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Thank you to Dot for letting me be a part of her zine. For more information about Amazing Grace zines, write to her at: dotlaoang@aol.com.

If you like this story, it's thanks to Deb, who inspired me to write it, to Nick, who inspired me to fix it, and to Colleen, TJonesy and Beth, who helped me figure out how. If you hate it, well, you know who to file complaints with. (Hint: her name starts with K and she probably owes you e-mail.)

* * *

Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We'll rise above these earthly cares.

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me.

--Loreena McKennitt, from The Book of Secrets

* * *

I wake to darkness, remembering in my bones that he's dead before I can remember where I am or how I came to be there, or even my own name.

It's a familiar progression. Wake up, open your eyes, feel him gone. And then, after a small eon, you remember to make yourself breathe, you remember who you are and that the man that you are can't quit, can't just go away into the place inside that's safe and dark, where he is, no matter how much you might want to.

By the second breath, it's real, a heavy pressure in your chest, your gut. You think, please, I don't want to do this any more, it's too much, can't I just forget? Doesn't it ever stop?

Of course you can't, and it doesn't.

That's the hardest part, because after that you can distract yourself with whatever the day will bring. You can get up, get dressed. You can take up the weight of responsibility and use it to balance the other, the weight on your heart, until it gets to be second nature. You can be the captain. You can go on. That's what I always believed anyway, you're the captain and you can always go on.

Even the death of my boy scarcely touches me, even the memory of my silver ship in flames--or perhaps it's simply that there's nothing left in me to hurt for them.

I've lived with death before, but not like this. Never like this.

I'm disoriented, waking with a start in this too-warm room, this unfamiliar darkness. I don't know how long I've been asleep but it feels like a long time. Sitting up, I realize what's changed. I've gotten used to the teeth-gnashing, whining vibration of the Bird of Prey, and the stillness feels unnatural. The darkness is almost total, relieved only by a faint shape outlined against the window.

There is someone in the room.

Adrenaline, born of everything that's happened since that damned cursed training cruise, curls through me like the silent snap of a whip, and I'm wide awake.

Who's there? is on the tip of my tongue. But something stops me from speaking, compels me to move silently, swinging my feet to the floor. As I do so there is the faintest stirring of the air in the room; the window's open to a starless night. The air carries an acrid scent like copper and salt overtoned with, strangely enough, roses.

I remember.

Vulcan. Sarek's house, the desert and Amanda's garden, the end of a journey on a mountain, the longest night. The pain of hoping after so long denying hope. And Spock, oh, Spock... That voice saying my name. Last thing I remember, Spock's mother's cool hand on my forehead guiding me down into sleep I'd denied for far too long.

It was dark then as it is now; I've slept through more than a day.

The figure moves, a shadow amongst shadows. Surely it's the pounding of my heart that has betrayed me. All I can manage is a whisper.


The hope I don't want to feel seizes hold of me again, and it's not McCoy's voice I am hoping for.

"Bones, is that you?" I know it isn't.

There is no answer. For a moment, I think I've imagined that presence. It wouldn't be the first time.

I try to say the name but my throat closes on it. Feels like I've never wanted anything so much as I want to hear my name spoken in that velvet-night voice. "Is anyone there?"

My ears strain for any sound, but there's only the far-off wind.

"Please answer me."

He moves then, not Bones nor any ghost of my imagining, but him, real and alive and moving toward me in the dark.

I'm holding my breath, not realizing I'm doing it until I hear him, a rustle of heavy fabric so faint I wouldn't hear it otherwise. I can feel him close to me. I want so badly to reach out that it hurts, a physical ache somewhere inside of me, but I can't, I can't. Because if I do and there's nothing...

He touches me, the brush of fingertips on my bare arm.

A sound--me. Was that me?

Still he says nothing, and I can't even breathe properly. There's something hot and tight in me, something I can't let go of because if I do, it'll be bigger than me. It'll kill me. I can't see a damn thing, can't move, can't speak...

Sweet heaven, please touch me again.

He doesn't, and when at last I manage to break the spell of my own fear and move to reach out for him, he's gone.

* * *

They tell me it will be a long recovery. They tell me his memory is almost nonexistent, that he doesn't really understand what has happened to him. They tell me it may be months, or longer, before he relearns what he knew; that he may never regain everything he's lost.

They tell me that I can't see him.

In this world of things Vulcan, I am nothing to him, and I have no rights. Every day I go up the mountain to the sanctuary and ask if I can be allowed to see him, even for a moment. Every day I'm told, "Perhaps, in time." Sarek seems to understand my desperation, but makes no pretense that he will push for exceptions to be made, regardless of the gratitude he affords me. I'm reduced to pleading news from Saavik and Amanda, who have blood ties, and god help me even from McCoy, who's been permitted brief visits. It seems that everyone has rights here but me. I've told no one of the encounter in my room three nights ago, and as the days pass I become more and more convinced that I dreamed it.

I try to take comfort from the fact that he knew my name. It helps a little.

The word came today from Morrow, as I knew it would. Well, they can wait. I won't leave here without seeing him, without talking to him. Surely I've earned that much, paid for that much. Haven't I?

I can hardly stand to look at McCoy. I can't forget that he was the one Spock trusted, that he's the one Spock sees now... that if T'Lar can't work a miracle, he may have more of Spock than I will ever know again.

I drive myself crazy with remembering too much, all the time, everything.

* * *

The first time with us, there were no words.

I came to him, not the other way around, and after all these years don't think I've forgotten that. I remember every minute, every second, every touch and look and everything I felt, everything I wanted, the things I took and the things I was afraid to take, afraid to give.

We were planetside, hip-deep in mediation that'd gone on weeks longer than it should have. Damn close to a washout, that mission was, with all three sides fighting amongst themselves more than they wanted to talk to us or each other. The only bright spot I could find was the hours I spent with Spock.

We'd roomed together occasionally, on previous missions, but this was the first time we'd really lived together full time for more than a day or two. They put us up in a suite the likes of which I doubt we could have afforded for one night on our combined salaries. During the fourteen hour days we waded through egos and centuries-old grudges, getting nowhere fast; at night we'd collapse in our glass-paned, velvet-upholstered suite after yet another grueling state dinner and try to remind each other of some little progress we'd made, some sign that we weren't failing miserably. The cease-fire had held thus far, but neither of us fooled ourselves that the city was safe outside the inner walls, so we stayed close to home. At the end of those long days we weren't up for more than that anyway.

