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I tried his cabin first even though I knew he probably wouldn't be there. He had avoided me all day, sent Lieutenant Grovsky to the bridge to take his usual rotation. It was all right. I had expected it. He needed the personal space, so I didn't push. You learn a lot about personal space when you've had a Vulcan lover for eight months.

When I went back to my cabin after my watch, I knew the report would be on my computer. If I was so damn sure of him, why did I hesitate, take a shower, change clothes, initial the science surveys before I flipped it on and looked for his name?

And naturally, there it was. Right where I expected it to be. Re-enlisted for two more years. But up until that moment, no matter how much I had tried to reassure myself that he would stay with me, there was that smallest bit of doubt. Maybe, just maybe, this time I had pushed him too far.

When Starfleet had extended the five-year mission for another two years we talked. When the Federation Council had appropriated the funds, we argued... no, Spock never argues... we had our differences of opinion. By the time the Re-enlist/Request Leave/Change of Service form reached us, we had settled into an uneasy silence. We would each do what we had to do, just as we always had.

I just wasn't ready to give it all up yet. I don't know if I ever will be ready. But Spock is.

The problem, of course, was that we had chosen the service for different reasons. As long as I could remember, the stars have beckoned me, a clarion call I heard and responded to from the first time I was old enough to notice the lights in the sky and ask why.

And Spock? Spock was looking for a home. Neither Vulcan nor Earth ever was that for him. Only me. Or so he tells me. And now that he has found a home at last, he is terrified of losing it.

It doesn't matter how many times I tell him I love him, that he will never lose me, he responds with a dry recitation of all the times he nearly has: a knife wound in the back from an Orion spy, poison thorns from a plant on Vaal’s deadly planet, a step back in time on Sarpeidon…other times, other places. And of course, he’s right. There are no guarantees.

But neither can I see myself teaching tactics at some stuffy academy somewhere, a planet-bound dust-eater just so he can keep me safe.

He says he's even considered returning to Vulcan and undergoing the Kolinahr, the Vulcan ritual for removing all last traces of emotion. Is it just vanity, I wonder, that makes me think he won't go that far, that he'll never leave me? I need him, Lord knows I need him, but I need the stars, too. Why do I have to choose? The answer is, I don't... at least not yet. Not this time. He's given in. His name on the Re-enlist form proves that.

I know I hurt him. I see the pain in his dark eyes, and I know. He never gets emotional never says anything but each time I dance a little closer to the edge, it's there. He was so safe behind his walls, but when he allowed himself to love, the walls came crashing down, and he cannot rebuild them. He has no defenses against me.

The bond would help, of course, but I deny him even that comfort. If I do die in the line of duty, I will not bring him down with me. Even if nothing happens to either of us, he would naturally live for a hundred years beyond me. How can I steal his life like that? I can't. I won't!

Back when we used to talk about it, when he used to ask for it, he said only in rare cases does the surviving member of a bond follow into death. One person can outlive the other if his will to live is strong enough. Spock thinks I don't know. He looks at me through those solemn brown eyes, and wills me to believe what I want to believe. My lover lies with his eyes instead of his tongue, but he is a very poor liar just the same.

Of course he would follow me. How many times has his body been the shield between me and death? And should he lose the battle on my behalf, how quickly the shield would become a cloak to wrap around my soul and warm me gladly in that final cold.

Does he know that the greatest fear of my race is not death itself, but its lonely solitude? And if there should be something after? The temptation of his company in death as in life is a siren's sweet call, but like those sailors of ancient myth, I must harden my heart and turn away.

Lately, he has stopped asking.

We don't even meld much anymore. I think it's because he has to expend so much energy to keep us from bonding that the meld is more exhausting than satisfying for him. I don't press him and he rarely offers.

So we continue on in the manner of two Human lovers. I hope it's almost enough for him. I suppose I should free him to find what he truly needs, but he says he can stand anything other than to have me send him away, and I'm enough of a selfish bastard to hold him to that.

He needs me now, and I take a moment to run through the possibilities. He will not be in any public place. Not the mess, rec rooms, gym. His emotions will be too near the surface to chance contact with others. He has no need for food, or exercise, or company now. Only me. He will try to meditate, but will be unable to until I come to him. And then I know.

There is a small observation room at the very bow of the ship, tucked away under the bridge. Few crewmembers use this out of the way place, preferring the main observation room on deck three. I know I've guessed right when I see the red privacy light blinking its warning as I enter the access corridor.

I can almost feel his brooding presence on the other side. I lay my palm on the door and it quietly whooshes open, and just as quietly shuts behind me. It takes me a minute to locate his slim form in the dark room. He has raised the large port covering and is staring out into the darkness. He must be very deep in his own thoughts because I can tell he isn't aware of my presence.

