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"Compass card is spinning...
The helm is swaying, to and fro...
Ooh, where's the Dog Star?
Ooh -- where's the moon?
You're a lost sailor...
You've been too long at sea.
Now the shoreline beckons
But there's a price for being free..."

--"Lost Sailor",

by Garcia/Hunter, The Grateful Dead


I am truly lost, now. I shall have to leave the Enterprise.

In two weeks, more or less, it will not matter any more, for I shall be dead. But it is either this, or drag Jim down into the coming madness with me. And that I cannot do. That, above all, I must not do. It would be a poor return, for the friendship he has always given me.

I should have known.

That is undoubtedly true. But I left Vulcan some years earlier than is customary. I did not complete my training, and what with one thing and another I never went back, until the Kalifee. So it is, I suppose, my own fault. I have only myself to blame, for my ignorance. The information was available to me, had I cared to look it up. But somehow, as the years passed and the Fever never came to me, I began to think that it never would. That at least I would gain that much, by virtue of the human blood that has caused me so much trouble all of my life.

For ten years, I thought so. I was far older than any of my age-mates had been when it came to them, and still I did not Burn. Yet when it did come, I was consumed by it, as Vulcans have always been, all my prized logic and strength of will swept aside in an instant.

Be that as it may, I will not impose this on Jim. He and I share a bond, it is true -- but not for this. He is my t'hy'la -- but he does not truly know what that means. I have never told him. What it does to me, to hear him say that word, his eyes lit up in the smile that he reserves for me. I have never been able to find the words I needed. He does not speak Vulcan. And I did not think it mattered. I was content, simply to be near him. I did not need more than that. I am Vulcan. Need is a thing of the body, and the body can be controlled.

So I was foolish enough to believe.

I felt secure, in his regard. I thought that I could have the best of both our worlds.

But Jim is human. Humans do not Burn, as Vulcans do. He has not my strength. He would not be able to resist me, should he wish to. And it has always been to women that my friend is drawn. I am not blind. I have seen his nature, over the years.

And so it has come to this.

Four tendays ago, T'Pring broke the Bond which we had shared since our childhood. I hardly even felt it go. I was Burning. I knew only that I must fight. I tried to resist, and could not. In the end, I did not even know who I fought. I knew only the ancient drive -- to kill. To take what was mine, from one who would keep it from me.

Four tendays ago, I awoke from the plak-tow to find Jim's lifeless body hanging limply from my hands. McCoy pushed me away from him, turned, and beamed him home. I thought that my life had ended, on that day. I thought that I had murdered Jim.

Four tendays ago, I stood on the sands of Koon-ut-Kalifee, and gave she who would have been my wife to Stonn. She was his already, in all but name -- and as the Fever broke, as it left my body, my desire for her went with it. It was better so. She cared nothing for me, nor I for her. I paid my respects to T'Pau, not understanding the look I saw in her eyes. Not then.

Four tendays ago, I beamed back aboard the only home I have left, only to find that Leonard had pulled another of his tricks upon us all. To find Jim, alive and well, smiling at me, with only welcome and forgiveness in his chameleon eyes.

I thought then that I was free. That I was safe. That I had escaped the stern constraints of my Vulcan heritage.

I was, and am, a fool.

.............................

We left Vulcan, and attended the installation ceremonies for the new president of Altair VI. They were much as we had expected. Jim calls such assignments "showing the flag in the Outmarches", and I understand the reference. It was purely political. There was nothing of value accomplished by our presence, nothing a dozen other ships could not have done as well or better. For this, I came so near to dying...

Eventually the ceremonies came to an end, and we returned to our previous patrol.

The next two tendays were uneventful. Jim and I resumed our evening chess games, and our workouts in the gym. The Enterprise followed her assigned course along the edge of the Neutral Zone, and all was quiet.

Five days ago, I began to realize that something was wrong. I was not certain, at first, what it was. I thought perhaps it was some lingering adjustment to being UnBonded, for the first time since my early childhood.

But the dreams began that night. They were vague and fear-filled; at first I could not remember them upon awakening. All I retained was the memory of fear, of desperation, of something sought but not yet found... and the sweat, that soaked my bedding and my skin.

Three nights ago, I remembered. I dreamed again that night, but this time I Saw clearly, and when I woke, the memory stayed with me. Three nights ago, I dreamed of Jim.

I have done so every night since then. As once, not long ago, I sought T'Pring in my dreams. Now my mind seeks his, and I can no longer deny what is happening to me.

This, then, is the meaning of the look I saw on T'Pau's face. She felt it, that I had already begun to form another Bond. She presumed, since I chose not to speak of it, that all was arranged, and in order. I am quite sure it never occurred to her that I was simply ignorant. Willful ignorance is illogical, after all, and I have always prided myself upon my logic.

But now the Fever comes again. The call of my Vulcan blood is too strong; it will not be denied. Now that it is too late, I have searched through the files of the Vulcan Science Academy. I have discovered what I should have known before -- that the pon farr, if diverted by combat, always returns; that my only choice is to mate -- or die. And somehow, in the heat of the battle, my mind turned toward Jim. He has always been my closest friend. Perhaps my only friend, at first. Now, it is his face I see in my dreams. It is his touch I hunger for. And this cannot be. He is not attracted to men. I will not inflict this on him. I remember, how it was; how I was. I could injure or even kill him, in that state, and I would not even know I had done it. I nearly did kill him, as it is. No. I cannot allow that to happen.

According to the readings on my tricorder, I have perhaps three, perhaps five more days of at least partial control, before it will consume me. I have that long, to reach my destination. I have that long to get far enough away so that it will be over before he can find me.

I have applied for leave. I have requisitioned the Galileo II, and filed a flight plan which is largely a work of fiction. I have selected my destination -- New Arizona, a human colony perhaps 20 light years from our present position. It is a hot, dry world; such a climate will make the time I have left a little easier to bear. Already the ship seems uncomfortably cold to me.

I have used my own funds, for StarFleet access codes will not allow Jim to trace Vulcan funds moving through Vulcan bank channels. I know that he will try and find me, if he realizes what has happened. I must make sure that he does not; at least, not before it has ended.

I admit this much -- I do not wish to die. Even now, had I some other choice, I would take it. But we are over three weeks from Vulcan even at top warp speed -- there is no chance that I could get there in time. And so I must leave. I will die, yes. But Jim will not be with me. He will not be dragged into something he would no doubt find repugnant. I will not wake again, to find that he is dead or injured at my hands.

It is all that I can do, now. I am making this recording so that when my body is found, there shall be no question of foul play; no misfortune to those who gave me my final shelter. It would be ill-done, to return their hospitality in such a way as that.

................................

I hope to make planetfall tomorrow. I am flying at a low speed, to minimize my trail. I am using every trick I have learned from years of watching Mr. Sulu, to hide my tracks. It is necessary, for if I leave any traces, Jim will find me, and all will have been for naught.

It was all that I could do, to stand in Jim's quarters while he looked over my request for leave, and not give myself away. He is so perceptive, so very quick. He makes leaps of intuition that I can never equal -- and yet, most often, he is proven right, when all is said and done.

He looked at me quizzically, as he read the padd I had handed him. This is only the second time I have ever requested a leave. I could tell that he was curious, when I offered no explanation. But in the end he simply smiled, signed in token of his approval, and wished me well. He knows that recent events have not been easy for me, though he cannot know the full extent of it. He has often told me that I should take some time for myself.

