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Alone in the cave, I let my thoughts return to him. If I do not allow myself these moments of indulgence, I cannot keep the thoughts from being visible to the adepts. This is weakness, I know, but my weakness is a part of who I am. I cannot do any better.

I am kneeling in the cave that I have been allowed to use for private meditation. The firepit flickers and throws my shadow up against the wall. All that I accept, without emotion, without thought. I close my eyes and let myself look inward, trying to see dispassionately as TīLar sees when she runs her cool fingers through my mind.

So much that is right, dark and calm and still. As I have struggled to make it. But there. Warmth. A glow. But faint. Not as it was, like drowning in honeyed fire. Perhaps it is the discipline that makes it so and not merely distance. Perhaps.

I let myself be aware of the desire to reach for the link. It would feel like his hand on my shoulder, strength, safety, warmth. I must learn to rely on no oneīs strength but my own.

No outside attachments are permitted for adepts. Not family, not friends, and certainly not this flame in the still, calm dark.

Strange, that I see him as light and fire. Earth is always cold in my memory, cold salt water and cold rain, tangles of green plants over the cold black ground. And he is so very human, so very much the best of his people. Yet in my mind he is warmth, sunlight, the hot sands of the desert, all the things Vulcan taught me to value.

I have accepted that I must give them up. Somehow I have always known that. Wanting things only ever brings sorrow when they are taken away.

And I know that it is right that I give this up. You taught me that, Father. When there is only one logical choice, there is no reason to hesitate. This is the logical choice. I will not give him the chance to offer, out of pity, something I will not let myself imagine in detail. I will not make him suffer the agony of my death through the bond when the burning time claims me.

I will live. My mind will be preserved. The body exists to serve the mind. Another lesson learned well.

My body is responding to my thoughts in a way which is unacceptable. That I have learned to control. Pleasure becomes pain becomes nothing.

There is value, then, in this exercise. The control will be needed. Perfection is not merely a sacred ideal, but a necessity. Without perfect control, the next time of burning will bring death. In perfect logic I will pass through the fire unscathed.

I will because I must. If I am not to put his life as well as my own at risk by the demands of biology, then I must be perfect. I will be perfect. Perfection is obtainable through logic.

My mother would say she does not want me to be perfect. My mother would not understand why I am here. She cannot accept that honor means more to me than my own desires. I am not going to warp his life, take away his freedom, try to shape him into Vulcanīs mold. I will not do such things.

And I will not let my family intrude on my meditation further. They, like this, are part of what I am trying to cast away. I return my thoughts to the point of light that hovers so warm between my hands. It is something outside myself, I say for the hundredth time. It is not a part of me.

Despite my human weaknesses, I am strong enough for this. Strong enough not to touch the link and feel it like a single string being plucked on a kaīthyra. Strong enough to look at the memories as they have taught me, not as part of me but as information to be stored, data to be used only when necessary.

I do not want to look, but what I want is of little consequence. It is necessary. I begin.

The Enterprise. Our last days on board, in Spacedock, the Earth hanging below us, huge in the sky. No one sure whether these would be our last farewells.

Fragments of memory rise to the surface. I allow myself the weakness of taking time to ease into the memories that follow.

My hands, packing, ready to put things in storage or unpack them again in a few days. Such uncertainty. The sacred flame put out in the firepit, my hands sweeping the ashes into a box. How warm the ashes were.

These events are no longer a part of me. I am interested in them now only as part of the quest for truth. Truth has innate value. Truth is the only valuable thing.

He announced his promotion over the shipīs intercom. According to standard procedure, and very sensible. To let the crew know that he was leaving before they put in requests for their next assignments.

He had not told me.

This is information I am filing in case it is useful some day. It does not inspire any emotions anymore.

That evening, I went to his quarters.

Since I came to the temple, I have examined my motivations for going to his quarters at that moment in detail. Eventually I abandoned the effort as unproductive. That information will have to be missing from the set of facts I am assembling. It is a flaw in the quest for the truth, but it must be.

He was packing. He didnīt look up from his shelf of books as I came in, and yet I know he knew it was I. Possibly it was simply that no one else would enter his quarters without permission. He knew I was there, and I watched him, his gold hands against the dark books as he made stacks of them on the table.

“Iīm sorry,’ he said after a minute, his eyes on the table. “I should have told you.’

“There was no reason for you to tell me.’ He turned, a book in his hands.

“Yes, but you deserved to know first,’ he said, and smiled. It was an expression that often made me forgive him things when I had not intended to. And yet I wished for him to smile.

“Congratulations, Jim,’ I said, so that he would know I had forgiven him. “It is a great honor.’

“I just wish I felt that way.’ His smile this time was forced. His face always showed pain so clearly, as clearly as it showed joy. He wished to believe that I had not seen it, though. That I found easy to understand.

“I came to see if you were occupied this evening.’

