The encounter had been his fault.

If he had stayed with the security detail assigned to him, their eyes would have never met from across the crowded terminal. But Jim was annoyed, and edgy, and so damn tired he couldn't tell up from down: the last thing he felt like was being followed around by a group of heavily armed burly men (and one heavily armed burly woman) wearing the 'attack me I'm wearing a red shirt' aura like a fedora on a runway. He was fully aware that outside the terminal lay a mass of reporters hungry and eager to get their claws into him, but, well, what was more obvious to a crowd of blood thirsty vultures that their prey had arrived than blatantly obvious armed escorts?

Christ, had no one thought this through?

He thought he was being clever. And, okay, he'd admit it, it had been fun to lose them. He hadn't signed up for this shit when he had joined Starfleet. Not the babysitters, and certainly not the fucking press.

He had simply been doing his job, just like he had with the whole Narada fiasco (had that really only been two years ago? It felt more like a hundred). So what if his ship had been the most successful, carrying the longest list of battles won, and the most rescues during the war; it wasn't his fault that the Romulans had never been introduced to a decent game of chess, otherwise Jim wouldn't have gotten away with half the shit-oh excuse him, 'tactical maneuvers'-he had during the past year. But the thing was, he had, and he and his crew and his ship were once again the story of the hour: the war was over, and the Vulcan colony was safe and blessedly free of Romulan occupancy.

Had he known, however, that ditching security was going to entail meeting a set of vividly remembered, and often dreamed about, brown eyes from across a room, he would have willingly stayed with the brute squad.

The eyes that met his were sad, full of recognition and a longing that made Jim's heart feel like it was ready to take flight.

Jim had wondered for months what it would be like to see him again and somewhere in the back of his mind, a bond that he had tried to ignore existed for over a year, which had been only newly formed at the time of Spock's departure, sprang to life in renewed exultation.

Jim told the bond to quit it.

He had expected seeing Spock again to be painful and that it certainly was. In fact, 'painful' didn't even begin to cover it. It felt like he had the wind knocked out of him. Like someone had stuck their hand in his chest, wrapped their fingers around his heart, and squeezed.

The terminal disappeared and the crowd of people disappeared, and it was just the two of them, the way it always seemed to be when Spock was near.

It was so fucking irritating that Spock still had this profound effect on him, after everything Jim had been through the past year… alone.

That even though the bastard had left him without so much as a 'see ya', sneaking off in the night like a serial escapist, Jim still felt the ghost of Spock's body against his, still felt the emptiness in his head and in his arms.

He still felt attuned to Spock like he had to no other… Of course their eyes would find each other across a crowded terminal, of course they would. Jim could find Spock anywhere. Had always been able to, since the moment they met. It was like the direction his body pointed, and his gaze, and his heart were drawn automatically towards the Vulcan bastard by some sort of sadistic gravitational pull.

He wished his Spock radar would turn the fuck off already. Just how much torture was he meant to endure? He hadn't had a decent night's sleep, nor a full meal that wasn't rushed between red alerts, in over a year. He felt the full weight of that now. God he was so exhausted. His soul was exhausted. He didn't feel equipped to deal with deciding what to have for dinner tonight, let alone this.

Fabulous. Fantastic, even.

Why did Spock still have this effect on him? Why?

Why did he love Spock still?

It should have been a simple matter to forget the bastard and move on. People did it all the time when a relationship ended. Hell, wasn't that why Terra had dissolved the concept of marriage licenses and divorce and adopted contracts instead? The only sure about love was that it was fleeting: his own mother and her stream of husbands should have taught him that. And yet, a full year later, Jim still yearned, still longed, still dreamed of those precious few months when he had been so in love he had shone with it. At least, that was Bones's claim, along with the additive 'it was positively nauseating'.

Since Jim had been new to it all, he'd deferred to his friend's judgment on the matter.

But Jim already knew the answer to his own question. Of course he did. He wasn't an idiot. With all of his conquests, all of his sexual encounters, from puberty until he and Spock had gotten together, he had never been in love before. Spock was the first.

Spock was the last.

He hadn't even been able to get it up since then, a fact he liked to blame on the war because doing so made him feel better about himself, and his situation, but he wasn't completely unaware.

Spock had been it for him. And in seeing Spock now, healthy and alive… In seeing those eyes-large, deep and more expressive to Jim than any spoken language-a part of him wanted to curl into a corner somewhere and hide.

