James T. Kirk watches the Enterprise rise into the sky — without her captain and first officer aboard her. It hurts more than he'd expected.
Still, she's beautiful.
All sleek lines and ample nacelles, Kirk thinks. Beautiful ship, in the care of the best crew there ever was.
He watches her disappear, and for a moment, he is terrified. There's no need to be. He trusts Spock's formulas implicitly. If Spock says she'll be safe, on course, and, most importantly, away from here, he will believe in it. He'll cling to it. He'll do anything he can to make sure it remains true.
The lights disappear, fading — he hopes — into the time-space continuum, and Kirk finally allows himself to look back to the ground, to the dead, ravaged soil of this planet, and the only other living figure on it, Spock of Vulcan, who sits there, in the dirt, clothing torn and stained green with blood, amazingly calm, considering his injuries.
This world is going to end.
And the Enterprise is the only thing that can save it.
"If we succeed, everything will be saved?" he asks, the slightly raised inflection halfway between a statement and a question.
"There are many theories of the universe, Captain," Spock replies. Always so scientific, so precise. "Some theories believe that we exist in a single continuous line, and that any interference, good or ill, changes the entire history of the universe."
"But we've already seen that theory proven wrong, at least partially," Kirk says back, and he wonders at his own voice. He is usually louder, usually more confident. Yet, there is something here — some truth that he is already starting to suspect and accept.
"Indeed. It would seem that the theory of alternate universes is more likely to be true, given the account my elder self related to us. In which case — "
He doesn't need to say it, Kirk thinks. We already know.
" — the Enterprise, in going back to prevent this disaster from occurring, will, in fact, create yet another universe. This universe, however, will continue on its present course."
"The end," Kirk breathes.
"It would appear so."
Kirk closes his eyes, and, for a moment, thinks only of breathing. There is no such thing as a no-win scenario. Not to him. True, you might die, might have no other choice. But you could choose exactly how you're going to die — saving lives, saving ships, taking others down with you.
He reflects on the events leading them here. The discovery of this unnamed planet, ravaged by famine — too much like that place, Kirk thinks — and the last few remaining inhabitants. The rage in their eyes that he can understand too well, the helpless, impotent anger at the entire world for abandoning them, for killing them and those they loved, and giving them no way out. The moment he'd learned that worse things than the red matter existed in this universe, as the last living member of these proud people breathed his last breath. His ship, trapped here, helpless, by their advanced weapons.
Desperation took over. Beam as many people back to the ship as possible. Find something, anything that could stop this — this thing, whatever it was, from wiping out the entirety of existence as they knew it. Hours passed. Days. Every second ticked closer and closer to the end.
There was no answer, except escape. And so they had come up with a radical plan: to try and bend space and time, to return, to stop everything before it could even be born.
Someone had to stay down here, to stop the interference, and free the ship. Someone who could crack their codes.
Spock. Of course, it had to be Spock. After all, he had already witnessed the end of one world. They all had, and that was what drove them, what allowed them to risk everything. And Kirk — well, Kirk was the one leading the rest of the team back to the ship, who heard the whirring first, the creaking of old defense systems, and Spock's muffled moans as he was hit, again and again. Kirk was the one who couldn't leave a man behind, especially not one he called a friend. Kirk was the one who had the guts and the luck to get back in there and help Spock fight the rest of the way through, even as the rest of the bridge shouted, begged, and finally whispered: we can't turn back. We can't wait, Captain.
Then go, he said. You guys have to save the world now. Don't worry about us. Go!
It's an odd feeling, knowing that death is coming. Kirk isn't scared, not really. Well, he doesn't think he's scared. But he's not exactly happy, either.
There's a small chance, of course, that, somehow, everything will work out. He's Captain Kirk, the miracle worker, isn't he? That's what people call him, though it's more to get their headlines read than an actual assessment. The Enterprise could find the solution and come back for them.
It's a tiny chance.
"How long do we have?" he asks.
"Exactly 1 hour, 34 minutes, 45 seconds, and 13 milliseconds."
"Doesn't it take you more than a millisecond to say all that?" Kirk asks, and he feels the urge to smile for the first time since this entire idiotic debacle began. An hour and a half, and the thing — the weapon, the bomb, the death-in-a-box — goes off.
"I corrected the statement by 5 milliseconds to compensate," Spock replies, raising his eyebrow in a way Kirk sometimes calls a smile.
Kirk sits down in the dirt next to him. It's dusty, like the 'vids from ancient Earth history of the famous American depression. From here, he can hear the Spock's breaths aren't quite as even as they should be.
"I could use a drink," Kirk says. "A cigarette. Something classic."
"The subtleties of human death rites escape me," Spock says. "Though, if you were to become sufficiently inebriated, it would afford me sufficient enough quiet to begin the formal Vulcan meditations for the end-of-life."
"Hey, I can be quiet," Kirk complains. "But you should know, humans usually talk a lot before they die."
"Indeed. I've often observed in your popular fiction that a character will spend several times longer on his funerary speech than possible for his body to continue surviving, considering the extent of his injuries."
"You bet." Kirk is smiling again — smiling stupidly, but who the hell cares? The world is ending. "It's the last time you have to tell your darkest secrets, your deepest confessions, everything you regret doing or never doing."
"I take it you have grievances you wish to air, Captain?"