Over his shoulder I see the Hawking Nebula whirling in the far distance. Already some of the new stars being birthed within cast their pale pinks, glowing yellows and iridescent blues and oranges outward in streaming rays to find my ship. We have been ordered to patrol the Neutral Zone, releasing the Hood to R and R, and on our way we will run routine checks on the archaeological research stations at Arona VII and New Paris Colony. Routine. Potential danger. And sometimes both at the same time.

It will take us two days to skirt the nebula even at warp four, and I ordered this route so the crew can see what has always been a particularly beautiful area of space. Or maybe just because I find it particularly beautiful.

He is standing in his usual pose, feet spread slightly apart, long graceful hands clasped firmly behind him. Part of his face remains in shadow as he looks out into the endless night, but the light from distant stars lands for a second on his dark hair and flashes across just the tip of an elegantly pointed ear.

The stars and Spock. Beautiful. Mysterious. Known and unknown.

For a long moment I watch him, curiously reluctant to let him know that I am here. The back of his neck gleams pale, caught between the dark glossy cap of hair and the dark uniform shirt, looking oddly naked and vulnerable.

If we were ever to leave the service, I know my first request would be for him to let his hair grow longer than military discipline allows. Not only to cover the pale slender neck that is a constant reminder that he, too, is merely mortal. And not because I wish to make him over in a woman's form, for then he wouldn't be Spock, and it's Spock I love. No. Just to have more of it to run my hands through.

When we went to Vulcan on our last leave, Amanda noticed me looking at the holo of Spock as a child, saw how entranced I was by it. Back on the ship, I found it tucked among my clothes--a present from a very special lady.

I take it out and look at it sometimes when I know Spock will be working late. He wouldn't understand my need to capture that part of him that existed before we knew each other.

It was taken several months after he passed his Kahswan and shows a much too serious little boy with huge brown eyes. His hair has been allowed to grow long, a visible reminder that he has passed the child rite, and won't be cut until after the first meeting with his bride-to-be. The small elfin tips on slightly over-sized ears that he has yet to grow into peek through the dark shoulder length strands. He is kneeling on the ground next to an immense shaggy-coated sehlat, and wearing a deep purple Vulcan style tunic and pants that emphasize his thinness and give promise of future height.

A perfect picture of Vulcan youth--until the base is activated and the holo comes to life. Then one hand is seen clutching and releasing the fur at the sehlat's neck in a small gesture that is purely human. And when you look back at the big brown eyes, then you can see the sadness.

Perhaps that is another reason we do not meld very often. If I looked into his mind and found this very sad human Spock-child, could I refuse to grant any request he made of me?

I know the exact moment he is aware of my presence. There is a subtle stiffening in his body. Then his legs move fractionally closer together, his arms move to interlace themselves across his chest. Does he know, I wonder, how it hurts me to see him pull in on himself that way, as if he needs to protect himself against me? Perhaps he really does need protection from me, and that hurts the most of all.

Consciously, he relaxes his barriers. I see a small sigh escape his lips, even though I cannot hear it, and his head lowers against his chest. He looks so isolated standing there, so alone that my breath catches. He does not turn.

I move up behind and put my arms around his narrow waist, my body naturally molding itself to fit. He lifts his arms slightly to make a place for me and I lace my hands with his.

As usual, as soon as our bodies touch, the sweet yearning sensations begin. Never has any woman's body aroused me so rapidly as this awkwardly lanky, sharp-hipped, bony-kneed, flat-butted form of my Vulcan lover. What can I say? I've always been attracted to beautiful things.

He doesn't respond and I push the feelings down to a simmering glow. We’ve always had the capacity to live in the moment, and for this space of time, I will give whatever is in me to give. Whatever he needs. However long or short our time together is moments like this are entire unto themselves.

He does not speak. Neither do I. Our best communication does not rely on words. It never has. Even at the beginning, a shared look, a hidden smile conveyed so much more than words ever could.

So we stand together and watch the stars.

But even here we are not truly alone. The sliding two-tone pitch of the wall com blares out into the peace of the room.

"Captain Kirk. Captain Kirk, or Mister Spock report to the bridge. Captain or First Officer, to the bridge, please."

He stiffens imperceptibly, and begins to move but I stop him with a fast squeeze of our clasped hands. "I'll get it," I tell him quietly as I disengage myself from his warmth and walk to answer the summons, hitting the stud with slightly more vehemence than is needed.

"Bridge, this is the captain. What's the problem?"

"Lieutenant Omatu here, Captain. Science section reports an approaching ion storm and suggests we alter our proposed trajectory to 477.3 mark 2. That will bring us closer to the nebula, although still within acceptable safety margins. Permission to alter course, sir?"

