“I require an explanation as to why you went to Gamma Fortuna in breach of my express orders.”
Kirk looked at him and said, “Thank you for asking, I’m a little battered and there seems to be a knife sticking into my lungs every time I breathe in, but I guess I’ll be OK. What about you and what happened to the healing trance?” He knew it was the wrong thing to say, that he had no right to say it; he watched Spock’s face harden and the muscles in his jaw tighten.
And he repeated.
“I require an explanation as to why you went to Gamma Fortuna in breach of my express orders.”
Kirk drew a breath, said:
“Spock. Please. Can’t we talk this through properly? This is ridiculous. We’ve hardly spoken; hardly seen each other. You were in sickbay; I went to see you; I thought – well, I really want to know how you are.”
“I require –“
“Damnit, Spock! You were in a trance, for God’s sake. What was I supposed to do, take you with me?”
“You were not required to do anything. It was not your mission. I would have emerged from the trance and undertaken the mission as originally arranged. In a different context involving other personnel, your actions would undoubtedly have resulted in disciplinary proceedings and you relied on an assumption that I would not instigate such an action in order to undertake the mission yourself rather than carry out my orders.”
Kirk’s jaw dropped.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I undertook the mission, as you put it, because you were unconscious.”
Spock looked at him steadily, and said, “Captain, I do not believe that you would have disregarded those orders had they come from any other single ranking officer. They were explicit and they were given under highly sensitive conditions. However, they were also given by your former First Officer.”
“That’s extraordinarily unfair,” he snapped. “I appreciate you gave explicit orders, but things change. Unless you’ve added clairvoyance to telepathy since we last worked together, I did not imagine when you gave those orders that you figured when the time came on being laid out in sickbay with massive burns in a healing trance for days. The conflict was escalating, I didn’t even know what sort of state you’d be when you came round, and in any event –“
“In any event, you then learned the name of the Romulan delegate,“ Spock said, expressionlessly. Kirk’s demeanour changed, abruptly. He put his hands up, with the ease of the man used to charming his way out of difficult situations.
“All right, I admit it, I thought it might be easier on you if I went. But that’s not the main point here, Spock. The main point is that you were lying on your back with a bunch of life support machines for company.”
“The main point, as you put it, Captain, is that you do not accept my authority over you.” He had said it. He watched Kirk for a reaction. And the human slumped, slightly, breathed in. There was a slight silence.
And then Kirk straightened.
“What do you want me to say, Spock? I told Wesley when the orders came through that I was a grown up and that relationships change and I could accept that. And it’s true, it’s all true. And it’s also true that I found it difficult. I’m not particularly proud of myself for that, and I’ve thought about it a lot. I didn’t find it difficult because of you, though. I found it difficult because of me, and there’s a difference.”
Spock raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t find it difficult because you are in any way undeserving of my deference, compliance or respect. I shouldn’t have to go into detail of how much I rate you, Spock – you know that. But you being my First has been a huge part not just of who we were, you and I, but also who I was. You were my First, you were my friend, and now we’re in a radically different situation with three different galactic powers riding on our backs, to boot. It shouldn’t be the case that you can’t serve under someone you once commanded - God knows it happens often enough and it should be easier, really, as well as harder, precisely because it’s us, because it’s you and me. I’ll get over it – I’m getting over it. You are going to tell me that as a starship captain, particularly in time of war, I don’t have the luxury of time, and you’re entirely right. But as a human being, I guess I needed an adjustment period. And I owe you an apology for that.”
There was a slight silence into which Kirk’s apology fell, in which Spock tried not to hear the words “as a human being” as being as pointed as he suspected they were, in which he acknowledged to himself an element of surprise that Kirk’s apology was forthcoming, that Kirk had been so self-aware, and was just thinking that he should know better than to underestimate Kirk when Kirk continued, ploughing destructively into the fragile harmony his apology had just restored:
“And in that spirit, are you going to tell me why you ordered me not to go with you in the first place?”
Spock snapped back to the present, mentally castigating himself and remembering Kirk’s easy charm, refusing to be drawn in so easily. He remembered Kirk’s distrust on the planet, his conviction that Spock’s sympathies had been with the Romulan Commander. He said, forbiddingly, challenging Kirk to dare to suggest any other reason,
“It was not appropriate for you or any other human to go. It was necessary for a Vulcan but not a human to be present to engage in the diplomatic initiative required, but above all it was not a safe environment for humans, and your current condition, if I may say so, is evidence of the accuracy of my assessment.”
