Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1977 by Juanita Salicrup. Originally published in The Sensuous Vulcan, D. T. Steiner, editor. Rated NC17.

 

THE GRACIOUS DEWS OF SOLACE

Juanita Salicrup

 

Spock struggled to wakefulness to the tune of the intercom's morning squawk. Even before his eyes quite opened, he reached across, stilling its insistent shriek with a hard hand.

"Spock here," he muttered thickly, and cut off the communications officer's bright greeting before the words intruded. Sighing, he lay back a moment, closing gritty eyes, tasting the bitterness of metallic bile in his saliva. His body was sweat-slicked, the coverlet twisted around him like a shroud. He shivered at the idea and wished, irrationally, for the release of death. His body pounded with exhaustion, limbs leaden, head an aching hollow shell.

Wearily, he forced movement on himself too spent with yet another night's ceaseless dreaming to bother with meditative exercises. Besides, they didn't seem to work anymore. Aching in every joint, he rose, nude, stripping the bed of its sweat-grimed sheets and carried them to the laundry disposal chute. This was the twelfth time in the three weeks since he'd been let out of Sickbay and was back in his own quarters that he'd had to dump his bedding after a night's sleep. Today he'd have to requisition a fresh set from supply, and he was very glad there was no human quartermaster to wonder at the frequency of the First Officer's bedding requirements.

He padded to the shower, eager to cleanse the grit from his flesh, if not his soul. Passing the full-length wall mirror in the dressing alcove, he caught sight of his body, the flat slabs of muscle on the slender frame gaunted down, more bone than usual showing. Beneath the downy black mat on his chest, the arch of rib stood out sharply against the smooth flesh. Hip bones seemed ready to poke through the skin of his narrow torso.

You look like hell, he thought grimly, borrowing a useful Terran phrase. The silk black hair was rumpled into untidy waves, the brown eyes dulled beneath pain-clenched brows, and there was an unhealthy pallor that wasn't all his pale green-bronze Vulcan coloring.

Shaking his head in disgust, he stepped into the shower, turning the controls to high, letting the hot needles of water jolt some feeling back into his protesting flesh. He stretched and turned under the spray, glad once again for the updated methods that recently converted the starship's bathing facilities from the unpredictable sonics to water. As a child on Vulcan he'd become used to the water shower his father had had installed for his mother's comfort. As he absently scrubbed off the sweat and grime of his night's battle, he wondered how many more nights he could withstand the torture, and how many morning showers he could depend upon to revive him; giving him the strength for pretense his day among the crew required. McCoy was already getting suspicious, muttering about Spock's having fled Sickbay to return to duty far too soon after what he'd been through.

"--What he'd been, through--" A delicate euphemism that! Captured by Klingons, tortured to the edge of his reserves while aboard their battle cruiser, he'd been dumped by them onto a slaver from the Eighth Empire of Gto in the Orion Belt when they'd been warned the Enterprise had taken up the search for its First Officer and was hot on their tails. Diverted into pursuit of the cruiser, the starship had passed the small Orionese trader hiding out in the asteroid belt, oblivious to ifs presence. The drugged Spock was swiftly taken to an outer reach Orion colony planet where he'd been sold, sight unseen, to a wealthy "patron" with a somewhat ... exotic ... taste for dark-haired, dark- skinned male slaves. On arrival in the merchant's villa, he'd begun to come out of his drugged state and had put up a weakened and short-lived fight. Beaten half senseless, then dragged to a subterranean cell, he'd been left to shiver, naked, in the chill damps, shackled to a wall.

How well he remembered his new owner's arrival in that cell a few hours later. Smelling faintly of the spiced oils favored by wealthy Orionese, robed in gold-embroidered blue Faleronian silks, he'd come, attended by two huge, lightly armed guards.

Spock was lying on his side on the cold metal slab of bunk, arms stretched painfully above his head and bound by metal wrist cuffs to a wall ring. He'd drawn his knees up to his chest, trying to contain his body heat. The trio's arrival in his darkened cell left him momentarily light-dazzled. He lifted his head, struggling to see, and heard and partly understood their speech, though they spoke in the language of Orion.

"Ah ... as it was said. He is a fine specimen, though somewhat abused at present."

"He fought on his arrival, my Better," said one of the accompanying guards. The merchant bent to touch one of Spock's bruised shoulders with a meaningful gentleness. "This was not your doing, was it, iRno?"

"No, my Better. It was not. His previous captors--"

"Ah, yes ... the Klingons. Slime vermin. Did they get from him what they wanted?"

"It is not known, my Better. The slaver, eThto, wagered not. They seemed anxious to sell him cheaply and be gone."

"Hmm. Odd. Well ... no matter. He will serve, admirably. You may go. Leave the lamps."

"Are you certain, my Better? He is Vulcan. I know he is bound, but they are reputed to be dangerous ... and his mind has not been wiped yet..."

"I said 'leave me', iRno."

"As you bid," the guard replied, bowing hastily. He and the other departed, the cell door clicking quietly behind them. The lamps flickered against the stone walls.

The still nameless merchant bent over Spock again, running a possessive hand over the bruised shoulder and down the long back to one slender hip. Spock shuddered in protest, half rolling away, but the merchant uttered a sibilant negative, and then laughed, pulling him back.

Murmuring constantly in an unfamiliar Orionese dialect, he stripped off his rich robes and began to fondle the Vulcan, his hands demanding, probing, searching. Those faintly oiled, repulsive hands! They caressed his still-tormented body, while the merchant's laughter echoed in his ears. Spock's weak battle went for nought. Inexorably, he found himself positioned and knew he was helpless to prevent what would follow.

His battered, pain-wracked body writhed in futile protest, unable to escape, its strength leeched away at the hands of his torturers. His captor's branding hands clutched the small, smooth muscular globes of his buttocks, wrenching them apart. Then huge, tearing impalement, filling his belly, burning penetration that scorched his soul. And worse, so much worse, yet to come. In the midst of the sawing, rocking invasion, his own organ tightening, throbbing, rising to full erection, symbol of his final shame. All his threadbare strength could not throw off the hot muscular body entrapping him. In another hellish moment, the ultimate degradation: an arm reaching around from behind, six-fingered Orionese hand grasping the green steel shaft, working it in matching rhythm to the driving piercing from the rear. Outward awareness disappeared for a while. The only reality became greenblack roaring in his ears and before his eyes, spasmodic agony in his body that grew and grew. He bit his lips to keep from whimpering aloud at the crushing twin burdens of pain and humiliation.

Slowly, as the rhythmic pounding sped toward the inevitable, the pain and shame within him was joined by a new companion of betrayal. Flashes of heat lightning threaded along his nerves through the painful pulling insistence. Nerves and veins in his body heated, overloaded wiring to an outlet grown molten, pulsing with need ... need ... need! The world without and that within joined. Shame receded before the raging current within, and he fought as much to release as to be released. Building drums thrummed deep in his belly, beating their huge tattoo ... wanting ... willing, in a will-less insanity ... driving up ... fire and painpainpain ... until -- yes! – pleasure he could no longer resist -- a moment of suspension between existences past and present – then – Explosion -- blinding, white light behind his eyes, all the thunders of all the desert storms ever witnessed, one huge pulsing geyser -- a torrential gushing of hot green pearlescent sea foam.

After ... limp ... wishing for oblivion or death ... his attacker's searching hands and the sudden snickering, thickened, ridiculing mirthless laughter in his ears, echoing, echoing... He had only to shut his eyes to recall that triumphant hawking beating against him, bouncing off the cell's stone walls, the crushing weight lifted off him, the clang of the door, footsteps, the shrill howls of glee retreating down the corridor and away. Day or night it was there. Sleep brought it back, achingly vivid, again and again, with new permutations, the latest even more terrible than the relived rape.