Why do I feel I have to go up there? One by one, I tick off the reasons that just this once I can ignore duty's call. Omatu is a good officer, fully experienced and capable of making correct decisions. He's been handling the conn during second watch for several months. Bones keeps telling me I have to delegate more authority to the junior officers. Just a simple course change. I find myself looking at the ceiling as if I could see through the intervening bulkheads. Ion storms can be unpredictable.

I'm about to tell Omatu I'll be right there, when I look back at Spock. He is watching me carefully, face neutral, giving no clue to his preference. The simple fact that he has not offered to go in my place tells me he would rather stay here, that he would prefer we both stay here. That alone shouts to me of his need.

"Permission granted, Mister Omatu. Log the course change and proceed."

"Aye, sir."

I watch the shuttered face of my lover, but if there is a reaction, I don't see it in the darkened room. "And Mister Omatu," I say, "please see that neither Mister Spock nor I are disturbed for the remainder of our off shift, unless..." I don't want to add the rest, but I can no more stop myself than I can stop the nebula's stars from their whirling dance, "...unless there's an emergency, of course."

"Very good, sir. Goodnight, sir. Bridge out."

We stand in silence for a long moment looking at each other across the room. Purposefully I walk to the controls near the door. We've never made love anywhere on the ship except in the carefully cocooned privacy of our two cabins. Perhaps something different is required tonight.

There's plenty of time for him to tell me this isn't what he wants as I flip the lock switch and raise the temperature with slow deliberate movements.

He says nothing.

His accepting silence is enough to set my groin on fire, and my heart pounding like a mad thing in my chest.

Without a sound, I slowly approach him, watching the half-shadowed alien features.

Beneath my feet, I feel the almost subliminal throb of the ship's engines, like the heartbeat of a gigantic beast, as she wakens from slumber and turns her face to the nebula; she to face the still unknown stars, I to face my still unknown lover.

I stand close and search his face. Like the door to a secret stronghold, he is locked and barred to me revealing nothing of the treasures I know lie within. We've been lovers for months, and friends for years before that. The door shows subtle signs of wear: a hinge loose in the shy smile after a night of love-making, a warped panel in warm brown eyes shining with hidden laughter, a small but definite crack in the slightly unmodulated voice when danger threatens.

But there have been times, like now, when despite my knocking, he hasn't opened the door and invited me in, and the glimpses I've seen through the cracks only whet my appetite for more.

Perhaps it is the way the light falls upon his face, that reminds me yet again of how much of him remains hidden. His face, his body reflect his divided nature, now made concrete in the sharp black line that has formed where the light from the stars meets the dark of the room, splitting his face into distinct and separate halves.

I watch my own somewhat square-tipped finger, not at all like his elegant, long, graceful ones rise to his face, and think again about how truly different we are. Gently, I run my finger down the division, not certain whether the gesture is meant to erase or emphasize it.

The heat of his skin draws me closer. I find myself endlessly fascinated by the contradictions of this man, and my fingers spread to seek them out quite without any conscious volition on my part: the soaring black brows that look so severe but feel as soft as the underside of a raven's dark wing, the sharp jut of cheekbones offset by the incredibly smooth skin, the sharply pointed tip of his ear and the tender area behind, the stern upper lip and the full lush lower one.

A sparse and angular body, a slowly opening and yielding soul. But only for me.

One of my hands disappears into the darkness, one slides into the light as I lace them through his hair. McCoy once told me Vulcans have almost twice as many hair follicles as Humans, so while his hair is incredibly fine, it is also thick, a sensual pleasure I never tire of.

I draw his head down the few centimeters to meet mine. There is neither resistance nor acceptance. Yet. Lightly our lips brush, a fast and fleeting caress in the darkness. As we part, a breath escapes him and falls like a second kiss against my face. Warm. Gentle. So like him.

My fingers seek out the hidden shoulder seam of his uniform, and I peel it open. I love undressing him, removing his inhibitions as I remove his clothing, and there is a small part of me that revels in the sight of anything that brings him to my level, that disturbs his pristine appearance, his rigid control. For I have very little where he's concerned, and I must hold tight to the little I have.

Under my fingers the soft hollow formed where shoulder and collar bone meet is revealed. I bathe the shallow indentation with my tongue, renewing my memory of his skin's taste. I'm not certain whether it is because he is a vegetarian, or whether it is just Spock, but his skin always tastes so very good. Musky, spicy. Unique. And warm. Very warm.

Since we have become lovers, I am more aware of his need for warmth. He feels the cold so. My mind instantly recalls an incident that happened last week. We were orbiting Sigma Epsilon Five, delivering some new scientific equipment the colony had requested. Spock was putting the finishing touches to his symposium paper, and although he prepared to beam down with me and the others, I ordered him to stay behind. He made the usual protests, but I think he was relieved. Sigma Epsilon is cold even by human standards with a mean temperature below freezing, and I knew even with an insulated field jacket it would be too cold for him.

