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Story Notes:

Call this one Act 5 for Operation: Annihilate!  Hell, mebbe Act 6 too.  Heh.  Just, this one's always grabbed at me and the story wouldna let me go.

"One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,

One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie..."

from "The Lord of the Rings", by J.R.R. Tolkien

I have never in my life felt such pain as this. It comes in blazing, incandescent waves. It floods my nerves, tears at my control. Every single nerve is afire; each screams out its own separate signal. All contribute to the flood that is burning me alive. The mind rules enable me to function, but they do not make this easy. Nothing can make this easy. I cannot sleep, nor have I been able to eat. I dare not relax, not even for an instant. I have no strength to spare. And that endless voice, deep within my mind... Even with the mind rules, I cannot shut it out completely.

It is not a human voice, nor a Vulcan one. It is not really a voice at all. It has no words. But the creature does speak to me. It speaks in concepts. I
know what it wants.

It wants this crew, this ship—and far more besides. It is pushing at me, hard. Only the thinnest edge of my control remains now. It wants me to beam aboard seeds like the one which planted itself on me, so that it can take over this ship as it has already taken Deneva. The on-planet coordinates where the seeds lie waiting are engraved on my mind in purest fire.

I shall step out of an airlock without a helmet before I permit that to happen.

No. There has to be a way to defeat this creature, a way to spare Jim from what he is even now grimly preparing himself to do—for if all else fails, it will fall to him to order the orbital strike which will sterilize the planet. No matter what, we cannot let this creature spread beyond Deneva.

But I do not know how much longer I can hold out against the pain. The creature never stops pushing at me, never lets go. Every instant that I do not obey its wishes, it inflicts more

and I grow weary...

When my control does break—as it must, all too soon—I will be a danger to us all, even to Jim—


I sit up in bed, gasping for air, my heart hammering in my side. I was dreaming, reliving a memory, that is all.

This is the curse of an eidetic memory—to think of something is to re-live it. But the creature that was within me is truly gone. I can no longer feel it in my flesh, nor can I sense it in my thoughts.

I open my eyes and blink—and remember.

I am not only free, I am also quite blind.

Haste was necessary. I myself urged the doctor to proceed. I knew, through my link to the creature, that its Denevan slaves were building a ship, that their work was very nearly done. The creature itself was not precisely intelligent, though it did possess a crude self-awareness. Rather, it used the brains of its slaves much as I might use a computer. And I, being a telepath and part of it, could access some of the other minds it had possessed. It was not a meld; it was more like looking for a certain file in a large and poorly organized directory. But I could not discover the precise plan of their ship. The creature itself did not understand such concepts, and my access was limited by that lack of understanding. We had no way to discover what sort of vessel they were building, or how fast it might go, or what range it would have. The Enterprise is a ship of the line, not a hunter-interceptor. Had the Denevans managed to launch, we might or might not have caught up to them in time. The nearest Border Patrol squadron was more than five days away at max warp; Deneva is far from the Rimworlds. Truly, there was no alternative but to complete our tests as rapidly as possible.

But now I contemplate the ruin of the life I have built here. The Enterprise, whatever her other duties, is inarguably a military vessel. A blind man cannot serve as her First Officer.

Nor does it seem likely that I can function as head of the Science Department. At the moment I would not be entirely able to care for my own needs were I somewhere other than my own cabin, where everything is known to me. I need training, adaptive equipment—all of it time-consuming and none but the most basic available here. It has taken me this long, nearly 24 hours, just to begin reconfiguring my terminal in readiness to start the necessary studies.

My station on the bridge can produce verbal output on command, of course, but this is only a desk terminal, which I myself altered to text-only mode some years ago as a means of speeding up my access. Now I must reconfigure it once more, by hand. And I keep thinking...

It is very possible that I have already worked my last shift on the bridge of the Enterprise.

I shall have to leave this ship, which has been my only home for more than thirteen years.

I shall have to leave Jim.

Were I fully human I might rail against my fate, but it would be pointless. What is, is. This was the only logical choice open to us.


I rise and make my way to my desk. It is not difficult. My quarters are small, I know them well, and I have had almost a full day in which to practice sightless navigation. I sit down in front of my half-rebuilt terminal. Perhaps, now that I have rested somewhat, I can at least finish the job of reconfiguring it.

Just in case anything has changed, I open my eyes as widely as I can, but I still see nothing. I reach for my commpanel, touch the switch for maincomp access.



"Lights to 100%."

"Unable to comply. Lights are already at that level."

"In that case—computer: lights off." There is no point in wasting ship's power. The switchover is soundless, but I know that my quarters are dark now.

I lean forward, pick up my tools, and concentrate. After a time I am able to summon a mental image of the terminal's interior. I orient myself by touch and resume my work, careful to avoid the power sink, which can deliver a dangerous shock even with the terminal disconnected. It is gratifying to note that despite my continued exhaustion, my hands are quite steady. This, at least, is still as it should be.

I could order this done, of course. I have that right. Any of my subordinates would be capable. Many would consider it an honour. But I intend to do this for myself. I may indeed be blind, but I am not willing to be helpless.

The work is delicate, but not particularly difficult. I am reassured; the creature's attack on me seems to have left no residual nerve damage. My sense of touch, my dexterity—these, at least, are unaffected.

A most fascinating creature. So very different from our own kind of life. I should have liked to study it longer, had our circumstances permitted. But it would be a lie if I were to say that I regret its death.

I cannot begin to conceive of what the affected humans must have suffered without Vulcan strength, without the mind rules to help them. Truly a subject for which I must invoke Mastery of the Unavoidable. It is well that it was I who was stricken, rather than any of the others. If it had attacked Jim...

No. I will not think of that. It did not happen.

There. The task is done. It takes me but a few moments to reassemble the terminal and test it. Its functioning is satisfactory.

That done, however, I find myself disinclined to pursue any of my current research. Exhaustion has robbed me of my strength. It is enough simply to sit, for now. I do not wish to try sleeping again, so soon. I might not be able to prevent the dream from returning, if I did.

Perhaps I should have used the healing trance after being purged of the creature—but that would have required me to stay in Sickbay. I was not willing to do so. I wished only to return to my quarters, where I could be warm and have privacy. So now I sit, and although it might also be wise to meditate, I do not do that, either. I sit, and I remember. My memories are clear, bright and sharp; it is like being able to see again.

I remember being at my station on the bridge. I remember the feel of the ship as we go from impulse to warp. I remember the way the crew works together so smoothly, whenever a crisis occurs. I remember walking the corridors late at night, surrounded by the small night sounds of the ship, the scent of the air, the colours and patterns of the almost-empty hallways. I remember the way the stars look in warp space. Most of my human crew-mates claim to find that sight disturbing; I have always thought it aesthetically pleasing.

This is the blessing of an eidetic memory; to think of something is to re-live it.

I remember the colours of the sky on Deneb Altos IV—infinite variations of pink, lavender, purple, blue. A combination of fine high-altitude dust and certain airborne micro-organisms accounts for the colours. But mostly I remember the look on Jim's face as he watched the sunset there, with the planet's rings arching high above us, glittering in the last of the light... He was utterly entranced. In that moment all his cares had left him and I could see him as he must have looked in his youth. It left me quite speechless; it was fortunate for me that, distracted, he did not seem to notice, or to consider my behaviour in any way strange.

And that is when it hits me again that I am going to have to leave. There will be no more bridge duty or landing parties for me; no more shore leaves, no more late-night games of chess with Jim. He will still be here, but I will be gone.

I have lost everything. How do I go on from here? What am I to do?

I do not know. I am tired. It is difficult to think, difficult to order my thoughts.

Slowly, painfully, I compose myself again. I must meditate, since I dare not sleep.

But I cannot do that, either, it seems. Peace eludes me, and in the end I am left sitting quietly, looking into memory again, watching Jim. Storing up what images I possess against the time when I will be alone again, as I was for so many years before.

Hours pass, before something catches my attention. Ah—the door chime. There it is again. I get to my feet, slightly awkward, bumping my hip against the table. My body has grown stiff, sitting still for so long. I am about to speak when the door slides open and I hear Jim's voice. "Spock? It's me, Jim. Am I disturbing you, can I come in?"

I can hear the fatigue in his voice, as deep as my own. The regret, the grief he will not speak of, for the loss of his only brother. "Please," I say. "Come in. You are not disturbing me."

He takes an oddly hesitant step, then asks, "Can I turn the lights on? I can't see you."

I had forgotten. "Of course, Captain. I was merely conserving power, since I cannot use them. Computer: lights to 50%."

"Thanks, Spock. I'm sorry to have to ask."

"It is of no consequence." I hear him approach; by the time he sits down across the desk from me I can feel him, too. It is like sunlight on my skin, this awareness that he is near. Has it always been so? Did I simply not notice, busy as I was before with watching him? Fascinating.

"Are you managing all right? I thought you'd still be in Sickbay." I hear his concern for me in his voice; I must find some way to reassure him that I am well.

"Dr. McCoy admits he can do nothing more for me; he agreed to my request to be allowed to return to my quarters once he had treated what he called my 'sunburn'. It is warmer here, and far more comfortable." Not to mention more private. In Sickbay there are always people walking in and out, disturbing my rest... It always smells odd there, faintly unpleasant.

Jim laughs, a little uneasily. "Yeah, I always get out of Sickbay as quickly as possible myself. Bones means well, but..."

"Indeed." I cast about for a safe subject; there is much that neither of us wishes to say. "Can I get you something, Captain? Some coffee, perhaps?"

"I can get that for—" I hear him start to rise.

"That will not be necessary. Please, permit me..." He sits back down. I rise and walk carefully over to my synthesizer, one hand held just slightly in front of me. I am interested to note that I seem to be able to feel when I am nearing the wall. I had not expected this, but it is certainly useful. It takes me but a few moments to prepare coffee for him and tea for myself. With some concentration, I am able to carry the cups back and set them carefully down on the desk without spilling any. It is a small thing, but an accomplishment nonetheless.

At one point during the preparation I spill hot water on my hand. I hear Jim draw a sharp breath, but he keeps silent. I am grateful that he does not jump up, try to help. He has always understood me, perhaps better than I understand myself. He is most perceptive, for a human.

Task accomplished, I resume my seat. I take a sip of my tea. It is hot and fragrant; I find it most pleasant. "The doctor tells me that the satellites were successful."

A relieved sigh. "Yes. Calls are coming in from all over the system, now. The things are dead; even the people in the lunar mining towns are free. Seems like when we killed the ones on Deneva itself we got whatever served that thing for a brain; all the rest just up and died."

I am surprised at the intensity of my relief. It is finally over, then. Now that the rest of it has died, I am truly safe. "I see. It is gratifying to hear that. And you, Jim; how are you?"

I hear him shift uneasily in his chair. "Oh, keeping busy. You know the routine. Trying to get the relief effort organized, answering endless requests from FleetCom for more data." He pauses; I hear him swallow, force himself to take a breath. "Peter woke up today. He doesn't remember much; I suppose that's for the best." He pauses once more; I can clearly hear the strain in his voice. "I—I called Mom, told her about Sam and Aurelan."

That cannot have been an easy task. "How was it, with her?"

"She took it kind of hard. I don't think it's really hit her yet. I called my aunt; she's going to go over and stay there with her until I can arrive. At least Mom won't be alone."

