Within less than four point six seconds of reading the communiqué from HQ the following morning, Kirk was at the door to Spock’s quarters. Entering hard on a quietly voiced invitation, he saw immediately in the Vulcan’s face that he too, as Kirk had assumed, was already aware of the recent development.
“Tell me you’re not going.”
Instantly, he regretted the words. Spock might have very good reasons for wanting to go. And if he didn’t, he was still the senior serving Vulcan officer in the Fleet, a highly decorated individual who commanded not only Kirk’s deepest respect but that of the entire command personnel of Starfleet (not to mention a crew of 429 on the USS Enterprise) and it might have been appropriate to approach the topic of Spock’s potential future career assignments with something more subtle than Tell me you’re not going. Watching his First’s expression lighten infinitesimally, however, he changed his mind again. To any other observer, Spock might have looked as sombre as he had before Kirk’s outburst (and Kirk had already registered that he looked particularly concerned, beyond his usual impassivity) but the nuances of amusement and of pleasure in the compliment were clear to Spock’s captain.
“I assure you, Captain, I have absolutely no intention of resigning my position under your command,” he said.
The tension bled from Kirk like a faucet.
“Good. Well, I’m glad we’ve got that settled. See you on the bridge.”
The second conversation on the topic took a little longer. Kirk was on the bridge, less than a day out now from Alpha Gemma and was speaking to the medical colony, relaying instructions to McCoy and Spock who were finalising preparations to distribute the equipment on reaching the planet. Signalling to Uhura to cut the communication at the end of the conversation, Kirk opened his mouth to comment to Spock and was interrupted by Ensign Santini, one of Spock’s team, who had brought up an item of the consignment to check with Spock and who had turned and collided with Uhura at the wrong moment. Kirk made himself close his mouth and count a beat. Santini blushed furiously and said “Sorry, sir” and made his way off the bridge as Kirk moved over to the science station. He looked meaningfully at Spock.
“Ensign Santini has all the makings of a first rate scientist and Starfleet officer,” Spock said mildly, answering the unspoken comment in the tone of one voicing an opinion offered many times in the past – in fact, fourteen times.
“So you keep telling me. Every time I see him, he drops something. Is he still on your list, Spock?”
“I have completed the annual departmental appraisals and yes, as formally notified to you, Captain, I would recommend that you consider him for promotion next month.”
“To Engineering Lieutenant. Can’t afford it, Commander. I’d have to pay Scotty overtime for all the things he’d have to fix in there when Santini breaks them.”
“I suspect, Captain, that he finds you intimidating.”
“Good. He hasn’t totally lost his sense of reality if he figures that his commanding officer will be irritated by an MO that involves hurling equipment around the bridge on a regular basis.” Spock lifted an eyebrow and said nothing, but in fact Kirk had spoken more intolerantly than he felt and he knew the Vulcan was aware of this. He found himself, as he re-took the centre seat, musing on the difference between Spock and Saredin – Saredin, whose adherence to Vulcan etiquette was more important to him than the risk of causing offence, hurt or embarrassment to species ignorant of his people’s ways; Spock, whose sensitivity, patience and kindness to others were a never-ending, inexhaustible well. He found himself getting angry all over again at what lay behind Spock’s comment “Saredin would not consider that Starfleet had much to learn about Vulcans from me.” And it was exactly at that point that Uhura turned towards Spock and said
“Mr Spock, I have the Vulcan Science Academy for you, sir.”
Kirk’s heart missed a beat, then steadied and he shot a look over towards Spock – as if to offer moral support, as if to offer to take the call himself, to shield Spock from Vulcan criticism, Vulcan pressure – and then realised he was being ridiculous. Spock said:
“Captain, may I have your permission to take this call in private?” and he nodded an of course and took what comfort he could from what was an indisputably reassuring look from the Vulcan as he left the bridge.
He left behind him a silence thick with unspoken comment, leading Kirk to realise that he was not the only one aware of the choices facing Spock and the implications for the command team of the Enterprise of the crew being put together for the VSS Seleya. Even the name made Kirk angry, but he tried to quell the emotion, knowing that he must not let it show to Spock and also that it was, at least in part, fear. He waited an endless fifty seven minutes till the end of the shift and then went directly to Spock’s quarters.
Spock was seated at his desk, with the call clearly terminated but without having returned to his station – itself an ominous sign to his captain. The Vulcan stood at Kirk’s entrance, and the captain waved him back to his seat and said, tentatively
“Spock? Do you want to talk about it?”
Spock remained on his feet and said
“There is little to report, sir. As you and I had, I suspect, separately surmised, the VSA is making a strenuous attempt to ensure all Vulcan Starfleet personnel apply to enlist in the Seleya, and it is natural, for political reasons, that their objective is that this at the very least includes all senior officers.”
