The sequel to Turning Point. This story is SLASH and rated NC-17. It portrays explicit sex between two men. If such things offend you or you're under 18, READ NO FURTHER!

Thank yous and hugs to Deb, Indrani, Colleen, TJonesy and Beth, as always, for encouragement and much-needed prodding. Thanks also to Greywolf for inspiration and for his tremendous patience, while I finished this thing and put other juicy projects on hold. Huge truckloads of gratitude go to Nick, my most wonderful editor, without whom this story would never have seen the light of day. It's surely his story as much as mine, and if there's anything good in here, it's because of him. Thanks babe, for putting up with me, and saving me from myself more times than I could count! (adding this on after one last late-night editing session--Nick, you have the patience of a Vulcan!)

Stars were falling deep in the darkness
as prayers rose softly, petals at dawn
And as I listened, your voice seemed so clear
so calmly you were calling, calling him

Somewhere the sun rose over dunes in the desert
such was the stillness I never felt before
Was this the question pulling, pulling you
in your heart, in your soul, did you find rest there?

Elsewhere a snowfall, the first in the winter
covered the ground as the bells filled the air
You in your robes sang, calling, calling him
in your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there?

Loreena McKennitt
Full Circle

Winter solstice, on a world that has never known snow.

Spock had intended to make his way straight to Seleya, but his father was waiting for his transport at Space Central. Facing him on the terminal platform, Spock experienced a sinking in his stomach not so far different from that he had felt often as a child, when called to task for some indiscretion.

"Ambassador," he said, unable to bring himself to call the man by any other name. The sharp eyes appraised him, perhaps seeing too much. Spock would not make excuses. Coming this far had been difficult enough; he did not have the fortitude to argue with his father.

"Spock." Sarek's face betrayed nothing, and yet his very presence communicated his displeasure. "Was it your intention to travel directly to the sanctuary?"

"That was my intention." It was all he could manage. There was only one person who could have told Sarek what he planned, and he could not face the thought of speaking that name aloud.

"Your mother will not understand."

Spock did not let his eyes falter; would not. "I do not ask her to understand. I do what I must." He heard the weariness in his own voice. He had spoken to no one in three days; even this limited attempt at conversation was exhausting him. He wanted only to reach the mountain sanctuary, and let the Masters take him in and burn this pain out of him, cauterize it, with the flame of logic. He wanted to be empty. He did not think he could bear to feel any more--even if it was only guilt for avoiding his mother's unwelcome sympathy.

"Spock... I have spoken to your Captain."

The effort it took not to flinch felt like it tore something inside of him. "I will not discuss this with you, Ambassador."

"This decision is quite unexpected. I fear that it is made in haste, and ill-advised."

"I do not require your approval."

"My son, the discipline of kolinahr is considered by some an extremist, reactionary tradition whose time has past."

Spock looked at his father sharply. "By some?"

Sarek's eyes lowered, an acknowledgment. "I have reason to lend some credence to this point of view, yes."

Spock understood that there could be only one motivation for Sarek to speak thus. But his father's concern was more than he could bear, now. He hurt too much. The raw edges of his control could not withstand this gentle, invasive questioning, this atypical solicitousness. He wanted only to get away.

"You yourself have repeatedly impressed upon me the need for mastery, Ambassador. Shall you now judge me for having recognized the wisdom of your teachings?"

"My son, I wish only to know that you have considered the ramifications of such a choice."

Spock could not suppress the twisting thing in his heart, and he knew by the widening of Sarek's eyes that it showed on his face. "You do not understand. There is no choice."

For a moment, Sarek could not find words, and that was so unprecedented that Spock could almost find humor in it. But then he saw his father's dawning realization, and the pity, and could not hold that hawkish gaze any longer.

Spock looked away. "Your son is a fool, Ambassador."

"Does he know?" Sarek said with difficulty, after a moment. "Is he aware that you and he are--"

It was said with restraint, without condemnation or judgment, but still Spock found that he could not endure it.

"I will not speak of it."

"Spock." Sarek's voice was pitched low, intent, almost inaudible even at this distance. "If you have not told him of the link, perhaps--"

"He knows!" Said too sharply. Spock knew then that he had reached the limits of his control; he had to get away, now, before he disgraced himself utterly in the public terminal. He summoned the last shreds of restraint he possessed and turned pleading eyes on his father, lowered his voice. "He knows. You must see the inevitability. I beg you, allow me to go and do not speak further of things that do not concern you."

Sarek looked pained. "Your welfare... concerns me. I ask only that you consider alternatives."

"There are none."

"There are always--"

"You know nothing of it!"

"Does he?" Under the harsh whisper Spock heard the tone of the galactic ambassador, naked steel restrained. "He knows, but does he understand? Have you given him all the facts? He is human, Spock, and cannot be expected to understand the implications of a spontaneous joining." Sarek's voice dropped, the closest thing to a plea Spock had ever heard from him. "He wishes only to speak with you."

Spock turned away from his father, one terrifying breath from striking him. Couldn't Sarek see how close he was to the edge? He felt the world starting to shatter around him, splintering treacherously as he tried to hold it together. The place of light within him called irresistibly. "I must go," he said, all he could manage. He started to walk away.

Sarek's words followed him, pitched to just reach him. "I cannot believe he would betray you so, if he knew the facts. He has been willing to die for you, my son. Have you forgotten?"

Back turned to his father, Spock closed his eyes for a moment, the memory of koon-ut-kalifee a burnt afterimage on his heart. Of course he had not forgotten. But Sarek could not understand, could not know what had passed between himself and his captain, could not see that there was, in fact, nowhere else for him to go except Seleya.

"No," Spock whispered. "I have not forgotten." But he was already moving, putting distance between himself and the Ambassador before he lost control in earnest--running in slow motion, as he had been since Jim's lips had branded his on the steps of the transporter platform.

