"She's dead, Jim."

He is the one they ask what to put on her epitaph—she is to be given a traditional Earth burial, as instructed in her will, and not a Starfleet one, but a true funeral, in an old brick church near the bay. They ask the woman's supposedly cool, unemotional boyfriend—fiancé?—and expect him to simply tell them, then and there, with none of the tearful sputtering of a human when a loved one is lost. How are they to know that he is only half-Vulcan?

"She's dead—"

There are no tears, but a strange constriction suddenly makes an appearance in his throat, causing him mild difficulties in swallowing, speech and breathing. He has experienced this before, yes, but it was always… distasteful. As he takes a moment to attempt to calm himself, trying not to look at the two funeral home workers gazing at him in expectation, his captain, at his side—and always there, or perhaps him perpetually at Kirk's, and how odd he should notice that now—answers for him. He doesn't hear what is said, and he does not particularly care.

Kirk tries to steer him away, murmuring softly that they can come back, it's alright, he doesn't have to do this today, but he isn't listening. Words come back to him suddenly, words from years ago, when he had been betrothed to the woman he left behind on Vulcan, the woman whose death caused him only a vague sense of regret as another one of his people gone. He turns swiftly and, still not trusting himself to make an attempt at speech successfully, writes the words so sacred to Vulcan ritual: "Parted and never parted—never and always touching and touched." He finds them appropriate to the occasion, and what a true Vulcan may think of their words becoming the epitaph of a woman who is—was—not Vulcan, was not bonded to a Vulcan, but was—is—illogically… loved—yes, he can admit it, there is no shame in this now, only regret, longing—by their foremost half-breed… well. Their opinions mean nothing to him in the face of this. Very little does.

"—dead—"

The smile Kirk gives him is strained, forced and sad, but comforting nonetheless. He nods silently at the captain in thanks as they leave the tall office building together to head back to the Academy. Both prefer the safe familiarity of the Enterprise, but only Chief Engineer Scott had been allowed to remain during the dry dock procedures. They walk in silence, companionable as it had come to be between them, but heavy with the weight of his grief and Kirk's concern and compassion hanging over them.

It is on a street corner that he feels he can take no more. "She's dead, Jim." There is nothing special about this particular corner. He has never been here with her—in fact, never been here before at all. It is nearly identical to the billions of other street corners in San Francisco, and yet he knows with utter certainty that he must say something now. He does not know what will happen if he doesn't—that is, in fact, not even a possibility that occurs to him.

He stops walking. Kirk takes only one more small step before pausing himself and turning back, curiosity and worry easily read on his face and, though he did not dare look at them, in those warm eyes. Murmuring quietly, "Spock?" and receiving no answer, he gently takes his friend's arm in one hand and pulls him to the side, out of the way of other pedestrians.

"What's wrong?" whispers Kirk gently, knowing that his superior hearing will pick up on the words. Without warning, he feels the urge to laugh, and only his hard-earned Vulcan control allows him to clamp down on the impulse.

Where to begin? There are a great many things wrong with the universe. Things had seemed better when she had been there beside him. Her arms wrapped around him, her lips pressed against his skin, soft and warm, a gentle pressure—all of these things had given him comfort, however illogical it was to feel that way and to indulge in it. "She's dead." The various injustices and paradoxes of the universe now seem to be closing in on him, smothering him their darkness now that the light she projected has been extinguished.

From somewhere in the back of his mind, a small part of him balks at his illogicality. A larger part of him is beyond concerning himself with such things.

He becomes slowly aware of Kirk staring at him, and even more gradually aware that he had been speaking, calling his name. "Are you alright?" he hears.

"No," he answers, surprising himself with his honesty—but Kirk knew he was not, and he owed this man the truth, after all. This was his captain—his friend.

The answer comes immediately, and he should not be thrown by it, though he is. Despite Kirk's… abrupt and combative nature, once you had gained his friendship, he was all fierce loyalty and caring, tender concern.

"What do you need?"

Perhaps it is those specific words, so like a different time, a reminder of similar grief, similar comfort—"Tell me what you need"—she had had to lift herself to the balls of her feet to kiss him—her body had felt oddly warm against him when he had put his arms around her in turn, pulled her to him, and it shouldn't have, since humans have a body temperature that is approximately eighty-four point eight percent of a Vulcan's—

"Spock?"

"I have been experiencing… strange auditory sensations," he admits rather reluctantly. Kirk's face changes, morphs into an expression of cautious worry now. He imagines it is the same look Kirk would have gotten in his childhood, looking at the thinly iced lakes of Iowa in winter, if Jim Kirk felt the same fear as normal human beings. It dawns on him that he perhaps had not phrased that correctly. "They are not hallucinations, however. Merely… fragments of memories. From… when I discovered…" He allows himself to trail off, leaving Kirk to decipher the meaning of that statement on his own. Again, Kirk's expression changes and he marvels anew at the openness of this human's mannerisms, appreciating it for once, though he has no logical hypothesis as to the reason why this is so. The captain looks at him with an obviously tender emotion that he can only call love, though it is not a wholly accurate description.

Kirk does not reply with words, instead deliberately reaching out to take his hand, holding the pale green hand firmly but gently between both of his, suspended between their two bodies. He projects his own feelings of sorrow for this death, his concern for his friend, his love, his hope that things will heal and be alright—

They pull away gently and without warning, but as if by mutual agreement. He feels no better, but more…composed than before. He thinks that some of his gratitude reached Kirk somehow, because the other man's eyes are shining and he receives a quick nod in acknowledgement.