Kirk shakes his head. "Me? Nah. Nothing new, at least." His smiles fades, a little. "Forty-three crewmen dead. Fifteen lieutenants, 2 yeoman, 26 ensigns. Kids and seasoned veterans. Four failed diplomatic missions. One plague we couldn't contain. And…this."
"Relatively, it is a small number of misfortunes," Spock says, and Kirk realizes it's his way of offering comfort.
They've only just started, he wants to argue back. It's too early to compare. And there are so many things to compare.
Instead, he says, "I still wish it was far fewer." Normally he would have said "far less," but he may as well indulge himself in the small pleasures, like using bigger words. He thinks it sounds more grammatical, but he can't remember his eight-grade grammar lessons so well anymore.
They lapse into a companionable quiet. Companions. Yes. The older Spock — the other Spock — had said they would be friends. Maybe they were. He thought they were, at least. But somehow, he'd expected something…more. Maybe it was still too soon. They wouldn't have the chance to know.
The thought makes his stomach sink.
Kirk reacts the only way he knows how — instinctively, repelling the pain away. "I bet you can't guess what I regret, Spock," he says.
Spock raises an eyebrow. "There are a multitude of possibilities, Captain."
"Exactly. But even if you said them all, I bet you wouldn't get it." The thought should have been pleasant — ha, something the know-it-all Vulcan didn't know — but instead, it feels lonely. "I really wish I'd…" Kirk was going to say it out loud, facetiously, but he suddenly realizes it's not a joke at all. "Damnit, of all the things," he mutters.
Spock doesn't say anything. Probably thinks it's rude to pry. Vulcans are too private.
"I guess there is something to these last-minute epiphanies after all," he manages to say in what he thinks is a calm, maybe even light-hearted tone.
It's still quiet, and Kirks starts to wonder if Spock has slipped off into his meditations without telling him. But, no, Spock is still sitting there, watching him. His eyes are moving, and open, so he must be paying attention. Right?
"Well, did you want to know?" Kirk asks, probably too obviously, too insistently.
"If you wish to tell," Spock replies.
"Uh-uh. Don't turn this back on me. Yes or no, Spock?"
"Will it involve an excessively emotional display?"
Jim laughs. It's a harsh sound, but, damn, that reaction is so Spock! "I'm not planning on crying," Kirk says. "Or strangling you," he adds after a moment of thought.
"Will you decide to speak even if I decline to listen?" Man, Kirk hadn't realized how adept Spock was at this — this banter. This is kind of fun, aside from the impending doom.
"Probably," he says, and flashes that old Kirk smile, all teeth.
"Then you may as well proceed."
"I…" Again, the words dry up in his throat. At least he knows Spock won't laugh. Can't laugh. Well, he can do that eyebrow thing that's probably a laugh in disguise. "I just wish I'd had a chance to really have a lover," Kirk says. He thinks he hears Spock snort, but of course he didn't, being a proper Vulcan and all. "Not what you're thinking. I slept around plenty, but I never really felt it. Well, no." Is he usually this tongue-tied? "I mean, of course I felt it. It felt really good. But…there wasn't really a sense of a connection, you know?"
What? If Spock had suddenly grown a second head, Kirk would have been less surprised. He says the first thing that comes into his head: "I hope you never told Uhura that."
"We discussed it at length, actually."
Okay, strike that last statement. Now nothing could shock him more.
"It is unsurprising that you and I share a similar desire. Most sentient species crave a sense of sociality and companionship." Spock's back in his techno-babble mode, and Kirk wants to call his bullshit.
"Bullshit." Well, that was easy. "I'm not talking about just friendship, Spock." He watches that damned eyebrow rise in surprise. Surprise is an emotion, he crows to himself. Wait. Well, okay, technically it isn't. More of a stimulus-response. But, whatever. It's a reaction. "I'm pretty sure it's not 'social interaction' when you're getting naked and touching every inch of skin, grinding together, getting all sweaty and hot until you hit that sweet spot and just — " Jim breaks off, feeling warm just from the words. "That part's important, too."
"Forgive my mistake," Spock says, prim and proper and totally not aroused. At all. "I had assumed you meant something more substantial than mere physical stimulation.
He's been insulted. "And I would have thought," Kirk says, (and, yeah, maybe he's being a bit of a bitch, but so is Spock) "that a guy like you would prefer a physical connection. It's more logical, isn't it, without all those pesky emotions getting in the way?"
Spock looks at him, and, wow, he manages to keep his mouth really straight, with only the downward tips showing that he's frowning. "If that is what you believe, it is unsurprising that you never progressed beyond mere physical intimacy."
That hurts. "You're right, you're right. Open mouth, insert foot." He catches Spock's eyes, widened in confusion. "Nevermind that. I'm just surprised, you know. That, um, you know what I'm talking about. More of the…well…the being together. Knowing each other. Understanding each other."
"As I said before, all sentient species crave some type of companionship. Understanding, as you say." For a moment, Spock's eyes go all distant. "Yes, even me."
"I guess I just wanted someone who wasn't in it because I'm Kirk." Hey, it's easy, this truth-telling thing. Especially when he doesn't let himself think too hard.
Spock nods. "The exoticism of being half-Vulcan, and the perceived increase in emotional response because of it."
