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Through the dimness of the artificial night he prowled the corridors of the Enterprise, his restless feet awakening no echoes in the hushed ship as his catlike tread carried him soundlessly past the quiet rooms where the Humans lay asleep. There was no such rest for him - in his alien mind, his alien heart, grief and a sense of overwhelming guilt struggled for supremacy.
Jim was dead.
This time there would be no last-minute miracle, no sudden awakening from a nightmare - Jim was dead, and Spock could not weep for him.
With his own hands he had prepared the Captain for burial, as though in this way he could somehow placate the demon of guilt that mocked him, refusing all assistance as he closed the sparkling eyes for ever, smoothed the fine hair, folded the expressive hands. Scotty had read the burial service - he knew he could not trust himself for that - and he had stood in frozen silence, his dark eyes fixed unblinkingly on the pale face, certain that he could feel the condemnation of the assembled crew.
Then - it was over. The Humans had withdrawn in small groups, to comfort themselves and each other, but he was alone - there was no-one who cared enough to comfort the Vulcan half-breed. McCoy had paused for a moment, touched his arm, murmured some meaningless words, but he had turned away, afraid to meet the accusation in those blue eyes; that would be the hardest thing of all, for McCoy had been right. If only he could go back, re-live that argument again...
"Isn't there any word from Jim yet, Spock?"
"Doctor, impatience serves no useful purpose. Neither the Captain nor any member of the landing party answers the contact signal, and I have his order that no-one else is to beam down without his direct permission. Nor is it possible to detect any member of the landing party by sensor, as this race resembles Terrans so closely as to be indistinguishable."
"Then what do we do, Spock? Jim's already seven hours late reporting in."
"We wait, Doctor. In accordance with the Captain's last order."
And they had waited. Waited through long, agonising hours until every Human on the ship was stretched to breaking-point, their nerves on edge. Spock himself was frantic with worry, but concealed it behind his usual impassive expression. However much it cost him, he would not disobey Jim's direct order.
It should make a difference that Spock was right, McCoy thought wearily, but somehow it did not. When another twelve hours had crawled by at last, he made his way to Spock's quarters, determined to make the Vulcan listen. His carefully prepared arguments were not needed - Spock had already decided to act.
"Doctor, I know you cannot understand why I do not disobey Jim's direct order; you must accept that I cannot. However, one thing I can do - the landing party do not answer the contact signal, and Jim has forbidden a rescue party, but he did not forbid me to contact his mind."
"His mind? Is that possible? He's so far away, you don't even know where to start."
"I can start at the beam-down point, and scan from there. It may take some time - if I can locate him I will endeavour to learn where he is; be ready to take a note of any coordinates I may be able to give you."
The Vulcan sat, composing his mind and body in utter concentration, before he sent his formidable mind searching for his friend. It was not enough to scan for a Human mind - the natives' thought patterns were so similar to Human that only Jim's own mind would do. He poured himself totally into that search, for there was no other way. After many hours, when even he had begun to despair, came very faintly an answering touch on his mind.
Jim! Are you all right?
No, I'm ... hurt, quite badly, I think.
The contact was slightly stronger, but still terribly faint. May I come for you?
No! It's a trap. The others are all dead... they think I am too... they're waiting, expecting a rescue party... you'd be killed at once.
I have your position now, Jim; I can beam you up...
Hurry, Spock. I must report, and... I don't think I've got much time...
McCoy had already noted the coordinates Spock gave him; pausing only to alert sickbay, the two men hurried to the transporter room, arriving just as Kirk appeared, lying unconscious on the platform. There was no time to wait for a stretcher; Spock lifted him and carried him to sickbay, where the frantic activity bore witness to the gravity of Jim's condition. At last McCoy stepped back from the bed.
"It's no use, there's nothing I can do. He's lost too much blood... I can make the end easier, that's all... "
He swung round to face Spock, the blue eyes hard. "It's your fault, you inhuman freak! If we'd got him back a few hours ago, I could have saved him. You and your bloody obsession with duty! You've killed him!"
"No, Bones." Jim's voice, faint but determined, brought them both round to the bed. "Spock obeyed my orders - he had no other choice. You can't blame him."
McCoy met Spock's eyes. "Sorry," he said gruffly. "I know, I just..."
"That's all right, Doctor, I understand. Jim, what happened?"
"As I told you, it was a trap; the natives already have an alliance with the Romulans... they'll kill anyone from Starfleet who lands there ... we didn't have a chance - they thought I was dead, too. They ... they were watching ... waiting for a rescue party ... they took the communicators, so I couldn't warn you ... if you'd come for me, we'd have lost even more men."
