Disclaimer: All Star Trek characters belong to Paramount. Jessica Quaint is my creation. I am doing this for fun, not for money.

Author's note: The story is novel sized, though I will not post it all together this time. I have finished it, be sure, but I'm far not through with proofreading. I'll try to make the updates quick, though.

As promised, this is the second part in the Homerun trilogy, which began with The Heritage. This new piece, however, is a different story, and there are few references to the first part, the major of which is probably the introduction of Lieutenant Jessica Quaint. If you don't want to go all the way back, suffice it to know that she is a beta-shift science officer, who had served with Spock previously for three years under Captain Pike. Don't worry, she won't be taking too much attention from the others, but I thought it best to explain her presence.

The plot starts within about three weeks period from the events of Where No Man Had Gone Before, but the attitudes are mostly originating from The Heritage. Nothing too specific, though.

Note of gratitude: Thank you all for the wonderful feedback I've been getting after posting Part 1. I'd never imagined such a thing to happen to me of all people, but it really kept me going.

Codes: K&M, S, turning to K&S, S&M, K also U, Chapel, R, and ensemble. General/Adventure/Friendship/A little romance.

Summary: The Universe will hardly wait for Kirk or Spock to sort out the emotional consequences of their actions, to present them with a new highly demanding challenge. Whoever can put an 'n' in the 'split'...?

HOMERUN

Part 2. The Split.

By Anna Amuse

Chapter 1.

The Split.

Doctor McCoy frowned gazing at the gloomy interior of the bar. The murky, dull surroundings, the small number of grim-looking patrons, and the ominous expression on the bartender's face made him extremely uncomfortable. It was definitely not the kind of place he would choose to ease his mind off things. Apparently, though, getting some peace of mind was not his friend's objective at the moment.

The Doctor's frown deepened as his gaze drifted back to the man sitting opposite him, staring unseeingly at the half-empty glass of Saurian brandy on the table in front of him. McCoy was watching him for a considerable amount of time now, but he couldn't recognize the person he used to know in this uncommunicative, depressed man.

He attempted once again to start a conversation, trying to forget the lousy effort it turned out to be the first two times.

"How did you find this place?" The Doctor hoped to sound curious rather than desperate. "It's not even on the map."

Jim Kirk shrugged carelessly, glancing around without any real interest.

"It's not the first time I'm on Kroulen," he said in a lifeless tone. He hesitated before adding, "A friend showed it to me many years ago."

Gary, McCoy translated to himself. Gary showed him the place. Heavens, they really were in trouble. He made a sip of his own drink, the bitter taste of alcohol biting his tongue. Generally, he enjoyed the sensation. At the moment, however, he felt nothing but exasperation.

It had merely been two weeks since he joined the Enterprise crew, taking over for its retiring CMO. It had been a busy time for him, as he had to familiarize himself with the ship's crew and systems, supervise the installation of new equipment and personnel, as well as deal with oncoming emergencies. But, even as his duties were keeping him occupied for most part of the day, and he hadn't had a lot of chance to see his old friend or talk to him, he noticed some extremely alarming changes in him, which now he had the opportunity to observe in full.

He didn't like what he was seeing, to put it mildly.

There was, of course, no denying that an enormous tragedy had happened three weeks ago on Delta Vega. Not only an unsuccessful attempt to cross the galactic barrier had been made, it also killed – there was no other word for it – two of the Enterprise's crew, and one of the casualties had been Jim Kirk's executive officer and best friend. Not only that, but the barrier rendered him a highly unpleasant change of personality even before it killed him. Not only that again, but the fluke of fate made Jim the one who pulled the trigger. Quite enough to set anyone off their balance.

And yet, McCoy was concerned. He knew Jim Kirk too long and too well to see that he was not reacting in an adequate for him manner. True, they hadn't seen each other for several years and hadn't worked together since even further on in the past, but being a capable – if intuitive – psychologist, McCoy knew people did not change that much. Not without a reason.

It was not like Jim Kirk he knew to use the first opportunity to go ashore, leaving someone else to watch over the refit of his ship, and with no one from his crew being able to see him, allow himself to shatter completely to pieces. It was not possible for a man he used to know on Lira II. Not the one who saved his life and the life of his colleagues at a terrible cost to himself. That other Jim Kirk dismissed his worries and started making jokes the moment he was out of the influence of the anesthetic, even though McCoy could tell that the death of his friends and the girl he'd been in love with hit him hard. This present Jim Kirk was stricken by grief so completely, it made McCoy wonder if he could ever snap out of it.

But was it grief? he thought suddenly. More accurately, was it grief alone that made this unimaginable change?

"Seven years ago," Jim said abruptly, startling McCoy out of his unpleasant thoughts. "We came here for refit after a mission to Lotus."

He said that without any hint of emotion, but McCoy knew better than to mistake it for the lack of it. He knew about the Lotus mission. It wasn't a very pleasant memory either.

"Gary and I sat here all night, trying to get drunk. We never managed it, though."

"Alcohol can only help as much," McCoy shrugged, staring at his own drink. For some reason, he felt reluctant to take another sip. "Jim, why don't you tell me what happened?" he asked suddenly, tired of beating around the bush. "You're not yourself. I have never seen you like this, not even after Caitlin."

