The call from HQ came, as it always did, when Kirk had been just on the point of ordering the shore leave rota to be implemented.
After a rather strenuous and traumatic few weeks working with a galactic rescue effort to support victims of global flooding in an offbeat world with little in the way of interstellar relationships and rather less in the way of climate defence systems, the Enterprise had been diverted to resolve a small interplanetary dispute in the Delta system. The Delta conflict had required a combination of intensive diplomacy on Kirk’s part and some active hands-on intervention by a large security team, leading to rather less sleep and rather more casualties (if none fatal) than Kirk had been hoping and, as a result of all this, shore leave was a priority. The ship was in orbit around Starbase 12 and Harding had already drawn up the lists for the first rotation when Uhura had announced the incoming message from Starfleet. Unusually, HQ was requesting face to face audio-visual communication in private and, with a sigh, Kirk collected his First Officer with a nod and moved towards the turbolift, leaving Sulu with the con.
“And better put that shore leave rota on hold,” he added, aware that the entire bridge crew would hear the comment and be aware of the potential consequences of the call from HQ. There was an almost audible collective expulsion of air, and Kirk made himself look around before stepping into the turbolift to radiate a reassuring grin. “Let’s wait and see – stand by, in the meantime, and make sure you’ve all packed your toothbrushes.”
Behind closed doors, he grimaced at Harding and leaned back against the wall, reaching up with one hand to release tension in his neck. As the turbolift hummed towards the briefing room level, Mike Harding said: “It’s indecent what you get away with, Jim. That smile should be illegal and you know it. But the team are exhausted and if I’d known what I was getting into, I’d have stayed at home and stuck with table arrangements for the wedding.”
“You’re damn right about the team,” said McCoy, appearing as the turbolift doors opened on this remark, “but you’re wrong about the wedding – it would have been far more exhausting, trust me on that. Jim – I hear we’re scheduled for more orders. The crew need a break; tell Starfleet to go bother someone else.”
“Gentlemen, thank you both, as always, for your invaluable advice,” Kirk said, pleasantly, leading the way to briefing room 3. “And please remember that this communication is Code 3C, which means you can listen but not participate. I am not entirely convinced that Bob Wesley will be interested in your views on the comparative stress of table plans.”
But when he switched on the viewer, it was not Wesley’s face but Nogura’s which looked out at him. He thought, “There goes shore leave,” and then “Please God, make McCoy keep quiet.”
“Captain,” Nogura said with his customary smile which Kirk read, as always, as bestowing genuine warmth on Kirk whilst concealing an entirely different set of objectives and strategies which were nothing to do with any personal relationship with his officers.
“Sir,” he said. “This is an unexpected honour.”
“I won’t waste your time or insult your intelligence, Captain,” the C-in-C said, drily, “and you may or may not think these orders an honour but I hope they might bring their compensations.”
Kirk raised an eyebrow and said nothing, waiting for Nogura to continue and suddenly feeling too tired for either honours or compensations. The wave of exhaustion left him entirely unprepared for the impact of the next sentence.
“The Enterprise is to proceed with immediate effect to rendezvous with the VSS Seleya in Gamma sector.”
He was aware of a sudden movement from McCoy, of his own, almost visceral reaction and then, overwhelmingly, of a monosyllabic question – Why? And before he could voice it, or perhaps because Nogura read it in his face, he didn’t have to.
“This request comes at the highest level, Captain, from me and also from Ambassador Sarek.” I’ll bet it does, he thought. “Jim, I need you to be very, very clear on what is going on here. It is imperative for the sake of future dialogue between Vulcan and Starfleet that the development of the VSS Seleya mission is not left in a vacuum – that its relationship with Fleet vessels does not proceed on an ad hoc basis. It has been proposed and agreed that there should be a fixed liaison responsibility within Starfleet and that, in essence, that this ship should work in partnership with the Seleya.”
“This liaison ship being the Enterprise, sir,” Kirk said.