It was well into ship's night by the time we beamed back aboard, and he was already tucked up in the covers asleep when I returned to my cabin. Actually I didn't expect to find him there. We each maintain our own quarters, and rarely spend whole nights together. It seems an indulgence while we are on duty, and somehow while we are on the ship, we are never truly off duty.

But there he was. Automatically I got ready for bed, anxious to get under the covers and ease the persistent chill I couldn't seem to shake.

Then I looked at him. The covers were drawn up past his shoulders, with only the tousled cap of black gleaming hair, a winged brow, and the tip of one pointed ear peeking out. I knew I should have slept elsewhere that night, or at least taken a hot shower before crawling in next to him, but the alluring warmth of the bed and his heat was irresistible.

I eased into bed, careful to avoid touching him. By the dim light over the com panel on the headboard, I watched his face. Something else I never tire of. In sleep, his face is relaxed, open and unaware. He looks so very young when he sleeps, and I enjoy the feeling of protectiveness that steals over me at times like this. Illusionary, I know. He is so much stronger than I, but asleep, his body is as vulnerable to me as his newly acknowledged feelings make his soul. He trusts me.

He must have sensed my presence, because he stirred and moved closer. One warm arm reached out to wrap around my back. Below the covers, one warm leg tucked over my icy ones and he drew me to him, wrapping me in his warmth. In his sleep, the sides of his mouth turned up minutely and he sighed. With pleasure.

You see why I love him?

That same sigh escapes his lips now, and I glance up to watch his eyelids flutter and close, his head slowly lowering by degrees to rest on my shoulder. With that small motion, he yields his body completely to me.

I slip my hands under the hem of the blue uniform and raise them up through the curled hair to seek out the small nubs of his nipples. They rise to erect points immediately. It is astonishingly easy to physically arouse him. His body is so responsive to my touch.

All those years of friendship, and I never knew.

Although his head hasn't moved from its resting place, his hands come up to lightly grasp my waist, careful as always not to harm me with his strength. His hands tremble and I wonder if he needs to steady himself against me, or is it that he needs the closer contact? I press nearer.

Through the thin uniform pants I feel his half hard arousal and suddenly I am intolerant of the cloth that separates us. I tug up his shirt impatiently, harder where it bunches under his arms, and finally it rises above his head. I cast it away.

He moves to the clasp of his pants, but I stop him with a gesture that even to me seems abrupt and harsh. His eyes search mine for a moment, then hesitantly he reaches out to undo my uniform tunic.

"No," I say, and his hands drop back to his sides, instantly obeying, yet the dark eyes are uncertain and wary.

What does he need from me tonight? How can I reassure him that he made the right choice by staying? The only choice.

I grasp him tightly around the waist, my hands instinctively finding the hot hollow of his lower back. Again, I kiss him, this time more insistently, my tongue sliding up against the porcelain slickness of his teeth, pressuring them to open. They do, granting me access to the warm cavern within, and I take possession. I kiss him long and hard, willing him to feel the rightness, the inevitability of our coming together.

When I withdraw, we both are breathing deeply, and the wariness has disappeared from his heavy-lidded eyes. Whatever he was thinking is gone now, lost in the haze of incipient arousal.

My head ducks to nuzzle through the wiry black hair. A sharp pointed nipple strokes my cheek, and I take it in my mouth. A light flick of my tongue sends his head jerking back away from me, but I won't let our bodies separate. Lowering my hands to the small firm mounds of his ass, l pull him toward me.

Lightly, almost shyly, his hands rise to my shoulders, as if he is unsure if I will let them remain there. After a moment, when I make no move to pull away, he grips more firmly.

I switch to the other nipple, slowly letting the suction of my mouth draw it inside. One hand keeps him close, while with the other I unclasp his pants and draw them down to his knees. He begins to tremble against me, hands grip my shoulders harder, and the first soft moan escapes his lips.

God, it excites me when I make him cry out!

His hands tighten on my shoulders, and press down. This time I yield to him, and drop to my knees. My hands follow a twisting path down the slim torso, stopping to find the tender places between his ribs, and caress his navel with my tongue. When I reach the black briefs, I carefully pull them away from his straining shaft and ease them down to where they meet his pants. Lifting his legs one at a time, I remove his boots and pull the clothing down and off.

He is naked before me, his skin a pale luminescent blur against the darkness.

With just the tip of one finger I slip down into the space between his buttocks to find the soft and yielding place. I rim it, a feather light touch against the velvet opening. He shudders and presses back. At the same time I cover just the tip of his penis with my mouth. He jerks forward.

I play his body like an instrument, forward and back, forward and back, each time the touch becomes just a bit harder, a bit more demanding. The tremors shake him now, shake both of us, for I am equally aroused yet I hold that part of myself off and away, keep it distant. Just a little while longer.

