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Sleep, sleep beauty bright,

Dreaming o’er the joys of night.

Sleep, sleep in thy sleep

Little sorrows sit and weep.

-- William Blake

Part I

James Kirk rolled over again, his eyes catching the green glow of the chronometer. He winced as he read the numbers there, feeling the pressure to sleep mount higher. Again, he tossed miserably onto his back. Everything that could be wrong was wrong. The sheets were too hot. The pillow was too high. The room temperature felt stifling. His hair hurt.

With a grunt, he finally sat up on the edge of the bed, head dropped into his hands. He knew he wouldn't sleep, knew it was a futile attempt to fool himself to stay in bed any longer. He drew a heavy breath and rose to take a shower.

Rivulets of cool, refreshing water stung Kirk's face as he splashed himself at the sink and then looked in the mirror. Dark circles ringed his eyes, his skin was far too pale and drawn sharply across the cheekbones. He looked like hell.

Drawing on a robe, he wandered back into his sleeping area, once again glancing at the chronometer. 0226. His shift didn't start until 0900. There was a lot of empty space to fill between then and now.

Night, arbitrary as it may be aboard a starship, stretched her long cold arms out in front of Kirk, taunting his sleeplessness with offers of sweet, sensual dreams. He didn't believe her, didn't trust her. Kirk had long known Night for the liar she is; deceptive, conniving, arrogant in her appeal, treacherous in the extreme.

He glanced around his cabin, saw the empty desk. No work left to lose himself in. A stack of vid-tapes, correspondence of one sort or another, lay on the shelf behind his desk. He walked over and shuffled through them. Three from Peter, one from Areel Shaw, several soliciting articles or papers. He tossed them back on the shelf, feeling only slightly guilty about his nephew. The books over his bed caught his eye for a moment before his gaze wandered onto the chessboard with its game in play. He and Spock had been so busy that they decided to make their moves whenever they could find the time, whether the other was present or not. This one game had been going on for over two weeks.

Kirk sat on his side of the board. Surveyed the mock battle and smiled as he saw the elegant play Spock had made. He stared for a long time, mind going over every answer to Spock’s strategy. He was in trouble and he knew he'd not be able to find a solution tonight. With a fond sigh, he started pacing again.

His wanderings brought him back to the bathroom. He cleaned up, even though the bathroom didn't need it. Leaning against the sink, he closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. As he knew it would be, the attempt was useless. His mind spun in on itself, thought unable to clarify into coherency. He shook his head and opened his eyes. The connecting door to Spock's cabin was there. Strangely, he never really thought about the door. It remained locked, as far as he knew, so it was little more than one more wall to him. Now, suddenly, he wished he could just slip into the Vulcan's cabin and bask in the warmth there. He smiled at his own whimsy and turned away.

Shuffling back to bed, Kirk threw off the robe, pulled the covers over himself and reached to turn out the light. In the darkness, colors danced before his eyes, on the inner surface of his eyelids. Shapes and rhythms and patterns formed and danced away, hypnotizing him, drawing him down into the arms of Morpheus. His body felt heavy, his eyelids weighted in lead. He tried to reach the surface but the waves of sleep were too heavy. Unwillingly, he fell into a deep sleep.

*****

The most unusual of occurrences had just happened: Spock arrived on the bridge before Kirk. The turbo doors opened and Spock automatically stepped down to the command well for his customary greeting only to find the chair empty. A bit confused, he quickly surveyed the rest of the bridge but Kirk was not there.

He slowly made his way to his own station, relieving the night officer and automatically programming the day's duties. His mind only half on his work, Spock fought the urge to turn every time of the turbo doors opened. He knew his time sense was correct. He had not arrived early for his shift. And Kirk never overslept.

Concern replaced curiosity and Spock noted the passing of the first hour of shift with still no sign of Kirk. Finally, he turned to Uhura to find her large brown eyes already on him.

"There's no reply to my call, Mr. Spock. I've been trying his cabin steadily for the past hour."

Spock nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant." He rose and headed for the lift. "If you require my presence, I will be either in the Captain's quarters or sick bay."

"Aye, sir." Uhura watched the stiff back disappear from the bridge before she turned to meet the worried glances of the rest of the bridge crew.

*****

Spock pressed the button for a fifth time. There was no answer, no sound from within Kirk's cabin. He was beginning to use his override code when the thought of McCoy came to him. Perhaps, before he interrupted what might very well be a legitimate cause for Kirk's absence, he had better consult with the doctor.

All the way to sickbay, Spock's mind tried to find reasons, rationale for Kirk's not informing any one of his delay this morning. He put a halt to his idle wanderings and quickened his pace.

McCoy was in storeroom 4 when Spock finally found him. The doctor was cursing and mumbling as he and Nurse Phillips dug through the piles of boxes.

Spock cleared his throat.

"This had better be good," McCoy warned before turning around.

"May I speak with you in private, Doctor?"

McCoy’s brows rose at the unexpected sight of his visitor. "Sure." He turned back to the nurse for a moment with instructions, then faced Spock. "Come on." He led the way to his office.

As the door slid shut behind Spock, McCoy turned with a question on his face.

"Have you spoken to the Captain this morning?" Spock asked.

"No. Why?"

Without invitation, Spock sat in one of the chairs opposite the desk. "He has not arrived for his shift and there is no answer either by intercom or at his door." Before McCoy could respond, Spock had leaned across the desk and thumbed the intercom. "Lieutenant, please page Captain Kirk ship wide."

"Aye, sir."

Blue eyes met brown as the call echoed throughout the ship. Moments hung with silence as there was no response.

As if by single thought, both men headed for the door, silent as they made their way to Kirk's quarters.

Arriving one step ahead of McCoy, Spock quickly punched in his override and strode into the cabin.

There, in bed, looking perfectly at peace, lay Kirk, one arm flung back over his head. The sheet was bunched up around his waist, leaving his chest and one leg bare.

Spock approached, McCoy moving quickly past him, professionalism taking over as he felt for a pulse.

"He's asleep!" McCoy turned amazed eyes on Spock, while he waved his scanner over Kirk's recumbent form. "Deeply asleep; I say pathologically so. I'm going to wake him up."

Spock remained silent, his eyes are rooted to Kirk's face as McCoy first called Kirk's name then shook the Captain's shoulder. There was no response.

Reaching into his medikit, McCoy pulled out of hypo, dialed up a stimulant and pressed it quickly to Kirk's throat. His deft, gentle hands rubbed the spot to take the sting away, remained poised at Kirk's collarbone as he waited for Kirk to respond to the drug.

A slight stirring ruffled the perfection of Kirk's sleep. He tossed onto his right side.

McCoy glanced at Spock with mixed concern and irritation before dialing up another dose and pressuring it into Kirk's carotid artery.

The figure in bed tossed again. McCoy called his name, shook his shoulder, slapped the pale face and Kirk sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for air, eyes wild for a moment until he saw the two men hovering over him.

"What is it?" Kirk rubbed sleep from his eyes, stretched and shook his head.

Spock's too-quiet voice answered his question. "It is now 1137, Captain."

"What?"

"You... uh... overslept, Jim." McCoy left his hand resting on Kirk's knee where it had fallen when Kirk sat up.

"Overslept? You're kidding. I don't oversleep."

"Precisely, sir. There was some minor cause for concern." Spock glanced at Kirk and quickly away, unable to meet the confused eyes.

"I had one hell of a time waking you up, Jim." McCoy padded his knee and rose. "Must have been one hell of a dream."

Kirk looked through bleary eyes at the doctor. "I feel hung over," he murmured. "I don't think I dreamed..."

McCoy's eyes flickered at the slurred speech. "Well, I want you to go take a shower. I'll wait and see how you feel after."

Kirk nodded and slowly padded towards the bathroom, heedless of his nudity or his audience.

Spock's sharp eyes met and held McCoy's. "What is wrong with him?"

McCoy shook his head. "Don't know. Maybe he just needed a good, hard sleep."

Spock didn't believe him, but he wasn't ready to hear any other explanation. "I will be on the bridge, Doctor. If there is anything further you deem I should be made aware of, you may contact me there."

McCoy watched as Spock left, knowing how worried the Vulcan was by his carriage. With a sigh he settled into one of Kirk's chairs, listening for the sonics to turn off in the bath.

Five minutes later, the bathroom door slid open and Kirk walked out wrapped in a robe. He seemed small, vulnerable, and very tired.

"Jim? How do you feel?"

Kirk stopped and looked at McCoy as if he'd forgotten the doctor's presence. "I'm tired, Bones. Feel like I could stay in bed forever."

McCoy noted the still confused look on Kirk's face, the remaining slur in his speech. "Well, get dressed and we'll go down to sickbay, run a few quick tests to see what's up."

McCoy continued his light talk as Kirk dressed. "Could just be a vitamin deficiency or something. You been eating right, Jim? I should check your dietary card more often, keep an eye on you. I swear, between you and that walking computer you have for first officer, I don’t get any rest around here."

Kirk’s smile was a ghost of itself as he turned to McCoy, ready to follow him to sick bay. Or even out an airlock the way he’s acting, McCoy thought to himself.

*****

Spock's ears nearly pricked as he listened intensely to every sound behind him. He dared not turn from his scanners each time the lift doors opened to dislodge someone. He dared not call sick bay or leave his post. Yet his mind would not behave logically and leave idle speculation alone. He was worried past his own admission.

After what seemed like eons but was actually only one hour, the lift opened again and, this time, Kirk's unmistakable stride greeted Spock ears. And still he didn't turn. He listened, heard the steps approach his station. When the steps stopped beside him, he finally turned and met his captain's eyes.

"I trust you are well, sir." Spock's voice was low, quiet.

Kirk smiled, trying to ease the pain he saw hidden in Spock's eyes. "I'm fine, Spock. Just exhaustion according to McCoy." He looked at his feet, then up at Spock through lowered lashes. "I'm sorry to have worried you."

Spock began to deny it, then thought better of it. He had been worried. He nodded his acceptance of the reality they both were aware of and turned back to his work.

As the day went along, Spock responded automatically to his computers, answered the queries put to him from other departments on the ship, even spoke to Kirk in a normal tone of voice. But his mind was far from steady, his nerves unreasonably on edge.

Shift drew to a close and Kirk stepped up beside the Vulcan.

