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For the third time this week, I sit up in bed in a cold sweat and wonder if Iīm having a nervous breakdown. Lori is curled up beside me, her dark hair spread out on the pillow like a fan. It bothers me that she doesnīt wake up. Irrational resentment that Iīm awake, Iīm upset, Iīm suffering, and sheīs sleeping through it.



Last time she did wake up, and it was--disturbing. I clutched at her, and she smoothed my hair, and then I was kissing her breasts and climbing on top of her. I donīt even think she was really ready, but I was inside her before she could really think about it. It was so intense, it almost hurt when I came, and then it wasnīt enough. I wanted to again, needed to again, or I wasnīt going to be able to sleep, but I couldnīt quite manage it, it was too soon. It just wasnīt going to happen, but I couldnīt make myself stop trying.



“Hey. Enough, Jim.’



She pushed me off her, gently, and tried to put her arms around me, but I shrugged her off. She lay there propped up on one elbow watching me for a while, and then shrugged and settled back down. I lay there, feeling chilled to the bone. I wasnīt sure why I felt so alone.



Iīm not sure why I feel so alone now. Loriīs asleep beside me, if I want to I can wake her up and tell her--what? Nightmares again?



The dream--Iīm walking in the desert. I can tell itīs the desert--sand, rocks, all the rest of it, but itīs cold, bone-wrenchingly cold. Iīm shaking so hard my teeth rattle in the dream, but I have to keep walking. And I come to a fire. This gorgeous bonfire, like my Dad used to make out in the woods when weīd go camping. Just blazing away in the middle of the desert.



So I go up to the fire, but I canīt feel it. Itīs blazing away in the desert, and I canīt feel any heat. I can see the light flickering on my hands, but even when Iīm inches away from this blazing light, I canīt feel anything.



So I put my hand in the fire.



And thatīs it, thatīs the whole dream. Nothing to wake up shaking and clutching Lori for, is it. It doesnīt even hurt when I put my hand in the bonfire, just this heat that almost feels good burning its way up my arm, through me.



I wake up shivering, no matter how warm the room.



Instead of waking her, I slip out of bed and throw on pants and a sweater. Outside the air is chill, and I can smell salt from the sea and the wet smell of fallen leaves. Fall in San Francisco is rainy, not like crisp clear October days in Iowa.



I step out onto the balcony. The apartment has a view of the Bay; being an admiral comes with its perks. That's been one of the good things; sitting outside on the balcony with my work spread out on my lap, or just a book, listening to the gulls and the sound of the waves. Even better than being with Lori, being alone with the sea.



I've wanted a beach to walk on for years, and a woman to walk on it with me. But tonight I can barely see the beach through the fog, and I can't see the ocean at all, just a vast blank space out past the balcony rail. The sound of the waves is the only thing that tells me the sea is out there at all.



I look up, but of course I can't see the stars.



Somewhere up there is my Enterprise, my lovely lady. In a few months she'll be ready to go again, out to open space. And I won't be on her. I'll look up from walking on the beach with Lori and see the rainbow flash across the night sky, and she'll be gone. And Lori will take my hand, and we'll hold hands all the way home. Happy ending, I guess.



Maybe that's what all this is about. Some part of me that wants to be back on the Enterprise. Not that I'm not happy. I come home at night and we talk about our days, and she makes dinner, or I do--when did I get so domestic? Anyway, we sit in front of the fire and read, or play chess, contented.



Well, not chess very often, anymore. She says it always makes me brood about the past. It's just that it makes me think of Spock, sometimes, and all those evenings we played chess together. I miss him sometimes, that's all. It's no reason for her to ban chess. Oh, well, she has her little quirks. I miss the game; but it's not that big a sacrifice for domestic bliss.



I never thought I'd be married. Looking down at my hands on the railing makes me wonder where my wedding ring is. On the table by the bed, I think. Or in the kitchen. Damn. Better find it before Lori sees me. She has something of a suspicious mind. I just can't seem to keep track of the damn thing. I can just hear Bones saying "don't you think there's something a little Freudian about that, Jim?"



I should find him, get together for coffee. I haven't seen him since the wedding. We decided the white dress-and-flowers route was a bit much at our ages, but Lori looks like she was made for the new dress uniforms. Her olive skin and black hair, and eyes I swear are black, not brown, make her seem to glow. I felt like an idiot myself, but that's been true of every dress uniform I've ever worn.



Bones was my best man, in his own inimitable style. At one point while I was straightening my shirt cuffs for the twentieth time he said, "Lighten up, Jim. You look like you're attending your own funeral." An unjustified complaint. It was a lovely wedding, except for the fact that Spock couldn't make it.



I tried to invite him, of course. Actually even before I asked Lori I tried to call him; I'd been round and round it and I still wasn't sure whether stepping out into the void like that was a good idea. Talking to him always helps me figure out what I think. I tried sending a message through regular Starfleet channels, and got a message service; I tried his parents' house, but no one was ever home.



Finally I sent a message to Ambassador Sarek at the Vulcan embassy, with a note asking him if he could please give it to Spock, or let me know where I could reach him. The next day I got a terse note from the Ambassador saying that he would deliver my message if he happened to hear from his son, but that candidates in training for Kolinahr aren't allowed to receive outside communications.



Which left me feeling like there was something fishy going on. What kind of religious retreat won't let you get mail? But there didn't seem to be anything I could do about it, short of going to Vulcan, and I couldn't exactly explain to Starfleet Command that I needed a leave of absence so that I could invite someone to my wedding. Could I.



I look back at the apartment door, the living room dark and empty behind me. The sweater isn't really doing much to keep the cold wind at bay, but I'm not ready to go back inside. I can't seem to shake the sense of unease from the dream.



But I'm shivering in what must be the fairly mild October night. I love the beach, but tonight it's cold and wet and windy, the salt spray on my face like icy tears. Tonight I wish I were somewhere warm. Arizona, maybe. Somewhere with hot sun to bake this chill from my bones, and the clean lines of stone and sand instead of mist and wet, swirling leaves.



I don't know where that came from. I turn in a sharp motion, as if I could catch whoever's standing behind me, but of course there's no one there.
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