Title: Don't Stop Believing 3.7/?
Pairings/Characters: Kirk/Spock pre-slash, Spock Prime, various Starfleet admirals
Summary: Kirk and Spock go to Liverpool. Spock Prime tries to convince Spock to remain in Starfleet. Spock gets towed into Starfleet political games yet again. End of Part III.
Notes: Please visit the Master Post for detailed story navigation.
Once outside, Spock pulls free, but follows Kirk into the transporter room with a sense of strange resignation distinctly reminiscent of exasperated tolerance.
“Where are we going?” he asks as Kirk stops by the control panel to put in a set of coordinates.
“Starfleet Engineering Corps?”
“Whatever else? Let’s go.”
The headquarters of Starfleet Engineering Corps is always a busy place, but there is a certain flair to it that distinguishes it from any other Starfleet facility. Allegedly the place is built and functions according to the same guidelines and laws, but in reality, being inside it feels like stepping inside an anthill, with its thousands of purposeful motions and movements happening so fast that they appear disorienting, almost chaotic.
Kirk, Spock notices, has no trouble whatsoever navigating within this hive, which speaks volumes of the frequency of his visits here. No one stares at them or in fact even gives them a second glance, because unlike Starfleet headquarters, people here don’t have time for idle observations or gossip. There’s too much work to be done.
They take several rides on various turbolifts before finally arriving to the area with which Spock, too, is well familiar, except that he hasn’t been here for quite some time. He has no difficulty recognizing one of the huge assembling hangars where major starship components are put together before being sent to various shipyards, including Riverside and even the brand new Utopia Planitia.
“Here.” Kirk nods at the team of approximately fifty men working on a disassembled engine. “This Babel Tower of doom is our impulse engine. I need someone to supervise them for a day, because I have to get back to Scotty or he’ll have to clone himself.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow as he observes the proceedings. “Surely this is qualified engineering staff,” he says. “You do not trust them?”
“Frankly, no.” Kirk frowns. “I don’t know them. The guys at Riverside screwed up the first time around pretty badly. These people seem to be better, but I don’t want to take that chance.”
“Yet you would trust me?”
Kirk gives him a dry grin. “Unlike these guys, Spock, you have to actually fly these things yourself.”
Spock nods. “Logical.”
“You don’t say.” Kirk shakes his head. “Anyway, I’ll pick you up some time later, okay? You’ll let me know what you think.” He claps Spock on the shoulder – harder than necessary, Spock thinks – and leaves.
‘Some time’ turns to be approximately ten hours, during which Spock discovers that the engineering team is fully capable of handling the delicate work. He is a little surprised, if pleased, at how easily they accept his authority. These people are professionals who talk little and only on relevant topics, and have their priorities right to boot. Spock joins them while working on different stages of engine calibration, and by the end of the first hour, he and the engineers have already achieved the level of professional trust necessary for teamwork. Spock makes a mental note to advise commendations to their commanding officer.
The work allows him to slip from the press of his current, less than optimistic frame of mind. It’s physically demanding, but Spock revels in it, gratified with the visible results he immediately achieves. If it is a form of mental escape, it’s probably the most productive one.
It’s late in the night in Liverpool when Kirk shows up in the doorway and glances at the day’s work with a satisfied whistle. He looks extremely fatigued.
“How’s it going?” he asks Spock in a blunted voice, all but swaying.
Spock hands him a PADD. “Sign these.”
Kirk takes the stylus before he asks. “What are – oh my God.” He looks up at Spock. “When did you –?”
“I took the liberty of checking what other equipment and instrumentation the Enterprise requires and filling the appropriate forms,” Spock tells him mildly. “I would have forwarded them myself, but currently I have no authority to sign the requests and I was not aware if you or Mr. Scott were available.”
“Spock,” Kirk breathes out in awe, scrolling through the documents rapidly and hardly even listening to the Vulcan. “This is a complete document set for everything we need! It must have taken hours – how did you manage – I don’t know how to thank you!” He signs the pages as they come in front of him, eyes gleaming with excitement. “The shipyards are gonna love these!”