Their gazes held forever, though Jim wished desperately he could tear his away. Distantly, he felt his body start to shake, felt his breath hold in his lungs, felt the longing in his arms to wrap around his torso in protection against… all of this.

And then Spock was joined by his elder counterpart, and his father Sarek, and another, elderly Vulcan woman, and then all four of them were staring at him, making Jim feel like he was being sized up, examined.

It was all so surreal.

Jim was able to tear his eyes away, only briefly, to catch the gaze of the elder Spock – the man who had saved him from ice beasts, and melded with him and told him tales of epic friendships that stood the test of time – the man who had then looked at him with equal sadness, and a silent plea for understanding.

But Jim understood the situation all too well. Had since the moment he'd woken up to a vacated bed, the left side already cold. Hell, he'd understood the concept since Sam had run away when Jim had been no more than eleven. In fact, his understanding probably predated even that and went back to the first time his mother had left him to return to a life among the stars (a draw he understood more and more as an adult).

It wasn't as if Spock was the first to leave Jim. Christ. He had long since been used to it. He understood perfectly.

Understood so well, in fact, that somewhere, somehow, he'd mentally fought the pull that Spock had on him and found the strength to turn and walk away.

When the buzzer to his Starfleet accommodations chimed, he could only look at the door with a sick kind of dread.

His crew had been safely escorted to their various families for the next two weeks while the Enterprise underwent repairs: Jim had seen to that, himself. Had called each of his department heads, just to make sure. His crew had been through so much, and they'd risen above it all. He felt more indebted to them than he could articulate, and that meant monitoring their whereabouts while on leave; that also meant that he knew where each of them were, so there was no way it could be one of them on other side of his door.

Goosebumps marred his flesh as he got an inkling on just who would be visiting him at this time of night… an inkling that turned out to be a correct when he walked through the door and his eyes landed on the wizened face of a man he had once thought of an ally and friend standing in the hallway of the 'Fleet housing building.

A vindictive part of his brain didn't allow him to invite the older Vulcan in, opting instead to stand in the hall with him.

For a moment Jim was speechless, his mind pondering over a dozen potential things to say. Though when he finally landed on, "Please leave, I don't really know what we have to say to one another," he was proud that his voice came out even and calm.

Especially since calm was the last thing he felt. Maybe the whole captain thing was finally starting to become second nature, an instinctive impulse even over that of his own temper. Finally.

It was a long road to get here. Two years that felt like a lifetime. He had been so naive when he'd first taken the promotion, even after Nero and the destruction of Vulcan. He had also been far too idealistic. He thought that he was going out into space to explore, to get his name in the books as the 23rd century space equivalent David Livingston or Davy Crockett. Instead what he got was a war.

Before he was even a year into his captaincy, tension between Romulus and the Federation was at an all time high, and there were rumors going around that invasion was imminent. Spock left him two days before the Vulcan colony was attacked and conquered, as if he had somehow foreseen what was going to happen.

The Vulcan's need for privacy during the time when they would most need assistance had been their undoing. There were only ten thousand of them left, supplies were at a critical low, and there hadn't been enough ships in the sector to prevent the attack.

The year that followed was a living hell, a list of battles and supply runs and living by the seat of his pants. Often times Jim felt like a pawn on a chess board; it was lucky for the Federation that he had always excelled at chess.

It also explained why he'd always beaten Sam in a game of Risk as a child. He liked to take risks, and loved it even more when they paid off. He wondered if it would give that bastard Komack even more evidence against him if it ever came out that Jim had likened the war to a board game. It was all in how you played the game, in any aspect of life.

Thus, his stripes were hard earned, though not in the usual way. Most people became captain through years of red tape; Jim Kirk became captain by saving everyone from themselves, repeatedly, even after he'd become Captain.

He would have almost preferred the former route.

"Please Jim," came the quiet voice, just as calm. "I do have a lot to say to you, and only so much time to say it. It was rather difficult to convince my younger counterpart to let me come to you first, particularly since he had meant to intercept you at the terminal. He is extremely eager to renew your acquaintance."

If there was meant to be irony in that last sentence, Jim chose to blatantly ignore it. He was just too damn tired, too heart-broken, even a year later. He was also too loved by the wrong people: those he didn't know, like the public at large, instead of those he did.