"How about dinner, Spock? Then chess? It's been a long time since we've both had some time off together."

Spock nodded, releasing the tenseness which had gathered in his body, centering in his solar plexus, during the day. "That would be most welcome, Captain."

Kirk smiled and led the way to the lift.

The ride was made in silence, broken only when they exited at deck five. "Let's eat in my cabin, Spock. I'm not up to facing the crowds."

Kirk's tone was light, but an underlining anxiety touched the edge of Spock's awareness. He nodded and quietly followed his friend into the cabin.

Kirk punched in his diet code, then looked inquiringly at the Vulcan.

"A salad..."

Kirk smiled at the expected response. "... with Pacha and artichoke hearts. Tea?"

Spock nodded, seating himself and allowing a small smile to touch his eyes.

"You're getting very predictable, First Officer. Don't you get tired of eating the same thing day after day?" Kirk, after punching in Spock's dinner, sat beside him, leaning back in the chair and closing his eyes.

"I have found the combination of ingredients in this meal to perfectly balance my nutritional needs during a normal working day."

"Taste has nothing to do with it, huh?" Kirk chuckled a bit.

"I did not say that..."

"I think you're simply addicted to the stuff." Kirk shuddered at the thought of the stringy purple grass-like Pacha. He'd been foolish enough to accept Spock's offer of a taste once. It did not conform to human taste requirements, as Spock pointed out... after Kirk had tried it. Whoever said Vulcans have no sense of humor? Kirk wondered.

The meals arrived and Spock curiously surveyed Kirk's choices. To his surprise, it was a vegetarian meal. "Jim?"

Kirk looked up from his plate.

"You did not do this," Spock indicated Kirk's meal, "in deference to me, did you?"

Kirk smiled. "No, though I'd like to say that was the motivation. McCoy wants me off all red meats, poultry and synthetics." He shrugged. "He thinks I may be having a chemical reaction to something in my diet."

Spock's eyes never left his face and Kirk noted the concern behind the cool look. "I'm fine, Spock. Really," he assured him as he returned to his meal.

Spock finished first, sipping at his tea as Kirk completed his meal. His eyes fell on the chessboard, noting Kirk had not countered his move yet.

"Think you've got me, do you?" Kirk teased.

"It has been four days since I countered your last attempt to trap me," Spock reminded.

Pushing his plate aside, Kirk reached out and made the move he'd been contemplating all day, then he sat back and watched the nearly undetectable expressions cross Spock's face. He laughed at the raised eyebrow. "Check-mate."

"Indeed." Spock tipped his king and sat back, hands folded across his stomach. "Very well played, Jim."

"Just lucky."

"Perhaps. Shall we play again?"

They played well into the night. Two games later, one won by each, Spock looked at the pale face across from him. "It is late, Jim. If you need your rest."

Kirk looked at him, then at the chronometer. 1214. He nodded. With a huge stretch, he rose as Spock did, following his friend to the door. Kirk leaned against the doorjamb as Spock exited. "Goodnight, Spock."

"Sleep well, Captain."

Kirk moved back to allow the door to close and stared at the empty room. His mind raced, thought seemed to bounce off the blank walls, taunting him with offers of sleep. Rubbing the back of his neck, he walked to the bathroom, undressed and took a long, warm shower. The sonics rubbed the knots from his back and upper arms, soothed the slight pounding in his temples, beat a rhythm of comfort over his entire body.

He dried himself and walked into the main cabin. The air felt pleasant on his still-tingling skin. He stretched as he walked, feeling muscles bunch and release with the action. A sensual glow suffused him, drawing a smile to his lips and memories to his mind.

With a tiny hint of self-consciousness, Kirk lay back on the bed, arms and legs flung out with loose abandon. His mind wandered.

Areel: soft and sweet. Sharp mind, quick wit, knowledgeable and independent. Her hands could sing symphonies with his body, draw his passion to a peak with more clarity than anyone else he had known. There had been a companionship there, if no love. Areel, a close friend, good for solitary, midnight fantasies.

Kirk closed his eyes and let the images overtake him. That pretty, pink mouth tickled his flesh; forehead, lips, chest, stomach... groin. Her delicate hand held him captive, coaxing growth from him, drawing every ounce of blood and energy to center in her hand. Slowly, she caressed his penis, lightly brushing the hair at its base than flashing to the head to swirl soft circles through the slight moisture there.

He sighed, snuggling his hips deeper into the bed, deeper into the hand gripping him with such familiarity. Helplessly, his hips thrust once and the hand increased its rhythm.

In his mind, the womanly mouth was replaced by an even more womanly opening. The lips were moist with desire and parted for him willingly as she eased herself down and onto his straining shaft. Deep he went as she lowered herself further onto him until she could take no more, until there was no more to take. Stillness followed for an eternity, for a nanosecond, and then the madness. Desperately he tried to crawl deeper into the warmth surrounding him, seeking her center, seeking his goal. Wildly he thrashed as the body atop him thrashed with equal abandon and want. They drove into/onto one another, hungering for each other's flesh, digging deep into the other body to ease the isolation that is the human condition.

Once. Kirk thrust upward. Hard. Twice. He heard a moan, felt the muscles surrounding his erection tense, squeezing tight, tighter. Three times he thrust and stilled into orgasmic surrender.

Shudders wracked his body as the clutching muscles eased their grip on his slackening penis. His eyes opened to find himself alone, his hand lying limp and sticky at his side.

He lay still, letting the illusion fade from his mind, feeling no remorse or guilt at having used Areel in this fashion. It mattered little since they had used each other in many ways over their long association. He was sure she'd be flattered if she only knew.

The soft air began to cool the stickiness on his stomach and hand. Idly, he ran his palm over his belly, feeling the moisture mix and cling. Slowly, he rose and went to the bathroom to clean himself, resigned that not even the never-failing-Kirk-cure-for-insomnia was going to make his night any easier than the uncounted nights before.

In the mirror, under the lights, his face looked more drawn than ever, deep hollows casting shadows over his face, giving him a slightly skeletal look. He winced at the sight, dropped his eyes and quickly cleaned himself of the evidence of his late-night fantasy. Maybe sex was no answer, even if it had been in the past. With the right application, making love to oneself could be almost as satisfying as making love with someone else... almost. He shook his head, knowing what was missing, knowing the release was not the sole key to making love.

It's been too long between sure leaves, J.T., he explained to himself. You're becoming obsessed...

But he knew it wasn’t true. Sex hadn’t crossed his mind before tonight in over a month. He’d been too busy, the ship drawing all his energy away from personal gratification of any other sort. Maybe that’s all it was, tension, misdirected energy. Now that the hectic period of the past few weeks seemed to be easing, his system didn’t know what to do with all the pent-up adrenaline. Maybe that was all his restlessness, sleeplessness was. Maybe…

*****

The tape played on. It was one of the selections Spock had recommended to Kirk as a substitute for meditation, something the human always had trouble achieving. Kirk made a conscious effort to relax each part of his body, starting with his toe tips and ending with the capillaries in his scalp. His eyes still moved frantically beneath his closed eyelids, his breathing would not ease into that peaceful rhythm he'd been able to find before when listening to this music. It wasn't working.

With a frustrated oath, Kirk rose and hit the switch, stopping the tape cold. He was too warm. Naked, he moved to the thermostat and lowered the temperature. He lay back on the rumpled bed and let the cool air ease over him, drying the sweat from his body, raising tiny bumps on his arms, chest and legs. He felt his nipples harden, felt his penis stir and flopped onto his stomach in irritation.

He ignored his erection. Jacking off didn't help. It only left him feeling worse. He would not indulge himself further in that way, he would not. But the texture of the sheet pressing against him sent shivers of sensuality playing over him and he groaned as his hips drove into the bed, unconsciously seeking relief despite his resolve to ignore his growing arousal.

His mind seethed but not with sensual fantasies. Incoherent bits of everything he had dealt with the previous day flittered through his thoughts. Dinner with Spock, McCoy's examination and eternal questions, worry over his own sleeping so unnaturally, worrying over his inability to get to sleep... He knew he'd have to talk to McCoy about it. He hadn't mentioned the insomnia. On and on the thoughts went round and round like some crazed child's ride, flashing colors and images he could not grasp. He felt choked, unable to even express the frustrations to himself.

And his body strove on toward fulfillment. His hand snaked around his body until he held his now-stiff organ tightly. He turned his head to the side and bit his lip, bringing himself quickly to a painfully empty climax.

Lying on the wet sheets, Kirk felt dazed, idly wondered what was tickling his cheek. He reached his other hand up to his face, scrubbing at the inexplicable moisture there. As he fell into a nearly comatose sleep, somewhere his mind acknowledged the fact that he was crying.

*****

Spock stepped onto the bridge at the beginning of his shift and immediately noted Kirk's absence. He looked at Uhura who answered with a shake of her head and a shrug. Without any word, Spock turned and re-entered the lift.

He nearly ran down the corridor past his own quarters to Kirk's. There was no answer to his knock. Without hesitation, he coded the lock to override and stepped into the nearly icy cabin.

After ascertaining that Kirk was asleep, he dialed the thermostat back to human normal and called sick bay.

Spock awaited McCoy's arrival, his stomach tight. Kirk still lay on his stomach, covers now pulled up from where Spock had found them bunched at his feet. The human did not move. Only the slight rise and fall of his back as Kirk breathed spoke of life.

McCoy entered at a run and went directly to Kirk's side. "Help me turn him onto his back, Spock."

Instantly, Spock had Kirk turned over. McCoy noted that the Vulcan remained seated on the side of Kirk's bed as the examination continued.

"He's asleep," McCoy said almost to himself. "Same as yesterday." He pushed the loaded hypo home on Kirk's throat and waited for the first signs of stirring.

Kirk mumbled something and tried to turn back over. McCoy grabbed his shoulders and shook. "Jim! Jim, wake up!" He slapped the pale cheek, hard.

"What?" Kirk's voice sounded as if he were drunk.

"Wake up, damn it!" McCoy shook him again. "Come on, Spock, help me sit him up. Get his feet on the floor."

Kirk sat on his own, eyes half-opened. He took a deep breath, running his hands through his hair. "Wa' time...?"

"It is now 1012, Captain."

"Shit."

"Can you stand up?" McCoy placed a hand under Kirk's arm.

