Yorktown never sleeps. Sure, they dim the lights in public spaces, around the large reflecting pools, and in the squares and plazas. The commuter trains rush past less frequently and the restaurant and arts zones largely shut down during what they call night. But there is no night, just as there is no atmosphere, no surface, no planet’s core, nothing green that grows without assistance. The water, the air, the soil—all of it is brought in or replicated. It's the same as you would find on any M Class planet. Chemically speaking, there's no difference. Makes you question what’s real. If anything is, in the scheme of it.
Back in Riverside, you could head down IA-22 this time of night and not find a light on. It was a hell of a view of the stars.
Yorktown never sleeps and neither does Jim. He finds himself at the equivalent of 3 a.m. Earth time exiting his room. They control the weather like everything else here, so he doesn't need a coat. It's a pleasant and easy way to live, never having to worry about a sudden rainstorm or being caught outside in tornado season, but after three months of life on board the space station, he misses the quiet everyday life on board the Enterprise.
You can feel this place spinning. It's not like the movement of the ship. The artificial rotation is smooth but his stomach has had trouble adjusting to it. Bones prescribed anti-nausea meds for the first month. Jim wonders if the dampeners could have been damaged in the attack, but he seems to be the only one complaining of dizziness. The new ship is nearing completion; they’ll be back out there soon enough.
He visits her in the docking bay. Though she’ll bear the base serial number of his last command, she’s a different ship. He’s sorry they didn't bring back some piece of her that could be incorporated. The Enterprise was as much a member of the crew as any of the humanoids on board and he feels her absence profoundly. What a senseless loss.
It’s Edison's face he sees when he closes his eyes, never the same face twice, but that voice, that voice doesn’t waver: At least I know what I am!
When they had arrived here for supplies, Jim was certain the vice-admiral position would be the change he was looking for, but if three months is long enough to have him wishing for an away mission on an inhospitable Class L planet and solid ground under him, imagine living here for years, watching ships come and go, seeing the faces of a new generation of explorers but not to be one of them. Not anymore. He likely would’ve tried anything to get off this base, in the end. He might’ve become like Edison.
The rank would have been prestigious. Mom would have been proud to see him in admiral's stripes, but there's a reason she's never accepted a promotion past Lieutenant Commander. It's not settling if it's what you love.
Jim once drove a Corvette off of a cliff just to see what would happen. Winona Kirk finds joy in making things work; his is the undiscovered.
The engineers are beginning to fit the duranium sections on her saucer. They’re so white it’s nearly blinding under the spotlights. Her assembly is continuous. Even now, while the majority of his crew sleeps, workers scuttle like crabs across her hull dry-fitting the sections into place. The last thing they’ll do is paint her serial number.
At some distance, standing on another viewing point along the walkway, is a man. Jim identifies him from is stance alone: shoulders square, back straight, and his arms clasped at the small of his back. The stance he takes on the bridge, that he took, years ago, beside Jim’s hospital bed while they waited for side-effects to present, for the radiation damage to return. Between their meals and chess games, Spock held himself like a statue, softening only when Jim reached for him in assistance when he took his first unsteady steps, or stumbled walking to the cafeteria, or his hand quaked above the chess board.
Jim raises a hand. Spock doesn’t return the wave but inclines his head and pivots around. He walks briskly, purposefully to Jim’s side.
“It’s after three in the morning, Spock. I think we can do without the formalities.”
“Are you continuing to experience sleep problems?”
Exhaling, Jim lets his body droop and leans against the railing. “It’s the movement of the station. Can’t get used to it.”
“I too find it unsettling. The engineers assure me that we will be ready to depart ahead of schedule.”
“Yeah, I saw your memo. Thanks.”
“I thought of bringing it to you personally, but I was not certain that was wise.”
“Wise? Why not?”
Spock doesn’t answer. He turns his eyes toward the ship and regards her appreciatively.
“I am going to say something illogical, but I know you will not judge me.”
“A ship is not alive, yet I find that I long for the Enterprise that is lost.”
“That’s not illogical, Spock. She was our home, just like Earth is to me, and …”
He catches himself in time, but the damage is done. Spock flinches. Not the way a human would flinch; he hides it well. He doesn’t move, except for an involuntary twitch in his eye, like the tip of an iceberg. Jim can’t believe he didn’t think of the parallel until this moment, that Spock has lost not one but two homes, and now the elder version of himself, who had been instrumental, Jim knew, in Spock’s decision to remain with Starfleet.
