Beta Help: Much thanks and appreciation to Lienor. Please note: This is an edited version. The NC-17 (adult only) version is on my website.
Cannot be together
Cannot have each other
Must be strong
And we must let go
What our hearts must know
Must be brave
And we must go on
Must not say,
What we've known all along
[How Can I Not Love You /Joey Enriques]
In 16.3 hours they would reach Earth.
The last six months had been uneventful. The atmosphere amongst the humans as their five-year mission came to its conclusion was a mixture of relief, anticipation, exhilaration, and curiously, a profound feeling of deep disappointment.
The preceding weeks had been filled with the logging of crucial data for disembarkation, and for the transfer and relocation of personal luggage and ship's supplies. Everything had gone according to procedure and all that remained was clearance and final instructions from Starfleet once they reached the Sol star system. The ship was due to dock at the orbital space station over the Atlantic ocean.
Lieutenant Uhura had been driven to distraction with the flood of messages, both directives from central command and personal communications from family and friends for the over four hundred crew aboard. The transportation team had completed the mammoth job of scheduling those who would be transferring directly to the planet surface, those who would board the space station, and those who preferred to take shuttles to off-world destinations. The necessary Starfleet documents had been issued, many of them reassignments or shore leave papers.
Spock had completed two sets of final reports, as first officer and as science officer. The labs and departments under his supervision had been effectively "put to bed" in the human vernacular, and his own travel arrangements had been confirmed.
Although there was no logical reason to personally check the divisions he was responsible for, as those under his command were both efficient and competent, he proceeded through the Enterprise in one last visual inspection. He was nothing if not meticulous.
The corridors hustled and bustled with the change from Alpha to Beta shift, everyone anxious to return to quarters to finish packing.
He turned towards the familiar voice. Doctor McCoy was weaving his way through the steady stream of bodies and approached him with a smile on his face.
McCoy rubbed his hands together, his grin growing broader and more mischievous. "We're having a small gathering in sick bay at 18:00 hours to celebrate. Just something impromptu—a few drinks. Will you join us?"
"Thank you, but I must complete my rounds, and then finish packing my personal effects."
"The yeoman can stow the rest of your things, Spock."
"I prefer to do it myself."
"Heaven forbid that anyone other than you should touch the perfectly aligned clothes hanging in your closet. If a white sock accidentally got mixed up with a black sock, you might never recuperate from the shock."
Before Spock could reply with a retort, Captain Kirk had turned the corner and was walking towards them.
"Well, Jim, not much longer now!" McCoy could hardly contain his excitement. "I've heard they're having a real blow out when we arrive; a five-star salute with all the trimmings. You can almost hear the press vultures circling overhead, ready to pick at our old bones for any intergalactic gossip."
Kirk shook his head half-heartedly, as if he'd like to forget the whole thing.
"The party starts at 18:00 hours in sick bay. Scotty said he'd bring something special."
McCoy didn't need to clarify. Something special would be 100 proof and non-regulation.
"I'll be there with bells on," Kirk replied with a wry smile.
Spock could detect the odor of alcohol on Kirk's breath—approximately three ounces of Terran Scotch, judging from his long acquaintance with Jim's drinking habits. Spock carefully observed the captain's relaxed body language: the dilation of Kirk's pupils, the concentration of ethanol in his exhalation, and his slightly slower speech patterns. Each piece of evidence added credence to Spock's suspicions.
As both he and the captain had been relieved of duty by the second shift only 34 minutes earlier, Kirk must have retired to his quarters and immediately begun drinking. It was his prerogative, but Spock was concerned nonetheless. It was unusual behavior for James Kirk, who rarely drank alone or with such determination.
"Good!" McCoy laughed. "And try to convince Mr. Spock to join us. I know Nurse Chapel would like to say good-bye."
McCoy glanced coyly at Spock, waiting for a reaction. When there was none forthcoming, he had the good sense not to comment further.
"If you both will excuse me…" Spock said, preparing to take his leave. As much as he found it satisfying to provoke McCoy on occasion, he wasn't in the frame of mind to engage in a verbal repartee.
"A moment, please," Kirk interjected.
"Do you require my assistance, Captain?"
"No, nothing like that. Tomorrow is going to be a bloody zoo once we dock. I'd like you to join me in my cabin, a few last things to go over."
"Of course, sir."
"I'll see you later, Bones."
"You bet, but if you're late, I'm starting without you. If fact, I think there is a Bourbon with my name on it waiting for me in sick bay…"
Spock fell into place beside the captain and they walked towards the turbolift. Kirk was peculiarly quiet and Spock could sense that he was tense. He had appeared on edge and restive for some weeks, but had not divulged the reason why.
With nothing to report, and not well-versed or inclined towards 'small talk', Spock also remained silent. During the time it took them to reach deck 5 and arrive at Kirk's quarters, neither had said a word.
As soon as they entered the cabin, Spock saw the opened bottle of Scotch and two glasses on the desk. A large cargo container stood in the corner of the room. Most of the captain's personal property had been already stowed away: photos, paintings, books, his chess set, and various mementoes no longer occupied shelf space, leaving the room sparse and empty.
"I know you don't particularly enjoy alcohol, Mr. Spock, but I was hoping you'd join me in a farewell drink. I'd like to make a toast."
"I would be honored."
Kirk motioned for Spock to sit, but he continued to remain on his feet until the captain had seated himself behind the desk.
"Sit! Sit." Kirk smiled, pouring the amber liquid into the two glasses.
Spock lowered himself into the chair, extending his hand to receive the drink offered him.
"To the Enterprise, her crew, and a successful mission," Kirk said, lifting his glass in a salute. Spock followed suit, allowing a mere sip of the fiery liquid to pass his lips.
Draining half the contents in his glass, Kirk sat back contentedly in his chair. "…And to you, Mr. Spock, the finest first officer in the fleet. I couldn't have done it without you. My sincere thanks."
Kirk smiled, repeated the salute, then he drank the remaining liquor down in one shot.
Spock held his own drink motionless and softly cleared his throat. "I realize humans have a need to express gratitude to those with whom they have served at the end of a mission, but I have merely done what duty required of me."
The bright light in Kirk's eyes faded, replaced with something that Spock failed to recognize.
"Did you, Spock?"
The question contained none of the good-natured vocal inflections that Spock had come to expect when Jim was teasing him. Perhaps the consumption of alcohol was affecting the captain more than Spock had realized. As he had stated a simple fact, there was no need to repeat the statement or clarify it, so he remained quiet.
Kirk reached for a refill. "What are your plans? You've been rather reticent about what you'll do after tomorrow."
"I am considering several options."
Spock delicately balanced his glass on one of his knees, cupping his hand around it.
"My first priority is to return to Vulcan. I shall leave immediately upon our arrival.
"Vulcan? Why the rush to Vulcan?"
"My father has requested my return. There are family business affairs that require my attention."
"And after that?"
"I have been offered reassignment to another ship once these responsibilities have been attended to. I have also been contacted regarding teaching positions with Starfleet and at the Vulcan Science Academy. Before making a decision, I shall consider the opportunities carefully."
"I see." Kirk said, without enthusiasm.
Spock did not inquire what Jim's plans were. It was well known that Kirk had been promoted to Admiral, a position he did not want. "Damn desk jockey," he had said some weeks previously. "They're kicking me upstairs and they aren't going to get away with it!"
Spock knew that James T. Kirk would do everything in his power to gain command of a ship again, preferably the Enterprise. But the Enterprise would not be available for at least two years while the ship was refitted and recommissioned. Until then, she would be in dry dock undergoing extensive upgrades and repairs.
Kirk remained quiet, nursing his drink, staring at nothing in particular. It was obvious to Spock that the captain was preoccupied with some inner conflict.
Adhering to Vulcan custom—that a man's private thoughts were his own—Spock sat patiently and waited. And yet, as the silence continued unabated, Spock felt an increasing uneasiness. Whatever it was that Jim needed to work out, it was clear he wasn't willing to share it.
Spock placed his glass on the desk. "If there is nothing else, Captain?"
Kirk glanced up, then slowly leaned forward. "Actually, there is."
Knocking back the rest of his drink, Kirk said solemnly, "Liquid courage." Then he placed the glass on the desk and pushed it away. "Five years ago when I first took command of the Enterprise, I didn't have much experience with Vulcans. I had met a few at social occasions on Earth, but I wasn't exactly impressed."
Kirk pushed himself back in his chair. "Oh, I admired their sense of duty, their loyalty, and their incredible intellect, but to be honest, I found Vulcans intimidating, and worse, I didn't like how that made me feel. They have an innate superiority that always rubbed me the wrong way. It's not their fault, of course. In many ways they are superior to humans, but I'm not easily intimidated, and I didn't know how to react."
It was clear by the expression in Kirk's eyes that the words were not coming easily. He laced his hands together on the desk, the knuckles turning slightly pale from the pressure he was bringing to bear.