He made his way down the spiraling foot ramp like a man three times his age, knowing that if he moved too quickly, he would shatter. No, Sarek could not understand--for he did not know James Kirk as Spock did. Did not know how Spock had taken what he needed, not giving Kirk the chance to give it freely. Did not see how he had condemned himself from that moment forward.

His father was right, of course. Jim would willingly give anything for Spock's sake--even that which had been taken from him by a thief in the night who wore his best friend's face. But his father was also wrong, if he believed that Spock would allow it.

He would not permit the indulgence of wishing for what might have been. He would go to Seleya, and Kirk would be free, and he would not ever have to bear the human's eventual resentment or condemnation, would not have to watch the gradual unraveling of that irrepressible, fiercely independent personality. This obscene agony of wanting would be burned away by the desert sun until nothing save logic remained-- and if he paid for Jim's freedom with his heart, so be it.

He reached the surface transport depot, and slid his credit chit into a groundcar terminal. Outside, he saw a car back out of its slip on autopilot. It came obediently toward him, and parked itself at the edge of the walkway, waiting patiently. He had regained some measure of control now; his hands, at least, had stopped trembling so visibly. Sarek might never know how close he had come to pushing his son into an emotional display of unprecedented proportions.

There was no question that he was making the correct choice; that there was, as he had said to his father, no real choice at all. For him, there would be the sterility of Gol, and in time the pain would fade as if it had never been. As for Kirk, he would feel hurt, perhaps betrayed--but that would be nothing to what would have happened if he had stayed. Jim would adjust. It had only been loneliness and cumulative stress that had made him turn to Spock with such open need in the first place--the worst of all betrayals that Spock had forced it to be more.

Better by far to go now, before that betrayal could destroy everything good that had ever been between them.

With that certainty in his heart, the son of Sarek went out into the midday glare and did not look back.

James Kirk became an expert at holding on.

They knighted him Admiral, Chief of Starfleet Operations, and in the beginning he sheltered behind his lofty titles and tried to function normally. He might as well have been an amputee, struggling along, pretending the missing limb didn't change anything, hoping that pretending would make it true. In the course of a week, he had lost everything that mattered to him.

The communique from Sarek had made it real. It was a text message, succinct and to the point, the ambassador said only, "Endeavor unsuccessful, Admiral. My regrets. May you find success in your new assignment."

Kirk had gone to Vulcan then. Later, he would see it hadn't been a rational idea. He'd understand why Sarek had refused to help him get into the sanctuary, had made him go home. Later, he'd know what Sarek and Amanda had been trying so kindly to tell him.

Spock wasn't coming back.

McCoy had tried to help, but in the end Kirk had found himself unable to bear the man's solicitous concern. The temptation to confess everything had been overwhelming, but fear of the darkness such a confession would release in him had been greater. He hadn't deserved confession, certainly hadn't deserved comfort. In the end, he'd realized the obvious--that he didn't even deserve the friendship.

McCoy himself had provided the ammunition Kirk needed to push him away. The doctor had gone to Starfleet Medical, appealing Kirk's promotion on psychological grounds.

When Kirk had learned of it, he'd hit the ceiling. "What the hell did you think you were doing, going behind my back like that!" he'd stormed at McCoy, the day he'd found out.

"Look, Admiral, if you can't look out for yourself, someone's got to look out for you! This promotion is gonna kill you. Don't you see that?"

"It's not your decision, Doctor. I'm a big boy. I can make my own decisions. Hell, I get paid to make them!"

"Not any more, you don't," McCoy had reminded him, and that truth had pushed Kirk over the edge. The argument had degenerated from there. Knowing what he was doing even as he did it, Kirk had driven the well-meaning doctor out of his apartment and out of his life. As the days became weeks, he began to think the breach might even be permanent.

Troubled by a disturbing recurring dream, Kirk found himself eating little and sleeping less. He took refuge in his staggering workload, quickly falling into the habit of shutting himself in his office, staying late. It did no good. The nightmare of suffocating pursued him even into exhausted sleep, threatened to follow him into the light of day.

He could not afterward remember exactly when the dream had started, only that within a matter of weeks it came to haunt even his waking hours. There was no form to it, and less detail. Upon waking from it, he would find himself bathed in sweat and gasping, sometimes even hyperventilating--and reeking of fear. He would remember only silence. If he'd been in command, he would have taken himself off duty and checked himself into Sickbay for a good dose of Southern psychiatry.

He wasn't in command. He could afford to keep his slow disintegration to himself, hold it close. He had no one to tell.

The weeks passed. That oppressive silence became a riptide that would swell over him whenever his guard faltered, each day a battle he couldn't afford to lose. He wouldn't think of what he had become.

He wouldn't think of Spock.

In the darkest hours of night, when his usual methods of coping failed, he would lie to himself, tell himself that it wasn't forever.

Late one evening, the suffocating feeling came when he was awake, and it disturbed him so badly that he opened all the windows of his flat, drawing great lungfuls of cool, crisp October air until the attack subsided. When at last he could breathe, he went into the kitchen. He got out everything to make herbal tea, and put it on the counter.

He didn't like tea, had never liked tea... but he'd found that sometimes it helped him get back to sleep. It was the only concession he would make to the pain he would not face. Tonight, though, he opened the packet of tea and the fragrance wafted out, and for some reason it reminded him of k'rh'tha, the pungent beverage Spock would drink sometimes when they played chess.

He stood then at the counter, leaning on his arms, feeling the taut heaviness rise up in his chest. He wanted to let go. Anything to make that pressure ease. He even tried to let go, tried to make the tears come. For the first time in weeks he let himself think of Spock, made himself think of Spock, made himself remember walking with him along the shaded avenue in New Orleans. Made himself remember what it had been like to kiss Spock, an immolation, as if every part of him wanted to burn up with the pleasure of it.

Still the tears wouldn't come, and so he thought of the Enterprise and Spock, made himself remember being on the bridge, getting ready to beam down to a new planet, what it had been like to sense the Vulcan at his right shoulder. To turn and meet his eyes and share that moment, this is what we're out here for, this is what makes it worthwhile.

