“Commander Sonak, I trust you’ve received your appointment as Science Officer of the Enterprise?”
Kirk could hear the bite in his words. It was unintentional. The Vulcan had done nothing to deserve such a scathing tone, but it was outside Kirk’s ability to be any more accommodating right now. If it were anyone but a Vulcan, they would have sensed the hostility and perhaps been offended by it. Anyone but a Vulcan… or one particular Vulcan. Kirk clamped down on the thought.
“Yes, under your recommendation as I understand, Admiral,” Sonak replied.
Yes. My recommendation, Kirk thought. Because I need someone. Because there has to be a balance, an opposite. But Sonak wouldn’t be enough, and Kirk knew it. It was a lame attempt to bring back the past, and Kirk knew it was all fantasy. Still, he was compelled to try.
“You will report to me aboard the Enterprise in one hour,” Kirk said, taking the escalator stairs two at a time and leaving Sonak to catch up.
“To you, sir?”
Kirk fought down the instant piercing retort. Not fair, he swore at himself. “Commander, I am on my way to a meeting with Admiral Nagura that will not last more than three minutes. It is my intention to be on that ship when it leaves spacedock.” He nailed the Vulcan with a sharp glare, not something just any human could do, but Kirk had lots of prior practice. “Report to me in one hour.”
He could feel Sonak’s mildly baffled gaze on his back as he walked away. It took something to be able to throw a Vulcan. Kirk was a master at it. He stormed off to Nagura’s office.
“Starfleet! Have you got them?!” Kirk shouted into the comm.
“What we got, sir, didn’t live very long…fortunately,” a sick sounding voice replied.
Kirk swallowed hard. Not even out of dock and two dead. Not good statistics to start with. He pushed the comm. button. “Give my condolences to their families. Commander Sonak’s can be reached through the Vulcan Embassy.”
Relief. Kirk felt it, and shoved it away in disgust. Was he that desperate? Would he rather have no one than the Vulcan that he really wanted at his side?
The whisper was dark and Kirk had to swallow bile rising at the thought that he could be glad a man was dead. He had fallen that far without his other half to guide him.
He pushed away from the controls and spun around, nearly crashing through the transporter room doors before they could slip aside. He covered the distance to the nearest turbo lift in a matter of a few long strides and stepped inside, glaring hard at a young crewman that attempted to hitch a lift. The young man stumbled back and stuttered something unintelligible as the doors slid closed.
Kirk sagged against the rail, dipping his head, and sucking in air. What had happened to him? How had he become such a monster? Of course, he knew the answer. It wasn’t a good one, not a valid one, not even a poor excuse, but it was what he kept telling himself. He’d been abandoned. Just when he’d reached that balance in life between personal and professional, love and duty, that so few are ever fortunate enough to reach, he was abandoned and his life completely wrecked.
He didn’t even say good-by. Just disappeared without a word.
Why Spock? Why did you go? What made you run? Kirk asked himself these questions nearly every day. He was no closer to finding the answers now than he had been the morning he’d woken to find his bed empty and Spock gone.
Kirk had tracked him as far as Starbase 212, from there his trail had vanished for almost eighteen months. It wasn’t until a little over six months ago that Uhura had told him she’d heard a rumor that Spock was on Vulcan, had been there for over a year undergoing some Vulcan ritual. Where she’d gotten the information, Kirk hadn’t asked. He didn’t care. He’d flung back into his memory, searching for something, something that Spock had said once. A name. It had meaning. Some meaning that held sway with all Vulcans, not just Spock. Kohlinar. The last rite of pure logic.
Spock was not a pure Vulcan. He had lived his entire life in silent torment because of the mixed blood that ran through his veins. Kirk had told him countless times that he didn’t care, that it made no difference. But Spock had never accepted that. He was shunned by other Vulcans, respectfully shunned, but shunned none the less. His choice of Starfleet had compounded the issue, and he had striven always to somehow make himself as Vulcan as possible without the aid of pure blood. The Kohlinar was the way to salvation for Spock. If he could earn the rite, then his people would have to accept him.
But why had Kirk not been enough!
That was the root of it. Kirk cringed to admit such a selfish motive, but the truth was too obvious to deny. He was hurt beyond measure that Spock had not been content with Kirk’s love; content enough, at least, to leave off his obsessive drive for acceptance from his stubborn—and in Kirk’s view—narrow minded people.
The turbo lift doors opened and Kirk stepped onto the bridge, giving his uniform a quick tug. Time to tell Decker he had double duty as Science Officer until a replacement could be found.
Kirk breathed the name. His voice sounded too raw and pleading to his own ears, but there was no help for it.
