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Pinpricks of light, each star shining with a steady glow, an honest presentation of itself without the deceptive shield of atmosphere to obscure its true appearance. Admiral Kirk, alone in the darkened officers' lounge, watched the stars attain ever more familiar configurations, moving slowly into the places they would appear in the skies of Earth. A safe and secure pattern, unnoticed and unquestioned by most, a symbol of the conflicting emotions in his mind.

Going home? Or leaving it?

What had been Captain Will Decker and Lieutenant Ilia were gone, along with the vast and incomprehensible god-machine V’ger, to whatever transformed fate awaited them.

Decker had known what he wanted.

As Kirk knew what he wanted. This ship. Silver lady, she sang to him even now, the insistent lure of her non-human call in every meter of her. Despite the vast change in her—the newness, the differences—she was still uniquely the Enterprise, and he wanted her. No outward change would ever disguise her.

His ship. Had been, for the space of a little over five years. Spock could quote exactly how long it had been. Spock... Had been, for the space of four days; two of which had been filled with the frantic activity of investigating and stopping V’ger. And after that, after the wondering, the reports to Starfleet Command, had been the satisfaction of knowing he had taken an active part in averting this danger. Not waiting planetside, ready to congratulate the man who had taken his place. Or dead, if the other had failed.

The following two days—that hoped-for shakedown voyage had been cut quite short. He’d wanted time to re-establish old friendships, to go beyond the first courtesies and questions about how everyone had been and what they’d been doing with their lives. He’d made progress in that regard, had talked to Spock and McCoy together, then gone with them to the rec room party (organized on impossibly short notice, highly enjoyable, but slightly skewed from how he had wanted to spend his time). Then sheer exhaustion had overcome him, and when he had awakened to the sound of his intercom, it was to acknowledge new orders from Nogura and give the command to set course for Earth.

His home planet waited, barely an hour away.

What then, when he beamed down to confer with Nogura? He would fight to keep the Enterprise, of course. These few days.... He felt like a long-starved man, given a bare taste of what he needed to sustain life and soul, then the threat descending to take it all away again. But just that bare taste had told him what it would be like, giving the promise of so much more to come. Enough to glut his senses, if he could have it for as long as he needed. What span of time that could be he didn’t bother to consider.

The last four days... those five years out of time.... They stood in his mind, vibrantly colored and costumed, more immediate and real than anything else he'd experienced in his life. Far more real than the last two-and-a-half years, which had quickly become a grey succession of endlessly similar conferences, meetings, polite diplomatic functions.

This is what I was born for, he thought, watching the shift of stars in the blackness beyond the viewport. The command. The possession. The adventure. Living on the edge of death.

Without this, I’m only half-alive.

Yeah. Kirk the Hero.
Derisively, he capitalized the word in his mind. Boy wonder. Youngest Captain, youngest Admiral. A record-setter in everything I do. Time to go back to Earth and start playing role-model again. Be a living example for all the fresh young men and women in Starfleet to emulate. Be right there to remind them, not some invisible presence out in space to be wondered about, dreamed of. Be right there to remind them that heroes are only human.

Where was there to go from up? Hadn’t someone once said that about Daystrom? And where was he now? Recovered, after his session in the rehab facility, but still lost in obscurity. No brilliant achievements now from that quarter.

There was the inescapable fact that there were no line officers above the rank of Commodore in the fleet. Too valuable to the service. Too many things could, did happen in space.

And Admiral Komack had died when the control on his sonic shower went faulty They'd found the body hours later, bleeding from every orifice. Safe at home on Starbase 9.

He knew dozens of men and women who would give anything to trade positions with him. Rank hath its privileges, after all, a powerful attraction to the rank and file. But he didn’t want most of them.

Just his ship. Again.

