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Story Notes:
Satisfies requirements for 2014 K/S Advent
Author's Chapter Notes:
Holiday Celebrations are interrupted by a debilitating disease, the intrusion of a Commodore and the death of T'Pring.
Fic: The First Noel or Live Like Horses | TOS | PG-13

Title:The First Noel or Live Like Horses
Author:Carleen
BETA:Heat in Freezing
Series:TOS
Rating:PG-13
Length:5065
Warnings:None
Summary:Holiday Celebrations are interrupted by a debilitating disease, the intrusion of a Commodore and the death of T’Pring.

~o~o~O~O~o~o~o~o~

"And his promise made was never clear
It just carved itself in me
All I saw was frost inside my head
On the night he said to me
Someday we'll live like horses
Free rein from your old iron fences
There's more ways than one to regain your senses
Break out the stalls and we'll live like horses"

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Scuttlebutt says the senior bridge crew is dying of a horrible aging disease. Everyone knew Ensign Chekov was unaffected. How the others could be dying when Chekov showed up for bridge duty in full health was a matter of much speculation. Unfortunately, young Pavel wasn’t talking. And if all that weren’t bad enough, there’s a Commodore roaming around the ship, poking his nose into everything. He wants to stop and chat as if he were just one of the regular crew. No one is fooled by this and everyone is one edge. Should they keep making holiday plans or stop in deference to the crisis. Hours later, with still no word on their condition, the word crisis takes on a completely new definition, when the Commodore takes command of their ship.

Red, green, and gold garlands lay forgotten, discarded by a crewmember at the first call to Battle Stations. Partially wrapped presents sit neglected on a table in the empty crew lounge. A menorah is on its side. The candles rolled off the table with the first blast of phaser fire. Fruit and vegetables from a Kwanzaa mat roll unheeded across the deck. A collection of mistletoe, ivy, and holly are scattered across the table competing with a handful of alien decorations. The holiday festivities set aside for a moment, while the crew responds to a Red Alert.

On a starship, the condition of Red Alert required all hands to function at peak efficiency. At times like this, the First Officer plays many roles. This skilled and experienced officer not only monitors ships systems, and all communications, but also ship functions, and relays that information to the Captain. The importance of this task cannot be minimized because the Captain bases his decisions on the information he receives. The crew of the Enterprise is better at this than most and her first officer the finest in the fleet.

The Enterprise is in trouble after stumbling into the neutral zone at the hands of the inexperienced flag officer. The deskbound paper pusher put their Enterprise in harm’s way.
The Romulans are coming around again for the last time. The Enterprise's shields will not hold for another blast from the Warbird's weapons systems. Every crewmember, except the Commodore wringing his hands in the center seat, knows that Romulans don’t take prisoners.

Tension is a shimmer in the air and no one speaks. The finest first officer in the fleet struggles at his post. He must effectively manage his station, yet chest pain from a heart working with too little oxygen has him nearly gasping for air. His aching knees beg him to retreat to his chair. His inability to focus on the smallest task fed tinder to the fire of pain in his joints and muscles. He looks old, feels old and most disturbingly, vulnerable. Is that how Jim Kirk's careless words wounded him so deeply?

...you should have been a prosecuting attorney. Regulations. You don't give me regulations. You wanted command all along. Any little excuse. I hope you're proud of it.

Spock looked up from his console — that was a mistake — an old man frowned back from his reflection in the monitor. Gnarled aching fingers move hesitantly over the controls. The simple act of flipping a switch shot a spider's web of pain across his fingers and wrist.
If the Doctor’s latest potion didn’t work, there would be no holiday celebration for any of them and no Enterprise. Brows knitted together in pain, Mister Spock watches the Bird of Prey circle around and begin its run.

The cacophony of alarms, shouted orders, and the whine of phaser fire couldn't prevent Spock from hearing Jim Kirk enter the bridge. The turbolift doors opened behind him, and the bridge crew responded by turning from the drama unfolding on the view screen toward the sound of Jim Kirk's sure swift strides.