“Sir,” said Kirk, very carefully indeed, thinking – First I tell McCoy and Mike not to talk to Bob Wesley about wedding arrangements and here am I challenging the C-in-C face to face, too right I need shore leave – “Sir, with respect, the resources of a flagship vessel such as the Enterprise –“
“Could not be put to better use,” Nogura finished for him, smoothly. “Captain, I don’t need to tell you quite how much rides on this. And you may just be the only one who can deliver for us.” By way of goodbye, then, eyes on Kirk’s face, he said warmly “Do give my regards to Captain Spock, won’t you, Jim?” and the connection went dead.
McCoy said, trying hard to conceal an immediate and obvious pleasure and failing entirely : “God help us - a ship full of Vulcans. One was bad enough and I bet he’s gone native.”
Harding said nothing but looked at Kirk thoughtfully.
Kirk was silent. He was fighting a conflicting tide of emotions, mixed in with exhaustion and topped by a feeling of betrayal such as he had yet to experience in relation to Nogura. He was too seasoned an officer not to be aware of the needs of diplomacy and politics, but it had never hit so close to home before.
Gamma sector. Mentally, he ran a rough calculation of their current position and thought that it might not be unreasonable for the Seleya and Enterprise to be able to rendezvous within perhaps eight days, which meant that even allowing for a few days shore leave (the wisdom of which he would somehow manage to convey to HQ; they would accept that an exhausted crew was in no shape to tackle the diplomatic minefields ahead) he would see Spock in person in less than a fortnight. The thought alone – fourteen days, 336 hours, an almost visual sense of what they looked like and how quickly they would go - was sufficient to kindle a small warmth inside him in a place which had been cold for nearly six months.
But this was a private warmth for a private reason. He had taken his oath to Starfleet and he had given the Fleet everything over the years - his days, his nights, his love, his loyalty – offered his life, on occasion, though always, so far, managed to cheat that final down-payment. But his personal relationships had been off-limits.. And his feelings for Spock were about as personal as James Kirk got. He knew he was not being asked to work with the Seleya because he was James T Kirk, or because the Enterprise was the Fleet’s flagship – or even because it had once been Spock’s home. He was being asked to lever his friendship with Spock to ameliorate the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet and just at that moment he longed, more than anything else, to refuse.
For the first time since the news had broken of the Halcyon court martial, he felt used, dirty. And wondered whether it had felt the same way to Spock, under pressure to take the Seleya assignment in the first place, and whether he had owed him more support, more understanding than he had given at the time.
And yet - Gamma sector. Fourteen days. He knew that even if it had been possible to refuse the C-in-C (and he was not about to throw away his career over this), it would not have been in him to turn down that invitation; even if the invitation did not come from Spock and even if (as he strongly suspected) in warping to the Seleya he was not travelling back to the same friendship he had last saluted on Christmas Day with a badly played chess match, a volume of the unspoken and a tightly clasped handshake.
As the weeks wore on, his desultory exchange of electronic mail with Spock had failed to translate into anything much more substantive, partly because he had continued to struggle with the means of communication but mainly because he had become aware of a reservation on the part of the Vulcan. Spock was hiding something, he knew, and Kirk thought it was probably a level of unhappiness to which the Vulcan was not prepared to admit. Face to face, Kirk was more than able to drag problems out of his erstwhile First Officer. He knew very well the nineteen different possible meanings which lay behind “Vulcans have no emotions”. He was a galactic expert on Spock’s expressionless face and, as a last resort, had sometimes achieved significant success through direct attack, from the “Would it help if I told you I’ll treat this as totally confidential?” during the days before Spock’s pon farr to “You are irreplaceable to the ship and you are entirely and permanently irreplaceable to me personally” just before Spock left the ship. Without any of these tactics, all of which depended on physical presence, together with a nagging worry that his exchanges with Spock might not be secure from watching eyes, he was helpless. He had hated the sense of not talking truth with the Vulcan and had therefore allowed the dialogue to descend to the banal and the infrequent, hoping against hope that there would be an opportunity to meet in person. And here it was, but not of his choosing and not of Spock’s.