I never met Jim's brother in life, but Jim often spoke of him over the years. I know that they were close. Jim's control, when we found what had become of his family, was admirable, almost Vulcan. "I grieve with thee," I say. It is all that can be said.

"Thanks, Spock—you know that means a lot to me." He sighs. "Bones says Peter's going to be fine, physically. Kids are tougher than we give them credit for. But we'll have to watch him carefully for a while. He's been through things that no child should have to endure. I'll be surprised if he doesn't end up having some pretty horrific nightmares."

I manage not to visibly start. "Indeed." If Jim knew what I—but I will not speak of this.

Jim is persistent. "How about you, Spock? How are you doing?"

I permit myself a small sigh. "I am, as you say, managing. I have rebuilt my terminal for speech output. I have much reading to do. There is much I must learn."

"Spock—I'm sorry. I feel responsible for this." First there was concern in his voice; now, I hear guilt.

I did not intend to provoke this reaction. "Jim, no. It was my selection as well. It was necessary. Please, do not. I have accepted what is." I can be quite a shocking liar, when I must.

Jim is undeterred. "But dammit, I can't accept this! It isn't right." And for this, I have no answer. What a strange sensation I am feeling. Is this laughter, here, inside me? It is a bitter thing, I fear.

Under his breath, I hear Jim mutter once again, "It isn't right."

Always the captain. He will worry at this and pick at it, turning it over in his mind, looking for some answer that we might have missed. I know him. But for myself, I am exhausted. I wish only to rest, now. I have not the strength to fight any more.

We both finish drinking at the same time. Jim gets to his feet. He seems frustrated; I hear him sigh, very softly. When he speaks again his voice is hesitant, uneasy. "Well, Spock, I guess I'd better let you get back to your computer. Here, let me take those cups..."

"That is not necessary, Jim." I rise, turn to follow him—

And fall, as I become entangled with his chair, which is not where I had expected it to be. He is on his knees beside me almost as I hit the floor. When I come to rest, I simply lean my cheek on one upraised knee, not trying to rise. Suddenly I am utterly discouraged, disillusioned.

"I'm sorry, Spock. It's my fault, I shouldn't have moved that. Are you all right?"

I cannot prevent the sigh that escapes me. "I am unhurt, Jim. But it is not your fault. The fault, if anything, is mine. I have been a fool. I have been thinking that I can carry on as if nothing has really changed. That is manifestly untrue."

I hear his sharp intake of breath. "But surely, there are devices, ways to compensate—"

"To a degree, yes. But I can no longer serve as your First Officer, even with adaptive equipment. I cannot serve as Science Officer, either. A blind astronomer? A physicist who cannot read his intruments? What place exists for a blind man, on a ship of the line?"

A quick flash of pain that is not mine. I cannot shield against him; I never could. "No! Spock, your career can't be over... There's a way, there's got to be a way... This is all my fault, this never should have happened. I've lost Sam and Aurelan, and now you as well? Dammit! I won't lose you, too!" The raw pain in his voice is difficult to bear. Now I have hurt him, and I did not intend to do that. I am not accustomed—I do not know what to do...

"Jim, you have not lost me. I am still your friend. I will always be your friend. I agree that this is not the result that either of us desired. But it is what is. I am sorry. I would change this, were it within my power. But it is not." Still I reach out, find his hand, take it. He holds on with the strength of one despairing. We sit silently for a time, unmindful of appearance, each of us all too aware of how much we have lost that we did not think to lose, that neither of us had realized was at risk.

Jim begins to speak again, his voice leaden now, dull. "It is my fault. I never should have authorized that last test. We could have waited."

"We did not know that. Jim, they were building a ship, as Aurelan said. I could feel the creature driving its slaves to that effort. The slaves in the link believed that their work was nearly finished. There was no time, t'hy'la. We did only what had to be done."

"But your eyes, Spock... Your career; dammit, your life! What happens now?"

I release his hand in order to sit up straighter, to gather and compose myself. "I do not know. I have not yet considered that. But Jim, there was another factor—I was almost out of time. My endurance was gone, used in fighting the pain. The creature would have overpowered me in the very near future. Once my control broke, I would have been a danger to the ship, to you... I meant what I said in the lab. It was an equitable trade. It is done."

"I can't accept that."

"Jim, please—you must." I must have become slightly disoriented during this conversation, for this time when I reach out, I brush unexpectedly against his face. I am shocked to discover that it is wet. "Thee weeps, for me? Jim, no. Please, do not." No-one has wept for me since I was a very small child. That Jim would do so... No. I cannot pretend to ignore this, I cannot permit it. This is too much.

He is shaking soundlessly, trying to stifle what he feels. His breathing is hoarse, ragged. He will not let go, will not permit himself to lose control. It is no easier for him to do such a thing than it would be for me. Awkwardly I pull him toward me, put my arm around him. He turns his face in to my shoulder, still fighting for control. The arms that reach around me in turn are trembling violently. The strength of his emotions batters at my already-weakened shields, but I am not willing to pull away from him while he is in such pain.

"God, no," he whispers. "Not you too. I won't stand for this; I don't see how we can go on from here, Spock. This can't happen."

His words only echo my own thoughts. I have no easy answers for either of us. I agree with him, this situation is intolerable. I do not wish to leave here; it is my home. I cannot bear to leave him—and yet I will have to go. "Jim... I am here now. You are my t'hy'la, my more-than-brother. You will always be my t'hy'la. Nothing will ever change that." It is all I have to offer, and I know that it is not enough.

Finally, I feel him take a deep breath, try to re-assert his control. He stiffens, slightly; I allow my arms to fall to my lap. "I'm sorry, Spock," he says quietly. "I didn't mean to impose..."

"You are not. You could never do that." I do not know what else to say. It is true.

I wish... I am not even certain what it is that I wish for. I take a deep breath—and time itself seems to freeze, as gentle fingers brush against my face. Once, twice... And now I feel the faintest touch of his lips against my own. I am incapable of moving. So soft...

"Spock," he says. I am silent, my heartbeat suddenly racing, uneven. He kisses me once more, his touch stronger now, less hesitant. "Spock."

Long-denied need begins to grow, within me. Hunger... I am frozen, unsure what is the ethical thing to do. It is difficult to bring myself to speak, to say what I feel should be said. "Jim—" I say, my voice noticeably unsteady, "you feel responsible for my blindness. You have suffered a great loss. You are vulnerable; it would be easy to do something you do not—"

He kisses me again. "It isn't like that." His voice is so quiet, yet I hear him so clearly. "I do want this, Spock. Very much." Again he touches my face, softly, carefully. I let my head fall back; I yearn to feel that touch repeated. I feel his fingertips tracing, caressing the shapes of my face; feather-light, human-cool. Once again I can feel what he feels—concern, for me. Hunger; loneliness as deep as my own; desire, new and hot and bright. And it is not in me to refuse this, or him. How can I, when he is offering what I have wanted for so long, what I never dared to ask for, never hoped to achieve? "Do you want me to stop?" he asks, and I feel his fear, so much like mine. Fear of loss, rejection; fear that he has misread me...

With some effort I find my voice again, though it is rough, harsh, full of hunger. "No," I say, little more than a whisper. "No, please—do not stop." I reach out with one hand, touch his cheek, his forehead, the edge of one ear. His skin is cooler than mine, slightly damp. He turns his head, kisses my fingers, sucks them into his mouth for just an instant...

Some small, muffled sound escapes me. He strokes the sides of my face, then kisses me again. I feel my own desire spark, sputter, burst into flames... Clumsy, desperately hungry, I return the kiss. My hands roam his sides, caress his back; I wish, suddenly, to touch every bit of him, to never stop. His arms surround me, his strength supports me. He is stroking my ribs, my shoulders; his touch is every bit as eager as mine. And this is Jim doing this, touching me, holding me. Oh, I have needed this. I have yearned for this, for him—all unaware.

"Ahh," I hear myself saying, "Jim, t'hy'la..." Bright One, I think. For he is that; even in this newly darkened world of mine, he is that to me. He has been, almost since the day we met.

We kiss again; we are still awkward together but we are hungry. Need is a great teacher. "Spock..." he says, so quietly now that even I can hardly hear his voice. I bend and kiss the side of his neck, eagerly inhaling the beloved scent. I know that scent as well as I know my own. That close have we become, over the years. "Ohh..." he whispers. His arms reach to encircle me again, and now we are swaying together, still sitting on the floor of my quarters.

Jim leans back, pulling me with him till he is lying on his back with me draped on top of him. "You're always so warm," he says, his hands dancing along my ribs, my shoulders. His touch... Ah, his touch does intensely pleasant things to my nervous system. It feels as if, with him touching me like that, all my shields have vanished at once. I can feel Jim, not just his fingers but his mind as well. I reach for words, to tell him, warn him—I must not, he has not asked, he does not know... He takes hold of my hips, pulls us more tightly together. Now I am the one who gasps for air. He is moving, sliding against me, lifting his hips. He is as hard with desire for me as I am, for him. Oh I am truly lost now I cannot think at all and I do... not... care...

I reach down, take his face in my hands, and kiss him as he kissed me, very thoroughly. Wildness is growing in me, a fierce hot need for this, for Jim's touch, for Jim. His skin tastes of iron and salt. I am certain that I cannot ever have enough of him. I feel intoxicated—dizzy, short of breath. And such a strange feeling; am I happy? Is that what this is?

Jim strokes the side of my face; his other hand wanders down my back. When he reaches the place where my belt would be if I were wearing one, he touches—ah'ai, what is that? He does it again. He strokes the hollows just above my hips, where the chenesi lie hidden... ai, yes! "Jim—ah! That is... there is... ohh..." Such pleasure, from just a touch... Cha'ot, this has never happened to me before!

I know that the chenesi are reputed to be a source of pleasure, but... no-one has ever touched me there when all my shields were down. It is not my Time, they are not currently active, I am not usually aware of them at all. I did not realize they could feel like this...

And now I hear Jim laugh, gently. It pleases me to hear it, to know that I have brought him some measure of relief from the pain we have both felt. "You mean, this?" he says, softly. And ai, there it is again... Oh, yes. He touches that place on my back and I am lost. I cannot hold myself still, I am hungry, and he is right here... He laughs again, meets my hunger in mid-air, answers it with his own. "Mmm," he purrs, kissing me again. "Mm-hmm, you like that, don't you? We'll have to remember that one!" He smiles, I can feel it in his thoughts, he is smiling... "Spock," he says. "Just a matter for scientific curiousity, of course, but—don't you think we'd be more comfortable on a bed than here on the floor?" I reach down and find that he is smiling, as I touch his face once more. He holds me steady while I rise; I then turn and offer a hand, pull him to his feet.

He keeps hold of my hand. "Come on," he says, very softly. "This way." I follow like a man entranced. My entire awareness has narrowed to the feel of his fingers in mine, the sounds of his footsteps, his breathing, the faint trace of his familiar scent. I hold to his hand as a drowning man holds to his lifeline.

