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Dedication: For Kira-Nerys.



Author's Note: This story deals with some temporal mechanic type stuff of which I am seriously not an expert. If I got anything egregiously wrong, my apologies :-).



Special thanks go to T'Aaneli for beta-ing even though she's a busy little bee, and to Rabble Rouser for answering questions when I didn't have access to my computer.



Part of the KSOF. Run, don't walk to... http://www.kardasi.com/KSOF/stories.htm



The issued challenge can be found at the end of the story.




~~~~~

Rusted brandy in a diamond glass

everything is made from dreams

time is made from honey slow and sweet

only the fools know what it means

temptation, I can't resist

-Tom Waits

~~~~~

Sometimes it's so real, I completely lose myself in the illusion. The walls are real, the floor is real, the sun on my face is real.

It's like a siren call, the seductive pull of the everyday rise and shine. That's where the bliss is kept, the rapture of this place that is my prison. Joy in the simple things, like an unexpected smile from a friend or lover.

The moment of clarity is always the most frightening, a mixture of deep dread and insurmountable apprehension, almost stark claustrophobia. And always with a sense of urgency, as if I were looking for something that is missing and that I have to find before it is too late.

It comes unbidden, that spark of realization, while in the middle of seemingly mundane activities like walking up stairs or frying eggs, while standing by a window or staring into the eyes of someone who's there and not there. I have known fear in my life, true fear that feels like the thrust of a knife deep into my gut. I have walked with fear at my side, made friends with it, even courted it, but I must admit I have no words to describe what that moment of clarity feels like. Fear doesn't even come close.

At first I had no control over anything. I let myself be tossed along in the currents that flow through this place from memory to memory, life to life, fantasy to fantasy. A continual stream of everything wonderful paraded before me: camping with my brother Sam, the feel of a warm body next to mine in bed, cooking breakfast for Lori as she went through our mail on a Sunday morning, holding my newborn son in my arms, losing a chess game to Spock and seeing his warm brown eyes light up.

I was lost. How could I not be? As much as waking from this hell freezes my blood and breaks my heart, following the siren call wraps me in pure and absolute pleasure. Euphoria, almost.

I could spend eternity on one moment of my life. I could and I probably did. If there is one thing I have come to understand about this place, it is that time has no meaning here. There is no past, no present, no future. There is only me. Alone.

The price of that realization is high. I now know how Adam must have felt when he was thrust from Eden.

So why do I wake? Why not let myself go and willingly follow the song of absolute pleasure? Good question, one that I've asked myself countless times.

Why? Because I must.

It seems even in Hell I must have a mission.

I was out riding King, feeling the wind on my face and the power of the beast beneath me. Together we approached a familiar ditch, a small ravine I had always loved to jump over. I urged King forward, wanting to feel the bottom of my stomach rise into my throat as I soared through the air. But it didn't happen and out I came, suddenly aware that this wasn't real.

I struggled to hang on to awareness, not letting it slide away. The usual flood of insight was there, but this time with a difference. Memory washed over me like a cold shower.

I remembered a man, an officer, bald and slight of stature. He had said he was the captain of the Enterprise. He had said that all this -- my house and horse -- all that was real beneath my feet and above my head was, in fact, not real; that I was trapped inside a temporal distortion whose gateway was an energy ribbon he called the Nexus. He had said he needed my help.

I sat on King, remembering, my heart pounding cold blood through my veins, and recalled hot sun burning down and glinting off a mad man's white hair. I could feel the blistering metal railing biting into my hand and the adrenaline rush of a punch to the stomach. I remembered my death.

Was it all a dream? Some strange fantasy played out for my increasingly twisted amusement? No. There was something in the memory of sun-baked rocks digging into my flesh and the harsh pain of a broken back that differed from the endless sea of mindlessness I had grown accustomed to.

So why was I still here? How was it possible for me to remember my own death? Perhaps I was truly in Hell. Or did the Nexus' hold transcend death? Hell or the Nexus, was there a difference?

These were not comforting thoughts. I had always known I would die alone. I didn't realize my death would last forever.

Yet, despite the horror of my imprisonment, my heart soared with the knowledge that I could leave. That I had left. I had walked, for a brief time, side by side with another living, breathing human being. Together, as a team, we had made a difference against insurmountable odds. The joy I felt made me cry out, "Yes!"

In that moment, I recognized myself. What I had been, once, what I still was. A man of action. A man of decision--James Tiberius Kirk.

Of course, I was still stuck in this place. I hadn't forgotten that. I couldn't forget that. I could not lose sight of who I was and where I was or I would start to drift. And there was still the question of whether I could leave the Nexus again. Maybe it had been a one shot deal. I had my chance and I took it and I died and that was it. That had been the real me and what was left was just an echo, an imprint left here in this place, doomed to wander aimlessly for all eternity.

More unpleasant thoughts. But I knew who I was now and I knew I didn't give up easily. I was -- I am -- a fighter. And more importantly, I don't lose. I play to win.

The first order of business was figuring out how to move about this place without finding myself sailing out into never-never land.

It was difficult at first, learning to manipulate my existence and figuring out how to make the Nexus work for me instead of against me, or perhaps more accurately, despite me. It was war. I would gain a little ground then lose a little, then gain some more. I started with relatively simple things, like learning how to alter my environment physically. For example I'd take a bunch of plates from the kitchen in the cabin and smash them on the floor and then make them whole again.

Easier said than done. It required a lot of concentration, or instead of restored plates I'd end up with breakfast. The plates have to become very important to me, so important that their restoration is tantamount to bliss.

All this wasn't without its side effects. After a while no matter how hard I threw plates around the cabin none of them would break. They'd just bounce back or magically appear in nice neat stacks on the kitchen table. So I had to reverse the process and will the plates to break. Back and forth, back and forth, until I could jump from one to the other as easily as changing my mind.

Eventually I left the cabin. The first place I consciously took myself to was the farm back in Iowa. I figured it was home, and safe; a good place to start. I went back and forth between the farm and the cabin, altering things as I went and then altering them back. The Academy was next and all my old haunts in San Francisco. My apartment. Headquarters.

I tried very hard to keep these places devoid of people. It was too easy to lose myself otherwise; they were so real. And I wasn't comfortable changing anything about them- well, except for giving Admiral Komack a bright blue Mohawk. Once I was able to pick myself up off the floor, I changed him back. That took a bit of doing actually, but eventually he returned to the way he normally looked and stayed that way. You learn some interesting things about yourself, here in the Nexus.

After Headquarters I went to the Enterprise. That was hard. Nothing is quite so hollow and cavernous as an empty space ship. How I managed that feat I'll never know, walking along the echoing corridors with only my beating heart for company and the weight of my self-imposed loneliness pressing in on me. Because it didn't have to be that way. I could have had them all back again, three times over. My crew, my friends, my life. Bones. Spock.

I suppose the knowledge of what I could have here in the Nexus, although a living, breathing, desperately real, warm, shadow was just that and nothing else, a shadow. My life was nothing but illusion now; I couldn't let my past be that as well.