Both of us needed rest, badly. It had been a rough year, everything coming down at once. That was the year Sam died, and Aurelan, the year Spock's lovely bride turned her back on him and only McCoy's quick thinking saved us. I was still having nightmares from that, I remember. It was also the year Spock had to kill a man with his bare hands to protect me, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had his share of nightmares, too. That was the year of Edith.

Instead of rest what we had were those evenings of chess on the balcony, and we made the most of them. I remember the tremendous feeling of relief I had with him, that there was nothing I had to explain, or talk about, that he had been there with me through all of it and understood. We would sit together under the pale triad moons of that world as if unburdening our souls to each other, and never say a word. I swear that's what it felt like.

In all the years since, I've never known a feeling so perfect.

* * *

There was a formal reception that night. After weeks of knocking our heads against walls, we'd won a handful of vital concessions from all three sides. This joint function had been a spontaneous idea, hastily drawn together in an afternoon. I was half jazzed on success and half scared out of my wits that the whole thing would fall apart. Somehow, miraculously, it didn't happen. Everyone danced and made nice, and I relaxed enough to let one of the summit delegates ply me with a small glass of something aged and sweet. I danced the requisite dance with her and made it halfway around the floor before realizing how potent that stuff was; I was flying. I can hold my liquor with the best of them, but that stuff was like heavy fuel to my human metabolism.

Not wanting to blow all my hard work, I made my apologies to the lady and got out of there, looking for Spock as I left the floor. His eyes caught mine from fifty paces. He must have seen something was up, because I saw him set down a glass, nodding to his conversational partner and disengaging with admirable dispatch. He reached me near the open doorway.

"What is it, Captain?"

He was so carefully solicitous. What had I ever done without a Vulcan mother hen?

"I think it would be prudent to get me out of here, Mr. Spock," I whispered. "Before I do something you and I and Starfleet will regret."

"Are you indisposed, sir?"

"Inadvertently intemperate, rather, Mr. Spock."


I had to smile. "But only just."

"Of course, sir. I understand."

"Do you think we could disappear without too much fuss?"

"By all means."

We did, giving our good nights to our host and slipping out onto the terrace, then down the stone steps to the gardens. A wide flagstone path would take us to the other side of the lawn, then through the hedgerow to another set of gardens, and finally to our apartments at the far side of the grounds. Under the nearly full light of three moons, we made our way toward home.

In recent days the frustration had made my temper short. Now, for the first time since we'd set foot on this self-involved planet, I felt like we might not be wasting our time. The feeling was a good one, and it lifted my spirits immeasurably. I found myself brimming over with an overwhelming fondness for my Vulcan friend, who bore my moods with such patience, who always knew when to talk and when to leave me well enough alone.

I can't remember now what we talked about during that long walk. I do remember being so grateful for his presence--not just for right then but for all the times he'd been the best thing in my life--so full of warm feelings for him that I must have said some of it aloud. It was all very innocent, though it still had to have shocked him, Vulcan proper as he was. I honestly don't think the idea of us together, physically together, had yet occurred to me.

I do remember that at some point I put my hand on his arm to show him something, something about the moons or the stars... heat went through me when I touched him but he didn't pull away.

By the time we reached the suite, I still felt I was flying but I knew it wasn't the wine any more, it was him. We stood at the door for a moment, and he might have spoken to me. I think he asked if I was all right. I don't even know if I heard the words, I was so lost in what I was feeling. He was so beautiful to me, hair shining silver dark in the moonlight, body giving off heat through his dress uniform, that I could hardly look at him. I felt a kind of pain I didn't understand and I ached to tell him about it, to try to understand.

I was so overwrought he must have thought I was half-soused, though in truth it was wearing off fast. I could hardly put two words together. I kept thinking over and over about New York, about Edith, but now all I could remember was how deep his eyes had been when he looked at me, how gently he had said my name each time, how it had been his voice, his certainty that had carried me through what I had to do. He had to unlock the door because I wasn't capable.

We stepped inside the darkened suite and he turned to me, that same concern in his eyes now, that same depthless question.

I looked at him in the shadows, and I wanted to tell him about this thing that I was feeling, this tremendous affection for him that felt too big to hold in my heart. I wanted to tell him that he was the best friend I had ever known, that he was more a brother to me than my own brother had been, that I would be lost without him. And then I despaired, because I knew that no matter what words I used, I could never make him understand what he was to me.

I went out onto the balcony, where we had played so many games of chess. I felt like crying, though there were no tears. There's never been any for me, not even for Edith. I guess I've never been good at letting go of things like that.

He followed me, of course, out under the night sky that was so bright only the closest, hottest stars shone at all.

He said nothing. Only waited, as he had a hundred times before, and would do countless times after. I was afraid and wanted to tell him to leave me alone. I couldn't. When at last I made myself look up, look at him, I knew what it was I ached for, what I needed more than I had words for.


I said it softly, not quite a whisper, because it was important and I had to make him hear how much I needed this.

His face was still. I remember how amazing it was to me that his eyes were dark and bright at the same time.

"I need to tell you something."

"I am listening." He said it so gently.

I swallowed. "No," I said, holding his eyes so he would understand. "I need to tell you something."

I saw it when he understood, the moment when it sparked in him, a flash arcing across the space between us. I felt that. I think he did, too. He made a sound, like a soft breath drawn in. After what felt like a very long time, he moved, taking my face in his hands with a touch like nothing I'd ever known from him. I think... I think that's when I began to know, somewhere, that I was playing with fire.

"My mind to your mind," he said, and made it happen. It came to me that I'd forgotten what it was like, that rush and falling weightlessness, that heat and flush of letting go, letting him in. I've heard it said that mothers forget the pain of childbirth quickly, that the forgetting is a defense mechanism, and I've wondered if my own forgetting is like that, a defense mechanism against pleasure too much to bear. Why else would it surprise me like that every time? How else could I bear the separation, after? He touched me, and with a groan of relief I let him see, let him know the painful joy I'd been feeling for him all night, the love I couldn't find words for.

That was all I meant to do. I swear it. That was all.

But somehow... once I started to let go it wasn't only affection I showed him, but a terrible loneliness too, as if they were one and the same... as if I was able to feel that love for him because there was no one in the universe who could know my loneliness better than he. And the rawness of him knowing it was too much to contain.

That meld was spontaneous combustion. When I knew anything again, my hands were under his tunic, against the silk-hot skin at his waist, and I was too far gone to fight it.

It had been a very long time for me. My hands shook as they possessed his hips, his stomach, as my fingertips slid down under the waist of his tight black trousers and tasted softer heat. Within a handful of seconds I was desperate. Of course, it wasn't only deprivation. I was sure that if I let him breathe, or think, he would push me away or worse. I was far too aroused and needed him far too badly to bear the thought of stopping, so I rushed us both with my hands and the crush of my body against his. I was drowning.

