I awoke to the cold darkness of a winter morning and the damp, dead smell of wood ash. Beside me Spock slept deeply, lying on his side, his head pillowed on his arm. I drew the duvet up around his shoulders and got to my feet, wondering why I had ever thought that sleeping on the floor was a good idea. There was no bone in my body that didn't ache.
Our clothes and underwear were strewn halfway across the living room. I picked up the nearest item--Spock's shirt--and put it on, pulling it tight around me. I needed to use the toilet, and I was thirsty ... The memory of that first night aboard Enterprise was suddenly clear: I would have to draw on some of the same resources I'd found then if I was going to come to terms with what had happened, what was happening, between Spock and me. Each of us has seen truth in the other's mind ... and now nothing is the same.
When I came out of the bathroom, Spock was still asleep. Moving as quietly as I could, I went to the kitchen and sat down at the little table by the window. I would have given anything for a cup of coffee, but Uhura had put me off the food-dispenser version forever, and I was afraid to try my hand at making some from the fresh beans in the cupboard: I needed time to think, and I didn't want to wake Spock with the noise of the coffee-grinder.
For a change the window wasn't frosted over with ice crystals: the temperature must have risen to somewhere near freezing. Outside the perimeter wall of the building grounds I could see two humanoid figures being led across the snow by a four-footed creature. Beyond them other humanoids--probably Terrans, judging from their attire--were moving along a floodlit, frozen river as if they were using antigrav sliders, for what purpose I couldn't imagine. I must ask Spock what they're doing out there at such an hour, and why ...
In normal circumstances the mere idea of asking a Vulcan about some aspect of human behavior would have made me laugh. Not that a Vulcan would find anything amusing in the question--he would merely look coolly condescending while delivering a scholarly, boring lecture, based on much theory and no experience.
All my life I had heard Romulans speak with contempt of the physical and emotional coldness of Vulcans. Spock, however, was half human, and humans, in their own idiosyncratic way, were creatures of imagination and impulse and passion, just as Romulans were. Last night I had seen all of those un-Vulcan qualities in him: though less experienced than I, he had been as tender and as ardent in his lovemaking as any Romulan, and perhaps as any human.
I knew, of course, that there were many other things I hadn't seen. The bond that joined us was relatively superficial: we could touch each other's deepest thoughts only by mutual consent--and I was grateful for that for a number of reasons, including the fact that I would not have to rely on my command conditioning to defend the security of the Empire. Interestingly, I had the distinct sense that Spock was suppressing even more than I was, and that not all of it had to do with the security of the Federation.
It was said that Vulcans had over one hundred words in their language for the various types and degrees of mindlink, from the thinnest empathic thread to the deepest telepathic meld to the apparently supernatural (and probably apocryphal) transference of katra. Romulan metaphysicians, by contrast, could conceive of no more than a handful of descriptive terms for the touching of minds.
The average Romulan might know the mind of someone to whom he or she was closely connected emotionally, such as a parent, a child, a lover, or--rarely--a blood enemy. Although we possessed the hereditary ability of touch-telepaths to form strong psychic links, we lacked the Vulcans' refined techniques: even with a family member, contact could sometimes be unpredictable and sporadic. On the whole, though, that suited us. We were several billion strategists, intrigants, plotters, and gameplayers spread out over two homeworlds and countless colony systems; while we might long to read our opponents' minds, none of us wanted anyone to have regular and reliable access to our own. When natural adepts surfaced in the genetic pool, as they sometimes did, they were shunted forcefully into the healing professions or conscripted into the Fleet, and in either case kept under close surveillance forever after. Ironically, senior Fleet officers, who were required to undergo command conditioning, were schooled in the defensive arts of the mind by the very adepts who had been judged a potential threat to Romulan security.
On the few unpleasant occasions when I'd had to call upon that psychic training, the techniques had proved effective. Last night, however, there had been no time to block the unexpected link with Spock--and in all honesty I wasn't sure that I would have blocked it if I'd had the chance. I sighed and buried my face in my hands. At some point I would have to confront the implications of that truth.
* * *
When I passed through the living room on my way to have a shower, Spock was awake, though only just.
"Amsetri tre, Khisan Tayva," he said, leaning back on his elbows. His hair was tousled, and a faint shadow of beard darkened his face. For the first time I saw his smile, and my heart turned over.
"Good morning to you, Commander Spock. I didn't know you spoke Romulan."