“Safe?” he said, dangerously. “Safe! Don’t you think this is something of an adjustment too far, Spock? Not only am I supposed to take your orders but I am supposed to be protected from any physical danger? What the hell do you mean, safe? I may be – for now - under your command but I’ve been a starship captain for a hell of a lot longer than you have and I don’t need your protection or anyone else’s. Safe!”
Spock said steadfastly, “It is part of any officer’s duty to assess the risk to members of the crew before embarking on any mission. This is not new to either of us, Captain – I carried out that function on the Enterprise, as your First Officer.”
“Yes,” he said, impatiently, “but not on me!” The memory flashed between them suddenly of the the dikironium cloud creature, the Tychos system, Kirk’s insistence on personally detonating the antimatter device to destroy the being who had posed no risk to Spock because of Spock’s copper-based haemoglobin – and Kirk’s trademark recklessness, a thousand other days when Spock had been required to watch, helpless, from the sidelines as Kirk put himself on the line more usually reserved for junior officers. It was, of course, the thing which made him the best captain in the Fleet - as well as making Spock complicit, an unwilling accessory in the element of personal risk, a role he was clearly disinclined to reprise, now that he had the choice. Kirk dismissed the past, burst out with the real reason for his anger.
“Is this about me being only a human and your superior Vulcan strength? It is, isn’t it? It’s about the fact that our friendship was flawed from the start because humans are weaker than Vulcans and therefore inferior.” His mind was awash with bitterness, with the memories of his helplessness at Tal’s hands; he looked automatically down at the drying blood, the burgeoning bruises, looked up, caught Spock’s eye, and knew he had been read as effortlessly as a book. That made it worse, not better. “I always thought our friendship was a friendship between equals,” he said passionately. “Not this. Not you having to keep me safe. That’s what your Chief Engineer thinks.”
And, in a fatally unguarded moment, Spock said: “That was not precisely what he meant nor what he said.”
It was a catastrophic error, particularly for someone who knew Kirk as well as he did, and he knew it immediately. He saw Kirk looked puzzled, then the beginning of anger as he said, slowly,
“He told you? He told you about our conversation?”
And Spock, realising that he had no choice, knowing exactly what would happen, said, “I heard.”
He saw Kirk go white with anger, saw him thinking rapidly back over the conversation, trying to remember what he had said. Then the blood which had receded from the human’s face rushed back, and even in the midst of a sudden pain that the gap between them was so wide that it could actually matter so much to Kirk that anything he said had been overhead by Spock – even in that moment, he realised that Kirk was humiliated, as well as furious. There was an element in all this, going back to the Shoulder, that had been about exposure, for Kirk. Kirk was not arrogant but he was a proud man and, for all his open warmth, a private man and Spock had always known this and understood it. And it was in front of both senior crews that Spock had rejected his touch; now he was being told that he had been forced to discuss their friendship in front of an audience of two, not one. And if the additional member of the audience had been Spock himself, it still turned it into an entirely different dynamic, and Spock could understand that.
Kirk said, barely controlling himself.
“Why was I not told?”
“It is the nature of healing trances, Captain,” he said, feeling ridiculous, remembering the many times he had lectured Kirk on Vulcan customs and biology, usually in tease-form (but never like this, never like this) “that the individual is able to hear but not able to speak. Trances are based on the mental ability to focus – specifically, to focus on healing, and attention is therefore drawn away from other faculties. In this instance, because of your conversation with Saredin, I was sufficiently distracted to have ended the trance early, hence my arrival at Gamma Fortuna, but I was unable to communicate with you at the time you were in sickbay.”
“But he knew,” Kirk said, dangerously. “Your friend Saredin must have known. And he must have figured that I didn’t. Why the hell did he let me go on?”
Since Spock had no answer to this, he gave none.
And Kirk threw at him: “And this is your Chief Engineer, this is your senior officer.”
Spock checked himself at the unexpected attack. He said, carefully,
“I do not know the reason for Saredin’s actions. However, he is an honourable being.”