Kirk nodded and wobbled for a moment, stepping away from the support and heading for the bathroom once he'd gained his balance.

Ever watchful, McCoy didn't miss the signs of Kirk's late-night indulgence. The fact that Kirk had apparently fallen asleep before cleaning himself up was one more factor that weighed heavily on the doctor's mind. Kirk, of all people he knew, was meticulously clean... almost Vulcan in his dislike of feeling soiled. It was also obvious that Kirk did not recall his own condition for he'd stood naked in front of both of them without a flinch. McCoy's worry rose.

"Spock?" He turned to the Vulcan who was still watching the now-closed bathroom door. "How was he at dinner last night?"

"Quite his usual self," Spock said softly. "He appeared wide awake, his mind was clear. We played chess and he played admirably, as always."

"What time did you leave?"

"Midnight. He seemed tired. I thought he needed his rest..."

"Well I'm gonna take him off duty for a few days. Maybe he'll sleep it off."

Spock again sat on the edge of Kirk's bed, waiting for his friend to emerge from the shower. McCoy joined him, sitting mere inches away, both sharing an unvoiced concern.

"You both still here?" Kirk asked, smiling and pulling on his uniform. He seemed fully aware and coherent.

"I merely wished to see that you're well, sir." Spock rose. "I will be on the bridge."

After Spock had left, Kirk turned to McCoy. "Doctor?"

"You're on sick call for three days, Jim."

Kirk raised eyebrows at him, not questioning his reasons. "What am I supposed to do for three days?"

"Sleep."

Kirk's mouth fell open and he quickly shut it, sitting down heavily behind his desk. "I wish it were that easy."

McCoy sat across from him. "Okay, Jim. Give."

Kirk shook his head. "I can't sleep, Bones."

"Could have fooled me."

"I mean, I can't get to sleep. But once I do fall asleep, I can't seem to wake up."

"Well, my tests show it's nothing systemic. That leaves psychological causes."

Kirk glared at him.

"Cooperate, Captain."

"I'm trying."

"First of all, why can't you sleep?"

Kirk shrugged.

"Too much on your mind? Nightmares? What?"

"I don't even know if I've been dreaming and I certainly don't remember any nightmares. My mind just won't stop long enough to sleep."

"What are you thinking about?"

"Everything. Nothing. The day, reports, dinner, Spock, you..."

"... women?"

Kirk looked at him. "Sometimes."

"Last night?"

The blank look quickly turned to one of slight embarrassment as memory returned. "Oh. Uh... sometimes it helps me sleep... you know..."

"Yeah, I know. But it didn't help last night?"

Kirk shook his head. "It was... terrible last night."

"How have you been feeling lately, emotionally I mean?"

"Okay. The usual."

"Lonely?"

"No more than normal."

"Overburdened?"

"No."

"It's been a tough month or so. Heavy decisions, lives lost..."

Kirk flinched, eyes darting to meet the doctor's. "That's my job, Bones. It's the bad that comes with the good, natural balance."

"It's not every day you lose a friend like Avirm, though, Jim."

Kirk hesitated. "No, it's not."

"Your trouble sleeping have anything to do with him?"

"Don't think so." Kirk looked off into space. "Bones, Avi and I were... close. I mean, there was something really special in him." He smiled as he remembered back. "He was only three years younger than me. You should've seen his face when he showed up for his first tutorial and he saw me. I had to show them my code card before he would believe I was who I said I was. He always kidded that I looked ten years younger than him." Kirk laughed gently. "I can't remember ever being so happy to see someone as I was to see he was assigned to us. I knew from the start he'd make a top-notch officer... and I was right."

"He was a good man," McCoy agreed.

"Of course it was a little awkward. I mean, it was hard knowing where to draw the line between professionalism and friendship." Kirk glanced up. "That's not the only time I've ever had that trouble, Bones, but maybe I overcompensated in his case, sent him on one too many missions to try to prove I wasn't playing favorites, that I wasn't protecting him. I don't know."

"I do. Jim, you're the best captain Starfleet has. I know you inside and out. I've seen the maturation in your psych file. Nothing I have personally observed or professionally recorded leads me to put any validity to your statement." He leaned across the desk, eyes locking with Kirk's. "It wasn't your fault, Jim. It was an accident. A stupid accident. Anybody could've stumbled across that abandoned mine, anybody."

Kirk raised moist eyes to him. "I know. But, the waste, Bones! He was so damned... beautiful..."

McCoy's eyes narrowed at Kirk's use of that word. He remained quiet, waiting.

"He had such a way with words. Gods, but he could charm the ladies! He gave me a run for my money in that department." Kirk grinned. "And even I wasn't immune to those eyes. The color of unrefined emeralds beneath water..." He grew silent, eyes far away, a smile on his lips. When he spoke again, his voice broke. "He trusted me, Bones..."

"Jim..."

Kirk shook his head, smiling away his dark mood. "I'm still very... sad about it, but it's not been on my mind. I mean, a day doesn't go by when I don't think of Avi a dozen times, but it's usually in such a good way. I'll think of something he would've found funny or I'll see a girl he would've gone for. He's fond in my memories, Bones."

Kirk's words satisfied McCoy. The doctor changed the subject.

"Any trouble with muscle pain? Headaches?"

Kirk shrugged.

"Where?"

"My neck and shoulders, upper arms are like fire. Headaches are mostly at the temples."

"Of course you've tried sonics on your back?"

"Helps a little."

"I'm gonna prescribe a little therapeutic massage. And I'm going to leave you some mild sedatives. You come down to sick bay after lunch and Mojria will work on you for a while. Then you will come back here and try to sleep. If you have trouble, take one pill. I’ll be around to wake you for dinner."

*****

Warm, competent hands kneaded his shoulders. Thumbs moved in an organized pattern down his spine. Each arm was taken apart muscle by muscle and reassembled. His face and scalp, neck and shoulder blades stung pleasantly from the deep massage. Slowly, Kirk began to drift.

A feeling of wet heat permeated the light doze Kirk had fallen into. He shifted, trying to throw the heat off but strong hands held him still.

"Remain as you are, Captain. The hydroheat packs will help. Just ten more minutes. I'll be right back."

Kirk tried to acknowledge the nurse’s instructions, but he found he didn't have the energy needed to form the words. His mind felt sodden, images drifting in and out of focus. The soft voice and strong hands belonged to Mojria Laie, trained physical therapist and hottest item in sick bay. A smile formed on Kirk's lips as he pictured the pretty nurse.

"Feel better?" McCoy's voice reached through the fog from a long way away.

"Hmm... good..."

"Sleepy?"

Kirk managed to nod.

"Stay where you are, then. I'll come back and check on you."

"Thanks." Kirk was asleep.

McCoy stood over him for a few minutes, switching on the diagnostic panel overhead and pulling a thermal blanket over Kirk's exposed flesh. The monitor’s indicators showed Kirk to be in a deep sleep, normal deep sleep. McCoy nodded as he quietly left Kirk alone.

*****

Something sharp struck his face. It stung and he moved to soothe the hurt, running weary fingers over the marks on his cheek.

"Hurts," he muttered.

"Jim! Wake up!"

The sting came again. He opened his eyes. "Bones? Where…"

"You're in sick bay. Jim, do remember falling asleep?"

"Tired…"

"Yes, you are very tired."

"Mojria." Kirk's eyes opened wider, remembering.

"That's right. Come on, now. Let's get you dressed."

"I can do it." Kirk pulled his trousers from McCoy's hands.

McCoy hovered, watching every heavy-limbed move Kirk made. Dressed, Kirk leaned back against the diagnostic bed and ran a hand over his face. "Damn. Can't seem to wake up."

A hypo pressed against his throat and he started, pulling away from the slight sting. "What's that?"

"Stimulant."

"Hmm." Kirk could feel the drugs surge through his system. His head cleared, his eyes focused and he drew a deep breath.

"Better?"

"Yes. Much."

"Feel hungry?"

Kirk thought, then smiled. "Yeah."

"Fine. Let's go."

They walked leisurely toward the Officer's Mess, McCoy keeping an eye on his patient.

To Kirk everything seemed unusually sharp. The texture of the deck, of a passing crewman's hair, his own hand seemed magnified. Sounds rang crisp in his ears; the subliminal thrum of the ship's engines sounding clearly through the bulkheads. Unknowingly, a smile came to Kirk's face.

McCoy smiled in return. "What's the smile for?"

"What?" Kirk turned puzzled eyes on the doctor.

"You know, that thing that's sitting on your lips making everyone who passes smile back?"

"Oh. I don't know. I feel… alive. Good for the first time in… a long time."

"I'm glad to hear it," McCoy's tone was guarded.

"Quit worrying, Bones." Kirk slapped the doctor good-naturedly on the back. "I'm so hungry I could eat a Monovian bear."

McCoy followed Kirk to the servocomps, not quite convinced of Kirk's quick recovery.

*****

Kirk's good mood lasted through dinner and the stroll he insisted he take before retiring to his quarters for the night. Spock joined them as they returned from the bridge, followed them into Kirk's cabin and sat quietly while the two humans shared light banter.

Still laughing from McCoy's last semi-bawdy joke, Kirk turned to Spock. "Rough day?"

Deep brown eyes met his. "Nothing out of the ordinary, Captain."

"You look tired."

Spock's eyes smiled slightly. "I am well."

Kirk smiled in return.

"Well, I'm tired even if no one else is." McCoy rose and headed for the door. "I'll see you in the morning, Jim. Don't forget; take one pill before you go to bed. If you have any trouble, call me."

Kirk threw him a salute. "Aye, sir."

The look McCoy shot back told of unpleasant things to come if Kirk didn't follow orders.

The door had shut and silence fell. Kirk looked up, realizing his thoughts had been drifting.

He smiled, meeting Spock's observant eyes. "Daydreaming."

"Indeed?"

"Bones brought something up earlier. I can't get off my mind now."

"If I can be of assistance, Jim…"

"Thanks. It's just… Avrim." He shrugged. He and Spock hadn't spoken of the young man much. Kirk's friendship with the other human had cut into their time together, but Spock had never made a single comment; characteristically, he'd made no complaint.

Spock nodded. "I grieve with thee."

Kirk's eyes misted. "Thank you. That means a lot to me, Spock."

