It was a week after the V’Ger incident and Rear Admiral James T. Kirk was on shore leave as the Enterprise was getting prepared for a second five year mission. Through his recent adventure in space, he’d managed to talk Starfleet into giving him this second mission on his beloved ship. All was well.
Or at least all ought to be.
Grimacing as he rolled out of bed, he wrapped a bathrobe around his nude body and moved toward the balcony, away from the woman in his bed. The familiar San Franciscan fog had yet to be lifted and Kirk took a deep breath of the cool air. Refreshing, but it didn’t lift the weight from his conscience. Waking up with various attractive women in his bed no longer pleased him. It only made him feel bitter and empty. Just like his new command.
He might have a command, but Spock intended to return to Vulcan, despite his earlier claim that his task at his planet was done. V’Ger may have shown Spock the importance of emotion, but the Vulcan clearly was not comfortable with the rekindling of their former regard. More than friendship, but not more than family.
The admiral remained where he was, knuckles whitening as he tightened his hold on the railing. Never family.
Captain Kirk found Spock on the observation deck, gazing out at the passing stars, rigid and silent as the Enterprise warped its way back to Earth. There was only a week left of their five-year mission and both he and Spock had been offered promotions that neither had mentioned to one another.
It only took a tap on the shoulder and a smile to draw the Vulcan away from the stars and into Kirk’s quarters for chess. There was no hesitation, but the tension was palpable. They would only have six more days before they would have to decide on their future. Of course, it didn’t show as they played a game to a draw. Both of them were at their best, despite their silence and wandering thoughts.
They’d played well into the evening before Kirk finally conceded and tipped his king over with a sigh. It was that sigh that finally broke the silence and brought the tension to the surface.
“Well, Spock, it seems I’ll never catch up to your score, now.”
“Affirmative, but you have already exceeded the amount of victories I’d initially calculated you would gain during these five years.”
“Arrogant Vulcan,” Kirk teased, grinning up at his stoic first officer.
Silence fell between the two again as Kirk put away the chessboard and Spock rose from his seat. Clearly what the Vulcan wanted to say could wait, but the same was not so for Jim Kirk. Catching Spock by the sleeve of his uniform, he smiled up at his first officer who had raised his infamous eyebrow in query.
“Stay for a little longer. We haven’t talked all night. Want some tea?” Kirk’s hazel eyes reflected his insistence on the matter. It took only a second for his first officer to give in and take a seat again, accepting the offer for tea. Spock could never refuse him anything.
A pair of warm arms slipped around his waist, followed by the familiar heat of his current fling. She had her head against his shoulder, tongue slipping out to lick at the nape of his neck. Kirk craned his head to smile at her, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“A credit for your thoughts, admiral?” He let go of the railing and placed his chilled hands over hers.
“Nothing...just contemplating the sunrise.” He could feel her body sag against him at his evasive answer. She would most likely leave soon, feeling unwelcome in his flat, and avoid him whenever they ran into each other at headquarters. It always ended up like that.
He’d failed to speak his mind that evening and it wasn’t until they were two days away from the Earth’s orbit that Kirk finally gathered the courage after chess in his quarters.
“Spock, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future, lately.”
“That would be expected.” Not a flicker of curiosity broke Spock’s emotionless mien, or so it out seem to an outsider. However, Kirk was no outsider and caught that quicksilver flash of curiosity from those dark eyes moments at his statement. His smile grew nervous as he sipped his brandy for extra mettle.
“I’m going to try to get another command, Spock, hopefully to a starship almost as good as the Enterprise while she goes through her refitting. I know you’ve been offered a command yourself and it’s unlikely that we’ll be serving on the same ship again...” His words failed then, throat becoming dry. Funny how right something would sound in ones head, but come out completely wrong.
At his hesitation, Spock raised an eyebrow.
“You know that I do not wish for a command, Jim, and I would be honored to serve with you again.” As unlikely as it may be was left out, but Kirk could read the defeat in those expressive dark eyes. He drained his glass, feeling the liquid burn his throat pleasantly. It was now or never.
