Captain James T. Kirk glared the kind of deep-seated, heartfelt glare that could only be the product of someone who was in the midst of a really, really bad day.
The glare had done a lot of traveling in the past couple of hours: it had initially descended upon Kirk’s alarm clock, the one that did not go off when it was supposed to. A few minutes later, it landed on the right rear leg of the captain’s desk, the exact one that had just stopped Kirk’s big toe much too abruptly for comfort. Later yet, it migrated to the upper left hand breast of the captain’s gold tunic, to the spot where a fresh coffee stain was spreading inexorably across the formerly pristine fabric. Later still, it focused on a yeoman’s padd that skittered across the deck of the ship after Kirk’s collision with said yeoman, who apparently had been running just as late as her captain and needed to pay a lot better attention to where she was going in the future.
For the past several minutes, however, it seemed to have found its true home: the precise center of the space between the shoulder blades of the Enterprise’s chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy. “Well?” Kirk demanded, scratching his left wrist.
McCoy did not bother to turn around; he was too intent on examining his computer screen. “Don’t scratch,” he murmured absent-mindedly. “Whatever it is, it’ll probably just make it worse.”
“Whatever it is?” Jim repeated crossly. “You mean you still haven’t figured it out?”
McCoy tore his eyes away from his lab results and turned to face the captain. “Well, as a matter of fact I’ve got a pretty good idea. I’m just waiting for the results of one more test before I’m sure.” He walked over and studied the shirtless captain, narrowed eyes taking in the angry-looking hives that were scattered about on the man’s muscular torso and arms. “By the way, how are you coming with that diet I put you on last week? You sticking to it?”
Jim’s glare deepened. “That goddamn starvation plan you call a diet is the least of my worries right now,” he blustered.
McCoy pursed his lips and continued to stare at Kirk.
Jim’s gaze finally faltered. “Yeah, of course I’m sticking to it,” he muttered. A fresh red welt instantly sprang up on his left bicep. “Hmm,” McCoy replied. “So how long before you get the results of that test?” Kirk asked defensively. “I can’t sit around here all day – I’m already an hour behind schedule.”
“The results just came in,” McCoy said flatly. “You’ve got Immunoprevarititus.”
“Immunoprevarititus,” McCoy repeated. “It’s a virus that affects the immune system and causes an allergic reaction that usually manifests itself in hives just like these little beauts of yours.”
“Never heard of it,” Kirk said, scratching his breastbone. “Is it serious?”
“No, it’ll probably drive you nuts for a day or two, but it’ll go away on its own after that. And it’s only contagious before the symptoms appear, so you don’t have to worry about spreading it to anyone. As for never hearing of it – you might be better acquainted with its common name.” McCoy paused for a moment. “Liar’s Itch.”
Kirk frowned. “No,” he finally admitted. “I never heard of that, either.”
McCoy shrugged. “You’re a history buff - do you remember ever running across anything about an ancient Earth device called a ‘polygraph’?”
Kirk’s brow creased in thought. “Yeah, I think so. Wasn’t it something that the police used to use when they interrogated a suspect, to figure out if the guy was lying?” “Yep. It was primitive, and only marginally accurate, but the principle behind it was dead on: that someone who’s lying exhibits a whole list of physiological symptoms, including an increase in blood pressure and a tendency to sweat. The polygraph was supposed to detect those symptoms, thereby tipping off the interrogators that their subject was not being truthful.” McCoy began to pace as he warmed to his subject. “But what the old time Earthers didn’t know is that when lying takes place, the human brain produces a chemical called Prevaritonin. That chemical is what causes the physiological symptoms to appear in the first place.”
Kirk squirmed on the examination table and scraped his right toe repeatedly along his left shinbone. “This is absolutely fascinating,” he told the doctor grumpily, “but what does it have to do with me?”
McCoy crossed his arms. “The virus you’ve got causes an allergic reaction to that chemical. Basically, Immunoprevarititus fools the body into thinking that Prevaritonin is a disease, when in actuality it’s an all too natural substance within us humans. In response, your immune system kicks into high gear… and wham: little itchy hives show up all over you.”