He stops, touches my hip. "One more step," he says, quietly. "The bed's right here." He stands up on his toes to steal a kiss. Surprising myself as well as him, I growl and with great enthusiasm, return it. He wavers, and now it is I who am supporting and he who is supported. He leans backward against my arm, secure, sighing happily, as I find the seam release and peel his shirt from his body. He does not wear a second shirt, as I do. Delighted, I bend to devour my so-willing prize. A long, deep kiss first, and then I am licking at his neck, biting his earlobes, nuzzling at his throat. Only the pressure of my arm about his hips keeps him standing, I think. To think of a thing is to do it; I reach down between his legs and there he is and oh, he is hard, yes, like me—ah. Yes. This... this is for me, this is mine. He gasps, pushes himself harder against my hand. I can feel his pulse beating here, right here under my fingers, the flow of his life itself. Ahh... Quickly I undo the seam, pull the cloth aside, take him in my hand.

He groans, helpless to control himself, thrusting into my eagerly grasping hand. With my thumb I stroke the tip of him, gather and spread the growing moisture there, the better to please us both. I can feel in his mind what it is that he needs. His arms are quivering, tight around my waist; my own growing hardness is pressed against his hip. Jim moves against me and I gasp aloud, overwhelmed by these new sensations. It feels so good.

"Oh! Spock—oh, oh..." All his muscles lock and he thrashes in my arms, moaning his delight. His penis jerks wildly in my hand; I feel it pulsing, slipping... Finally I lose my grip on it just as he sags against me, laughing and gasping and sighing all at once. I hold his waist while he catches his breath, while he straightens and very gently kisses me once more. "God," he whispers, shaken by the speed and the force of whatever this is that we are making between us. I, too, am shaken—but oh, I do not want to stop. I do not ever want to stop.

He stands, and I can tell that he is removing his remaining clothes as fast as possible. Now he reaches for me and I help him to pull my shirts up and off. I shiver for an instant and then he is warmly wrapped about me once again. He gently pushes us toward the bed, guides me to sit down. "Spock—I want you to fuck me. Now." Heat flashes through me, at the thought.

He is undoing my pants, and I let him pull them down, away. I do not remember taking off my boots, but they are gone. As he comes into my arms again, it is like coming home, it is how I have always thought that coming home would feel. "Jim..." I can hardly speak, for wanting him. "Yes, Jim, yes. Anything..." He pushes, and I lie back. He slides over to lie beside me, takes my hand, still wet with his seed, guides it to my own yearning flesh. Slowly, savouring every moment, he wraps me in my own wet hand, curves his hand around that. He squeezes, and when I moan and lift my hips, he begins to stroke, to squeeze, to slide...

In moments I am writhing, gasping, out of control; he takes pity on me and stops. "Mm. Yes, now. Come on..." He rolls to the side, pushes himself back against me; now he is warm, not cool. I know that his skin would look flushed, if I could see it. He reaches back, pulls my hand around to show me. He is curled toward his left side, his left leg drawn up in front. Curious, now, I investigate his body. I wish to know this man in all ways. I stroke the tender skin below his scrotum; he shudders, arching his back. I explore between his cheeks, run a curious finger back and forth across the small tight pucker, hear the sudden sharp intake of his breath. I am surprised that I know what to do; perhaps I have taken this knowledge from him, I do not know. But I do have it.

I stroke myself, take this new wetness and rub it on him and in him. He is as eager as me, I can feel it in him. His flesh grasps greedily at my fingers, clamping down around them, taking my breath away... Now I roll toward him, fit myself around him, gently guide the head of my penis between his cheeks. I am slicked now, hard and wet, hungry... And this, too, is intoxicating. I stop and hold like that, catching my breath, clinging to some remaining shred of control. I want this, need this, so very much. I must be careful. I must not hurt him...

"Hey. It's okay. Don't worry. You aren't going to hurt me, that's not how this works. Just relax, we'll be fine." He pushes back gently, pushing me, in turn, more firmly against him. The sensation...

Ah, there. Yes. I take myself in hand, find the right spot, push.

Jim gasps. "Yes, yes..." We both feel it, a strong bright flash, pleasure/pain all mixed together, when the ridged head of my penis pops through the tight muscle, when I begin to actually enter him. He groans, throws his head back. For a moment his muscles clench around me; I am nearly overwhelmed... I hold still once more; very soon, the pain is gone.

Very gently I lean over him, push myself deeper. He is tight around me, warm inside, soft and wet. I rock my hips back and forth and with each repetition I feel myself slide a little further into him. Oh, exquisite, the sensation, Jim surrounding me... I have caught my lip in my teeth; I am chewing on it, trying to hold back, to go slowly. Finally I feel his back against my belly, his firm round cheeks against my thighs. I lie curled over him, inside him, held by him. "Jim, ahh..."

"More," he whispers. "Please, Spock. More."

I arch my back, push myself as deep as I can, then slowly back away. He moans when he feels me leaving, but I am not gone for long. Again I find the right place, push... More quickly, this time. And again I arch my back. He writhes beneath me, and I cannot hold still. Once more, and this time I am hurried. This is delicious—but it is not enough. I shift position a little to get a better angle, then begin to thrust, savouring the feel of his flesh, like silk sliding over me. We settle easily into a strong ageless rhythm, perhaps the oldest one of all... Ahh, so good... Jim flexes his hips, squeezes tight around me, rides with me.

We move together; somehow he has risen to his knees and now he actively pushes back, driving me deeper into him. I am on fire, consumed with delight. We rock together, back and forth—and oh, I know, I feel, what he wants, he needs. I reach around and there he is, erect again, eager. I take him in my hand and begin to pump, hard, stroking him inside and out in unison, driving us together. He is strong and lithe beneath me, like a cat. He is all hard muscle and strong bone, sweaty human skin so soft... We are in perfect rhythm; we move as one, back and forth. Swaying, rocking, together, apart. There is a place, here, inside him—I feel it, a quickspark fireflash of pleasure soaring through his nerves, every time I brush against it...

And something—oh, yes, yes... Ah! He is reaching up, around, he is brushing against my back, stroking the hollows at the base of my spine—ohh Jim, yes...

And I am shuddering, drowning in pleasure, slamming into him; somehow I keep my grip on his hips, somehow we do not fall off the bed. But my nerves are on fire! Pleasure flows from the place where his hand rests to my penis, to my mind, it feeds back, it grows... He thrusts himself into my fist, drives himself backward onto me, pulls us together. I squeeze him in my fist, he squeezes me inside him. Both of us cry out. Once more he manages to caress my back, right there... I cry out his name, words in Vulcan, I don't know, I can't, I— Ah'ai, what is—


that! Jim, Jim, again, oh—

Ohh, yes!



...very slowly,

the world reforms.

I am lying on my back in my own bed and my face is wet and I am held very tightly in Jim's arms. He is holding me and laughing and gasping for air; his fingers are trying to smooth down my hair and he leans forward and kisses me, so gentle, so strong, this human. My human. Jim. I am adrift. I feel boneless; I do not think I have ever been this relaxed in my life.

"Jim, I—" Oh, I remember. Did I hurt him? I lost control! I try to sit up—

"Shh. Spock—that was perfect. That was marvelous." He kisses me again. "Don't worry so much. I know you—you're worrying about how you lost control. Well, don't. It was wonderful! Good god, man, you have nothing to apologize for." I look up—and of course I see nothing. But for once I do not care. I look up with my fingers instead, I feel the shape of his face, the smile that grows even wider as I find it.

Ah, he means it, he is well, I have pleased him... and myself. I settle in against him. In the aftermath of our pleasure I can no longer feel his emotions so directly—but he makes his happiness known to me via gentle touches and quiet, almost-whispered words.

I am surprised, some time later, when I feel myself start to shiver. Jim just laughs. "I've been waiting for that to happen. Come on, Spock, let's get you under these covers."

Still shivering, I let him take charge; I go where he pushes me, and soon I am lying under a pile of blankets, listening as Jim uses my fresher, runs water, bumps and bangs around in there. He surprises me again when he returns to the bed, reaches under the covers and very carefully and gently washes me with a soft warm cloth. I am so relaxed I had not even thought of that, but it, too, is a delightful sensation. And now he is crawling into bed beside me, curling himself against me, reaching to put his arms around me. Ahh... Yes. I lean back, and there, I tuck my head in against his shoulder as he pulls the blankets up to cover us both. So soft, his skin, so different from my own tough, wiry, desert-born pelt. But he feels right, against me. I turn my head just in time for him to kiss me again. "Mmm," he whispers. "Think you can sleep now, without that damned dream bothering you?" I can feel my eyebrow traveling upwards. He laughs, and says quietly, "Who did you think you were fooling? I could hear you having nightmares in here, you know. Or maybe I could feel it, that you were sad... I'm not even sure, now. I just knew that you were having trouble."

A jolt of surprise. "I was; you are correct. But how did you know?"

I can feel him shrug. "Dunno. I just did. Something told me you needed me. It's why I came over, even though it was already so late. I just knew."

I sigh, and relax again. "Then I am grateful that you did, Jim. And yes, I think I will sleep well, with you here." Moments later I am yawning, hardly able to keep my eyes open. I settle myself against him, curled up in his arms, my head pillowed on his shoulder again. It is most interesting, this, how well we fit together. I shall have to conside—


I awaken with a jolt, uncertain at first of where I am or what is happening. The shreds of uneasy dreams still cloud my thoughts; the humming sound with which the creature filled the shadows on Deneva still reverberates within my mind. I know that it is dream only—yet a chill runs down my spine at the thought of that sound here. Now I recognize where I am—in my cabin aboard the Enterprise. I draw a deep breath and remind myself that it did not come to that, the creature did not come here, it did not succeed—and it is dead now. Still, the chill within me is slow to depart, despite the fact that it is Vulcan-warm in here...

I open my eyes to blackness. My time-sense tells me that I have slept for six point three hours. Again I remember why it is so dark—and then I freeze. A familiar scent surrounds me; firm warm flesh is curled against me. My body is as loose, as relaxed, as if I had spent a day at the bathhouse in T'Ling'Shar. And now I remember the rest of it. I feel my face flush hot, as I think of who lies here beside me, and why...

"T'hy'la? Jim?" He does not truly awaken, but the arm draped around me tightens for a moment. He sighs contentedly, then relaxes into sleep once more. This is real. I am not dreaming. This is Jim, here, sharing my bed with me. And last night...

Ah'ai, eyah. Last night was such pleasure as I have not felt ever in my life. It is not necessary to ponder memories to know this. From Jim's pain and my own, we have made this new thing, this sharing.

Nothing is solved. I still may have to leave the ship; I do not know. But somehow, lying here with Jim curled against me, I am able to regard even that possibility with a measure of equanimity. Logic tells me, now that I am calm and somewhat rested, that we will be here in orbit about Deneva for some time yet. We must be absolutely certain that all of the creature is dead, and there are sure to be problems for the survivors. They will undoubtedly need our help. I know that Jim will not leave here until he is certain that all those needs have been properly met. I have some time, before I must come to any decisions.

When I rise, I decide, I shall search the personnel records. I honestly do not know if there are any blind personnel serving aboard any StarFleet vessels. I simply assumed, lost in my own pain, that there were none. It merits investigation.

Some options are closed to me now, of course. Certainly I cannot continue to serve as the First Officer. Blind, I cannot command a landing party. I cannot take the conn, cannot pilot the ship, cannot fire her weapons. Tactical plots cannot be accurately translated into speech output.

