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Kirk stood alone on the observation deck, the lights dialed down to their lowest level. He rested a hand on the bulkhead, feeling the cold of the metal seep into his skin, his soul. Focusing his attention on the thrum and throb of the Enterprise engines enabled him to keep other thoughts at bay, for just a moment. Then, warped starlight shining through the observation window glinted on the braid around his wrist. He shifted his left hand to cover the fabric, feeling the different texture of those gold stripes beneath his fingers, and looked away from the emblems of his command. He let his arms drop to his sides, curling the fingers closed. Taking a deep breath, he again focused his attention on the sound and vibration of his ship, feeling its heart beat beneath his feet.

His ship. The service. Today, they had demanded one more sacrifice.

One more sacrifice. Spock's body, crumpled on the bridge. Leaning over him, resting his hand upon that unmoving chest, somehow still expecting to feel Spock's breath beneath his touch. Knowing that Spock was dead-and that he had ordered it. One unbearable sacrifice.

He stared blindly out into the depths of space. Reality or simulation-the observation deck offered two choices. He had not opted for the popular choice. Most preferred a pleasant re-creation of the local starfield, translated by the ship's computers from a randomly chosen stationery point in the local sector. The program allowed for variations-you could see the stars as if you were planetside, the view distorted by atmosphere. Or you could choose the clean hard view of a starfield seen in vacuum. If you stood on some barren asteroid, and watched a starfield through the visor of an environmental suit, it would appear like this.

Kirk's choice was always reality. The gorgeous distortions of warped space shimmered and swirled beyond the transparent aluminum pane. Trails of unusual colors twined together and moved apart in stately patterns. With the ship traveling at only Warp 3, the movement of the energy fields resembled a leisurely dance. Nearby stars formed oblong shapes that seemed to cling together and then suddenly release, disappearing past the edges of vision. At Warp 6 or greater, the colors were frantic snakepit writhings, and any shapes were ghosts, hallucinations glanced from the corner of an eye, vanishing when looked at dead on.

Kirk lost himself in the view, all the while aware he was no longer alone. He felt Spock's presence, long before the door swished open, shut again. He didn't turn around, not even when his lover rested a hand on his right shoulder.

Spock said nothing. Nor did Kirk, for a long moment. Then, with a sigh, he turned toward his First Officer. Distorted warp light eddied over the sharp angles of Spock's features, leaving part of his face splashed with color, part concealed in darkness. For an instant, Spock's face was entirely in shadow, then in the next instant completely bathed in hard light, each concealing whatever expression might be present.

Kirk moved a fraction of an inch closer. Spock pulled him into a rough embrace. For a moment they stood, pressed together. Kirk dropped his head against Spock's shoulder, feeling the heat and hardness of that body against his, their bodies intimate despite the two layers of fabric between them. He felt Spock bend his head, felt a brief imprint of soft lips against his temple. Kirk took a moment longer to savor this solid reality, then he straightened and stepped back, to look into that dark gaze.

He searched those eyes, for what he wasn't sure-acceptance? forgiveness? absolution? What would Spock's logical response be, to the person who had ordered his death? He managed to soften his expression and was rewarded with a relaxation of the stern features. "What is McCoy thinking of, to let you out of Sickbay so soon?" Kirk put a smile into his words and onto his face.

"He is thinking of you." A small smile touched Spock's lips, and all the warmth and love they had ever shared were there in his eyes. "As am I."

"How are you feeling?"

"I am quite well."

Kirk studied his face. Perhaps it was just the odd lighting, the strange swirling colors. He was certain, however, that Spock was exhausted. He could feel it in his bones, feel it with a deeper sense than that of sight or touch. "Whoever said Vulcans don't lie?" Kirk heard the indulgent humor in his voice.

Spock nodded in acknowledgment. "It is a useful fiction on occasion, is it not? I do require some rest, but there will be no other side effects from the poison. McCoy cleared the last remnants of the drug from my system. Sargon calculated the dosage precisely. Any-discomfort-was simply residual."

Kirk took his hand, squeezing the long fingers tightly, feeling them return the pressure. Spock's first collapse on the bridge had locked him into numbness, allowing that part of him that was always in control to postpone mourning, to postpone feeling for later, for when he was finally and truly alone.