He almost did cry, then. But the feeling of impending tears was too much like suffocating, and his body rebelled, refused to let go. Finally there was only the hard knot in his chest, the tight ache in his throat. He sank down to the cold tile, wrapped his arms around his knees and sat there until morning.

More weeks passed. The anxiety attacks got no better, nor were they worse; he buried himself in work and tried to keep up the facade, though his weight loss and fatigue were starting to get him strange looks at HQ. He found himself avoiding old friends, acquaintances--anyone at Starfleet Command who might know him well enough to ask questions.

Well, that was a short list. He'd found that Chief of Ops was not a job that invited popularity.

The one-time captain of the Enterprise met Vice Admiral Lori Ciani for the first time at a formal reception he'd been unable to avoid, some overblown affair to honor a dignitary whose name he would not remember afterward. He didn't know what made her approach him, that first night, certainly didn't know what made her decide to come home with him. He speculated in the beginning that she had some agenda...that she, or someone higher up in the Admiralty suspected that one James T. Kirk was on the verge of a breakdown.

Later, he would tell himself she wouldn't have stayed just for that. Maybe one night, or a week, even a month--but not almost two years. Surely not.

That night, it hardly mattered. A drowning man can't afford to choose his rescuer.

In a month's time they were spending most of their nights together, and when the silence came for him he would lie awake and listen to the soft rhythm of her breathing. And then he would sleep, a blessedly dreamless sleep. He began to believe the strange, unprecedented panic attacks had disappeared for good.

Shortly thereafter, that proved to be wishful thinking.

He woke gasping, hyperventilating, a stabbing pain in his head that felt like a blunt needle sunk through his left eye and into his brain. Lori was shaking him, saying his name.

"Lights!" she said, and he made an incoherent sound of protest. Too late. The light stabbed him, drove the needle in, and he moaned in pain, turned his face against her to hide from the brutal brightness.

"No... no lights." He could barely get the words out.

"Jesus, Jim, here--" she waved the lights down to a bare minimum, but it was still too bright. He still couldn't get enough air. "Computer, atmosphere controls, raise oxygen mix two levels." She snapped the order out, put her arm around him.

He shuddered and concentrated on trying to breathe for a while, holding on to her with the grip of a drowning man. She rubbed his shoulders, held him as his breathing gradually calmed.

"I'm sorry," he said when he could. "I'm all right."

She sat back, hand on the back of his neck. "You sure?"

He nodded. Clammy perspiration cooled on his forehead; he was shaking. "Yeah, sorry, it... it happens sometimes." He felt like a fool, could feel his cheeks burning.

"What happens? What the hell was that, Jim? You scared me half to death."

He drew a steadying breath, closing his eyes against the low illumination and the fear in her voice. His head still throbbed, though the pain had receded a little. "Just a nightmare. I... get them sometimes. It's nothing to worry about."

"Nothing to worry about? Jim, you stopped breathing!"

That made him open his eyes, made him look at her. "What?"

She gave him a hard look in return. "You stopped breathing. I don't know for how long. I had to slap you to make you wake up."

He raised a hand to his cheek, registering the warm stinging of his skin for the first time. He met her green eyes again, shook his head faintly, not knowing what to say.

"Has this happened before?" she asked quietly, at last.

"Yes, I think so..." He was at a loss. He suddenly felt unsteady, as if the foundation of his very self were threatening to give way. "I don't know."

"Well, it seems to me this is a little more than 'nothing to worry about.' Have you been checked by Doctor Benali?"

The mere thought made him want to shudder. Let some stranger poke around in his brain, with psionoscanners and hypnotapes and god knew what else? Not a chance in hell.

He tried to shrug it off casually. "What, for a few bad dreams? You've got to be kidding." He pulled away from her a little, swung his feet over the side of the bed. "I'm just... settling in, that's all."

"Jim... it's been almost eight months."

Her voice was too close in the half-light, too intimate, and felt like an invasion. "Lori, don't you think you're being a little bit of an alarmist?" He was sitting on the edge of the bed, his back to her.

", I don't. I almost called a med team."

He kept his voice light, not looking at her, not letting her see the unsteadiness, the irritation. This wasn't something that he wanted her to examine. The last thing he needed was for her to turn the laser-fine beam of her curiosity on his psyche. "Look, I've had these dreams before, and they don't mean anything. I hardly ever have them any more. Relax, all right?"

He held his breath; at last she said softly, "All right. For now."

Kirk closed his eyes, breathing relief for a split second. Then he made himself turn, switched on the charm. "Anyway, if it does happen again, you know what the proper prescription is, don't you?"

She eyed him warily, but he could see her responding despite herself; faint color suffused her fair skin. "No, what?"

He turned the smile up a notch, let it go seductive. "Mouth to mouth resuscitation, of course."

She rolled her eyes, but her mouth twitched with a suppressed smile. "You are incorrigible, you know that?"

"That's what they tell me." He leaned in for a kiss, concentrating his not inconsiderable skill on making her forget the incident had ever happened.

The effort might have proved successful, if it had been the last time. It wasn't. Over the next three months there were five incidents that she knew about, and two that she didn't, and while they didn't come every night any more, the dreams were if anything more intense, more terrifying. He would wake, sweating and trembling, unable to remember anything save the suffocating weight of his own fear. She would hold him and he would let her, and though she made noise about getting professional help, he always managed to deflect her concern until the next time.

Always, until the night he had the other dream, and the seams of his unevenly stitched marriage began to unravel.

It started with some Fleet function he'd been invited to but couldn't face. They argued. She said he owed it to his career to make public appearances whenever possible. He retorted with a cutting remark, one designed to wound-- something about refusing to glad hand a bunch of admirals who couldn't make a real decision if the galaxy depended on it. It was a tender spot with her, he knew; she who had never commanded a ship, and never would. She stalked out, her face white, and he went out onto the balcony and listened to the surf, the image of her hurt, betrayed look refusing to fade.