But I have always been primarily a scientist, a computer expert. I do not share Jim's bone-deep need to command; in fact, I actively prefer not to. And sight is considerably less important for these life-paths. When I was a boy, one of my most gifted teachers in computer studies, second only to my father, was a man born completely blind. To this day Stokal is a respected professor at the Vulcan Science Academy. Perhaps I will be able to stay on board in some such capacity, if the Fleet will permit me. Perhaps...

It is at this moment that Jim yawns, stretches luxuriously, then wraps his arms more tightly about me and draws me to him for a kiss. Without regret I cast aside my thoughts and give him all of my attention.

"Mmm," he murmurs. "Good morning." He shivers as I stroke his back, his flank, then he presses himself against me once more. "Mm, Spock, that feels nice. Now this is the way to wake up."

Heat begins to grow, inside me. "I agree," I say. I curl myself around him, sniff at the hollow behind his ear, reach to taste the tender skin there, the salty sharpness of human sweat. Such a simple thing, to send a long slow shudder through his solidly-built form, to draw from him a soft, yearning moan, muffled against my neck. Now it is he who strokes me, running his cool fingers along my ribs, reaching to tease and pluck at the fur on my chest. I feel my heartbeat stutter, begin to race. Suddenly it feels as if there is not enough air in my cabin.

He draws his fingers down my belly and I cannot stifle the gasp that escapes me. Nor do I wish to... I arch my back, press myself against him; I can feel him flushing, his skin changing from cool to warm, the first hint of renewed sweat springing out. I bury my face in the hollow between his neck and his shoulder and inhale deeply, filling my lungs with the scent of him, so familiar and yet in this, so new. My human. My t'hy'la—ah, yes. Jim...

"Spock..." He moves away and I am bereft, until suddenly I feel cool soft moisture glide along my sex, licking at the needful, yearning core of me. I shudder, unable to control the thrusting of my hips. I hear the soft chuckle muffled in his throat as he takes me into his mouth—ah! "Mmmm" he purrs, around me, and the vibration of his mouth against my flesh is indescribable, exquisite... Oh... I need, I want—I want to grasp his head between my hands and finish this, to thrust into him, to bury myself forever... I force myself to grasp the edges of my bunk, to wait, shivering, as he slowly, slowly lifts his head and lowers it again, gently sucking, touching me with just the edges of his teeth... and then his fingers brush along the insides of my thighs and my legs part of their own volition. Cool, clever fingers, just slightly damp, so soft, insistent, touching me, stroking me, cradling my hips in his hands as he moves with me, up and down...

He pauses, lifts his head, and I can hear that he is smiling again as he speaks my name. One finger strays between my legs, strokes up and back, touches for just an instant where none has ever touched but me. I gasp, my body shudders, and he laughs, repeats himself. "Spock—" So soft, that voice; like velvet, like honey... "Spock—would you like—do you want..."

"Yes!" I can hardly breathe, for the need of him. Suddenly I feel empty inside... "Jim, please. I need—I wish—" And there, he knows; that finger touches me again, but now it is wet, it feels even softer. I will my body to relax and there, ah yes, that easily his finger slips inside me and it is good, this feeling. Oh, yes... But I need more; I need Jim. I do not even try to hold still; my body surges up toward him, my muscles tighten for a moment and now it is he who gasps. I can feel the hot flushing of his skin as he lies there between my legs. I reach out, pull him to me. "Jim—now. Please, now. You will not hurt me, t'hy'la..."

His finger leaves me and I feel him stroke himself; the knowledge of what he is doing brings heat now to my own skin. And then he is with me again, pressing against me, hot and hard and wet with his need which is my need also, and I open myself to him, feel him push inside me, deep, strong, silk-covered steel. He groans and I grasp his shoulders, wrap myself around him, hold him close as he begins to move. And I am filled with Jim, his flesh, his thoughts—we are not melded, no, but so close like this, I feel what he feels, ohh... so good...

He moves, I move, surging up against him, seeking to draw him deeper still. His arms are wrapped about me, my sex is squeezed between his belly and mine; as we move, rock, thrust ourselves together, I feel a strange shivering tension begin to build within me. I grow harder still; his skin slides across my belly like electric silk, caressing me—oh, I cannot stand it, I cannot be without it... Even the friction of the sheet against my back adds to the pleasure; a ghost, an ever-stronger echo of how it felt before, when he touched me there...

Faster and yet faster; back and forth, in and out—I am soaring, now, weightless, climbing toward the sun, and Jim is climbing with me. And finally, just when I cannot wait another moment, cannot bear that strange and wonderful tension any longer, he shudders, buries himself within me one last time—and I am lost, carried with him, willing, eager, spiralling out into coruscating waves of pure delight.

When I become aware of my surroundings again, he is collapsed on top of me, still half-hard inside me, his heart racing, as is my own. He is gasping for air. I feel him start to lift himself up, as if he fears he is too heavy, and I hold tight and do not let him rise. "T'hy'la," I say, very quietly, reaching up to nuzzle at his face, to take his lips for my own. I do not say anything else. I do not need to. That word says all. I am content.

Jim has taken his leave of me, with a certain reluctance. We have agreed that he will return when his shift is over, that we will share the evening meal. He did not wish to leave, nor did I wish him to—but there is much he needs to do today. Kaiidth.

Once he is gone, I spend some much-needed time in meditation. I am able to reach a somewhat deeper level now, in sharp contrast to my efforts of the previous day. In fact, from the moment the creature first attacked me I was not able to achieve this. I find it most satisfying. Not only does it fulfill a very real need for me, it enables me to re-establish my Control, my shielding, which is necessary if I desire to leave this cabin at any time in the near future. What Jim and I have shared is precious to me—but I would not wish to be so unguarded where any other might see me. I am still Vulcan.

After my meditation I am much refreshed. I sit down at my terminal with a cup of tea and begin my research anew.

It takes some time to accustom myself to speech-only output; I find it considerably less efficient, but it is my only option at the moment. Soon enough I dismiss it from my mind and concentrate on finding the information I seek.

At the end of the first hour I have determined that there are in fact quite a number of blind personnel in StarFleet—but only five on active shipboard duty. All but one are science department personnel; the fifth is the second-shift comms officer on the USS Harrington, a stellar physics research vessel. Two are in fact astronomers; one works with subspace, one with radio. I must have been more deeply affected than I thought, to have forgotten that such a thing is possible. It is true that there are no blind personnel currently serving on any Constitution-class vessel. Still, it is something.

I have also discovered that McCoy has apparently not yet informed the Fleet of my change in status. I do not correct his oversight. In addition, Jim has not changed any of the Command access codes yet; as far as the computer is concerned, I am still on active duty, still the First Officer. I know this will have to be changed, soon—but I appreciate the gesture. My research is rendered considerably easier because of it.

We are, in fact, under orders to remain at Deneva until the first relief fleet can reach us, which will not be for at least another four, possibly five days. Such vessels cannot run at sustained high warp factors, as the Enterprise can.

I call up information on adaptive equipment, but most of what exists requires custom fittings and extensive training. In the end, I simply requisition a very old but still useful device—a simple lightweight cane—and read up on the proper methods of its use. Even this is supposed to be accompanied by training, but the stated instructions seem simple enough. I am a Vulcan; it is not as if I am going to panic somewhere and forget where I am. And after nearly 48 hours in this room I am greatly desirous of leaving, but reluctant to impose upon any of my shipmates to ask for help.

Dr. McCoy is expecting me to call him to my cabin today for a follow-up visit; instead, I have decided, I shall go to him. I believe that this is a logical task to set myself. If in fact I am to remain on board, I will have to be self-sufficient in such matters, not so?

The cane is delivered by a yeoman from Supply. I spend some time moving about my quarters with it, becoming accustomed to the feel of it in my hand, seeking the most efficient way of holding and moving it. It is surprisingly easy to use, elegantly simple in design; a tunable field permits it to be collapsed when not in use, to a small cylinder not more than ten centimeters in length. When tuned the other way the cane extends itself and locks, yet the whole does not weigh as much as one ripe khist'lai fruit. A static fastener permits it to be fastened to the standard uniform, as if it were a phaser or communicator. Apparently Vulcan hearing is an advantage—I can easily determine whether the tip is striking floor, carpet, or bulkhead by sound alone. I am encouraged.

Next I call up ship layouts and have the computer review my chosen route. I will not try counting steps—the files I have already read warn that this is subject to too many variables, that it is far too easy to lose one's way. Instead I review all the relevant room numbers and sector nomenclature, as well as the distances involved. I can decipher the placards on the doors if I become unsure of my location; I have tried it on the door to my own quarters and it is not difficult, although it is slow, reading with fingers instead of eyes. I am considering learning NeoBraille, for pursuing further research; apparently it permits somewhat faster reading than audio alone. But this is a matter for the future. My project for today is to travel the two decks and three sectors between my quarters and Sickbay, without getting lost.

Somewhat to my surprise, I find that I am quite looking forward to this. Now that I am rested and no longer in pain, forced inactivity is proving rather tiresome. I am accustomed to a heavy workload, after all, in my position as both Science and Executive Officer.

Once more, I review my chosen route. Then I pick up my cane, drink the last of my tea, and step out into the hallway, intent upon my goal.

Were I given to cursing, now would be a good time to indulge. Of course, I will not. But I can certainly understand the temptation, at the moment.

I do not know where I am. I know that I am still on the same deck as Sickbay, for I have entered neither a crawlshaft nor a turbolift since I arrived here. But I am somewhere outside the area which I surveyed in planning this expedition. There seem to be no doors in this immediate section of hallway. I did not think to bring a communicator—it is not customary to carry one on board ship—and so far I have not been able to locate a comm-panel.

I could call out, I suppose, ask anyone who hears me to render assistance. I am reluctant to do this, however. I would greatly prefer to solve this problem unaided.

The journey began well enough. I found the turbolift nearest my quarters with ease, exited it on the proper deck, and set out for Sickbay. However, on the way there, I found myself unexpectedly surrounded by a crowd of chattering people—apparently civilians, since none of them recognized me—all talking at once, bumping into one another and myself as well. I stumbled twice. Both times I caught myself and did not fall. I was sure that I had retained my spatial orientation. Once the others moved away I set out again. And now I am here, instead of at Sickbay.

I need to find either a comm-panel or at least a placard containing sector and room numbers. So far I have found neither, as I cautiously walk up and down this wall, reaching here and there to touch at what I think is the proper height. Finally, I permit myself a small sigh and begin to simply run my hands over the wall. I had resisted this, not wishing to appear quite so obviously blind and lost—but that is illogical. I am in fact blind, and I am certainly lost.

Finally I encounter first a door-jamb, then a placard. I trace it with my fingertips; it reads "Biolab 3, Stores; Sector 12, Deck 7."

Ah. Now I know where I am. Much better. I turned in exactly the wrong direction after my encounter with that group of civilians. They must have been refugees, here for medical aid perhaps, I do not know. Certainly no crewmen would have behaved in such an illogical and disorganized fashion. At any rate, I now know what I need to find my way to my goal. I open my cane and begin my journey anew.

It does not take long for me to reach my goal, now that I am oriented again. I find it disturbing how easily I became lost, but perhaps this can be attributed more to lack of practice, than to lack of ability. I certainly hope so, for I must somehow persuade StarFleet to allow me to remain here. Now more than ever, I do not wish to leave.