He let me get his pants down around his hips right out there on the balcony, under moonlight nearly as bright as day. Anyone might have seen us--for all I know everyone did. I couldn't have cared less. He was holding on to my shoulders too tightly, hurting me, and I didn't care. I didn't care about anything but the heat and scent and oh, god the weight of him, live and hot and hard in my hand, jumping under my touch. The feel of him was incredible. I could have tried for years to imagine what he'd feel like and never have come close to the reality of him responding to me, the feel of that velvety skin, the sounds he made, small and choked as if he tried and failed to hold them back.

I felt him respond and couldn't help myself; I couldn't stop. I curled his... his cock in my hand and rubbed his own wetness against him. After a moment he shuddered, and let go of my shoulders, and I heard fabric tear, felt something give. His hands were inside my pants. He held me like that, cupping my ass, pulling me against him.

I ended up leaning against him, gasping, holding him and me in my hand and stroking us together into an orgasm that blew me into the next star system.

In all of that, I never spoke to him, never kissed him, god help me never even looked into his face or said his name. When it was over, I felt his mouth pressing against my neck, maybe kissing me or maybe that was just the soft in and out of his ragged breath. I couldn't tell his racing heartbeat from mine.

When I could stand up again on my own, I did. Stunned right down to the ground, I covered myself with my ripped trousers and stood away from him. He seemed lost for a moment, disoriented. Then at last, he reached down and mechanically put himself back into his pants, closed them. The intimacy of watching him do that was a wake-up call. His blue satin tunic was marred by a damp, spreading stain. I saw that he was trembling.

As fast as the passion had overtaken me, now fear coiled through my stomach, cold and cutting as steel. The first thing in my thoughts was that I'd just broken every rule in the book about fraternization, crossed every line of acceptable behavior I'd drawn in my own mind. Touching him sexually was bad enough, but I knew even then; the real danger was much more serious. Never before had he melded with me outside the line of duty. Never before had I let myself respond to it the way I had tonight--the way I now knew I'd always wanted to.

I knew what I should do. I knew it. Put myself on report, tomorrow, put in for a transfer for one of us before I could do worse than I'd done tonight, and someone under my command got hurt. If I could do what I'd done tonight then I was capable of much more costly errors in judgment where he was concerned.

My panic grew. Give up the Enterprise? The thought of that was almost as bad as the thought of an Enterprise without Spock. Both were unacceptable. I saw the same certainty in the dark eyes that met mine and held, unwavering.

A choice. Clear before me, and only agreement in his eyes and in his silence. My body was singing. Finding words in that moment was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

"Forgive me," I whispered, meaning for all of it, for my hands on him and for the choice we were making.

"Yes. And I," was all he said.

* * *

That was our beginning but by our common consent, it had never happened. We went on sharing our living quarters as before. The chess games on the balcony didn't resume; I don't think either of us set foot on that balcony again.

A hundred times that week it was on the tip of my tongue to say his name, to ask him what it meant, that I should have touched him like that, that he should have let me. I'd never done anything remotely like that with another man in my life--had never wanted to--and I certainly hadn't expected it of Spock. I had never dreamed that he could think of me that way. I wondered until it drove me half crazy whether he really had--or whether it had been me, my need, that had spilled over to engulf us both. I tried to tell myself that I didn't really feel that way toward him, that it had just been some strange chemical reaction born of too many months alone and a mind meld gone too deep. Yet the thought of him with his trousers pushed down, hot in my hand, was enough to make me hard in a matter of seconds.

A hundred times I opened my mouth to speak and a hundred times I stopped the words before they could end us, our working partnership, our friendship. There can be no good outcome to this, I warned myself again and again. Let it go. It could never work; if it fell apart it could drive him away from you for good. Either way it could get the better of you some day when lives are in the balance. And if you had to choose, the Enterprise with Spock at your side, or one night of something crazy that neither of you planned...?

No contest.

That's when I told myself that if anyone was to speak of it, it would have to be him, his choice. I lied; to myself I lied, pretending he would ever speak of it if I didn't. I knew he wouldn't. Of course I, of all people, knew that much. There certainly hadn't been any scrap of logic in what we'd done.

Once I looked up from reading to find him watching me, his face too still, his eyes a stranger's.

In a week's time the treaties were signed, and we left that place, by then already bound by our own unspoken treaty of shared silence.

* * *

He comes to me now each night. I know he's there. He watches me pretending to sleep, stays only as long as I remain quiet, still. If only he would touch me, talk to me, but since that first night he hasn't tried, and when I do he melts away into the darkness like just another shadow.

I long to say his name, to put my arms around him... oh, a thousand things. The ache I feel for him in his nightly vigils is the deepest of all. I know he doesn't understand why he must come to me, why he mustn't let me touch him.

They've let me see him a few times now, by day. He doesn't know me. I see the effort and the puzzlement in his eyes, the deep curiosity that seeks but does not quite find me in his memory. The last time he looked at me like that I became irrational and they barred me again from the sanctuary. McCoy comes each day to tell me of their progress and sometimes it's all I can do not to shove him away.

Each night my dark shade comes to me and something stops me from pleading with him, something that tells me I don't have the right. Without the armor of his memories, how can he guard himself against me? How can he know what I have cost him?

Until he knows, how can I beg him for the absolution I so badly need?

As long as I was moving, in command, I was able to hold on. Now in this suspended purgatory, I feel only a bottomless darkness inside of me.

I begin to hope that it'll swallow me up.

* * *

I told myself that nothing had changed, and even believed it most of the time. I would turn, on the bridge or in a corridor or on a landing party, and I would see him there at my right shoulder, and I'd believe it. We began to play chess again; we resumed our nightly workouts. I reminded myself frequently and with great enthusiasm that my natural inclination tended strongly toward the fairer sex.

Late at night when I couldn't sleep for worrying at the wound, I told myself it was a one-time thing, that just because I'd been with a man--with Spock--once, it didn't mean I wanted to do it again. That even if I did (which I didn't) it wasn't anything to lose sleep over. Hell, I'd been with alien females before, not even the same species, not even close. And I'd certainly never cared what any consenting beings did behind closed doors. I told myself that one mutual jerk-off with a friend was nothing to worry about, and was disgusted with myself for feeling like it was.

You have to understand that I had never wanted to be anything other than what I was then. I didn't know how to be anything else. I was a starship captain. I was not and never had been a man who would throw away duty for personal gratification, and I was certainly not a lover of men. Yet what I'd done to him, with him, on that balcony threatened everything I believed about myself.

