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Dr. Leonard McCoy slept fitfully. The nightmare returned as it had for weeks. Always the same, always horrifying… always leaving him screaming at its end.

The dream itself wasn’t so bad as to cause such agonized terror or wouldn’t be to anyone who didn’t carry the tonnage of guilt McCoy did. The dream always began blank: stretches upon endless stretches of whiteness, blank whiteness. Then the face would come… the once and forever dear face of the friend he’d never been able to really claim, and now never could. The stark blue-black hair; the canted eyebrows; wise countenance; the delicately pointed ears… and the eyes which once had held such depths, depths that they did not even know they contained. Those eyes which would never be able to cast a quizzical, almost amused glance at any human again, and especially would not be able to behold the dearest face in the galaxy to them; that of James T. Kirk. Or anyone else.

Commander Spock was blind. Suddenly, unnecessarily, totally blind. And it was all McCoy’s fault. Or so he’d been trying not to tell himself since it happened. Kirk had told him the same thing repeatedly: it was not his fault. Even Spock had not blamed him.

But the dreams returned each night and he awoke screaming into his pillow. If he was lucky.

*****

It was said aboard the Enterprise that he was rapidly going insane from guilt in some very odd way. The ship’s grapevine had not taken long to spread the story of how McCoy had extracted the parasite creature from Spock’s nervous system by exposing him to white, blinding light when it was only the ultraviolet which had been needed to kill the creatures.

The creatures had already killed billions of life forms throughout the galaxy when the Enterprise encountered them; they couldn’t be allowed to go any farther… Spock had volunteered to be the guinea pig after he was infected by the creatures. It was only logical for him to be the one to test the solution. But it had gone wrong. If only they’d waited for the results from the first part of the test… But they were pressed for time. If only… If…

It had become McCoy’s shadow: ‘if’, always ‘if’ this, ‘if’ that. And the dream. In the dreams he saw Spock’s face emerge from the whiteness, his face the same as ever except for the eyes. It varied but it was always the same: Spock’s eyes were gone. Where they had been were empty sockets of black nothingness, or they would be grotesquely hanging on his cheeks; or in their place would be small but effective surgical knives. The variations were, unfortunately, limitless.

And it wouldn’t stop and he couldn’t tell anyone, not even Kirk. Especially not Kirk – and the pressure was becoming unbearable. McCoy wasn’t sure which was worse; the reality of the silent figure who now haunted sickbay, sitting at the computer console, visual off, listening to the computerized voice read everything the library contained on ancient techniques of reading for the blind called Braille; or the memory of Kirk’s face when Spock had calmly declared, "I am also quite blind." If only Spock would get angry, blame McCoy, blame anyone, have some reaction to his sudden helplessness. But he just wouldn’t react, except to unquestioningly accept the fact that he was blind and would have to leave the service. McCoy could only guess what that was doing to him. Starfleet had been all he’d known, the only place he felt somewhat at home.

And Kirk. McCoy knew what the loss of Kirk would do to the Vulcan, and what the loss of the Vulcan would do to Kirk, perhaps better than either of them knew themselves. He tried desperately not to think about it.

"Dr. McCoy."

He thought he was being called but it wasn’t Spock’s voice, it wasn’t the voice of dreams.

"Dr. McCoy!"

He opened his eyes and blinked through the collected moisture. After a moment he recognized the voice of his Yeoman.

"I’m sorry, Doctor, but you were dreaming again."

"Tell me about it," McCoy grumbled, sitting up stiffly.

"Are you all right?" Yeoman Dawn Arnett looked at the ragged face with deep concern. It was no secret to McCoy – or anyone else aboard the Enterprise – that Yeoman Arnett had a severe attachment to the doctor. Some would say she was in love with him. And what was wrong with that? McCoy wanted to know. She was the only one who didn’t look at him as though he was fond of plucking wings off butterflies.

"I’ll be all right, Dawn." He looked gratefully into the young, eager face. "I’ll be all right."

She turned to lay out his uniform for the day, then went to get his breakfast. He couldn’t bring himself to eat with everyone else anymore; they looked at him so oddly. They said it wasn’t his fault, but their eyes spoke other words, everyone’s but Spock’s.

*****

McCoy slowly made his way to Sickbay, avoiding looking at anything but the deck in front of him. It wasn’t even a refuge anymore; Sickbay had become his own whipping post. But it was his job. His job? To do what? Blind brilliant men? Steal the rest of their lives from them? Take away all they ever had, ever wanted, cared for?

But that line of thought got him nowhere but to Hell. And he’d had enough of that for a while. At least he could try to keep the daytime free of nightmares.

"Nurse?"

"It’s me, Spock."

"Good morning, Doctor."

"Yeah."

"I sense we are as cheerful as ever. Is there something disturbing you?"

McCoy looked at the staring figure and wished he felt like entering into the banter Spock was attempting to start.

"No." He went to stand by the Vulcan. "There’s nothing wrong with me, Spock."

"I do not quite believe you, Doctor. But I realized I am the last person to whom you would confide any personal, emotional difficulty."

"There I believe you are wrong, or might once have been," McCoy observed solemnly, then turned and left. Spock heard the door to the doctor’s office shut and lifted but not before he saw Spock lift a reflexive eyebrow.

*****

"It is my choice, Captain."

"But, Spock, there’s so much you can still do."

"We both know I would prefer to continue my life as it has been for the past fifteen years." Spock’s voice dropped to a near whisper. " I choose to attempt to regain what I have lost, Jim."

James Kirk looked helplessly at the resolute figure in the chair before him. Only he knew what the Vulcan really felt about his loss, perhaps he only knew part of it, perhaps even Spock didn’t really know what the loss meant to him. But Kirk knew he would give anything to undo the damage done his friend, knew he’d take any chance, risk anything…

"I know, Spock." Kirk gazed into the eyes that no longer saw him.

"Jim, do not be frightened for me. You would choose the same if you were in my place."

"Yes, I think I would, but I am frightened and will remain so," he began to reach out but stopped, unsure, "until you are well again."

Kirk saw the sharp lines of the Vulcan’s face tighten, felt the link between them pull itself a few strands closer and entwine stiffly around the heart that professed not to feel. Spock reached one long-fingered hand toward the dear voice and Kirk gratefully clutched it.

"I don’t want you to go."

"Jim, I’ll be back."

There was a long silence before Kirk cleared his throat and spoke. "Bones wants to go with you. He needs to go with you, but will only go if you agree." Kirk silently prayed that Spock would want McCoy to accompany him. Otherwise, Kirk was sure that it would be the end of the doctor’s sanity.

"He would do this for me?" Spock asked, somewhat surprised.

"And himself, yes."

"Himself. Then I was not wrong in my perception that he is disturbed?"

"No, you were quite right."

"He blames himself for my blindness." Spock shook his head in wonder. "I always suspected he had a latent martyr within him."

"Will you take him with you?" Kirk asked tightly.

"I would be most honored to have you accompany me, Doctor," Spock said without turning towards the door.

"And I thought you were hard to live with when you could see!" McCoy said from his supposedly undetectable place in the doorway. "How do you do that?"

"It may be rather unflattering at times, Doctor, but each individual has his or her own distinct scent…"

"Oh, brother!" McCoy sighed. "But thanks for letting me come along, Spock. It means a lot to me." McCoy’s voice cracked and drew Kirk’s instant attention.

