laden kisses - fleeting, darting, tricky kisses - that drew him out and dropped him again, time and time again, a rhythm as sure as his hands, over and over and overandoverand...

He came almost unexpectedly, every thought pattern bursting in that short pause of empty, transcendental bliss, his mind leaking out from every pore without a care for what lay there, and burying itself in the self-satisfied, light-soaked love that poured from Kirk in equal measure. He grasped for purchase, chest heaving through the strange eye of the hurricane that was orgasm, and emerged from the churning water to Kirk's blue eyes and warm, certain hands.

"Oh," Kirk whispered, and kissed him again - fleeting and gentle, a clasp of lip rather than a proper kiss. "Oh, I forgot just how gorgeous you look when you come."

He curled into the warmth of Kirk's body, sighing into his neck and feeling his fragmented mind coming together again - and so easily, nothing like the panicked attempts that had gone before.

"Pretty sure if you could hear my thought processes right now, it would just be this running loop of mine," Kirk murmured, broad hands rubbing into his shoulder blades and back, calm and affectionate.

" did not..."

Kirk chuckled. "Er, no. I, er, figured you were freaking because you couldn't handle my sexual lust and yours, so I jerked off in the shower."

Spock blinked, and Kirk kissed the nearest ear.

"It worked. We can work our way back up from here," he said.

"...Most logical."

"Thanks," Kirk said, shifting and settling back into the mattress, arms still locked around Spock, dragging him deeper into the warm coccoon. "C'mon. Let's catnap."

"I am not a..."

"Spock, just do it."

"Admit it: I am the god of last-minute shuttle tickets," Kirk bragged.

The shuttle back to San Francisco was not the cramped Starfleet-issue pod that their shuttle out had been, but a spacious civilian pod designed for businessmen and ambassadorial parties from the lesser planets, and thus had not only cushioned seats, but leg room and soundproofing to dampen the noise from the engines.

"I do not think so," Spock returned flatly, eyeing the empty expanses of Iowan fields as the shuttle rose from the port and turned west.

"Pft," Kirk snorted. "Oh God. Now that is a stewardess."

Spock glanced up; as far as he could tell, the woman was a standard-issue blonde that usually frequented shuttles on the predominantly Human routes.

"I fail to ascertain the reason for your interest."

"Boobs," Kirk said flatly. "The one downside to you. No breasts."

"Technically speaking..."

"No proper breasts," Kirk interrupted. He was still staring at the stewardess, and Spock frowned minutely.

"Jim, are you attempting to generate feelings of jealousy on my part?"

"Is it working?"


"Aw," Kirk actually pouted - which looked ridiculous - and then chuckled, leaning over the armrest for a kiss. "But I'm tired of being the only jealous one."

"That, I believe, is your problem and not mine."

"Bitchy," Kirk chuckled, kissing him again. "How do I know you love me if you refuse to get jealous over me checking out hot stewardesses?"

"Firstly, I do not get jealous because I happen to have been made acutely aware that you feel an extreme level of commitment to our relationship and are unlikely to deliberately flirt with third parties at the risk of said relationship. Secondly, your sexual track record contains no stewardesses."

"...Do I even want to know how you know that?"

"Much more than emotion can be transmitted in a meld."

Kirk groaned. "Oh fuck me, I am not asking what else you know."

"That would be wise."

Kirk rolled his head back against the headrest and chuckled, slotting his hand into Spock's on the armrest and squeezing affectionately. "I'm fucked."


"Why did I take leave of my senses and get involved with you? That girl? She'd be far less sarcastic."

"To answer that question, I would have establish why I 'took leave' of my own intellect and accepted your offer. Furthermore: she is a Human female, and in my experience, they are very familiar with the Human art of sarcasm."

Kirk lifted his head again and frowned. "And how many Human females are you experienced with?"

"Are you experiencing jealousy?"

Kirk blinked, then cursed and dropped his head back again.

"I hate you."

"I do not believe so."

"Yeah. Yeah I do. I really, really do," Kirk said, and smiled.

The reprieve was extremely short-lived; it broke the following morning.

He woke to the notice on his personal padd, glowing under a Starfleet logo and carrying the electronic signatures of Petch, Zielinski and Cavendish, as well as the less familiar one of the current Head of Starfleet Medical, Dr. Jan Zahradnik.

The words were...a blur. Little more than a blur, beyond the veil of his vision, the letters smashing into one another and forming circles as if trying to mimic High Vulcan - the strange loops and lines and whorls that had once pocked Father's clan robes on visits to the Katric...

"Sweetheart, let go. Let go..."