He turned, aware that both Harding and McCoy were watching him now, waiting for a reply, and consciously straightened his face. Yet one more thing I learned from Spock, he thought, with black humour.
“Mike, give the crew four days leave. They need it and if we use the rotations effectively, everyone will have a good seventy-two hours rest that way. Then have Chekov plot a course to intercept Seleya leaving here in four days’ time at warp 6 and ask Uhura to notify Spock of our ETA. But first of all have Uhura get me HQ again – not Nogura, Wesley would be best.”
“Yes sir,” Harding said smartly, and left.
McCoy looked at him, curiously.
“That it, Jim? Thought you might be a bit happier than that to see the hobgoblin. I admit to a small degree of interest and anticipation myself, but I’ll give you a double annual physical if you tell the man I said so. How about we kidnap him and give him a chance to remember his human half?”
“Leave it, Bones,” he said, tiredly, running a hand through his hair. “Aren’t you supposed to be packing?” And left the briefing room to negotiate his crew’s shoreleave.
Kirk had chosen with great care the initial team to go over to the Seleya. It had been tempting to include all the old hands, and indeed he had seen hopeful expressions on the faces of Scott, Uhura, Sulu and particularly Chekov, whom he knew had missed Spock acutely. But his mission here was not Old Home Week and the need was to present as professionally as possible. At first, he thought he might just take Harding, but on reflection decided to include McCoy. He was wary of the culture he would find predominant on the Vulcan ship and trusted McCoy’s antennae to give him some feedback. On the subject of Spock himself, he would back his own antennae.
And at the last minute, he included Leo Santini, as well, and for this he had no very good reason at all, beyond an obscure gratitude to the boy for having given him a good excuse to contact Spock earlier in the year. And because he thought Spock would like to see him.
He had absolutely no idea, beyond the exchange of some frighteningly official messages with Spock since leaving Starbase 12, why he should feel less convinced that Spock would like to see Kirk himself.
Two days out from the ETA with the Seleya, Kirk had called a meeting of all senior personnel.
“This is, to all intents and purposes, an alien ship,” he said. “The Seleya is not a Starfleet vessel and it will not feel like one to us. She flies under her own flag and we must remember that. The diplomatic context is both fraught and of crucial significance for the future of the Federation. It is a situation in which we must all be diplomats, must all think through every word and every action before it is said and done. You all know the background to recent events and it goes without saying that there must be no physical touching of any of the crew of the Seleya.” He hesitated, then went on. “Captain Spock deserves our especial consideration. On the one hand, I suggest you prepare yourselves for the fact that, as the Vulcan commander of the Seleya, he is answerable to professional and cultural obligations that mean his dealings with us may be less familiar than we may expect. On the other hand, he is still our colleague and comrade and deserves our absolute support. Thank you, that is all.”
Everything unravelled as the transporter dazzle faded and his eyes sought and found Spock’s. It felt like a physical relief, like coming home, like recognising an old friend after several times mistaking a stranger for him in the street. What in heaven’s name did it matter why he was here, who had ordered it or for what purpose, and why had he ever questioned or resented the suggestion? How on earth had he allowed Spock and himself to become mired in electronic half truths, in miscommunication, in silence? This – this – was Spock, not the author of those cryptic messages, not the correspondence which had been a pale imitation of the magic of their shared spaces, not the captain of the VSS Seleya but that face, that gaze, that instant connection, the feeling of knowing and of being known, that inner recognition, that silent hello. And because this was Spock, this, too, was Kirk – he felt himself again, truly alive for the first time in months.
He stepped off the transporter platform, followed by Harding, McCoy and Santini and was introduced in turn to a line of personnel. He nodded to each of them in turn, hearing his greetings echoed behind him by the Enterprise team.