"A few words and phrases only, though I learned several more last night."
"Then we made a fair exchange. My Vulcan vocabulary is also improved." I smiled back at him, remembering. "A better method of accelerated learning than a language implant."
He reached up to take my hand as if he would pull me down beside him, but I resisted: No. First a shower. Then ... we need to talk.
A flash of reluctant acquiescence: "Agreed," he said gently. I tugged at his hand and he stood up, drawing me into his arms. He flattened his palms against my back and stroked the smooth fabric of his shirt, savoring a familiar sensation from a new perspective. I sensed his strong wish to reach beneath the shirt; however, he merely took hold of my shoulders and kissed the top of my head. He was consciously controlling his physical response to our touching, which was more than I could say for myself. Another minute of this close contact with his naked body, and it would be I who was pulling him towards the floor ...
I broke the embrace and stepped away from him: "Tell me, do you know how to make coffee?"
He smiled again. I hoped I would get used to it. "I believe so," he said. "The process is a simple one. Would you like some now?"
"Yes, very much."
"Take your shower, and it will be waiting for you when you are finished." He touched my lips, then began to collect the duvet and our discarded clothing. Sighing a little for the lost opportunity, I walked down the hall to the bathroom.
I could have remained under the steaming spray for hours, but the aroma of fresh coffee was more seductive than my scented soap. Besides, I was slightly concerned that the hot water supply might be exhausted before Spock could have his shower. The ever-present inner voice was scathing: Last night you were ready to kill him; today you care whether he bathes in comfort? But irony and inconsistency, not to mention absurdity, seemed to be the hallmarks of my life these days, and I dismissed the thought without much difficulty. I ran a comb through my wet hair and put on a dressing-gown. As an afterthought, I hung Spock's shirt on the arm of a valet servo. Perhaps the steam would cause the wrinkles to fall out.
* * *
Spock's coffee-brewing method was exemplary. I cradled the hot mug between my hands, drawing comfort from its warmth as I stood looking out at the gray morning sky. Spock had declined to join me, saying that he wanted to bathe first. Then we would talk.
I could hear the faint whine of the sonic dental appliance, followed by the sound of the shower. I closed my eyes and imagined him lifting his face to the falling water, soaping the mat of dark hair on his chest, the tufts of dark hair under his arms ... Last night we had been swept up in a tempest of emotion triggered by our accidental physical contact. One might argue that the events that had followed were an aberration, a lapse in judgment that could be explained, if not excused, by that fact. But this morning we were both calm, and both well able to make rational decisions ... I thought for a minute, weighing the possible consequences of my actions, and then set the mug down. There would be time enough later to finish the coffee.
Spock must have seen the blurred outline of my body through the translucent shower enclosure, for he slid the door ajar before I could free the magnetic catch. Keeping my eyes on his face, I untied my dressing-gown and let it fall open. "I hope there is enough water left for you," I said.
He raked his dripping hair back from his forehead and watched as I slowly shrugged out of the gown and kicked it away from my ankles. "Water is not rationed on this world," he said, his voice low.
I opened the door further and stepped into the enclosure, moving past him to activate the second shower head, and the third, and the fourth: "Oh, yes," I said. "So I see." I turned to face him. "Give me your hands."
He complied, still watching me speculatively. I poured liquid soap into his hands and rubbed mine against them, palm to palm, until mounds of fine lather dripped from our fingers. Through the link my question was answered: he wanted this to happen, and he did not want to ask himself why that should be so. Well, I could sympathize with his attitude; I wasn't especially eager to examine my own motivation. Fortunately, I had more interesting things to concentrate on. "Turn around," I said, showing him a mental picture. I washed his back and buttocks slowly, kissing his shoulders and neck, trying not to irritate the long striated marks I'd left on him last night. Then I reached around and down, stroking him rhythmically with soapy hands until he was holding on to the tiled wall for support.
Raising myself on tiptoe, I closed my teeth on his ear: Now. Turn around now.
Again he complied. Gathering my hair in one hand, he pulled me back against him. I took his free hand and guided his fingers under mine until they were slippery with a wetness hotter than the water that cascaded around us.
I felt him consider and then reject an otherwise attractive option: Too dangerous. I am unsteady on my feet.
He shut off the shower heads, and we stepped out of the enclosure into dense clouds of steam. He draped one of the oversized towels around my shoulders: We have defeated the exhaust system, if not the water supply.
