Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
--T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
"Well, now, it's all growing a bit hazy," Leonard McCoy replied as he poured a little brandy for his captain and pushed the glass across the table to him. He poured himself his own glass and held it up, gazing at Jim Kirk's quarters through the amber liquid. "Cheers," he said, and two glasses clinked.
The third person at the table had no glass. He sat, his long fingers steepled in front of him, gazing at his two friends as they took a long sip of brandy, his eyes both far away and intensely present.
McCoy set his glass down with a sigh. "I don't remember much of it well, what we saw in that other world. Maybe that's just as well. Maybe there are things mortal beings aren't supposed to know about ourselves, or each other, or the universe."
A slight flicker of one elegant eyebrow implied disagreement, but Spock kept silent.
"I remember the first moment I saw you, though," he said, leveling a finger at James Kirk.
"Hmm?" Kirk kept his tone noncommittal as he sipped his brandy, although he felt a shamefully avid curiosity.
McCoy's blue eyes were focused beyond him for a moment, almost rapt. "You were in golden armor, like a storybook knight, blazing. Now dammit, don't do that," he said as Kirk snorted incredulously. "You know damn well what sounds ridiculous now wasn't, not there."
The smile slipped from Jim's face. "I know," he said softly.
"Anyway. Golden armor. But the funny thing was, your heart was on the outside of the armor, like a coat of arms. All that passion, all that...consecration, focused and burning. Like a sun of ardor." He shrugged and took another long sip, looking slightly embarrassed. "That's what I saw. I'm willing to bet everyone saw things slightly differently, framed by who they are, what their background is." He looked over at Spock. "How'd you see him?" he asked.
Spock considered the question for a long moment. He had been more quiet than usual since their return, focused on his work, analyzing the data from their sensors. "He seemed not greatly changed to me," Spock said eventually. "I saw my Captain."
"Well, that's unexciting," grumbled McCoy into his glass. Spock's expression didn't change at all.
"I don't remember too much of it," Jim said, sensing an impending sparring match and making a vain effort to fend it off. "I do remember you attempting to defeat Death itself, Bones."
McCoy chuckled ruefully. "It seemed worth a shot, to maybe have a universe free of death and pain. If only we'd had more time," he said fiercely. "We could have done it, I know it."
Dark eyebrows arched. "In most creation tales, Doctor, the creating deity has much more time than we did, and yet death is a constant in our universe."
"Oh come on, Spock," McCoy drawled. "Are you telling me we couldn't do better than this world, with all its suffering, the shortness of our lives against the cosmos?"
"Some would say that it is death, and the way that we face it, that gives our life meaning," Spock said.
"Oh, the Kobayashi Maru spiel again," McCoy growled. "I think Jim had the right answer to that one--cheat your ass off."
Both of Spock's eyebrows went up. "I can hardly see how that is physically possible."
Jim couldn't help laughing, raising placating hands. "Bones. Spock." They stopped and looked at him, McCoy's face exasperated and Spock's impassive. "Have I told you lately how pleased I am to have you as my friends?"
McCoy grinned. "Same here, Jim-boy. Same here." They clinked glasses.
Spock merely inclined his head fractionally, but something in his eyes warmed Jim more than the brandy.
: : :
Spock and McCoy were starting to leave his quarters when Jim was faintly surprised to hear himself say, "Spock. Could you...stay a moment longer?" Spock nodded placidly and McCoy waved the half-empty brandy bottle in cheerful salutation before heading off. The door swished shut and Spock stood, waiting. Kirk realized he had no idea what to say next.
"Thank you," he finally said. "For your excellent work in the recent...events."
Something about the set of Spock's jaw implied slight offense. "I merely discharged my duties as normal, Captain."
"Yes, of course."
"Will that be all, sir?" Spock clasped his hands behind his back, waiting patiently. Only a slight tension in his shoulders warned Jim he was not completely at ease.
Jim opened his mouth, then closed it again. "Yes. I just wanted to thank you personally. It is..." He paused, chose his words carefully. "It is always an honor to know that I have your support and respect."
Spock looked at him, a long moment. "The honor is mine, Captain." Then he turned and left Jim in a very empty room.
Jim thought for a moment about following him, about saying it, saying everything that had flashed between them in the other world, everything that had been laid as bare and clean and pure as steel between them in a moment. For an instant, doubt assailed him: what if that solid, unshakable certainty had been entirely a projection of his mind? Reality had been fluid in that light-filled world...
But he had barely admitted the thought before he banished it again. He knew what he had seen, what he had felt. That he had never seen it clearly before didn't mean it hadn't always been there, that it wasn't still there now. He saw it every time Spock looked at him.
Whether his friend would want him to discuss it openly, however, was an entirely different question. Spock was a deeply private man, and this...as true and deep and real as it was, Jim was far from certain Spock would ever want the words said between them, made real and concrete and mundane. Better to simply enjoy what he had, cherish the bedrock friendship on which he stood, unafraid. There would be time to discuss anything else some future day.
There would be time...
: : :
Twelve years later...
Jim downed another shot of whisky and held out the glass to Bones without speaking. "Are you all right, Jim?" the doctor asked.
"What do you think?" His voice sounded as rough as though he'd been weeping, but he hadn't been. He hadn't shed a single tear yet. He wasn't sure he ever would. McCoy took the glass from him and put it down on the sideboard unfilled. "I woke up this morning, Bones. The alarm went off at 0600, and I realized that this was the first morning of a universe without Spock in it. And the chronometer just kept moving, stupid, useless second after second, every moment taking me further away from the universe in which he was alive." He blinked at the empty glass, wondering if McCoy would stop him if he tried to refill it himself. "Wasted time. So much wasted time."
"Jim." McCoy's voice was resonant with pain, but Kirk shook his head at the implied sympathy.
"You were right, all those years ago," he said. "Trying to spare a universe death and pain. Entropy always wins here, Bones. It grinds us down to dust and blows us away, and we never--never have the courage to--" His voice faltered.
"Jim," McCoy whispered, his voice a ghost of itself.
Fury was choking him like tears. "I never told him, Bones. I was a coward. I thought we'd always have time, thought we'd always have more time. I'm a damn fool and a coward, and I never told him--" He was standing up and the room whirled around him; he staggered sideways and McCoy's arms caught him, his grip unbreakable.
"He always knew," McCoy said fiercely. "He never needed you to say anything at all, Jim." His voice was low, intense. "He always knew."
At that moment, the words mean nothing: empty phrases in an empty universe. Only later, on a windswept Vulcan mesa, when a white-robed figure turns and says his name, does Jim realize the gift those words implied. And then the tears do come at last, tears of joy and surprise at grace unlooked-for.
Spock's eyebrows lift in puzzlement, looking at his Captain's face. Beside him Jim can feel McCoy's hand on his arm, steadying him as ever.
And perhaps there will be time, after all.