Pain: crippling pain made of grief, sadness, and loss. It made me feel that I could not think; it made me... feel. As a Vulcan, even for one who is half-human, the experience was... disquieting. Alone in the Starfleet quarters assigned to me while I stayed here for the memorial ceremony, I was left only with pain.

James T. Kirk, captain, comrade, friend and brother, was dead. The memorial service was tomorrow.

Leonard McCoy had left only a few moments ago, giving me, and getting in return, the one thing we could give each other: the presence of someone who felt the same pain. Dr. McCoy looked... old, far more than his actual years.

We appreciated the symmetry of James Kirk dying onboard the Enterprise. We knew, if asked, he would have wanted exactly this. He felt so strongly about the ship, even when it was no longer his to command. And the death was quick, most likely painless, but solitary. Jim had died alone as he said he would.

Misters Scott and Chekov blame themselves for not going in Captain Kirk's place, or for at least not being there to help finish his task faster, removing him from the area before the energy ribbon struck. Mr. Chekov numbly repeats that he was only settling the survivors, a job anyone could have done. Mr. Scott, he argues, was needed on the bridge, but he could have run to aid the captain.

Dr. McCoy blames himself for not being there at all. That he could have done nothing does not matter to his litany. He should have been there is all he says. Instead, he had refused to go when asked. Putting James Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise, he had insisted, without it being his bridge, was the most vicious taunt of all. He had told Jim not to go, but, of course, Jim went. "It'd be an insult not to," he had said, and to step on that bridge once more was too tempting. And now McCoy mumbles continually he should have gone to, as if it would have kept our friend alive.

I understood. Quite illogically, I found myself repeating the same words. Unlike the doctor, if I had been there, I could have done something. If nothing else, I could have taken Captain Kirk's place. After all, I have, once before, stepped into a death chamber. I would have walked into this one to save Jim.

Alone, I had meditated, seeking Vulcan calm, not wanting to fall any deeper into feeling. I once studied on Gol; the disciplines I learned there should be strong enough to control the pain. But even Vulcans experience mourning and loss, and I, son of Sarek of Vulcan and Amanda Grayson of Earth, am left with only enough control to keep me functioning since first receiving the news of Jim's death.

Pavel Chekov had contacted me with the news. Out of respect and friendship for me as his former mentor, he had insisted to Mr. Scott that he be the one to inform me and hurriedly did so. The media was already going live with the information, and neither he nor Scott wanted the rest of us to hear it in that manner. I remember the press announcement breaking over the news channels: an accident in space, Enterprise going to the rescue, systems down or not available, former and new crews rushing to save the lives they could, but the price -- and Mr. Chekov breaking through, managing to choke out the rest.

Dr. McCoy had given me some balance, but I had needed my meditation, and McCoy the contact of the other humans, despite his protests that it would be nothing but "people crying in their beer and telling sad stories all night". We recognized we had needs the other could not fulfill, and that it was not a negative note on our friendship for it to be this way. The doctor rose to his feet, his whole body sagging. Concerned, I had put a steadying hand on his shoulder. The doctor had grabbed it and clenched it with his own. It was worse than the time we thought Jim lost in the Tholian Web. Not only did we have so many more memories, we had no challenge facing us, and therefore, nothing to distract us. Instead, we were left with the deep well of mourning that was weighing us down.

"God, I hate this." McCoy's tears had threatened to overflow, but he had wiped them away with the back of his other hand. "Thank you, Spock."

And then he had left, leaving me alone as I wanted to be, except my plans for meditation had produced only the minimal result. I stared into the darkened room. Perhaps the doctor was right. He had mumbled, "It's worse for you, coming so close on the heels of losing your mother. First Amanda and now --" It was only my quiet "Leonard." that had caught McCoy, stopping any more comments on the subject. But honest as I must be, I admitted I had immersed myself in work since my mother passed away, using these same Vulcan disciplines to put away the pain until I could deal with it. Only, I never had and now I cannot put away any more pain.

I abandoned full meditation, rising to cross to the sitting area. Subconsciously, I realized I badly needed sleep. The physical drain was one more reason why I was finding it difficult to deal with the loss. But it was a cyclical problem: I could not sleep while the pain kept me awake, and I could not control the pain with my body so exhausted.

I collapsed in a chair, rested my elbows on my knees, and my forehead against my steepled fingers. My head was beginning to pound from lack of food, lack of sleep, lack of everything but grief. I, who centered my life on efficiency and control, was appalled at my weakness.

The door chime sounded, the light tone incongruous with my state. Most likely it was one of the others wanting to check on me, or needing the action to give them something to do. I said nothing, not wanting to reject their need or concern, but unable to give or take anything. Astonishingly, the person did not go way, but took advantage of Vulcans never locking their doors and entered. Only McCoy would refuse to go away, or Jim. Jim!

Odd how I never realized the trait before; those closest to me are those who refuse to leave me, even when I demand it. They stay, solid stubborn walls, waiting for me to stop pushing them away, to accept their help and the truth that I need them, that I want, subconsciously, to accept them.

But of course it was not Jim -- it will never be Jim again. Neither was it McCoy. It was Saavik.

I started to rise, to greet her, but she shook her head at my movement, said nothing, and moved to a chair near me. I felt relief seeing she did not expect me to put on any pretense, nor expected me to speak. She only sat, a quiet presence on my periphery. Finally, she said softly, "Spock, I grieve with thee."

Those Vulcan words caused my eyes to squeeze further shut, but they reached me. She had said the same words when I had finally contacted her about Amanda's death. Then my words were clouded with regret for not reaching her sooner, preferably before my mother had died, as Saavik's eyes strained not to show her anguish. Amanda had always reached out to those in need, "Taken in strays" she used to smile, and Saavik had clearly been much loved. How deeply my mother in return affected her "favorite stray" surprised them both. But Saavik served in deep space, and her ship had been in communication silence; I could not reach her in time for Amanda and she to say goodbye.

As I did not get to say goodbye to Jim.

McCoy needed the company of other humans. Perhaps I needed the company of another Vulcan. No, that was only partially correct. Jim once said Saavik brought out the Vulcan in me, but I, realizing the truth in that moment myself, corrected him. I had other Vulcans such as my father to bring out that heritage, as I had my mother, Jim, and McCoy to show me my humanity. Saavik brought out the hybrid in me.

She touched my shoulder and I turned to her, surprised. Physical gestures are scarce from Vulcans, careful as we are of our abilities as touch telepaths. Once, years ago, during a training mission on the Enterprise, I had touched her shoulder in a show of support. The resulting intimacy of the gesture showed me how easily I could establish a mindlink with her -- even a bonding. It had shaken me in the best way possible, changed my view of her to seeing her for what she was: a beautiful, intelligent, and strong woman. I had silently sworn to wait for the day she would think of taking a bondmate before telling her my thoughts.

And then Valeris created a wedge between us by breaking into my personal system, and sending Saavik and I messages supposedly from the other, severing our relationship. We, not knowing the other had not caused the problem, did not speak for years. I never give the exact number despite knowing it. Being ripped asunder had been devastating on both sides. A number could not truly represent it.

I pushed the thought resolutely away. I had enough pain now, and Saavik was here, our hard won reconciliation having happened a year ago.

Once more I felt that easy connection to her and through it a well of strength. She was offering it to me, to ease my exhaustion and help me through this critical time. One part of me, the part that has always refused to accept help, did so again, but feebly as the rest of me was already drawing on her energy, as deeply as a parched man with water.

I waited for it to rejuvenate me. My thoughts were disorganized and, even more illogically, it frustrated me that I could not control the internal chaos. If I could, perhaps I would find peace in the constantly running memories instead of stabbing, torturous loss.

James Kirk taking his first steps on the Enterprise as he assumed command; I objected to the young captain, who was already looking around him with a proprietary air. I vowed I would never give this commander the loyalty I gave Captain Pike.

And then Jim, years later, after that first five-year mission, looking betrayed as I sought Kolinahr: that I could disregard our friendship, as he saw it, and seek to cast it out as something I could no longer bear, hurt him deeply.

I rubbed my eyes, gently at first, my fingertips massaging away the burn behind my eyelids. Then harder, grinding at them with the heels of my palms, actually feeling the dark circles under my eyes. Where were my disciplines? Where was the peace of logic, of emotional control, when I needed it so badly? What was next in this disgraceful lapse? Would I stand at the memorial ceremony tomorrow and shed tears like--

-- Saavik had at my funeral, when one tear slip past the rigid reign she kept on herself that day.

I felt my eyebrows rise to my hairline. She had never told me that before. That the memory slipped into my own consciousness showed how closely her thoughts were on the edge of my own. I wondered if she read my veiled bewilderment regarding Jim's dying. The feeling of death I had experienced last year with my mother was much different than this. I was isolated from Jim, but not the way I had felt disconnected from Amanda when she had died.

It did not matter. I knew, with a certainty, I would never see him alive again, and so I mourned.

It is difficult to lose someone so close, a t'hyla. Such a loss understandably causes this distress, even from someone who studied at Gol.

Was that my thought or Saavik's? Surely not mine, not when all night I had thought exactly the opposite. I should not react this way, and certainly could not show it to anyone.

Yes, I could. To these people, my friends, I could.

And if it is not true that a Vulcan would mourn so, then it may still be true for a half-Vulcan. If so, then it fell under our unspoken pact of what was acceptable for Vulcan hybrids, and need not ever be spoken of outside of ourselves.