Spock's second collapse had jolted him out of that state. Sargon and Thalassa had abandoned control of the ship and vanished into their own eternity. Once the realization had sunk in that the crisis was over, Spock had folded to the deck. Kirk had leapt to Spock's side as quickly as McCoy, kneeling by Spock on the hard floor, staggered by the fear he had put aside only brief moments earlier. What if they had miscalculated the dosage? What if the poison had been enough to kill and Spock's seeming recovery had been a fleeting miracle, vanished into dust with Sargon's disappearance?

Not enough poison to kill-enough to render unconscious-a very fine line to manage. And what of a hybrid? What of Spock, whose body didn't always follow the parameters of his father's species?

McCoy had run his scanner, and the expression on his face instantly reassured Kirk. "He'll be OK. Just fainted. Let's get him to Sickbay. I'd like to put him under observation for awhile."

He had gone with them to Sickbay, waited while McCoy scanned and injected and finally settled Spock onto one of the regular biobeds, stating his intention to keep Spock there for the next several hours.

He'd returned to the bridge, making his way through the reports that had already started to come in. There was the question of what to do with the nearly completed android bodies. He ordered them put into storage, for Spock's later study and decision on disposition. Then, shift over, he had come here.

He had remained outwardly calm during shift, inwardly in turmoil from succeeding waves of emotion. There had been an overwhelming wash of relief when Spock had first regained consciousness and Sargon revealed the truth: I could not permit the death of one so close to you.

At that instant, the presence of their link had burned brightly open. He was suddenly consciously aware of Spock's presence his mind-a presence that had been gone, when Kirk had awakened in Sickbay.

There had been a strange sensation of floating, all the time his mind had been inside that globe. He had known where he was but the information was irrelevant. Some part of his mind was inside a receptacle in Sickbay, but he was elsewhere, some place distant, indescribable, now forgotten. All he remembered was a vast calm, imposed, he knew, by Sargon. A calm that had kept him from responding to the link between him and Spock. A calm that had prevented him from acknowledging a sense of a frantic tugging at the link, an unheeded warning he had not been able to respond to, on any level.

Then, the link was gone, and he hadn't felt it leave. He hadn't felt the cessation. He had always thought he would, if that terrible day ever occurred. Some time after Sargon had abandoned his body and, resurrected by McCoy's machines, it lay unoccupied on a biobed, the link had vanished. Blanked out. Gone.

That odd feeling of distance had ended abruptly when he regained his own body. And though he knew Spock's presence in his mind was no longer there, he had sought the coldness that masked pain, because he had a duty to perform. It was necessary. His own words mocked him. Necessary to kill you...because Sargon led me to believe your mind was already gone.

You were gone, Spock. I knew it, and when I stood up and saw that empty receptacle, I knew the pain, but it was somewhere very distant. And this was me, not him. I knew what I had to do. He may have hidden our link, but he couldn't force my decision. That was mine alone. I stood there, calm, rational, and ordered McCoy to kill your body.

He realized his grip had tightened around Spock's hand to the point of pain; felt a tiny flash of discomfort, immediately suppressed. He loosened his grip, but found he couldn't let go of Spock's hand. Couldn't let go of the link, now blazing fiercely in them, needed it on a conscious level.

"You weren't in my mind anymore-I knew you were gone." The shock of that loss had been like falling endlessly through an icy sea, necessity and duty his only anchor. That ice had come through in his words: ...we must kill his body... the thing in it...

"I agreed to it," Spock said. "But it was not possible for you to be told of this. Sargon was able to shield my mind, and that of Nurse Chapel, from Henoch. The rest of you needed to believe I was dead. It was necessary for Sargon to block out your awareness of our link. I regret the pain you experienced." Spock's low voice was rough with his own pain as he gathered him close in his arms. Kirk allowed himself to lean, just for a moment, against Spock, allowing the other to enfold him completely with his strength. "It was because of the loss of the awareness of our link that you assumed I was dead. You believed it, and Henoch could believe as well. That is why he fled. That is why I am still alive and you and the crew are not his slaves."

Kirk pulled away slightly and settled back firmly on his feet again. He touched one hand to Spock's temples, trailing his fingers down the side of Spock's face, resting them briefly over the soft, hot lips. Spock parted his lips slightly; Kirk felt the warmth of breath on his fingertips, a brief, gentle kiss. Another. Spock then covered Kirk's hand with his own and pulled it up, moving Kirk's fingers to the meld points on his face.