I dreamed us on the bridge. He was sitting at the science station, his back to me. It was the memory of a hundred days past I dreamed, a hundred times I'd looked up to see him there, so busy at his work.

In the dream, I left the command chair and went up the steps, stood behind him for a long time. He didn't seem to sense me there. I was painfully aware of the eyes of the bridge crew, watching me. Everyone was watching me watch him work.

Then, Spock's hands stilled on the computer, and he seemed to bow his head... and sighing, I leaned forward and pressed my mouth to the nape of his neck, closing my eyes as my fingers slid into his hair.

When I woke, it wasn't his skin against my lips I felt but the eyes on me.

I started working out in the mornings, alone.

* * *

Necessity forced a meld between us eventually. I can't describe how difficult it was. I felt him shielding so hard, so closed to me. I know I was the same with him. We got through it somehow, and he saved my life, again. It confirmed for me what I already knew; I couldn't live with the way things had been between us. I needed my right arm back. More, I needed my friend back. We would have to work it out one way or another.

He came to my quarters for the first time that night.

It'd been almost six months. I'd almost made myself forget how he felt, how he sounded. I'd almost stopped dreaming of him.

He came to me in darkness and without a word, waking me from a fitful sleep that was giving me no rest. Somehow, awakening to find him there didn't surprise me. I knew this wasn't a good idea, not a good idea at all. But when he ran his hand lightly from my lower back to my shoulder blades, I only shivered a little and moved over, making room.

I could have said no. Sure, I could have. Right. You feel that man's hands on you and tell me you could say it.

That was how it began. Spock in my room, in the dark, his hands on me and mine on him. His hands, strong and supple, his heat, my soft groans and never more than that, never his name, never mine. Sometimes he would try to put his mouth on me, or touch me in places I feared to be touched, but always my resistance stopped him from going too far. Never did we acknowledge in daylight what we did in the dark. I didn't understand why I craved his hands on me but couldn't bear his mouth, his arms. I think now it was because I knew that would be the end of what boundaries I had left.

He always left me afterward; he wouldn't risk sleeping in my bed.

I began to think that what we were doing wasn't a choice for him either--that he couldn't stop himself. He would resist the compulsion for weeks at a time. Then something would happen, some particularly close call, and he would end up in my room in the middle of the night, seeking something in me that our daylight selves couldn't be allowed to want. Though I knew there would be a price to pay, I didn't fight it. I couldn't see how we could go on from it if I did.

I wanted countless times to beg his forgiveness for touching off this thing between us--but of course, he'd already given it.

One night I had the dream again, the one on the bridge. It was the same as always, except that this time when I got to Spock's station, it wasn't him there. Or rather it was, and then it wasn't--I looked down and all of a sudden it was Janice Rand sitting there. I didn't seem to think this was unusual, though in reality she'd transferred out more than two years before.

"You're the captain of this ship," she said. "You haven't the right to be vulnerable in the eyes of the crew." Though her lips never moved and the voice wasn't hers, I heard her loud and clear.

Around that time I began to do something I had never done; I began bringing women to the ship. It started with a short furlough on Berengeria. Five times in a week I brought women back to my quarters, late; I was charged with sex, couldn't get enough. I didn't dare to let myself think about why, about what possible reason I could have for changing the habit of a lifetime. The ladies were delighted, never knowing the real reason behind my enthusiasm. I wouldn't really admit it even to myself, but there's something about the thrill of knowing you might get caught.

I've never been so hot with any woman as I would get with him.

He loved that ship almost as much as I did. He gave up his family, his whole planet, for a chance at that life. He wouldn't risk it any more than I would--not for some crazy fascination neither of us had planned, some twisted joke of nature sprung on us one night when we were both lonely and needing something only the other could give.

I didn't fight it, and who can I ask to forgive me for that? For I found I could have those incredible hands of his, and by day still have the ship, and my command, and him at my side. I told myself I was in control of the situation.

Oh, my friend. Those were my lies. I told them to myself until I believed them, and I believed them until I felt your mind slide out of mine like heavy silk.

* * *

I wake to hot Vulcan night and the faint but unmistakable scent of him. He's close. Much closer than he's been on other nights. I try to keep my breathing slow, let him believe I'm still sleeping. My eyes strain against the darkness until I see the curve of his shoulder, not two feet away.

He is sitting on the edge of my bed.

I've been dreaming of him, his hands. Of playing chess, his hands holding the pieces the same way I used to let him hold me against his palm. I'm hard as a rock under the thin linens, thinking about it. If he reached out, he could feel me there. Fool that I am, I let myself imagine that he will.

It must mean something, that he comes to me like this. He's acting out a behavior that he doesn't understand, but surely it has to mean that there is some memory, some core of self that speaks to him.

Doesn't it?

I wait for him to go as he always does, as he always did. But tonight, miracle of miracles, he doesn't. Tonight he stays with me, and if I lie still, I can listen to him breathe; I can breathe his scent. I feel hopelessly thankful for what I am allowed, and I will make do, even if this is all I can ever have.

Even if it's slowly killing me.

Silence I kept with him for far too long has turned back upon me with a vengeance.

* * *

When Miramanee died and he brought me home I waited for him, but he didn't come.

At night I lay awake, hurting, not used to sleeping alone any more. I couldn't grieve her as my wife but I couldn't stop thinking of her sweet smile. She'd died for me. I remembered the feel of his mind in mine, calling me back, and ached for him in a way I never had before.

Bones told me how it had been. How Spock had refused to eat, or sleep, how his driven single-mindedness had made McCoy fear for what would happen if they didn't find me. The doctor's report concerned me, but there was a part of me that took dark pleasure in it.

A week passed. I finally started to believe that he wasn't coming. Maybe this was punishment for the women. Of course he had to know about them. Of course I knew that, too.

I slept at last, driven down into it, needing release in more ways than one and knowing I wouldn't find it. My dreams were of him. In them he was stoning me, his face impassive, his blows even and carefully aimed.

I cried out upon waking--found myself held by a strength I could trust.

In another moment I was wide awake, the awareness of him a swift current that ran all through my body. It had been so long since the last time that his first touch on my stomach was enough to bring me to an aching hardness. I wanted to pull him down on top of me and do it like that, rubbing against each other, but he seemed determined to learn me with his hands first. He slipped them under me and caressed me there like a promise of other liberties. I hissed in a breath, wanting him to do it again and half afraid that he would.

