by K.V. Wylie

A chance comment opened Spock's eyes and he abruptly realized that forty years of meditation made no difference in his ability to deceive himself.

He'd been on his way to the main lounge in search of a replicator that still worked. The five year mission was over, the Enterprise rolled slowly at the end of her tether in Earth spaceport one, awaiting decommission. The crew was hollowed out, having moved up (or down) at the whims of Starfleet. Scotty had turned off the pneumatic doors and left them open, and the rhythm of square, gaping holes in the corridor was a disconcerting sight even to a Vulcan. Sound carried very well in the unimpeded and empty air.

If Scotty had left the doors alone, Spock wouldn't have heard Uhura and Chapel's conversation, at least until he was in the lounge with them and, at that point, they would have seen him and kept their ideas to themselves. But the women didn't know he was within earshot, and so he heard, too clearly, Uhura say, "If you want to know what Mr. Spock is feeling, you only have to look at Len's face."

Spock halted abruptly, like a cat on a dime. "Do you think they're lovers?" came Chapel's voice.

"Do you?" Uhura asked.

"No, Nyota," Chapel said. "I'm sure Leonard would have said something to me."

"Too bad," Uhura said, managing to boggle Spock with those two words.

He beat a retreat, turned on the door to his quarters, squirreled himself away behind it, and worked on what decommissioning procedures he could from there. Out of sight, out of mind, as his mother used to say, which didn't make sense, now that he thought about it, for he hadn't been in sight when the startling conversation had taken place. 

His intercom buzzed the next day. He was not due planetside until 2307.9. James Kirk had left the ship days ago. Spock had no crewman reporting to him at the moment.

He ignored the intercom and returned to his work.

The day after that, he was finished. He'd downloaded the last of the Enterprise's valuable databanks to the excited team of technicians on the starbase. He'd stripped the ship's computer of all programs except for life support and medical. And he'd transferred the Enterprise's last security codes to Starfleet Admiralty. He had no further official reason to remain on board.

Spock wasn't prone to sentimentality. Many of the crew had become maudlin during a going-away party organized on the engineering deck when the Enterprise had reached dock.

Scotty and his people had gotten royally drunk in their own celebration a couple of days later, and even Security (whose people had suffered the most losses and should have been the most relieved of any department to see the end of the mission) broke down in many teary farewells.

Kirk had spent a day by himself, walking through his ship, and had finally left with a peculiarly-reserved look on his face. The captain was, at times, a silent man, and he'd chosen to end his captaincy without an audible murmur. To Spock, it seemed a fitting and Vulcan thing to do, and he planned to emulate Kirk. Walk through the ship, then leave. Clean and quiet.

He packed up the last of his meager personal effects, tagged them with a transporter destination, and went for his final walk.

Uhura and Chapel should be planetside now. Still, he avoided the recreation and medical areas, choosing instead a route that would take him through Engineering, the Bridge, and finally the Observation Deck. Shadows encased Engineering, draped curtain-like over cubbyholes and entrances to access tubes. The engines still ran, for they should never be shut down completely, but they hummed softly. Most of their work was being done by spacedock beams. A piece of green ribbon left over from a party was on the floor by Scotty's office. Spock picked up the scrap of satin, feeling its glossiness against his fingertips. Someone had splurged; the material was not reconstituted. The ribbon suddenly brought to mind a shirt McCoy had bought during a shore leave two years ago. He had it in his hands during beam-up. Spock, overseeing a trainee in the transporter room, asked, "What is that, doctor?"

"A shirt," McCoy said with a grin, answering literally, enjoying catching the Vulcan in a moment of imprecision. 

Conscious of the young trainee, Spock became all Vulcan. "The green colour is not suitable for your military rank. The shirt is not formal enough for your dress uniform. This choice of clothing is entirely unsuitable for wearing aboard ship."

"I don't intend to wear it," McCoy replied. "I intend to look at it."

A comment which made no sense to Spock, until he found the shirt in his quarters with a note that read, Happy Birthday, you damn Vulcan.

