The landing party had beamed back to the ship but they were expected to return to the planet that evening for a banquet to be given in their honor. Since there was very little to do while the ship was in orbit, Kirk stopped by the rec room to check on the general attitude of his crew. He found McCoy there already and went to join him after getting a coffee from the synthesizer .
“Any good gossip, Bones?” he asked good-naturedly.
“Just that,” McCoy answered, nodding toward the other side of the room. Spock was there in his usual place, quietly playing his Vulcan lyre as he often did during off hours.
“What?” Kirk asked.
McCoy rolled his eyes at his friend and sighed dramatically. “Sometimes Jim, you’re so thick,” he drawled, “Didn’t you see Saavik over there?”
Kirk hadn’t, but he wasn’t going to tell McCoy that. He chanced a glance in her direction and saw her sitting alone, absently staring into her tea cup. He tried to deduce what Bones was hinting at but couldn’t see anything amiss in the room. He shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. McCoy sighed more dramatically this time and whispered to the captain.
“She’s making eyes at him,” he said.
Kirk startled and looked at Saavik again. She was still staring into her cup.
“She is not!” Kirk whispered back.
“Of course she is!” McCoy insisted. “And what’s more, he’s making eyes at her!”
The captain stared at McCoy for what felt like a full minute. “Who is?” he asked innocently.
The doctor sputtered in frustration. “Spock, of course!”
Kirk glanced at the Vulcans again then back at McCoy. Then he made a big show about staring into McCoy’s cup. “That’s not a drink from your private stash, is it Bones?”
McCoy waved him away and considered the Vulcans again. “I tell ya, Jim, there’s something going on and I’ll prove it!” He suddenly stood up and addressed Spock. “Can you play any love songs on that thing?”
Kirk nearly choked on his coffee but Spock stopped playing and calmly considered the question.
“Is there someone you wish to serenade, Doctor?” he asked with that teasing ghost-smile of his.
McCoy was taken aback by the reply. “Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t,” he stammered, “but I wouldn’t choose a Vulcan song to do it!” He sat back down to light laughter from the gathered crewmen.
“You had that coming,” Kirk pointed out. The doctor didn’t reply but pointed across the room again.
Spock had resumed playing the lyre, but the song was a new one to Kirk’s ears, a haunting, soaring melody as mysterious as the Vulcan desert. Saavik still had her head down but was stealing glances at him.
“Now that is ….fascinating,” the captain said.
“Told you so,” the doctor agreed. “Hey,” he suddenly lowered his voice again, “do you think he’ll dance with her tonight?”
Kirk’s eyes grew wide in real surprise. “There’s going to be dancing?”
McCoy shook his head in mock disbelief. “Really, Jim, how did you make it to captain anyway? Weren’t you the least bit curious why they asked for an equal number of males and females at the banquet?”
The captain stared at him “Well...I...”
The doctor smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “I get it, Jim, the Regent’s daughter was very beautiful.”
The captain smiled back. “That she was,” he agreed. Some things held his attention anyway.
“But back to the dance,” McCoy was saying, then sobered suddenly. “He wouldn’t refuse and cause an inter-planetary situation, would he?”
Kirk considered the possibility. “Well we could avoid that by not bringing him along,” he suggested
“You wouldn’t spoil my fun, would you?” the doctor retorted. “Besides, this might be the push those two need!”
The rec room was unusually quiet as the clear notes of the Vulcan melody rose and fell with a strange but pleasing rhythm. Spock casually scanned the room and let his eyes briefly consider Saavik where she sat alone. The edges of her elegant ears were turning a delicate shade of green and he wondered absently why that would please him. As a part of his brain continued to play the instrument flawlessly, another part began a self analysis concerning his recent actions around Saavik.
He had found her decades ago, abandoned and living wild on that hellish planet. Some say he tamed her, but he knew better. The fire was still there, carefully restrained behind a Vulcan facade. From the beginning he had been her friend, her teacher, her mentor and her champion. He had seen in her a promise far greater than her violent beginnings, and was gratified to see her become an accomplished and beautiful woman.
Beautiful? When had he noticed that?
He couldn’t remember and decided that disturbed him more than the thought itself. Perhaps meditation before this evening would be prudent.
The men in the landing party had chosen to wear their dress uniforms, but in deference to the Derilians’ style of dress, the women had opted for old style uniform skirts. Saavik seemed particularly out of sorts with her legs showing, but Uhura and Chapel appeared relieved to have the freedom again. As the Derilians assembled on the dance floor, Kirk was struck again by their alien beauty.
