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Rowena G. Warner


"How old are you, Jim?"

"You know the answer to that as well as I do, Spock--forty-four my next birthday. That means I'm old enough not to fall for any more of these damn tricks you like to pull."

The Vulcan shook his head. "It is not a trick, Jim. I am merely relating what I overheard in my classroom. When Captain Britz retires, the command of the Theodus will be 'up for grabs,' I believe it is called."

"Spock, I do not want to be the captain of the Theodus."

"As you have said before."

"Well, get it through your thick Vulcan head then!"

The Vulcan managed to achieve a look of hurt as he sipped his wine. He savored the soft, sweet taste of the rich burgundy liquid and felt the warmth it spread throughout his body. The wine, especially ordered from Berengaria VII, was the only liquor he found truly palatable.

Kirk studied the lean features, not fooled for a minute by the look of dejection. Behind those unfathomable eyes, Vulcan wheels were spinning, and Kirk knew that he was an important cog in one such wheel.

Spock and McCoy had convinced themselves and each other that Kirk was unhappy, that he was back behind a desk pushing a stylus when the admiral wanted nothing more than to be in the command chair on a starship. Although he could not convince them otherwise, Kirk knew that at this point in time nothing could be farther from the truth. His present duties as an assistant dean at Starfleet Academy provided a welcome change of pace, and also presented an opportunity to eliminate some of the 'red tape' he had encountered so often in the past.

Kirk caught the Vulcan's eyes upon him, and leaned forward. "I'm sorry, Spock." He spoke softly, "I know you and Bones are only concerned for my welfare, but I tell you I'm doing exactly what I want to do right now."

"Are you happy?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am."

Spock shook his head. "Highly unlikely."


"You were not happy behind a desk before."

"That time it was different, Spock."

A silence fell in the room as the Vulcan stood and sat his glass on the mantle of his fireplace. One finger traced the ornate ancient design reminiscent of early Vulcan heritage. Spock studied the painting on the wall before him, a colorful affair painted by a late 19th century Terran artist. He smiled at the remembrance of McCoy's words when the doctor first laid eyes on it. "Damn, Spock! Now that's what I call emotional!"

The entire apartment was decorated in this manner, a curious, but uniquely fitting combination of Vulcan and Human flavor. Three walls bore ancient Vulcan artifacts, while an antique bookcase, presented to him by Kirk, gave the remaining wall a look of solid reality. Its interior was filled with ancient hardback books, their contents graciously shared by any and all who wanted to read them.

Also in evidence were delicately wrought Oriental urns, Swahili pottery, and even a tasseled saber, standing in colorful regal attention by the fireplace. These and other items, displayed with careless perfection, were gifts from his friends over the years. They blended well with the muted reds, oranges, and dusky browns which gave the apartment a warm, cozy atmosphere.

Kirk sank lower in the massive, heavily-padded chair, and, glancing at its twin, he smiled at the memory of how they came to be in such positions.

Spock had bought the chair more for his friends than for himself, knowing that each of them enjoyed a quiet snooze by his fire. What the Vulcan had not anticipated was the problem which would arise when these same "friends" arrived together and fought for possession of the mode of extreme comfort. A very amused Spock did the only logical thing--he purchased another chair.

Thoughts of McCoy made Kirk suddenly break the silence, "By the way, where's Bones? I thought he was supposed to be here by this time."

"He will be arriving shortly. When I saw him at the Medical Complex this morning, he informed me he would be involved in a delicate experiment and would be unable to leave until its completion."

"Oh. So, what do we do in the meantime?"

"Continue our discussion," Spock insisted. "I have given you time to consider the situation, Jim. Have you arrived at a decision?"

"A decision about what?"

"Jim," Spock's tone was one of patience, "have you decided to accept the captaincy of the Theodus?"

"Not again. Damn it, Spock!" Kirk slammed his drink on the table with such vehemence that its burgundy contents splashed over and blended with the rich, brown carpet. "Has anyone ever told you that you have a one-track mind?"

Spock moved to the chair and stared down. "That does not answer my question."

"Well try this answer on for size. I will not apply for the captaincy, and, if offered it, I will not accept."

"Why not?" the Vulcan persisted.

"Spock, are you going deaf? You have been after me for the last three weeks about this. You're like a dog on a scent; I can't shake you."