“Wonderful,” Kirk muttered, reaching around behind him to claw at the small of his back. “I knew this day was going to suck from the moment I woke up, but I didn’t know just how much. I don’t suppose there’s any antidote?”
McCoy grimaced sympathetically. “Just time, I’m afraid. But it shouldn’t last more than 48 hours at the outside.” He tilted his head, pondering. “What I can’t figure out is how you got it in the first place – it isn’t the easiest thing to catch. You’ve pretty much got to swap thirteen kinds of bodily fluids and one or two secret family recipes in order to pick it up.” The doctor chewed at his bottom lip, deep in thought. “You didn’t do anything dumb when you were on leave last week on Andrius 4, did you?”
“Uh, nothing extreme,” Jim said. “Just… took in the sights, had a few drinks, that kind of thing.” A crimson welt instantly popped up on his collarbone.
“Uh huh,” McCoy said dryly. “Well, in any event, you’re just gonna have to wait the symptoms out. And since there’s nothing much I can do for you here you might as well go ahead and get to the bridge. But take a little advice from your good old country doctor,” he added as Jim pulled his tunic over his head.
“Try to keep the lying to a minimum – you’ll recover a lot faster and be a lot less itchy in the meantime.”
Jim’s glare returned. “I never…” he began as he slid off from the sickbay bed and headed toward the door.
“Ah, ah, ah,” McCoy interrupted. “Don’t say it – it’ll cost you.” He followed the retreating Kirk out into the corridor. “Oh, and Jim?”
Kirk stopped reluctantly. “Now what?”
“Get back on that diet.”
On the surface, Spock worked at the science station with his usual smooth, effortless efficiency. Only he knew that he was devoting 87.3 percent of his attention to his captain… or to be more precise, to worrying about his captain.
In truth, Spock had spent more than a week in this pursuit. It had begun the first time that Jim had refused to play chess with him, seven point six days ago. It had escalated when Jim had started to avoid him at meal times, six point two days ago. And it had become nearly a full time activity once Spock noted that Jim was either unwilling or unable to make eye contact with him.
Spock’s brow creased in a barely perceptible frown as he considered this last, most troubling aspect of his captain’s behavior. There had been times in the past when Kirk had been too tired for chess, and times, though infrequent, when he wished to have solitude during a meal. But Spock could not recall an occasion when Jim’s gaze had not been forthright and direct, particularly when the two of them were alone together. Indeed, there had been times, though Spock tried not to think about them too much, that Kirk’s gaze had held his for almost an uncomfortably long amount of time. Those moments had been unsettling, unnerving, and disturbing.
Spock missed them very much.
Kirk’s behavior during the course of this shift, however, was especially inexplicable. Being careful to keep his movements to a minimum in order to avoid detection, Spock turned from his monitor to study his captain. At that very moment, Ensign Adarr approached Jim, toting several engineering reports. Spock’s eyebrow shot up: the last time he had seen Adarr, her black hair had been cropped short and slicked down severely. Spock had considered it a surprisingly sensible hairstyle for a human to adopt. Today, however, Adarr seemed to be determined to express a new side of herself: on top of her head rested an astoundingly ornate conglomeration of loops, twists, braids and puffs. Much of it seemed to be architectural in nature, though there was a small area beneath the right ear that reminded Spock of smokeweed, a wispy desert grass that grew abundantly on Vulcan.
“Thank you,” Kirk murmured as he absent mindedly took the stack of reports and began to sign them. “I’m glad to see that engineering is…” His voice trailed off completely as he finally looked up at Adarr.
Kirk’s mouth fell open, and then shut again. Adarr stood with her head tilted slightly, as if to give the captain a better view of the smokeweed section of her coiffure. She looked, Spock noted, inordinately pleased with herself.
“Your… your hair,” Kirk finally managed.
“Do you like it, sir?” Adarr asked, a shy smile lighting her youthful face.
