When he lifted his eyes, Kirk could see his friends across the floor, standing shoulder to shoulder as they gazed at the Great Barrier. While he worked the room, offering friendly greetings to their new Klingon guests and various crew members, he watched McCoy and Spock out of the corner of his eye. It was peculiar to see them now--two of his lovers, two of his most senior officers--chatting as though nothing remarkable had happened among them in the last week or so. And Vulcans were hardly known for small talk.
He clasped his hands behind his back and strolled over, in what he hoped was a casual manner. "Thinking about the universe?" he queried.
McCoy chuckled a bit and said, "Of course, Jim. You know us. Right, Spock?"
The Vulcan seemed lost in thought, watching the ebb and flow of the Barrier that was visible through the main viewport. The noise around the three of them seemed to recede as Spock began to speak.
"It has been an interesting few days. I have learned much." He paused. "Seeing Sybok again, and his rebellion, and then our trip to 'Eden.' . . . "
"If I may say so, Mr. Spock, you've given us a few interesting moments yourself." Kirk pulled a wry face--McCoy couldn't tell whether there was an edge to the remark or not. It *had* been pretty spectacular.
$Dammit, Spock, God *damn* it.
$Captain, what I have done...
$What you've done is betray every man on the ship.
$Worse, I've betrayed you. I do not expect you to forgive me.
$ Forgive you, I ought to knock you on your god-damned ass.
"I did what I had to do, Captain. I *am* sorry for the grief it caused you."
Whoa, thought McCoy. Grief--he don't know the half of it. He flicked his eyes toward Kirk. The captain shook his head once, twice, and smiled weakly at McCoy. The doctor tipped up his glass and blessed the barkeep who'd given him soda water by mistake. // one of us better keep our wits on this ship of fools . . . //
"If it is any consolation," Spock continued, "I too have paid a price for my role in this--I have lost my only brother."
To the doctor's alarm, Kirk flashed what McCoy privately called the Professional Captain's Smile. He associated it with moments when he knew Kirk was planning to disobey orders, to do what he felt like doing and damn the consequences. It was not a good sign.
McCoy swiftly broke in with an offer to refresh their drinks. He grabbed their glasses and vanished in search of Altair water and a scotch on the rocks.
With McCoy's absence, the conversational gears came to a gritty halt. Kirk straightened his shoulders. "Are you saying I killed Sybok? By calling down the phaser shots?"
"It would be illogical to maintain so. He himself chose to face the creature. He bid me goodbye, you may recall."
"But he wouldn't have had to do that if we weren't shelling the site, right?"
"It was necessary to act. The creature posed an immediate danger to the ship and its crew. You know that as well as I do. You have been a captain far longer."
"Not so long that you didn't seize the opportunity. . . " Kirk broke off. Spock quirked an eyebrow at him. Kirk chose a different tack.
"Spock. In the . . . Mutara Nebula." He felt his way like a blind man: they had never discussed this before. "When you went to get the engines on line. You never asked me. You seized the captain's prerogative."
"I *was* the captain."
"But I was the ranking officer on board. Chain of command says you should have waited for a direct order. You know that." Kirk took a slug of scotch. "What made you do it?"
"Duty to ship and crew. Surely that's obvious?"
"That's it? no self-promotion? no desire to . . . "
"Merely a desire to preserve the ship and its crew."
"Wouldn't it have been more logical to order one of the engineering crew to perform the repairs, rather than do it yourself as the captain of the ship? Killing the captain's an expensive fix."
"It was uncertain that the maneuver would be successful, and there was very little time in which to calculate odds."
"Come on, Spock, we order men and women to their deaths in battle all the time. It's part of the job. I just can't believe you'd do something as hare-brained as sacrifice yourself, a highly trained Starfleet officer, when someone else could do the job and preserve your life and career."
"Yet the ship would not have been without a commanding officer, since you were on board."
They paused, staring at each other with something like resentment. Finally Spock continued. "Are you suggesting I am guilty of the human vice of pride? of self- . . . "
"No, that's not it, that's not it at all. Look, Spock. When you left your station, when you left the bridge--"
Light broke in on Spock. "You are angry I did not check with you for personal reasons. Is that not correct?"
As if his companion had touched match to paper, Kirk burst out in a controlled whisper, "How could you go to your death and not say goodbye? If they hadn't called me to Engineering . . . "
The two stood staring at each other, silently, each remembering his side of that last exchange. So much to say and no time to say it. Spock blind, half dead, Kirk just beginning to take in what his bondmate had done. Not even able to touch him, to ease his pain.
"Captain," said Spock, seeing the recollection etched on his face.
Hearing Spock address him by his title, in such a bitter tone of frustration, Kirk snapped. He spun on his heel and stalked out of the lounge, glass still in hand.
From his vantage point McCoy watched Kirk leave, obviously angry, and he gave a big sigh. That damned Spock . . .
Spock too watched his commanding officer depart, noted the angry set of his shoulders and the fingers clenched around the glass. Well. Clearly there was little point in staying, now. As McCoy finally returned with the Altair water he had requested, he said rather curtly, "Thank you, doctor, and good night. It is time for me to retire."
"Spock, wait a minute." McCoy placed a hand on his shoulder, an uncharacteristic action. "You know, you can't fool me," he softly said, and tapped the side of his head. "Look, our Jim is one of the proudest men I've ever met. For him, pride is his great strength, and and also his great weakness. He loves you, Spock--he always has. It's nigh killed him to stand back and watch, but he's done it. Throw him a line, Spock. I took readings on you in Yosemite, I touched your mind when we were camping--yeah--your katra left me a few presents, never mind right now. I heard you talking to Sybok. You know yourself--and Jim--as well as you ever did. The things you don't remember by now aren't worth remembering. Start anew. Build yourselves a new life together. Do it before it's too late."