The padd was tugged persistently free, and he felt Kirk's arms close around him. He had not known him to be awake; he had...

"Spock, no. No. Don't do this..."

He jolted from the sharp smack to the cheek, and tugged himself free of Kirk's grip again.

"Don't shut me out," Kirk said, reaching from him again, but Spock rose from the couch and turned back towards the bedroom.

"I must meditate," he said.

"Hang on. Hang on," Kirk snapped, catching at his arms. "Just stop a second. What did they say?"

"It is there."

"Tell me yourself."

"It is there."

"Tell me."

"There is nothing to say," Spock said quietly. "The doctors made their recommendations, and Zielinski made her Human pronouncements, and that is all there is to it."

"Tell. Me."

"I am being demoted, where I will not be responsible for fish, never mind the careers and lives of the personnel in my department, and shuttled to a research post on a station or a planetside base. Now I must meditate."

"They what?" Kirk exploded, spinning to find the abandoned padd.

Spock slipped back into the bedroom, and shut the door.

Anger. Anger - burning, burning anger so hot it felt like the surface of the Vulcan sun (illogical) in the middle of the middle summer (it would not make a difference). Pure, white-hot rage (Earth's sun, perhaps - also illogical, disregard) against them all, including Dr. McCoy, for the most illogical reason of having done their jobs and nothing more. Anger even at Kirk, which had no basis in his actions or reality at all. Shame for (-temporarily downgraded to Lieutenant-Commander so that the stresses of commanding a department-) feeling that at all; shame for having wronged Kirk, and worse, for keeping him pinned to a planetside posting if he insisted upon this path of staying with him rather than returning to the Enterprise.

He could not...he could not...

He broke from meditation roughly, unable to shift through the tumult of feeling, and rose from the mat, even angry at himself for failing to compose himself and process this turn of events. He had seen it coming; why was this generating so much anger?

Kirk was in the main room; he could hear him speaking, in loud and angry tones, on his personal communicator, and Spock knew that to bring them together both enraged would spell disaster.

"Have you any idea what this will do to him?"

He closed his eyes, selected upon the fit (yet again) of Human sentimentality that struck him, and turned to Kirk's bags. He kept a pair of pyjama bottoms and a sleep shirt for the ship during emergencies, to avoid having to report naked to a red alert, and Spock pulled them free of the confines of the bag. They smelled of Kirk, and he curled himself into them (and onto Kirk's side of the bed) breathing heavily through his nose to capture the smell and trying to calm himself through its meagre comfort.

-assigned to a planetside research post rather than transient ship post, on the recommendation of Dr. Leonard H. McCoy, M.D., to avoid battle situations and other primary fleet situations-

His chest burned and shook; he was torn between the extreme emotional reactions of flying into a rage, or dissolving into vapid, empty depression, and split from head to toe with the shame of feeling either urge. He was lost, cast adrift in a raging sea of his own feelings - and this was the violent past of his people, this, this rage, this anger, he could do anything here...

He curled in on himself, filled his senses with Kirk's smell, and shivered.

He woke - surprised to find that he had slept, with no memory of having done so, but unsurprised for the mere fact that emotions were draining experiences - to darkness outside the window, and very faint strains of music from the main room. The bedroom door was wide open; Kirk had been in, but Spock could not remember his presence.

His anger had cooled somewhat, to leave strong currents of shame and - loneliness. He felt isolated, somehow torn out of his own life, and he opted, rather than attempt another meditation session, to reach for Kirk's bathrobe (for warmth and the smell) and step out into the cooler atmosphere of the main room.

"Hey," Kirk was sprawled on the couch, scrolling through a padd. He abandoned it on the coffee table as Spock approached, and made a surprised sound when Spock gave in to that strange loneliness and proceeded to sit between Kirk's spread legs and drape his body weight out over the couch and Kirk's chest.

His heartbeat was loud under his breastbone, and when his feet drew up on the couch cushions to bracket Spock's body with his knees, the ache of loneliness began to ease.

"Hey," Kirk murmured, pressing a kiss into the top of Spock's head. "I checked in on you earlier, but you were out like a light."

"I...experienced a powerful emotional reaction."

"I'm hardly surprised," Kirk muttered. "I 'experienced' a couple myself. I'm going to kill Bones."

"He was..."

"Only doing his job, I know, but he knows as well as I do that you do best in a high-pressure environment," Kirk muttered darkly. The hand stroking rhythmically up and down Spock's arm was a soothing counteraction to his tone. "This isn't going to help you, and damn it, I'm not standing for it."

"It is a fully-approved assessment..."