"I just wanted the whole thing, you know?" Why does he keep saying "you know"? Hadn't Spock already made it apparent that he did? "Sex, yeah, and staying together afterwards. Talking. Comforting. Making little jokes that no one else gets. Talking without words." He frowns. He's talking, talking, and not really thinking about what he's saying. "All that shit you have to work for. Really, really work for. Fight for, even. I've never been able to…" He can't say it. Never been able to fight for it. Never had anyone to fight for.
Spock nods, before Kirk can find the rest of his words. "In the pre-Surakian literature," Spock starts, "there is a certain amount of privileging given to romantic relationships. The ones that were the most deeply emotional were inevitably the ones that ended in mutual death." He looks at the ground. "And yet I found them to be the most…compelling."
"Of course. It's nothing to be ashamed of." He usually wouldn't dare to say something like that to Spock, but, hell, this — this everything, this situation, this fucking-end-of-the-entire-universe — it's got everything kinda screwy, you know?
"I found myself becoming envious. A lapse in emotional control," Spock continued listlessly.
"Wanting it so badly it made you ache," Kirk supplies, and, again, Spock nods wordlessly. Jim chuckles. "Damn, Spock, why'd it take us this long to talk? Really talk?"
"We do not discuss such matters among Vulcans," Spock says, but he inclines his head slightly, and Kirk knows that he's enjoying this, this sadistic, no, masochistic burst of truth, flooding out like a burst dam, like a damn geyser.
"How much longer?" he whispers. More. He wants more of this. It's fucking exhilarating, like jumping off a cliff with no idea how far you have to fall.
"Forty-five minutes, 30 seconds, 5 milliseconds."
Kirk lets out a long whistle. "Halfway there."
For a moment, Kirk thinks he might be realizing just how close they are to death. To nothingness. To losing. James T. Kirk does not lose.
"You know the other thing humans like to do before they die?"
Spock raises an eyebrow. Hey, his breathing has started to even out. It's still too slow, too heavy, but it's even.
"Fuck," Kirk breathes out.
"Is that a poor attempt at subtlety, Captain?"
And if Spock had said it any other way — any way that didn't involve that almost-suggestive tone of voice and his lips wrapping around each word and that Captain — Kirk would have been like, no, man, just trying to get a rise out of you. But, now? He was pushing every button Kirk had, whether he meant to or not. This was a challenge. And James T. Kirk never backed down from a challenge.
He pounces, like some big, stupid puppy.
Spock is hot. No, literally hot. His blood thrums closer to the surface of the skin, or something. Hot and dry. His lips are a bit chapped, but inside, that feels about the same, wet and warm. It's a hell of a kiss, Kirk thinks, of course it is, because he's been kissing since before he could drink, before he could fight, and quite possibly before he could read, as a few of the girls in is pre-school classes could attest.
But this, this seems different, because Kirk's really trying. Pushing. Forcing. More than he can ever remember trying before, because, hey, everything's about to end, and no matter how much he pushes, he's not gonna outrun this. So he may as well indulge in his favorite pastime: making Spock respond to him.
Yes, just like this. Exactly like this: just a little bit of pressure, get him to try and push back, then a swipe of the tongue against his bottom lip. Perfect, perfect kisses that are completely wrong, wrong, not kisses at all —
Spock pushes him back. "Again, you prove that you prefer the fleeting physical sensations to any attempt at mental reconciliation," he says, as cold as Kirk has ever heard him.
For a moment, Kirk feels regret. Spock's right. He always is. Here he is, waxing poetic about emotional connection, but in the end, he jumps straight to the sex. Again. Just to save himself from his own thoughts.
A profound sense of wrongness is settling over him. He looks at Spock's dark eyes, trying to clear his head, because, damn it, something is definitely wrong, and he can't figure it out, and that's really pissing him off. Spock's mouth looks gorgeous, all red and wet like that, and, man, Kirk wants to kiss him again.
He feels a tingling in his fingers, an itching, a yearning to feel, and thinks it would be a good idea to just reach out and touch. Vulcans don't like touch, usually. Too intimate. But that's what Kirk wants. That's what Spock wants too, right? He would have done more than push Kirk off if he were really pissed. Nerve-pinched him or something.
Kirk's hand darts out to grab at Spock's before he knows what he's doing, and suddenly, it's like a light is going off, like the sun is going supernova. Everything is that clear, that obvious, and he feels a huff of indignation in the back of his head, as if to say, it took you this long? You're supposed to be smart.
"This is a kiss?" he asks, brushing their fingers together, and Spock turns faintly green, but he hears Spock's affirmation, even when there are no words. Yes, if he listens closely enough, he can hear a lot of things. Kirk can pluck out the feelings that aren't his: embarrassment and annoyance, to start. Fear? No, he's never been afraid of sex. Even a few flashes of lust, hot and heavy, much deeper than he's feeling so far. "Aren't you doing the same thing?" Kirk says, trying to be nice, but also feeling a bit stung. "You keep going on about the mental connection, but you're scared of a physical one."
Spock's eyes go all small, and, even if he tries to deny it, he's definitely glaring. Caught him. Ha. But, hey, having these thoughts in his head — well, Spock is a telepath, but it's still kinda weird. Because, that was Spock, right? Thinking all his kisses were wrong. Too human, probably. Hey, Kirk suddenly thinks, wait. Wait a moment. If I'm hearing Spock's thoughts, is he hearing mine?