I find myself wishing, as humans do, that I had some other option. I regret deeply that I had to leave the way I did, without telling him the truth. There are so many things we never had the chance to say, that will never be said, now. Kaiidth! There is nothing that can be done.

I am intermittently feverish. It is difficult to sit still, as a pilot must. But I manage.

I have set the shuttlecraft's life support for a temperature of 40 degrees, the highest it will allow me without tearing down the control panel, and that is a task I no longer have the concentration or the steadiness of hand to do. It is still perceptibly chilly to me, but that is not important. 40 degrees is warm enough to get me to where I must go. Soon enough, none of it will matter any more.

............................................

The cabin is in a remote area. The nights here are cold, but the days are quite pleasantly warm. That very remoteness is the reason that I chose this place; it has ever been our way to seek Privacy, in which to die.

The second useful feature here is the presence of a large shallow cave, where I was able to park the Galileo. Since I have powered it down, I believe that the rock will provide sufficient shielding. I have programmed the locator beacon not to start broadcasting until two weeks have passed. One way or another, this will be over by then.

There is a good supply of firewood inside the cabin, against the chill of the nights; there is also a stove, in which to burn it. I brought food with me, and there is more here -- but it is as it was the first time. I have no hunger; I cannot bring myself to eat any of it. It is not important.

It has been said that some of the adepts among the Kohlinahru have mastered the art of surviving the pon farr alone, by means of discipline and deep meditation. But for myself, it is an unlikely course. Already, I am having great difficulty achieving anything deeper than the second meditative level; what is growing within me has stolen my concentration, when I needed it the most. But that does not matter, either. I am here, and Jim is not. He is safe. He will not have to watch what will happen to me. That is what is important.

I have decided to stay indoors. I cannot seem to stay warm, unless I keep the fire going constantly. And the less I am seen, I think, the better. Less chance of him finding me, this way.

There is much I need to do, yet, to prepare, and my time grows short.

......................................

I must hold on. Only a little longer, and I can let go. It is hard, now, to speak. But I must... finish this, first. I will finish this.

I wish it known -- none forced me... to this. I freely chose to come here. I chose... to hide my condition. It is my right. I am... Vulcan. I shall die as a Vulcan dies.

My property on Vulcan will revert to the Family, as is... our custom. My possessions... aboard the Enterprise, I leave to Captain Kirk... and to Doctor McCoy. I say this only to confirm... my will, which is in the wall-safe... in my cabin aboard the ship.

There. Now I am done.

This tape will run... until it is full. Not long, now.

The chain is just long enough. I can reach... water, firewood, the stove. My bed. But not the door. Nor... the commset. Nor the welder. I made sure... to toss that out of reach, once I fastened the chain.

It is well. I will not endanger others, when the madness... consumes me.

I find... a certain peace, in that knowledge. It is all I have left, but it will... suffice. Soon now, it will begin. I can feel it... Goodbye, t'hy'la. Jim. Fare... thee well.

....................................

Gods. I hope I made it here fast enough. I can't tell; I can't find him in my thoughts any more. The dreams stopped two nights ago. I hope that doesn't mean anything.

It's been a nightmare.

First the message from Lady Amanda. They had just returned to Vulcan; as soon as she learned what had happened she made haste to contact me. Her words were so carefully chosen -- but somehow I just knew. It made too damned much sense. It's what he'd do, all right, go away and hide, and die alone. Like a Vulcan. Like a cat. That's Spock, all the way.

Then the dreams started. Nightmares, dreams -- visions. Of Spock, calling out to me. Of fire, burning through a forest. Lava, pouring down a hillside. Lightning, flaring across the sky... I wasn't hungry. I felt restless; it was hard to sit still, even on duty.

Then we found out that his flight plan was a total crock. None of his listed ports of call had seen hide nor hair of him.

If not for Scotty, that would have been the end of it. He's the one who figured out a way to track the Galileo -- something about a slight phase stutter in her port nacelle? That's about where he lost me, but it worked. He was right. He and Sulu. They did it.

God knows what Nogura thinks -- I'm not even sure, now, exactly what I said to him. But he gave me permission to bring the Enterprise here, to divert from our patrol. I would have come without it -- but it's better like this. Scotty and the others would have backed me either way, but it wouldn't have been fair to do that to them.

I just hope we got here in time...

We're in orbit around New Arizona, and I've just gotten clearance to take Copernicus down there after him. Bones wanted to come along, but I turned him down. I've promised to call him if -- if there's anything he can do.

I don't know, though. It's been eight days since Spock left. Eight days -- and I can't find him in my thoughts. Oh god, please...

It's a good thing this is a young colony. I must've broken every air traffic control rule in the book on my way down. I landed right outside the cave where he'd parked the Galileo. More of Scotty's magic, to find it, powered down and hidden as it is. Bless him. Nobody else could've done it. Now it's up to me, and the tricorder that Bones rigged up for me. Nothing showing yet. I'm going to hike down out of these rocks a ways, and try again. He couldn't have gone too far, in his condition...

Got it! Got something, anyway. One lifeform, definitely Vulcan, still alive -- but the readings are pretty damned faint.

Hold on, Spock -- I'm almost there. Hold on...

Just let me get there in time. That's all I ask. Let me be in time. Please...

This has got to be it. There's a cabin hidden up here, kind of tucked into the hillside, mostly out of sight. This is it. I'm almost there, now. Hold on, my friend...

Damn. Door's locked. Tricorder confirms that he's still alive -- but just barely. So faint... To hell with this. I'll buy them a new lock if they want. Now... tune my phaser to needle beam, cut here... Nope. It's jammed, too. He must've barricaded himself inside, before it began.

Hah! Got it. Shoulders'll probably hurt later... So what.

Made it. I'm in.

Shit. It stinks inside -- blood, sweat, vomit... Ah, Spock.

Oh my god. It looks like a slaughterhouse in here. There's blood all over the place. He's curled up in a ball in the corner, and there's a heavy chain running from his ankle to the back wall. He anchored it to one of the main support beams, and welded it around his leg. I can't slip it off, it's on there too tightly.

Oh, my friend -- why? Why did you do this? Did you think I'd turn away from you? That I'd be afraid, or repulsed? You've never turned away from me, no matter what I've done...

I've cut that damned chain off his leg. His ankle's just raw meat; there's bone showing, too. He must have fought like hell, but he'd planned this. The chain didn't break. He didn't endanger anyone, except himself. That's my Spock, all right. But god, his leg...

Picked him up. He's so light -- he's hardly breathing at all. I don't know how much weight he's lost, but he looks more like one of the Tarsus survivors than my first officer. I can't even imagine what the last few days must have been like for him.

When he spoke of the madness that pon farr brings, I had no idea... I saw him irritable and agitated; I saw the blankness in his eyes, during the combat... He didn't even know it was me he was fighting. I thought that was what he meant, what he feared. Nothing like this. I've seen POW's fresh out of Klingon labour camps that looked better than he does.

Think, Kirk. Medkit... Remember what Bones told you. Hydration first -- here's the saline, Vulcan-normal. Not too much, at first... Blood sugar, dicuprox... OK. Any better?

A bit stronger -- but I'm getting about five different med-alarms still. What do I do next? Ah... OK. Heart's steadying a bit. Blood-oxy is coming back up. Down to two alarms, now.

I'm sitting on the bunk, holding him. He hardly even used it; the bedding's still clean. He was curled up on the floor when I first got in, like a wounded animal... The place is a mess.

His scent is stronger, more pungent, than I've ever smelled it. And... different, somehow. Sweeter? I don't know. Just different. His skin is hot -- he feels like he's burning up.