A humorless smirk formed in the corner of Kirk's mouth.

"Maybe I'm finally starting to act my age, Bones."

"What age would that be?"

"Something about two hundred years."

"Sounds pretty bad," McCoy's piercing blue eyes fixed on him with precision of photon torpedoes. "Mind talking about it?"

Kirk sighed, pushing his glass aside.

"What do you want me to say, Bones? That I killed him and feel guilty about it? I do. Anything else?"

Of course, McCoy thought, resisting the urge to clap his own forehead, as the Captain introduced the new word into the conversation. Guilt. But it wasn't as simple as he made it sound.

"You didn't kill Gary, Jim," McCoy said calmly. "You killed whatever he'd become. The Gary Mitchell that we knew died the moment that thing from the barrier hit him. You know that."

"You haven't seen him, Bones," Kirk shook his head in frustration. "It was as if he was slipping away bit by bit, and there was nothing I could have done about it... If only I had paid a little more attention," he whispered. "I might have been a better friend to him."

"What are you talking about?" McCoy asked bewildered, sensing that they were finally getting close to something.

Jim started to speak, painfully, with obvious difficulty. His words were soaking with self-incrimination and suffering, oozing out slowly, like lethal venom. He looked like a mass-murdered making his confession in front of the grand jury.

"Before Delta Vega, for quite some time, I didn't... I wasn't..." he struggled for words with obvious effort. "We've been best mates for how many years, Bones? I couldn't tell. But when we were both posted on the Enterprise, I felt I wasn't as close to him as I used to be. Maybe I'd changed, or maybe he had, but I couldn't feel at ease around him anymore. He annoyed me, he made me angry, God, at times he said or did something that made me positively mad at him. Even now, when I think of it, I can't help but feel angry. That never used to happen before. And I couldn't..." he sighed and changed the word with excruciating honesty, "I didn't want to reach him. I just couldn't make myself do it. Sometimes I couldn't remember why we had become friends in the first place. He was so close-minded, so arrogant, so unbelievingly over-confident – there were certain moments when I doubted him, Bones. I couldn't make myself trust him again. And that was the man who covered my back numerous times, the man, to whom I own my life half a dozen times over. He did nothing – nothing – to justify my change of heart, but even realizing it, I couldn't get back to what we had. I failed him, Bones. I betrayed him. Not by shooting at him, you're right, I know I didn't have a choice by then. But long before that, I acted like a whimsical schoolgirl, who's got a new fancy every other day."

McCoy listened to him acutely without interrupting, without objecting. He knew Jim had to talk it all out, so he let him. But it was hard to keep silence, still. He had been waiting to hear something like this for quite some time now. For several years, at the very least.

From the moment he met both Gary and Jim, McCoy had been wondering how two such completely different personalities could get together. Jim resembled bottomless multi-layered ocean – calm and bright on the surface, boiling and unpredictable in the depths, which not a lot of people were allowed in. Compared to him, Gary was like a hotel swimming pool – shining and transparent, handsome and shallow. He was an attractive form where Jim was a mighty, willful substance, and McCoy often wondered when – if ever – the moment was going to come when Jim would see it, too. That's why from the instant Jim started talking, he realized what he was going to hear. The moment had come, after all, but it could hardly have chosen worse timing.

"Jim, listen to me," McCoy said firmly, trying to make eye contact. "These things happen. You're not whimsical anything, you're just – human."

"Bones..."

"Don't 'Bones' me. You say you can't remember why you had become friends, well, for your information, I've been wondering the very same thing for years. You two made more unlikely candidates to end up as friends than an Andorian and a Vulcan. No, listen to me. It's not only me, Jim, and I'm not saying this because Gary's gone. I never said anything because I saw how adamant you become when some of your friends are involved. He was no match for you. There is no shame in admitting it."

"He wasn't a bad person, Bones," Kirk said stubbornly. "And I'm no angel."

"I never said you were. I never said he was. But over the years you did change, Jim. In every sense imaginable – you grew up. He didn't. Some people never do. It wasn't his fault, and it wasn't yours. It was the time to separate ways, and it was just an unfortunate eventuality that it happened the way it did."

"You're saying I should be happy he's actually dead?" Kirk tilted his head, his eyes narrowing in anger. "That it saved me the trouble of saying, 'Hey, pal, it's been a pleasure, but I've grown up so much by now, it's time for me to get rid of the ballast?'"

"I didn't say anything of the sort, Jim," McCoy objected calmly, and his cool tone seemed to have quieted things a little. "What happened is a tragedy," he added after a pause. "And I feel truly sorry Gary's dead. He was a good fellow. But to blame yourself for being who you are is pointless."

"You might want to try 'illogical.'"

McCoy looked at him sharply. Was Jim trying to lighten the mood? Or merely to evade the subject?

"I might," the Doctor nodded with calculated sarcasm, deciding to take his lead, "if I didn't see only yesterday how well it works with you. Mind you, the look on that Vulcan's face when you told him just what to do with his logic... Ah, it was priceless."