Forward and back he thrusts against me, and I can feel the tension in his fingers as he keeps his hands on my shoulders, keeps them from grasping at the sides of my face to hold me still.

Forward and back once again, the finely tuned body vibrating like a plucked string, singing a silent song that only we two can hear.

The song becomes too beautiful to bear, and I impale him on my finger as my mouth takes all of him. He is deep within me, as I am deep within him, his taste sweet and pungent at the back of my throat.

I am on my knees, his cock in my mouth, yet I am still fully clothed and he is the one standing naked, a supplicant come to worship at my altar.

There is a small hidden part of me that is screaming, "How can you even think of leaving me?"

I realize I have been punishing him for desiring what I will not give, and myself as well, for not giving what he so desperately desires.

I have never wanted him more.

His fingers tighten spasmodically, and a sound that is part moan and part cry escapes his lips.

At the sound, my mouth releases him and I rise to where I can see the angular, finely sculpted features. His head is thrust back, the lights from the nebula spinning madly across his face. Deep crimson touches where dark brows clench, then is gone to be replaced by a barely seen hint of lavender landing with a lover's touch on the tightly shut eyes, to flow into vibrant purple on the passion spread lips.

It is as if all the colors of him are finally revealed to me.

He silently mouths my name.

His hands let go of my shoulders and rise to land with lethal precision hard against the meld points of my face. Slowly his head straightens to meet mine. Closed eyes open to reveal a flaring heat raging within the dark depths that eclipses the swirling birth of stars, dims them, robs them of their mystic power. They are nothing against his fire, his need.

I am mesmerized. Captivated. Terrified. For I know he is very close to bonding us. And I will allow it to happen.

For an eternal moment, we stand there, on the precipice. Together. Separate. Then the fire in his eyes dies. The swirling lights of the nebula burn fiercer than ever before, and his hands slip down my face in bitter farewell to land back against his sides.

He turns away to face the port opening, dark head bows down to lean against it. Hands reach up, fingers splay out, so pale against the darkness. Beyond his bowed head, the swirling lights appear ever closer, whirling round his head in an insane halo. His legs spread out in offering, his body a white crucifix against the black of space.

I can no longer see his face, but his voice reaches me, a low harsh entreaty I cannot deny.

"Then give me what you can, Jim."

I tear open my pants and press close to his body, my hands rising to interlace with his against the glass. He easily accepts me into his hot, tight moistness.

Emotions rise up threatening to overwhelm me, anger and pain and a sweet, sweet sorrow, but I don't know if they're coming from him or from me or from the both of us.

I shoot my seed deeply into and through him somehow, and as his seed baptizes the stars, I assert my ownership of both.

In the weakness of aftermath, I watch our joined hands, his fingers still splayed against the glass, mine welded in the spaces between. As we sink to our knees, and our locked hands slide down the glass, it seems he is reaching for the light, and I am pulling him down with me into the darkness.

Later as we lie together, I watch the swirling lights play softly across his face, but he doesn't look at me. Instead, he turns his head away to watch the nebula.

What have I done?

"Do not die, Jim," he whispers. "Do not ever die."

* * * * *

Of course, I didn't die. He did.

But before that he left me.

We never made love in that room again, never referred to what happened that night. Never again, even in the throes of passion, did he come so close to losing control and bonding us. That was the first time. The last time.

For a while I watched him carefully to see if it had made any difference in our relationship. I suppose I was looking to see if he would pull in on himself a little, pull away from me, but that didn't happen. If anything he became perhaps just a bit more uninhibited in making love, even aggressive occasionally, as if he were grasping for happiness with both hands while he could.

Now I wonder if somehow he knew.

Then there was the mission to Ariana. The last mission before returning home. Almost my last mission, period.

Simple assignment really, as they all seem to be at the beginning. Pick up a team of exobiologists, exosociologists and other assorted scientists at Starbase Twenty-One, deliver them to Ariana to study the long dead civilization that once flourished there, remain in orbit to assist in setting up base camps and to offer the scientific facilities of a starship.

Spock was quite excited about it in his own Spock-like way. The cave paintings alone were reputed to be unlike he had ever heard of before, and he had a theory they might reveal something of the Preservers, since Miramanee's planet was in this same quadrant.

The paintings were exquisite, colors pale from the passage of eons of time, but the figures so alive they almost begged to be touched.

Spock naturally had begun taking tricorder readings of the cave immediately and started a running commentary on what they were revealing.

After a while I tuned him out, lost in the beauty of the paintings, as if they were trying to tell me something. Spock's voice rang out, abrupt and harsh... 'Wait! There is something... Do not touch them, Jim!" just as I laid my hand upon the cold stone. The ground fell away from beneath my feet, and a yawning mouth of blackness rose up to swallow me. I think l called his name as I fell, both in entreaty not to follow and in anger at all the years we wouldn't have.