He was entrapped; an endless visitape counting and recounting the same pernicious horror, his dream of late always ending the same way -- a befogged, darkened, indistinct location, the only reality a bed or couch, the air a chill, piercing damp; a waiting body, nude, muscular, smooth fleshed, lying prone, its back presented; his own long fingered hands reaching to grasp, his own penis erect, quivering with a starving need; then, welcome, saving penetration, cold instead of hot, tight walls enfolding as he withdrew and plunged, wanting, needing, slamming with huge hip thrusts, descending instead of climbing to relief ... a tensed moment, his body gathering itself, and – then -- freezing cold ejaculate wrenched from him in one long, agonized scream of release. The heaving body beneath convulsed once, stiffened, and lay finally, terribly still. Withdrawal. Weakness. Trembling hands turn the amber-skinned corpse face up, a morbid curiosity to know his victim. Stark terror, revulsion, one despairing, pleading cry, over and over-- No, Jim! NONONONONO – J-I-M!!!

Spock shook himself free of his pained reverie, shut off the shower and stepped out to finish his morning routine. With characteristic swift economy of motion, he dried himself and dressed, recalling his discovery in shackled servitude two days later by an independent Federation trader who'd been appalled to learn his identity. Learning that Spock awaited a mind-wipe that would render him harmless and a willing vessel for his owner, the sickened trader risked his life and his trading business with the Empire to spirit Spock away, heading for the nearest Starbase at his small ship's maximum warp. Three days later, Spock -- confined to the Starbase Hospital and debriefed to a fare- thee-well -- had been visited by Kirk and McCoy, who'd come to reclaim him.

That painful and welcome reunion still caused him to wince. Kirk had been on the edge of an emotional outburst that would have embarrassed all of them. Even the usually nettlesome McCoy had been thick-voiced with emotion. And he, himself, had been perilously close to ... to something. What? Certainly not the revelation of what had been done to him by the Orion merchant. He'd not been able to bring himself to mention that even to the doctor from Starfleet Medical who had treated the injuries he'd incurred at the hands of the Klingons.

He'd thought perhaps he might be able, at some point to forget and revelation would be unnecessary. He'd been wrong. A week in Sickbay at Starbase XI, followed by another in the Enterprise Sickbay, and three weeks on duty since. Waking, work routines could fill his mind. mental disciplines were almost easy during the ship's day, though treacherous, vagrant memories would intrude. At night, all the devils were set loose.

Five weeks of inner battles and he had little or no reserves left. The rape itself was horror enough, but it would have faded with time. But, it was more than that. Much more. His own reaction, his actual physical pleasure at the obscenity... He shivered with shame. Perhaps, if he'd been fully human it would not have bothered him so much. But, no. He did know better. Though the times were more tolerant, and he'd always regarded an individual's sexual orientation as a totally private matter, he knew that the few practicing homosexuals and bisexuals among the crew kept the matter very quiet. Two and more centuries had not changed the general human revulsion toward "deviant" behavior.

And he was far too Vulcan to be comfortable with the suggestion. Even after more than five years in Kirk's command, and over twenty years in Starfleet, far more comfortable though he was with the human part of himself, the entire subject of his sexuality was still a rankling agony. His first pon farr, aborted in the combat with Kirk ... and other than that ... avoidance, of any involvement. Was it not because of his Vulcan reserve but rather ... because of this? Was it because, all along and unbeknownst to himself, he'd been secretly uninterested in consummation with a woman? Was that why he'd avoided Christine Chapel, been unmoved by women on the ship or shore leave, felt close and comfortable only with Kirk? Was it because he was--? Even in his own mind, he could not voice it. The alliance wasn't unknown among Vulcans, but it was invested with even greater horror and shame than the joining of man and woman. .There were cases ... but they were never mentioned ... and the men in question usually retired from regular society. Was that what lay ahead for him? Withdrawal from the world he knew? If it were, would it not be better sooner than later, before McCoy or -- or... Jim ... found out ... and hated him for it?

For surely they would be disgusted ... and alienated. McCoy's withdrawal he might bear, though it would be painful enough. But to lose Jim Kirk's supportive, compassionate alliance ... to kill hold the light in the clear hazel eyes with the revelation of this vile perversion -- ?! No! He would hold his tongue or cut it out before he betrayed that trust. And if he failed to curb the serpentine monster lurking within himself, he would go off and die alone before it could harm the one man in the universe he'd dared call friend.

The turbolift doors snapped open. He'd reached the bridge. Wearily, he braced himself and stepped out, greeting fellow officers as he made his way to his station.

He passed the Communications Station, murmuring a quiet "Good morning, Lieutenant" to Uhura, and was surprised by the chill glare she shot at him before turning to her board. Startled, he frowned, but she didn't look at him again. Her greeting to the arriving Captain was as cheerful as usual, which convinced Spock that the reception she'd given him had been deliberate. Wondering at her mood, he sat down before the library computer.

The morning passed slowly, with no solution to his puzzlement. Several times, as his ordinary duties took him to Uhura's station she'd frozen him with her strictly-business manner, so unlike the usual warmth she directed his way. No matter how he viewed his actions, past or present, he could come up with no satisfactory answer to the problem.

The mid-tour meal break came round on an odd-lot rotation as usual, so that not more than two of the senior bridge officers were off duty at one time. The luck of the draw sent Spock off-duty with Uhura.

He thought it would give him the chance to speak with her but when she joined him in the turbolift he'd deliberately held for her, all he got was a frosty look and no conversation. Concerned, he turned to her when the lift doors closed.

"Lieutenant--"

"Yes, sir?" Her face was closed.

"Is there something wrong, something I may have done? You seem ... distant."

"An astute observation, sir."

His raised brow asked his question. She was silent a moment more and then she gathered herself. "Your morning response to reveille, sir – was -- rude, I believe. I have done nothing to cause your curt answers. In fact, since you've returned to duty, and Dr. McCoy has been worried that it might be too soon after what you'd suffered, I've tried to express my concern with a particularly pleasant morning greeting, usually with an inquiry as to how you're feeling."

"Indeed? I do not seem to recall--"

"That's because you've greeted me each morning with a snapped reply and then you've cut the contact before I could say it. Well -- I'm tired of it! This morning was the last time II'll intrude on your Vulcan solitude with my concern!" She turned back to face the door, leaving him nearly open- mouthed with surprise. Abashed, he fell silent.

Then, in the corridor just short of the officers' mess, he broke the uncomfortable silence between them.

"Lieutenant," he began quietly.

She turned to face him, unyielding. "Yes, sir?"

He sighed, shoulders slumping slightly. He couldn't very well tell her why he'd been so terse each morning, but he could apologize. She was a warm, feeling woman, a highly competent officer he respected, and on more than one occasion she'd proven herself a valued friend. He owed her at least the courtesy.

"Miss Uhura, please -- forgive me. I have been … distracted of late. My return to duty has required that I employ – certain mental disciplines, and they have required more of my concentration than usual. That is a poor excuse for my behavior. It was inexcusably rude, but I ask your generosity nonetheless. I shall endeavor to be more ... responsive in the future."

Somewhat mollified, Uhura melted a little. When he made the effort, he was perhaps the most gracious man aboard. And he did look tired, she reflected. No. More than that -- exhausted, and there was an indefinable shine of something ... wrong ... in his eyes.

She smiled slightly to reassure him. "You're forgiven. I didn't know you weren't well. Is there anything--"

"I shall be all right, Lieutenant," he hastily assured her.

She bit her lip, assessing his drawn weariness, the gaunt face and somber eyes. "Are you sure, Mr. Spock? If there is anything I can do…"

For a moment, she thought he was going to smile at her. "No, Lieutenant," he said, gently regretful. "But I thank you for your solicitude nonetheless."

"Very well, sir."

Their conversation turned to other matters and they went together to the dining room.

Back on duty that afternoon, Uhura found herself keeping an almost furtive eye on the First Officer. The look in his eyes that morning ... and some unnamable factor in his general demeanor ... struck her as not quite right. He seemed so infinitely weary beneath his immaculate facade. Yet, once in a while, a hand trembled, shoulders bowed slightly, or there was a flash of haunted tension in his face. She wondered -- was it really there? And if it was, why didn't Kirk notice? Or McCoy?

She grew occupied with duty after that, and didn't take notice of him again until she joined him and the Captain in the turbolift at the end of shift. Kirk held the lift door for her as she joined them.