Kirk lets himself listen. Two fingers brush against Spock's, rubbing sensually together, from the padded finger-tips and down the length of flexible bones, and Kirk leans forward, grinning that same stupid grin, and tries to think, think think —
Spock's mouth attacks his. This is good, Kirk thinks, no, actually, this is pretty damn wonderful. He wants to deepen their kiss, and Spock's tongue flicks against his own. Awesome.
"Please stop," Spock says, but it's the kind of voice the people are talking about when they say, the mouth says no, but the body says yes. "Cease…manipulating me."
"It's just a suggestion," Kirk says. "Just trying out some of that talking-without-talking we seem to have going here." Spock makes this weird little sound, almost a whimper, but kinda choked back. He's trying to escape, Kirk thinks, get back to his shell. Can't let him. Don't want to face this alone.
Selfish, he berates himself — or maybe Spock's berating him. It's getting hard to tell. But he tightens their fingers. He won't let go of this. He's let go of a lot of things: his mother, that beautiful antique car, his pride, even his ship, all without a fight, for the greater good or some shit like that. So, fuck it all. They're going to die. Die. End. Cease to exist. So he's taking everything he ever wanted and —
He wanted Spock? This isn't just some frantic fumbling brought on by a severe case of I-don't-wanna-die-alone? The thought drifts through his head, and he pushes it away. No. No, he wouldn't use Spock like that. He couldn't, not when Spock's so…Spock. So uptight and so off-limits and so easy to hurt. He doesn't want to hurt Spock. Just…get him to loosen up a little. Get him to listen, to see, to talk. They're supposed to be friends, after all. This is just an extension of that. 'Cuz the world's ending and all.
Spock's attractive, sure. But so's Uhura. Sulu, definitely. Rand, when she wasn't nagging him. Even Chekov. Kirk's always appreciated beauty and brains, and the Academy was full of it. The entire ship's full of it. But there were lines that weren't supposed to be crossed, rules, consequences…
Does any of that matter now?
"How long?" he mumbles against Spock's mouth. 'Quickie' has suddenly taken on a new meaning, and he feels another stab of regret. No roses and soft beds, then. Kinda girly anyway. Probably not Spock's style at all. Definitely not his. No.
"Thirty minutes, five se — "
Kirk cuts him off, pressing a finger to Spock's mouth, and, man, that really has a different connotation now. "Plenty of time," he says, and pushes Spock down. Oh, man. He's always kind of wanted to dominate Spock, but he never thought of it like this, having Spock laid out underneath him, looking up at him, looking nervous, but still a bit angry. Honesty, he was only thinking of, you know, trouncing him in chess. Or delivering a perfect one-liner and winning an argument. Or doing something that was 99.9345% impossible — right after Spock said so.
Kisses, kisses — so short of time, and yet he can't tear himself away. He lets a hand drift against those lovely regulation slacks, and upwards towards the uniform shirt. Wow, Spock feels so manly. He has this dark wiry hair against his belly, unlike Kirk, who's always been kind of soft, kind of pretty, with the barest amount of hair on his chest. Enough to impress, but not scare off the ladies. He can feel the abdominal muscles, hard-ish, moving, tightening, relaxing. Spock's kinda bony, though. A few hard ribs seems far too close to the surface of the skin to be healthy, by human standards, at least. There's a slickness to his skin, a slight bit of sweat — no, he realizes, as his fingers keep moving, wait, it's not. No, there's too much. And it's warm. Sticky.
Then Spock groans. And, no, it's not the good kind.
"Shit," Kirk swears. "You're still hurt." Idiot, idiot, idiot, he berates himself. Isn't that why you're here, on this godforsaken planet? Even Vulcans don't heal that fast. His fingers are slightly green with Spock's blood. Sometimes that's sexy, but not now.
"I am well enough for you to proceed," Spock says, and, if it were any other time, and other place, Kirk would just about melt. It was like Spock was practically throwing himself in Kirk's arms and trying to seduce him! Not fair. Goddamned not fair.
"Can't," Kirk says apologetically, but, at least he won't let those hands go.
"My injuries are inconsequential," Spock says, but Kirk just shakes his head. "Even if they worsen, there will be insufficient time remaining for it to affect me adversely." Is that how a Vulcan begs?
Maybe they're bleeding together too much, because it sounds like Kirk's words are coming out of Spock's mouth, and, oddly, it frightens him a little. Does all his bravado really sound like that? Does he really have such little sense of self-preservation?
Or, worse: does Spock really think that he's everything people have said he is? Nothing but a handsome, well-spoken slut.
"Spock," he says, almost pleading. Their first time — their last time — and it's like this. No.
"It doesn't matter if it hurts," Spock says, closing his eyes.
"It does," Kirk shoots back, but he can't help but sigh, instead of being truly angry. He sprawls out, legs crossed, arms behind him, alongside Spock, almost like they were before. "How many times did you tell yourself that, huh, Spock? It doesn't matter if it hurts. 'Cuz I've told myself that so many times I can't count anymore."
Things go silent, awkward.
Things were going so well.
Kirk the screw-up. That's what he always was, until he found that ship. Found that crew. Found Bones. Spock. Uhura. Kirk can't do anything right. Kirk's so brilliant, but so goddamn stupid.
"This is fucked up," he says finally.
It goes a bit quiet again.
Then, wonder of wonders, Spock speaks again. "Among Vulcans, the sexual act is not considered to be the apex of a relationship."
"Oh?" Kirk brightens up. Something kinky and Vulcan, awesome. Wait, Vulcans got kinky? It was probably something really out there.