Kirk frowned at the reminder.

"I shouldn't have lost my temper," he shook his head regrettably. "He was only trying to set things right."

He didn't sound certain, though, and McCoy most surely couldn't miss it.

"All right, out with it, Jim. What's wrong between you and that walking calculating machine? Speaking of annoying beings, he could probably set a record. Where did you dig him up in the first place?"

"He served on the Enterprise under Pike."

"And didn't move on with him? Though, if I were Pike, I'd seize the first chance to put some distance between me and that arrogant cold-blooded computerized automaton."

"Bones," a mild reproach rang clearly in Jim's voice. "He's a fine officer. He's been an enormous asset to Pike, and to me."

"Really?" McCoy didn't look convinced. "Then kindly explain to me why we are in search of a new executive officer? If Spock is such a candy, why don't you offer the position to him? It's only logical, don't you think?"

Kirk's face fell, and McCoy cursed himself mutely. Just when they started to make some progress...

"I did," Jim's voice was flat and quiet. "He turned me down."

"Come again?" McCoy couldn't quite believe his ears.

"He turned it down," Kirk repeated louder, obvious hurt expression on his face. "Without giving any reason."

"Son of a bitch." McCoy couldn't help it.

Kirk shook his head again sadly, but determinately.

"We're not at war with anyone, Bones. It's his right to make whatever career steps he sees fit."

"Yeah, but at a time like that he could have... I don't know. He could have shown some sympathy."

A faint smile furrowed Jim's lips and faded instantly.

"He can't show what he doesn't feel. I used to think he respected me, though. At least, until Delta Vega."

"Son of a bitch," McCoy muttered again under his breath, watching the tormented look on his friend's face. Whatever that damn Vulcan was up to, he couldn't have picked the worst possible moment.

In unison, they reached for their glasses. Watching Jim sliding back fast towards the devastated frame of mind he'd come out for a moment, the Doctor couldn't help wondering if it was Gary's death or Spock's poorly timed rejection that had caused more damage to that already troubled soul.

--

"I'm telling you, he's just mean," Kevin Reilly was saying to Christine Chapel, trying to impress the new Head Nurse, who turned out to be a rather pretty young woman. "Everybody says so."

"And you've consulted with everyone before making up your mind?" she asked, pushing him roughly back on the examination table. "Or can you make your own opinion?"

"Fine, don't trust me," he said in an insulted tone, watching the instruments, she was handling, apprehensively. "Wait till you see him in action."

She shrugged, adjusting the sensors above his head.

"I've already seen Mr. Spock when he greeted the newly transferred personnel aboard. I haven't noticed anything 'mean' about him."

"Yeah?" the Navigator's eyebrows threatened to disappear into his hairline. "What about the way he treated Doctor McCoy? That sure wasn't friendly."

He rose up on his elbows again, and she had to push him back once more.

"Doctor McCoy was out of line as he so frequently is, and if you ask me, Mr. Spock showed him much more patience than someone else might have."

"Not you too," Reilly was watching her in horror. "What's wrong with you, ladies?"

"At the moment, Mr. Reilly, we're trying to determine if there's anything wrong with you," she replied snappishly, but not unkindly. Although until recently, she had spent considerably more time studying microbiology than working as a nurse, she had already got enough experience in dealing with overly talkative patients. "Now, lie perfectly still – and stay silent."

He pouted, but complied watching her, as she was watching the monitors and making notes on her pad. She frowned slightly, checked the panel and looked at him strictly.

"Close your eyes," she said.

"Why?" he asked immediately. "It's not necessary for the test."

"It is in your case. We are trying to get an average reading, but when you look at me, your pulse is accelerating, as is your respiration, as is-"

"Fine, I'll close them," he cut her off quickly. "I'm being insulted here."

Christine smiled, returning her attention back to the panel.

"We're done," she announced in a couple of minutes. "You can open your eyes now."

He tried to maintain his pouting expression, but was unable to resist her mildly wicked smile, and grinned back.

"Why do you think Mr. Spock is mean?" she asked curiously, as he sat up on the table and reached for his tunic.

"Let's see," he said with mock consideration. "He never smiles. He doesn't joke. He's always talking about duty. He's adamant about anything concerning ship's business. I don't think even the Captain is as strict as him, and he's only Acting First Officer."

"Why is he only acting?"

Reilly shrugged and lowered his voice. "They say he was the one who convinced the Captain to kill our exec. They didn't get along that well, everyone knew that."

Christine's eyes widened in alarm. "Surely, that can't be true."

"I'm telling you, I was there when Captain Kirk said 'We're gonna assume Mr. Spock's plan and maroon Commander Mitchell on Delta Vega.' And they did," Reilly nodded significantly, his voice falling to a bare whisper. "Next thing we know, Mr. Spock is beaming down with a phaser rifle."

"No," Christine breathed out in shock.

"Yes, me dear lady," Reilly nodded again, apparently happy with the impression he was making. "And then he beams back as if nothing had happened, but Lieutenant Kelso's dead, and the Captain's missing. And then we got this 'died in the line of his duty' entry in the Captain's log. Nice move, eh?"