I can already smell the faint medicinal tang of Sickbay when I become aware of someone standing nearby, and stop.

"And just what do you think you're doing?" Ah. McCoy has found me.

"I would think that is obvious, Doctor. You are always complaining that I do not show up for my exams; I am endeavouring to prove you mistaken."

He snorts. "Uh-huh. Do you know I've been trying to call you for almost half an hour? I was about ready to page you ship-wide, or set Security looking for you in case you were hurt, somewhere."

"I see. Well, I know now. And as you can see, I am unhurt." He is annoying me again. He has a talent for doing that to me, though it should not be possible. With a certain amount of difficulty I bring myself under control again. Perhaps I should have meditated for a longer time this morning. It has been a long time since I let all my shields down, as I did last night, with Jim...

"Spock, hey, you listening?" I nod, and he continues. "I'm sorry, but I need to reschedule you. Sickbay's full of refugees; everyone's asking questions, Central Supply is even more confused than they normally are... I don't know which way to turn."

I do not give him the satisfaction of expressing annoyance. It is only that recent events have been somewhat stressful, that is all. I simply nod. "Very well." Then something occurs to me. There is an odd quality to his voice, one I have heard before—ah. Guilt. Like Jim, he is blaming himself for my misfortune. I turn toward where I last heard his voice. "Doctor McCoy."

He sounds uneasy. "Yes?"

I draw a deep breath, try to reinforce my shields. Even from here I can feel his discomfort. "Doctor—I believe you are blaming yourself for my situation. I would have you know that it is not your fault. The choice to proceed was mine, and I was aware of the risk. What you may not have realized is that I had no choice. My endurance was at an end. I was exhausted. The creature was about to overpower me, making me a danger to the ship and to all of you. I was not willing to chance that. Therefore it was necessary to proceed."

He sighs. "Spock, it's not that simple. 'First, do no harm.' Remember that? I'm the one that threw the switch."

"Indeed. But you did so at Jim's order and my own insistence, against your own preference. Surely you are no more responsible than either of us. And it is done, now. As a result of your efforts I am free, no longer in pain. Do not dismiss that so lightly. I do not."

He sighs again, but I can feel a certain ease begin in him. My shields are in a deplorable state of disrepair, but there is nothing to be done about that right now. Instead I decide to change the subject. "You mentioned that you are having difficulty in organizing relief efforts. Perhaps I can be of some assistance. Do you have an unoccupied terminal?" After all, I am already here.

His voice changes completely—I have surprised him, which is not easy to do. I find it oddly satisfying. "Why yes, I do," he says. "And now that you're here you might as well come on in. I doubt you can make things any worse and maybe you can help. Thanks, Spock." Now I am certain; his voice is definitely more even, his aspect less troubled. It is well.

"One does not thank logic, Doctor, but I accept the intention." We begin to walk again. "I believe I can assist with organizing, at the very least. It cannot be so different from setting up a planetary survey, which I have done many times."

"I hope so." He begins to detail some of the problems they have encountered, as we turn and walk into Sickbay. Immediately my ears are assaulted by a cacaphony of noise; a large number of people all talking at once, several crying, scanners running, Sickbay personnel also talking... It is an impressive imitation of primal chaos. Beside me I hear McCoy say, "See? I told you it was crazy in here. Come on, there's an empty terminal in my office; I haven't had time to sit down in there once today."

Sickbay's terminals are equipped for either speech or visual output, to facilitate online access during surgical or containment-field procedures. He shows me to his own and gives me the filenames I will need. I am just about to start work when he pauses and says, "By the way, Spock—that was pretty clever, the way you got here by yourself."

"It was necessary," I say. And for once he does not argue with me.

"...Spock? Are you all right?"

I start; I have lost track of time again. Jim has been here speaking to me for some moments, I think. I turn toward his voice. "I am well," I say. "I became absorbed in the data flow. Jim, there is so much... Their needs are almost overwhelming."

He sighs. "I know. There's a lot of pain and suffering down there." He laughs, but it is a flat, bitter sound. "I guess I thought that when we lit up the satellites the problem would be solved, poof, just like that."

I raise one eyebrow. "I had hoped it might be that way," I say, "but I did not expect it." I gesture toward the terminal. "As far as I can tell, virtually no-one older than 70 or younger than 10 survived. The very old and the very young were simply permitted to starve once everyone was infected, as were most physically or mentally handicapped individuals." I pause, unsure of how to say this. Directly is best, I suppose. "Jim—I had not realized that your brother had three children, that Peter lost not only his parents but his younger brothers as well. I grieve with thee."

Another sigh. "Thanks, Spock. But it's done, now. At least Peter's still alive. Bones says his prognosis is good. He had his first session with the counselor today and it went well. It'll take time, but I think he's going to be all right in the end." As always, he is putting it behind him, not permitting himself to be affected, at least, not outwardly.

"I am pleased he will recover. But Jim—there are many problems facing the survivors. Most of the former hosts are malnourished and exhausted; many are ill. Some are dying. No crops were planted this summer; the cold weather is only a month away. Food shipments are going to be necessary for at least the next eight standard months.

"Fires, when they occurred, were mostly let to burn unchecked. A considerable amount of essential infrastructure has been destroyed. Some areas have no potable water due to neglect and ignorance. Others have water but no power to pump it. Dr. McCoy is quite concerned about the possibility of further outbreaks of disease."

I hear Jim suck in a sharp breath. "Damn. It sounds even grimmer when you say it all at once like that. How did you find all this out?"

"I have been sitting here sampling the data streams from the landing parties, as if this were a routine planetary survey. My conclusion is that the Denevans' problems are not insurmountable, but they will require substantial assistance for quite some time to come. Do we have any updates on when the first relief fleet will arrive?"

"Still another four days, according to FleetCom. There just isn't anything available any closer than that."

"Then we must do all that we can in the meantime." I type in a sequence of commands. It is easy enough to do, I have not needed to look at a keyboard since I was six years of age—yet I still find it strange, to be unable to see what I am doing. Kaiidth. I hand the newly recorded data chip to Jim. "I have done a certain amount of organizing today, as Dr. McCoy stated that was our biggest need. I have notified Mr. Scott's department of damaged powerplants and the like, and referred reported health hazards to Dr. McCoy. Commander Giotto and his people are planetside at the moment, to assist the Denevan authorities in maintaining order until they can once more manage that task for themselves.

"But Jim, there is so much damage. So many dead, so many more injured..." I find I have clasped my hands tightly together; I force them down to the desk again. I am disturbed by the things I have learned today. I cannot put the survivors' plight from my mind, cannot engage Mastery of the Unavoidable. My control is still not what it should be, and my memory of my own experience is entirely too fresh.

There is one last thing I must tell him.

"Commander Giotto tells me that his men have prevented several suicides just today, and have heard of many more attempts, some of which succeeded. Some of the survivors are not able to accept what has happened to them and to their world. Dr. McCoy is arranging for counselors to go down there as soon as possible."

I notice that my hands have begun to shake, and realize suddenly that I am exhausted all over again. I have not really done that much today, but perhaps I am still not fully recovered from the parasite's effects.

A hand is placed, very gently, on my shoulder. "Spock," Jim says softly, "you're relieved of duty for today, all right? Bones told me to, and I quote, 'thank him, and tow his ass the hell out of here'. So. Now you know." I lean into his touch, once more finding comfort in his presence. "You did a lot to help today, Spock," he continues. "You did exactly what was needed. I've already authorized work to proceed on a 24-hour basis, as you recommended. What say I take you out of here and get us something to eat? I dunno about you, but I'm starving."

It is an easy decision to make. I put my own hand over Jim's. "I accept," I tell him, savouring the sudden warmth a breath of his scent brings to me.

Dinner, served in Jim's quarters, turns out to be Japanese food, something of which I have become quite fond over the years I have served with humans. I am comfortable here; I know Jim's quarters nearly as well as I know my own. The scents tell me that all the selections are vegetarian. They prove to have a pleasing assortment of flavours and textures, and Jim has provided green tea 'to wash it down', as he says. It is most pleasant, and I discover that in fact I was more than a little hungry. It has, after all, been a long day, the ones before it even more so.

We take our time eating; Jim tells me of his own day, what he accomplished, how the relief effort is progressing. Some of this I already know, some is news. I must admit that in truth I pay more attention to the sound of his voice, than to exactly what he is saying. Slowly I begin to relax a little, to gain a certain perspective on the things I learned today. We are making a difference down there; our efforts are helpful. The entire crew is focused upon the relief effort now. It is only that the need is so great... A small sigh escapes me and I blink, take the three deep breaths to once more trigger Control. What is, is. Endless preoccupation on my part will not further assist those on the planet below, and it will have adverse effects upon my own recovery. It should not be necessary to keep reminding myself of this—but I am tired. Perhaps the cause is sufficient...

It is agreeably warm in here; Jim must have re-set the temperature to accomodate me. Ordinarily I would demur, but I am tired enough that I find it relaxing and therefore logical to accept.

After we have finished eating, he clears away the dishes and brings out the chess set. We play for a time, but I am not really concentrating and after I lose the first game, he hesitates. "Do you want to play any more tonight?" he asks.

I think for a moment before replying. "In truth, Jim, I am somewhat fatigued. Perhaps another time."

"Do you need to meditate?"

"Not tonight, no. In the morning I shall need to do so, but not now."

I hear him inhale sharply. "Do you want to go, or would you like to stay a while?"

I permit myself the almost-smile I reserve for Jim alone. "I would prefer to stay, if that is your wish also."

"You know that it is," he says. "I'm still on call, of course—but hopefully I can steal a few hours before something else goes wrong. Sulu has the conn and Scotty's on back-up call; beta-shift's continuing the relief work and gamma will take over at 2300 hours." He sighs, and I know that he is thinking of the plight of the survivors, wishing that there was more that he could do. I have had the same reaction myself; even though I know my subordinates are capable and dedicated, it is tempting to set aside my fatigue and return to work. But it would not be wise. Even Vulcan strength has its limits, and I have come very close to them these last few days. As has Jim; he drove himself as hard as he pushed us, in the hunt for some solution to the problems the creature represented. Logic tells me that it is wise for us to rest. I hold to that thought, against the temptation to do otherwise. Beside me Jim shifts his weight and I hear him take a deep breath. "Do you know," he says quietly, "Bones threatened to come after me with a trank rifle if I didn't get some sleep tonight." I can hear his smile, though I cannot see it.

Cool human fingers enclose my hands; I return the grip, savouring his touch, the fact that he is concerned. I find it a comfort, illogical though that may be. We sit like that for a time, before he says, "Spock—I swear, I can feel your fatigue, sitting here touching you like this." I simply nod. I am tired, though I do not think that I should be. That Jim can feel it is one more sign of how close we have become. Perhaps I should find this alarming, but I do not. This is Jim, not some stranger. There is very little that I am unwilling to share with him.

He rises and goes to stand behind me. "Here. Let me rub your neck, for a change. You always rub mine when I'm tired..."