Picking it up, feeling the sensual fall of material over his hands, Spock felt an unusual desire to have it against his skin.

He put it on and wore it to a birthday dinner Kirk and McCoy gave him. Kirk raised an approving eyebrow. "Good colour on you, Mr. Spock. I haven't had a silk shirt since I left earth. It's one of those little luxuries I miss. Where'd you get it?"

"It was a present," Spock said, meeting McCoy's eyes momentarily as the latter handed him a glass of Altair Water. He sat and the material stroked indulgently across his back.

"Your friends have better connections than mine," Kirk commented. Later, McCoy lingered after Kirk left. "Good thing you didn't tell him where you got that, Spock, or he'd be expecting one on his birthday too."

Spock touched a sleeve with fingertips. "Why did you buy this for me, doctor?"

McCoy shrugged. "Because it's your birthday. I didn't expect to see you in the transporter room. I wanted the shirt to be a surprise."

"It was," Spock admitted. "And I believe I should say, thank you."

McCoy looked as if he wanted to say something more. Instead, he opted for, "Good night, Mr. Spock." His hesitation was noticed by the Vulcan, who didn't think the doctor feared to tread anywhere.

Spock shook himself out of his unVulcan reverie, and continued his walk.

The Bridge slept. The captain's console and the helm had been dismantled in the unlikely event of hostile takeover. A forgotten tool kit lay in Spock's chair. He picked it up, sat at his station, and swung around slowly.

His chair and Uhura's were the only ones that allowed 360 degree movement. How often had he sat here, gazing at his human shipmates, as fascinated by them as by any crisis the galaxy laid before him? In his mind's eye, Sulu sat, assured and steady, at the helm. Chekov, the embodiment of innocence and exuberance, plotted a course with as much care as any neurosurgeon in surgery. Scotty wandered in and out, caught between his station on the Bridge and his cherished engines. Uhura's graceful voice resonated in his thoughts, and golden light flashed from the command braids of a captain who could never sit still.

If Spock closed his eyes, he could almost hear the turbolift doors open, and McCoy's steps striding down the stairs to his unchallenged spot at Kirk's left. In his mind, Kirk's voice still called, "Bones, what brings you here?" McCoy always had a reason for being on the Bridge.

Except once. One time, a few weeks after their return from Yonada, McCoy had looked pointedly at Spock while mumbling a vague excuse to the captain.

Spock puzzled over the look. When his shift finished, he sought McCoy and inquired about the state of the doctor's health.

Which they both knew was, now, fine.

McCoy held out a tape, the tape Spock had left on McCoy's desk that morning.


"As soon as I realized what it was, I shut it off. Take it. I don't want it."

Spock took the tape. He had plotted the course of the Yonada spaceship, and all possible rendezvous the Enterprise could make with it during the next three solar months, barring changes in the ship's orders.

"If I have offended you, doctor," Spock started, but McCoy shook his head.

"No. I just don't want to know. Thanks anyway." McCoy went behind his desk.

"I shall never understand humans."

"Yes, you will," McCoy said, sounding tired.

Spock thought about that for a moment. "And I have not offended you?" he persisted.

"Spock, truly, no. Leave an old man in peace, will you? It's getting late."

Old man? Spock wondered. But he did go, had dinner, and took the tape to his quarters.

As he was erasing the data, his door chimed.

"Enter," he said. When he saw it was McCoy, he said, "Doctor, I have cleared the tape. I can recreate the information, if you wish."

McCoy lightly touched a figurine by the door. "No. I thought I should explain."

"Your reasons are personal. That is sufficient."

"It's not that I don't appreciate what you did."

"Do you think you have offended me? That is not possible. I am--"

"Don't say it," McCoy cut in.

"--not so easily offended," Spock finished, and the doctor smiled.

"I'm not the same person I was three weeks ago. I have, well, hope. Again," McCoy said.

"Hope is not a concept Vulcans understand."

"No? Live long and prosper is not an optimistic sentiment?"

"Colloquial Standard does not permit an adequate translation."

"I see," McCoy said. "So the actual greeting is, what? Die soon and broke?"