Later, Bones told me what they had managed to piece together. Spock had found the same symbols as on the obelisk. Symbols left by the Preservers. Symbols that made this a sacred place and warned the inhabitants that as a reward for being saved from extinction on their former planet, they would have to give up their practice of ritual sacrifice. Or the ground would open up and swallow them whole.

Spock came after me. Was there ever any doubt he would? He never hesitated, never even tried to contact the ship, not that it would have done any good. Trace elements in the rocks prevented com transmissions.

The rescue party tracked us from the splattered green blood where he broke his leg in his mad descent down the gaping rock-strewn abyss, to the place where, no longer able to walk, he crawled the last hundred meters to my side.

By the time they got to us, Spock was keeping me alive with the healing meld. My readings were so low McCoy didn't think they could save me, and tried pulling Spock away so I wouldn't take him with me. Even weeks later, Bones' face was ashen as he described kneeling in the coagulating pool of green and crimson blood from where the bone in Spock's broken leg had cut a jagged path through the skin, and mixed with the blood from my injuries. When he described how Spock wouldn't let go. How he resisted the attempts to separate us. The insane look in the dark eyes, the snapping white teeth, the low moans that were more animal than humanoid. How Bones thought he would have to break the long supple fingers to remove them from the sides of my face.

They beamed us back to the ship still locked together.

When they had stabilized my condition—total life support, McCoy said—Spock withdrew from the meld.

He wouldn't let McCoy tend his leg until he had given the appropriate orders to the bridge, and placed Scotty in command. McCoy was preparing a hypo to put him out, whether he wanted it or not, when he quite calmly finished his instructions, turned, and proceeded to pass out in the doctor's arms.

Even then he fought the healing trance, forced himself to return to consciousness before the break was fully repaired.

Through the next three days, when it was still touch and go, he stayed by my side. Wouldn't eat. Wouldn't sleep. And the one conversation McCoy told me they had together chilled me down to the marrow in my bones, and made me wonder if refusing the bond had made any difference at all.

McCoy had grabbed a few hours of sleep that second night, and when he returned to Sickbay at four in the morning, he wasn't surprised to see Spock still sitting by my side staring at my face where Bones had left him hours before.

McCoy checked the read-outs on the diagnostic panels, and drew up a chair on the opposite side of my bed.

"Spock," he said by way of hello.

"Doctor," Spock replied.

"Go to bed, Spock. There's not a damn thing you can do here."

"I am waiting, Doctor," he said.

"I know," McCoy nodded. "Waiting to see if Jim will live or die."

"No, Doctor." McCoy said that was when his head rose and Spock looked at him for the first time. His eyes were bleak and empty, but he managed a small twisted excuse for a smile that made McCoy's stomach clench. "Waiting to see if I will," he said.

Somehow I had forgotten there were more ways to commit suicide than following a bondmate into death.

When I woke, it was six weeks later. I was in a Starfleet base hospital on Earth, our exploratory mission was over, and Spock was gone.

* * * * *

I tried to contact him, of course. Even went to Vulcan. Stood outside the gates of Gol. Demanded to see him. Shook the bars like a caged animal, and screamed his name into the smothering silence of that place until my voice was raw.

He wouldn't see me.

I would've taken the place apart stone by stone to get to him, but Sarek came to me. My behavior was threatening to become an intergalactic incident between our two governments, he said. Spock had chosen, he said. Could I not respect his decision?

I believe I reinforced every conception they had of illogical, over-emotional humans. 'There but for the grace of Surak, go I.'

That was me, James T. Kirk, my sole destiny to provide an object lesson to Vulcans that they had chosen the right course five thousand years ago.

When I returned to Earth, I found out all I could about the Kolinahr discipline. There wasn't much to find out. I already knew it was supposed to remove all final traces of emotion. What I didn't know was that it was also supposed to remove even the memories of the causes of those emotions.

I thought back to that last year we spent together. Spock acquired a new habit after that night in the observation room. For a few moments after each time we made love, he would withdraw from me. Mentally, if not physically.

His eyes would close, a furrow would appear between clenched brows, and he would concentrate very hard. Once I asked what he was doing.

"I am imprinting the memories, Jim," he told me.

"Why?" I asked as I smoothed the tightened skin above his eyes.

"So I will always have them," he said seriously.

"No need for that, love," I laughed. "We'll make new ones that are even better."

"Of course, Jim." He smiled back, but his eyes were the eyes of the child he once was, the child in the holograph. And he never stopped.

He would forget me? Forget those memories?

Let him try.

I suppose I should have understood, but I didn't. I couldn't get past the anger that he was no longer with me. That he chose to no longer be with me.

