The saddest words in any tongue
Are those to say good-bye,
And I hoped I'd never say those words to you.
You said the needs of many souls
Outweigh the needs of one,
But this heart of mine that loved you
Knows it isn't true.
I used to think about the way I'd tell you,
Used to wonder how you'd look and what you'd say.
But I waited far too long, and now I'm trying
Just to stand and fight and live another day.
From "Genesis Aubade"
by M.E. Carter
"Recording chip on."
According to Bones, I simply have to say this phrase and the implanted memory chip will record not only my words, but my thoughts as well. I hope that's true. At least that was what it was designed to do in temporal shift assignments. It will be important to have an objective record to check...after this is all over. It's rather ironic that it was this damn place that provided ‘Fleet Intel with the impetus to make such a device.
Hope this thing is working. All right. Deep breath and here we go:
This is Admiral James T. Kirk, in command of the starship Enterprise, but I am here as simply Jim Kirk, private citizen of the Federation. I wish it known that no one on my ship or in Starfleet has aided me in this endeavor or has had advance knowledge of it. What I do here, I do on my own. I am solely responsible for my own actions...and perhaps my own damnation.
I am now standing on Tempus Prime or as it has come to be known to a select few, the planet of the Guardian of Forever. If the Klingons or Romulans ever found out they could change the course of history merely by stepping through this gateway to the past, the Federation and everything we now know would cease to exist. But I'm not thinking of our enemies right now. No, rather my thoughts are with the billions who would choose to use the Guardian for the purpose I would use it, for the purpose I will use it this night. The Federation would deny us this. The loss of my command would be the least of the consequences I would face for my actions. The moral laws, the duty by which I have lived my entire life ceased to exist the moment I brought the shuttle in for a landing on this forbidden world. Duty.... Once this word was price enough. It was enough to condemn Edith to death. Enough to sentence Tyree's world to war and destruction. Enough to forgo the comfort of home and family. It is no longer enough. Now the sound of the word in my mouth is as arid as bones bleaching white in the desert, and I will not offer Spock up as one more sacrifice on its altar.
I've sold my soul, and I have to think that any cost I have to pay will be worth it.
I am fortunate, as Spock would say, that so many random fortuitous events have occurred in my favor. They tell me it's a privilege to be chosen to be a guinea pig for the testing of this memory chip six months before our last mission. And then there's the fact that I know Doctor Davidson, the head of the current crop of resident scientists, personally-he didn't suspect a thing when I landed. Fell for my line about being ordered to check the security protocols for the Guardian under orders from Starfleet Command. It was fortunate that they hadn't yet heard of Spock's death out here though it happened two days ago, and to be able to use the trilene gas while they slept without injuring anyone. And especially fortunate to never know for sure just how far I would have taken it had it become necessary.
It was a simple matter to deactivate the cloaking device that surrounds the Guardian. If all goes as I have planned, Spock and I will simply appear on the Enterprise, and all this would not have happened, because Spock's death would not have happened. Or perhaps we will appear back here. I don't know. I don't care. I can't think beyond the need I have to have him back. It all returns to that. I refuse to believe the story of his life is over. That his magnificent intelligence, shining wit, child-like curiosity, and that rarest of all things-the combination of wisdom and innocence that was his essence is no longer a part of the same universe I inhabit.
The stars are so bright and clear; the night so dark. It was night then, too, the last time we stepped into the past. Is it always night on this world? I know dawn will never come for me again unless Spock lives.
I had forgotten how the wind wails here. Such a sad mournful dirge. It raises the hairs on my arms, sends shivers up my back. As if it were the voices of lost souls, all the lost souls calling out from purgatory for redemption, calling out with the desire to live again. It can be done, they say. Pick me. Pick me! Would his voice be among them? On the whole, I don't think so. No, correct that-I know so.
For the first time it occurs to me that there are other options. How would it be to see my beloved brother again? To see my father smile? To hear my mother say she loves me? I could see them-be with them-if only for a short space of time. How seductive that thought is. In the next breath I know I would never do it. I have found the way to go on after their deaths...it is just Spock's loss that is inconsolable. I could perhaps bear it, but for one irretrievable, unforgivable, cowardly, soul-damning fact: I never told Spock I loved him. This pain I am in is because the words I should have said are tearing through my heart trying to get out, shouting to be made real.
But it is far too late. The one that needs to hear them is no longer alive.
If I have correctly identified the landmarks-that large boulder to the right and those three smaller ones in a straight line to the left-the Guardian should be just over that next rise.
I keep telling myself I am aware of the dangers. That I have thought this through very carefully. I will insure I will not put my universe in jeopardy by my actions of the next few hours. The last time it took several months for the timelines to begin to diverge enough to cause a different future to occur. Because of Edith...because of whether she lived or died. Since only days have passed since Spock's death, according to the computer simulations I ran before leaving the ship, the simulations Spock himself fed into the computer, not enough time has elapsed to cause that to happen again. I can't believe that whether Spock lives or dies can matter except to the very few of us who love him. God knows there have been all too few of those in his life. I am betting everything I know, everything my personal and professional instincts tell me, that although my universe has shattered with Spock's death, the wider one will remain intact if he lives again.