"Thank you, sir."

"My pleasure, Lieutenant." He ordered Deck Five, and then turned to the Vulcan at his side. "Well, Spock? You didn't answer."

"I was about to, Captain. I plan to spend the upcoming leave in my usual fashion."

Kirk groaned, turning to Uhura. "I should know better, I suppose -- but I keep trying to get him to spend a shore leave ... like a ... a shore leave.''

Uhura chuckled, glancing at the impassive Vulcan. He faced forward, eyes averted, but it was obvious to the woman that he wasn't well. She looked at Kirk, but the Captain didn't seem to notice, and after a moment she began to question her own concern. Spock had explained it to her that morning, and besides, everyone was pretty wrung out and very much ready for the upcoming shore leave. Perhaps that's all there was to it.

"Uh ... pardon me, Captain? You were saying?" She realized she'd missed Kirk's question.

"I was prying into your plans, Lieutenant -- for shore leave, I mean."

"Oh..." She felt her cheeks grow warm at the reminder of those plans. "Oh ... I'm going to get together with an old Academy friend from the Potemkin ... and renew our acquaintance."

Something in her unusually flustered manner clued Kirk that the "old Academy friend" female. His lips twitched.

"Yes. I understood we'd be sharing Argelius with the crew of the Potemkin," he agreed. The three stepped out of the turbolift together.

"Think Argelius can take two liberty-hungry starship crews at once; Spock?"

"I should imagine the facilities are adequate -- or the Argellian council would not have accepted simultaneous liberty requests, Captain."

"I guess so … still … Spock, can I interest you in a game of chess after dinner? I haven't tested you out since you came out of Sickbay." He smiled wickedly. "Have to see if your recovery is complete, you know."

The Vulcan stiffened almost invisibly. "I ... must decline, Captain."

"Can't interest you in even one game?" the Captain wheedled, but the Vulcan iceberg refused to melt.

"No, sir. I would rather avoid Doctor McCoy, if you do not mind."

The Captain frowned. "Oh?"

"He has become regrettably oversolicitous of late," Spock explained.

Kirk made one last subtle effort. "Well, if you really think it would be that aggravating, I suppose--"

"Thank you, Captain," Spock interposed. "If you will excuse me... Good evening, Lieutenant." With that, he turned on his heel and strode off in the direction of his own quarters.

"Hmf! How do you like that?" Kirk muttered to himself. "Oh, well. Have to find an alternate, I guess." He waggled a brow at Uhura, who laughed aloud, waving a hand.

"No, thanks, Captain! I planned on something a little less challenging than chess tonight --like doing my nails!" With another laugh and a farewell, she disappeared into her cabin, and Kirk headed off to find McCoy, who could at least be counted upon to provide convivial diversion.

* * *

The succeeding odd number of days before the ship made planetfall at Argelius was a sharp contrast to the deadening routine of the time since the last mission. Bored and overworked crewmen who a day or a week before could barely stand the sight of one another, who had moved through their duties like somnambulists, suddenly developed mysterious reservoirs of energy. Plans for every shore leave activity from pub crawling to mountain climbing were under way and the intercoms, rec rooms, dining halls, labs and corridors buzzed. In the mounting excitement, Uhura soon forgot her surveillance of Spock's odd behavior, charging it off to natural accumulated weariness and the after- math of his suffering.

Instead she became absorbed with the details of her own plans for shore leave. Lieutenant Shereth, the second communications officer on the U.S.S. Potemkin, was to meet her at Transporter Central in the Argellian capital city; and then they would get to know one another again, a little better this time, in an evening of dinner and dancing. Uhura had a surprise in reserve. If everything turned out the way she hoped it would, the woodland cottage she'd managed to rent would be an ideal place to retire… afterwards.

Kirk and McCoy had had no trouble deciding that, for at least the first few days, they would reinvestigate some of their favorite nightspots. It hadn't taken them long to convince Scott to go along with them despite his unhappy experience on the planet several years past, and after Spock's demurral, they continued merrily planning a shore leave for three.

Kirk tried one last appeal to Spock, not really expecting capitulation. The morning they were to beam down, the Captain approached his First Officer once more.

"Are you sure you won't come with us this one time?"

"Absolutely, sir. Go. Join the others. I shall manage. Enjoy yourselves."

Kirk eyed him carefully. He'd wondered at the withdrawal behind that Vulcan mask, remembering the horrors Spock had so recently suffered, though McCoy had assured him that it was only a typical Spockian reaction after what he'd been through. Still…

"Look... ah, Spock..." He faltered, wondering if he ought to intrude even now, then decided it was command prerogative as well as the responsibility of friendship. "Are you all right .... I mean all right enough to stay alone?"

For a moment Spock stiffened, aware that he was perilously close to falling under the spell of that concerned warmth and spewing forth the poison that would murder Kirk's loving friendship more surely than a knife blade driven into the broad muscled chest. He called on his traitorous human half for the assistance of chicanery on his Captain's behalf-- Be useful for this purpose if no other! he bade himself savagely.

To relax and prevaricate under that searching hazel glance required all his shredded inner strengths.

"Captain...Jim..." His voice was reassurance itself. "I am well enough. You know I prefer my own pursuits during free hours ... and just now it might be wiser to remain aboard. I still tire easily and I am certain McCoy would approve my desire for rest."

"Well...if you're sure."

"I am. But...I am grateful nonetheless."

It was a measure of Kirk's own weariness and abstraction that he nodded and turned away without " second look. If he had looked back, he might have seen the haunted look that could be buried no longer. The Vulcan's face would have been enough to attract a stone's attention ... but Kirk did not look back.

* * *

In his cabin, Spock listened to the sounds of the fast-emptying starship and waited. Near collapse and total despair, he'd lived with deteriorating Vulcan patience through the long days of preparation. The drams, ugly phantasms, had become a steady stream of torments through each night. Too exhausted to fend off sleep, he'd been their constant victim. Daily, he struggled with the pressure of dual memory -- that of reality and that of vision. Meditation had failed almost completely.

Now the last of the crew were headed for two weeks of relaxation while he--. He rose, betraying abnormal agitation. He was at the mercy of his dreams and paced nervously, facing the reality of his self-imposed isolation with a soul-crushing fear. If he could scarcely manage under the disciplines of a schedule and daily duty, how could he hope to cope when there were but computer problem distractions and what seemed to be miles of empty corridor? No answer came to mind. He sighed as he paced the length of the cabin, practicing failing mental controls. After a while, the warm haven became a suffocating trap.

He sought the empty corridors, knowing the skeleton crew aboard was stationed in other parts of the ship, not likely to run into their prowling First Officer. The grey titanium corridors stretched away, curving ahead, seemingly endless, as he walked, invariably cat-footed, ineffably weary, hoping to court exhaustion that would drive him to perhaps peaceful sleep.

Hours later, his legs ached and he trembled. He blinked owlishly, found a turbolift and called for Deck Five where he was scarcely able to stagger to his quarters and throw himself across his bed.

For perhaps a half hour he lay as one dead, rung out with weeks of battle and resistance. Then, rising slowly out of the blackness, the white wisps of ghostly visitors gathered around his bed. Within minutes, they began their ritual torture of their victim once again.

Unknowing, Spock whimpered and tossed, sweat breaking free, soaking his shirt, as he writhed through yet another horridly vivid recollection of his own personal hell. There followed, once more, the by-now-familiar fantasy-dream in which he found himself the attacker and Kirk his helpless mortal victim.

With a cry of torment, Spock came awake, snapping upright. Sweating, blinking, he gasped, and his stomach twisted inside him. He was barely able to-stagger to the head before his protesting body betrayed him and he was violently, thoroughly sick.

Afterward, he rinsed his mouth, nearly weeping in weary frustration. When would it stop? When? Or would his imprisonment in its vise-like grip be thrown off only with his own death?

In an agony of spirit, he changed to a fresh shirt and, scarcely aware, made his unsteady way out of his quarters and toward the transporter room. He could stay aboard no longer. There was no peace to be had on the ship, perhaps none anywhere, but it no longer seemed to matter very much.