Instead he held my hips in his hands, kissed my flanks and my belly as a lover would, with a reverence that made me think he had been waiting to do it for a long time. I let him, this once, so grateful to be not alone that I couldn't bring myself to deny the dangerous warmth of his lips on my skin.

When he took me in his mouth, it was all at once, a heat that seemed to draw shuddering ecstasy along every nerve I possessed and spiral deep in my belly. I cried out. His tongue had never touched me like that; I had never even kissed him. I came in his mouth within seconds, groaning release, feeling his hot wetness all over my thighs. I think he came from the sound I made.

Afterwards, we lay together side by side in the darkness for a long time. The ship pressed a low, sub-auditory vibration into us, her engines cycling as they did several times a day. I held myself still beside him, though I wanted to press my naked skin to his, full length. We'd never done that but right then I wanted it more than anything.

There were things I wanted to say to him, questions I wanted to ask. I found myself thinking surprising things. I imagined what we would be like together, what it would be like to live with him on Earth, on Vulcan, some other place entirely. I wondered if there would ever be another T'Pring... if Spock truly wanted that or maybe something else, maybe something only I could give him. There would be time, I told myself. One day we would both be free to find out what we really were together, without the ship, without the silent covenant he kept with me. One day he might touch my mind freely again the way he had on the balcony that night. One day I might find the courage to ask.

"I missed you, my friend," I whispered at last, breaking all our rules. "Even not knowing my own name, I missed you." He lay perfectly still and I listened to his heartbeat, faint, fast and even.

"I feared for you," he said at last. I heard him swallow. Then he said something so low I had to strain to hear it: "I risked the ship for you."

A tight, unexpected pressure closed around my heart.

"Not just for me. I read the reports. Every living thing on that planet was in danger. Every decision you made was the right one." Absolutely true of course. As long as I didn't think about what McCoy had confided to me, or how it had made me feel.

He didn't answer for a long time. Too long.

I lay next to him, eyes closed, feeling the soft rise and fall of his breathing. This time, his silence told me. But what of the next time? My chest felt heavy. My fists were clenched. A little longer, I was thinking, just give me a little longer. Slowly, I let my hands relax until I could say what he needed to hear.

"You saved all of us. You did the right thing, Spock. Don't ever doubt that." I put all my faith in him into the words, and I think it came close to convincing him. He touched the back of my hand as he left.

* * *

Not long after that, he drew a reprimand for what happened in the Tholian sector. I read his report of his own actions with a sick feeling in my stomach. I wanted to plead with him to reconsider or flat out refuse to file it, but of course that would have made it infinitely worse for him. Instead I did everything I could to balance his report with one of my own. That might have been enough, probably would have been--if not for the Tholians and their ominously worded protest to the Federation Council.

I had to give him the reprimand myself, had to face that bleak understanding gaze while I did it. I could barely keep my voice steady. When I was done I said his name and tried to make him understand how unjust I thought the whole matter was. He only gave me a shadow of that not- smile of his and said, "Duly noted, Captain. If you will excuse me..." We were in my quarters, still in uniform, still on duty. I think he knew that if he had given me half a chance I would have blown any semblance of professional behavior and begged his forgiveness for failing to prevent this.

When he had gone I felt a heavy sense of hopelessness that confirmed what I'd known from the beginning; the cost for what we had become was one I didn't know if either of us could afford to pay.

* * *

I'm not sure if I'm more afraid that he'll remember, or that he won't.

I don't know how I'd stand it if he remembered me, remembered us, only to turn me away. I wish I didn't remember how much I deserve it. But how can I forget that there's nothing I've bought here that I didn't pay for myself, in spades? It's as true now as it ever was. What Khan took from me he took because I made mistakes, because I was shortsighted and a fool to boot. When will I ever learn that there's nothing in this life that doesn't come with its own consequences, its own price? It was the same all those years ago, when a woman I'd once thought I loved cost me something I'd once thought I couldn't lose.

She would have appreciated the poetic justice, I'm sure.

* * *

Touching his mind was an addiction I should never have allowed. After that night of his mouth on me I had dreamed of him more than once. I had done so in the past but now I was dreaming his hands on my face, fingertips pressing intimately, his mind close in mine.

I knew I was in trouble. That's why I wouldn't have asked it of him if I'd seen any other way.

Janice Lester took the choice away from us when she took everything else. Knowing how hard it would be, but knowing it was the only option I had, I asked. We had to do it in front of the guard. That was probably fortunate, since I was half out of my mind by that point and desperate for him to believe me, to recognize me. I don't know what I might have done if we hadn't had an audience.

As it was, I could have wept from sheer relief to feel his control, his cool sanity, his belief. When I felt that, I... for a moment I forgot everything he had taught me about shielding, about maintaining barriers in a meld. For a moment only, but it was enough to saturate my whole body with melting heat, enough for him to feel it and pull away. I've never forgotten that feeling, that unfamiliar me responding to him like that.

Afterwards, McCoy asked me about what it had been like, the experience of existing in a female body, a body that wasn't mine. When I couldn't talk to him about it, when I couldn't tell him about the things he wanted to hear, he offered to call in someone else, another doctor. I flat refused. He wanted to insist but I convinced him otherwise, convinced him it wasn't something that he should push me on. How could he expect me to tell him what it was really like? How could anyone else really understand?

When Spock came to me that night, I was waiting for him. He found me still damp from my shower, aroused and naked under my sheets. He couldn't have known that my trembling wasn't from desire--how could he? I was hard for him and needy, and if I was disturbed by anything that had happened that day I was certainly not going to let it stop me.

His touch unmade me. My readiness for him had him so hot I could feel it coming off him in waves, and as my need mounted so did my panic. I desperately wanted his hands on my face, because I didn't recognize myself, and thought maybe he could.

Instead, he was rough with me, as he'd never been. As if he knew. My body's answer to that was emphatic. For the first time I tasted his skin, the hot hollow at his neck. He smelled incredible, like sweet dry leaves, and he made a sound of pleasure when I kissed him there. The sound made me a little crazy, and I bit at his neck, then his nape, knowing distantly that I'd turned him onto his belly and was covering him, pressing my weight into him.

He writhed under me and made that sound again, and I was lost. My hands were in his hair, holding him, and I pressed my mouth against his neck, not gently. I tried to bury my own whimpers of need there, but they got out anyway. I rubbed my cock against his thighs and almost came.

I was out of control, as bad as the first time. Worse. He was pushing against me, his hips surging up against me. I slipped between his thighs and sobbed to feel his heat. I began to hold him down in earnest.