My one eyebrow rose as I pondered this. Whether it was her thought or one she pulled from my subconscious, if I believed it, it would remove one difficulty from the list that tormented me. If I could accept that this was the way I mourned Jim Kirk, that it did not violate the disciplines I based my life on, I could find peace.

I barely controlled a sudden shiver and became acutely aware of the chill in the room. I had set the temperature for Doctor McCoy; now, with my fatigue, the coolness bothered my desert bred body. I was keenly aware of the heat from Saavik's hand and the iciness in my own.

In that moment, she moved to the arm of my chair, using her remaining free hand to gather both of mine, offering her warmth as she offered her strength. Again I thought of protesting even as I accepted what was an intimate gesture. It is undignified for a woman to play servant to a man who is not hers! I had once loudly lectured Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Nurse Chapel and everyone else in the corridor that day. I put aside the discomfort of the memory of my first pon farr but not the lesson. I had no right to accept such gestures from Saavik. I was not hers. And I most certainly must not think of what it would be like to lean into that warmth.

I had not thought such things in years. In rebuilding my association with her, I had carefully kept our friendship static and, in unspoken agreement, she did the same. The letters that severed our friendship years ago had accused the other of going too far within the confines of the relationship, Valeris having discovered about my pon farr on Genesis and my thoughts on that ship's cruise. The one I received stated Saavik appreciated the honor those thoughts bestowed upon her, but as she could not return them, she ended our association. Her message supposedly from me had said much the same regarding Genesis. Those hurts ended what we were. Twice following it, we risked all to be there for the other again. Since then, however, without that need to risk again, we kept on safe, guarded lines with each other for the past year. To not, perhaps, endanger what we had again.

Until tonight when Saavik dropped her guard to help me.

Even as I realized this, I was giving into sleep's pull. Her strength had not revived me, not in the way I thought it would; it had instead taken the sharp edge of exhaustion away, leaving heavy drowsiness. And with my chill eased, my eyes fought to close and my body swayed.

Saavik's hands slipped away. My body pressed back into the chair, and my breathing evened. Darkness fell upon me even as I thought I was still fighting it.

I was in the engine room, cut off from Jim, as the radiation killed me. My sight blinded by burns, I could only hear his raw cry as I slipped into death.

I wrenched awake. The memories were not leaving me alone. I could blame my human blood, a lack of discipline, or anything else I wanted. The idea half-realized in my subconscious of having Dr. McCoy give me a sedative would not do. A tranquilizer would trap me in sleep, trap me in nightmares, not giving me any rest. The pain would not leave me be. So be it.

"You need not stay, Saavik." My voice offended the silence. I realized neither of us had spoken since her one statement.

"I come to serve," she replied formally.

I stood up, ending the discussion. "Your help has honored me. I could not ask for more."

She surprised me again. "Yes, you could."

The words warmed me, offering as they did whatever I might need, and also stating that the offer would be made only to me. "Thank you."

She started to speak, perhaps the standard reply of 'one does not thank logic'. She thought better of whatever it was and her focus turned inward. I recognized the expression and waited. Finally, she nodded to herself, rose smoothly to her feet, and raised her gaze to mine. "I request a favor."

I quirked an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Forgive me." Her hand shot out, fingers clasping the sensitive point between my neck and shoulder. She moves more quickly than I do at my best; in my current state, I never could have stopped her. She had not applied full pressure, so I was aware of what she did, but incapable of any movement. She caught my collapsed body as it pitched forward, taking my weight against her, and moving me towards the sleeping quarters. I dryly thought that I was now leaning into her warmth as I had thought of only a moment ago.

The touch allowed mental contact once again. I repeated the argument I had made to myself; if she did not hear the actual words, she would read the disapproval: A woman does not play servant to a man who is not hers!

It only amused her. This was hardly the most intimate thing to pass between us. Despite our keeping along 'safe' lines, I acknowledged that Saavik and I had passed beyond such prim concerns long ago.

Still, she wryly projected the image of her abruptly dropping me if I so strongly wanted her to cease her actions. I did not find this as entertaining as she did, but made no further protests.

We reached the bed where she lowered me carefully. She eased off my uniform jacket and boots, then applied her hand to the psi points on my temple. I remembered a time when I had wiped painful memories from Jim's mind and struggled against her, pushing against her mind as she solidified the contact.

No, do not fight me, Spock. I would never remove anything so valued as those memories. But you cannot continue in this state. Your body needs rest. And for you to rest, you must be free from this pain. I wish I could remove it permanently, but to do so, I would have to take away those memories. So I will give you this temporary reprieve, so you may be strong for these worst days to come. Sleep tonight in peace, Spock.

I could not think of a response as I tumbled into soothing, black oblivion.

 

MCCOY

What was I doing stalking the corridor outside my rooms? No one else was awake; all their doors were closed up and down the hall. They were asleep, just as they should be, just as I should be. Hell, I drank enough of the bar downstairs to sleep for days. Damned unfair that I woke up.

Years ago, I had prowled around the Enterprise after Spock had died, but that was different. I was suffering from carrying his katra then, although I didn't know it. God, what I would give to be carrying Jim's soul now.

Jim, don't take this wrong, but I'm so pissed at you for going first. I lived through Spock dying. I didn't need this heartache.

I should've been there, Jim. I could've gone down to those survivors -- I'm the doctor after all. And then Chekov would've been free to help you... and maybe he'd be dead now too. Ah, hell.

Maybe I should've stayed with Spock earlier, but he had been stubborn. I had told him everyone was here now, all gathered downstairs. I tried to talk him into going with me, but he wouldn't. "You go," he had said, rigid control in every bit of his body and voice. "It will help you."

But I was just as stubborn, and tried to drag him along. When that didn't work, when I saw how much he was suffering, I had volunteered to stay with him. I had said I needed the quiet. A ghost of his old attitude had risen in his voice. "Doctor, your attempt at subtly is weak. You are fooling no one. Go downstairs. We are not admitting a weakness to say we need different things in our mourning."

He had been right, so I had left after a few more minutes. But now, maybe I'd go back, sit around Spock's quarters, complain about the heat he'd have in there, or anything else I could think of. Couldn't complain about Spock, of course, not now. Carrying his katra like I did, I knew his thoughts and his feelings -- even if he wouldn't admit to them. And that's the catch; he may not come clean about having emotions, but I knew things like -- well, like how much his friendship with Jim meant to him. So I couldn't prod him about being in denial, not even in jest, because I knew. I never realized how much of my relationship with Spock was about me prodding him over something until now when I couldn't.

But going back to his quarters gave me something to do, someplace to go! Anywhere was better than layin' in bed, tormented by missing Jim... and the room spinning.

I turned the corner to Spock's room to see Uhura was just getting there herself. "Beautiful lady, you should be asleep."

She smiled, and it was almost as bright as usual. Almost. "Sweet talker, so should you."

"I was."

"So was I."

I nodded in understanding. It hurt my head. "And now we're here because we both know Spock's the one person guaranteed to be up."

Uhura shook her head. "I don't know about that, but I wanted to see. I'm looking in on everyone. And I thought I'd check on Saavik."

That made me stop, just before the door sensor signaled Spock. I had forgotten about Saavik. I really must have drunk a lot, because I had been surprised to see her, before I shook my head at myself. Of course she'd come, although I don't know how she got permission. All sorts of ships and people were here -- Janice Rand had just gotten in with Sulu. Poor thing, she was devastated. -- but Aerfen's orders kept it on patrol. Saavik probably just went total Vulcan stubborn -- that Romulan glare she can put behind her eyes always helps, not that she'd admit that -- until Captain Hunter gave her leave just to get rid of her.

"Saavik! Good! Just what the doctor ordered!" I had been slightly embarrassed because my words slurred. "Get upstairs, and do some pointed ear thing before Spock collapses." I cringe now to think I said that. She had hesitated, obviously caught between bolting upstairs and wondering if she should do something for the rest of us. Sweet of her.

Uhura ended that conflict. "Thank you, but we're here for each other. You're needed upstairs." Something passed between the women, I don't know what. I understand women less than I do Vulcans.

She looked around one more time and Chekov, bleery eyed as he was, noticed her for the first time. He called out something -- "Dvun!" -- I think. Whatever it was, it settled Saavik and off she went, fast.

And I got so caught up in my own blubbering, I hadn't thought about her or Spock or anyone until now. I shot Uhura a guilty look, wondering if she realized my negligence. Some doctor: she was seeing to everyone's well being more than I was.

So we let the door signal we were there, but we got no answer. "What the hell is taking so long?" And then I wondered, just wondered, if we were interrupting something. After all, like I said, I knew everything about Spock up to the moment he died, including that time when he touched Saavik and his male psyche got a jolt. And it didn't take a genius to figure out something happened on Genesis, just someone who knew about pon farr and that Saavik, even if she didn't know we were on the way to the rescue, would never let Spock die. They had been different ever since; well, once Spock got his mind back in order. And then Valeris caused that big old scar, goddamn her -- got her family to use their influence and cancelled Saavik's transfer back to Enterprise, not once, but twice! Well, the second time Admiral Cartwright signed the order; had to make a hole for Valeris to fill, after all. And let's make a real hole -- wanna get close to Spock? Send some phony messages, remove Saavik, and used it all to reel him in. Right under our noses, all looking above board and proper... until after Rura Penthe. I had admitted it to no one, not even Jim, but I had wanted Saavik to really get Romulan on Valeris' ass when it all burst wide open. Hell, somebody should have, especially as we couldn't: officers and gentlemen, and all that.

