The author in no way owns the Star Trek franchise or in any way has claim to the characters and entities that are part of it. All original plots, storylines, and characters contained within this work are, however, property of the author, Naelle Annenburg. Use of any of these is acceptable only if the author releases permission.

Note: this story contains sexual content and references to genocide.


Jim should've been able to see this when he'd signed up for the class, and yet it completely blindsided him. Came out of fucking nowhere with a chainsaw trying to fucking gut him. And quite frankly, he might have needed to see Bones about warming his blood up later – it couldn't be healthy for it to be as icy cold as it must've been.

Assignment: in the situation on Tarsus IV, what would you have done differently? Was Kodos within his rights, morally and/or politically, to take the actions he took?

It went on to list the specifications of the paper, right down to the expected size of the font. Jim felt his knees lock as every muscle in his body clenched.

His childhood nightmare double-spaced in twelve-point font.


The teacher was saying something, he knew, but he just stared at the paper. The suggestions offered for methods of writing this monstrosity! They were trying to encourage him to consider whether the victims were, in fact, to blame or defend Kodos's intentions and/or actions or even fucking assume Kodos was innocent. He hadn't gotten out of that hellhole just to make it seem like a simple moral dilemma, even in fucking Morality and Peace class.

Fuck that.

Class was letting out then, and Spock was approaching from the front. For once, seeing the man walking towards him did absolutely nothing for Jim, not even give him the tiniest little unrequited twinge in his chest. Everything in him was retreating, even though he knew consciously that the Vulcan didn't make the assignment – that he didn't have that authority, that his only jobs were to grade the students' work and be there to offer assistance during office hours – but still. Still.

"It is unusual to see you unprepared to leave before the bell sounds," the Vulcan observed. "Do you not intend to join me for chess as scheduled?"

"I'll be there," Jim informed him bluntly, crumpling the assignment and shoving it into his bag along with his pen. He lugged it over his shoulder. "Your room or the rec room?"

Spock folded his arms behind his back, eyebrow quirked, and damn if that wasn't usually a turn-on, as absurd as it was to be turned on by eyebrows. "I have prepared the board in my quarters," he said. "I will expect you at 1500 hours."

With that, Spock walked out of the room, and Jim had about two seconds before Bones was at his side, elbow jabbing into his neck.

"'Hate to see you go, but love to watch you leave,' I'm guessing?" the man grumbled out. "Goddamnit, Jim, and I thought your taste in women was bad. Now you've got yourself a hot date with the pointy-eared hobgoblin. You must be proud."

For the first time, Jim found himself wishing this class wasn't required on the medical track. "Whatever," he muttered, slinging his bag over his shoulder. Bones blinked.

"What is it?" his friend asked. Fuck, now he was getting Bones all concerned. That never ended well. He took a moment to put on his cockiest grin, and then he turned back to his friend.

"I'm gonna need to steal another one of your condoms – you know, in case this does turn into a 'hot date'," he lied, propping his hands on his hips and keeping his mind firmly away from the paper at the bottom of his bag. "That's cool with you, right, Bones?"

Thankfully, Bones seemed to buy it, scowling at him. "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a condom dispenser!" he grumbled. Jim shrugged, walking out of the room.

It wasn't the first time he'd played Spock with his emotions running high. The first time had been his birthday, and the second was the day after Bones had told him about the daughter he might never see again. Spock hadn't particularly picked up on either of those instances, but today he was all but staring at Jim over the board.

Ordinarily, he'd have loved that. Any time when Spock's eyes were all over him was good for Jim.

Just…not now.

He moved his rook silently, watching Spock's long fingers close on a pawn.

Kodos had classified them. Four thousand in one group and four thousand in the other. Split the colony right in two. Sam had assured Jim that they'd be okay as long as they stuck together, and he didn't doubt it. Sam was always going to protect him. Besides, the other four thousand people were just going to get vaccinated, right? The governor had said something about that. He waved at Sarah and Josh, hoping they'd get more to eat wherever they were going.

Jim wasn't entirely sure what pattern his moves were taking, even as he moved a bishop further than should have been wise. Spock's game was always so calculated; at times, it felt like playing a computer. But computers didn't have Spock's eyes, eyebrows – computers didn't question his moves.