Saredin, Chief Engineer. So this was the architect of the collapse in Kirk’s personal life. He studied with interest intelligent eyes, carved features, high forehead. Spock had been right; there was a distinction about the expression that suggested he would be an interesting conversationalist, if not a formidable enemy. But Kirk had a score to settle with Saredin and would take a long time to win over.
T’Mala. It had simply never occurred to Kirk that Spock would be serving with a female First Officer. The woman was stunningly beautiful, but absolutely glacial. Kirk found himself thinking that Sarek, beside her, would seem as warm and entertaining as a magician at a child’s birthday party. And then he wondered what Spock made of her – Spock, who had been treated so very harshly by T’Pring. What was it about the females of Spock’s species who wore their Vulcan heritage with such little warmth or humour? And if not – if Kirk was wrong about T’Mala, either in her views of Spock or Spock’s of her, what did that mean? He suddenly wondered if T’Mala were bonded, if this might be a solution for Spock, if it meant that Spock could find a way back to complete integration in his home planet, after all.
Kirk felt a sudden chill, and shook himself. And then, next in line, the Seleya’s captain.
“Captain,” he said, looking into the familiar face, trying hard – very hard – for diplomatic sobriety but entirely unable to keep a warm smile from the corners of his mouth.
“Captain,” Spock said. Their eyes held, and then Kirk nodded and moved off.
A tour of the ship was followed by a meeting in a large, austere briefing room, attended by the Enterprise delegation together with Spock, T’Mala and Saredin.
“We welcome both your crew and the initiative, Captain, and look forward to working in close collaboration with the Enterprise. Our proposal is to test out the potential parameters of that collaboration and, at the same time, deepen our mutual understanding by developing a pilot partnership mission. T’Mala will present,” and he nodded to the Vulcan First Officer to continue.
T’Mala made a fluent, if toneless, presentation to the meeting on a scientific study which the Seleya team had been conducting into the effect on dilithium crystallisation of certain atmospheric conditions found only in the Gamma sector. Watching her, Kirk found himself speculating all over again on Spock – how he had adjusted to being back in the Vulcan world, whether he had discovered changes in himself, whether he saw officers like T’Mala as Kirk did, or whether his different view point had allowed an easy re-integration, even a collegiate understanding. He stole a glance at Spock, who was looking unblinkingly at T’Mala and was just wondering, with an odd stab of worry and affection whether the lines around Spock’s eyes were exhaustion or unhappiness, when he was brought back to earth by the words “shore leave”.
“.... to assess the evidence of the earlier experiment; however, it has been necessary to proceed without allowing your officers the opportunity to evaluate since the Enterprise was four point three days late to rendezvous, due to unscheduled shore leave.”
McCoy opened his mouth and Kirk said, smoothly
“I must apologise for any delay occasioned by the ship’s stay at Starbase 12. At the time we received our orders, the crew were preparing for shore leave. We arranged to shorten our stay somewhat but it was impossible to arrive within the optimal timeframe as a result.”
T’Mala stared at him, expressionlessly.
“We did not understand the need or justification for leisure given the nature of the mission or the source of the orders, Captain Kirk.”
He felt McCoy stir again, spoke swiftly, with his trademark grin (which was entirely ignored)
“We’d had a tough run. The crew were exhausted – I discussed it with HQ before we left. As I said, Commander, we cut the timing short but it was important to me personally that we made the rendezvous in the best condition to give this mission the attention it deserves.”
“Commander T’Mala does not understand the need for shore leave in a ship of the line on active duty. She has not served in Starfleet with human crews and is unaware of their comparative physical frailty.”
Kirk was aware simultaneously of McCoy’s “Now, wait just a damn minute -” and his own immediate understanding that Saredin actually thought he was being helpful, that the comment had been delivered in factual tones as if providing an explanation for a weather front. Disregarding both, he said, very loudly
“We appreciate the explanation, Lieutenant-Commander, and we regret the delay,” and started wondering how soon they could go back to the ship. There were prices too high to pay even for the pleasure of sitting round the same table as Spock.