"Perhaps," Spock retorted, "it is because this 'dog' is concerned about his friend who appears to be transforming into a jackass."

"What!" Kirk glared up at him. "Spock, listen to me and listen good this time! I am happy doing what I'm doing. I may not feel that way five years, three years, or even a year from now, but at this moment, I am doing exactly what I want to do. Can't you understand that?"

There was silence a moment, broken only by a soft clink as the Vulcan set his glass on the table next to Kirk's. He straightened and took a deep breath. "Are you refusing this command because you are afraid?"

"Afraid?" This question brought Kirk to his feet in a surge of anger. "Afraid!" he repeated harshly, his hand closing on the front of Spock's meditation jacket. "Suppose you tell me exactly why I would be afraid?"

"Because of the circumstances surrounding our last mission on the Enterprise. We lost eighty-four crewmembers at Serenidad. If the Challenger had not been in our sector, the Klingons would have, no doubt, taken the command crew captive and killed the rest. In the condition you and I were in at that time, we would not have lived to see the interior of a Klingon cell." His eyes met Kirk's squarely. "Are you afraid to accept another command, afraid of facing a possible repetition of such a disaster? Or, after almost three months now, are you still blaming yourself for what happened?"

Kirk's hand loosened on the jacket, then released it completely. "No, Spock," he answered quietly. "You're wrong on both counts. I was in that hospital for quite a while and had a lot of time to think. I deliberately went over that whole horrible scene, mentally recalling every order I had given, and I finally realized there was nothing you, I, or anyone else could have done to prevent or ward off the Kh'myr sneak attack. Face it, Spock. We were lucky during those five years and during the three years after I reassumed command of the Enterprise. A disaster like we experienced with the Klingons was inevitable; the odds just became stacked against us."

"And now you refuse to put yourself in a position whereby you might encounter another such disaster."

Kirk shook his head. "That has nothing to do with it. Hell, Spock, I have lived with fear nearly every day of my adult life! But when I thought you, Bones, and the others were lost on Murasaki Taurus Two, did I give up command? When I thought we had lost you to that...that giant amoeba thing, did I turn and run? And might I remind you that at the end of our first mission, I was not the one who stuck his tail between his legs and snuck off to some God-forsaken planet, afraid to face his friends any longer!"

The last remark fell like a rock in the quiet apartment. Spock's eyes met his for a moment, then turning, he walked to the window and stared out into the gathering twilight.

Kirk watched the silent figure and winced. He had done it; he had brought up a subject which, by unspoken agreement, they had never discussed.

"Spock." He moved to the window and placed a hand on the dark back. "Spock, I'm sorry. I guess I am a jackass."

"No, Jim." The voice was so low, it hardly broke the silence in the room. "You are right; I was afraid and still am."

"Afraid of what?"

The Vulcan turned to face him. "Of you...Leonard...what V'ger taught me. Afraid of losing those precious things that I was not even aware I was fighting to gain." Spock gave a low, humorless laugh. "Ironic, isn't it? I tried to escape that which was most important to me. It took a machine, a machine that obviously had more heart than I, to show me what I needed."

Kirk sighed. "I guess we all see things through others' eyes better than we do through our own." His hand moved up to the Vulcan's shoulder and he squeezed it. "Spock, when that captaincy opens up, why don't you accept it?"

"No, Jim. I have already discussed that with Leonard." Spock turned to once again gaze into the twilight. "I have no desire to..."

"I know, I know. So you keep telling me." Kirk dropped his hand. "But it's about time you did. They've offered you the rank of captain a dozen times, Spock. All you would have to do is say the word, and you would get the Theodus."

"I do not desire to 'say the word,' Jim. Perhaps sometime in the future, I shall accept the rank, and then the command of a starship, but for the present I am satisfied with my teaching position."

"There's an old saying, Spock: 'Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.' Is that what it is? Are you afraid a crew won't accept you as their captain?"

"The issue is irrelevant, Jim."

"No." Kirk shook his head slowly. "I don't think so. I think it's very relevant, but I also think you don't have anything to worry about." He broke into a smile. "From what I've heard, your students love you. In less than a semester, you've built quite a name for yourself, Spock. Any crew would be honored to have you as their captain. Look how well you did on the Enterprise."