"But it was the Captain, who..."

Reilly looked at her pityingly. "But of course, sweetheart. Mr. Spock didn't kill – he organized the murder. And they say he won't stop with one. Captain Kirk probably knows it, too. That's why he doesn't promote him. He's hoping to maybe feel safer with a new exec."

Christine looked at him, puzzled and worried. "This is terrible," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "I can't imagine anyone in Starfleet to be so evil. And Mr. Spock is a Vulcan. They can't murder or plan to murder anyone – they're pacifists."

Reilly grinned smugly, as if she'd just asked him for the sweetest piece he'd left for dessert.

"Ah, but he's not entirely Vulcan, Miss," he said, watching with satisfaction her face turning pale at the news. "He's half human. Do you know any other race that is quite so cunning and ambitious?"

She stared at him, confused and apprehensive, a data pad forgotten in her hand.

"Thanks for the check up," he said, stepping out of the doors. Once in the corridor, he started to whistle happily, positively pleased with himself.

For several seconds after he left, Christine stood still, contemplating the horrible story she had just heard. She realized, of course, that everything Reilly had said must be screened through several filters before being taken into account, but still... What if it was true? Could such dark intrigues really be happening on the Starfleet's finest vessel?

As the day progressed, and she continued to examine the crew, she found it difficult to redirect her thoughts from the thrilling tale. When finally she saw a familiar name on her list, she decided to go for it.

"Is anything wrong, Christine?" Nyota Uhura asked her concerned. "You seem a little preoccupied."

They met some years ago when Uhura was undergoing a field medical course. It was the time when she couldn't settle for one area of service, and was trying different fields in order to find a match. There hadn't been enough time for them to become close friends, but they both felt pleased to be stationed on the same ship now.

"To tell you the truth, I am," Christine admitted, putting her pad down and leaning uncomfortably on the biobed. "Someone told me that rumor..."

She quickly retold Uhura the unbelievable story. The Communications Officer listened to her frowning deeper and deeper. The expression on her face made Christine extremely nervous, she almost regretted speaking up.

"It was Stiles, who told you that, wasn't it?" Uhura asked as soon as the Nurse finished. "Third time this week."

"Actually it wasn't Lieutenant Stiles," Christine said cautiously.

"Kevin Reilly, then?"

The Nurse nodded miserably.

"Damn!" Uhura cursed. "I'm gonna report him. This is starting to get out of control."

"Reporting people for repeating rumors?" Christine raised her eyebrows. "What, are you moral officer?"

"I could be," Uhura promised darkly. "This insanity has to stop."

"Are you saying it's not true then?" the Nurse asked hopefully.

"That Mr. Spock had organized one murder and is planning another in order to get himself a captaincy?" Uhura asked incredulously, shaking her head in exasperation. "Honestly, you new people will believe anything. Of course, it isn't true. Do you believe we have a cosa nostra here? What were you possibly thinking?"

"I don't know Mr. Spock that well," Christine said defensively, turning mildly red. "With him being half-human..."

"Oh my God," Uhura rolled her eyes. "Listen, Chris, this is ridiculous. You want to know why those two are spreading these rumors? Kevin Reilly is too much an Irishman not to enjoy a fancy tale, though it's about time he'd changed the subject. As for Stiles, the man is a bigot. Besides, he can't forgive Mr. Spock for not being as willing to overlook his negligence at his station as Gary Mitchell had been. I've had it with both of them, I'm gonna report them as soon as the Captain's back. Double murder, really..."

She walked out of Sick Bay, muttering in annoyance, and leaving Christine alone to deal with the growing embarrassment.

--

Spock was walking along the corridor of the Enterprise in his usual efficient, yet dignified pace. Various crewmen he met nodded to him with a polite 'Mr. Spock' or 'Commander' as they passed. This emphasized respect they showed him was somewhat new to him, it was taking some time to get used to. All they saw in him when they looked upon him was another senior officer, one of the four most senior officers on the ship. The idea that they respected his rank or position before they even stopped to think about him as a person or a specialist was still very alien to him. As a Vulcan, he found the chain of command system and the attitude it implied extremely logical. But after so many years of being on equal footing with most of the ship's personnel, he found it hard to adjust to the fact that nobody saw him just as 'Spock' anymore. After his promotion, and especially after a major crew rotation, there was not a lot left of those, who worked with him closely for many years. In fact, it was eerie how lonely one could feel in the well known surroundings.

Gone was Dr. Piper, whose strict scrupulous attention made him feel part of the crew more than anything else. Spock could not acknowledge it consciously, but he missed the Doctor's presence, just as he had missed that of Number One and Captain Pike. The changes were logical, moreover, they were inevitable. He was a Vulcan, he was not supposed to feel any sadness at such natural and expected development. However, for some reason, he found it harder to suppress the emotions in this particular case, than ever before.

Then, there were Lieutenant Kelso and Commander Mitchell. Spock had had an even working relationship with Kelso. He respected his technical knowledge and sympathized with his light ever disposition. As for Gary Mitchell... The categories of liking and disliking anyone were so surely beyond any logic that Spock dared not explore them. He was, however, a very honest person. He regretted the man's death whole heartedly. Yet, no matter how hard he tried to convince himself, he could not experience the feeling of loss – one of the only emotional states recognized on Vulcan – on the Commander's account.