"Lieutenant Tellir was a most efficient officer. He was also a pleasant young man, an asset to the science department as well as the entire ship."

"He liked you, too."

Spock nodded, acknowledging Kirk's interpretation of his statement. "The two of you were very much alike. And very close." Spock looked at his hands, fiddled with the stylus he picked up off of Kirk's desk. "I've never had a friend such as he was to you. I cannot say that I understand your loss exactly. However, I do know loss and understand how it can often manifest into physical symptoms in humans."

Spock's roundabout way of telling me he is worried about my sleeping habits or lack thereof, Kirk thought fondly. Aloud, he said: "He was like a brother, sometimes younger, sometimes older, always there. Even when he was gone, before he was assigned to us, I mean, he was still… here." Kirk tapped his forehead. "Now..."

"Now?" Spock prompted when Kirk seemed unable to finish his thought.

Kirk shrugged. "I dunno. I know he's gone, dead. But I can still feel him…"

Spock's attention was drawn sharply. "Can you explain what it is you feel, Jim?"

Kirk recognized Spock's tone, his attentiveness. "Why?"

Spock shook his head. "You statement… interests me," he evaded.

"I met Avrim for the first time the second week of my last year at Academy. I tutored him in four classes over the last year, saw a lot of him away from school, too. Went on holidays together, we even took each other home to meet the family." Kirk smiled. "From the first it was special between us. I was... mesmerized. So quick, so intelligent. Not to sound too conceited or anything, but there weren't many men my own age who could keep up with me. Avrim was three years younger and I often found myself struggling to keep up with him! He was a challenge, Spock. And I guess I was the same for him. We spoke the same language, had the same dreams. We liked each other." Kirk swallowed, knowing how he was making it sound. "I've always had people around me, at least people who wanted to be around me. But only a few have I felt comfortable around. One of those people was Avi."

He looked up at Spock's rapt expression, then glanced away. "Strangely enough, there was little, if any, competition between us. I guess being so far apart in our training accounted for part of that. But he was no threat to me and I was no threat to him. That in itself was unusual. I mean, there was always someone coming along who had to outdo everything I did, had to make it harder for me to be good at what I did without making it look like a race.

"And when he was assigned to the Enterprise, nothing changed. I was his commanding officer while on duty and off duty I was also his friend. It worked. Avi was nothing like Gary or Ben. There wasn't an ounce of jealousy or meanness in him."

Kirk's voice had grown softer as he spoke, causing Spock to lean forward in his chair. He sat, not moving, afraid to break Kirk's cathartic monologue.

"You know, Spock. I was so damned scared when I left the Academy. I'd grown used to having Avi around, I'd become pretty dependent on him and he on me. But it was he who encouraged me to take the posting on the Farragut, to going into navigation as a means toward command.

He was the first person I contacted when my promotion came through. He was happier than I was when I got my captaincy." He looked at Spock. "Sorry, don't mean to carry on."

"I requested it of you, Jim. I am interested."

Coming from Spock that was almost an admission that he liked gossip. Kirk smiled. "Avi reminded me so much of you."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "That is illogical, Jim. You knew Lieutenant Tellir before you knew me. He could not have reminded you of someone you had not as yet met."

"I don't know how, but it's true. Or maybe you reminded me of him, but you were here and he wasn't so when he did arrive the comparison switched, got distorted, I don't know. Anyway, you reminded me of each other. Both so quiet, so intense in your own ways. Both ultimately loyal to me. Both smarter than I am, more scientific. And more... mysterious, in your looks, in your personalities. Both of you are tough competition for the attention of the ladies." Kirk was amused by Spock's slight blush and pleading look. "It's true and you know it, even if your response is highly different from Avi's, you both attract attention, more than I do." Kirk didn't note his slip into the present tense, his memories flowing too freely to allow reality to encroach. "I don't mind. You're both freer to -- relate to the crew that I am. Maybe that's why I value you both so much."

Spock watched Kirk's face shift from fondness, forgetfulness, to sharp clarity as he realized how he'd been talking. The bright head fell to his chest, Kirk's shoulders shook slightly.

"Jim?" Spock leaned over and placed a hand on Kirk's arm. "Jim?"

Kirk shook his head, one hand going to cover his eyes, blocking Spock's view. Slowly, the tremors stopped and Kirk rubbed a hand across his face, drawing it away, damp.

"Damn. Don't know what brought that on."

"It is not shameful to weep for the loss of a loved one, Jim. You're human, humans often need tears to keep them healthy. It is natural."

Kirk smiled intently at the Vulcan. "I… miss him so much." His smile remained even as tears fell fresh. He didn't cover his face this time, allowing Spock to see him, admitting to his own humanity, his own frailties. Spock was safe, would make sure he, Kirk, was safe as well.

They sat long after Kirk's tears had dried; human and Vulcan frozen in the tableau of comfort, of support. Finally, Spock squeezed Kirk's arm where he still rested his hand, drawing Kirk's attention to him.

"Perhaps you should sleep," Spock suggested.

Kirk nodded, not moving.

"Come." Spock lifted Kirk by his shoulders and guided him toward the bed. The human was exhausted, appeared pale and weak as Spock eased him out of his uniform and pulled the covers up high. He allowed himself one light pat on Kirk's forearm before turning out the light and heading for the door.

Kirk's voice stopped him. "Spock?"

He didn't turn.

"Thanks."

"Sleep well, Jim."

The door shut, encasing the room in dark silence.

*****

Kirk shook his head, tried to pull away from the hands that gripped him, that shook him. But the hold was relentless and, finally, he gave up, opened leaded eyelids and looked at the worried faces of his two friends. He moaned, pulling free of McCoy's hold and swinging his legs tiredly over the edge of the bed.

"Jim? You okay?"

"I feel like hell," Kirk mumbled, getting to his feet. He swayed a moment, gently pushing Spock's offered hand aside, and went into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. The sound of sonics leaked through the door and McCoy and Spock regarded each other.

"Doctor?"

"What is it, Spock?"

"This situation is not improving. You must take steps to ascertain the cause of the captain's troubles."

McCoy turned on him, a sharp reply on his lips. He bit his tongue at the look on the Vulcan's face. "I know. I am going to hook him up to the EEG tonight."

"He will not like the idea."

"I don't give a damn what he likes!"

A raised eyebrow was Spock's only reply.

Kirk stepped out of the bath draped in a robe. He didn't look at the two men standing there but moved to put on his uniform.

"Jim?"

Kirk glanced at McCoy, his only acknowledgment.

"Did you take a pill last night?"

"Yes."

"Did it help?"

Kirk pulled the gold tunic over his head, then bent to put on his boots. "Help what? Help me get to sleep? Yeah, it did that all right. Trouble was, I couldn't seem to wake up this morning. Maybe you noticed that."

"I want you in sick bay tonight so I can monitor your sleep patterns. There's got to be a reason for this."

"Fine."

McCoy looked at Spock and then looked at Kirk again.

"Did I hear that right?"

Kirk glared at the doctor, but didn't answer him.

"I want you to take it easy today, Jim. Remember you still on the sick list."

Kirk nodded, stood, looked at McCoy then Spock, his expression bland, expectant.

"I must report to the bridge," Spock told them. He started for the door, then paused. "Perhaps you would care to dine with me after shift, Captain?"

McCoy watched Kirk's face shift into a small smile. "Sure, Spock. I’ll see you then."

After the Vulcan had left, McCoy sat at Kirk's desk, his hands folded in front of him. "Okay, Jim. Sit down."

Kirk crossed his arms stubbornly then threw himself into the chair opposite the doctor.

"Did you dream last night, Jim?"

"I don't remember."

"You don't remember the dream or you don't remember if you dreamed?"

"I don't think I dreamed, can't remember dreaming."

"Well, we'll see what the gadgets in sick bay can make of all this, okay? Meanwhile, I guess a little recreational paperwork wouldn't hurt you." He glanced at the stacks of tapes on Kirk's desk. "Just don't overdo it. If you start getting tired, call me. Don't go to sleep without letting me know first, though. And if your attention starts to stray, stop working and take a walk. Jim, are you listening to me?"

"I hear you, Bones."

"Well, how about some breakfast?"

"Sure." Kirk smiled as he followed the doctor from his quarters.

*****

Mid-shift, McCoy looked up at the sudden sensation of being watched. Spock stood just inside the doorway to his office, hands folded behind his back, eyes cast down; a study in caged impatience.

"Come on in, Spock." McCoy gestured the Vulcan to a chair and covertly pressed the privacy light. "What can I do for you?"

Spock came right to the point. "It is about the captain."

"What a surprise!"

"I realize, at times, you find my concern for the captain's welfare a source of amusement, Doctor. But even you must admit that there is more than justifiable cause at the moment."

"I'm worried about him, too."

"Yes, I know." Spock leaned back and quietly sighed. "I spoke with Jim last night, Doctor. Several things he spoke of have raised questions in my mind. I thought you might be able to provide some answers."

"If I can. Shoot."

"Is the captain dreaming at all?"

"He says no. I'll be able to tell for sure tonight. The EEG will register the different levels of sleep, whether he enters the dream state, how deep that dream state is, you know."

"Yes. Doctor, you are aware of the close relationship between Jim and Lieutenant Avrim Tellir, are you not?"

"Sure."

"I would be highly interested in being informed of Lieutenant Tellir’s esper rating."

"Why?" McCoy reached for the computer to call up the file on Avrim Tellir as he asked.

"I would prefer to wait until I have the information to answer that question."

The screen in front of McCoy lit up. He rolled the data up on the screen, searching for the required bit of information. "Here it is. He rated in the top 2% of his class at the Academy." McCoy looked back at Spock. "But Avrim was a Basron, Spock. You know as well as I do that they're bred for high esper powers consistently since they settled several generations back."

"Yes." Spock paused. "Doctor, I suspect there may have been a link of sorts between Lieutenant Tellir and the captain."

"But, Spock, Jim's esper rating is in the lower brackets. He's not quite psi-null, but damned near it."

"I disagree with you. I am certain the captain's psi level was measured correctly, yet I have encountered a great power within the captain when I have melded with him. I do not claim to understand the nature of this force, but I suspect it is not unlike a psychic energy. He is highly intuitive, is he not? Would you say almost frighteningly so times?"