“I have a proposal, Spock.” He couldn’t hold back a small smile at his unintended pun. It helped calm his nerves a little, but it wasn’t enough to stop the beginnings of sweat from surfacing.
“Yes?” Spock pressed when Kirk hesitated to speak. He knew it was rather unusual for him to be beating around the bush, but the circumstances and the subject he was going to broach was far from usual, even for the Enterprise crew.
“I’ve done a bit of research and found that under Starfleet regulations, they are unlikely to separate a pair if they are family...” he trailed off, golden eyes searching that neutral face for some sort of reaction, any reaction. All he got was a firmer set of neutrality as Spock tried to work out just what he was saying.
A second later, he saw comprehension dawn on the Vulcan’s face and a frown set in. Kirk already anticipated what Spock would say.
“It’s unVulcan to lie, Spock, you know exactly what I mean.”
“Jim—” His words were cut off when Kirk suddenly grabbed his hand. That small smile that Kirk had been wearing all evening faded. It was replaced with an expression of pure determination. He was well aware that his unruly human emotions were probably shocking his best friend just as much as what he was about to say, but he couldn’t let go. Not yet.
“Spock, I am asking you to marry me. I’m not asking it just to get you on the same ship as me, I still love you.” There, he’d broken their promised silence on the matter. Broken over a year’s playacting. Yet, the burden of the secret and the frustration he’d felt since Phylius Ter’o’na hadn’t lifted. He could feel his friend’s sensitive, dry hand trembling in his own and Spock’s expression becoming more and more shuttered as the Vulcan tried to stop his panic from surfacing.
Although Kirk had anticipated the possibility of his Vulcan friend rejecting his proposal just as he had a relationship over a year ago, he was being hopelessly optimistic, grip strengthening at the feeling of withdrawal.
“Please, I don’t need you to give an answer just yet...just give me one within a week. I’ll respect you and your decision no matter what, but please, Spock,please...”
“So I’ll see you around headquarters then, Jim.”
“Sure...see you around, Alice.” Closing the door against the brunette’s retreating back, Kirk let his hand rest upon the cool surface of his door, lips thinning in thought. Another disaster and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go bother Bones again that evening. He was avoiding the issue and he knew it, but what else could he do?
“Captain, we have an unauthorized opening of the hangar deck doors.” Captain Kirk snapped back into attention, gut clenching as he gave a quick glance to the science station. Lt. Richards was manning it as Spock had the next shift.
“Close them, helmsman.” His voice was surprisingly calm despite his racing heart. They had just maintained orbit over Earth, nothing like that should be happening!
“I can’t, sir. Helm is not respon—the Galileo is leaving the ship!” Kirk’s insides twisted further, his renowned intuition telling him exactly who had just left. He punched a button to connect with auxiliary control.
“Auxiliary, get a tractor beam on the leaving shuttlecraft.” Silence.
“Auxiliary control! Auxiliary control! Respond!” Nothing.
Gritting his teeth, he quickly called up a security team to investigate, knowing full well that with helm inoperable, there was no way they could chase the rapidly disappearing shuttlecraft. So much for an uneventful return.
The doorbell rang, jarring Kirk back to the present. Tying his robe tighter over his boxers, he turned on the viewscreen to see Bones smiling and holding up a bottle of brandy. Returning the smile to the image, he keyed the door open and went to get dressed.
Just as he expected, Spock was gone and had settled all his affairs beforehand with Starfleet. Slamming his fist against his desk, Kirk slipped down into his chair, running a hand over his face and through his mussed blonde hair.
Spock didn’t even leave a note for him. He’d processed his resignation through Starfleet and given them notice of his return to Vulcan for something called theKolinahr in Gol, but nothing else. Kirk felt like screaming or crying, but he couldn’t do either. All he could do was sit there, numb. Spock clearly didn’t want to reject him in his face, concerned over his fragile human sentimentality. Spock loved him, but not enough to call him family...and now, not even enough to call him friend.