Spock resisted the urge to join the crew smiling in relief that the chances of surviving this chaos have just reached 100%. He should greet him, at least. Meet his eyes, and trade that look with him. The look they shared which meant everything was all right now.
Get out. I never want to have to look at you again.
Mister Spock cannot dispute these odds, but he cannot find the strength to look up or forgive. If Spock's frame of mind were any different, he would acknowledge that their one chance of survival just walked through the door. If he weren't dead tired and angrier than he'd been in his entire life, he would react appropriately. Nod to the Captain, like so many times before and join him at the center seat. His frame of mind is light years from normal and even looking at a fully recovered Captain Kirk is difficult.

The Commodore fled the center seat like a startled rabbit at the unexpected appearance of the Captain. He wisely got out of the way and stood by the center seat shifting from one foot to the other with his hands stuffed in his pockets.

Jim Kirk ignored the Commodore’s nearly hysterical ranting and ordered Uhura to open a channel. His clear, confident tone rang through the ship and sent a calming message to his crew. Spock imagined the Romulan bridge crew exchanging worried looks. With his youth and vigor restored, Captain James Kirk is about to work some of his legendary magic.

Spock dropped into his chair. The Captain is so thoroughly enjoying outwitting the Romulans that he forgot about his First Officer. Mister Spock will not leave his post. He will never leave his post. Even if Jim Kirk forgets to relieve him of duty long enough to get to Sickbay, Mister Spock will not leave his station. Never let it be said that a Vulcan neglected his duty. Surely, dying at one's post is the highest sacrifice, even if it's from congestive heart failure.

You traitorous, disloyal... You stab me in the back the first chance you get?

The Captain's ploy worked, and they sped away from the Neutral Zone at top speed. Then the Captain pulled him from his dark thoughts by calling his first officer’s name. He had to face him now. Then McCoy expectedly said something cruel about moving all the breakable objects out of sickbay. Jim Kirk tried to catch his eye, but Spock followed the doctor into the turbolift without comment.

As they entered the doctor's office, McCoy noticed the Vulcan's body language. Although the aging process had been slower in the Vulcan due to his longevity, McCoy knew Spock was losing his well-tended intellect and strength.

What are you doing here? Maybe you'd like to relieve Doctor McCoy?

The words Kirk spoke to him in anger and frustration over the aging disease had taken root and threatened to suffocate him. Painful in a way he'd never experienced before. Not the pain of his alienation from his father or the teasing of childhood bullies hurt him as deeply as Kirk's careless words. If Kirk was his friend and the man who always accepted Spock then why did he feel so betrayed? The core of their relationship should transcend a few unkind words uttered under duress.

"Come on in, Spock. I'm ready for you." McCoy said softly.

Spock obediently and with a relief he didn’t bother to hide, stretched out on the exam table. The doctor covered him with a thermal blanket, and when Spock looked up in surprise, McCoy apologized for not seeing to his request for something to help with the cold earlier.

While the doctor began the treatment, Mister Spock stared at his hands, turning them under the bright lights of sickbay. Yes, the pain was bad, but manageable. The serum hit him just as he wondered how close to death he'd been. A gasp of pain arched him off the table. The medication coursed through his system like liquid mercury, igniting his nerve endings with icy fire.

Doctor McCoy placed a comforting hand on Spock’s shoulder when the Vulcan bit down on a groan.

"Breathe, Spock. Breathe through it."

As the symptoms left him one by one and the arthritis pain faded, his long fingers grew supple again. He blinked up at the Doctor, grateful that his eyesight cleared. The concern in Doctor McCoy's eyes as the serum had worked on his body was not lost on Spock.

"You are concerned, Doctor?"

The Doctor averted his face. "It's nothing, Spock."

"Then you should work on your poker face."

"Hell’s bells, Spock!” McCoy threw his hands up to emphasize his point. “Your cardiopulmonary system just took a beating. I wish we'd had more time to study the serum."

"No lasting damage?"

Doctor McCoy shook his head, and his shoulders slumped with exhaustion. "Not the physical kind, eh Spock?"

Spock automatically geared himself for the doctor's usual rancor. Instead, he found the solace of a gentle hand squeezing his shoulder. At the touch, the Vulcan relaxed, looking up at McCoy.

"Leonard, I think," The Vulcan cleared his throat, "I find myself wishing to avoid the bridge. A most unusual circumstance."