“I am pleased to be of service, Captain,” Spock says. “I am also pleased to report that Lieutenant Dawson is a most competent engineering officer. Under his supervision, we have completed the main impulse drive integration. Once the plasma flow stabilizes, the engine can be moved to the orbital shipyards and prepared for installation.”
Kirk looks up at him at last, his eyes shining. “Spock, you’re a lifesaver.”
Spock tilts his head to his side. “My actions hardly warrant that much gratitude, Captain.”
Kirk seems not to be listening to him still. “You know, I’ve been thinking about what Pike said, and I had this crazy idea in my head...”
Spock waits a moment longer, then remarks carefully, “I am not certain that was the effect the admiral was aiming for.”
Kirk chuckles. “Yeah, I’m sure it wasn’t. But listen, do you want to maybe, well...” He pauses, bites his lip, looks up at Spock, averts his eyes, blushes, looks up again, and finally finishes in a clearly different way than he originally intended. “Do you want to go grab some dinner or something? I’m starving.”
Spock considers this for a moment. “I will not be averse to the idea.”
“Great.” Kirk claps him on the shoulder. “I think the cafeteria is still open.” He catches the look on Spock’s face. “What?”
“You prefer to consume replicated food while planetside? There are plenty of restaurants outside the building that offer better options.”
“Yeah, I know,” Kirk says, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand and looking hesitant. He sighs. “Oh, screw it, let’s go. You know anything good around here?”
“Indeed.” Spock nods. “I was stationed here for three months during my first year as a cadet.”
Kirk glances up at him and grins as they start walking. “Advanced engineering training?”
“Correct.” Spock inclines his head.
“I did mine at Utopia Planitia. Miles of Martian deserts, no air outside the dome, and it was so frickin’ cold I’m not sure penguins would have loved it.”
“The shipyard itself is rumored to be extraordinary.”
“Oh, it was fantastic.” Kirk’s eyes gleam with enthusiasm. “It’s like working in Leonardo’s workshop only it’s some 25th century Leonardo, and you have to scrape your brain for every bit of information ever put into it not to become the stupidest apprentice ever. Too bad it was so brand new; the officers nearly had heart attacks seeing all those moronic cadets touching anything with their clumsy, filthy hands.”
“I am certain they found you to be a particular challenge.”
Kirk smirks. “I’m always a challenge. But they relented somewhat after I rewrote their security code for them.”
Spock gives him a sideways glance. “One can only hope they have changed the passwords since.”
“Aren’t you sweet,” Kirk drawls. He stops suddenly and looks at Spock squarely. “Listen. I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry about screwing your test. But – it wasn’t you I was fighting. It wasn’t you.”
Spock eyes him carefully in the dimmed light of the corridor. “Is this an apology?”
“No. Yes?” Kirk shrugs. “I guess.”
Spock tilts his head to his left slightly, stifling a sigh. “You seem to have a unique approach to everything, Captain.”
“I know,” Kirk says, sighing for him. “I really am something.”
Their route continues with Kirk chattering idly about his time at Utopia Planitia and the work he and Scott managed to complete in the last several hours. Spock is mostly silent, steering them inadvertently outside and in the direction of a quiet little restaurant he knows. Kirk is very tired, and Spock guesses that his seemingly ceaseless, slightly slurring speech is his way of dealing with it. He talks about whatever comes to his mind, spilling it without a pause just to be saying something, as if he suspects that the moment he stops talking he will fall asleep. Spock lets him talk.
The restaurant is in fact a little tavern, one of those that had grown around Starfleet facilities about the same time they’d been built and that had adopted their ‘never-closed/always-working’ attitude. Still, the middle of the night is the middle of the night even here, and although Kirk and Spock are hardly the only patrons, it’s considerably quieter than it would be during daytime.
They choose a table in a murky corner, and Spock reaches for the menu. Kirk, however, leans back in his chair and satisfies himself with watching Spock.
“Captain?” Spock raises an eyebrow. “Are you not hungry?”
“Oh, I am.” Kirk grins. “But you’re the one who’s been here. I’ll leave it in your capable hands.”
Spock blinks. “You want me to order for you?”
Kirk continues to smile pleasantly. “If it’s not too much of a challenge.”
