Title: Learning Home
Rating: Adult only
Word Count: 25,375
Summary: Even though retired, Kirk can't resist a challenge. Sometimes, though, challenges deliver more than you expect.
A/N: Big, big hugs and thank-yous to my cheerleaders and editors, Jenna and Dusky, who consistently supported me to write from my heart. If you haven't ever read their Beyond Dreams Press zines, you don't know what you're missing. This was originally written for Beyond Dreams 7, printed in March 2004. And it wouldn't be complete without throwing big, wet kisses to devohoneybee, who has always, always listened.
continued from Learning Home part one
By the end of the second full day, any memory of his body being comfortable was merely a dream. Muscles Kirk hadn't felt in years-if ever-throbbed like a toothache. His calves, his feet, his thighs and gluts, they all bore the brunt of walking in ever-shifting sand and heavy gravity.
Moving through the deep sand of the Vulcan desert was strangely like motion on water: constant readjustment for balance in a shifting environment. At the end of the first day, Kirk had felt vaguely motion-sick. R'Kal had noticed and, in her straight-forward manner, patiently shown him what she hoped were the necessary acupressure points to alleviate his symptoms. Dutifully, he sat and applied the needed pressure and wondered if there were any more magic spots to take away the ache in his legs and feet.
R'Kal was the elders' compromise to Kirk's unfamiliarity with the planet and the challenge. She explained that kaunshaya kali-tor was normally done by participants operating independently of any outside help, but in Kirk's case, they had made a gracious allowance. More than likely, they'd realized he wouldn't have stood a snowball's chance in hell to survive if they hadn't intervened. He was glad they had. He would rather survive than assuage his ego. Out here, ego was a luxury he could ill afford.
There was only sand, and heat, and the endless, red-tinged light. Peter was definitely right. He must have been certifiably crazy.
After a long rest period during the heat of the day, they were on the move again with the life-saving task of finding water. Because of his greater need, Kirk discovered he would have to hunt and refill his containers every second day.
"Here." R'Kal stood up from where she had knelt in the sand. The evening sun cast long shadows behind her. "There is water here. Come, learn."
Kirk caught up to her and dumped his pack off his shoulders without ceremony, automatically taking a swig of water from the long, skinny, flexible container slung across his body. "Okay, show me." His throat felt hoarse from breathing constant grit and dust in the painfully hot, dry air.
One lone finger pointed from beneath her swaddling robes. "See the manoc vine? You must look hard."
He took a deep breath and went to his knees rather more heavily than he'd wanted, but at least he was closer to the ground. Pulling his goggles up, he peered at the sand where R'Kal pointed, and saw nothing but...sand. "I don't see it."
She grasped his hand and drew it, extending his fingers out and touching them to something wiry and firm. "Feel it? It has no leaves, only a thick, tough tuberous root system. It will extend such roots upwards to the surface to utilize the light in a kind of photosynthesis right in the plant fiber itself. Extremely adaptive and hardy. But like all things, it needs water to survive. And it leads the way to the underground water sources."
He fingered the vine some more, then removed his goggles. "R'Kal, I can feel it, but I swear to god I can't see it too well. It's...it's the exact color of the sand. Maybe...translucent. Maybe my eyes are effected by your sun."
"Translucent." R'Kal frowned, obviously thinking hard. "That is fascinating. It must be due to the light waves reflected back from the surface of the manoc, and the differences between Vulcans' and humans' visible spectrum. How we uniquely see light," she explained. "Possibly a function of the light spectrum present under our sun as opposed to Earth's. I am not positive; this is a matter better understood by your tersu, Spock. I am an artist, and my knowledge of light and color stems from that."
Kirk gave her a tired grin. "I'd say you're doing just fine, R'Kal. Believe me, I'm glad you're with me. So...how do we get the water?"
"Because you cannot see it easily, you must learn to sweep through the sand with an object to find a piece of the manoc." R'Kal rummaged in her pack and took out six long, sturdy tubes. "Standard desert equipment. You may use these for sweeping. For now, depending upon the depth of the water, we connect them and begin to work them into the sand."
It was tedious, enervating work, shoving the filtering tubes down through endless layers of sand, then painstakingly hand-pumping at various levels to see if something flowed. The stars had been out in a darkened sky for two hours before the first trickle appeared, but it cheered them, and Kirk wearily followed R'Kal's directions on positioning the water containers so that no spillage would occur.
Kirk felt grateful as he drank his fill of the warm, mineral-laden water. It was wet and plentiful, and at that point, those were the only things that mattered. Carefully capping the container, he pulled himself up from his reclining position in the sand to grab a nutrient bar. He'd learned the hard way it was best to ingest food during the cooler hours of the night.
Exhausted, Kirk wrapped up tightly in his robes, taking care to leave no skin uncovered, and lay back in preparation for a short rest before moving again. R'Kal had informed him at the start that they would follow his physical needs as much as possible, since his human body had a greater vulnerability to the environment than her Vulcan form.
He'd had a few hours of ego angst about that, until the heat and gravity had begun to overcome him the first day. After that, he gratefully took rest stops every so often, and the rest shelter they erected during the heat of the day had proved to be essential to his continuing health.
"We are fortunate it is the dry season," R'Kal spoke quietly as she, too, rested a moment. "In the wet season, the le'matya and other creatures come down from the mountains and roam these lands."
That surprised Kirk. "Do they allow the kali-tor during that time?"