"This isn't about damned aging; it's about those words the Captain said to you. I'm not even going to try to defend the cruel things he said. Look, we have three days before we arrive at Star Base 10. Jim'll be busy entertaining the Commodore. How 'bout I place you on quarters for the next forty-eight hours. Then you can decide when you're ready."

Spock nodded quietly. "Perhaps that would be best, Doctor. I'm grateful for your understanding."
The doctor smiled at him, "Now, get out of here, I've got sick people to take care of. I'll come by later with some medicinal brandy."

"That would be acceptable." Mister Spock uncharacteristically shook the doctor’s hand.

~o0o~

Slowly waking, Doctor Wallace opened her eyes to find Jim Kirk watching her. "Good morning," he said with a grin.

"Good morning, Jim," she replied, looking around the room and rising gracefully from the bed. Reaching for her, a frown of confusion crossed his features as he watched her dress quickly.

"Where are you going? Come back here," he said, trying the grin again.

"I have work to do, Jim.” She replied, deftly twisting her hair into its customary elaborate style. She slipped on her shoes and with a nod toward the confused man in the bed, headed for the door.

"I'll talk to you later," she replied casually. “I promised Doctor McCoy I would assist him in writing up the aging disease.”

He caught her at the door and tried to wrap his arms around her. “Wait, we have some holiday celebrating to do.”

"Oh, Jim," kissing him chastely on the cheek, "we're not kids anymore."

He had to step back quickly as the door slid open. She was gone and with only an unmade bed for company, he stood naked and alone in his empty quarters.

~o0o~

Two decks above the Captain, Mister Spock roused from his nightlong vigil. The hour he’d spent with the Doctor, drinking his good single malt Scotch had a calming effect on the troubled Vulcan.

Later, throughout the meditative hours, one voice whispered in his head. The words wove through his thoughts and strengthened his logic. Words, once meant to shame, came back to him with new clarity — ‘It is said thy Vulcan blood is thin. Are thee Vulcan, or art thee human?’ — offering different images of home, solace and, perhaps most importantly, alternatives.
A full commander in Star Fleet with twenty-plus years of service could retire, with benefits and go… where? The galaxy was his for the exploring. Ignoring the emotional clamoring in his head, the Vulcan decided he would endure the debriefings on Earth and depart immediately for Vulcan.

Headed away, at last from Star Base 10 toward Earth for refit and resupply, not much was demanded of them as they secured the ship for dry dock. Mister Spock kept busy overseeing the transfer and archival of millions of bytes of data they collected over the last several months. The captain, equally busy updating, and closing out crew reports in addition to recommendations for promotion and awards.

So occupied that he failed to notice Spock no longer visited his quarters to play chess. It wasn't until they were twenty-four hours from the Sol System the captain made the time to speak personally to his first officer.

"Spock, I'm headed to dinner. Join me?"

"As you wish, sir," he replied coolly and fell into step with the captain.

"Everything okay, Spock?" He stopped in the corridor, studying his friend. “You've gone all Vulcan on me. I know we haven't had a chance to talk."

"The corridor is not a fit place for the discussion."
"The discussion?” Kirk’s head swiveled on his shoulders. “What discussion?"

Spock turned and walked away, leaving Kirk no choice but to follow. Once inside the Vulcan's quarters, Kirk noticed the lack of personal items. The fire pot is missing, and the walls no longer draped with red fabric. A small duffel lay open on the bed.

Something cold and suddenly frightening took hold of Kirk. He didn't bother turning to the unspoken question. Neither man spoke for several very long seconds. However, a man of action cannot remain still for long. Words came out of his mouth. Words he would later regret.

"Why are you packing so soon, Spock? We don't have our orders yet. We may stay right here. Business as usual, Right?"

"No, Captain. Not this time."

His human brain efficiently skipped over the implications of Spock's comment. Logic! A simple application of logic is all that's required here.
"You should wait until we get our assignments. Wasting time isn't logical, right Spock?”

"I concur."

The finality and tone of his words removed all attempts at Kirk's humor. The warm aura he normally experience when close to Spock is gone. Pulled back into the stoic and emotionless depths of this first officer’s default mannerism.

"Spock? Almost four years. You owe me something... An explanation... Something..."

"Quite correct, sir. However, I believe those three years, six months and fourteen days are explanation enough. I efficiently provided loyalty, understanding, and support in addition to sound technical and scientific advice."