“But I am unaware of your preferences.”
“What would it be, gentlemen?” A waiter appears at their table, without Spock noticing.
Still puzzled by Kirk’s request, Spock orders a Greek salad for himself. He looks at the captain again, but Kirk merely nods at him, the same enigmatic smile playing on his lips. Spock frowns slightly. He has the distinct impression he is being tested.
“Please bring him grilled fish,” Spock tells the waiter decisively. Kirk’s face dims noticeably, but Spock doesn’t allow this to affect him. “Whatever kind is available. And—”
“Fries?” Kirk asks hopefully. Both Spock and the waiter look at him. He shrugs. “I hate fish.”
“Grilled fish,” Spock repeats as if Kirk hadn’t spoken, “a cheese plate, and vegetable tempura.”
“And beer,” Kirk adds with a sigh. “I earned it.”
The waiter looks at Spock, obviously addressing him as the one in charge. Spock nods. The waiter disappears.
Kirk looks around, commenting on the décor without any real fervor. He looks utterly depressed at the prospect of eating now, which – Spock can’t deny – is extremely amusing. He doesn’t let the reaction show, however.
A girl comes by their table bring two glasses of dark beer.
“You drink that?” Kirk looks at Spock in surprise. “I thought Vulcans weren’t affected by alcohol.”
“We are not,” Spock confirms, eyeing the thick, creamy foam whispering something to the walls of his glass. “No alcohol made by humans can affect us. We seldom drink it because it has no nutritional value and—”
“And?” Kirk grins, taking a sip. The foam rests in a wet, uneven line over his upper lip, like a white moustache.
Spock looks at him, then lowers his eyes to his glass. “And we do not generally enjoy the taste.” He can feel Kirk’s grin getting wider.
“Generally? But you make an exception for Guinness?”
Spock looks up at him. “Indeed.”
Kirk laughs quietly. “You’re kind of a food Nazi, you know that? Grilled fish, honestly...”
The waiter reappears before Kirk can start complaining in earnest, setting plates in front of him first. The smell is delicious, and Kirk’s eyes brighten. Spock fights back a surge of amusement as he watches the captain grabbing hold of the silverware with a kind of genuine desperation. He seems to have forgotten his dislike of fish completely. For some reason, the sight is gratifying.
The violent way Kirk attacks the fish makes Spock wince. Kirk looks at him. “What?”
Spock debates the wisdom of it, but in the end speaks up. “If I may be so bold, Captain. There is a second fork to your left that might... facilitate the process.”
Kirk stares at him for a long moment. Spock looks down.
“I apologize, I intended no—”
“You,” Kirk interrupts, “are an unbearable snob, Mr. Spock.”
Spock chances a glance up and notices that Kirk is grinning. The young captain picks up the second fork and carves the fish with refined deftness.
“Don’t mention it. God forbid you’d be seen in the company of someone with poor table manners. Your reputation will surely not withstand the blow.”
Spock really does sigh this time. “I did apologize.”
Kirk waves him off magnanimously. “Forget it. I understand that you are used to a more distinguished society. Believe me, I’m honored to be sitting at the same table.”
Spock puts his own fork down. “Captain.”
Kirk looks up at him with calculated coldness. Suddenly, he laughs.
“Damn, you should see your face.” He shakes his head, still grinning. “Thanks for these, by the way.” He nods at his plate. “I wouldn’t have ordered anything like it, and it’s really great.”
Warily, Spock picks up his fork again, accepting the generously offered truce, even if he isn’t sure if he’s been praised or chastised. For a while, they eat in silence. Spock draws a strange sense of satisfaction at noticing the relish with which Kirk attacks his food. Silently, Spock wonders how long it has been since the captain has last eaten anything, never mind a decent meal. Then it occurs to him that he should have no interest in this whatsoever, and he frowns slightly at himself.
Kirk looks up at him and grins as if he knows exactly what Spock is thinking. Spock looks away.
“You’re not eating those?”
Spock glances at the olives scattered around his plate. “I only eat the green ones,” he says.
“Picky. May I?”
Spock pushes the plate toward him and watches as Kirk picks up a shiny black olive with his fork and inspects it scrupulously before putting it in his mouth.