Supposed to outgrow adolescence, Kirk. Think of all the unfinished business back on Earth. Now that this emergency was over, it would be business as usual. Even now in his office, he knew, a half-dozen "Most Urgent" projects awaited his immediate and personal attention. The Tholian question. The Gorn negotiations. Summit meetings. New developments in sonic technology as applicable to starship weaponry. The maiden voyage of the Heart of Taenor. Staff appointments. Promotions. Transfers. Resignations. Demotions. Disciplinary actions. Investigations. Captain Threev was up on charges—possible violation of the Prime Directive on Latiik 4. Evidence of graft on Starbase 23. More than enough to occupy him for any number of lifetimes.

If he walked away tomorrow....

There'd be someone to take his place. Administrative types and paper pushers abounded in any bureaucracy; he could name half-a-dozen gunning for his job. But he held a certain value, just by being the way he was. The maverick on the team. He hadn't lost the feel for line command; he was all too willing to give an opposing view to anyone's pet project. Good propaganda value, that.

There were more than enough men and women hungry for that sort of role. Needing that type of power. Just as I need this.

Well, let them have it, have it all. The condition being—I keep this ship.

The sibilant sound of the door sliding open—so familiar, that.sound, part and parcel of this ship. His ship. He turned his gaze from the viewscreen and met Spock's dark eyes.

The Vulcan stood just within the room, hands behind his back, posture correct, face expressionless as always, serious eyes holding a question. "If I am intruding on your privacy, sir?"

So like a similar posture of just days ago, Kirk remembered. A cold wall between them, denying any past ties; something he had never thought to find between them and was determined to never find again.

I need you. Then. And now.

"Not at all, Spock." He indicated the lounge chair opposite him. “I was just thinking.”

Like a door opening, expression came into Spock's eyes, softening them, making them appear to glow. The special look that had so often passed between them before, after a mission, after a chess game, stray moments on the bridge. A look that, two-and-a-half years ago, four days ago, Kirk had thought he would never see again.

Spock took his seat with an easy grace and confidence, a familiar silhouette against the star background behind him. Kirk could almost see the deliberate command he gave his body to relax, and then, traces of any conscious decision were gone and he was merely sitting at ease.

Kirk smiled, and Spock returned it, just a little, the stern Vulcan face now expressive. Not nearly as much as a Human's, but not the mask of stone it had been before. And from him Kirk sensed a type of peace, and knew that was something Spock had never been accustomed to before. ...You've changed so much, he wanted to say. Didn’t. Instead, and suddenly, he said, “I don't want to give her up.”

“I know.” Spock's words, the tone of his voice, conveyed a pure depth of understanding.

Has anyone else ever understood me as well as this man does? Kirk wondered. Accepted me as well? “It's not going to be easy."

"You have always been most certain of your goals and desires. I have wished for the same certainty in myself."

"You knew what you wanted when you returned to Vulcan." Try as he might, Kirk could not prevent a small note of pain from entering his voice, and he saw by the slight darkening in Spock's eyes that the Vulcan recognized it for what it was.

“I thought I knew what I wanted. I wanted—to want what was expected of me. A goal which my society holds forth as an ideal. Something which every Vulcan strives to attain. I considered it my—duty—to pursue this objective."

"Was it worthwhile? Spending that much time in pursuit of a goal...”

"Which proved illusory? I think not. Even a negative experience has much to teach. If one is willing to learn from it." The quiet, deep voice spoke of a battle fought and lost, giving victory to a final war.

"I've missed you, these years," Kirk allowed himself to say.

“My thoughts also turned often to you.” Spock hesitated, and Kirk could see, even now, the struggle to express outwardly what was now inwardly acknowledged as truth. "I found that your absence from my life caused me distress. I knew it would—but not the degree." The dark eyes were intent on his. “I could not keep you from my mind, at Gol. Understand, if you can, that I tried not to think of you. Tried not to acknowledge what you...meant to me."

“It was what you felt you had to do.” Kirk.s voice also was low; even a past truth could hurt, and he did not want Spock to be hurt by any trace of distress on his part.