“Uh, why yes, Ensign,” Kirk stammered. “It’s… very becoming.” Adarr’s smile broadened at the Captain’s response. Encouraged, Kirk continued with more fervency. “In fact, it’s absolutely beautiful.”
“Thank you, sir,” Adarr practically sang as she gathered up the padds and turned to leave the bridge, a bounce in her steps. As the turbo doors swished shut behind her, Spock heard Kirk utter something beneath his breath that sounded suspiciously like a curse. The muffled utterance was quickly followed up by fidgeting.
Spock turned back to his monitor and stared into it intently to mask his concern. By his calculations, Kirk had fidgeted in the command chair a total of 138 times during the past 7.4 hours; he had cursed – if his inaudible utterances were, as Spock suspected, indeed curses – on sixteen separate occasions.
Jim always appeared to be at his happiest when he was on the bridge, particularly when things were going well. And today, there was not a Klingon in sight; no forms of energy-never-before-encountered; not even a fake distress signal from an unidentified vessel. The shift had been utterly routine - utterly peaceful. Why then was Jim so restless?
Spock’s long fingers flew over the controls of his instrument panel as he prepared the station for his beta relief. Both he and Kirk would end their shift in point two hours, and Spock was determined to be ready. When Kirk left his command chair and headed to the turbolift, Spock intended to enter it with him – and to use the time to ferret out whatever was bothering his captain.
“Captain, I’m receiving a message from Starfleet.” Uhura’s mellifluous voice interrupted the Vulcan’s thoughts. “It’s Admiral Komack, sir.”
Kirk grimaced. “New orders. And I’ll bet they’ll be dandies: he’s still mad at me for the way I handled the Jersanian 6 conflict.” He sighed. “Oh, well – no getting around it, I suppose. Put him on, Uhura.”
As Admiral Komack’s face filled the viewscreen, Kirk greeted him with a determinedly bland smile. “Admiral Komack. Nice to hear from you, sir.”
Komack was not inclined to swap pleasantries, however. “Jim. I’ve got new orders for you. You’re to proceed to Starbase 3 immediately, where you’ll pick up the Belgranian royal family and their court. You’re to transport them to the Federation Advisory Council meeting that’s being held on Trantius next week.” Komack’s eyes narrowed slightly as he searched Kirk’s face for any sign of a reaction. Finding nothing, he continued, “As you may or may not know the Belgranians can be extremely testy if they are not afforded every courtesy or if their customs are disregarded in any way. I’m therefore sending you extensive instructions on protocol and procedure. You and your crew are to memorize every last word of these instructions and follow them to the letter.” He paused again, waiting for a protest from Kirk. When none came, he added, “Oh - and I want everyone in dress uniforms at all times as long as the Belgranians are on board. As a show of respect.”
Kirk’s lip twitched slightly, but he did not break. “Of course, sir. And thank you for putting together all of those instructions. I’m sure they’ll be very helpful.”
Komack frowned. “Any… questions about the orders, Jim?” he asked, a tinge of disappointment coloring his voice.
Kirk smiled and settled back in his chair with a casual air. “None that I can think of, Admiral. Sounds like it’ll be a nice break from being on patrol.”
Komack grunted. “Well, just make sure the Belgranians arrive happy. If anything goes wrong, it’ll reflect on you personally.”
Kirk smiled sweetly. “Absolutely, sir. I’ll make certain there are no problems.”
Komack signed off just as the turbo doors swished open, revealing Lieutenants Sulu and Carls, who were Kirk and Spock’s replacements for beta shift. Kirk sprang out of his command chair as if propelled by antimatter and headed straight for the lift, barely sparing a word for Sulu, who gaped at the Captain’s retreating back in astonishment. Spock, however, was prepared: with a brief nod to Carls, he hastily followed Kirk and slid into the lift with seemingly effortless grace just as the doors were starting to shut.
Kirk did not acknowledge the Vulcan’s presence, but concentrated instead on glaring at the floor of the lift as if he were chastising it for a major breach of duty.