“So,” Kirk starts, “you’re going to New Vulcan?”
“That is my intention, yes.”
“Do you really want to or are you merely bowing to the sense of duty?”
Spock blinks. None of those aware of his decision have asked him that question. The query in and of itself is cunning. Even more so, considering that Kirk’s extremely relaxed pose and attitude haven’t prepared Spock for it in the slightest. He suppresses another sigh and makes a mental note to stop underestimating this human and his strategic abilities.
“The matter of desire is irrelevant,” he replies ambiguously. “I shall do what I must.”
“Are you–” Kirk pauses. “Are you certain that going to the colony is what you must do? How can you be sure” – he halts again, as if searching for words – “that it’s not someone else’s... opinion that urges you to see it as your duty?”
“I do not require anyone else’s opinion in this particular matter. Logic clearly dictates—”
“And it can’t be wrong?” Kirk interrupts. His eyes are very intent as he looks at Spock as though waiting for him to spill the answers to every question he has ever asked. “Your logic – doesn’t it ever err? I’m not trying to offend you, I just... Don’t you ever feel like everything and everyone have conspired to make you do something, and it seems right from every logical point you can come up with, but you’re still in doubt?”
Spock narrows his eyes slightly as he looks at Kirk.
“Are we talking about me, Captain? Or your own decision to accept the captaincy of the Enterprise while having virtually no experience?”
Kirk visibly starts, then smiles very thinly. “Touché, Mr. Spock.” He picks at a slice of cheese absently. “I have my doubts.”
Spock allows his eyebrow to rise as far as it would go. “You do not make an impression of a man prone to doubting himself, Captain.”
Kirk looks up at him sharply. “That’s what you think of me, isn’t it? That I’m an overconfident, self-assured, power-obsessed bastard who revels in being the one who gives orders?”
Spock returns his gaze evenly. “I have never thought of you as such, Captain.”
Kirk smiles unpleasantly. “Never?”
Spock looks at him for another moment in silence and then drops his eyes.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Kirk looks away, his expression unreadable. “You know what? We should stop trying to deceive each other, since we both seem to be embarrassingly bad at it.”
Spock nods subtly. “Agreed. To return to your question, however. Logic cannot be wrong.” Kirk rolls his eyes. “But Vulcan people have a saying, Captain, rumored to have belonged to Surak himself. One I wish some of us would remember more often.”
“Really?” Kirk looks curious. “And what’s that?”
“Logic is the beginning of wisdom. Not the end of it.”
Kirk smiles, this time without traces of sarcasm. “Elegantly put. Do you believe in that?”
Spock considers this. “Even if I did not before, I would be forced to now. I have thought about my actions as acting captain. I might have been compromised, but my decisions were logical – it was logical to rendezvous with the fleet. But had my course prevailed, Earth would have been gone. Just like Vulcan. No,” Spock shakes his head very slightly, “my logic did not fail me, Captain. But it was not enough.”
He cannot withstand the intensity with which Kirk is staring at him, nor his expression. He looks down at his hands clasped together on the table.
Kirk clears his throat. “I will never understand,” he says, very quietly, “how you were able to – to do what you did, after... well. If it were me, I don’t think I could so much as speak in full sentences, never mind...”
Spock closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to think about it. “It is irrelevant,” he says firmly. “It was not you.”
“But it could be me,” Kirk says grimly. “It could be me next time, and I’ll be sitting in the big chair.”
Spock looks at him, and his gaze slides under the veneer of casual confidence and assumed arrogance, slices through the layers of stubbornness and fatigue, until he can see the raw, undisguised feeling beneath them.
“You are afraid.” Spock speaks quietly, almost in awe.
Kirk glances at him piercingly, his lips thin and pale from the force he’s pressing them together. He seems defiant, but he doesn’t deny it.
“Wouldn’t you be?”
Blood pounds maddeningly loud at Spock’s temples as the sudden surge of vertigo rushes through him. That the proud and arrogant James T. Kirk would admit it is astounding. That he would do so to Spock of all people is unthinkable. And all Spock can think about at that moment is that it takes a very brave man to admit to his fear.