When Spock beamed down to the city's transporter area, he saw it was already late afternoon, though time had little meaning for him. Choosing a direction at random, he set off, walking slowly, stopping now and then to study passersby or the marketplace with its colorful shops. He'd no plan beyond the distraction of his own befogged mind, and so ambled aimlessly, first one street, then another, drawing further and further away from the center of the small city.

The sun set but Spock paid it no mind. He passed native Argellians and Starfleeters, tradesmen and shopkeepers, and paid them no heed. One step after the other, one yard after the next, street followed street, and still he walked. He'd ceased trying to fight the assault of his own thoughts. Instead, he sought the relief of distracting surroundings, caring nothing about his eventual destination.

After a while the rhythm of his walk was repeated in a litany of misery in his head. Would this waking nightmare never cease? The dreams which had haunted him only at night in the beginning had finally begun to color his daily thoughts, intruding on his train of concentration while on duty. He feared that unless he exorcized his personal demons, sooner or later, the twisted impulse inside him which had responded to his Orionese rapist would break free. He could scarcely live with the horror himself ... but for others to find out -- perhaps Jim! No! He could not bear it!

He walked on, unaware that he'd finally come to a rundown part of the city, less well-lit, inhabited by the Argellian vultures who preyed on the unwary. Unknowing, uncaring in his near stupor, Spock was a target. Down here, in the narrow cobblestoned alleys and high-walled twisting streets, his Starfleet uniform would prove no defense. Ordinarily, his Vulcan reserves would have protected him, but he'd been worn out with battle and had none left.

At a dividing in the streets, really little more than burrows in the dim lit warren, he turned down the right fork. He passed under a dirt-dimmed street lamp, and the yellow glow threw his long, lean body and angular features into stark relief. As he passed on with barely a pause, the night fog was beginning to coil around the buildings and lampposts. Unseen by the sojourner, a figure detached itself from a doorway on the opposite side of the street and followed along.

At the next intersection of alleys, Spock's shadow caught up with him and began to pace alongside. If he'd taken notice, he gave no sign. Presently, the girl, for she was no more than that despite her metallic air of experience, decided to take the initiative. She'd liked what she'd seen from the first moment he'd come into the circle of lamplight. Eying the tall leanness, fine-featured face, and the air of catlike grace, she'd nodded to herself.

Maybe it's Thetu's day of fortune at last! she thought, looking him over with professional interest, mentally stripping him with practiced ease. Nicely made. Clean. He should prove a chance at real pleasure. Make a pleasant change from the usual run.

"Going somewhere, pet?" she asked throatily, letting her shawl slip enough to reveal a bared white shoulder.

Spock roused from his apathy with some difficulty. "I ... what did you ask?"

"I asked if you were bound somewhere in particular," she repeated, more pleased at her newfound prize by the moment. His voice was deep and soft, his manner somehow gentle. She'd hit a treasure this time, of that she was certain.

"I--no. Nowhere in particular," he replied. He slowed his already ambling pace somewhat to allow her to match his longer stride.

"Then perhaps you'll let me walk along with you...?"

Still preoccupied, Spock murmured, "If you wish."

"Oh ... I wish. Yes. How I wish!" she muttered under her breath. He seemed a little odd. Maybe he was recovering from a drunk or a bad illusion cube trip. She shrugged mentally. It didn't matter. He was beautiful, and if she worked it right, he'd be warming her bed within the hour. Probably keep it well-heated the whole night, too, from the looks of him.

They walked along slowly, Spock still lost in the trackless country of his dreams, Thetu making her plans. She found that a touch to his elbow would steer him and she found he didn't either avoid or encourage her touch. Undaunted, she slipped an arm through his and walked closer to him, finally pressing herself against his side, guiding his steps from one alley to another. After his first monosyllabic replies, she concluded he was disinclined to talk but did not object to her chatter. Pitching her voice to a low, soothing, sensual purr, she murmured to him, her hand running up and down his arm, eventually reaching for his slender waist.

Better and better, she thought, pleased at the supple feel to his hard body. They continued their apparently aimless stroll.

"You know -- it's getting late, my pet. Do you have a bed for the night?"

"Do I--? Er...n-no." The import of the girl's question and her investigative hand were beginning to get through to Spock. He found himself seized by a terrible, uncharacteristic indecision.

"Then -- why don't you come along with me? It's late ... and getting cold..." she murmured suggestively, her roaming hand slipping under the back of his tunic. "Don't want to get cold, do you ... my pretty, pretty pet?"

Her voice was hypnotic, her hand ran up the long back, reveling in the silken feel of his flesh over the iron muscles beneath.

"I'm a little cold, pet. Won't you keep me warm?" she coaxed, with an elfin smile, pleased when he let her draw his right arm around her slim shoulders. She shivered with pleasure at the feel of him, her nipples thrusting against the fabric of her blouse. Deliberately, she let her shawl open, watching as his velvet eyes went to the perilously low cut of the blouse where smooth white breasts threatened to burst free of the thin material. She took a deep breath, satisfied he was occupied with the view, steering him down another street with a triumphant switch to her hips.

She was still very young, and knew she was lovely, though it was mostly the loveliness of youth. Bright masses of brown-gold hair fell over her shoulders, and the eyes in her piquant little face were a beautiful smokey blue, advantages that would tarnish and dull in time. But for now they were more than adequate currency.

Spock knew he should call a halt to this absurdity, but a desperate little 'voice rose out of the rolling confusion inside him, suggesting to him that here perhaps was a solution. The Vulcan in him protested in shocked outrage, but the insidious voice he took for that of his human half taunted that perhaps this was his last chance, his only chance to find out ... now and for always ... was he what he feared? Was he? Was he?

Mesmerized, Spock let himself be led along. "Where--?" he muttered, thickly, when they drew up before a door part way down a dim, narrow, noisome alley.

"Oh...it's a cozy place, pet... You'll see... Get you out of the damps right away," Thetu murmured and before she turned to key open the door, she pressed herself full against his chest and loins, hands sliding around back to cup the neat buttocks, grinding her hips once into his and planting a scorching, wet-lipped kiss on his mouth.

Spock shivered, incoherent fears ricocheting off one another in the chamber of his mind. Thetu took it for passionate anticipation and led him into the dark room, closing the door behind him. He stood frozen against the wall, revulsion and a horrified impulse to take the woman as proof against the dawning perversion he feared in himself both warring inside him.

"Stay right there, pet," Thetu murmured. "I'll get us a fire..."

Spock heard her scrambling around and presently there was a small flame in the darkness and the smell of burning wood. The pile caught quickly, flaring up, lending a soft, leaping shadowy light to the tiny room. Spock tore his eyes away from the picture of Thetu, posed deliberately against the hearth, nakedly visible through her thin skirt and blouse. He looked around the room.

A bed was shoved into one corner, its coverlets pushed back untidily, and there was a table with two chairs, a few shelves with utensils, and a low wardrobe in the room, scant furnishings and little or nothing in the way of personal possessions. It would have made a crewman's quarters look lavish.

"Say -- pet... I don't know your name..." the girl said huskily.

"It's Sp--!" the Vulcan choked as he beheld her. She'd stripped off her clothing and stood nude before the fire, hands on her hips, legs planted apart, pelvis thrust forward. Her small, full breasts were tip tilted, impudent, the waist slender, legs long and tapering. The glossy nest between her legs was as golden brown as the hair on her head.

Satisfied she'd gotten his attention, she laughed. "Doesn't matter. I'll just call you 'pet.' That's what you look like anyway: a big, beautiful siva-cat." Hands still on her hips, she walked slowly toward him, hips swinging meaningfully.

Spock suddenly found it hard to breathe.

* * *

"The Sign of the Golden Coin" was a typical Argellian inn, though perhaps more elegantly lavish than most of the others in spite of its location in a lesser part of the city. Like all the rest, its dimly lit interior held the usual array of native residents, their numbers currently swelled by some of the visiting Starfleet crewmen from the two orbiting starships. Musicians thrummed stringed and percussive instruments, a trio of enticingly semi-clad dancers whirled on the small stage, finger cymbals pinging in time to the rhythm of hips and hands and feet, and the air was filled with talk and laughter.