Of course I know he could have stopped me. I don't fool myself that he couldn't have. But you see, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because I didn't think of that then, didn't think at all, just held him down and did what I wanted to him, as if I could, as if I had the right.

I am not and never have been a lover of men. But that night... that night I took my best friend down and buried myself in him, sheathed myself in him, lost myself in him.

Objectively, I can say that I was out of control that night, that I was seeking to regain something that had been taken from me. I can say that I took nothing he didn't let me take, did nothing he didn't let me do. That he knew what I needed and gave it to me as he has so many times, even that he came to me knowing what would happen. I can know all of that. And still it doesn't change the fact that I did it in anger, not in love, that it could have been anyone that night. It could have been her.

To Spock, I did that. To us.

* * *

My weight was on top of him. His ragged breathing registered at last, and chill horror washed over me. I moved and kept moving until I was standing beside the bed.


It was the first time he'd ever said my name in the dark. And the way he said it...

That voice was nothing like my first officer's, and a man who would let another own him as thoroughly as he just had was no one I recognized.

The one who had done it was a wolf I recognized too well.

I couldn't seem to stop shaking.

On some level, I knew this was partly delayed shock, some kind of panic attack, or maybe even a physical manifestation of the transfer. But knowing it wasn't enough to alter my awareness that I'd crossed every boundary I'd ever drawn around this thing between us. I can't express how certain I was of my disintegration. I saw the path I'd taken to my own destruction with great clarity, and still felt a terrible self-loathing, a feeling I suddenly knew had been building for a long time--one that didn't necessarily stop at me. How could he touch these things in me? How could he have let this happen?

What if I had, on some level, deliberately tried to punish him?

I felt him standing close behind me. His hand touched my shoulder. I shuddered away from him, needing to hit something.

"Don't." I couldn't bring myself to say his name. How strange my voice sounded. "Please don't."

"It will be all right."

"Of course it won't." I could still feel him. Could still feel what it had been like inside of him. Could still feel the rage I'd poured into him. "Jesus, of course it won't."

I can't do this, I wanted to cry out. This isn't me. I don't do this.

"Jim." It was a plea. It warmed the ice in me a little, and I closed my eyes.

"I need some time," I choked out. I was pleading, too.

"Take what you need," he said at last.

I let him go in darkness as he'd come.

* * *

I'm more intimately familiar with my own complexes than any man ought to be, thanks to the likes of alien entities, space viruses, and Leonard McCoy, among others. I've come to understand the fine line I can walk between calculated risks and dangerous risk-taking, between determination and stubbornness, between personal responsibility and obsession. I've tried to use my understanding of those distinctions to make myself a better starship commander. And yet I failed to plan for the moment when I crossed the line with him.

For a while things went more or less back to normal, and if I noticed a certain awkwardness between us personally, I pretended that the emptiness didn't touch me. He gave me the time I'd asked for, but the longer we went on like that the harder it became to go to him. At night I stared into the darkness listening for him; during the day I couldn't stand to meet his eyes and see them knowing it. Once we had kept our silences only in the dark, but I began to know how foolish I had been to think they couldn't spill over into daylight hours.

Spock didn't touch me, even in the line of duty, and I didn't ask him to.

As it turned out I didn't get the chance.

I know what happened because I saw the tapes, saw them enough times to be sure they've been imprinted on my memory forever. After all these years I can still remember every detail, too well. Heaven knows there's been enough times I wish I could forget.

We were skirting a volatile nebula when the ship was caught by some kind of plasma storm, an unstable electrical field of enormous power. It wreaked havoc with the shields and shook us up good, and when it was past I knew from the uneven vibrations that it had done more damage belowdecks. Spock and I went down there, not knowing what we'd find. The door to Engineering opened on chaos.

Containment fields were down; circuits were on overload. I got a backup team in there and within twenty minutes everything was more or less under control. I called the med team in and they started checking over those who'd been overtaken by gas before the coolant cycled out. When I felt like things were in hand I started down to check on Scotty, who was sitting up by that time, giving the med tech hell and trying to shake him off.

Later, I would see on the tapes what happened. Later I'd see the violet arcs of plasma current, later I'd hear the warning one of the engineers tried to shout. But at the time, I never even saw it coming.

The shock caught me halfway down the ladder, and I fell the rest of the way the deck.

On the recording, two nearby med techs hurry to where I've fallen, but Spock gets there first. One hand goes to my throat, the other pressing flat against my chest. His face tells everything.

"No pulse," one of the techs says a moment later. "No respiration."

The other is scanning near my head. "No skull fracture. No vertebrae damage." She looks up as if to ask Spock to move, then appears to think better of it. "Cordrazine."

Spock stops her before she can reach for her medikit, his hand clamping on her wrist. "Where is Doctor McCoy?"

"Sickbay--coolant burns." She says something too quietly for the recorder to pick up. It looks like, 'Let go of me, sir.'

After a moment, he does. The young woman loads a hypo and presses it to my chest.

"Pulse," the second med tech says. Then, "No go. You'll have to up the dose."

She shakes her head once, sharply. "Give him a minute." Spock's fingertips are at the pulse points on either side of my neck. She pushes Spock out of the way and begins CPR.

"One minute," the second tech says.

She sits back on her heels. "Increasing dosage to three drops." She dials the setting on her hypo.


Spock. In a tone that won't be argued with. She looks like she's considering it anyway.

"Continue CPR," he orders, and puts his hands on my face.

He has to go deep to find me. You can see it in his stillness, in the way he is so focused, so far gone inside himself. The young woman compressing my heart is the only one in that room not watching him, the only one not holding her breath.

"Two minutes," comes the tech's voice.

You can see it when it happens. You can see the way he sways, the way his face loses its stillness. His hands shift on my face and his lips are parted, flushed.

The tech confirms it. "Got him. We've got a pulse."

My body shudders as I draw in a breath, my first in almost three minutes. The female med tech looks at her readings, obviously relieved beyond measure. "You did it, sir. You got him back."

But Spock doesn't hear her.

Spock is leaning over me, lost in a meld he can't break and can't stem. In front of thirty crewmen, recorded for all posterity, Spock is about to lose control.

As many times as I've watched those tapes, I've never been able to tell which of us moved first. Was it my hands under his tunic or was it his mouth on mine?

It doesn't matter. By the time we knew what was happening the damage was done.

* * *

It was late when he came to my quarters. I read the document he handed me in silence, keeping my face so still it hurt.

I looked at it for a long time, reading the words over and over again, slowly, the shapes of the letters feeling sharp and painful in my mind. I didn't look at him and he didn't move. He just waited. At last, I met his eyes.

"You don't have to do this."