I do realize I may not be thinking clearly, that the events of the last few days have...damaged my mind, changed my perceptions, not to mention that I have been awake for...let's see...the past fifty-three hours. I do not think that is the case, but how can I know? I have tried to rest, but whenever I close my eyes his face rears up out of the darkness. And of course it is not the vision of him in our early years together: all sharp planes and elegant curves, or even as he appeared during this last five-year mission, after Gol and V'ger had their way with him. Not with that laughing glint in his eyes, or the more relaxed posture that told me he had finally found the way to live comfortably in his own skin. Oh, no. The face that comes to me in the dark behind closed lids is Spock as I saw him that last moment in the reactor room, the radioactivity still eating away at his beautiful features, the hoarseness of his voice, and his eyes...oh God, his blinded eyes searching for me...and the pain he tried so hard not to let me see.
To have him alive and whole again, to have this image that is slowly killing me by degrees vanish into the recesses of nightmare, to finally be able to sleep again.... It is for this I have risked the universe.
There is only one truth that guides me now. I have forsaken one love because of this cursed planet. I will not, cannot forsake another.
I've thought of little else since I followed the gurney with Spock's body through the halls of our ship as we took him to sickbay. Can it only be coincidence that has landed this planet and us in this same quadrant, mere parsecs apart? I've never believed in fate before, never believed my destiny lay in hands other than my own, but now I wonder.
And yes, there it is, pulsing quietly with light, with life, as if awaiting my arrival. Looking down, I see my fists clenched with tension, feel the adrenalin pour through my veins, hear the mad beating of my heart even over the wailing wind. But the decision has already been made; maybe it was made that day I set foot on the deck of my ship as captain and my eyes met his for the first time.
I throw back my head and glare at the stars. If there is such a thing as fate, I remind it now: You chose not to take both of us, so you shall have neither.
"Guardian, do you know me?"
"I know you, James Kirk. You have stepped through my gateway to the past. I know and I remember, but you are without your companion."
"Yes, Guardian. He is the reason I am here. That last time you told us that many such voyages were possible. Is it permissible to take...take another voyage into the past? To change what is?"
"I see and know all. You wish the dead to live again."
I swallow hard and remember to breathe. "Is it permissible?"
"The attempt is permissible, but there are dangers involved."
"Ask of me what you would."
"Guardian, show me the life of Spock of Vulcan."
I hold up my tricorder to make sure I get it all: Swirling mists...faces-clear, distinct-a young Sarek, yet with the same force of character, the same resoluteness of spirit-a young Amanda, all soft lines of face, and both happiness and pain in her eyes-children, mocking, taunting-a sehlet's homely face to ward off the loneliness-a young girl, beautiful but austere, hands at meld points, and desolation killing the hope in warm brown eyes. Adolescence, young adulthood, and always the separateness, the solitude, and a life lived apart from others. A starship's interior swims into view. My own smiling face, dangers faced, the exhilaration of knowledge gained, worlds saved. Acceptance. Friendship. And all too soon...Khan.
I wait until the moment Spock rises from his chair on the bridge to leave for engineering. "Mark," I say and press the studs to start the computations that will enable me to leap at the precise point in time I wish. I ask the Guardian to stop the display. I know where he is going when he leaves the bridge. I have no desire to watch his death again. I have not even viewed the recorded display made at the time, again, as was my duty. I simply cannot watch him die one more time. We were supposed to have the time, dammit! I would have told him how much I loved him. He would have responded with love for me. I know he would have. But there was always one more mission, one more duty for us to perform...and then time ran out.
My eyes are dry. I would weep for him if I could, but I refuse to permit myself the solace tears would bring.
A soft beep signals the completion of the computations. I feed in the correction made to enable me to appear before he leaves the bridge, and I am ready.
"Guardian, please show me the life of Spock of Vulcan once again."
The scenes of his life flash by, and the countdown starts, and my heart races and my breathing accelerates and my muscles coil and...
I am on the bridge of my starship, Reliant lying wounded and drifting across our bow. But that means...I turn, and ...oh God, there he is! Busy at his station. Alive. I can hardly.... He turns to me. His face is unmarred. His hair, sleek and shiny reflects back the overhead lights. The next horrifying moment, I see again in my mind the black strands fallen from his scalp and laid across my arm as I carry him from the chamber, his face bleeding green against my chest. Not in this reality. It never happened here, and I won't let it intrude on this miraculous moment. He is there in front of me whole and alive and so beautiful that my heart catches in my chest.
For this one brief shining moment I have risked the universe.
Damn me and what I have done, but oh, it is worth the price.