I armored myself with my determination. I wrapped it around me and hid myself deep inside so the heartache would die for lack of light and air, because if I let it live, nothing in this universe would ever get me to step foot on my ship again.

Brave words. Of course I wasn't entirely successful. I'm only human and subject to numerous limitations. But saying those words helped. They were there when I really needed them, like the time I was in my quarters alternating between smashing all of my possessions and restoring them, when in came Spock.

He walked in when I was smashing, not restoring. What part of my subconscious wanted to be discovered by Spock while wreaking havoc on my quarters is something I'll never know, but it was absurdly delightful. His facial expression alone sent me into hysterics. It just got better when I tried to explain to him, logically of course, exactly why I had taken a baseball bat and was gleefully destroying all of my hard earned possessions. I must have been truly close to the edge because I told him everything.

I told him about Picard and the Nexus. I told him about my cabin and Butler my dog and Antonia. I told him about the Enterprise-B and how I died and how I kept on dying and couldn't stop, about how the siren call was just too strong sometimes and I couldn't resist it. Even worse that I didn't want to resist it. Not while I had him there, standing in front of me so real with that damned eyebrow rising. I choked on my words, desperate to get them out as fast as possible before it all went away, before I remembered and pulled the armor around me so that the pain would stop. I grabbed him and held on for dear life, feeling his strength and the too-hot Vulcan heat beneath my fingers, needing him to know who I was, that I was alive, that I hadn't given up, that I would get out somehow and find him. I was overwhelmed with the need, the urgency, to get to him, to know he was safe and alive and not drifting and lost like I was.

I must have seemed like I was out of my mind. Only it wasn't really Spock, so whether he thought I was in need of medical attention or not hardly mattered. In the end it was his eyes that brought me back. I looked into those eyes, as familiar to me as my own, and there I found that stab of insight -- this isn't Spock. Reality came rushing back to me.

Like I said, brave words.

I have no idea how long I hopped around from place to place practicing, or how many times I succumbed to the lull of mindlessness and became lost. But each time I floated out to sea, it was easier to return. The fear and pain and that strange sense of urgency never left and maybe even became worse, but once again I learned to wield fear as if it were a tool, a trusty phaser at my side. Fear reminded me that I was alive.

What I was going to do with this newfound ability, I wasn't sure. I just knew I had to gain some of my own back. In this place, I was nothing. I was at the mercy of the anomaly and its manipulations of my dreams and memories. That had to end. I could no longer sit back and let it control me. I had to control it, somehow, at whatever cost.

I thought a great deal about the nature of this place, the Nexus, and how it was that I found myself here, trapped. I remembered leaving Harriman on the bridge and running down to the deflector array. There was a flash of blinding light and then nothing.

The memory was clear, as if it had just happened yesterday. In fact, I always felt as if I had just arrived. What if I had? After all, this was a temporal anomaly; time had no meaning here. Temporal mechanics had never been my strong suit, certainly no match for Spock's, but I understood the basics. I understood that while standing outside of time within the Nexus, I could, theoretically, occupy every point in time outside. I could go wherever I wanted, if I only knew how.

It was hard to reconcile the feeling of just arriving with the certain knowledge that I had been here time beyond reckoning. It must have been a symptom of my human mind trying to make heads or tails of a non-linear existence. I understood linear time -- past, present, future, one foot in front of the other -- but that was not how this place worked. I had to learn to achieve non-linear thinking if I wanted to beat the Nexus, to understand that I was nowhere and everywhere, no time and every time.

Or it could all be wishful thinking, and in this place that's a death sentence. So much is unknown about time and its true nature. One thing was for certain: I wasn't going anywhere as long as I allowed myself to be controlled. I could do nothing if I was unaware of who I was. So I continued, tirelessly, hardening my heart against the pain and holding myself as far apart from the seductive undertow of bliss as I could.

Freedom was not far off, I could feel it. I was just missing one vital piece of the puzzle that would open the doors to my prison and silence that ever present song that pulled at me gently.

Over and over again I replayed everything I knew about temporal mechanics. I combed through every bit of knowledge, trying to construct a theory that would take me from this place. A course of action, a plan of attack, anything, all the while pacing like a caged lion.

How had Picard done it? How had he taken us out of the Nexus? I strove to recall every detail, every word we said to each other. None of it helped. It was as if he had performed a magic trick: one second we were on horseback and the next on some distant planet in a race against time.

I was still in that race. I might be occupying every point in time, but the rest of the universe wasn't. Everybody else was still placing one foot in front of the other, still being born, living, and then dying.

That sense of urgency came back, stronger then ever. There was something I had to do, something I had to get back to, something important, but I had no idea what it could be, or where it could be. And then I suddenly realized my problem.

Picard had known exactly where to go. He'd had a mission to finish and a planet to save. He had needed to see it though to completion. It was what he had wanted, more than anything else. So much so that the Nexus had to give it to him. I had to do the same.

But could I? I looked back to that day on the Enterprise-B and wondered suddenly why I needed to go back so badly. Perhaps I had been a bit too young to die, but did I really have anything to go back to? I didn't have a mission. I didn't have a family. My friends had all moved on, gone on with their lives. Even Bones and Spock. What was there to go back to? Was this place really that awful? The food's good, the beds are soft, the sun shines, what more could I want? I could go back to my cabin and wake up Antonia and we could go for a ride. I could do all those things I always wanted to do but never did.

The siren's call.

I will not live a lie. Picard had told me the Enterprise was safe, that I had been the only casualty. So Harriman had managed to get them back to Earth without too much difficulty. It was time to let that go. It might not be the past in the conventional sense of the word, but it was still past and done with and I couldn't look back if I wanted to move forward. And I did, very much so. My gut had never been wrong before, so I took it on faith that it wasn't wrong now and it was telling me I was needed.

And where did my gut tell me I was needed? For some reason I thought back to that moment on the Enterprise. Not the real Enterprise but the one in here, the one that was empty. Empty except for one person -- Spock.

During that moment, looking into his eyes, I hadn't really thought it unusual that he, of all people, was the sole individual on the Enterprise that my unconscious mind had picked to torment me. He was my friend, my best friend, so of course having him with me, so real and yet not real was a torment. But I hadn't reacted to Bones the same way the few times he'd popped up at the cabin, and he was just as close a friend.

And it wasn't like with Antonia, that bittersweet what might have been. Oh that was there, no question. I'm no fool, I understand about missed opportunities and past regrets, all too well. Like I said before, you learn some interesting things about yourself here in the Nexus, but it wasn't just that alone. That was merely the proverbial salt on the wound.

I recalled the almost overpowering need to reach Spock, to grab him and know he was safe, to tell him that I was safe. That, yes, I was lost, but not gone, that I would find him if he would just wait, just hang on a little bit longer. Thinking about it robbed me of breath and set my heart pounding. For some reason I knew his life depended on my finding him. I knew he was in danger.