So I did just wonder if we were interrupting Saavik and Spock now. Let me tell you, if a woman I cared a lot about offered to ease my pain right now, I'd take her up on that pleasant diversion. Hell of a thought to have standing next to Ny, but she was saying, "You're impatient tonight," so I must have imagined that it was too long before the door opened.

"Was I really so obnoxious to say something about Vulcan voodoo earlier tonight?" I asked her.

She smirked, which was the only good thing about making an idiot of myself. "Yes, although I thought your comment about 'only people with red blood allowed here' was worse. That was right after you said you had to catch up to Scotty's drinking."

"No wonder I feel like hell." But then, we all felt like hell tonight, didn't we? And not because of the drinking.

Saavik opened the door, and when she saw us, she stood aside. As I passed her, she tugged her uniform into place. So, she had just been getting her jacket on before answering the door as all proper Vulcans would, and by looks of the computer station, she was working on something. We hadn't interrupted anything. Damned Vulcans; they really have no sense to take advantage of a situation. Propriety, hell.

I looked around the room. "Where's Spock?"

"Asleep," she answered.

Now that really surprised me. "How did you ever talk him into that?"

"By more forceful actions than words."

It took me a minute to get her meaning, but when I did, I could have laughed. It'd have been the first time in days that I did, but then I thought of the kick Jim would have gotten out of the whole thing, and it stole the laugh away. "I'd have paid good money to see that."

She was obviously confused by the statement. "Doctor, no one uses money--"

"Just forget it. It's an expression."

Uhura abruptly said, "I'm glad you're here, Saavik. Spock needed you."

You didn't have to know Vulcans well to see Saavik's discomfort. All Vulcans are private, but Saavik takes that and raises it to the power of ten. I loved watching her get caught off guard, because she can turn this great color of bronzed green. Shameless of me. "How long has he been asleep?"

That put her on more comfortable ground. "I estimate 3.452 hours."

Estimate, she said. "Is he in the bedroom?" She nodded, and I thought of waggling my eyebrows like a dirty old man. Nyota must have guessed that one because she shot me a warning look. She needn't get all touchy; I was only going to do it to make her laugh. Please, someone should get to laugh. Jim'd hate all the crying. I started for the bedroom, but Saavik stopped me.

"Doctor, Spock would not appreciate--"

"I know he wouldn't like it, but I'm just checking on him, dammit!" Brilliant, McCoy; still needing to lash out your anger on someone. "Ah, I'm sorry, honey." I loved her expression. First, Uhura brought up Spock, and now I called her honey. I'd get her to blush yet. "You just ignore me. I'm not in my right mind."

Under normal circumstances, Spock would have a number of replies to that statement, and I bet a few occurred to Saavik as well. But tonight was not normal circumstances. So instead, Uhura only said, "Who is?"

Now her expression was really worrying me. She had been playing den mother to us all night, and she looked ready to collapse. I wasn't sure what to say to make her go back to bed, so I went to check Spock. Fussing over him gave us something to do.

I went into the bedroom, and the heat hit like a hammer. That was when I noticed the outer room was set to Terran normal; that gave me one less thing to complain about. Dammit again.

Spock looked so peaceful; I envied him, lucky bastard. I touched his forehead, but naturally I couldn't sense anything. I don't know why, but I had to know he was okay in whatever trance Saavik put him under. That was a lie; I knew why. Jim was gone; I needed to know Spock was okay.

I said a curse that my parents would've washed my mouth out for. Saavik's eyebrows rose, in appreciation I thought, god love her. She had less hangups about that stuff than Spock did. But Nyota didn't look up at all. She was really beginning to scare me. I knew exactly what she would normally say, even under these circumstances, and she was just... staring. "I left my kit in my room. I don't know what the hell he's doing. Saavik--"

She'd be reluctant to touch Spock in front of us, especially after what Uhura said about him needing her. And after all, she knew Spock was fine. But I guess she figured she'd humor us -- no pun intended -- or she didn't mind seeing for herself, because her fingers touched his temple, and she got that intense expression Vulcans can get in melds. Spock suddenly frowned, even in his sleep, and I swore -- I even looked over at Nyota to see if she saw it too -- that Saavik smiled, just a bit. But it was gone before I could be sure. Out loud, she only said, "No."

"No, what?" I asked.

No mistaking it: those Vulcan eyes were smiling. "He told me to let him awake, and then leave."

So I'd get to poke fun at Spock after all. Jim must be looking after me. "Tell him don't be such a baby."

"I think not, Doctor."

"I'll make it an order."

She crossed her arms across her chest. "I did not listen to Captain Spock when he ordered me out of the room, and you are less serious than he."

"Well, I'll be damned." She was defying an order. At least she knew it was a joke.

"That, Doctor, is not up to me."

Oh, she was going to get cute? "I don't know what I was thinking, letting you play doctor. I'm getting my medkit, and if Spock wants to wake up, he's getting just that."

That would make most Vulcan officers pause, but they weren't born on the wrong side of the Neutral Zone. She went stonewall on me with a defiant hard look that told me in no uncertain terms that I could hit her with the broadside of a starship, and she wouldn't budge. I swore to myself this time: she had taken me seriously. Honestly, how could she get one joke and not the other? Jim must be having a good laugh at my expense, but I wasn't. And thinking about him wasn't helping me at all. I almost cursed her Romulan parent out loud, whoever he or she was, when, at the last moment, I remembered I first knew all about Saavik's so called childhood from having Spock's soul knocking around my head. It was one of the few stolen memories I felt guilty about.

"Lose some of that backbone, miss. You don't ever want to aggravate your doctor. And before you say I'm not your doctor anymore, I can get on the horn to the Aerfen's CMO, and have you getting daily physicals for the rest of your career!"

"That would be an overreaction typical of you."

The standoff might have gone on the rest of the night if Nyota hadn't suddenly burst out laughing. Finally. She wiped at her eyes. "I needed that."

Yes, she did, and I had started to wonder what I'd have to do to make it happen. Thank you, Jim, for sending me a backup Vulcan to agitate when Spock wasn't available.

I sent my own glare at Saavik, and turned for a last look at Spock. He was truly peaceful, even if it was a forced peace, probably for the first time since his mother died. And then everything hit me like a blow: my own grief over Jim, the heat of the room draining me to exhaustion, the thought of that long ceremony tomorrow -- today -- and the speech I'd have to make. "God, I wish I could sleep." I heard no sound of movement, but suddenly sensed a certain female presence near my shoulder, right near the point where well placed fingers could knock me out. I was all for Spock getting real rest, but I hated that nerve pinch. "Get away from me, Saavik!"

Uhura chuckled. "She's only trying to get past you. You're blocking the door, Len."

"Oh. Sorry. Ah hell, I'm going back to my room. Nyota, if I'm not asleep in 10 minutes, I give you permission to take a phaser and stun me."

"Delighted to, if someone will do the same for me."

We reached the blessed coolness of the sitting room, and my legs abruptly would take me no farther. My stomach was rolling with nausea from hangover and heat, and pain pounded so hard in my head, I had to hold it. I fell into a chair, and concentrated on not passing out or throwing up. From some point far away, I heard Saavik say, "Doctor, you are not functional." Oh, the Queen of Understatement.

But Uhura was suddenly by me with an arm around my shoulders, and soothing words in my ear. "Len, you pushed it too far. Come lie down." I felt her try to lift me, and then Saavik was on the other side. She could sling me over a shoulder easily, but maybe she could see Nyota clutching me. They got me to my feet and over to the couch, despite my stumbling steps.

"Ladies, please! Keep your hands to yourselves!" That stupid remark was rewarded by Uhura laughing some more, as I intended, but Saavik still didn't blush. Her controls were getting too strong. Nuts. She did look like she thought I was the worse example of the human species, which was how I felt.

I was only half-joking when I made that comment about their hands. I desperately wanted to take care of Jim's crew -- his friends and family -- not have them take care of me. But instead of taking care of myself by taking a little sedative to sleep, I got drunk -- falling down, dysfunctional drunk so now I couldn't be there for them. I don't think I put any real sentences together, but whatever those words were spilling out my mouth, Uhura shushed them.

"Please sleep, Leonard. You need to." From behind her, Saavik took everything in and I knew she saw Ny's own collapse coming. "I'll take Saavik down to see the memorial -- she hasn't seen it yet -- and then I promise to get to sleep myself."

Nothing I said would make a difference. She gave me a small kiss before she left. It was a peck really, but still very caring. And my second favorite of the pointed ear set got my meaning: she would not let Uhura be alone.

I could picture Jim smiling, laughing at me with that grin of his. He'd say, "Physician, heal thyself." I hated when he said that. Used to say that. Ah hell, Jim!

But that damned Vulcan in the next room was sound asleep, just like everyone but Uhura, and she'd probably be up for only another hour or so. I could rest now, no more nightmares hopefully, and make up for my lack of doctoring tomorrow.

The only good thing about breaking down here was picturing Spock's expression when he realized he fell asleep to Saavik and woke up to me.

 

UHURA

I had lied to Leonard. I hadn't asked Saavik to see the memorial, or even if she had seen it. But it got me out of Spock's quarters without any more arguments, with only a watchdog in tow. It's a good thing I liked this watchdog.