"They were exceptional Humans, Jim." Spock left the window and resumed his stance by the fireplace.

"Well, I can't argue that," Kirk called after him. "But there are other exceptional Humans out there, too, and they need a firm, but compassionate hand to guide them. You fit the bill."

"Flattery will be to no avail, Jim. I am completely satisfied with teaching others to lead, and I plan to continue doing so."

"Spock." Kirk closed in on him at the fireplace. "How can you expect me to believe that? You've never been 'completely satisfied' with anything in your life!"

"And neither have you, Jim!" The Vulcan whirled around and faced him. His voice was sharp as he accused, "There is only one reason why you wish me to accept this captaincy. You are afraid of doing so yourself, and, yet, through me, you wish to once again experience the excitement of command without being forced to accept the responsibilities attached thereto."

Kirk stared at him, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. "That's not true, Spock. That's not true at all!"

"Then why are you so insistent upon my accepting this position?"

"For your own damn good, you stupid Vulcan! Can't you get that through that thick skull of yours?"

Spock studied him a moment, then moving to the table, he picked up the neglected glass of wine.

"I apologize for that remark," said Kirk.

Slender fingers curled around the fragile stem, and the Vulcan peered into the glass, staring at the burgundy liquid as though it were an alien he had set eyes on for the first time. He finally looked up, and his eyes met Kirk's. "I am indeed sorry, Jim. I had no right to make such an accusation."

", you didn't," Kirk replied firmly, then sighed. "But I guess that makes us even now." He retrieved his own glass, and downed its contents with one swallow.


"Yes, Jim?"

"When that position becomes vacant..." Kirk hesitated, then rushed on in a flood of words. "...I am going to enter you as a candidate. As soon as they see your name on the list, they'll jump at the chance of getting you for the captaincy.

Spock frowned. "Don't do that, Jim," he warned. "Don't put me in a position where I will have to cross swords with you, particularly under the public eye of Starfleet. Such a move could very well jeopardize our friendship."

In the act of pouring himself another drink, Kirk whirled around and pointed the carafe in the Vulcan's direction. "I hadn't realized until tonight how bullheaded you can be!"

"Call it what you will, Jim; I am quite capable of managing my own destiny."

"That's where you're wrong," Kirk yelled back. "So you'd better let your friends take care of it for you!"

The glass stem in Spock's hand splintered. Tiny crystals of glass mingled with the carpet and lay there as a mute testimony of the Vulcan's sudden anger. "You would do well to involve yourself in your own affairs instead of meddling in mine! It is obvious that you are making the same mistake you made six years ago. Accept it: space is in your blood, and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it is also present in your head."

"Well, your head is obviously for decoration only, because you are certainly not using it for anything else!"

A heavy silence fell in the room.

Kirk slouched in the plush chair. I'm not getting through to him. He frowned in frustration. What's wrong with Spock, anyway? Can't he see this may be his one chance in a lifetime? The position of starship captain just doesn't come along every day. All he would have to do is nod, and he'd be in that command chair before he could blink an eye. Why in hell won't he do it?

Kirk stared around the room and suddenly realized just how much it reminded him of Spock. The center was warm and comfortable, easily discernible to the viewer. But the corners of the room were in shadows, dark and mysterious. Try as he might, Kirk could not quite make out the objects which rested there. Spock was the same way. There were shadowy corners to this Vulcan that, after all these years, he still could not penetrate.

Spock is so sure that he's right, Kirk thought. And he will sacrifice that captaincy because he believes I should have it. Damn, bullheaded Vulcan! How am I going to convince him that he doesn't know me as well as he thinks he does?

Kirk's tangible thought stood once again by the fireplace, a slender finger drawing an invisible IDIC on the wall above the mantel.

I am obviously applying the wrong approach, Spock thought. But how does one determine the correct one to use where Jim is concerned? He is attempting to sacrifice his future because he believes I should have command of the Theodus.

Spock stared down into the fire and thought how much it resembled the man sitting behind him--warm, lively, never quite certain what its next move will be. Perhaps shooting upward in a brilliant, sometimes angry blaze, or quieting down amid meek embers. It was rash, undefinable, and totally unpredictable, similar in all respects to this Human he called 'friend.'