Spock stood on the upper deck, taking in the refurbished bridge, the present crew, and the ship’s immediate status with one sweep of his dark eyes. He was dressed in a short robe of black velvet embroidered in silver thread with ancient Vulcan symbols. Kirk had seen Spock in his dress uniform on many occasions, but he’d never seen him don his traditional Vulcan robes. Kirk’s heart was in his throat. Spock had never looked so imposing, or austere, or so utterly beautiful, as he did standing there dressed like some ancient dark elvish prince from a medieval Earth fairy tale.
Spock’s eyes finally came to rest on Kirk. They paused.
Spock? Kirk tested the long unused mind link they used to share. Nothing. He pressed forward, tentatively at first, then firmly, anger driving him, until he boldly thrashed at the link trying to gain an answer. He was met with a glacial wall, sprung up so suddenly and as solid as the metal rail beneath his hands that he was left dizzy and reeling.
Kirk swallowed and tried to remember how to breathe. Spock held his gaze for one eternal second and then looked away.
Kirk’s fingers folded around the railing. His heart twisted in his chest, writhing beneath the cold in Spock’s eyes, the lack of even an acknowledgement. He locked his arms to keep himself supported and standing. McCoy burst onto the bridge.
“Well, so help me, I’m actually pleased to see you!”
Spock made no reply, not even a jibe, and Bones was left with a baffled look on his face while Spock stared at him blankly.
Kirk heard Bones’ sentiments mirrored through his crew, and still Spock remained unresponsive.
“It’s how we all feel, Mr. Spock,” Uhura said quietly, trying to break the awkward stillness.
Spock gave her no acknowledgement excepting that blank stare. He made a few more computations on the tricorder and then turned toward the turbo lift.
“With your permission Captain, I will now discuss these equations with the engineer.”
The Engineer. Not Scotty, but the Engineer. Captain. Not Jim. Not T’hy’la.
Kirk nodded once, slowly. Spock turned away.
No! Don’t go.
“Mr. Spock!” Spock turned back. Kirk’s voice dropped to almost a whisper, “Welcome aboard.”
Then Spock was gone in a ripple of black velvet.
Kirk stared at the closed lift door for too many seconds. He could feel Checkov and Sulu waiting behind him, and Uhura he could see out of the corner of his eye, pitched forward on her chair, a look of confusion and sympathetic pain on her face. Her gaze moved to him, and he could see the sorrow in her eyes; sorrow for him. He gave over command of the bridge to Sulu and took the lift to his quarters.
“Science officer Spock, reporting as ordered.”
“Please, sit down,” Kirk gestured to a chair across from McCoy.
Spock remained standing. Kirk could not chalk it to such a thing as human stubbornness, but he didn’t know what else to call it. He let it pass for the moment.
“Spock, you haven’t changed a bit. You’re just as warm and sociable as ever,” Bones said from his post in the corner of the room.
“Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates.”
Bones raised an eyebrow. There was a glimmer of the old Spock in that, but he said it like it was an rote response.
“At last report you were on Vulcan…apparently to stay.” Kirk cringed at the break in his voice over the last words. Spock remained silent, and Kirk prodded him again, “Sit down, Spock.”
Still, he would not move.
Kirk clamped his jaw tight. He was not going to let his anger get the better of him. Spock was far too rational; he’d be immune to any outburst Kirk might make. He didn’t used to be. That was the past. He felt McCoy brush his wrist as he moved around and behind him to take a seat on one of the rec-area couches. It was his way of saying he was there for Jim.
Bones had been the only other person completely aware of the relationship Jim and Spock shared with all of its ins and outs and details. The rest of the crew had suspected, he was sure, but had never publicly speculated. Not that it would have mattered. It wasn’t meant to be a secret. Jim was a very private person by nature, and Spock was ruled by his heritage which went without saying that all personal relationships were kept completely separate from his duties.
“Yes, you were undergoing the ‘Kohlineer’ discipline.”
Bones chiding statement brought Kirk back to the present. He intentionally bastardized the pronunciation of the Vulcan rite. Kirk knew he was trying to get a rise out of the Vulcan.
“If you are referring to the Kohlinar, Doctor, you are correct,” Spock replied, unmoved by the deliberate insult.
“Well, however it’s pronounced, Spock, it’s the ritual that’s supposed to purge all remaining emotions.” This too was sharp edged because McCoy knew Vulcan history, and he held that Vulcans were not devoid of emotion as so many presumed, but rather, they suppressed it until it was no longer apparent. He was always trying to goad Spock into some kind of emotional display, he said for the Vulcan’s own good health.