"The fact is, Mr. Spock, that I didn'tlike you very much in the beginning." Kirk swallowed hard, as if embarrassed by the confession. "Quite frankly, I thought you were a pompous ass and I was determined to cut you down to size."
The confession did not surprise Spock. He had been well aware that the captain had had serious reservations about him at the start of the mission. If not the tightly checked animosity he had suspected, at least an edgy wariness that had taken months to dissipate.
"I was wrong," Kirk continued. "It took a long time to admit that to myself, but I was wrong. I know it must not have been easy for you, working with humans, having to put up with our often impulsive, overly emotional natures…"
"It is unnecessary—"
Kirk quickly raised a hand. "Please, let me finish."
Spock nodded in compliance, carefully folding his hands in his lap.
"Over time, I came to realize that I was wrong about Vulcans and wrong about you. I guess even an old dog can learn new tricks. We became friends, best friends. I came to admire you more than any man I've ever met, trusted you more than anyone I've known, man or woman, depended on you like…a brother. Perhaps you are the only person in the universe that really knows me, the good and the bad, all my shortcomings and yet, you've never judged, never found fault. Your acceptance is unconditional. I assumed this was the Vulcan philosophy of kaiidth – 'what is, is'. But the first time we mind-melded—I knew."
Spock straightened imperceptibly, his intertwined fingers tightening. Kirk's confession was leading in a direction that triggered emotions in Spock that he did not want to acknowledge.
He had been keenly aware of the risks before ever performing a mind-meld on Kirk, a reason why such intimate connections were practically forbidden with non-Vulcans. The first time he had melded with Kirk was to save his life, to ensure that his captain would survive the gun battle at the OK Corral. Spock had had no choice; logic dictated only one course of action. Without the meld, Kirk and the other members of the landing party would have died. But in joining minds, Spock also knew that Kirk would be aware of some of Spock's thoughts and suppressed emotions, even though he had shielded against this to the best of his ability.
Kirk paused for a moment, as if hesitant to go on.
"I knew it was more than mere tolerance or the simple acknowledgment that I was a flawed human being. I saw in your mind an image of myself that I wasn't even aware existed. Not the man I thought I was but the real Jim Kirk, warts and all. I don't think there is a human alive that isn't somehow disappointed in himself, who doesn't wish he could be a better person. And yet, the man I saw in your mind was OK just as he was! No—not OK, he was special, unique, and worthwhile; neither looked down on nor put on a pedestal, but totally accepted…even cherished for all his virtues and vices. And surrounding that image were feelings so deep, so intense…I've never felt anything like it."
Kirk leaned forward again, his glaze riveted to Spock's. "What I'm trying to say is that whatever we have together, I don't want it to end. Do you really think we can just walk away, call it a day, and go in separate directions?"
The question hung in the air, now thick with an almost a tangible current of tension.
Spock replied carefully. "It is my sincere wish that we serve together again."
Kirk's knuckles were turning from pale to white.
"That's not exactly what I'm referring to. I'm talking personally, not professionally."
Spock slowly stood up and clasped his hands behind his back. He had to reply and yet, he feared the inevitable. It took every effort to bring himself to form the words and ask, "What are you proposing, Jim?"
Kirk also stood up, and he rounded the desk.
"You're going to make me say it, aren't you?"
The unspoken feelings of intimacy vibrated between them like an electrical charge. The hazel eyes were determined now, unflinching, only inches from Spock's face.
"All right. I'll say it. One of us has to."
Spock could feel the overwhelming intensity of the emotion wash over him before the words actually registered.
"I love you, Spock."
Kirk reached up slowly, very slowly, and gently cupped his hand against Spock's cheek. "I want to share your life and your bed. I want to bond with you."
Spock suppressed an involuntary reaction that would have jerked his head back. He must not betray the conflicting emotions he was struggling desperately to shield. The moment felt like an eternity, the dizzy ringing in his ears the only sound Spock was aware of.
"Spock?" Kirk's eyes searched his, waiting for an answer.
Although his arm felt like an alien appendage, Spock willed himself to raise it, bringing his hand up to enfold the cool palm that rested against his face. He gently removed it, but did not let go. Finally, from within the well of self-doubt that threatened to drown him, the words bubbled to the surface and forced themselves from his lips.
"Jim…it is impossible."
"Why?" It wasn't a question as much as a heartfelt entreat.
Spock held up Jim's hand, tightening his grip. "This—thiscannot be."
"It can be—if you want it, Spock. I love you. And I think that you love me. That's all that matters."
Spock's mind was suddenly clouded with the memory of another face, tear-streaked and desperate. A love that was offered—a love that was rejected—came back to haunt him.
// I am what I am, Leila. And if there are self-made purgatories to live in, than mine can be no worse that someone else's. //
That painful confession was as true now as it had been then, only now the anguish was almost unbearable.
"I do…not want this. I am sorry…truly sorry."
Spock felt the cool hand slip from his, then Kirk abruptly turned away. Spock could see the human's shoulders tremble for a moment, then straighten stiffly.
"Don't say anymore, Spock." The words were barely audible. Even without telepathic touch, Spock could feel Jim's misery; it mirrored his own.
Spock quickly circled to stand in front of Kirk, but he refused to look up. Spock reached out and took hold of his arm. "Jim, please. Let me explain."
"What is there to explain?" Kirk shook his head. "I've made a damn fool of myself." Kirk twisted his torso away in an effort to force Spock to release him. Spock willingly let go, his arm dropping to his side like lead.
"If you're going to tell me it's illogical, spare both of us the trouble. I know it's illogical. Feelings usually are. But then, you claim not to have any, so it's a moot point."
"I make no such claims."
"Oh, really? Then my mistake, just add it to the list of all the other mistakes I've made tonight. Obviously, I'm on a roll here. Do us both a favor and just get out."
"You are angry…"
Kirk began laughing, a bitter sound that quickly died. Then his eyes narrowed as he fixed Spock with a hard glare.
"Such powers of observation. You are truly amazing, so quick to pick up on my pitiful human emotions. Or perhaps you read my mind? I've told you I love you, confessed that I want to share my life with you, and you have made it quite clear that you feel nothing for me. What do you expect me to feel—gratitude?"
"Jim, there is no reason to become defensive. You are wrongly assuming because I cannot act upon my feelings for you that I have none. On Vulcan, we make no such errors. When we say something, it is precisely what we mean."
"On Vulcan? Well then, it's best that you return to your home planet after all. Go! Embrace your cold, sterile, emotionless logic that leaves no room for error. I wish you well!"
Spock shook his head in a frustrated gesture. "You are being deliberately irrational."
"Then get out."
"Not until you listen to what I have to say."
"I said, get the hell out! Or do I have to throw you out?"
Kirk walked to the desk, grabbed the bottle, and poured a large amount of Scotch into his glass, spilling the liquid haphazardly.
"Stop this at once," Spock demanded, unable to suppress his rising anxiety. It was essential that he end this madness before it was too late.
In three paces, he had reached Kirk and swung him around. He seized his upper arms and forced him back against the desk. The contents of the glass slopped over the rim, soaking the front of Kirk's shirt.
"Get your hands off of me!" Kirk hissed, his face flushed with fury.
"If you will not listen to my words, then know what is in my mind," Spock gritted between clenched teeth, attempting to place his fingers on Jim's face. But in a rapid blocking move, Kirk suddenly flung himself to the side, dragging Spock off-balance with him.
The momentum caused Kirk to trip on the chair, and he tumbled to the floor. Spock caught himself in time, remaining planted on his feet, gripping the desk for support.
Humiliated beyond words, Kirk shot Spock a look so black that Spock was rendered speechless. Never before had he seen loathing in those human eyes—loathing directed at him.
Unable to bear it, Spock turned and walked out of the room, the door swooshing closed behind him.
Kirk remained on the floor, overwhelmed by the silence—a deafening silence that was louder than any scream because it was the silence of being alone and unloved.
His world was cracking before his eyes, the pieces flung into the void. He had lost everything: his command, his ship, his crew, and Spock.
It had taken him months to finally confess his feelings, months of secret doubts and recriminations. He had waited till that last possible moment, hoping—no, not hoping—but believing that Spock felt the same. But he was wrong; his gut instinct was wrong. It had abandoned him when he needed it most.
The man he loved, the man he thought loved him—didn't have any feelings for him at all. All that Spock had done, even the very closeness they had shared, had been for duty and not a damn thing more.
He had made a total fool of himself, and the one thing James T. Kirk had always prided himself on was that he was no fool. His pathetic conduct filled him with self-loathing and shame. But most of all, it filled him with anger.
He never wanted to see the Vulcan again.
James T. Kirk, ex-captain of the Enterprise, walked through the dim corridors, his solitary footsteps echoing in the stillness.
With the party and all the hoopla over, something had drawn him back to his ship, for he would never stop thinking about her as his. This had been his home for five years, and it was here that he had triumphed over incredible danger, met aliens from strange, new planets, and saw things no human had encountered before.