His face is bruised and scraped. The readouts say he's had seizures. He's bitten his lip, more than once. Chewed on his knuckles, like a rat in a trap. His knees and elbows are raw. His hands are a disaster -- nails torn and bloody, palms scraped raw. Some of his fingers are broken... His hair is filthy; so are his clothes. That leg wound looks bad, and it smells wrong. He's soaked in blood and sweat, sticky and rank. God.

I don't care about any of that. I'm here, and he's still alive, still breathing. I'm holding him up, trying to wipe his face clean, as best I can. I don't want to hurt him -- but Spock hates being dirty. He always has. He's like a cat, that way...

I'm not thinking straight. I know I'm not.

Who does, faced with something like this?

Oh, my friend. Look at you, now. What a damned stupid waste...

Shit, he's seizing again... Quick, where's the... Got it. OK. Here -- it's in. Yes. It's working. Damn, I don't know whether to call Bones or not. To be honest, I'm not sure there's anything he can do, and Spock would hate to be seen like this.

I don't know what to do.

Brush his hair out of his eyes. God. I wish I'd been here, Spock. I wish you'd told me, let me choose for myself. You always tease me about my leaps of intuition, and maybe that's what this is -- but it seems so obvious, now, why you did this. You were scared for me; scared you'd hurt me... Scared I wouldn't want to... Oh, hell! Don't you know this hurts, too?

I know. Good old James T-for-Tomcat Kirk, always chasing after women... You didn't understand.

It isn't the same, for humans. Consenting adults, that's the only rule for us. One of the few things we've learned, over the years. Maybe on Vulcan, you'd be an outcaste because you chose me. Hell, you always were anyway, just by virtue of your birth. But dammit -- it's been two hundred years since anyone on Earth felt that way. I thought you knew.

I should have told you that. All of this is my fault.

Fuck it. I'm going to call Bones. I have to at least try to save him. I have to...

.........................................

"I don't know, Jim. I just don't know."

I can't remember the last time I saw Bones this discouraged -- but he keeps working.

"He's taken a hell of a lot of damage. His heart is strained and enlarged. His adrenals are practically exhausted. You saw the external injuries. That leg's pretty badly infected. He has several broken ribs, and god alone knows how much internal bruising. There might be brain damage from the seizures..."

And yet... I know that look. "What, Bones? What else?"

"He isn't dead -- and he should be. Hell, I don't know. There's all of maybe half a dozen Vulcan-human hybrids, total, and none of the rest are old enough yet for this. But a full-blooded Vulcan would have died a couple of days ago. Maybe earlier."

Hope. Just a little. So faint. But, hope... I'll take it.

We're still in the cabin. Bones brought down portable life-support, surgical kit, all the bells and whistles. He feels the same as me -- there's no way Spock would want the crew to see him like this. No way.

I've got water heating on the stove. First thing we need to do is get him cleaned up. Dress that ankle. Bones already started him on antibiotics; got an IV going... I asked Bones about that -- he says with Vulcans you can't just give them a big dose of fluid, the way you can with us. What I already gave him is about as much as is safe. Their blood pressure's too low, I think he said -- anyway, it has to go in slowly or it'll do more harm than good. Well, he knows.

Just -- hold on, Spock. Hold on. There has to be a reason you've survived this long. I know what I'm hoping for -- but hell, I'd settle for what we had before, cheerfully. Just don't die, my friend...

........................................

Mmmf... Hunh. What... Dark outside. Just a little bit of light in here, from the stove. God knows what time it is. Something woke me up. What... Spock?

I don't know.

His eyes are still closed. I hold my breath for a moment, but then I see that he's still breathing. Relief, then, a flood of it.

He hasn't moved since I tucked him in, and laid down beside him, to keep him warm. I didn't expect to sleep; I guess I was more tired than I knew. I'd better get up and check the fire.

It's pretty low, so I spend a few minutes stoking it up. Reminds me of camping trips when I was a kid, stoking up the woodstove in Gramps' fishing cabin, on the lake. New Arizona has no moon, so it's pitch dark out there. No idea what time it is, but it doesn't matter. It's quiet here. Peaceful. A body could get to like this, for a while, at least.

I'm a spacer, and the son of a spacer -- but it's nice to put ashore, once in a while.

I sent Bones back to the ship for the night. He's getting a bit old to be sleeping on the floor, and Spock's been more or less stable for hours now, ever since we finished cleaning him up and dressing his wounds. I couldn't bring myself to ask -- but I know Bones. If he was really worried, I couldn't have gotten him out of here with a Hercules-class tugboat.

I'm amazed to find, after I step outside for a moment, that I'm hungry. It's been a while. I check on Spock again, and he's still sleeping quietly. I fix myself some soup and shovel it in, and it's good. First time I've been hungry for days. I hope it's a good sign...

I poke the fire up again, before going back to his bedside. I'm not sleepy, now, so I pull a chunk of firewood over there and park my butt on it -- not much in the way of furniture here. I'll just sit here, and watch him breathe for a while.

This is real. He's alive. He's made it this far, and that was supposed to be impossible. Every hour that he keeps breathing is a gift, and I'll take them all, as many as I can get. It's funny how your view of what's important narrows, at a time like this. Spock would probably tell me how illogical that is. Well, I'm human. That's what we do. And we're damn good at it, too.

That, and hope.

...................................

"Hey there! Rise 'n shine, Jim. You gonna sleep the whole damn day, or what?"

Huh? Oh. Yeah, right. Bones...

My neck's stiff as hell. I must've fallen asleep again, sitting next to Spock. Serves me right for nodding off, I guess. Nice and warm in here; Bones must have been stoking the fire.

"Morning, Bones. That better be coffee in that mug."

"It is, and it's got your name on it. Here. Drink; it's good for you."

Tastes good, that's for sure. I get the first few swallows down my throat, sigh, and turn to look at Spock.

His colour's a little better. Bones has been working on his face, it looks like. The bruises are fading fast, and most of the scrapes are almost healed now. That lip's going to take a while to heal; he chewed it up pretty badly. But it already looks a hell of a lot better than it did.

I look up at Bones and smile, hopefully. "He slept straight through, last night."

Bones smiles back at me. "He's slept quietly so far this morning, too. I've turned off the pacemaker, and his heart's steady now, with no external assist. That's progress. And his blood pressure's a lot closer to normal today." Relief, washing over me. I bite my lip, silently -- but god, I'm glad to hear that. Oh yes.

He's lying there so quietly. So still. I find that even now, I can't quite relax, can't yet accept that we really did get here in time. I'm nervous. I keep checking, to make sure that he's still breathing...

Bones is scanning him again, and now he frowns a little. "Hmmm. He's still runnin' a bit of a fever. Can't tell exactly what's causin' it, from this tomfool gadget." He draws some blood, the hypo hissing as it pulls it out; he's going to beam back up to his lab, run some tests. We both know what's probably wrong -- but I know my CMO. He never has trusted computer sims; he'd rather look at the real thing. He wants to know exactly what organism he's fighting, just like he always does. That way he can tailor the treatment, have a better chance of knocking it down fast. He meets my eyes again, and I can see the worry he's trying not to show. "All right. Now you call me, Jim, if there's any change. Otherwise, I'll be back as soon as I have some answers." And just like that, he's gone.

I reach over and touch Spock's face, very quietly, not wanting to disturb him. Bones is right. Even for a Vulcan, his skin is hot. I listen, and am reassured to find that his breathing is quiet and even. I fetch a cool wet cloth, and wipe him down some, careful of the still-healing scrapes and cuts. After a few minims I touch him again, and he's a little cooler. Good.