Jim hadn't doubted he'd see his friends again, but that evening, he noticed Sarah had left her favorite stuffed animal, that silly little puppy she'd been carrying around as long as he'd known her, at his house, and he thought it was only right that he bring it back to her. So he made his way to the private sector, knowing it'd be crowded and still confident he'd find her.

But when he got there, it was empty.

Spock tipped his king before Jim could realize he'd actually put him in checkmate. Jim glanced up at the man's face, watching his expression change only minutely.


Now that just didn't make sense. Four thousand people didn't just disappear, so they had to have gone somewhere. He clopped his way across the courtyard, stepping over a few discolored spots on the ground. More fungus, maybe? But these were darker, more like drops, and in the fading light he couldn't figure out what they were. One of the doors opened, and Jim rushed over. There was little Kevin, the seven year-old who was practically his shadow, and he looked terrified.


"Ordinarily you would gloat about your victory," Spock was pointing out, eyes locked on Jim's face. Jim nodded, head buzzing. "Is there any particular reason you are refraining from doing so?"

The entirety of the massacre flashed before his eyes the dead and the dying, the voice decreeing this as necessary ringing in his ears, and the feeling of Kevin clutching him and letting out tiny, gasping, horrified screams—

He forced himself to look Spock in the eyes. "I'm…distracted."

Spock nodded. "It does seem that humans have a proclivity to become distracted when the object of their romantic and sexual interest closely observes their behavior," he conceded, and Jim felt his eyes open. "I was merely attempting to project my own interest back to you."

Despite the lurch in his stomach at having this conversation now, Jim couldn't help but take a deep, nervous breath. "You're trying to…seduce me?"

"Indeed," Spock confirmed. "Is it working?"

The Vulcan was a touch-telepath, he remembered, and in his current state of mind…well, even if Jim was in the mood to have sex, letting Spock feel what he was feeling would be a major mood-killer. He nodded, looking him in the eye.

"Dinner, movie, maybe dessert – and then more. But only then," Jim informed him, and when Spock raised an eyebrow, he cleared his throat. "Look, I—I need time to adjust. So. We'll have a date before we have sex. That way it doesn't feel so…sudden."

Spock reset the board slowly. "I will be free for dinner tomorrow," he informed him. "Will this be acceptable?"

"I'm not rejecting you," Jim ground out, reading between the lines as best he could with Spock. "It's just that today isn't a good day, and I want to have you for more than sex. And yes, tomorrow is acceptable."

Spock turned the board so that the black pieces were in Jim's possession. "You will pick me up outside my office ten minutes after hours are over," he said simply, neither an order nor a request – more like a belief that that was what would happen. And frankly, Jim would make it happen no matter what it cost him. Spock moved a knight. "Your play."

Bones was good enough not to ask right away when Jim stomped over to his stash and yanked out a bottle of brandy, instead merely sighing, scooting away from his desk, and pulling glasses out of his drawer. Jim poured them both rather heaping glasses and downed his in three swallows. Bones sipped his slowly, eyes following Jim as he poured another glass.

"He shot you down, huh?" the doctor presumed, and Jim just knew he was imagining having to pump his stomach. "Damn it, Jim, I could've warned you. I did warn you."

Jim closed his eyes to the tiny buzz starting to take over his body, ever so slowly, starting at his elbows. Good. He needed this. When he opened them again, Bones was still looking at him. He sighed.

"Actually, I came so close to needing that condom that my head spun like a fucking propeller, Bones," he mumbled, downing half the glass before his friend took it away. "And you know what the worst part was? I'm the one who stopped anything from happening. I told him I wanted more than sex, and he fucking accepted that."

"Hence the drinking," Bones surmised, and Jim wasn't about to correct him. He wasn't ready to talk about Tarsus IV, about holding Kevin and running back home with him and leaving that little stuffed dog in the square. He wasn't going to tell Bones about how he and Sam had taken Kevin in, about the terror and the starvation – and the rescue three weeks early, but one week too late.

They didn't really talk the rest of the night, and when Jim woke up the next morning, his friend had been good enough to leave him a hypo for the hangover. He took it gratefully, making his way through classes, right up until six, when he found himself outside Spock's office in jeans and a white tee.

So what if he was a few minutes early. Spock wasn't going to complain.

When Spock stepped out of his office with Uhura, though, Jim thought he might. The girl looked terribly offended just to see him, and he offered her a jaunty wave.