He fights the urge to hold him. That’s what got them in trouble last time. He grips the railing with the full strength of both hands and imagines the feather brush of Spock’s hair against his cheek. He grips the railing until his hands ache.
“That’s not illogical,” he says again.
“The advanced navigation system will give us an advantage,” Spock says evenly. “The Enterprise’s system was excellent, but this design is superior.”
“Hope the beds are bigger,” Jim says. “It’d be nice not to whack my elbow into the wall every time I roll over.”
“Perhaps you should consult Dr. McCoy about a sleep aide if you are restless.”
“I’ve always moved a lot in my sleep.”
“I remember.” Spock colors along his cheeks, a flush of spring green, and he quickly amends: “I spent many hours observing you in the hospital.”
That was a good night, but Jim doesn’t say so. It doesn’t hurt to think of it anymore, the way it did when they first began the mission. Jim knew it couldn’t, wouldn’t happen again, for the good of the ship, for the good of Spock’s affection for Nyota, but that didn’t mean the desire wasn’t there. They’d kept their chess games to the public rec room and never spoken about what had happened.
“How’s Uhura liking the base?” Jim asks.
“I believe she is enjoying it.”
“You believe? You’re not sure?”
Spock clears his throat. “Nyota indicated to me that she wished to explore the base independently, and that I was to figure out what I want.”
“It is not a matter of luck.” He looks at Jim and sighs. “You look tired, Captain. I will escort you to your room.”
“I’m fine. I want to stand here a while longer.”
Spock’s eyes drop first, and then his chin. He turns his face toward the docking bay. “She will be a beautiful ship.”
Jim never had a chance to speak with the Ambassador about the nature of his relationship with the Kirk from his timeline. He’s been left to infer it from the clues left behind. A mind meld, Jim has learned, is not performed on non-humans lightly, nor is touch desirable to most Vulcans. The risk of emotional transference is too great; the risk of cultural embarrassment is too great. But the Ambassador had, in their limited interactions, been free with both; and his insistence that Jim and Spock forge a friendship, that it would not only last a lifetime but define them, cemented in him his belief that the Ambassador and his Captain were a great deal more to each other than shipmates.
Theirs is a different reality. He can’t expect it to look like the other. It’s enough to have Spock on his ship, partners on the bridge if nowhere else. It’s enough to know that Spock will see this mission through with him. He’s been concerned in recent months, when Spock passed up invitations to chess in favor of meditation, that he might resign his commission. Spock carries immeasurable guilt at his inability to do more for his people and Jim prepared to receive his request to leave the Enterprise, surprised it never came.
It has to be 0400 hours; he left his chronographer in his room along with his comm. They hadn’t seemed necessary for a late-night walk, though he feels irresponsible being caught without either by his first officer. The lights will be up soon in this zone, mimicking the slow progression of a sunrise. Jim has meetings scheduled with Scotty, who has practically pitched a tent in the new engineering department, and the engineering team in charge of that section, to discuss safety protocols surrounding the warp core. They’ll be testing the first AI system designed to realign the core in the event of a crisis. Funny how kicking something with all of your strength, out of desperation, makes you an expert.
At least the blood tests have been reduced to semi-monthly. If they reveal any change in his physiology, Starfleet remains tight-lipped about it. Jim is bound by a non-disclosure agreement but in exchange was given his choice of location for a vice-admiralty position. Yorktown looked good on paper.
“Hey, are you hungry?” he asks. He isn’t. He’s exhausted and wants to sleep, but being exhausted with Spock is better than the insomnia lurking in his room. “There’s a place I found a few minutes from here. Stays open all the time. I know it’s early but … well, we’d beat the crowd.”
“I would appreciate a cup of tea,” Spock says.
They walk together so much on the Enterprise that Jim has grown complacent. It had been difficult the first month, when his feelings were raw, and then it had grown into something he looked forward to. They have their best conversations that way, taking long strides down the corridor, watching the crew plaster themselves against the bulkheads when their commanding officers pass. Two years went by and the anticipation of their walks wouldn’t raise his heart rate enough for Bones to detect, not anymore. It’s just something they do. He and Spock walk together. It, like everything else, has become routine.