Time to get up and move around. I stretch, and hear my spine go snap, crackle, pop. Getting old, James T. Step outside. Ahhh... it's a glorious day; cloudless, just a slight breeze. It's going to be another scorcher, by lunchtime. But that's good. Spock needs to be warm, as weak as he is right now.

I walk back inside, and that's when I see -- his eyes are open.

I sit back down on my chunk of firewood, and look into those dark eyes. He doesn't react, and at first I'm not sure if he knows me. Then he blinks, and I see it, the moment when he realizes it's not a dream, it's me, I'm really here. His face goes absolutely blank -- he's shocked, at first. Surprised as all hell, if I'm any judge.

I'm not even aware that I'm holding my breath, until I start getting dizzy.

His eyes close for a long moment. Then they open again, and I see the look I was hoping for, the one he always uses instead of a smile.

Then I grin. "Yeah, it's me. You don't get rid of me that easily, you know." He fumbles one hand out from under the blankets, and I take it, careful of the bandages, careful not to hurt him. He manages to squeeze my fingers for an instant, and I nod, still smiling.

He doesn't say anything. I'm not sure he can, yet. It doesn't matter. He's alive.

I look up to check the IV -- looks good. Bones must have changed it just before he left. I look down again. "You thirsty at all?" He gives me a cautious nod. I get some water; I help him sit up, hold it steady for him. He takes a few sips and pushes it away. He leans back against the pillows and lets his eyes close -- and he's asleep again, that easily.

No big surprise, after what he's been through. I'm just glad he's here. He can sleep for a month, if he wants to. Fine by me.

.............................

Bones ought to be back, soon. I'll wait a bit longer; if I don't hear from him pretty soon, I'm going to call him. I'm getting worried about Spock.

He woke up twice more this afternoon. The first time, I was scrubbing the deck -- hm, the floor, I suppose I should call it. Ah, the hell with that. I'm walking on it; that makes it a deck, in my book. I'd already washed down the kitchen area and disinfected everything. Now I was trying to get the rest of the blood off the wooden planks. It smells a lot better in here, but I can still smell blood -- from his ankle, I guess. It's a mess. Bones was able to restore enough circulation to save his foot, but he'll need more surgery before he can walk on it again. Not yet, though -- Bones said that he still isn't strong enough for that.

The first time he woke up, I swear, I think I felt it. I was over in the corner where I'd first found him, working with a scrub brush and a bucket -- just like old times, like punishment drill at the Academy. I certainly pulled my fair share of those... And then I just knew, somehow, that he was awake. I turned around and sure enough there he was, looking at me again.

Well, I dropped the brush in the bucket and walked over to him. Sat on the edge of the bunk, careful not to jar him. I'd brought some water with me, and he let me help him drink a little, again. Afterwards he blinked a couple times, lay back for a moment, then opened his eyes.

And he just looked at me, like he still couldn't believe it. Like a starving man looks at a loaded banquet table. Like he'd never thought to see me again. I guess he hadn't, at that. And seeing that look on his face, I knew that I was right, about why he did it...

Ah, Spock. What a prime pair of fools we've been, you and me...

He reached out for my hand again. "Jim?" God, his throat must have been sore; his voice sounded like he'd been eating sandpaper, or something. Not hard to figure out how it got that way, but it isn't a pleasant thought.

"Spock... Good to see you awake, my friend. You gave us a hell of a scare, for a while."

He managed to squeeze my hand a bit. Kept on holding it. "I... am sorry, Jim." He stopped, took a couple of deep breaths. It was obviously hard for him to talk, but I could feel that he wanted to, very much. He needed to. So I didn't interrupt, or try to hush him up.

He moved a bit, trying to scoot up -- so I reached down, and he let me help him. He braced himself on his hands, then, and said, "I -- did not mean... to hurt you, Jim. I wanted... to spare you... this." There was an odd look on his face: confusion, shame, and relief, all mixed up together. His speech was hesitant, as though he couldn't decide what to say, or how to say it. He kept pausing, hunting for the right words. I offered him more water, and he shook his head, no.

"Spock -- why?" And that was when he looked away, as if he couldn't meet my eyes.

He cleared his throat and coughed a couple of times. Didn't quite hide the wince well enough, but I let it pass. I know Spock. He hates it if you notice that he's hurting. So we all pretend not to, of course. He puts up with enough of our foibles, after all...

Finally he did look up once more. "I do not know... if I can explain." He took a deep breath, and winced again. His ribs, I think. No surprise -- he was indigo and turquoise and orange all over, before Bones went to work on him.

I just looked at him, tried to show my acceptance in my face. Hell, I don't think there's anything he could do that would make me turn away, not now. Thinking he had died snapped a lot of things into focus, for me. It brought some things I'd been ignoring for a long time out into the open. He watched me, and gave this tiny little nod. When he spoke again, his voice was little more than a harsh whisper.

"It is difficult... I -- when I knew, that this was... coming -- I felt I had to leave." He bit down on his lip again. "Jim -- I did not want to hurt you. To endanger you..."

"I don't understand, Spock." Actually, I was beginning to have a pretty good idea -- but it sounded like he needed to talk it out, so I didn't say that.

"When T'Pring broke our Bond -- I should have died, Jim. I... did not know that, but it is so. I was already in... the plak-tow. The shock alone should have killed me. Most likely, I would have died, but... for one thing; the bond between you and me. Somehow... in the midst of the Fever -- my mind chose you." He looked away again, obviously fighting for the words. It seemed to me that I could feel how embarrassed he was, even to speak of this at all. I could feel that as if it was my own, although I know it wasn't. Still looking away, he began to speak again. "You are my friend, Jim. You are my t'hy'la. But when the Fever... came back -- it was you I saw, in my dreams. And I knew... it was not your choice. I could not... ask that of you. We were too far from Vulcan, so... I came here.

"I must... beg forgiveness. I did not wish to be... a burden. I did not expect to survive. I have never... heard of such a thing." And then I saw something I had never seen before, in all the years we'd known one another -- Spock, blushing.

I managed not to give in to the perverse impulse to laugh -- I knew he'd never understand it if I had. But I could feel my own face flaming in response -- the curse of the fair-skinned. I always have blushed too damned easily. Made for some interesting times, at the Academy...

I could tell he thought that he was the only one who'd felt an attraction between us. And he was ashamed of that. I mean, really ashamed, like it was something wrong. Like it made him some kind of pervert or something. God. If you ask me, Vulcan is a pretty fucked-up place, in some ways. They'll never admit it -- but it's true. How tight-assed can a society get?

"So, ah, let me get this straight." And I reached for his hand again, so he could feel that I wasn't mad at him about it -- but of course, I was. Couldn't help it. I'm only human. Ah, well -- at least, that way, he'd be able to tell that anger wasn't all I was feeling... "You decided the only logical solution was to go away and die? Just like that?"

"I felt... I had no choice, Jim. You are human. Humans... do not Burn. You are... my captain, and my friend. I... I nearly killed you, the first time -- and I did not even know it. How could I ask this... of you?" And oddly enough, I do understand now, a little. Seeing what this has done to him, some of his dread of it makes more sense. I won't deny that it was frightening, to look up and see only murderous hate in his eyes, once T'Pring called for the Challenge.

But still! I'm not a child, and I'm sure as hell no virgin. I'm human, yes -- but humans are pretty damn tough, when we need to be. We're like cockroaches -- hard to kill. But I wasn't sure how to get this across to him.