“I would be,” he says. Kirk’s sincerity deserves nothing less in return. “The responsibility is enormous.”
“Inconceivable,” Kirk agrees. “All my life I’ve been running away from responsibility, Spock. Do you believe I can take so much of it now?”
“I have seen you do so,” Spock tells him calmly. “But my opinion is of no consequence. Do you believe you can take it?”
Kirk looks at him for a long time without speaking. Then, finally, he nods, curt and devoid of any kind of bravado that always accompanies gambling.
Spock feels his lips twitch slightly and checks the reaction.
“That is all that matters.”
They stare at each other until they become aware of it and break eye contact. They finish their drinks in silence and ask for the tab, but the waiter refuses to bring it.
“Just because no one has disturbed you, don’t think we don’t know who you are,” the man tells Kirk. “It is an honor for our establishment to have you as a guest at any time. To charge you with anything after what you have done for Earth would be sacrilege.”
Spock looks at Kirk, who seems strangely unsurprised by this turn of events.
“See, and I was gonna leave you a huge tip,” he tells the waiter. “You’d better allow me to pay.”
“No, sir.” The waiter shakes his head and even takes a step back. “Not a chance.”
“Would it be acceptable if I paid the bill?” Spock asks impassively.
The waiter looks at him. “Only if you wish to offend us, Commander Spock.”
Kirk sighs without much feeling. “Fine, whatever.” He comes to his feet. “Let’s go, Spock. I’ve been there; it’s no use.”
Spock nods to the waiter in silent apology for Kirk’s abrupt departure and follows him out. It’s almost dawn; everything around is colored in various shades of grey and glaucous. The damp, cool air crawls under Spock’s thin clothes, making him shiver.
“I take it that happened to you before?” Spock asks, joining Kirk on the sidewalk. He has to raise his voice slightly to be heard over the distant sounds of metal being slid along metal, sometimes with a bang.
“Yeah.” Kirk kicks a stone from under his feet almost angrily.
“Why are you so upset about it? They only acknowledge your service to them.”
“Yeah, I know,” Kirk says, looking even more grim. “But it’s like I’m fourteen all over again and can’t pay for a bowl of soup and have to wait till someone—” He cuts himself off abruptly.
Spock glances at him curiously. “Captain—”
Kirk looks up at Spock quickly with a smile that is as false as it is tired. “Never mind. Humans are illogical, and all that jazz. Thanks for helping me out today; I know you had better things to do and I appreciate you lending a hand. Good luck on New Vulcan.” Having fired all this as rapidly as if the words burnt his tongue, he turns on his heel and starts walking away as fast as he can without making it a run.
Spock watches him, and for some reason he’s not surprised when Kirk stops, stands still for a moment, then turns around slowly and walks back. He comes to a stop in front of Spock, looking at him almost in accusation.
“What is it about you that I just can’t—” He’s glaring at Spock, as if Spock has tricked him in some fashion. “You made me eat fish, and I enjoyed it,” Kirk mutters, addressing Spock, but clearly talking to himself. “And I would have asked you to – you know what I want to ask you.”
Spock doesn’t, but doesn’t say so. Kirk obviously isn’t done.
“But I can’t,” Kirk concludes, almost desperately. “I can’t because it’s wrong for you and probably beneath you. God knows, it’s beneath the rest of them, and they aren’t even in the same league with you.” He shakes his head, biting his lip in frustration. “Pike thinks I’m just being stubborn, or infantile – and shouldn’t he of all people know better?”
Spock is silent still, and it’s a little surreal, as if Kirk is talking without even realizing Spock is there.
“But the thing is,” Kirk continues resolutely, looking Spock squarely in the eye. “The thing is, mostly, I’m simply afraid you’ll say ‘no’ – and I’m going to have to live with it.”
Spock becomes vaguely aware that his lungs seem to be starving for oxygen, but he can’t inhale – or look away right this moment to save his life. He doesn’t have to.
Kirk’s lips curve in a self-derogatory and at the same time defensive smile, but it only lasts a moment. A single heartbeat later, he tilts his head up, squares his shoulders and grins brightly in challenge, transforming himself on the spot into a cocky, self-assured human who doesn’t need anyone and finds the whole idea ludicrous.