Beginning to walk again, Kirk says with that same steady, but not smothering, tenderness, "Dinner in my quarters tonight?" It is a familiar question by now, and one that he is grateful for, even if he knows that the quarters will not be the same set of rooms he has come to derive strange reassurance from aboard their ship.

He simply nods, knowing that whatever they do will be entirely up to him—many times they have sat in silence, or played a game of chess and often discussed ship's business (with many of those discussions devolving into heated debates on loosely related topics). The silence is again companionable, and if he notices the way Kirk's body seems to come into contact with his own more often than the normal average of twelve times while walking side-by-side, or his own contentment each time he receives a flash of Kirk's emotions—a balm to the burns caused by his own—he does not comment on it, even in the privacy of his own mind.

X

He worries about Spock, it's true. Even now, four months after her death, he worries. It isn't as obvious as it was in the first few days, the first few weeks, but they argue less than they did before that mission. It had been friendly fighting, by then, the two becoming almost affectionate with their repeated semi-insults of "damned pointy-eared bastard" and "illogical, impulsive, irrational human," but by unspoken agreement that bickering was left behind now, just as it had been directly after the death of Vulcan and Spock's mother on their first mission together.

The crew of the Enterprise has been back in space for three months, on their way towards the Romulan neutral zone—a far less dangerous place since the discovery of their sun's imminent death and subsequent destruction of their planet in as little as a hundred and fifty years and their need for help from the Federation—and he noticed Spock seemed more at ease now that they were away from Earth. Perhaps it had been the well-wishers with good intentions coming to Spock almost constantly with condolences, former professors bombarding him with questions and his own former students pelting him with pity—he knew that if Spock loathed any emotion in humans, it was pity.

He sits on the bridge after boring days of star mapping they pause to do on their way to the neutral zone and thinks about how his own relationship with Spock has been altered since that mission five months ago. He had known that the Vulcan was a sensitive person under that impassive mask with intense feelings, had felt the proof of that in the form of a strong hand wrapped tightly around his throat, but it is an entirely different sensation to have those feelings confided in you.

Though perhaps, he thinks, "confide" is not the correct term for Spock's interactions with him. The Vulcan has been more open with him, yes, but never has he said what he feels. His insights come in snippets, brief sentences with references to the other's human mother, his childhood on Vulcan, those of his race he knew that, now, were gone (never anything about her, not yet—he knows it will come and doesn't push). He can never hear any emotion in Spock's voice, but it is always softer, slower and gentler than normal and there is an unmistakable air of nostalgia about these exchanges. He listens attentively, smiles sometimes and nods along, responds with a memory of his own when he finds it appropriate.

His gaze finds Spock at his station, quietly attending to a data padd, occasionally glancing to his instruments, and his mind wanders to that night two days before her funeral. Spock had nearly broken down, then, almost cried that night after dinner—he noticed, with some sadness, understanding and concern, that the Vulcan hadn't eaten much at that meal or any since—and his clumsy attempts to comfort his friend.

They had been seated at the small table inside his temporary quarters, Spock's gaze fixed on his plate, still nearly full, when the Vulcan had begun to speak. "My mother's favorite food was sunflower seeds." For the first time, he noted that there were indeed sunflower seeds in Spock's salad—unusual, and something Spock had probably programmed into the replicators himself. "I found this highly illogical—they provide no significant nutritional contributions." Spock had then plucked one from his salad and stared at it as though it were some form of puzzle box he could not figure out despite all of the collective weight of his intelligence behind his efforts.

"Tell me about your mother?" requested Spock mildly. He had done so, relating to his companion both good and bad tales, woven together to form a realistic picture of what life with her had been like. He was unaware of how long he spoke for, but Spock's attention never wandered from him and neither grew bored. It was some time later that Spock spoke again, aside from his clarifying questions.

"Do you miss her presence?" Spock had asked. The question had caught him off guard, but he quickly reined in his reaction.

Shrugging, he had answered, "Yeah. But there comes a point when every kid has to leave the nest, so to speak." Spock had nodded, just the slightest bowing of his head, in acknowledgement. Then his First Officer had, rather abruptly, closed his eyes to prevent tears from falling. Impulsively, as was his general style of conduct, he had risen and walked around the table to his friend. Laying each of his hands on one of Spock's shoulders, he had said nothing, knowing that between them, words were rarely really necessary. He had then pulled the Vulcan up and led him over to the bed.

He could sense Spock's mild confusion, almost feel it as palpable as he pulled his friend down onto the mattress with him. He had lain down then, taking his friend with him. Then he had drifted off to sleep, the feeling of Spock's eyes trained on him not at all uncomfortable as he thought it may be. Spock was gone when he rose the next morning.

Since then, they have repeated this several times—though he doesn't know the exact number, he was quite certain Spock does—with his Vulcan friend gone come morning and no mention of it ever made between them. It isn't necessary to speak of it—if this is what Spock needs, he is more than willing to give it to him. It isn't pity, but friendship. Besides, he thinks, letting Spock lay in bed with him until he falls asleep is one of the less stressful and strange coping mechanisms he's encountered.