His finger made a sudden slash through the invisible IDIC. Why can I not convince him that, at this point in time, I am doing precisely what I desire to do. I am not the one who is blind; it is Jim. He is committing the same error, and yet has the effrontery to say I am the one who is being stubborn. His finger angrily traced a question mark on the wall, and Spock reached a decision. He would broach the subject they had been avoiding all evening.

The silence was unanimously broken.



Kirk held up a hand. "Don't start at it again, Spock. I've had it up to here with this conversation."

"If I might be allowed to make one more comment," the Vulcan replied coldly, "at its conclusion, I shall say no more on the subject."

Kirk nodded. It was impossible to remain angry at Spock when he knew his friend was only doing what he thought was right. The problem, however, lay in trying to convince the Vulcan that he was dead wrong.

"Okay, Spock," he agreed softly, "Say what you feel you need to."

"Jim..." Now that he had Kirk's reluctant permission, Spock was not sure he could bring up the agonizing subject. "Jim, I know..." He took a stance in front of Kirk, and tried to choose his words carefully. "I know the decision that came through today regarding the Enterprise has affected you deeply, but you cannot let it--"

Kirk pushed himself from the chair slowly, his eyes never leaving the Vulcan. "What decision?"

"The decision to..." Spock's voice trailed off as he stared at Kirk in sudden and quite evident shock. "Jim, you did receive a memorandum this afternoon, did you not?"

"No." Kirk's voice came in a hoarse whisper. "What memo? What did it say?"

"I did not see it, but by your Human grapevine, one of my students obtained the information and relayed it to me. I...naturally...assumed..."

Kirk grabbed his shoulders, but Spock backed out of the grasp.

"Jim, do not force me to be the one to tell you," the Vulcan pleaded. "I want to avoid that at all cost."

"Spock! Avoid what?"


"Answer me, Spock! What did they finally decide to do with the Enterprise?" Kirk was becoming frantic, as he grabbed the Vulcan again. "Damn it, man, you've got to tell me!"

Spock stood still, his head bowed. "Jim, they..." There was a catch in his voice, and he tried again. "Due to recent repairs on the Columbia and the J.F.K., funds for Starship Operations have been depleted. Therefore, they have decided that it is not economically feasible to rebuild the Enterprise. In her...present condition, she cannot be used as an exploratory vessel. Therefore, it has been decided..."

"Decided what?"

"I...I'm sorry, Jim."

"Spock, for God's sake, tell me!"

The Vulcan stood quietly, his dark eyes shining in the wavering firelight. "They are going to dismantle her, Jim," he spoke bitterly. "The Enterprise will be destroyed."

"Destroyed! Oh my God! They can't do that, Spock." His hands became like vises on the slender arms. "They can't do that!"

"They can, and they will," the Vulcan hissed. "And it is now obvious they did not even have the decency to tell you. They knew that I, Leonard, or another friend would bring up the subject, and they would thus be relieved of all responsibility."

"Like hell they will! I'll go down there and tear that place apart!"

"And I would accompany you, except that it will achieve nothing."

"You just watch me!"

"Jim, anger will be to no avail."

"What do you want from me then!" Kirk jerked his hands away. "You want me to just lie down and accept this?"

"No, Jim. I want you to think."

"Think! Damn it, Spock..." Kirk pulled up in mid-sentence and eyed the Vulcan suspiciously. "Wait a minute. You've got a plan already, haven't you?"

There was a nod.

"Okay, spit it out!"

"When I learned of the order, I turned my remaining classes over to another teacher, and went to see Mister Scott."

Kirk winced. "He's taking it hard?"

"Indeed. He had already consumed two bottles of scotch, yet was still in a complete state of sobriety. You are aware of the fact that he has been overseeing the reconstruction, and it appears that Mister Scott did not quite inform Starfleet of the extent of such repairs. It was inevitable, however, that someone would eventually notice and decide it is illogical to continue funding the restoration of such an extremely damaged vessel."

"And you agree with that?"

"Of course not, Jim, but I am afraid we must face one important fact. Mister Scott and I studied the blueprints and analyzed damage reports, the outcome of which proved Starfleet to be correct. Without extensive funding for reconstruction, the Enterprise shall never again be an exploratory vessel."

Kirk sucked in his breath. "You don't think they might change their minds later?"