"Yes. All tersu at that time are armed with the ahn-woon and lirpa, quite effective against even large predators."
"If you know how to use them," Kirk added ironically.
"It would not be very logical to petition for participation if one were not fully prepared for all eventualities." Pause. "For Vulcans," she added diffidently.
Kirk couldn't help a whimsical smile as R'Kal backpedaled. "It's all right, R'Kal, I understand. And you're right. I entered this challenge with the expectation that I'd have Spock to show me the way, teach me things peculiar to his planet that I needed to know. I'm not ignorant enough to expect a challenge of this kind on an alien planet to be a piece of cake."
"A piece of cake?"
He grinned at her confusion, recalling Spock's literalism in the early days of their friendship. "An Earth Standard colloquialism. Means easy, sweet. Pleasant."
"I understand. Interesting...I have never heard another language's colloquialisms translated literally into Vulkansu before. I would be interested in learning more." They lay close enough that R'Kal must have seen his raised eyebrows, and she added, "They appeal to my artistic nature. Vulkansu is a language largely literal in terminology. Few figurative phrases are used in everyday speech, and those that do exist stem from the earliest ancient tongue."
Kirk wriggled a more comfortable shape into the sand beneath him and stared up at the sky. He had no way of knowing how far from civilization they currently were-the desert they were in stretched for thousands of kilometers across the main land mass-but they were far enough away to remove all artificial sound and light from the environment. Silence lay like a heavy cloak over the desert. Only the faint sounds of the wind passing over dunes rose and fell in his ears. The stars were brilliant in this neck of the galaxy, much more plentiful than where Earth was located, stuck far out as it was in a spiraling arm where the density of celestial bodies thinned quickly. Vulcan's sister planet, T'Khut, had not yet risen, and the stars glowed like fireflies in Iowa on a hot summer's night.
"James?" R'Kal's voice was tentative.
"I have a question, if I may ask it."
Kirk chuckled. "Ask away. Please don't stand on ceremony with me, R'Kal. We've only got each other out here, and I have nothing to hide."
There was silence while she digested that, then, "Why did you not know of the exact process in which the challenge is conducted? Surely Spock described everything to you prior to the kaunshaya ritual."
"Well, actually, no, he didn't. He was away on site, working. I haven't talked with Spock in many ten-days. Sarek didn't go into specific details, and unfortunately I didn't know enough to ask pertinent questions. What little I found written about the challenge didn't mention the detail about being separated, either." He shrugged. "I was pretty surprised when I found out that we wouldn't be doing the challenge together. Have I mentioned how grateful I am that you volunteered to babysit me?" he added lightly.
"It is an honor to serve," R'Kal answered with all seriousness. "T'Rin and the elders approached me three ten-days past with the request. I was a logical choice. I am not from Spock's clan, they who not only preside over the challenge, but also have their homesteads in and around the desert. I am from the Vrtujklanmc clan, centered in the northern province of Mau-yan, and a much different climactic zone. While I have all the necessary training needed for desert survival, as is given all Vulcan children, I do not have the practical experience as one from Spock's clan would have. My tersu, S'Taal, is from Spock's clan, thus I am participating in the kaunshaya kali-tor. It was determined that pairing you and me in this manner would not give either of us undue advantage, as it might have done if you had been paired with someone with more desert experience, one of the other tersu from Spock's clan."
"I see." Trust the Vulcans to be seriously logical to that extent.
He heard R'Kal sigh and shift in the sand. "After we rest, we will have at least seven good hours before the heat becomes too hot for walking."
As he waited for R'Kal, Kirk watched the stars slowly arc through the sky and took stock of himself. Yesterday he'd spent adjusting to the excessive heat and gravity, while learning details of the desert from R'Kal. Today, he felt sore all over and tired, but not as overwhelmed by the environment as he'd been. For the first time since they had started out, Kirk felt as if he were beginning to think clearly.
The memory of Spock touching him lay always in his mind. "Touching naf," he'd said. An echo of that physical sensation rolled through him every time he thought of Spock. It was disturbing and distracting, and like a budding addict, he found himself wishing that Spock was there to do it again and recreate that breathtaking intensity.
That-which-is-us. Right then, he wanted to be with Spock with an almost physical intensity, and suddenly realized he had no idea how they would meet up.
"R'Kal, let me ask you something." Kirk rolled over on his side and propped himself up on his elbow. "Where exactly are we heading, and how are we aiming for it? Is there a predetermined site where we're all to meet up?"
Silence reigned long enough that Kirk peered over to find R'Kal staring at him, a strange expression on her face making him sit up. "What? What it is?"
"I...." Frowning, R'Kal threw back the hood and robes around her head and neck.
As it had been every time she'd bared her head, her short, golden brown hair was a pleasant surprise to Kirk's eyes. This time, though, his gaze immediately sought her troubled hazel brown eyes.
"I am deeply disturbed by your questions," R'Kal admitted. "They reveal a depth of ignorance about the kaunshaya kali-tor that I find quite...shocking."
Kirk rubbed a hand through his hair, sighing inwardly. Damn this planet's tight-lipped attitudes toward off-worlders. In this case, it appeared to be not only misplaced, but potentially harmful. It seemed the third time was definitely not the charm.
"I apologize for my ignorance, R'Kal, but I honestly don't know the answers to those questions. You're right, they are obviously things I should be aware of, in case something happens to you. It would be inexcusable for me to put your life at risk because of my ignorance. I'm hoping you can remedy the situation," he said, "and explain to me what I don't know."