"He didn't seem too eager to talk to me when he left me," Jim said bitterly, refusing to meet the elder Spock's eyes. He was almost afraid he'd be hypnotized by them, and left vulnerable. More vulnerable than he already was, that is. "In fact, he didn't even say goodbye, just snuck out of our hotel room when I was asleep without so much as a note. Come to think of it, you weren't exactly communicative either, when I called to ask where he was, just before New Vulcan fell. I believe your exact words were 'Spock is following the path he must,' and then you ended our transmission. I'd ask why you're suddenly both so talkative, but I don't really give a shit."

A blatant lie, this was true, but well, chess wasn't the only game Jim was good at. Poker also came like second nature.

He looked up in time to see the tips of the elder Spock's lips curl, as if he were physically holding back amusement, and Jim felt anger, piercing and red hot, quake through him.

"Yes, I can see that you do not care," the elder Spock said blandly- so blandly that Jim felt the strong urge to hit him. "But in this I will only speak for myself. My counterpart will have his own explanations I am certain."

"Oh by all means, do go on," Jim said sarcastically, folding his arms across his chest. But inside he was brimming with anticipation.

Finally, an explanation. Undoubtedly it would be too little, too late, but well, his curiosity always had known no bounds. And curious he was.

"I'm going to tell you something I have not told another soul, not since the Jim Kirk of my timeline passed…"

And Jim felt his interest grow. He'd often suspected that the elder Spock and his own Jim had been more than he'd let on. Why else would he try so hard to ensure that Jim and his younger self learned to work together on the Enterprise?

The elderly Vulcan suddenly looked up, meeting Jim's gaze unwaveringly, his eyes haunted. "Do you believe that in the concept of a soul, Jim?"

"Yes," Jim answered, automatically too confused over the abruptness of the question to hold back a startled response. "Of course, 'I think therefore I am', and all that jazz…" He trailed off uncertainly.

Spock nodded.

"On Vulcan we call it a katra. Our bodies are merely the vessels that sustain it," Spock closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. It was obvious this speech was very important to him. "Like any energy source, the katra is drawn to a like source. An ionic match. Finding such is rare, rarer still once my people adopted the teachings of Surak and learned to suppress our emotions. As you can imagine the discovery a compatible katra, a perfect match, if you will, attuned to your own, is rather disconcerting. Turbulent. And one thing a Vulcan fears, above all else, is an emotional loss of control."

The elder Spock paused for a moment then, and flashed what could be considered the Vulcan equivalent of a sheepish grin, if one were to squint.

"When I discovered that my own Jim Kirk and I were such a pair, I left him in fear, too at war with my human side to readily accept the gift I had been given. He, too, was afraid, and accepted a position that left him grounded and away from the life we had known together. But our forced separation and a well-timed threat to Earth brought clarity of perception. I learned to accept my human side, and with it also accept the bond I had with the man who had irrevocably changed my life… for the better. When you told me that my counterpart had left you, I had assumed that he, too, was experiencing his own moment of growth, one that he, and you, had to learn from, as we did. I assumed wrong, and for that I apologize."

So simple, the apology. So heartfelt. And so, so devastating. He would have, well, not liked, necessarily, because either way he came out short a bondmate, but at least… accepted that explanation better, because it wouldn't have made the situation about him, but as it was…

"We were bonded, you knew this already," Jim announced curtly, warring between the urge to forgive and the memory of his many months of loneliness. "I knew all about 'compatible katras'. Spock had already taken to calling me t'hy'la."

"Knowledge of something, and belief in it are two separate things," the elder Spock pointed out, his eyes beseeching.

Jim sighed, the anger within him slipping away. In its wake he was just… tired. In fact, he felt like he could collapse in the very spot he stood just then and sleep for days.

"Yeah, okay, but 'self growth' is not why my Spock left," Jim said, he knew that much to be true.

"Correct," the elder Spock agreed, a small smile curving gently across his lips. "He is far wiser than I was at his age. He has had to live through much more than I had to and came out stronger for it. Your relationship, at least, benefited from those differences. When he discovered your unique connection, he was far more eager to embrace it than I had been. He had already learned, with Vulcan's passing and the death of our mother, how precious and sacred a thing like love truly is... something to be cherished while you have it."

Jim figured there was a lesson in that speech, somewhere, but was too agitated to concede it.

"Look, I see why you cut me off back then. We're cool. It's probably weird as hell for you having to watch a younger incarnation of yourself make the same mistakes you did, and weirder yet to watch him make different ones. Or whatever. I get it. You and me? We're good. But I don't think that he and I…"

"Jim, did Spock explain to you just how rare a t'hy'la bond is, or how extraordinary?"

