Spock’s list of Incidents, which had started with the Decision, Ensign Santini and the Goodbye, had lengthened to include the Shoulder. He had thought at the time that it had all started to go wrong with the Shoulder, but he knew that, in fact, the fault lines lay further back.
He had said to Kirk, of Sarek, of bringing the Seleya back within Starfleet “He believes that this is most likely to happen if the ship is commanded by a Vulcan who shares this objective and who has credentials in both Starfleet and Vulcan.”
He had thought Kirk would understand what it meant to have credentials in Vulcan.
What he had learned since then was that the almost mystic strength of their mutual understanding when they had served together on the Enterprise appeared to have concealed a chasm of difference.
With all the delicacy (which Spock had appreciated) of a new and fragile reconciliation between father and son, Sarek had said: “It is your command, your mission, Spock.” But then he had gone on to say that It would be entirely essential to the success of the objective of bringing the Seleya (and the VSA) back within Starfleet that he, Spock, was perceived to be Vulcan in this, not in any sense a voice for Starfleet. “It goes without saying that there must be no association with former human colleagues.”
And Spock had said “They are my friends” and Sarek had said “Understand, Spock, I do not question your philosophy in this. But you must be very clear that the officers of the Seleya will. There can be no contact between you and the Enterprise that leads the Seleya to identify them in that category. And if they truly are your friends, they will understand.” And Spock had not only made the same assumption as his father about the understanding of his friends – he had, in fact, himself understood and agreed, had realised Sarek’s wisdom immediately on taking up the command of the Seleya and on encountering the radicalism of Saredin, fresh from the humiliation of his court martial and the naivety of T’Mala, who had had no contact with humans and had not the slightest idea of how they functioned.
He thought now, looking back, that the point at which he had begun to have the confidence to diverge from Sarek’s advice, the point at which, for his part, he would have lifted that self-imposed injunction against association with the crew of the Enterprise, was the point at which he truly began to take command of his ship. When he had realised that he could relax with his senior officers - with T’Mala and Saredin – when he could sufficiently let his guard down with them, either because they trusted him or because he trusted them. Was that the same thing? he wondered, and what had it meant about his command of the Seleya, about his ability to command in general – and about the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet, given his human heritage? About himself? But by that time, it was too late.
Everything had gone according to plan with the exception of Kirk himself. Because Kirk had, in fact, outperformed Sarek’s highest hopes for the crew of the Seleya – he had believed everything of Spock that had been intended for the most Vulcan of audiences. Spock had, at the time, refused to allow himself to think about that too much. It had simply never occurred to him that this would happen.
He remembered the chess game he had won against Kirk, the day they had heard the news about the Halcyon court martial; he remembered Kirk laughing and going over Spock’s moves and strategy, and he remembered it with a stark clarity and nostalgia as the last time he and Kirk had shared a true understanding, unclouded by any form of mutual suspicion. He knew that when he had accepted command of the Seleya that Kirk believed, at least in part, that he had actually wanted to go. He had been utterly taken aback that Kirk could possibly think this, that Kirk had simply not understood what their partnership had meant to him. He had believed himself that, although it had never been openly discussed between them, it was a matter of common consent that they were bound together, that they were indivisible, that given his own free will it was a permanent thing, that he was Kirk’s, that he belonged at his side, that it was as simple as that. He also knew that for his part he had felt let down by Kirk’s failure to attempt to persuade him to stay. He was unsure which, if either of them, had been wrong or unreasonable; it was too subtle a thing for him to feel comfortable raising with Kirk, but he had felt, even during the remainder of his time on the Enterprise before he left for the Seleya, a small change in their easy communication, the imposition of the very slightest touch of reserve where once Kirk’s company and conversation had been as natural, as unforced, as breathing.
And then the silences and the brief and infrequent communications of his first months in command, during which he had really questioned whether Kirk was intending to hold on to their friendship or whether he had seen it as simply a facet – albeit, he knew, an extraordinary, unlooked for and deeply treasured facet – of Enterprise command. He himself had never considered, never needed to consider, a relationship with Kirk outside that context, but equally, while he knew Kirk tended to live for the minute, Spock by nature saw things from the broadest of all perspectives and he had also always known that proximity was simply at the end of the day, a luxury – that his connection to Kirk was a permanent necessity, regardless of whether they were actually in the same quadrant, let alone the same ship. But it did not seem that Kirk had felt the same way.