R'Kal sat motionless for some time, gazing down at her hands in her lap. "I will attempt to do so," she said. "However...you must understand. I am at a loss as to why you do not have the answers to these questions already. It makes no logical sense to me. But a reason must exist, and by discussing these things, perhaps I might better understand how you have come to be in the position where we find you."
She looked up at him, and for the first time since he'd asked his questions, her expression softened. "Please understand, James. In no way do I hold you responsible for your lack of knowledge. That lack is the responsibility of Spock's House. It is they who should have adequately prepared you for the trial in which you are participating. That they did not is utterly...mystifying. Nevertheless...." She frowned slightly again, her rounded face creasing between her eyes and at the corners of her straight mouth, and sighed, a more demonstrative Vulcan than Kirk was used to. "Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
"Do you recall the exhortation T'Rin gave to each of us? 'Endure that which lies before thee, overcome all obstacles, and strengthen that which lies within.' It is the main reason for the existence of the kaunshaya kali-tor. In the time before Surak, we were a warrior race, a warrior culture. Those who lived lives dedicated to their lord or matriarch as guardians of the clan lived separately, apart from those they protected. Because of this, it was necessary to mate within the group. With their lives dedicated to the art of war, they wanted one who complimented and augmented their abilities."
"A shield mate," Kirk murmured.
"Shield mate...yes, that is a fitting description," R'Kal agreed. "They adapted training trials into methods by which warriors could determine who among their group would be the most compatible. The kaunshaya kali-tor that exists today is the successor of those ancient tests, codified and ritualized since then within a non-combative culture. In the past, our culture valued overt power, and all talents were utilized to increase the leader's position and strength. Over thousands of years, Vulcan societal values shifted to things of the mind: science, art, literature. We have not had a specific warrior class since the pre-reform era, but we do still recognize the many values of a well-disciplined body."
"Mens sana in corpore sano," Kirk said. At R'Kal's confused look, he continued. "It's an expression in an ancient Earth language meaning a healthy soul in a healthy body. A little insight from a few thousand years ago on Earth."
R'Kal tilted her head down in acknowledgement. "Then your people also understood the value of balance between body and mind in times past. Please forgive my lack of knowledge concerning Earth culture, James. It has not been a high priority for my studies." R'Kal paused, her eyes shifting to something behind Kirk, and she lifted her chin once. "T'Khut rises."
Kirk turned his head and saw the horizon brightening, a steady glow strengthening beyond the dunes and rock formations until the rim of Vulcan's sister appeared over the edge of land. Much bigger than Earth's satellite, T'Khut loomed large over the desolate landscape, its pale face casting an anemic light on sands that normally reflected a reddish hue.
As the winds freshened with cool night air from the distant L'Langon mountains, Kirk felt a comforting sense of the familiar. During the day, nothing on Vulcan seemed remotely like home; it was foreign, truly alien. But under the night sky, bathed in the light of T'Khut, this alien planet took on a more recognizable cast, reminding Kirk of Earth in an instinctive way. He could be walking in Mongolia through the Gobi, with the mountains in the distance, or across the Sahara under a full moon-an exceedingly full moon, to be sure, but still. These moments bridged the gap between alien and the familiar, and implied that a commonality existed.
R'Kal continued to watch T'Khut rise ponderously over the horizon. "At one time in our distant past, we revered the star and the planet that dominates our sky. To the ancients, they were the Father and Mother of our people, life-giving forces whose whim dictated our lives."
"We, too, have had many religions among our people that attributed sentience and unique personalities to the bodies in our skies." Kirk smiled at R'Kal. "I think our peoples are more alike than not, at our core."
R'Kal turned her thoughtful gaze to Kirk. "Perhaps, although our peoples have some inherent differences which create important distinctions." She pulled her robe up around her neck again as the breeze continued to cool. "It is those differences which are at the heart of the kaunshaya kali-tor, James, and which are most important."
Kirk leaned forward. "Then tell me, R'Kal, so that I may at least try to participate fully and not be a burden to anyone."
"It is the link within that is the key," she said. "It is that which leads us in the proper direction, and keeps us connected with another while we traverse the wilderness alone."
A quiver of something he couldn't ignore flashed deep in Kirk's belly. "Link? What link?"
R'Kal stared at him. "The link you share with your tersu, the mindlink T'Rin ascertained was present at the beginning ritual. Given the proper state of mind, it can act as a signaling device, allowing separated mates to find each other over great distances. It is not something that all couples develop to that extent; however, all who pass through kaunshaya kali-tor will have it."
Kirk jerked to his feet. Beneath him, an ocean of rapidly shifting sand made balance difficult. "Go on, please explain further," he said. The world suddenly seemed as if it were tilting on its axis. R'Kal hesitated, still staring at him, but he moved away with awkward steps, turning his face to T'Khut.
R'Kal continued, her voice less forceful, softer, as if she could sense his uncertain mood. "That is the main function of kaunshaya kali-tor for those who choose it, to help create a deeper link between two who come together as mates. It is not the path of the lesser, of consorts, the koon-ut-kali-fee, but of a deeper union, of tere'wuh." She stood up behind him, sand crunching beneath her feet. "It is not widely chosen in the present. K'aaj, my brother, says it is a burden in our modern times, one for which he has no aspirations."