"Indeed? Command has not left us many options."

My heart hurt. There'd been no discussion. He'd never considered for a minute that I should be the one to leave.

"The Republic is a good ship," I said hoarsely. "You could do good work there."

I thought for a moment he wouldn't answer me. His eyes were as shuttered as I'd ever seen them. But at last he looked away.

"I do not have to tell you why I will not take the posting."

He didn't. The thought of staying on the Enterprise without him there was almost unbearable.

"But why resign, Spock? Surely--"

His eyes flashed darkly. "You know why."

To draw fire away from me, of course. What other reason could he have?

Desperation made me think wild thoughts. "We'll both resign then. Go somewhere where we can make a difference. Hell, we can go to Vulcan if you want to. The VSA would kill to get you."

"You cannot change what you are, not on Vulcan or anywhere else that we might go. Just as I cannot. I will not see you give up your command for something you have done everything in your power to resist." His voice betrayed the effort this was costing him. His gaze faltered. "You would not thank me, Jim."

I rose and went around the desk. He didn't back away from me, though I saw it was a close thing.

We still couldn't say the words for what we did. The weight of the eyes on me in the corridors of my own ship, on the bridge, had been one of the most difficult things I'd ever endured. I could see my shame hidden in their eyes. James T. Kirk, shining example of a starship captain--who would have guessed?

The curious eyes, prying... how much worse was it for him?

It hit me like a gravity well that he was really going. All our silent treaties hadn't been enough.

"I don't want to lose you," I said recklessly. "I don't think I can lose you."

His face was stark with pain he didn't try to hide from me. "I had hoped you would come to me freely, but circumstances have taken that opportunity from us. Let me go, Jim. We have already done enough damage to one another, have we not?" His eyes were far too gentle with me. "Give ground and live to fight another day. It was you who taught me that."

"Another day, Spock?" My voice caught.

His was a whisper. "There are always possibilities."

He didn't lie, except by omission. I should have heard goodbye in his voice. I should have remembered how good he was at giving me what he thought I needed.

At last I picked up my stylus and signed the appropriate line, just under his precise, elegant signature. I handed the slate to him, reluctant to release my hold on it. "I never meant for it to happen like this."

"You never meant for it to happen at all."

"And you did?

His mouth curled faintly. He started to go.

"Tell me something." There was something wrong with my voice. It didn't seem to want to work right. "Was it me, that first time? Or was it you?"

He stopped near the door, his back to me.

"Does it matter so much?"

"It does to me."

There was a great weariness in his stance. At last, he looked back. "And if I said that I had thought of you? Which of us would you then condemn more, Jim?"

I couldn't answer that, and in another moment he was my cool, logical Mr. Spock again.

"Live long and prosper, Captain."

* * *

I can't stand this.

He's fallen asleep here next to me. I can hear him breathing, feel him, he's here and real and alive beside me, and I can't--

All the times he came to me and he never slept in my bed. But now, here he is.

The warm weight of him. Just a few inches, that's all it would take. I can feel him breathing there, can smell him, god that scent... if I touch him I'm going to have to bury my face in his neck and just breathe that in for about a year.

I don't dare touch him, not in the condition I'm in.

Don't. Let him sleep. Don't think about that, about what it would feel like against him. Don't think about whether he would let me curl around him and stay like that for a while, just hold him while he sleeps. Don't think about it.

I have to talk to him. I have to touch him. I have to.

Please let me. Please let him let me.

"Spock?" A whisper.

He sleeps.

"I missed you, my friend."

I listen to his heartbeat, faint, fast and even, as I once did long ago. Suddenly a fist squeezes my insides and everything I've held back escapes in a whispered rush.

"Oh Spock--I missed you so much."

I'm as close to tears as I've ever been. Sound like a damn freight train, like I've been running uphill.

He doesn't wake, and in a minute I'm all right again.

"I know you don't remember, my friend. But there's some things I have to say. All right?"

He doesn't answer. I can just make out his severe profile against the faint crimson waxing of T'Kuht at the window. His eyes are closed.

It takes me a while to find where to start. There's so much.

"Our lady's flown her last. Did anyone tell you? I saw her go, Spock. I sent her down myself. She was beautiful. A shooting star... I made a wish on her, do you know what it was? Well, it came true, anyway. Maybe it was her last gift to me. Or to you, for giving your life for her. I know you didn't do it for her, though. I know what you would have done it for."

I have to concentrate on breathing again for a minute.

"I can't ask forgiveness for this. I can't ask because you can't give it. Maybe one day I will ask but... oh, my friend, I want to tell you how sorry I am, how much it hurts that you were the one to pay for Khan, for my mistakes, my shortsightedness. I know, being sorry isn't... isn't logical. If I'd been the one to go we probably wouldn't have made it. And if we had you'd be here and I'd be dead with no T'Lar to bring me back, and I wouldn't ever ask that of you. I can't tell you what it's been like. I hope you never know what it's been like."

Thinking of what it was like when the numbness started to wear off, that first night back in San Francisco... I'm shaking thinking about it. I look over at him lying beside me. He's so peaceful, lying there. So beautiful. He knows nothing of my pain. Nothing. I want to shake him.

"How the hell could you ask it of me?"

Then I'm shamed by my anger.

"I'm sorry, my friend. I didn't mean that. Of course I didn't mean that." I run my hands over my face and make myself draw a few deep breaths. Talking seems to be helping; at least I'm not half desperate with arousal any more. I still ache to bury myself in him but a different way, a different part of me.

I make myself shut that out, fast. One quick way to drive myself crazy for sure.

"You were right, you know," I tell him, smiling a little. "You were right, I never should have given up field command. Why the hell didn't I listen to you? I know, one more thing for me to be sorry about. But I had to, Spock. It was never the same without you, and when the Enterprise was slated for training duty I just didn't have the heart to try for another ship. A starship captain has to be driven to command, you know that."

Hearing what I've just said makes me swallow heavily.

"Of course you know that. Who'd know better?

"I understood what you were doing, keeping her safe for me. One thing I have to know, though. Why--" The word catches. "Why didn't you ever come to me on Earth, after?"

The only answer is his breathing, steady and even, and the distant vibration of desert heat lightning.

"I thought you would, you know."

It's hard to say that. Hard to admit how wrong I'd been about him, how arrogant in my presumptions. For eight years I'd gone star seeking without him... what had ever made me think things wouldn't change in all that time?

Realizing he wasn't going to come to me had hurt almost as much as after Vejur, when he'd told me he was taking a posting on another ship. Back then I'd thought it was his way of telling me he'd decided the price was too high. Eventually, I'd understood that I was right, but not the way I'd thought.