"Well, you could have tried it, you know. At least offered me a choice in the matter." He tried to look away again, but I wouldn't let him. I just kept on staring into those bottomless black eyes of his. And although he jittered and fidgeted, he met my gaze. "Spock -- I thought you were dead. I couldn't feel you in my mind any more. I thought I was never going to see you again. Do you have any idea how that made me feel?" I had to pause, force myself to get a grip. This was not a good time to come unglued. This was important.

I took a couple of deep breaths of my own, and tried again. "Listen, Spock, I'll be honest with you -- I never thought we'd discuss this. You and me, I mean. For one thing, I figured there was no way you'd ever be interested in me. You'd never seemed interested in anyone, not like that. I didn't want to damage our friendship, to offend you or push you away. And we're in the same chain of command; the Fleet's never too thrilled about that, although it does happen.

"But while I was on my way here, I realized something. You're the best friend I've ever had in my life. You're closer to me than my own brother ever was. When I thought that you were dead -- I don't know, something just kind of... went out, for me. It was like -- nothing else mattered, any more. I just didn't care, about any of it. It was worse than losing Sam. It was even worse than losing Edith.

"When I got down here, when I found you still alive -- well, a lot of things got real clear in my mind, all at once." I stopped for air, and just watched him, for a moment. Surprise, on that usually impassive face. Surprise, and the faintest gleam of -- hope?

"I don't know, where we go from here. I'll admit that. I don't know what will happen next. But I do know this -- I don't want this to happen again. I don't want you getting all noble on me and going away to die, without a word. I don't want to lose you, Spock.

"I learned something, during the journey here. I need you. Can you honestly look me in the eye, and say you don't feel the same way?"

He stared down at our hands for a while, thinking. Working it out, in that meticulous way of his. Chewing on it, like a terrier with a bone. And then he looked up, and in his face, I saw my answer. "No," he whispered. "I cannot. But Jim... I must... tell you. This -- it will come again. Soon. Perhaps... four tendays? Not longer. It will come back until I..." and he blushed again, even deeper green, "until I... mate. Or die. I did not know that, before. But I have checked. This is so. And you..." He looked up at me, desperation in those black eyes. Couldn't finish...

My turn, then. "And I -- what? Always go chasing after women?" He nodded, very uncomfortable, but determined not to turn away. I grinned, then. "Spock -- you wouldn't be the first, you know. It's true that I've chased my share of skirts, over the years. Well, hell -- I like women. I always have. You know that." He nodded again, trying without much success to keep the flush from his cheeks. I kept talking. "It's different, for humans, though, than I guess it is for Vulcans. It's been a long time since anyone on Earth got upset over what gender a person's partner is. It's one of the few things we have managed to learn, over all the years." I paused, and looked down at his face. He was riveted, and that was definitely hope I saw in his eyes.

"Spock -- remember Gary Mitchell?" He nodded, his face suddenly guarded. Spock and Gary never did get along. Gary was cruel to him; looking back, I realize that, although at the time I brushed it off as just Gary's way. He was cruel to a lot of people -- including me, although it's taken me years to see that about him. And I didn't know Spock then, the way I do now.

"When he and I were in the Academy together, we, uh... well, we had a relationship, for a while." It sounded awkward, stupid. But how else to phrase it? We were lovers, but we sure as hell weren't in love. "It was in our junior year. For a few months, we kind of... experimented, together. It didn't work out too well, but it did happen. We were too alike, I think. And Gary -- Gary had a cruel streak in him, long before he ever came aboard the Enterprise.

"When he was assigned as my first officer, it was pretty awkward for a while. But I made it work. He wanted to start things up again, and I refused. Because by then I knew -- he wasn't what I was looking for. I didn't know who was, but I knew that it wasn't him. And then he died. I felt guilty as hell for a long time after that. Wondered if it would have happened that way, if not for the history between us. But I think, now, that it wouldn't have made any difference, either way. Gary always had a coldness in him; the power simply brought it to the surface." I felt rattled -- I had never told anyone about this, not even Bones. But whatever else might happen, I knew -- I had to be honest with this man. Completely honest. Nothing less would suffice. Hiding things was what had brought us to this point, to begin with.

I took a deep breath, and watched him, till he raised his eyes again. "I spent a long time looking, Spock. Several times, I thought I'd found the right person. But it never worked out. Something always happened. Janice went crazy. Carol threw me out. Ruth wanted to live in the suburbs, wanted me to settle on the ground. Edith -- well, you know. And I'll admit to you -- I've enjoyed myself, along the way. My nickname at the academy was Tomcat Kirk, did you know that?" One slanted eyebrow shot up, at that. He couldn't help a certain twinkle of amusement in his eyes. "Yeah," I said, laughing myself, "more than a little appropriate, isn't it? But, Spock -- all that time, there was always something missing. Something more, that I needed, that I couldn't find anywhere." And then I reached down and very carefully took his hands, held both of them in mine, gently, so as not to hurt him. "Now I know what it was." I looked at him for a long moment, let my face speak for me. Saw his reaction. "It was you, my friend. It's taken me a long time, to figure this out. It took damn near losing you, to show me. But it's true." And I fell silent then, let him think it over. Just watched him, glad all over again that he was here, that he was alive -- that I hadn't got here a day later, or even a few hours later. Because until I found him here, still breathing -- I hadn't fully realized, myself, what losing him would have meant.

He was silent for a long time, his hands quiet in mine, just thinking, the way he does. I let him be. And then finally, he looked up again. "You mean this, Jim?" My turn to nod. His face got real thoughtful. "I -- did not expect this, that you would feel... as I have..." I started to feel hopeful. Just maybe...

But then he frowned, and shook his head. "Jim -- no. I cannot do this. I must not. You are human; you... have not my strength. I could hurt you -- I could kill you." Desperation and fear, on that lean face, in that hoarse voice. He pulled back, took his hands out of my grip. "I cannot do that to you. I nearly... killed you once, already. You do not know... what you are offering. You do not understand."

I'd had enough. I leaned forward, and glared at him, made him meet my eyes. "I don't, huh? Well, then -- make me understand, Spock. What are you so damned afraid of? I'm not a child, you know. I'm not made out of glass; I won't break if you look at me funny.

"I've already told you, I don't give a damn about gender. I'm not a Vulcan; I didn't have all that crap stuffed in my head as a kid. Listen to me, my pig-headed friend!

"You think you're the only one who ever felt something and kept it hidden? Have you ever stopped, and looked in a mirror, Spock? Why do you think all those civilian women are always making cow eyes at you, on-planet? Hell, half the guys there do it, too, for that matter. Trust me; I know. I've seen them.

"Do you think it's been easy for me, knowing you're a Vulcan, knowing how unwelcome any advances would be? Trying like hell to keep it out of my head when we touch, so as not to offend you? And as for me being 'only human'..." I paused, sighed, tried to get control of my temper. It's the damned Irish in me; it comes out at the worst moments...

"Spock, you aren't thinking clearly, here. Now listen -- and don't get all huffy, I'm not saying this to be offensive. But what about your mother? She's bonded to Sarek, isn't she?" He sat very stiffly for a while. Finally he nodded, just a little. His face was stone, unreadable. I took a deep breath, and tried again.

"Don't you think that if the Lady Amanda can handle the pon farr, that I can, too? No offense to your mother -- but I think I'm at least as tough she is." I leaned back, made myself relax as best I could. "You matter to me, Spock." I offered him a hand, again, let it rest on the edge of the bunk. "You always say that truth is important. Prove it, then. Touch my hand. Listen to what I'm thinking. See whether I'm telling you the truth, about how I feel."