In the end, the answer was as simple as breathing. I just had to want it badly enough, so that every fiber of my being demanded take me to Spock -- and there I was.

~~~~~

I stood still, not really seeing or hearing or feeling. Slowly, as if I were emerging from a coma, the world began to make itself known to me, starting with the strained light of the planet's sun and the roaring sounds of waves crashing and spraying their mists on to the craggy wall of a cliff.

Outside. Cold gray skies, that had me wondering whether it was morning or evening, over an even grayer expanse of ocean. I stood on the edge of a cliff, the coastline continuing on to the horizon. A bitter wind blew, slicing through the meager layers of my clothing and speeding past me back out to sea. Looking inland, my back to the wind, I could see in the distance a group of buildings, varying in size, sitting lonely at the foot of the largest mountains I had ever seen.

Where am I?

This was not Earth; that much was for certain. I wished vainly for the night so that perhaps the stars could offer some answers. But not knowing which direction the sun set, or indeed, which direction I was facing, there was no way for me to know if night was approaching or still far off.

Realizing just how exposed I was, not to mention the fact that I still had on my Starfleet dress uniform, I moved behind a large boulder, sending thanks for the rocky terrain to whatever gods were nearby.

This was no way to start a rescue mission, alone and unarmed on a possibly hostile planet. I wasn't even sure it was a rescue mission. All I knew was what my stomach was telling me: Spock's in danger.

Sitting with my back against the cold stone, I looked out to the churning waters of the ocean, searching for some clue to my whereabouts, but there were precious few to be found. It was cold, at least at this location. There was a large body of water and an ominous looking mountain range with a group of buildings that just about shouted Military Institution. I turned to look back at the buildings, trying to recognize the architectural style, watching as a shuttle of unknown design flew into the doors of a hanger bay. Something about the no-nonsense melding of curves and angles reminded me of a hawk or an eagle.

Or a bird of prey.

Not good. My stomach tightened with the sudden insight. I needed information, and I wasn't going to get it sitting behind a rock. Cautiously, I started to make my way towards the only sign of civilization.

Moving by inches, I kept under cover as best as I could, trying to ignore the heavy weight of coldness that threatened to drag me down. My strength wouldn't last long without warmer clothes or shelter of some kind other than large rocks, especially if it was night that approached and not day.

The buildings moved slowly closer. The distance was deceiving, I realized; they were further away than they seemed. I stumbled, my foot snagging on the tough native grass. Cursing as I got up, I had the sudden urge to run. This wasn't the time for half measures and getting caught might be a good thing. At this point it was better than freezing and I was certain I was running out of time. So I ran.

The sky began to lighten as some of the clouds burned away. Day was here. One mystery down -- several more to go. I was relieved even as I regretted missing the stars.

I ran, jumping and skidding and sometimes falling over rocks and rough terrain, listening to the sound of my heavy breathing loud in my ears. It was somewhat comforting and I realized I hadn't heard it in far too long a time.

My breath matched the beat of my feet against the hard ground, tuning to each other. I felt like I was soaring, flying free.

I began to see details. Different shades of gray with black accents, no windows, and hardly any doors besides the two immense ones at the front. It certainly was imposing, this fortress in gray. As I got closer I could see how the buildings, with their predatory architecture that seemed to swoop down on me as I came near, crowded around each other, forming a nest.

Even as my body urged me forward, I slowed down to a walk, catching my breath, gulping down the cold mountain air. I approached the main building from the side.

That's when I heard it, a sound that had been absent from my life just as much as the sound of my own breathing, but not nearly so missed-phaser fire. The sound triggered so many different automatic responses in me I was momentarily frozen in place. It came again and that all too familiar sense of urgency ripped through me, as if I had been shot.

Fighting the need to run and pound on the front doors, I forced myself to hug the wall and skirt around the main building to the back. More phaser fire. Unable to hold myself back, I spilled out on to a wide-open courtyard.

Romulans. Lots of them, forming what I quickly realized was a firing squad, all facing away from me with phasers raised to a line of blindfolded prisoners with hands fastened behind them. Before I could draw my next breath, all the prisoners flowered in a blaze of disrupter fire and disappeared, disintegrated.

Panic welled in me. Was I too late? There had been no time to look at their faces. Had one of them been Spock? I fought for breath as the feeling of helplessness and futility melted into anger. I willingly let myself drown in it.

Every bone in my body readied itself to charge, to attack, wanting to scream in anger and frustration. The need to do something had almost overwhelmed me when movement caught my eye.

The squad had dispersed, leaving three shooters who waited as a lone prisoner was brought out from a side door. He was tall and slim, not blindfolded, and his arms were free at his side. Walking ahead of his captors, he moved with an unhurried gait and aching dignity. He turned to face his killers, his eyes raking over each in turn, then rising to find a far off point- and landed on mine.

Jim.

Spock.

The shooters raised their arms and aimed.

"NO!" My voice arced through the air and landed on stunned faces. Everybody turned. The shooters lowered their weapons.

Silence, like an approaching storm. I walked forward, slowly, moving through the crowd of Romulans, who were all standing like frozen statues.

Then I was standing in front of him, in front of Spock, and the whole world coalesced down to the space between him and me.

"Hello, Spock."

"Jim?"

"Yes, I'm here."

He nodded, as if my reappearance were the most logical event in the universe. Grinning, I turned back out to face the crowd, shielding Spock with my body.

"You will not kill this man today."

~~~~~

They put us in the same cell, a small room of four gray walls and one window. It was probably not the wisest move on their part, but at the time they were half-certain I was a ghost and therefore not real and couldn't possibly pose a threat. Thank God for small favors and confused Romulans. I knew they wouldn't stay confused for long.

We just stared at each other at first, words not coming easily. I kept my hands busy, exploring my new surroundings and testing the solid door of our cell. I was afraid to touch him. I was still freezing, it not being much warmer inside the cell than outside, and I was trying to hide my shivering with movement.

He was changed. Not greatly, not so much that I couldn't see my Spock underneath the heavy Romulan robes, the added creases and lines on his face, the light dusting of gray at his temples. It looked good on him, I decided. As with everything, he aged gracefully.

"How?" His voice was low, lower than I remembered.

I smiled. "How, indeed." I closed my eyes briefly. "I don't know if I have answers for you. I don't know if I believe or understand any of it myself."

He nodded, looking down at his hands. "I received a message seven years ago from a Captain Jean-Luc Picard."

The expression on my face must have told him all he needed to know. My voice cracked slightly as I spoke. "That must have been a shock."

He raised his eyebrow at me and it was all I could do not to start grinning like a fool at the sight. How I had missed him.

"A shock? Yes, a shock. That is a very accurate description. Certainly it was unexpected."

"You thought I was dead, how could it not be a shock? Believe me, I know what that feels like."

He looked at me then, his eyes unreadable and dark. "I could no longer feel you, Jim. I had no way of knowing you were not dead."

I heard it there, the slight taint of guilt shading his voice, and I realized he blamed himself for what had happened. "There was nothing you could have done, Spock."