Spock somehow managed to keep his eyebrow down. "Not quite."

McCoy turned towards the door. "Anyway, I just wanted to explain."

Spock stopped him. "Doctor, you stated earlier that you were, ah,

feeling old. I could research the Yonada medical banks again. If there are any lingering effects of--"

"I feel fine," McCoy said.

"Did you say old when you meant exhausted? Some humans interchange the terms. Another meaning of the word is to have lived a relatively long time, which you have not yet done."

McCoy glanced back. "Relatively is a point of view."

"I have encountered elderly representatives of your species."

"Our species," McCoy reminded him.

Spock nodded slightly in agreement. "You do not yet fit the parameters."

"Well, thanks." McCoy knew that Spock was offering the Vulcan equivalent of comfort.

"Is there anything I can do to assist you?"

McCoy gave him a quick, strange look, similar to the one he'd favoured Spock with the night of the Vulcan's birthday dinner. "I'm fine, Spock. Thank you."

The doctor tried for the door a second time, which only took a moment, but Vulcan brains were capable of processing information at high speeds and Spock was putting two and two together. A woman whose husband would not be seeking her out. A hope unexpressed. And a shirt of green silk.

"Leonard" Spock said.

Startled, McCoy swung around.

Spock put his hands behind his back and stood military-straight. "I will never understand humans because I am often blind."

"I've never, uh, thought of that as one of your qualities," McCoy said.

"Your welfare has become exceedingly important to me. Am I correct in assuming that my well-being is as important to you?"

Warily, McCoy said, "You could say that."

"Are we lovers?" Spock asked bluntly, and McCoy almost choked.

"We haven't...um...no, we're not."

"The physical is unimportant. Are we lovers?"

"Unimportant?" McCoy put a hand to her forehead. "It's very important."

"The physical act is of more significance to you?"

Put off by the Vulcan's ramrod-straight back and almost impassive tone, McCoy said angrily, "You're right. I concede it. You can be as blind as a Denebian Mud Worm, and I'm leaving. This is not a subject I'm in the mood to debate you on." "I do not wish to debate you. I wish to understand."

"You can't slice this into little bits of logic, Spock. Have someconsideration." McCoy made the door this time, leaving Spock with a singularly unpleasant feeling, an emotional response he was not prepared for.

He had acted in the proper Vulcan manner. Perhaps the doctor could have had some consideration for that, Spock thought. Humans could not have everything on their own terms.

In the end, he discovered he was just as stubborn as McCoy. Neither one of them alluded to the conversation again.

Spock stood, put the toolbox back on his chair, and thought of Christine Chapel's comment.

"I'm sure Leonard would have told me."

No, Spock thought. He wouldn't have. He would never have let you see him as vulnerable. He wouldn't even let me see him so.

Spock went to the Observation Deck, the most beautiful place on the ship. Kirk had once said the Enterprise's heart was the bridge, but her soul was here, the one place where seemingly no barrier stood between a person and the stars.

He stood by the massive ship's wheel, rested a hand on a wooden spoke, and looked upon the cosmos.

When had it happened? What had caused it? Was it on the Caretaker's planet when he covered McCoy's body after the knight killed him with a single, screaming stroke? When he felt the warmth of McCoy's hand on his arm after he'd jettisoned the fuel in the Galileo Seven? Seeing the absolute compassion and courage which moved McCoy to face the Vians alone, or the pain that lingered on the doctor's face long after the Enterprise had left Yonada and he'd been 'cured'? Or had it come out of the blazing blue eyes Spock had met countless times across the table in the briefing room, and once in a cave in a frozen, dark world?

When had McCoy's presence become necessary to him?

Spock touched a switch on the wall and said, "Computer."

"Working," the flat, and now a little fuzzy, voice stated.

"Is Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy still on board?"

"Working. Officer McCoy is in Sickbay, Examination Room One."

Spock went to a turbo lift. The doctor planned to spend some time on Earth with his daughter. He would ask to accompany him.

He would make the request by saying, simply and honestly, "I need you."

Sickbay's doors had been left open and off as well. Spock could hear McCoy while he was still in the hall.