None of that meant Saavik didn't want to see the memorial, or that she had already. No one coming in as fast as she did stops to look at anything. And I wanted her to see it.

It was beautiful. The whole memorial wasn't to Captain Kirk; it was for all of Starfleet to celebrate our service. On the black stone base was a stylized humanoid, neither man nor woman, human or Vulcan, but representing us all. I hoped the non-humanoids understood that. The figure's face and left hand were lifted to the heavens, and from its fingers leapt a starship. It made me proud to wear the uniform whenever I looked at it.

Surrounding it, at a distance to make room for anyone coming to see it, were half walls of slate marble. Engraved on them were outstanding members of our service. It took a lot to be placed here. I would never, despite all my accomplishments, see myself here. It didn't matter. My captain was now here, as I always knew he would be, and his name represented all of us who served with him, and who, under his command, fed the accomplishments that got him here.

I also liked the fact that with Captain Kirk's name and image were the nameplates from our first beloved Enterprise, and its equally loved successor that we served on its entire existence. The Kirk family planned to put in something simpler where the captain's relatives were all placed, including his father and brother. I know he'd like that just as much as he'd like having the Enterprise plates right next to his name.

There was some talk that there were other Enterprise captains and the first plate should be with Captain Pike or April. It ended when Spock said both those captains had moved beyond Enterprise, and no one would ever forget their service. Well said, Mr. Spock.

I thought I'd cry again when I came down here, but I was numbed from all the emotion of the last few days. I felt nothing but a deadened ache heavy in my chest. I looked along the line of the statue: a physical being launching a starship headed towards the heavens. It helped a little. Saavik was over by Captain Kirk's section, standing there very still. Maybe too still. I finally walked over to her, almost not looking at the engraved face in the marble. But seeing it didn't make me cry. I was just so numb.

"What is it?" I asked her. She came back from wherever she had gone to talk to me.

"I did not realize until now that I have not... thought of Captain Kirk." She sounded so pained, despite her controls. "Not even when I first heard the news. I did not think of his loss in terms of his... death."

I winced.

"Not the loss of his life, in and of itself, or what my reaction to it was. I only thought in terms of... others."

"You thought of Spock."

She nodded, and turned away from the wall as if she thought Jim Kirk's picture was accusing her. I thought seriously about what she said. She would reject any fast answer as being too pat. "I knew Jim Kirk a long time." I was already speaking in the past tense about him. That hurt. "I don't believe that he would want us to focus on him being gone when we could be helping each other." She looked skeptical. "Do you remember when Spock died?"

Now she winced or what passes for a wince in Vulcans. I wondered about the 'blessing' of having her memory. Time heals all wounds because it fades the pain, and allows you to go on living. I remembered Spock dying and how much it hurt me, but I don't feel that pain again as I did then. Time has dulled it; I have more the memory of it, then the pain itself. But people like Saavik who can remember clearly to the moment they were born don't have that luxury. I asked her if she remembered Spock's death, and she instantly recalled the pain, not its memory.

"Has he ever said he objected to Captain Kirk's first priority being sure Dr. McCoy was okay?"

She looked back at me and at the engraved picture again. "I see your point."

"Good." I used to sit down right on the memorial walls themselves, never once thinking of the person engraved there. Now I did. I moved over to the actual seats. "You know, I think you're suffering from Enterprise crew syndrome." I attempted to smile. "Everyone thinks of us as a group. And Spock must have defined your relationship with Captain Kirk."

"Mostly, yes, especially in the beginning. It was the only way I knew him: what Spock told me of him, what Spock's impressions were of him. I even had my first mission on the Enterprise without him being there."

I nodded, remembering. That Romulan weapon that stole the oxygen from the air in seconds, Saavik and Spock leading us to that colony world -- Saavik's world -- and James Kirk trapped in a vault while his ship left without him, most likely to be destroyed.

"Later," Saavik was saying, "it changed. After... David Marcus, and after I left Vulcan, there was, for example, the Embassy Ball in Shi'Kahr."

Now I did smile, with good reason. "That was a great night. I'll never forget you walking in the door." The Federation President had visited Vulcan and Enterprise had escorted him there. At the ball in his honor, T'Pau and T'Lar held court, if I could use the expression. We hadn't known Saavik was coming, but since she had been between assignments, Sarek and Amanda had made sure she was invited. I was talking to Amanda when an aide came up to her. "You wanted to know when Saavik of Vulcan arrived." Saavik of Vulcan. It meant she had gotten citizenship, and I knew how much that meant to her. She had glided in the doors, wearing an elegant gown of Vulcan design, and turning quite a few heads. McCoy had whistled softly under his breath and whispered, "Hello, Eliza Doolittle."

"Captain Kirk asked you to return to the Enterprise that night," I said.

She nodded. "I was pleased he did. As I said, it marked a time where we did not relate through someone else. "

"And that was the night when Valeris first saw--" I almost bit my tongue in half. But Saavik never compared her painful loss of her relationship with Spock, or the canceled transfers to Enterprise, with what happened to Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy. I didn't compare them either, but I didn't underestimate what losing Spock must have felt like. After all, I saw what losing Saavik meant to Spock.

She was looking back at the captain's image on the memorial wall. "That would mark another time the captain and I related over something. He discovered something about me, something I might have done but did not."

"I'm too tired for riddles. What did he find out?"

She gave me that measuring gaze when she's trying to decide to divulge something. I couldn't believe it when she shook her head. I thought the two of us were past that. I was on that mission when she had to go to her homeworld, I heard what she said to Admiral Nogura and never told anyone. I was there when Khan attacked and Spock died. I was there when someone decided to kill off the Vulcan/Romulan hybrids by infecting them with a disease keyed to their unique genetic makeup. I hadn't even known there were any such hybrids besides her and five were already dead by the time we found out. Only four hybrids remained out of the original thirty-three in the end.

And now she was going to say to me, "I do not want to tell you. The captain was very angry with me, and I would rather not go through that again."

"Don't worry about that. I'll understand."

"So did he, eventually, but it took time and persuasion and we do not have that time tonight. It is a mark of his anger that he never spoke of it to anyone. Understanding isn't always forgiveness." My frustration must have showed, because she relented a bit. "If it helps, Commander, I have never told anyone. No, not even Spock," she said, in response to my surprise. That light that means teasing showed in her eyes. "Contrary to popular belief, I do not, to use human vernacular, run to Spock with every little thing. Although, I do believe he discovered it for himself. Amanda did."

"And were they disappointed?"

She gave her answer so readily, I knew she had thought a lot about it. "Spock... knows me. He might be more willing to excuse it. He has seen worse in me. Amanda... forgave it, most likely since I, as I said earlier, never went through with the action." She paused, lost in thought. "However, at first, she looked at me as if I was someone she never knew."

"That must have hurt."

"Yes." I heard a lot of weight in that word. "Perhaps you understand now why I do not want to tell you."

I felt a lump in my throat, touched by what she said. I was piecing together what this thing was that made Captain Kirk so angry, but those words, concerned about my rejecting her if I discovered the truth, made me push the whole thing from my mind. Someday, she might tell me and I hoped I wouldn't let her down with my reaction. "So, what should we talk about?"

"We do not have to discuss anything. Would you rather go inside?"

"No, not yet," I said quickly. She nodded, supportive of what she heard in my voice, and sat down next to me. She raised her eyes along the statue itself, as I had done, and looked to the sky. Saavik and stargazing: it was a spiritual experience. "Talk to me about something. I haven't seen you in..." I deliberately left it hanging.

"Eight months, 23 days."

"So tell me what you've been doing. Wait a minute." How could I have forgotten? The evidence had been staring at me all night. "Saavik, I'm sorry. I completely forgot about your promotion. Congratulations, you earned it."

"Thank you, Commander."

I tapped the Lieutenant Commander's insignia on her shoulder. "It suits you. You're going to be first officer on the Venture, correct?"

She kept her gaze up at the stars. "That is the current plan."

"I talked to Dannan Stuart today." How bad was I? I had remembered to congratulate Scotty's niece on her promotion as the Venture's captain, and completely forgotten Saavik later on. "She was paying her respects to Scotty. I'm surprised she didn't tell us you were coming."

"It depends on when she spoke with you. It could have been before I left."

"That's true." I thought of telling her that Captain Stuart went to see her mother before Venture shipped out, but they could catch up at the ceremony tomorrow. There it was, staring me in the face again: Captain Kirk's memorial ceremony, Jim Kirk's death. I hurriedly changed the subject. "Speaking of promotions, do you know Spock's getting his own command?"

She frowned at me. "He told me they offered him the science ship Intrepid II. I did not know he had accepted."

"You're right, he hasn't." I paused. "They offered me First Officer."

"First officer?" Her frown deepened. "You have earned your own command."

"You're not the only one to say that." Remembering Pavel's long rant on my behalf made me smile, especially as he was happily accepting the same position on Sulu's ship. "And I was almost ready to fight over it when... Captain Kirk died." I swallowed against the lump in my throat. "And it made me think. I knew staying on the Enterprise had a price, but I wanted to stay. I wanted to follow Jim Kirk wherever he ordered that ship to go. My heart was there. Not that I didn't understand when Sulu left for Excelsior or Chekov went to Reliant, but I also understood why Pavel chose to stay after that, why Scotty and McCoy have always stayed. So now I'm paying the price of being in one spot too long, but if Spock takes that command, I'll be happy to be First Officer."