At last he called himself ten kinds of fool, and resolved himself to a sincere apology when she returned.

That decided, he went back inside, poured himself a snifter of brandy and drifted into the darkened living room. The solitude felt surprisingly welcome. He sipped at the brandy, standing at the balcony doors, watching the stars come out.

His relationship with Lori was nothing if not volatile. Tonight, she would come home late, he'd apologize, and they'd make love with that fierceness he'd found he needed in the months since she'd made herself a part of his life. He wasn't sure if that was happiness, or even close to it. But the predictability of it all felt familiar, comforting... and for the first time since he'd lost the Enterprise he had begun to think that there were other kinds of living he could bear.

He hardly ever thought about Spock any more. What would have been the point?
He pulled Paradise Lost from the shelf, tried to read for a while. But the argument made him restless; the words didn't pull him in as they usually did. At last he put the book down, finished off the brandy and stood, heading for the bedroom.

There he stripped off his tunic, and with it the thick, thermal undershirt he'd taken to wearing to disguise his weight loss, put them down the chute. Stretching, feeling the buzz of the brandy a little, he went into the bathroom. His likeness in the mirror watched him stretch, watched him come to stand before the glass. They assessed each other, he and his reflection, sardonically noting one another's vanity.

The last few months had taken their toll, the cool, calculating gaze in the mirror said, taking inventory. Muscle weight down. New lines in a face that for years had belied his age. Skin pale, hair darker than its usual burnished gold; ironically, now that he was dirtside all the time he didn't feel much like beaches, or sunshine. He'd gotten more sun on the occasional landing party. Eyes too large, cast in shadow by prominent cheekbones sharpened by weight loss. He looked into those eyes, gave a grim smile, and man and reflection made identical gestures of derision, a one-handed insult picked up on some long-ago shore leave, on some planet he hardly remembered.

He was still a good-looking bastard, and he still thought his looks bought more trouble than they solved. Less fortunate genes might have gone a long way towards keeping him out of Nogura's 'golden boy' media hot seat.

Turning away from the mirror before he could get really disgusted with himself, Kirk finished undressing and turned on the shower. The water grew hot quickly. He tested the temperature with his fingertips, found it pleasantly just this side of scalding, and stepped inside.

Hot water rained a soothing rhythm on his skin, driving thought out of him. He washed his hair, rinsed it, closing his eyes as the fragrant foam sluiced down his neck, down his back. After a while, he became aware that the sensual pleasure of the heat and the sound of the water--and perhaps his earlier thought of Lori coming home, her green eyes flashing with anger--had produced a predictable reaction in his body.

He sighed, opened his eyes. He'd always been quick to rise to any occasion; it didn't take much. It was a part of who he was, and a lifetime of practice at self-control hadn't changed it. Sometimes, over the years, he had hated that about himself --that ready, rampant sexuality he could restrain but never entirely suppress. The life he'd chosen didn't often allow for that sort of expression, and there had been a few times when he'd regretted, afterward, hurting someone he had only wanted to please.

Most of the time, though, he had to admit he'd liked it.

He touched himself casually, with the unselfconsciousness of a man who has found release alone many times out of necessity. And his sex grew hard against his palm, and the water came down, and he leaned against the tile and gave into the compulsion.

As he closed his eyes and stroked himself, slowly, he wasn't thinking of Lori, of that contest of wills... wasn't thinking at all. The brandy was still buzzing pleasantly in his head. All he wanted, suddenly, was not to think... to lose himself in that hum of pleasure, to just feel unadulteratedly good for five minutes.

Slow, even strokes, until he was breathing hard with the effort at control, until all he wanted was to come. And that was what he had wanted most of all--to feel no pain, no thought, no need except the pure, animal need for release, no ache except the deep throb of pleasure in his groin. The simplicity of it was such a relief that he made himself stop, made himself close strong fingers on the base of his cock, prolonging the feeling. Not yet.

He had been a starship captain, with all the enforced aloneness that implied; he was, also, a creature of the senses with a powerful and consuming sexual energy that might have ruled a man of lesser determination and self-discipline. He had, consequently, raised erotic fantasy to an art form over the years. But tonight his surrender was mindless, blunt, his only focus the rising wave of pleasure building in groin and thighs. His rhythm was without subtlety, unthinking. He felt the warning thrum against his fingers, moaned softly, began to thrust slightly into his caressing hand. He didn't want to think. Didn't dare think--

It came, then, the memory he'd been holding back, betraying him in a swift, overwhelming rush of pain and arousal.

The water, yes, and the cool tile against his thighs, the smell of spiced bath oil, strong hands on his waist, holding him, bending him over the lip of the tub--for an instant his cock swelled and throbbed in his hand at the memory, and he sobbed, an incoherent syllable that might have been a name. Orgasm rushed up, and at the same time that vast, unbearable emptiness, and involuntarily his hand closed on his penis like a vise. He cried out in simultaneous pleasure and anguish. Doubled over.
He didn't come, couldn't, the punishing grip of his own hand on his betraying sex stemming the orgasm before it could find release. Dull agony throbbed in his scrotum and up through his belly.

You fool. He isn't coming back. Not ever.

He stood like that for almost a minute, holding himself up with one hand splayed against the shower wall, before he was at last able to release that death grip on his own genitals. Pain throbbed again with the increased blood flow. He moaned, pressed the side of his face to the tile. The pain in his belly and in his balls was nothing to the pain in his throat.

At last he straightened, stunned, shocked to his core by what he had done, by the betrayal of his thoughts, most of all by the realization that he would have given anything, anything at all, if he could have made that treacherous memory real.

When the pain in his groin dulled he got out of the shower, went back into the living room without towel or robe, dripping water on the carpet in great dark spots--and proceeded to drink himself into oblivion.