What I am feeling must be blazing from my face, because he gives me a curious look and that one insistent eyebrow begins to climb. He lowers it and says, "I am reading an energy source on Reliant I have never seen before."
Lord, no! This is later than I had intended to appear. Still in time, but.... I am out of my seat and approaching his station. David is already there. "It's Genesis. She's on a countdown to detonation."
What did I say? It is vital that I keep to what actually happened as closely as possible. "How long?"
"We encoded four minutes."
"We'll beam aboard and stop it."
My son grasps my arm. "You can't."
Now. I turn to Spock. "I'm going to engineering. You have the con, Mister Spock." Quickly I open the emergency equipment locker next to the turbolift and remove an emergency EVA suit. Not meant for what it will be used for, but it has an independent air supply and it should be protection enough for the few minutes I'll need.
He rises from his chair. "Admiral-"
"Did you hear me, Spock? You will take the con. Under no circumstances are you to leave this bridge. Acknowledge ."
The brown eyes turn dark. "Jim, do not-"
He stiffens. "Affirmative, Admiral."
I am running out of time but permit myself the luxury of touching his arm, feeling the heat of his living flesh, and flash him a smile. There is time for no more. Moments later I am making my way to the lower decks, running through my wounded lady just as fast as I can.
Engineering is controlled chaos when I arrive. Bones is bending over Scotty trying to restrain the man from rising to his feet. Clearly he isn't capable of it, but that doesn't stop my chief engineer from trying. Spock's young trainees all have the same look on their faces. Incredulity. Why do the young always think they will live forever? I find myself wishing I could have kept their illusions intact for a while longer.
A puzzled frown on the dour Celtic features. Scotty tries to get up again, but can't quite manage it. "I...I'm glad to see yon suit, Admiral, but...how did ye ken to bring one?" he gasps. He gestures toward the equipment closet, damaged cabinet door swinging loosely, suits spilling out gashed and useless. "We...d'na have the t-time to fabricate more."
"Doesn't matter. Don't worry about it."
I turn back to remove the wrapping. It's bulkier than I remembered and it's taking more precious moments than I can spare.
"Admiral, what are you doing?"
God, no! No! I spin around and there he is. Damn him! Why can't the man stay on the bridge where he belongs! "You've disobeyed my orders, Mister Spock." I finally have gotten the bulky suit freed from its wrapping.
"Saavik has the con." Both hands grasp my arms. "Jim, allow me to do it."
"No! Let me go, Spock."
"I know what must be done to get the mains back on line, and I will be able to do it more rapidly than you can."
"Dammit, I said no!" I pull away from him. At the sound of cloth ripping we both look down. The edge of the suit has caught on the jagged twisted metal of the equipment locker opening a four-inch gash. It is useless. I cast it aside and head for the reactor chamber.
His hand lands at the juncture of my neck and shoulder, and gently, so gently I am eased to the floor. I have not lost consciousness though I cannot move, cannot speak, but inside my head I am screaming. I am not sure I will ever be able to stop.
Bones cuts in front of Spock. His eyes are on me, but the words he speaks are meant for Spock alone. "What have you done?"
"What I had to do." Spock starts forward.
One hand goes up to restrain a red-clad shoulder. "You're not going in there."
"Perhaps you're right, Doctor. How is Mister Scott?" I open my mouth-Bones, don't turn your back on him!-but nothing comes out. McCoy turns and I know what's coming before Spock's hand starts to rise.
With great tenderness he lowers our friend to the deck. His body blocks my sight, but I imagine he pauses for a last gentle caress then he is up and moving. One stop to remove Scotty's gloves before the dazed engineer can stop him, and he enters the reactor chamber.
By the time I'm able to reach the barrier it is again too late. Bones and Scotty grab me once more and I struggle while he does what he has to do to get the mains back on line. Already the radiation has attacked his face. As I watch, those deep brown eyes where I found all the things that make life worth living-the laughter, the companionship, the love-glaze over and darken, and I know he can no longer see. Stumbling steps bring him to the transparent aluminum barrier. He places his hand against the glass in the ta'al, that same graceful hand I had longed to feel caress my body and that now, before my eyes, shows radiation burns open and seeping green with his blood.
The others release me. I want to turn, to run, but to leave him there to face his death alone is unthinkable. And so we each act out our separate parts, say the words we said before. The only words I want to say to him, the words I need to say to him can't be spoken here. This most private of men would not wish to hear them in this public place. So I grant him that last dignity and only press my hand against the glass-IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou-the words a silent scream he does not hear. Once again touch is denied us. The finely chiseled lips force the smallest of smiles, a talisman to hold against the pain, and he dies. Again.
The next thing I'm aware of is the hard ground underneath and the wind wailing in my ears. I've been tossed from the Guardian. As I rise from the ground, the softly pulsating shafts of light echo my heartbeat. My face is cold and wet, but I will not tolerate this indulgence now. I dash the tears from my eyes.
"Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway."
I can't let it end this way. My body aches with fatigue. My soul, if I have one left, lies in tatters. To watch him die again is agony, and I long to turn away, to hide like a wounded animal, but I can't. "Guardian. Again. I must go again into the past."
"Ask of me what you would."
"Guardian, show me the life of Spock of Vulcan."
Once more Spock's life passes before my eyes. Adjusting the tricorder, I plug in the coordinates so that I will appear even earlier on the bridge than last time. The countdown appears and once more...
Again I'm on my ship sitting in the captain's chair. I turn to Spock's station, but he's not there. His chair is empty. Somehow I've miscalculated the time, or the time rift is widening or.... I have to get down to engineering. "Saavik, take the con."
"Permission to accompany you, sir?"
"Dammit, don't any of you know how to follow orders?"
"Please, sir." She stands at her station, the worry written clearly in her eyes, staring not at me but at Spock's empty chair, and I remember that of course with the shared history between them she loves him, too.
"Sulu, take her." The lift doors open. I grab the suit from the equipment locker as she runs to the lift. "Keep up, Saavik. I won't wait for you."
By the time we get to engineering, Spock is once more confronting McCoy. Alive. Still alive, and not in the reactor chamber, and I thank whatever gods there might be that I'm in time. Bones is just turning away to see to Scotty as Spock's hand comes up for the nerve pinch.
"Kroykah!" Conditioned as he is to that word he hesitates a fraction of a second longer. I just have time to drop the suit, grab his arms and turn the stiff body away from the reactor chamber.
"Spock! The suit!"
"There is no time."
He's still firmly in my grasp, when Saavik somehow slips by us, swiftly keys in the code for the chamber's door and enters.
There is perhaps the space of a heartbeat when I could let him go to follow her, to rescue her, to prevent the agonizing death I know is coming. I could let him go...and I don't. God help me, I don't. He's fighting me, but I grip him with all the strength I have. It's not nearly enough to hold him, but now Scotty and Bones and two engineering techs are helping me and she's already at the matrix controls and the freed radioactivity is filling the chamber and it is far too late to save her. She makes the final adjustment in the flow line and replaces the shield. Behind her, I see the damage control panel lights switch from red to green. Scotty is notifying the bridge and as Saavik slips to her knees, I can feel the ship accelerating under my feet to safety.
In the next breath Spock's muscles relax, and when I look at his face there's a terrible something in his eyes that makes me look away. When we release him, he walks to the chamber wall and toggles the audio switch. "Saavikkam," he says, a verbal caress as softly intimate as a kiss.
She is trying to focus now. Focus on his voice. Slowly, on hands and knees, she crawls to the barrier. He kneels. Two dark heads lean toward each other. The burst blood vessels on her face are leaking her life's blood, and eyes that no can no longer see track the air hoping to catch one last glimpse of his face.
Softly he murmurs in Vulcan, but my subcutaneous translator easily interprets the words.
"I cannot open the chamber, Saavikkam. The radiation would flood the compartment. Many would die."
"I know, sir." Her voice is so hoarse.
"Why? Why would you do this? I would have gone. It was not your place."
"I know, but it is my right just the same. You...must live, Protector."
"You have saved the ship, Saavik, and all aboard her."
She is fighting to stay conscious now, trying to speak, but unable to.
"I would take thy katra into my own, Saavikkam, were I able to."
"Live long and prosper...." She takes a tortured breath and adds one of the few Vulcan words I know without benefit of the translator "...Sa-mekh."
He whispers a response but it's too low for even the translator to catch.
At that-it seems impossible, but no-there is a smile on her face. With her next breath she slumps against the barrier and is gone.
It takes an hour for the scrubbers to vent the chamber's atmosphere and remove enough radiation to make entry safe. I will not leave him to wait alone so we sit on the floor without speaking as engineering crews studiously ignore us and go about repairing our ship. He watches Saavik's still body through the barrier and I watch him. I know how I would feel were it my David lying there. This death I cannot add to Khan's list of crimes. This death belongs to me alone. Spock will never forgive me when I tell him what I have done. And yet, he is whole and alive beside me. His heat reaches through his uniform to warm the air between us. His breath lifts his chest. He lives!
I am truly damned for I cannot find it in my heart to wish it otherwise.
We finally don newly fabricated radiation suits and enter the chamber. Spock allows me the honor of helping him lift Saavik's body from the floor. His eyes meet mine through our faceplates. Gently he eases her from my arms taking the full burden of her body. After the decontamination sprays, McCoy is there with a gurney when we exit the chamber. The special gurney. The one with a force field to prevent radiation leakage, and this time another's body will be the burden it bears. For a moment I don't think Spock will let Saavik go. McCoy, bless him, says nothing. And we wait for the several moments it takes for Spock to finally release her. McCoy switches the unit on. A soft hum fills the air. She appears merely asleep, if you could ignore the signs radiation has branded onto her skin. A child fallen asleep over her toys. But I remind myself she was not. She was a woman fully aware of what she was doing. A woman who when faced with the choice of dying or seeing someone she loved cease to exist, chose the easier way. I look at Spock. I would have done the same.