I grinned at him. "Go on. I dare you."

He didn't move, for a long time. Just sat there, looking down, those black eyes hooded and expressionless. I didn't move; I didn't back off. Instead, I went back into my own head. Concentrated on opening up all the things I'd so carefully kept hidden until then. Let myself feel, once more, the things I'd resigned myself to never having a chance to act on.

Vulcans! He actually sat there, feeling ashamed, wondering how on earth someone like me could be attracted to him! I could feel it, in the back of my head. It was all I could do not to laugh, again, at the irony of it -- but I managed not to. He would never have understood. But god -- what must his childhood have been like, to make him feel this way?

Amanda told me once, during the journey to Babel, that he had been ostracized as a child, for his human ancestry, and occasional lapses of control. I began to realize, as I watched him, that it was a little more involved than that. He literally has no idea of the effect he has on people. No concept of what a damn good-looking man he is. Even now, injured, disheveled and dirty, he makes my pulse rate go up a notch, just watching him.

For three years, I've kept my eyes and hands off him by main force of will. For three years, whenever he was around I've had to fight to keep myself aloof, to keep the flush out of my face. I've done warp vector analyses in my head, to distract myself. Taken a lot of cold showers. Stood behind a lot of convenient desks. Spent a lot of time in my quarters, alone but for 'every soldier's last best friend', as Gunny Haakon always said -- my good right hand.

Every time we melded, I was scared I'd let something slip, let him see it -- push him away. I thought that if he ever knew, he'd ask for a transfer -- I mean, he's Vulcan. They just don't, right? That's what they teach us at the Academy, that you don't touch Vulcans, you don't ask them personal questions -- and you sure as hell don't let them know that you have the hots for them, because they'll never be able to return or even understand your feelings.

Hell, I actually believed this crap.

Until now.

Finally he sighed, and very cautiously reached, to touch my hand, as if he thought it would burn him. I didn't move, didn't say anything. I just waited, concentrating on keeping my mind open, on revealing what I'd always tried to hide, before.

Silence, for a while, then. Nothing but the sounds of our breathing, the crackles from the woodstove. I had to keep reminding myself to draw the next breath; my impulse was to freeze completely. I felt that if I moved or spoke, I'd spook him, and that would be the end of that.

I don't know how long we sat there like that. It seemed like a long time. My shoulders were stiffening up, from the work I'd been doing. It had been a long time since James T. Kirk got down on his knees with a scrub brush... But finally I heard him, very softly, whisper something to himself. I couldn't understand it; it sounded like Vulcan. I looked up, met his eyes. Couldn't bring myself to breathe, I was so afraid he'd say what I didn't want to hear...

"You -- this is true?" His voice was so quiet, I could hardly hear him.

I looked at him. "You're the telepath. You tell me."

He blinked a couple of times. Closed his eyes for a moment.

Finally I saw the tension just ease out of him, in a wave. He sagged back against his pillows again, his hand falling to his lap. He opened up his eyes again, met mine. Set his jaw.

"Jim... I believe you. I can see it, in your thoughts." He took a deep breath. "I do not understand, how... But you have been truthful." And then he did reach out, and take my hand again, his fingers hot and dry against my own. I could see beads of sweat glistening on his face; his fever was rising again. "You ask me... what it is like. Jim -- I do not know, not really. I cannot remember much... of the last few days. I know... there is hunger. Need. I know that I fought very hard, to escape. I wanted... to go to you. I Burned...

"I know that we are said to be..." and he blushed again, "...insatiable, during the Time. I know that by the end of it, both partners are exhausted. Sometimes ill. We cannot eat; it is all we can do, even to drink what we need to survive. We cannot speak; in the plak-tow, we are as animals. Mindless... These things... they teach us, as children.

"But after that, it is not spoken of! No-one discusses it. Each of us, as we age, comes to the first pon farr unknowing. Afraid. So it is; so it has always been. It is the Vulcan Way."

His eyes flickered, and all of a sudden I could feel how tired he was, how hard he was working to stay awake, to finish this. He sighed. "I do not know... what will happen. I still fear, that you will be hurt. But I will tell you this. I will not leave, again. If you... wish it -- I will stay." And he gripped my hands tightly for a moment, before sagging back against the pillows and letting go.

I put my hand on his shoulder, feeling the heat in him, the illness that he still hadn't defeated. His skin was damp with sweat -- but the look on his face was one of satisfaction. He'd finally said it, all of it. I knew. I felt the same way, probably looked the same, too. "Spock -- that's all we need, for now. That's what I hoped you were going to say. Anything else -- we can wait. See how it goes. See how both of us feel, once you're better." I smiled at him, and saw that look again, that smile that isn't a smile, on his face. "I think I'd better let you rest for a while, though, or McCoy's liable to have me keel-hauled for harrassing his patients."

He nodded, one corner of his mouth quirking up, just the slightest bit. "Indeed," he whispered. "The good doctor... is a most formidable opponent." And then he laid down the rest of the way, and let me cover him up again. And I sat there with him, just touching his shoulder, while his eyes drifted closed, and he fell asleep again. It only took a minute or two; he was still exhausted.

I sat there quietly and watched him sleep for a while, until I was satisfied that he was resting comfortably. Then I got up and went back to my chores. I filled up the woodbox again, went out and chopped more kindling. Took what was left of the clothes he'd been wearing, and burned them in the stove -- they weren't worth keeping. We got him into a Sickbay jumpsuit yesterday, after we cleaned him up.

I got the fire stoked up, because the sun was getting lower, and I knew we needed to keep him warm. Put some water on, for more coffee, and so I could bathe, myself -- at least a sponge bath. Now that the cabin was clean, I felt grimy and sore.

All that time, he slept quietly. I cooked myself some lunch and devoured it. It felt weird, to be hungry again. Weird -- but good. I did the dishes, and he still slept. It wasn't until just before sunset that he woke up again.

But the second time he woke up, he didn't know where he was or who I was, at first. He was hot, again, like he'd been when I first found him. It took him several moments to focus his eyes, and then I saw that he knew me. He managed to say my name, but that was about all he had the strength for. I just gave him a drink of water, and sat with him, and pretty soon he drifted off to sleep again.

I've got my communicator out, and I'm just about to call Bones, when I hear the hum of the transporter outside, and see him come in through the door. "Hey, Jim." He looks around. "Well, well -- you've been busy." He sniffs the air. "That's a lot better."

I duck my head. "Yeah, well -- I had to do something. Just don't go telling the crew that I'm down here swabbing the decks, OK? Bad for discipline..."

He laughs. "You're not kidding." He puts down his kit, and the bag of supplies he'd brought with him. Air mattress, bedroll -- looks like Bones is settling in. I give him my best imitation of the infamous Raised Eyebrow, and he snickers. "Don't quit your day job, Jim..."

"Don't worry, Bones, I wasn't planning on it." He's busy for a moment, scanning his patient, frowning at the readouts. I wait for him to finish, then ask, "Now, give -- what's the news? What did your tests show?"

He's busy; doesn't answer at first. He gives Spock three different injections, one after another. Then he puts something into the IV. He puts a couple of skin patches on Spock's arm, once he finds an unbruised spot for them.