Once again Jim felt his body start to shake, on its own volition, and he felt blood rush in his ears, making it difficult to hear… he knew what the old man was trying to say, what he was trying to do and suddenly, he couldn't do this now. He just couldn't. He had been left alone to face a fucking war, by himself, with no First Officer to lessen the burden, and no partner to hold when it all became too much. He didn't want to face it - forgiveness - because he knew he would. He would forgive Spock anything: the son of a bitch had that much power over him. But he didn't want to deal with it. He just wanted some semblance of peace, from everything, from Spocks, both of them, and from his own demons… was that really so much to ask?

"Look, I don't hate him for not staying with me. If that's what you think, you're wrong," Jim raised his hands to fist his hair in his agitation, letting out a deep breath as his mind frantically grasped everything he had to say, everything he'd been meaning to say for months.

"Hell, he's probably better off. Spock is pretty amazing. You don't need me to tell you that. He's got everything going for him. He's the smartest person I know. I probably don't deserve him, anyway, so the whole 'getting together' thing was a mistake on our part from the start. Your Jim Kirk might have been everyone's fucking star - Nero told me that history remembers him as a great man - but me? Sometimes it feels like I can barely keep my head above water. The admirals having me doing all this press conferences like a I'm a prized poodle are something. I can't even go down to Mr. Wong's Chinese Food for some fucking hot and sour soup and a fucking egg roll without being recognized. I have no privacy anymore. And for the record? There are some freaky-ass people out there."

He realized his monologue was teetering dangerously close to whining, but he didn't care. Nor did he feel the urge to stop. In a way, saying all of this, albeit to the wrong person was immensely cathartic. Other than to Bones, who would say that Jim was preaching to the fucking choir, he hadn't been able to unload like this in awhile. And that it was a Spock, any Spock, there to hear it made the experience more poignant. He took another deep breath, and plunged forward.

"My crew is exhausted, we've been nonstop for months. My ship is in need of repairs. I have to buy an apartment that I can keep for when I'm grounded here and get out of this depressing fleet housing. I'm dealing with a lot right now. All I want is to be back out there, in the black, where everything makes sense, not stuck here where it doesn't. I don't blame him for leaving. Okay. I don't. But, it kind of hurts, alright? I'll admit it, I'll man up to it… it freaking kills me to talk about this, because I did love him, I do. If you think he was the only one ready and willing to accept something so 'rare' and 'extraordinary' because he'd lost so much, you're wrong. I was, too, and I got burned for it. So if you don't mind I'd like to take the rest of my dignity and be somewhere where I don't have to deal with this. No offense. But please, please leave me alone. I can't face this now. I can't."

Jim was still facing the elder Spock when another voice rang calmly through the hallway from a short distance away.

"If not now, t'hy'la, then when?"

And Jim felt his world drop out from under him.

Meeting Spock's eyes from across a crowded terminal was one thing, standing close to him, talking with him, getting a waft of his scent, observing his body language: the subtle movements, the raised eyebrow, all of it so, so, so, so familiar… he couldn't do it. He wasn't prepared for this. He was known for thinking on the seat of his pants. Hell, he'd won a war by doing it, but he recognized that there was nothing that could have prepared him for this. Not the countless fantasies where he'd envisioned meeting Spock again and chewing his ass out, loudly, while using Bones-esque type language to do it, nor the other, more disturbing (and also more prevalent) daydreams where Spock would come to him, plead momentary insanity, take Jim in his arms, bear him down to the ground and make love to him like there was no tomorrow

Fantasy was fine. Even healthy. Fantasy was safe. Dealing with Spock amidst all this confusion, when there were feelings involved, churning and burning like an illness… not so much. So he wouldn't do it. He refused.

So he turned, aware that he was in full panic mode and two breaths away from hyperventilating. His hands tightened to fists at his sides as he put forth every bit of willpower at his disposal not to meet Spock's eyes - his Spock, the younger Spock. He turned and walked (he did not run, running would have been undignified) past the two men and towards the building's lift.

He made it all of five steps before a pair of familiar hands - hands that had once mapped every square inch of his body many times over - grasped both of his upper arms from behind. Even though he'd partly anticipated this, it was no less of a shock to his system. He felt his knees want to give out, felt the urge to just… slump, but refused the impulse with the same strength of will his mother and admirals alike had always claimed was maddening.

"Let me go, Spock," he said, semi proud of himself for the authorative tone he wasn't otherwise feeling.