We remove the bulky suits and follow McCoy and the gurney from the room. Someone has cleared the corridors, and when we do enter sickbay, everyone is standing back against the walls respectfully silent. Out of deference for Saavik, but also for Spock, I think. Although there were few who knew the circumstances of Saavik's birth and rescue from Hellguard, they couldn't miss seeing the special relationship the two had shared. He never favored her, never treated her any differently from others under his command, but his pride in her accomplishments was obvious. At least to me. One of the med techs takes over the gurney from McCoy and moves it into an inner room. Spock starts to follow when the doctor stops him with a hand on his arm.
"You've done what you could for her. Now it's time for us to take over. We'll take care of her from here, Spock."
Spock's gaze switches from the vanishing gurney to McCoy's face. "But I.... Yes. Yes, of course, Doctor." He turns for the door.
"Wait for me, Spock. Bones, the crew? Casualties?" I ask.
"Saavik's the only one this time. Scotty says they're making repairs now. He'll let you know when they're done." He casts an eye on Spock who has stopped at the door with his back to the room.
"Jim, make sure he gets something to eat and some rest if he can." Bones quickly glances at me then looks again, a penetrating stare this time. "That was rough. You okay?"
Thanks to Saavik I'm fine."
There's something in McCoy's eyes that says my answer didn't quite satisfy him. But he'll let it go for now. He walks to Spock's side. "Spock?" His voice is very soft.
Spock has not turned. "Doctor?"
"I'm logging you off duty for twenty-four hours." Spock nods. "Take a water shower tonight. I'm going to program in two liters of a subcutaneous hydronolin emulsion to activate when you do. For you too, Jim. I'm recommending it for everyone who was in the reactor room today in case any radioactive material escaped. Just to be on the safe side." Once more he lays his hand on Spock's arm. "I'm so sorry, Spock."
"I know." Spock moves forward, the door slides open and he is gone.
"Stay with him, Jim...if he'll let you."
I catch up with Spock at the turbolift.
We stand in silence as the lift proceeds to deck five. When the doors open I step out, only to be drawn back by Spock's hand on my arm. "The bridge. I should monitor-"
"No. Not tonight. Not either of us." I lead him down the corridor, but when we stop before his door, he does not palm the access plate immediately.
"If you want to be alone...."
"No. Admiral...Jim...I would welcome your company tonight."
I follow him into his quarters. To see him in that dimly lighted alien mystery of a room once more.... I take a deep cleansing breath dragging the scent of the incense, the scent of his body down deeply into my lungs. I will never get enough. The past is slipping away, his death a nightmare fading in the dawn of a new day. As each second passes this reality becomes more real, gaining substance, solidity.
"I haven't told you yet how sorry I am about Saavik. I...I grieve with thee." More than you know. I have my happiness at her hands.
He turns to me. "I know you do."
"Come on, take that jacket off and sit down. Let me get you a glass of that brandy you keep for me."
When I've pour two glasses of the amber liquid, I return to sit opposite him, pressing one into his hand. He looks exhausted, drawn and pale, and absolutely wonderful. Of course I will tell him what I have done. Of course I will. Only not just yet. Not tonight. One night. Is that too much to ask in payment for a human soul? I cannot face what he will think of me tonight. And he has received enough pain for one day.
"Drink," I tell him.
He takes a small sip then stares absently at his glass. "She called me sa-mekh." Said so softly. "She never called me that before."
"I know. Father."
"It may well have been the truth."
"The Romulan commander from whom we stole the cloaking device. It is a Romulan custom to show contempt for alien prisoners by conceiving a half-breed child either willingly, by force, or by otherwise obtaining a sample of their DNA. These children are later abandoned." He looked down into his glass, but I knew he wasn't even aware he still held it. "Children are highly valued on Vulcan. It is punishment enough to think of any child being debased and mistreated...especially so if one's own actions caused the retribution."
We had never discussed the incident, but I knew how reluctant Spock had been to engage in espionage. My throat was suddenly dry. "The Romulan commander.... Did you...?"
"Engage in sexual intercourse? No. But a sample of my genetic material would not have been difficult to obtain. Fingerprints on a glass, skin cells on her hand. There were many opportunities.
"When we returned to Vulcan, I could have traced Saavik's genetic ancestry and located her Vulcan parent. I left the decision to her. I could have been her father; the timing was approximately correct, but I think it highly probable her mother or father was a deceased Vulcan prisoner. She became quite agitated at the idea of ascertaining her ancestry and calmed only when I said I would make her my ward. I always thought she would wish the information when she grew older."
"But she never did, did she?"
"No. Perhaps she thought to honor her parent in some way."