But now, only deep shadows and the deeper gloom of memories greeted him at every turn. Other than a few engineers on duty in the bowels of the lower decks, the ship was deserted. She was now secure in the bay of the orbital station, waiting the refitting that would begin in a few days.
He purposely left visiting the bridge until last. Most of the controls had been switched off, with only a few systems remaining active. It was strange to see so few indicators lights on and banks of panels inactive. The main viewer was nothing more than a large curtain of darkness.
He avoided sitting in the captain's chair; it was merely a painful reminder that it wasn't his anymore. But he noted that a small coffee stain on the carpeted platform remained, a reminder of a time when a nervous new yeoman had accidentally spilt coffee on both his lap and the floor. Fortunately, the brew wasn't hot for she had also forgotten to heat it. The incident brought a smile to his face, but it was short lived. As he turned, he glanced at the science station. In his mind's eye, he could still picture Spock standing over his viewer, the blue-glow infusing his features with a brilliant radiance. How many times had he turned in that direction, knowing that Spock would always be there?
He sighed deeply.
Once the bridge had filled him with a deep satisfaction, the place that he felt most alive. Now there was nothing, nothing but an intense feeling of—sadness. It was made more excruciating by the fact that Spock was gone, probably forever. And there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
It was time to move on.
He found himself at the main exit portal leading back to the space station. With one last look, he turned and walked through the doors, feeling the chilled air from the pressure hatch descend like icy fingers on the back of his neck. Turning his collar up, thrusting his hands in his pockets, he walked slowly through the dark, empty gateway…towards a new life—alone.
Wrapped in the folds of his robe, he sat restively watching the stars speed by on the viewer in the small cramped cabin.
But they held no mystery, no beauty; all the grace and magnificence in them had vanished years ago.
Spock remembered that as a young child he would gaze out into the desert at sunset, and watch the vast expanse of rippling, wind-swept sand turn to an ocean of flame red. The rugged mountains would blaze hot with burnt gold, the surface of the peaks afire with an opal-like infusion of violet and blue that danced from ridge to ridge.
Traced with graceful swirls, the foothills were cut by long trails that shone like molten silver, while over the whole scene, the dissolving light dimmed steadily, enriching every passing moment with new marvels of depth and coloring.
The world had been new to him then, seen through a child-like wonder. But a day came when the poetry that the twilight wrought upon the mountain's face no longer worked its magic on him. And another day came when he stopped seeing it altogether, or if he did, it was not with awe, but with a scientific detachment. From that point on, the only value he could find in the phenomena was the amount of usefulness it could furnish towards an analysis of impending weather conditions.
And since that day, Spock's human side had secretly wept for his Vulcan heritage. At moments like this, Spock found himself questioning what he had gained and lost by the choice he had made to repress his human side…
The planets on the screen seemed as barren and cold as he felt, a grim mockery of the path he had chosen. He had sought a life in Starfleet and had come away with a death. He had never had a real friend before and he grieved the demise of his relationship with James T. Kirk as if it had been a living, breathing entity. Now, as the stars came and went in a blur, they were bitter reminders that this ship was en route to Vulcan, taking him further and further away from Jim.
He had not slept or eaten for four days. Exhaustion reached out to claim him. Its oppressive grip weighed on his swollen eyelids, forcing them down over his burning eyes, lulling him into oblivion. But he would not permit it. Sleep meant peace and he did not deserve peace. Until he could resolve the terrible conflict that was fighting its battle in his mind and in his body, he would not rest.
He was punishing himself; punishing himself for feeling guilty. Yet that too was an illogical reaction. It was irrational, unworthy of a Vulcan. He looked down to see that his intertwined fingers were trembling. They lay in his lap like timid birds, quivering with fear.
Fear? Was it fear that he had seen in Jim when he had said, "I do…not want this" - the fear of never having what he so desperately wanted? He had never seen fear in those human eyes before—not in battle, not even in the face of total destruction. Fear was as alien to James Kirk as…as love was to Spock.
He unfolded his hands, forging them into fists, forcing them to remain still.
// I love you, Spock. //
How could he have been so blind? All the signs had been there. Denial. He had known all along, but had refused to see. It was not Vulcan to deny the obvious, and yet he had done just that. Spock was ashamed—ashamed of his reaction, ashamed of his inability to defuse the situation, ashamed of being ashamed.
// Jim…it is impossible. //
It was not impossible. One moment more, one single instant longer of that cool hand lying against his cheek, and he would have succumbed. Nothing would have stopped him from taking the human into his arms. Not his Vulcan control, not his stoic discipline, not the tenets of Surak, not the combined forces of heaven and hell.
// Bond with me, Jim. Now and forever. // The words he had longed to say—the words he never could.
Switching off the viewer, he slowly rose and paced back and forth across the tiny room. The chill in the air was palpable and he pulled the robe tighter against his shivering skin. It would have been prudent to adjust the temperature control in the hallway and layer on more clothing, but the effort required for even this simple act eluded him.
He sat on the bed, pulling the thin blanket around his shoulders. Glancing at the duffle bag at his feet, he paused…then did what he knew he must not. He reached in, pushing towards the bottom, fingers searching…
He pulled it out, placing the frame on his lap; it was a commemorative photo of the Enterprise officers taken on the day James T. Kirk had assumed command.
Spock stared at the rigid young Vulcan in the foreground. He examined the dark, slanted eyebrows, the greenish complexion, and the angular planes of the solemn face. Had he really ever been that young, that naïve, that untested? What had Jim seen in this self-conscious, somber hybrid that Spock failed to recognize in himself? What could the human possibly love?
Spock's eyes drifted to the center of the photograph.
In the captain's chair, sat an even younger officer: his knee casually crossed, arms draped smartly over the armrests, a lock of hair falling onto his forehead.
The hazel eyes were serious, but with a hint of excitement. The jaw was firm, the smile warm and relaxed.
Spock closed his hot, stinging eyes, locking the image in his mind. But the gentle smile transformed into a hard, thin line, the hazel eyes became cold and harsh, the face flushed with anger.
// I said—get the hell out! Or do I have to throw you out? //
Spock forced his eyes open again. He reached out blindly to take the human's hand, to press it to him, but it wasn't there.
// Forgive me. Forgive me, Jim. //
Perhaps one day, Jim could forgive him. But he could never forgive himself—not for the wanting, not for the pain of never having.
// Go! Embrace your cold, sterile, emotionless logic. //
Spock raised his trembling fingers to his temples as a wave of dizziness and nausea gripped him. He fought desperately for control, for if he lost it now, he was doomed. All his life, his very existence depended on acting Vulcan, being Vulcan.
He was Vulcan.
And yet, a small anguished voice cried out from the very depths of his being.
// Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?//
Spock slid from the bed and slumped to his knees, his body wracked with pain.
When the tremors ceased, before he curled up on the floor and slipped into unconsciousness, the remedy to his misery became all too clear.
He would seek his answers and his forgiveness at Gol. If pure logic and the total eradication of emotion could not save him, nothing would.
"Mind your own business, it's my fucking life."
A few heads closest to them looked up in surprise, then quickly returned to their own conversations. The coffee house near the offices of Starfleet Command was busy. The din of voices, the clatter of dishes, and the overly loud Muzak, couldn't hide Kirk's outburst.
He was angry. He had been angry for weeks. The rage had settled into a boiling simmer like the contents of a forgotten coffee pot that had burned down to bitter dregs. He kept it under tight check at work, but at moments like this, it erupted without warning.
He didn't like McCoy psychoanalyzing him. Old habits die hard, but the doctor wasn't his CMO anymore. Kirk was an Admiral. That was the end of it. Ok, so he hated the job. So what? If he kept his nose clean and didn't rock the boat, he had a chance of getting another starship. Two years wasn't that long, then he'd push for command of the Enterprise. They owed him that much, at least.
What he didn't need was McCoy telling him that he required professional help. Damn shrinks. Dredging up feelings he just wanted to forget. He could see it now; he'd tell them he was in love with his first officer, had made a fucking mess of it, and that his feelings weren't returned. And they would patiently explain, as if to some pathetic child, that you couldn't force anyone to love you so find someone else and move on with your life. 40 credits an hour for that!? He could get the same half-assed advice from his local bartender for the price of a few watered-down drinks.
McCoy's bright blue eyes narrowed as he carefully put his cup down. "I'm not Spock."
The reply took Kirk by surprise.
"I didn't say you were…" he began tersely, but Bones cut him off.
"I don't know what the hell happened between the two of you, but don't take it out on me."
Kirk pushed himself back in his seat. He swallowed hard, prepared to make amends and apologize for his heated retort. He didn't get the chance.
"He's at Gol, you know…"
"No, I didn't know."
"He resigned from Starfleet."
That much Kirk already knew. The papers had come through a few weeks ago. As Admiral, there wasn't much happening at the Fleet that he wasn't privy to. He had been expecting it, but somehow when he saw the official document of resignation, signed in Spock's own precise fluid script, it shocked him nonetheless.
"He's become a disciple of "Kolinhroo" or whatever the damn name is…"
So he had remained on Vulcan doing exactly what Kirk had feared he would. At Gol, Spock would undergo the total eradication of all emotion.