He knew that he was equally to blame in not reaching out to Kirk, in not writing, in not communicating properly. But he also knew that this was who they were – not simply that Kirk had been his commanding officer and that he had always waited to follow where Kirk led, but more than that - that words were Kirk’s strength, not his; that it had always been Kirk who was expansive, who made declarations, who put feelings into words; that he had been content to fall in behind him, to agree, to know that his silences had been understood by Kirk as they had been understood by no other being all Spock’s life. It was he who had been exiled from the Enterprise, he who had (in those early, unhappy days on the Seleya) been in need of support – as Kirk must have known - and he had been thrown off course not to have been able to hold on to a lifeline of meaningful dialogue with Kirk. Kirk never did things without meaning, especially not with regard to Spock, and so he had found himself looking for the message in those long silences.
And then the Shoulder.
He had known, as soon as Kirk had reached for his shoulder on the first day of the joint mission and he had stepped back, that he had hurt Kirk badly, that he had inflicted real damage – although he could have done nothing else in front of the crew, in Saredin’s presence. And he had gone back to his quarters wretched and very uncertain of what to do next. But it had been the last time he had felt anything as simple as the sadness of missing Kirk, the pain of standing back from him.
He found that Kirk had decided that he was someone completely different.
And this was why it had been too late to bring Saredin and T’Mala together with the senior crew of the Enterprise. In a different world, he would have liked nothing more. He had grown to respect Saredin, to enjoy sparring with him, to feel protective about T’Mala and to admire her honesty, to value something approaching an adult innocence in her. He could see that they found the Enterprise difficult and Kirk in particular; could see also that Kirk and his crew struggled with the Vulcans; he felt an equal lack of sympathy with both crews but felt, in his heart, that Kirk, whose calling card was tolerance and empathy and whose track record was new life forms and new civilisations – that Kirk was more to blame for his inability to make that leap of imagination. And he felt powerless to bring the crews together - it was like the Galileo all over again, and it made him question himself, made him doubt an earlier growing confidence in his command where before he had been aware only of an extraordinary nascent elation in relation to himself and the Seleya.
Because, while he had been prepared to do all he could – to leave Kirk, to take command of the Seleya and to give everything he had to achieve what Sarek wanted of the posting - he had originally put very low (at 17.3%) his chances of success. He thought the role itself would challenge any commanding officer and that he himself, with his own internal divisions and his own reluctance to command, would fare no better than others and probably worse. He thought that he would be channelled back into the early years of his youth on Vulcan, into that displacement, that loneliness that he had always found in Vulcan society. But he had been wrong.
Whilst nothing would ever replace for him the warmth, affection and simple rightness that he had found on the Enterprise, at Kirk’s side (like an outsized hand finally finding a resting place in a perfectly tailored glove), he had found that there were compensations on the Seleya. Compensations in the form of the respect of his crew, in a confidence in his own abilities and in a liking for the Vulcan officers which had taught him, by extension, that it was possible to form genuine bonds with full-blooded compatriots of his father’s race. His ability to feel comfortable, for the first time in his life, with Vulcans led, inextricably, to a dawning sense of ease with the half Vulcan within himself. And part of the chasm of difference which he had discovered between Kirk and himself was that he had no idea of how to convey this to Kirk and no real sense of how he would react; whether he would even welcome it or whether he would find in it another reason to withdraw from Spock. From Spock and from the crew of the Seleya.
And of all the complications which Spock might have expected to cause a stumbling block to his success on the Seleya, of the very long list of all the possible things which might go wrong from Spock’s own inadequacies to the intransigence of the VSA and the wary clumsiness of Starfleet HQ, the one obstacle he had never expected was James Kirk.
His confidence in Kirk’s trust in him had originally revived and renewed when Kirk had first beamed on to the Seleya, when he had met his eyes in the transporter room. But it had received a mortal blow at the time of the Shoulder and the look in Kirk’s eyes when he had turned away from him. From that time onwards, Kirk’s contact with him had become increasingly official, infrequent and strained. He had watched the change in Kirk’s demeanour with growing dismay, had wondered if Kirk even remembered who he was, if he could possibly believe (knowing, as Kirk did, the sensitive and politicised situation in which he was functioning) that Spock could have changed this much, that the Shoulder could possibly have been meant at face value. And this had culminated in a visit to the Enterprise with T’Mala and Saredin, the alienating experience of being shown around his own home by Scott without a single Enterprise crew member demonstrating the remotest degree of awareness, of sensitivity, the slightest sign of anything being amiss in this - and then coming across Kirk and Harding laughing over a game of chess. Knowing it was irrational, knowing it was foolish, knowing he had no right to think any such thing, he nevertheless thought bitterly “Entirely and permanently irreplaceable”. And was aware of feeling real anger towards Kirk, for the first time in his life.