They swayed together for a moment, leaning against each other, embracing, and Kirk felt the link between them pure and true and strong, wordless now, suffused with love, intense with the banishment of regret. A moment longer to bask in the healing, and then the link lessened and they were somehow separate again, though their embrace had tightened even further, and every part of Kirk's body was alive with the touch of Spock.

Kirk felt himself sigh, and drew back again, to look into the dark gaze. "I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night."

"I know."

"I watch you as you sleep. I watch you breathe," Kirk whispered. "You look so young when you sleep." He closed his eyes briefly against threatened tears, then refocused on Spock's face, so close to his. "And, with every breath you take, I know how much I have. And how much I could lose. I think about how extraordinarily fortunate I am." He stroked Spock's fingers, which curled around his hand in turn. "But it's always at those night hours that I think how easily it could all be gone." Their fingers laced together. Spock's gaze hadn't changed, but there was an infinity of acceptance in those eyes.

"I have thought that if the moment came, I couldn't do it. Couldn't give the order to send you to your death." Kirk was tempted to look away, but didn't let himself. He needed the honesty.

Spock's gaze never wavered. "I have never doubted that you could make that decision, if it ever became necessary."

"I did give that order." But I have dreamed, many times, that I could not give that order, and lost you anyway, and myself, as well.

Kirk recalled his impassioned speech in the briefing room and felt the ice enclosing his heart squeeze a little tighter. A sound escaped him; perhaps a laugh, perhaps a sob. He heard the harshness in the sound. Risk is our business. That's what the starship is all about. That's why we're aboard her. Would he ever be able to say words like these again, with such conviction?

"You would not be who you are if you could not give that order."

"What if it happens again, Spock?"

"I'm confident you will do what is best. For the ship. For your crew. For the service."

"And for you?"

"Jim, you said it yourself in the briefing room. 'Risk is our business'. We both know that. We both accept it. Risk is part of life. We have always understood that." Two fingertips brushed against his face, then settled down to cover their mates on Kirk's other hand. "There is here. There is now."

Kirk looked down to where their hands touched. "I've always believed I would win-no matter what." His voice was low, but he knew Spock could hear him. Knew Spock would hear him, even if he spoke in silence. "How many miracles do we have the right to expect?"

"Jim, this is who we are. This is who you are." The tracery of a thought leapt the distance between them, words unspoken shimmered in the air. This is who I love.

Kirk felt himself smile, felt a slight lessening of the coldness still tight within him. Spock was watching him with gentle eyes, and everything they were met in the touch of their hands. "I remember you, in the briefing room. You were with me, all the way. Do you know how much I value that?"

Spock inclined his head solemnly.

"I knew I didn't have to convince you. I had to convince everyone else. But not you. You wanted to do this as much as I did."

"That is accurate." Spock was smiling, a tiny smile that barely quirked his lips. "It is our mission to explore, to discover. We cannot hold back from that out of fear of danger." He touched Kirk's lips briefly, gently, with his fingers. "You will say those words again. It is who you are."

Kirk knew he hadn't spoken that doubt aloud. He smiled at Spock-suddenly, immeasurably, wordlessly grateful. Kirk knew it to be true. No matter the cost, no matter the loss, he could go on. So many lost, over the years. So many of his crew, whose names and faces congregated sleepless hours. Edith. Sam. He was always the captain. He could go on. He always had. And yet... could I survive your loss?

Risk is our business.
He suddenly knew that he would be able to say those words again, and believe them. The part of him that looked out into space and saw everything new, saw endless worlds to be explored, rejoiced. The part of him that knew the rest was equally true-that he could make any necessary sacrifice, that he could send Spock out to his death if there was no other choice-kept the ice waiting, in case it was ever needed to protect him...until the mission was over, the danger passed. And then...

His mind halted there and he found refuge in what had again proven true-they had beaten the odds one more time.

Spock's arms embraced him, pulled him close; Spock's lips found his. His mouth opened to the passionate caress. The strength of Spock's arousal matched his; he clung to him fiercely, pressing back against that need, fingers digging into Spock's upper arms, not ready to ever let him go. Diffuse light from the warpfield outside painted color over them, images from the coldness of space. Kirk turned Spock slightly, still holding on tightly to his lover with one hand, as they moved, together, toward the door.
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