"No, that's not it. My guess is that she wanted to belong only to you. She loved you."
"Out of respect for her Vulcan parent I never named her daughter although I did come to regard her that way."
"She knew that." He glances once at me then returns his eyes to the brandy snifter. "Of course she knew, Spock." Then another thought occurs. "You said something there at the end."
"Kofu. It means-"
He nods, and now I know why Saavik smiled at the moment of her death.
The dark eyes return to my face, lighted now with a peculiar intensity. His hand tightens on the glass. "When I first rescued Saavik from Hellguard, she tried to repay me in the only coin available to her."
Somehow I knew what was coming. "Spock, you don't have to-"
"She offered me her body." The room is so quiet, his dark eyes so deep. "She was but approximately eight Standard years old."
There is nothing I can say. Children like Saavik were one of the reasons both of us were out here.
"I made it clear to her I wished no payment for her rescue. She did not comprehend kindness or compassion, Jim. None had ever been shown to her. Finally I told her something she could understand. I told her I belonged to someone else. She did not believe me though it was the truth. Over the years she repeated her offer at regular intervals. She only ceased after...." Abruptly he rises to his feet, strides to his desk and without turning places the glass down on its gleaming surface.
I think I forget to breathe, but I get up and follow him. "'She only ceased after...."
He turns to me then, and I don't think he ever looked as beautiful to me as he does at this moment.
"...after the first time she saw us together. I never heard it again after that day."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I would have gone into the reactor chamber today. For the ship. For Saavik. But mainly for you."
I nod. "Thank God, you didn't." I suddenly find I am grasping his shoulders as if even now I could prevent him from changing his mind.
"Only a Vulcanoid could have survived long enough to do what had to be done."
Don't bring it back to me. I can't bear it. "Spock..."
"The only regret I had was that I had never told you I loved you."
Slowly I draw him to me. My hands, trembling and unsure, land on the sides of his face and I bring our lips together. Sweet, oh so sweet, his taste to me. No passion. No fire. Now was not the time for that, but I put all the longing of the years between us into the gentle pressure of my mouth to his. Finally we would have the time. All the time for the rest of our lives. And now I'd make sure we wouldn't squander it.
We break apart and he rests his weary head against my shoulder and lets me hold him.
After a few moments I feel a slight trembling running through his body. The man is exhausted. He has been on his feet even longer than I have, and emotional reactions always drain him. I ease him away. "Go on and take that shower McCoy wants you to take. I'm going to program something for you to eat."
"Jim.... I do not think...."
I give him a slight push in the direction of the head. "When was the last time you ate anyway? No, don't tell me. I don't think I want to know." He starts to protest, but I cut him off. "Something light. Tea and some of those takdar biscuits you like, that's all."
A small nod, and he turns without another word, too weary I think to argue.
I busy myself with programming his food. He will forgive what I have done. He has to. It is then I realize it; I hadn't told him I loved him. Of course that kiss didn't leave too much to his imagination, but still...I did still need to say the words. Both of us need to hear them. I'd waited years-all those long wasted years-and suddenly even one more minute seems too long to wait.
A swirl of steam meets me as the door to the head slides open. A long stretch of muscular back, wet and slick, and the scent of him filling my nostrils. "Spock, there's something I need to-"
The rest seems to happen in impossibly small increments, each separate and distinct and inevitable. He turns immeasurably slowly. A small smile of greeting and welcoming light gleaming in those dark eyes. A lurch as his leg slips out from under him. Surprise on the sharply angled features. Dark head impacts with a dull thud against the stall as he falls. I lift my hand to help, but it moves too slowly, as if mired in quicksand. He hits the edge of the shower enclosure, neck snapping with a short sharp sound. The dark head bounces once then, neck twisted awkwardly, he is still. Water falls unheeding into his widely open eyes. For a moment I see recognition there. Then, as if a candle were extinguished by a careless breeze, it fades away.
I slam the communicator stud. "Sickbay! Emergency! Captain Spock's quarters!" But I know it is already too late. I am shouting inside my head: IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou and reaching for him when the world dissolves around me.
Again I am on my hands and knees, that demon wind howling in my ears, the Guardian pulsating with light before me. I know what Hell looks like now-this accursed planet.
"Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway."
It takes everything in me, every last ounce of strength I possess to rise from my knees. Somehow the time travel has sapped my strength. My heart is pounding, and the rush of adrenalin has left me light-headed and nauseated.
No, it can't be! How could it have happened again? Such a stupid, wasteful way to die! And after that thought another follows. A grotesque thought. One that won't easily be banished.
Time has resumed its shape. The shape of time. The shape I have presumed to change, and have not. All is as it was before. The event I have presumed to alter, and have not. I have heard the Guardian's words, but have I ever really listened to them?
There is only way to make absolutely sure.
"Guardian? If Spock of Vulcan had not given his life to save the Enterprise, what would have been his fate?"
"Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway."