"You are a capable physician for a human. I will need the assistance of someone. I see no need to attempt to locate another at this time," Spock said, attempting to depersonalize the situation and failing badly.

"Well, gentlemen," Kirk said, "we arrive in Earth orbit in less than a day." He knelt beside the Vulcan, taking his hand again. "I’d very much like to come down to the hospital with you, Spock, see that you’re all right."
"That would be…" Spock almost said ‘illogical’ then thought better of it. "Yes, I would appreciate that, Captain."

Kirk turned to McCoy. "Bones," he rasped, "take care of him." With that, the captain of the Enterprise left Sickbay to oversee the duties that awaited him on the bridge... a bridge that would not feel like home again until his Vulcan returned to him, if he ever did.

*****

The hospital at the Starfleet Terran Headquarters, San Francisco, was the most advanced facility of its kind in the quadrant. It boasted one of the most prestigious staffs anywhere in the galaxy. Included in the teaching staff of the hospital’s School of Intergalactic Medicine was one Dr. Ket Muaru. Dr. Muaru was a pioneer in the field of artificial optics and was responsible for most modern techniques used in optical surgery.

McCoy had contacted Muaru when the accident had first happened. He had given her all the details of Spock’s condition and she had not been encouraging, but she hadn’t exactly been discouraging either.

*****

Kirk sat in his first officer’s quarters watching him feel his way back and forth from the closet to his bed. He seemed small and vulnerable and, somehow, helpless in more ways than one. There was so much Kirk wanted to say, so much he felt. But Spock’s manner precluded any personal contact. In an attempt to touch his friend in some way, Kirk offered to help, but Spock had insisted he could manage on his own.

He also insisted he could climb the two steps up to the transporter platform later when they prepared to beam down to the hospital. He stumbled and finally allowed assistance. Kirk had headed off anyone saying good-by, knowing Spock could not have survived any farewells with his faltering dignity intact. So when it came time for them to leave there was only Kirk, who stood firmly at Spock’s side, in the transporter room, with McCoy at his right and Commander Scott at the transporter controls. Each face was white and drawn, every eye, every seeing eye, was slightly red from strain and grief.

"Mr. Spock. Doctor," Scotty nearly choked. "Ah, may the lords preserve ye, lads." He nodded to Kirk with weary eye.

"Energize," Kirk said crisply.

Scotty watched as the three familiar forms shattered into sparkles and thought sadly, That’s likely to be the last time those three do that together. Then he repeated aloud, "May the lords protect and preserve you."

*****

"As I told Dr. McCoy when he first contacted me, there is little chance of totally repairing the eyes." Mr. Muaru looked directly at Kirk as she spoke. She was a rather plain woman in her late thirties with a manner of speaking which assured both confidence and pride, and hinted at a truly honest and caring woman beneath the firm outer shell.

"This new process I propose to try is risky at best," she was saying. "We have had partial success in over half our cases; unfortunately we’ve only had a dozen cases. The statistics are not encouraging."

"They are acceptable to me," Spock said,

"I can understand your desire to try, Commander. But I am obliged to inform you of the stakes. If we are successful, you have every chance of regaining partial eyesight; those chances, as I’ve said, are slim. The other possibilities are numerous, but the two most probable are partial sight, which could be anything from seeing mere shadows or outlines, perhaps some color; or you may lose the eyes themselves." She looked at McCoy now. "What I mean is that we may have to remove the eyes and perhaps more, depending on the extent of damage."

McCoy flinched. The dreams…

Spock said steadily, "What do you mean by ‘more’?"

"We had one case that required extensive tissue removal because of the process."

Kirk felt himself go pale.

"I see." Spock flicked a slight smile at his choice of words.

"Spock." Kirk leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder. "You can still change your mind, come with us, we’ll take you home…" His voice sounded pitifully desperate to his own ears.

"I do wish to return ‘home’, Jim. That is why I choose to stay here. It was put to me clearly by Nurse Chapel; she pointed out that the Enterprise is my only home, as it is yours, the doctor’s, hers. Yes, I wish to return home; to the Enterprise."

"I might strangle that woman when I see her," McCoy mumbled.

"I would heartily suggest you refrain from that, Doctor. For you will have me to answer to, sightless or not."

Kirk smiled at McCoy, whose mouth was hanging open at the unexpected power in Spock’s threat.

"Dr. Muaru," Spock said, returning his attention to the matter at hand. "How soon may we begin?"

"There must be preliminary work of course, which we can start right away – and I haven’t tried this process on a Vulcan before. I would have to do some testing to assure your relative safety... I would say the actual process can begin in four to six weeks if everything checks out."

"That long?" McCoy cried.

"I’m afraid so, Doctor," Muaru said. "And the process, as you know, is quite extensive; it takes a long time.

"That’s why I want to begin as soon as we can!" McCoy insisted.

Muaru nodded understandingly. "We can be none too careful, Doctor. As you know, the process is basically a series of alterations and insertions of transplant sections to replace the damaged tissue. Depending on the extent of damage – which I suspect is quite extensive in your case, Commander – it can take up to three years."

"What?!" Kirk gasped, turning a pleading, ineffectual eye on Spock.

"Jim…" Spock reached out a hand to him and Kirk took it. "I knew this before I approached you or Dr. McCoy with this action."

Muaru continued, focusing on Kirk. "The reason the process is so lengthy is that we must allow each incision to heal fully before the next implant can be attempted. What is so risky about this is that so much scar tissue builds up that it can overrun what healthy tissue is left or any of the new implants at any time… so I apply chemical packing to the eye to retard the infiltration. It is quite unattractive and I’m told highly uncomfortable, but I have had the best results with this method out of many I’ve tried." She looked from one strained face to the next. "Are there any questions?" A pregnant silence fell over them. "Then I suggest we allow Commander Spock to become acquainted with our facilities… and, Dr. McCoy, I’ll show you your quarters when you’re ready. I’ll wait outside." Tactfully, she left.

"I’ll wait outside, too, Jim," McCoy said to Kirk, who answered him with a grateful smile.

"Jim?"

"I’m here."

"I will be fine." Spock titled his head in affectionate amusement.

"Logic, Mr. Spock, or wishful thinking?" Kirk asked bitterly.

"Optimism."

"Emotion?"

"I think I am permitted, under the circumstances."

"You always are… with me."
"I know. And I thank you."

"If you need me, Spock, I’ll come… from wherever I am."

"And you… mind yourself for me."

"I’ll also be fine, Spock." Kirk squeezed the slim hand he still held.

"Yes. I think you will be with the assistance of…"

Kirk cut him off, releasing his grasp. "There’s no one aboard now, Spock, who I can turn to like I can to you or Bones."

"There is Commander Scott and Chapel. I assume she will be made temporary Chief Surgeon?"

"Yes. I’ve always valued her opinions." Kirk reflected that Spock was overly concerned about Nurse Chapel but that was not important now. Now he had to say goodbye to his closest friend… for God knew how long.

"Captain." Spock stood.

"Mr. Spock."

Spock raised a tentative hand to Kirk’s face. "May I?"

"Always…"

It was a light link but it hung heavy with sadness from both sides. A grey film shrouded their thoughts as their minds touched:

You are unlike any other.

Spock.

I will keep you in my thoughts. Safe.

And I you.

Goodbye for now, Jim, L’reth.

L’reth? Kirk’s mind questioned.