It was immoral of him, and what was even worse, it was he, Spock, who had been the first one to see that Gary Mitchell must die. Back then, in the chaos of the rapidly progressing crisis, he acted in the only way his logic dictated. He was confident he was doing the right thing. He was still fairly certain they had no other choice. But it didn't make him less guilty.

The situation was worse ever still, as Gary Mitchell was the Captain's personal friend. Spock would never forget the way Kirk looked at him when he said for the first time that their First Officer had become an ultimate threat. He knew it should not have had any impact on him, yet he wasn't blind enough not to admit that it did. He felt he lost something that day, something exceptionally important. Something he didn't know he longed to have and now he was never getting back. And at times, in the moments of peak personal honesty, he wished desperately for some friendly presence to guide him through the darkening reality back to light.

"Mr. Spock to the Bridge, please," the ship wide page echoed in the corridor. Uhura's voice was tense. "Mr. Spock, please, acknowledge."

Stepping to the closest wall com panel, he answered. "Spock here."

"Mr. Spock, we need you up here," Uhura said, apprehension ringing in her voice. "It's urgent."

He considered asking on further, then realized she would have told him more if she thought it was all right to say on the open channel.

"I am on my way. Spock out."

He quickened his pace, walking to the nearest turbolift. He was alone in the cabin, wondering what might have happened that required his personal attention and why Uhura's voice sounded so wary. They were currently orbiting Kroulen, a humanoid world with a mostly peaceful population at an early warp stage of their development. The Federation had a trade agreement with the planet's government and a class 2 starbase facility in orbit. The Enterprise was scheduled to undergo some upgrades, and they were presently in the middle of the process, with a week worth of work still to go. Three thirds of the crew were on the surface on shore leave, using a rare opportunity to take a break from seeing the same faces, however friendly. Spock and Scott were the only senior officers, who stayed. Scotty was overseeing the upgrades and Spock declined to go on leave as well, though nobody could truly understand his reasons. Mr. Scott, however, was grateful. With Spock in charge of the ship, he could concentrate fully on his beloved engines and other systems without any distractions.

"Report," Spock nodded to Uhura as he entered the Bridge.

She turned to him, looking if anything irritated.

"Mr. Spock, I have a Mr. Batim here, Federation Commissioner to the Misty Worlds. He insists on speaking to the Captain."

Spock's eyebrow went up slightly, indicating the precise measure of surprise, suitable for a Vulcan. The Misty Worlds were twenty light years away.

"Did he say what he wishes to speak about, Lieutenant?"

"No, sir. He's very uncooperative," Uhura practically hissed.

"I see." He stepped down to the command area. "On screen."

At this very moment, Mr. Batim could very well be the perfect illustration of a very annoyed man.

"Oh, for crying out loud!" He exclaimed without so much as a 'hello.' "Will I finally see your Captain today or was the whole idea a waste of time?"

"My apologies, Commissioner, the Captain is unavailable right now," Spock said calmly.

"Well, what about the First Officer? Can he hear me out, at least? I'm not that picky after being on hold for the better part of the day."

"I am sorry this is not possible, either. I am afraid you will have to deal with me."

"And who the hell are you?"

"Spock, Science Officer."

"Science!" Batim laughed out rather bitterly. "Yeah, that's precisely what we need, damn it!"

Spock allowed a tiny frown to appear on his forehead.

"Commissioner, how can we be of assistance?"

"Of assistance? You can be of assistance by getting your captain here as soon as possible. We have a diplomatic and humanitarian disaster in progress, we need some 'big head' to make these people listen. Yours is the nearest ship, hell, yours is the only ship in the vicinity."

"What kind of disaster are we talking about?"

"I will explain that to your captain! I have nothing to say to some minor adjutant!"

Uhura exchanged a worried glance with Lieutenant Quaint, science officer on duty, but Spock appeared unperturbed.

"Commissioner, you do not seem to have an adequate grasp of the situation," he informed him calmly. "If you do not explain your case to me, you will not be able to discuss it with the Captain."

"I will file a complaint about all this! I'll make you personally responsible-"

"That is your right," Spock cut him off in his unwavering tone. "Now, if you will please get to the point?"

Five minutes later he was making arrangements to beam down. It was imperative that he'd find the Captain. Mr. Batim, as it appeared, had a serious cause for impatience.

Spock nodded to the Chief Engineer, who had been paged to meet him in the Transporter Room. Mr. Scott looked rather dismayed upon being snatched out of whatever enchanting upgrades he had been running on his systems. Seeing Spock's face, however, he forgot about it at once.

"Mr. Scott, do you have the Captain's coordinates?"

"Aye, sir," Scott nodded, somewhat reserved. "But ye know his orders – not to be disturbed unless–"

"Unless it was a natural disaster," Spock finished the quote smoothly. "I am afraid, we have just moved to that point."

"Oh," Scotty breathed out, instantly worried. "Is the ship...?"