"Is it permissible, Guardian, for you to show me other futures of Spock of Vulcan?"
At once mist begins to curl from the base and top of the Guardian, soon dissipating to reveal:
The restaurant is cool and inviting, open to the beach. Black sand glistens in the waning light from the planet's reddish primary. A tile table and the two of us sitting across from each other. Our ages are not appreciably different from what they are...were...will be. My other self watches as Spock peruses the menu paying particular attention to those offerings designated with a star as suitable for Vulcan tastes. Do I always look at him with such affection in my eyes?
"Jim, they have z'rass with laota sauce. I believe I will have that."
"Is that a favorite?" I say with a smile.
"I have only had it once previously. It is somewhat difficult to prepare. It was at a diplomatic dinner with my family when I was quite young. Unfortunately, I developed a rather bad earache afterward, became rather dizzy, and vomited z'rass on my father's shoes."
My other self grins, pleased with the mental image. "It's good you say?"
"Maybe I'll join you."
"Unfortunately that will not be possible. There is a circle before the listing."
"Oh, yes. Harmful to humans. I see it now. The vegetable lasagna then."
We place our orders, and they quickly arrive through the delivery slot on the table.
My meal is apparently delicious, and I seem just about to ask Spock if he is enjoying his, when the expression on his face changes from pleased to slightly distraught. He lays down his fork. "Spock? Is everything all right?"
He pales before my eyes. "Spock, what is it?"
"Jim... I cannot seem to...." He begins to cough.
I'm at his side in a moment. He pushes himself back from the table. "Can't...breathe," he gasps.
"Do you have something in your throat?"
"No." His words have a horrible rasping sound now. "Throat...is...closing. Al...allergic...."
I take out my communicator and raise the ship. They are locking on to us when he collapses to the floor.
By the time we rematerialize, Spock is dead in my arms.
Oh, my God! The scene fades from view only to be replaced by:
Spock alone in a long-range Starfleet shuttle. Red alert klaxon blares warning of an approaching ion storm. A blinking light appears on the navigation panel. A fault in the relay that controls the maneuvering thrusters. Quickly he removes the access cover, and switches to manual control. The repair will not hold, nor will the emergency back up. The storm engulfs the small ship. Within minutes it demolishes the port shield. The shuttle explosion does not deviate the storm one iota from its destined path.
"No! Stop!" This time the next scene appears even more quickly:
Spock on a planet survey. Snow thick on the swirling wind. Bundled to the top of the dark head. Leading his team. A tricorder that ceases to function. The ominous sound of ice cracking. Water, black as the void of space, opens like a gigantic maw under his feet. Heavier than human bones drag him down...down...down....
Spock's slim body writhing on a bed. The madness of pon farr in his wide-open dark eyes. A froth of green on his lips. A last convulsion. And then a terrible stillness.
"Stop! No more!"
...a le'matya's claws sink into vulnerable flesh.... He dies.
...pneumonia leaves him choking on his own sputum.... He dies.
"Nooo! I can't..."
...a transporter malfunction.... He dies.
"Guardian! Stop! Dammit, STOP!" Someone is screaming it over and over again. I...I am the one who is screaming. My voice is hoarse. I must have been screaming for some time. I find myself on my knees, hands curled into fists and raised in anger, although at whom I am not sure. Perhaps at an uncaring universe that can extinguish perfection as if it were of no more significance than dust motes on a current of air.
The scenes have stopped. All is quiet now, but for the incessant howling of the wind and the mad throbbing of my heart. I manage to get to my feet. He deserved so much better. All such useless deaths. Meaningless deaths. No. No, not quite all. And then I know what I must do.
"Guardian, show me the life of Spock of Vulcan." As the now familiar scenes race by I set the tricorder once again, and when the time is right...I leap....
When I am next aware of my surroundings I find myself firmly held by Bones and Scotty and a young engineering tech. Before me, Spock is propped against the far wall in the reactor chamber. This time I arrive much later than I had planned. I had hoped at least for a moment or two alone with him...to lay my hand upon his living flesh once more...to tell him what is in my heart.... But once again it is not to be. It's obvious that the time rift has widened to the point where the calculations are no longer reliable.
There is but one thing I can do for him now. I can allow him the death he should have had, would have had but for my interference. A death with meaning and dignity.
When my friends release me I walk to the barrier and call his name. Painfully he rises, straightens his uniform in a gesture that is so like him, and walks with blinded eyes to face me.
Once again we say the words we said. Once again he must die. Once again I must watch it happen.
And once again he cannot hear the words I am screaming in my head: IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou...The smallest of smiles graces his ruined face as he dies.
As I slump to the floor next to his body, mist surrounds me. The opening of the Guardian looms ahead. I rise to my feet. There is time for a last look back at the two of us. We are both slumped against the barrier. One alive, one not...both of us now with no hope for anything more. Good-bye, Spock. And I leap.
"Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway."