"What kind of burden?" Kirk was pleased that the confusion inside him could not be heard in his voice. "And what is...tere'wuh? The...the meaning in my head isn't making sense."
"Understandable. It is directly from the ancient tongue, not commonly used in this way. It means literally, 'together one.' That is the burden of which my brother speaks. The connection that develops when one chooses the kaunshaya is...deeper than the usual link. It is for those who desire more intimacy and oneness. It has many rewards for those who achieve it, but as with most things that give much, it also demands much. Not many are drawn to become a part of another that deeply."
Kirk turned around to face her. "You were."
"I was," R'Kal agreed. "Desire is an emotion, one my people have struggled hard to turn their backs on out of fear-at one time, our emotions put us on the verge of self-destruction. But there are those of us who believe that kaunshaya is more sacred than the path of Gol, and has a much more practical and positive impact upon modern society; that perhaps one day, old fears will no longer rule us, and instead, a more balanced and open desire for oneness will eventually take their place."
"That's...a beautiful sentiment, R'Kal, one worthy of aspiration." Kirk had never heard any Vulcan say anything remotely like R'Kal's assessment of her own people. Maybe all Vulcans weren't as tight-lipped and repressed as Spock's clan.
So...he had a mind link with Spock. Try as he might, Kirk couldn't think of any particular time it could have formed.
He remembered in great detail each time Spock had joined their minds, many times over the years, usually because of some crisis or threat, never because of the simple desire to do so. The idea had cropped up sometime after their first few melds, what it might be like if they opened their minds to one another for no reason other than the sheer joy of sharing with a close friend.
But Kirk had thought of the intimacy of such an act, and while it was something he didn't fear-quite the reverse, in fact-he also knew he could not impose upon his friend's privacy by asking him to join them in such a way for Kirk's personal gratification.
Somehow, sometime, though, a link had already formed between them, unknown to him, and that made Kirk's intentional silence rather moot.
It also seemed to make them kind of...engaged, and currently in the uniquely grueling process of forming a Vulcan marriage. Grueling he'd been prepared for. It was the married part that came as somewhat of a shock.
Why hadn't he known about the mind link; why hadn't Spock said anything about it?
Kirk rubbed his forehead. The first time he had participated in a Vulcan ritual, he figuratively and nearly literally died at Spock's hands. And this time? He took a deep breath and let it out, trying to think clearly. This time, he would end up bonded to Spock.
The feeling deep in his brain and in his belly started again.
R'Kal stepped directly in front of him. The light from T'Khut shone on her, painting her hair a pale shade and casting her face in shadows. "James che Sarek, I have shared much with you, because you are now of Vulcan and have the right to this knowledge. I ask you to tell me now how you have come to be here, tersu of Spock cha Sarek. I know you have been together in Starfleet for many years; you have been taken into Spock's House as son, and yet you do not seem to comprehend the significance of the ritual in which you are participating. How can this be?"
She had laid out the facts concisely, like rocks in the desert. Kirk looked into the distance beyond R'Kal, where indistinct forms lay dormant in the uncertain light, vague threats in the unknown. Memories crowded in, thirty years of friendship that spanned not only the galaxy, but pushed the limits of life and beyond. He and Spock had fought their common enemies and each other, at times; they had fallen in and out of love with various women on various planets, had supported one another in their own unique kinds of madness to which they had succumbed. Together, they had saved worlds. And when it had been necessary, they had even died for each other.
Thirty years...enough experiences together for two lifetimes. Had he ever really known Spock?
How could they have had a link for no doubt years, and he not known?
Kirk pulled his wandering attention back to the present, back to the woman standing before him with a faint frown creasing her face, drawing down her pale, winged brows.
How can it be?
Kirk shook his head. "R'Kal, to be perfectly honest with you, I really don't know."
It probably hovered at about forty-three degrees Celsius on this balmy mid-morning on Vulcan's Forge. There was nothing but sand and rocks as far as the eye could see-possibly the dark smudge on the horizon was the L'Langon mountains; I'm not sure. We had been walking that day for nearly eight hours, on and off, with little else to do but struggle through the constantly shifting sand, aiming for either the dune tops or the flatter areas, and think.
I'd thought about the past, about attitudes and perspectives, about assumptions and reality. Other than the specific subject matter, it was not much different from any other time I'd gone back to nature, instead of being surrounded by the artificial environments in which I'd spent most of my life. Something about nature, its grandeur and scope, has always brought me face to face with myself...and I'd always tried to be willing to look in the mirror.
McCoy once said to me that I fancied myself a philosopher-king in the ancient tradition. At the time, I wasn't amused...the "king" part of the equation had rankled, touched my insecurities and ego-which, of course, he'd rightly meant to do. Bless him, that man always had a way of pricking my balloon if it got over-inflated. Where would I have been without him? Dead, or possibly an unhappy autocrat stalking the halls of Starfleet Command with the other petty rulers.
It's hard to lie to yourself as you get older, and I knew damn well my tendency to expect everything and everyone around me to order themselves according to my will. That trait had underscored my strength of command, and coupled with empathy, created a charisma that I willingly used as a leader. But occasionally, empathy got overridden by other concerns, and at those times, I could be a complete bastard, fixed solely upon my goal. A necessary tendency for command, yes, but a horrible trait when it came to a personal life.