"Maybe. Maybe. But I still don't…"

"Doctor, have you ever spoken to the captain at length about Lieutenant Tellir?"

"Sure."

"Then you are aware of Jim's dependency upon the lieutenant. A dependency which began over ten years ago. A mental dependency, if you will."

"I'm not sure I'd call it that, Spock."

"What would you call it, Doctor?"

"I don't know. Affinity. Why not just plain friendship?"

"Because this went beyond friendship. When did Jim's sleep become disturbed?"

"I don't know when it started. I suspect he was having some trouble for a while before you found him the other day."

"Perhaps it is a matter which Jim should be questioned about. I would not be surprised if his difficulty began when Lieutenant Tellir died."

McCoy looked at him, eyes large. "Do you know what you're saying, Spock?"

"I am merely relaying possibilities, avenues to explore."

"You're suggesting that Jim was so dependent upon Avrim that he can't function without that contact."

"Perhaps."

McCoy stared off into space. "Damn."

"Exactly, Doctor." Spock rose. "I will accompany the captain back here this evening. Whatever the difficulty is, we must find it..."

The thought, now voiced, hung in the air between the two. Neither could think of anything more to say.

*****

Kirk sat on the end of the bed, McCoy hovering over him, Spock leaning against the wall near the door to the private sick bay room. "Okay, you two. You've had something to say all evening. What is it?"

McCoy glanced at Spock and inclined his head, putting the ball in the Vulcan's court.

"A question, Jim."

"Okay. What?"

"When did the insomnia first appear?"

Kirk held Spock's eyes. "A few weeks ago."

"Can you be more precise?"

Kirk thought. "It was before Mynara, before…" He looked at Spock, eyes filled with pain. "Just after… after Avrim died."

Spock looked at McCoy, an eyebrow raised. "As I suspected." He looked back at Kirk. "Yet, the extreme difficulty with waking did not begin until recently?"

"No. The first I knew of it was Bones slapping me in the face the other day."

"Something I thoroughly enjoyed, I assure you," McCoy muttered.

"And I have the bruised cheeks to prove it." Kirk smiled up at the doctor. "Why, Spock?"

"Lieutenant Tellir was Basron, Jim."

"So?"

"His esper level was extremely high."

"Spock!"

"I believe there was a mental link between the two of you and what you're now suffering is the residual effects of that link being broken."

Kirk heard a depth of fear in the Vulcan's words. "What's the rest of it?"

Spock shifted feet, folded his arms in front of him and looked at the deck. "Your symptoms are not unlike those reported at the time of the severance of any bonding link before consummation."

"What?" Kirk and McCoy spoke at once.

"When one mate dies before… the union has been consummated, the remaining mate often has difficulty with sleep patterns. It is not unknown for the living mate to… simply die in his or her sleep." Spock still looked at the deck, not daring to meet Kirk's eyes. "For this reason, a healer is usually called as quickly as possible to monitor the living mate's mind, to prevent him or her from being drawn into death. It is an unfortunate byproduct of our biological imperative."

"But Avrim wasn't a Vulcan, Spock. And we weren't… mates."

"No, but he was Basron. What you know of Basron marriage traditions, Jim?"

Kirk's face became mobile as he thought, remembered and realized in one quick moment. "Once they decide to settle down, they mate for life, forming what Avi called an 'empathic net'."

"Indeed." Spock finally looked up at Kirk. "When two minds are exceptionally attuned to one another, it is not unknown for such a 'net' or link to develop independently of either party's knowledge or will."

"So, what you're saying," McCoy spoke up, "is that Avrim is drawing Jim into death with him?"

Spock shook his head, eyes still on Kirk's troubled face. "It is not Lieutenant Tellir, Doctor, but the link which draws the captain. His mind does not know how to function autonomously after over ten years."

"But…" Kirk's voice cracked. "But, Spock, Avrim and I had been apart, far apart, for most of those ten years. How can such a thing last so long over such a distance?"

"It is difficult to explain unless one has experienced it." Spock moved toward the bed, stood several feet away, again looking at the deck. "I... felt T'Pring when the time came. At that moment, I realized she had been with me all along, since we were seven years old. There is an almost physical exchange in such a link, Jim. It is as though I had taken a section of her thoughts and implanted them in my own physical brain. I daresay the same could be true of Lieutenant Tellir and yourself."

"What you're saying sounds a bit on the mystical side to me, Spock."

"Not at all, Doctor. I am not claiming that the dead reach into life and pull the living after them. What I'm saying is that the link, the severed end which remains active within the surviving mate's mind, seeks its other end, seeking what no longer exists… or perhaps what is beyond reach for the living. It is also reported in these cases that the living mate stops all dream activity."

"I thought the Vulcans didn't dream," McCoy retorted.

"On the contrary. Vulcans to do dream. We are taught to understand our dreams, not to fear them. Dreaming keeps a rational mind secure and… rational."

"Are you calling me crazy, Spock?" Kirk's tone was light, but the underlying fear could still be heard clearly.

"No, Jim. You are not ‘crazy’. I do not discount the risk if you continue as you are however."

"Well." Kirk cleared his throat. "We can't have that now, can we?" His smile faded as he looked first to McCoy then at Spock. "Fix it." His voice was small, his eyes pleading.

Spock took the final few steps toward the bed, standing beside and above Kirk. "We will help you, Jim. You know that."

McCoy moved, turning his back on the two men, gathering up the small monitors that would hook Kirk into the EEG system. When he turned back, his eyes were clear, his voice strong. "First step is to get some readings on that brain of yours. Lie back, Jim."

As he went about connecting the small, white pads to Kirk's head and face, McCoy continued to speak. "I can't give you anything to help you sleep, Jim. Do you think you'll be able to sleep now?"

Spock watched the tightness gathering in Kirk's body at the mere thought. Suddenly everything made sense. "Do not fear to sleep, Jim. The doctor will be monitoring the EEG signals all night and I will be beside him or you all night. We will not let you… succumb."

Moist green eyes looked up at the Vulcan from a pale face. "I am afraid, Spock. I didn't know what of before. I don't want to…"

"With both of us here?" McCoy's voice was firm. "Nothing is going to happen to you, Jim. I guarantee it."

"I still don't think I can get to sleep."

Spock looked at McCoy, a knowing look passing between them. With gentle slowness Spock reached out and brushed Kirk's temple. The green eyes closed, breathing leveled out, the EEG monitor began recording an easy sleep.

"I have only induced his own system to take him into sleep, Doctor. It should not affect your readings."

"Thank you, Spock."

The Vulcan looked at him. "It is less than he has done for me."

McCoy cleared his throat quietly and turned from the room.

****

Spock handed a cup of hot coffee to McCoy, glancing at the displays on the board in front of the doctor. "How is he?"

"Asleep. Too deep for my comfort."

"Dreaming?" Spock couldn't keep the hope from his voice.

"No."

Spock sat beside McCoy and watched the steady pattern of Kirk's sleeping mind flit across the greenly lighted screens.

Hours passed before those patterns changed at all.

Spock sat up, noted McCoy's instant attention. "What is it?"

"He's slipping farther down. I don't like this, Spock." He pointed to the indicator. The line that had been steadily sweeping the screen with large, symmetric strokes now the flitted in short jerks. The respiration indicator showed a marked increase. Kirk's blood pressure dropped. And, suddenly, alarms went off everywhere.

Spock was on his feet, with Kirk in a moment. McCoy automatically programmed in the needed level of cardio-stimulator. Then, faster than Spock had moved, he was beside his patient.

"The stimulator is in him now. Just wait a second." He watched the bedside display. It didn't change. A flat line and the nauseating sound of the heart failure alarm greeted him. "Hand me the paddles, Spock." He took the flat objects from the Vulcan's hands, and placed them at Kirk's side. "Stand clear." He glanced up at Spock before applying the paddles to Kirk.

The inert body jumped and the alarm stopped. The steady beeping rhythm of a beating heart filled the still room.

McCoy threw the paddles aside and reached for a hypo. "I want him awake, now!" He spoke aloud for both his own sake and Spock's. "Another dose of stimulant." He pressed the hypo to Kirk's throat. "A little physical stimulation as well." He slapped Kirk's cheek, absently noting for the first time the bruise that lay there already.

A muffled, incoherent sound came from Kirk.

McCoy hit him again. "Jim! Dammit, wake up!"

Still, Kirk only muttered.

"Jim! Red alert! Red alert! Captain Kirk to the bridge!"

Finally, Kirk's eyes fluttered open. "Spock?" His head turned directly to the Vulcan. "What's wrong?"

Spock swallowed hard. "You must wake up now, Jim." He put an arm under Kirk's shoulders and lifted him to a sitting position. "How do you feel?"

"Sleepy…"

"Jim!"

Kirk looked at McCoy. "Bones?"

"Yeah, it's me. Who are you?"

"Jim… Kirk…"

"Good, good. Do you know where you are?"

Kirk looked around him, gaze lingering on the Vulcan at his side. "Sick bay."

"Right."

Kirk took a deep breath, still leaning against the Vulcan's support. "What time is it?"

McCoy glanced over his shoulder to the chronometer. "0400."

"Should have let me sleep…"

"You must wake up, now, Jim. It is not good for you to sleep, not now. Later."

"Hmm… Okay, Spock."

"Get him on his feet, Spock." McCoy moved to Kirk's other side. "I want him wide awake as soon as possible."

They walked Kirk around the small room several times until he seemed able to stand on his own. After a moment, he pulled away from them, shivering. He looked down at himself, noted his brief-clad body and looked accusingly at McCoy.

"It's cold in here."

McCoy’s face split into a smile. "Come on. You can take a shower and I'll have a uniform waiting for you when you're done."

Kirk drew another deep breath and walked steadily to the bathroom.

McCoy turned to meet Spock's eyes. His entire frame shook, in full sympathy with the Vulcan's frozen stance. "We almost lost him, Spock. I don't even know what to do to stop this from happening again. He can't stay awake forever."

Spock returned his gaze, an acknowledgment of their kinship in his eyes. Without a word, he turned and left the doctor standing in the middle of the room.

*****

"Spock?" McCoy stood just inside the Vulcan's office, afraid to startle the still figure who sat at a desk. "Can I come in?"

Spock looked up. "Is Jim alone?"