"No? Perhaps," and he closed his eyes. Of course, knowing that there was nothing he could have done would not change how he felt. I understood that, all too well. I suppressed another shiver.

"So, Spock.... By the way, what is your title these days? I'm assuming it hasn't remained captain."

"Correct. I am currently an ambassador in the Vulcan Diplomatic Corps."

"Ambassador?" I couldn't help my incredulous tone. I looked blankly at him for a moment as I watched what I was certain was an amused look emerge in his eyes. "Ambassador." I rolled the word out slowly, matching it up to my image of Spock, and decided it fit him. For the most part.

"Well, Ambassador, would you mind telling me exactly what you're doing in a Romulan prison?" I folded my arms, as much for warmth as to hide the shaking of my hands.

"I am being held captive."

"I can see that. Why?"

"It is a long story."

"It doesn't appear that I'll be going anywhere anytime soon." I looked expectantly at him. "Let's start with why you're on Romulus to begin with and then go from there."

"You do not know?"

I shook my head. "I haven't really been able to keep up with the latest trends and major events, Spock. When I left I just...left. I had no idea where I was going, or when for that matter. I just knew it was to you."

It was such a familiar thing, watching Spock's thought processes through his facial expressions. He digested that bit of information, taking a moment before speaking.

"You should not have done that."

"Out of the frying pan and into the fire, eh, Spock?"

"Yes."

"So, you would have preferred I just let them kill you? I don't think so."

"By your own admission you could not have known I was in danger."

"Yes, well. Except for that." He lifted his eyebrow again. I did smile this time, thinking some things never change.

"Don't ask me to explain it, Spock. I don't think I ever could." He nodded. "Are you going to answer my question?"

He got up from where he was sitting on one of the pallets that served for a bed and walked to the window, a small, barred, hole in the wall that looked out to the ocean. A cold wind blew in and ruffled his hair. "Do you recall the Khitomer Conference?"

"How could I forget?"

"Do you remember meeting Pardek? He was one of the Romulan dignitaries."

"Yes."

"He and I began a correspondence shortly after Khitomer and discovered we shared many ideas and had similar goals for our respective peoples. We both believed the reunification of Vulcan and Romulus was possible and sought to bring it about. One day I left Vulcan and came here to start the work. I have been here for ten years and, for the most part, we have seen progress, with a few setbacks. The order for my incarceration and subsequent execution is a result of a change in the political climate due in part to the Dominion War, a war that generated high levels of anxiety and distrust, especially among those already under scrutiny, such as ourselves. The war has been over for four years, but the damage had already been done.

I let the mention of this Dominion War slide. Doubtless I had a lot of catching up to do. "Let me get this right. You came to Romulus by yourself?"

"Correct."

"So it was just you and Pardek out to revolutionize all of Romulus?"

"Our movement gathered followers rather quickly. The children of S'Task are remarkably eager to learn the ways of Surak, but essentially, yes. At the beginning it was just Pardek and I."

"And then something went wrong."

"Many things went wrong, actually."

"Well, I can't imagine why," I said dryly.

"You do not approve?"

"Spock, it's not my place to approve or disapprove. Do I think it was a bit foolhardy? Yes. But you've just given me the bare skimming of information here. Certainly not enough to say whether reunification of two such pigheaded races would be possible. At the time that I left I would have said it was definitely not possible, at least not in my lifetime, but people change. Hell, lifetimes change."

"Vulcans are not pigheaded." Spock said this with such heartfelt dignity that I couldn't help but laugh.

"My apologies. I stand corrected."

"You may be correct about the people of Romulus, however."

Then he smiled at me, not with his lips so much but with his eyes, and I couldn't help myself anymore, I had to touch him. Just a light touch, like we used to share back when we were captain and first officer, a quick brush of my hand on his arm. That was it, that was all it was supposed to be, but I kept my hand there, feeling his warmth even through the heavy layers of his clothing. I started to shake.

"Jim, are you cold?" Spock took hold of me with both his hands and I had no choice but to look into his eyes. This was it. So soon here, the end. I wanted to look away but couldn't.

"Spock." I choked on his name as he held me with his eyes, body clenching and readying for a blow I knew would come.

"Jim, what is it?"

My only answer was the blank stare of fear that I tried so hard to hide and the cursed shivering of my body -- I was so cold. I looked into his eyes and waited, waited for the inevitable flood of frigid insight.

The moment dragged for an eternity, and all that could be heard was the rush of wind hitting the building and the distant roar of the waves crashing.

"Jim." He shook me gently. "I am real, Jim." His arms wrapped around me. I shook even harder as my head fell into the crook of his neck.

"This is real. You are out. You have left the Nexus."

He smelled like Spock. He was warm like Spock. I felt his hands slide up my back, comforting. For a second, I melted against him, but the cruelty of the moment was too much and I broke free.

"No!" I yelled and pushed him, hard. He hit the wall with a stunned look on his face. I thought he was going to come right back, try to take me into his arms again, but he just righted himself and looked at me, waiting for something.

Anger filled me, anger at myself for allowing the tide to pull me in and for allowing Spock to be here. I knew better than to have him with me.

I waited--and nothing happened. A small finger of desperation stabbed at my center. I thought of my cabin. Still nothing.