Spock did a swift calculation. The turbolift ride, he determined, would last only thirty point two seconds. Not enough time for subtlety. “Jim, what is wrong?” he asked quietly. “You have been uncharacteristically restless throughout today’s shift. Is something troubling you?”
Kirk rubbed the back of his neck, glanced quickly up at Spock, and then pinned his scowl back upon the floor. “If you must know,” he muttered, “I’ve got a stupid virus. And it’s driving me nuts.”
Spock stiffened, his mind swiftly running though the nearly infinite number of types of serious and/or fatal viruses that existed in the universe. Trying to keep the alarm from his voice, he asked, “A virus? What sort of virus?”
Kirk did not let the floor off the hook: in fact, his scowl deepened. “Immunoprevarititus,” he finally mumbled.
Relief washed over Spock. “Ah,” he said. “Liar’s Itch.”
“Dammit,” Kirk growled as the turbo doors opened, “Has everyone on this ship heard about this goddamned thing but me?” Scratching his upper arm, he headed off down the corridor toward his quarters.
Spock kept pace with him, determined to persist. “Am I correct in my recollection that there is no treatment, other than to let the disease run its course?”
“You sure are,” Kirk said grimly as he neared the door of his quarters. “And don’t be surprised if you find me in a straightjacket before it’s over with. This itching is making me stark raving crazy.”
They were at Kirk’s door. Spock took a deep breath, instinctively conscious that he was knee deep in a now or never situation. “Then perhaps a distraction?” he suggested swiftly. “Perhaps a game of chess would help take your mind from the discomfort?”
For one brief moment Kirk looked up and met Spock’s eyes. The Vulcan caught his breath as he considered – and not for the first time – what a powerful hold those mercurial, amber, beautiful eyes always had upon him. He found, in fact, that he was unable to breathe at all as he waited for Kirk’s answer. At what point, he asked himself helplessly, did the opportunity to play chess with this man become so important to me? And how is it that I have missed his company so much this past seven days?
Almost instantly, Jim’s gaze faltered. “I don’t think it would help,” he murmured, and turned to go. Obligingly, the door to his room slid open.
“Have I offended you?” Spock asked the human’s back desperately.
Kirk swung around, surprise evident upon his face. “No, of course not,” he said quickly. “You could never offend me – you must know that.” He studied the Vulcan for a moment, and then shook his head in disgust. “Christ. I’ve been acting like a complete bastard, haven’t I,” he said, chiefly to himself. “Here you are, trying to help me like you always do, and I…” Shrugging the thought away, he said, “I’m sorry. It isn’t you. It’s me.” He smiled a smile that did not fully reach his eyes. “And a chess game sounds like a great idea. Come on in and let’s set up the board.”
As it turned out, chess was a terrible idea.
Jim was utterly unable to play, at least not with any degree of competence. Finally, after a particularly boneheaded move involving his rook, he sighed and tipped his own king over. “I give up,” he told Spock redundantly. “I can’t think about anything but how much I itch.” He heaved a deep sigh as he regarded the wreckage of the game and added meditatively, “Have you ever had one of those days when the whole universe seems to be taking part in a big conspiracy against you?”
Spock hesitated. He had not ever considered such a fanciful, illogical theory, but he somehow sensed that was not the answer that Kirk was looking for. He decided to take the safe road. “I am not certain,” he told his captain, “that I understand.”
Kirk shrugged. “Well, here I am, with this damnable virus that makes me itch worse every time I lie. And wouldn’t you know, today of all days, it seems like I’m pretty much forced to lie every time I turn around. First Adarr, and then Komack, and now…” his voice trailed off; idly, he picked up his bishop and studied it as he scratched his stomach absent mindedly with his free hand.
Spock’s eyebrow rose. “I have never comprehended, “he told the human dryly, “how it is that humans convince themselves that lying is an essential life activity.”