The anger carried me past the loss of my beautiful silver lady, though I watched over her refit as Starfleet Chief of Operations. I could have fought for her, but what was the point? I think they promoted me as a consolation prize for losing the stars. The stars and Spock.

Ironic, wasn't it? The one thing Spock wanted, other than the bond, was to have me permanently safe, and here I was, safe, snug as the bug in the proverbial rug, and that bastard was the one who was gone.

I saw to it that they kept the observation room under the bridge intact, even though I never stepped foot in it again.

The anger was even enough to carry me through those first few months with Lori Ciani, and into marriage.

We were good for each other at the beginning, and if I buried my anger along with my cock in her willing warm body night after night, she didn't seem to mind. Our days were filled with work. Our nights were filled with sex, and when I fell asleep I didn't dream.

She knew about Spock, because I told her, because when something is over, it's over, and there's no place to go but on.

Months later the anger finally faded, and I began to dream again.

Most of the dreams were very beautiful; images of Spock I didn't even know I consciously remembered: Spock, absorbed in some research at the Science Station. Spock, crouched down on his haunches, seriously discussing philosophy with several inhabitants of Minos Three who were no bigger than his finger. Spock, meticulously careful to avoid stepping on the anthills on Doresh. Spock, caught in the rain on Starbase Eleven and myself laughing at the way the water dripped down his hair and into his face.

Whole dreams that focused on just one part of his body. His eyes. His mouth. His hair. His hands. The tender patch of skin behind his left knee.

Then there were the dreams that were not memories. That couldn't possibly have happened: Myself, sitting in the command chair on the bridge. Spock, on his knees before me. Taking me in his hot mouth. Making me come and come and him swallowing and watching him take me with love in his eyes.

A lean naked body, back turned, head bowed down in submission. Punishing that body with thick heavy blows of my fists until blood ran. Blood that somehow it was too dark to see. Finally turning the battered form to discover it wore my face.

I didn't like that dream.

But my favorite, the one that recurred most often, was the vision of Spock lying among a bed of stars. The silken black hair grown long enough to reach to his ankles was the only garment he wore. And the stars were shining in, and through, his long black hair. Or maybe his hair was made up of stars. His legs were spread for me. Arms flung wide. Face, contorted and so open in his passion. Body writhing in sexual abandon. Again he would offer not only his body, but his heart and mind and soul as precious gifts for us to share. Here in this forever place of dreams, where there was no past and no future, I was able to accept them.

And I finally knew all of him.

Spock, among the stars. Where he was meant to be. Where we were both meant to be.

I would wake with the pillow wet from my tears, and the sheet wet from my orgasms.

With Lori, I became impotent.

She didn't renew our contract after the first year. I wasn't surprised.

Poor Lori. She only made two mistakes. The first was still being young enough to think you could change someone if you loved them. The second was loving me to begin with.

* * * * *

When Veger appeared, Spock came back to me.

We eventually even became lovers again. I guess there are some things that are inevitable. But I could never forget it wasn't his choice to come back. I called him in my mind, and he came, but it wasn't his choice.

It was almost the way it was before. Almost. I refused to question it. When you've lost perfection and by some miracle you get it back, you don't look to see how tarnished it is around the edges.

He loosened up a lot after Veger. Never again did he ask for the bond, or suggest we leave the service. Instead, he took to saying how commanding a starship was my first best destiny, how I belonged among the stars.

But getting back your command once you have given it up is not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. I got the Enterprise back for the Veger mission. They took her away from me again after it was over.

It took Khan to get her back permanently.

It took Khan to make Spock die.

It took Khan to make me understand the true meaning of loss.

* * * * *

Spock died.

Two words. A collection of syllables. Vowels and consonants. See how easily I can say them.

Even now, when he is alive, and himself again, and back with me. Even now, those two words haunt me. Even now, there is the single moment that comes each day when I am lost in the nether-land between sleep and awakening, between dream and reality, between hell and heaven, and for just that one momentary beat of my heart, it is true all over again. Even now.

Spock died.

At least when he was at Gol I knew he lived. Air filled his lungs. His eyes saw. His ears heard. He thought and breathed. He moved and spoke. He lived. And because he did, I could, too.

Spock died

.

And the powers that make the cosmos spin must have laughed, if they noticed us at all, because I was still alive.

I've always been a sensual man. Dug into life with both hands. Food was to be tasted. Wine was to be savored. An unexplored planet existed for me to place my foot upon it. I enjoyed pushing my body to the limits of its physical endurance, as much as I enjoyed a cold drink of water, a hot shower, the feel of cool sheets against my skin and slipping into sleep after a day's work was done. The feel of any sun's warmth, any soil's smell, any flower's beauty, the sound of laughter-my own or anyone else's, the taste of a lover. My ship beneath my feet. Knowing she bent to my will.

