There are vast regions of space with very low cosmic densities—large volumes of physical space millions of parsecs across with very few or no luminous galaxies. They contain gas, plasma, and dust in large quantities, but situated so far apart that these spaces, these voids are all but empty. Many of these voids congregate, building up to billions and billions of light-years of empty space. No light, no life, and too far away to explore. Just vast, vast nothingness.
If the universe is truly endless…
“May I join you, Captain?”
Jim looks up from where he’s half-sprawled on the bartop, balanced precariously on his stool. The party’s died down with just a few stragglers left, tucked away in their respective corners and turning a blind eye to their drunk captain. Bones left a half-hour ago with Uhura, helping Scotty, Jaylah, and Chekov to their quarters after an ill-advised drinking contest.
He might’ve joined in a year ago, or even a week ago, but there’s too many thoughts swirling around his head, and he knows himself well enough to recognise he would’ve made a sad drunk in his current state. So he waited until mostly everyone had left to get properly shit-faced. Who says he hasn’t matured since making captain?
“Mr. Spock.” Jim smiles, gestures to the empty stool to his left. “Going on four years under my command and I still gotta tell you to call me Jim off-duty. I'm beginning to think you're doing it on purpose.”
“I apologise, Jim. Perhaps I am more a creature of habit than I realise,” Spock replies with that small lilt to his voice that tells Jim he’s pulling his leg, not that he’d ever admit it. “I hope I am not interrupting your solitude.”
“Nah. Just thinking about the stars, contemplating the endless mysteries of the universe, that sorta stuff.” He looks down at his whiskey, the ice cube swirling in the amber liquid, with the vague hope that the answers to those mysteries might be hiding at the bottom of the glass. Not a great train of thought, that, so he cuts it off. “Nothing important.”
“I see. I have heard that birthdays often inspire a sort of existentialism among humans,” Spock says, with his usual bland curiosity. Just another thing for Spock to file away in the drawer of weird, silly things humans like to do that he has in his brain. Jim takes a moment to wonder if he has it categorised alphabetically or chronologically.
Hell, there’s probably a whole drawer labeled ‘Kirk, James T.’
Jim shakes his head. “Just one of those illogical things humans like to indulge in. Not surprised, are you, Spock?”
“Indeed. However, it is not like you to be quite so melancholy.”
That brings Jim up short. He’s not typically so obvious, he's not used to it. It reminds him how he’s completely unprepared to deal with Spock barging in on his drunken moping.
(Jim isn’t thinking about the starship he just lost, the crewmembers he didn’t manage to save. The people who died under his command, who held out hope until the end that their captain will save them. He remembers all of their names, but even that will fade with time. His memory’s good, but it isn’t infallible.)
“Aww, you worried about me, Mr. Spock?” he teases. Maybe Spock will get offended enough by the implication that he feels things that he’ll back off a bit.
“Of course I am, Jim,” Spock replies, entirely matter-of-fact, entirely derailing Jim’s tried-and-true strategy of emotional deflection. Figures. Spock, you goddamned master strategist.
Maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s being a year older, maybe it’s just the crash after the longest three days of his life, but he suddenly wants to tell Spock everything, just pour his damn heart out.
Maybe it’s all that wishing for Spock to be the kind of friend you can pour your heart out to, his traitorous brain suggests, but before he can tell his dumb brain to knock it off, his dumb, traitorous mouth is already talking.
“I—I thought about it. Leaving the Enterprise,” Jim says, flustered and grasping for something. “Commodore Paris approved my application for the vice admiralty and everything.”
A moment’s pause. Then, “I see.”
“You’re not—” sad/angry/disappointed “—surprised?”
Spock doesn’t answer immediately, only regards him with a scanning expression that put their most advanced tricorders to shame.
“'The farther out we go',” he finally says, reciting in monotone, “'the more I find myself wondering what it is we are trying to accomplish. But if the universe is truly endless, then are we not striving for something forever out of reach?'”
Jim winces. “You listened to that, huh.”
“The captain’s logs are a matter of public record, unless they concern any classified information.”
“I know, I know.” Doesn’t make it any less embarrassing in hindsight.
“Did you truly mean it, Jim?” Spock asks. “Do you believe it still?”
Jim is quiet, struck dumb by all the things he can give as answer to that. He thinks of an old, ailing Vulcan, back bent with countless years and fresh grief, who promised him so much, so many things—the greatest captain Starfleet ever saw, a lifetime of love and friendship and devotion. Sleepless nights, waking up alone in his quarters, memories only half-remembered receding into the blur of dreams. Vague impressions of colour and noise and the outline of some other life, already lived and spoken for.
He steals a glance at Spock, like one of the many he’s stolen over the years, on the ship, on the bridge, across the table during a game of chess. They were—are—friends, but something still feels off, something is missing. It’s probably just him being an ungrateful asshole, but he can’t help thinking—is this it? Is it something he’s yet to have? Or is it just something else this universe had already stolen from him, like his dad?
His destiny's been promised to him over and over, but how reliable are these constraining lines about what will be, when so much of what’s happened so far is what should never have?
Fuck, this whiskey’s really getting to him.
“I think it was just…frustrated expectations,” is what Jim finally says. He’s not lying, anyway.
“You were disappointed with the realities of captaining a starship?”
“Yes. No. I—there was a feeling I had, like I was constantly trying to measure up to something, and I couldn’t no matter what I did, so I thought…maybe a change of scenery…” he finishes lamely.
Maybe some space too, he doesn’t say, so that I won’t waste away from pining for my first officer. Plenty of space out in space.
Spock merely looks contemplative, before he squares his already perfect posture and says, “Perhaps now would be a proper time to confess that I, too, was considering ending my service aboard the Enterprise.”
Jim’s eyes widen. “You were thinking of leaving?!” Not that he’s in any position to criticise Spock for it, and Spock says as much with a raise of his eyebrow. Jim flinches and wisely changes tracks.
“Was it—is it something I did as captain, or…” He waves a hand, a vague enough gesture to encompass any number of personal shortcomings.
“Not at all. It was an old concern, regarding my responsibility to my people.”
“You were thinking of going to New Vulcan.”
“What made you change your mind?” Jim asks, even though he’s half-afraid of the answer. For Nyota, he’ll say. For my obligations to Starfleet. For science. Jim Kirk is a selfish asshole.
“First, I think it fair to ask what made you change yours.”
“Alright. I realised I was full of shit,” Jim says easily. “It wasn’t the scenery, or the missions. It was only…it was me, being lost in my own head with ideas of who I should be, what kind of captain I had to be.”
“And the incident with Krall…”
“Nothing like a genocidal maniac to put things in perspective,” says Jim with forced cheer, but the joke falls flat.
“So how about it?" he asks again, hating himself all the while. "What made you decide to stay?”
Spock doesn’t answer right away. In fact, he’s quiet for so long that Jim thinks that he isn’t going to answer at all. That Jim doesn’t expect any of what he says next is a bit of an understatement.
“The Cosmological Principle states that the distribution of matter in the universe, when viewed on a sufficiently grand scale, is homogenous and isotropic. The same physical laws apply uniformly throughout the universe, and therefore should produce no observable irregularities in the large scale structure of—”
Spock cuts off in the middle of his impromptu physics lesson as Jim sighs. Really, he can’t even say why he’s surprised. It’s a bit unfair of him to ask it of Spock in the first place, when his concept of emotional introspection is stubborn denial of the fact that he had any emotions at all.
No, no, you know better than that now.
“I apologise, Jim,” Spock says, before Jim could say anything. “I do not presume to insult your intelligence in lecturing you, but I beg you will indulge me in this digression.”
That’s as close as Spock’s going to get to saying he has a point to all this, so Jim keeps his mouth shut and nods. He takes care to focus on his glass, so that he doesn’t forget himself and stare at Spock too long, too closely.
“Essentially,” Spock resumes, “the principle states that the universe, viewed from a large enough scale, is…uniform. The same observational evidence is available to observers at any vantage point, at any direction in our universe. That is what our science says, and yet…”
Spock trails off, a rare enough occurrence that it makes Jim turn towards him against his better judgment. Spock is looking down at his hands, long fingers carefully laced together on the table, sitting unnaturally still. It's only all the years he's known him that Jim realises that if it were any other person, they'd be fidgeting.
“I find myself….disinterested, to engage with this so-called grand scale. We are small creatures, Captain. On the scale of all of time and space, nothing we do matters. Vulcan being destroyed holds no greater cosmological significance than the death of an ant. The death of my planet, my mother, the death of Ambassador Spock…this grand scale says they ultimately do not mean anything. Ultimately, nothing matters—not Starfleet, not the Federation, not this galaxy or the hundred million galaxies that comprise our reality. If, as you have pondered, the universe is truly endless…”
Jim closes his eyes and smiles crookedly. “Spock, if you’re trying to make me feel better, well. Points for effort, I guess.”