“Have fun making babies,” Kirk says with a saucy wink, dragging his eyes up and down Spock in a deliberately obscene manner. In Spock’s opinion, it’s only slightly overdone. “I’ll bet you’ll be in demand.”
He slaps Spock’s shoulder with enough force to knock over anyone else, turns on his heel and leaves, whistling a cheery tune as he goes. Spock stands still, looking after him until Kirk’s silhouette blends with the murky fabric of the dozing city seamlessly and his whistling dissolves in the crude sounds of an awakening port.
Somewhere at the distance, the seagulls are crying hoarsely and a vessel announces its leaving the haven with a long low roar of an ancient horn.
Meeting his other self is a fascinating experience. Spock has been forewarned of course of his counterpart’s existence by his experience on the Jellyfish, but that didn’t make the meeting any less intriguing.
The other Spock, known to most as Selek for convenience’s sake rather than for secrecy, comes off as an individual to whom Spock wouldn’t entrust a broken PADD, never mind a starship or anyone’s destiny. And yet, Spock cannot help but wonder at the confidence his counterpart is projecting, at the sense of utter peace with himself emanating from him. He seems to have the answers for every question, and although Spock knows that it’s an illusion, a skilled impression of which his other self seems to be a master, he cannot deny that it is extremely compelling.
Spock wonders if that is what made Kirk so susceptible to the other Vulcan’s arguments. The change of attitude toward Spock that had come over Kirk after his detour to Delta Vega was, barring the bridge incident, astounding. In addition, Kirk was notorious for his rebellious spirit, yet he had accepted guidance and direction from the other universe’s Spock without any resistance. Spock looks at the older Vulcan, trying to discern the reason for this abrupt change of heart.
“Spock – in this case, do yourself a favor. Put aside logic. Do what feels right.”
And that, Spock thinks, is a kind of an answer to his unvoiced question. His counterpart simply seems to have a knack for telling people what they want to hear - him telling Kirk he was meant to be captain of the Enterprise probably sealed the deal. Spock knows that the other Spock must have had his reasons, because he knows himself and he always has reasons for anything.
They are, however, two very different people – that much is obvious. Their genome might coincide to the last miniscule twist of a chromosome, but everything else about them is as different as is only possible for any two persons to achieve. They are, Spock believes, a textbook example of nature versus nurture paradox.
He cannot decide if he is disappointed with the meeting or amused – only that both emotions are currently too far away from his reach. One thing he knows for certain, though.
The meeting, enlightening as it has been, hasn’t changed his mind.
“Sit down, Commander.” Admiral Nogura gestures Spock toward a chair. His small, gleaming eyes following Spock’s every motion carefully, as if Spock is a time bomb waiting to go off.
To his left, Commodore Stocker is sitting stiffly, eyeing Spock suspiciously. Unlike Nogura, who guards his expression with a truly Vulcan diligence, the commodore’s face is an open book and at the moment, it’s opened on the page of doubt. Spock’s curiosity is piqued, and as he folds himself into a chair, he glances curtly and unobtrusively at the third person facing him and the only woman in the room, Admiral Nechayev. She is staring at him with a would-be pleasant air, but the appearance is carefully orchestrated. Spock knows immediately that she’s the most dangerous opponent in the group.
The silence grows heavy, but the only emotion Spock is experiencing under the scrutiny is mild surprise. Surely they don’t expect him to be intimidated as easily as any human in his place would be? In any case, they must know that he would show nothing.
“Commander Spock.” Admiral Nogura starts, his voice blunt and dry. “You are undoubtedly surprised at being called to this meeting only a day before you leave for the new Vulcan colony.”
As he is expected to reply, Spock lifts an eyebrow, very slightly. “I am not easily surprised, Admiral.”
“Of course.” Nogura nods, having exchanged a glance with Stocker. “But even for you, it must have been unexpected.”
“I have not anticipated it, no.”
There is another exchange of glances between the men while Nechayev continues to watch Spock with an almost girlish curiosity.
“I see here that you have filed a resignation from Starfleet effective tomorrow at oh-nine-hundred,” Nogura says and looks Spock in the eye squarely. “We invited you here to ask you to postpone that decision.”