"No. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think he was safe." He sat across from Spock, leaning forward on his elbows. "You okay?"

"I am fine, Doctor."

"The way you left sick bay earlier…"

"I required time to consider."

"Consider what?"

"The captain."

McCoy had nothing to say. It was out of his hands. Kirk would have to be taken to a Starbase for further treatment. McCoy didn't fool himself for a minute into thinking that wouldn't destroy everything Kirk had worked so hard to attain. He felt sick at his own helplessness.

"McCoy?"

"Yes, Spock?"

"There is an alternative."

"Tell me." McCoy leaned farther toward the Vulcan.

Spock's hands were peaked in front of his face, his head tilted to one side, his gaze locked on some indistinct point. "To replace that which has been taken away would surely end his struggles." He paused. "If that severed mind is… reattached to another mind, if another link is created to replace the one lost, then his mind will heal. There will no longer be any need for him to try to reach that other, lost mind."

McCoy swallowed, knowing who Spock was suggesting link with Kirk, knowing he should stop it, knowing he was too much a coward to do so. He remained silent, his admiration for the Vulcan unvoiced.

"I cannot allow him to die, Doctor. Nor can I allow him to become… less than he is by seeing him taken to Starbase where he will find little more help than you can offer."

"Spock… Spock, I don't know what to say. I know I should have all kinds of objections, moral, ethical, you name it. But the one thing that overshadows all the possible objections I may have is that Jim's going to die if something's not done. And I think you're right, medical science can't help him this time." He fell silent, watching Spock's immobile face. "Let me ask one question, then I won't protest again."

Spock looked at him, inclined his head.

"Are you sure you should do this? You're unbonded, Spock. Are you considering Jim's future?"

"Unless something is done soon, Jim has no future. But I have considered your point... to my own distraction. I have made a mental list longer than you could care to hear of the reasons I should not attempt to form a link with him. To sum up those negative items, I am simply too close to Jim to keep him at the proper distance. It is not unknown that two friends share a link which does not in any way interfere with the bonding link. But, as you stated, I am not bonded. There is a high probability that any link I may form with Jim will develop into a link which would negate any possibility of me forming a bonding link with anyone else.

"We are too far away from Vulcan to reach a healer in time to help Jim. I do not even know if a healer would or could be of any assistance to the captain. This is not a temporary attempt at ‘first aid’, whatever is done must be permanent or the same symptoms will develop and the condition will continue to escalate until he dies."

McCoy sighed, running a hand over his face. He looked up at Spock’s averted face, noting the strain there. "Let’s go talk to Jim."

*****

Kirk stared at Spock with open astonishment. "Now it's you who's crazy, Spock!" The captain stood with his back to McCoy and the Vulcan, his hands twisting around one another. "There's got to be another way. I just can't… Spock!" He turned around, face pulled into a mask of desperate confusion. "I can't let you do this for me." He glanced away. "And you… oh, Hell! There would be more to it than just a link, more than what was between Avrim and me. There would have to be."

McCoy shifted, noting the flush on Kirk's face and the green tint to Spock ears. He cleared his throat. "I’m gonna get out of here and let you two talk alone for a while. Just call when and if you want me back." He put a hand on Spock's shoulder, then went to Kirk. Turning him to face him, he looked into Kirk's troubled eyes, smiled and hugged him hard. "Don't be prideful, Jim. Listen to what Spock has to say."

Then they were alone.

Kirk looked at the tall, silent, too-stiff figure standing across the room from him and had to smile. "Leave it to you to come up with something like this, Spock," he said.

Spock looked up, eyes pleading. "It seems to be the only acceptable alternative, Jim. I regret it distresses you so." He did not look away, searching Kirk's face, his body for any sign of what the human was truly feeling.

"I'm not distressed, at least not over your offer. The whole situation has me beside myself, but your generosity doesn't bother me at all, Spock. I am deeply moved by it."

"It is your choice. You're cognizant of what our linking would entail, of the possible complications. I realize this is not something you planned on, that being tied in such a way to another male is not compatible with the style in which you live."

Kirk watched as Spock tried to apologize for offering to save his life and his sanity and he felt his heart crack straight down the center. "Spock. Spock, don't please. Don't belittle what you're trying to do for me. You're making the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate reason. If anyone has ever loved me more than you do… Well, no one ever has and no one ever could. I feel… unworthy." He lowered his eyes, tearing them away from Spock's. He felt the air in the room shift as the Vulcan stepped closer to him.

Spock reached out and pressed the tips of his fingers to Kirk's forearm, making contact, letting his shields slowly slide into oblivion. Through that small point of contact, heat built and surged with the power of Eridani, with the combined force of all Spock’s pent-up emotions. In blue-green bolts of energy and light, all of Spock's love for Kirk poured from one to the other, confirming the commitment made, acknowledging what they both had known for years.

Kirk gasped, turned to face the Vulcan. In that moment, his soul breathed new life, his heart found the surface of the black, inky well he'd been falling deeper into over the past weeks. As he looked into those eyes of black fire, Kirk finally felt something inside himself overflow, some spot he'd not even noticed was empty until Spock was there to fill it.

Spock's fingers slowly slipped down Kirk's arm until their fingers brushed and then, in sudden need, grasped each other, intertwining, holding tight. Their eyes locked and Kirk smiled up into the alien face in pure wonder. There were no words in any language for what was happening inside Kirk's soul. He felt his eyes fill, felt the moisture sneak over the lower lids and didn't care. He was overwhelmed.

"Spock…"

"Shush." Spock stepped closer still, closer until their bodies touched, until fabric gently kissed fabric. "I could not bear your pain any longer, Jim. I could not bear it…" A long-fingered hand rose to stray through Kirk's hair, to gently trace the contours of Kirk's face, to finally come to rest in the meld position. "All you need do is say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and either it will be done for all time or we will never speak of it again."

Kirk looked deeply into Spock's eyes, searched the stern face, squeezed the strong hand in his and slowly closed his eyes. He drew a breath and softly whispered the words that would seal his fate.

"Yes. Yes, Spock. Please."

And suddenly the darkness split, lightning cracked through the realms of his mind, to the marrow of his bones. The iciness in his flesh began to melt, the haze that had covered his mind for so long gently slipped away unnoticed. Clarity and calm, symmetry and gentle, all-encompassing love enshrouded him, spread to become a blanket. And the blanket lifted to surround them both, drawing them together, cementing all they ever were into one, glorious entity.

"Spock, please…" Kirk's eyes flashed open. He found himself still standing, Spock pressed tightly against him, his head spinning.

Spock's arms held him up as his knees grew weak. "Jim? Are you all right?"

He couldn't answer. He couldn't think. His only proof that reality hadn't stopped existing were the strong arms holding him.

Spock petted Kirk's hair, eased them down until they sat on the edge of the bed. "Jim, please, answer me."

Kirk looked up, breath caught on itself again at the sight of the emotion on that face. He shook his head, reached out to caress Spock's cheek. "I'll be fine…" He smiled weakly and collapsed against Spock's chest.

Spock made himself comfortable, leaning against the back of the bed, one leg on the mattress, the other dangling over the side, Kirk braced protectively between his legs, head pressed to his chest. He rocked slowly, as he'd seen humans do with their children; slowly, softly, crooning quietly as the innocent slept.

He didn't know how long they remained that way. His time sense had shut down with all his other senses so he could concentrate solely on the reality in his arms; the scent, the textures, the gentle peace.

He didn't know how long McCoy had been sitting in the chair beside him before he realized he was being watched, either. He met the bright blue gaze levelly.

"He's asleep." Spock spoke softly.

McCoy nodded. "Thank pitchforks and pointed ears." But his words lacked any real vehemence. What shone most on McCoy's face was relief, utter and everlasting relief. And the tear which crept down his cheek only acted as an exclamation mark to the other emotions clearly visible.

"I do not wish to disturb him. He is so exhausted."

McCoy rose, moved close enough to touch Spock's hair, caressed it gently. "No one will disturb you. I'll be right outside." He turned to leave.

"You should sleep yourself, Leonard."

McCoy didn't look back. "I'll be right outside."

Spock bent his head, kissed the top of the bright head that rested so trustingly against his chest and let himself drift into sleep.

*****

Part II

Kirk awoke feeling refreshed and clear-headed and it took a moment for the fact to register. With a start, he sat up, noting that the warmth next him moved at the jostling of the bed. He looked over at the figure beside him, eyes growing large before the memory snapped into place. Last night… Spock… the mind contact… He smiled in spite of himself and reached to softly brush the mussed hair from Spock's brow. You'd do anything for me, wouldn't you? he thought . Spock's eyes fluttered at his touch, then opened. Kirk pulled away, quickly standing up, straightening his clothes.

The Vulcan stretched, slowly rose to a sitting position and regarded the human carefully. "It is a relief to see you up, Jim. I assume you slept well?"

Kirk released the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. "I slept wonderfully. Thank you, Spock… for everything."

The Vulcan nodded. "There was no choice."

Kirk looked up at him sharply. "I didn't ask you to offer, Spock."

"I did not intend to imply that you had." He stood and rounded the bed, coming to stand directly in front of Kirk. "Do not feel that what we have chosen is an imposition on me, Jim. I offered and fulfilled that offer of my own free will. There simply was no other option for me. That does not mean I am displeased with that option."

Kirk saw Spock's eyes sparkle with that hidden humor, felt a surge of affection crawl through him, knew it was their link, and blushed. He nodded, accepting Spock's words as his truth.

"The doctor will be anxious to examine you," Spock suggested softly.

"I'll go find him… but, maybe it would be best if I spoke to him alone." He looked at Spock, gauging his reaction.

"He was concerned about my actions. Perhaps it would be best if you reassured him that you're unharmed and not unhappy… if that is the case." Spock studied his boots, insecurity gnawing at him.

"That is, indeed, the case, my friend. I'm not saying I won't have adjustments to make, I'm sure there will be plenty for both of us. But, I'm certainly glad to be alive and to be rid of… whatever that was that was holding me. It's like I've suddenly woken up from a century-long sleep." He paused, eyes meeting Spock's with conviction. "We have a lot to talk about, Spock. But I don't want you starting to feel that I'm unhappy with our choice."

Spock nodded, placed his hands behind his back and stood the straighter. "I will return to my cabin then report for duty, sir. If that is all?"