That which fulfills. Jim…

Spock felt a tightness in his chest… in both their chests as Kirk’s thoughts quickly cut him off.

Goodbye, Spock, my friend. If only I could take your pain with me.

Spock’s mind resounded from the bottomless compassion in Kirk’s thoughts. He swallowed hard before thinking, Go now, please. And be well.

Spock removed his hand from Kirk’s face and lifted his left in a Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, my friend."

Kirk mirrored the salute and gently rested that hand on Spock’s cheek so he could feel it. "Live long and prosper, Spock…" and Spock heard and felt the presence that was his captain leave the room. He sat down to collect his melted composure.

*****

McCoy watched as Kirk quietly shut the door behind him, thinking the captain looked as if he himself were on his way to the firing squad.

"Jim?"

Kirk waved away McCoy’s offered hand. "I’ll be all right, Bones."

"You could use some rest."

"That’s not your concern anymore." He looked at McCoy sadly, attempting to cool the sting in his words. "At least not for a while."

"We’ll both be back before you know it," McCoy said half-heartedly. "Well, Jim, I guess you should be on your way."

"Bones…"

"No. Please, just say good-bye, then go take care of my people for me." He smiled that wry smile of his, attempting to cover his pain, and failing.

"All right, Bones." Kirk embraced him momentarily and said, "Take care of yourself… and him." He stepped back and reached for his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."

"Uhura here, sir."

"One to beam up, Lieutenant." As he dissolved into the familiar sparkle, Kirk thought he saw McCoy rub roughly at his eyes.

*****

"Come in, Dr. McCoy," Spock called through the door.

McCoy entered. "How can you do that? Don’t tell me you can smell through doors."

"Certainly not, Doctor. You have a particular way of knocking… as does Dr. Muaru."

"Of course." McCoy tried to keep his tone light although he had never felt less in the mood for banter. He knew he was pushing himself and that it was showing in his manner.

Rarely would he allow anyone but himself to assist Spock. It was he who had spent five straight days with him when they’d first arrived, acquainting Spock with his suite and ushering him around the grounds of the hospital and to his test. No orderly would do when McCoy could do it himself. Of course, Spock had complained, or rather, observed, that the good doctor was wearing himself out and that anyone else would be fine to assist him. But he realized McCoy needed to help… to alleviate his guilt, so he didn’t insist too firmly.

"Come on, time to go," McCoy reached for Spock’s arm. Spock rose, reversed the grip automatically.

"Where, may I inquire, are we going?"

"Just for a walk… you have the day off."

"Was this your idea?" Spock asked suspiciously.

"No. Ket had to leave the complex for the day and she suggested we do the same. I mean, that I take you to the park and let you stumble around there, get some fresh air, you know…"

Spock had stopped just feet from the door, resisting McCoy easily with his Vulcan strength.

"That does sound refreshing, Doctor. However..." He turned back into the room without finishing his thought.

"However," McCoy continued for him, "you are, dare I say it, embarrassed to be seen?!"

Spock sat in silence, tacitly acknowledging McCoy’s observation.

"You know that’s ridiculous, Spock. You of all people should know that you have nothing to be ashamed of, or anything to hide. Damn it, Spock! It’s illogical to behave this way!"

The Vulcan’s eyebrow shot up and he pouted in that unknowing way he had. "You think I’m being illogical?"

"Well… you are, you know," McCoy insisted.

Spock considered. "Yes. But I still would rather not…"

McCoy grabbed him again and pulled him to his feet. "Enough! I’m your doctor… Ket is your doctor… and we both prescribe fresh air. Now!"

"I suppose protest will do me no good?"

"No."

"Well, as Jim Kirk would most likely say: ‘One cannot fight city hall.’"

If Spock could have seen the bright smile that lit the tired features of his friend, it might have made his acquiescence less reluctant.

*****

They walked out of the hospital, Spock half a step behind McCoy, letting his hand rest in the crook of McCoy’s elbow as a guide. They moved slowly, it being Spock’s first time maneuvering outside familiar surroundings. First it had been the Enterprise he had to negotiate, an environment which he knew intimately inch by inch. Then the hospital had to be conquered with its now familiar corridors, rooms and labs. But now he had to face the ‘real’ world of people and moving objects and a wholly unstable, ever-changing environment. He felt panic rise but would not acknowledge it, on any level.

"Here," McCoy said after some time, "sit here for a while."

"Where are we?" Spock asked, allowing McCoy to ease him onto a bench.

"Golden Gate Park."

"Which way is the hospital?"

"Behind and to your left at about eight o’clock."

"Then ‘Fleet HQ is to our right, the bay in front of us."

"Um huh."

"Is it a pleasant day?"

"It’s a pleasant day."

"The sun’s out, you know that. There a few clouds in the sky."

"Do you miss it, Doctor?"

"What?"

"Earth. Do you miss it when you’re millions of miles away from it?"

McCoy thought for a while, watching the Vulcan for any sort of trap. "Yeah. Once in a while I miss it. But then I remember what was really like when I lived here and I guess I’m content to be away…"

"May I confess something to you?" Spock asked, facing the warm sun.

McCoy eyed him suspiciously. "You want to confess something to me? I guess so, as long as it’s nothing you’ll regret later."

"I have suspected that you and I are more alike than either of us would care to admit." He paused, waiting for an outburst from McCoy. When it didn’t come, he continued. "You belong among the stars as much as I do. It’s the only place you truly fit, feel at home, no matter how much you complain. It’s where your ‘family’ is, your life."

"In some way, I suppose you’re right," the doctor conceded.

"Then, why? Why give it up for me? I know we are… friends, despite what our relationship may seem, but to sacrifice your home, your life, friends, and perhaps even your career? I frankly do not understand."
McCoy cleared this throat, giving himself time to think. "Spock," he began carefully, "you are brilliant at what you know: science, your duties as first officer, you even make it pleasant for your subordinates to work under you. But you do not understand human emotion. And I can’t give you a crash course in it. Suffice to say that I have to do what I’m doing for my own reasons, and leave it at that."

McCoy stood up and walked away from Spock. "Damn that Vulcan anyway," he muttered to himself.

"Doctor?"

"Here."

"I did not intend offense. I only wished to understand."

"I know, Spock. It’s just that I don’t know how to explain."

"Then we are both confused," Spock said with a raised eyebrow and a tilt to his head.

"Yeah." This time Spock could hear the smile in McCoy’s voice and felt relieved to hear it.

He rose and faced McCoy. "I am ready to continue, Doctor."

"Sure, Spock. Sure."

*****

"Well?"

"Hmmm."

"What the hells that’s supposed to mean?"

"We all say it, it’s just harder to hear when it comes from another doctor’s mouth, Leonard." Ket Muaru was bent intently over some tissue samples from the last implant done on Spock. "He seems to be accepting all the implants just fine. No rejection at all." Despite her words, however, she looked worried.

"Well, that’s great!" McCoy said. "What’s wrong?"

"I’ve not seen complete acceptance before and I wonder why Spock won’t reject even one implant." She leaned back, thinking.

"You mean, you’d be happier if it wasn’t working?" McCoy asked incredulously.

"Of course not!" she snapped back at him. "Not only am I anxious for my technique to work – I know what an asset Mr. Spock is to Starfleet – but I’ve come to consider him a friend, a valued friend. How could you even think such a cruel thing?"