“I see,” Spock says slowly. “May I ask for what reason?”
“You are a valuable officer,” Nogura tells him plainly. “Given the recent events, we cannot afford to lose you.”
“Indeed?” Spock raises an eyebrow, staring coldly at the admiral. “I believe I will be referring to the more recent events, Admiral, when saying that they have left me with a different impression regarding my supposed value to Starfleet.”
“Your court-martial was a mistake,” Nogura says, giving Spock a thin smile. “Surely, you of all people should understand, Commander, that in the heat of the moment, mistakes are prone to happen. The loss of Vulcan was a hard blow to us all.”
“Undoubtedly. And every surviving Vulcan in the galaxy knows where his or her duty currently lies.”
“We understand that,” Nogura says quickly. “But have you considered that while Vulcans seclude themselves in the confines of one world, their influence on Federation politics suffers greatly? Your father understands this.”
Spock suppresses the urge to shake his head in bewilderment. The admiral keeps playing all the wrong cards.
“Sir, if I lived my life according to my father’s beliefs, I would not have enlisted in Starfleet in the first place.”
Nechayev gives Nogura a sideways glance - pitying and superior at the same time - before resuming her silent observation of Spock.
“Quite so,” Nogura agrees. “The thing is, we have a job for you, Mr. Spock. A service you alone can render.”
Spock allows his eyebrows to arch slightly. “The position must be unique.”
“It is,” Nogura drawls tartly. “It is, in fact, the position you’re currently resigning from. First officer of the USS Enterprise.”
“I find it difficult to believe that you do not have another candidate for this position.”
“It’s not that simple.” Nogura folds his arms over his chest. “James Kirk is a very talented young man, but highly inexperienced. He has not filed a single hour of starship duty as an officer. Giving him command of a flagship was, in my view, premature at best. But what’s done is done. I cannot cancel this decision without appropriate grounds. As first officer, it will be your duty to monitor the captain’s actions. Given the unusual circumstances, the Enterprise’s XO will submit reports on the captain’s performance. This person should not only watch for any signs of incompetence on Kirk’s part, but relieve him of duty before the disaster could happen. A lot of young men and women had died in the Nero’s attack. We can’t afford to lose more due to Kirk’s shortcomings.”
“We are discussing the same man who saved this planet from sharing the fate of Vulcan?” Spock asks for clarification.
Nogura grits his teeth. “One stroke of inspiration doesn’t make him a good commander. He’s just a boy who, among other things, had mutinied against you.”
“If you believe that I would be tempted by the prospect of revenge—”
“Wouldn’t you rather be in command of the Enterprise?” Stocker asks sharply. “Honestly, I’d rather see a Vulcan at the helm than a hero’s son with half-baked ambitions. Clearly the flair for the dramatics is a Kirk family trait.”
Spock cannot quite explain the flash of cold anger rushing through him at these words, but he very carefully turns his eyes from the commodore back to Nogura.
“I am not the right candidate for the position, Admiral,” Spock says evenly. “Vulcans make poor spies and even poorer conspirators. I regret that I have wasted your time. If that is all?”
The expression on Nogura’s face states clearly that he isn’t used to being defied so openly. He frowns.
“Take some time to think it over, Commander,” he says, shooting a dark glance at Stocker. “I will expect your decision by oh-eight-hundred tomorrow. Dismissed.”
Spock doesn’t waste any time leaving the office. He can’t understand what had him so riled up, but despite his external calm, he all but shakes with icy fury on the inside.
Spock stops, looking back to see Admiral Nechayev walking quickly to catch up with him.
“A word, if you please,” she orders more than asks. Sliding a hand around his arm, she pulls him aside.
She is a petite, well-proportioned woman, with blond hair framing her face playfully in sharp contrast with the cold expression in her light grey eyes. She is the kind of a person little children and animals distrust on sight despite her ready smile and pockets full of candy. She is rumored to be raising a daughter alone, but Spock has never met anyone who looks less like a mother than Arina Nechayev.
“Take the job,” she tells him the moment they stop in a deserted intersection.