"We were... Are...” Kirk white-knuckled the back of Spock’s desk chair. “I thought we were friends, Spock! I know we are more than that…”

Spock continued without acknowledging the Captain's admission.

"This posting brought our unique skills together. The achievements and successes for this ship and crew will always provide positive memories for me. However, I intend to withdraw from this crew and retire from active service. I shall depart for Vulcan within twenty-four hours of Earth fall. It was an honor serving with you, Captain. Very best wishes for your continued success in Starfleet."

"Are you dismissing me, Mister?" He felt the anger building. That a man he loved and relied on as a brother could dismiss four years of... Four years of...

"On the contrary, sir. I'm simply quantifying our working relationship in order to give a proper place in the context of our continued careers."

"Careers? Our careers. Spock... What happened? I've done something stupid. Violated some Vulcan tradition... Y-You think you can just walk away from me?"

With a sharp pain like an unexpected blow or trying to breathe while air escaped from a breached compartment, Kirk suddenly realized Spock was serious. His hands and feet are leaden weights, his heart hammers, each blow a fresh agony. His hands and feet begin to tingle with fever-hot adrenaline rushing through his system.

"I am not just walking away, Captain. I am bidding you farewell, and wishing you luck. Isn't that what humans do?"

"Yes, of course, it is. But it's not what we do."

"And what exactly it is it that, sir? Protect each other, provide counsel and support?”

Kirk took a step back at the savagery of Spock’s words.
“Friendship most beings don't experience even once in a lifetime. Intimate details of inner thoughts shared, only to have them thrown back in negligent and surprisingly painful words."

"What words? I'll apologize. Tell me what words!" Kirk grabbed him by the arms.

But Spock had already turned away, with his back to him. He continued, "They were spoken in the heat of a dangerous mission. I should not take them so personally. In any event, the episode taught me that I’ve been too long among humans. I've allowed myself to become susceptible to human emotions and reactions.

It's time for me to return home. If you will excuse me, sir, I should like to meditate before I retire."

Spock almost flinched at the touch of the human's hand slipping into his. Spock could feel Kirk's emotional turmoil through the hands that now held his. With the cool balm of Kirk's breath on the back of his neck, Spock bowed his head in supplication.

"Tell me what I can do, Spock. We can work through it. Please."

"I have as you put it, worked through it," Spock said, strength and determination returning to his voice. "The solution is for me to retire from Star Fleet and return home. Good evening, sir." Spock released the hand that gripped his and stepped away.

"Spock, we're just hours from Earth. I can't... I won't leave it like this. What words? I'll apologize. Tell me what words!"

Spock twisted away from Kirk's attempted embrace and entered the sleeping area. Three steps were not far enough to escape from this human. He tried again.
That's mutiny. Spock, I wouldn't have believed it of you.

Spock turned on the Captain with a ferocity Kirk had not seen since the Vulcan's Pon Farr.

"And what do you think it took for me to bring you down? Forced, by that simpering…Commodore Stocker to plan a competency hearing for you. Ordered, even as my own life drained away, to take steps to remove you from command. Stand by and watch the Jim Kirk I knew fade away. You don't realize how close to death you were, do you?"

"Spock? We all were… It's over, Spock. It's all over now. I remember I said some horrible things that day. I was angry, frustrated, and scared."

Mister Spock's only response was to clasp his hands behind his back.

There were hundreds of words at his command to use. The only words he could use dripped with sorrow as he spoke to the Vulcan's emotionless wall of defenses. Hundreds of words, yet only three would do. Three words, which until now, Kirk held silently in his heart.

He would fix this, change it and tell Spock, how he felt about him. He’s effing Captain Kirk, isn't he? There is no situation he can’t bend to his will.

"Spock… I once told you what an asset you were to me, because you were the best first officer in the fleet. I think you know it’s more than that. Much more. Spock, please turn around."

When the Vulcan complied, Kirk allowed every feeling he had to show in his eyes. He held nothing back. He couldn't allow Spock to walk away.

"You know that I love you. Don't you?" The question is spoken in pleading tones into Spock's unreadable dark eyes. The Vulcan noted the shine of a tear hanging on golden lashes.