"I understand."

"I knew you would. It's just a shame Dannan Stuart snatched you up before we could. I'm betting McCoy will take Chief Medical Officer on Intrepid, and who knows who else might be coming. Think of the fun we could have had."

Her eyes dropped from the stars, and she could not look at me. I hurriedly said, "I didn't mean to bother you. You're better off this way. You're an executive officer now. On Intrepid, you'd have to settle for less. I only meant I'd enjoy serving with you again, like the old days." The old days. I was trembling, and couldn't stop it. She was so in control of herself. Why couldn't I have that control?

She was suddenly on her knees in front of me, staring up into my downcast eyes, searching for something. "Commander, talk to me."

"You know what I really want?" I suddenly exclaimed. "I want my captain back, and I want him to walk into a room where we're all sitting, and I mean everyone including you and Janice and Christine and Kevin and everyone I loved being with all there. I want him to come through the doors with that light about him, that light he just vibrated with because he was so alive! He wouldn't have to say anything, he'd just give us that look, that smile, and we'd all go with him, on whatever ship we could, and we'd just go. Not for Starfleet or the Federation, but for us, just because we'd want to."

"I would go."

When a Vulcan makes a nonsensical statement like that, you remember why you love them. I wish I could have enjoyed it more. "But we can't go, we'll never have that, because our captain is gone. Saavik, how can someone so alive die?" I wanted to cry. I wanted that dam inside me to burst so I wouldn't have this heavy weight in my chest.

She was watching me intensely. I knew she was judging whether she should let me rant or stop me before I was hysterical. Was I hysterical? "Commander--"

I didn't let her finish. I couldn't. The dam may be holding back my tears, but words were unstoppable. "Pavel is so angry, but that's Pavel. He's so passionate about everything, he's never anything in the middle. But I worry he's blaming himself too much. He used to say Spock's death was his fault because he didn't remember about Ceti Alpha 5 in time. Now he's putting this on himself too."

"And Scotty's heart is broken. He based himself on being able to make Enterprise do whatever he wanted, things nobody else could do especially in the little amount of time the captain always gave him. But he couldn't do it this time; he couldn't make that ship dance under his fingers and Captain Kirk died because of it. That's what he thinks. I can see it in him."

"And Sulu is so withdrawn, I'm afraid he's hurting inside and won't let it out. He acts like he can't let it out, like he has to fill Captain Kirk's place and somehow lead us out of this. He's with his daughter now, and I know she needs him, but he can't find any release with her because he's too afraid she'll take the blame. Poor Demora. It was her ship where her father lost the man he revered most."

"And you've seen Spock and Dr. McCoy, and now look at me. Our captain is gone and we're falling apart without him."

"You are not falling apart." Her voice was very firm. "You have all successfully gone in different directions before this even happened. You are grieving, Commander, and you will get through this. As you told me when I arrived, you have each other to help."

I shook my head and clasped my hands together to control the trembling. "No, I thought we could, but now... I thought I could take care of them, see them through this, but look at me."

"You have looked after the others to the point of neglecting yourself. "

"I-- I--" The shudders were worse, which she saw, of course.

She stood up. "We need to go inside. You are suffering from exhaustion."

"No, I'm just cold, really. It's from sitting on this marble." I jumped to my feet. I had to keep talking. I couldn't go upstairs to that empty, lonely room. "I wasn't ready to face this, that's what it is. You'd think we'd be prepared to lose one of us. I mean, how many Genesis waves can there be? We tell class after class how important it is to face death, and we're not ready to do it ourselves."

"You are being too harsh. You are grieving, Commander. If you spent every day since Spock's fal tor pan reminding yourself that someone else would die, do you think you would not grieve for Captain Kirk now?"

"I don't know. Yes, of course I would, but maybe I'd handle it better. Don't look at me like that. I know watching everyone, everyday, wondering if today's the day they'll die, isn't the way to live. But I'm stuck here, hurting, wondering if I told him enough how much I admired him, how much he meant to me. Did he really know? I want to go back and have the chance to tell him, and I want to make sure he knew. And maybe if I beat that into my head enough, I'll make sure I tell everyone else before I lose them, or before I'm gone and never have the chance to say it!"

"An admirable idea, but I am sure Captain Kirk knew how you felt about him. After all, you do not doubt what you meant to him, and I do not believe he spoke to you immediately before his death."

"Don't mock me." She wasn't, but I lashed out at her anyway. I saw other people do this, say things they don't mean, spewing out pain on whoever is near them. I had suddenly looked at her with that cool veneer, and it made me angry. Why was everyone out of control and she wasn't? "You should do exactly what I just said. You're supposed to be the one that's so blunt. I know for sure you've never told me, or any of the rest of us. Maybe you just don't care."

"Commander, I was not mocking--"

"Did you ever tell Amanda what she meant to you? Or was that part of her not knowing you?"

"...Commander, you have misunderstood me."

"And what about Spock? Have you ever told him? Or are you going to wait until he dies again and cry because you missed the chance?"

She went absolutely rigid, and her face turned to stone, even more than the calm expression that Vulcans usually have. It snapped me out of my anger. I called her name, pain and apology wrapped up into it, and reached out, damning the convention of not touching Vulcans, and damning me as well. I could have slapped her in the face will all my strength and not have caused one millionth of the pain I just did.

Does it help? Making someone hurt as much as you do?

She stepped back from my outstretched hand, and I let it fall. She always removed herself, always kept a distance that very few people could breach, and I had hurt her now. Just when she was open towards me, trying to help, I had attacked in places she was most vulnerable. I called her name again. "Saavik, please!"

Her jaw stayed clenched and her eyes carefully neutral. I didn't reach for her again, but I didn't back away. She stared at me, it seemed like forever, and then finally she relaxed minutely. Her expression was more normal, but what she said next bit each word out deliberately, as if she evaluated each one to make sure nothing got out that wasn't controlled. "You did not mean what you said."

"I didn't mean to hurt you, no. I only... I don't know... used you as a Wailing Wall? I know it was wrong, but--" I rubbed my hands over my face and left them there. "I needed to hit something, maybe, and I picked... you. I'm so sorry, Saavik."

She nodded, slightly, still drawn away from me. I leaned back against the statue, my eyes shut tight against its spotlights. She spoke, and sounded so far away. "I am not helping you, Commander. Perhaps I should--"

"Don't go." My voice was small, and lifting my head seemed the hardest thing to do. I took a look at myself and came to the same conclusion she did.

"Commander, you need to go inside immediately. Your fatigue is reaching a dangerous level."

I shook my head insistently. "No, I'm fine."

She moved next to me, her eyes narrowed as she looked at me. Then, comprehension dawned and finally the last stiffness drained out of her. I knew she had figured it out. "You are afraid to be alone."

"I-- Can you understand that?" She was always alone; could she conceive being afraid of it?

"Yes. I understand." And then, as if she had heard my thoughts, "My being comfortable with being by myself does not mean I want to be lonely."

My legs were folding underneath me. I tried to make it look like I wanted to plop down on the ground. "I'll stay here for a little while longer, then I'll go back."

"Nyota! Come. With. Me. Now." That voice would brook no argument. I know, I've used that voice on many a junior officer. "We are going inside." I refused to get to my feet, and then her hand was on my arm, lifting me; like her voice, it would take no argument. "I promise not to leave you alone. Trust me."

No matter how bad I was, I had no argument for that. She was holding me up on my feet, steering me back inside. It almost felt good to have someone lead me, and she was keeping behind me so, to passersby, I looked like I was under my own power. She was right; I was bad off. I usually hated having to be taken by the hand instead of taking care of myself.

The lift doors opened on my floor and I already dreaded going back to my lonely room. I knew Saavik meant it when she promised to stay with me, and that meant a lot. But I wanted... oh, I don't know what I wanted.

We turned the corner and suddenly, there was Sulu. He stood straight, all quiet strength and stability, an oasis in the midst of my misery. And then I saw the redness rimming his eyes. That stoic Hikaru had cried, had finally found that release and wasn't afraid to show it, finally broke the dam inside my chest. I ran into his waiting arms and buried my face in his chest. He was warm and solid, and I weeped in deep, wrenching sobs, cleansing myself of the hysteria.

I felt him lift his head and look over my shoulder. Saavik. I had left her there; after her promise not to leave me, I left her. But I turned in Sulu's arms as he spoke, "Thank you, Saavik."

I repeated his words and she nodded once, gravely. She left us even as I started to say more, but Sulu interrupted me.

"Come on, Mother Hen," he said gently. He steered me towards my own room and surprisingly followed me through. I didn't see anyone else, but Sulu called out, "Found her."

Pavel and Scotty rushed into the sitting room and they both gave big sighs of relief when they saw me. When did they wake up? I had checked on them before going to see Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy.

I pulled away from Hikaru just as he pushed me towards the other men who I embraced just as eagerly as I had Sulu in the hall. "Ye had us scared, lass," Scotty whispered.

I took my arm from Pavel and hugged Scotty once more. "I didn't know you were looking for me. I thought you were asleep."

"Ve vere... once." Chekov sighed once more and his shoulders slumped.

"And it's time we were again," Sulu ordered firmly. A hand in the small of my back once more nudged me, this time towards my bedroom. I paused in the doorway to turn back to these friends I loved so much. To my surprise, they weren't leaving but taking sleeping positions on the couch, chairs, and floor. Tears welled again as I watched them settle down and call goodnights to each other and to me. I wasn't going to be alone.