"It is not us, Mr. Scott," Spock assured him. "But it is, nevertheless, urgent. Beam me down to his location."

"Aye, sir. I'm all set."

Spock stepped onto the pad and nodded. "Energize."

--

He materialized on the planet's side, which was currently in the night zone. The surroundings looked rather gloomy. There were hardly any lights in the street. The houses looked shabby and deserted. Cold wind was making him shiver; the air was damp and heavy, carrying some unidentifiable but certainly not pleasant scents. Not a place most humans would choose to spend their shore leave in. Not, if they weren't in the same frame of mind as James T. Kirk, that was. Indeed, Spock reflected with an upsurge of bitter understanding. Very appropriate.

The only lit window belonged to a local bar, and the Vulcan had no doubts he would find his Captain inside. Here, in this dark corner, away from his ship, where no one of his crew could see him, he could allow himself to drift into the devastating ocean of guilt and grief.

Spock sighed, composing himself before the conversation. He admitted he was being apprehensive. His relationship with Jim Kirk was as far from being friendly at the moment as ever, and what was even worse, he had no one else to blame for this most unpleasant development, but himself.

He remembered vividly how this most unfortunate development was set into motion.

It was at the end of the debriefing session that occurred right after the Captain had beamed back from the mining colony, witnessing the death of his friend. Decks from Two to Six were shut down for Life Support maintenance that Mr. Scott had insisted on, so the meeting took place in the rearranged Observation Deck.

For the first time, Spock had the opportunity to observe Jim Kirk upon losing someone especially dear to him. He appeared grave, snappish, closed – the evident outcome of the immense anger he was trying to suppress. This death was so unfair. Then, when was it ever anything else? Spock realized that he had been concentrating on the Captain instead of the briefing only when he heard Kirk say:

"I want all the updates from the Department Heads to be submitted by 1200 tomorrow. Report to Mr. Spock." There was a general murmur of 'Aye, sir' and Kirk added briskly, "Dismissed."

Spock watched his colleagues leave, without being able to move himself. The Captain turned his back on the doors, staring into the blackness of the eternal night outside the ship. The stars seemed distant and cruelly cold that evening. Moving soundlessly in his usual catlike manner, Spock rose to his feet somewhat warily, and came close to where Kirk was sitting.

"Captain," the Science Officer called tentatively, making Kirk flinch in surprise.

"Mr. Spock," he looked at him, frowning. "What are you still doing here?"

"Captain, I did not mean to intrude, but there is a minor misunderstanding I believe we should correct."

"Oh?" The Captain turned to face him. "What's that?"

"You indicated that the Department Heads should report their findings to me."

"So?"

"Senior officers should only report to the captain or first officer."

"So?" Kirk repeated tensely, his eyes narrowing. "What are you getting at, Spock?"

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow as if to say that it would be obvious.

"I am in neither of those positions, sir."

Kirk stared at him silently for an indefinite moment, and Spock got a distinct impression the Captain wasn't really seeing him. Finally, his face softened slightly, and he spoke in a more quiet tone.

"Spock, I'm sorry, I know we're supposed to have had a talk about that, but... it wasn't the easiest time for me exactly. Some things just got slipped. Your assuming the first officer position seemed so–" he smiled weakly, "logical to me, I forgot to make an announcement. I'm sure everybody understood."

Spock's face was looking more and more forbidding by the second.

"Captain, I do not believe it is wise."

Kirk frowned at him again. "You don't believe what is wise?"

"My taking this position."

"Spock," Kirk's voice became impatient. "You've been third-in-command and now we don't have a second. How wise does it need to be?"

"It is more complicated than that. You are forgetting the circumstances due to which we lost our First Officer."

"Forgetting, Mr. Spock? Hardly. But I still don't see what you're getting at."

"Captain, I was the one who recommended eliminating the threat by -"

"By killing Gary. There's nothing wrong with my memory, Mr. Spock. Well, you were right, weren't you? You're always right."

"If you elevate me to the first officer's position after this, you might send the wrong message to the crew. That you commend radical solutions."

Slowly, Kirk stood up, facing the Vulcan, and the expression in his eyes was frightening.

"Mr. Spock, tell me you haven't just compared my command style to that of some Klingon commander," he said with cold fury.

"I do not believe I have, Captain," Spock replied quietly, refusing to step back. "But I stand by what I previously said. I do not consider such measure to be appropriate. Had you not insisted on my promotion three months ago we would not be even discussing this now."

"Don't be so sure, Mr. Spock," Kirk wasn't about to give up, either. "In that case I'd have done what any good starship captain would have done – grant you a field promotion. Heaven's name, Spock," he leaned back slightly, and closed his eyes tiredly for a moment. "What are we even talking about? I need an executive officer, I'm not supposed to run the damn ship alone. You're the next in line and you're qualified – so what the devil is the matter?"

"Captain, I submit that I am not qualified," Spock said stubbornly. "I have very little command experience."

"That's crap, Spock, and you know it! I've been the captain of this ship for about nine months now, do you think it's not enough time to find out which department is being run the most smoothly? Do you even know that your staff considers themselves to be the luckiest on board because of the way you treat personnel you're in charge of?"