The scene in Kirk's quarters aboard the Enterprise must have left a bad taste in Spock's mouth. It was logical that he would seek asylum at Gol. God, how he hated that word "logical". It was the unbreachable armor that Spock wore to protect himself. Kirk might have put a few dents in it, but it was as formidable as any force field; even love couldn't penetrate it.
How could he have been so wrong? If luck had been on his side, then Spock would be sitting across from him. The odds had been in his favor. But he had lost both the battle and the war; Spock would never sit across from him again, never be at his side. The constant, unwavering presence that seemed like a natural extension of Kirk's own body had been torn away. It felt like a goddamn amputation.
// What have I done? // It was a question he had asked himself a thousand times. He was angry with Spock, but he was angrier at himself.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?" McCoy pinned him with a direct stare. "It's not like Spock to run off and join a monastery. Gandi, he ain't. "
"Why don't you ask him yourself?"
"You've spoken with him?" Kirk failed to keep the surprise out of his voice.
"Yes. He said it wasn't any of my concern. I expected as much—from him."
McCoy might not have expected Spock to come clean, but he thought Kirk would. So the good doctor's invitation to lunch wasn't just a social call after all.
"When did you talk to—"
The shapely figure of a woman walked by the table, then stopped and swung around. She was a tall willowy blonde, wearing far too much makeup, but most attractive—if you liked the table dancing type. She smoothed her tight skirt, running her hands slowly down its length.
"Jim!" she almost purred. "How nice to see you. I've been expecting you to call."
"I've been extremely busy at work…but not too busy to stop thinking of you." Kirk poured on the charm, his eyes bright with mischief and a promise of things to come.
"Well then, perhaps we can get together later…for a drink?"
"It's a date," Kirk replied, putting on his best boyish grin.
The woman smiled then walked away, her hips swinging in a sensual rhythm. McCoy twisted his head to watch her go until the bend in his neck produced a sharp twinge. He glanced back at Kirk in astonishment.
"Fringe benefits of working near the "Kit-Kat-Club," Kirk said wryly.
But she was just one in a long line that filled the loneliness of his bed and nothing more. If Spock didn't want him, there were plenty who did. On his return to Earth, he had discovered that many women (and a few comely men) considered it a rare honor to sleep with the ex-captain of such a distinguished and famous starship. His fame preceded him, much to his advantage. Of course, as the numbers added up, he was quick to note that the honor was becoming less and less rare.
As the waiter refilled their coffee, Kirk repeated the question he had started to ask. "When did you talk to him?"
"A couple of weeks ago. He contacted me to 'take his leave', some kind of custom required before he could enter Gol. Prior to a Vulcan becoming a disciple, he must sever all emotional ties with friends and family. Strange ritual. It sounded more like he was dying, making his final good-byes, rather than just trotting off to meditate in the desert."
He didn't contact me, Kirk thought bitterly. He doesn't even consider me a friend anymore. I am less than nothing to him.
Kirk pushed his coffee cup away, suddenly hauling himself out of the booth. "I have a meeting in 10 minutes. Great to see you, Bones. I'll keep in touch."
"You can't run either, Jim."
McCoy glanced up, examining him with cool professional detachment. "You can't run from yourself."
If Kirk could have managed a reply, he would have. Instead, he simply placed his hand upon McCoy's shoulder, smiled grimly, then left the building.
Outside, the misty gray fog that lay like a damp blanket on the streets was cold comfort. It matched his mood. It had been overcast and drizzling for weeks. The dark overhanging clouds threatened more rain and the air was decidedly cool.
// 'There's no sunshine when he's gone…' //
Why did that song pop into his head? But he knew. It seemed that every song he heard somehow stuck in his brain, reminding him of Spock…
Would he ever see the Vulcan again? Would his days ever be bright and radiant with the golden glow of happiness…the warmth of contentment?
They were questions that only time could answer.
// There is nothing left in my soul, but the sound of your name…//
Spock sat motionless in the desert, his legs crossed, his fingers steepled in silent contemplation.
His long hair whipped around his face, the hot dry gusts of air playing with it like a fiery lover.
Soon, even the name…his name…would become as distant to him as the stars that faded in the morning light.
He closed his eyes and let it go—and the name floated out of his mind and disappeared on the wind like a dry brittle leaf.
Two years later…
"Excuse me, sir," Captain Karmazyn said. "We are within visual range. You can see her out the port window."
Karmazyn's only passenger sat quietly with his eyes closed, fingers steepled together. He wasn't sleeping, but it seemed as if he was in some kind of light trance.
He had been seated in exactly the same position in the rear cabin of the shuttle for the past four hours. At his side, he had set up some kind of modified subspace radio and had been monitoring Starfleet transmissions. During the twenty-two hour flight, the Vulcan hadn't said more than a dozen words. He had even refused, albeit politely, the meals that had been provided.
Not that Karmazyn was complaining, he liked laid-back travelers, but he found the whole situation to be a bit unusual. He and his co-pilot had been preparing to leave the Vulcan spaceport on a courier run back to Earth when this tall, gaunt man appeared and urgently requested transport to this quadrant. He produced a document signed by Ambassador Sarek that proved that his reasons, although unspecified, were legitimate. Money was no object, a deal had been struck, and they had left immediately.
Without opening his eyes, the Vulcan asked, "Are we still on auto-pilot?"
"Yes. The coordinates you provided were dead-on. My co-pilot will switch over to manual when we get closer."
"Reduce speed to sub light and send a message to the Enterprise requesting permission to come along side."
"As you wish. The Enterprise is truly a beauty. Magnificent. It's the first time I've seen a starship of her class. I thought she was being retrofitted back on Earth." Karmazyn paused, then added, "Are you sure you don't want to take a glimpse? It's not often that one gets this kind of opportunity."
The blue-tinted eyelids finally opened and a pair of inky black eyes regarded him with solemn patience. "There is no need, Captain Karmazyn. I am well aware of what the Enterprise looks like."
Spock did not feel it necessary to inform the captain that over the last three days he had thoroughly researched the design of the new Enterprise, including all the engine modifications and computer functions. He knew her layout and schematics as accurately as the engineers who had rebuilt her.
"You've seen her before?"
The Vulcan gave a slight nod.
"Ever been aboard?"
Again the Vulcan nodded.
Karmazyn took a closer look at his passenger. Suddenly, he realized that the Vulcan's face seemed familiar to him. "You're not the same 'Spock' who was once First Officer of the Enterprise, were you? I mean, if you are, it's an honor to have you aboard!"
"No, I am not the same 'Spock', the Vulcan replied, "Nor have I been for some time."
Perplexed, Karmazyn smiled weakly, then he turned and made his way back to the navigation cabin.
Spock took a deep, cleansing breath. He had not meant to confuse the man, but his answer was as close to the truth as logic permitted. He was not the same Spock; that person no longer existed.
The Spock who had left the Enterprise two years previously would not be the Spock who would board her now. He had worked diligently to utterly repress his human emotions, and through supreme effort, he had succeeded. It had not been painless. He had endured purification rituals that had taxed the body and the mind to the point of total collapse. But in the end, all that he had suffered had been necessary; one could not follow the path of pure logic without sacrificing that part of oneself that was incompatible with enlightenment.
He did not doubt that James T. Kirk had also suffered pain, although of a different kind. Had it changed him as well? He knew by the transmissions he had been monitoring that Admiral Kirk was in command of the Enterprise. It was a curious situation considering Captain Decker was also onboard. Spock could only speculate on what had occurred between the two officers, but knowing Kirk as he did, he was confident that the ship was in the best possible hands.
It would make Spock's sole purpose for being here less uncomplicated; it was imperative to discover what the consciousness was that had crossed the vastness of time and space and touched his mind on Vulcan. Spock knew that Kirk would not turn down an offer of assistance on a mission so critical to the safety of the Federation.
And yet, Spock could not deny that the thought of meeting again face-to-face was…unsettling. He was not proud of how things had ended between them, but an end was an end, regardless of the circumstances. There was no logical reason to dwell on what could not be changed. Kaiidth. He was not returning to regain either friendship or to make amends. He had closed that chapter in his life and he could only hope that Kirk had done the same.
From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a gleaming silhouette through the portside window. He finally turned to look at the Enterprise. Karmazyn had not been exaggerating; the ship was exceptional. She moved through the blackness of space like a brilliant jewel. The holovids and schematics Spock had committed to memory had not done her justice.
// You have your ship again, Jim. //
The words formed in Spock's mind before he had even realized it. But the worst part was, he had felt a momentary joyfulness while thinking them, even pride! He sat for a moment, stunned, unable to fathom why such an emotional thought should have occurred.
His mind raced, searching for an answer, always coming back to the same conclusion; when it came to James Kirk, Spock would never be able to fully repress his emotions. This disturbing knowledge was not speculation, but fact. The human was the only being in the universe that had this affect on him and to deny this would give power to the very feelings that Spock must control.
