Spock hasn’t been to this establishment before, but he looks around from his barstool with approval. It’s out of the way enough for him to feel almost comfortable here. Usually people stare at him because of his uniform or his ears or for whatever other reasons. He gave up trying to uncover their motives a long time ago, merely accepting the fact of attracting extra attention. It used to upset his balance slightly, but now, he’s used to it.
Here, he’s left alone, and not in any hostile way. Spock cannot tell how he knows this, but he is certain that he isn’t in error. It is perhaps the calm manner of the bartender and the way he goes about his business, not trying to make conversation with anyone. He is almost Vulcan in his behavior, efficient and unemotional, but not unfriendly. Or maybe the feeling comes from the quiet hum of other patrons and the dignified and quick apology of a man who stumbled next to Spock’s chair as he was passing by.
The place, Spock decides, is agreeable.
He is sitting at the bar, nursing a glass of Altair Water, the most popular non-alcoholic drink in the galaxy. Spock watches the miniscule bubbles spiraling up from the bottom of his glass to the surface. The view is fascinating in its complete predictability, yet remaining an explosive diversity of trajectories. Slowly, Spock takes another sip.
He knows he’s early. It’s a longtime habit. On Vulcan, children wait – waited for adults as a sign of respect. Younger Vulcans waited for elder ones. In Starfleet, junior officers wait for their seniors. The higher the rank, the more respect is due. This meeting is both and neither, and strangely more than that. Spock puts down his glass and runs a finger around the rim pensively.
Six months. It has been six months since they last saw each other. It should be strange for a Vulcan with an internal time sense sharper than a Swiss watch to only become aware of this now. The time elapsed has certainly been eventful for him, and yet how come he hasn’t been keeping count? The captain was irritated when they were turned back to Earth, Spock recalls. It was one of those rare occasions when James Kirk’s inability to govern his emotions didn’t bother Spock at all. It probably should have.
The bartender swoops past him, heading toward a new client and asking silently if Spock would like a fresh drink. Spock is fine. His water tastes a little bitter, but he doesn’t believe another pouring will help that. Sometimes it comes from the wrong spring.
It is unusual for him not to register a presence. Perhaps he is tired, though he doesn’t feel like it. Must be a simple lack of concentration. Spock swallows a self-chastise and turns to offer a greeting.
Pike grimaces lightly, looking up at Spock from his hover chair. “Please don’t tell me it’s come to that,” he says. He had been smiling, Spock notices. He isn’t anymore. “Let’s get a table.”
Spock picks up his drink and follows the admiral toward a private booth in the corner. Nobody pays them the slightest heed as they pass. Spock waits until the admiral is comfortable and then slides into the seat opposite him. Before either of them can say anything, a waiter stops at their table and places a self-assured tubby glass in front of Pike without being asked. Spock focuses on the dark-amber liquid. Whiskey. Not a promising start. The waiter disappears.
Spock lifts his eyes from the table and realizes Pike has been watching him. Something about the long penetrating stare makes Spock uneasy, and he shifts a little in his seat - very un-Vulcan. Pike has always had this inexplicable ability to make him self-conscious. Now, there’s a smile on the older man’s face.
“It’s good to see you, Spock.”
Spock inclines his head respectfully once. “It is agreeable to see you as well, Christopher.” He pauses only slightly before the name.
“Been busy?” Pike asks, still grinning softly.
“Indeed.” Spock tilts his head a little.
“You look good. After so many years, you’d think I would get used to it, but...” Pike shakes his head. “I stayed over there for a while, you know,” he points at the doorway. “Just watching you. I missed you.”
Spock lowers his voice and replies blandly. “I, too, felt your absence. Most disconcerting.”
Pike’s smile dims.
“How is your healing progressing?” Spock asks. He doesn’t like the way Pike cringes at the question.
“I would think the fact that I’m still in this damned chair would be a dead giveaway.” The joke is weighed down by its bitter delivery. “Doctor Sanders says there’s another treatment he wants to try. We’ll probably start in a week or two.”
“You should be patient,” Spock says. “The injuries you suffered were severe. However, Doctor McCoy said there is nothing preventing you from making a full recovery, given due time.”
“Yeah, well. Starfleet Medical seems to agree,” Pike sighs. “I’m just so tired of this, you can’t imagine.”
“I sympathize,” Spock says sincerely. “If there is anything I can—”
“Yes, yes,” Pike interrupts him impatiently. “You’re not a doctor, Spock, which is good, ‘cause I’m tired of the doctor talk. Let’s talk about you. How does serving on the Enterprise agree with you?”
Spock can see Pike’s renewed cheerfulness is artificial, but recognizes the human’s need to change the subject. He takes it in stride seamlessly.
“My service is going well. I am... most curious, however, as to why we have been recalled at this time.”
“Don’t you mean pissed?” Pike chuckles, taking a sip of his drink. “I’d be pretty pissed if I were you.”