“I regret now that I ever tried to c1ear those memories from my mind.” Another slight pause, Spock's gaze never wavering, an openness and an uneasiness mirrored in his eyes. “I have found, upon reflection, that your friendship has brought the greatest value to my life."

“It was you who made my years on the Enterprise specia1.” The words were out suddenly, never consciously considered before—their truth self-evident. Kirk saw the warming in Spock’s eyes; uncertainty was now gone.

"There is a word, in Vulcan. T'hy’la. This word symbolizes what you are to me. Brother, and friend.”

...and something more... Kirk caught the edges of the thought, knew it was not his own. Knew also, somehow, that now was not the time to probe further; knew with a certainty that the time would come when he would know that final, unspoken meaning. Back to...safer subjects? “I’ll never did understand why you felt you had to return to Vulcan. For a visit, yes. But not to stay."

“I found myself becoming more and more subject to emotion.” The words came slowly; even now Kirk knew how difficult it must be for him to speak of matters like this. "The...intensity...of what I...felt was a source of concern to me.”

“Were you ashamed of it?" Kirk's voice was gentle, prepared to show his understanding, no matter the answer.

A slight smile again touched Spock's lips, warmed his eyes. "There was, perhaps, a small measure of that emotion left. But it was more a fear of it. I was afraid of the loss of control it implied. All things were changing. You had received your promotion. I knew it was unlikely that we would serve together again...and I found myself unwilling to serve under any other commander."

“You were offered the captaincy of the Intrepid II," Kirk said quietly, his eyes showing Spock that he understood what was being said beneath the level of the actual words.

“As I have so often stated, I do not desire a conmand of my own. That has not changed.”

“I would have found a place for you on my staff.” Far too late to offer that now, Kirk. But somehow the words had to be said, to clear away the last unresolved traces, doubts, ‘if only’ possibilities that could never be more than regrets.

Spock looked at him gravely. “You had many matters to concern you....”

“I'd begun making inquiries...your departure for Vulcan came as a surprise." Hell of an understatement, Kirk thought, hoping he'd kept his tone free of reproach.

For the first time, Spock's gaze shifted downward to his hands, folded in his lap. "The situation at Headquarters at that time would not have permitted a radical reorganization of personnel. I did not wish to influence your new position adversely. It is also true that I was uncertain of my desire to live on an alien world." He looked then to the viewscreen. "This had been my home."

...but not without you... Again Kirk caught the edges of a thought/feeling, and wondered, this time, if he had been meant to. ...thank you for trusting me... He allowed the words to form in his mind, and followed Spock's eyes to the diamond-point stars passing endlessly by the viewport. Too familiar now. "My home as well. My only home." Kirk paused, then added, "I sent a couple of message tapes to you. Amanda replied, telling me about Gol."

“I was there all the time between my return to Vulcan and now.”

“I'm glad you came back."

Spock turned back to Kirk, the dark eyes calm and clear. “I am glad you were here to come back to.”

Kirk returned Spock’s gaze. “It’s so easy to lose touch,” he said, more than a trace of bitterness in his voice. "Even with the people who supposedly matter the most. I was...busy. No word from you; holiday notes from Bones, occasional tapes from Uhura, Chekov. I guess Scotty was the only person I really kept in touch with—and that was because of the ship. I wanted to keep track of the renovations. Used my duties as an excuse to myself for not keeping in touch with the rest of you.” He found he couldn’t look at Spock any longer, found his gaze was taking in the field of stars again. “How much has really changed?” His voice was soft, but he meant to speak these words. "We’re almost back to Earth. Will we all scatter again, make promises to keep in touch and break them just as easily?"

“I would never break a promise to you.”

Spock's words and tone were certain, no trace of doubt entering on any level. Kirk was looking at him again, without being conscious of turning his gaze.

