Notes: Next in the Keeping Love series, and sequel to 'Loud Places.' There will be a companion piece running alongside this one from Kirk's POV called 'Quiet Places', and 'Silence' and 'Quiet Places' can be read in either order.

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.

He knew.

The moment that it happened, he knew. He could measure the exact moment, down to the smallest particle of time, when the wave began, and the moment when the wave stopped and they were gone. He could feel it, the wrenching and tearing of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of tiny pieces being torn from his mind, pieces that he had never even paid attention to before but were not there...

The pain was crippling. It seared into his higher cerebral cortex like a poker driven in through his face; it exploded outwards from the left hemisphere of the brain and tore down into his brain stem; his heart staggered and crunched inwards slightly, as though the valves themselves were contracting, and he collapsed in the corridor of the USS Yaxley, halfway between their transporter room and their Sickbay.

And he barely registered the fact over the pain.

It was immediately apparent; they were dead. He had known strangers to die before; he had known the brief tug and sharp burst of minor pain, like pulling out hair by the root, that puffed across the mind when one of those pieces was removed. But this was not hair; this was the skull, ripped into with a shattering intensity, until he was shaking on the floor and keening, high and pleading, begging for this not to be the truth...

His mind screamed, the echo vanishing into the hole that they had left behind, and he knew it to be true.

They are gone. They are all gone. They are gone.

It was unimaginable. Every piece was gone; every single bond and every single link, torn out by the root and leaving a bleeding hole into which his mind stretched, reaching for the lost, calling into an abyss for the dead to answer. They were dead, they were dead. They were all gone; all the hundreds of people he must have ever met, all the thousands of faces he had ever passed in the streets - and the people he had known, ripped away in a moment, torn...

His mind creaked under the stress, and his telepathy cried into the spaces left behind.

He was bleeding out from the inside, and they were all gone...

He became vaguely aware, very vaguely and from a long way away, that there were tears on his face, and he had not cried since the age of three.

He was unaware of having changed locations, but he must have done for the American doctor was the next to arrive. His eyes and forehead were creased heavily in some unfathomable expression, and he smelled of an odd mixture of medical hygiene and of warmth. He smelled warm, like the baking heat over the desert in the Vulcan high summer, and his tone was unusually low and soft, the way his father would sometimes speak to his mother when she was upset. Or even, once, himself - he had been four, and feverish, and his father had sat with him through the night and spoke to him, in the same low tone. He could not remember what he had said; he could not hear what the doctor said.

It was irrelevent. That was the past ("-shock-") and over. There would never be such times again; the jagged ends of torn bonds flared and burst in his head to remind him of the fact, almost cruelly. It was ("-can you hear-") absurd; he was not a child. He had been far too old for comfort from his father for over twenty years; they could both have lived a thousand more, and there would ("-me blankets, and call-") have never been another moment - and yet it was all he could think about, lost moment lost moment lost moment...

The American doctor was moving him. His hands burned hot through the sleeves of Spock's tunic ("-office until-") but he was mindless; a hallucination, then. It was unsurprising. The ghosts were still shimmering in the background, standing still in long robes, too shocked at their own ("-for Kirk, now!") deaths - deaths! - to dissipate. Perhaps they were waiting for him. If he had been left behind, then perhaps this was his opportunity to rejoin them, and go ("-don't! Nurse, adrenalin!") with them.

He could not live with this gaping emptiness in the left side of his head. He could not live so alone like this, he could not...

The world sharpened in clarity for a brief moment - the doctor was from Georgia - and the woman in the doorway dissolved into dust and was brushed away. She had ("-hear me, Spock? Jim's...") looked like T'Pring when they last met. That had been...a while. He could not recall.

He searched, and recoiled from the stab of individual pain over the waves of collective tugging that threatened to tear his mind in half.

T'Pring, too, was dead.

After some time - he did not know how long, and where had his grasp of time receded to? Had that gone with them? - the hallucinations returned. The first came alone, and though he wrapped himself around Spock like a shield, and from what do you shield when the world is over, I ask you!, he was mindless when Spock touched him, and as empty as the hole in his head. Perhaps this man had been on Vulcan too; perhaps he wanted Spock to come with him. Spock neither knew nor cared; he could not formulate the words to ask, nor the coherence to wonder why.

And then the American doctor - Alabaman? Georgian? He used to know - returned as well, and the hallucinations spoke to one another. They both spoke in that soft tone, and the shield used strange terms of affection - swee-t'art - and attempted to smear the word like a balm on the ragged edges of the hole.