Kirk’s gaze flickered up to the Vulcan’s face and then fell. “And I’ve never understood,” he replied quietly, “how it is that Vulcans have convinced themselves that it’s not.”
Kirk placed his bishop carefully back on the board. “Why do you think people lie?” he asked Spock, without looking up at him. “What’s the motivation?”
“Cowardice,” Spock replied, unhesitatingly.
Kirk winced a little and shut his eyes for a moment. “Yes,” he said softly. “Sometimes that is the motivation. But not always. In fact… not usually, I think.”
Spock was intrigued. “Then why?”
Kirk scratched his knee. “Well, how about compassion? Vulcans are in favor of compassion, am I right?”
“It would be illogical to be against it,” Spock replied.
“Absolutely. O.K., then - take the case of Adarr. She really, really wanted me to like her new hairstyle. Unfortunately, I really, really hated it. If I’d told her the truth, she would have felt bad about it for weeks, and she would have been even more self conscious around me than young, green ensigns usually are around their captains. Instead, I lied – out of compassion – and she left the bridge feeling happy and confident. And it cost me nothing but a few extra hives.”
Spock frowned. He could not accept that this line of reasoning was correct, and yet he could not completely refute it. “But,” he said slowly, “I am quite certain that her hairstyle did not comply with regulations. As her captain, should you not have…?”
Kirk shrugged again. “Yeah, probably,” he conceded. “But how much time do you think it took her to do it that way in the first place?”
“Two point four hours,” Spock replied instantly.
“Two point…? Well, I’ll take your word for it. So she got up two point four hours early to concoct that monstrosity. You know what the ensigns’ duties are like – how hard they work, and how long their shifts are. How likely is it that she’ll ever go to all that trouble again?”
“The odds are…”
“Minimal at best,” Kirk interrupted, forestalling Spock’s more precise estimate. “It’s just not going to be an issue ever again. And if it is, I’ll correct her in private, not on the bridge with everyone watching.”
“I see,” Spock said, though he did not. I shall endeavor, he promised himself, to analyze this information at a later time, perhaps when meditating. Out loud, he said, “And what of Komack? Did you lie to him out of compassion?”
Kirk grimaced. “No. I lied to him out of another common human motivation: expediency. I knew damn well he’d give me some hellacious duty just to send me the message that he was pissed about Jersanian 6. I didn’t want him to think he’d gotten to me, so I acted as if the assignment was exactly what I would have chosen.”
“You must admit, it was a rather… unconventional… solution, to bribe the rebels in that manner.”
Kirk leaned forward in his chair and reached around to try to scratch his right shoulder blade. “Well, what of it?” he asked irritably. “If you ask me, it was pure, dumb luck that we learned they’re addicted to raspberry éclairs. And if it took five thousand of them to make the rebels back off from their demands, so be it. We averted a war, we made the government happy, and…”
“…And the replicator was not the same for weeks,” Spock reminded him.
“Small price to pay,” Kirk said. “Komack’s not worried about the Enterprise’s replicator, anyway. He’s worried about the Federation losing ‘dignity’ in the eyes of its membership.”
“He did not consider the provision of five thousand raspberry éclairs to be a dignified solution?”
“Nope. But I’d do the same thing again, if I had the chance. We averted bloodshed, both sides are cooperating, and the planet’s going to thrive as a result of those éclairs. Komack’ll come around, once he has a chance to think things over.”
“I am still not sure I understand,” Spock said thoughtfully, “why you thought it was necessary to lie to him.”
“Because,” Kirk explained patiently, “he only gave me those orders today because he was trying to make a point. If I had let him know that I resented the orders – which, of course, I do – he would have dreamed up something even worse the next time I didn’t do things exactly by the book.”
“I see,” Spock said, and this time, he truly did. Based upon his observations of his captain, he was ninety-nine point seven percent certain that Kirk would decide to go against the book again in the very near future… and would most likely succeed just as brilliantly as he had on Jersanian 6.
“Damn it,” Kirk hissed, reaching around to scrape at the middle of his back with his fingernails, interrupting Spock’s thoughts utterly.