"I've already filed for a re-assessment by psychiatrists qualified in Vulcan xenopsychiatry, not those quacks that you had to talk to, and I've been bending Pike's ear about it too. He's pretty pissed himself; he's going to see what he can do."

"He is only a Captain," Spock said. The draining of his anger had left him...empty, almost lethargic, and he felt too heavy in Kirk's arms. It was illogical, and he did not care. "There is very little that he can do."

"But he's seen you and worked with you and knows you, a hell of a lot better than they do," Kirk urged. He sighed heavily, and kissed the top of Spock's head again. "If...if I'm brutally honest, I don't think you're quite ready for the Enterprise again yet, but this? This is ridiculous. If they thought you were that sick, they should have just granted medical leave. This isn't going to help anything."

Spock said nothing, turning his face into the crook of Kirk's neck and inhaling.

"I'll sort it out, baby," Kirk mumbled, kissing the side of his head. "I promise, I'll sort it out. Trust me."

"I always trust you."

"Yeah," he could hear the smile. "Yeah, you do. Hey. What's this?" he added, plucking at the bathrobe. "Why do you keep stealing my clothes? Not that I mind or anything, but they're kinda loose on you."

"They are a comfort."

There was another pause, before Kirk folded both arms tightly around him, kissed his temple again, and fell quiet.

He heard Kirk coming before the key even hit the lock; the thunder of footsteps up the stairwell was telling, and the crash of a missed key scraping off the doorframe before hitting its target, and then he tumbled into the apartment as though being chased by an army of doctors with hyposprays.

"Okay," Kirk said, throwing his bag onto the couch and pinning Spock up again the kitchen counters, hands braced either side of his hips. "So. I talked to Pike - no, wait, I screamed at Pike and he screamed at Zielinski and then I yelled at Bones a bit too, because..."

"Jim, what...?"

"Okay," Kirk interrupted. "Pike wrangled a deal with Petch - Petch wasn't pleased with the decision, and Cavendish was swayed by a couple of provisos on our part, and I have no more favours to call from Pike, but - okay. Here's a deal - a maybe deal."

Spock blinked.

"I've wrangled us a posting together," Kirk blurted out. "The Sophia Ana - her Captain is approaching retirement, so it's not a significant upset to my career, and she's a science vessel on long-term duty in the Karovios system. It's not, you know, exploring the universe, but it's not planetside either and it'll let you recover without backsliding too much - at all, okay, you're not allowed to..."

"Jim, I..."

"There are a couple of things," Kirk interrupted again. "You have to agree to a full re-assessment in eighteen months - that's how long the contracts are, by the way, and if you don't pass the re-assessment, they'll ground you."

"I see."

"And you're, uh..." Kirk flushed.


"Look, I didn't know which option you would prefer, so, um...either you can be a Lieutenant-Commander and still go on away teams, or you can take over the department and remain a Commander, but you're frozen shipside until the ship's doctor clears you for full duty, and only then after a minimum of four months."


"Spock?" Kirk ducked a little, trying to catch his eye fully. "Hey. Spock? Is that...?"

"Jim, how did you manage to...?"

"Spock, are you kidding? Pike was nearly as mad as me. He just about blew a gasket."

"I should hope not."

Kirk's anxious face broke into a wide smile, and he kissed Spock almost sharply, a tiny burst of light passing across his lips. "So - full Commander, or a step back?"

"I would...I do not believe the workload of stepping down would be sufficient to keep me..." Spock searched for the word, but was forced to settle on, "distracted."

"Okay," Kirk flushed. "Uh...that's what I told them, actually, so..."



"Thank you."

Kirk's flighty energy dissolved and he smiled, looping his arms around Spock's waist and leaning in for a longer kiss. "Hey," he murmured, nose-to-nose with the Vulcan. "You know damn well I'd go to war for you, asshole psychiatrists or no asshole psychiatrists."

"I believe that I am coming to understand that, yes."

Kirk beamed; a wave of high spirits crashed over Spock's skin.

"Jim, I cannot...I cannot express much..."

"Don't have to," Kirk said. "Don't ever have to - I know."


"Of course, if you insist," Kirk said, voice sliding effortlessly from serious affection to teasing. "If you totally insist, you could always let me take you out on another date."

Spock drew back a little - enough to take in the open expression on Kirk's face, and the warmth radiating from his sternum, and the shimmers of faint light that breathed over his skin and into Spock's fingers, and felt an answering smile unfold itself in his brain.

He suppressed it before it could reach his mouth, but brushed it across Kirk's lips in a short kiss, and murmured, "I believe that I could do that."