None of this wakes him up; he's out like a light. Bones pulls the blankets back up around him again. Only then does he sit back, and look at me. "Oh, it's what I thought. It's the infection. It started in that ankle; now it's spread into his bloodstream, because he's so weak. The antibiotic alone isn't strong enough. I think he'll be all right, but it's probably going to be a long night. I've tailored a specific antibody for him; that's what was in that first shot. I've put more in the IV reservoir, and I gave him some immune system boosters, as well as an anti-seizure drug, just in case. And his lungs are still clear. That's a good sign." He shrugs. "This is Spock, after all. He's pretty damned tough, or we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation."

I frown. "What do you mean, it's going to be a long night?"

"I mean, it'll probably be tomorrow morning before the fever really breaks. He's going to be pretty hot and miserable, tonight. Figured I'd better stay here; we can take turns getting up. I don't want to give him sedatives or painkillers if we can keep him comfortable without them. He's still pretty weak, and he needs what strength he has to fight this thing."

I nod, thinking it over. Makes sense. I grab my communicator. "Guess I'd better go check in with Scotty, while it's quiet. Back in a while." Bones just grunts; he's already busy changing dressings, working on Spock's ankle some more, cleaning the wound again.

That's Bones...

..............................

While Bones was eating his own dinner, I brought him up to date. I didn't tell him everything Spock and I talked about -- just that he'd been lucid for a while, we'd had a chance to sort things out, and that he'd promised he wouldn't take off like that again.

"Good," he'd said, nodding emphatically. "That was a damn-fool stunt to pull, even for Spock." I just let it slide. I understand, now, I think, why he did what he did -- but it isn't exactly something I'm comfortable talking to Bones about. Not yet.

First Spock has to make it through this. Get his strength back. Let his leg heal up the rest of the way. Then we have to figure out, he and I, where we want to go from here. Then we can worry about explaining things to Bones -- by which time, if I know my CMO, he'll have figured it out for himself, anyway.

Hey, I can dream, can't I? I hate explaining things. Especially things like this...

It's late, now. Bones and I are sitting and playing poker. I had Scotty beam us down a spare piece of wall panel. Add three chunks of firewood, and you have an instant card table. Spock's asleep right now, breathing quietly. Just his nose and the top of his head sticking out of the blankets -- like I used to do, when I was a kid.

He's been awake, on and off. Sometimes he knows us, and responds appropriately. Other times it's like he's a thousand kloms away, his eyes glazed and blank, the sweat pouring off him. Sometimes he sleeps quietly; other times he tosses and turns, haunted by pain, or nightmares... We've been taking turns wiping him down, helping him drink. The IV helps, too. So far, so good. Bones says his readings are looking better. I can't tell, but I'll take his word for it.

A couple of hours ago we helped him outside for the first time; he finally got tanked up. That was... interesting. He couldn't put any weight on that leg, so it was one of us under each of his shoulders -- human crutches, basically. The damned IV bag was clipped to Bones' waist, and it kept getting in the way. We had to help him do everything; it was during one of his feverish spells. Spock himself was too far gone to be embarrassed -- I'm not sure he even realized we were there. But I sure was... It's funny -- it's nothing we haven't done before. All three of us have nursed each other, god knows how many times, on various different landing parties. Hell, we've got it easy, this time. We're warm enough, well-fed, and dry, and nobody's shooting at us. But my face was flaming, just the same, and I found myself very glad that there's no moon, here. I do not feel like satisfying a certain doctor's medical curiousity right now.

Some other time, maybe, but not now. I'm still figuring all this out, myself.

For now Spock's sleeping peacefully. He's wrapped up tight, despite the warmth in here -- but then, I'm not sure if it feels all that warm, to him. I remember; when we beamed down to Koon-ut-Kalifee, the heat was incredible. It was like standing inside a furnace. Thinking about that, I get up and fill the stove again. Then I catch Bones' eye. "Your deal, Sawbones."

He grins and shuffles the cards. He's pretty damn quick, too -- he shuffles them the way the dealers do, on Risa. Surgeon's hands; a man of many talents, my CMO...

As we play, I can see him watching me, when he thinks I'm not looking. Bones doesn't miss much. He sees more than most people think he does; it's just that he's quiet about it. He doesn't let on to what he knows, most of the time.

I don't mind. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have here, right now.

A couple more hours go by, and he yawns. "You gettin' sleepy yet, Jim?"

"No. Go ahead -- I'll wake you up in a while."

"Mind you do, now. Won't do anyone any good if you crash and burn, later."

I just nod. "Don't worry. No playing "super-Captain" tonight. I promise."

He's already got his bedroll laid out and his mattress inflated. "I'll hold you to that." And he lays down and covers up, and pretty soon he's snoring up a storm. Doesn't bother me. I'm tired, yes -- but I'm wired, too. It's going to be a while yet, before I can sleep.

I go outside and stand on the porch for a while, looking up at the stars. My ship's up there somewhere, in orbit. I can't see her right now, but I know she's there. And although I'm not familiar with this sky, it's a beautiful one. There's a big, gauzy, iridescent nebula just above the western horizon. It's about as big across as my hand at arm's-length. I just stand out there and enjoy it, savouring the quiet, the clean sharp smell of the wind, all the colours of the night sky.

When I look into my thoughts, I realize that I can feel Spock there. He's very quiet -- but I know he's there. It's funny. I never realized how aware I am of that, of him, until it was gone. And then it was like having a hole in my head. Took the wind right out of my sails...

I can't pinpoint the moment when I realized he was there again. Sometime during our conversation this afternoon, I think -- but I didn't notice at the time. Just, a little while ago, that I felt right again, as I hadn't for the past few days.

Hmm... Time to go back in, I think. Feels like Spock's woken up.

He looks up as I come through the door. He's sitting up a bit, leaning on his pillows -- and his eyes are clear. He really is awake, this time.

I step around Bones, and sit down on the edge of the bunk. The doctor goes right on snoring. I point my thumb towards him, and say, "Interesting sound effects, eh?"

"Indeed..." Spock's voice is a little stronger now, not quite as hoarse.

"You thirsty?"

"Not at the moment, Jim."

I reach over to check his temperature. He's still hotter than he should be, but nowhere near as hot as he was this afternoon. How about that -- Bones thought it would take till morning for the medicines to start working. Hard to kill, these Vulcans.

"Spock -- how do you feel?"

He thinks about it for a minute or two. "Better." There's that not-a-smile again. "Perhaps..." he muses, "I have given the doctor insufficient credit, in the past."

"That, or else you're just too damned stubborn to kill. That's where I'd put my money."

One eyebrow goes up, but he doesn't comment on that. Spock knows how to quit when he's ahead. Neither one of us says anything for a while. Bones goes on snoring, and the woodstove crackles and pops in the background. I can tell that we both want to talk, but neither of us knows what to say...

Finally I give it a shot. "Spock, I wanted to tell you -- I meant what I said, this afternoon. When I was outside just now, thinking, I realized that I can feel you in my mind again, the way I could before. And I realized what hadn't felt right, when you were so ill, when I thought you had died. That's what was wrong. I couldn't feel you anymore. That's why nothing really seemed to matter, for a while."

I take a deep breath, and turn, and meet his eyes. "Is that... is that what the Bond is like?"

He looks thoughtful. Finally he cocks his head, trying to formulate his answer. "That is part of it, yes. You must understand, Jim -- in some ways, I know little more than you do. Although I was Bonded at the age of seven, I was never conscious of it, until the Fever came...

"I can tell you this. Your presence in my thoughts is much clearer than T'Pring's ever was. I know you. I did not know her. She did not wish to have anything to do with me, and by custom, she did not have to.

