05:05

Spock walked into the gym with his hands clasped characteristically behind his back. His intention was to relieve some of his stress before retiring for the evening. As he approached the treadmills, he saw a lone figure pounding his feet in rhythm upon the synthetic tread as he turned the speed up a few notches. Spock considered leaving the man to his running and focusing only on his own, buy Nyota had told him repeatedly that he needed to be more sociable. With this in mind, Spock strode to the treadmill next to his captains and turned it on.

"Good evening, Captain." Jim glanced at him for a fraction of a second before nodding, "It's Jim," and continuing his near sprint with his eyes set on no particular object directly in front of him. Spock recognized the captain's disinterested in talking and found he was quite relieved to have avoided the awkward small talk that surely would have ensued if Jim had pursued the conversation.

They ran together in perfect sync for some time, the pace a bit slow for Spock and nearly impossible for Jim, until Jim finally began the cool down sequence. Momentarily drawn to Kirk's actions, Spock noticed the stricken look on his captain's pale face. He instinctively initiated the same sequence, despite the fact that he could have continued his run for another hour, at least, before becoming tired.

"Captain," Spock began, before being cut off by Kirk, "It's Jim, Spock."

"Jim," Spock started again, "You do not appear well. Do you need me to escort you to the medical bay?"

Jim laughed darkly.

"No Spock. I don't need you to escort me to medical. Medical can't fix this."

They completed the remaining thirty seconds of the cool down sequence in silence. Finally, as they stepped off their respective machinery, Jim turned to Spock with the same stricken look as before.

"You know, Spock, I never really apologized to you for what I said about you and your mother. I mean, I know the apology was understood, but you deserve for me to actually say it to you too. I'm sorry. I really am. I know you loved your mother. I know that you feel the same pain we humans do. I'm sorry."

Spock acknowledged Jim's apology with a nod, feeling too uncomfortable to respond with words. Jim began to walk toward the exit when Spock called him back. Nyota would be cross if she knew he disregarded his manners. He knew it couldn't have been easy for Jim of all people to apologize, so it was only fair that he show his appreciation for the apology.

"Cap…Jim. Jim, I…thank you." Jim gave a smile that paled in comparison to his trademark grin as he replied, "You're welcome, Spock." He began to turn toward the exit again when he suddenly appeared to reconsider. He bit his lip, and Spock watched as his eyes became moist with tears. Spock had never seen this kind of emotion from Jim before this evening. Anger, yes. Even fear. But right now, Jim's emotion was one of complete vulnerability and grief.

"Are you sure you are well, Jim?"

Jim choked back a sob asking, "It's the guilt, isn't it?" Spock raised an eyebrow as he contemplated Jim's words.

"Of what guilt are you referring?" The thought briefly crossed Jim's mind that maybe Spock wasn't the best person to talk to about this, but it was too late. He couldn't hold it in anymore.

"When you lose someone, it isn't the loss that gets you. It isn't the lack of sleep or the knowledge that you'll never see them smile or laugh again. It isn't remembering all the things you can no longer do together. It isn't even the selfish thoughts about how losing them is going to screw everything up for you. It's the guilt. The guilt gets you. And once it's in, it tears at your soul. It tears, and tears, and it doesn't stop tearing until it's ripped you apart. Once it's in, it never gets back out." Jim fell to the floor with his elbows resting against his knees and his palms digging into his eyes as he cried.

Spock considered Jim's words and behavior for a moment. Jim had managed to accurately describe exactly how he felt about his mother's death, about how he hadn't voiced the most important three words for a human to hear to her since his childhood, and how now it was too late. He knew that many of the cadets Kirk had gone through the academy with had died at the hands of Nero, but he didn't think that Jim was that close to any cadet in particular.

"I assume you are not simply spouting theories of guilt and grief. Are you considering the loss of one person in particular?"

Jim sniffed and wiped his eyes on the back of his hand.

"Gaila," he answered. "Cadet Gaila. She was from Orion, engineering track. I didn't…I wouldn't let myself admit that I loved her until it was too late. I didn't want to belong to anyone. I didn't want it to seem like I needed someone. That bastard Nero killed her. He killed her just like he killed the rest of them. I never got to tell her." Jim dissolved into silent tears that shook his entire body.

Spock knew the cadet in question; he remembered teaching her in one of his Computer Science classes. She was, had been, a very promising student. In a rare act of compassion that surprised even Spock himself, Spock sat down next to Jim and grasped the young captain's shoulder. Jim leaned into the touch and allowed himself to expel his emotion through the tears that fell onto Spock's chest. Spock simply sat by his friend and permitted his emotions to permeate his calm, collected exterior. He dropped his guard by a fraction and let his own grief fade away as he watched Jim cry.

"I understand."