He would cut his hand if he persisted.

When he was moved, he found his father standing in the doorway, exchanging places with the American. He stood tall and stern, silent and radiating the disapproval that he always had. He looked composed, and he looked almost alive, for a brief moment, before Spock's mind reached for him in vain and he turned away - and turned to dust before his eyes. The one remaining hallucination persisted, and pulled Spock down and wrapped around him anew, as if to prevent him from following his father out the door - perhaps, then, this man wished to trap him in this lonely, empty place and marry him to the pain?

And then...


Warmth, in the form of a rough, Human hand, pressed into the skin of his back, and the crystals.

They had not been there in a long time - so long, and one day Spock had known that too - but now they burst from that hand, digging into his nerves and washing up into his mind like a sea of light - fractured and glittering, bouncing off the walls of his skull and glowing over the rips in his psyche. They burned with their brilliance in the dark, cauterising the holes like an iron pressed to an open wound, searing until they hurt, and yet if he was here, then...

His own hands were moved, tucked into the warmth, and the crystals glittered under his fingertips. He gathered them close, clutching at their fragments like a greedy child, sinking his fingers and body and mind into the light. If he drowned here, then it would be alright; he would rejoin his people with the memory of the crystalline light burned into his mind, and...


His throat worked; he swallowed and breathed in the light, tinged with a familiar smell, and his lips worked vaguely at the skin he found pressed to his face. The crystals swirled around him, encouraging and welcoming, curling around him like their provider, as if to comfort...

"Jim," he croaked.

It was him. He had come; he was real, he was-

"I'm here. I'm here, baby, I'm right here."

His mind was torn in two; half strained towards Kirk and the crystals, stretching and twisting like something vile caught in a trap, desperate to clutch at him and cling like a needy infant; the other half twisted in the other direction, yearning to follow them and not be so alone, longing to succumb and not feel this pain, lancing through his skull, the pain...

"They are," he tried, and the empty places screamed at him, shouted to stop. "They are gone."

The world began to move; he clung and grasped, and when the crystals cuddled into his skin again, he realised that he was being rocked. He could not remember being rocked, even as an infant, and he clung in a mixture of dizzying fear and rending gratitude. Kirk's voice washed over him, murmuring the same words over and over - meaningless words, words he could barely hear over the shrieking, words lost to the storms in his own mind, and his throat ached.

He vaguely realised that he was keening, but would not stop for hours.

He woke in the dim light of Kirk's quarters, the crystals muted but present, burrowed into the uppermost layer of his skin and humming idly. They shifted with the idle repose of light sleep; if he stirred, he knew that they would begin to move again and Kirk would awaken.

But it was not the crystals that had woken him, or even the pain. He was too exhausted for the pain to prevent sleep now; he was too drained to even avoid it, stroking over the ragged edges and ripping further holes as he found more and more to be concerned about.

It was the girl standing at Kirk's desk.

She was a young Vulcan female, approximately six Vulcan years of age - and so perhaps seventeen Terran years - and looked both familiar and not. The upswept eyebrows less sharply angled than Spock's, but the ears tapered to a finer point, and the thick hair a dark wave of brown rather than black. She had an oddly prominent nose for a Vulcan woman, and her hands had long, elegant fingers where they clasped in front of her as though...waiting. Waiting for something. Waiting for him?

And yet...they had only met once. He knew from holographs that his grandmother, T'Rama, had kept after the death of his grandfather. T'Rama had had an odd fondness for pictoral representations of her descendants, and so Spock knew the girl by sight. But they had not met since she had been less than a Vulcan season in age; she had been small enough that when her father - Spock's cousin, Horek - had passed her to Spock, she had curled comfortably into the space afforded by his forearm, and had rested against his chest and arm as though she belonged.

Spock had not seen her since.

She stood at the desk, watching him with an unblinking stare - she had T'Rama's shrewd gaze - and he recalled her name with an aching difficulty from behind the wall of pulsating pain in his head.


She cocked her head - and disappeared.

At the sound of Spock's voice, the crystals stirred sleepily, and Kirk's arm tightened across his waist. Spock closed his eyes, the strange feeling of the world realigning itself around this pain and this hole - in space, in life, in mind - consuming him for a long, long moment.

"M'here," Kirk's voice whispered, still mostly asleep, and the spaces burned.

For the next two days, he existed in a strange kind of muted haze. The world seemed distant and silent, as though he had been placed in a glass box and allowed to only observe. This was the perhaps the closest he had ever gotten to true non-feeling, that esteemed state of the Kolinahr masters, and he could not even bring himself to loathe it.

His mind eventually withdrew from the spaces, tiring and weakened from hours of reaching into nothingness, and retreated in on itself to curl in the middle of his brain in an aching, tortured ball and wait for the crystals. When the crystals came, and rubbed soothing, brilliant light into the dark places, he could uncurl a little, and pretend that he would recover.

The crystals were almost always there - Kirk kept close by, never allowing Spock to stray beyond his line of sight. He took over much of Spock's actions, prodding and coaxing and guiding him through mundane activities - showers, meals, visits to the Sickbay, even sleep; he hovered, the light dancing in his hands wherever Spock turned, and those soothing murmurs of nonsense Human comfort were a balm, stroking over his mind whenever he reached out.

For two days, Spock had no hope of reading his motivations. The haze blocked out the world very effectively, and the only thing to come close to breaking in was Kirk. He could not communicate his own needs, or his questions, but Kirk was always there regardless of the silence, with warm hands and light and that calming wash of soundless words.

When the crystals stroked along his psyche, the pain dulled - but it always returned.

It was five days after the world ended when Spock first tried to meditate.

He had held off, knowing that the pain would be waiting, but the emotional upswell was beginning and he could not risk losing control. Without due process, the emotions would turn to poisonous bile inside his own head, and he had quite enough to be handling.

He waited until the evening - a quiet time, when the ship's activity dulled on the cusp of Beta shift - before lighting the incense burners and settling on the mat that he had left with Kirk. The familiar smell was soothing, and achieving the first and second layers of meditative calm was easy, made fluid by decades of practice. They were the superficial - the lighter emotions, by Vulcan standards - the shock of knowing that vast numbers of his colleagues on the Hellenica, that staff of professional, polite, proper scientists were gone. The relief that the crystals were there and had not been lost in the end of the world. The physical discomforts - the healing electrical burn on his lower back, the sprained wrist, the bruises on his left shin - all were easily sifted and processed.

The third layer took more effort. His mind churned, refusing to settle for some time, in turns seeking out the crystals and then returning to skim over the holes in his mind almost obsessively, like a child poking at a bruise just to feel the twinge. It took many breathing exercises, and more effort than he had utilised in years, but eventually he quelled the storm, and diluted the activity down to the aches in the holes.

To which he turned.

The smaller holes, the gaps left by pieces he could not recall possessing, had dulled to an almost vague aching, like a healing bone. They throbbed and stung, but not with the caterwauling agony with which they had made themselves known - they had fallen quiet at last, settling under numb shock and dazed acceptance. These people were gone: there was nothing to be done but grieve, process, and move on.

Then he committed his error - he turned to the largest of the holes, and wrapped his mind over it to examine it in detail - and the pain exploded anew into his head.

It was agony, like nothing he had ever felt. He reeled from the blow, like a knife buried hilt-deep into the top of his head, cold metal biting into his neural pathways and paralysing them. The space, the gaping empty yawn of a mouth attempting to tear and chew and swallow his psyche down like a snack, vibrated with anger, rage, hatred, losslosslosslossloss...

"Spock! Spock!"

Somebody struck him; the crystals flashed once, brief and dizzying, across his cheek, but the pain was too consuming. His mind was shaking apart at the seams, dropping pieces like scattered broken glass from a vase - he had broken a vase, he was six years old, and his mother fussed and fretted and his father simply said, "He is as my brother once was," and did not disapprove for once - and his body bowed, reacting to the scattered orders, shivering and twitching, collapsing under the immense pressure, the pressure of a mind...

"Medical emergency in Commander Kirk's quarters! Spock! Snap out of it! Spock!"

He was slapped again, harder this time, and the crystals flashed briefly, allowing an inhale of breath that restarted his aching lungs - when had they stopped? - and he rocked into a warm grasp, somebody pushing up his sleeves and gripping his arms, trying to prevent the shaking - the crystals were exploding, shattering, they were suns in nova...

"Bones! Bones, you have to - I don't know! He was meditating and then he just started shaking and, and screaming..."

The crystals were flooding him with light; there were warm hands rubbing over his arms, looping tendrils of worry - thick, thick ropes of it, wrapping around his mind. He anchored himself to them, peeling away from the broken bond, struggling to let go of it and push it down again to the spaces, to lurk in the pain barrier, to go away please go away, to...

"Keep touching him," the American doctor - Georgian, Georgian, his name was McCoy - spoke quietly, still soothing, still strange. "His brain activity is beginning to calm down again. Spock? Spock, can you hear me?"

His body began to inform him of the changes. His respiration rate was sharply elevated; he was gasping for air, heaving. His stomach churned, though he had eaten nothing to vomit. His heart was running too fast for the individual beats to be counted without the aid of a tricorder or some other measuring device, and his muscles were shivering, ready to go into spasm or cramp at the slightest provocation.

"Jim, get your shirt off. Don't look at me like that, just do it!"

There were hands moving him - the crystals disappeared and he struggled to maintain a distance from the broken bond, struggled to place a barrier between himself and it; the new hands gave no crystals, but heavy loops of worry that were suffocating, and a blast of raw heat, like the desert in high summer, searing through his mind and rasping it with all the dry texture of thick sand.

"There. There, get him - that's it."

He was near-dropped into warmth, the desert receding to provide Earth summer in Mexico, the second year of his Academy studies, with Cadet Monroe and Cadet Kaplinski. The light was pure and brilliant, and coalesced into crystals as those rough, familiar hands began to rub at his arms again, and offer fleeting brushes to his face.

"What...what happened?"

"He might have come across a primary bond," the doctor made a noise that sounded like a heavy sigh. "A lot of them have been doing it; they can process the loss of their species fairly easily, but their families? We've had two or three go off in Sickbay just today."

The crystals ran along his hairline, fleeting, and a burst of them squirmed into the thin skin of his forehead when their provider - Kirk, it is Jim - kissed him there. He was being rocked again, like a child, and he could not bring himself to mind, even as he struggled through the disturbance to his meditation and rose swiftly back through the second and first layers into genuine awareness.

"Come on, sweetheart, come back to me," Kirk was whispering fiercely, never stopping the rocking of his upper body or the rubbing of his hands into Spock's skin. "I'm right here; it's alright. Whatever happened, it's alright, baby, you're alright. Come on, come back, come back..."

He took a long, shuddering breath and folded one hand over his forearm to trap Kirk's fingers there, pushing more of the crystals into the skin.

"Oh thank God," Kirk cracked out.

"Spock, can you talk to me please?" McCoy butted in, all professionalism and that strange crease between his brows. "I need you to try and tell me what happened."

Spock closed his eyes against the fresh throb, and attempted to layer the barrier between himself and the ripped bond. It half-worked, and he spoke around a swollen throat. Had he been crying out? "I...attempted to process the...the losses, and did not anticipate..."

"Did you find a broken familial bond?" McCoy asked quietly, and Kirk's arms around him tightened.

"My father," Spock whispered. "My father is dead. Jim..."

"Ssh, sweetheart," Kirk breathed into his hair. "I've got you. I've got you."

"Jim, I need...please, I need to know..."

"I will find out anything you need to know, sweetheart, but later. Right now, you need to not be screaming your lungs out on the floor of my quarters," Kirk said.

"I'd recommend you get some sleep, Spock," McCoy said, sitting back on his heels when Spock cracked open his eyes to look at him. "Get some sleep, or at least some rest and relaxation. Jim, drop by Sickbay with him in the morning and I'll have another good look with the neuroscanner."

He felt Kirk nod above him, tucking his face back into the offered shoulder and breathing in light laced with Starfleet-issue soap and replicator-issue stir fry. After a moment, the doors hissed and Kirk dropped a kiss onto the top of his head.

"C'mon," he urged, coaxing Spock upright long enough to get them situated on the bed. "You're going to sleep, and I'm going to hold onto you - that is...Spock, does it help? When I touch you? Does it help?"

"Yes," Spock said flatly, proving his point by stripping off his meditation robe and curling around Kirk like a trap, pressing every possible inch of bare skin together. The crystals hummed, like the warp core at maximum capacity, and Kirk latched onto him equally hard.


Kirk went back on duty the next morning, grumbling the whole while, and Spock found himself in Sickbay being...babysat, for lack of a better term.

He still could not grasp enough of Kirk's motivations - of his thoughts, of his needs, of his wishes - to understand why, but he was very distinctly dropped off into the care of Dr. McCoy after breakfast. The world was finally beginning to break through the haze again, and though he did not dare touch his shattered familial bond, he retreated to McCoy's office and entered a light meditative trance for several hours to soothe the upset caused by the attack, and to briefly process and close the wounds left by some of his more minor familial bonds - T'Kel, Horek, his own broken mindlink with T'Pring; interestingly, he noted (in a very detached fashion) that the bond with T'Rama, his grandmother, had not broken. It was strained and weak, stretched unnaturally thin, but it persisted.

Someone, then, had not been lost.

The most disturbing fact was his ignorance over the fate of his mother. Humans could not sustain more than one telepathic link - most were strained by one at all - and while Amanda had been bonded to his father, she had not had a familial bond with her son. It had mattered not, in how Spock had felt about her (nor she for him, as Humans did not operate telepathically at all) but now, for the first time, it was disquieting. He did not know - and if she had survived, she would be ignorant of his fate also.

And yet part of him knew the truth. If his father had died, then his mother would have been with him. Why would she have survived, and not Sarek?

Part of him did not want to know.

He remained in the trance for most of the morning, broken out of it by Kirk's arrival for lunch. His control largely restored, he was able to make light conversation, although still found himself irrationally reluctant to reduce physical contact between them - and Kirk too happy to oblige that desire. He was in high spirits, perhaps buoyed by Spock's own inching towards functionality, but still left for the remainder of his shift with many a backward glance.

"He's worried about you," McCoy shrugged, upon witnessing their parting. "I still have you on medical leave and under observation, and that's not going to change before we get to Earth, and it's got him antsy. Understandably."

"Indeed," Spock returned, and glanced about the Sickbay. It was still crowded with Vulcans; there was nowhere else from them to go, and most were too medically unsound to be removed to quarters in any case. "May I be of assistance?"

McCoy squinted at him.

"It will keep me...distracted."


Slowly, the pain began to dull.

Exactly eight days after the world ended, a flare of pain rose up in the left side of his brain, bouncing off the barely-closed wounds and tearing some of them open anew. By now, married to the crushing pain in his head, its brief rise and drop again caused only a minor reaction - a muted intake of breath, shallow and sharp, and the world blurred momentarily as his eyes lost focus.


When he refocused, Kirk had moved from his desk chair to the bed, kneeling by Spock's hips and removing the padd he had been reading from suddenly limp fingers before grasping them in his own and squeezing tender concern into the bones.

"What was that?" Kirk asked softly.

The soft tone suddenly irked. It was an odd sense - the rising irritation in his chest, like a hot growl, and almost alien in feeling. "I am not fragile, and I do not appreciate being spoken to as such," he bit out, his control slipping enough that his annoyance showed on his face, if only for a brief second.

Kirk blinked. "I...I know you're not, sweetheart; if you were fragile, you wouldn't still be here," he said, rubbing his hands down to squeeze Spock's wrists. "But you have been through something that I can't even imagine, and I've been scared for you, and..."

"And you have been coddling me like a child," Spock returned, and took a deep breath, desperately trying to regain some semblence of control. "I do not require being...babysat by Dr. McCoy; I am quite capable of..."

"Of coping - yes, I know," Kirk cut him off, the softness draining out of his voice. "You've proven that. Bones says you've been helping out in Sickbay, and you're not sleeping twelve hours a night anymore, and you're even managing to keep your food down - but I don't want you to just cope, I want you to be better. Now stop trying to distract me and tell me what just happened."

"My grandmother died," Spock snapped, irrationally angry. It was ridiculous - nonsensical, even, to be so angry, and yet he was. "It is nothing of importance; everyone else has died and..."

"We still don't know about..."

"She is gone," Spock interrupted, not wanting to hear Kirk say it. "She is gone, and there is nothing to be gained from sympathy!"

"There is nothing to be gained from shutting me out!" Kirk shouted back. He still hadn't let go of Spock's hands, and their rising anger was causing a feedback loop that essentially fed itself. "Don't you dare shut me out, don't you fucking dare! I nearly lost you out there, and..."

"And you cannot imagine what I have lost," Spock snarled. He heard it, the low crack and roll that rippled up through his throat and split the air between them. "You cannot imagine."

Kirk's face performed an odd twitch and then...shuttered. And for the first time in an argument - and they had argued plenty in the past; they were hardly peaceable - he backed off. He got down from the bed and stalked back to the desk, returning to his paperwork without a word and deleting the argument efficiently from his priorities. Spock took a deep breath and began to sink into the first layer of meditation, attempting to cool the irrational anger and hurt that had flared up; a hurt quite different from the pain of his broken bonds.

When he slipped from meditation to sleep, Kirk had still not turned from the console.

Spock woke in the night when the hair on his forearms curled from the imaginary crust of ocean salt, and the smell of a beach in winter on Earth ghosted at his nose. The arm across his chest twitched and Kirk hauled himself closer, still fast asleep, and the crash of a wave on some rocky shore that Spock had never visited sounded in the cabin.

And suddenly he could taste the salt, and realised that he was not entirely dreaming.

"S'okay," Kirk mumbled, reacting even in sleep to the tension that wrote itself fluidly into Spock's muscles. That damnable shaking, that had been with him on and off since his marriage to the pain in his mind, began to visit again, creeping into his limbs, and Kirk twitched. He would wake if Spock did not get himself under control, where was his control, it had failed him failed him he was failing...

A choked sob broke past his lips, and it felt strange. He had not sobbed since he was two and a half.

The sound broke through Kirk's sleep, and there was a two-second pause while he gathered his senses. "Lights, thirty perc - Spock."

He was forcibly turned, unresisting against those hands, and pulled into Kirk's bare chest, wrapped in warmth and worry and light.

"Oh God, sweetheart, what's wrong? Spock? Ssh, baby, it's alright, it's okay," Kirk was murmuring frantically. Spock managed to repress another sob, but the tears refuse to listen. They ached; he had not cried in years, and yet the last two weeks... "Oh please, sweetheart, don't cry. Don't cry. Ssh, it's alright, whatever it is, it'll be alright. Ssh, please..."

Spock took a deep shuddering breath and clutched at Kirk's back. He was overly-warm from sleep, flushed to the surface of the skin, hot to the touch. His hands were branding where they rubbed over his own back, one hovering around his waist and heart, and the other pressing at his shoulderblades and neck.

"Ssh, baby, come on, it's alright," Kirk was breathing more than truly speaking, ghosting words into his hair and across his ear, rubbing at his back at though trying to warm him. He was...the tendrils were sharper tonight - he was scared. "Oh God, baby, don't cry. Please don't cry, ssh..."

"I apologise," Spock whispered around a sore throat. "My control is...not as it should be."

"No shit," Kirk chuckled weakly. "What's going on, sweetheart? Why...this?"

" not know," Spock croaked. "I apologise for my outburst last night, and for this. I do not understand why I am...acting so irrationally, but I should not have lashed out at you, and..."

"Oh, sweetheart, no," Kirk squeezed him tightly for a moment. "No, no, no, no, no. It's alright, it's..."

"It is not. I..."

"It is," Kirk interrupted firmly. "Sweetheart, you've just lost so much, you're suffering so badly - frankly, I'd expected you to lose your rag sooner. You've had me so scared with that stoic-and-silent thing; you were slipping away and I couldn't do anything to stop you. But you're really reacting now; God, you've got no idea..." he peeled Spock away from him, bare inches, enough to kiss his forehead and the bridge of his nose, before continuing. "I was losing you, sweetheart. You were just...slipping, and I couldn't reach you. I didn't know what to do; some of the Vulcans have died because they just...they just shut down, and I...I was so scared that it was going to happen to you..." his own voice cracked, and he pressed forward to kiss Spock properly, fitting their lips together as though the last year had never happened.

The crystals sparked and surged across Spock's face, leaving wakes of lights like comets. Kirk's lips were chapped, bitten into rough layers and furrows, and his mouth was warm and sure, mapping out the contours of Spock's as though relearning and rememorising a very old lesson. He broke it off to suck on Spock's lower lip momentarily before cupping his face in those broad hands and kissing the drying streaks of tears away, each kiss brief and chaste and reaffirming, leaving tiny crystals embedded in the skin where he went.

"You still bring crystals," Spock whispered, closing his eyes.

"I what?" Kirk prodded.

"Your touch still brings...crystalline light, and the crystals."

Kirk paused, as if trying to remember, then whispered: "Oh," and kissed the last trace of the tears away. "I love you. I love you, Spock, so much."

"And I you," Spock whispered, curling back into his chest and sighing when Kirk pulled him close and locked both arms around his back tightly. "I am sorry."

"Don't be," Kirk whispered. "You're getting better. That's nothing to be sorry for."

"I am going to be...difficult, and...unpleasant..."

"I don't care," Kirk interrupted. "You're here. You're finally really here. That's all that matters. You can be a complete bastard, as long as you're getting better. And we'll get there, sweetheart, I promise. We're going to get there."

Spock tucked his face into Kirk's shoulder, breathing in light, tucking the crystals into his mind like ornaments, packing them around the barriers that held back pain, and let out the breath in a long exhale.

Perhaps Kirk was right.