At a corner table, seated on a low cushion, Penda Uhura sat watching the dancers, sipping cautiously from her goblet of green-gold Argellian flyr. At her side, the husky bronze young Lieutenant from the Potemkin took a healthy gulp from his own drink and eased nearer. He'd remembered Uhura as lovely, but he hadn't been quite prepared for what poise and maturity had added to her charms.

"You'd better be careful of that stuff, Shereth," she warned him as he drained his goblet. "It's pretty potent, you know."

"I've had quite a bit of experience with alien brews, Penda," he assured her, signaling a waiter. "I know what I'm doing. Besides," he held up a hand, indicating another round, "this is a celebration."

Uhura gave a somewhat unladylike grunt and nibbled at a tidbit from the plate of assorted delicacies she'd persuaded Shereth to order with the flyr. He hadn't been all that pleased at her knowledge of Argelius from the very first and some instinct kept her silent about the cottage. Time enough for that later ... if later arrived. Come to think of it, she wasn't all that pleased with him either. He seemed to bear little resemblance to the somewhat shy young man she'd known at the Academy. They'd never seemed to get much of a chance to be together back then, and the attraction had been strong. That -- and the frustration that had accompanied constantly thwarted chances -- had kept them in occasional contact with one another over the years and was the chief motivation for this meeting now.

The burdened waiter interrupted her reverie by setting down two full goblets on the table in front of them. Alarmed, Uhura protested when he would have removed her half empty glass. "I'm all right for now," she said, waving him away. When the man shrugged and reached for ·one of the full glasses he'd brought, Shereth's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. The waiter grimaced in pain, leaving the drink on the table.

"'s okay. Leave it!" the lieutenant slurred, and the man drew away with a murmured apology.

Angry at the brutality, Uhura snapped, "Was that necessary, Shereth?"

"Sorry, love. Sorry. Don't get your lovely feathers ruffled," he soothed, slipping an arm around her. Before she had a chance to utter a word, he'd closed her lips with his own, crushing her closely.

The breath forced effectively from her lungs by the encircling, vise-like grip, she gasped for air only to find her lips pried open by a hot, searching tongue. As she struggled to free herself from the unwanted attention, she found he'd entrapped her arms and was exploring her body under cover of the dimness and the rest of the crowd's inattention. There was a brief struggle, and finally Uhura pulled free with a gasp.

"Damn ! This was a good gown, Shereth!" She fingered a rent in the side of the flame colored Faleronian silk gown she'd already regretted wearing. Shereth had spent most of the evening conversing with the enticing swell of curves visible above the generously scooped neckline, and she'd just about had it. The rip in the gown was the limit.

"Sorry, love..:" he giggled, not at all apologetically, and gulped down the rest of his flyr. "Don't know my own strength, I guess."

"Wrong, mister!" she hissed. "You don't know either your capacity -- or your former companion!"

With that, she got to her feet in one lithe movement, neatly avoiding his clumsy lunge at her, and stalked past the surprised and delighted waiter. At the door, she paused for a last look and found herself more than a little pleased at the sight of a staggering Shereth engaged in struggling with the waiter who evidently wanted to be paid. Uhura saw he was getting in a few licks of his own against the husky communications officer, and left the tavern without regret.

Outside, the fog was fast obscuring the streets and she saw from the lack of traffic-that it was very late. There was an unpleasant chill to the night air.

A bit apprehensive of the unfamiliar surroundings, though still angry at her erstwhile escort, she set off at a determined pace, headed for the street she knew would lead out to the road to the woodland cottage she'd rented. At least, she reflected, she could spend the night there. Time enough to turn it over to someone else in the morning. There would enough eager souls anxious for such a private retreat. Still, it angered her. Such a waste. A walk in the cool air wasn't such a bad idea, she decided. She was beginning to seethe with fury at having been suckered into whole humiliating business.

* * *

Thetu glided toward the tall alien she'd come to call "pet" He stood frozen, immobile, a look of fear in his deep eyes.

"Frightened, pet? Thetu will help you ... there's nothing to be frightened of ... Thetu will show you ... there's nothing at all..." Her voice was a husky promise.. Then she reached out and ran her hands up his body from waist to throat, murmuring all the while, pressing herself to him, grinding hips into his, guiding his hands to her back. Searching out the stirring that would tell her he was responsive to her caresses, she slid her hand down his flat muscular belly to his groin. Nothing. Perhaps he was the sort more moved by rough handling, she thought, sliding one hand up under the front of his tunic. Mmm ... she liked them lightly furred like this one... Her other hand gripped his genitals through the duranyl uniform trousers, squeezing, rubbing, none too gently.

"Come on, pet..." she coaxed, growing more insistent as the strong feel and clean smell of him began to arouse her. He might be hard to get started, but something about his very reticence told her he'd be a tiger when released. Her questing hand slid down from his chest to slide around under the waistband of his trousers to the small of his back. It wasn't difficult to slip her slim fingers into the cleft of his smooth, tight buttocks.

Inside the shocked Vulcan's head, battling voices shouted at one another, one urging responsiveness, the other condemning, judging.

You are Vulcan…it is wrong--!

This is your chance … you're half human, too … find out now, here, with her!

It is not right! Such behavior is disgraceful!

How will you know if you are what the Orion made of you if you do not take this chance?

You are Vulcan … you will control your impulses … this, now and that other, always!

You cannot control any longer … that is why you are here … take her!

Do not soil your honor with this woman … you are Vulcan … control!

Take her!

Control!

Take her!

Control!

"NO!!!" The despairing cry was torn from him in a roar and he pushed the girl away from him in a reflex more forceful than planned. Startled, Thetu found herself flung backward and screeched as wound up smack on her bare buttocks on the floor in front of the hearth, limbs flying in a graceless a reflex more forceful than planned.

"Oooh ! You--you...!!!" she screamed when she caught her breath.

The horrified Vulcan shrank against the wall, watching fascinated, as she came to her feet, cursing, stalking him in a crouch, fingers curved like claws. Her face was ugly with fury, eyes wild.

Suddenly she leaped at him, nails reaching for his face and eyes, a guttural battle scream erupting from her throat. Only Spock's lightning reflexes saved him from mutilation. He caught her wrists and shoved her away again. Frustrated, Thetu shrieked at him. "You -- gutter filth! Offspring of vermin! You … unman! Refuse Thetu, do you!? What are you, that you refuse me?! Unman!"

At Spock's suddenly haunted look, her eyes narrowed. "Unman! Unman! Unman! You cannot, can you? Jewelless limprod!"

Spock's eyes widened. He shook his head in unconscious protest, but the girl laughed harshly. His brain suddenly seemed to twist in pain within his skull and his scrambling hand sought the doorlatch.

"Go! Go on! Get out! Run!! Run -- but you can't get away from yourself!"

Spock wrenched the door open, stumbling into the alley where the fog coiled like smokey snakes around his legs. His breath was a rough half-sob in his throat. At a shambling run, he darted toward the street.

Heedless of her nakedness, Thetu followed to the door, leaning on the jamb, laughing and screeching after him.

"Run ... boy lover! Child bugger! Unman! Go! There are boy children in the Veta District. Go -- find one of them! You are useless to a woman! Unman--unman--unman!" For emphasis, she hurled a crockery bowl after him, catching him a glancing blow on the side of the head.

Spock stumbled under the impact of the blow, a flash of pain searing through his skull. He lurched away blindly, coarse screeches and the roaring in his ears deafening him. Staggering, breathing in ragged gasps, he fetched up against the far wall of the narrow street. He lifted hands to his throbbing temples and leaned against the damp stone. A moment later he heard the furious slam of her door.

For long moments he stood there, his thoughts a chaos beyond control, utterly lost. Suddenly he stiffened. From out of the fog within and around him, a hand reached out and rested on his arm.

For a moment, time stood still. Then--

"Mr. Spock?" Uhura asked softly. She could scarcely believe it was the First Officer, and for a moment, thought she had made some mistake. Tugging gently at his arm, she pulled him around so that she could see him -- and gasped. His face was contorted into a mask of horror. A livid green-black bruise marred his temple and there was a gash on the side of his head, oozing green blood into the silky black hair.