McCoy was in civilian attire, wearing a pair of jeans and a simple polo shirt, reclining against one of Kirk’s plush couches with Southern lethargy. It was directly contradictory with that sharp look in his reenlisted CMO’s blue eyes as they followed Kirk’s movements to the opposite chair. It was clearly not a casual visit.
He took the glass of brandy from McCoy’s hand with a nod of thanks, but neither spoke, not even to comment that it was far too early to be drinking. The atmosphere was one of fake ease, as if they were on another shore leave on a pleasure planet.
Taking a sip of the amber liquid to calm his apprehensive mind, Kirk flashed his friend a thin smile.
“So what can I do for you, Bones? I take it that this isn’t about ship’s business?”
“What’s going on with you and Spock?” The good doctor didn’t even acknowledge Kirk’s attempt at levity. This was serious and he was tired of stalling. Kirk swallowed and took a long sip of his drink before answering, thin smile falling away from his handsome face.
“Bullshit. He’s running away again, isn’t he?” Kirk’s eyes didn’t meet his friend’s as he looked down at his drink. He didn’t want to talk about it, but at the same time, he knew he would have to sooner or later. McCoy, after all, was the only one privy to the whole affair.
“He’s not going to do the Kolinahr again, if that’s what you’re asking, Bones, but he won’t accept my offer to serve on the Enterprise again either.”
“He still thinks you’re going to propose to him?” Kirk glanced up and noticed with bitter amusement that McCoy’s stern expression, accompanied with that raise of an inquisitive eyebrow was an impressive imitation of one of Spock’s more frequent expressions. If he weren’t having a serious conversation, he might have pointed that out to the doctor.
“People say the third time’s the charm.”
“What? Jim, you’re going to try—wait a minute, the third?” Kirk shrugged at his slip and drained his glass, refilling it a moment later as McCoy stared at him in bewilderment.
“Yeah, I proposed to him again after V’Ger’s rebirth when we were alone.”
“And did he run out like last time?”
“No, he remained calm and told me that he’d think about it.”
“And he wants to return to Vulcan.”
“Spock...Spock!” The first genuine smile in over two years lighted up the admiral’s face at the appearance of the Vulcan on the bridge. He rose from his chair, leaning forward from the well to where Spock was standing. His friend was a breathtaking sight in his regal Vulcan robes and very much real. An invisible burden lifted from his shoulders at the sight of him.
Not even Spock’s indifferent look to him and refusal to return a greeting could wipe off that fond look from Kirk’s face as his eyes followed his elegant former first officer’s walk to the science station.
“Commander, if I may...” It had been so long since he’d seen Spock...seen him at the science station and commandeering it with such ease, such professionalism, despite the renovations.
“I’ve been monitoring your communications with Starfleet Command, captain. I am aware of your engine design difficulties. I offer my services as science officer.” Kirk’s heart skipped a beat when those dark eyes locked onto his bright green ones. It didn’t matter to him then that Spock had used a monotone even Spock himself had never used before. He was far too overjoyed to see him, to hear him again.
Making a show of professionalism, he asked indirectly for Decker’s approval, but didn’t wait for the answer as he ordered Chekov to activate Spock’s commission again and list him as science officer.
His elation didn’t dampen until McCoy came in to greet Spock and the Vulcan didn’t acknowledge him or Doctor Chapel. Suddenly, all smiles faded and confusion replaced the excited atmosphere. What was going on? Kirk’s brow creased as his science officer moved toward the turbolift.
“It’s how we all feel, Mr. Spock.” Spock glanced down briefly at Uhura and then at Kirk. Suddenly the admiral grew nervous as he searched that impassive face for a trace of his old friend’s personality. Maybe he was teasing? Surely whatever he would say to Kirk next would lighten the atmosphere and all would have a relieved laugh.
“Captain with your permission, I will now discuss these few equations with the engineer.” That monotone again. Kirk’s voice died in his throat as he merely nodded, and watched Spock turn back to the turbolift.
A moment later, however, mostly out of desperation, he called to Spock and watched the Vulcan turn his head slightly, back still to the bridge.
Swallowing, Kirk managed to smile and muster out: “Welcome aboard.”