The masters at Gol had said that the greatest obstacle and most difficult challenge to achieving the Ko-lin-ahr would not come from without, but from within.
With a heavy sigh, Spock could not help thinking that the masters did not know James T. Kirk.
"Signal from a Federation-registered long-range shuttle, sir. She wishes to come alongside, and lock on," Uhura relayed the message to Captain Kirk.
"For what purpose?"
"It is a courier, Captain. Grade One priority. Non-belligerency confirmed, " Chekov replied.
"Very well, Mr. Chekov, see to it."
Kirk stared at the magnificent vista of space on the main viewer. From where he sat, it looked so beautiful, incredibility peaceful, and serene. But out there, directly ahead, lay death. He had no illusions that they would all come out of this alive. His own skin wasn't that important, but if he failed billions might die. The mysterious cloud had already destroyed three Klingon 'Birds of Prey' and a research station. Was the Enterprise next?
Kirk drummed his fingers on the armrest impatiently. The shuttle had docked. Where was Chekov? If there was something to report, he wanted it without delay.
He heard the turbolift doors hiss open. About time.
"Why?! Why it's…Mr. Spock!" Sulu gasped in amazement.
Kirk glanced over his shoulder and froze.
Instantly, he was hit with an intense wave of clashing emotions: shock, bewilderment, trepidation—but mostly elation. His heart skipped a beat and he gripped the armrests tightly. Two years. Two long years. He would have pinched himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming, but he knew he wasn't. In his dreams, Spock was smiling. And this Spock was definitely not smiling.
"Spock...!" The name automatically flew out of Kirk's lips as he swung out of the command chair.
No response. Not even the warm flicker of recognition.
Dressed in somber black, the Vulcan stood aloof and expressionless. Everyone on the bridge quickly gathered before him to express their mutual surprise and pleasure. But Spock immediately turned and moved towards the science console where Decker sat. "Commander, if I may...?"
"Oh?" Decker stood up and Spock, intent on his computations, immediately began to run readings from the computer.
"I have been monitoring your Starfleet transmissions, Captain, your engine design difficulties." The voice—that deep, melodic, velvet tone—was now cold and austere. The knot in Kirk's stomach twisted.
Continuing his calculations, Spock ignored Kirk and Decker for a few moments, then straightened and pivoted in their direction.
"I offer my services as Science Officer."
"Mister Chekov, log Mister Spock's Starfleet commission reactivated. List him as Science Officer, both effective immediately."
Kirk was relieved; with Spock's help they just might beat this thing. And with him aboard, Kirk also knew that the unresolved personal issues could finally be addressed. There had been a lot of water under the bridge since they had last seen each other, most of it polluted with guilt, anger, and pain. Two years ago, Kirk had refused to hear an explanation. Now, nothing would stop him from finding out why. Why had Spock refused him?
The turbolift doors opened and McCoy and Chapel exited, their eyes widening in unison. Christine broke out into a huge smile. "Mr. Spock...!"
"So help me, I'm actually pleased to see you," McCoy grinned broadly, rubbing his hands together.
Spock turned, dismissing their presence with a disinterested glance. The smiles on their faces faded as quickly as they had appeared. Spock moved towards the turbolift.
"That's how we all feel, Mister Spock," Uhura began, but Spock also ignored her, turning instead to stare impassively at Kirk.
"With your permission, I will now discuss these fuel equations with the engineer."
Kirk nodded, dumbfounded. Spock's dull, expressionless eyes held his for a brief moment, then the gaunt figure turned and headed for the lift.
"Mister Spock, welcome aboard," Kirk said, hoping for a reaction.
But there was no acknowledgment other than a brief hesitation before Spock disappeared behind the closing doors.
// Where the hell was he? // Kirk thought anxiously. Spock should have been here by now.
Just as he was about to move to the intercom, the Vulcan suddenly appeared in the doorway of the officers' lounge. "Science Officer Spock, reporting as ordered, Captain." He was dressed in a Starfleet uniform; it was a welcome sight.
"Mr. Spock, please sit down," Kirk requested with more softness in his voice than he had intended.
Spock continued standing, his demeanor both cool and stiff.
"Spock, you haven't changed a bit. You're just as warm and sociable as ever, " McCoy chided.
Spock's eyebrow rose as he replied; "Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates."
"Gentlemen," Kirk cautioned, reining them in, indicating they both should sit. McCoy moved to the banquette. Spock took a few steps forward, but continued to remain on his feet.
"At last report, you were on Vulcan, apparently to stay…" Kirk failed to keep a slight hint of annoyance out of his voice.
McCoy quickly added, "Yes, you were undergoing the Kolaneardiscipline."
"Sit down," Kirk ordered again, trying to make it sound like a polite request. He took his seat and waited for Spock to join them.
"If you're referring to the Ko-lin-ahr then you are correct." Spock left little doubt about the proper pronunciation of the word, stressing each syllable precisely.
"Well, however it's pronounced, Mister Spock," McCoy retorted, "it's the Vulcan ritual that's supposed to purge all remaining emotions. "
"The Kolinahr is also a discipline you broke…to join us. Will you please sit down!" Kirk threw up his hands in exasperation.
Spock at last complied, but he sat as if a metal rod ran up his back. McCoy and Kirk both remained silent and waited.
Finally, Spock spoke. "On Vulcan, I began sensing a consciousness from a source more powerful than any I have ever encountered. Thought patterns of exactingly perfect order I believe may emanate from the intruder. I believe it may hold my answers."
"Well, isn't it lucky for you that we just happen to be heading your way?"
"Bones," Kirk cut in tersely. "We need him."
Kirk suddenly leaned forward, locking eyes with Spock, and paused for a long moment.
"I need him."
There could be no question in Spock's mind about what the statement meant. Kirk had made the first overture; now the ball was in Spock's court. The reply, when it came, was unexpected.
"Then my presence here…is to our mutual advantage."
Kirk wasn't sure how he should take this. Was Spock speaking only of his own quest to find his answers when they reached the intruder or did Spock still have some residual feelings for him? Kirk felt a sudden twinge of resentment. He had once been able to easily read the subtext in Spock's words, but now he was groping awkwardly at deciphering the meaning like a blind man. The discovery did not sit well with him.
"Any thought patterns, whether they affect you personally or not, I expect to be immediately reported."
"Of course, Captain. Is there anything else?"
There was something in Spock's tone and a look in his eyes that communicated a need for privacy where they could speak freely.
"No." The reply came too quickly and with a harshness that was unwarranted. He had meant to say "yes". What the hell was wrong with him? Obviously, he hadn't really resolved all his bitterness towards Spock.
Spock rose silently, clasped his hands behind his back, and exited the room.
Kirk watched him disappear, then decided to go after him. If it weren't for McCoy's interruption, Kirk would have had his answer.
Solitude. He must have solitude.
Spock did not return to engineering or to his temporary quarters. Instead, he sought out a rarely used storage room on the lowest deck where he would not be disturbed.
Surrounded by huge containers of various sizes, he sat on the cold floor.
// Impossible! //
In the span of less than 20 minutes, he had succumbed to the dangerous and powerful attraction that was Kirk. He could not comprehend why he had suddenly wanted to speak to Kirk privately; it served no purpose. None.
He replayed the scene in the officers' lounge over in his mind.
// I need him // Kirk had said.
While the words could have been factual statement about Spock's technical capabilities, it was the tone of Kirk's voice, his posture, and his eyes that disclosed the truth; Kirk still had deep, unresolved feelings for him. It triggered a response in Spock that he wasn't fully prepared for. For an instant, he had not only welcomed those emotions emanating from Kirk, but he had wanted an even deeper connection.
It was not appropriate. It was not logical. It was not even possible because Kirk had refused him.
It was clear that Kirk did not wish to speak to Spock in private. The situation could not be more ironic; for all of his Vulcan willpower, for all of the rigorous training he had received at Gol, apparently a human had more self-control.
It was now necessary that he avoid interaction with Kirk at all costs. While he could not circumvent him entirely, the longer they remained in each other's presence, the more difficult it would be to shield himself. Sustaining that barrier was crucial: for him, for Kirk, and for the success of the mission.
Failure was not an option.
There was no opportunity for Kirk to speak to Spock privately. With warp drive now restored, the Enterprise was quickly closing in on the intruder.
As science officer, Spock was an invaluable asset to the mission. He operated at peak efficiency, his vast computer and analytical skills unimpeded by any emotional interaction with the crew. It was as if he would allow nothing and no one to interfere with his sole purpose in being onboard. Other than the mandatory physical check-up in sick bay, he had not said more than a half-dozen words to either Doctor McCoy or Christine Chapel. And that was about two words less than he had said to Kirk when not on duty. When Spock wasn't on the bridge or in engineering, he simply disappeared. He didn't frequent the recreation rooms or take his meals with fellow officers. Where he went and what he did remained a mystery. Probably meditating in some dark hole somewhere on the ship, Kirk mused to himself bitterly.