Spock reaches a hand out towards Kirk's face, and Kirk sputters. "The memory thing?" he says, almost choking. No way. No way in Hell that old Spock had done something to him that was considered better than sex. No way.
Oh, crap, now Spock's giving him the eye — well, the eyebrow. Crap, crap, crap, did he just do the Vulcan equivalent of admitting he wasn't a virgin or something? (Ha. "Jim Kirk" and "virgin" in the same sentence, he would have thought, if there had just been more time.)
"A meld can affect memory, yes," Spock says, and Kirk's blood runs cold. No, literally. He is that scared of Spock's reaction. Spock is calm. And it is terrifying.
"It was you," he blurts out. "Old you, I mean. On Delta Vega. He…showed me things…" Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise and all-around awesome guy, does not get tongue-tied like this. Then again, he's never been a situation where has to explain that he might have had alien sex with his lover's older self — man, some of the space soaps would pay gold for this kind of storyline. Imagine how many talk shows you could get on. Or how many kinky stories you could write.
"Ah," Spock murmurs.
"Is that…okay?" No, those words did not just come out of his mouth. Wasn't the world supposed to be over by now?
Spock wordlessly reaches his fingers out again, and Jim leans in, until they settle against his face. Spock has really long fingers, a little hard, calloused. Hot, like the rest of him.
He closes his eyes, and Spock speaks. "My mind to your mind…"
It's strange, Kirk thinks, because he's still looking at Spock, but also through Spock, and into Spock. It hurts his eyes and his brain, so he closes them.
The world disappears.
Well, that was anti-climatic. No boom, no bang? Kirk tries to shake his head, but he…he doesn't have a head. Well, he's supposed to have a head. As he thinks it, suddenly he's aware of himself again. Oh, good. Head, arms, legs — and, yup, all the important bits, too.
It takes him a moment to remember. Oh, right, the meld. They're not dead. But this isn't what it was like before. No, that felt more like a movie, or maybe a holo-game. Not this…emptiness.
He remembers emptiness all too well. Loneliness. A big, old house, out in Iowa, where his mother always sent letters, nameless, faceless letters to her nameless, faceless children.
Yeah. He could picture it. Those old stairs he used to hide under —
A staircase blossoms in front of him. That staircase. And there, at the top, his mother. He wants to call out to her, but what? Mother? Mom? Winona? Hey you?
Does it even matter? She'll never hear him. He tries to take a step. Another. Another. But he isn't moving. The top is no closer, the stairs no shorter. His mother drifts farther away, up, into space, to the other side of the galaxy. Anywhere but here.
Oh, right. If these are memories, why would anything be any different?
He feels fingers curl against his hand, and, hey, Spock is here, too.
Spock squeezes his hand, and it changes. They're in the middle of a desert, a desert covered in roses, and there's someone there. A woman, with beautiful hair and eyes and wide, open arms. Just the way he'd always imagined a mother to be, from the movies or from the church statues.
"Mother," Spock says, and Kirk feels a little stab in his heart. Spock loves her. He can hear it. But maybe that's worse. After all, he loved her, loved her — and lost her, right in front of his eyes. Now Spock was as alone as he was, and probably more bitter.
She reaches out a hand towards Spock — towards them? — an open, inviting gesture. Come here, my child, come here and find comfort, written into every movement of her body.
Spock — they — step back, and it is Spock's voice that floats from somewhere, some corner of memory, and says, "I must retire for my meditation, Mother. I need to clear my mind in order to study for my exams."
"Of course. I hope you enjoy your intellectual pursuits," she says, and it's so awkward. Kirk can see the smile fading from her lips and the light dying in her eyes. Acceptance. Rejection.
No, Kirk thinks, no, how could you Spock, how could you?
And he feels Spock stir beside him, full of regret and pain, tying to raise his arms out, trying to grab her, grab —
Kirk charges forward, pulling Spock along as if they were conjoined, and the mother in Spock's memories smiles, suddenly, and throws her arms around them both. "I love you," she whispers. "Whatever path you take, never doubt that."
Kirk is on fire. This is a mother, a mother's warmth, a mother's love! This feeling… Spock, he wants to say, this feeling is so…
He doesn't need to.
He tries to look at Spock. Spock's not there again. But he can feel Spock's hand in his. Stupid Spock. Probably enjoys being incorporeal. But Kirk, he's always been a visual guy. He needs…
Spock blinks into existence beside him, and his mother melts away. Spock feels kind of cold, and it's making Kirk shiver. Why, he asks, without words.
Spock looks like he's in pain. A slight slouch to his shoulders, the way he won't meet Kirk's eyes. He points, and Kirk looks. There's Spock's mother again, and his father, too. She smiles up at him, and offers two fingers. The Vulcan man accepts them with his own.
Kirk can't put it together. The finger-kisses, yeah, what they're doing right now.
A twinge of annoyance.
Well, how is he supposed to know, Kirk thinks back. He's not a mind read —
Ah, but he can be. He starts poking Spock. Like tickling him. Looking. Asking. Being his usual asshole-ish self. Tell me, tell me, tell me, like a kid with a crush in kindergarten.
From Spock, he catches the flash of an image, a moment of pain — an image of being pierced with a dozen swords. What a drama queen, Kirk thinks, trading back an image of rolling around on the floor in uncontrollable fits of giggling.