Smiling, I reached up to kiss him, teasing his lips with my tongue: Can you find your way through the fog? The bed is at least two meters away.
His amused reply came in a wave of warmth and tenderness: A perilous journey, but we will make it together.
He lifted me in his arms as if he were carrying his bride to the marriage-bed. The sheets were silky cool against our damp skin, and we shivered at the touch of each other's hands. He was more than ready, but I was determined to make this last as long as I could. He read that thought easily enough: Show me what you want.
One explicit image was sufficient. Spock rolled onto his back; I straddled him, gripping his shoulders and bending low so that his mouth and hands could find my breasts through the tangled curtain of my hair. I moved slowly against him, caressing his body with mine until he was writhing under me and thrusting his hips upward in an attempt to gain the full penetration we both wanted. He gasped when I took him inside me, but he caught and matched my changing, building rhythm. The mind-web seemed to shimmer and vibrate around us: I tasted my skin when his mouth touched my breast, felt my hair sweep and fall tickling across his throat and chest, saw through closed eyes my transfigured face above his. When my arms began to tremble and my breath came in ragged sobs, he pulled my head down and whispered against my lips and in my mind: Let me feel what you feel. Be with me now ... now!
The words had their desired effect. Released by his command, moaning into his kiss, I tightened around him helplessly in wave after rippling wave of sensation. He rocked beneath me, thrust harder, and at the moment of his own orgasm tore his mouth from mine, calling down upon us with his harsh wordless cry every ancient elemental blessing of our worlds, surrendering himself, stopping time, sealing our fate.
* * *
For a long while we could only hold each other; neither of us could summon the will to move or to speak aloud. When the sweat on our skin began to dry, chilling us, Spock eased me down beside him and pulled up the duvet. Awed and nearly unnerved by the strength of our emotions, we were both searching for something that didn't, couldn't, exist: a rational understanding of what was happening to us. The contradictions threatened to overwhelm-- Romulan and Vulcan, Federation and Empire, duty and honor, lies and truth. Where in that long hopeless list of impossibilities, of mutual exclusions, could there be room for logic, or for any kind of love?
"Some would say that those also are mutually exclusive," Spock murmured. "Perhaps I would have said so myself. But logic is, among other things, a tool that aids us in the search for truth. And truth exists when there is an equation between reality and the mind's judgment about it." He rested his fingers lightly on my forehead. "As we have seen. We will find a way, Aerlyn."
"Am I to be Aerlyn, then?" I asked, kissing the place where a strong, steady pulse, now almost humanly slow, beat in his throat. "Or Tayva? And are you to be Spock? Or--"
"Spock. The other signifies expectations that I can never meet. Though ... I should like to hear you speak it again in mind." His fingers trailed from my forehead to my lips. "And Aerlyn, if it pleases you."
"It does." Suddenly I recalled the night Uhura and I had talked about names; I showed him my memory of that conversation. Then I remembered something else. "Do you know that she knows?"
"What do you mean?"
"Nyota. About us, together. She knew before we did. I could read it in her face. Last night, when we were standing on the transporter pad in Lieutenant Chapel's building."
He reviewed his own memory of the event. "You may be right. Nyota's intuitions are often correct." He was silent for a moment. "She is a true friend, and a woman of honor. She will not compromise you."
I sat up and looked at him. "But if anyone else were to find out about--"
"About us, together?" There was a distant shadow of anger in his mind: "Starfleet would view it as a gift of providence."
"And the Empire would view it as--" I lay down again and shut my eyes, trying to drive away that thought. "Oh, gods of Remus--how, Spock? How will we find a way?"
"Time, Aerlyn. We will need some time." He tightened his arms around me.
"I dreamed that you held me like this," I whispered against the curve of his shoulder. "When I was aboard Enterprise."
"I dreamed of you, too," he said, his voice husky with emotion. "I wanted to come to you, to tell you that I--" He stopped, then began again. "I told no one what happened between us on your ship. Not even Captain Kirk. To that extent, at least, I did not betray you."
"Kirk knew my name, Spock. He said that Starfleet intelligence kept track of Romulan officers, just as the Empire does of Starfleet officers. But I didn't believe him. I was sure that you--that you--"
"Never. I thought I could protect you from that, if from nothing else. As it turns out, I was wrong."
"Don't." Last night we had seen each other's pain all too clearly. There was no sense in punishing ourselves further.