A Vulcan could stay awake for three days, but after 30 hours without rest, Kirk was turning into a babbling idiot, or so he thought.
He finally turned over the con to Decker and retired to his quarters, hoping to catch a few hours of shut-eye. He was past the point of exhaustion, but sleep eluded him. He tossed on his bunk, restless and anxious, his thoughts bouncing back and forth between the entity ahead and his simmering anger at Spock.
Somehow, one seemed to feed into the other, inseparable; each was an enigma, each was cold, devoid of emotion, impossible to understand.
Kirk rolled over and stared at the ceiling.
He missed the old Spock terribly. He had forgotten how much he had reveled in the closeness they had once shared: the inside jokes, the good-natured banter, the way Spock would raise his eyebrow in that curious fashion of his whenever confronted with the foibles of human nature. Why was it that Spock could say more with a single glance of those dark eyes than another man could in a three-hour monologue? It pained Kirk to acknowledge that there was more poetry and beauty in those exotic features than in any art gallery.
He questioned himself on how he could have been so abrupt with Spock in the officers' lounge. He knew Spock had wanted to talk with him privately, but he had said "No." Of course, a heartbeat later he had regretted it, but it was too late.
Maybe the stress was getting to him or perhaps the truth was that he had never really gotten Spock out of his system. He was like an ex-junkie, just a needle away from falling helplessly into the trap of total dependency again. And like any addict, Kirk had a love-hate relationship with the source of his pleasure and pain.
Is that why the old resentment had returned? Was Spock a drug he desperately wanted and couldn't have? "The Vulcan Curse", he would name it. Once it was in your blood, you were hooked for life. It whispered of searing desert sand and sultry star-lit nights, of fevered embraces and languid sighs. It spoke of limbs intertwined, bathed in sweat. It teased and enticed, a siren's song promising an ecstasy only dreamed of, but instead luring a man into treacherous waters where he was left to drown.
Turning over on his side again, he realized that he was becoming aroused. Much had changed over the last two years, but one thing had not. He still felt that undeniable sexual undercurrent every time the Vulcan stood nearby. He wanted Spock as much now as he ever had, perhaps more.
He hadn't exactly been a choirboy. He had had his fair share of attractive bed partners back on Earth, but no one had been able to fill the void Spock had left. It was crazy; so many willing to give so much and all he wanted was the one person who could give nothing. It was also pathetic and he loathed himself for feeling this way. Was it the challenge, that all too human condition of wanting what you couldn't have? Or perhaps it was the power of unrequited love, the fodder of romance novels and adolescent daydreams. He was too old for such nonsense, he told himself, and half-believed it.
The more he fought against it, the more the image of Spock began to take hold: his trim body, his silky black hair, the firm line of his lips and sculptured planes of his long, placid face. And those ears…
Even the memory of the faint smell of his skin filled Kirk with a heady dizziness. Although they had never exchanged so much as a kiss, Kirk knew Spock would be a wonderful lover: passionate, sensual, curious and enthusiastic, but with a undercurrent of danger that was dark, forbidden, and incredibly exciting.
Kirk sighed, then pulled the pillow from behind his head and curled it into his body. With his arm wrapped around it, he played one last pitiful game with himself. He pretended it was Spock lying in his arms and snuggled closer, finally drifting off into restless sleep.
Kirk awoke with a start.
He glanced at the chrono; he had slept for three hours.
Hauling himself out of bed, he quickly grabbed a shower, changed into a clean uniform, and left his quarters
He hadn't gone more than ten steps down the corridor when Spock suddenly appeared and fell into step beside him.
"I trust you slept well, Captain?"
Kirk shot Spock a glance. Did Spock somehow know? Was he aware through some tenuous remnant of a past link of Kirk's overactive imagination? No, impossible. He would not even let himself consider such an outrageous notion.
"Well enough," he answered briskly, trying to keep his voice nonchalant.
But with Spock so close, Kirk was painfully aware of his physical presence to the point of distraction. It was difficult to separate the Spock of his secret fantasies from the stoic science officer who followed on his heels.
As they entered the turbolift, a crewman hurried to slip in before the doors closed.
"Take the next lift," Kirk commanded, then closed the door on the surprised Ensign.
"Bridge," Kirk ordered, gripping the control tightly. The elevator moved upwards, and then sideways towards its destination.
Kirk glanced openly at Spock now, taking in the transformation that was so obvious. The Vulcan was glaringly gaunt; it was obvious that the rigors of ritual fasting and the hot desert winds of Gol had taken their toll. In the harsh light of the lift, Kirk suddenly realized how old Spock looked. The lines in his face were deeper, etched not by age, for Vulcans aged very slowly in human terms, but by weariness, perhaps even pain. The verdant glow of his skin had turned sallow and it had lost some of its firmness. The dark eyes were more hooded and deep-set. The bright spark, the radiant vitality that was once Spock—was gone. He was as cold and hard as the bulkheads that enclosed them.
"Computer, stop," Kirk said, and the lift came to an abrupt halt.
Spock continued to stare blankly at the doors.
"Enough is enough, Mr. Spock. I want an answer and I want it now."
Unable to take any more, Kirk reached over and grabbed Spock's upper arm, swinging him around. "You know damn well what I'm talking about."
"I am here to be of service, nothing more," Spock replied with chilling calm. "No answer is necessary nor will any be forthcoming. I will not speak of things that cannot be undone."
"Bullshit!" Kirk tightened his grasp. "Don't give me that Vulcan crap. Before you entered Gol, you 'took your leave', said your final good-byes to everyone but me. Why?"
"Please remove your hand, Captain." It had not been a request.
Kirk released his grip, but made no effort to start the lift. "I want an answer, and by God, I'll have one."
"One is not contingent upon the other. Wanting does not equate to having, regardless of how much it is desired—by either of us."
Kirk's heart skipped a beat. In the inky depths of Spock's eyes, a sudden shot of golden flame ignited, opening a window into his soul. Kirk was permitted to peer in, to see the desperation of need and its ultimate resolution, to envision the powerful passions Vulcans never spoke of.
"By either of us? Spock, what are you saying?!"
But before Spock could answer, a sharp whistle sounded, followed by an urgent message.
"Captain Kirk to the bridge. Captain Kirk to the bridge. We are six minutes from contact with the intruder."
And in that instant, whatever door had opened into Spock's heart slammed shut. The intense glimmer in the dark eyes went flat again, and the thin shoulders straightened, turning away.
There was no answer.
Kirk silently cursed, but as he grabbed the lift control, he couldn't help noticing that his hand was shaking.
[Captain's log, supplemental:]
As stated in my previous log, an exact replica of Lieutenant Ilia, a probe, has appeared on the Enterprise. Decker has been assigned to see what information he can obtain—to determine if it is possible to use the probe's memory patterns, in particular Ilia's emotional responses to Decker, to communicate with V'ger.
Science Officer Spock, without my authority, took it upon himself to make direct contact with V'ger. The mind-meld that he initiated almost destroyed him. For the last hour, he has remained completely unresponsive in some kind of catatonic state in sick bay. I am en route there to learn what he has discovered, if possible. If McCoy and Chapel are unable to reach him, to bring him back from the depths of the mental breakdown he has suffered, we may never find out what V'ger is or what it wants…Spock may be our only hope to prevent the entity from destroying Earth and the Enterprise…
"…I saw V'ger's planet—a planet populated by living machines…"
Spock could still see it his mind's eye. It was as if the fire-storm he had touched had left its imprint burned into his retinas.
"…unbelievable technology. V'ger has knowledge that spans this universe. But in all its magnificence, V'ger is barren… cold. No beauty…no mystery…
His words trailed off into a fading whisper, "I should…have…known…"
// I am a fool // Spock thought bitterly to himself.
V'ger was all that he had ever hoped to be—flawlessly logical, free from the weaknesses and vulnerability of all emotion. And yet, for all its immense knowledge and perfect logic, V'ger needed for its survival the one thing that Spock had tried to eradicate—the ability to feel. It was all too painfully ironic.
V'ger was sterile. It would never experience pain or joy, the accomplishment of overcoming challenge, the drive to create or the gratification of touching or being touched by another's emotions. Its amassing of all the data in the universe was useless. It had no meaning, no constructive purpose. The pursuit of logic and knowledge was not enough.
"Known what, Spock? What?"
Spock reached out weakly, found Kirk's arm, then his hand. The moment he grasp the human's cool fingers in his, Spock was suddenly overcome with a profound joy. For the first time in his life, he was not embarrassed or alarmed by the warmth of affection that welled up within him.
"This simple feeling, Jim…is so far…beyond V'ger's comprehension."
Kirk squeezed his hand. He had understood.
"No meaning...no hope..."
Spock tried to summon strength, but a spinning dizziness threatened to claim him and pull him into unconsciousness. He fought against it will all his remaining strength.
"…no answers...It's looking for answers."
Kirk turned to McCoy and Chapel. "I'd like a moment with Spock alone."
McCoy and Chapel exchanged hesitant glances, and then left the room.