"I’m sorry, Ket. I’m tried…" McCoy shrugged apologetically.

"I’m sorry, too. I know the commander is more than a patient to you. Also more than a casual friend. And I know you feel responsible for his blindness."

McCoy looked at her wearily, too tired to fight anymore. "Not only do I feel responsible, I am responsible." He began to pace. "Oh, maybe anyone else would have done the same thing and Spock did make the choice to do it. Even Jim agreed. But I’m the one who threw the switch. I’m the one who has to live with the memory of my captain’s face full of accusation and hatred when he found out that Spock was blind. It lasted only a fraction of a second, but it was there, and it’s imprinted indelibly on my mind."

"He was in shock, Leonard, having a reaction as anyone would in such circumstances." She spoke softly, observing him intently. "You can’t blame him for that any more than you can blame yourself for the results of the experiment. You were under the pressure of battle conditions. No one could have done better. You solved an unbelievable problem – that solution saving uncounted millions of lives. Does one being’s blindness cancel all that out?"

"Yes!" McCoy said intensely. "One death to save a hundred isn’t justified. One man’s very life isn’t worth the millions saved, especially not this man’s life."

Seeing there was nothing she could say to change the way he felt, Muaru turned from the pale face and gazed fixedly into the microscope. Her mind was not on her work through; it was on the pain she could almost taste emanating from the brilliant man behind her.

*****

Spock sat patiently in the examining chair. He was used to these once-a-week sessions. For the past nineteen months he had sat just as he did now waiting for McCoy and Muaru to remove the painful packings from his eyes and he still could see nothing. Then they would operate further. But now, there were no more operations to be done. He hadn’t exactly given up hope, he’d just calculated the chances of his regaining even partial sight and the odds were not in his favor.

"Ready?" Muaru asked in her comfortingly soft voice.

"Of course."

"Can’t you at least be a little apprehensive, or excited for once?" McCoy teased, mostly to cover his own apprehensions and excitement.

"Doctor, do shut up and remove the bandages already," Spock shot back coolly.

"Now that’s more like it!"

"Both of you be still," Muaru commanded as she turned down the lights to a soft glow. "I’m taking off the outer wrapping, Spock. Now the smocking. And now, the packing. Keep them closed until I tell you to open your eyes." She looked at McCoy and offered a silent prayer to any random god who happened to be around. "Now."

Spock sat still.

"Spock, open your eyes."

Still nothing.

"What is it?" McCoy asked.

"I cannot…"

"Spock!"

"Doctor."

McCoy leaned down and put a hesitant hand over Spock’s. "Try. Just try." He thought for a moment. "Try for Jim."

Spock’s mouth drew tight. "Now even for him. Yet."

McCoy looked at Muaru helplessly.

"Spock," she said, "I’m your doctor, am I not?"

He didn’t answer.

"Spock!" You’re the only one to undergo this treatment with such positive results. I’m fairly certain that your sight will return, at least partially. Now, open your eyes!"

"I cannot."

Muaru straightened, hands on hips, glaring furiously at the Vulcan. "Dr. McCoy, perhaps you can talk some sense into him." She stormed from the room, hitting the door switch so hard that it dented.

*****

McCoy plopped down in a chair, running a weary hand over his face. "Well," he drawled, "you’ve done something few have ever done before; you’ve infuriated one of the most reasonable, calm women in the galaxy. You know, I believe I was right all along; you are noting but an egotistical child in Vulcan’s clothing…"

Spock drew in a weary breath.

McCoy softened. "I don’t know, Spock. It was your idea to try this and now, on the edge of certainty…"

That was it! he thought suddenly. For that certainty could go either way. If this failed, there really was no hope, no hope in the galaxy any more, only emptiness. But could there be more? The possibility of some other certainty… something he’d always denied but possibly would no longer be able to? Something to do with Jim and the vague uneasiness he’d sensed between his two friends recently? McCoy looked at the Vulcan with a new understanding and deep respect and an indefinable sense of sadness and solitude.

"Spock. You’re always the one to way ‘What one is one cannot change’… that one must accept what they are. Now is the time to try your words. One way or the other, you must go on, must keep fighting, working, living. Without those things, you’ll be lost. Don’t give up now, don’t stop being who you are, what you are. Eyes don’t make the Vulcan! Your brain is still there, your work can continue, if not in Starfleet, at the Science Academy on Vulcan or here on Terra. But this does not mean the end. And, if it does work, you can return to the Enterprise… and Spock, you won’t lose Jim, or me, either way."

Spock flinched slightly but his voice was dry and calm as the Vulcan desert. "Doctor… I did not know you were ‘up’ on Vulcan psychology."

"I boned up just for you."

"Hmmm… I have admitted many things to you over the past months, I know of no reason to stop now. I am apprehensive about finding my sight is lost to me forever. I also find that I am just as apprehensive about finding that it is not."

"I don’t understand."

"Neither do I, not at all. I only know what I… feel." The last word came out like some unspeakable foulness.

"Feeling isn’t so bad a thing, Spock. It’s human to feel and don’t tell me you’re Vulcan, I know what you are. You’re half human. I must say I’m not totally surprised at your behavior. You’ve been building up quite a load of feelings all your life; and deny it all you want, Jim has been picking away at your defenses for the past two years. You can only withstand so much pressure. And don’t even try to tell me you have no feelings to build pressure from! You have feelings, Spock, you just won’t acknowledge them."

Spock didn’t bother to deny the validity of McCoy’s words. "Whatever is true, and I cannot tell what is at the moment, I know I cannot open my eyes. I ask this of you, Doctor, as a friend: reapply the bandages for now. I need… time."

The plea struck McCoy so deeply he almost felt paralyzed. He considered for some time before answering. "Spock, I’m torn between pushing you and leaving you alone. You’ve called me friend – that word’s just taken on new meaning for me. I’ll leave you alone. For now. We’ll call it a vacation, a rest." He picked up fresh bandages and began applying them. "I’ll take care of explaining to Ket somehow. You know she’s counting on you to be her big success."

"I shall endeavor to do my part for her."

"That’s all I can ask, Spock. That’s all I can ask."

*****

Muaru stared out the window. "So you think if we leave him alone, he’ll take the first step on his own?"

"You’d think I’d know him well enough by now to be able to give you a definite yes or no, but I honestly don’t know. I suspect a storm brewing beneath all that calm; we saw a hint of it when he admitted he couldn’t open his eyes; or, rather, wouldn’t. I can’t recall ever hearing Spock use those words before under any circumstances: ‘I cannot’. There’s definitely a storm brewing."

*****

Spock stood icily still. Was he afraid? Fear: a stranger who’d been slyly rearing its head long before he lost his sight. He’d lose everything; Fleet, Enterprise, Jim. So why was he also so… frightened of success? What if this failed? Why this strange confusion?

He could no longer debate the matter with himself. He only had material to argue one side of the problem: the logic of it. He should be anxious, if anything, to find out the results of the extensive treatment. The emotional side he knew little about. But he had to face the fact, logically, that the reaction he was experiencing was indeed a highly emotional one. Illogically logical? His mind recoiled at the confusion.

He could go to McCoy. The doctor had been more than a physician, more than a fellow officer; he’d been an indispensable friend. But Spock had confided in McCoy all he was able to. Now he had to face himself by himself.