And that was the day the almost impossible direction had come from the VSA and Starfleet placing Kirk under his orders – not a confrontation he had handled well, he knew, in the immediate aftermath of that uncomfortable tour of the Enterprise, and it had, as it turned out, been the last time he saw Kirk.
He had been thrust into a political and military spotlight at the worst of times and without even Sarek’s guidance (Sarek being distracted with diplomacy elsewhere) and on the other side of a war from Kirk. It had seemed to him that the only way forward was to maintain VSA trust by adopting Vulcan decorum and accepting with apparent readiness what would have once been unthinkable – command over Kirk - whilst knowing that his joint mission with Kirk and the Enterprise would allow the Seleya and the VSA effectively to benefit from Kirk’s greater experience, so that Kirk’s suggestions could be implemented by a form of passive facilitation.
And then the Klingon attack and hearing Saredin and Kirk in sickbay, whilst imprisoned within the healing trance. He was quite sure that Kirk did not realise he could hear and 98.9% certain that Saredin knew this and had chosen deliberately not to enlighten Kirk. He was very unsure of Saredin’s motivation in engineering the conversation, under the circumstances, but had little interest to spare to consider this. Indeed, lying trapped in an increasingly ineffective trance, he had been ashamed by how much he’d been distracted by Kirk and even more so to realise, as Kirk stood by his bed, that he wanted Kirk to touch him, wanted the reassurance of Kirk’s hand and the once-familiar feel (which he knew he had forfeited) of Kirk’s thoughts dancing below his skin - and Kirk, of course, did not give it, just moved away after a few minutes.
And Kirk had said to Sardein “I do regard him as my friend, yes” and had provided the overwhelming reassurance and confirmation, the accolade of “Our change in status has absolutely no bearing on my views.”
There had been the extraordinary relief of hearing Kirk restating the unique gift of acceptance he had always brought to Spock’s world: “I do not regard Spock as human or Vulcan. He is who he is.” But it had come with the terrible irony that after all he and Kirk had been together, after all the healing and understanding which only Kirk had ever brought to Spock’s divided self, his voyage of self discovery aboard the Seleya had come too late to share with the person who might most have understood and welcomed what he had learned.
And the conversation only served to confirm that although Kirk’s affection appeared to remain unchanged, his trust had not. He had heard the silences where Saredin had challenged and Kirk had hesitated or been unable to answer – knew that Kirk was struggling to find valid objections to challenges by Saredin to the very fabric of their friendship; challenges laid down by the person whom Kirk had, in another life, dismissed as He is an idiot; challenges which Spock would once have assumed blind that Kirk would simply have laughed off in the knowledge that whatever the respective gifts they brought to each other, he and Spock were unassailable, that what they had did not need to be understood by anyone else, that they were who they were, that it was simply that they were entirely and permanently irreplaceable to each other. And Kirk had been most notably silent when Saredin had said that Kirk was uncomfortable with Spock being in command. Which merely confirmed Spock’s own observations.
Spock was quite clear that he did not wish to command. What had come as an unwelcome shock was that Kirk did not wish him to command, either. It was not logical that he should resent this particular instance of consensus with Kirk. But it was true.
He was angry with all of them – he should not be angry, it was wrong to be angry, it was unproductive to be angry and it was certainly un-Vulcan to be angry, but it was also important to acknowledge the truth and the truth was that he was angry. He was angry with Saredin for exposing Kirk to Spock, he was angry with Kirk for not trusting him and he was angry with himself for listening, although in fact he had had no choice and the damage was done. Distracted, his trance ended earlier than it should have and, weakened but functional, he came round to find Kirk gone to the Romulans, gone in breach of Spock’s orders. And found, far from being calmed or reassured in any way by the affirmation of affection in the conversation in sickbay, that he was even angrier. He was unsure what value he put on affection without trust.