Which was one of the reasons I was so willing to retire. I believed we all experience a...a deepening of who we are as we get older. A settling into traits and tendencies that we express best. I knew I had, and was very grateful that life kept offering me a place in which to be that person. I'd almost thrown it away once in my ignorance, but thank God, I woke up enough to fight for it again, and got back everything that meant something to me. I'd been lucky, very lucky.
But as much as I loved the life I've lived, as much as it felt impossibly good at times to be living my best destiny, I also knew it couldn't last. Nothing lasted in this universe; entropy ruled us all. Quite frankly, as I neared retirement, there was a part of me that felt...relieved, knowing that I didn't have to go on, spending the rest of my days as the one in command, the one with all the answers, the one everyone depended upon in times of crises. I could give it up, walk away, put down the mantle of responsibility. Let go of some of the things that had boxed me in.
I think it's pretty simple...after everything I'd been through, I was just tired. Tired of the burdens of command. Seemed almost sacrilegious to admit it after all the hard years I worked to get and keep it.
Spock's and David's deaths changed me. Things happened, and they either fit our ideas of reality or they didn't. And if they didn't, then we're forced to change our viewpoint or go mad. I'd learned to refuse death as an option in my life at a young age. And when death finally hit right where I lived, directly as a consequence of my own poor command decisions, I guess something in me...broke.
You'd think that getting Spock back from the dead would have healed the wound of losing him...but no. I'd believed you could cheat death, trick it, fool it with a sleight of hand, until it taught me that any time I'd done so had only been an illusion. It wasn't me at all, it was only fate stepping in to turn the tide. Death taught me that when it wants its due, it will have it. Raise as many from the dead as you like, death will find a way.
Death took my son instead. I guess I held myself together with anger during the years after that, and...when I eventually relinquished my anger with the Klingons, there wasn't much left to keep me going. I felt tired, run down. There had to be something more in life than what I had. All I thought about was getting away, getting out of uniform, with nothing more important each day than watching the sun rise and set and looking for a new inspiration.
Well, I watched the sun rise and set here. In fact, at the moment, the rising and setting of this red sun ruled my world. I was sore, unbelievably hot and exhausted, and I found it hard to think beyond my discomfort with any kind of sense at all about me and Spock and what I was doing here.
"It is time." R'Kal's voice sounded loud to my ears after hours of silence. "We will rest here."
"All right." My own voice sounded rusty and dry, and I realized it had been a while since I had sipped any water. Too absorbed in my thoughts, not a safe thing out here.
By now we had the routine down pat and, with little fuss and extraneous chatter, fell into it. In short order, we had a Vulcan-style lean-to dug into the bottom of a large dune, with as much sand as we could manage surrounding it for natural insulation. It was still hot as hell underneath, but not as hot as it would get out in the direct sunlight, with scorching heat reflecting back from the sand.
The first things I did after crawling into the dim space were drink water, take another shot of tri-ox and swallow a few salt tablets with more water. I might be confused as hell about a lot of things, but not about that. Survival was always the first consideration, the basic necessities of life. When R'Kal crawled in behind me, I knew there was another survival issue I needed to deal with.
"R'Kal, you need to teach me how to use the, uh, link. I'll need to know how to locate Spock."
"That is most wise," she acknowledged. "After we have rested, I will instruct you." With little fuss, she drank her water and ate a nutrient bar.
It was R'Kal's habit to use the midday rest period to meditate and, I'm assuming, discover in which direction her partner, S'Taal, was located. In and among my serious thinking all night, I'd realized that S'Taal and Spock were not making their way together in the desert as R'Kal and I were. I felt reasonably sure they had been dropped off somewhat near each other, otherwise pairing R'Kal and me would be illogical, and no doubt the elders had planned everything with exemplary logic.
But still, there would come a day when R'Kal would need to go her own way to meet S'Taal somewhere in this wilderness and, to meet Spock, I would need to go mine. For that, I needed to be prepared.
R'Kal finished up her small meal and packed away the remains. "It is best to sit. Lying down will induce sleep," R'Kal said as I readied myself. She must have seen something on my face, because she paused in her own preparations. "You have a question?"
I fiddled with the water container, searching for the right words. "R'Kal, I'm not Vulcan. I don't even score well on human psi tests. I've got to admit, I have serious reservations that I can do this."
And I had to. My desert survival could hinge on me getting it right. I couldn't just sit alone in the middle of the desert and hope that Spock reached me before the ten-day was up. It was dangerous alone out here. That's what made it a challenge.
Bless that young woman...she didn't dismiss my concerns, but sat and thought a while about what I'd said. The dimness of the shelter and the midday heat were powerful soporifics. I was both physically and mentally exhausted after the long night's walk, and wearily set to applying some of the acupressure techniques R'Kal had demonstrated to keep alert.
"James, I have an idea, but it would require us to meld. I must be frank with you...other than S'Taal, I have never done so with anyone outside of my family or teachers, much less someone not Vulcan. I would do my best to limit exposure. However, I do not know if you would find it...distasteful to do this." She looked down at her hands, restless in her lap. "It is considered quite an intimate thing to us; we do not practice it indiscriminately."
"Humans feel that way about sex and physical intimacy. In general," I added.
R'Kal looked back up, her curiosity piqued. "How interesting. A Vulcan's sexuality outside of the pon farr is inconsequential, unless it occurs within the context of a bond. Only then does it take on any significance because of the greater mind involvement. Once a youth learns the proper mind rules for full shielding, sex becomes little more than a physical drive that is easily indulged or sublimated according to one's wish."