"There will be no 'later' for the Enterprise if she is destroyed. That is what we must try to prevent."


"By convincing Starfleet that, with only a few additional repairs, the Enterprise can serve quite adequately as one of the Academy's student training vessels."

"A training vessel?" Kirk's eyes widened, then acquired the gleam that Spock knew so well. "A training vessel! That's brilliant, Spock, absolutely brilliant!!"

He grabbed the Vulcan and hugged him. "I take it back--you are using your head for something besides decoration! You're amazing, Spock, utterly amazing!"

The Vulcan smiled as he absorbed Kirk's excitement, the wide grin on his friend's face a balm to the hurt Spock had felt when he was forced to reveal Starfleet's decision.

"The premise was actually devised by Mister Scott, who has already surreptitiously requisitioned enough materials to begin the repairs. He has apparently had this in mind since completing the damage survey on the Enterprise."

"Okay, okay." Kirk tried to calm down. "What's our next step?"

"It is your move, Jim. You must convince Starfleet of the need and the logic connected with using the Enterprise in this manner."

"Logic, huh?" Kirk-broke into another grin. "Well, I should be able to handle that. After all, I had a good teacher." He poured two glasses of wine and held up his in a salute. "To the Enterprise."

"To the Enterprise."

"Spock." Kirk swirled the liquid in his glass. "You will help me in this, won't you?"

"Of course, Jim. Whatever you need."

"Good." Kirk rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "I am about to mutilate some red tape. Before I'm through, Starfleet is going to be sorry they ever heard the name of James T. Kirk."

Spock peered at the Human over his wine glass and agreed. He could almost feel sorry for Starfleet...almost.

"Okay," Kirk continued. "Here's what we'll do. Come by my office on your break tomorrow, and I'll get a deposition from you. We'll set down the precise data on exactly what else has to be done to the Enterprise in order to turn her into a training vessel."

"Would it not be more advantageous to present such data directly to Starfleet instead of by means of a deposition?"

"Yeah," Kirk replied thoughtfully. "But I don't know how long this is going to take, and you may be gone when I need you for such a presentation."

"Gone?" Spock's eyes widened. "As in 'dead'?"

"No, of course not. 'Gone' as in out there on the Theodus."

Spock settled himself in McCoy's chair and sighed. "Jim, let us not enter into that argument again."

"I am not arguing," Kirk disagreed. "I'm merely stating a fact."

"You are stating a fallacy," Spock returned sharply. "Simply because you consider it to be a fact, does not make it so."

"Spock," Kirk squatted down beside the chair, and began to speak in earnest. "Bones and I have talked about it. This is your big chance. It's what you want and what you need."

"Leonard may be a specialist in Vulcan physiology, but he cannot know what lies within." Spock glared at the face before him. "And neither do you," he spoke harshly. "This may come as a shock, but after all these years, not even you understand all my wants and needs."

Kirk stared at him a moment, then slammed his hand on the chair arm in sudden anger. "Damn it, Spock! What is wrong with you?"

"That question has reverse application, Jim." The Vulcan rose to his feet, leaving Kirk squatting beside the chair. "Now having been made aware of the future of the Enterprise, I fail to understand why you still refuse to accept this command. The Enterprise is no longer yours; she will be shared by various professors of the Academy. As one such professor, I shall be in temporary command of her from time to time. But," he said, pointing a finger at the Human, "you shall never be captain of the Enterprise again."

At the look of pain on Kirk's face, Spock immediately regretted his words. If it had been a tangible object, he would have grabbed the sentence back and hid it away in some shadowy corner. As it was, however, all he could do was issue a very inadequate apology. "I am sorry, Jim. I should not have been so harsh."

"No, no." Kirk straightened, his voice becoming cold. "Let's get this all out in the open right here and now, or we will never have any peace between us."

The Vulcan nodded silently.

"The Enterprise had nothing to do with my decision regarding the Theodus," Kirk continued. "But she does now present another reason to support it. I'm going to have to devote much of my time to convincing Starfleet to agree with our plan. I don't have time right now to command another ship."

Spock shook his head in disagreement. "In your absence I am quite capable of battling Starfleet with like fervor."

"You?" Kirk laughed harshly. "You're only a teacher."