“Honourable? Honourable? This, this, is Vulcan honour? This vaunted Vulcan integrity which we hear so much about, this Vulcan truth, this Vulcan courtesy? And we’ve been tying ourselves in knots to try to win back the Vulcan alliance which we forfeited because of the offence taken by a single Vulcan officer – the very person who breached my privacy – whose own so-called personal rights were invaded. This is not honour, this is hypocrisy. What Vulcan wants for itself it should try to extend to others first.”
Yes, he would take it that way. Spock remembered again the humiliation in Kirk’s face as he had stepped back from his touch. And since then, Kirk had had to deal with being placed under Spock’s orders and he had taken a beating at Tal’s hands which had only served to confirm Saredin’s allusions to physical inferiority. Seen one way, the entire history of the Seleya mission had been one long humiliation, one long invasion of territory for Kirk. He said nothing, but watched in Kirk’s stormy expression the wreck of something once indestructible between them. And heard, crystal clear, the lines of battle drawn in everything Kirk said, in every “we” and in every “Vulcan”.
Eventually, he said, quietly
“He is an individual. I cannot at this point provide an explanation or justification for his behaviour but to suggest that it in some way reflects on the entire Vulcan race is hardly appropriate or conducive to anything that I have been trying to achieve for the past year."
And Kirk said, too angry to listen, "You're actually defending him?"
And Spock said, more quietly still
"Your acceptance of me as neither Vulcan nor human has always been of a value to me I could not easily compute; however, it should not blind you to the fact that I am, indeed, half Vulcan with all that this entails. I cannot condone nor accept what you are saying about my people.”
Kirk looked at him, breathing heavily now, whether from emotion or from the effects of the fight on Gamma Fortuna Spock could not tell.
“That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it, Spock? It’s about being Vulcan. It’s about not being even half human any more. You’ve made your choice. Haven’t you?”
Spock turned away. He adjusted the controls to allow for a course correction; the course correction was necessary but it was also necessary to buy himself time, to look away from that accusing face. He had thought that he wanted this, that he wanted the confrontation, the explanation. But in fact he was not sure he could handle Kirk’s anger, was far from certain that the benefits of what humans call catharsis would outweigh the pain – was not even sure that he could perceive any benefits. He thought, with sudden longing, of the peace of his quarters on the Seleya, of the dispassionate calm which reigned on the ship. Of Saredin’s rejection of the human way, of his disparaging comments on life on the Halcyon, his disdainful descriptions of tempers fraying, emotional sensitivities which needed to be navigated, efforts which needed to be expended to reach out, to mediate. His own experience on the Enterprise meant he had never had time for this view. He had listened to Saredin with neutral courtesy and had suggested, gently, that he should not allow a limited and personal negative experience to colour his view of mankind in general, that what humans derived from their emotional lives outweighed the obvious disadvantages. He wondered now whether Saredin had been right, all along.
Regardless, there was no way out of this conversation now and it was he who had initiated it. He turned to Kirk and went for the jugular.
“Has it never occurred to you, Captain, at any point during the past ten months, that I was, as you knew very well, undertaking sensitive orders with a vital Federation relationship at stake? That I was charged with gaining the trust of a radicalised Vulcan crew? That it would be necessary for me to make certain adjustments? Could you not have trusted me to carry out those orders whilst retaining former allegiances?”
“Originally, yes,” Kirk said, watching him. His anger had dropped away, at least for the time being. His whole being was fixed on Spock, who at least was talking to him, really talking to him for the first time since that damn chess match. “Originally, but it didn’t stop there, did it, Spock? Was it all really necessary? You’ve treated us like strangers – not just me; McCoy, Scotty, all of us. I might have interpreted those orders differently, in your situation.”
“You might have,” Spock agreed, bleakly. “We are, after all, very different beings, Captain.”
“Originally,” Kirk continued, very carefully, still watching Spock, “I thought, at first, you hadn’t wanted the Seleya. I had thought – well, not to put too fine a point on it, and if I am honest – I had thought your preference was to stay with – to stay on the Enterprise. But then I came to feel that in fact you were where you wanted to be, that you were comfortable there, on a Vulcan ship, in command.”