Now that was a big surprise to me, and I was curious to learn more, but it would have to wait. "R'Kal, I trust you. If you think a meld would help me learn what I need to know about using this link, then let's do it. I've melded many times with Spock, and twice now with Sarek, so it's not an unknown process to me." I smiled. "I've been told I have a very dynamic mind."
R'Kal gave me a look that I'd learned to interpret as highly amused, and nodded. "Very well, let us begin." She scooted closer to me, throwing off her outer layer as I had already done. "There might be a momentary confusion. Please do not be alarmed."
She flexed her hands and paused to center herself, drawing three deep breaths, then placed her slender fingers on my face and murmured the usual induction. There was nothing for a while, then...like a slow curtain parting, I felt a cool breeze sweep into me.
R'Kal's presence was different than either Spock's or Sarek's, lighter, airier in some fashion. I could almost imagine her floating on the breeze with wings. I felt as if I soared with her, flying through a sky filled with blues and reds, purples, greens and yellows. Colors, iridescent and glowing, for which there were no names. We moved through them quickly, and I realized R'Kal was searching for something, a specific color with a certain meaning. Spock....
As soon as I thought his name, we were drawn to a small, incandescent light. It pulsed with colorful energy. I found it infinitely attractive and, in awe, reached out to touch it. It quivered in my hand, radiating up my arm and
Heatsun worryJim Jim...Jim?
As easily as that, I was surrounded by Spock's presence. I could sense his physical state, sense his concern about my own state, which I shrugged away as not a problem. How was he, where was he, these were what I wanted to know...and I felt his amusement roll through me in waves.
The years have not changed you...still as you were thirty years ago
Laughter. He was laughing, his emotions as honest and open as I'd ever experienced them, and I couldn't help it, I was suddenly laughing, too, wordlessly, joyfully, letting it rock through every part of me.
This was what I had wondered about all those years ago. We were laughter, singing it together through the indescribable light, and I lost any sense of time as I moved in happiness through the place where I found Spock.
Something tugged at me, something outside and not of the laughter. I tried to ignore it, wanting only the sheer bliss of the moment, but I couldn't ignore the insistent tug-tug-tug. The annoyance finally pulled me away from my joyful state.
R'Kal. I could see her waiting, standing with what seemed like wings of energy spread out around her, her life energy.
James, you must focus on locating Spock.
Her message was clear and brought me back to an awareness of my purpose: locate Spock. I turned back to the pulsating light, hesitant in case I lost myself in it once again. A tug on my hand made me look around. R'Kal had given me another color to hold in my left hand, something...grounding, an anchor. Keeping a tight grip on it, I reached out and touched the light again. The wonder of it shivered through me again, startling me with its compelling effect, but the anchor kept me grounded to my purpose.
Spock...I need to know where you are... show me.
And as easily as that, the images came to me: wordless, instant knowing. I saw him in relation to me, knew our relative positions, and knew he saw all of this himself. I couldn't have said it in scientific terms of distance and direction, but I knew.
Possibly four days away.
The message, soft and ephemeral, echoed faintly as the weight in my left hand dragged heavier and heavier, pulling me away from the beautiful light. I reached out once again, but it was receding in the distance, faster and faster, the heavy weight taking on more and more substantiality until--
I was sitting in the lean-to. R'Kal was looking at me, one of her hands gripping mine. A sense of loss pervaded every part of me. I hadn't wanted to leave, and the resonant echo of the link beckoned me back irresistibly.
"It worked." My throat was parched, and I wondered how long we'd been sitting there as I traveled in my mind.
R'Kal smiled at me, a small shifting of facial muscles that spoke volumes. "Yes." Slowly, she released my hand, and passed me my water container. "Drink."
What I'd experienced, the feelings and sensations, still held sway over me, moving through my body like the finest champagne.
This was what I'd believed Spock could never want, and yet he had been utterly unguarded and welcoming.
"Is it always like that?" I fumbled with the water container's cap, awed in spite of myself at what I'd found within. I'd always thought of myself as a simple man in most respects. But the Vulcans and their mind links...so bland on the surface, so complex inside-still waters running deep. I'd only scratched the surface of Spock over the years. Even the past melds I'd shared with him had only hinted at what I'd just experienced.
There was no doubt he was at peace with his human half, and therefore with my human emotions and foibles. I would need to be at peace with the Vulcan in him and everything that it meant in a bonding.
"The connection is unique to everyone, the sum essence of the two individuals who compose the link. You see how strong it is within you...this is not something new, but the result of many years together."
"Many years...." I shook my head. I'd had this hiding within me for years and hadn't known it.
"Now that you've experienced locating the link within, you should be able to access it by yourself with some practice."
I drank my fill of water as R'Kal did the same, and I watched her, enjoying her economy of motion and the grace of her movements. "You're very beautiful, you know," I said, and smiled to see her sudden confusion. "Like an angel or fairy, all spun filaments of light."
Her eyes widened and she looked down, capping the water carefully. "S'Taal has a name he calls me, ginsha. It is from a very ancient tale. The ginsha are beings who abide in the sky and only make contact with ground-dwellers on the highest mountains. They are described as made of the light of the stars, as the points of light in the sky."
"I'm glad S'Taal sees that in you. You deserve someone who cares for you like that." I wrapped my exposed skin carefully in my robes and lay back, unable to hold off the exhaustion that dragged me down in every part of my body. "It's good to be known."