Spock gave way to a volatile emotion. "I might say the same about you, Jim," he retorted angrily. "You are only an admiral, one of twenty-six in Starfleet Command who sit in atrophy behind your desks, growing more lazy and complacent with each passing day."

"I have no intention of staying behind that desk!" Kirk shot back. "I am going to tour starbases, stick in my two-credits whether they want it or not, trouble-shoot at the Academy. This is one admiral who's going to make his presence known!"

"Indeed," Spock agreed fervently. "You have certainly done so here tonight."

"And I intend to continue!" Kirk fired back. "So you just take command of that ship and get the hell out of here!"

"Jim, I realize my hearing is more acute than yours, but I am quite certain I am speaking in a volume adequate for even your Human ears. If that is incorrect, however, please watch my lips carefully; I do not, I repeat, do not want command of the Theodus."

Another wine glass met its demise as Kirk shattered his against the mantle. "You stupid, ungrateful, son of a--"

"Hold it, Jim!"

A new voice broke in on the long-waging 'discussion.'

Kirk and Spock whirled around to see McCoy standing just inside the door to the apartment.

"How long have you been there?" Kirk snapped.

"Long enough to know that if this argument continues, I'm going to see the break-up of a friendship right before my very eyes." He moved towards them. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to let that happen!" Pointing to the twin chairs, he yelled, "Now sit down, both of you!"

They obeyed, but Kirk shot in immediately. "Now that you're here, Bones, maybe you can drum some sense into Spock. He is still refusing to accept that command."

"It is illogical that you should be in agreement with Jim on this matter," the Vulcan cut in. "Only yesterday, you complied with my belief that he should be the one to accept it."

"Yesterday was twenty-four hours ago, Spock."

"Yeah, but two days ago, you agreed with me," Kirk complained. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

"Both." McCoy took a stance in front of the chairs. "I've been giving this whole thing a lot of thought during the past two days. As a matter of fact, that is the reason I was late tonight; I wanted to sort all of this out in my mind."

Spock's eyes widened. "You lied to me?"

"Not quite. I was working on an experiment, but it wasn't all that important. This is. I had a feeling it was going to end up in a confrontation between the two of you. How long has this been going on?"

"Approximately two point four hours," Spock answered quietly,

"And during all that time has either one of you heard what the other one has been saying?"

"Of course we heard, Bones."

"Yeah, but did either one of you listen?"

"Leonard, that is illogical."

"All right, we'll go at it this way." McCoy moved to the corner and returned with a straight-back chair. He positioned himself in front of the two men and leaned forward. "Jim, do you want command of the Theodus?"

"No! I've been trying to tell--"

"Wait a minute; stop right there." McCoy held up a hand. "Now, with reasonable quiet and politeness, tell us why not."

"Bones, this is--"

"Jim," McCoy interrupted. "This is important! Now, make an effort!"

"All right, all right!" Kirk took a deep breath. "I had been recuperating in that hospital for almost a month, and had become totally bored in the process. Further, it was made clear to me that if I were assigned a ship again, it would be strictly milkruns, probably from Earth to Alpha Centauri and back." He paused. "Further, I've lost a ship, Bones. That doesn't look good on one's record. It makes getting a ship a hell of a lot harder. But if I stay at my new assignment, I can improve my standing with Nogura. And, who knows, maybe I can help in other ways...teaching, starbase inspections, trouble-shooting....That's why I accepted that position at Headquarters when it opened up. I've been out there, I know what's needed, and by God, I'm going to make some changes!"

"Well," McCoy leaned back. "That sounds logical."

"I do not understand how you arrive at that conclusion," Spock cut in. "It is quite obvious he is committing the same error he made six years ago."

McCoy shook his head. "That was different, Spock."

"So Jim has repeatedly said, but I fail to see wherein such difference lies."

"We'll talk about that in a minute." McCoy turned back to Kirk. "Jim, this decision of yours...are you sure it has nothing to do with the order handed down today about the Enterprise?"

"Damn!" Kirk slammed his hand on the chair arm again. "Did everyone in the universe find out about that before I did?"

"You mean, you didn't--"

Kirk turned an understanding look towards the Vulcan. "Spock also assumed that I had gotten word of it."

"Oh, my God," McCoy whispered, instantly sympathetic. "I wouldn't have been in your shoes for anything, Spock."

"Nor would I, Leonard, if I could have avoided it."

"That's another reason why I'm staying here." Kirk's voice hardened. "They're going to pay for putting Spock in that position. Tomorrow, I start forging my swords to do battle with Starfleet."

"What are you talking about, Jim?"

"Scotty and Spock have come up with a plan to save the Enterprise." With grim delight, he set forth their plans before McCoy.

"Well, well, well, Spock." McCoy turned an admiring eye on the Vulcan. "I might have known your devious minds would come up with something."

Spock bowed his head slightly. "Thank you, Leonard."

"Okay." McCoy leaned forward again. "Now that we have that problem solved, let's get back to the other one. It's your turn now, Spock. You don't want command of the Theodus, either?"

"That is correct."

"See, Bones. I told you that he's--"

"Shut up, Jim! Okay, Spock, explain yourself."

A haughty eyebrow rose. "Leonard, that is what I have been attempting to do all evening."

"Don't get smart with me, you blasted Vulcan!" McCoy's tone softened. "Go over it again, Spock, and this time I promise you," he glared at Kirk, "both of us will listen."

"It is quite simple, really." Spock laced his fingers together in a familiar pose. "I am deriving considerable satisfaction from my teaching position at the Academy, and I should like to continue doing so."

"That makes sense."

"No, it doesn't!"

"Jim." McCoy's tone was one of patience. "Just think how much knowledge Spock has amassed over the years. What the hell good is it if he doesn't at some point share it with others?"

Kirk refused to look at the doctor, but a surprised Vulcan flashed a brief smile of appreciation.

"Okay," McCoy continued, "the way I see it, here's the problem." He pointed a finger at Spock. "You believe Jim is making the same mistake he made the other time." His finger swung to the Vulcan's left. "And you believe Spock is going to stagnate in that classroom. Each of you believes the other wants that command position, but is willing to sacrifice it for the good of his friend."

Kirk nodded. "That's it in a large nutshell."

It was Spock, however, who asked the question McCoy was hoping for. "Precisely what are your views on the matter?"

"I'd say that each of you is so concerned with the other's well-being that you've got it in your head you're right, and because of that, you're just not listening to what the other one is saying."

"And you're not concerned?"

"Of course, I am, Spock! Why do you think I'm sitting here trying to drum some sense into those thick skulls of yours?" He turned a sharp glance on each of them, then continued calmly. "What we need to do is find a solution to this misunderstanding."

Kirk eyed him suspiciously. "And I suppose you've already got one?"

McCoy rose to his feet and paced in front of them. "I've given it a lot of thought over the past two days, and yeah," he nodded his head, "I've come up with an answer."

Kirk shifted in his seat. "Then you've had an advantage over us because we haven't had the time to think about it."

"Haven't had time! Damn it, Jim, you've had six years!"

"That is true, Leonard." Spock dropped his hands to his laps. "But each of us, in our own way, has avoided doing so. After our encounter with V'ger, we simply began where we had ended."

"Then don't you think it's about time to drag those skeletons out of the closet?"

"A rather crude way of phrasing it."

"Look, Spock, this is not the time to pussyfoot around, mincing words. Now, do you want me to go on, or not?"

The Vulcan resumed his familiar position. "Continue."

A glance at Kirk revealed an affirmative nod. "All right, let's zero in on the three of us for a moment. At the end of that five year mission, what did we do?"

"You know damn well what we did," Kirk snapped.

"I want to hear it out loud, Jim!"

"All right! I accepted that idiotic desk job; Spock ran to that God-forsaken planet without so much as a 'goodbye'; and you took off for places unknown!"

"And do you know why, Jim?"

"No." Kirk rubbed his forehead, and admitted quietly, "I would never allow myself to ask that question."

"Neither would I...until recently. I started doing some research, checking medical records, and you know what I found? There were three hundred sixty-nine people who were permanent crewmembers of the Enterprise during the entire five-year mission. Within six months after our return to Earth, one hundred ninety-four of them sought psychiatric assistance."


Both men leaned forward, their faces revealing their shock at this announcement.

"Exactly what are you attempting to say, Leonard?"