"I find it most interesting that you felt my absence. As a non-telepath, logically, you should not have been aware of such a thing." He looks away for a moment. Makes himself look back at me. "What a human might call folk wisdom, on Vulcan, says that this awareness of yours indicates we already have a strong bond." He falls silent again. I wait. I can feel that there's more he wants to say.

He turns a little, to face me more directly. "Jim -- are you sure that this is what you want? At this stage, a Healer could break the link between us, freeing you -- if you wish it."

I can't help the little shiver those words send down my back. "No. I don't want it broken. Do you? Maybe I should be asking you that..."

He shakes his head. "No. I do not. But... I admit to a certain disquiet. I do not know how it will be. I do not know if this will interfere with our duty to the ship, to the Fleet." Now he looks embarrassed again. "There is much I should know, that I do not. When the Fever returned, so soon after the Kalifee, I was taken by surprise. It was only then that I began to research this."

I shift a little, getting more comfortable. On the floor near the stove, Bones is still doing his imitation of a old-time diesel engine in need of a tune-up. I look back at Spock. "Well," I say, keeping my voice low, "what do you know? Maybe we should start with that."

He nods. "I know, now, that the Fever -- the pon farr -- is sometimes aborted by the stress of combat. It is rare, but it does happen. In such a case, it always returns, after three or at most four tendays. Regardless of how many times one diverts it, it will keep returning until the person affected either mates, or dies. And there is a limit to how many times the body can survive such a cycle."

"OK. That makes sense. But what about now? You didn't fight anyone, this time. You just -- survived it."

He spreads his fingers in the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug. "I do not know, Jim. I have not heard of such a thing ever happening. Among the Kohlinahru Masters, it is said that some do not suffer the pon farr. But they do not Burn, as I did. Their disciplines permit them to simply avoid it altogether.

"It may return quite soon -- I think that this is most likely. There are certain changes in the body chemistry after the Fever passes, which have not occurred, since I was -- alone." Once more the green is creeping over that lean face. I can sympathize -- I'm embarrassed as hell, and I didn't grow up with half the taboos that Spock did.

He looks up at me again. "It is also possible that I have "re-set", as it were; that the cycle will begin anew, that it will be years before I Burn again. But I do not think it likely."

He's starting to sound more tentative again, like he can't really believe I won't just take off and leave him... And then I remember something I saw the Lady Amanda do, whenever Sarek appeared disturbed or uncomfortable. I lean forward and hold up my hand, with the first two fingers extended and all the rest folded. "Hey," I say, "I meant it, Spock. I'm not going away."

Those black eyes go wide, startled. And then he lifts his own hand in the same gesture. Lets his fingers touch mine. Holds them there like that. Not moving; just... touching.

So warm, my friend's skin. Not the terrible heat of yesterday, though. This is more like a banked fire, or the warmth of sunlight. We sit like that for a while, and I realize that I can feel him even more clearly, while he's touching me . So I listen...

He's as mixed-up inside as I am. I can feel relief, and hope, and the comfort and steadiness that we've always felt around each other. I can feel uncertainty, a little fear. Embarrassment -- and something like hunger, a wanting that he doesn't really know how to deal with.

Spock's Vulcan. Up until the Fever first hit him, he'd never had to deal with that particular need. Vulcans start their childhood training when they're very young. By the time they get to the age where we humans start waking up all sticky and embarrassed, the disciplines and controls are already in place.

He's no more ready for it now than he was five tendays ago, when all this began.

All this I see, although not in so many words. It's more of a flash; suddenly I just know these things. And then I wonder -- what does he see, in my thoughts?

I open my eyes -- I hadn't realized that I'd closed them -- and I look at him.

The look on his face can only be described as a smile. A small one, subtle and unobtrusive -- but a smile nonetheless.

"I see..." He shrugs. He doesn't have the words for it. Then he lifts his other hand and touches the side of my face -- and now I can see it too.

Warmth. Warmth, and brightness, strong enough to chase his shadows away. My own need for him; how hard I fought to hide it, all these years. How it felt, when I thought that he was dead -- it was so sharp... I've let myself begin to forget. But Spock is a telepath, and he sees it as it was. And I see it with him. It's all mixed in with his regret, for having caused me so much pain. So I show him that it doesn't matter. It's past now. Let it go, my friend, as I already have.

I can feel his surprise, as he realizes how closely our feelings mirror one another. And then a wave of dizziness passes through both of us. I can feel him telling me that we need to break off. I blink, and let my hands fall to my lap. Spock does the same, and slumps back against his pillows. He's paler than he was before, but more at ease, now. As am I. And although he isn't physically touching me any more, my awareness of his thoughts in mine is as strong as ever.

I reach to touch his face for just one more moment -- good. His temperature is almost back to what's normal for him. One eyebrow lifts up. "Do I... pass inspection?" he asks.

I grin. "You'll do."

And this time there's nothing understated about his smile. "T'hy'la," he says, very quietly.

There's so much more I want to ask him -- what that word really means, how will it be between us, when we get back to the ship... But I don't need to know those things, right now. We have time. The meld has left both of us pleasantly lethargic, more than a little sleepy. It's left me something else, as well -- but that's nothing new. Always ready to rise to the occasion, that's me. Good thing I'm wearing jeans, and not those damn tight uniform pants. I try to stifle a yawn, without success.

"Guess I'd better wake Bones up, Spock. He made me promise. And if I don't lay down and get some sleep, I think I'm going to fall over right here."

"The doctor would no doubt disapprove, Jim. I must admit to a certain tiredness, myself. Perhaps we should rest, for the moment."

I reach for his hand, one more time, the two fingers. We touch, for just a moment. Then he slides back down under his blankets, and I go to wake up Bones, so I can commandeer his air mattress. And I feel at peace, as I haven't in a very long time.

...............................

It is good to be home.

I sit here at my desk, my room lit only by the Watcher's Fire. My leg is up on a chair, as I promised McCoy I would do. It is almost healed now, but the new flesh is still tender and soft. A condition of my release from Sickbay was my promise to keep off it for a few days. I have agreed to this. I am fortunate that the damage was not worse, that I did not lose my foot.

I am fortunate to be alive at all, if the truth be known.

I had not thought to ever see this room again. I have often said that this is my home, and now I know this to be true. It is my home, more so than Earth or Vulcan could ever be. This ship is where I belong. It is that place in all of the universe where I can best be of service.

And Jim is here.

He was there beside me yesterday, when M'Benga brought me out of the healing trance. I could tell that he found the process alarming; it was not until I cleared my throat and said his name that the anxiety left his face.

He waited politely for M'Benga to leave, and then he held out his hand to me, in the gesture that bondmates use. I was surprised by the depth of my own feelings, as I returned the gesture, and found only welcome and relief in his thoughts.

He learned that from watching my mother, he says.

I thought that I knew this man, but there are depths to this one not readily apparent. He knows less than I do, of what will come -- and I am woefully ignorant. Yet he has set himself to stand with me, come what may.

Two tendays ago I contemplated what I thought was the inevitable end of my life.

Now, it seems, I stand at the beginning of that life. And for the first time, I do not stand alone.

Much remains unsaid, yet. Today I began the research we need, to correct the ignorance in which I permitted myself to live for so long. I honestly do not know how it will be, when the Fever returns -- though at least I know, now, that it will. M'Benga was able to confirm that much for me. He was as surprised as I to find that I had survived it, alone and untended. He, also, has never heard of such a thing. Leonard spoke wistfully of what a paper this would make, for JFMA. But I know he will not write it.

All that I really know is this: that I will not be alone, this time.

In the end, that is all that I need to know.


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