"Delegating scientific tasks according to personal skills and abilities, and being in charge of 430 crewmembers is hardly the same thing, sir."

"You're damn right, there's a hell more work to be done, and I just can't believe you're afraid of it."

"I am not."

"Then what the hell is this all about? If you don't want to be the first officer, I want to know why. The truth, Spock."

"I am more suited for scientific duties."

"You can be second-in-command without yielding this position."

Spock felt something frighteningly close to desperation. How could he explain what was on his mind, or rather in his heart, if he couldn't make heads or tails of it himself? It was wrong for him to take over for Gary Mitchell, after he was the one responsible for his death. He knew he was not being logical. But it was just – wrong.

"Captain, it is my sincere belief that some other officer would serve you better in this capacity."

"So this is personal, after all," Kirk said, taking a few steps back and tilting his head slightly. "It's not that you don't want to be a first officer, it's that you don't want to be my first officer. Tell me – am I too illogical for your taste, Mr. Spock? I understand you never thought highly of me in particular, and of humans in general, but what was it that lost me your tolerance at the very least? Was I perhaps too slow in agreeing to kill my best friend? Too negligent in discharging emotions? Too stupidly attached to the man I once knew rather than willing to destroy what he'd become?"

His voice was going higher and higher with each word, as he threw one accusation after another at the Vulcan, who was so stunned he didn't even bother to hide it.

"Captain, I never-"

"Save it, Mr. Spock!" Kirk cut him off, angry beyond himself. "If there's one thing I wouldn't ever do, it's begging you. Maybe you're right, maybe thinking you and I would make a good command team was a mistake. At least, Gary spoke his mind openly without putting my intelligence at test to see if I can get to the true meaning."

Spock didn't know what to say. He didn't know where to even begin explaining himself, much less how to do it. Something far from logic told him clearly Kirk wouldn't listen to him now. The human was in the dark place and without wishing for it, he pushed him even further into this darkness. His lack of confidence, or this unexplainable fluke of conscience, or whatever it was that made him feel the way he felt resulted in him inflicting even more pain to his Captain, who was already suffering greatly. If only somebody told him how to undo any of this...

"You will assume this position temporarily," Kirk's voice was stern. Spock knew he was hearing an order. "Until a new executive officer arrives. Whether you like it or not, you're the only one I have at the moment. You will have to do."

"I shall do my best, Captain," Spock said quietly.

"I expect nothing less, Commander. Dismissed."

Spock was left with no choice but to comply.

The next day, the Captain unexpectedly came to his cabin before the Alpha shift began. In several well chosen and all too formal words, he apologized for his outburst the previous evening.

"Your reasons for not wanting the position are none of my business," he said in a cold dead voice Spock had never heard before. "However, I'd be really grateful if you fill in for as long as it takes to find someone."

"Of course, Captain. Your trust honors me," Spock replied honestly, trying to rectify some of the damage he had done.

Kirk acted as if he didn't hear anything but a simple 'yes.'

"Good. I will be honest with you, Mr. Spock, my expectations of the candidate are reasonably high. You might get stuck with this position for a while."

"I shall endeavor to maintain the required level of efficiency."

Kirk's lips twitched as if a smile was about to break through, but he steeled himself instantly.

"I have every confidence that you will," he said simply. "Thank you."

He left before Spock could say another word.

Ever since the conversation, their relationship changed. Kirk was polite as usual, overly correct towards him and always ready to listen to his advice or opinion. But he was also very distant, very detached on a personal level. They saw a lot of each other during the working hours. Being Acting First Officer, Spock, by definition, was supposed to be the captain's right hand. But, since the memorable journey through the Barrier, they had never once played chess or discussed anything that was not related to ship's business.

Spock found this change to be extremely disquieting. To his own growing surprise, he realized he missed the friendly openness of their former association. It also brought him a certain measure of discomfort to know that he was the one to blame for this most unpleasant development.

He did not forget the angry words Kirk had thrown at him at the Observation Deck. His fault was devastatingly deep, behavior inexcusable, if he made it possible for the Captain to think those things to be anywhere near the truth. Yet, he did not discover a way to clarify the issue. And he'd been avoiding asking himself why the Captain's opinion of him became so important that he'd spent countless hours searching for a way to change it back.

Seeing no logic in procrastinating, Spock pushed the heavy wooden door and entered. The interior was not that much different than the exterior, save probably, for the lack of chilling breeze.

He spotted the Captain immediately. Kirk was sitting with Doctor McCoy at the table in the far corner. Several people glanced up as the doors opened, but he was not one of them. McCoy noticed Spock, however, and muttered, "No peace in the galaxy," under his breath, clearly not meaning for Spock to hear him. Kirk merely took a sip from his glass.

Slowly, he approached the table, ignoring McCoy's scrutiny and staring at the Captain instead to no effect.

"What brings you here, Mr. Spock?" McCoy asked, scowling at him. "I thought the Captain's orders were pretty clear."

"I apologize for the intrusion," Spock said quietly, continuously directing all of his attention at Kirk. "But there is an urgent matter requiring the Captain's attention."