“My preferences are entirely irrelevant to the situation and always have been, Captain,” he said. “The issue was not what I wanted but what I chose. Once I had accepted the mission, it was naturally incumbent upon me to attempt to carry it out to my best endeavour.”
“And at all costs,” Kirk said, painfully, the memory of that first encounter on the Seleya fresh in his mind. It lay in the space between them, as the shuttle hummed and moved, and Spock said:
“You knew the situation and the history of my position on the Seleya, Captain. It was your choice to make your own interpretation of events. You did not trust me.”
“Trust you? How was I supposed to trust you, Spock? Why didn’t you say something?”
Spock looked at him blankly.
“What was I supposed to say?”
“God, I don’t know. You don’t normally have a problem with words. A single line would have been fine – in fact, it would have been rather nice. Perhaps that night after we first rendezvoused with the Seleya, you know, when you might have realised it would have been rather harder for me to have contacted you after – well, after what happened. How about: “Dear Jim, hope you’re well”. Or, if you prefer, “Captain, I trust you are enjoying good health.” I would never have hoped for “Perhaps we could schedule a game of chess later this week” and I realise it was asking far too much to expect “It was nice to see you” especially as it might not, of course, have been true, but frankly “Hello” would have been fine. Never occurred to you, I suppose, or perhaps it just didn’t matter enough. But you keep telling me you’re not my First Officer any more, that you’re in command, doesn’t that mean that you have to take responsibility for at least some of how we communicate with each other? Was it too much to ask?”
“Was it too much to require?” he returned, without pause. Their eyes met. “There has never been a need for those words in the past,” Spock said, with a sense of picking his way over minefields, wondering why the conversation with the Romulan Commander now seemed, in retrospect, so easy. “And there has never been an issue of trust.”
“Well, forgive me for not being telepathic. Where your behaviour is at variance from everything it always has been and, as you are now suggesting, from what you really meant, yes, I need words. How can there be trust without words, Spock?”
“Your conduct, Captain, has shown that there cannot. That is clearly my error and we must both confront the consequences.”
“What do you mean, my conduct, Spock?” the dangerous note was back in Kirk’s voice.
Spock gave him a hard look back.
“Your attitude to my dialogue with the Romulan Commander. Your attitude to my crew.”
“What do you mean, the Romulan Commander?” Spock had heard that tone previously directed at a junior lieutenant who had arrived late for duty. He made himself go on.
“You did not regard me as capable of carrying out this mission. Further, you believed my loyalty was compromised.”
“Total nonsense, on both counts,” he retorted, immediately. “Worse than nonsense – how dare you, Spock? My views on Saredin have never extended to you. People will write books about your loyalty, and if they don’t, the logs of the Enterprise certainly bear testament to it. And I’ve already said that none of what has happened has been about my views on your abilities – how could it be? How could we possibly – possibly - be sitting on this shuttle talking about my respect for you? How could anything I have done be legitimately construed as reason for you to doubt my regard for you?” The emphasis was unmistakable. Spock ignored it.
“Is it entirely untrue that you believed that my sympathies would not in some way lie with her? That I would not be able to take the dialogue to the desired conclusion?”
They stared at each other. Kirk said, quietly but defensively
“I thought it would be hard on you. I suppose that means I thought you did have feelings for her - but not that you had changed sides, never that. If anything, if you must know, I worried that you would be hindered by what I regard as your absolute integrity; an integrity I don’t think I can match, that I would stake my life on. It’s not the harshest thing to believe about anyone, Spock – that they would struggle to take home a mission which requires the subjugation – even if only in diplomatic terms - of a person they have come to admire and respect. That’s a very long way from thinking you were incapable of carrying out the mission, of believing you disloyal. Damn it, it was about wanting to help you! You want me to apologise again? We’re still back to the fact that you refuse to talk to me. And for as long as you refuse to talk to me, I have to guess at what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking and I’m going to get it wrong. You don’t like me saying there’s no trust without words. There’s been no one all my life I’ve trusted as much as I’ve trusted you. But even to make things right between us, I will not say anything that allows you to believe that when we get to the Enterprise and I walk out of that door and we go on as we are, without you talking to me properly, that I will be able to trust you blind, one hundred percent. If that’s the end of the road for you, if that means I’m not who you thought I was, then I am more sorry than I can say. But I won’t promise you what I can’t deliver. I can’t deliver my ship and I can’t deliver myself. Not without words.”