Both the men and women were lean and graceful. Their long hair was wrapped high around a type of rod, and must have been long indeed for it hung down from the end of the wrapping nearly to their waists. The hair color ranged from violet to shades of blue and green, but nowhere did he see the usual expected brunette or blond. Their eyes were large and almost completely round with a luminescence that was reflected in the light. They had no eyebrows, and Kirk wondered if that was a natural occurrence or a cultural adjustment. Their faces were long and angular, more narrow at the bottom than at the top. Kirk was reminded of the imagined pictures Earth people used to draw before seeing their first alien.
The Derilians all had bare arms and the Captain could see thick fur that started on the sides of their necks and ran down the outside of each arm. The hands and fingers were long and narrow, with thumbs much longer than the rest. Their bare legs were long and muscled. Kirk idly wondered where the genitalia would be; the short tunics worn by both sexes barely covered the usual location.
The regent was explaining the dance that was about to occur and the captain mentally reprimanded himself for not paying attention. Again. Beside him he saw McCoy glance his way and shake his head in exaggerated frustration.
“Let us bare our spirit to our new friends,” the regent was saying. “Let all attend and understand.”
A lilting music began from hidden speakers somewhere and the dancers pared off, male and female. At least that’s familiar, Kirk thought. I won’t have to dance with Spock and Bones. The pairs took hold of each others’ waists and began a series of steps that would make a ballerina proud. The dance alternated between fast and slow, but was mesmerizing in its intricacy. Spock and the women seemed to be concentrating very hard on the movements but the doctor had a look of growing concern.
“What’s the matter, Bones?” he whispered, not taking his eyes off the dance.
“I don’t know if I can do all that!” the doctor whispered back.
The captain began to develop a look of concern himself. He really must start paying closer attention.
“What do you mean?”
McCoy wiped at the sudden sweat on his brow and sighed. “When they’re finished, we have to do that! Exactly!”
Kirk swallowed hard and stared at the dancers in shock. Was this the sticking point? Were the Derilians waiting for someone, anyone, to learn their dance before they would join the Federation? Stranger expectations had been made on other worlds, after all.
The music appeared to be winding to a close. The couples were holding hands now, their long thumbs wrapped together. The dance was intimate, each dancing very close to its partner and matching the others’ movements. Kirk hoped that they would be allowed to choose their own partners. Uhura could dance; she would make him look good anyway.
As the music stopped, the dancers embraced and glided off the dance floor. The regent stood and gestured for the Enterprise personnel to take their places. McCoy moped at his brow again and muttered something before taking Chapel’s hand and leading her to their place. Kirk snagged Uhura’s hand before she could choose Spock and joined the others on the dance floor. Spock and Saavik followed with more decorum.
“Our friends,” the regent intoned solemnly, “will now return the spirit of the dance!”
“Or something like that,” McCoy grumbled quietly while he put his hands on Chapel’s waist as he had seen the aliens do with their partners. Chapel gave him an encouraging smile and took hold of his waist as well.
“I don’t suppose you’re secretly a prima ballerina?” McCoy asked hopefully. Nurse Chapel laughed nervously.
“Hardly,” she said, then added helpfully, “but I did take jazz and tap as a little girl.”
“Great,” the doctor groused. “Too bad this didn’t look anything like either of those!”
Chapel shrugged and they moved to the spot indicated for them.
The captain was holding Uhura closer than he needed to, hoping that his own clumsy attempts would be overlooked next to her graceful movements. She gave him an encouraging smile and a look passed between them that Kirk hoped was an invitation for her to lead. He chanced a look at the Vulcans who appeared completely nonplussed despite their closeness and the impending disaster of the upcoming dance. McCoy must be wrong about them, he thought as the music began.
He stumbled through the first few steps before catching Uhura’s rhythm and doing his best to follow it. He had a passing thought that Starfleet was well aware of this particular ritual and had gone out of its way to send him on this mission. If he didn’t make a complete ass of himself in the next few minutes he might even give them a piece of his mind.
McCoy was sweating profusely now and trying desperately to follow the required steps. I’m too old for this gallivanting, he thought, just barely stopping himself from tripping. Give me a good old fashion waltz or two step. Even an old country doctor can manage that kind of dancing.
Outwardly Spock’s and Saavik’s movements were controlled and measured, an exact duplicate of what they had witnessed earlier. But even as he was executing the required movements, Spock was finding the unnatural closeness disconcerting. The telepathy he could sense through Saavik’s clothing was not as strong as actual skin contact, but he could still sense stray thoughts and images, though nothing was concrete. He saw her staring at him and knew she must be sensing similar sensations. Obviously the earlier meditation had not settled his erratic mind and he wondered what it was about this woman that he never knew he needed.