My first, best destiny. Yes, my friend, I heard you.

But I'd given up my ship, and he hadn't come.

"I thought you would," I whisper to him, confessing with that truth how much I'd counted on it. "I didn't understand. Oh, Spock, I am so sorry I didn't understand."

I hadn't known until I felt his mind slipping from mine how wrong I'd been about everything, how blind, how many nights and days I had wasted. For it was only then that I understood that he had never stopped waiting for me, not in all the years since I'd asked him to had he ever stopped waiting.

I've turned my face against his shoulder. I breathe his scent, because I can now. I don't dare do more than that, but I can close my eyes and breathe him in, and that's enough.

Damn, but I'm tired.

It's time I faced the very real possibility of ending up incarcerated before anything here is resolved. I'd do anything for Spock to be himself again. But of course I've already sold everything I had to get this far, and I don't have anything left to bargain with. Every day I delay makes things look worse for the others.

Have to talk to Bones tomorrow. He's been so patient with me. Have to tell him.

He knows, but have to tell him anyway.

"Need to tell you," I hear myself murmur on the last breath of waking.

I dream that I hold him close in sleep; when I wake it's morning, and the bed is empty.

* * *

In a few days the newly christened Bounty departs for Earth. It's going to have to be soon; HQ is growing increasingly impatient. I'm not sure how much longer I can hold them off. The frustration is enough to make me sabotage the damn ship.

Spock is beginning to remember.

For the past three days he's been in seclusion. Amanda explained the process to me: an ever more complex series of computer generated interactive triggers designed to form connections in the brain, relieved by periods of deep meditation. She tells me they may know within a week how successful the retraining has been, and that I'll be able to see him then.

I still haven't told anyone about my night shade.

Since the night he slept beside me, I haven't seen him. I need to sleep, but here I am again, lying awake in the dark. I could go out into the garden or go down to the ship to work, or even read a damn book but of course to do that I'd have to turn on a light and of course I won't do that while there's a chance he'll come.

Thank god for Bones. Sometimes I think he's the only thing in this forsaken place that keeps me sane. Sometimes I think--

Relief, breaking in a slow wave.

He's here.

Faint starlight shows him standing near the door. He is clad in a robe so white it seems to glow. My heart's skipping and making me forget how tired I am.

Bare feet on tile floor, I rise from the bed and take two steps toward him. For a long moment he doesn't move, and I fear that I've made a mistake in getting up.

Then he moves past me to the window and I, alight with my certainty and three nights of frustrated need, follow.

I have had an epiphany, and it is this: none of this matters. Not Vulcan, not Starfleet, not my past fears or my desperate need for his touch, not any of it. What I have failed to understand in all my longing for absolution, in all my grief and anger for what I have lost, is that his very presence is a gift. It doesn't even matter if he ever remembers or forgives me.

Which of us, when we have lost a piece of our soul, doesn't grieve and rage for the things we didn't say? What would any of us not give to have another hour, another minute with those we've lost? With him I've been given a gift beyond any price: a second chance. There's only one thing that matters now, and that's this absolute imperative to tell him before another day can pass, another hour, another minute.

He lets me get within a handbreadth of him, and I stand beside him at the window, looking out at the faint shadow of the mountain against the clear night. Words are hard, as hard as they've ever been with him. I wish I could ask him for the touch of his mind and tell him that way, as I did so long ago, before I let myself fear so much.

I say his name, wanting to touch him. "Spock."

My fear doesn't matter.

"There are things I need to say to you, my friend. Things I need for you to know." The temptation to ask for the touch of his thoughts is so strong it feels like the only thing in me, but not this time. Not when he can't--

"I am listening," he says softly beside me, the dark timbre of his voice like a quiet note in my soul.

I open my mouth--but all at once swift chills are running over my skin, sudden heat and prickling realization at the small of my back. Turning, I find his starlit eyes with mine. And there--

At last, at last, the look of recognition, of sadness, of him.

Oh, God.

"You remember."

"Not... everything. However, I do... remember."

"But..." ...then why are you here? If you know then why are you looking at me like that?

"I have... a confession to make," he says, as if the phrase is one he's trying out. "I was not entirely asleep three nights ago."

That pressure again, fierce and ominous this time, taking my breath.

"Oh, Spock." Heat pricks behind my eyes, my throat so tight I don't know how to get words out. "You didn't say anything."

My hand is close to his on the window sill. He's looking at them there, side by side. "It was necessary to consider the proper response," he says carefully.

"You want to go first, or should I?" I try to smile but the realization is still washing over me in waves. He's here, really here. This is us. In the face of that miracle, what can't I hope for?

"As you wish," he says gravely.

Oh, Spock. Thank you for coming back to me, my friend. Thank you.

It's harder to say this to eyes that remember all our years of silence, but I can't let that matter.

"You are so beautiful," I tell him in a rush. "Do you know that?"

It's nothing I planned to say. And suddenly everything I did plan seems inadequate. How can there be words for this?

He sees my struggle. He seems oddly childlike, and I wonder if he can understand what I would tell him, about how much I love him, how much I regret every moment I didn't tell him that, how bad it was without him. His understanding doesn't matter either, I remind myself, not now. This is the gift, the second chance.

And I am in that memory, that moment when he slipped away from me, when I felt him slipping and couldn't speak, couldn't touch.

I take his hand. He's warm, so warm. I take his hand and put it against my chest, my bare chest inside my robe, so he can feel how hard my heart is beating. I press his hand there and he lets me. He seems fascinated by the sight of his hand pressing against my bare skin.

Distantly I feel the first tears slip, tears I've never been able to cry for him.

"This is where you are. This is you in my heart, Spock." My hand closes around his, making a fist with his fist inside of it, squeezing tight. "This is you."

And I'm not done with miracles, because he touches my face, brushing his fingertips along brow and temple, cheek and jaw, touching tears. "Jim," he breathes, as he did on the mountain, a revelation. His hand slips around to the back of my neck, holds me there, and oh, God--

Gravity and free fall, time stopping and rushing forward.

I'm a leaf in a storm, a storm like the great flood, dams crumbling, rushing over me and out of me, hot tears I can't stop and fierce sobs like breaking, like the end of the world.

And his arms, his arms, his arms.

* * *

In the end, he takes me to the bed and lays me down, takes me down with him into sleep, a place I go willingly. When I wake, the warmth in the room and his warmth against my back make me feel somewhat overheated -- but I revel in it, stretching, turning my face to the window, where bright Vulcan morning is breaking over the sill.

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