The surroundings flash, light up, then go dark.
Kirk pokes some more.
"I suspect he'll never be able to."
Kirk's head snaps around. He doesn't recognize the voice echoing in this space.
"It's just not possible. He's too human."
Kirk looks back at Spock, but Spock's eyes are glued to the ground. Kirk's hand starts to ache, starts to burn — shit, it's like he's holding a white-hot iron! Let go, let go, let go! he hears Spock think, and, so much more quietly, please don't let go, please.
"No. It can't be." A woman, this time. Spock's mother? "I'm human too. And I feel the bond just fine."
"But not as a Vulcan does."
"Still, to say he'll never be able to…" Her breath hitches. "It's like saying he'll never be able to love. To feel. To know that joy."
Kirk still doesn't understand, but, he's starting to get angry, because it is very apparent who these idiots are talking about. Spock is radiating — radiating, like the damn sun — all his pain and loneliness, increasing with every word. Kirk doesn't know what a bond is, but he can feel Spock's pain whenever he hears it, whenever they say no, never, can't. Bond. Connection. He can understand that much. Never connected — just like him.
They have the same voices as the adults he grew up with — his teachers, his counselors, his well-meaning neighbors. All that same, pitying voice. He sat before them, in silence, and Spock surely did the same. Well, fuck them. He's gonna let his hand burn off to a crisp before he lets go. This is feeling, isn't it? This, when their hands touch?
Stop trying to make me let go, Kirk thinks. Stop making it hurt, when it could feel so good instead.
The fire stops.
Kirk smiles in thanks. Don't let them get to you, he says silently, but Spock doesn't reply. Kirk crushes back the bit of disappointment he feels. He'd thought they… But, no, even here, it's all just playing pretend, isn't it? They don't really understand each other. Two ships, maybe with the same landmarks, but cast adrift in the sea, never crossing paths.
Maybe they can't understand each other, even with all this. Can't be connected. Can't be bonded —
Damnit, Spock, get out of my thoughts, Kirk thinks, more harshly than he intends. It's echoing, all of it — every time he starts to hurt, he starts to feel Spock hurt too, and it's worse. He wants to get away. Away…
The wind rushes past his ears, and he finds himself as a child again, the feel of leather against his back and under his hands, classic Terran rock music filling his ears. Exhilaration. Happiness beyond all happiness, freedom, escape.
And that big, blank abyss opening before him. Wouldn't it be easy, he thinks, to just keep going? Say goodbye to all the loneliness…
No. I don't think like that anymore, Kirk thinks, maybe too forcefully. Protesting too much.
He feels a pull, a prodding. Remember, Spock begs him.
Of course he remembers. Being alone. The screw-up. The mistake.
No one loved him. No one would ever love him—
Spock, stop, Kirk wants to say, but, well, it's not fair, is it? Making Spock show him so much of himself, and then denying Spock that same right?
Yes. Kirk let out a held-in breath. Yeah. I knew it, even back then. I've just been trying to hide it, to deny it. No one ever loved me. Me, have a lover? Ha. Ha ha ha.
Kirk feels pain wash over him. Never bonded. Yeah. Whatever you say, Spock.
His eyes open. He's not crying, of course not, just got his eyes all stung by this damned desert planet, this bowl of dust. Spock's fingers trembled against his temple, before withdrawing.
"We are very much alike," Spock says listlessly.
"No." Kirk shakes his head. "No, you…don't believe what they said. They're a bunch of stuck-up pricks."
"It was anatomically and psychically proven that I was lacking — "
Kirk snorts. "Bullshit. So, what's this bond thing, anyway?"
Spock's looks away. "A psychic connection between two committed Vulcans. Like the meld, but permanent."
Spock opens his mouth, but doesn't say anything for a long moment. "More," he says finally. "In the literature…"
Kirk does his best impression of the eyebrow raise. "Yeah?" he prompts.
"A bond was often an act of rebellion. If two lovers were forbidden from each other physically, they might create a bond instead. Often, when one found his t'hy'la — "
Spock goes quiet. "I am unsure how to best translate it." He closed his eyes. "Lover, yes, but more. The single entity who you wish to be with forever." Kirk knows that look. It's the one Spock gets when he's trying not to get emotional. And failing.
Kirk starts to nod. "Oh," he adds dumbly, remembering Spock can't see him. "Soul mate, I guess." He's almost afraid to ask, but, "How much time?"
"Seven minutes, 21 second, 3 milliseconds." Spock's eyes are still closed.
Kirk thinks, I should be quiet and leave Spock to his meditations. His resolve lasts about a minute. "Can't we keep pretending?" he says, finally. "Just a little longer."
Spock opens up those dark eyes, and nods at him. So logical. So forgiving.
Kirk offers up his hand into the empty space between them, spread out, wiggling each finger in what he thinks is a suggestive manner. Spock slowly places each of his own fingertips to Kirk's.
"T-t'hi'la," Kirk tries to say, but that look of utter shock in Spock's face is worth his embarrassing stumbling.
"T'hy'la," Spock corrects him, and when Kirk says it again. Spock literally shivers. At least he's made Spock happy, in their last moments, Kirk thinks.
Something explodes in the distance. Too soon, Kirk thinks desperately, but he can't summon the strength to turn his head. It's here. The end.
He's frozen, now. In the face of death, he can't even move. Pathetic, Jim, he berates himself. All that brave talk from a coward's mouth.