After the damage inflicted by the Klingons the day before, he had taken the Seleya to Gamma Fortuna only by a small miracle and by the combined assistance in Engineering of T’Mala and Santini, reflecting that the collegiality between the two officers was perhaps the best product of the joint Seleya-Enterprise mission (though his mood did not improve on learning that Kirk had involved T’Mala in his illicit approach to the Empire). And he had beamed down, ordered the ship to return immediately to where she had left the Enterprise to ensure at least some degree of distance in the event of complete failure on both his part and Kirk’s and found Tal – and, with him, Kirk, distinctly the worse for wear. The fact that Kirk appeared to have suffered significant injury should have made Spock concerned, but in fact it made him angrier still. He had not wanted Kirk to come to the Romulans precisely because of the risk of this scenario. Everything about the mission made it suitable and a natural fit for Spock. Nothing about the situation made it appropriate or safe for Kirk to be here. And yet he was, sprawled under Tal’s uplifted fist with every evidence in the blood, the bruising, the laboured breathing, that Spock had been right.
He had heard Kirk’s quip to Tal about not being fit to command Spock and, while not understanding entirely the background, thought again “You do not trust me any more.” He did not need telepathy to feel the waves of distrust coming off Kirk as he himself spoke to the Commander, as he negotiated his way to peace through the personal and political minefields that littered the path. Heart in mouth, he found his way, word by word and had to fight himself not to be distracted by that silent presence, by the knowledge that Kirk did not trust him. That every feint, everything of dexterity he could summon against this wary, bitter woman was somehow being taken at absolute face value by Kirk, as though both his encounters with her, a bare combined total of perhaps three point two hours in her company over a period of two years, would somehow imbalance the years he had spent at Kirk’s side.
And at the same time, as he spoke to the Romulan, he was ridiculously aware of trying to win her over in front of the master of persuasion; feeling like a junior ensign in front of his commanding officer, wanting to impress, not to fail – and knowing all the time that Kirk had broken his orders to come here because he did not believe that Spock could do it. And because Kirk didn’t believe it, neither did Spock.
He remembered all over again how essential Kirk was to him, how much a part of him, and how vital Kirk’s trust had become to his own self worth. And Spock was faced with incontrovertible evidence of three heavy if not mortal blows to that trust.
Firstly, that Kirk had, with an ease that took Spock’s breath away, believed that everything Spock had done this year to win over the Vulcan crew of the Seleya meant that he, Spock, had casually abandoned that older allegiance, forgotten his friendship with Kirk. And this lack of questioning, this taking of Spock at face value apparently included even Spock’s delicate dialogue with the leader of the hostile force which had declared war on Starfleet.
Secondly, that when Kirk said He is who he is, what he really meant was that he did not value Spock’s Vulcan half, that he preferred to consider Spock as human. This was the only conclusion Spock could draw from Kirk’s rejection of the Seleya mission. Given the incalculable value he had always placed on Kirk’s unique acceptance of him for himself, he could hardly compute the scale of that particular betrayal.
And, thirdly, that Kirk was not prepared to serve under Spock, that there was a core of truth at the heart of Saredin’s accusation (had Saredin deliberately baited Kirk so that Spock would hear? Why?) that Spock’s role as Kirk’s subordinate had been inherent to their relationship. Which Spock could have understood, could even have accepted, without the final, deeper cut which was the knowledge that Kirk had not trusted him to carry out this mission successfully on his own.
And all of this meant Kirk did not trust Spock; it also meant that Spock did not trust Kirk to trust him. And these things had once been fundamental to Spock’s very being.
Spock understood enough about broken trust to know that it was very difficult to repair. But the way back had been barred for a long time now – perhaps, ironically, as soon as he had said to Kirk the day Sarek asked him to go to the Seleya “Nor have I conveyed or, indeed, reached any decision without first discussing the matter with you.” If he exercised muscles long in disuse to look away from Kirk and the Enterprise, he knew he would be looking instead at a new future, at ease within his own skin and with the welcome and respect of his own people on his own ship. That did not mean that he would not first seek closure with his former life.
The former First Officer of the Enterprise knew precisely how much and how little it meant to advise the ship’s Chief Medical Officer that Vulcans have no emotions. He also knew that the ship’s captain had an extremely accurate gauge of the exact gamut of emotions Spock could bring into play. But he was unfamiliar with anger. He had not understood how corrosive it could be, how physical a reaction, how disturbing and how distorting it was.
He had just forty six point four minutes to explain this to Kirk.