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Their missions have been quiet since then, diplomatic conferences and colonial supervision strung like beads between weeks spent crossing the vast space between outposts and planets.   Starfleet tenders its apologies with this unbroken silence, offering amends for the mistake it cannot yet bring itself to admit.
 
The silence is new, for them; Spock had grown used to the background noise of starships with time and effort, but he'd never thought he could learn to miss it.  The Enterprise seems larger here, far from the noisy centers of the civilized galaxy, swallowing sound within its walls until sometimes it feels empty, even when surrounded by the crew.
 
He leaves Nyota in command for the gamma shift, following the kilometers of corridors in a routine that seems older than the three years of its existence;  communications, maintenance, botany, astrometrics, navigation, environmental and waste maintenance, engineering, a logical circuit of departments, as much a reminder of how little has changed as what already has. 
 
He ends his walk in Sickbay; only three months since he added it, but it feels like so much longer.  Dr. McCoy is hours off duty, long since banished by his own medics for sleep, perhaps to make up for the weeks he would not permit himself to leave.  The lights are lowered, but Spock would know this place blind and deaf, body memory leading him by empty biobeds and darkened monitors, toward the duty nurse who looks up with an expression somewhere between surprise and  guilt.  "Commander," she says, dropping her datapad, fingers wiping the screen clean but not before he glimpses the crossword puzzle, half-completed.
 
"At ease, Lieutenant Chapel."
 
Her eyes flicker to the door to the rooms devoted to long-term care, then to him, licking  her lips as her hands flutter before locking behind her back.   "We didn't expect--I mean," she says, catching herself, "you startled me.  Didn't expect you for another hour."
 
He'd learned the value of silence, waiting as she looks at anything but him.
 
"It's been a long day," she says abruptly.  "Botany fire--a fire, do you believe it?  They were trying to camp, and then the still in engineering…" and cuts herself off, flushing bright red at the reveal of a secret that is no secret at all. 
 
"I see." 
 
Her eyes flicker to the door of Sickbay, then to him.  "Dr. Uloi had some results on the--"

Spock takes a breath;  her voice trickles off into silence.  She follows him until they reach the quiet room at the end, an empty bed with cooling sheets, and a window that looks out on space. 

"Lieutenant," he says.  Lieutenant Chapel sighs, reaching into her pocket and removing the active communicator, amber light glinting before she lets it close.  It may be his imagination, but for a moment, Spock thinks he hears the faint sound of someone laughing.
 
She shrugs helplessly.  "He said 'please'."
 
*****
 
Jim knows the Enterprise like his own body;  their first day, first month, first year, he learned it, padding silent through the corridors long after he should have slept, vanishing into Jefferies tubes, turbolifts, a child playing hide-and-seek with the ship that was his home and his life both.
 
Jim knows his ship, but Spock knows Jim;  the crew may indulge him, but they protect him too, looking away as he passes.  He doesn't need their direction;  Spock follows a trail only he can sense, until the observation deck yawns open before him, dark but for the spread of space outside the floor-length windows that look out at the stars at warp.  Even in perfect dark, Spock could have found him;  Jim is not something that can be missed.  "Captain."
 
There's stillness, then a resigned rustle; following the sense of embarrassment and irritation, amusement and old frustration, past empty tables and abandoned chairs, finding the curve of a corner and Jim, a robe tugged over wrinkled scrubs, the windows close enough that it seems the stars are within his reach.
 
"Commander."  Jim tilts his head up; the faint light is not kind, highlighting too-pale skin tight over sharp bones, darkening the shadows beneath his eyes.  Then he smiles, slow and rueful, and Spock thinks that he can forget, at least for now.  "Sit down."
 
"You should be in sickbay. You require rest."
 
Jim shrugs, tugging absently at the robe he'd pulled over the stark sickbay scrubs, stretching one bare foot casually until it touches the window.  "I'm tired of resting."  Jim takes a breath.  "Come to take me back, Commander?"

Spock watches Jim's eyes return to space and thinks of the small room and small window that Jim had left behind.  "Computer, raise the temperature ten degrees and lock the doors."  Lowering himself down beside Jim, he makes himself comfortable against the wall before turning his attention to the startled blue eyes staring at him.  "No.  I thought perhaps you would prefer company."

Jim's mouth curves in a surprised smile.  "You were right.  I would."

After a moment, Spock follows Jim's gaze to the endless rush of space before them, stars glittering like jewels at warp, edged in crimson and jade and bright gold; it's a view he's seen more times than he has ever bothered to count from the bridge, but never quite like this.
 
Jim's voice is very soft.  "I needed to see them again."
 
"You have a window--"
 
"Please."  Jim gives him a sideways look, arms curling the robe closer to hide a shiver.  "That's not a view, though I appreciate the thought.  Besides, it's too quiet."
 
"It is quiet here."
 
Jim shakes his head.  "No, it's not.  Close your eyes, Mr. Spock."
 
"Captain--"

Jim rolls his eyes, and one hand reaches out, covering his eyes; the thin skin is impossibly cool.  "Indulge the injured guy, Commander."
 
After a moment, Spock closes his eyes; Jim moves his hand, but the coolness seems to linger, pressed into the skin of his temples.  "Put your hands on the floor," Jim murmurs.  "And don't think of anything at all."
 
Beneath the tile, Spock can feel the vibration from the power conduits that lace the floors of every deck, the soft, nearly subliminal hum of a ship at warp, the rumble of the engines, unheard but felt even in a ship as modern as the Enterprise.
 
But all he can hear is the soft, rhythmic breathing beside him; the soft shifts of Jim's body; the slow, steady beat of his heart.  The ship seems so much less silent now.
 
"See what I mean?" Jim murmurs.  "Not so quiet, is it?"
 
"No," Spock answers, meeting Jim's eyes.  "It is not."
 
*****
 
Jim doesn't fight him when Spock eases him to his feet;  he's grown too used to disappointment.  "Time to go back?"
 
Spock shakes his head.  "No."

Their progress is anticipated, communicators chirping softly as they pass, eyes peering from darkened doors, the sounds of rapid footsteps and breathless voices filling the corridors.  Jim can't see their hopeful smiles at the sight of their captain after so long an absence;  Spock remembers every one.

"Where are we?" Jim mutters sleepily as the doors close behind them, letting Spock guide him across the dark room.  The blue eyes fix on the unpolarized window above the bed that looks out at the entirety of space, breath catching.  "How did you get better quarters than me?  Bones is going to kill me when he finds me, you know."
 
Spock eases him down onto the mattress; starlight is kinder here, or perhaps it's the way Jim smiles.  "First, he would have to find you."  Sitting down, Spock reaches for the covers, pulling them over the too-thin body.  "Rest."
 
Jim's mouth quirks, fingers twisting in the hem of Spock's tunic even as he begins to drift toward sleep.  "Thank you."

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