For a human Jim has very strong hands; he seems to know all the places where my muscles are tight. One by one he finds them and makes them relax. It is doubly pleasant, for it is Jim touching me. Eventually I find myself simply leaning against his hands, eyes closed, very relaxed, while he smooths his fingers lightly over my skin. I hear a rustle and feel his lips brush my cheek, before he releases me and returns to his seat. He is silent, but I hear him sigh.

"Jim? Is something wrong?"

Another sigh, even fainter. "No, Spock. Nothing's wrong—but there's something I need to talk to you about, and I'm not sure how to do it."

I straighten myself and reach for his hands. When I find them, I clasp them loosely between my own. "I have found that the direct approach is usually the best," I say quietly. Apprehension flickers, but I do not permit it to overwhelm me.

He takes a deep breath, returns my grip with his own. "I've been thinking a lot, today," he says. "About last night, about you and me together.

"I need to tell you—I can't be casual with you, Spock. I can't share with you and then walk away, as I've done with so many others. You matter to me. I keep wondering if I've pushed too hard, if I'm moving too fast, if you're really ready for this. I'm a persuasive bastard, I know it. I don't want you ever to feel like you have to do something just to please me. I want to make sure that this is right for you, as well as for me.

"All day today, I couldn't get you out of my mind. I kept remembering how it felt to touch you, to hold you. But I don't want to push you into doing this unless it's what you want, too. You aren't just another man; you're the best friend I've ever had. And that's a helluva lot more important to me than just scratching where it itches."

He stops, takes another deep breath, and I realize that I can feel his hands trembling ever so slightly, where they are clasped between my own. What he is saying is very important to him; I can feel how difficult it is for him to put this into words.

I wait, but he is silent. Now it is I who must seek words, for feelings I never thought to know, much less need to describe. But for Jim, I will do this thing.

"You ask if this that we have shared is 'right' for me, Jim. I do not know, in truth. I know that you are my t'hy'la, my more-than-brother. I have known for some time that there is nowhere else I wish to be but here on this ship, beside you." A shiver strikes us both; the future looms, with all its doubts and dangers. I sigh, push it away, and continue to reach for the proper words, the words that he needs to hear, that I need to speak.

"I have not felt this way with any other, before you. I do not know what will happen, Jim. I do not know if there can be a place here for me as I am, now. I do not know what the Fleet will decide. I know only this: for today I am here with you and I would not wish it otherwise. You have brought me peace. I slept well last night, for the first time since I was attacked. My thoughts are calm once more; I can contemplate my situation without falling into fear or despair.

"Logic suggests that whether or not you are 'right' for me, you are most definitely beneficial. I certainly do not feel in any way coerced, if that is what you fear. More than this I cannot say at this time; I must hope that this will suffice."

Evidently it does, for I feel him relax, hear him laugh, his voice very soft and warm. "Hm," he murmurs. "Your logic, as always, is impeccable, Mr. Spock." His fingers are tracing the lines of my face again; it is as if, with that simple touch, he is drawing out the last of my tension. It is very pleasant, very relaxing.

I raise an eyebrow, knowing that it will please him. "Of course," I say, permitting the corners of my mouth to rise just a little.

He laughs again, a little louder this time. "Smug Vulcan."

"Indeed? I merely observe facts." My body is beginning to awaken now, stimulated by the scent of him, the touch of his fingers, a certain anticipation... My fatigue has not gone away, yet somehow it seems less important.

I hear him rise and come to stand behind me. "Ah, I see. Facts, only? Or do you also conduct observations in the field?" He leans down and his breath is warm against the back of my neck. "Such as this... for example..." Soft lips brush the tip of my right ear and I cannot prevent the small gasp that escapes me—a jolt of electric sensation rushes from that spot straight to the core of my being.

I fight to maintain my control, enjoying this game we are playing. "I have been known to conduct such observations at times," I say, willing my hands to stay relaxed, my pulse and respiration not to speed up. I am not entirely successful.

"Well then," he says, "I'll have to make sure that you have plenty of material for your... research." And with that, he traces the outline of my ear with the tip of his tongue, delicately exploring the hollows and ridges of it, huffing warm breath into the interior. This time my gasp is unmistakable, the rush of heat to my loins much stronger. I can feel my face begin to flush, my shields to melt away as they did before. All this, from such a simple touch... He never ceases to astonish me.

"Hmm..." he purrs, taking delicate licks at the back of my neck, moving to subject the other ear to a similar exploration. "I seem to be having a certain effect on your Vulcan equanimity, my friend. Perhaps this should be investigated further...?"

The temperature in this room seems to have risen markedly in the last few minutes. I take a deep breath, grasp the arms of the chair and push myself to my feet, so that I can turn and take him in my arms. I feel a shiver run through him and then he is returning the gesture, wrapping himself around me, running gentle fingers up and down my ribcage, bending to kiss the side of my neck. Ahh...

"Mmmm," he says, very quietly. "Yes, I'm definitely seeing some changes here, Spock. I think we need to pursue this in more detail, wouldn't you agree?"

"Indeed... Ah!" He has nipped at the tip of my ear, startling me. But it is not unpleasant; quite the opposite in fact. Now it is my turn to act; I pull him close against me and allow him to feel the strength of my arousal. I reach down, clasp him to me, permit myself to caress the firm round flesh for a moment. Ah, yes. Most pleasant, the feel of his hardness sliding across my own. It is not difficult to lift him off his feet, to hold him there for a moment before releasing him once more. "Perhaps," I say, very quietly, "we should move to a more suitable location?"

He is breathing somewhat erratically now; I find it gratifying that I can have this effect on him. "Mmmm," he purrs. He turns, takes my hand and pulls me after him. "C'mere, you."

I follow, as he leads us both to his bed, guides us to sit together. I am as reluctant to let go of him as he is, of me. But somehow we manage to shed the cloth that impedes our touching, until we lie once more entwined together, nothing between us now but skin. Ahh... exquisite, the feel of him against me, so cool, so smooth... Jim. I am lost in sensation, consumed with the need to touch all of him, to feel what he feels, to join us once more...

And he understands! His hands, reaching for my face; his voice whispering, "Yes, yes, do it, touch me—join us, Spock, please..." And my hands are already there, reaching for the meld-points, caressing his face, my thoughts and his rushing together, swirling brightly, meshing so smoothly, so well... Oh, yes. This—this, I need. Him, I need. And he is here, within me, part of me, so familiar, so good... Dimly I can feel our bodies slide together, joining as our minds are joined, echoing what is happening here...

Ahhh, so good... So warm, so right...

We fly together, caught up in the fire that is our joining...

We are One.

I am not certain, at first, what has awakened me. I lie silently, basking in Jim's presence, content and relaxed. My hunger is sated; my weariness a pleasant languor within me. I know that I have slept for some time; the actual duration does not seem important. Jim's breathing is soft, muffled, almost but not quite a snore. He is very deeply relaxed. The mixture of his scent and mine is a pleasant one, the feel of him against my skin is also pleasant.

I listen to my body for a time; I do not seem to require anything at the moment. Only gradually do I become aware of a certain discomfort, where none was felt before.

My eyes are itching, deep inside. In fact they are beginning to hurt, a little. What is happening? I reach up to touch my eyelids—no, the sensation is not there, it is within.

I do not understand. There has been no pain since the creature within me was destroyed. Why is this happening now? I take the three deep breaths that trigger my Control, and I am able to set the pain aside. It is not severe. But it is puzzling, nonetheless.

Beside me Jim stirs, mumbles something unintelligible, reaches out to caress my face. I return the caress. He rouses a little. "What's wrong, Spock? Are you all right?"

He is so aware... I hasten to reassure him. "I am well, t'hy'la. It is only that my eyes are itching; that is what awakened me. Do not be concerned."

He sits up, fully alert in an instant. "What? Computer: lights, one quarter. Sit up, Spock, let me look at you."

I do so. I open my eyes wide, strain to discern any change, any lessening of the darkness around me. But as before, I see nothing. Only then do I realize that I had begun to hope... Foolish of me to do so, I suppose. Jim leans over me; I can feel his breath against my cheek. "Huh," he says. "Nope, they don't look any different. But we should have McCoy check you out, make sure everything's all right."

He is excited; I can feel it in him. It is not logical; I am still quite blind.

"Jim," I remind him, "it is very late. Undoubtedly the doctor is asleep now." In truth, I realize, I am reluctant to leave this room. I am warm and comfortable, except for my eyes, and I do not wish to impose full Control on myself just yet. I also need some time to accept, once more, that which is. "Surely the morning will suffice, for a visit to sickbay?"

"Spo-ock..." he chants my name in a sing-song tone. "You're avoiding the issue. Why?"

I am not certain. I consider the matter. Finally, I say, "Jim... I do not wish to disturb him for what may prove to be nothing significant. He is at least as fatigued as either of us. When you turned on the lights just now, I saw nothing. The discomfort is minor. I would rather wait."

He is silent for a time, then I hear him sigh, very softly. "OK," he says. "I think I understand. I might even feel the same way if it was me. You really don't want to go right now, do you?"

I reach to touch his face. "No," I tell him. "I do not. I wish to remain here. I believe that both of us still require additional rest."

"Will you go see McCoy first thing tomorrow morning?"

"If you insist, then yes, I will do that. But Jim—the odds are that nothing has changed."

"Maybe not. But if that's the case then a visit to Sickbay won't do any harm, will it."

"No." I am silent, then. I feel unaccountably chilled, though I know that it is quite warm enough in here even for me.

And Jim encircles me with his arms, sliding up beside me until he is wrapped about me like a blanket. "Never mind, then," he says very quietly. "Let's just stay right here." He draws gentle fingers down the side of my face, bends close to place a kiss on my cheekbone. "We can worry about all that in the morning." I nod, unable to put my feelings into words, but grateful that he is here, that I am not alone.

Once more he huffs warm breath into my ear. "I'm glad you're here," he says. "I'm glad I didn't lose you. I'm glad for whatever time we can have together." And with that he lays his head down upon my shoulder and relaxes against me.

I hold tightly to him and do not speak—but I, too, am glad.

We fall asleep like that, curled up together under the blankets.

I jolt awake once more, fighting for control, for calmness. Again I remind myself that the creature is dead, that the visions which haunt my sleep are no more than dreams, powerless to hurt me. I remember so clearly...

Deneva. The creature. The pain. My eyes...

And Jim. Here, beside me. Involuntarily my grasp tightens for an instant. It is enough to rouse him. He yawns and stretches, then returns the embrace. I turn my face toward him, brush against him, meet his kiss with one of my own. Illogical perhaps, to find such satisfaction in so simple a thing—but it would be more illogical still to pretend I do not. Whatever the future may hold I cannot find it in me to regret this. He completes me.

"Mmm," he murmurs. "Morning. How do you feel?"

"I am well. And you, t'hy'la?"

"Very well, my friend. I like waking up like this." He stretches again. "You thirsty?"

Ordinarily I am not thirsty first thing in the morning. Today, however, I find that I am. "Yes," I tell him, surprised.

He laughs. "Hmmm, I wonder why..." One of his hands is stroking my ribs; I feel my face begin to flush.

"Jim..." I cannot decide what I wish to do next.

He laughs once more and rolls out of the bed. "Come on, we've got a lot to do today. Can't lie around in bed all day—although if I could, you would definitely be my first choice."