"No," the Vulcan replied from somewhere near his ear, the hot breath gusting against his skin, making it traitorously tickle with goose bumps. Jim felt a shiver shake his body, his senses overwhelmed. The bond in his mind awoke with recognition, and pounded against his skull as if to force its way out and join with the other side of it.

It seemed like everything: his body, his bond, and even fate, were against him. Like his dignity, alone, was his only ally. It was the only thing keeping him sane, keeping him grounded, reminding him that letting Spock in, even just a little, even with just the simple act of hearing him out, reminding him that his heart might once again experience the devastating agony it had never fully recovered from the first time.

"I made that mistake before, I will not repeat it," Spock announced, leaning so close to him that Jim felt his body heat sear into his own and Jim felt even his dignity start to teeter. 'This is Spock. You love him. He sought you out. He sounds so sincere. Let's see what he wants. It couldn't hurt any worse, could it?'

Letting his knees buckle and just sinking… sinking… sinking sounded so, so good, but he wouldn't. He wouldn't.

His armor may be dinked, cracked, and rusted, but he was still wearing it damnit. That had to mean something.

It had to mean everything. It was all he had.

"Spock, we have nothing to talk about. It's over. You left!"

It didn't make sense to Jim that his own heart would break a little more at his own words. He was the one saying it, he was the one who desperately wanted to be somewhere, anywhere, else. So why did he suddenly feel so completely nauseated?

Because he loved still, as distressing and irritating as that was.

Spock had been the first one he'd ever loved. The only being to look inside his mind, see all that he was, and tell him that his was the most dynamic mind the telepath had ever encountered, and mean it… there was no lying in a meld. Spock was the first person who made Jim feel like god's fucking gift to the galaxy, and yet, at the same time, whose good opinion was very hard won.

To be loved by Spock, who was smart, who was strong, who possessed a wicked sense of humor beneath layers of Vulcan resolve, whose very existence - the combination of two distinctly different cultures - was amazing, had felt indescribable.

Spock had made him feel the best he'd ever felt. He'd also made him feel the worst… what did that mean?

"Gentlemen, I believe this is where I leave you," came the voice of the elder Spock, though Jim only heard him distantly, like a faint echo riding the back of a wind storm. His instincts right then were too focused on flight, too trained on protecting himself from further pain.

And as the Ambassador walked away, his Spock whispered in his ear, "Do you really believe that it is over, Jim?"

Not a fair question. Not fucking fair at all. Spock had his hands on him, and not only that, but they were bonded, there was no way Jim was going to be able to get away with a lie.

Having an ex who was a telepath just plain sucked.

It was really too bad to, because with anyone else one whopper was all it would have taken to end this melodrama. One lie, with anyone else, and he would be home free. But then Spock never had been one to let Jim delude himself, in anything. And on rare occasions, when he wasn't indignant over it, Jim had counted that as a positive thing… he wasn't so much counting it as a positive now.

"What I believe doesn't matter. What I may or may not still feel for you doesn't matter," he said, because this much was true. "The whole point is that you left, and you didn't even say goodbye. You don't do something like that to someone you love and expect to be greeted with open arms some months later. It doesn't work that way, asshole. You broke my heart! You get to suffer for it!"

"And you don't think I have suffered?" Spock asked, his voice coming out harsh and cutting, which also wasn't fair. Spock did not get to be the indignant party here. Oh fuck no.

Yet even as incensed as he was, Jim recognized that Spock was exhibiting emotion with that last utterance, despite all his vaunted control… and that added a deeper sense of foreboding to the whole mess.

If Spock was leaking emotions so obviously, this was going to get intense. Jim wondered, idly, if either of them would make it out this encounter unscathed.

"Do you think I intended to leave you permanently?" Spock continued, his voice emoting feeling more prevalently with each word. "Let me rectify that belief forthright: I did not. I intended to be gone for 4.5 days. I had fully planned to return to you, explain the situation and ask for your forgiveness for the abruptness of my brief departure, necessary though I deemed it."

Jim felt his stomach sink. As crazy as it seemed, being a jilted lover had provided a small degree of comfort to his thoroughly broken heart. In painting Spock as the villain, the undue executioner of emotional agony, then Jim felt justified in his anger - red hot and simmering as it had been for months after Spock had left - and in his anguish, which had never fully let up.

And now he was getting that there was a story. And all of those months: an untold number of days turned to weeks of sadness and depression and loneliness and loss and yes, even tears, though he was loathed to admit it, had been wasted time. Time he had acted like a forlorn idiot.

It was almost too much to handle, just then, on top of the emotional upheaval just seeing Spock again brought.