T’Mala barely noticed his apology and continued to outline her proposal, which seemed to involve a joint team of scientists from both vessels conducting the study on board the Seleya where the work had already begun, with a control experiment to be set up on the Enterprise. From the luxury of trusting Spock entirely on what would be a safe and appropriate scientific venture (whilst making a note to himself to consult Scotty on the side when he was back on the ship), Kirk thought it sounded as good an ice-breaker as any – ice being the operative word. And then the other shoe dropped.
“Could I see the list of proposed personnel?” Harding was asking, politely.
T’Mala turned to the screen, where the end of the proposal gave a list of Vulcan names.
“As already provided, Commander,” she said, coolly.
Mike nodded, courteously.
“I will draw up an equivalent list and send it over to you within the hour, Commander,” he offered.
T’Mala looked at him.
“There is a misunderstanding, Commander Harding. We have included in this list all VSA-rated scientists serving on both ships. There are none on the Enterprise, and therefore there is no need to include further names. However, we do recognise the need for joint teamwork and suggest that it would be appropriate for you to put forward a list of names of personnel who may be able to assist with the administrative tasks associated with the project.”
In the outcry that followed, Kirk was aware, more than McCoy’s choice of Georgian epithets, more than the interesting expression (hitherto not witnessed by Kirk) worn by Mike Harding when subject to blazing fury, more than Santini’s look of distress, more than his own swelling irritation – more than all these things, of Spock’s utter immobility.
“Gentlemen,” he said forcibly, glaring at McCoy and Harding, who both subsided. He turned to T’Mala.
“Commander – perhaps you could elucidate. It would be much appreciated.”
“Of course, Captain. The Enterprise’s former sole VSA-rated scientist is now commanding this vessel. You have other scientists on board, but they do not have this rating in the requisite speciality. I suspect that your vessel has in the past over-relied on Captain Spock’s proficiency and failed accordingly to develop parallel contingency expertise – it is a common personnel planning failure.” Too right, he thought. I wasn’t planning on losing Spock to you. I wasn’t planning on Saredin being so damn rude. But I won’t get that one wrong again. She was going on, “In my view, it would be appropriate to deploy Lieutenant Santini in this role. He has been trained by a VSA-rated scientist and his methodology will enable us to make use of his support.”
Before he could stop him, McCoy drawled
“I guess that we need to focus on VSA-rating because human standards are just insufficient.”
“Bones,” Kirk hissed. But T’Mala was quite unmoved.
“That is essentially correct, yes Doctor.”
“Well, Spock,” McCoy continued, before Kirk could stop him, “It’s been an education. I take back all those things I said about you over the years. I should have saved them up till now.”
Kirk found himself, to his horror, struggling not to laugh. And then Spock spoke, into the silence which followed:
“Lieutenant Santini is extremely well qualified to assist in this project and his participation would be most welcome.”
An olive branch or a confirmation? A welcome or a rejection?
Kirk’s eyes rested on Santini. The boy looked uncomfortable but there was also a clear delight at the compliment and at the prospect of working with Spock again. Kirk couldn’t blame him for that, and he was glad someone was getting something out of the encounter. He thought that they would all benefit from ending the meeting as soon as possible, but he couldn’t resist a small diversion of his own – even if the Vulcans thought he was raving mad, even if Nogura had him court-martialled – even, which would negate the entire objective, if Spock refused to listen.
“I think that all sounds perfectly satisfactory,” he said, pleasantly. “We’ll beam back over, except for Santini here, and I’ll brief Commander Scott. That is, of course, unless you would like me on the team?”
He was aware that T’Mala almost – not quite but almost – turned her head quickly, as if in surprise – but even more keenly aware that Spock, across the table from him and still not meeting his eyes, had stilled completely, suddenly. And he smiled to himself, and thought Yes.
“You, Captain Kirk?” T’Mala asked carefully.
“Well, it’s true I’m not VSA-rated. Or at least, not last time I checked,” he said, genially. “But I’m not a Luddite, you know. I’ve been known to assemble an explosive device from raw materials without recourse to scientific equipment of any description at all. And I am, after all, responsible for the discovery of an entirely new element.”