Reluctantly I allow him to peel off the blankets. I sit up and stretch, appreciating the absence of pain. Before Deneva I had always taken that for granted, presuming that as a Vulcan I would always be immune. I do not think that I will do so again.

"Here," he says, and hands me a mug of hot tea.

I take a sip. Vulcan spice tea—I did not know there was any on board. It is not something the synthesizer can prepare. I raise an eyebrow. "This is good, Jim."

"Thought it would be. I found it on Rigel VII, during our shore leave there." He falls silent for a moment and I know that he is thinking the same thing as me—Rigel VII was the place we visited immediately before we received StarFleet's order to investigate the situation on Deneva. I hear him sigh, then he speaks again. "There was this weird little shop, just a hole in the wall really, but they had all kinds of different teas and spices—and when I saw this I thought of you, and I had to get some." For just a moment he touches my shoulder. "In all the confusion since then, I'd forgotten I had it. I certainly never expected I'd be able to wake you up with it, but here we are."

He sits down beside me and I can smell the coffee he is drinking. We share in silence for a time, each enjoying the other's presence, neither of us willing to confront the day just yet. It is good simply to be here, with him.

Eventually his alarm sounds, and it is time to get dressed. But I am grateful to have shared this quiet time together. Whatever will happen now, nothing can take this from me.

Jim insists on walking me to Sickbay before he goes to the bridge. I accept, for it is obvious that he will not be dissuaded. But I take my cane; I will not be seen holding on to him like a child. He accepts that, and we walk together silently. At the door to Sickbay he touches my hand once, lightly, before taking his leave. I pause, then take a deep breath and walk though the door.

It is quieter in here than it was yesterday, but still chaotic and noisy. I am grateful for the time I spent in meditation this morning, for the renewed strength of my shields, for the sleep I needed so badly. I find it easier to be here now. I am not so disturbed by the chaos around me.

I listen, and make my way toward the sound of McCoy's voice. He is arguing with someone over a comm-unit, about the best way to purify a contaminated reservoir. Almost I turn away—but Jim made me promise that I would speak to him.

Finally his conversation ends and he notices me standing there. "Mornin', Spock. How do you feel?"

"I am well, Doctor. But I have noticed an odd sensation in my eyes. I still cannot see anything, but they have begun to itch, since yesterday."

I hear a familiar soft warbling, as he passes his handscanner over me. "Huh," he mutters, "that's interesting. Come over here, Spock. Hop up on this table, would you? Now, let's see..." Assorted noises, as he turns on more detailed scanning units. Around us the chaos continues unabated. I sit quietly, feeling the cool surface of the table under my hands, striving for acceptance, trying to feel neither hope nor resignation. I am not entirely successful in either endeavour.

He is nearly done, if his mutterings are to be believed, when both of us become aware of a commotion across the room. A tangle of raised voices, the rapid breathing of several different people, the clatter and clang as a tray of instruments is dislodged, falling to the floor...

Sudden silence, and Nurse Chapel's voice is clear and soft within it. "Geoffrey, no honey, come on, put that down, you don't want to do that..."

And in answer, the voice of a child, high and clear and oddly flat. "Why do you care. You weren't down there, you don't know what it was like. Stay back! All of you, stay back. Or I'll blast you!"

Beside me I hear McCoy draw a quick breath, start to speak, change his mind. "Damn," he whispers. "Kid's got a surgical laser and it's cranked up all the way. He'll fry himself if he hits the wrong button..."

And I feel time start to slow down, for suddenly I realize that of all the people in this room, I am probably the best suited to handle this. I am blind, I have almost no experience with children, and I am Vulcan, not human—but I can hear the pain and confusion in the boy's voice, and I can remember all too well how it must have been for him. I wonder how old he is; his voice is high-pitched, not yet mature.

I wonder where Jim's nephew is, and hope that he is safely elsewhere. But there are no answers for these questions, and there is no time to investigate further. I draw in one deep breath, and being careful to move slowly and easily, I slide off the table to stand beside it. My cane is in my hand and extended as easily as if I have been using it for years; all my awareness is focused on my hearing, trying to track what is happening across the room.

I take one step. Two. Three. I am beginning to take a fourth when he speaks again. "Hey, you there. Stop. What are you doing?"

I stop. "I am approaching your position," I tell him. "I would speak with you, if you will permit it."

A pause, while he thinks about it. Finally, he says, "Okay. You can come a little closer. but you have to stop when I tell you."

"I will do so," I say, and resume my slow approach.

After ten more steps he says, "Stop. That's close enough. Why are you walking like that?" His voice has a little more tone, now. It seems I have engaged his interest.

I turn my head a little, to hear him more clearly. "I cannot see," I tell him. "The cane enables me to avoid collisions." Around us the room is silent, except for the beeping of monitors and the soft, frightened breathing of humans under stress. I can hear the boy's breathing clearly now; it is ragged, erratic, as if he is fighting away tears.

"What do you want?"

"Only to speak with you. These others do not know how it was. I do." I am going by instinct, now, an instinct I did not even know I possessed.

"How? You're not one of us."

"No. But I too was attacked, when we first beamed down to investigate. I too felt the pain, heard the voice of the creature inside my mind. I remember these things." All too well, I remember these things. This is the curse of an eidetic memory... I shiver, and must force myself to stop.

I hear his breath catch in a barely-muffled sob. "It never stopped," he whispers. "It never once stopped. I cried and cried and nobody listened, nobody came to help me..."

"No," I say. "No-one did. They could not. The creature did not permit it." Cautiously I take a step, another. He does not say anything at first, but I can hear him fighting for control, to keep from being overwhelmed.

"Why?" he shouts. "Why did this happen? It isn't fair!!! Mairi's dead and Mom's dead and Grandma's dead and no-one will tell me where my Dad went... They want me to go back down there and I can't!!!" He is crying now, struggling to get the words out, his breath ragged. I hear an odd sound and it takes me a moment to realize what it is—his teeth, grinding together. I take another step. I believe that I could touch him now, if I were to reach out. No-one else speaks. It is an effort to maintain my own control in the face of his pain. I remember it all so clearly; I can imagine all too easily how it was for him. I cannot ignore this, cannot simply accept it. I must help him.

Instinct again... I sink to my knees, lay my cane aside. I focus all of my will toward my goal, that this one shall survive, that he will not end up as just another casualty. I will not permit it. "Geoffrey," I say, my voice very soft. "If you cannot bear to return, no-one will force you to do so. This is a very large ship. We have plenty of room here. You can stay with us for a time, if you need to." I have no idea where these words are coming from. I have never felt such things before. Somehow the words I need just come to me.

"Would you like to stay with us?" I ask him. "I am sure Captain Kirk will allow it..." I am reaching, here. But I think that surely he can stay with us at least until the relief fleet has arrived, until some sort of stability has been restored on the planet's surface... I can only hope that that will be a long enough time, that somehow he can find peace again, the strength to return to what remains of his home. I do not know. I only know that I cannot stand by and witness his pain, and do nothing. I cannot.

An endless pause—a minute, an hour, I cannot tell. I am focused only on the boy. Around us no-one moves, no-one speaks; no-one dares to disrupt the uneasy balance between us. Finally I hear the welcome sound of the laser hitting the floor, and suddenly my arms are filled with a small, slender form, trembling and crying and pulling at me. I permit the contact, though his pain completely overwhelms my shielding. I do not push him away; instead I make my arms come up and wrap around him, make myself sit still, let him sob and pound my back with his fists and bury his head against my shoulder. I feel a completely illogical sense of victory; if I could I would shout to the creature that this one will not be its prey.

Most illogical—the creature is dead, it cannot possibly hear me. But the wish remains, regardless.

Sounds of humans, all around, breathing sighs of relief. Someone picks up the laser; others begin to resume interrupted activities. Slowly conversations begin again. In my arms the boy begins to relax, very slightly. His sobs are quieter now. He no longer hits me with his fists; instead he has his arms very tightly about my neck. His strength is nothing compared to my own, but I understand his desperation only too well. I permit this, too. In truth I am overwhelmed; I have no idea what to do next; it is all I can do just to sit quietly, to hold myself apart from the violent emotions I can feel within him. His pain revives the echoes of my own suffering. I shiver again, force myself to ignore it, to maintain the embrace. I sit still and hold him and wait for the storm to pass. I find my hands are stroking his shoulders, as if he were a cat or Ee-Chiya the sehlat, my childhood companion. It seems to be the right thing to do; slowly he quiets, relaxes a little more, begins to get himself under control. No-one interrupts us; rather they pass by as if this were nothing unusual, as if this sort of thing happened every day. I am grateful for that; it is quite difficult enough to feel this one boy's emotions without anyone else intruding.

Eventually he quiets, rests within my arms. He is still trembling but the worst of it has passed. I can begin to restore my controls... Only then do I hear another person kneel beside us. Another hand reaches out to stroke the boy's back—McCoy. Of course. Ever empathic; my nemesis, my friend... His hand brushes past mine and for a moment I can feel his surprise, his pride—pride? In me? Now it is my turn to be surprised. I have done only what had to be done.

"Geoffrey?" he says, softly.

The boy does not reply at first, but after some moments pass he mumbles, "What."

"Geoffrey, I'm Doctor McCoy. I run this place. I just wanted to tell you that you're real welcome to stay here. Spock's right; no-one's gonna make you leave, if you don't want to." I feel relief; with McCoy in agreement it is more likely that we will be able to keep this promise.

"Promise!" The last traces of anger still colour the boy's voice.

I can hear in his voice that McCoy is smiling. "Promise. Cross my heart and hope to die." What a morbid saying—yet the boy relaxes even more; evidently it is a familiar one.

"Cross your heart?"

"Yep. And lightning strike me if I lie."

Silence again. Then, very quietly, "Huh. You mean that..."

"You bet. And I'm the boss, here."

A subdued sniffle. Another. A deep, hitching breath. And finally the arms clasped tight about me begin to loosen their grip. It takes some time before he will actually let go of me, but in the end he permits McCoy to lead him away. As they walk across the room I hear him ask if he can handle McCoy's tricorder, and I know then that it is over, that he has accepted life.

A wave of profound fatigue washes over me. Though I know it is not yet noon, I feel as if I could lie down and sleep for the rest of the day, quite easily. I realize that I am still kneeling in the middle of the floor, and I rise carefully to my feet, cane in hand. I am still shaking; I need solitude, privacy... Time in which to meditate, to somehow accept what has happened to me. I thought that I had done so, but now I see that in truth I have been fooling myself. I know that the creature is dead—yet I still fear its return... It is illogical—but it is true.

I am not certain in which direction I am facing; I am still contemplating how to find the door when I feel a presence beside me.

"Mr. Spock?" Ah, it is Nurse Chapel. For once she is keeping her emotions to herself; I find it a distinct relief. "Dr. McCoy asked me to show you to his office. He said to tell you he wants to discuss your scan results, but he's going to be busy talking to Geoffrey for a while yet."

"Very well," I say, and wait to see what she will do. She surprises me, simply walking beside me and not touching me. With my cane it is easy to follow her lead, and her discretion is most welcome. Soon the door of McCoy's office swishes shut behind me and I am alone.

I find his desk easily enough and seat myself before his computer. I am shaking; my own emotions are roiling and disturbed. It takes me some time to bring myself under control. The shock of the boy's anguish has brought all my own memories of pain roaring to the surface.