I thought of the joy and peace and timelessness I'd experienced with Spock and, for the first time in years, something deep within me relaxed. I'd been close to Spock for so long; no other being was closer to me-yet I hadn't known we shared a mind-link, the very thing I'd secretly wanted to experience.
It suddenly seemed very probable that the link, even though I hadn't known of its existence, had affected me on a subconscious level.
The time after the original five-year mission had been one of the most miserable of my life. At the time, I'd thought it stemmed from losing the Enterprise. Later, I'd ruthlessly grabbed control of her when the opportunity arose, trying to assuage the lost, empty feeling that had plagued me since losing her. But as I looked back at the situation with new eyes, I realized my driving sense of emptiness hadn't really begun to abate until Spock reappeared.
Losing the Enterprise a second time seemed more than enough reason for the pervading sense of unhappiness that plagued me during the following time back in the Admiralty. All my friends were around me, Bones, Spock...so it never crossed my mind that anything else other than my job could be the source.
It seemed so clear to me all of a sudden. The link...it was the link I shared with Spock that had been at the source of all my dissatisfaction and chronic unhappiness since the end of the first mission.
My knowledge of Vulcan mysticism and biology had never been extensive. I only knew what Spock had shared with me, and what little I'd picked up during my stay on Vulcan after Genesis. The Vulcans themselves were typically reticent about their idiosyncrasies, so searchable literature on the subject was sparse. I know; I'd listened to Bones bitch about it enough over the years.
But it certainly seemed logical to assume that a link, once established, was never intended to remain unused. I'd bet everything in a Vulcan-in Spock-yearned toward a sense of completion and biological equilibrium through a functioning link with another being.
How had Spock managed to ignore it all these years? Was that what his retreat to Gol had been about?
I cringed at that thought.
Spock had been willing to give up every single thing in his life to avoid telling me about the link...and I, I had secretly yearned, but held my tongue and deemed it unfeasible and shoved those ideas right out of my conscious mind. What a pair we made-saving the galaxy, risking our lives time and again, yet too afraid to talk plainly to one another.
Fate had either been kind by bringing us here...or it had gotten fed up with waiting for us to figure it out. The unlikely series of miscommunications and assumptions Spock, Sarek and I had made leading up to the kaunshaya was almost ludicrous. Part of me wanted to laugh at our stupidity, but another part wanted to cry-for all the wasted time, for all the unhappiness and restlessness I'd known, and all the unknown suffering Spock had endured for years.
I thought of the link-the naf, Spock called it. That-which-is-us. I remembered touching it, so beautiful, and Spock touching me, and immediately, the heat of desire bloomed again in my mind and belly.
Spock had nothing to fear. I couldn't imagine anything I wanted to do more than have Spock's hands on me and mine on him, to explore the angles of his body as he explored the corners of my mind. It felt one and the same, body and mind, a consuming reality of love intertwined in every part of me.
The naf, our connection, appeared with ease in my mind. Finding it was so effortless this time, and with glee, I reached for it. Too much time had been wasted already, but no more. Spock was there, and we had much to share.
Kirk lay drowsing in the late afternoon heat, reluctant to awaken fully from his sleep. The air felt stifling, but the sand beneath him was cool and molded just right to his body. He hated to lose the little bit of comfort it gave him.
Only two more days, or so Spock assured him. He wondered how Spock could know time and distance enough to calculate an estimate, but then again, hadn't he always expected Spock to pull things like that out of his hat without question? He chuckled out loud at the idea. Spock was still giving him command updates.
Kirk reveled in the deep connection that he felt constantly now since he first had "talked" with Spock through the link. It had gone from being fully dormant to being constantly on, humming along in the background like voltage through a wire. He couldn't imagine some of the dour, cold Vulcans he'd met being party to something so warm and...so emotionally fulfilling. Then again, maybe that's how the link was used, as a device where they could vent and experience, however much they allowed, their powerful feelings.
No problem with his Vulcan in that area...Spock had no trouble expressing his emotions in the place where they were connected. Two more days, and they could express them in person. Kirk smiled at the strange but very welcome idea. For the past day, his imagination had been running rampant along with his libido. Every thought of Spock now brought with it a longing to be with him. He'd spent hours while walking yesterday, compulsively imagining every aspect of Spock's face and form, to a frustrated end. He wasn't Vulcan. He couldn't meditate his longing into the background, nor did their daily communion seem to lessen his need.
Stretching out cramped muscles, Kirk reached for his water container, sitting up to sip mouthfuls. The water was getting low. It was later in the day than usual, too, he noted as he rolled out of the lean-to, stood and stretched some more. The sun had almost disappeared below the horizon and T'Khut's glow would soon light up the northern edge. And R'Kal still lay sleeping. Strange.
He leaned back inside to lay a gentle hand upon her arm. "R'Kal." No response. "R'Kal, wake up."
When she did not stir, Kirk crawled all the way in and framed her face with urgent hands. "R'Kal." A jolt of fear shot up Kirk's spine at her unresponsiveness.
R'Kal's head sagged to the side when he released it. Without hesitation, he yanked apart the layers of her robes and felt for her heart. It beat steadily under his hand, fast and light, and though he could only assume it was a normal rhythm, he felt a tremendous, short-lived relief.