“The Kohlinar is also a discipline you broke…to join us,” Kirk said quietly, sincerely. It would have been no small thing for Spock to leave any task unfinished, but to abandon something he had sought for so long with such devotion; that was serious. He wanted Spock to know that he understood the sacrifice he’d made coming here now. Spock only leveled a closed and empty gaze on him. Kirk ground his teeth in frustration. “Would you please…sit down.”
He looked up into Spock’s eyes and something in his own must have nudged that Vulcan stiffness. Spock slowly lowered himself into the chair, still keeping his thin shoulders painfully erect. Kirk let out a breath he had not been aware he was holding and sagged onto the arm of the couch beside McCoy. He watched Spock expectantly.
“On Vulcan I began sensing a consciousness, from a source more powerful than I have ever encountered. Thought patterns of exactingly perfect order. I believe they emanate from the intruder.” Spock looked up, and for one second Kirk thought he saw pain, anguish beyond imagining, reflected in the dark eyes. “I believe it may hold my answers.”
“Well, isn’t it lucky for you, we just happen to be heading your way,” Bones quipped.
Kirk frowned distractedly at Bones, but would not tear he gaze from Spock. “Bones, we need him,” he scolded. “I…need him.”
“Then my presence is to our mutual advantage” Spock replied evenly.
Spock, please! This is me! Don’t do this, Kirk shouted in his own head. He groped for the mind link again and was again met with that frigid, impenetrable wall. He could only hope his burning inner turmoil poured out of his eyes and scorched the Vulcan where he sat. Spock held Kirk’s gaze, unmoved and unmoving.
Kirk dropped his gaze, defeated. “Any thought patterns you might sense, whether they appear to affect you personally or not, I expect immediately reported.”
“Of course, Captain. Is there anything else?”
Yes! Damn it, Spock, yes there’s more! There’s me. It had to be more than just this alien thing that brought you here. Say it was me!
Spock rose, paused almost imperceptibly in front of Kirk, and then left the room.
“What the hell, Jim!” McCoy launched off the couch as soon as the doors were closed. “What was that? What was that!”
Kirk sagged, staring at his hands. “Don’t, Bones. Just don’t.”
“I came in here to help you face up to the green blooded bastard, and you just let him waltz away!” McCoy spun a mock dance step to emphasize his frustration. “And what about his communicating with an alien intelligence of that kind of destructive power?”
“He would tell us, Bones. He did tell us.”
“Are you sure?” Bones needled.
“He’s loyal if nothing else.”
“Is he, now?”
McCoy put up his hands at Kirk’s warning tone. “Look, all I’m saying is that his loyalties seem a bit rocky at the moment, and he doesn’t have a stellar track record.” He cast a pointed glare at Kirk with the last words.
“For God’s sake, Bones!” Kirk shook his head viciously and launched off the arm of the couch. “This is Spock we’re talking about! There isn’t a disloyal bone in his body! He would place this crew and this ship above everything else, no matter what he may have done to me, or for what reason.” He turned and glared at McCoy. McCoy only folded his arms slowly, a slight smirk on his face, and leaned back into the wall.
“All right, Bones, you win,” Kirk sighed.
“I’ve been trying to tell you, Jim. Spock would never have hurt you intentionally. There’s more to him than either of us knows or understands, or ever will know or understand.” McCoy reached out a hand and squeezed Kirk’s shoulder lightly. “Give him time. He’ll come around. For you, he’ll come around.”
Kirk nodded, unable to speak. McCoy nodded once and then left his Captain alone with his thoughts.
Spock, what were you thinking?
Spock did not disobey orders. There was no power in the universe that could bend him from his duty, at least none that Kirk had ever met. Not even when Spock’s father’s life had been on the line had he shirked or waivered from his duty. Only once, when Kirk’s very life hung by a thread did Spock hesitate. Ultimately, he had achieved both his duty and saving his Captain’s life at the same time. It was what Spock did, beat the impossible odds.
Here, inside this ship-creature, there was something that the universe had never seen before, something that had made Spock abandon his duty to serve his needs. Kirk wanted to throw him in the brig for placing himself, and potentially the crew, in such danger. He also wanted to weep for joy that Spock had finally given in to his heart, even if Kirk had not been the one to make him do it. Right now, he could do neither.
“I’m going out there.” He made for the turbo lift.
McCoy’s hand shot out and grabbed him. “You don’t know what’s out there, Jim. It might kill you.” His voice dropped, “He may already be dead.”