“Well, Iīve been packing. You can see, that, I guess. Not much, is it? Not much to show for five years of my life.’

There were a few stacked crates against the wall, a half-filled box of books on the table. A pile of clothes was draped over the back of the chair.

“Indulging in melancholy is not like you.’ He laughed.

“I know, I know. Itīs just that Iīm starting to wonder whether I didnīt ignore all the things that really mattered. I mean, I was married to my ship, and now I feel like Iīm getting divorced.’

Against my will, I remembered TīPring, the burning heat and the endless, nightmare combat on the sands.

My control then was not what it is now. I have advanced.

He had not meant to remind me of those events. He had meant, I understood, that he would be lonely away from the Enterprise. I was used to loneliness, but for him it would be new.

“Surely some--attachments will continue?’ My voice sounded strange to me.

“Of course.’ He turned with a smile, and his voice was gentler. “I didnīt mean to sound like I was planning to never speak to you again, Spock.’

“It is highly unlikely that we will never meet again after this assignment,’ I said. He smiled again at that. For the first time I wished he would stop. It affected my composure. He reached for one of the books and brushed dust from the spine.

“Well, at least youīll always know where to find me,’ he said. “Probably gathering dust too.’

He held out the book to me. I took it and put it in the crate. He took down another book. His hands were gold against the dark leather binding. He handed it to me, and my hand touched his.

It was like drowning in honeyed fire, the sudden flame of desire at his touch. I wanted to go on touching his hand forever, just feeling his skin against mine. I may have made some sound, I do not know. I wanted to feel his body against mine. I dropped the book.

He caught my hand as I reached down for it and twined my fingers with his, and he was in my mind.

--Spockīs hand so hot, why am I holding it, why do I think he wants me to, wants--

--I never knew anyone could feel this--

--God, this is Spock, this is my first officer and I, whatīs happening, this is crazy--

--his hand tightening on mine and I will die of this, I would die if this moment could last forever, I--

--whatever he wants I want it too, insistently, Spock!?! this has to end, Christ, if this doesnīt stop Iīm going to come, whatīs happening to me--

He pulled his hand out of mine, with a shuddering gasp, and turned away.

There was a silence that seemed to go on forever. Neither of us moved. I think I expected my heart to stop beating at that moment.

Then with something that sounded like a laugh he reached for another book. Ever so casually, he reached around me instead of handing it to me, laid the book in the crate and reached for another.

“Are the section reports ready for the transfer of command?’ I asked after a minute.

His relief was palpable.

“No. I thought Iīd finish up here before I tackled that.’

“If you wish to finish packing, I can review the reports myself.’

“Thanks, Spock,’ he said lightly. “Iīd appreciate that.’

“Very well, Jim,’ I said, and walked slowly toward the door. I heard him set a book down on the table behind me, as though he had turned to watch me go. He said nothing, and I said nothing, and the doors closed behind me.

I would go back to my cabin. I would meditate until I had torn this desire out of me, until I was in control, until I knew myself again. I looked down at my hand where he had touched me and I was lost, standing in the corridor unwilling to move, feeling his presence across the . . . bond?

--Oh, my God. Spock. I wanted to--

Impossible. Even I could not have done such a thing.

--canīt keep thinking these things. Itīs ridiculous. What he would think of me--

Yet I could feel him in my mind, hear him, feel his heartbeat, his frustration at the pressure of his body.

--maybe if I do something about it--

Kneeling in the cave, I tremble at the memory. My control is not perfect yet. Far from perfect.

He undid his trousers and touched himself, and I felt it. He thrust himself into his hand, and I felt it. The only mercy is that no one passed by. I suppose I must have made some sound when he finally came shudderingly into his fist. When I opened my eyes I had scraped my fingers against the wall so hard they bled. The white paint was stained with streaks of green.

The wall hardly seemed real. Nothing seemed real but shame, and fear, and threads of residual desire. Whether the feelings were his or mine I could not tell. It didnīt matter.

Back in my cabin I knelt in front of the bare altar and tried to meditate, aware of nothing but my craving for release, the agony of my hardness. Finally I unfastened my uniform, closed my eyes, and closed my hand around it.

It was finished almost at once. For a moment I knelt, trying to catch my breath, the relief driving out all thought.

Then came despair.

Surely time alone will give the memories less power. That was nearly a year ago. I am far away, kneeling on the hard stone, waiting until I am ready to undergo the final trials.

It will be years more of study before they let me take the robes of an adept, I know, yet I wish to be ready sooner, to kneel before TīLar and pass through the death that is not death, the ending of what was before.

When I do, this is what I will have to show for five years of my life.

I will remember his smile, his voice, and his hands brushing mine, and they be nothing to me but dry facts. They will not make me tremble, make me burn like a leaf twisting in a flame. There will be no more anger. There will be no more desire. There will be no more pain.

There will be no more loneliness.

Opening my eyes, I stare at the flickering flame, and gather my will to begin again.
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