He doesn't want to die. He wanted it for so long, and now he doesn't. Not now.
Suddenly, he's yanked forward, into the most awkward embrace he's ever been in, half-held against Spock's bony, bloody chest.
"We are alike, Jim," Spock says.
He called him Jim.
"You have given me…" He can't say the words, but Kirk can feel it, feel contentment and happiness, and the whisper of that Vulcan word. Spock had wanted to hear it so badly.
He's glad. At least he was able to do something.
And here, he can bask in Spock's happiness, too, just a little bit. That even Spock could be so happy…
Spock's arms wrap around him, and — wow, his lips can be soft.
Love you, Spock says silently, but it's not Spock — not just Spock. It's something else, that Spock's giving to him. Gifting to him. Something that wraps around him, warm and safe, like his mother, but hot and fiery, like sex, and wordless, like those little moments between best friends. Together. So close together.
This is what he wanted all along.
Captain Kirk is heading towards the bridge. Man, it was like the Enterprise was made to attract bad situations or something. Sometimes, they barely escaped. And, Christ, he'd been certain that last one was going to be his death.
Of course, then the Enterprise came roaring back to save the day. His ship, his baby, always beat the odds, no matter how small they were.
Today's plans: Head to the bridge, flirt outrageously with Uhura (at least until she cracked a smile — decoding those last transmissions had kept her on double shifts for at least a couple of days), chat with Sulu and Chekov for a bit, and then, Spock…
Well, he still needed to figure out what to do with Spock.
An alarm goes off, red lights flashing. So much for a nice, quiet day, Kirk thinks.
The turbolift can't go fast enough, and he's practically running as soon as the doors opened.
"Status," he barks, as soon as he gets in.
"We have an unidentified craft straight ahead, Captain," Sulu reports. "Looks to be about Constitution craft sized, but it came out of nowhere. The visual recorders are picking up a lot of interference."
Uhura's ear is pressed to a headphone. "Nothing but static, Captain. Attempting to hail them on all frequencies."
"Well, Spock, what's your opinion?" Kirk settles into the Captain's chair, racing through dozens of scenarios. Unidentified craft, no way of contacting them. Well, at least they weren't firing. Always a good sign.
"The data is, as of yet, inconclusive," Spock replies, and Kirk wants to groan.
"Any, um, intuitive thoughts?"
"Captain, there is hardly enough data to set up any kind of scenario from which to draw conclusions."
Vulcans, Kirk thinks. If he hadn't seen, with his own two eyes, just how emotional they could get, he'd probably think the same things Bones did: walking, breathing computers.
"Captain!" Uhura says. "Incoming video message on Federation frequencies."
"Put it through," Kirk says, standing up. Alright, Kirk, time to play ball.
The screen is grainy, at first, but, slowly, the interference starts to drop away. There's a gasp as someone manages to vocalize what's stunning them all.
They're looking into their own bridge.
"I'm trying to get us through," someone complains, and, yup, that's Uhura's voice, but Uhura here is silent in shock.
"Ye cannae re-route the signal or somethin'?" Montgomery Scott suddenly comes into view. Scotty, who he knows to be in the Engineering sector at his very moment, but who is still, improbably, almost impossibly staring back at him from his own bridge, his own ship. "Ah…Captain…" he says slowly. He tries to smile. "We've, ah, had a bit 'o an issue with some, ah, time-travelin'."
"No way!" Kirk bursts out. "Why am I even surprised?" He glances at Spock, who raises an eyebrow. It really doesn't surprise him. Yeah, just another normal day, meeting your own ship from — well, it doesn't look like it's all that far into the future. No one's old and wrinkly.
"What circumstances," Spock says, sounding all principal-who's-caught-a-naughty-student, "led you to believe that time-travel was a viable solution?"
"'Twas yer idea, Mister Spock," the other Scotty says. His face suddenly goes cold, gritted teeth and a straight mouth. "There was nae other choice."
Something's off here, Kirk realizes suddenly. His intuition is nipping at the back of his mind. "Hey, Scotty…" he says slowly. "Where's everyone else?"
Scotty looks away. Flinches away. Uhura's looking at the ground.
Kirk might not want to know the answer, but he has to. "Where's me?" he asks.
Uhura's hand goes to Scotty's shoulder. "You told us to leave without you," she says. Kirk wanted to yell, and you actually did?!, but the look on her face —
He looks back at his Uhura, and she looks slightly ill. But it's nothing like the other Uhura. What the hell happened? And how are they gonna stop it? Because that's why you travel through time, right? That's why Nero showed up and fucked everything up, because you had to change it. But then that ends up screwing everything else up. And he knew that — he knew that better than anyone, so if he told them to travel back here, it had to be something terrible. Terrible enough to risk becoming a Nero himself.
But he — other him, future him — isn't here to explain it.
It hits him, suddenly. Why Uhura looks like she's about to cry. Why Scotty can barely look at him. Why none of them are talking.
Because, damn it, he knows himself better than anyone. He had to be dead, or he would be here, explaining himself.
"And Mister Spock?" he says, and, hey, his voice doesn't crack. He's good.
"Captain Kirk — our Captain Kirk — stayed behind to try and save him. We wouldn't have escape if he hadn't saved us." Uhura's hands are shaking.
Kirk looks back at Spock, and even Spock is showing signs of shock — well, for a Vulcan anyway.