Without releasing Spock's hand, Kirk pulled up a chair.
"Spock, you almost died out there," Kirk said softly. "If I lost you again…" He couldn't finish, but it was enough, enough for Spock to tighten his hand in response. Instantly, the intimate contact between them gave Kirk the courage to continue.
"V'ger isn't the only one that needs answers. Whatever happens between us from this point on, I have to know why. Why did you refuse me? You don't owe it to me—you owe it to us."
"Us…" Spock repeated, the word barely a whisper. Then he exhaled deeply, in a sigh of surrender.
"You once told me it was impossible? Is that the truth?"
"There is no beauty in this truth."
"I don't understand."
"Jim…the truth is ugly, and its ugliness makes it impossible."
"Spock, please tell me."
"I cannot tell you."
"What?!" Kirk abruptly dropped Spock's hand on the bed and began rise from the chain.
Spock had just enough strength to reach out and grip Kirk's wrist, forcing him back into the seat. "I cannot tell you because I must show you. Only then can you truly understand. Will you permit it?"
// If you won't listen to what I say, then read what is in my mind. // Two years ago, Jim had refused. Now Spock waited for another answer.
"Show me," Kirk said.
Spock slowly raised his fingers to Jim's face…
As the gentle pressure pressed into his skin, Kirk immediately felt the same spinning dizziness he had experienced in past melds.
"My thoughts to your thoughts…"
The room became vague; objects lost their definition, dissolving into formless shapes, then disappeared all together. Kirk drifted between two worlds, his thoughts and Spock's. It was as if he floated weightless in a pool of warm water.
"…we move as one. We are one mind…"
Then the water became a mirror and the reflection of Kirk and the image of Spock merged seamlessly—one flowing into the other. It coaxed him deeper into the other, lured him farther into the Vulcan's world. He reached out hungrily for it, as shield after shield, like invisible walls, fell away.
Flashes of events without sequence, broken conversations and disjointed images flooded his thoughts, only to dissolve as quickly as they had appeared. He could see through Spock's eyes, hear what Spock heard, feel what Spock felt; Spock as a young officer on his first assignment, Spock as a cadet at the Academy, Spock as an adolescent growing up on Vulcan…
Further still, downward into the depths of Spock's earliest memories, until suddenly, the images slowed and became clear and detailed, but filled with an innocence that Jim had not experienced since he was…a very young child.
// Spock was this child. We are this child // Kirk suddenly realized.
I am this child.
Oblivion. Darkness. Warmth.
In the recesses of my subconscious, I know I am in my house, my room, tucked into a bed draped in ruby-colored curtains. I sleep, curled-up safe and secure, as I have done each night since my birth three and a half years ago…
I awake with a start and stare wide-eyed into the velvet darkness. A dream? A nightmare?
No….My heart is pounding in my side. My time sense tells me it is 10 minutes past three in the morning—too early for anyone to have risen.
I lie quiet, breathless, my ears straining for any noise. Only an eerie stillness now, a silence that is more terrifying than the scream.
Something is wrong. I push the thin sheet away, slip out of bed, my bare feet padding softly on the tile floor. No time to put on my robe or find my slippers…I cautiously open my door and peer down the dim hallway.
I enter the corridor, then turn into a connecting passage. I find my way easily, there is no need for additional light. Like a le matya, my eyes adjust naturally to the dark.
I find the stairs and descend. At the bottom, I walk to an entryway where a light shines underneath its door. I hear the muffle of concerned whispers. My small hand pushes the door open a crack—I must not be seen. I peer cautiously inside. Our two servants, T'Mir and her consort Setek, stand talking in low voices.
"We must take action," T'Mir says, glancing at Setek.
"No. It is not our place," he replies firmly.
"It cannot continue, the risk is too great."
"If I attempt to interfere, I may be killed."
"Contact the healers or T'Pau. Perhaps they will know what is to be done."
"And bring shame upon us all? No, I shall not betray the honor of this great house."
"What is honor compared to a life?"
"The biological imperatives during our time have their inherent risks. Death or serious injury, however rare, is something we are conditioned to accept. It is the price we pay to survive as a race."
"But she is not one of us. Other than the bond, she has no defense. We don't even know if the link is sufficiently strong to protect her. Such a bond has never been tested before."
"Then this marriage should not have taken place. It is illogical. T'Pau should never have permitted it. A Vulcan must not mate outside their species, especially with a weaker, more fragile race. But what is done is done. Kaiidth. It is not our place to intervene, regardless of the outcome."
I slowly close the door.
I do not understand many of their words or whom they are speaking of. But from the tone of the conversation, their pale faces and somber glances, something is wrong.
I must find my father.
I turn and head for my parent's room. It is a place I am not permitted unless summoned. But I must go…
I move quickly back up the stairs and down the hallway. I cross the great room, its large windows reflecting the security lights outside, casting long shadows under my feet, and then I begin the ascent to the second level. I force my short legs up the lengthy flight of stone steps, trying not to stumble.
At the top, I stop for a moment to catch my breath, then creep towards the large double-doors at the end of the wide hall. With each step, I silently recite the tenets of logic I have been taught for this strange emotion of dread I feel is expressly frowned upon.
I approach the doors cautiously, then press my ear to the hard, smooth wood. From inside the room I hear…muffled sobs. My mother is crying! Why? Why is there such pain in her voice? I push with all my strength at one door, then the other, but they will not move. They are locked.
I pull away, suddenly trembling. I do not know what to do.
Then I remember the access code. I had seen my father use it once when he was unaware that I was watching him. I have learned many things by hiding in dark corners. I know it is a very un-Vulcan thing, this spying as he calls it, but sometimes I cannot help myself.
I know I will be punished, but it does not matter. I stand on tiptoe, straining to reach the control panel: 4…7…9…4…3. I hear the low whine in the doorframe cease as the security beam deactivates. One of the doors slowly begins to swing open.
The room inside is dark…and in a shambles: chairs are over-turned, a lamp lies broken on the floor, and clothes are scattered haphazardly.
I am suddenly cold and frightened, so frightened. I have never seen it so. Everything in this house is well ordered, nothing out of place. There is a strange smell in the air, pungent and overpowering, the smell of sweat and something I don't understand. I want to turn and run, run back to the safety of my bed, but then I hear sobbing—louder now, more desperate. It comes from the bedchamber.
I carefully step over the discarded clothing strewn on the floor, and slowly tiptoe to the inner doorway, not making a sound. I press up against the doorframe, then peer into the dimly lit room.
Against the far wall, I see my parent's bed.
The large figure on the bed is grunting hoarsely, thrusting his body downward at something that lies underneath him. I freeze in terror. The something is—my mother! He is hurting my mother! I rush at him, my small hands knotted into fists, ready to strike, to force him off of her—
But in an instant, I stop. The man hurting my mother—is my father!
Another sob fills the room. I clasp my hands against my ears trying to block out the horrible sound. I clench my eyes shut. I will not look. This cannot be happening. This cannot—
Someone screams! I am shocked to realize that it is me. I scream to drown out her voice. I scream to stop the pain. I scream because I feel like I am dying.
Immediately, I hear my mother's voice. "God, no! Spock! Go, get out of here!"
My eyes fly open.
My father is oblivious to my scream and her plea. He does not notice me or if he does, he does not care.
I turn and flee…and I'm running down the hall as fast as I can. Halfway down the stairs, I trip—grasp helplessly for the railing, then tumble head over heels. When I open my eyes, I am lying sprawled on the hard, stone floor below. My leg hurts, my head is throbbing, there is a bitter taste of blood in the back of my throat. But I cannot stop. I pick myself up and limp down the hall. Within a few steps, I force myself to make my legs move faster. The pain does not matter.
By the time I reach the great room, T'Mir and Setek are there. T'Mir gathers me into her arms, holding me close. I am crying now, pleading with them, begging them to help my mother.
T'Mir picks me up and carries me out of the house. I can only cling to her tightly, pressing my face into her neck as hot, stinging tears stream down my cheeks. I am choking on my own sobs, unable to breathe. The ringing in my ears roars louder. I cannot stop shaking. Then a whirling blackness closes in on me.
It is the last thing I remember…
Spock slowly removed his fingers, releasing Kirk from the meld. He slumped back upon the bed and lay staring at the ceiling.
Kirk blinked the haze from his eyes. His heart was pounding, he felt nauseated. He sagged against the hard edge of the chair, grateful for its firm support. As he refocused on the room around him, he wiped a thin bead of perspiration from his upper lip.
"God!" he gasped. "I didn't know…You saw your father…raping your mother in pon farr. Oh, Spock—I'm so sorry."
Kirk reached out, taking Spock's hand in his. The skin was surprisingly cold, and the lean fingers were slightly trembling.
"Three years after what you saw, I was bonded to T'Pring. My father insisted that my consort be Vulcan. Humans cannot withstand the rigors of pon farr, even with the mental link."
"But, Spock, your parents remained married and together."
"How was it possible…I mean, do you know why?"