“McCoy was not able to offer you any kind of relief?” Spock asked sympathetically as Kirk contorted in his chair.
“Nothing. He just said it’d take care of itself in a couple of days. But of course, by then, I’ll have been committed to the nearest psych unit, so it won’t matter. Those leather straps’ll keep me from scratching, anyway.”
“My mother,” Spock informed him, “was a proponent of cold compresses, whenever I had an allergic reaction.”
Kirk could not conceal his surprise. “You? Allergic? Somehow, I never pictured Vulcans as being allergic to anything.”
“A common fallacy,” Spock assured him. “I am allergic to killoah, a stinging nettle that grows on the border of the desert, and to ketchup.”
“Ketchup?” Kirk had to laugh, in spite of himself. “That doesn’t sound Vulcan at all. Do you use mustard and relish, too?”
“We use none of the three,” Spock told him rather stiffly. “However, I had the misfortune of sampling ketchup on a rare visit to Earth when I was a child. I suffered much the same reaction that you are experiencing now.”
“Hmm,” Kirk said. “And the cold compresses – did they work?”
“They were actually quite efficacious. Not only did they reduce the swelling, but they were most effective in masking the sensation of itchiness that the reaction produced.” He regarded Kirk silently for a moment, and then asked, “Would you like to try it?”
Kirk hesitated, and then sighed in resignation. “Never let it be said,” he told the Vulcan ironically, “that I’d go against any mother’s advice. Bring it on. Maybe it’ll save me from the loony bin after all.”
It took Spock barely five minutes to return with the compress, a bag of ice wrapped in a soft terrycloth towel. “On what part of your body,” he asked, “are the hives the most severe?”
“On my back,” Kirk told him, “in the exact location that it’s impossible for me to reach.”
Spock walked over to him and regarded him gravely. “In that case,” he said calmly, “I would recommend that you remove your shirt, and then lie face down upon your bed.”
Kirk looked up at his first officer, startled, and then instantly glanced away. “Uh, sure,” he said, in a feeble attempt at casualness. “No problem.” Slowly, he took off his tunic, and then moved over to the bed. “I hope,” he said, with false cheerfulness, “that your mother knew what she was doing.”
“She generally does,” Spock said dryly, following his captain. Once Kirk was ensconced, prostrate, on the bed, he sat down beside him and surveyed the human’s welt-covered back. “I believe,” he said softly, “that this may offer you some relief.” With utmost gentleness, he pressed the icy compress against Jim’s shoulders, and then moved it lower, smoothing it against the hard muscles of Kirk’s lower back.
“Mmm,” Jim murmured, after a time. “It feels better already.”
“Good,” Spock whispered, watching in fascination as the cool compress worked its magic on Kirk’s inflamed skin, reducing the angry welts before his very eyes. Carefully, he moved the compress along Jim’s torso, working it in small, soothing circles, attempting to cover as much area in as comforting a manner as possible. As he worked, he began to realize that he could feel Jim’s emotions and some of his thoughts, dimly and vaguely, through his fingertips whenever his hand slid from the compress and touched Kirk’s back.
Kirk was complex: Spock had learned, from the few occasions when he had melded with him and the many occasions when he had observed him, that the starship captain almost never felt just one thing at once. Tonight was no exception: there was a bewildering array of thoughts and feelings, harmonious and conflicting, struggling for supremacy beneath the surface of the human’s consciousness. Spock could sense relief and gratitude at the forefront, and struggled to suppress a most illogical feeling of gratification that his actions were causing Jim to find surcease from the irritation of the virus. But there was more: a continual hum of tension, of strain. Emotions that Spock would have chalked up to Kirk’s many onerous responsibilities as captain of the Enterprise, did the intensity not increase every time Spock’s long fingers trailed by accident across the soft smooth surface of Kirk’s skin. Each time he touched Kirk, he could feel the man’s nervousness ratchet up another notch; he found himself holding his breath to see what Kirk would do in order to break the tension.