“Admiral, as I have already stated—”
“Yes, I heard you loud and clear, Commander,” she snaps, quietly but impatiently. “Now you listen to me. Nogura wants Kirk out of the captain’s chair the sooner the better.”
Spock purses his lips. “I have been able to gather that much,” he informs her dryly.
“Really? Then here’s something else for you to gather. He’ll get what he wants.”
“I am by no means interested in assisting him.”
Nechayev ignores him. “Kirk will be out of the job within a month, maybe two, if you don’t take this offer.”
“Because Nogura’s right. Kirk’s an inexperienced kid, and before you throw another he-saved-the-planet tantrum, try to actually think about it. They say the kid’s got a ton of talent and maybe they’re right; we have proof at hand, after all. But that’s not going to matter. There isn’t a single officer in the fleet who’ll accept Kirk’s authority as captain if they’re appointed the XO. Not a single one. You know I’m right, dammit.”
Spock is reluctant to admit it, but he does see her point. He can certainly see how more experienced officers would find the task difficult. Humans and their ambitions.
“Kirk may be a tactical genius, but he doesn’t have the first clue about how to run a starship,” Nechayev continues. “Those little things that are picked up by people like you and me as we progress in rank year after year? All Kirk’s got here is theory.”
“He is a fast learner.”
She glares at him. “Whoever’s appointed his XO is not going to wait for him to learn. They aren’t going to help him or support him. Every mistake he makes will be deemed incompetence and reported immediately to this office.” She nods her head in the direction they have just come from. “And he is going to make mistakes. He’s not a machine, Commander.”
For the first time during the past hour, Spock feels hesitant. “You seem to believe that I can make a difference.”
She studies him for a long moment before speaking. “As someone who’s been there when Kirk took command, you’re less skeptical about him. As a Vulcan, you are objective and truthful to the core. Don’t you see, Mr. Spock? With you in this position, Kirk stands a chance to retain his command – a chance no one else would give him. If he really proves incompetent, you’ll report it, and Nogura’s right, you’ll be able to take over before anything really bad happens. But if he shows that, unlike his daddy, he’s capable of more than one heroic action per lifetime, Starfleet is going to need him right where he is, regardless of Admiral Nogura’s opinion. Starfleet has always been bigger than any one person.” She looks him directly in the eye. “Do you understand me, Commander?”
Spock holds her gaze steadily. “I believe I do.”
“I believe you do, too.” She nods briskly. “We’ll expect your decision by tomorrow morning. Make the right one.” She turns on her heel abruptly and leaves.
Spock watches her go for a long time before resuming his walk out of Starfleet Headquarters.
It’s a bright cloudless day outside, and Spock tilts his face involuntarily toward the sky, reveling in the way the sun and the wind caress his skin. It occurs to him suddenly that this simple pleasure is one that life aboard a starship seldom provides. Spock frowns at the blazing azure dome.
He thinks about James Kirk, whom he hasn’t seen since they parted ways in Liverpool a week ago. Thinks about the enthusiasm and devotion he exhibited while handling the repairs of his ship; about the responsibility Kirk felt he was ready to take.
‘You are afraid.’
‘Wouldn’t you be?’
Suddenly, Spock realizes that his decision has long been made. It’s not about the good of the service, and not even about justice. It’s about the sudden leap of faith in Kirk’s eyes when he looked at Spock. It’s about ‘I’m coming with you’ and ‘I’ve got you.’ It’s about the court-martial and that treacherous, sneaky sense of steel-melting gratitude that Spock doesn’t have to feel, doesn’t want to feel, and yet feels all the same.
He closes his eyes for a moment. He is in deep, deep trouble where James Kirk is concerned. Compromised doesn’t quite begin to cover it. He knows full well that if he has so much as an ounce of self-preservation instinct left, he must turn tail and run for his life. Literally.
‘Spock. It’ll work.’
Spock grits his teeth and stifles a groan. He has never hated James Kirk more than he does at this very moment. The impossible, unfathomable, infuriating human seems to have turned Spock’s destiny into one of ultimate surrender, and it’s not fair. Not fair at all.
Spock sighs and reaches for his communicator to place a call to Admiral Nogura’s office.
End of Part III