Lori came home in the early morning hours, found him drunk, naked, passed out on the living room sofa. She got a detox into him, got him to bed somehow, though he did not remember it. In the morning, she brought him a glass of water and a metastabilizer, and didn't condemn him. For that, he was deeply grateful. He hated drinking like that, hated being out of control, which was why he never did it. She seemed to sense his profound mortification, for she said nothing about the previous night; when he apologized for the things he'd said, she accepted his apology with equanimity. She left him alone for most of the afternoon, going out for provisions while he brooded in silence, staring at the vid without seeing it.

That evening, he felt a little better. Lori seemed to sense that he was hurting, but she didn't try to drag the explanation out of him. They watched the fire burn down in the fireplace. When they went to bed, for once she just curled around him and went to sleep.

That was the last night of peace between them, for when Kirk slept at last, he dreamed--and not of silence.

Cold terracotta tiles against his feet, and starlight on his skin.

"Come," the deep voice said, caressing him. "Stand before the window, so that I may look at you."

He obeyed. He was naked, but the voice warmed him, though he could not see its owner. He crossed the tiled floor to the window.

The moon shone in through the glass, stretching across the floor in a shaft of silver. He reached the window, where the shimmer of light poured in nearly as bright as day. He started to turn.

"No," the voice murmured, behind him, closer. "Do not move. Let me look at you."

Kirk's pulse beat heavily. Electric anticipation coiled in his belly, raised the hair on the backs of his thighs. The sound of that voice was a sweet note in his soul, a dark vibration in the still air of the room. He shivered slightly, aroused and trembling.

He could feel the other's gaze on his skin like a brand, though he had not turned, and suddenly he wanted more. He put his hands out, on the sill, spreading himself before the window, thighs apart, arms braced. The exposed feeling made him tremble, made him want to sink to his knees in abject offering. "Like this?" he asked, a hoarse, breathless whisper.

"Oh, yes," came the deep-throated growl, closer still. "Yes, like that... so beautiful. Let me see you."

Kirk spread his legs further, wanting to whimper from the excruciating need and vulnerability, choking the sound back before it could escape. He leaned his forehead against the glass; the coolness steadied him.

Outside the window, there were stars, and he gazed out into the glitter of night and lost himself. His need and his desire swept over him in slow waves, and he wanted to cry from the intensity, wanted to rub himself against the cool, slick smoothness of the glass. He did not, waiting for the command from that forest-deep voice.

But instead there was movement, a reflection. His breath caught. He turned his head in time to see the gleam of moonlight on raven-dark hair, as the reflection bent its head and dry, heated softness brushed his nape.

It was electric, it was exquisite, it was hot melting running through his veins and nerves until he was nothing but light. He moaned aloud, swayed, and strong arms wrapped around him from behind, supported him when his knees gave out.

Hot mouth at his throat. Searing, branding heat against his back, his thighs, pressing slickly into his most secret places. Then the heat opened him up, filled him, driving into him in one, smooth stroke, and he sobbed brokenly. "Spock. Spock."

"Yes." Flaying him, to the bone. "Jim."

One slow, powerful wave surging up, up, and a second, stronger still, until Kirk could not bear the beautiful agony of it any more. "Oh. Oh. God." He shuddered, and shuddered again, afraid, on the precipice of release and unable to let go. The pleasure was going to shatter him. "Spock--"

"Jim." Breath hot on his ear, his neck, teeth and tongue at his nape, the heat sundering him down the center, rending him. "T'hy'la."

And then Kirk was over the edge, was shattering, falling, splintering into a thousand shards of diamond glass and stars, falling at the other's feet. He cried out, a deep, aching cry, a plea for mercy. Too much. He couldn't bear it.

Just before he woke, there was a whisper, and he did not know which one of them said the words: Don't leave me.

The dream slipped from his grasp.

"I'm here. I'm right here."

Lori. Waking him, her hand on his forehead, stroking his hair back. Her arms around him, holding him too tight. "It's all right now--"


He sat up, shuddered, trying to shake her off. The smothering feeling was threatening to close down. He was cold, and damp, and shaking--and for a second he didn't understand why.

And then he did.

He moaned faintly in mortified distress and pushed her away, pushed himself to the edge of the bed. The damp sheets clung to him; the air was cold and made him break out in goose bumps. He was very aware of the sticky fluid on his belly, his thighs, his chest--jesus, he had come in his sleep, like a teenager. What was happening to him?

"Jim--" Lori tried to hold him there, her hand on his arm, but he shook her off and got up. For a second he stood swaying in the darkness, trying to clear his head.

He was having trouble breathing. But it was different this time--not like he couldn't get enough air, but more like his lungs were being compressed by some terrible external pressure. Lori was saying something, but he didn't hear her, couldn't respond. He stumbled in the dark and made for the bathroom.

He thought he was going to be sick, but when he got to the bathroom and palmed the lights on, stood over the commode, nothing happened. He stood there for a long time. Finally he drew a breath and looked down at the evidence of his dream, dried on his pale skin.

Stumbling with weariness, he turned on the shower and got under it. As he did, he heard Lori's voice from the other side of the door.

"Jim? You okay?"

He closed his eyes, weary to his soul. "Yes, fine," he lied, knowing she would hear the lie and not caring. What was he supposed to say? Yes, fine, except I can't breathe a lot of the time and I think I'm going crazy, and I'm having incredibly erotic dreams about a man I'm never going to see again?

Suddenly the breath went out of him, and the strength, and he had to put out a hand to keep from falling. And before he understood what was happening the first sob escaped him.

It sounded ominous, a portent of others to follow, and he knew dimly that it had been too loud--that she had heard. For a moment, he thought it would not matter. He would let go, would cry finally for lost chances and for loneliness, for want of a soul's comfort he would never know again.

But the pattern of a lifetime went too deep. Impossible to let go. Impossible, here, now, where she would hear, would know. He would never be able to face her again. A starship captain can't afford to cry, and so he didn't; he knew then, at last, that he never would.