Slowly, with great force of will, Spock lifted one hand to the bandages which encapsulated his eyes in protective warmth. He loosened an end and pulled at it gently. In a few torturous moments the outer wrapping was discarded at his feet. He took a deep, nearly painful breath and said to himself: Think of Jim… Don’t let Jim down at least. He then began pulling at the smocking. Soon it too lay in a ragged heap at his feet.

With only the irritating packing to go, Spock sat down heavily and rested. He would know one way or the other momentarily… that is, if he didn’t decide to stop where he was.

Gently, as closely to Muaru’s soft technique as possible, Spock began removing the packing. He made certain the lights were off, the curtains drawn. He shut each eye in turn as the packing was painfully removed from the raw tissue.

All right, he said to himself, all right. Do this for your sanity, do it for McCoy and Muaru and do it for him. He cautiously opened his left eye.

He didn’t breathe, didn’t think, didn’t hope. The galaxy stopped turning for an instant.

And he saw… saw something, but he wasn’t sure, it was so vague, so dim. Or was he only wanting to see so badly that he thought he saw light?

He slammed his eyes shut. What if it was only this: dimness, shadow, vaguenesses?

Holding himself tightly within the now comforting darkness once again, Spock went to the door and made his way to McCoy’s quarters.

"Come," McCoy called.

"Doctor?"

"Here. What’ve you done?"

"Obviously, I have removed the bandages."

"Have you opened them?"

"Yes."

"And?"

"I am not certain. I seem to perceive dim shadows but it was very vague."

"I’ll get Muaru," McCoy called over his shoulder as he ran for the door.

*****

"What’s there, Spock? Tell us whatever it is, or whatever you think it is." Muaru spoke from behind a tube-like instrument that protruded from her eyes to Spock’s.

"Shadows."

"Shape? Color?"

"Dimly lit blotches on a background of nearly the same color."

"What color?"

"Grey."

"Black-grey? Blue-grey? Yellow-grey?"

Spock considered. "Black-grey."

Muaru glanced at McCoy from the corner of her eye as she removed the optical oscilloscope.

"Okay. We’ll go on to something else. Tell me if there is any change in what you see and, if so, what." She passed her hand in front of his face. He flinched.

"What?" she asked.

"I felt, not saw, your hand pass before me."

"Okay, relax." She turned on a bright light and shone it indirectly at his face.

Again, Spock flinched, blinked.

"Well?" McCoy asked impatiently.

"All right," Muaru murmured, non-commitedly. She tried different brightnesses, colors, types of light. But there was nothing except the slight perception of brightness. "Well, Commander, it is my opinion that we have failed and I can’t say why. I suspect you are seeing sensory ghosts, images created by your mind because it doesn’t accept the fact that it can’t see any longer. This is a fairly common phenomenon among amputees; they feel the missing limb even though it’s no longer there. You are quite blind… and will never be anything but, as far as I can tell. I can’t express how sorry I am, both for you and my process. Of course, the full strength of our facilities is at your disposal. I’m just so sorry."

She looked at McCoy and saw the tears running unashamedly down his cheeks.

Spock sat stiffly, staring, not speaking.

Finally he said quietly, "Thank you, Dr. Muaru. You have been more than kind. If you will excuse me, I am fatigued." He rose and headed for the door and ran straight into a wall. He stood there, disoriented, feeling his way toward the exit. McCoy was suddenly at his side, guiding him. Spock felt the odd tremor in the doctor’s being and wondered in passing what it was.

*****

Spock was silent. He would speak to no one. Not even to McCoy or Muaru. He sat in his quarters, becoming uncharacteristically disheveled and distant, much more detached than normal. He wouldn’t go anywhere. He wouldn’t eat.

McCoy though of classic depression due to traumatic loss, but knew better than that… didn’t he?

After a week, McCoy was worried. After two weeks he became deeply concerned. After a month the Vulcan began to reply when asked a direct question and McCoy thought he saw his chance to get through.

"Spock, may I ask you a straight-forward question?"

"You usually do…"

"…and get a straight-forward answer?"

"That depends."

"I’ll take my chances. Why could you remove the bandages in private but not in front of me or Ket?"

"Baiting me, Doctor?"

"Just answer, Spock, and quit trying to be cute; you’re not!"

"I don’t have an answer. I don’t know…" His voice was sludgy, weary, apathetic.

"May I presume to attempt an answer for you?"

Spock raised an eyebrow awkwardly, at least it seemed awkward from the odd angle he habitually held his head. It was disconcerting, as were the tears that flowed involuntarily from his eyes, but one became used to it, or tried to.

McCoy continued. "I think you were afraid, Spock. Not only of the results of the treatment, but of your reaction, your joy or disappointment, whichever the case called for. And you were afraid of the embarrassment of such an outburst. I don’t think you’ll ever forgive yourself any of your occasional emotional moments, nor me for having witnessed one or two. This was one time you absolutely couldn’t allow your emotions through and since there was really no way to avoid them under the circumstances, you ran. You see, it wouldn’t only be another outburst, but the ultimate admission that you feel. You would be forced to face something you’ve always denied and once faced, it would never be able to be hidden again." McCoy saw the expression on Spock’s face and knew he’d hit a bone-raw nerve.

Spock’s head changed angle and one hand reached up to wipe away a collection of tears, an action which made McCoy think of a little boy calling his mother, quite an incongruous image, but not far off.

"I may not be able to see, Doctor, but you don’t have to hit me over the head. You may be correct." Spock sighed. "I am perceptive to human emotions in humans. I can’t see them as well in myself. Logic tells me to trust an expert on the subject. You, Doctor, are such an expert."

McCoy ran a hand through his already tousled hair. "I’ll take that as a compliment, whether you meant it as one or not. I don’t know what to tell you, Spock, except what I’ve always told you: let ‘em out! Let your human breathe; he’s dying in there and if he dies, you die." McCoy suddenly started to pace agitatedly. "But then, who the hell am I, who is anyone, to tell you how to live? You are who you are and I’ve accepted the fact that you don’t want to be any different… few of us do. I know you could change, learn to live with your human instead of banishing him to the dark corners of your mind. But you don’t want to accept him." He sat, leaning close to Spock. "I know who I am to tell you how to live," he said quietly, angrily, "I’m your doctor, and your friend and, technically, your superior in medical matters. Well, medical matters abound and I’m pulling rank. Your sanity depends on stopping this stubborn suppression of such a major part of yourself and on accepting the emotional trauma of losing your sight. Non-medically I’m also pulling rank, even though I don’t have the right. Jim needs you, as first officer and as friend, and perhaps as more than a friend." He bit his lip to stop his tirade before he could say anything else they both might regret. "I need you, damnit; the whole Enterprise needs you. Why, we’d all be dead many times over if not for your having been there to solve problems, to add your observations, to give Jim the other side of the question. And if we can no longer serve with you, that doesn’t mean we no longer need you, or want you, as our friend. If you continue to deny the impact of your blindness, you’ll pay later, greatly. You can’t afford to have some emotional nightmare lurking behind your every step. Let go now, before it becomes all encompassing. That’s my ‘expert’ advice… do with it what you will."

McCoy stamped from the room – not certain why he was so angry – leaving behind a puzzled Vulcan with much to think about.

*****

And think he did. And the more he thought, the less he knew, the less he was certain of anything.

His main question was: why? Why this strange lassitude? Why the not caring? Why the sudden head-long lunge into self-pity? It was all so un-Vulcan.