Spock stood a few feet away, and as I looked at him my chest suddenly constricted, painfully. I tried to breathe but all I got was sand in my lungs. My eyesight darkened at the corners and I could no longer feel my hands and feet. The world flickered into darkness and I thought, finally, finally, I get to leave.

~~~~~

Jim. Breathe.

I can't.

Yes, you can. Follow me. Match my breath.

There was a rhythm, steady and loud; I fell in step and the pain that I didn't know was there lessened and then left. The world was dark and that was good. I wanted it to stay dark, at least for a while.

Floating, I felt like I was floating in a pool of darkness. It was comfortable and soothing and I realized I wasn't alone.

Spock.

Yes.

That was all I needed. Simple confirmation. Not alone. I was not alone, which meant I wasn't dying today.

Not alone.

The full meaning of those two words hit me, causing the pool of darkness to ripple with waves.

God, Spock.

Breathe through it, Jim. Let it flow through you and out.

I sought that rhythm and let it guide me like a tether, and I rode the waves back to the perfect surface of the pool. The last of the coldness that had been with me for longer than I knew left. I was finally warm.

With the steady beat of Spock's breath and heartbeat lighting the way back, I emerged from the pool and found myself safely encased within his arms, one of his hands on my face, the other warm against the small of my back, his breath skimming across my skin.

I held my breath and looked into his eyes, dark and endless and so very beautiful, and there was no pain. The world didn't end. The wind still blew, as cold as before. The waves still found themselves broken and smashed by the unfazed crags of the cliff wall. I was still here.

I was here and this, this was Spock, warm and alive and very, very real. Our breaths matching, our bodies strong and firm against each other, my hand raised up to his face, feeling solidity.

Sudden desire to speak came over me and at the same time I could find no words. What could I say that Spock didn't already know? I had no need for words--just the need to touch, to affirm. I looked into his eyes and saw the answering need and I realized that it was the same for him. He and I had both been adrift for so long with nothing to bind us down.

Following the song of his warmth, I leaned in and sought Spock's lips with mine, lightly kissing, feeling their unexpected softness. Kissing with lips and tongue, and fingers on faces, touching. Touching closed eyes and ears and the nape of a neck where soft hair ended. Open-mouthed, hungry kisses with hands gripping almost painfully around his waist, pulling closer. Closer, closer, I needed to get closer. Drowning, I was drowning in a forever sea of fire-hot lips, mouth, tongue, and I couldn't stop, not for all the dreams in the universe.

Distantly, I was aware that we were moving, that Spock was undressing me and I was undressing him and that we were falling onto one of the pallets. I knew that, but I couldn't lift myself out of the heady swell of kissing Spock to care. Not until I felt the shock of skin against skin, and the hot slide of Spock's body along mine.

The kiss ended, only to be continued with our hands. His hands on my back and the skin of my ribcage and sides, my hands on his chest and nipples and stomach, and then we were kissing again, mouths following where our hands had been.

Lips on his nipples, on the hollow below his clavicle, on the dip of his hip. Hunger pure and simple: hunger for heat and skin and for the musk that lay between his legs. I began to shake again under the sudden onslaught of dreams piling up on me, and I needed to touch him everywhere and not being able to.

"Look at me," Spock spoke into my ear. "Look at me, Jim."

I looked, meeting his dark stare and swallowed. "Spock."

"Jim," he breathed through a kiss on my forehead, a benediction. "Jim," he repeated, over and over again, one for each kiss, on my nose, ear, eyes, chin, lips. He moved to lie on top and I was blanketed, thrusting up to meet him.

"Spock," a muffled groan spoken into his mouth, around his tongue, through his lips.

"Spock."

My hands on his hips, legs tangled, cocks hard and pressed against each other, sliding hot and firm. I thrust up to meet him again and he shuddered. I gripped him, cupping the only rounded part of him, pulling him against me.

"Jim," his voice raked across my neck, his lips under my chin, his ass under my hands, moving faster and faster.

Hands on mine, he raised my arms above my head, his kisses deepening and pulling my heart out to land between us. I devoured him whole and wet with just my tongue dancing against his, sucking him in by the force of my will alone.

He snaked a hand between our bodies and gripped both our cocks together. I bucked against him. "Jesus, Spock."

His only answer was a low groan into my mouth as he milked us both, hand gliding firmly and strong, with a finger caressing both tips, spreading wetness.

I wanted to speak, to say that it was too much, that it was going to be over all too quickly if Spock didn't stop that right this minute, but my voice wouldn't work under the weight and pressure of unsought pleasure cascading down, unstoppable, unthinkable, an avalanche of waves. It crashed over me, wave after wave of hips jerking, hands bloodlessly gripping, and biting lips and teeth on skin.

Moments passed where all that could be heard were the sigh of the wind, the endless call of the ocean, and our breaths mingled with the loud beat of my heart pressed against Spock's chest.

He shivered and we shifted until the blanket that came with the pallet moved from under us to over us. It was barely any protection against the pervasive cold, but Spock was like a small furnace against me and I found I wasn't cold. He wrapped his long arms around me and I let him, sinking into the small hollow he created, and I buried my face into the heat of his neck. I had a fleeting thought as sleep crowded over consciousness that there was no way this bliss could be real. Arms tightened and squeezed and fingers grazed my temple gently.

It is real. Now sleep.

"Yes, sir," I mumbled with a smile and then fell into my first real sleep in an eternity.

~~~~~

Spock's arms tightened around me and I woke to his voice whispering in my ear. "Someone is approaching."

It was just enough warning for us to hurriedly don our clothing before the loud scrape of the door opening announced we were no longer alone.

I looked over at our guests, three Romulans, one who was obviously a commander and whom I recognized from this morning. He was accompanied by a doctor, judging from the equipment she carried, and a guard.

The commander's eyes traveled over the room, resting briefly on the one used pallet before taking in our rumpled state. I saw the look in his eyes but couldn't muster up any shame or concern over it. I stood up straight, ready for whatever was in store for us.

"Doctor, examine the human prisoner." His voice rang with the unmistakable tone of arrogance.

The female approached, passing a scanner over me. I could sense Spock tensing and looked over at him, trying to reassure him. I was curiously unconcerned about our predicament. I suppose after the Nexus, it all paled in comparison and nothing seemed impossible.

The doctor spoke out loud as she scanned. "The prisoner has a number of small abrasions and bruises but is otherwise in perfect health for a human his age."

"And what age is that?"

"Approximately sixty Terran years."

"Does his DNA match?"

There was pause as she snapped the scanner shut and turned to her commander. "According to what we have on file and to the limitations of this scanner, yes, it is a match. It appears this is James T. Kirk, unless a deeper cellular scan proves otherwise."

A look of triumph quickly flitted across his face before it settled back to his normal expression of barely contained arrogance. "Thank you, Doctor. That will be all. Dismissed."

The doctor nodded, then turned and left without a look back, leaving only the sound of the door closing behind her.

"Well, gentlemen, you've certainly created an interesting dilemma for us, haven't you?"

I decided silence was the best response and spared a glance at Spock. He was looking warily at our captor with dark unreadable eyes and tense shoulders but was otherwise his calm and normal dignified-in-the-face-of-danger self.

"Captain Kirk." I snapped my attention back to the commander. "Let me introduce myself. I am Commander Riial and this is my prison. Welcome. It is an honor to have you with us."

He nodded his head slightly in my direction. I just narrowed my eyes at him.

"I'm sorry we cannot offer you more in the way of creature comforts, but you seem to be settling in nicely despite the lack of amenities. Or am I mistaken?" There was a definite sneer on his face as he spoke.

He stared at me, eyes glittering with his own private laughter. "Have it your way, Captain. I have contacted my superiors about your miraculous return. They've done some discreet checking and have found that you are, without a doubt, dead." He paused, seeing if his words had any affect on us. When he saw no reaction, he continued.

"We thought perhaps the reports given by Picard about your second demise were fabricated, but that apparently occurred just as reported. You seem to have a hard time dying, Captain. Or perhaps it's more correct to say you have a hard time staying dead?" He looked expectantly at me. "It certainly is interesting, in either case. Wouldn't you say, Ambassador?" He shifted his eyes over to Spock, letting his obvious disdain color his pronunciation of "ambassador."

Spock chose to remain silent as well, which was logical. The commander was trying to bait us into talking. We would learn more if we let him talk.

"Choosing the coward's way as always, Ambassador? This changes nothing. Don't think the appearance of this human grants you a miraculous reprieve, as touching as it is. Your execution will resume in the morning. As for you, Captain, you are to be delivered to the Proconsul who, I'm sure, will exact the best possible leverage for your safe deliverance. Tomorrow morning you will witness the execution of the ambassador, after which a transport will be waiting to escort you to the Praetor. Sleep well, while you can, gentlemen." Then with one last sneer, he and his guard left.