Kirk turned the water cold, and colder still, and when the heat and tightness subsided, he turned it off and got out of the shower.

She had changed the sheets. He saw it at once. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her robe pulled tight around her, watching him with a closed wariness in her face that she tried to hide behind a smile of reassurance. That look, or perhaps the defensive posture, perversely filled him with a sudden, irrational anger. He caught himself on the point of lashing out, stopping in the doorway and holding himself very still. Get out, he wanted to cry at her, beg her. Get out, get out, get out.

Not fair, his brutally just conscience told him sternly, not fair. Not her fault. Not any of it.

The new sheets were neat, smooth and pristine, shaming him.

"You all right?" she asked, too casually.

He couldn't meet her eyes. He nodded, but his jaw clenched. He knew he ought to shrug it off, ought to make light of the whole thing. A joke. Turn it into a joke. He could laugh it off and she would say, hey, it happens to lots of men, and they could forget about it. But the muscles of his back knotted further and he couldn't make the words come.

"Jim." Her voice was quiet. Too quiet, as if she were talking to a crazy person who might snap at any moment. "Come on, let's talk about it."

Panic welled up in Kirk. No, please, I can't bear this. Please. He swallowed against it. "I don't think there's anything to talk about." He turned away, heading for the door, then hesitated halfway, back still turned. "I'm sorry." His voice was low, steady, a miracle. He moved again toward the door, and escape.

"Hey." Her voice rose a little, stopping him. "Where do you think you're going? I don't want an apology, I want an explanation."

Kirk felt the blood drain from his face. He sucked in a breath and turned on her before he could temper his raw response. "An explanation--?"

She met his eyes with her chin up. "Don't I deserve one?"

"Dammit, Lori--I don't have one!" He heard his own desperation, willed her to hear it. Please.

But her face set in determined lines. "Look. I'm not upset." Lie, he could see that even through his own distress. "I'm not mad. I just want to know the score. I think I deserve to know what that was all about." She was trying hard for that just-right tone of tolerant understanding, but not quite making it.

Kirk squared his shoulders, felt himself shaking. He needed to get out of here. He spread his hands helplessly. "What the hell do you want me to say?"

"How about the truth, for starters? Why didn't you tell me about him?"

Ice laced in ribbons down Kirk's spine. "What did you say?"

"Him. Spock." She stabbed him with the name, an accusation. Her voice was low, mild and deadly, a tone a starship captain could envy.

"What about him?" Kirk managed, voice barely audible.

She was on her feet then, fists clenched. "Don't play games with me. You said his name, Jim." Her breath caught. "When you were--you said his name. I heard you. Your first officer, a Vulcan..." she shook her head, her eyes full. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"What was I supposed to tell you?" It came out like a snarl. "It was nothing that concerned you." He turned away again, unable to bear the hurt betrayal in her face.

"You don't think so?" she said, a whisper.

He closed his eyes, sinking deeper into self-loathing, so deep he didn't know if he'd ever surface from it. "Lori--it's nothing to do with you. Leave it alone. Please."

He heard her crossing the room, a soft swish of satin, drawing near. "That's bullshit," she said gently. "Jim, come on. Of course it affects me. I love you." He started, involuntarily turned to look at her. Love me? he thought, before he could stop himself. Lady, you don't even know me.

She took his hand, and hers was fever-hot. He realized dimly that he must feel like an icicle to her. All the blood in his body had raced to his pounding heart. "Don't panic, Admiral," she said dryly, "it's not fatal. But when you're having fantasies like that about your former first officer, I certainly think it affects me."

He pulled his hand out of her grasp, trying to tell himself it wasn't panic that made him take a step away from her. That it wasn't panic suffocating him, making his heart pound against his ribs. Desperation rose, and he was helpless to stop it. "Don't. I don't want to talk about it. He's gone. He's out of Starfleet. I'm never going to see him again." He saw her green eyes go wide, and realized he'd said too much. His control snapped. "What the hell does it matter?"

She was pale, looking at him as if he'd suddenly started speaking another language. "You tell me."

Too much. Too much that she should know, that she should see him like this. The longing for what he could not have welled up suddenly, nearly overwhelming him. He'd been able to deal with it as long as he could deny it, bury it, keep it hidden away and safe. But now the name was out, in the open, suspended between them--a truth he didn't know how to face. Spock. The dream swept over him in all its vivid detail. "It doesn't matter any more," he whispered, all he could manage. His loneliness in that moment was all-consuming.

Lori was staring at him now, the woman's eyes narrowing with the look of the vice admiral. "Wait a minute. Wait just a minute." She backed up a step, letting his hand go. "Just what is he to you?"

Despair, undiluted, welled up. "Nothing. He's nothing to me."

"I don't believe you."

"Believe what you want!"


He backed off fast, trembling, turning once more for the door. "I told you to leave it alone," he grated out.

The accusation of her disbelief followed him. "A Vulcan, Jim? Your first officer for God's sake?"

"What does that matter?" Kirk snapped. "There's no regulation against it." He heard his own voice as if from a great distance.

Her shocked silence came down like a door slamming, and he couldn't look at her. He took another blind step toward the door.

"It wasn't just a fantasy, was it?" she asked at last.

He kept moving. Didn't answer her.


He stopped on the threshold, held by the small, vulnerable sound of her voice. Closed his eyes. He'd never wanted to hurt her.

"Tell me the truth." There was a pause, and he heard her swallow, close behind him. Could smell the scent of her shampoo. "Do you love him?"

Kirk moved then, out of the room, out of the flat. Kept moving down the stairs and out into the night, fleeing the woman and his own cowardice.

Though it took her more than a year to get around to leaving him, he would always know that he had given her the first hard push toward the door the night he woke to find his own spent fluid drying on his belly, Spock's name on his lips.

Spock turned his eyes to the sky, where T'Kuht loomed, immense and threatening. On this day, she circled closer to her sister world than on any other day of the Vulcan year. She blotted out the sun.