She made a soft sound of sympathy and reached up to touch the wound. "You're hurt!"

He turned his head to look down at her and for a second before he attempted to collect himself, Uhura found herself looking through dark windows into hell. Her heart began hammering almost painfully.

"Uhura?" It was a hoarse croak.

"Yes. Yes, sir. It's me. Are you all right?" It was a foolish question. He was anything but 'all right'.

"Y-yes. No. I..." Then he shook himself, and his face settled back into its customary mask. His eyes, though, were tortured. "

Sir, I don't think you're well at all. You're bleeding and you seem disoriented. Here," she moved to pull his arm across her shoulders and slid hers around his waist, "let me help you. Just lean on me. We'll get you back to the Enterprise in--"

"No!" His protest was a cry of agony, and he wrenched free to stumble against the wall where he stood trembling.

Uhura found it appalling to contemplate the raw pain in his face and body. Suddenly, it didn't matter that he was Vulcan and her superior officer. He was a creature in pain and all her female instincts came alive.

She reached out gently, grasping his arm again. Through the synthavelour of his tunic, the arm felt like iron, tensed as it was. "All right," she said. "Then we won't go back to the ship. If you like, I can take you somewhere not far. You'll be comfortable and I can tend to your injuries It's private ... we'd be ·alone..."

She made the offer tentatively, aware of the intensity and lingering fear in his gaze, thinking with a part of her mind that it was the one look she'd never thought to see on his Vulcan features. And she dearly hoped she would never see it again.

For a moment more, Spock seemed to argue with himself. Then, finally, aching in mind and body, he gave in, allowing her to half support him as they walked away from the scene of his shame, a scene he had to block from his mind or his minimal controls would shatter.

Slowly, gently, Uhura supported Spock, concentrating her attention on giving him comfort and reassurance. He seemed locked in his private misery and his responses to her soft-voiced comments were few. After a while, she gave up trying to elicit a reply.

His body was cold through his shirt, unusual for one of his Vulcan physiology, and he trembled. The flat-muscled shoulders were bowed beneath an invisible yoke and his face, stress shadowed, was terrible to see. That he had been suffering, she knew, recalling her concern for him only days before. But of all the men on the Enterprise, the very last she would have expected to see abused by a woman of the Argellian alleys would have been Spock. What had driven him to this?

* * *

They reached the cottage a little more than a half hour later. It was stone walled, rustic, with a roof made of some local slate. A wide chimney poked up through the center of the rear roof.

With an iron key she produced from somewhere, Uhura opened the door. Two muted amber glow lamps in iron wall sconces had been automatically activated by the key in the lock, and by their flickering simulated candle-flame light, she could see the cabin's interior. It was one small room, furnished in an old-fashioned style that reminded her of one in the Sierras on Earth in which she'd spent a glorious month's leave from the Academy.

The thick carpeting was a vivid red, the walls white adobe and there was a huge grey stone fireplace stretching across the rear wall. The wood was already set in the grate. In one corner stood a wide bed, covered with some thick, black furry material and strewn with brightly colorful pillows. There were primitive kitchen facilities tucked behind a counter in another corner, and facing the hearth was a long wood-framed, deeply cushioned sofa. A quartzite-topped table sat before the fireplace.

For a moment, remembering that long ago cabin in the Sierras and the month in the delightful company of a former Academy instructor, Uhura recalled why she'd taken this cabin, and sighed. It was certainly a long step from sheltering a wounded superior officer.

Closing the door behind the still-trembling Spock, Uhura wasted no time starting a fire. The bright flames flared at a bare touch and she rose from her knees at the hearth. She looked at Spock. He stood staring into the flames, arms crossed over his chest. She stretched out a beckoning hand. "Come. Sit down by the fire. You'll be warm again in a short while."

Wordlessly, Spock complied. As he sat down, she placed around his shoulders the couch's brightly woven Argellian afghan. For a moment or two, he still sat, shoulders clenched with cold. Then, as the soft warmth of the blanket and the fire's heat started to penetrate his chilled body, he began to relax.

"Better?"

He looked directly at her for the first time. Pain and shame lingered in his eyes, but he looked more normal than he had. "Yes," he whispered. "Thank you."

He turned to stare into the fire once more, hands clasped tightly before him. She bit her lip. She thought of asking him about what had happened, but there was a mutely vulnerable look about him that stayed her impulse. With a sidelong glance at him, she turned to the small kitchen where she found the makings of faintly spiced Argellian tea. The hot liquid would certainly warm his body, and might go a long way toward repairing the abused spirit. In a few minutes, she had a kettle set to boil and had prepared a tray with stone tea pot and bowls. As she turned to look for medication for the gash on his scalp, she caught sight of an octagonal decanter on a low shelf.  Lifting the stopper, she took a sniff and discovered it was the potent yellow-gold Argellian brandy the natives called "Sun's Fire" for both its hue and heat. With a speculative look over her shoulder at Spock, sitting slumped and brooding before the fire, she poured a liberal dose into the bowl she planned to give him.

A short search in the bath cubicle netted a small medical kit which she took, along with a bowl of warm water and a soft cloth, to tend Spock's wound. Kneeling on a cushion at his feet, she worked with gentle fingers on the bruised and bloody temple. To her relief, the bloody rent proved, when cleaned, to be a small, shallow groove in his scalp which had bled somewhat freely. It only took a moment to repair the damage, though she wondered why he hadn't used the Vulcan mental techniques to stop the flow.

Returning with the tea, she set it on the low table before him, then drew over a large pillow and dropped into a graceful cross-legged heap on it at his feet. While the tea steeped, she used the time to study him. His open, acute terror had abated, but some soul-deep misery seemed to have him in its tenacious grasp.

She poured tea and handed the liquor-laced bowl to him, holding her breath as she waited for his protest. For some reason, it troubled her when he accepted the bowl's contents without comment. He drank the tea rather hurriedly, and she silently followed up with an undoctored refill, hoping the liquid would warm and relax him.

"Mr. Spock..." she said softly. Pain-clouded brown eyes raised to fix their gaze on her face. She hesitated a moment, wondering what to say, and finally only asked, very gently, "What happened?"

For a moment, he stiffened, and she wondered if he would refuse to answer or get up and stalk out. She sat quietly, waiting. The struggle inside Spock was brief. At last, spent, hurt beyond endurance, and desperately tired of his lonely battle, he gave in.

"All right," he whispered, voice cracking on the second syllable. He gazed down at the woman before him, knowing he was placing himself vulnerably in her hands, and suddenly he didn't care. The soft light in her beautiful eyes was the balm his flayed soul craved. "It began...with the Klingons..."

Slowly, halting often to breathe deeply to steady himself, he briefly recounted the hours and days of gut-wrenching torture. Subjected to the untold agonies of a new electro-shock device and the suggestive hell of the dreaded mind-sifter, he'd been pumped full of some new pain-enhancing drug the Klingon government had developed for use on Vulcans. Yet, he had not broken. Perhaps he would have -- in time. It was something he would never know, for all Klingon plans had been altered by a sub-space radio message that among the Federation huntsmen on their trail was the U.S.S. Enterprise. The word passed on by their turncoat Andorian informant was that James T. Kirk had vowed unofficial but unrelenting personal revenge for anything done to his First Officer. Since Spock was a prisoner on the Devisor, and Captain Koloth had good personal reasons to know that Kirk meant what he'd "let drop" into the spy network, Koloth had dumped the Vulcan at his earliest convenience.

And that was how Spock had come to stand, chained and naked, on the slaver auction block in RolTon on Gto. With a body so plainly marked by abuse, ordinarily the sign of a troublemaker who was to be avoided, he'd been surprised out of his dull stupor of pain when his spiked collar had been exchanged for the jeweled collar of a purchaser.

"My trials ... did not end with the sale," he continued softly. As the moment of revelation drew near, he found himself trembling again and unable to look into the young woman's face. He was aware she'd refilled his cup several times during the recital, gently forcing the tea on him, and he felt her sympathy, but it did not alter his fear at telling her of his final degradation.