“I wouldn’t break one to you, either." But none have been made. Yet. “It's still waiting, Spock. My job. A week ago I was conferring with Commodores Mizrahi and Kyneast regarding the Tholian question. That’s still there, still important. But I don’t feel any longer that I am the only person who can do that job.” He paused. “I wouldn’t have believed a few days could have changed so much."

“The most profound changes can occur in a relatively brief period of time."

A thoughtful glow appeared in Kirk's eyes. "I can't even begin to understand what you went through in that mindmeld. I was afraid you'd die—or be lost to us forever." Mindless, he wanted to say, then searched for a better alternative. "...trapped in your own mind."

“It very nearly happened." Spock's words reopened the depths of fear and horror. “It would have, if I had not been willing—and able—to change. How ironic that it should give me at least the beginnings of a solution to my questions.”

“What you said in Sickbay....”

“`Simple feeling’,” Spock quoted. "But it is not simple at all. There is depth upon depth of nuance and shading in emotion. It will be difficult to explore it properly and well. But I have been given the answer to my question—I must not turn away from it. Though being true to the answer may prove as difficult as the finding of it."

"’Let me help.’" Again, instinct brought out the words, and Kirk was certain of the rightness of them.

The slight smile that touched Spock's lips was special and personal, for Kirk alone. “I would welcome your assistance. This is an uncharted area for me, but you know the territory well. You can teach me much—if time and circumstance permit.”

It was an unspoken question. It was, as well, permission for Kirk to deny him, to turn away, to pursue his own solitary career.

He took in the totality of it then. The need, and the willingness to deny that need, showed in Spock's dark eyes. The slender figure, not quite as relaxed as before, awaited his words. His friend, in silhouette against the frame of stars contained by the viewport. The viewport itself, encircled by the gleam of silver metal that went beyond, above, below—walls, door, ceiling, floor. The Enterprise itself.

The face of his friend. The stars beyond. All the places he had ever dreamed of going. All the places he had ever been, all the places he wanted to go...with this man beside him.

There, before him. All that he had ever wanted....

"My home is here as well, Spock."

“Nothing is certain,” Spock cautioned. "The future holds many unknowns.”

"Then it's up to us, isn't it? Circumstances fully control only those people who don’t fight against them.”

The warmth, the surety, the...love...was there in Spock's face. "It has always been so for you. I know that you shall attain any goal you desire."

"There are only two things I want. This ship. And you, to be with me aboard her." Only the smallest pause separated his next words from his last. "The second is more important than the first.”

“Then the future will be what we make of it.... Admiral."

The use of that title struck Kirk wrong at first, then the emotion cleared. Spock was right.

“Nothing ever stays the same, does it? Everything changes...and we can only do our best to be sure the changes are for the better.”

Spock's eyes showed that he understood and agreed

Yes, Kirk thought, that was what it was all about. Finding and keeping the value of life; not clinging to the past out of remembered fondness, but keeping the best of the past to make the best of the present. He thought of the people he had known during the last two years on Earth. Easy camaraderie with most...but nothing quite like what he had shared with this man. Never the same, and not nearly enough.

"I got married on Earth—a one-year arrangement," he said suddenly. "A good woman...but when the time came to renew the contract, I didn’t. She wasn't what I needed, somehow....”

“I hope someday you will find what you seek in such a relationship.”

Kirk rose; Spock, as well. Barely a hand's breadth of space separated them. "Somehow, now, I think I shall."

The intercom sounded then. Kirk punched the button. "Kirk here."

"Sulu, sir. ETA to docking at Earth's facilities, 5 standard minutes."

It came now. The future. Decisions to be made, or forced. No, rather—formalities. That famous Kirk determination had taken him far. He wouldn't let it fail him now.

“On my way," he said, and switched off the intercom. He turned to Spock, who was standing, as always, by his side, unobtrusive and as necessary to him as the air.

How did I ever survive those years?

"It will work out, Spock," he said.

The glow in Spock's eyes, affirmation of his abiding belief and trust, was all the answer he needed.
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