I lay down in my bed, keeping the door open so I could see them. We had prowled the night, unable to rest while one of us was awake and in pain. Saavik enabled Spock to sleep which made McCoy okay. I fretted until I saw Leonard was all right, and the other men hunted for me, collapsing now that we each could finally see the other was fine. On the Enterprise, our captain would prowl the halls when his crew was in trouble. In his absence, we had done the same.

I got up, carrying a pillow and blanket with me to the other room where I set myself on the floor and was lulled to sleep by the men's even breathing.

 

SAAVIK

I had little time left. I returned to Spock's quarters after leaving Commander Uhura and Captain Sulu, and found him still sleeping, the mental block against the pain still strong. It would gradually fade, awakening him, and the paid would return. But he would be better. If he had not just completed a taxing mission, if he had ever faced Amanda's loss and what it meant to him...

I was not criticizing him; only stating facts. I was hardly in a position to criticize another's actions anyway. Even only accounting for what I had done since arriving here, I had refused Spock's request to leave him alone, twice; touched him, twice; heard his thoughts by brushing his consciousness with my own; rendered him unconscious; and touched his mind without permission to put in the mental block.

No, I could not criticize. And I had more to account for than what had happened since I arrived. I thought of leaving a note to explain, but decided against it. I had already asked him to forgive me.

I checked on Dr. McCoy in the other room. He slept heavily, undisturbed by any painful memories as he apparently was plagued with earlier tonight. Perhaps he only needed to see Spock and the rest of the crew settled; perhaps that was all any of them needed.

I quickly scanned the list of departing ships that I had on the computer. The ship I needed, and had discovered when Dr. McCoy and Commander Uhura came in earlier, was on schedule.

I now spared a few more moments to return to the memorial, and kneeled down at Captain Kirk's section. The memory of Commander Uhura's expression as she looked at this same spot was still strong, her wanting to say to Captain Kirk what she told me, as if he could hear her when she spoke. Perhaps this was part of being human, having a strong desire to tell your last thoughts to the one departed.

I do not understand such a gesture, and I am not at all human. However, Commander Uhura seemed adamant about it, and I was still pained that I had thought only of Spock and of arriving here. It seemed wrong. Plus, my own fatigue was beginning to grow, and a moment in quiet meditation would be beneficial.

It was still awkward. I could not see how one went about this. But this whole experience rang with awkward thoughts as I tried to decide what I would tell Dannan Stuart about tonight. And organizing those thoughts made me see how much James Kirk would have enjoyed it all. I could see us -- he, Dr. McCoy, Spock, Amanda, Sarek, and I -- as we sat in the home on Vulcan while I recovered from the hybrid killer's disease. Amanda asked to hear different stories as she told some of hers and Sarek's. Even Spock told a few. It was a different experience for me, and I was not as good as the others because I did not know how to tell anything but bare facts.

But this was a story Captain Kirk would want to hear, and he was one of the few people I could tell it to without disapproval. I may not have consciously thought of him, but my actions certainly spoke of his memory and what I had learned from him.

And so, Captain, if the equivalent of a katra in humans can hear me, this is the account of the most illogical thing I have ever done.

I was on the Aerfen, preparing for my departure and my successor's arrival, when I heard the news of your death. Only the reports came from other ships and were confused at that point, one coming in after another, and conflicting with the one before it. We heard Enterprise was destroyed, then that only Captain Harriman was dead, followed by a report that you, Captain Scott, and Commander Chekov had died. At one point, another ship told us Spock and Dr. McCoy had gone with you after all, and were lost with the others. I... cannot discuss my thoughts when I heard that rumor.

Captain Hunter ordered our comm officer to clear all channels to await official word from Starfleet. With Dannan Stuart already on her way to Earth, the captain was concerned she'd hear about Mr. Scott's death and it might be untrue, as it turned out to be.

The official report did come in, and in its wake, no one said anything. The engineering officer on duty even slammed his boards with his fists, cursing its noise. Captain Hunter stood in the middle of us all, in front of her command chair, with no expression. She then addressed the crew through ship's hail and announced your death. She signed off, and sat, very still.

I heard sobs and cries that it was not true. I believe, that after all the rumors, many of us thought the whole incident would end in being nothing, making your loss doubly hard to hear.

Some argued that this could not happen on a routine cruise. I was not one of them. My first mission came in the middle of a routine tour of the Enterprise. Another during a routine mapping mission, and Khan's attack during my final training cruise. I do not believe in routine.

I realize I must correct myself on one matter: I did think of you at this point. I thought how fortunate you were in the manner of your death. I believe you would have picked exactly this if you could: you and a part of Enterprise joined swiftly and painlessly forever to the stars. I hope my death will be similar.

When the orders came for the ships routed to Earth for the memorial ceremony, and Aerfen wasn't one of them, I requested permission for myself to come. Captain Hunter also requested for herself, but both requests were denied. I stayed in her office as she complained -- complaints that only grew worse when she discovered many requests were being rejected because some in the Admiralty and the Federation Council pushed their petitions through. Not because they knew you, but because they wanted to be part of a high recognition ceremony. That bothered me greatly, but I kept quiet while Captain Hunter was vocal enough for everyone.

It was at that moment we were contacted about my replacement. Because of the rearranging of ships' schedules, Lieutenant Thorav needed transportation to the Aerfen. Captain Hunter dismissed this at first, and then her expression changed. It was one you would recognize, Captain Kirk. It was the one you told me to look out for when I was assigned to the Aerfen. She used it when she thought of something amusing for her and troubling for someone else. To my discomfort, she aimed the look at me.

"I'm giving you new orders, the last orders I'll ever give you," she said. She spoke not only of my leaving, but also of her upcoming retirement. She instructed me to take a shuttle to Lieutenant Thorav; he would use it to return to the ship. I, however, would not return. I would wait until I had to report to the Venture.

If you were here to listen to this, Captain Kirk, you would immediately see the point. I had no orders from the point of giving Thorav the shuttle to sometime hence when I met Dannan Stuart. And as you know Captain Hunter and her pique with people too concerned about rank and position, you know she was setting a challenge before me. I had no orders to go to Earth; however, I had no orders to stay away from Earth either.

That I could even hear her unspoken dare was very... unVulcan. In my defense, I can only say I served with her for a number of years, and recognize many of her behavior patterns.

I... felt an overwhelming drive to get to Earth, I do not know why. I could not reach Spock. That he had walled himself apart from everything meant he was unwell, as anyone who knew him would expect. Perhaps if he had returned any of my communications, or if I had not heard those rumors of his death... Perhaps if I hadn't known that I still put Spock first, before my commitment to Starfleet and the Federation, before my loyalty to anyone else... I might have acted differently. But such speculation is irrelevant. I did what I did.

Again, in my defense, I was only contemplating the whole idea. To do what Captain Hunter was suggesting, I'd have to find a ship to take me to Earth once I left the shuttle for Thorav. To request a ship for Earth, I must fabricate some reason. I must... lie. If I did get a ship, it would most likely not have enough warp drive capability to take me to Earth and then to the Venture on time. I knew a navigator's trick, rarely used because of its difficulty and then only by smugglers -- no, I must correct myself again. Commander Chekov once told me he had used it. He would have the ability to do so. It is called a slingshot warp. Piloting a smaller ship into the 'shadow' of larger one as it is about to enter its warp window will 'slingshot' the smaller ship into a higher speed. Do it correctly, and you enter your own window faster than you could reach with your own engines. One wrong calculation and I would not have to worry about the consequences.

All of it was unthinkable for a Vulcan.

I was in my own quarters, meditating on why I could not do this, when a message came for me. It was text only, no signature.

Spock needs you. Go.

What I should have done was trace the message, and inform the sender of the illogic of coming to Earth. I could list the regulations I'd be breaking. But I didn't. I no longer thought; I went.

And since arriving here, I had to add the list of rules regarding Vulcan social behavior that I've broken, as Spock pointed out to me.

Most alarming is, I would do it all again.

So that is my story, abbreviated. It is illogical, unexplainable, and, by Vulcan standards, unforgivable. My orders did not suit me, so I changed their conditions and, in the process, 'bent the rules'. Not to prove my abilities as you did with The Kobayashi Maru, or to take Spock back to Vulcan when his life was in danger, or any of the other good reasons you have had in the past. I did it because... I felt I had to.

Perhaps I have served some usefulness: Spock is resting as are the others; Dr. McCoy insulted me to amuse Commander Uhura, which is better than his normal prying into my private life; and I hopefully was of some help to her as a 'wailing wall', an experience, I must admit, I don't want to repeat. I am a first officer now; seeing to the crew's state, even if they are not my crew, is one of my responsibilites.

Despite the wrongness of what I've done, Captain, I believe you would have enjoyed it and done the same yourself.

And if you doubt my interpretation of Captain Hunter's meaning, she said I should tell you "Clear skies and Godspeed".

In the end, only two things bother me still. First, I hope I have not damaged my association with Spock. I have pushed the boundaries that we so carefully adhered to since our previous separation. Once I pushed whatever boundaries I wanted with Spock, but since Valeris... I have lost Spock once to death, once to Valeris' manipulations. I do not want a third time.

The second thing I wonder is, who sent me that note?

Now I must leave. I have to reach the Venture on time or I will be AWOL. That is not fair to Captain Stuart.