But now's not the time. "We'll need information. Everything you can offer." Kirk snaps into mission mode. Easier to not think. Just let the adrenaline take over. "Is your ship alright? The static?"
"We're barely limpin' along, Captain," Scotty says. "The warp drive is fallin' apart, our Communications are all blacked out…"
"Chekov, contact Scotty. Get him…them…together. Whatever supplies we can spare, hand them over. Uhura, you two try and get Communications back online. Transfer everything you can into our computers. Spock, you come with me to the briefing room."
There's so much noise, so many orders to give and so much to try and figure out. They have a whole 'nother crew out there — a whole other Enterprise.
"Actually, we might need Spock over here," other Uhura says. "Our Spock was trying to find an answer. All his data is still here."
"An answer to what?" Kirk asks.
"A doomsday weapon," Uhura answers. "Something big enough to wipe out a universe."
Fuck, Kirk thinks, yeah, that's a reason for time travel. "We'll figure it out," he says, as confident as he always is. He barely nods at Spock, and then Spock's racing for the transporter.
The data starts pouring in, every line more horrifying than the last. Massive starvation — Kirk shivers. It dredges up shit he'd rather forget. Revenge. The weapon. A list of casualties — men he knows are still alive, here, on his ship, men who he hasn't had to see die yet and will do anything to protect. Audio-visual recordings.
His own voice screaming at the ship to escape.
Kirk's alone, right now, in the conference room. How? People should be and out of here constantly. The Scottys are trying every trick in the book to save their ship. Bones is overwhelmed by the injured on the other Enterprise. And Spock…Spock's over there, trying to finish what his other self started.
He's already failed once. No. Can't let himself think like that. No, not when he risked everything to try and change that outcome. They're going to find a solution. They need him to be Captain.
Days pass with a sick sense of déjà vu. Every time Kirk or anyone else wracks their brain, he gets the same response: we've already tried it, Captain.
Time is running out, again, and even their most desperate solution — even this bending and breaking of time, this impossibility — cannot solve the problem.
Damn it, me, Kirk thinks, and damn it, Spock. Of all the times to be heroic. Of all the times I wish I had more help. If both of us were here, past and future, maybe it would be enough. Maybe we could find something, anything, we haven't yet seen. Something I've been blind to, something you ignored.
But eventually, Kirk has to face the truth.
Try as they might, they can't figure it out. Even with this second chance.
As it turns out, the other Enterprise makes the final decision. They've already gotten a hold of the weapon, but they can't stop it. The damned thing's already claimed one future, one universe.
And there's the answer.
Uhura is strong, really strong, when she explains. They can't stay here. Can't keep being the doubles. But they can save this universe, by taking the weapon onto their ship, and heading back to their future. Well, as Spock explains it, now, their own little parallel universe.
Their universe will already be gone. What can one more weapon do?
Of course Spock can figure out the formula to time-travel again. Get them back. Let them die, so everyone else can live. It's not fair, Kirk rails, until the other Bones floods their Enterprise with sleeping gas.
When he wakes up, it's too late. The other ship is gone, as if it had never been there. He puts Sulu in charge of the Conn, and goes up to the observation decks. Just sits, and stares.
Dead. So much death. Death that never happened, not really, not in this universe.
The door opens, and Spock walks in. "Captain," he says, and it ruins Kirk's perfect daze.
"We all died, Spock. I couldn't do a thing about it."
"We chose to make a noble sacrifice in the hopes of saving many more lives," Spock replies. So cold. So logical. Spock sits down next to him, silently.
For a moment, they exist like that. Kirk wants to talk. He always wants to talk, to get things out. But…well, it's Spock. Why would Spock want to listen?
So, instead, he goes down to Bones' room, and they crack open his strongest alcohol and drink and drink. Kirks tumbles back to his room and tosses the detox pills on his bedside desk.
He's dead. He died. He would have died. He was supposed to die.
It's funny, the sort of things that drift into your head when you're face-to-face with death. You're supposed to get epiphanies and shit. See your life flash before your eyes. Aren't you supposed to learn something from this sort of thing? Make your life better? All that shit?
He should be doing something. He should be having some great revelation. Something. Anything.
But, he realizes slowly, he doesn't want to. Coward, Kirk tells himself. Coward. You can't stand to know. Can't face the Kobayashi Maru, just like Spock said.
His bed feels far too large. Lonely. Kirk curls up in a ball, trying to warm the covers, chill against his hot body. He feels tiny. Damn it. What he wouldn't give to have someone else here with him, right now. He's thought that before. Lots of times, he's thought that. It's stupid, really. Like a teenage girl's fantasies. But he wants someone to warm his bed in ways that a teenage girl shouldn't be thinking of — unless she's with him, of course.
Maybe he can try and get some shore leave worked out. De-stress. Find someone to fuck around with. Pretend.
Yeah. That's sounding good. Maybe a little blonde. Nice hips and a full chest. Play around for a few days with someone who doesn't know who you are. Lie in bed together, wake up together, like it means something, just for those few days.
After all, he's alive. Yeah. Why fixate on dying when there's so much to live for? He's James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise. He's not gonna lose.
So he died. He died, knowing his crew would do something. Save people. He died, and he was saved. The tragedy was averted. That's a win. It has to be. There's no point in this brooding.
He can save all the revelations for the real thing. It'll all be just fine.