I've never been afraid of life.

I will never experience those things in quite the same way ever again.

I am not the same man l used to be. Now I am afraid.

Because Spock died.

* * * * *

I've always been able to compartmentalize my life--the personal and the professional, desire and duty, lust and love. In the first few hours after Khan's destruction and our escape from the Genesis wave, that's exactly what I did.

The man I was went away somewhere, and the captain was left behind. I did what had to be done. Assigned the repair crews, informed 'Fleet, got the ship ready to pick up the survivors on Ceti Alpha.

Read Spock's will.

He would have been proud of me.

That night, McCoy paged my cabin. I wasn't there. He said he knew somehow just where to find me.

By the time he entered the morgue, I had removed Spock's body from the stasis chamber. Pressed the cold dead hand against my face. Molded the stiff fingers into the meld position. I didn't know Bones was there, so he stood at the door behind me and listened, thinking I needed to get it out. Listened, as I explained quite coherently that l was sorry l had refused the bond. Listened, as I pleaded for him to do it now. Listened, as l begged him not to leave me behind. Listened, as I told him if I found a mortally wounded animal, I wouldn't let it suffer. I would have the compassion to release it from its misery. Listened, as I cajoled, and wept, and threatened.

Bones only stopped me when I... when I began to hit him.

He wouldn't do it, you see.

McCoy got me out, took me back to my quarters, undressed me, bathed me as if I were a child, and put me to bed. He explained he would give me something to help me sleep.

That must have sounded good to me because I agreed. Just one more detail I had to take care of before I could rest.

"Spock is cold, Bones," I told him. "He doesn't like the cold," I told him.

Bones said he would take care of it.

He spent the night at my side, was there when I woke in the morning. Told me what I had done, what I had said.

I have no recollection of it.

I do remember that after the funeral we drank together, and cried together, and shared our memories of Spock. He stayed that night with me, too.

I remember coming back to the bridge the next day. The faces that greeted me were filled with concern. Especially Bones'. When he asked how l felt, I told him the truth. "I feel young," I said. I even smiled. I had to reassure him somehow. He had done more for me than any other. More than anyone had the right to expect from a friend, but he couldn't spend each endless night with me from here on.

"I feel young." I did. Incredibly young. Just at the beginning of my life. A long life. A life filled with endless days and endless nights that stretched away into endless months and endless years of living until it finally would be over. A life without Spock.

This was what I, in my arrogance, had asked of him. Endure without me.

No, I hadn't understood loss at all until Spock died.

* * * * *

I wonder if the cosmic scale is balanced now. One ship destroyed by my own hand for one newly created. My son's life for my lover's life. My pain for Spock's pain.

We are ordered to give this new ship a shakedown cruise. I have given the appropriate orders. There is only one place I need to be.

We are almost there.

I leave the bridge before the end of watch, carefully keying in the message I have already prepared. It will appear on his screen in five minutes:

—We meet at the appointed place. I await you.—

He will understand what it means.

I have not planned beyond these next few hours. It has occurred to me that he may no longer want me. After all, how many chances for happiness are offered in one lifetime? How many miracles? I may have used up my allotted number. But I won't think of that.

I will place my life in his hands as he once placed his in mine, and hope he will be more compassionate than I.

The small observation room under the bow is still there as I knew it would be. I have set the lock to respond to the touch of only one other hand.

When I raise the port covering, the Hawking Nebula is spinning its mad eternal dance.

It is reassuring to know that these stars will burn and spin and furnish the life-force for a billion new worlds. That they will be here long after I am gone. That there are some things that are, after all, eternal, like the stars, even if they no longer burn quite so brightly for me as they once did.

I walk to the com unit on the wall and press the stud. He has received my message by now.

"Bridge, Commander Sulu here."

"This is the captain, Commander. Please see that neither Captain Spock nor I are disturbed for the remainder of our off shift."

"Aye, Captain."

"And Mister Sulu?" I say as I remove my jacket, "if there is an emergency... handle it. Kirk out."

I take off the rest of my clothes, and when I am naked I walk to the port and spread myself in offering against the glass.

The door opens behind me.

I do not turn as I hear his soft footsteps cross the room, and it is only when I realize the stars are blurred that I know I have been blinking back tears.

"Turn around, Jim," he says. "I wish to see your face."

I turn to him, and it doesn't matter that I no longer can see the stars. He studies my face for a long moment. I try to think of something to say, but there is nothing. Nothing except the one word, so I say it and hope he understands the rest.

"Please."

In his dark eyes I see the reflection of the stars, and as his hand rises to the side of my face, they seem to burn more brightly than they ever did before.

But I no longer need them.

What need have I for stars when all the worlds I will ever need to explore are locked behind my bondmate's eyes?

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