"I was thrown into a caged wagon," he  said," and driven to the holding of my ... new ... owner." He was shuddering now, his breath coming in short, controlled gasps. Instinctively seeking to comfort Uhura took his shaking hands in hers. His fingers curled around hers reflexively, and his voice dropped to a scant whisper.

"When we arrived, the guards unchained me from my cage. I put up a useless, illogical struggle, and was – punished -- for it. Then, with blows designed to 'hasten' my progress, they drove me to a subterranean cell, where I was chained to a wall... For a while, they ... amused themselves by maltreating me..." Uhura's grip tightened. She could read a great deal between the pained lines of his story. Wounded, helpless, in pain, he would have been a perfect victim for a sadist. Fury and compassion were one within her.

"After a while ... they departed ... leaving me in the darkness and the cold ... Hours passed... but no one came to disturb me... Then--"

His voice choked off and he quaked violently. Abruptly, he could not bear her touch or her gaze, and he snapped to his feet. Startled, Uhura scrambled up after him, but something in his posture stopped her. He looked like a caged beast, trapped, tormented anew by relating the ordeal, and she sensed they'd reached the point to all this. Wisely, she kept still as Spock stumbled away from her to stand at the mantle facing the fire. His taut body radiated incredible tension, vibrating like a plucked harpstring. His hands, clutching at the stone, were bloodless.

"My ... owner ... came to the cell to view ... and ... try out his new 'toy'."

Uhura had never heard such bitterness in his voice in all the time she'd known him. There was disgust, shame, and self-hatred in the deep, hoarse croak. Yet she was puzzled at his meaning. She must have made some small sound, for he cringed. He turned away, incredible misery in the stiff back and slumped shoulders. The hoarse whisper continued. "Orionese males do not confine their attentions..." he trembled "...to women.

The implication hit her with the force of a body blow. She gasped, knowing she didn't have to wonder; the color of his pain was too vivid.

"You were..." her voice caught on the word "...raped?"

She reached out to touch, to comfort, ignoring his Vulcan inhibitions, but the whispered reply stopped her hands inches from his iron-muscled back.

"I--do not know! Is it...rape...when there is..." another convulsive shudder "...pleasure?!"

For all her future days, Uhura would remember that moment and how it had stretched out, menacing silence broken only by the crackling of the fire logs.

At last his voice tolling hollowly, Spock told her in short, terse phrases, of the attack and the way it had haunted all his dreams and waking hours since his return.

"No one knows then..." she said, low-voiced.

"No one." He continued to search the flames before him, seeking an ever-elusive peace.

"No wonder you were so overwrought..." she murmured. When he looked down at her, exhausted, she beckoned.

"Come."

One long eyebrow quirked slightly, a ghost of his usual expression.

"Trust me," she said. "I understand. Come and sit down again, please."

Wearily Spock took her invitation and dropped back onto the sofa. He clasped his lean hands before him tightly, his look still despairing, wondering. A moment later, she pried his long fingers apart gently to put another cup of tea into his hands. At his speculative glance, she chinned toward the cup.

"Just drink it."

Too tired to argue, he complied. He looked his thanks to her as she sank once more to the cushion at his feet. The faintest of smiles touched her lovely mouth in reply.

For a while they sat together in silence as Spock drank the fragrant tea. Then, when he'd finished and had placed the cup on the table, he said, "I am very grateful not to be alone ... but it solves nothing, Lieutenant."

"Penda, please, Mr. Spock. I hardly think this is the time for formalities between us."

A faint flicker shone briefly in his eyes. "Indeed?" he said softly. "Then perhaps you should dispense with the 'mister'."

"Touche, Spock." For a moment she thought perhaps he'd shaken free of his torments, but then his face settled back into lines of repose, and the pain as still there.

She watched him carefully, feeling that pain for him, sensing how deeply the shame and fear had cut into his pride and that it wasn't the attack alone that had done it. For any proud Vulcan to have been used as a plaything would have been soul-searing, but it was his own reaction and the fears it had aroused in him which tortured him.

She searched his face, once more turned toward the fire, and realized that she could not allow him to go on this way. Fate or kismet or pure happenstance, something had put her in that narrow street to witness that terrible scene. She understood a little more of his state of mind, but it still startled her to think of him there with that woman screaming out her terrible accusations at him. It was certainly a measure of his abject suffering that he would step so far out of character as to be there. And if he was in that much pain ... then she very much wanted to help.

"Spock," she said. He turned. She discovered it was difficult to speak freely while those velvet eyes held hers, but she persisted. "

Why did you go with that girl?"

A flash of agony convulsed his face in reply, pain so vivid that she reached out instinctively to lay her hands on his. He swallowed with difficulty.

"You...can guess the reason," he said, his voice roughened with emotion. She looked at him with compassion.

"Yes. I can guess ... but tell me. Even with all you've ... endured, I can't see you ... seeking out that sort of woman."

"I did not seek her out. I was just walking, thinking... She joined me somewhere, to walk along beside me ... and I ... allowed it to ... progress from there." He looked away, shamed.

Uhura stroked his tightly clasped hands lightly.

"You hoped in some way to disprove what you feared about yourself."

He nodded, though he still refused to look at her. "I had heard the human males in the crew say ... it is sometimes ... a ... a remedy." His voice was very low.

"But it didn't work," she prompted.

He shook his head, wincing at the raw memory.

"Oh...Spock..." she murmured. "Of course it didn't work. How could it--?"

His head snapped up, eyes tortured. "You mean because...I could not..."

"No! I didn't mean that! I mean -- of course it wouldn't work ... because she didn't care about you enough to help you..."

He searched her face, anxious, fearful, pained.

"As I do," she added simply.

Startlement chased comprehension across the delicate angular face. "You?!" he breathed. His eyes narrowed with suspicion

The young woman nodded, aware that he was fearful of mockery. She showed him the warm open friendship, the trust, the complete acceptance of him, even now, that she felt. His batwing brows drew together in a frown. Careful of her terms, she stroked his hands, and continued, "What you ... were willing to allow, Spock... It still can be possible ... here and now ... with me -- if you still want it."

She held her breath, wondering if he would refuse, and watched the battle he fought with himself over it.

"No matter what happens ... or doesn't happen, Spock ... no one will ever know. It will be a compact between officers and friends," she whispered, watching the play of firelight reflected in eyes and soft black hair.

For a moment longer he seemed unsure. Then he capitulated. Unable to speak, he gave the smallest of nods. She smiled in reply and got up on her knees. got thought.

Seemingly hypnotized, he watched her apprehensively as she leaned toward him, and then he forgot thought. Her lovely hands lifted to his face as she let herself go with the currents of instinct her. Eyes and fingertips followed a course along the fine bones, tracing the high cheekbones, the hollows beneath, the firm sculptured jaw. The elegant, batwing brows, high arched shell ears and finally the sensitive mouth. Her fingers ran delicately around the line of his lips and across the velvet flesh, fascinated with discoveries new to her. How long had she watched him without really seeing him? She found herself admiring and stirred by the perfect hones and planes of his face, the stark contrast between rigid strength and tender softness: gentle eyes and sharp etched brows, lean iron cheeks and satin smooth skin, stern mouth and petal soft lips.

Her fingertips barely touched his skin as she traced the lines of his jaw, trailing the strong column of throat with its prominent veins, stroking, soothing. It seemed both natural and necessary when she slipped onto his lap, and later she couldn't decide whether she'd initiated the action or he had.

Her breath was warm and fragrant on his face, fingers sensual, her soft, full mouth following its own path across cheek and jaw. As her fingers found the tape at the neck of his uniform tunic, a sweet gust of breath blew into one ear. Spock shuddered with pleasure when her tongue traced the shell contours and she bit the tip. He was so absorbed, flesh tingling with electric currents as her tongue probed, that he was unaware she'd undone the hidden seam of his tunic and had bared him to the waist.