McCoy perched on the edge of his chair, one leg extended to support the precarious position. "We went through heaven and hell together out there," he spoke earnestly, "We were constantly on edge, meeting new surprises and new menaces at every turn. We formed friendships. It was more important to save the other person than to save ourselves. So, we go through five years of this closeness, this excitement, and the exhilarating fear that went along with all of it. Then what happened?"

"The mission came to an end," Spock breathed softly.

"Exactly. We returned home to a quiet, complacent Earth, and wondered, 'Where do we go from here? How do you top those five years? What about that closeness? Do those friends who depended on us for their very lives out there in space, need us here in the comparative safety of Earth?'"

"I'm afraid we didn't ask any of those questions," Kirk put in softly.

"Of course, we didn't," McCoy agreed. "We shied away from them. I, for one, took off because I was lost. Also, I was going through one of those times the psych-boys like to call the 'mid-life crisis'. Don't smile, Jim; you'll go through it in about five years or so." He turned abruptly to the Vulcan. "Why did you go off to Gol?"

Spock searched his mind, trying to recall the feelings of several years ago. "I was...confused. At our last meeting together, there was the pain of the mind-meld I shared with Jim. There were also some very vague promises, the somehow hollow assurances that we would continue as we had been," Spock bowed his head. "It was just not enough. I felt I was not needed any longer, and so attempted to rid myself of my own needs..."

"Spock, I am sorry." Kirk reached out a hand and covered the one resting on the chair arm beside him. "I am so very sorry." He looked at McCoy and began hoarsely. "I accepted that desk job for the same reason. I felt it was all over, not just the mission, but everything connected with it. Without Talya...." His voice faded. "So, I tried to launch myself into a whole new life, bury myself under so much work that I wouldn't have time to think."

"Don't feel bad," McCoy sighed. "I've talked to Uhura, Sulu, Scotty...All of us, in one way or another, tried to do the same thing."

Kirk studied him for a moment, then voiced the question that had already formed in Spock's mind. "So what makes 'now' any different from 'then'? Are we going in circles, repeating the same damn mistakes?"

"You tell me, Jim. Compare your feelings now with those you had during that time. Are they the same?"

"No, I...don't think so." His voice became more positive. "No, they're not the same. I've got plans now, things I want to accomplish. I don't know how long it will last, but right now I'm doing what I want to do, not what I feel I have to do."

"Spock?" McCoy turned to the Vulcan. "What about you?"

The answer was accompanied by a slight curl of the lips. "There is no conflict within me, Leonard. I am no longer trying to escape."

"Good. That proves my theory. You're at a point in your lives--an interlude, if you want to call it that--where you want to be concerned only with today. There's nothing wrong with that. Everyone needs to stop sometime and get a fresh perspective. Tomorrow, next week, or next year each or both of you may want to move on to something else. But today..."

McCoy started to rise, but Kirk held out a hand in restraint.

"Wait a minute, Bones. What about you? What are your own feelings on the 'here and now'?"

"I'm happy, Jim," he answered simply. "As a matter of fact, that's what got me to thinking about this whole mess. You see, no one was trying to talk me into accepting a captaincy. So, not being under pressure, I was able to sit back and listen to both sides. Since I'm completely satisfied with what I'm doing right now, I began to think that maybe both of you were telling the truth also."

"Leonard." McCoy saw a smile over the steepled fingers. "There are moments when you are a veritable wealth of wisdom."

"Well, thank you, Spock." McCoy rose and stretched his legs. "So we're in agreement that everyone's happy, and no one is going to try to talk someone else into doing something he doesn't want to do."

There was a silent acknowledgment from both sides.

"Great! I'd say this calls for a drink." McCoy moved to the table, then called over his shoulder. "Blast it, Spock! Where are all your glasses?"

The Vulcan hid a smile. "There are more in the cabinet, Leonard."

Kirk studied the sparkling remains of his own glass near the fireplace, then turned in his chair to face the Vulcan. "Spock, there were things said tonight that--"

"No, Jim," Spock interrupted softly. "No words were exchanged which could not be accepted and understood because they were said by, and for the benefit of, friends."

McCoy drained his glass and sighed. "Well, now we've got that worked out... Spock, will you do me a favor?"

"Of course, Leonard."

The doctor made a dramatic sweep with his arm. "Get the hell out of my chair!'"

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