He turned on his side to face me, propping himself on his elbow. "Indeed. Self-reproach is illogical, and completely out of character for a Vulcan. But then my behavior has been out of character, to say the least, since I first boarded your ship." The admission did not appear to distress him.
"McCoy told me that when he encountered you, you looked like grim death on a short fuse. I think he found that somewhat ... unusual."
Spock's laugh was so natural and so utterly appealing that I thought I might say or do anything in order to hear it again. I remembered the closed, expressionless face I'd seen before last night, and began to wonder which aspects of his behavior were truly out of character.
"You seem to have inspired the doctor to new heights of hyperbole." He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "And flights of fancy. He believes, for example, that the paper he is writing with M'Benga will revolutionize Vulcan and Romulan genetic theory, and he thinks you deserve credit for providing him with a 'jumpstart,' as he called it. Meaning, I suppose, an infusion of energy and enthusiasm for his project."
"I? I provided him with nothing more than blood samples, and not willingly. But I agree that he does seem convinced of his findings."
Apparently Spock had given more than passing thought to McCoy's hypothesis. "McCoy is a skilled surgeon," he said, "and M'Benga a skilled internist. But they are not geneticists, and even I could see flaws in their protocols and methodology. The peer-reviewed journals will want more proof, and that proof is nonexistent." He paused. "However much one might wish it otherwise."
"Why do you say that? Regardless of our genetic history, we're as different as two worlds can be. As two species can be."
"Perhaps so. Or perhaps we are two halves of a broken vessel, lying useless for our purpose until mended."
A sudden chill passed over me, and I drew the duvet up to my chin. "Come back to bed, Spock. You don't really want to talk about science and politics, do you?"
He leaned over and kissed me in a fashion that answered the question definitively. Then, to my intense disappointment, he stood up and reached for his trousers. "I must speak with Elydex. It is after nine a.m., and she is likely to be waiting for my call ..." His voice trailed off.
"Spock? What is it?" I turned and found him looking at the orthochromes arranged on the table. He was too polite to ask a direct question, but curiosity was plainly written on his face. "Those are my parents," I said, sitting up. "My mother is an officer of the fleet, and my father is a senator and praelector of a university. But perhaps you knew that already."
He didn't pick up that gauntlet; he only said, "My mother is also an academic."
I refrained from saying I know. "The one in the middle is of my brother and sister. And the far one was taken on the day my friends and I graduated from the academy."
"That is Subcommander Tal, is it not?"
"Yes. He was in my year. He gave up command of a legion to serve with me on the flagship."
"He must value you highly."
"As I do him. I trust him with my life. I trust them all." Never more than at this moment ... "And I miss them."
"You are close to your friends and your family." It wasn't a question, but there was a certain hesitancy in the statement. We weren't in physical contact, and I couldn't identify the undertone.
"'Close' doesn't begin to describe it," I said. "We're like a hive of etahri; we fly alone to the edges of our known space, but then come hurrying back at the first hint of a family crisis or a family party, dragging all of Remus and half of Romulus with us. Oh, Spock, I wish you could attend one of our nameday celebrations! Why, you'd gain two kilos just looking at the buffet table, and the wines from my uncle's vineyards are--" It suddenly occurred to me that this was a road I had best not walk down: I could feel a tightness growing in my throat. But Spock was not a diplomat's child for nothing.
"This talk of food reminds me that we should eat breakfast," he said. "Are you hungry?"
"Yes," I answered, surprised to find that that was the case. "Are you? We can see about the food dispenser--"
"Give me a moment," he said as he left the room. "I may have a better idea."
* * *
By the time I had gotten my hair somewhat under control and dressed myself in trousers and the pullover sweater Chapel had given me, I was ready for the biggest meal a Federation food dispenser could produce. I told Spock so when he came back to the bedroom.
"And at least a liter of coffee," I added. "Does Elydex want to talk to me?"
"No. She said she will be in touch with you later." He looked at me appraisingly. "What are you wearing under that sweater?"
"Come over here and find out for yourself."
Sensibly, he stayed where he was. "I suggest that you wear a warm shirt or tunic with it, and a heavy windproof jacket."
"Well, my pilot's jacket is heavy enough to double as a solar sail. Why, though? Where are we going?"
"And sturdy boots, if you have them. Do you have them?"
"Yes, of course. My field boots are in the closet with the rest of my things. But why--"
"Then put your boots on, Commander Tayva. I have received permission to take you out to breakfast."
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© 1996, 1999 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved.