The blonde is what most humans would call cute. Spock spends a moment surveying the smooth golden locks scattered across the pillow, the long red-polished nails on her hand lying atop the sheet, curled up like a claw, the slightly parted excessively pink lips. Her eyes are closed, but he estimates the probability of them being blue to be over eighty-seven percent. She’s too much of a stereotype to have a different eye color, he thinks. She’s making a soft snoring sound in her sleep, which he finds disconcerting. He allows a slight grimace to crawl on his face and leaves the room.
Spock stalks into the kitchen in this all too familiar apartment, which was never quite his. He pours a glass of water from the tap. His hands aren’t shaking, and he notices this fact, with a strange feeling, acutely reminiscent of pride. He takes a small slow sip, then another one. He doesn’t quite notice when the glass becomes empty.
It’s not like it’s anything out of the ordinary. Not even unexpected. After all, he and Jim are no longer partners. Haven’t been for a while. Spock sets the glass on the sink carefully and rests his hands against the counter.
Partners. A most curious term. Jim started to use it not some ten years ago. Spock had been a lot of things to Jim before then. His subordinate. His friend. His brother. His lover. His confidante and his conscience. His faith. Somehow, Spock never quite got over the switch to the flat, matter-of-fact term partner.
Jim has never been that to him. Jim was his captain, first within a strictly military definition, and later in all things. Jim was his confidence. His self-esteem. His anchor. That one being uniquely suited for him. The other half of his soul. T’hy’la.
Spock sighs. He is not pleased with himself, for he knows he’s feeling hurt. Wounded, more like it. He shouldn’t really, but he is. He is honest enough with himself to admit it. He is a little proud of that, too. There was a time when he was an unprecedented master of self-delusion. That changed after Gol, and after a great number of other things, long before Genesis. After Genesis, well. It is a little difficult to lie to oneself after one died and was reborn. Not much point in it, honestly.
Maybe that was what broke them, Spock muses, staring nowhere. The estrangement started before Genesis. When Jim was grounded and Spock—Spock wasn’t. When Jim’s fear of holding Spock back, the fear that had been present for some time already, had finally been voiced. It grew between them, like an ugly rift, and there was nothing Spock could do to seal it.
Not that it stopped him from trying.
At first, Jim’s apprehension was easily appeased, his attention redirected. But as the years crept up on them, his belief that Spock was humoring him, condescending to him, deliberately holding back because of him grew exponentially. It was bad when he believed Spock was doing it out of love and devotion. But when he started to believe it was pity it got one hell of a lot worse.
He tried and tried relentlessly to break through this edgy barrier Jim erected around himself. But all the data he had collected over the years, all the intimate knowledge of the man he alone possessed proved to be useless. He couldn’t get through, couldn’t make this dark veil dissipate. He even used brutal force once, taking Jim’s mind and Jim’s body, without obtaining his pronounced consent first, without caring for it. He nearly burned them out with the searing heat of the impassioned truth that burned within him at all times, pursuing each ugly darkened slime of doubt that poisoned Jim’s soul and eliminating it ruthlessly, like a crusader fighting off the hordes of heretics.
They were too many.
He couldn’t find them all. Like a hydra, they grew two new heads instead of each slaughtered one. Jim woke up sore and happy the next morning, as happy as Spock hadn’t seen him for a long time. But it didn’t last long. The last bruise he had acquired during that night hadn’t faded yet when they were back at square one. Spock knew he was losing him then, and realized he was helpless to stop it. The realization came to him under this very roof.
Spock never quite came to living here. For a number of years, he was spending several nights a week in this apartment. Some of his things had found their way here eventually, but they were all necessities, not conventional personal belongings. He kept several changes of clothes here and some of his meditation attributes. But that was all. It was Jim’s bedroom, not their bedroom. Spock’s home remained on the Enterprise. And Jim never once set foot there after he stepped down as her captain. Not until that mission.
Several weeks before then, Spock had practically ceased coming here. He still had full access, of course. He just wasn’t invited anymore, and as odd as it might have sounded, he still needed the invitation. Without it, he was no longer certain if he was welcome. That, too, was new. And it was painful.
The strain between him and Jim had grown progressively with each deep space assignment Spock rejected, with each tempting proposal he turned down. Jim turned grimmer with every one of those, getting more and more angry with Spock. He tried to get through to Spock, too. Tried to convince him he should be studying quasars, or captaining a long-range science vessel, or running an advanced research facility halfway across the quadrant. Spock, in turn, tried to explain that he was only happy when he was near Jim. Everything else came in a distant second on his list of priorities. Jim was all he needed.
‘You may feel like this now,’ Jim told him, with bitter tenderness. ‘But in a few years, you’re going to start to regret all the opportunities you’ve lost. And the only reason you’ll have would be because of me. And I won’t even be much of a compensation for it by then. I don’t want to live long enough to see that, Spock.’
Spock could not dissuade his grave conviction. Aging did not set well with Jim. He was still physically fit, extremely so, and he had more than half of his lifespan ahead of him. In Spock’s view, there was no logical reason for him to become agitated or frustrated, but that was exactly what was happening.
Jim had always been slightly vain of his looks. Spock knew that about him, used to tease him about it, but overall found it illogically endearing, much like Jim himself. It was a disturbing discovery when he realized that Jim hardly looked in the mirror anymore. And the appreciative glances that he had been giving Spock from the day they met, those looks of quiet adoration that became more pronounced after the conclusion of their second five-year mission when there was no more need to hide anything, those looks had changed, too. Every time Jim paid him a compliment now, it had a definite undercurrent of bitterness, almost reproach. Spock, who had never considered his appearance to be anything special, had no idea how to deal with this new development.
It was all part of a bigger problem, a puzzle that he couldn’t solve. Then came Genesis, and he died. And then Jim brought him back.
Spock had never quite gotten over this. Once his memory reintegration was finally complete, he was devastated, nearly destroyed all over again by the magnitude of Jim’s sacrifice. He lost his ship, the lovely lady who stole his heart and never quite gave it back. And of course David. Spock couldn’t begin to measure the depth of this loss. The ship was Jim’s life. David was his son.
They melded, shortly after coming back to Earth and standing trial. They melded, and Spock was obliterated. There was pain, endless, profound pain at the loss in Jim’s mind. Crushing pain. Twisting pain. Overwhelming pain.
Spock went through several rounds of overload upon discovering that. Their connection flared up brighter than ever, bringing them to a whole new level, which Spock didn’t know existed. They were both back on their ship, all the old gang was, and for a while, it was just floating in mindless happiness. Renaissance. Valhalla.
Then Sybok reentered Spock’s life and brought in the havoc.
Jim forgave him, as he had always forgiven him. But something broke in him after that. After everything Jim had been through in his life, after tortures, and pain, and loss, and guilt, after years of loneliness and quiet bleeding, after rejections, and fights, and deaths, it was finally Spock’s silence that broke him. The light of life in his eyes faded. He was rapidly losing interest in whatever was happening around him, becoming indifferent and unresponsive.
Guilt had nearly driven Spock mad, most of all because Jim had forgiven him. He wasn’t angry anymore, he was just accepting it, and that felt way, way worse than his anger. It wasn’t helping that Spock didn’t have an explanation, even for himself. It wasn’t that he was ashamed to have a brother like Sybok. It was more that he hadn’t had a conscious thought about him in years. His tender childhood love for his brother had left but a faint echo in his memory. Spock had not seen him or heard of him for nearly fifty years. He didn’t tell Jim, because he had almost forgotten himself.
But there was another reason.
Sybok had assaulted Spock when he was a child, nearly killing him. Spock didn’t wish to share the memory with Jim, who had been a victim of assault too many times already. He knew what Jim’s reaction would have been. Jim had always taken Spock’s pain much worse than his own. Spock had dealt with the experience long ago and was at peace with the memory. What was one more scar? He had no wish to trouble Jim with it.
How many times after that did he wish he had.
Maybe then there wouldn’t have been that icy wall between them. Maybe then Jim wouldn’t have told him in a dead voice that he was resigning from Starfleet as soon as his ship was decommissioned. He was resigning, he wanted to stay on Earth, alone, and he didn’t need Spock with him.
It seemed to be their infinite curse. Spock didn’t know if the situation was salvageable then, but he didn’t have the time to find out. The Klingon Empire was dying. For the first time since the first contact, there was a possibility to create a lasting peace. And somehow Spock happened to be the only man for the job.
It was hard to protest the assignment when the ones pressing it were his father, the C in C, the head of the Federation Council and the President. It was even harder when his own logic was in full agreement with their arguments. Spock felt the momentum, he knew the opportunity was too precious to ignore. The wellbeing of the whole Federation depended on it. He also knew he was uniquely suited for this delicate task.
He accepted it. Duty was that one thing that both he and Jim placed higher than their lives. Not the letter of it, against which both of them had committed numerous transgressions. But the spirit of it, absolutely. When it really mattered, they both knew they had to do what they must and they never hesitated. That was what made Jim, above all, an exceptional commander. That was what made Spock an exceptional officer as well. That was the reason why Spock could neither decline the assignment, nor disclose where he was going. He would have told Jim anyway, but Spock’s orders were effective immediately, and he had to leave within six hours of receiving them. Jim wasn’t on Earth.
He was distracted during the negotiations. Or, since Vulcans didn’t get distracted, it would be more precise to say that he was not devoting all his thoughts to the proceedings. Half of his mind was focused on finding the means to make peace with the Klingons. The other half was desperately searching for anything that might raise Jim’s spirits.
Jim was an action-driven being and an adrenaline addict. Starfleet seemed to be able to supply him with both, but Starfleet didn’t send flag offices to border patrols or on exploration missions anymore. Starfleet was changing, too, becoming a much more formalized, much more confined and bureaucratic body. Jim, strictly speaking, wasn’t a flag officer, but his unofficial status weighed heavier than any title. They wouldn’t want to risk him on a long-term assignment anymore.
Spock was also fully aware that Jim’s command style was no longer what Starfleet cherished. He was a hero, an important symbol, and they were afraid of losing him, but much more than that, they were afraid of him setting the wrong example.
He was popular. Very popular among the young cadets Spock was teaching. Among many seasoned officers who were on their deep space missions at the same time that Jim was, who knew what it was like on the frontier. Among the civilian population, for whom Jim Kirk was the embodiment of everything trustworthy in Starfleet.
Spock was no fool. He knew why Starfleet Command was so determined on pushing Jim quietly out of their ranks. They were afraid of him. He was the one man who could, should he ever wish it, change the political landscape of the entire quadrant. He would easily gather thousands of supporters.
His name was spoken with highest reverence all over the Federation. He had saved Earth quite literally a good number of times. He had personally delivered three standing peace treaties with the Federation’s most hostile neighbors. He had a glowing record of brilliance and heroic actions. Yes, Spock could definitely see how the closed-minded, afraid of anything differentiating from their comfort zone of mediocrity, Starfleet admirals would be apprehensive of Jim Kirk set loose.
Every time Spock thought about it, it made him angry. Didn’t they know what kind of man Jim Kirk was? Couldn’t they see past their fear of anything out-of-the-box that he was only dedicated to duty above all else? Jim had personally dealt with enough power-obsessed tyrants to acquire a strong aversion to the idea, even if he had had such ambitions before, which Spock knew he hadn’t.
But there were no schools named after Jim. No acknowledgements made by Starfleet. Jim wasn’t seeking those, and Spock knew it, but he still felt angry when he saw their attempts to assure the public that Jim was nothing special. They actively tried to blur his glowing image. He was a hero, and even when heroes weren’t dangerous, they were still inconvenient. Too much influence on the impressionable minds.
Chris Pike was a convenient hero. He was immensely popular in his day, but he died—or as good as died—before he could cause any trouble. It was safe to name a medal after him. No political repercussions. No danger of creating a personality cult.