"Professor, what is he doing here?" she asked bluntly, and Spock raised an eyebrow.

"My personal affairs are not your concern," he informed her. "As such, an explanation would be both unnecessary and inappropriate. But he is here upon my request, and it would be rude to keep him waiting. I will see you in class tomorrow, Cadet."

Jim was generous enough to take Spock to his favorite restaurant (something he only knew from the time Spock took him there, and that had been something of a disaster), a vegetarian hole-in-the-wall place. The staff still looked at him strangely. Well, go figure. He was accompanying the man regarded as the stiffest, most impersonal bastard in town, and it was pretty damn obvious that it was a date. They were probably questioning his sanity.

Hell, he was questioning his sanity. What the fuck was he doing?

They were seated, Spock ordering for both of them, and then…silence. Jim cleared his throat nervously.

"What was Uhura up to?" he asked, fishing for topics. His mind was decidedly elsewhere, and while usually that would mean for some interesting conversation (or, you know, a roll in the hay, so to speak), he had a feeling it might get him pity if he brought it up. From a Vulcan. How messed up was that?

Spock sipped his water before answering. "She required assistance in distinguishing the Vulcan pronunciation of a certain term from the Romulan pronunciation," he explained. "Why the interest?"

"Ah, nothing," he murmured, casting his mind for a reason to have asked aside from 'I don't know what else to talk about'. "I think she's got the hots for you, is all."

Spock's brow furrowed. "You believe her to be sexually attracted to me?"

"Mentally, too," Jim added. Hell, it'd make sense. Shit, and that'd just make her hate him more. Perfect. "I mean, she goes to your office hours every single day. You can't honestly believe she has that many questions, not when she's as smart as she is."

Spock looked appropriately contemplative. "Your argument seems valid enough," he conceded, touching his fingertips together. An odd quirk, sure, but Jim had a few of his own. "However, I do not wish to discuss her on our 'date'. Might we change to a more suitable topic?"

Fuck. Jim cast his mind wildly, reaching for anything that might be 'suitable'. "Uh. Are you allergic to anything, Spock?"

That was brilliant. He hit himself mentally. The Vulcan didn't react negatively, though. "Only the same things as everyone else. Poison Ivy. Strong bases," he answered. "And you?"

"Lots of stuff," he replied, recalling the last time he'd been there. Ah, yes, the tomato dish. That one had taken two hypos to undo, and three days to convince Spock that it wasn't his fault. Good fun, there. "Probably because I was premature. I'm allergic to citrus fruits, wheat, tomato, lactose, iodine, bananas – hell, I'm even allergic to garlic, Spock. Eating out is hit or miss, usually."

Thankfully, their dishes arrived then, and Jim dug in with gusto, glad for the reprieve. It wasn't until he was six bites in (six rather enormous bites; Hell if he was going to leave room in his mouth for speech) that Spock forcefully pulled his hands away from his food, eyes wide.

"You are allergic to garlic?" he asked. Jim nodded, trying not to panic. Skin to skin. Skin to skin. Spock could read him, right? Oh, God, and his eyes were getting wider. Not good. "How severely?"

Jim swallowed. "'Go into anaphalatic shock and die' severely. Why?"

Spock stood, fishing out his wallet. "This dish is prepared with copious amounts of garlic," he explained, sounding somewhat hasty. Ah, yes, and now that he mentioned it, his throat was starting to constrict. Lovely. Spock tossed a credit transfer onto the table, not even glancing at the staff as he all but dragged Jim out, superior strength evident in his maneuvering.

Before Jim's throat could completely swell, Spock had him in front of his dorm (admittedly quite a feat, as his throat's current record for closing was approximately two minutes and four seconds, but who was counting?) keying him in. Thank God Spock knew Bones was a doctor. As it was, all it took was one glance at him and Bones was sighing, moving quickly into action and yanking a hypo out of his drawer.

"What got him this time?" he asked. Spock helped lay Jim on the bed like a fucking invalid.

"Garlic, apparently," the Vulcan answered. "I had not been aware that it was possible to have an allergy to garlic."

Bones snorted, the bastard. Jim made a note to steal more of his liquor later. "He's the only case I've ever come across," he explained. Oh, they were notabout to start bonding over his allergies. "He's allergic to enough shit that I'm not surprised, though. Do you know how many antihistamine hypos he goes through a month?"