The trouble was, he knew the answer, tried desperately to banish it from his consciousness, but the harder he tried to rid himself of the knowledge, the louder it screamed in his ears.

Always, he’d been able to at least distract his mind with work. Now there was no escaping. He was trapped in a place where distractions couldn’t enter, trapped in darkness to face that part of himself which he’d always done everything possible, and more, to avoid. And he couldn’t admit it, couldn’t admit its existence even as he faced it in the void of his darkness.

And Spock finally learned that every being has his limit. He can be pushed and driven and tortured only to a certain point before innate systems take over and he either shuts down… or breaks.

*****

McCoy stopped short when he entered Spock’s quarters. The room was in shambles. Every piece of furniture, whether it had been attached to another surface or not, had been broken and strewn across the room. Bed covers were torn to shreds; mirrors smashed… and there was blood everywhere. Green blood.

The doctor looked around, searching for a cause and spotted it in the corner. Cringing like a helpless child, Spock huddled the wall.

McCoy’s first thought was insanity, then he quickly ran over other times when he’d seen the Vulcan’s fury unleashed, but he could think of no instance of parallel destruction. His mind returned to its original thought.

He continued to watch the obviously tortured Vulcan. He wasn’t sure what to do. If Spock was still violent, he could kill McCoy with a swipe of his hand.

"Spock?" McCoy rasped in horror. "Spock!"

The blank eyes turned his way. "Doctor? Bones?" he cried and reached out toward McCoy.

McCoy felt his eyes spill again as he rushed to the cringing figure and took the unusually cold, desperate hand in his and saw where the blood had come from. Each palm was slashed deeply, several fingers gouged to the bone, one wrist still gushed with each quick beat of the Vulcan’s heart. McCoy wondered whether it had been deliberate or not as he tied a makeshift tourniquet around the still bleeding arm.

"Spock! What happened?"

But the Vulcan was beyond speech. He held on to McCoy’s arm so tightly he cut off the circulation, threatening to break it in two.

"Come on, Spock." McCoy got him to bed where the Vulcan immediately curled into a fetal position as the doctor tended his hands.

*****

"And that’s your professional recommendation, Doctor?"

"Yes, sir." McCoy stood at attention in Admiral Chaim’s office with Muaru.

"Dr. Muaru, do you concur?"

She hesitated. "It’s not a yes or no question, sir. If I may…"

"Proceed," Chaim sighed.

"In my strictly professional opinion," she stressed, "only two, perhaps three people, if you count his mother, know Commander Spock well enough to decide what steps to take next. In a legal sense, his parents would be his guardians but we all agree they should be spared this as long as possible.

"Captain Kirk, as Spock’s commanding officer, would be the next in line to make decisions on Commander Spock’s behalf. He also is still unaware of the situation. This brings me to my point.

"Dr. McCoy, as CMO aboard the Enterprise, is Spock’s legal guardian in the others’ absence. He and I both feel there are only two courses of action. The first is highly unfavorable: that Commander Spock be committed to a psycho-rehabilitation colony where his condition would probably only decline. The second choice may be worthless but we feel it is the only choice left to us. That is to have the Enterprise return to Earth."

Chaim sat straight. "Return an entire Starship from patrol?"

"We realize it’s highly unusual, sir," McCoy said, "but we all know Starfleet’s investment in Spock, his value to all of us… and Ambassador Sarek’s value to the Federation. I’m sure you can see how propitious it would be to restore his health as much as possible, as pleasantly as possible… especially when he was injured in the line of duty."

"Dr. McCoy," the admiral smiled tightly. "You should be in the diplomatic services. With your talent for blackmail, you’d make a fine politician."

*****

McCoy waited nervously in his quarters. What could he say to prepare Kirk for what he’d see? No words could paint the picture as clearly as the fact. Perhaps he wouldn’t have to explain, he knew his face wore the whole story. But that was all immaterial now; Kirk and Chapel would be beaming down any moment.

Just then two pillars of sparkling particles began to form not five feet from him. He watched as Kirk and Chapel took shape.

"Bones!" Kirk rushed to him, embracing him warmly. It had been over two years since they’d see each other.

"Leonard!" Christine kissed McCoy fondly, then asked worriedly, "What’s wrong? Spock?"

"Bones…" Kirk grabbed the doctor’s arm insistently.

"I wish I had good news. It’s pretty bad, Jim…"

"Bad, how bad?"

"It simply didn’t work… and we don’t know why. There must be something about his being Vulcan… it just didn’t work…"

"Your last report indicated it wasn’t going well but… nothing?"

"Nothing."

Kirk’s face fell, McCoy could see the neck muscles tighten to set the jaw firmly. "Where is he? I want to see him."

"There’s more." McCoy placed a supporting hand on Kirk’s shoulder and fixed him with a firm stare. "He’s had what I’d call a breakdown, for lack of a better term. It’s hard to explain: he’s despondent, uncommunicative, totally withdrawn. He’ll only speak when asked a direct question and then sometimes he won’t speak no matter what." McCoy continued carefully. "It’s been going on for three and a half months. Muaru and I agree that he’s very sick but we can’t agree on treatment, we don’t even know if anything will help."

"No," Kirk murmured, looking quickly at Christine. She stood still, weeping silently. Kirk went to her. "All right, Bones. So what now? Is this why the ship was called back here?"

"I didn’t call the whole ship, Jim. I called you, the ship just happens to go where you do. He needs you, Jim. But he’s not able to ask for you. I think if you see him, let him know you’re here, that it might help. I just don’t know."

"Take me to him."

*****

Kirk stood inside the door, staring and trying to find the courage to speak, to move. Before him, in one corner was a pile of tattered blankets, bits of broken furniture… and Spock. Or at least a being resembling Spock. He looked horrible. His eyes were unbelievably raw, they oozed tears constantly and were nearly swollen shut. His whole face seemed off balance… probably because the eyes didn’t focus on anything and they didn’t quite move in unison, a sign of already weakened eye muscles. He was curled up in the blanket shreds, staring through the empty eyes, and rocking himself to some unuttered tune.

"Spock?" Kirk whispered.

The Vulcan stopped swaying and cocked his head toward the voice.

"Spock, it’s Jim."

A volcano erupted, a continent cracked and the room became a torrent of pain and flying furniture. "No! No!" the tortured voice screamed. "Go! Not you! Not you!" and he buried his face in his bandaged hands.

Kirk came closer to dying then than he ever had during any battle. He backed slowly out the door.

"We heard," Christine cut off his report, draping an arm across his bent shoulders. "Could I try, Doctor?"

"He’s violent, Bones. He could hurt her."

"You’re the first person he’s become violent with. He’s been destructive when alone, never with anyone in the room," McCoy said meaningfully.

Kirk saw the significance and said to the nurse, "Stay near the door, in case."

Christine entered and felt her knees give way at the sight. She slumped to the floor and moaned involuntarily.

Spock turned toward her, the pre-historic Vulcan, the savage. No, not savage. Lost.

"Mr. Spock, it’s Nurse Chapel," she whispered, unprepared for his reaction.

"Christine? Christine!" he laughed quietly among the tears.

"Yes!"

"Christine." He looked like a little boy who’d just been reunited with a long-lost pet.

"Spock…" She didn’t know what to say. She edged toward him slowly and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. Suddenly she was beside him, holding him and he clung to her, crying her name over and over – a mantra to chase away the loneliness.