I wish you peace, James Kirk, wherever you travel now. I am honored for having known you.

SULU

I never felt more unreal in my life. That Captain Kirk was so suddenly gone in such a freakish accident disturbed my concept of a just universe. I knew it'd take me more time to come to terms with this; it wouldn't happen today.

We -- Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Pavel, Nyota, and I -- were in a waiting room, for lack of a better term. We were escorted here an hour ago and asked to stay here. They'd come get us when we'd have to go to the captain's memorial service. I had to admit: we looked a lot better than we had yesterday or any day since the captain died. I could still see everyone fighting back tears, suddenly hit by the loss all over again, but we weren't the broken people that we had been, and rightly so. We were going to walk into that ceremony proud, respectful, showing everyone the best of Captain Kirk's crew.

If I looked down at my shoulder now, I'd be surprised to see my captain's insignia. I wasn't Excelsior's commander today. I was James Kirk's helmsman and I'd stand as a part of these shipmates, my comrades and friends, one last time.

Other members of the old crews came in and out like Janice who stood as stiff as the rest of us. I went up to her first; after all, she was my communications officer and a close friend. But I saw in her the same resolve that I had: we were here like everyone else, someone who had served on Kirk's Enterprise.

Winston Kyle came in with her. He had also served with Pavel on Reliant, and they clasped each other's hands in sharing the loss of another captain. I heard rumors that Kyle would be the upgraded Reliant's captain soon, having stepped up to first officer when Pavel choose to return to Enterprise. Pav might have regretted that decision once or twice, but not today. Today he's glad he got to serve with Captain Kirk right up to the end.

Christine Chapel came in looking as exhausted as I felt, but for different reasons. In some ways, Chris went further than any of us. Head of Starfleet Medical's Relief Service is a huge accomplishment and she earned it. But it meant she had to orchestrate the chaos from Enterprise B, their own casualties and the rescued survivors. And yet, I envied her. She had something to keep her busy during all this.

I saw her husband and their children -- originally just his from a previous marriage -- waiting respectfully in the hall. That was another thing; she, McCoy and I were amongst the few who had a family.

She hugged us all, Uhura a little more tightly and McCoy the longest of all. She looked him over critically, and then her face split into a tolerant smile. "Doctors make the worst patients. You pushed yourself too far."

"Tell me something I don't know," he grumbled.

"You look pretty good despite the hell you probably put yourself through."

"Okay, I didn't know that. I thought I looked as bad as I felt. Now stop nagging me." He grabbed her in another hug and whispered, "And thanks."

"Of course, Len. Always." She respectfully only reached out a hand to Spock, which is more than any other visitor had done, and he surprised everyone, including her, by taking it in both of his as he listened to her condolences.

I wandered around the room after that. At one point, I heard Dr. McCoy confide, "Spock, I'm sorry I ever asked you to feel human emotion. No one should suffer this."

"No," Mr. Spock agreed, his voice hoarse. "No one should."

"At least they're not shoving the dignitaries down our throats. And Chekov's not attacking that Captain Whatshisname anymore," McCoy said louder to Pavel as he paced. "That poor bastard. Took guts enough to follow up Jim on a new Enterprise, but then Starfleet has to screw him over with a half-assed ship that never should have left spacedock, everybody blaming him when Starfleet brass was too busy making PR moves to--"

Good, the doctor had found someone to complain about.

"-- I'll help you take one of them out, Chekov!"

At that moment, guards flurried around the door, hurrying to open it and then get out of the way. The doctor cursed. "I spoke too soon. The parade of the damned dignitaries is here." In the next breath, he tried to eat those words before sensitive Vulcan hearing picked them up as Ambassador Sarek walked in the door. But despite the fact he was scheduled to speak at the memorial service, Sarek was here as family, not a dignitary.

"It is kind of you to come, Father," Spock said and we all echoed the sentiment.

"It is only logical," Sarek replied. "Captain Kirk was a man I respected and to whom I owed my son's life. I would be remiss if I was not here and if I did not see how you were faring."

"I am... maintaining, Father."

That was a huge thing for Mr. Spock to admit. Sarek nodded gravely and said something in Vulcan. I moved away to give them privacy.

I really liked Sarek. I admired his skills, his accomplishments, and his sense of honor. That made it even harder to see he and Spock battle each other over the years. Everyone could see how important they were to one another. It was such a shame to see them walk on eggshells around each other since the Lady Amanda died. That loss should have brought them closer -- like losing Captain Kirk tightened our group -- not put them on these polite terms, so afraid to cause a rift.

Fathers and sons; I was glad I had a daughter. She and I had enough tough times.

I missed Demora. I wished she was here like the other family members, but she was caught between being my daughter and a member of the new Enterprise where James Kirk had died. The press made it worse by splashing the image of her holding that dead crewman in every newsfeed. She hadn't said anything to me, but I knew that dead man meant more to her than just a shipmate. I'm her father, I know her, and I'm a man who's lost lovers. Her silence told me just as much as any words.

I saw Dr. McCoy withdraw in himself. I wondered if he was thinking about the captain or maybe missing his daughter. Probably both. But he looked up, saw me, and managed a weak smile. "You holding up, Sulu?"

"As good as anyone, I guess."

He snorted."That's not saying a lot." He clapped a hand on my shoulder and we went over to where Chekov was muttering to Scotty who was scowling fiercely, and Uhura was doing her best at soothing them both. "Looks like a storm is brewing," McCoy said and speeded up.

Pavel was frowning, but as soon as he spoke, I realized it wasn't as bad as we thought. "Vhy keep us in here? Do they think this is helping?"

I agreed. "I'd rather be out there myself, I don't care how bad it is."

"That's the problem with formal functions," McCoy said. "They're organized to death."

My insides tightened at that last word, everyone probably did including Dr. McCoy. Death. Sitting in this room, having nothing to do but think about it, tensely waiting until we could join the memorial service, added tension to our grief.

I just noticed that Nyota had an arm slipped through one of Scotty's, and that he wasn't responding. Right now, he looked as old as... Sarek, who was in his last years of middle age. It hit me hard. I had been thinking so much about mortality lately, and this was a painful reality. We who had started as Mr. Spock's contemporaries were passing him and becoming his father's. Well, soon.

Scotty finally lifted his eyes to Dr. McCoy, who had noticed what was going on when I did. "I only called him Jim one time, just once in all those years. Why, Leonard?"

The doctor thought for a moment, and then smiled as softly and sadly as Scotty had talked. "For the same reason he sometimes called you Mr. Scott no matter how long he knew you. Just because, Scotty, just because."

Scotty nodded and squeezed Uhura's hand. The doctor looked over us all. "We really do need to get out of this room."

Across from us, Christine muttered something under her breath, even though she couldn't have possibly heard Dr. McCoy, and vaulted out of the room. In her wake, I saw Janice struggling with her grief and suddenly knew what galvanized Christine. The doctor smiled. "She has a lot of ties here. She'll make it happen."

I don't know why I suddenly felt tears climbing into my eyes. I blinked them back, taking a deep breath, and got control of myself. But Pavel knows me way too well and reached out to clasp my arm, his own eyes turning red from unshed tears. Even though his "Hikaru?" was discreet, I saw McCoy turn to us. He too leaned in to be quiet. "Stop it, Sulu. You don't have to hold back anything from us. You can let go."

I smiled, weakly, but nodded, and he swung on Pav. "And you, Chekov. Just because you had that green blooded, pointed ear mentor, doesn't mean you have to act like him. Spock has the 'I am in control of my emotions' area covered, so don't you join in."

Uhura whispered something to Pavel, and he finally smiled at her antics. "Spock's protégées," he joked with her.

"We're a long, proud line," she returned in what was obviously a running bit with them. I knew Nyota considered herself a student of Mr. Spock's even if she didn't study with him as Pavel, Saavik, or the others had. She once told me, "I'd have followed Captain Kirk off a cliff like a lemming, but studying Mr. Spock's ways, his control, helped me conquer my fears and gave me strength in conflicts. Someday, I might even tell him."

McCoy scowled at them. "If we're going to discuss the glories of training with Spock, I really need to get out of here."

Chekov grinned at him, then it faded as he spoke, talking like we all had during the past couple of days: a memory that made us smile and then wilt as we'd never see Jim Kirk again. "You know who vould hate this the most? The keptin."

The doctor laughed briefly. "Isn't that the truth? He'd be crawling the damn walls for the third time by now." He sighed. "C'mon, Chris..."

Ask for salvation and sometimes you get it. Someone in uniform walked in, under Christine's baleful eye, nobody I really knew but Nyota made some undefinable noise behind me. Pavel heard her too. "Someone you know?"

"Someone I locked in a closet to clear the transporter room when you hijacked to Genesis."

Apparently our visitor remembered her too because his eyes widened. He deliberately turned away from her as he addressed us all. "We're sorry we've kept you waiting. We had a difficult time getting Captain Kirk's nephews and the rest of the family past the media, so it caused a delay. We'll be escorting you in shortly." He rushed out.

"Poor kids," Scotty said, but McCoy shook his head.

"Kids? Scotty, Virgil Kirk is -- what? In his late forties? And Marcus--"

"Ye knew what I meant."

