Kirk was fairly sure he was going to remember this as the most depressing moment in his life, sitting here on this uncomfortable chair with two luggage cases in this shuttle station at Starbase 12. He had always forced himself to not feel regret. This time was no exception. But the loss had been greater than he had ever experienced before, and he was sure nothing would exceed it. It was actually a rather comforting and bittersweet thought.
There was no way he would have allowed any other outcome. He refused to allow Spock to die. His friend's life was worth his command; he had no doubt then or now. But there had to have been another way. Maybe they could have medically inhibited the chemical imbalance long enough to complete the ceremony on Altair. Maybe he could have told the admiralty– No, that had been out of the question. He gave Spock his word; he wouldn't have disrespected his trust. Maybe if his messages were more imploring, even to the point of pleading. He could have tried to pull some political strings, as much as he usually disliked the notion; he had some well-formed connections that owed him favors, or that he was willing to owe favors.
Kirk shook his head as if to shake off the raindrops he felt mentally falling on his head. There was no use wondering 'What if?' He had made his choice knowing the potential consequences. An honorable discharge was one of the better ones.
Keeping his ship would have been the best.
He sighed and put his head in his hands, elbows propped up on his knees. He faintly recognized the strange feel of his civilian clothing on his body. It had been a rollercoaster of emotions that day. He couldn't even remember how many times he thought Spock was going crazy, or that he was going to die, or that he was going to be fine.
At least he knew Spock was alive and unharmed back on the Enterprise.
He didn't hear the footfalls until they were very close. He felt the connected chairs shift under the newcomer's weight and heat radiating from the body at his right. Annoyance filled Kirk. He was positive there were at least fifty empty seats in this station; why was a seat next to him the one the man chose? If he was looking for a conversation, he was going to be disappointed because Kirk was in no mood for it.
Kirk glanced over between his thumb and index finger. The robe was very similar to the style worn on Vulcan: black velvet-like fabric with some silver scribbles on it. Actually, it looked very familiar. In fact, he was sure he recognized that exact robe.
He slowly took his head out of his hands and turned it to look at the man's face. His mind was blank for a long moment before it felt like all his thoughts crashed on him all at once. "Spock!" Kirk gasped, wide-eyed as he stared at his Fir– former First Officer.
Spock looked down at him with a tweaked eyebrow in the way he normally had when Kirk made some illogical observation. "Jim," he returned.
Kirk sat up and couldn't manage to say anything for a moment before leaning in and hissing, "What in God's name are you doing here?" He looked around hastily as if Spock's proximity marked the half-Vulcan for death.
"I would think that is obvious," Spock said with an upturned eyebrow. Kirk's face must show his confusion because he continued. "I have resigned my commission from Starfleet."
"You what?" he half shouted, his voice echoing in the deserted room.
"I said, 'I have resigned–"
"I heard you the first time," Kirk snapped. "I mean. Why? Why did you do such a thing?"
"I would think that is obvious as well," Spock replied.
Kirk stared at Spock in disbelief. He couldn't believe it. This was surreal. He knew why a human might do it, but a Vulcan?
"Would you not do the same in my place?" he asked.
Kirk hesitated. "I'm… I don't know," he said honestly. He would like to think that he would, but would he really be willing to voluntarily give up everything for Spock? Actually, he supposed he'd already answered that question.
Rather than look offended by his answer, Spock appeared to be amused. "If I had been asked that question before today, there is a high probability I would say that I would not."
"I'm surprised McCoy didn't follow you," Kirk said dryly.
"He had planned on it, but I convinced him not to resign," Spock spoke evenly.
Kirk snorted. "How did you manage that?"
"By implying that I was not leaving."
"You what?" Kirk looked over confused.
"I implied that I would not leave after you had…" Spock frowns deeply a moment before regaining his emotionless mask. "After you had been discharged," he finished. "Being the man the doctor is, he became determined to stay on and, as I believe he put it, 'make my life a living hell'. He did not discover my resignation until it was too late. The next mission was to begin the next day and there would be no way for the ship to acquire another competent medical officer before they warped to deep space once again."
"Sneaky Vulcan," Kirk muttered, a large grin spread on his face, both for Spock's deception and acknowledgment for the doctor's skill. "I wish I could have seen his face."
"Indeed, I do not believe I have ever seen a human face become so red," Spock said, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
Jim grinned. "I'll have to send a message to Bones, make sure he stays put. He doesn't need to resign because of me." He paused, anger flaring in him a moment. "You didn't need to resign because of me either," he muttered. "You could still be on her. You could have stayed," Kirk said before looking up, a window to the stars hovered over them. He could nearly see the Enterprise sailing through those stars. "I would trust her with you. Or Mr. Scotty, though I know he doesn't want to be a Captain. He'd more than happy with the engines." Kirk felt himself bristle. "Some crazy simpleton could be given command of my ship." The assignments were already made, but he didn't ask who was the new captain. He didn't want to know.
Spock seemed to consider. "Some would argue that who commanded the ship before was such a person," he said.
Kirk gave him a flat look, and Spock merely looked innocent. Against his will, laughter bubbled in Kirk's chest until it burst out of him and filled the empty station. If he'd been told half an hour ago that he would ever laugh again, he wouldn't have believed it. Spock looked as pleased as a Vulcan would allow himself.
"I'll give you crazy," Kirk said.
Spock nodded. "I agree that simpleton does not correctly describe you."
"That's quite a compliment coming from a Vulcan," Kirk said with a smile.
"I merely state facts, Jim," Spock reminded him, before pausing, tilting his head. "I am very grateful for your actions." He wisely did not begin to explain why Kirk shouldn't have done it; the man was usually very emotionally obtuse, but he thankfully knew he should not prod that wound so soon. Kirk had no doubts he would get an earful later.
"This isn't very logical," Kirk pointed out.
"Being grateful?" he asked, confused.
Kirk huffed a laugh that had more humor in it than he thought it would. "No, I meant following me. You had no need to leave. Starfleet didn't even know you were the reason. It was–"
"On the contrary," Spock interrupted. "We were diverted to Vulcan; I am sure they could discern who was the cause."
"It was my order," Kirk finished. "It was my choice. I knew the risks."
"They were risks you should not have needed to take had I…" Spock's words trail off. It is a strange thing to hear after years when this half-Vulcan was never inarticulate.
"Recognized the signs?" Kirk supplied, finding the unfinished sentence rather uncomfortable.
"I had recognized the signs, Jim," Spock said, sounding slightly pained. "But I was… in denial." Kirk was sure he heard him swallow. "I had convinced myself my mother's blood would quell the fires and they would fade."
"The one and only time you wanted human blood and it failed you," Kirk pointed out. "Rather ironic, isn't it?"
A silence fell over them. It was comfortable even given the uncomfortable situation they now put themselves in.
"What are you going to do with yourself now?" Kirk asked quietly.
"I have not given that matter much thought," Spock admitted reluctantly.
"Are you sure that blood fever of yours is worn off?" Kirk asked, a smirk playing on the edge of his lips. "It doesn't seem like you've made any logical decisions since then."
Spock's eyebrow conveyed his exasperation. "It has passed," he said, though he didn't refute Kirk's jab. He seemed contemplative instead; perhaps he wasn't actually sure himself. "When I… killed you, I should have felt victorious," he said. "I felt no such thing. The fever for blood and mating was dispelled."
Kirk's eyebrows rose in surprise, not used to Spock talking about having feelings. He remembered Spock mentioning something about the fever being gone. "The combat, right?"
"I think that is a factor, yes," Spock said. He paused again, seeming to debate with himself. "I meditated on the occurrence afterward. I found the notion of your death far eclipsed the notion of having T'Pring."
"Did you know her well?" Kirk asked. Spock had never mentioned the woman, but that didn't mean anything.
"We were mentally connected," he said. "We shared a certain part of ourselves with each other, a deeper part, although it was not a connection we used often." Spock shook his head. "During plak tow my only concern should have been mating," he said in a hushed whisper. The station was empty, but Kirk was sure the ingrained need for secrecy caused Spock to lower his voice. Kirk didn't blame him; it wasn't a topic he'd be shouting either. "My only thoughts should have been of T'Pring, and yet I thought of your safety when she chose you as her champion, knowing you were not aware of the conditions of the fight."
"But you did fight with me," Kirk reminded. "Quite viciously."
"Yes," he nodded, "but I was spurred on by T'Pau's words: if I was fully Vulcan I should not have such concerns for you. My own need to be Vulcan as well as the anger I felt for my mind being called into question incited me to battle. I managed to convince myself you were merely an opponent, one standing in the way of T'Pring. I chose to ignore the… wrongness I felt. It was a feeling that fully encompassed me when I believed you dead. The moment of victory turned sour very quickly when I remembered the neck the ahn-woon circled was yours."
Kirk realized he was rubbing his neck absentmindedly and stopped. He still had a ring of bruises. "You never answered my question," he said, choosing to change the topic to a less awkward one.
"The one concerning future plans for myself? I believed I stated I had not given the matter sufficient thought."
"No thought at all?"
"I have not given sufficient thought, though I have thought on it." Spock paused for a moment. "I have chosen to accompany you to Earth for now, though I have contemplated the option of returning to Vulcan."
Kirk nodded. "I supposed your parents still live there?"
Spock hesitated, and Kirk realized just how little he actually knew of Spock's personal life. It was a little disheartening; he had always believed he was the one who knew Spock best. It may be true, but he still knew so little. He never thought the Vulcan would actually withhold the information if Kirk really wanted to know, but he always just assumed Spock would initially refuse on the principle that there was no logical reason Kirk would need to know any of it. Satisfying a human's prying curiosity wouldn't have been a sufficient enough argument.
"My parents live on Vulcan, yes," Spock said finally. "Though I doubt I would stay with them. I do not think they would refuse if I requested it, but it would cause tension."
Kirk looked over to him, slightly surprised both by the information and Spock's willingness to give it. "Tension? You don't get along with your parents?"
"I do exchange messages with my mother, but I have not spoken to my father in years. He believes my joining in Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Academy was the incorrect path for me to take. Now that I have resigned…"
"You don't want him gloating he was right?" Kirk asked with a small smirk.
Spock gave him a pointed look. "Vulcans do not gloat, though you are essentially correct. If I wish to go return to that path, when I was younger I had been accepted into the Science Academy and have recently acquired a reputation for my skills in science, therefore I do not doubt that they would agree to give me the opportunity to join once again, as a researcher or perhaps as an instructor."
Kirk nodded. Spock always seemed to have an affinity for teaching. Kirk remembered him saying his mother was a teacher. No doubt that could be a factor.
"What have you considered doing?" Spock asked, almost uncertainly. Kirk knew Spock blamed himself, and there was little he could say to dissuade the stubborn half-Vulcan otherwise.
Kirk sighed. He remembered a few months ago trying to think of what he would be doing if not in Starfleet; he didn't have a definite answer then either. "I have enough saved up, as well as a pension since I was honorably discharged, so I could probably comfortably retire back to the farmhouse in Iowa."
"That does not seem like the correct place for you," Spock noted.
Kirk gave a chuckle. "I have been wanting an extended shore leave recently."
"I calculate you will not be able to live a 'peaceful life' beyond 1.78 years," Spock said confidently.
Kirk barked a laugh. "And what about you? How long will you last at the Vulcan Science Academy, being surrounded by logical Vulcans instead of a bunch of illogical humans?"
Spock frowned slightly and crossed his arms over his chest before quietly replying. "I would rather not go there at all."
Their lightened mood became solemn again. Kirk rubbed his face in his hand. "There are always private research facilities on Earth," he suggested. Of course Spock would rather be out making scientific discoveries, not just hearing about them. "I'm sure any of them would be more than willing to have you in their think-tanks."
"I have considered such options as agreeable," Spock said. He looked over to Kirk. "Have you contemplated becoming employed into another leadership position?"
Kirk shook his head, staring at his hands dangling limp between his knees. "For now I'm just going back to the farm." Out in the middle of no-where Riverside, Iowa. He gave a humorless smile. "I remember a few months ago griping that I didn't want the responsibilities for a ship full of people anymore, but now that I don't…" he trailed off. "Now I suddenly feel so alone," he murmured.
"Jim," Spock said in such a forceful way that it caused Kirk to look up to him. Spock's face was neutral, but his eyes… There was so much intensity and sincerity in his eyes. "You were my superior officer, but you were, and are, also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours."
Kirk felt his throat go dry. Kirk had no idea what to say to such a look or to such a declaration. He had known he held the loyalty of his crew, but this was beyond what he would expect.
Truthfully, after he thought about it, he kind of liked the idea of living with Spock. He was a good companion, loyal, intelligent and had more humor than he pretended not to have. Kirk always enjoyed their time together, playing chess, discussing paradoxes or the meanings of novels they both had read. There would be work to do on the farm to keep them occupied. There was no doubt in his mind that they would be able to live together and have a comfortable existence.
And yet, "Iowa is no place for a curious Vulcan."
"Iowa is no place for a dedicated Captain, either," Spock said. "Commanding a starship is your first best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material. You should not have had to give it up."
"It wasn't your fault," Kirk said firmly. "Accept it, because I don't want to discuss it further."
"Very well," he said quietly. Although who knew if he would actually drop it.
Kirk sighed. "If the farm isn't for either of us, where is it we belong?"
Spock crossed his arms in front of his chest and quietly considered for a long moment. "There are some independent ventures, although none with the funds or recourses of Starfleet."
They looked at each other. Starfleet. The word hung in the air between them but luckily dissipated when they both looked away.
Spock cleared his throat lowly; Kirk probably wouldn't have heard it if they hadn't been sitting so close. "There are some colonies being recently settled that could benefit from our respective knowledge and skills."
"A colony," Kirk said slowly, testing the word on his tongue. "That actually isn't too bad of an idea."
"You seem surprised," Spock pointed out dryly with a raised eyebrow.
Kirk snorted. "I'm surprised there's actually a good alternative, not that you thought of it," he corrected. He leaned back in his chair, his back not as slouched and his shoulders back and confident for the first since he sat down. There would be enough problems regarding crops, power generators and communication for Spock and there was always a need to organize and manage workers and jobs for Kirk. And if nothing else, there would always be labor. As long as he had something to keep his hands busy, he could be happy. "I think I like this idea of yours, Mr. Spock," he said with a genuine smile.
Spock nodded, apparently expecting his statement. "There is a colony expedition planned for Alpha Pi II. It is currently in its preparation stages with an estimated departure date in 38.53 days and is still accepting volunteers. The planet is M-Class and the second in a solar system of a binary star. The stars have a very fast orbit of 29.67 days. The sudden fluctuations in radiation caused during this fast rotation and eclipsing of both stars creates interesting effects on the planet. Changes in ion energy cause interplanetary communications to be problematic without constant adjustment. The majority of the climate is temperate. The weather, however, is found to be very dynamic, allowing for sudden changes in conditions. The soil is rich and ideal for cultivation, however the topography shows that little of the land is flat. Surface irrigation will be required to properly distribute the sporadic rainfall."
Kirk stared at him a moment. "You've already researched and got this planned out, don't you?" Kirk asked. He somehow wasn't surprised in the least.
"Of course, Jim," he said. "I would not resign without first studying our options and determining which would be the most logical choice."
Kirk looked at him suspiciously. "I thought you said you hadn't thought about it."
"You asked what my plans were for myself," Spock reminded him. "I made plans for the both of us."
Kirk tried to stop a huge grin from split his face as he shook his head. Vulcans were always literal, but he was pretty sure Spock had done that on purpose. "And if I decided to go on my own? You would be unprepared."
"I calculated the odds that we would be traveling together and found them too great to waste time preparing for such an unlikely eventuality."
Kirk laughed again.
A bosun whistle sounded followed by a calm woman's voice. "Passengers to depart on Shuttle Phoenix bound for Earthdock, please report to dock 9. Passengers to depart on Shuttle Phoenix bound for Earthdock, please report to dock 9. Shuttle Phoenix will depart in twenty minutes."
Kirk looked over to Spock. "Well, that's us," he said, grabbing his luggage and standing. Spock nodded and stood as well, picking up his single bag from next to his feet. He followed Kirk's lead as they headed towards the dock.
Kirk may have lost his ship, his command and his career, but at least he hadn't lost everything.