Silence again, and Spock suddenly felt the rush of fatigue, both emotional and the fact of the half-completed trance. He checked the readings, knew they only had a few minutes left – out of the viewer, the Enterprise was drawing near and, next to her, the Seleya. The time for talking was nearly over.
As if picking up on the thought, Kirk said, quickly.
“I beg your pardon, Captain?”
“You mentioned your crew, my attitude to your crew.” And Kirk’s face, which had softened slightly as he had spoken to Spock, hardened at the memory of Saredin. “Don’t you think the boot is on the other foot there?”
The days were long gone when Spock would have made a comment about human idiom.
“The Enterprise was sent to liaise with the Seleya on a mission of fraternalisation. You and I both knew it was essential to the restoration of the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet. I saw no signs of you either making serious efforts to understand and respect my officers or to encourage your officers to do so in exchange,” he said, not quite believing that he was saying these words to Kirk. Kirk evidently had the same problem.
“Are you questioning the integrity of my actions, Captain? Are you saying I was prejudiced?”
“No,” Spock said, swallowing a sir. “I am, however, questioning your openness to accept a Vulcan crew for who they are and not in terms of human standards of behaviour.”
“Your crew could learn quite a lot from human standards of behaviour,” Kirk said, angrily. He remembered the brusque dismissal of his science team as being unfit to work on the dilithium project; the day war was declared and he had gone to the Seleya and been interrupted in the briefing room in front of Spock. “I saw no signs that you were prepared to ensure that they treated us with respect, either.”
The two looked at each other, antagonism sparking the air between them, and Kirk almost wanted to laugh. He knew it was just the tension, knew that the situation was far from funny, but thought Spock and I, sitting in this shuttle, after all these years, tacitly admitting that I cannot persuade a human crew to respect Vulcans and he cannot persuade a Vulcan crew to respect humans. So much for our diversity and tolerance, so much for who we were.
Grasping for something, anything, he said
“I like your Commander T’Mala.”
And it was the wrong thing to say. It would also have to be the one female member of his bridge complement, and Spock’s thoughts instantly went to Kirk’s normal modus operandi – and to the reason they were in the shuttle. He said, tightly
“You had no right to involve my First Officer in your illicit engagement with the Romulans.”
Kirk’s head shot up.
“Don’t be stupid, Spock” (not the most appropriate way to address a senior officer, but he was way beyond that) “I had to tell someone on the Seleya I was going. You were out for the count. And it was a good thing I did, because she was able to speak to the Romulans herself. That must have helped- I believe it did.”
“It was not your decision to make,” Spock said, more forcefully. “You put her in an impossible situation and not one which was remotely appropriate for her to handle. She is not your officer; she is not under your command; she is my responsibility, not yours.”
“Oh God, we’re back to this,” Kirk said. He was exhausted. He must be, to be thinking longingly of McCoy, of sickbay where he would be in a few minutes. As if catching the thought, Spock turned back to the controls and began the entry manoeuvres. Kirk watched him. And then, realising they were running out of time, he went on
“Well, since we’ve been talking about command and we’ve been talking about trust, Spock, can I suggest that it cuts both ways? You were under my command on the Enterprise, but I trusted you a damn sight more than you have trusted me, the past few days. Because, actually, I let you – even sent you – into plenty of situations which were far more dangerous than Gamma Fortuna – remember Gamma Seven-A, that shuttle I sent you on to the amoeba organism which had already wiped out billions? Including, by the way, four hundred other Vulcans on the Intrepid? Not only that, I did that thing humans do which is called talking – we discussed missions together, we had a partnership, we were a team. You must remember team, Spock, it was why we were so good together. What you’ve been prepared to extend to me in this mission has hardly been comparable – we hold the same primary rank, we have (in whatever capacity) served together for many years, don’t you think you could have cut me some slack? You may be the best Vulcan commanding officer in the universe, you may have unrivalled skills of diplomacy and you have just set up interstellar peace single-handedly (and I say single-handedly advisedly) but command isn’t just about keeping your officers safe, you know, it’s about working together, using all your resources to get what you want. And I would say your teamwork skills could do with a hell of a lot of development. I didn’t trust you? Think about it. Here we are, coming back together in the shuttle, almost like old times - except it’s not – but it worked, doing it together, and we always functioned at our best in a team.” He remembered Saredin’s words in sickbay, said, with a final burst of anger:
“Saredin was wrong. He was out of order and wrong, from start to finish. It is not about inequality. It was never about inequality. It is our differences which make us stronger; it is teamwork. He’s a bigot; he’s allowed his hatred of humans to blind him, to stop him thinking straight; he cannot see their worth or their value. It’s a poison running through his philosophy. I can’t believe you’re buying into it.”