Kirk said, gently
“This must be very hard for you. They haven’t always been as friendly. Something of a turnaround, perhaps?”
Spock glanced at him, acknowledging the understanding.
“It is, in fact, the first time they have contacted me directly since I joined Starfleet. Under other circumstances, communication, whilst less expected, might have presented greater cause for satisfaction.” Even this limited admission was enough to show Kirk the extent of the pressure on his friend.
“In other words, they are remembering your value because they want something,” Kirk said, very softly, careful to hide seething fury. “You’re worth more than that, Spock. Much more.”
There was silence.
Kirk tried again.
“Spock. They don’t understand you but on some level they know you represent something greater than what they are. This is not your fault. The very fact that they are able to make you uncomfortable with your choices says more about them than you. Spock?”
Spock looked at him. Kirk met the gaze without daring to ask the question openly and the Vulcan said,
“Captain, I can assure you that I have no current intention of resigning my position under your command.”
Kirk let relief course through him and then drew a quick breath.
“I’m due with McCoy for a final check before we reach orbit. The offer stands, Spock, if you want to talk through any of this some more.” Spock nodded, the mutual understanding between the two reasserting itself and Kirk left to go to Sickbay.
It was only as he reached the turbolift that he realised the difference between what Spock had said and his reassurance of twenty four hours earlier. This time, the word “currently” had entered the conversation.
A cold fist of unease clenched itself in Kirk’s stomach and didn’t dissipate.
The third conversation took place after they arrived at Alpha Gemma. Kirk beamed down with Spock, McCoy and, at Spock’s request and with a wry grin from Kirk, Ensign Santini. The head of the colony, a blur of energy who on the rare occasions she stood sufficiently still morphed into an energetic middle-aged woman with piercing blue eyes, directed Santini right and left with various directions as to the appropriate housing of the consignment, and Kirk tried hard not to look worried about the equipment and, failing that, not to let Spock see that he was worried. Aware of a complete lack of success on this front and on meeting Spock’s clearly amused gaze, he pulled himself together, remembered that Spock was a good judge of character and saw an opportunity to find out about Santini for himself. Taking Spock to one side, he said
“Spock, the ensign and I can manage from here. Why don’t you and McCoy go back to the ship and start preparing to leave orbit? Santini and I will beam up when everything here is sorted out.”
Spock looked from him to Santini, nodded and left to find the doctor. Kirk walked casually over to the ensign, picked up a crate of portable scanners and fell into conversation. He did not see Spock locate McCoy and turn, before beaming up, to watch Kirk and Santini with an odd look in his eye. The dazzle took both the senior officers and Kirk did not hear from Spock again for the remainder of his time at the colony.
As the last items were checked off the consignment, Kirk became aware of the lengthening of shadows, simultaneously realising that Spock had been entirely correct about Santini – Kirk had rarely been so engaged, recently, in conversation with a junior officer – and also that he had not heard from the Vulcan since he and the doctor had returned to the ship. He made swift farewells to the colony head and, as Santini put the last crate in place, pulled out his communicator to call the ship.
“Sulu here, sir.”
“Where’s Mr Spock?” Kirk asked, who had been expecting to hear Spock’s voice at the conn.
“Mr Spock received a call from Ambassador Sarek, sir, nearly two hours ago. He has been in his quarters since then.”
The cold fist clenched again inside Kirk and he said, more curtly than he meant to, “Stand by to beam up, Sulu”, and then, sharply: “Santini!” There was an abrupt crash, and Kirk thought, dully - he’s broken it – whatever that is, it can’t be fixed – and then – I will not see that as an omen.
The transporter effect had never taken so long.
He knew, as soon as he saw Spock’s face, that it was bad. He thought, irrelevantly – broken, can’t be fixed - took a breath and said simply:
Spock said, very precisely,
“I have spoken to both my parents. My father has asked me to reconsider the Seleya posting.”
Kirk sat down, very carefully. He said, “Go on. Talk to me.”
“Captain,” Spock said. He paused very slightly, and then went on, “It is of some considerable significance to my mother than my father has contacted me in this regard.”
“He is offering you a reconciliation,” Kirk said, mouth dry.
“In effect,” the Ambassador’s son agreed.
“But on his terms,” Kirk couldn’t help saying.
“Perhaps,” Spock said. “However, you must understand, Captain, my father’s position in relation to the Seleya. My father does not believe that the separation of Vulcan from Starfleet is a wise or sensible action. In his view, it can have no long term effects that would be beneficial to either party. He therefore believes that the management of the Seleya initiative – in other words and, in particular at this point, the appointment of officers and members of the crew – to be of crucial importance in ensuring a return to the previous state of affairs as soon as possible. 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.”
