Admiral Kirk had just realized he'd been staring at the same report for forty-five minutes when he heard the door chime. "Come," he droned mechanically, shuffling the report to the bottom of his stack.
The door opened to admit a familiar figure he hadn't seen in years. "Lieutenant M'Ress!" He rose to greet her.
"Good morning, Admiral," said the beautiful felinoid. Her fur sparkled slightly, a residual of the damp San Francisco fog.
"I had no idea you were back on Earth. Would you--would you like some coffee?" He fumbled with his coffeepot.
She eyed the dregs in the pot with suspicion. "May I have some straight cream instead?"
"Oh! Of course. I should have remembered."
He handed her the brimming mug. She thanked him before taking a dainty lap from the surface. "I still haven't gotten used to the weather here. Especially since I haven't been back to Earth in years."
"You're in good company," said Kirk. "I'm not too crazy about the fog either. Even after all this time."
They were both silent for a moment. Kirk knew why she was here--her visit was one of dozens of visits from old friends and colleagues that he'd received over the past several weeks. It had been like a promenade through a memory garden, seeing all those faces from such disparate times in his life in such a quick and random succession. They all bore the same message.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Admiral," M'Ress said suddenly, emerging from her mug.
"Thanks," said Kirk, smiling sadly. His eyes flickered over the little holographic projection of Spock's face that shone from the corner of his desk.
"He was always very nice to me," M'Ress continued. "When some of the crew treated me like an overgrown menagerie beast, he was the first to speak with me as if we were the same race. My first week on board would have been very discouraging without him."
"He always recognized the necessity of... assessing an individual based on his or her skills and character, not... cultural background or species." Kirk absentmindedly ran his fingers over the surface of his desk. "His own heritage may have put him on a hard road at first, but it taught him lessons I only wish they could teach at the Academy."
"In the beginning, he came across as a little intimidating, his... efficiency, his attention to detail..." M'Ress smiled wistfully. "But he was also very warm." A little motor somewhere had switched on subconsciously. A subtle purr underscored her words.
"He liked having you on the bridge," Kirk told her. "We're both good friends with Uhura, but it was hard for Spock when there were so few other nonhumans on board. Just seeing you there was a reminder that he wasn't drowning in a sea of humans. And--you--did your job very well, if I remember correctly!" He beamed at her, but his eyes weren't in it.
"Thank you. You must have told somebody," she said slyly. "They let me pick my own ship after the Enterprise mission was over. Now that I've finished my second mission, they've asked me to stay here and work in Intelligence, but I begged out and said I wanted to go back into space. I definitely don't belong here. I've got things to do out there!"
"I know how you feel," said Kirk grimly.
"So, if it's okay if I ask, are you doing okay?" She lapped again at her mug, examining him with concerned eyes.
Kirk rubbed his face with his hands and shifted around. "I'm, uh.... I'm managing. Getting work done. Or pretending to."
"Any way I can help you out?"
Kirk started to say something that might have been Get me back my ship, but decided that it would be futile to involve M'Ress in that particular battle. "No, not really, but thanks for stopping by. It means a lot just to know you've got special memories of him. It does make me feel good to hear about all the people whose lives he's touched."
Her purr grew slightly louder at the idea. "He was very special, Admiral. We were all lucky to have known him, but you were the luckiest."
She smiled warmly. But it was impossible for her to miss the broken look across his face, a face that in her memories of the Enterprise mission had been strong and shining. It was like the grandest flower on the vine had started to wilt. The skin around his eyes was puffy, and his brow was full of sweat.
"I know," he said softly, and looked away.
"What does it feel like when--when a Vulcan bond breaks?" M'Ress blurted out. She'd never been one to hide what she was thinking.
Kirk sighed, letting the sound of her concerned, compassionate purring fill his ears. "Imagine if you never purred again, as if--suddenly--nothing could ever cause that feeling of contentment that makes you--do that."
The metaphor stabbed her like a knife. "Oh. Goddess bless, I'm so sorry. Please, can I do anything? Can I take you to lunch?"
"I'm afraid I wouldn't be very good company at the moment."
"Maybe some other time, then."
"Keep dry, Admiral."
"Thank you for coming. Thank you for talking about Spock."
M'Ress set the mug back down on Kirk's desk and clasped his hand in a firm shake, then left the room.
Kirk sank down again into his chair and stared into the hologram of Spock's face for as much of an eternity as he could allow himself--which was five minutes, after which he buried his anguish beneath a fresh pile of paperwork.