In minutes I retrace my steps to the scientists' compound-they are all still sleeping soundly-reactivate the cloaking device, and return to the shuttle. Once I am away from this demon planet and its displacement of time waves, the instrument readings steady. It appears once allotment is made to account for the journey to and from the Guardian's planet, I have been in the past for mere seconds. McCoy is waiting for me as the bay depressurizes after docking. Not surprisingly, he is always very much aware of how close we are to that forbidden world.
I slip by him and head off down the corridor.
"Where have you been, Jim? What have you done?" The question he hasn't asked aloud both of us hear with crystal clarity: Will I have to relieve you of your command?
The fatigue is almost overpowering. For the briefest of moments I consider just sliding to the floor and staying there, but I have a funeral to plan. Then I will sleep. Finally I will sleep. When I look back at the thin figure of my friend I see the toll the last few dreadful days have taken. "What have I done, Bones?" The truth is bitter and unavoidable and I say it with the most ironic smile I can produce. "Why, nothing. I've done nothing at all."
Watching him take leave of his father in the Great Hall today, I know the time has come. He's stayed with me during the long debriefing and hearing. Each day more and more memories return. Each day he seems more and more like himself. If there were to be any chance at all for us, he has to know. I won't base our future together on a lie. Not even one by omission. The miracle of having him alive and well and by my side once again demands nothing less than the truth.
Back in the apartment, I find myself at the windows staring out at the bay. Sunlight glinting on water and boats drifting by and people going about their lives, for the moment heedless of all else but the pleasure of a warm late fall day.
"Jim? You have been particularly quiet today. It cannot be the demotion. What troubles you?"
"I...I have to tell you something, but I don't seem to know where to begin."
He comes up behind me, his heat, his comforting presence that I thought never to have again.... Those things are home to me, more so than this apartment, this planet could ever be. I close my eyes to savor the feelings.
"Surely you know you can confide anything to me."
When I turn, his face is impassive as always, but the concern is there in his eyes. I reach for his hand and raise it slowly. "Meld with me," I whisper.
Some untold time later his hand eases from my face and drops back to his side. I am looking into that solemn countenance, searching for the verdict that is so much more important than the one I heard at Starfleet Headquarters today.
"I know. I must have been insane to do what I did. I think back now and can hardly believe I risked the universe."
"For me. You care for me that much?"
"I don't just care for you, Spock. I love you." I take his face between the palms of my hands and tilt his head and kiss him. One taste of his sweet warmth, the silk of his pointed tongue, the porcelain slickness of his teeth.... I break away, give his head the smallest of shakes. "I love you," I say again, before thrusting my tongue back into his mouth.
We entwine our arms around each other. I grasp his small ass with both hands and crush our bodies together then break away. "I love you," I murmur into his elegantly sloped ear. My erection is raging now and I try to open his uniform jacket as I thrust against him. I can't get the damn belt open and the long iron bar of his erection presses back against me and he is trying to unclasp my pants. "I love you," I sob, ramming my body against his, pushing him back over and over. The soft thud of his head against the wall tells me we've run out of room. He is trying to open my jacket and it's difficult because I am working on his pants. "I love you," I gasp into his neck as I pull up his shirt. He moans and we thrust together once more. And once again. Now we are slamming against each other and into the wall and I feel the heat of his cock next to mine. "I love you," I cry out as his hands on my ass pull me even closer. The first scalding drop of his emission sends me over the edge. "I love you," I scream as I come.
"I think you love me," he says dryly. He is smiling that very small smile that lights my world. His uniform is disheveled, the fine black hair mussed, our entwined bodies splayed on the floor. The breath of his living body gusts against my face. That miracle requires the kiss I deposit on the sculpted lips.
"I should have said it long ago."
"You did, Jim...in every way that counts." The dark eyes are soft and warm and very deep. I just may fall into them and never surface again.
He rises and starts to remove his clothing. "Did you know I heard you through the barrier in the reactor chamber?"
"But we weren't linked. How can that be?"
"Jim, you were broadcasting so loudly it was impossible to miss." He returns that soft gaze to my face. "And I have always been...rather sensitized to your thoughts." One long-fingered graceful hand reaches down and helps me to my feet. He starts to undo my jacket, but I brush his hands away and complete the job myself. There is no patience left in me. When I look up his breathing is no longer quite as steady as it was. I take his hand and lead him to the bed.
Holding him close against my side, with both our heads sharing one pillow, I kiss him once more. "I love you, Spock."
"And I love you, Jim, but you must never do such a thing again."
I make sure he sees both the anger and the longing. "Then make sure I don't ever have to."
He brings his hand to the side of my face, presses the long fingers into the meld position, and makes us One.
I watch as the threads of our essences blend together-for now, for always. No matter what joy or sorrow the future holds for us, what gain or loss, what pleasure or pain the universe throws at us, there is this above all: we'll never have to say good-bye again.
And that is more than enough.