I feared for a moment he would separate Spock and me, but he seemed to think it a form of torture, taunting us both with what we would lose tomorrow. I could care less what he thought.

"Well, Mr. Spock. We seem to be in a bit of a pickle." I was pleased to see Spock relax with the commander's departure.

Spock looked questioningly at me. "Jim, this is a serious situation."

I raked my hand through my hair. "Yes, I know, Spock. Believe me, I have no intention of letting them execute you."

"And how are you planning to stop them? A repeat of this morning will not have the same effect."

I smiled at him. "I rather enjoyed that. Except for the you-almost-dying part. But the rest was amusing, wouldn't you say?"

"Extremely," was his dry response.

"Okay, Spock. I need some information." I sat on our pallet and reached up to pull him down next to me. "Do you know where we are, in relation to the rest of the prison?"

"We are in the northeast corner." He sat down willingly enough, but I could see he was still tense.

"That doesn't help me. Which way is north?"

"Which way did you enter from this morning?"

"It seemed to be the front, judging by the immense doors. A group of buildings at the base of a mountain range...are those the famous Tiran Mountains?" I turned him around and started kneading his shoulders.

"Yes. The front faces east. The sun sets in the west, as on Earth. That is nice, thank you."

"You're welcome."

"There are four major continents. We are currently on the northeastern corner of Siruk. Apnex is the ocean you see outside and it borders Siruk and the continent Hirren."

Silence fell for a few moments as I digested this new information. "Where's the closest largest city? One with a space port."

"On Hirren, approximately 3,384.8 kilometers south and east. The city of Vakru."

"Do you have friends there, someone who can help you get off world?"

Spock hesitated before answering, "Yes."

Another pause as I absorbed myself with the tasks at hand, massaging and planning.

"Jim?"

"Yes, Spock."

"You must not try anything tomorrow. It will only serve to get you killed."

"You heard the man, Spock. I don't die easily. And as I recall, you're the one who's going to be executed."

He turned and looked at me. "Jim."

He looked so serious, concern creasing his face. I lifted my hand to smooth his hair where it had become ruffled. "I know, Spock. I know. Trust me."

He grabbed my hand, holding it loosely in his. "Of course, Jim. Always. But promise me you will not do anything foolish."

I shook my head. "I can't do that, Spock."

"Jim-"

"Spock. Trust me." He stared at me for a long time, not moving. I placed a finger on his lips, sliding it over to his cheek and ear and neck. Finally he nodded, and my hand pulled him in for a kiss.

A gentle kiss, a knowing kiss. One that held promises of all things past and those yet to come, an endless circle. I could kissed this man forever.

I pulled him closer, seeking with my tongue and my lips the warmth he offered. My fingers searched out the hot skin of his neck and the silk of his collarbone.

"Spock, I want you."

"You have me." He stood, pulling me up along with him. His gentle fingers unfastening my tunic, his hot gaze on my face. It was too much and I had to look away under the weight of the emotion in his eyes, too much to meet unfiltered. I closed my eyes against the dream of him.

My clothing was gone and I was moving, lying down on our pallet. There on my back, eyes still closed, listening to the rustle of fabric falling to the floor and the creak of Spock's weight as he climbed over me, shielding me.

Kissing me. I would never have my fill of his kisses. Dry lips caressed over my shoulders, my nipples, my stomach. Hands traveled over my skin leaving a trail of heat. The worship of his hands on my body, like a tower of song.

"God, Spock. I'm sorry."

"What, Jim? What are you sorry for?" He moved up to take my face in his hands and my arms hugged him to me, taking as much of him as I could, breathing him in.

"So much time wasted. An eternity of waste." I gripped him hard, feeling his solid weight against me. The planes and angles and hard length of his long body, on me, over me, never ending. This must never end. "All those years, gone, when we could have had so much more."

"They are not gone."

I looked at him, loving the certainty I found there.

"They are still with us, here." He laid his hand on the center of my chest. "And here." He took my hand and laid it over the center of his chest. "Inside." I kept my hand there. "Did you care for me any less, Jim, all those years ago? Even though we did not share physical intimacy as we are doing now?"

I shook my head. "I've always cared, Spock. I probably always loved as well, but it was different. I didn't realize. I didn't let myself think because I was too busy with everything else. I couldn't see what was right in front of me. Not just with you, but with everything. Everything."

"Then it wasn't meant to be and you must let it go. The past gifts you with the present, Jim. You can either refute it or accept it."

I looked questioningly at him. "You've gone and gotten really smart in the intervening years, haven't you?"

"I was always smart."

"And modest, too."

"I have had a long time to practice."

A long time. My finger moved to his face, tracing the lines and creases that hadn't been there before. "Hm, and how have you been, Spock? Apart from imprisonment and near execution."

He didn't answer at first. Instead, he looked at me with those worshipful eyes of his and I felt like he was drinking me in.

"Waiting. I have been waiting."

I nodded. I knew how that felt, waiting. "Was it a long wait, my friend?"

"At times. It wasn't always obvious that I was waiting, but that was what I was doing. I have done many things, have had many accomplishments, and through it all I have waited."

"And do you wait still?"

"Do you?"

He knew me so well, my Spock. "No, I think I've finished."

"Yes, finished."

"No more waiting."

I grabbed him and kissed him, hard sweet kisses with the driving force of conviction. His moans sent a trail of heat up my spine and I sighed, finally home.

We were both instantly hard, the waiting over. All coherent thought left and I operated on instinct as I moved him from above to underneath me. I needed to taste him, all of him, and I trailed a path of kisses and wet tongue-lashings down his torso. A flick over his nipples followed by a gentle wash of licks and kisses down to his navel.

I parted his legs, feeling his heat, and it was all I could do not to attack with abandon. I forced myself to look at the elegant sweep of Spock's cock, long and hard and ridged with a drop of pre-come at the head. I gripped his legs as I tore my eyes away to meet his.

Desire, that was what I found there. Hot waves of desire, pure and simple and insanely sweet. I thought I would come from the heat in his eyes and remembered to close mine, a last defense against the invasion of desire.

"Jim." Eyes snapped open. I nodded. Yes, no more waiting.

I took him in my mouth. It was my turn to worship, lavishing all I was onto the hard length of him in my mouth. I cupped his balls and moved down to take one in my mouth, reveling in Spock's controlled shivers and the groans that escaped him.

Then back up to take him deep in my throat again, relaxing until I was filled, my hand moving up to his face and slipping a finger into his mouth. I groaned, my throat vibrating around Spock's cock as he bit and sucked on my finger. He sucked me and I sucked him until it was too much and I almost came and had to pull my hand away.

Wet with Spock's saliva, my finger traced the opening into his body, feeling it contract at my touch. Gently I pressed in, riding out Spock's instinctive bucking, until one finger was in. Knowing that Spock was close, I let his cock slip from my mouth, pressing at the base to stem his coming orgasm. I moved up and started kissing him again, looking at him as I made love to him with just one finger.