Her mouth! A searing moist trail traced downward from his ear to his collarbone. One hand had found its way into the mat of downy fur on his chest, raking through the soft blackness of it, nails grazing the coppery nipples. A moment later a hot wet mouth had fastened on one, sucking gently. A live current of fire threaded through his nerves and veins, and he was unaware that he was gasping, moaning softly, arching against the searching mouth and hands that held him a mesmerized and willing prisoner suspended away from rational thought. There was only her mouth and her hands, and his very flesh seemed afire beneath an assault that was a delightful agony.

He never knew how or when she'd shed her own clothes, but rather quickly there was a collection of warm, brown velvet curves beneath his hands and she seemed to be urging him out of his boots and the suddenly constricting uniform pants. As her mouth fastened to the oval of his navel, tongue darting into the depression, coherence fled.

Light flashed behind half-closed lids, his body burned, and his breath came in huge, gasping tiger purrs. Somewhere, somehow, they'd gotten to the bed and now lay half-entwined on the black fur coverlet. The combination of the soft fur beneath the sweet torturous hands and mouth above brought sensory overload. Helpless, ecstatic, he writhed, wanting, seeking, needing as he'd never been aware he could seek or need.

His loins were ablaze, pulsing heat that centered in his groin and spread outward in waves so delicious they were almost painful. He'd no idea he was half sobbing in a broken combination of Vulcan and human speech, pleading, begging her not to stop ... not ever to stop.

Suddenly, a moist, warm suckling fixed on the throb at the center of his being ·and he cried out. Sheets of flame focused to a fine point as her tongue and lips taunted, urged, beseeched and forgave. Fingernails drew fiery trails across his concave belly and up the tender insides of the long hard thighs.

The triune testicles tensed in their velvet sacking, the knurled alien shaft rising bright green, proud, steel under silk, to stand in quivering erection. Shoulders and heels dug into the bed cover, body arching to a taut bow, loins seeking the torture and promise of her suckling mouth. As her tongue laved the eye at the head of the shaft, his hips dropped back to the coverlet, hands digging convulsively into the bedclothes. Moaning purrs begged her, pleaded with her to go on, to ease, to help him!--help him!--help him!

God, he's beautiful! she thought blurrily. She'd never known a creature so responsive to touch, ironic in one who avoided it so assiduously. But -- perhaps, this was why -- this wild, ungoverned, innocent and sensual reply. Taut satiny flesh rippled, lithe muscles writhed beneath as he twisted and raved. Cautiously, alert to the nuances of tone and touch, she explored every valley and ridge in the lean, sinewy body, her own body athrob in response to this sheer guileless animal savagery.

Gently, her mouth and tongue brought him close and then retreated, close and retreat, her fingers tracing the cleft between the small muscular buttocks. Huge shudders shook him.

And then, just as a finger found the opening she'd sought, it was as if a switch had been snapped off somewhere. He froze, anal muscles clamping fiercely, protesting the invasion. Bewildered, she lifted her head from his groin, to find herself looking into eyes wide with sudden terror.

But--! And then she realized! Of course, he feared this above all!

Her own voice thick with passion, she murmured, comforting, soothing, reminding him that she would never hurt him, that it was logical to explore all avenues of response. Her hands caressed his flesh hypnotically. A moment's hesitation. Then -- slowly, he lay back, forcing clenched muscles to untense, giving himself up once more to the exquisite pain.

It took little to draw him back down into the maddening whirlpool once more, and for a while she used hands and mouth everywhere except on the aching erected shaft that seemed to plead for her mouth's comfort. Featherlike, her fingers slipped beneath him as he writhed, tracing the tight cleft, beating an agonizingly ecstatic tattoo at the aperture she'd sought. Her tongue teased the erected penis, and as his moaning pleas became louder and more importunate she slipped a finger into his anus, rotating it gently as her mouth sought him. A few droplets of clear liquid had squeezed out of the tip of the shaft and as she licked it eagerly, somewhere taking note of a heady taste of spice, she thought drunkenly that he could be delightfully addictive.

For Spock, the universe was aflame. When her mouth and hands suddenly left his throbbing organs, he gasped in wordless protest, begging her to return. Instead, she straddled him, impaling herself carefully on the green steel shaft. As her cool moistness engulfed him, he reached up to caress her firm, curved flesh, his lean hands suddenly searingly knowledgable on her as his mind sought hers and twined itself deep within her. No longer rationally aware, she moved instinctively, as he searched both mind and body, uncaring that they'd mind-linked, wanting only more of the same.

Their voices blended as their bodies blended, his throaty purring cries and her shrill ones, as they thrust and ground together in mounting, climbing elemental rhythm -- toward the sky and through it into the heart of a burning sun.

Then suddenly the universe exploded blindingly and they screamed, fused together in the little death that is life itself.

Barely conscious, she collapsed into his passion-wet chest, and for a long time was content to know nothing more.

* * *

Much later, she returned to awareness, to find herself held tightly in his arms. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes, surprised and pleased when he gave her a small, half smile.

She bent to plant a kiss on the tip of his nose. "Thank you, Spock."

His right eyebrow did its characteristic climb. "You are grateful? Illogical. It is I who give thanks. You have given me ... much" Gently, he brushed a lock of hair off her damp forehead, his eyes tender.

"Spock -- Spock!" she whispered. "I gave you nothing you didn't already have. You're--well, 'amazing' doesn't quite cover it. You needn't have any worries ... but I already knew that. What was done to you ... and your reaction -- I think it was to be expected.

"Your reactions to sexual play are -- almost violent, and yet very innocent. As for what happened to you with the Orion... I'd say your body reacted to that invasion independent of your mind. When your pleasure level was stimulated, you reacted. After all, you didn't enjoy being victimized and abused..." He shook his head, watching her intently. "I didn't think so. It was just that something was triggered inside you. Maybe it wasn't what you've been taught is normal. But what's that, anyway? You've been on a hundred worlds in this galaxy and you know perfectly well that, often, what's taboo on one is acceptable on another. You can't legislate a normal physical reaction. The body responds as it will. You're sexually sensitive, Spock -- extraordinarily so. And I'd venture the guess that -- your cultural upbringing aside -- you're an exceptionally physical creature ... if you let yourself be, that is. You were worried that perhaps you were somehow ... 'deviant'? No, my friend. Think about it a moment, logically. Would you really want to do what we just did with any man of your acquaintance -- anyone at all?" Spock shook his head wordlessly. "I'm not surprised. You're not now and never were inclined toward any but women. I'd even be willing to inscribe a testimonial to that effect on the outer hull of the Enterprise."

He smiled, and she breathed more easily. She went on, "What you do with this magnificent body of your is entirely up to you … whether you wish to follow human or Vulcan ways. But, my friend, I'd hazard the notion that your fear and insecurity ... and maybe the intensity of your reactions now and before stemmed from your Vulcan-imposed inexperience and unavailability."

He was listening quietly, caressing her slowly, thoughtfully. After what seemed like a silent eternity, a half-smile lit his eyes. "It is something certainly worth considering. I am grateful -- and honored -- by your unselfish help."

Wanting to break the serious mood, she ran a teasing hand through the soft black fur on his chest. "Oh ... you're very welcome ... but I don't know if it was so unselfish, Spock," she said throatily, a roguish smile twitching her lips. "I've been watching you ever since I joined the crew of the Enterprise -- speculating, wondering..."

"Indeed," he said, deadpan, brown velvet eyes twinkling. "Did you find it worth the wait?"

"Oh -- indeed!" she replied, mimicking him gently. She laughed appreciatively·at his raised eyebrow and was startled and pleased when he kissed her with confident authority.

When they broke apart, she regarded him questioningly. His dark eyes were alive beneath the elegant brows. "I believe I could use some more of your special...ah... therapy," he said, and drew her close again, arms tightening around her meaningfully.

Uhura stretched under his hard body delightedly, laughing. "And to think I almost regretted having rented this cottage for the entire two weeks of shore leave!"

"The entire two weeks?" he asked, eyes widening with speculative interest. Thoughtfully, he murmured, "Yes. That should prove a sufficient period of...convalescence.''

Her chortling reply was lost as his warm lips closed firmly over hers and their bodies melted together again.

THE END