"Shut up," Jim rasped over, the sedating effect of the hypo starting to hit him. "I'm not out yet."

"I'm not interested in stealing your pointy-eared little—"

Jim didn't quite catch the end of that sentence, the world quite abruptly turning black.

Spock was good enough not to mention the failed date when Jim saw him next, but then, that might've just been because they saw each other in class. The professor was scrolling through his PADD, Spock lecturing about 'moral obligations' in Starfleet. Nothing too unusual. There was no mention of Tarsus IV or Kodos this time, and for that Jim was quite thankful.

In fact, the only thing the professor even said the entire lecture was aimed at Jim, a minute before class ended: "Kirk, please see me after class."

Jim did as he was told, motioning for Bones to go ahead without him. Spock cleared the board behind him, not so much as glancing at him as he approached the teacher. He wasn't even given a chance to ask what this was about, the teacher glancing at him over the rims of his glasses.

"Cadet Kirk, I did not receive your paper regarding Tarsus IV," he said simply. "You've never missed a deadline before. I'm sure you realize this is unacceptable."

Jim opened his mouth to reply, but Spock beat him, turning gracefully on one heel. "The cadet suffered a severe allergic reaction two days ago. It is my understanding that he was unconscious for some twenty hours straight due to a reaction to the hypospray he was administered," he explained, and Jim couldn't help but feel like he was vouching for him. "It is understandable if he is a slightly late with the assignment."

The professor looked relieved, the bastard. "Ah. That's fine, then. I can extend the deadline an extra day, Cadet," he offered. "Can you complete the assignment by 1800 hours tomorrow?"

His mind flashed back to the square, to Kevin and the declaration made by Kodos and Tom telling him to run, and he swallowed. "No, I can't."

The professor raised an eyebrow. "How long will it take?" he asked, no doubt charitably in his own mind. Jim sent an apologetic thought towards Spock, who had spoken on his behalf.

"Sir, I have no intention of completing this assignment," he informed him, straightening his shoulders. He avoided Spock's gaze. "I've given it a lot of thought," probably more than anyone – I've had longer and more reason than anyone, "and I just can't bring myself to complete the assignment as assigned. I can't see Kodos in that light. I can't defend what he did."

All charity was absent from the professor's face now, hard eyes meeting his. "Cadet Kirk, this assignment is required to graduate the Academy," he stated firmly, and Jim nodded. He knew. "If you fail to participate, you will go on academic probation, following which you will be expelled. I would rethink your decision if I were you."

Jim took a deep breath. "Fine. Put me on academic probation. I'm not doing it."

The professor moved to pick up his PADD, but Spock moved quickly. "I will speak this over more thoroughly with the cadet," he said simply. "It may be that he misunderstands the assignment or its importance. And especially given his potential, it would be for the best to ensure he understands fully before enacting disciplinary action."

Spock shouldn't have been protecting him. But Jim was guiltily pleased that he was.

"Very well," the man conceded. "Have him ready by the end of next class. Cadet Kirk, if you insist on abstaining from this assignment, you will be expelled. Please keep this in mind."

"Got it," Jim muttered. And then, glancing at Spock, "I'll see you later."

This, Jim was pretty certain, wasn't what anyone would consider 'speaking it over'. But then, he was one of those old fashioned people who believed that you needed your tongue in your own mouth to talk, and Spock's was doing its best to examine Jim's tonsils. The Vulcan had him pressed up against the wall of his apartment, one leg between both of his, a hand trailing up and down his side and the kiss growing in ferocity with every passing moment.

Jim knew he should fight this – knew how unstable he was these days, how Spock could possibly feel it – and using all the strength he had, he shoved Spock away.

"Not today," he gasped out, knowing how uncertain he must've sounded. Spock raised an eyebrow, and Jim could see how hard he was. How hard they both were. It could've been so easy to just let Spock get them off; it wouldn't have taken long. Still. "Spock. Please. I can't."

This had to be hurting Spock; he knew it. Being denied sex wasn't the issue – it was being denied the closeness he clearly craved. The hurt on his face – the subtle movement of his eyebrow, the twitch in his lips, things other people would never have noticed – just about killed Jim. But if their first time was going to be bearable for either party, it couldn't be now.