“I guess,” Kirk said jokingly, as if reading Spock’s mind, “that I’d be the envy of just about every crewmember on the Enterprise, if they could see me now.”
Spock was utterly baffled. “What do you mean?”
Kirk flexed beneath the ministrations of the compress; it was evident that he was enjoying the relief the iciness provided. “You know,” he murmured. “The vote. The one that Patterson did – for Sexiest Senior Officer. The one you won.”
Spock’s eyebrow skyrocketed upward. “I… am unaware of such a vote,” he told Kirk, the compress suddenly gone still in his hand.
“I never kid,” Spock reminded him.
“Damn that Patterson,” Kirk muttered. “He was supposed to get permission from all of you first. You really didn’t know?”
“No,” Spock said flatly.
“Well, it was for a good cause, so I hope you’re not upset about it. See… Patterson approached me a while ago with the idea – said he wanted to raise money for the Intergalactic Orphans’ Fund. He had this scheme to have the crewmembers vote on the Sexiest Senior Officer – and to charge everyone a credit when they cast a ballot.”
“Indeed,” Spock said, not at all certain whether to be appalled or intrigued.
“Because it was for charity, I told him he could go ahead, but to get all of the officers’ permission first. He really didn’t tell you about it?”
“No,” Spock said. “When did this take place?”
“A little over a week ago.”
At approximately the same time that Jim started to avoid me, Spock thought. “At that time,” he told Jim, “I was completing my report on the Tarsinus Effect. He may not have been able to find me.”
“Maybe,” Kirk conceded. “Still, I’m going to talk to him about it.”
Kirk fell silent, leaving Spock with numerous unanswered questions. After waiting to no avail for the human to talk again, Spock finally said, “You say… that I won this vote?”
Kirk chuckled. “A little lower, and to the right. Perfect. Yeah, of course you won it. Even over Sulu, and I’m pretty sure that he campaigned. It seems that eighty-three percent of the people on this ship think that you are the sexiest thing since sliced bread… if sliced bread is sexy, which I’m not so sure about.”
Spock frowned, and then remembered to move the compress along Kirk’s back. “But… surely they were in jest.”
“The ones who voted for you?’
“Why do you think that?”
“Because humans do not regard Vulcans as being - as you say - sexy. They believe that they are cold, logical, and distant: qualities that preclude one from being an object of sexual attraction.”
Kirk smiled. “For someone who’s so smart, you’re awfully obtuse at times,” he told his first officer.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that it’s the way you seem to be distant and unattainable that drives most of the men and women around you nuts. They want to break through to you, to rescue you from that prison of logic they think you’ve confined yourself to. No. The vote wasn’t in jest at all: it’s a true and accurate indication of the feelings of most of the people on the ship.”
“How do you know this?” Spock demanded, and caught his breath as he felt a wave of tension and wariness flare through his fingertips.
“Uh, I’ve heard people talk,” Kirk told him hastily. “You know: just in general. About Vulcans as a whole, and about you specifically. About how all of you are sexy.”
“Really,” Spock said as he watched a bright red fresh welt appear just to the south of the compress.
“Mm hmm,” Kirk said nonchalantly.
Spock covered the welt with the bag of ice and pursed his lips.
“Everyone thinks you’ve got to be superhuman in order to command,” Kirk had told him just three short weeks ago. “But you don’t. The secret to command is this: To realize that every problem has one shining opportunity for a solution. A good leader sees that opportunity, and seizes it. It’s as simple as that.”
As Kirk’s words came back to him, Spock realized their truth. The odds were approximately 964,187 to one that he would ever again have Kirk’s bare skin beneath his fingers, his emotions blazing like fire within his brain and an utterly failsafe way to determine whether or not the man was telling him the truth. There was only one thing to do.
“For whom,” he asked accordingly, “did you vote?”
This time, Kirk’s wariness had about the same intensity as a stellar flare. “I… I didn’t vote,” he answered, after some hesitation. “I meant to – but I was awfully busy. I never got around to it.” Two more vermilion bumps appeared beneath the captain’s shoulder blade.