"Don't talk any more, Jim - save your strength."
"Why? I heard what you told Spock. It's all right, just ... stay with me, both of you."
They had sat silently, one on each side of the bed, each holding one of Jim's hands; there was no need for words, each understood how the others were feeling. Jim's breathing grew slower, quieter; suddenly he gave his half-smile.
"Spock, do you remember...?"
His voice stopped suddenly; Spock caught his breath as McCoy leaned forward. "It's... all over, Spock," he said, very quietly.
The Vulcan shuddered, and covered his eyes with his free hand.
That had been three days ago. Now... he became aware of a sudden frantic need to be alone, to conceal himself from curious or sympathetic eyes. As the door of his quarters closed behind him he stumbled to the desk, to sit with his head buried in shaking hands.
The message from Starfleet lay in front of him - he had forgotten it; he read it again with mounting horror and disgust. The Enterprise was his, if he should choose to accept. With something approaching panic he swept the message to the floor. To take Jim's ship - that would be the final betrayal, as though he had callously stolen the body of the only man who had ever really been his friend... the man he had killed.
A hand touched his shoulder, a familiar voice, strangely husky, called his name. "Spock, please ...I want to apologise. I... do understand, you know. You did what you had to do, I can see that. It's part of your burden, as it was part of Jim's.... you can't always act as you would wish to. Forgive me?"
He swung round in his chair, raising his head to meet the blue eyes, reddened now with weeping. And I can't even cry for Jim, he thought sadly. He was aware of a feeling of compassion - McCoy had suffered too. Fleetingly he touched the hand that lay on his shoulder.
"Sit down, Bones."
McCoy sank into the chair opposite, and the two men surveyed each other frankly. There was no need for pretence, for concealment here - each felt the other's grief, and it was almost a relief to acknowledge the shared sorrow.
"Spock, it's been three days; you can't go on like this. You haven't eaten, and I'm sure you haven't slept."
"Have you, Doctor?"
There was no need to answer; they knew each other so well now. McCoy stirred restlessly. "I know, I keep telling myself ... Spock, we must go on somehow."
"Just tell me how!"
McCoy's eyes widened, he had never heard such bitterness in the quiet voice. He would have spoken, but Spock went on. "I was lonely, but I did not know it; I knew nothing of happiness, but I knew nothing of grief. Then ... he... reached out to me; he taught me ... many things - friendship, joy, laughter. I learned ... so much ... and just as I was beginning to - to respond ... he ... left me alone again. He awakened my humanity, and showed me its joy; now I must learn ... to live ... with its sorrow."
"Do you regret it? Spock, I know how impossibly difficult it has been for you; but think - wasn't it worth it?"
So faintly that the doctor was scarcely sure he heard it, Spock sighed. "Yes ... it was worth it. Never to have known him ... but now ...I am more alone than before."
"You are not." McCoy's hand reached out to touch Spock's. "I know ... I can never ... take Jim's place, but ... we both loved him, and he ... loved us both. It would please him if we could ... comfort each other. Then - there's the Enterprise. It was ... part of Jim, it always will be; don't refuse the command, Spock. As long as we're both here, on his ship, Jim will still be here too. It's what he would have wanted - you know that, don't you?"
The dark eyes were very troubled as they met McCoy's. "I know. But ... I might fail him."
"You never failed him while he lived, not even at the last. We need you, Spock - all of us. We need your strength, your wisdom, your ... love; and ... I think ... you need us too. Don't turn back - don't betray the humanity Jim taught you. If you do, you'll be killing Jim all over again. I'll help you ... if you'll let me; but I need your help too. We both owe him so much. Shall we try to repay him - together - by doing as he would have wished?"
"You are sure? I thought that ... perhaps ... you would wish to leave. I cannot be ... like Jim ... but I would welcome your friendship."
"You have it, Spock - you've always had it, I guess. You'll need someone to talk to sometimes, and so will I. Can you trust me enough?"
The dark eyes closed slowly. He had dreaded this meeting, wondering if McCoy still blamed him for Jim's death, if he had only accepted him for Jim's sake. He had wanted - so much - McCoy's understanding. He looked up; the blue eyes met his with concern and affection.
"Bones, I ... "
His hands reached out blindly, were caught and held firmly. The long withheld tears came at last, and he wept helplessly.
There was no need for words - McCoy knew his decision already. They would go on together, sharing the legacy their friend had left them - their love for each other, for Jim, for the Enterprise. And that love would carry them through the long years until, somehow, somewhere, they would again stand face to face.