Kirk’s eyes darted to McCoy’s, suddenly flooded with fear. He had avoided the thought. He refused to recognize it. He would not lose. Jim Kirk never lost. Somehow, with the help of his crew, his friends, he always came though. But one vital component was not here, he was out there. He was out there and not responding, and Kirk was going to save him if it killed him.
“He’s not,” Kirk whispered fiercely. “I’m going.”
McCoy released him.
“There’s definitely been neurological trauma, Jim. That mind meld must have been stronger than anything he’s ever encountered before,” McCoy diagnosed as he monitored the readings on multiple screens surrounding the bio bed.
“No doubt.” Kirk was distracted. He hovered over Spock. He would not leave him. McCoy had tried to get him to go back to his quarters and take a catnap for twenty minutes or at least commandeer the next bio bed over and sleep off the edge of the spacesickness he always got going outside the ship. Craziest damn thing McCoy had ever seen, a starship captain who got spacesick. He couldn’t fault the man, though, his own disgruntled relationship with transporters was just about as ironic.
Kirk clung to the edge of the bed, holding the irregular bouts of nausea at bay by sheer force of will. His palms were sweaty from fear. Spock was so still. Like death. He had not stirred since Kirk had retrieved him from his freefall back toward the ship after the creature had expelled him from the orifice. That was another mild worry in the back of Kirk’s mind. It was almost as though the creature had sent Spock back to him. Why? What had it done to him before it sent him back? McCoy assured him nothing. This was Spock, the real human Spock, or as human as his Spock had ever been.
McCoy made his way around the bed and put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder. He felt the muscles knotted under the skin and the fine tremble that was not visible to the naked eye, but that he knew would shake Kirk apart if Spock didn’t snap out of this. He had seen Kirk deal with death, had seen him send men to their deaths, had seem him snatch them back against odds that were to minute even for a Vulcan to calculate. None of it had ever broken Kirk. Oh, McCoy knew that each one of those ghosts was emblazoned in Kirk’s mind’s eye for the rest of his life, kept safe in the shadowy recesses of his mind that he never examined too closely; but they were contained and did not hold sway against the drive and sometimes brazen courage that made Kirk the captain he was. This death, though, would be the one that cracked and eroded the very foundations of all that Kirk was, every carefully placed and finely balanced pillar of his overbearing personality would crumble to dust. If Spock died.
McCoy heard a faint sound. He glanced down and saw Spock’s lashes shift slowly against pale skin and then lift ever so slowly against the bright overhead lights. Beneath his hand he felt Kirk take in a breath and then the tension in him seemed to drain away. He moved over to the monitors where Christine evaluated the vital readings.
The name was prayer on Kirk’s lips. He leaned over Spock and waited for those dark eyes to open and focus. When they did, Kirk found himself unable to breathe, caught in the ferocious tidal pull of emotion that roiled in those dark depths. His brow furrowed in confusion. Here was the Spock he had known, suddenly opened to him, eyes brimming with the ache of decades of suppression. Spock lifted his arm, hand open, and Kirk stared dumbly at it a moment before he took it in both of his own.
Kirk’s heart—locked, bound, and gagged of his own accord in an effort to gain back some semblance of a normal life—suddenly shed its confines and soared. He had to blink away the lightheaded rush that Bones would probably attribute to the spacesickness, but that Kirk knew was a long awaited release from a self imposed prison.
Kirk leaned down. There were tears on his cheeks, and he did not care who saw. Spock turned his head to look up into Kirk’s face. They stared at each other for several moments before Kirk felt a light brushing at the back of his mind. He turned his attention to it, opened a door long sealed, and felt a sudden rushing jumble of emotions. He inhaled sharply and caught himself on the edge of the bed with a hand. McCoy grabbed his shoulders to steady him. Kirk nodded that he was all right to stand on his own and McCoy backed away.
Kirk put a hand against Spock’s cheek, ran a thumb lightly over those thin lips that smiled so rarely. He felt Spock’s indrawn breath move across the skin of his hand, and his lips moved against the pad of Kirk’s thumb just a little, the lightest of kisses. Fire from the simple contact raged up Kirk’s arm and sped across the back of his neck and down his spine turning his knees to water. His body had not forgotten how to respond to Spock’s touch even if his mind was a little rusty and wary.
But there would be time for that later.
“What did you find, Spock?” Kirk asked softly, afraid that any sound would ruin the moment and Spock would suddenly vanish again behind that frigid veneer. Instead, Spock’s hand tightened around Kirk’s and he looked at the conjoined extremities as though he had never seen them before. A single tear tracked out of his eye as he turned his gaze back to Kirk’s face.