This morning, out on the Forge, he had found signs of new growth: succulent pasha weed and winter sage. Dark green and gray were the colors of winter on the planet of his birth. Dark green for the desert plants which grew for only a few weeks of the year; gray for the sky, cast in perpetual twilight by the shadow of T'Kuht, and for the sporadic, rare fog which occurred occasionally during those few weeks. This day marked precisely two Vulcan years since his arrival at the gates of Gol. He had lived two cycles of the Eridani calendar at the mountain retreat, learning just how far from the ideals of his youth he had fallen.

He couldn't quite prevent the thought: on Earth's northern hemisphere, it would be winter soon, too.

Spock knelt at the altar, testing the memories of his striving, probing for hidden weakness. The path he had traveled stretched out behind him, rocky and treacherous, stained with his heart's blood. He had survived it; he had won. When Eridani touched the tip of Seleya, T'Sai would come with the other Masters, and they would make him one of them. The surface of his thoughts, as he waited there on the ancient stones, shone clear and laser-bright with the precision of his control.
He did not need to think of what might have been. He certainly was not thinking of him. No, not now. Not after he had come so far.

Spock knelt, and waited, and did not think of him. Not his name, not his face, not the memory of his body or his voice. Most especially not the memory of the aching oneness that owned him whenever their minds touched.

As he had a thousand times in the past, he made the denial a weapon against the longing and need. He turned his face to the sky, did not look to the west, to where the light of a small and unremarkable yellow star could sometimes be seen. It was a test. As he had a thousand times, he conquered the compulsion; he did not look.

But in that moment of perfect concentration, that wrenching effort of will, in his desperation to make it true, Spock unknowingly stripped his naked soul bare to the universe, and touched a vast and kindred loneliness...

It was the quiet that woke him.

That, and the empty bed.

The bed was an antique, from his mother's farmhouse. For a time it had reminded him of childhood, of nights when his father was away and he and his brother had climbed under the covers with Mom and listened to the rain. Now, waking, he stretched his toes into the cool spaces of the unmussed side and rolled into the middle, telling himself that it was nice to have the extra room in the huge four-poster. But the house was too quiet, and he had spent too many years confined to a narrow bunk. This bed didn't fit him any more.

James Kirk opened his eyes to gray morning light and swung his feet to the floor.

His toes sank into the small rug, and that was good, so he decided he would get up and make some coffee, maybe go read for a while in the solarium. Somewhere he was laughing at himself, at the momentous decisions he was making these days, but the laughter was painful and he decided not to think about it today. Tomorrow, maybe.

He padded down the hallway and into the living room, and when he got there he looked out the great bay window and realized what the quiet meant.

It was snowing.

Had been snowing for a while, apparently. A good six inches lay on the porch railing, and everything outside was cloaked in white. Across the meadow, twelve thousand feet of mountain had disappeared, obscured by the thickly falling flakes.

There was still enough of the little boy in him that he felt a rush of excitement at the sight of all that unmarred whiteness. He thought about breaking out the skis and seeing how far he could get before noon. The exercise certainly wouldn't hurt, and it would give him something to do, something to keep his mind occupied. He thought about coming home exhausted from a day of skiing, collapsing into that humongous bed, sleeping like a baby. The thought was a pleasant one, and he felt better. He stood watching the snow for a while, until his stomach growled, and then he went into the kitchen.

The tile chilled the soles of his feet. He gave a passing thought to his slippers, which he'd left next to the bed, then decided to endure the hardship and suffer bravely. He crossed the immense kitchen and got the coffee beans out of the freezer and put them into the brewer. He took a slice of bread from a paper wrapper and put it into the warmer. Then he stood at the kitchen window, gazing into the silent, moving whiteness while the beans became coffee, while the bread became toast.

Two months now, he thought, surprised to realize it had only been that long since Lori had left him. It seemed like another lifetime.

She'd gone without a fuss, an anticlimactic finish to the long chain of explosive scenes which had unfurled between them these last months. That had thrown him off, at first. He hadn't really believed her. Coming home to find her standing calmly in the front hallway of their San Francisco townhouse--with her things arrayed neatly around her--he hadn't, at first, understood.

"What's going on?" His first thought had been of Nogura. Had she been reassigned?

She'd only looked at him. "I think it's time we stopped punishing each other, don't you?"


She had sighed. "Jim, you act like this is a complete surprise."

"Lori...what are you saying?" But he'd begun to get the picture.

Her green eyes had met his levelly, utterly without guile. "I'm leaving. I've had enough." For a brief instant, some flicker of sadness, something, had touched her generous mouth. "Haven't you?"

And he guessed that he had, because he had let her go without more than a token protest. The transporter had taken her and all her belongings in one neat, surgical extraction. Convenient, that. No long drawn out scenes, no messy logistics. Just gone, as if she had never been there, never shared a life with him for the better part of two years.

He thought now that her chill calm, and his own, was the most telling thing of all. The anger had killed all other feeling between them, and then finally burned itself out, until apathy was all that remained. The anger--his, that she couldn't be what he needed; hers, that he needed someone she wasn't.

Two months. It might as well have been two years; he already felt like it had been some other man who'd cared for her, some other man who'd failed her. He didn't feel too terribly much about her absence, except that it was harder to keep his thoughts from drifting now that he was alone. He supposed he missed her. It was strange being up at the cabin by himself--he hadn't done that in years.

He thought, idly, that it might be nice to get a dog. A big wolfhound, maybe, or a Great Dane.

The brewer finished and presented him with a steaming mug of dark liquid. The coffee smelled good--delicious, actually. He added a large spoonful of sugar, stirring, and carried toast and coffee back across the kitchen and the living room to the window seat.

Outside, the snow fell thickly, showing no signs of slowing. White and silent, it crept up the window, up the side of the house. He watched the deep drift on the sill work its way slowly up the other side of the glass. The silence suddenly felt oppressive, as if there were nowhere on Earth that snow did not fall... as if he were alone in all the world. He shivered.