This is illogical. I am free; the creature is gone from me, and from the planet below. Yet I remember. I force myself to consider those memories; to relive the pain and the fear I felt. I was so afraid that I would lose control, that I would somehow harm Jim or the ship under that influence. I tried to, when first I regained consciousness after being attacked. I fought them very hard; I could easily have injured any of those who fought to subdue me. It was pure fortune that I did not. Indeed, I spoke more truly to the boy than I had realized at the time. My fear is no more rational than his. The creature is dead. It is gone. It can never hurt any of us again. I have been so busy I have neglected my practice of the Disciplines. I see now that I must remedy this; I must come to terms with that experience and pass beyond it. I must, though to revisit those memories is something I greatly wish to avoid.

I grip the arms of McCoy's chair and take the three deep breaths with which I was taught as a boy to trigger Control. It helps, but even then, it takes longer than I think it should before I can compose myself sufficiently to attempt meditation.

I am tired. Even now, after two nights of deep sleep, I am weary as I have seldom been. What I really need is to retreat to my quarters and enter the deeper levels of meditation, perhaps even to sleep again. But now is not the time. McCoy will be here shortly, and after that there remains much work to be done. Even though I am blind I can still be of assistance, and the need is very great.

Kaiidth. I set my will and slowly I am able to relax, to enter a light trance so that I can access all of the emotions that have touched me. My own, Jim's, the boy Geoffrey's—it has been an intensely disturbing morning. Bit by bit I allow the memories to wash over me, allow myself to feel my reactions, to accept them and pass through them. It is not an easy process, but it is necessary. I allow my body to shake, my pulse to race—I allow myself to really feel all the physical effects of the fear and the stress. It is unpleasant—but the only way out of this is to go through it. And eventually it begins to ease. Eventually I feel myself grow calm once more, and I finally begin to really believe that it is over, that the creature is truly dead, that I am safe.

I suspect this time alone to be a deliberate arrangement on McCoy's part, and I am grateful. When at last I open my eyes, I am somewhat refreshed. I still cannot see anything, my eyes are still itching—but I am more at ease within myself now.

The door signal sounds and I call out, "Come."

It is McCoy. "How're you feeling, Spock?" he asks, as his scanner begins its familiar warble in front of me.

"I am well, Doctor. My eyes are still itching, but it is manageable."

He pulls up another chair and sits down beside me. "That's what I want to talk to you about, your eyes. The scan results show that there's some regeneration beginning in the damaged tissues of your retinas."

What is he saying? Surely I have mis-heard him... But he is still speaking. "That second eyelid of yours must have protected them just enough... It isn't very far along yet; I'm not sure how long this will take or how much improvement you'll get. Once you begin to perceive light again we'll need to bandage your eyes for a few days; they're going to be very sensitive at first." It sounds as if—no. Surely I am mistaken. It is only that I want this too much... Yet he continues. "I think it's safe to say you're going to regain at least some of your vision; maybe all of it." He laughs, very softly. "I never thought I'd admit this, Spock—but it's a damn good thing you're a Vulcan. In humans those tissues usually don't grow back once they're damaged."

A vast wave of relief floods through me. It is well that I am sitting down; I do not believe I would be steady on my feet at this moment. I had hoped for this, yes—but to hear it from McCoy, that is a different thing entirely. I know that he would never say such a thing unless he were certain it was true. He does not speak further, and I am grateful he does not. I require time in which to compose myself once more. But I nod, knowing that he will see it and understand the gratitude I cannot yet find words to express.

Evening, and again I have permitted myself to become lost in the dataflow. My sole concession to fatigue is that I am working from my quarters this time, rather than McCoy's office. It seemed logical. I can access the files I need from any voice-equipped terminal, and it is far warmer here than in Sickbay. Now, what was that... ah. Yes. The door chime.

"Come." Already I know who it must be.

And as the door opens I catch a whiff of familiar scent, and push my chair back from my desk. "Jim... please, come in. Have you eaten yet?"

He crosses the room and gives me a quick hug. "No, I figured we could share something. Bones ordered me to make sure you eat and take the rest of the evening off." A sly and devious man, Dr. McCoy—I suspect his orders apply equally to Jim, though I will not mention that fact to my captain. I see no point in provoking the more contrary part of his nature...

In any case it is a welcome diversion; as on the previous night, I am quite fatigued. At my suggestion Jim selects food for us both, while I save my work and log off for the night. It is gratifying to see how much work we have accomplished. The first of the relief ships will arrive in three more days, and our landing parties are reporting that a few of the stronger Denevans have begun to volunteer their own efforts. Progress is slow but steady. But it has been a long and exhausting day for us both; I am more than ready to cease working. And there are things I must discuss with Jim, things which we both must consider...

It does not take us much time to eat; we are both quite hungry and Jim, being familiar with my preferences, has selected items he knows I will enjoy. Soon our plates are empty.

Once he has recycled the dishes Jim sits back down and reaches for my hands. "You look pensive, my friend. Penny for your thoughts..."

I do not react to the illogic of his statement; instead I tilt my head as if to look into his eyes. All I can think of is how it will be, to be able to really do that once more. Suddenly my hard-won acceptance has deserted me; I wish to be able to see right now. It is impossible, of course. Instead I return his grasp and search for the words I need. "Jim—I saw Dr. McCoy this morning, as you suggested. He says that my eyes have begun to heal." His hands suddenly grip mine very tightly and I hear him gasp, then freeze. I stroke the back of his hands with my fingertips, maintaining my grasp. He is stunned; all I can feel in him is a vast amazement, an unwillingness to let go and believe—very much as my own reaction was. I continue. "The doctor estimates that I will recover most if not all of my vision, though he cannot be sure how long this will take." Jim is still silent, but I can feel something in him—an upwelling of reaction, still far below the surface but growing as I speak. "He says that I shall have to spend some time in bandages. Once I begin to perceive light, my eyes will be quite sensitive at first, they will need protection. But I am going to be able to see, Jim."

He sits frozen in silence for a moment longer, before erupting up out of his seat, releasing my hands so that he can pace, as he always does when he is overwhelmed. I can feel in him relief, irritation, joy—a vast and potent tangle of emotions, I can only begin to read the surface of it. Finally he speaks, his voice rough with the intensity of what he feels. "Spock, that's fantastic! Why didn't you call and tell me earlier? That's great!"

I swallow, feeling suddenly apprehensive. "I did not wish to disturb you, t'hy'la. I knew that you had much to do today, and I myself desired to return to the work I began yesterday. But I must admit, it is most gratifying to know that I will not have to leave the Enterprise."

His arms encircle me for a moment, his grip fierce and strong. "God, yes," he breathes.

He sits down again, reaches for my hands once more, clasps them tightly between his own. Silence, for a time, while he holds my hands and caresses the backs of them with his fingertips. His touch is gentle, his skin is soft against my own. I treasure this; suddenly I am unsure of what the future holds... I draw a deep breath, force myself to speak. "Jim—I must ask... what do you wish to do? We turned to one another when it seemed that I must soon be leaving. Now it appears that that is not the case. How does this affect us?"

He lifts my hand to his mouth, kisses it, lowers it to the desk once more. "Hmm. So that's what's got you so thoughtful, is it? Well, it's a good question." He thinks for some moments; I find that I must remind myself to breathe. Suddenly I am as nervous as any human might be, wondering what he will say, how he will choose. I know my own wishes; I am not so certain of his. For a moment old fear overwhelms me again.

And then I feel his fingers, so cool, so gentle, run slowly down the side of my face, pause to caress my mouth, then rest upon my shoulder for a moment. He leans toward me and kisses me before sitting back once more. "Ah, I see. Spock... you worry too much. I can see how you'd be wondering—but please, don't worry. I know all about the regulations, but believe me, the Fleet knows when to turn a blind eye and keep silent. There's more than one command pair who just don't ask and don't tell. These last two days have been wonderful, even with all the stress and strain, the relief effort, all of that. Even so, I don't think I've ever been happier than I am with you. The more time we spend together the more time I want to spend together. Am I right in thinking that you feel the same way?"

I have to concentrate to find the words; I am quite distracted by the feel of his fingers, which are once more caressing my face. "Indeed, you are. I did not think that we would have this option, but I do wish to continue in this new pattern. You complete me, t'hy'la. I have found, with you, a thing I had not realized I was missing; I would greatly prefer not to give it up."

He laughs. "Well, there's your answer then," he says, and kisses me once more. "I know it'll be difficult at times. I know I'm going to have a hard time ordering you into danger—but then, I always did. It's never been easy, juggling friendship and duty—but we've always managed before. And you complete me, too. I need this, Spock. I need you."

He reaches out and pulls me to my feet; we flow into a close embrace, drawn together like magnets by the strength of our desire. Without another word we turn and walk toward my bed, moving in unison as we have for years, in so many ways. In truth I think we have been growing toward this since the day we met; we simply did not realize it, before.

After that, the only sounds we make are the sliding of cloth from skin, his moans as I bend to take him in my mouth, my own sighs of contentment as he does likewise. We need nothing else; we are together.

It is two weeks later before I am finally able to return to the bridge. My eyes still itch; they are still unpleasantly sensitive. Only two days ago, McCoy finally removed the bandages. I did not choose to use the healing trance; there were so many who had greater need of Sickbay than I. There was no-one who could be spared to sit the watch for me. Instead I have been healing in the old-fashioned way, as McCoy would say. Even the relatively dim lighting of the bridge is uncomfortably bright. This is the first day that I can bear it without dark glasses; McCoy has insisted I must only stay for four hours before returning to my quarters where the lights are safely dimmed. But it is good to be here, in this place which for a time I thought I would never see again. It is very good indeed, and I savour every step as I walk to my station.

Around me the familiar routine continues. The pace is less frantic; Enterprise flies now among a fleet of forty other ships, all focused solely on the relief effort for the Denevan survivors. On the planet below, StarFleet engineers have restored over 90% of the power grid and more than three quarters of the municipal water supply. Slowly, we are making progress. It is well. All of the crew are tired, but content.

Jim knows, of course, that I am coming. We have been spending our nights together as often as our duties permit. It is an eminently satisfying arrangement...

I told him this morning that I was going to be cleared today for limited duty. But for the rest of the crew my presence is quite a surprise. Many smiles greet me as I take my place at the Science station. Jim has signed the report he was reading; now he walks over to stand beside me, with McCoy following him. He catches my eye and smiles.

"Mr. Spock," he says, loudly enough so that all can hear, "regaining eyesight would be an emotional experience for most people. You, I presume, felt nothing?" His eyes are merry as he speaks, and I know that he is as relieved as I am.

I incline my head. "On the contrary, I had a very strong reaction, Captain. My first sight was the face of Dr. McCoy, bending over me."

McCoy is standing beside Lt. Uhura, who is smiling as widely as I have ever seen her do. He affects a pose of wounded pride, though his eyes give him away. He is as pleased as Jim and I, though he will not admit it of course. "'Tis a pity brief blindness did not increase your appreciation for beauty, Mr. Spock," he says.

It is then that I happen to catch Jim's eyes for an instant, before we both look away. "Ah, but that is where you are wrong, Doctor McCoy," I say, very softly. And then I turn to my viewer and prepare to resume my duties.

It is good to be home again.
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