“Which element is that, Captain?” Saredin asked. He sounded frosty, unlike T’Mala, who merely sounded as though Kirk wasn’t really there at all.
Kirk gave a happy smile to the assembled meeting.
“It’s called corbomite, gentlemen,” he said cheerfully, standing up. “Ask your captain, I am sure he would be delighted to explain. And now, if you will forgive us, I think we should return to the Enterprise.”
He reflected afterwards that whilst the corbomite reference was unforgivable (what on earth had happened to the “absolute support” he had pledged Spock in front of his entire senior team on the Enterprise?) he might just about have got away with it – even have credited himself with salvaging some of the tension of the earlier part of the meeting, if he hadn’t relaxed sufficiently in the process to forget – just briefly, just for a second – the one thing he had taken such pains to warn the crew about, to warn himself about. The one thing he should never have allowed himself to forget for one nanosecond.
“It goes without saying that there must be no physical touching of any of the crew of the Seleya.”
And as they lined up to leave, as they filed into the transporter chamber and he followed Harding and McCoy down the stony-faced line of Vulcan officers, as he reached the end and turned to smile his goodbye, entirely by reflex action - a reflex born of countless missions standing side by side with the last Vulcan in that sober line - he reached up to touch Spock on the shoulder.
And Spock froze and stepped back, away out of his reach.
There was a collective stillness in the room.
Kirk coloured violently as humiliation and anger swept over him.
He stepped back and followed McCoy on to the transporter platform, Harding close behind him, said “Energise” and the beam took him away.
Spock looked at the meditation mat and the meditation mat looked at him. He knew that it was illogical for the mat to look at him because the mat had no visual faculty of any kind. Nevertheless, he was keenly aware of both the reproach and the superiority of the mat. The mat thought he should be at least trying to meditate and not, as Spock had done for the only time within functional memory, giving up without any attempt at all. And the mat knew that he was doomed, knew that Spock was a long way from Surak just now, and even further from the meditation mat on the Seleya.
He had received the news from Sarek of the proposed liaison with the Enterprise with an odd mixture of relief and anxiety, neither of which had been admitted (even to himself) and neither of which had permitted, at least initially, any stronger feelings. He had experienced the same reluctance as Kirk, a sector away, in relation to the rationale which underlay the choice of the vessel with which he was to liaise, and a deep sense of foreboding as to the impact on his relationship with Kirk – Kirk, with whom he had never managed to establish any real contact since leaving the Enterprise; Kirk, who would now be witness to what he knew would be alienating and incomprehensible to human eyes in terms of his attempts to fulfil Sarek’s objective and gain the credibility of a politicised and sensitive Vulcan crew; Kirk, whose imminent proximity, eight days away, was sufficient to suffuse him with the sort of deep, physical relief which accompanies a drink in the desert (unless, of course, you are desert-bred and have no need for recourse to the alleviation of human weakness).
Spock’s views on the pure logic of higher mathematics received an unexpected blow when eight days became fourteen.
Neither the apparent lack of hurry on the part of the Enterprise nor the terse and relentlessly official messages from Kirk announcing the ship’s ETA prepared him for the shock of seeing Kirk in the transporter room. Spock considered, sitting now in his quarters, if he should not immediately resign from the Seleya, given the incongruity of a Vulcan commander at once believing in the animate characteristics of a meditation mat and at the same time in the fact that a period of six months had, in fact, lasted several years. At least, that was the impression he had had on meeting Kirk’s eyes as he had materialised. In that brief moment, he had remembered everything which he had so signally failed to access through their correspondence – Kirk’s affection, Spock’s confidence in his own significance to the human, their connection, Kirk’s very essence. And then it had all gone so badly wrong.
The growing clashes between the two teams.
T’Mala’s haughtiness, Saredin’s bluntness, McCoy’s inevitable outburst, Kirk’s laidback warmth – even Harding, whose stalwart support for Kirk had jarred Spock horribly in a place he knew he had no right to be jarred.