Kirk knew this silence. It knew him. Once, it had almost beaten him.

Easy enough now to see how close he had been to the edge, those nights in the beginning when he would wake choking, unable to breathe, the silence smothering him so vividly that he could not shake the feeling for hours afterward. Easy enough to see how badly he had needed someone to hold on to, someone to stop that downward slide--how Lori had been that someone, and that had been enough for him at first.

A faint teasing of chicory reached his nostrils as he lifted the steaming mug to his lips, and Kirk closed his eyes briefly, inhaling, taking a swallow of the bitter, sweet liquid. The taste of it on his tongue was another memory, lazy oak trees and Spanish moss and warm spring rain in a brick courtyard. The image was bittersweet, too, seductive--and so much sharper than the one of Lori leaving that he had to open his eyes again.

Kirk gazed out into Colorado winter, reminding himself forcefully of the vast spaces which stretched between that day and this, more than distance, more than time. It was an unbridgeable chasm. He knew it was only ordinary loneliness that made him think of New Orleans now.

He told himself that his ego had been bruised by Lori's departure and he wasn't used to the solitude, that was all. He told himself that it would do him no good to dredge up the old pain now. That had been another, younger self, staggering under the weight of all he had lost. Another Jim Kirk who had nearly let despair drag him under. Nearly three years insulated him from the events of that day, the day he had turned and left the best friend he'd ever known standing on a transporter platform under a cloudless Terran sky.

In the end it was the snow, and the insular, suffocating silence that conquered him. Like an animal worrying a wound, he touched the memory at his core; he leaned forward, pressed his forehead to the cold window and closed his eyes. The sharp stab of pain centered in his heart, a hurt he knew too well. It was not new.

At last, angry with himself for the self-indulgence, he drew a breath, held it, held the smothering panic at bay. As he had taught himself over the years he visualized the pain as a rift slowly closing, a river slowly running dry. Named the silence and made himself face it. It receded, and he breathed again.

He straightened, taking a sip of his coffee--and made a face. It was stone cold.

How long had he been standing at the window? The drifts on the deck outside said it had been far too long. He set the cup down on the windowsill with a decisive thump.

Come on, Kirk. You're stronger than this.

Successfully banishing the memory, he felt better, new confirmation of the truth he had always known; he was a survivor, and nothing could touch him. Those first months at the admiralty had been bad ones, yes--but he had survived. He had won. This little ritual of proving his invincibility was the reason he drank chicory coffee with sugar, the reason he had come up to the cabin alone, sleeping in that ridiculous bed, trial by fire.

He had been a starship captain. Nothing could touch him.

After a time of gazing out at the soft blanket of white, the almost impenetrable falling curtain of snow, he caught himself thinking that one could easily get turned around in that whiteout. With no other houses around for twenty kilometers, a man alone could wander in that silent blindness until he stumbled into a hidden crevice or ravine and froze to death.

Behind him, the clock on the mantel ticked too loudly. He sat in the bay window, whiteness on three sides of him, breathing in the aroma of another time and place and listening to the clock which was too loud, the house which was too quiet, until the voice of the starship captain told him he'd been listening long enough.

Just lose your bearings for a moment, that voice was saying, and you could be in real trouble alone in a snowstorm like that.

He set the plate of cold toast on the windowsill, beside the cup of equally cold coffee.

Went to find his skis.

On the mountain, T'Sai looked into Spock's mind and laid bare his soul, and all turned to dust in the space of a heartbeat.

His control had faltered only for a moment. One brief instant in which he permitted himself the name, one rush of longing for an unconditional acceptance he would never know again. How could he know the name was all it would take? That the price he'd paid in heart's blood could not buy his freedom after all? For with the name came the need, and so he reached--and touched a vast, searching consciousness of a being that could only echo his loneliness a thousand fold.

In that moment, the High Master knew him; she turned away, leaving the emblem of his inadequacy shattered on the stones behind her.

For a long time, Spock stood in the place of his failure and despaired. But slowly he became aware that he had seen in the brief, piercing touch of the being's ordered thoughts the shape of a purpose, a driving need that had the third planet of a small yellow star as its goal.

He knew fear, then, and certainty. In the face of such a threat, there was only one champion Starfleet would choose to send. One ship, and one captain.

Intersection of needs, singularity of purpose.

He looked, then, toward the place where the faint yellow star had been, low in the western sky. It was gone; the dawn had come.

Kirk made it as far as the mud room before he fully registered it: the faint chiming he had mistakenly dismissed as the belling of the mantel clock. The sound nagged at him, and he paused in the doorway.

Half turning, he cocked his head to listen. The insistent sound came again. It was coming from the study, he realized.

The emergency signal.

He felt a thrill of apprehension, a rising of the hair on the back of his neck, a quickening of his pulse. The sensations were at once so foreign and so overwhelmingly, wonderfully familiar that for an instant he only stood frozen in the doorway, transfixed by it. How long had it been since he had felt like this?

Adrenaline sang in his veins, seducing him with its call to action. He turned back into the house, his excitement fiercely controlled to a deliberate stride. It carried him down the front hall, back through the living room, past the bedroom and into the study. Ghost shadows of gray light made the usually inviting room strangely colorless, the tiny red beacon of the alert signal casting its urgency in regular pulses across the hardwood floor. He crossed the room toward it. As he did so, his body passed through the pinpoint beam, activating the desk terminal.

"Prepare to receive incoming transmission, coded per Admiral Nogura," came from the speaker, the human-yet-not- human voice of the computer.

"Acknowledged. Authorization Kirk, Admiral James T. Proceed."

"Stand by for retina scan." The terminal scanner traced his optic lens. After a pause which lasted less than a second, the screen cleared.

And in his study as the snow fell all around, Kirk learned of the ominous shadow which had fallen over Earth while he slept.

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