"While I'm fully aware of the meaning of those words, Captain. Your decision to use them only now, now when I say farewell renders them trivial."

"Tell me…” Emotions cut through him as Spock’s tossed his declaration away like yesterday’s trash. “Tell me what I can do, Spock."

"I have as you put it, worked through it. The solution is to retire from Starfleet and my decision to return home stands. Good evening, sir."

When the door finally closed, Spock found himself gripping the edge of his desk to keep from falling. Hot tears burned his eyes. He forced his human needs down, dismissing them as frivolous and unimportant. Instead, Spock turned his thoughts toward home and the hot purging sands of his home world. Where he shall be washed clean of his human frailties.

He would go home, enjoy his mother's cooking, walk with his father through the gardens and rest. I don't love you, Jim, ghosted through his thoughts, teasing him for the lie that it was.

A sleepless night left Jim Kirk standing in the center of his quarters. For once in his life, he’s unsure of his next course of action. Reaching for a bottle, Jim poured himself a drink. If he gets good and drunk he’ll stop grieving and blaming himself for running Spock leaving.
The door to his quarters slide open and it’s not Spock, but Bones who strides in uninvited.

“Get out, Bones. I’m not fit company right now,” he said, tossing back a double shot of whiskey. McCoy stopped at the sound of glass crashing against the bulkhead.

“How do I face this, Bones? He was the one who made all this possible. The one who kept me going when I was too exhausted to move, kept me grounded and focused. Kept me from allowing my human emotions to get the better of my good judgment. He was… he is everything to me and now, he’s gone.”

Doctor McCoy removed the bottle from Jim’s hand.
“Jim! Stop trying to get drunk and listen to me. T’Pring died. Spock’s mother is telling him now. I thought you should know. And, Jesus, I think we both know what this could do to him. He needs you, Jim.”

~o0o~

Several hours ago, an odd silence interrupted his meditation. Like a bubble rising to the surface of a pond, only to pop and dissipate into the air. He couldn’t say if it came from inside his head or outside, when it began or if it would end, and that puzzled him. A broken connection or a biological knot come loose? Was it age or simply a memory clamoring for attention? Looking inward, he searched for the cause of the silence.

The bridge interrupted his search with a call. When Uhura’s lovely visage appeared on the viewscreen, he noticed the shine of tears and a tremble on her lips. Always professional and calm, her tone and demeanor surprised him. She said it was personal, and she’d patch it through to his cabin. She did not tell him that the Captain was on his way.

Then, to his surprise, the fragile features of his Mother appeared. He would be home in a few days, why contact him now? Creased with sadness, her blue eyes glistened with moisture threatening to fall. What was this and why had a profound sadness suddenly welled up in him, rising from deep within him and threatening to choke him.

Once, he’d been rather ignorant of human emotions. For many years, he’d kept them at bay through grim and sometimes desperate determination. Today, he no longer feared his human half nor worried he could not control its vagaries. Still, there were his Mother’s tears. He inclined his head in a formal gesture to her image. Then he was struck with the sensation of her arms around him. He had only dim memories of her hugs, and yet he felt the strength of her arms holding him firmly.

“Mother?”

“Hello, Spock. Forgive me for interrupting your day.”

“A welcome interruption, Mother. How is Father?”

“Your Father is fine, Spock.” His mother’s eyes darted to the side. Just on the edge of camera range, Spock watched his Mother move her hand toward someone. The paired fingers of her right hand communicated to him that she had extended those fingers to his Father, or perhaps he had presented his fingers to her as a gesture of support and affection. Either way, his puzzlement grew.

“Are you well?” Spock asked, not sure what he would do with a negative answer.

His Mother chuckled. It was a small sad sound and the accompanying attempt at the smile did not reach her eyes.
Spock found himself leaning toward the viewscreen.
“Is something amiss?”

“No, Spock. Your Father and I are quite well. I have some news for you. I wanted to be the one to tell you. I…”

“Mother, please unburden yourself."

“Spock, I’m sorry… It’s a difficult thing to say. T’Pring passed away yesterday. They found her…”
What was she talking about? Humans often took too many words to explain something, when just a few simple and succinct choices provided clarity. Why was his Mother speaking so strangely? He couldn’t hear her over the odd roaring sound distorting her voice.