The admiral noted that the Vulcan hesitated and his heart swelled at the gesture. Surely Spock would turn back and give Kirk one of those slight no-smiles. Yes, all would be well again.
Spock turned back toward the turbolift and took the last step in without another word.
“When is he leaving?”
“Tomorrow, I think.”
“Well, at least he’s telling you this time,” the doctor drawled as Kirk knocked back his second glass. Yes, at least Spock was telling him this time...but he couldn’t shake off that cold feeling of abandonment he’d been feeling for over three years.
Hazel eyes widened when he felt a hot hand grab at his arm. Shaking away the shock at the sight of a smiling Vulcan and the touch, Kirk returned the smile and slipped his hand into Spock’s grip. The grip around his hand tightened as Spock shook his hand for emphasis.
“This...simple feeling is beyond V’Ger’s comprehension.” The tender emotions pouring out from those dark brown eyes warmed the admiral from within. With his free hand, he reached up and covered the back of Spock’s hand, eyes never leaving his smiling friend’s face. Although he was not a telepath, he could feel the healing of their bond through their clasped hands. Spock was back.
“When are you going to try again?”
“I don’t know...you think I should?”
“Knowing you, even if I told you ‘no,’ you’d do it anyway.” He knew that his ghost of a smile was disconcerting to McCoy, but it was the best he could give. He knew just as well as the doctor that his attempt probably would be rebuffed again. Yet, despite all his misgivings, he had hope.
“Don’t wait until his shuttle leaves, Jim. I know it looks great on the movies, but he’d probably just run away faster with an audience.” Kirk gave him a weary smile that didn’t reach his darkening eyes.
“Bones, I’m destined to become the Catherine Earnshaw in this tragedy, aren’t I?”
“Nevermind, an old tale of doomed love I skimmed once.”
“I would hardly think Spock would make a convincing Heathcliff, Jim. More of a Jane Eyre, if anything.”
“Why, Bones! I didn’t know you read the Brontės!” The doctor made a face, but his glare lost its power as his gaze softened when he saw Kirk’s lips quirk up into a teasing smile.
“No, but Tonia Barrows loved their stuff. She liked to tell me the stories at night.”
“Just admit it, you’re a romantic.”
“Can you at least tell me why you won’t even consider it for a little longer? I’m not asking this out of convenience, Spock.”
“It is illogical.”
“And? I know for a fact that there are homosexual bondings on Vulcan.”
“You are not telepathic...”
“Our minds are compatible. The Phylians proved that.” Kirk noted with some bitter satisfaction as his stoic Vulcan visibly flinched at the reminder of the incident that started it all.
“Jim, I just can’t...not now.”
“What’s stopping you? Are you saying that you don’t love me anymore? That all we went through was a lie? Even when you took my hand back in Sickbay?” His voice was cracking from suppressed emotion as he remained stubbornly in front of the door of his science officer’s cabin. He barely registered that flicker of alarm and remorse on Spock’s face at his accusations.
“Jim, you know I would never lie to you—”
“Negative, science officer. I know for a fact that you lie and have lied—”
“Never to harm you, never.”
“And what is this if it isn’t a lie? What are you protecting? Is it someone else? Did you find someone on Vulcan that you suddenly remembered just now?”
“Jim, I can’t marry you and I won’t be joining you on the second five year mission. I will be returning to Vulcan within a week to settle a few matters.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Spock. You told us all the other day that you had no more business in Vulcan.”
“I spoke too soon.”
“Are you staying there?”
“...possibly, but Jim—”
“Enough. We’ll talk about this later.”
The next day, Kirk found himself on the platform of the Vulcan liner, eyes roving over the his surroundings in vain to try to catch a glimpse of the elusive Spock. Surely his friend wouldn’t abandon him there after telling him exactly which liner he would be taking?
The minums started to tick away almost as fast as Kirk’s racing heart as he noticed that the liner was readying for departure. By the time he’d reached the craft, he was pushed back coldly from reaching out toward the unforgiving, closed metallic doors.
For the second time in three years, Spock had left without saying goodbye.