Kirk smiled at Spock's quick switch to formality and nodded. "I'll see you on the bridge."

After Spock left, Kirk splashed cold water on his face, ran a hand through his unruly hair, then went to find McCoy.

The doctor was asleep on one of the medical tables in the ward, curled onto his left side, one hand beneath his head. Gently, Kirk touched him on the shoulder, trying not to startle him. McCoy snapped to a sitting position, instantly aware.

"Jim!"

Kirk beamed at his friend. "Morning, Bones."

McCoy returned the smile. "Boy, am I glad to see you up and about. Did Spock wake you?"

Kirk shook his head. "Woke up all by my little ol’ self."

"That's great, Jim." McCoy climbed down off the table and started toward his office. "I'd like to just take a few readings… to make sure everything is okay. Come on and sit down."

Kirk sat stoically while McCoy ran a hand-scanner over him, ‘hmming’ and grunting as he read the results.

"Well?"

"One hundred percent."

"Great. Then I can go back to duty." Kirk rose and started to leave.

"Everything else okay, Jim?" McCoy's tone of voice halted him.

Kirk turned back to the doctor. "Everything's fine, Bones. I don't regret letting Spock link us and I know he doesn't regret it. I'm aware of the problems involved, but I also think Spock and I can work them out. Don't worry about us. Okay?"

"’Course I'll worry about you, Jim. How else am I supposed to go to sleep at night?"

Kirk smiled and left the office.

*****

It was great to be back in the center seat. Kirk watched his officers performing their duties with skillful efficiency and allowed a surge of pride to wander through him. As quickly as the pride appeared, so did a gentle affection, an echo of his own pride. He turned the command chair toward the Science station and saw Spock bent over his instruments. He watched for a moment before the Vulcan sat down and turned to him. A brief moment of mutual acknowledgment passed between them before Spock turned back to his work.

The day passed too quickly. Kirk found himself even enjoying signing the standard batch of request forms his yeoman constantly passed in front of him. The subliminal buzz and click of the bridge instruments sang gently in his blood, making him feel all the more alive, all the more aware of his surroundings. As he’d told Spock, he felt as though he'd just awakened from a long, long sleep.

"Captain?"

Kirk started and looked up into the deep blue eyes of Lieutenant Morrell, his replacement for the next shift. He quickly rose and smiled at her. "You have the con, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir." Morrell flashed a bright smile as she took the center seat.

Spock stood, waiting next to the turbolift, stepping in beside Kirk as his captain entered the lift. From the corner of his aye, Spock noted Kirk's relaxed stance, the smile that lingered around his mouth. He reached one hand to brush Kirk's shoulder, then dropped it back to his side.

Kirk turned at the touch, feeling an electrical pulse shoot from the point of contact to his solar plexus. He smiled widely. "It's been a good day, Spock."

"Indeed, Captain. You appear quite… happy."

"I guess I am." He shrugged. Before he could say anymore, the lift opened onto deck five.

They walked toward their cabins, neither knowing what to say. At Kirk's door, Spock stopped, turned to the human.

"Would you care to join me for dinner, Jim?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing. I'd love to."

"I will return for you in fifteen minutes. Is that agreeable?"

"Very." Kirk watched Spock's back until the Vulcan disappeared inside his own cabin before turning to his own door and entering.

He was just pulling on a clean tunic when the door signal sounded. "Come." He took one last look in the mirror before joining Spock, who was standing in the doorway. "I'm starved," Kirk commented as they headed toward the officers' mess.

"You should perhaps have taken a lunch break," Spock said mildly.

"I was just so caught up in being back that I lost track of the time. It won't hurt me to skip a meal now and then."

After they selected their meals, they found a table in the corner and sat down. Kirk smiled at the heap of purple Pacha and artichoke hearts. He suspected Spock was eating his usual meal to tease him. As he ate his chicken, he continued to observe his friend. Every move seemed calculated to be the most economic of movements; every function considered before made.

Their eyes met often, neither feeling pressured to look away. Words remained unspoken, held at bay for later when they would be alone. Now, they were content to merely share each other's company and a good meal.

Half an hour later, Kirk rested on his bed, his boots kicked off, a glass of Critoan Sweet Water resting on his belly while Spock sat, seemingly at ease, and the chair pulled up beside him. They still hadn't spoken more than the fewest of words to one another, seeming to know what the other was thinking, feeling, without asking.

"If I may ask…? Have you been comfortable today?"

"With the link, you mean?" Kirk saw Spock nodded. "I've been very comfortable, Spock. More than comfortable, I've felt… at home." He looked through lazy eyes at his friend, who was observing him closely. "Do you know what I mean?"

"Indeed, I do know what you mean. The link works both ways."

Kirk smiled at him. "I'm glad."

Again, silence draped across the two, watching in her dark quietude as they simply drank in the aura of one another. Tiny sounds intruded, Kirk's glass clinking gently against his teeth as he drank, the protestation of Spock's chair when he stretched his long legs out in front of him. And, always, the nearly silent thrum of the engines of the Enterprise.

Spock saw Kirk's eyes drifting shut, watched as the glass in his hand began to tilt, reached out and took the glass just before it spilled, waking Kirk in the process.

"Guess I dozed off." Kirk sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"You require a rest. I will leave you now." Spock placed Kirk's glass in the recycler. "Sleep well, Jim."

"You too," Kirk called, already dragging off his uniform and crawling into bed.

Spock watched until Kirk was under the covers and curled onto one side before he left.

*****

At first, the slight tickling in his mind sounded like a bug trying to find a place to land. Slowly, through layers of the deep sleep, Kirk's mind began to register the sensation for what it was; anxious inability to sleep. He was very familiar with it. But he was asleep… wasn't he?

An eye opened, searched for the chronometer. 0224. He'd been asleep for just over four hours. He tossed onto his other side and tried to go back to sleep.

Again, the sensation crept through his mind. Both eyes popped open.

"What the fuck…?" he muttered to himself. Concentrating, he tried to locate the anomaly. As awareness dawned, he smiled to himself and reached for his discarded uniform.

Using his code, Kirk opened his first officer's door and stepped into the near-darkness. The cabin was warm, the soft glow of the fire shrine making the increased heat seem warmer still. Kirk stood a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the subdued lighting before entering the sleeping area.

There, on his stomach, lay Spock, one arm thrown out from beneath the covers, the other curled tightly against his chest. Kirk moved closer, listening for Spock's breathing, knowing the Vulcan was not asleep.

"Spock? You okay?" Kirk place a hand on Spock’s shoulder.

The dark head turned away from the light. "I am fine, Jim. You should be asleep."

Kirk came closer, to the edge of the bed. "I was asleep. You woke me up."

"I have tried to shield you from this."

"Spock! What is it?"

Finally, after a long pause, Spock rolled onto his back, dislodging Kirk's hand. "I cannot sleep."

"What's wrong? Something bothering you?"

Spock shook his head, the dark eyes catching the hesitant light and flashing fire. "Nothing is ‘wrong’."

"Then…?"

"It is the link."

"What about the link?" Kirk felt like he was pulling thorns from an Iron Bush, but he kept his tone gentle.

"It is so new, it is difficult to be apart."

"Spock, you're the one who pointed out that this isn't a one-way deal. Why didn't you come to me?"

Spock averted his eyes. "I was not certain I would be welcome."

"What?! Of course you're welcome. You've always been welcome, Spock. Why would that have changed?"

"We are closer now. There has been a shift in our relationship."

"All the more reason for you to feel able to come to me." Kirk placed his hand back on Spock's shoulder. He shook gently. "You told me everything you could think of, and probably more, before you let me make my decision about this. I'm prepared to alter our relationship in any way we feel we'd like. I knew nothing would be exactly the same." He shifted on the bed, bringing a knee up to rest beside Spock. "Part of me is a little sorry for the lost comradeship, but most of me is very… excited to explore this new closeness. I don't want you to feel like you're imposing on me. We're partners in this, you know."

Spock nodded, amazed at the resiliency of his human. "It is only my… shyness. I am unaccustomed to sharing, unaccustomed to asking another to fill the needs I may have."

"Well, now's the best time to start getting used to it. Tell me, what do you need to be able to sleep? Because, quite frankly, I'm about to fall asleep again myself."

Spock smiled slightly. "It would be a great help if you would remain... close until the link stabilizes."

"How close?" Kirk moved to lie next to his friend. "Would this do?"

Again, Spock nodded. "Perhaps you would be more comfortable if you removed your uniform, though."

"Didn't want to shock you, Spock," Kirk teased as he undressed, then crawled beneath the heavy covers.

"Is it too warm for you?"

"No, I'll just throw some of these blankets on to your side. I'll be fine."

They lay side by side, relaxed, warm. Finally, Kirk heard Spock sigh deeply. He glanced over and saw that the Vulcan had fallen asleep. He rolled onto his side, facing Spock, rested his hand on the warm forearm and closed his eyes.

*****

The days flowed into an easy pattern. Soon, Kirk had stowed an extra uniform in Spock's quarters and Spock had done the same in Kirk's. Their duty time took on an added sense of sharing as their off-duty time grew fuller with each other.

It wasn't that they spent more time together, aside from sleeping in the same bed four out of five nights. It was the quality of that time shared that had changed. Conversation had become less important as touching became a new form of language. A hand on an arm replaced ten sentences of explanation; a brushed shoulder relayed an idea that would have taken minutes to relay.

McCoy watched as the shorthand that had always existed between captain and first officer grew all the shorter, also seeing the crew notice the change. He wasn't too worried. The crew was made up of a good group of people; no one would care about the shift in their commanding officer's and first officer's relationship, aside from wishing them well. He was convinced that creating the link was the best thing either man ever did.

Eight days after the link was formed, Kirk lay in his bed alone, looking up at the ceiling, feeling restless, lonely. Spock was busy with the samples they’d gathered on Galan III. He'd be alone tonight.

It startled him that he found the situation unpleasant. How many nights had he slept alone aboard the Enterprise, he couldn't count. It didn't make him uncomfortable to realize how he'd grown to depend on Spock's closeness, it only made him stop and think -- hard -- about what he wanted out of this new relationship.