Poison. Rolling her to the side, Kirk checked her neck, then her head beneath the strands of her short hair, and found nothing. Traced down one shoulder, then her arm with both his hands; nothing. Traced down the other...and there it was. On her hand, a bruised-looking, puffy, ugly yellow-green color surrounding what looked like a tiny wound. Damn it.
With shaking hands, Kirk ripped into his pack and yanked out the medkit, scrounging around inside until he found what he needed. He set it, applied it to her neck and pulled the trigger, fearing he was too late as the hiss of medicine discharged into her. How long had she been lying there that way?
R'Kal had told him about the desert-killer, the esh'staya, their first day out. She had carefully explained that though their bite was poisonous, they could only penetrate on bare skin, not through cloth, due to a very small mandible-mouth area. Their main prey were the lizard-like populations of the desert, thin-skinned and easily overcome. As long as clothing was kept over all exposed skin when in sandy areas, the odds were supposedly against being bitten.
Her description of them reminded Kirk of Earth's scorpions, small, fast-moving, multi-legged. And he'd wrapped up religiously every time he'd laid down to rest, carefully covering his hands and neck and head. She had said the poison was insidiously swift.
T'Khut was well up over the horizon, vying with the lowering sun for dominance in the sky by the time he prepared the second injection. Wait thirty minims; if no response, inject a second dose, the directions read. So he did, impatient for results.
He pushed back the hanging sides of the lean-to, opening it to the cooler evening air and letting in some light. After that, he chewed on a nutrient bar without tasting it and plotted various courses of action to take. Water was a problem; they were low and had been planning to hunt for it after waking up. That would need to be done as soon as possible.
When R'Kal moaned and shifted, he kneeled over her in a flash. "R'Kal, it's James. You were bitten on the hand, the esh'staya. I injected you twice. Can you speak?"
He could hardly hear her, but knew. "Here, easy." Holding her head up slightly, he let water trickle slowly into her mouth from her container. "Easy. Easy." He placed her back down, smoothing the hood back from her face. She blinked and seemed unable to focus her eyes. Her skin still felt much hotter than it should be.
"I'm here, R'Kal. What can I do? Do we need to get you to medical care?"
"No...." Her hand grasped weakly at his, surprising him. "Need...healing trance. Need...."
"Okay, a healing trance. I'm familiar with them. You sure that'll work? I'll have us packed out of here in five minutes if we need to get you medical attention. We'll just go east until we reach ShiKahr."
Her hazel eyes closed and a fine sweat beaded upon her face as she stirred restlessly. "No...too far. Healing trance."
Kirk sighed. "Fine. You're going to have to let me know when you need help waking up, though, since I can't sense that. Can you do that, R'Kal? R'Kal." Her eyes had fallen closed, and he shook her hand to wake her.
She stirred, her eyes opening slowly. "I will. Water now...."
She was so weak, nothing more than a hot, limp bundle. He helped her drink her fill, letting her rest back against him as he held the container to her mouth. When she'd had enough, she turned her head away. "I must begin the trance," she murmured, an edge of pain in her voice matching the lines of pain around her eyes and mouth.
"All right, let me check your clothes first, then I'll wrap you up."
Kirk lowered her to the ground like a baby. Slender beneath the robes, she was all lean muscle. As he methodically checked all of her clothes for more intruders and carefully rewrapped her, layer by layer, he wondered how old she was. Young enough to be his biological daughter, most likely.
His jaw tightened at her pallor and weakness. Too many young people lost over the years, too many lives cut off before they had a chance to live them. Not another one, not today, he prayed, feeling very helpless watching R'Kal suffer. Please, no more.
R'Kal had already sunk into trance by the time he'd finished wrapping her like a mummy and thought of one more thing. He rummaged around in her pack until his fingers found the small container, twin to his own, a protective salve for the mouth. With gentle fingers, he smeared some on her slack lips and sat back, watching her chest rise and fall with shallow breaths. Now it was up to R'Kal; all he knew how to do was keep her safe.
For the hundredth time, Kirk wished Spock were already with him. With his sophisticated mind abilities, no doubt there was something that could be done to assure R'Kal's recovery. On the other hand, maybe there was something Spock could communicate to him that he could do for the present.
Settling on the sand next to R'Kal, Kirk took deep breaths and reached within, desperate for sight of the place where Spock resided within. He wandered in his own endless landscape an interminable length of time before catching sight of a spark of light. With a sense of relief, he extended himself toward it.
With each daily communication, clarity of contact had grown in Kirk's mind to an amazing extent. Immediately, Spock's presence surrounded him.
T'hy'la, what has happened?
R'Kal was bitten by esh'staya. I've injected her twice, and she's gone into trance. But Spock...she's so desperately weak. She needs help now.
Kirk could feel Spock's consternation, twin to his own worry.
She talked before going into trance?
Yes...she became conscious after the second injection. But so weak, Spock.
S'Taal will know something is wrong, but we have no idea how far away he is at this point. Jim, I will arrive as quickly as I can, but you must see to her until then. Keep her hydrated. Her body's need for water will increase due to the poison's effects. At the moment, that is your greatest concern. If her temperature increases drastically, it may become necessary to counteract it. How is your water supply?
Low... I'll need to find more immediately, before her need becomes great.
Then go. And t'hy'la...be cautious. Do not go so far you become lost, and be wary of more esh'staya nearby.
I've already searched R'Kal...I'll search the rest of our things. Spock....
I know, t'hy'la...I will be with you all the time.
end part two