Saavik suppressed a gasp at Spock’s touch and tried to bury the unbidden pleasure at his closeness. He was her teacher and mentor, not a bondsmate. He was significantly older than she and presumably would have already chosen a mate if he had wished to do so. She tried to make sense of the thoughts and images transmitted by his touch, and wondered at her own developing feelings for the man in front of her.
The time had come to join hands and she did gasp this time when their naked hands touched. She could barely hear Spock’s breath catch in his throat as a hint of their minds’ desires flooded together. His hands tightened on hers, not painfully but strangely needful as if he might stumble. She tried to wrap her thumbs around his hands but her comparatively small digits were only able to produce a pale reflection of the aliens’ gesture. Spock looked away from her gaze if only to finish the dance with some of his previous composure, and only belatedly remembered that an embrace was expected at the end. By Logic’s Son, this would not be easy.
The officers embraced as the aliens had done, Kirk and McCoy with relief and Spock with something akin to panic. There were good reasons why Vulcans did not indulge in public display of affection; the touch was almost overpowering to carefully controlled passions. Of course it would take a proper meld to really know the other’s mind, but even casual touch hinted at strong emotions. Vulcans were right to repress their emotions most of the time, as the power and breadth of them would overwhelm most weaker species. Of course the cost of such repression was a regular pon farr; a safety valve really, for even Vulcans needed some outlet for their passions.
Not to say that pon farr was the only time for such release. That was a common misconception among outworlders, and one that Vulcans were not in a hurry to dissuade. Spock quickly disengaged from Saavik’s embrace and subconsciously held out his hand, fingers extended to guide her back to their place. Then seeing the open shock on her face, he quickly clasped both hands behind his back and dipped his head in silent acknowledgment of his faux pas.
He raised his head to see McCoy openly grinning at him and raised an eyebrow in direct challenge to anything the doctor might say. McCoy held his tongue, thankfully, and they all returned to their places at the long table where, presumably, they would soon be busy with the task of eating and not discussing the merits of the dance they had just performed. The gathered aliens were not clapping but rather making a sound partly with their voices and partly with the stroking of the hair on their arms. It was a soft murmuring, rustling sound that McCoy hoped signified approval. Kirk decided it was more like laughter, and believed he could live with that if it meant they wouldn’t be thrown out on their collective backsides.
The regent was standing again and addressing the assembled beings in solemn tones . He spoke of friendship and duty and various other things on which heads of State liked to bloviate. At length he picked up something that looked like some sort of bread or baked good and after some fancy words, fed it directly to the person to his right. That person took the remainder of the item, broke a piece from it and fed it to the person on his right. The food continued to be passed one to the other, each person feeding some to whoever sat to his right.
Uh oh, Kirk thought when he noticed that Saavik would have to feed Spock. The Vulcan’s angry retort to Nurse Chapel’s attentions during his pon farr so long ago came back to him :
It is undignified for a woman to play servant to a man who is not hers.
Well this isn’t going to end well, he thought glumly. Maybe there’s still time for that inter galactic incident McCoy was worried about.
He realized it was his turn to be fed and he took the food McCoy unceremoniously shoved in his mouth. It was sweeter than he had imagined but not unpleasant. He gave McCoy a knowing look and shifted his eyes toward the Vulcans, hoping the doctor would get the hint.
McCoy peered around and immediately realized the issue, but he didn’t seem nearly as worried about it as Kirk was. He seemed almost hopeful really, or maybe just resigned to whatever fate awaited them.
He’s probably still stuck on that idea that those two are in love or something, Kirk mused, not for the first time wondering if McCoy had been changed by the experience of carrying Spock’s katra. He didn’t seem to act any differently toward Spock in any case.
The feeding ritual had almost reached Saavik and Kirk couldn’t help but hold his breath just a little. He hoped Spock didn’t bite her fingers off or do anything equally appalling to his hosts. Saavik looked like she would rather be anywhere but here, but she quickly broke off a morsel and deftly placed it in Spock’s mouth.
And Spock accepted it without comment and continued the ritual to his right. Not even a raised eyebrow or stern look signified any change in his attitude. Kirk turned to the doctor but didn’t know what to say. McCoy just tapped the side of his head and smiled knowingly.
The rest of the evening consisted of a fine meal and the usual speeches and toasts that almost every species seemed to find necessary at such functions. Kirk kept a watchful eye on the Vulcans but they seemed content to socialize with the natives and had barely looked at one another since sitting down. McCoy had to be pulling his leg. Neither Spock or Saavik seemed on the verge of any pon farr madness.
Thankful for small favors, Kirk found that he could relax and the rest of the evening proved rather uneventful. As with everything else, these people had several rituals for ending the banquet, but these were easy and maintained everyone’s dignity. Still, Kirk was relieved to go back to the ship with the promise to return tomorrow for the real talks to begin.