"I do not understand your reluctance," Spock informed him, standing straight and looking like he didn't even notice the state his own body was in. "You have been sexually attracted to me for a minimum of approximately ten months, and you have given indications of romantic attraction for at least seven. Generally, is it not accepted that a sexual relationship is acceptable between two compatible and consenting adults under these circumstances?"

Jim took a deep breath. Fuck. "It's not that I don't want to sleep with you, Spock. It's that I want to make it right," he said bluntly. "I want…to be able to concentrate. On you. On us. Right now, I'm really, really fucking distracted. And you being a telepath? You'd have problems too. So let me have a little time to clear my mind and we can go at it all you want."

Spock raised an eyebrow minutely. "That is, of course, assuming I can convince you to take part in the Tarsus IV assignment," he said archly. Jim shook his head. "You must understand the importance of this assignment, Jim. If you fail to complete it, you will be expelled."

"Then I'll be expelled," he snapped. "Spock, I have principles. I'm not defending Kodos."

The Vulcan breathed deeply, something that was very nearly a sigh. "Think it through again, Jim," he murmured. "I would prefer it if you did not disregard your potential over something so trivial as an assignment. I know you are capable of fabricating an opinion and expounding upon it – more so than any other student of the academy. This would be the obvious solution to your dilemma."

Jim shook his head. "I can't even BS this one, Spock," he said simply, picking up his bag. There was really no reason to stay. "See you tomorrow."

Spock didn't even give him so much as a goodbye.

The next day came, sure enough, and even Bones could tell something was wrong. He didn't pressure Jim for answers, but anyone could see he was concerned. Jim, for his part, was sporting bags under his eyes, mussed up hair, and a scowl that did not exactly echo with joy. He arrived in the classroom, watching Spock carefully avoid glancing at him.

Go figure. Another thing Tarsus IV was going to take away from him.

It was evident that the professor had been informed of his decision, approaching his seat as soon as he'd taken it. Jim looked up with resignation, even as Bones looked on with trepadition.

"Cadet Kirk," the man said simply. Jim nodded.

"Professor," he replied. And then, a third voice boomed out.

"Jim Kirk?"

Jim's head whipped towards the door (along with pretty much everyone else's, he was sure), eyes fixing on a tall man with a patch covering half his face and an open expression of disbelief. The professor straightened out, clearing his throat.

"I see our guest speaker has arrived—"

"Hey, Tom," Jim offered weakly, waving. Tom made it to his seat in three enormous strides, yanking him up and into a rough hug. Well, that was nice. "Been awhile, huh."

"Yeah, not since the rescue shuttles," the man answered. Yeah, even fourteen years later, Tom was Tom. Some things just weren't going to change, least of all Tom's disposition and Jim's long-term memory. "I see you've grown up. You're eating all right?"

"Nice of you to ask," Jim grumbled, pulling away and examining him. "Looks like you've grown up too."

The professor cleared his throat. "Doctor Leighton," he murmured. "You are…acquainted with Cadet Kirk?"

Tom nodded, and Jim felt himself tense. He knew what kind of person Tom was, how blockheaded and straightforward, and that only left one response for the man to make to that question. So, preparing himself mentally, he stared straight ahead, heart pounding.

"Of course. We were on Tarsus IV together," he answered, and predictably the class went silent. Jim could feel all eyes upon him. Tom charged on obliviously. "We met the day of the massacre, actually. He just about collapsed carrying this kid back from the square and didn't let him go the whole time. Hell, all nine of us stuck together until the relief effort arrived. We thought Kodos was going to kill us for seeing everything. If he hadn't died, maybe he would've."

More heavily than anyone's, Jim felt Spock's eyes upon him. Fuck. It wasn't like he needed to say anything. Tom had said it all. Even as emotionally retarded as Spock could be, he must've understood. He was snapped out of his thoughts by a hand falling gently on his shoulder.

"Cadet Kirk, why did you not—"

Fuck it.

Jim didn't even let the professor finish his question. Without so much as a glance at Tom or Spock or anyone else, he stood, yanked his bag onto his shoulder, and charged out the door.

In the end, he found himself hacking his way into Spock's apartment. He'd have to face the inquiry from his professors eventually, he knew. He'd have to explain himself to Bones, too, and watch the man pity him and try to ply him with more alcohol. And he didn't want that. Not now. He didn't want pitying glances or gentle words or even the sharp, bitter tang of liquor.