“You are a Starfleet Commander but you are also his son,” Kirk said, following the argument. “Well, I can’t fault your father’s judgement or logic, Spock. And you must be unique in meeting the criteria for the role.” And then he realised what Spock had said. “They want you to take the centre seat. They’re offering you command.” And saw Spock nod, once.
Kirk turned, abruptly, and walked over to the replicator, throwing over his shoulder “Just getting a coffee” without even the presence of mind to offer Spock a drink in his own quarters. And this was when he learned that it was possible to categorise meetings under a fifth heading, in relation to drinks – it turned out that having a coffee could simply be, under Category Five, an excuse to buy time.
Category Five, then, was not about drinks for Spock but coffee for Kirk. And Category Five meant: “Spock, you know me far, far too well. And, because of that, just at this minute I cannot let you see my face, for three possible reasons. The first is that it is just about possible that I may be in a position to influence your decision and although I want to influence you so badly I am clenching my fists, I know in my heart that I can’t do that – that this has to be your choice, freely made, either way. The second is that, assuming that in fact I cannot influence you and you are going anyway and this is the logical thing to do, I don’t think I can let you see in my face what that means - not until I can manage to look logical as well. And the third is that if by any chance you are going anyway but in fact you don’t think it’s the logical thing to do – if, in fact, you also feel as though someone has just punched you in the guts – well, I am not sure that you and I are quite ready to handle seeing that in each other’s faces – not quite yet.” So, coffee first, then.
By the time Kirk turned around, all that there was to see was a level acceptance by the captain of the Enterprise.
“You agreed,” he said. It was not quite a question, not quite an accusation.
Spock brought his gaze back from where it had been unaccountably dwelling on the back of Kirk’s head, looked down at his hands and said, very quietly,
“I do not wish to command and that has been no factor in my decision. Nor have I conveyed or, indeed, reached any decision without first discussing the matter with you.”
“There’s nothing to discuss,” Kirk said, the words coming out more harshly than he had intended. And then he repeated them, more gently. “There’s nothing to discuss, Spock. It is your choice. And, for what it is worth, however little I want to lose you – I do understand. As always, Commander, you are making the honourable choice.” He said it lightly, but caught his breath as Spock met his eyes and, despite his resolution, a single, bleak message went straight between them.
Kirk stood up, abruptly.
“I’ll leave you to make your calls, Spock. Don’t worry about breaking orbit, I’ll go take the con.” And walked out with a feeling of total unreality.
In the six weeks following the Alpha Gemma mission, a large number of compromises were made by a large number of people. As a soldier who was often unwillingly forced into the role of diplomat, Kirk was aware of the significance of the ability to compromise – knew that it could often be the difference between triumph and disaster, between life and death. He had never forgotten, though, a throwaway comment made by his brother, Sam, earlier in Kirk’s career when Kirk, at a much younger and brasher stage, had been describing over drinks, perhaps rather ponderously, the art of compromise. Sam had drained his lager with a rather impatient look on his face – a look which Kirk remembered very well from occasions in his childhood when the older brother had felt the need to put the younger sibling in his place – and said “Compromise. That’s when no one gets what they actually want, right?” And so it was, in the weeks leading up to Spock’s departure from the Enterprise.
The Vulcan Science Academy were adamant that it was crucial that the new captain of the Seleya take up his place with immediate effect. Kirk was equally firm in his request for delay (though with one eye anxiously on Spock and reluctant to engage with the VSA in a tug of war which could be to no ones advantage and could only damage the start of Spock’s new role). Kirk found himself, possibly for the first time in his life, citing Starfleet Regulations and pointing out that the default transition period for a member of a command team was three months. Spock’s own, unspoken preference was both not to leave the Enterprise at all and, at the same time, knowing he had no choice in the matter, to leave immediately. In the end, it was decided that the Seleya would receive its new captain in six weeks, and the situation could reasonably be summarised as presenting absolutely no cause for satisfaction to any of those involved.
Another compromise took place between Spock and the crew of the Enterprise. The crew had wanted to throw a very large goodbye party for its First Officer. Kirk was torn between a strong feeling, firstly, that Spock’s time on the Enterprise deserved to be celebrated with the largest, loudest and most expensive fanfare Starfleet’s finest could manage; secondly, that he could imagine nothing he would less like to mark or celebrate than the end of that time, if for no other reason that it made Spock’s departure real at a time when Kirk was trying hard (and in part succeeding) to pretend that the entire situation was a nightmare from which he would shortly wake up; and, thirdly, the fact that he knew that the occasion would cause Spock considerable embarrassment and discomfort and that, given a choice, the Vulcan would probably prefer to perform his duties for the day dressed up as Rudolf the Reindeer. The Enterprise command team were rescued by the Christmas, which happened to fall conveniently the day before the six weeks were up. It was therefore agreed that a party would be thrown but that it would also and, in fact, largely celebrate Christmas, which in the name of diversity was not usually celebrated on the ship, and that on that basis, neither Kirk’s nor Spock’s presence would be required for more than half an hour to allow the crew to consume alcohol in peace without their senior officers.