Uhura's former victim backpedaled into the room, talking to someone obviously determined to get in. And then across the threshold was Dannan Stuart, Scotty's niece, captain of the Venture. At least, that's what I heard Mr. Scott murmur. We never met and she doesn't look much like him at all. I don't remember Peter Preston well -- I never saw him on the training cruise where he died during Khan's attack on Enterprise -- but I have seen pictures of him. Stuart was more like him: small, fair, and light blue eyes which, at the moment, were annoyed with the bureaucrat blocking her way. As Scotty hurried over to her, the same bureaucrat thought he was trying to leave the room and got in the way, angering Scotty. So he and his niece had one thing in common after all.

Framing Stuart at the shoulders were two of her officers. I knew one of them -- a communications officer that studied with Uhura: Lynne Hoskins, slightly taller than her captain, even more fair in coloring, British, and a mouth that constantly got her in trouble. Uhura thought highly of her; said the other woman made her laugh.

On the other side of Stuart was, according to Nyota who called out to her, Lauren Warfield, even smaller than Stuart, jet black hair, new weapons officer for the Venture, and more of hassle than Hoskins. If Saavik was blunt, and Hoskins flippant, Warfield was a babystep from courtmartial. She had bounced around the Fleet, in trouble with one captain after another, until she found a home with Hunter on the Aerfen.

Scotty wasn't in good shape right now. I hoped his niece could remember that as he snapped, "Why are ye pushin' your way in here, lass?"

Her smile was strained. "Just saying goodbye, Uncle. They're shipping us out early. I can't stay."

Scotty's throat worked, and I knew he was scared. Venture was one of our smaller ships, a perfect test for a new captain. But she mixed in a lot of Klingon border patrol along with her deep space duties, and enough Klingons despised the peace treaty to make Stuart's job that much more dangerous. He finally managed to talk. "Ye be careful, Dannan. Watch yourself. I would nae want to... tell my sister that something happened to ye."

Uhura stepped smoothly in the tenseness by addressing Lynne Hoskins with a small smile. "They haven't decommissioned you yet? Captain Stuart must be keeping you reigned in." She looked over at Warfield. "Both of you."

"Her and Savage," Hoskins said. Everyone coming in looked at us sorrowfully, intensely, but Hoskins beamed at us, and it turned Nyota's labored smile into a real one. "In return, we make Savage push her limits."

"It works for us," Warfield said. "And you gotta love Savage, especially that trick she pulled last night. Beautiful."

I finally realized they were talking about Saavik by the way Spock drew himself up. Vulcans do not have nicknames of any sort; it was considered offensive to mangle a name. But McCoy nudged him and whispered something. Savage was no worse than green blooded, pointed eared, and other such things that Spock had heard over the years.

Still, Dannan Stuart gave both her officers a dark look. "Belay that," she said firmly. Some things, after all, must stay within a crew.

Uhura was enjoying this, but she was the most used to Hoskins anyway. She was grinning back at her former student. "Troublemaker."

It was Stuart who replied. "Please, I already almost lost one officer today." She looked at Spock. "As you probably already know."

As I knew he would, Spock raised an eyebrow. "On the contrary, Captain Stuart, I do not know." He suddenly broke off. "Saavik? Is she in trouble?"

"No, she pulled it off, thankfully. But my first officer," she emphasized the relationship, "had better reorganize her priorities."

Spock had frowned as soon as Stuart said Saavik was in trouble. He ignored everything else. "I still do not understand."

She took a deep breath, and I now saw she thought her friendship with Saavik -- and they'd have to be friends for her to be bothered this much -- was interfered with by Saavik's friendship with Spock. I remembered being hurt that Pavel did not stay on Excelsior as my first officer, but had returned to the Enterprise instead.

But I didn't hear the rest because someone else just came through the door: Demora, looking tired as she swept the room. She couldn't see me in the crowd that had built up, so I pushed my way towards her, calling her name. I hugged her fiercely and she hung on. "I'm so sorry, Daddy."

"I know. So am I." I was, sorry for my loss and hers, sorry I didn't have better words or more to say.

Pavel came up behind me and didn't wait until I let Demora go before kissing her forehead. "No hugs for me?" he teased.

I watched them go back and forth, happy to have my family around me, all throughout the room, even as my daughter said, "You must be doing terrible in here. But at least you're not in that pandemonium outside."

"That bad?" I asked.

I must have looked upset, because she eyed me and suddenly changed her mind. "No, not that bad. They're getting it under control now. "

I wasn't taking that. "Tell me," I said firmly.

She sighed and gave in. "Just some brass pushing their weight around, and some really stupid thinking."

"Such as?" Pavel asked.

Demora looked around and dropped her voice. "They...they put Captain Kirk's --- well, they put the women together. You know what I mean? Of course they were uncomfortable. No wonder they said Carol Marcus refused to come."

And no wonder Demora lowered her voice. She was afraid of upsetting Janice, but at least Janice had us forming a safety net around her.

In the chaos of noise that now filled the room, I knew Sarek had heard Demora because he suddenly left the room, and I knew that whatever problems were going on outside were about to be settled... fast.

Janice came over then, and I just listened to the women talk as I kept a hand clasped in Demora's. At some point, Joanna McCoy did make it, I was glad to see, and I didn't mind staying in the room so much anymore. In fact, in the way funerals were, I half-forgot why I was there, pushing it to the back of my mind.

Sarek worked his magic, of course, and someone else from PR came in asking the family members to please clear the room. Spock and Dannan Stuart had just finished whatever she was telling him and he paused in thought. "Will you do me a favor, Captain? You will see Saavik before I have an opportunity to contact her. Please tell her, she is forgiven."

And he walked away, leaving a baffled Stuart to her uncle. They stood there a bit, awkward, and then Scotty suddenly gave her a big bear hug. Good for him. They didn't say anything, at least, nothing I could hear.

I heard Nyota tell Lynne Hoskins thank you for something, and Hoskins replied, "Not a problem. I knew you needed a smile." She and Warfield moved a discreet distance from their captain which actually brought them closer to us. And I was so busy not letting go of my daughter that I didn't see her contemplating the media outside the door squeamishly.

Warfield did. Just as I was about to say something to Demora, Warfield said to me, "When I get to the door, Captain, say goodbye to me. Make it loud and don't use the name."

She ducked out the door, I called a confused goodbye, Pavel was standing in front of Demora, and the media only saw a brunette woman that I supposedly knew well heading rapidly away from them. They took the bait and followed. Stuart finally came to collect her officers, deduced what was going on, and swept Demora cleanly out with her. I liked her more and more.

Now, we were back where we started. Alone, left waiting, grieving and too much time to think about it. We would be going out soon.

Nyota looked around us all. "I'm warning you now. I'm going to cry."

McCoy nodded. "You'll be in good company." He looked to Spock. "And what will you do?"

As expected, as we needed him to, he lifted an eyebrow. We all chuckled a bit, then went silent. After another moment, Dr. McCoy cleared his throat. "Uh, Jim left personal notes for a lot of people, and he wrote them out as well as leaving them as files. You know how he was about antiques like books and paper letters." He stopped, cleared his throat again, and managed to go on. "Anyway, he asked me to give them out, and I waited to hand everyone here the paper ones. I thought you might like to keep them. And his tape is inside the envelope too, so you can hear... and see... him."

As I swallowed against the lump in my throat, McCoy pulled the letters from a case he must have put here earlier. "I waited until now because... well, we had enough to cry over since we all heard... about Jim... and I... I wanted to wait to read mine later. After this public goodbye. I thought it'd make a nice private one. I should have let you make that choice yourself, but we have a few moments if you want to read them now."

I was already shaking my head, Nyota kissed his cheek, and Pavel said, "No, Doctor, you vere right."

McCoy nodded, and handed the letters out. Some of us couldn't look at theirs at all, even the envelopes with our names written on them, and hastily stored them inside their uniform jackets. Others held on, looking at them, and Nyota clasped hers in both hands before putting it away. Spock... Spock saw McCoy's hand shake with that last letter and put his hand on the doctor's shoulder, steadying him. I thought I actually saw Spock steady himself as well.

"Doctor," he said as McCoy struggled with his grief. "I have the 'I am in control of my emotions' area covered, so you need not join in."

McCoy looked up sharply. "Since when do you eavesdrop?"

"Since the beginning of our association. I find it necessary for my safety."

They stayed that way, gathering strength from their friendship. After a moment, McCoy sniffed against his tears and put the letter in Spock's other hand. "If I had known some of the people were coming here," he weakly complained, "I'd have brought their letters instead of sending them. Like Saavik. I sent her note to the Aerfen. Hell, I don't think I even put who it was from, but I think Jim signed them all. I hope it reached her." He swallowed, and then more decisively, "And I'll take Carol her letter personally. I think that's better. Same for Antonia if she's not here."

Spock merely nodded, letting McCoy talk himself out. Our escort came back in. She took a look at us and must have thought it was a bad moment. It was, but there were no good ones for her to come in. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's time. You don't have to worry about the media or anyone. We've cleared your way through. If you could follow me."

The doctor drew a sleeve over his eyes, I squared my shoulders, and we all started to follow her. But Spock brushed by us, turned, and regarded us all. Dr. McCoy, after a beat, fell in directly behind him. One by one, we nodded and lined up single file. Our escort turned out the door, saw no one directly behind her, and stopped. Spock refused to move, and I saw her at last nod in understanding. She walked out, and between she and Spock was an empty place for the captain that normally would lead us in and never would again.

One by one we walked behind that empty spot: first officer, medical officer, helmsman, navigator, communications officer, engineer. Friends, family. It was time to say our goodbyes.