As he said the last words, Spock landed the shuttle with precision in the Enterprise hanger and turned to Kirk with an expression which allowed not a flicker of warmth, concession or personal connection.
“Firstly, you continue to make assumptions about my views without any corroborative evidence, just as you assume that all Vulcans agree with Saredin, simply because they are Vulcans. And secondly, Saredin is my officer and my associate and your assessment of his character is incorrect and unduly emotive, as is your assessment of much of the situation.”
Anger leapt between them in the same instant that the shuttle door opened. The noise brought Kirk back to the present: the interlude was over, the time for talking gone. Everything he said had made it worse. What would have been the right thing? he wondered. His fists, which had been clenched, fell open, and he turned, slowly, towards the shuttle door, half livid, half desolate. He thought – Of all the clashes we’ve ever had, Spock has never been this overtly confrontational, ever. And he wondered whether it was a sign of the extent of their alienation, the extent of Spock’s anger, or if it was because there was no longer a gap in rank – that equality thing again, he thought. Was this to be who they were, now? How – how was it possible that they had arrived at this point?
He had arrived at the shuttle door, could just see McCoy, waiting outside with a medic. And beyond him (always assuming McCoy let him out of sickbay) lay a lonely evening in his quarters, and beyond that a limitless number of other evenings in a life with a Vulcan-shaped gap in it. Just take the first step, he said to himself, and did so. And then he hesitated and, just as he had once come back to say goodbye when Spock had left the Enterprise all those months ago, he wheeled around and came back. Standing deliberately out of Spock’s personal space but commanding the physical aura within the shuttle, ignoring the painful shriek of bruised muscles, he straightened his shoulders, stuck out his chin and, all hazel belligerence, glared at the Vulcan and said fiercely:
“And now let me tell you something, Captain. It may be both my fault and yours (with some spectacular assistance from your officers and others, including the combined political and military forces of the galaxy) that the closest friendship of my life is in ashes. And before your Chief Engineer created the diplomatic incident of the millenium, it was the best, the most important thing in my life; I would have staked everything on it, on you, on us. It was not for you or your Vulcan friends to consider expendable or irrelevant, to hold in abeyance or to take away from me and it was not for you or the Romulans or the VSA to risk in high-stakes diplomacy - it was mine and it mattered to me. I was a better person with you than I have ever been or could ever be without you and your friendship taught me who I was, who I could be, it made me feel something I've never felt before and never will again, because you don't get that lucky twice in a lifetime and to be honest, I don't even want to, I don't want it with someone else. But if by any chance I am wrong about any of that, if you do get a second chance in life - if I were ever to have that kind of connection with anyone else, ever again - I'd want it to be with someone who was a little less hard work next time round. That's all, Captain.”
He held Spock’s eyes with an aggressive stare, focusing with every cell in his body on staying upright, not giving into the ache of the memory of Tal’s fists and the echo of flesh crunching - and this effort cost him so much that it was at least thirteen point five seconds before he realised that the tension had gone, abruptly and completely gone from the space between him and Spock - that he was himself feeling curiously relaxed, even light-hearted, that there were for the first time since news had broken of the Halcyon incident no lines of unhappiness or stress in Spock’s face, that the meeting of their eyes had become - was that a smile?
McCoy said, behind him, “My team and I are ready for you, Jim. Looks like you’re about ready for us.”
And he nodded briefly to Spock, turned again and walked back towards McCoy out of the shuttle, discovering as he did so that he was somehow not in quite as much pain as he had thought.
“Well, I hope you feel better for getting that off your chest, Jim,” McCoy said, running a scanner over him.
And Kirk said, not entirely able to keep a small smile off his face, “Well, since you ask, Bones, as it happens, I do.”