“That is not what I mean, Jim. At our level, the universe is not uniform at all, but infinitely different, infinitely diverse. We have only the minutiae of our lives and yet, they are important. Our lives are ephemeral, but they are not small."
He pauses and then, "It is the temporal nature of our existence that makes it precious.”
There’s a catch in Spock’s voice on the last word that makes Jim hold his breath. Spock is staring directly at him, eyes intensely bright in the dim twilight. Outside, the lights of Yorktown at night twinkle and glow, as numerous as the stars just visible beyond the glass dome.
“We are explorers, Jim. Scientists. We seek to understand our place in this universe. We observe the universe, in order to find some semblance of order, of organisation, because organisation must exist, for the simple reason that matter attracts. Mass attracts.”
Spock...Spock is suddenly unbearably close, Jim thinks. He can feel the heat radiate off him all along his side like a furnace, like the searing desert of his lost home.
“Over our lifetime and the lifetime of this universe,” he continues, “mass congregates together. Mass becomes stars, stars become galaxies, galaxies become groups, clusters, superclusters, filaments, to form the cosmic web of the universe.”
“So—so you’re saying that—” Jim flounders. It’s definitely cheating on Spock’s part to spring this on him when he’s this many drinks in. “What are you saying?”
“I am saying, Jim,” he replies, without breaking eye contact, “that perhaps, it is not so unthinkable that some greater law, of which we are yet unaware, should govern the attraction between human destinies as well.”
“Destiny.” Jim swallows. “Well, don’t get all mushy on me now, Mr. Spock,” he says, though his throat feels all closed up.
“You asked me why I stayed,” Spock says, his voice slow and careful. “I stayed, Jim, because I could not find it in myself to leave the Enterprise. To leave our crew. To leave you.”
Jim doesn’t have any words at all to say to that. He doesn’t have anything to say even when Spock runs his fingers over the knuckles of Jim’s left hand, wraps them around his wrist. He doesn’t have the words, but he thinks, as Spock leans forward and kisses him, that he doesn’t need them anyway.
His mouth is just as warm as Jim's imagined, hot as the desert, but that’s as far as his expectations can guide him. He doesn’t expect the fierce thrumming underneath his fingers, where he’s splayed a hand on Spock’s side, over scar tissue and a beating heart. He doesn’t expect the sensation of want, of love, so strong as to be almost tangible, overflowing in all directions. He’s not prepared for how a simple kiss can feel like he’s breaking, like he’s asphyxiating in space and Spock’s mouth is the only source of oxygen—
Spock pulls his mouth away and says, “Laniakea.”
Jim blinks, breathing hard. “What?”
“It means ‘immense heaven’, from an old Earth dialect. It is the name of the local supercluster, 520 million light-years in diameter and containing the mass of a hundred million billion stars, spread across 100,000 galaxies—”
God, Jim broke him. “Spock, you’re babbling—”
“It is home, Jim. Our home. Our galaxy, one of thousands, in an immense heaven of galaxies.”
Jim’s heart thuds painfully in his chest. “Spock...”
“We are not beholden to fate, to any destiny besides the one we choose for ourselves. But wherever you choose to go, you will always have a home to return to.”
Jim has to kiss him again, more softly, just a bit less desperate this time. He tries to make it sweet, to tell him the reverse is true, and he thinks, he hopes, as Spock twines their fingers together, that he manages, even just a fraction of it.
Jim is the one to break the kiss this time. He laughs quietly, his eyes still closed, a small huff of breath against Spock’s mouth. “I guess that answers the question.”
“Which question would that be, Jim?”
“What I would do without you.”
Jim can’t see it, but he feels the eyebrow raise. “And the answer you’ve arrived at is…?”
“I see.” A beat. “In any case, I will endeavour never to give you the opportunity to find out,” Spock says.
The lights of a passing hovercar shines through the glass, illuminating the dimly lit bar for a few seconds. The starbase continues to rotate on its axis, an almost imperceptible humming beneath their feet. Light-years and parsecs and immeasurable distance to wander, but not to be lost to.
Jim laughs again, kisses Spock again, and looks ever more forward to their return to the stars.