No answer. Not a very promising start.

"Well, sit down, would you?" McCoy hissed at him annoyed. "You're making us all look like idiots."

Hesitantly, Spock complied, careful not to disturb the Captain's personal space. Realizing that Kirk wasn't about to make an acknowledgement of his presence, Spock began to talk softly.

"We have been contacted by the Federation Commissioner to the Misty Worlds. There is a public health crisis on the second planet, but the government is refusing to accept our help. Hundreds of people die every day. The Enterprise is the only ship in the vicinity. Commissioner Batim feels our interference is vital for the salvation of this world."

"What's the nature of their crisis?" McCoy asked sharply. "Epidemic of some sort?"

"Affirmative," Spock turned to look at the Doctor. "They have also requested a medical officer to be present at the negotiations to evaluate the situation."

"What's the hold up? Take the Enterprise and go."

These were the first words spoken by Kirk since Spock had entered, and he said it without sparing him so much as a glance. Spock stiffened at his lifeless tone, feeling a strange sensation somewhere in the middle of his chest.

"Captain," he started tentatively. "The Enterprise is scheduled to perform additional charting of the region. And the Commissioner was not requesting the ship's presence, only yours."

"Then take a shuttlecraft and go. I'm sure whatever the hell he wants, you can handle it."

Spock frowned, realizing he was concerned for a reason.

"May I point out that the goal of this appearance is not only to present a course of argument, but also to make an impression of authority?"

Kirk fixed him with a heavy stare.

"I'm in no condition to show the flag, Mr. Spock. Yours will have to do."

"Damn it, Jim, listen to him," McCoy blurted out earnestly. "They need you, not Spock."

The Captain's gaze drifted to him, softening by mere bit.

"From what I heard they need a doctor. So I suggest you two get into a shuttle and underway."

"Captain-"

"I'm on leave, Mr. Spock."

"Jim-"

"You have your orders, Bones. Both of you."

Spock's frown deepened considerably, the intensity of his gaze matched that of his Captain.

"If I may ask, sir, what will you be doing in the meantime?"

"You may ask, but I'm under no obligation to answer you."

"True. However, you may choose to do so."

Kirk tilted up his head, mean challenge playing in his eyes.

"And why would I want to do that?"

The most plain and honest answer sprang to his mind instantly, but Spock suppressed the thought before it even made to his consciousness. It was all too human.

"As Acting First Officer I am responsible for your safety, Captain," he stated coolly instead.

"Your devotion to duty is admirable, Commander. But my off-duty plans are none of your business."

Spock knew he was right, and, without the regulations to hide behind, he didn't have a lot of options. Suddenly, the Doctor decided to give him one. It was not the one he'd prefer, but McCoy never bothered to ask for his opinion.

"He's just concerned about you, Jim," he said softly, making Spock flinch, as the Doctor named the very reason he chose to ignore. "And frankly, so am I."

Kirk raised his eyebrows in obvious bewilderment.

"Concerned?" he glanced at the Vulcan's impassionate face demonstratively. "I don't think so, Bones. You don't know Mr. Spock here well enough yet. He had completely discharged any feelings. He doesn't get concerned about anyone, do you, Mr. Spock?"

Spock felt trapped. He knew what this was about. Gary Mitchell. The Captain couldn't forgive him for what had happened.

"I am what I am, Captain," he said quietly. "I cannot change that."

"See, Bones? You've gotta be more careful with words around Mr. Spock," the Captain's tone was infiltrated with disdain. "No, don't apologize. Vulcans find apologies illogical."

"I wasn't going to," McCoy's eyes narrowed, the level of his anger rising up to match the Captain's fast. "Jim, what the hell are you doing? You have a duty to perform."

"I'm delegating responsibility. And you are wasting time."

"You're delegating responsibility to the only person who can look after you? That sure is smart!"

"I don't need a babysitter, Bones. I'm sending you where you're most needed. I can manage here without a drinking companion, I assure you."

"Jim, that's not-"

"Doctor, this discussion is over. You have your orders."

"But-"

"Mr. Spock, please escort Doctor McCoy to the ship. You're both leaving as soon as the shuttle is ready."

McCoy glared at him helplessly. A moment later, Spock stood up, looking at him expectantly.

"Doctor?"

McCoy did rise up then, still watching his friend anxiously.

"Jim, you're making a mistake. It's not a good time to be alone."

Kirk looked up at him and smiled suddenly. Something about that wry unnatural smile made the Doctor shiver.

"Haven't you heard, Doctor? The captain's always alone. When he thinks he's not," his gaze drifted to Spock, "there are always those who remind him of it."

The Vulcan felt a sudden shortage of air and tried to conceal his difficulty with tremendous effort.

"If you will excuse me, Captain," he managed to say, his voice hoarse and dry. "I need to take care of the mission."

Unable to even wait for a dismissal, he turned and marched rigidly to the doors. Behind him, he heard Kirk saying, "He knows nothing but duty, Bones. Sometimes, you should be more like him," his voice fell down considerably, as he whispered more to himself than to McCoy. "Sometimes, I wish I was."