I watched his eyes as I added a second, watched them darken and roll shut. Spock's legs were wide and tense with effort.

Close, so close. I was breathing hard with the effort it took not to give in to the need to rut against Spock's inviting heat.

A third finger. I was careful not to touch his prostate, knowing that would send us both over, never to return, and it wasn't time for that. Not just yet.

He was ready. "Spock, I need you to hang on for a bit longer. Can you do that?" I grated out the words, marveling that I could speak at all. He nodded.

Withdrawing my fingers carefully, I moved up to my knees as fast as I could and pulled Spock to a partial sitting position so that my cock was right at his lips. "Take it, Spock."

He let out a deep moan as my cock disappeared into his mouth, his arms circling and grabbing me close. I dug my fingers into his shoulders, bloodless with the effort to control, unable to stop myself from thrusting into his mouth. One thrust. In and out.

From some unknown corner of my being, I found the strength to pull away. Shaking with the effort, I grabbed his legs and pulled him back down to lie beneath me. I hooked one of his legs over my arm, spreading him wide for me, and positioned myself at his anus, my cockhead butting at the ring of muscle.

"Jim, look at me."

As I pushed in, his eyes grabbed me, dark and more known to me than my own. I looked and saw myself as we merged, grunting and sweating my way into his body.

In. In and never alone again. In with Spock surrounding me, encasing me in hot ecstasy. I could feel the beat of our blood pulsing like a low throb.

I stayed there not moving, both of us breathing hard, chest to chest with muscles clenched and hands clenched and hearts clenched, hanging on by sheer will and the strength we found in each other's eyes.

He gave me a small nod and I felt him adjust to me, and I started to move, slowly pulling out and then sinking back in. A shudder ran through his body, nearly sending me over.

Breathe, I reminded myself. I gulped in air tasting of sweat and sex and Spock and withdrew, angling to scrape along Spock's prostate as I entered back in, slowly.

Spock opened his mouth, ready to scream or to cry out, ready to groan in pain and pleasure, but he didn't. He just thrust his tongue into my mouth and bore down onto my cock, impaling himself as I drove to meet him.

All pretense of control fled and I surrendered to the call of Spock's heat and strength and to the promise of him surrounding me for all eternity. I cried as I found my rhythm, certain that this bliss wouldn't, couldn't last.