"What happened," he croaked, relieved that he'd managed to get any words out at all through the lump in his throat. He suddenly felt the most drained he'd ever felt in his life, ever, and, as if sensing that, as well as sensing Jim's anger slip gradually away into sorrow, Spock moved his hands from Jim's arms to wrap his own arms around Jim's waist in an embrace, holding him up, sharing his strength… the way he had when they had been together.

"While you were asleep that night I was accessing the communications console onboard the Enterprise remotely from the computer in our room, attempting to download information from our prior mission and ended up intercepting a transmission, a Romulan transmission, which hinted at a focus towards New Vulcan," Spock explained, to Jim's escalating grief. A mantra of 'wasted tears, wasted pain, wasted agony' filtering through his head.

"As I am sure you understand," Spock continued, "I feared a repeat occurrence to the attack on Vulcan, and acted with due haste to ensure the remaining Vulcan population had a fair warning," the 'unlike last time' wasn't voiced, but Jim knew it was there, just the same. "At Starbase 10 we were only two days away from the colony, so I commandeered a shuttle and I left, knowing that had I waited for you to wake, and gone through protocol to inform the admiralty, time would be lost. I intended to communicate with you once I was assured of the colony's safety. I acted in haste, partly afraid that you would insist on informing fleet command before any action was taken, for that mistake I have paid dearly…"

"And then the colony was taken and all communication with the Federation blocked," Jim finished for him, remembering the shock of hearing that bit of news as if it were yesterday. He had been frantic to find Spock then, not yet ready to believe he had just up and left the way he had, partially convinced that Spock had been kidnapped and thus frantic because of it, and then the colony had been attacked and he knew, knew, that Spock had been forewarned and that he had gone to help.

What he didn't know was that Spock had planned to return to him.

He had been left so many times: his mother, his brother… and Spock had had to be convinced to join the Enterprise from at the start of their five year mission, originally intending to stay on the colony and help his people rebuild. Jim had been so certain that it had come down to Spock having to choose between his bondmate and his people and that Jim had lost that particular battle.

So he was an idiot with self-esteem issues, this wasn't exactly news either. But still, how hard would writing a fucking note have been?

"How hard would writing a fucking note have been?" he asked out loud. "Do you have any idea what I went through, how worried I was, how much I hurt? I thought you had changed your mind. That you had regretting bonding yourself to me. I've never felt anything like it. I wanted to sequester myself somewhere and just remain in a vegetable state there forever, Spock! You nearly killed me!"

"Do you not think that I know that?" Spock asked, his voice tainted with untold urgency. "I am sorry for it, Jim. There are no words I can voice to you that would convey the full depth of my sorrow. I fought to return to you with every breath that I took, and when I had heard that the Enterprise was returning to Earth, I had hope like I had not experienced since the day I had left Starbase 10. Finally, you were attainable and I was in a position to go to you. I had to see you with my own eyes, to explain. Every moment during the past year, awake, asleep, even during meditation, my thoughts were with you, always hoping, against all logic, that you were safe. Parted from me but never parted. I have always wanted you… and I always shall. There can never be another like you, t'hy'la. You are everything to me."

Jim wanted to believe Spock. He wanted to more than anything. He wanted to bask in love again, the way he had before. Wanted to have a partner who anticipated his moods before he did, who was the best conversationalist this side of the Alpha quadrant, and could beat his butt at his own game (chess, for starters) the way that only Spock had.

Yet he was still angry, this was a fact. He couldn't help it. He had spent a year in turmoil; that did not just go away because both he and Spock wished it to. It would take a long time to do so, of that he had no doubt. He could take in Spock's explanation, could even understand it. And maybe the explanation had been a huge step in lessening his pain. It certainly did make him feel better, a little. But it didn't negate everything automatically. It couldn't. It shouldn't.

So, in the end, Jim reasoned, it came down to this… Spock had been the first person he'd ever loved, and Jim knew, with more clarity than he knew a lot of things, that Spock would be the last.

They were in each others heads, both literally and figuratively. They always had been. Together or apart their thoughts were always of each other. That type of connection was rare, and as the older Spock had stated, extraordinary. He didn't need to be Vulcan to know that.

Given the choice between righteous anger and Spock, he chose Spock, hands down. He always would.

But that didn't mean Spock didn't have to earn it, just a bit… no one would ever accuse Jim of being a saint.

And so he turned around in Spock's arms to meet his eyes and said the only thing he could say.

"Prove it."

The End!