And then the moment at the end, which Spock had seen unfold in inevitable slow motion. That hand, reaching; his own flesh, responding; his determined but almost impossible physical mastery of his own body and of the situation, pulling back from Kirk and the look in Kirk’s eyes.
Would Kirk understand?
Or would he understand but not forgive, given what he knew of Kirk’s views on Vulcan extremism? Kirk had decided views on any form of extremism, but he knew his former captain had a visceral dislike of the Vulcan manifestation of fundamentalism. Given that Kirk’s whole life was built on the creed of the owning and sharing of human vulnerability, human emotionalism in all its glory, the way of Surak was never going to be a natural fit for him. Kirk’s official and genuine stance, of course, was an express adherence to the philosophy of diversity. But it was his feelings for Spock and Spock’s rejection at the hands of his family and of his people which had sealed the matter for Kirk, and Spock knew it – knew that Kirk might well see this as a betrayal on a number of levels.
Or would he trust Spock? Was it too much to ask – did Spock, in fact, ask it? – that after all they had been through together, all they were to each other, the human would, in fact, remember who Spock was and trust him?
Spock looked at the meditation mat and the mat looked back in pity.
“Well, I thought,” Kirk said, consideringly, materialising on the Enterprise with Harding and McCoy and speaking in the tone of one adopting a well thought out view, “I thought that all went pretty badly, don’t you?”
“Jim,” McCoy began, uncomfortably, but Kirk waved him down. He didn’t want McCoy’s perception, his sympathy, he thought that, right now, he could bear anything but that.
“Time for bed, gentlemen, I think. Tomorrow is a whole new day. Just now, I am not sure whether that’s a good thing or not. See you then.”
Lying in his quarters, not expecting to sleep, he felt a renewed tide of anger sweep over him, anger and desolation. He was furious with himself for the slip, for forgetting, for letting go. He was even angrier with Spock.
His mind went back to the meeting of eyes as he had arrived on the Seleya. That feeling of homecoming, of recognition, of – damn it, Kirk, say it – love. Neither of them had said or done anything; had it been simply his imagination that those feelings had been reflected in the dark eyes? Had it always been transference, all along, since the very beginning? He refused to believe that, thought back to chess games, nights of easy companionship, shared moments of amusement and understanding. No, it had not been transference. Not until now.
He let the scene flow through his mind; removed from the immediacy of that bleak meeting room, the tension in him eased and he could even smile. The clashes had been so inevitable, the behaviour of everyone – even himself, even Spock – so very typical. But he kept coming back to the ending, to that rejection, that turning away, and could not get past it.
Had he made up Spock’s expression in the transporter room, on arrival? Had he changed that much? Should he trust Spock? But would the Spock he knew have inflicted that public humiliation, that denial? He knew that the Vulcan was functioning under tremendous strain, knew something was badly wrong, but couldn’t decide whether it was self imposed or not – whether the change came from within, as a result of the posting on the Seleya, or whether he was marching to other orders.
The trouble was that he knew that Spock probably had very few choices. But at the end of the day, everyone had at least one. And Spock’s, in this instance, were not his; it was as simple as that. In his heart, he simply did not believe that Vulcan philosophy was worth the sacrifice of a friendship and yet it was to Spock – and this despite the fact that Vulcan had treated Spock as an outcast all his life. Whereas he, Kirk, had spoken the words “You are irreplaceable to the ship and you are entirely and permanently irreplaceable to me personally” – well, perhaps better not to go there. What he had said, he meant, but he couldn’t blame Spock for choosing a planet over a person. Not just a planet but his only chance of acceptance and reconciliation.
He had been right about one thing, and that was not to expect sleep. Lying in bed, his hand remembered the last touch, the farewell six months earlier and, sub-consciously, in a movement which was part physical memory, party talisman, part touchstone, his right hand crossed over to his left and held it lightly. Kirk’s eyes closed but sleep still eluded him.