"I love you, Spock," she cried softly. "I love you."

He fell asleep finally and she slowly left the room.

"Well?" Kirk asked anxiously.

He eyes brimmed and she fell into his arms. "He cried, Captain. He cried like a baby…"

"Shush," Kirk comforted, looking at McCoy pleadingly. "What do we do?"

"I don’t know. Wait, I guess. Keep at him, visit, talk to him, especially you, Jim." They walked back toward McCoy’s quarters, Christine still securely cradled in Kirk’s arms. "I can’t really explain what’s going on with him. All I have is a theory."

"Let’s hear it."

"You know better than anyone how Vulcan Spock must be and why. Well, this was a trauma he couldn’t hide, couldn’t cope with. His humanness needed to express that trauma but his Vulcanness wouldn’t allow it. He broke, as simply as a crystal under too much strain at its weak point. He broke. And now that his guard has dissolved, he can’t stop the flow. I’m sure that beautifully ordered mind of his is in absolute torment. He may work through it, he may not."

Kirk swallowed hard. "And he’s irrevocably blind?"

"Technically, yes. Ket and I are working on a variation of the sensory web. Miranda Jones’ web worked so well, none of you knew she was blind until I told you. She’s managed perfectly with her sensory web for years so we thought we’d try it on Spock. Well, during the course of our experiments, Ket and I have improved the web significantly. With our improvements, the web will allow Spock to return to full duty; if his mind heals."

*****

Every day Kirk went to him and every day Spock became violent, throwing anything within his grasp, screaming in rage and pain and finally hiding in his piles of rags. At first Kirk would leave after one of these sessions. Then, slowly, he stayed a little longer until he managed to stay for an hour at a time, then two hours. He would speak of anything, trying to recall their best times, trying to remind Spock… trying…

One day, several weeks after the Enterprise had left on a short milk run, Kirk went to him and was met with a vertical Vulcan. He stood, leaning one cheek against a wall.

"Spock?" he ventured.

The Vulcan turned to face him.

"You feel better?"

It was uncomfortable having a one-way conversation, but Kirk pressed on. "Well, you seem better. How are the hands today, no complaints? McCoy tells me you’ve never attacked anyone but yourself… and me. Why? Mind if I guess?" He cleared his throat as he moved closer and leaned against the wall only a few feet from Spock. "I think you’re punishing both of us."

Spock jerked his head away from Kirk’s voice.

"What for? For… loving each other. Perhaps it’s only me. I am a weakness in you, am I not? As you are a weakness in me. You’ve escaped emotional involvement whenever you could and when you couldn’t, you left. You left Vulcan and your parents; you left Leila… twice. These were choices, with sound reasons, but you still ran. And then there is the Enterprise and there is Chris Pike. You were devoted to him, inspired by him and, I think, somewhat in awe of him. But even that relationship had its distance." Kirk shifted. "I don’t know what draws one being to another, it just happens and you can’t run from it because it’s inside you. You are inside me, Spock, I can’t run. And neither can you."

Spock slid to the floor, softly whimpering.

Kirk knelt beside him. "I know you’re ashamed, you don’t want me to see you like this." Kirk held one wrapped hand gently. "But if I can’t understand, can’t see you through the bad times, who can? Don’t you trust me? Can’t you let yourself need me? I know you do. Please Spock, ‘Let me help’."

Spock felt a slight dampness through the bandages on his injured hands and knew through the bleak haze of pain that his captain was crying… for him! He had never seen Kirk cry; not as they stood together and watched Edith Keeler die, not when Miramanee and her unborn child died, not when his brother Sam was found dead on Denava. And now Kirk was crying for him. For the first time since he’d lost his sight, Spock was thankful that he couldn’t see.

Spock put an arm around Kirk’s quaking shoulders. "Jim."

Kirk’s head snapped up. "Spock?!"

"Thank you."

"What?"

"For coming, even though I couldn’t call you, for staying, when I’ve been so… so…" he gasped and clutched his head in pain.

"What is it?" Kirk demanded.

"I don’t know!" the Vulcan screamed. "I don’t know! Pain!"

"Where?"
"Somewhere inside… where there is no place…"

"It’s all right," Kirk soothed, holding the pitiful figure in his arms. "It’s all right, I’m here. I won’t leave you…"

Spock clutched at him in desperation. "What’s wrong, Jim? It’s like I’m trying to touch some knowledge just beyond my reach… but what? Why does it hurt? Why can’t I stop it?"

"Don’t try to stop it, Spock! Don’t try. I’ll stay with you, but you must let go, don’t fight it. If you let it go, it will finish with you and then you can start climbing back up."

Spock calmed slightly and settled into Kirk’s arms, still racked by sobs. "It’s so black, Jim, blacker than any void in space. And empty. I never knew how dependent the mind is on the visual. I’m so empty."

"Shush," Kirk soothed, "I’m here now."

Spock didn’t seem to hear. "At first it seemed a small enough matter, but the longer I lived in darkness, the more walls I bumped into, the worse it became. One is so dependent on others. I think that’s the worst, to have to need…" He fell silent, suddenly moaning. "Jim! You knew but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let myself know that even I need…"

Kirk smiled down at the rumpled Vulcan.

"I need help. And I even need friendship… yes, and love. Jim, I need you. I was so frightened of never seeing again, so frightened of never seeing you again. Yet I was also afraid of regaining my sight. That made no sense to me until now. Jim, I didn’t know how to face you, finally knowing what you mean to me. I was torn by the possibility of your being repulsed by my dependence and the possibilities of losing you because I’m blind. Jim. I couldn’t imagine life without you. I don’t desire a life without you." He laughed gently and softly repeated, "I need you."

Kirk smoothed back the onyx hair, caressed one damp cheek soothingly and simply said, "I know."

Spock straightened to sit upright beside Kirk and reached out to return the caress. He ran soft fingertips over Kirk’s eyes, and felt the residual moisture there. He searched and found Kirk’s mouth, gently tracing the soft lips, feeling them tremble beneath his touch.

"Spock."

"Jim?"

"I too was afraid. You aren’t alone in your dependence; I need you as much, if not more, than you need me. After you left, I’d turn to you for your opinion or just to be reassured of your presence but you weren’t there and I’d feel something die inside." He rubbed his cheek against the Vulcan’s warm hand as he spoke. "It must have been inside me all along, Spock, but it came to me suddenly one night as I sat alone at my desk feeling lost and more alone than I knew was possible. I love you."

Spock’s hand pulled away quickly, but not quick enough. Kirk grabbed him. "Don’t. Oh, don’t pull away. Please, Spock!"

"Jim, I didn’t intend… You surprised me, that’s all."

"I don’t think so. You may have used less accurate terminology but in effect you’ve just told me the same thing. You love me, too, Spock." Kirk brushed carefully at Spock’s brimming, painful-looking eyes.

He turned his head and bit his lower lip. "Yes, I do… love you. But how can you accept it so calmly? Do you know what you’re saying?"

In answer, Kirk turned Spock to face him again and gently brought his mouth to meet the Vulcan’s. "Yes, I know what I’m saying." And he kissed Spock again.

A deep, anguished groan escaped Spock as he brought his arms around to gather Kirk closer.