With Spock and McCoy's help, he'd come to understand the fact that he'd been dependent on another mind joined with his for over the past ten years. The thought of his present dependency eased right into that new understanding. It was the dimension the dependency was taking, the flavor, that had him so wrapped in thought that he wasn't even aware that Spock had come in until the bed sagged gently.

He glanced over at his friend and his mind filled with affection, his own and that projected toward him. He scooted over, making more room for Spock, and turned to face his bed companion.

"Done in the lab?"

"For tonight."

"Not that I'm objecting to your being here, but I thought you'd be gone all night."

"Some things no longer hold the urgency they once did."

Kirk looked at him questioningly.

"Before… Before, I used my lab, my research, to fill the hours I was forced to spend alone. I do not require the amount of sleep humans do. Night shift often lasted far too long for me."

"Now?"

"Now, you have need of me and I no longer have such need of my lab."

Kirk smiled. "You say the nicest things."

An eyebrow shot up in response.

"I was trying to be brave about being alone tonight. I didn't mean to disturb you."

Spock shook his head. "You are no disturbance. If you need me, I will be here."

Kirk ran a hand over Spock's shoulder, down his arm, taking the long-fingered hand in his and squeezing it gently. "I know. Thank you."

"Unnecessary." Spock squeezed back, eyes roaming over the softened lines of Kirk's face.

Kirk smiled and, without conscious volition, snuggled against Spock's chest, resting his head beneath Spock's chin. He drew a deep breath, enjoying the sharp, wood scent of Spock skin.

Long arms locked around Kirk's back, began rubbing the delicate skin covering frail, human bones. Spock buried his nose in Kirk's hair, smelling the lingering scent of shampoo, the constant scent that was only Kirk. His lips brushed through the light brown waves of cornsilk, came to rest on Kirk's brow.

The touch of Spock's lips on his skin sparked something deep inside Kirk. His stomach clenched, his breath caught… and his penis began to fill, throbbing to life against Spock's tightly pressed leg.

As if touched by a lighted match, Kirk pulled away, quickly turning his back on Spock.

"Jim?"

"I… I'm sorry, Spock. I don't know what caused that."

Spock ran a hand over Kirk's back. "I would be most flattered to think that I caused such reaction."

"Spock… You don't know what you're saying. Go to sleep."

"Of course I know what I'm saying, Jim. Do you think me a child?"

Spock's injured tone made Kirk turn back to face him. "No. I know you're no child."

"Then…?"

"I knew to expect this, I mean, you did warn me, didn't you? It's just that the reality is a bit louder than the possibility. I've never responded like that to another man, not even to Avi. Not like that."

Their eyes held, explanations given with a flick of the eye, a blink of eyelashes.

Kirk smiled. "No one else, Spock. No one else could have made me come to this. I'm not sure whether to be grateful or resentful. But, what I know I am is deeply moved by you, by who you are… and by your body. I want to hold you."

Spock eased into Kirk's arms, returning them to their previous position.

They remained still, until Kirk became aware of the swelling against his hip. He looked up at Spock. "I'd like to think that's for me," he teased, eyes welling with moisture.

"No one else could possibly be responsible," Spock responded, brushing Kirk's cheek with the tip of one finger. He smiled as he felt Kirk swell to meet his own growing arousal. "It was hopeless to even consider the possibility that we would not reach this point. We were far too close before the link to allow a lesser joining." He shook his head. "Sometimes, I am extremely foolish."

"Sometimes, you say foolish things, like what you just said. And, sometimes," Kirk brushed his cheek against Spock's hand, "sometimes, you talk when you should be taking action."

Spock opened his lips slightly, but it was not to speak. He leaned toward Kirk and rested his mouth on the lips of the human. Kirk groaned, moved tighter against Spock's warmth and pressed Spock's mouth closer to his own. One hand went to the back of Spock's head, playing in the soft strands there. The other hand ran over the soft hair on Spock's chest, threading down to stop on the quivering belly muscles.

They parted for air, both gasping in amazement at the wonder of the feelings passing back and forth, intensifying as they made each circuit. Power flashed between them, an inevitable power, chained for far too long, finally released at the moment of destined joining.

Without words, bodies were positioned, hands found most sensitive areas, lips following in their path. Arousal was built to a peak, then gently eased as Spock's fingers touched pertinent points on Kirk's face.

Kirk caught his breath, resting his forehead against Spock's chest, still running his hand up and down the shaft he held, feeling his own penis held in a reflective grip. He looked at Spock's face, fascinated by the melting features. Lines had eased until they seemed mere shadows of the deep fissures usually visible; the normally hard lips were now parted and full from Kirk's bites. And there was a lingering smile there that Kirk had never seen before. As he took in the sight, he felt tears escape down his cheeks.

Spock saw the fluid slip from Kirk's eyes and reached to brush at the moisture. "Jim?"

Kirk shook his head, claiming a kiss from the softened mouth. "I love you, Spock."

Spock swallowed the boulder in his throat. He had no words. Instead, he let his body respond, let the last remaining inhibitions fall unheeded at their feet. He rolled on top of Kirk, parting the strong, tanned-brown thighs with his knees and resting between. He carefully matched them, part for part, then pressed down, keeping his eyes on Kirk's lust-filled expression. He shifted, causing their organs to caress, to dance together in a slightly slick waltz. He shifted again, caused the friction to repeat. And yet again.

Kirk surged upward, parting his legs further, tilting his hips, hands molding Spock's ass, pulling him harder against his body. He reached for a kiss and was greeted by a hungry mouth, a greedily seeking tongue and sharp teeth. He moaned a small laugh and lunged upward again.

Spock looked at him, reading Kirk's desire in the flaming green eyes. He glanced away, a moment of trepidation entering his gut. "You are sure?" he felt compelled to ask aloud.

"I want you, Spock. I want to be as much a part of you as I can, hold you in me as deeply as possible." He lifted his hips again. "I'm more than sure."

Spock found he could not object to such declaration and scooted down until he was eye-level with the human penis. He studied it before planting a quick kiss on the tip. He smiled at Kirk's reaction to the touch, then gently pushed Kirk's legs apart still further.

Kirk bit his lip as Spock's mouth touched the tip of his erection and, as Spock's hands parted him, he pulled his own legs up with his hands, exposing himself for Spock. He cried out as a hot tongue touched the tight opening of his body, biting through his lip and not caring as he tried to hold his passion back.

Again, the tongue touched him and he called Spock's name until the lapping stopped and he could again look down at the Vulcan's face. Dark eyes met his, one brow raised, a smirk of satisfaction on the usually calm face.

Kirk laughed in spite of himself. "Come here," he requested and Spock moved up to kiss Kirk's mouth, rubbing his own hardened flush against the moist skin beneath Kirk's testicles. "Come closer," Kirk urged, pulling his legs back again, tilting his hips off the bed. "Closer, closer, closer…"

His mouth fell agape as the tip of Spock's penis entered him, a soundless cry of pain mixed with pleasure ringing in the room. Spock remained still, waiting for the muscle to relax again. He sent a command through the link and he nearly slid in to the hilt as Kirk melted beneath them.

"How close?" Spock managed to ask.

"Closer, Spock. So close, we're the same, one, the same. Closer…"

Spock pushed forward and felt Kirk's penis pulse between their pressed bellies. He felt the first contraction of muscle as Kirk began to climax and could no longer control the urge to thrust his hips forward. He moved, driving in as gently as he could manage, pulling back then moving forward again. He peaked with the waning pulsations of Kirk's orgasm, crying out as his world softly shattered.

Kirk held the trembling body as Spock collapsed on top of him, wrapping his legs around Spock's thighs, holding him in place, kissing the closed eyes, the cheeks, nose and, finally, the gasping mouth. "Thank you, thank you, thank you…" he muttered between kisses, not caring if he sounded ridiculous, only knowing that his lover was still deep inside him, knowing that, even after their bodies parted, Spock would always be as deep within him as he was at that moment.

Kirk felt the slackened penis nuzzle him as it tried to slip free. He clenched at it, trying to keep it, knowing he would fail and finding himself somewhat amused at his own whimsy. He held on tightly as Spock finally stirred, managed to move off his chest, taking the treasured invader with him, and snuggled against Kirk's side.

"You okay?" Kirk whispered into the dimness.

He felt Spock bury his face in his arm, felt the added wetness and turned to pull Spock into his arms.

"Don't cry! Oh, please. Spock, don't…"

The trembling eased and Kirk moved to look at Spock's face. He smiled, kissed the tear-stained lips, questioned with his eyes.

"You have… overwhelmed me, Jim." Spock tried to smile, but tears still spilled. "To say I love you… It would not describe what I feel for you. It is too little a thing…"

Kirk squeezed him hard. "You've given me life and sanity and yourself. Spock! The feel of you inside me! I wanted to die so it would never end and at the same time, live forever so we could always make love. You're overwhelmed? You don't know. You just don't know."

They held each other, reading the waves of emotion coming off the other more easily than they could speak. They both came to realize that the wonder of the newness they now shared would only increase, not decrease, as the link developed, formed into the unbreakable bond that had already begun to harden around the link Spock and implanted.

A latitude fell over them, both of them enervated physically and emotionally. The scent of their joining, of semen mixed with tears, lingered, permeated their souls, branding them one to the other, sealing the commitment made a week before.

*****

"Spock, you asleep?"

"No."

"You okay now?"

"I am at ease. You?"

Kirk shook his head, tickling Spock's chin with his hair. "I don't know. I'm still on overload."

Spock caressed Kirk's back and the nape of his neck. "You should sleep."

"Yeah. My thoughts are so frantic, though."

"I know, as are mine."

Kirk laughed. "Think we're keeping each other awake by thinking?"

"More than likely."

"Any ideas about how to take our minds off of… things?" Kirk moved his hand to Spock's groin, gathering and holding the soft genitals.

"I think you have ‘things’… well in hand, Jim."

Kirk grimaced in Spock's direction, then lowered his head to take Spock in his mouth. He suckled softly until Spock was hard, released him and moved up to kiss the waiting mouth. "Nice. You taste nice."

"I am glad I please you." Heavy-lidded eyes watched him, urging him to take up where he left off.

Kirk smiled and returned to his task. He brought them both to a softly satisfying climax, licked his lips and moved back up in the bed only to find Spock's sleep. He kissed the sleeping lips and was gathered close.

Content, they slept together, comforted and held safe within each other's dreams.

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