The last compromise was one that Kirk made with himself and with Spock. Almost more than the prospect of Spock’s absence from the ship when the six week period of grace was over, Kirk was dreading the act of saying goodbye. Not only was he aware that it would cause him pain on a level he had yet fully to anticipate, but he had not the slightest idea of what to say. He wanted neither to fail to make clear to Spock what he meant to him and the part he had played in the success of the Enterprise mission nor to embarrass either of them, and as the weeks passed, the problem began to preoccupy him more and more, illogically dwarfing the prospect of loss, although Kirk was perfectly aware that focusing on the moment of farewell was a form of distraction behaviour. Worse, he sensed that the stress of the coming parting was causing both him and Spock to withdraw from the other; he knew, or at least he thought he knew still, that Spock’s departure was not of his choosing, but he was still keenly aware that Spock was leaving to take promotion to head up the first VSA ship – that this was both an extraordinary honour and an unlooked-for going home for his First Officer, and he was increasingly far from certain that the Vulcan shared his unhappiness at the coming change.
He would not say goodbye to Spock at the formal point of departure when the VSA shuttle arrived, in front of the VSA personnel. He could not say goodbye at the party, in front of the whole crew.
And so the last compromise was that after a bare forty three minutes at the Enterprise Christmas party which was resolutely silent on the subject of farewells, Kirk skilfully diverted his First Officer – still his First, for another eight and a half hours – and took him to the captain’s quarters for a last game of chess.
Without asking Spock, Kirk poured both of them a generous brandy, and watched the Vulcan studying the chess pieces, largely in silence. Kirk himself moved the pieces quickly, with less thought than usual, knowing he was leaving himself undefended , fully expecting to lose as a result and was surprised to win, causing him to shoot a sharp glance at Spock, wondering whether the Vulcan felt as distracted as he did. As they made the moves in the end game, spinning it out in a way that they would usually not have bothered once the result was clear, Kirk said abruptly
“Everything that has happened in this five year mission - every success - I owe to you, you know.”
Spock moved a pawn and said very quietly
“That is untrue, Captain, but I appreciate the sentiment. A very great deal of what I take to the Seleya I learned from you.”
“Also untrue,” Kirk said, clumsily – and then ground to a halt. This had been his greatest fear – that he and Spock - he and Spock - would sit exchanging polite compliments at the point of goodbye. What he wanted to do more than anything else was to put his arms around the Vulcan; it was what he would have done in many situations where he felt immeasurably less. But he and Spock had never had that sort of relationship. Neither hesitated to grab the other in the line of fire and Kirk would often seek Spock’s attention by a light touch on the arm or occasionally even steer him with a hand at his back or clap him on the shoulder in recognition of a job well done. But they had never hugged. And, unbidden, Saredin was in Kirk’s thoughts – Saredin, and Spock’s words , “touch telepaths do have exemption from being ordered within direct contact with other species” and the world he was joining on the Seleya, a world which forbade touch and forbade affection.
Kirk’s hands fell to his sides and then, instead of a human touch, he lifted one of them towards his First Officer in the ta’al. Spock met his eyes with a flare of something Kirk could not quite identify, lifted his hand in a mirror image and Kirk nodded once and turned to leave the room.
It took on average five seconds to reach the captain’s quarters from Spock’s. Kirk got precisely half way to his own door, came to an abrupt half, spun on his heel, walked back through the door to Spock’s quarters and up to where Spock was still standing, as he had left him, in the middle of the room. Moving on momentum, Kirk stretched out a hand and took Spock’s right hand in his own, held on firmly and said into the shuttered look in the Vulcan face
“Spock. You are irreplaceable to the ship and you are entirely and permanently irreplaceable to me personally. Before you go, I need you to know that.”
Hoping that he had not precipitated a second diplomatic incident and preparing to release the hand, he was stalled by Spock’s other hand which came up and covered Kirk’s own with a more than human warmth. Startled, Kirk brought his eyes to Spock’s face, but the Vulcan was looking down to where he had turned his right hand over so that Kirk’s own hand was caught and held tightly between both of Spock’s.
Into the silence which followed Kirk’s words, Spock said, simply, “Jim.” Kirk waited, but it seemed that this was all Spock had to say. Neither of them could find any further words but Kirk thought, bringing his other hand up to press Spock’s before he freed himself and left, that what they had managed was just about enough.
The next day, Spock left the Enterprise and boarded the VSA shuttle to take up his first command.