Spock didn’t want that for Jim, he knew it wasn’t what Jim would want himself. But he saw no logic in his superiors denying him the acknowledgement he deserved. Spock wouldn’t have been too irritated because of this, per se. Neither he nor Jim had ever craved fame. What riled him up was the fact that Command’s actions were studiously imposing limit after limit on Jim, thus gradually depriving him of any reason to continue with the service. And Jim needed that, needed to be active, needed to be able to put his unique talents to use.
That was why when it came to deciding exactly how Chancellor Gorkon was to be transported to the peace talks site, Spock volunteered the Enterprise without reservations. He could tell both sides weren’t as ready for peace as they tried to convey, much as they might have needed it. He knew it wouldn’t be a simple assignment. He could think of only one person it could be entrusted to, for so many reasons, not the last of which was Spock’s hope of restoring Jim’s appreciation of a challenge. Jim might have been disappointed in Spock, but Spock wasn’t willing to let him be disappointed in himself.
It was all wrong.
The mission had nearly cost Jim and Doctor McCoy their lives, but that wasn’t the worst part, as callous as it might sound. The worst part was Jim’s boiling, flaring anger at having things decided for him.
‘You had no right!’
Indeed, Spock hadn’t. He had assumed, acting in everyone’s best interests. He had assumed and he had assumed wrongly. Oh, the Federation benefited, no denying that. The peace treaty was signed—because Jim made it possible. But if Spock thought Jim had been disappointed in him before, he had never been so mistaken in his life.
And now this. Three months after Khitomer, the Enterprise decommissioned, her crew on leave or reassigned. Scott taking his retirement and virtually disappearing, leaving only McCoy and probably Uhura his new address. Uhura calling in what seemed to be all the leave time she had accumulated in many years and disappearing also. McCoy taking off on his new assignment as Starfleet Chief Medical Inspector. Chekov transferring as First Officer to the Crazy Horse.
Spock himself was pretty much tied up with the aftermath of the peace negotiations. There were too many details to be cleared and defined, and although he insisted that Starfleet’s legal team was more than capable of taking over, they held him up for three months, using his familiarity with the other side’s position. Which was logical, Spock accepted, but highly inconvenient for him. They robbed him of the time he couldn’t afford to lose. He took off the first opportunity he got, leaving a lot of angry officials and admirals in his wake.
He and Jim hadn’t spoken after Khitomer. Even the bond was silent and strangely empty. Spock could barely feel Jim’s presence in the back of his mind, and it pained and concerned him greatly. Something was happening in Jim’s life, something of which Spock wasn’t a part. It didn’t feel right, not one bit.
Today is the first day of Spock being back on Earth. Jim’s apartment is the first place he has come to. Spock needs to see Jim, badly. It’s almost a physical need by now, to simply be in his presence, to look at him, to hear his voice. Feel his touch. He has been without it for so long, he doesn’t believe he can bear its absence any longer.
Spock had every intention of discussing their options. If Starfleet isn’t appealing to Jim anymore, Spock has no desire to continue within it, either. Spock entertained a number of possibilities prior to his coming here. He wasn’t going to insist on any, though, he was willing to follow Jim wherever he wished to go. He was willing to beg to be allowed to do so, if it came to that.
Entreat me not to leave thee...
It seemed to have been said only for them.
Spock looks at the gray plastic of the counter unseeingly, thinking of now. And what of now? Who is this woman in Jim’s bed? What is the meaning of her, apart from the obvious? Is she here because Jim is bored? Or is she here because Jim is interested in what Spock has to say no longer? Is Spock too late? Has he done too much damage? Is it irreparable?
He cannot bring himself to go back into the bedroom and wake Jim. All he can do is repeat the words in his head. Human words, ancient words, which are becoming his litany. He says them mutely over and over again, feeling his desperation growing. He never acknowledged he had an intuition, but whatever it is, it’s screaming at him that he’s already lost. He repeats the words stubbornly, like an exorcism, willing them to frighten off his demons.
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
Spock closes his eyes, willing his mind to quietness. He doesn’t hear the footsteps coming from behind.