"I wanted to talk to Spock about it yesterday."

M'Benga's voice said, "Len, most of the fleet know it's a mistake, but I thought he'd at least speak to you."

"Well, I'm not trying again, Geoff. I've had enough."

Spock halted outside Sickbay, confused. The doctor sounded terribly upset.

"He's acting as if it doesn't mean anything. We're talking about five years!" McCoy cried. "He's good at hiding his feelings."

"Especially from himself. He's avoiding me, not answering when I call. Yesterday was the last straw. Screw him. If one of us is going to Gol over this, it's not going to be me! In fact, I'd rather see him in Gol than do what he's doing, the pompous son of a bitch."

Spock stiffened, then whirled around and retreated back to the turbo lift. The last thing he heard before the doors closed was McCoy's voice saying, "I don't think I care to lay eyes on him ever again." In Sickbay, Christine Chapel popped her head in the room. "Len, I could hear you down the hall. What are you talking about?"

"Captain James Tiberius Kirk, soon to be Admiral Pompous Jackass Kirk," McCoy muttered.

"Admiral?" Christine's eyes widened.

"You hadn't heard?" M'Benga said. "You're the only one. Len tried to talk to the captain yesterday about it."

"What happened?" she asked.

"I told him it was a mistake to accept promotion. He should be commanding a ship, not be behind a desk. He told me it was none of my business," McCoy replied, still angry. "So I took my concerns to Nogura. And Jim found out."

"The captain threatened Len with court martial," M'Benga said.

"Goddess," Christine said, stunned.

McCoy dropped into a chair. "His exact words were, "I'll send you to gaol myself."

"Gol?" Christine echoed. "On Vulcan?"

"Gaol. Prison," McCoy said. "I had to look the word up. You know what he reads. The next person that gives that jackass a book by Charles Dickens is going to get my boot up his backside."

"Does Mr. Spock know the captain's going to be an admiral?" Christine asked.

"I don't know," McCoy replied. "I don't think he's on the ship. I buzzed his door yesterday and didn't get an answer. I was hoping that I could at leasttalk to himbefore he left."

Christine sat as well. "Admiral Kirk," she said slowly. "We'd better get used to calling him that."

"You can," McCoy told her. "It'll be a cold day on Vulcan before I work another day for Starfleet. I'm going to my daughter's, and then I'm going to raise turkeys for a living."

A harsh, gritty wind blew against Spock's face as he touched the chimes announcing his presence to the Kolinahr masters. He hadn't needed to indicate his arrival. He had been given a precise time to arrive, and he had arrived to the exact moment. Tradition required him to sound the bells, and the door attendant to make him wait as the first proof of his sincerity.

He waited, spine straight, head slightly bowed, face composed. If there were a camera here, he would be giving nothing away. Once inside would be another matter. He knew what the discipline demanded.

He had not slept in four days, since overhearing McCoy in Sickbay. He had not estimated the doctor's true anger with him, and had been shocked (he would admit to that) at the depth of the feeling he'd heard in McCoy's voice. He'd replayed McCoy's words in his head, over and over, unable to understand how he had caused such intensity.

Spock would not have believed it, if he had not heard it for himself. Another gust of wind stung his face. He bore it without a visible reaction. He would not shame himself at this first step.

Last night, Spock had bid his parents farewell. Kolinahr did not allow family obligations or personal possessions. His mother, humanly, had pleaded with him to stay home. His father had said nothing. In the end, Amanda stood by her husband's side, silent tears on her cheeks, as Spock made his formal renunciation, but the look on her face was one he was not likely to forget.

Immediately, Spock caught himself. Such sentiments had no place in Kolinahr.

This morning, before coming here, Spock had done one last thing. In a public replicator in a government building, he'd deposited an often-worn but immaculate green silk shirt. The door attendant was now approaching from within. He took a breath and tried to clear his mind of his own anger and attachment. Then, before the door opened, he said softly into the cold morning air, "This is the last time I will permit myself to think of you or even your name again."

The door opened, and Spock entered into the mountain.

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