I was moving fast now, in and out in a fury of thrusts and grunts and hips colliding. Watching for Spock, watching for the sign, and then there it was. Spock bit down on my shoulder, gasping and convulsing around me as I drove myself to completion inside his body, my haven, my home. Unable to stop, I kept coming and coming and crying into the crook of Spock's neck until merciful darkness over took me and I fell against Spock.

~~~~~

The night passed with Spock and me warm within the circle of arms and legs. Sometimes making love, sometimes talking, sometimes both.

We slept or we lay silently next to each other, listening to the ever-present wind and the never silent call of the ocean's waves still breaking against the wall of the cliff.

Despite the fact that we were in a Romulan prison, with the impending doom of Spock's execution in the morning, I couldn't bring myself to feel anything but gratitude to this cold gray fortress sitting lonely at the end of the mountains and just before the sea.

I lay in Spock's arms, feeling the soft caress of his breath on my neck, and watched through the small window the sky lighten from the pitch of night to the slate of morning.

Morning. It had been a long time coming and had finally arrived.

Silently, when there was more slate and less pitch, we rose from our pallet and dressed each other. We were pitiful looking, he and I, with my uniform torn, dirty, and rumpled and his clothing not much better. And there was a definite need to shower, but I found I didn't care. Even our ripeness was a comfort, a small shield against the day, as silly as that sounds.

Dressed and ready, we sat silently, not really waiting. We were done with waiting. It would come all too soon on its own without us hurrying it along.

Despite my assurances to Spock the previous night, I had no idea what the day would bring. All I knew was that Spock would not die.

When the heavy tread of boots could be heard approaching, we stood up. A quick squeeze of my hand on his, the light brush of his fingers across my face, and then we parted.

Once again the door scraped open, announcing the arrival of four armed guards who quickly flanked and ushered us out into the corridor where four more guards waited.

I knew Spock and I would have to separate. I knew it, had been expecting it, even welcomed it in a strange way, but it still caused my stomach to tighten, watching him be led away around the corner and out of my sight.

Spock had told me that those who were awaiting execution were first taken to the hi'Rhohan where they were "prepared" for the coming event. Fresh clothes were given to them and they were allowed to bathe. Last wishes were heard although not always granted. Prayers and meditations were said and performed. It was an old custom, one I was glad this prison respected because it bought me time.

I let myself be led through the various hallways until I was brought to a room where Commander Riial waited for me.

"Captain, would you care to join me for my morning meal? I'm sorry I do not have more human selections, but I assure you it is all edible, even for those with weak stomachs." He gave me his patented sneer from where he sat at the head of a long table.

Although I hadn't eaten in all too long a time, I didn't move from where I stood facing him.

"No, Captain? As you wish." He wiped his hands and mouth on a napkin and took a drink from a flask. Looking around I took in the two guards stationed at the back and the two stationed at the entrance. The room was large and was part of a suite. I assumed these were the commander's quarters as well as the command base for the prison.

"Looking for your escape?" My eyes traveled back to Riial's smug face. "Come, Captain, you must recognize a futile situation when you see one?"

Gritting my teeth at his tone of voice I moved around the room, testing to see how far I could go, patient for the opening I knew would come.

Riial was content to sit back and watch me. "Please, make yourself at home, Captain. We still have an hour before this morning's events."

An hour. I had to bide my time carefully. Slowly, I continued my tour, walking past all four of the guards and Riial, taking in their weapons and how they stood and where they looked, watching Riial watching me as I caged around. I moved as deep into the suite as I could before a guard stood in my path. Judging that enough time had passed, I moved back to the main room and sat across from the commander and began to eat.

He raised his eyebrows in mild surprise; I just shrugged at him, affecting careful disinterest. "Why waste food?" The first words I'd spoken to this man hung in the air between us before settling.

"Why indeed. I'm grateful, Captain. I wouldn't want the Praetor to think I don't take care of my prisoners."

There was a chirp from somewhere and I watched as Riial tapped a communications device and stated into the air, "This is Riial."

"Sir, the hi'Rhohan has been completed. All prisoners that are to be executed are ready."

"Thank you. Riial out." Riial stood up and looked down at me, gesturing towards the door. "It's time, Captain."

The next few seconds were a blur of movement as I aimed the plate of food at the commander's face, momentarily stunning him. I twisted around Riial and grabbed him in a chokehold. Using him as a shield, my hand found his phaser and I fired at the guards. Two fell to the floor before I lost my grip on Riial and the phaser was knocked out of my hand.

I ducked and rolled over to the two stunned guards, grabbed a phaser, and shot down the remaining guards. Before the commander could register the loss of the guards, I rushed him, slamming both of us against the wall. With the wind knocked out of me it took a moment to pick myself up, but I did, breathing hard and swaying slightly. Waiting until he was barely on his legs I punched him, falling on top of him. Then I punched him again, sitting on him, until he stopped moving and was out cold.

Knowing I didn't have a lot of time before someone either responded to the phaser fire or came looking for Riial, I stood up, ignoring how the room spun. Picking up a phaser I moved as quickly as I could through the rest of the suite, knowing there had to be a back door.

It took me a few minutes to find it, nestled in the last room. It was disguised, of course, which was why I hadn't seen it at first. I stood looking at the access panel that would open the door and felt the first real dread since seeing the firing squad raise their phasers yesterday morning. The door required an access code, one I didn't have. I had no idea where I would end up once I went through the door and I had no idea where they had taken Spock.

Suddenly it all seemed impossible. What had I been thinking? One man, unarmed and alone. I marveled at my own hubris that was going to get Spock killed and me along with him.

But I wasn't alone. Not anymore. If I closed my eyes I could almost see and could definitely feel the siren call of Spock pulling me forward and slightly to the left.

The sound of doors opening and feet running towards me snapped me out of my daze. I stood back from the door and fired at the access panel with the phaser. Forcing the door the rest of the way open with my hands, I went through just as a storm of Romulans entered the room.

I let my feet lead me to Spock, my body knowing which turns to make and when to go straight. By some miraculous gift of luck, there were no guards waiting for me on the other side. It was a good sign.

Quickly I moved, darting around corners and corridors, sliding to a shocked stillness as the quiet of the morning was suddenly shattered by a loud harsh wail. The prison alarm.

Noise erupted from all around as the alarm set off a chain reaction of doors banging, inmates yelling, feet running in all directions. Sudden inspiration moved me over to the nearest cell. I fired at the access panel, frying the circuits, and then forced the door open.

"Come on!" I yelled into the room. "Prison break! Get moving. Free as many as you can!" I rushed them out.

Quickly I moved to the next cell, and the next one after that, and the next, until there was a full scale prison riot in progress with madness and mayhem all around.

Ducking and running through the tangle of inmates and guards fighting and beating each other, through the volley of phaser and disrupter fire, I hurried towards Spock.

I found him, held under guard in a corner of the open courtyard where the executions were to be held. The fighting hadn't quite reached there yet. Riial was there, bleeding from a nasty looking cut over his right eye.

The commander looked close to breaking. He was screaming and yelling, making demands of the few remaining guards he had under his control, telling them to take back the prison under pain of death.

They didn't see me coming. Shooting from under cover, I took out several of the guards before Riial grabbed Spock and held a disrupter point blank at his temple.

"Kirk! I know you're there. Show yourself, coward!" Riial looked over in my direction, knowing where I was by my phaser fire.

Cursing at myself, I held up my hands and walked out.

"See this, Captain. All this for nothing! Watch as I kill your precious Vulcan!"

My heart stopped as I looked into Spock's eyes.

Spock

Jim

Then Spock moved with lightning speed, breaking Riial's arm with a quick twist and dropping him with a neck pinch. I moved when he did, ducking and rolling as I fired on the remaining guards. Between the two of us, it was over in a matter of seconds.

"Jim, I asked you not to do anything foolish." Spock looked at me with as much exasperation as he could muster.

I grinned at him, happy to see him whole and breathing. "Sorry, Spock. I didn't quite mean for things to get this out of hand." Phaser fire whizzed past our heads and we instinctively ducked. "You can lecture me all you want on the logical way to break out of prison later. Right now, I think it best if we get out of here as quickly as possible. Do you know the way to the hangar bay?"

"This way."

In and out and over and under we weaved our way through the ever-growing riot raging wildly about us, finally reaching our destination.

The entrance to the hangar bay was still guarded, but it was under attack. It was only a matter of time before the line of defense cracked.

Staying out of the line of fire, we watched for the right moment. As soon as the tide started to turn in favor of the inmates, Spock and I moved forward, running low to avoid the phasers.

We were among the first to enter the hangar bay. Unfamiliar with the ships, I let Spock lead us towards a small shuttle that lay off to the side. It was going to be a desperate fight; there were not enough ships for all the inmates scrambling to them. I turned, prepared to fight to the death if needed.

"Kirk!" I whipped my head around just in time to see Riial, recovered, with a half a dozen armed guards, take aim and fire from across the room.

Heat bloomed in my chest as I belatedly realized I had been shot. I looked down, knowing already that I'd find the gnarled mess of a disrupter wound. The world darkened and then suddenly came back into focus.

"Jim!"

I was being held in Spock's arms behind the shelter of a large storage bin.

"Riial?" I gasped out the word. The pain felt distant, but I was unable to make my body work.

I felt him look. "Approaching."

"Help me up, Spock." He pulled me up by the armpits, standing me up. "Give me your phaser."

He looked at me, grabbing me with his hands. "Jim, no."

"Spock, you must go. I'll hold off Riial until you can get away. It's the only way." More phaser fire flew around us. I looked anxiously as I saw Riial making his way through the fighting, coming towards us from one direction and a small band of nasty looking prisoners from another. Taking the phaser from Spock's hand, I set it for kill.

"No, Jim. I will not leave you. If we go now, we can make it."

"You won't be leaving me, Spock. Listen, we'll never make it. He's nearly here already. One of us has to stay and fight, giving the other a chance to escape. That has to be you, Spock. Do you hear me? That's the whole reason I came back. To see you survive. To know you lived. Besides, I know a fatal wound when I see one." I took his hand in mine. "I must ask you to wait a little longer. Will you do that for me? I can't give you orders anymore, but I am asking. Will you make if off this planet alive so that I may find you again?"

The longest heartbeat passed before Spock closed his eyes and nodded.

"Wait for me, Spock. Now go." He quickly brushed his fingers down the side of my face, then turned and left.

The pain in my chest rushed up to meet me and I stumbled to the floor. The world dipped and darkened and suddenly I was certain I would pass out.

Seeking the strength I knew I had, the strength I had earned for the lifetimes of loneliness I had survived, I climbed my way out of the darkness.

Pushing myself up, I crawled from behind the storage containers and covered Spock as he made his way to the shuttle.

Riial had almost reached me. Spock's shuttle came to life and started rising. I watched Riial as he realized he was too late and barked to the men following him, "Fire at that shuttle!"

Just at that moment, with the last of my strength, I burst out from my cover yelling, "Riial! I'm here, Riial!"

Dropping to the floor as phaser fire erupted around me, I rolled and fired, shooting Riial in the chest before I fell and the world went dark.

~~~~~

I wake in this place, a place I know as well as my soul, and hear the siren's call.

The call is sweet this time, different than I remember it being, and I listen to it. It pulls me, gently, waking me up.

I'm in the cabin again. Always the cabin, with its hills and valleys and its stable full of horses. Warm and inviting, like brandy.

I wake and I know. I know who I am and what I must do. I must follow the call. The call of the siren. My siren.

He is waiting.

~~~~~



Challenge: First time story in a Romulan prison.



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