“This…feeling. This…simple feeling,” he said slowly, every word coming like it was dragged from the depths of his soul, and pulled their hands closer to him to emphasize his words. “V’ger doesn’t understand.”
And neither did I….
Kirk could very nearly hear the words in his head as though Spock had said them aloud. He leaned closer, pressing his free hand to Spock’s chest in silent acknowledgment of that unspoken admission.
“It is asking questions, Jim…’Is this all that I am?” Spock took a ragged breath, shuddering with a quiet sob. “’Is there nothing more?’”
Spock! There’s more! I promise you there’s more…Kirk cried silently. His eyes stung with unshed tears and his chest felt like it could no longer contain the heart hammering inside it, so overwhelmed was it by the need to comfort Spock, the need to finally acknowledge the love that he had denied himself feeling for so long.
Spock’s eyes drifted closed and his grip on Kirk’s hand slackened. Kirk looked frantically to McCoy who glanced at the monitors overhead and gave a calm shake of his head.
“He’s all right, Jim. He’s just unconscious,” McCoy reassured him.
Kirk laid Spock’s hand gently back across his chest.
“Bridge to Captain Kirk.”
Kirk paused a moment, trying to collect himself, to remember where he was and what he had to do. Spock was all that mattered to him in this moment, but he had a duty to his ship, to his crew, to the people of Earth whom he was sworn to protect.
I’ve always had to put you aside for what was more important…for what I thought then was more important. Was that why you left?
“Kirk here.” His voice sounded broken and rough to his own ears. He could feel McCoy’s sympathetic gaze on him. Please forgive me, Spock.
“Captain,” Sulu’s voice came over the comm., “we’ve reached Earth.”
Finally, he had come home.
Kirk had fought tooth and nail to get his ship back. He’d played dirty and pulled strings that probably should not have been strung much less manipulated. He had honestly believed that having the Enterprise back under his control would be the peace that he needed to quiet his disjointed spirit. It had become all too quickly apparent that the Enterprise being under his command or not had little to do with Kirk’s well being. He was dependent on something entirely different.
Spock’s presence on the bridge, off his shoulder, standing to his side, just at his back, lending that ever present support was the real curative he needed. He was flying into the heart of a life form that was a thousand times more powerful than anything they had encounter before, facing the near certain destruction of Earth, and he had no trick up his sleeve and no wildcard to play; but it was all right.
Everything was all right, so long as Spock was there with him.
Kirk turned in his chair just enough to catch a glimpse of Spock out of the corner of his eye. A smile played across his lips, and his mind was bathed in warmth as Spock acknowledged his mental presence through their link. Spock’s mind was still withdrawn and uncertain, and he was still fighting the sudden loss of emotional equilibrium, but Kirk could still feel him. He could feel the real Spock, his Spock, beneath it all.
The Vulcan did not answer, nor did he turn from his station. Kirk rose and stepped on the upper deck. McCoy had been hanging close by in case Spock had a relapse, and he drifted over slowly.
“Spock…” Kirk said more softly.
Spock turned slowly around, and Kirk was struck by the stark pain on his face. There was that single tear again, tracking over that austere cheekbone. Spock only looked at him for a moment making no move to speak or explain himself.
“Not for us,” Kirk said quietly, certainly.
“No,” Spock replied, his voice rough, “not for us. I weep for V’ger, as I would weep for a brother.” His eyes stayed locked on Kirk’s. As I would weep for you…should have wept for you when my heart forgot. “As I was when I came aboard, so V’ger is now…empty, incomplete, and searching. Logic and knowledge are not enough.”
Spock’s gaze stayed with Kirk as he uttered those last words, and Kirk could feel the presence in the back of his skull, warm and pressing, willing him to understand, to believe…to forgive.
“Are you saying you’ve found what you needed, Spock?” McCoy asked carefully. He glanced from Spock to Kirk and back to Spock. He had only asked the question for one reason, even knowing the answer would not be spoken out loud. But it was answered. Spock’s dark eyes seemed to open like a night flower unfolding in the midnight hour to share its secrets with only the lonely moon.
I have found that which I needed. I have found you again, T’hy’la.
Kirk shuddered. He stepped closer to Spock, put a hand on his shoulder, gazed down into those dark eyes. His world was threatened, the gaze of every crewmember on the bridge was riveted on him, the continued existence of an entire planet balanced on his next decision, and his every move was being monitored by an alien life form that perceived humans as parasites; but none of that touched him as Spock’s hand moved slowly up to cover his own. His mind floated in a timeless space where there was only him and only Spock. This was what he had been searching for, what both of them had been searching for.
I have come home. We are home, my love.