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I am facing the Captain of the Enterprise, and I cannot meet his eyes. He has questions for me, and will not relent until I answer. I cannot lie, not to this man; there is no way out, other than the complete truth.
Our meeting was pure chance. I was returning to Starbase from Earth leave by passenger liner, intending to make the most of my last few days before rejoining the Enterprise. At first, though, it seemed as if I had made a mistake; the ship was as luxurious as I expected, but I quickly found I had little in common with my fellow passengers. They were mainly wealthy tourists on a Grand Tour of the galaxy, with a sprinkling of preoccupied business men and a couple of politicians.
I was just resigning myself to spending most of the trip catching up on some reading when I saw him entering the dining room. In any company he would have been outstanding, but among these bored, busy or jaded people his calm serenity reached out to me.
He saw me across the room, and moved to join me. As he passed I could see the turning heads, hear the whispered comments. Very few people outside Starfleet have ever seen a Vulcan in the flesh, so I was not in the least surprised by the attention he attracted. His face, as usual, was totally impassive, but as he sat down the familiar raised eyebrow told me he was aware of the stir he caused.
He too had spent his leave on Earth; his mother was visiting her family, and he had spent some time with her. It could not have been an unmixed pleasure for Spock; Amanda's family had never quite accepted her marriage to Sarek, and I could well understand that they regarded her strange, half-breed son with a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion.
I think (though he would never have admitted it) that Spock was pleased to see me. On the Enterprise we were so used to him that his non-Human attitudes were accepted as a matter of course; I believe the familiar topics of conversation came as a relief to him. For my part, I was interested to encounter our enigmatic First Officer away from the ship.
It has been said that Vulcans are not very entertaining companions for Humans. I have never found it so with Spock. The range of his interests is so wide, and his knowledge so deep, that any conversation with him can only be a stimulating challenge; and his open curiosity about any new experience made me see my fellow passengers in a new light - almost as though I looked at them through Vulcan, rather than Human, eyes. I found his companionship under these circumstances unexpectedly interesting, although of course our conversation never touched the personal; I knew already that such topics would only drive him at once into his shell.
So the voyage passed more pleasantly than I had expected, until we were two days out from Starbase. For the first time he did not join me for dinner, and I remembered that he had seemed unusually abstracted when I had seen him earlier in the day. As I lingered over my solitary meal I debated with myself how to pass the evening. The idea of joining any of the other passengers did not appeal to me, and after the stimulation of Spock's company the prospect of an evening alone seemed rather flat.
By the time I had finished my coffee I had decided to return to my cabin; first, though, I would pay a call on Spock. I was not consciously worried about him, but it seemed only courteous to see how he was.
There was no reply to my tentative knock at his door, and a louder summons still brought no response. Perhaps he was ill? Hesitantly I tried the door, and it opened at my touch.
He was lying in a chair, eyes closed, and at first I thought he was asleep. Then I saw the tension in his knuckles as he gripped the arms of the chair, and heard his harsh, laboured breathing.
Quickly I crossed to his side. Now I became aware of the parched dryness of his lips, and the sleek dark hair was ruffled, damp with perspiration. Memory came to me then of how once before I had seen him in such a state, and I knew only one thing could account for it - the terrifying pon farr.
My first instinct was to summon help, but there was none to be had. Dr. McCoy, who understood the horrifying implications, was light years away on the Enterprise. Even if the doctor on this ship was familiar with the condition, I could not humiliate Spock by calling him in. It had been bad enough for the proud, reserved Vulcan when his closest friends had learned the secret; to reveal it to a complete stranger would alienate him for ever. Yet I must do something, for without help there could be only one end. On the Enterprise were men whose skill could aid him, women who for love of him would give him the release he so desperately needed. To those men, and to those women, I must account if I failed to help him.
Suddenly he seemed to become aware of my presence, for his eyes opened and he made a conscious effort to appear relaxed. My concern for him must have been plain, for he said,
"Do not be afraid - it is not as you think. It is not the pon farr." His voice was husky; speech was obviously an effort for him. "May I have some water?"
His hands shook so that he could not hold the glass. I knelt at his side and lifted it to his lips. He drank thirstily, then lay back in the chair.
"Are you ill, Mr. Spock? Shall I call the doctor?"
"That will not be necessary. Even Dr. McCoy could not help me."
"What's wrong? Is there anything I can do?"
"Nothing. I can cope with this - it will pass shortly."
I thought then that he would send me away, but after a moment he went on. "I should explain. It is not the pon farr, but there is a connection. You know the price we Vulcans must pay for our freedom from emotion, but there are times when our feelings must be expressed. Normally an adult male would be able to do this through his relationship with his wife. You must understand that I do not now speak of a physical relationship but of the emotional satisfaction we achieve through the mind link. For me, as you know, such a release is not possible. I am in no danger; it is merely an uncomfortable and distressing experience, but it will pass. Do not be concerned for me."
His eyes closed again. Still kneeling at his side I looked into his face. I supposed I should leave him to his lonely struggle, but somehow I could not. Perhaps he would not accept my help, but I must offer it. I touched his hand.
"For whatever reason, you are suffering. Let me help."
The words seemed to echo strangely in the quiet room. A memory came softly, then faded. He was very still, and I waited for the rejection I was sure must come. Then his fingers touched mine for an instant.
"Are you sure?"
"I believe you can help me, but you must know what is involved. Our minds will be one; you will share the emotions that torment me. I know that I can trust you... but can you accept me as I am?"
"You have done so much for all of us on the Enterprise. It is little enough to do in return."
He nodded gravely; his hands reached for my face, and the mind link was established.
Of the emotions and memories I shared with Spock that evening, I do not have the right to speak; but I learned much. I had often wondered idly how it had been for him, growing up as a physical, intellectual and emotional half breed; now I knew. The uncomprehending bewilderment of the child, the painful struggles of the young man, the final acceptance of the adult Spock became - all these were now clear to me. Where he had found that calm serenity I will never know, but I realised how hard the fight had been, how great the victory. To be able to call this man 'friend' was indeed a privilege.
When the emotional storm quietened at last and the link dissolved, we looked at each other with new eyes. I think we both knew that our relationship could never be the same again. It had been based on mutual respect; now was added a complete understanding and acceptance. Neither of us would ever feel totally alone again.
In the morning he was once again the Mr. Spock I had known for so long - cool, detached, unemotional. Neither of us made any reference to the events of the previous evening, and the rest of the voyage passed as it had begun. Indeed, in the bustle of my return to the ship, and the involvement in taking up my duties again, it slipped to the back of my mind for a time.
Only when I was at last alone in my quarters and had time to think did the full implications of that evening come home to me; and that was when the questions began, the questions I must answer, for I cannot delay any longer - the man facing me is waiting.
It was not the pon farr; but for a few terrible moments I thought it was.
And if it had been;
If, for those hours, I had been the only one he could turn to;
If I had been the only one who understood what he needed;
What would I have done?
That is the question that haunts me. And I know the answer. For the eyes of James Kirk, the eyes in the mirror, look back at me with understanding.
Then, consider. Consider how much I owe him already, and understand - no sacrifice, however great, however frightening, could begin to pay the debt I owe him.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?