What he wanted…

He stepped into the apartment and just breathed. He closed his eyes, blocking out all sight, all sound, all physical reality and breathed.

This place smelled like Spock.

This was probably going to be his last time here, now that he thought about it. It was like the professor said: he would be expelled from the academy if he didn't do the assignment, and he definitely wasn't getting it done any time soon. And if he wasn't at the academy, what was the point of staying in California? Maybe he'd travel. Roam. Explore.

It wouldn't be enough, he knew. Earth was already too thoroughly explored. There was no draw anymore.

Jim stretched out on Spock's couch, throwing his arms over his face. He let himself fantasize for a moment about Spock bursting through the door at any time now, demanding explanations and just being ungodly angry. But that'd never happen. Spock would never leave a lecture early, would never search for him here, and most of all, would never burst into any place angrily. If anything, he'd get a stern lecture on allowing his past to compromise him emotionally.

Yeah, Spock wasn't coming.

Maybe because he hadn't slept properly in days, or maybe just because of the ambience – the low lights, the stiff couch, the familiar smell – Jim found himself dropping off, and he didn't even bother putting up a struggle.

He most certainly wasn't on the couch when he woke up. Actually, he wasn't even in the same room, if the lighting was any indication. There was a blanket stretched over him, even though the temperature had to be nearing ninety degrees (good old farenheit scale; Jim was one of the only humans left who bothered with it). When he blinked his eyes open, he found he was looking at a closed door.

When he tried to shift onto his back, he noticed two things: he was definitely on a bed, and there was a warm chest pressed against him that could only belong to one person.

"Spock?" he questioned, barely more than a whisper. He felt the confirmation against his shoulder. "What's going on…?"

A hand came up onto his face. It didn't seem so random, each finger carefully seeking out a specific point. For a long moment, they just stayed like that. And then, so quiet Jim could hardly hear it, Spock murmured, "I would like to join our minds. With your consent."

Hell. How much worse could the situation get? "Sure," he agreed. He wasn't sure about how this was going to work, but—

It was disorienting.

He was still in his own head, but he wasn't the only one. He felt Spock prodding, poking, everywhere at once and still with his own consciousness, and the recognition was calming. He knew Spock could feel his disgust, his shame, his apprehension – and he let him. But somehow, there was also guilt leaking through, guilt and some sort of apology.

From Spock. That was from Spock.

Jim just opened up, letting Spock read everything. His emotions, his history, his every consideration. Tarsus IV. Frank's car. Sam running away from home. His absent mother. Seeing Spock for the first time. The last time he'd been in this apartment—

He let Spock know everything. Everything.

When Spock withdrew, Jim shifted so they were chest to chest, looking into Spock's eyes. "Well?"

There was a long moment of silence, and then Spock pressed his forehead against Jim's. "I recommended they except you from this assignment," he whispered, voice even. "There seems to be a policy regarding those who have survived 'moral conflicts'."

"Great," Jim muttered. After another short pause, he breathed again. "Why are we here, Spock?"

The Vulcan's hands were on his face again, tilting it up so Jim was looking at his eyes and nothing else. "I wished to ascertain…"

He trailed off, and Jim leaned in quietly to kiss his lips. "Yeah. You're more than forgiven."

Spock's eyes were firm on his. "I am here to act as a…cathartic outlet for you," he informed him. Jim scooted closer, daring to blink. "My mother once explained to me that close physical contact could relieve stress in humans, as well as conversation. If you wish to engage in any actions that you feel would act to relax you, I am willing—"

Yeah, Jim was going to have some issues to work through. Fuck if he was forgetting this anytime soon. But for now, he simply pressed his lips to Spock's once more, slow and easy. Nothing sexual. When he pulled back, he closed his eyes.

"I'm going to sleep some of the stress off," he told him, "and you're going to stay with me. You're also going to make me breakfast at 0400 hours, since there's no way I'm sleeping past that. Then maybe we'll have sex. But for now? Just sleep with me."

For a moment, he was worried that Spock was going to refuse, but then the man was pulling him closer, wrapping him in an embrace literally warmer than any he had ever had before. "Very well," Spock conceded.

And for the first time in a week, Jim sank into a mattress and drifted to sleep with no assistance from alcohol or sedatives, and for the first time he could remember, his last feelings before the world escaped him were safe, warm, and protected.