“I am a Vulcan,” Spock reminds him. “However, I am fairly certain that Captain Kirk shares your sentiment exactly.”
Pike laughs at this, and Spock relaxes slightly as the familiar sensation of warmth washes over him at the sound.
“I’ll just bet he does,” Pike says, shaking his head. “How’s our little Jimmy, anyway?”
Spock lifts an eyebrow at the form of address. Pike shrugs, grinning.
“He is faring well,” Spock says. “He has adjusted to his new responsibilities most satisfactorily.”
Pike pauses. “That’s a high praise coming from you,” he notes, softer.
Spock frowns, shifting in his seat again. “I am not in the habit of giving praise,” he says sharply. “In the course of the last six months, the Enterprise had been assigned twelve missions of high importance, including first contact in one case. Despite certain difficulties and drawbacks, all of them were concluded at 82.79 to 97.35 percent of efficiency. That is a high rate of success, Admiral. It is logical to postulate that the individual commanding those missions has performed most adequately.”
Pike smiles at him, amused. “I’m sorry, Spock,” he says lightly. “Didn’t mean to get you on the defensive.”
Spock feels blood rushing to his face and spends a moment suppressing a blush – yet another setback of his human heritage. He notices then that he has leaned forward sometime during his speech. He straightens up unhurriedly.
“There is no need to defend something that speaks for itself,” he states.
Pike nods. “My point exactly. Though if you ask me, it sounds like you’re a little taken with him.”
Spock tilts his head curtly in negation. “I have no personal interest in the matter. My reaction was merely an aftermath of my earlier meeting with the admiralty.”
Pike sobers instantly. “I heard they grilled you for about four hours.”
“Five point three hours, to be exact.”
“I take it you didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.”
Spock purses his lips, staring at the bar unseeingly. “I do not understand the admiralty’s logic,” he admits. “They chose me for this assignment because of my objectivity, yet now they seem to be unwilling to trust my judgment.”
Pike stares at him still. “You can’t possibly be this naïve.”
Spock looks at him, feeling more stubborn than a respectable Vulcan ever should. “Explain.”
“The only reason why you’re on the Enterprise is because they hope you’ll debunk Kirk’s work. They couldn’t deny him the ship after he saved Earth, but there’s no admiral on the board who’s happy with him in command. They want you to expose him as incompetent.” Pike’s eyes narrowed. “They never said that aloud to you, but they know as well as I do that you’re fully capable of reading between the lines.”
“Perhaps,” Spock concedes. “But that does not mean that I must abide by any kind of unspoken orders. Particularly of that nature.”
Now Pike looks genuinely puzzled. “Why did you take this assignment? There’s no way it can turn good for you.”
Spock looks down for a moment. “I had my reasons.”
Pike sighs. Spock looks up. The human takes a long sip of his drink and shakes his head.
“I’ve lost your trust forever, haven’t I?” he asks quietly.
“You have not lost my trust.”
“Then why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“I...” But Spock doesn’t know what to say. He’s been having difficulty formulating an answer to this particular question for a while now.
“This assignment,” Pike leans forward, eyes burning with urgency, “is gruesome and it is beneath you. It’s also what separated us. Just so you know.”
Spock meets his gaze, not quick enough to cover his start.
“Christopher, are you saying...” He made an effort to take his voice under control. “I realize that the distance is creating a certain difficulty, but...”
Pikes lets out a laugh. It sounds hollow.
“Distance is not our problem, Spock. I don’t like it, but I could have accepted it, if it was something beyond your control. If there was some imperative need for you to stay away. But there isn’t. You’re hundreds of light years away from me – because you want to be. What I don’t understand is why. I didn’t understand it six months ago and I still don’t.”
“It is my duty to—”
“To do what? Derail the only captain in Starfleet who’s got the balls?”
“I am serving as first officer and science officer.”
“I assure you, I attend to no other duties.”
“If you really believe that, you’re deluding yourself.”
“I do not believe it to be the case.”
“Then what is the case, Spock?”
They glare at each other across the table, and although Spock is aware that his behavior is unacceptable, he can’t bring himself to lower the intensity of his gaze.
“What’s happening to you?” Pike asks quietly, and Spock nearly winces. “Spock, I can barely recognize you anymore. You sound so distant over the comm, and now that you’re here, it’s like talking to a complete stranger. I miss my Spock, the one who could tell me anything. The one who used to trust me with his heart.”
Spock lowers his eyes. He is not questioning the physical inaccuracy of the statement. He is thinking of the last eight months that had passed since the destruction of Vulcan. He is trying to remember anything about himself during those eight months. He isn’t sure he can. He can give a precise account of every minute, and yet, he cannot see himself. It’s as if he wasn’t there. As if he never was.
Vulcans do not grieve.
“I’m not sure I possess a heart to trust anyone with any longer.”