Spock slightly nodded his head, clearly reluctant to continue.
"Sarek had himself chemically castrated."
Kirk's mouth dropped open. "What?!"
"He took a powerful experimental drug to severely reduce his libido during pon farr."
"Did your mother know?"
"He did not consult her. After his first pon farr with her, he realized the bond between them would not prevent her physical injury. He did not wish to hurt her or to find another mate, and he had a son to raise. He made what he thought was a logical decision to keep his family intact."
"When did you find out?"
"I did not know of this until he had a third heart-attack onboard the Enterprise during the journey to Babel. As it is anomalous for a Vulcan of his age to suffer a heart condition that is not congenital, I contacted his doctor. The drug he took has serious side effects and has since been discontinued; malfunctions in the cardiac system are but one. There is also a distinct possibility that Sarek will develop a rare neurological disease called Bendii Syndrome. If he does, he will not survive."
Kirk squeezed Spock's hand. "Thank you for sharing this with me."
"Jim, I would not, could not, choose either solution—to force you to submit to the excruciating ordeal of pon farr or to watch my slow demise from the drug that would render me…virtually…impotent…"
The words died off. The eyelids were unable to remain open. The breathing slowed, and the fingers in Kirk grasp slackened.
Kirk heard the intercom whistle, and a moment later, McCoy and Chapel returned to Spock's bedside.
"Bridge to Captain. Starfleet reports show us seven minutes from Earth orbit."
"I'll be right there," Kirk replied, then glanced at McCoy. "I need Spock on the bridge."
If they were all going to die, Kirk wanted Spock by his side. Nothing would separate them again.
Kirk found Spock alone on the observation deck. Somehow, of all the places he could be on the Enterprise, Kirk had known he would be here.
The lights were set on night-mode in respect for the human cycle of a 24-hour clock. Earlier in the evening, music and the din of voices had filled the room, but now, due to the late hour, it was deserted. Peaceful and quiet, it had become a serene oasis in contrast to the activity on the rest of the ship.
In a dark corner, the Vulcan stood silhouetted against the huge portal viewer, staring out at the receding stars and vast blackness of space.
Kirk crossed the floor and climbed the short flight of stairs to the upper level. Both knew that Kirk would seek Spock out when the captain had finished making his report on V'ger to Starfleet.
Together, standing side by side, they remained quiet for a long moment, absorbed by the magnificent view in front of them. Finally, Spock took a deep, even breath and spoke.
"Have you set a course, Jim? I am curious to know where we are headed."
Surprised, Kirk glanced sideways at Spock. Was he referring to the ship or to their relationship? It was strange that even now, he didn't have a clue what Spock was thinking or feeling. The angular profile staring out the viewer was expressionless; there was nothing in Spock's demeanor to help Kirk with what he needed to say.
"I'm open to suggestions?" Kirk offered pointedly, hoping for a reaction that might unlock the door between them. "Where would you like us to go?"
"Down a road less traveled," Spock said slowly, almost tentatively. "Somewhere we both have never been before."
It was clear Spock was not thinking of the ship, but it also seemed that he was hesitant to open up without some kind of encouragement.
"I think we're already headed in that direction. I've learned more on this mission that I ever thought possible. V'ger has joined with its creator becoming something greater than two separate halves: the union of logic and emotion, the fusion of human and alien. It risked everything to achieve that feeling, Spock. It found its salvation by transcending its loneliness and merging with another being."
Kirk paused, gathering courage, knowing that in the next few minutes his hopes and dreams of a future with Spock would come true or be dashed forever. "Could we do less?"
Spock looked as if he would reply. But instead, he exhaled a deep breath and remained silent.
"Spock…What do you feel for me?" Kirk prompted softly.
Without hesitation, he said one word, "Pain."
"Being separated from you these last two years…has been a… pleasing pain. It was all I would allow myself, but it was enough; enough for me to remain connected to you even by the thinnest of threads. It prevented me from 'taking my leave' of you. But that was not my mistake. I failed to achieve Kolinahr not because I felt the presence of V'ger at Gol, but because if I cared deeply enough not to bond with you, then I could never claim that these emotions did not, do not exist. This was the flaw in my logic. I knew I would find my answers here, but they were not the answers I expected."
"What are you saying?"
Spock finally turned and looked at Kirk. His deep-set eyes were filled with an almost human tenderness that Kirk had never seen before.
"I thought I could eradicate all feelings with the strength of my intellect. What I discovered is that the emotion which humans describe as love is a state of mind which has nothing to do with the mind; it is the triumph of compassion over indifference, of friendship over loneliness, of sharing over isolation, of desire over aversion, and of understanding over knowledge. I am Vulcan, but I am also Terran. To seek to eliminate my human heritage is illogical. We are what we are."
Kirk felt Spock's fingers brush against his hand.
"Forgive me, Jim…" Spock said softly, his lips barely moving, "…for I loved not wisely, but too well."
"Oh, Spock! I've been such a damn fool. I thought you didn't have any feelings for me at all. Two wasted years of resenting you, even hating you—for loving me too much!"
Taking Spock's hand in his, Kirk laced their fingers together. The intensity of the moment was so strong that neither could do more than stand in mute silence, aware only of the profound, overwhelming connection both felt through the simple, heartfelt gesture.
Spock looked out at the stars again, but when he finally spoke, his deep timber of his voice was shadowed with somber resignation.
"What we feel for each other cannot negate the fact that we will be unable to coexist as true mates. A fish and a bird may love, but how can they join? The fact remains that if we bond, then either you must withstand the terrible rigors of pon farr, or I must chemically castrate myself. Either solution is no solution. We may love, we may become lovers, but you must know, we can never bond as mates."
"We can become lovers without the bond?"
Spock turned to face him. A soft, warm glow brightened the dark eyes, the Vulcan equivalent of a human smile. "Surely you were aware that I am fully capable of sexual activity at any time I feel desire? That I have not sought opportunities to engage in sexual pleasure does not mean that I am unable to perform or that I did not derive satisfaction from the few encounters I have had. I may be inexperienced, but I am not a virgin, nor have I been for some time."
"And the bond?"
"The bond, the joining of minds, is something quite different. It is highly desirable, the ultimate union of two into one, but bonding is not compulsory for sexual response. It is, however, essential during pon farr for obvious reasons. You must also understand that without this mental link between us, it will be necessary for me to bond with a Vulcan when I experience the blood fever again. You must be willing to share me with another, to accept the limits of our relationship. It will be…difficult at times…even arduous, for both of us. We shall always be separate, parted, never truly touching or touched in the Vulcan way. What I offer is a poor substitute, but I offer all that I can, all that I am…if you will still have me."
"Have you? Spock, I'm no good with anyone else! You're all that I've wanted for a very long time. If I have to share you with the devil himself, it's worth the price."
"I do not believe Satan would want me, having so many others more qualified from whom to choose. "
"Oh, I don't know, Spock," Kirk grinned, glancing at the pointed ears. "You may have more in common with Lucifer than you think…"
Spock raised a curious eyebrow. "Indeed. You may be correct. I was unaware that you had had the opportunity to observe me out of uniform."
Kirk softly chuckled, his eyes widening in imaginary shock. They remained quiet for a long moment, once again taking pleasure in the good-natured teasing that had been a special part of their relationship.
But when Spock spoke again, his tone was serious and introspective.
"One day, you may need more than I can give, a true and complete union with someone of your own species. I cannot compete with the memories of past loves or any future lovers you might have. Without a bond, there will be nothing to impede you from seeking out other partners should you desire it. It would be…problematical for me, but I shall not stand in the way of your happiness should that time come."
"Who I once loved is a big part of who I am now. I have loved recklessly, I have loved selfishly, and I have even loved truly and deeply. Finally, I have reached a point where I can look back at each of my partners fondly, without bitterness, without regret, but more importantly, without wanting to repeat the past. Now and for the rest of my life, I choose you, Spock. Being with you is what I want with all my heart and I'm not going to change my mind. One day, we will fully bond. You have my promise on that. It's a pretty big universe out there, there has to be a solution, and by God, we'll find it."
Spock's lips curled in an almost imperceptible smile. "I have never underestimated your ability to overcome any adversity, Jim."
Then he began to recite an ancient poem in Vulcan, a pledge once made between lovers. Kirk didn't understand the words, but he didn't have to. Spock's strong hand in his was all he needed.
Vu txui van-tor me-ne, van-tor ashau, van-tor buk,
Kwon-sum I-ki from,
Heh vu thanai a-fic bolayalar,
Na-tix-oi mayoy vu.
[Thou art my life, my love, my fate,
The very soul of me,
And thou hast command of every part,
To live and die for thee.]
And then, they embraced; safe and secure in each other's arms for there was nothing more to say that mattered. Whatever the future held, at least they would have each other. It was more than enough. It was everything.
Ironic as it seemed it had taken an alien machine asking questions to teach a human and Vulcan how to find their own answers. God, if there were a God, certainly worked in mysterious ways. For if a bird and fish could overcome their differences and find love, anything was possible…