"This is what you want, Spock." It was not a question. "There’s nothing wrong with this. It can be so good, so good." He clung tightly to Spock, feeling the warmer-than-human breath tickling his neck. He sighed. "Oh, Spock, don’t be afraid. I won’t leave you."

"How can you promise that? I could not ask you to…"

"You don’t need to, I’m offering. Whatever happens, I won’t leave you."

"Jim…" Spock gathered the firm body to him in another kiss, much less innocent than before. His hand found the clasp to Kirk’s shirt and he pulled it off, separating only long enough to discard the impediment. His hands ran up and down Kirk’s hard-muscled chest as his tongue sought the other’s in a desperate dance.

Kirk broke away, breathless, resting his head on Spock’s shoulder, delighting in the touch of Spock’s hands on his back. Yes, this was what he wanted, what they both needed. It was so right.

Suddenly, Kirk needed to possess his new prize, needed to feel him totally. He pulled at Spock’s robe until the Vulcan was naked, then quickly divested himself of the rest of his clothing.

Spock gasped at the tactile acknowledgment of what he could not see as Kirk pulled him down beside him.

"Jim…"

"Shush."

"Jim, I want to see you…"

Kirk, knowing what Spock meant, placed the Vulcan’s hand against his face in the proper position. "Come, see through my eyes," Kirk offered in a husky voice.

Then Spock was there, breathing with Kirk’s lungs, exploring his own body with Kirk’s hands, tasting himself with Kirk’s mouth… and seeing with Kirk’s eyes. He touched the beloved face and as he did, a perfect image of each feature coalesced in his image-starved mind. He was at once himself, Kirk and some new entity which was Kirk-Spock… one being, never to be alone again. He saw the hunger in Kirk, his own hunger echoed back. I don’t want to be alone... never again to be alone… and he sealed them for eternity in the Bond.

As Kirk realized what had happened, they were both engulfed in sudden flame that threatened to drown them in its heat. They reached for each other, striving to quench the overwhelming passion in each other’s body.

Spock sought to devour Kirk, his mouth tracing wickedly hot tendrils across the smooth chest, down the taut belly, up firm thighs, constantly aware of Kirk’s encouraging hands and excited groans.

"Yes, Spock… touch me there…." The sultry entreaty only served to fuel an already uncontrollable need in the Vulcan. He rose to meet Kirk’s demanding mouth again and saw the hunger in both of them with Kirk’s half-closed eyes.

"Yes!" Spock tossed Kirk’s legs over his shoulders and positioned himself carefully, half-aware that Kirk’s mind was guiding his movements. "Yes! Oh Jim! I burn! I burn for you…"

Kirk’s delighted response was to thrust upward, seeking Spock, demanding penetration.

"Now, Spock! Take me now!"

Spock felt an instant of fear and uncertainty but it was quickly dispelled by Kirk’s guiding hand on his pulsing organ.

All thought fled as Spock gave in to the demands of both their bodies and gently, slowly, tantalizingly impaled his lover.

Kirk gave one low moan of pleasure as Spock rested for a moment, soaking in the pleasure of feeling himself engulfed in the cool humanness then he could bear no more and began to thrust impatiently. He saw his face with Kirk’s eyes and smiled at himself, seeing the reflected passion in Kirk’s dreamy expression.

When the universe exploded, it took them together, sending them cartwheeling through Spock and Time to land softly in each other’s arms. They fought to regain their collective breath as Spock pulled gently from Kirk’s mind, leaving himself blind once more. He remained incased in the loving warmth of Kirk’s body as he slowly became aware of a lingering connection. The Bond! It wasn’t sight, but a periphery awareness of what Kirk perceived. He held Kirk tighter, wiping his forehead and cheeks on Kirk’s damp chest.

"God, how I love you!" Kirk breathed, also becoming aware of Spock’s presence in his mind.

Forever now, Jim.

"Spock?"

Yes?

"I can hear you!"

We are bonded. You will always be able to hear me, and I you. When we wish it.

Kirk stared at the battered face of his lover in amazement. Spock? he tested.

I am here, Jim.

I think I’m going to like this!

Their mutual laughter echoed like silver coinage through their minds.

*****

"A simple enough device," Spock commented coolly as McCoy finished describing the completed sensory web.

"Simple? Why you…!"

Kirk laughed in relief. Now things were getting back to normal.

"Yes… we…" McCoy grumbled. "Let’s try it out."

Spock stood with help from Christine on one side and Kirk on the other.

"Mr. Spock," Muaru began, "being a telepath, you may be aware of the sensation of perceiving through another’s mind…" At Spock’s unconscious movement toward his captain, confirming her suspicions which had been growing since Kirk had arrived, Muaru added, "Are you linked with anyone, Commander? I ask as your physician."

To McCoy’s and Chapel’s surprise, Spock replied simply, "Yes."

"Then shut your eyes," she instructed. "You won’t be ‘seeing’ through another’s mind but sensing impressions directly on your own mind. Keep your eyes closed while you wear the web at first, otherwise you body will register normal sight which can be very disorienting."

Even before McCoy completed applying the barely perceptible web of microscopic fibers and filaments, the field was bombarding Spock with images. He staggered and Kirk braced him.

"You see," Muaru began, "the web is not like a mental link, although that link should help you become accustomed to the web quicker than you would without it."

Spock smiled slightly, turned to face Kirk. "Captain! I don’t recall your having that line between your eyes before."

The room exploded in relieved laughter.

When Kirk caught his breath, he said, "Mr. Spock, that line was caused by my concern for you… and well worth it. Welcome back." He smiled at the still unseeing eyes that could now see.

Spock shifted his attention to the others. "Ket Muaru I presume?" He bowed to the handsomely grinning woman. "I regret not being a more successful patient… or a more congenial one."

"All that matters is your continued recovery, Commander."

"Doctor." He regarded McCoy but could say no more. He ‘sensed’ McCoy’s unspoken reply in the form of an embarrassed smile and turned to Christine.

"Christine. As beautiful as ever."

"He must not be well yet," McCoy commented half incredulously.

Spock ignored him. "My voice in the dark," he continued, still speaking to Christine. "It’s all rather overwhelming…" He sank down to his knees and everyone rushed to him.

*****

It took a week for Spock to adapt to the sensory web. Slowly, he began to venture about the corridors of the hospital, always in the company of someone else, usually Christine or Kirk. Gradually they explored the hospital grounds, and finally there was an everyday walk on the old route through Golden Gate Park. He could manage totally on his own three weeks after first using the web.

*****

"How is he emotionally?" Kirk asked.

"Still unstable," McCoy replied. "Not anywhere near as incapacitated, in actuality or under the limits and rules of Starfleet regulations, but then I don’t really need to tell you that, do I?"

Kirk grinned. "You’ve certified him fit for duty?"

"Yup! So has Ket in case there’s any question. I’ve recommended light duty through. You’d better keep Sulu or Chekov pulling double duty for awhile yet," McCoy advised.

"They won’t object too much to that." Kirk knew who would object though and saw McCoy had the same thought.

*****

"Either that or no duty at all," Kirk stated in his best command voice.

"You leave me no choice, Captain." Spock raised an eyebrow.

"No, I don’t." Kirk grinned victoriously. He surveyed the group, then reached for his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."

"Enterprise. Uhura here, sir."

"Ready to beam up, Lieutenant. Nurse Chapel and I are bringing two old friends along. We’re bringing Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock home. Uhura, we’re bringing them home."

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