Spock quietly moved the compress to the affected area. “Understandable,” he told the captain. “But… I am curious. Who would you have voted for – if you had found the time to do so?”
“I never thought about it,” Kirk mumbled. In the exact center of his spine, just above the waistband of his black uniform pants, another damning welt appeared.
“Please turn over,” Spock told his captain, and waited as the human reluctantly rolled over upon his back. Holding his breath, the Vulcan reached out and slid his hand lightly across Kirk’s bare chest, stopping when his fingertips touched one of the human’s nipples. He noted Kirk’s sharp intake of breath with satisfaction. “Yes,” he whispered. “You were correct: your back was much more severely affected. There are very few hives… here.”
“Don’t,” Kirk breathed, and caught Spock’s wrist in his hand.
“Jim,” Spock said, very softly. “I must ask you a question.”
“Don’t,” Kirk said again, but didn’t try to pull Spock’s hand away, and didn’t take his eyes from Spock’s face.
“You have lied to me,” Spock continued, undeterred, “three times tonight. And I must ask you…”
“I should have known better,” Kirk mused to himself, “than to have agreed to that damned game of chess. I knew it was a mistake.”
“I must ask you,” Spock continued, as if Kirk had not spoken, “why you lied. Was it compassion, expediency… or cowardice?” Resolutely, he fought down an illogical wave of apprehension. There was only one answer he wished to hear from Kirk.
For what seemed like a long time, Kirk did not reply. Finally, the human sighed and released Spock’s wrist. “Cowardice,” he said, resignedly, and shut his eyes.
“Ah,” breathed Spock, infinitely relieved.
“I was afraid,” Kirk told him miserably, “of what you’d do… if you knew about the vote. About my vote.”
Kirk nodded. “It was all done the old fashioned way – on little paper ballots. Patterson handed me one and asked me to vote. I didn’t think anything of it – I really didn’t. I figured I’d just check Uhura’s name or something, and go about my business. But…” He turned his face toward the wall, embarrassed. “But instead, I checked yours.”
Spock did not have time to fully assess the bright, hot feeling this knowledge gave him. He barely resisted the urge to touch Kirk again; instead, he asked, “Mine?”
Kirk nodded, and turned back to Spock, his eyes full of wretchedness. “Yes,” he said, very quietly. “I’m sorry. I don’t know where it came from… and I’m afraid I haven’t quite been able to get it out of my thoughts. You don’t have to worry, though: I will. I just need a little more time. It just… kind of took me by surprise.”
This time, Spock did not resist the delicious, illogical impulse: he ever so gently reached out to caress Jim’s smooth, cool skin, touching his captain’s chest almost reverently, finally pinching the human’s nipple carefully between his fingers and thumb.
Jim gasped. “What in the name of hell are you trying to do?” he hissed, fists clenched.
“I am attempting to seduce you,” Spock told him, in a matter of fact tone.
“Sed… Really?” Kirk’s eyes widened in amazement; looking into them, Spock had to resist the urge to smile.
“Yes,” Spock told him. “Before, I was attempting to alleviate the irritation caused by your virus. But now, I am attempting to seduce you.” He bent down and lightly kissed Jim’s nipple, and then Jim’s lips. “I do not think,” he told Jim, in between kisses, “that you should waste any more time trying to purge the vote from your thoughts.”
“Oh,” Jim breathed, as Spock’s warm lips brushed against his neck. He reached up and tangled his hands in Spock’s silky dark hair, and squirmed down to claim the Vulcan’s lips with his own. “Okay,” he whispered, after the kiss. “I won’t. But remind me to tell you something… in case I forget.”
Spock slid onto the bed beside Kirk and pulled his captain to him. “Remind you to tell me what?” he asked somewhat distractedly, as he began to unfasten Kirk’s pants.
“What a really perfect day this was,” murmured Kirk, as he pulled his Vulcan close.