“Mother… I don’t understand.”

The captain dodged through the merrymakers crowding the corridors. Command crew deck, what were they even doing here?

“Make a hole!” Kirk barked and his crew obediently parted. “Get the hell below decks and to one of the crew lounges. This isn’t a parade. Move it!”

Kirk entered his first officer’s quarters just as Spock fell from his chair. In three quick strides, Jim dropped to his knees in front of Spock. He reached out to him and followed him down to the deck. Spock’s mother is tearful and scared as she calls her son’s name.

“I’ve got him, Amanda. Spock will contact you soon. Regards to you and Ambassador Sarek.” Jim slapped the connection shut with his hand.

“Spock, I’m here. I’m here.”

Spock is moaning and trying to stifle the sounds. Against his protests, Jim pulled Spock into his arms. Kneeling on the deck together, he placed Spock’s hand to his cheek trying to force the meld. His eyes plead with Spock to complete the connection.

“We need each other Spock. Let me in, let me help!”
Jim turned his face toward Spock and allowed his mouth to graze over the elegant ear and cheekbone.
Spock began to curl himself around the human. Slowly Spock’s fingers adjust to the psi points on Kirk’s face.
Kirk gasped the Vulcan’s name as the full force of Spock’s shame shattered over his psyche. Kirk didn’t shrink from it. They knew each other’s guilt and moments of shame. Spock knew exactly how guilty Jim felt over the tragic circumstances of Miramanee’s death and Edith…Spock knew about Edith.

“I’m the one who loves you. Let me. Let me in Spock. It’s me… my Spock.”

When he can finally get Spock to focus on him, Jim reaches up to touch the Vulcan face with gentle fingers and runs his thumb over Spock’s lips.

“You have never forsaken me, Jim.”

“You’re not alone. Never.”

Then it comes, and Spock’s grief expresses itself through Jim’s tears and vibrates through their mental link.

Stonn abused her… They found her at the bottom of a ravine. She’d been alive when he’d pushed her. They found bruises, Jim. She’d refused to give him children. If I’d been a better man, she’d be with me and...

“Spock, this is not your fault. It’s a tragedy and we shall grieve for her together. A better man? You’re the best man I know. You’re the man I watched share his heart with Layla and Zarabeth, that poor young woman on Beta Niobe. You gave her something to live for. You didn't have to, but you did. You tell me that man who saved my life, and comforted me when I’d reached the limit of my endurance. That you could push away all that we meant to each other and all that we’ve shared.”
Jim’s answer was the Vulcan relaxing against him. He would not lose this moment or this chance for them, so he pushed a little harder.

“Come with me Spock.” Stay with me, he forced his thoughts through the meld. It’s Christmas. We’ll go somewhere peaceful and quiet. Anywhere. Then you’ll come back to the stars with me. This will be our beginning. Where could you find more freedom than on the Enterprise? Say something…”

There wasn’t anything more for Spock to say, all his answer were in the meld. The acceptance and forgiveness, shone like holiday lights, shinning beacons of love and acknowledgment theirs for the grasping

Yes, Jim… I understand… Show me… teach me…“ Spock didn’t answer with additional and superfluous words, simply turned his head, and touched his lips to Jim’s upturned mouth.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o

Live Like Horses

"I can't control this flesh and blood
That's wrapped around my bones
It moves beneath me like a river
Into the great unknown

I stepped onto the moving stairs
Before I could tie my shoes
Pried a harp out the fingers of a renegade
Who lived and died the blues

And his promise made was never clear
It just carved itself in me
All I saw was frost inside my head
On the night he said to me

Someday we'll live like horses
Free rein from your old iron fences
There's more ways than one to regain your senses
Break out the stalls and we'll live like horses
We're the victims of the heartbreak
That kept us short of breath
Trapped above these bloodless streets
Without a safety net

I stood in line to join the trial
One more customer of fate
Claimed a spoke in the wheel of the wagon train
On the road to the golden gate

On the flat cracked desert I jumped ship
It just made sense to me
I've spent too long in the belly of the beast
And now I shall be free"

Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
watch?v=8LmLvdibNY8

AN: If you’ve never heard this song, please use that link to listen to Elton John sing this amazing song. The first time I heard it, I thought that song is about Kirk and Spock.
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