But walking next to Spock here, in the early morning light on Yorktown, Jim has a renewed sense of excitement, like he felt waking up the first morning of their mission.
The hallways on the new ship are six inches wider; improvements to conduit technology have reduced the minimum thickness of the walls. Quarters, they’ll be wider too. Spock could calculate the precise volume of additional space they’ll have for walks, for living, for sleeping. They won’t look very different from the halls in the ship they all knew, but they won’t be her halls. Jim’s never died on-board this one.
He discovered the diner two weeks ago, unable to sleep and walking in aimless delirium. They brew real coffee, not the slop that comes from synthesizers or even the newfangled replicators which get things a heck of a lot closer than the old technology ever could. But even the replicated stuff has an aftertaste that Jim can’t place. He’d heard of captains who keep a stash of coffee on board. It seemed frivolous, a poor use of finite personal storage. But that first sip two weeks ago, the hot roll of coffee over his tongue, drowned his conviction to practicality. Several of the shops on the station sell coffee imported from Earth. He’ll visit them before the Enterprise departs. It’s the little things that help retain humanity amidst the unknown.
The diner is up two flights of stairs and overlooks a reflecting pool. The proprietor, Layla, a young woman from the Deltan system, smiles at Jim when he opens the door.
“Back again, Captain?” she says. Her head is bald and smooth as an egg, her skin the healthy brown of sun-burnished crops. Since she is not a member of Starfleet, she is not bound by an oath of celibacy. It’s impossible not to smile at her. Even Spock appears dazzled.
“I was just telling my first officer here about your coffee,” Jim says.
“Actually, Captain, you asked if I am hungry. You did not mention coffee at all.”
Jim looks at him fondly, despite Layla’s presence. “Right as always, Mr. Spock.”
“Have a seat wherever you like,” Layla says. She speaks without a universal translator; the Terran words come out thickly accented and endlessly charming. “I’ll be right with you.”
Spock selects the table farthest from the counter where Layla waits. It is a booth for four, with slat seats instead of padded, like the kind Jim is used to on Earth. Easier to clean, maybe. There are bar stools tucked under a long counter, and a stretch of counter with no seating at all for species who prefer to stand and eat. He settles into the booth, leaning most of his weight on one elbow that he props on the edge of the table.
They order coffee and tea. Layla carries a spiced variety she assures Spock her Vulcan clientele prefer, and she goes into the back to prepare their order.
“I understand why you have developed a preference for this establishment,” Spock says when she can no longer hear.
Jim chuckles but says, “It’s not what you think.”
“If you insist.”
He rubs his weary eyes. “So how’re you doing, Spock?”
“The injuries I sustained on Altamid have healed sufficiently. Dr. McCoy is confident there is no long-term damage.”
“That’s good. And you’re handling that other thing okay?”
“The Ambassador’s death was not unexpected, given his age.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
Spock laces his hands together and places them on his lap. He looks through the plate glass window to the reflecting pool outside; the surface shimmers with artificial morning light. “I received a box of his belongings.”
“There was a holograph of the Enterprise crew, taken when they were of advanced age. You might want to reconsider Dr. McCoy’s dietary suggestions.”
“You’re saying I put on a little weight in my old age?”
Spock’s mouth twitches in the corner.
“You’ll have to show me that picture sometime,” Jim says.
Layla approaches with two cups on a transparent tray, but Spock does not so much as glance in her direction. He holds Jim’s gaze steadily. Peacefully. It would have been intimidating once.
“Perhaps when we are finished here,” he says.
Spock’s Yorktown quarters are not far from Jim’s, but positioned on a higher level where there’s less noise. He’s laid a woven meditation mat beside the bed, which Jim is careful not to step on as he crosses to the window and pulls back the curtains. The rooms, temporary Starfleet housing, are equipped similarly to rooms on board a starship and just as cramped, though with so much public space available on the base, it’s no sacrifice.
“Wonder what the doubles look like,” Jim says.
“I imagine there is little difference.”
“Makes you envy Sulu. I hear they’ve got a two-bedroom place.”
“So I understand. I cannot imagine raising a child in a room this size.”
“Can't imagine raising one on my own. I don’t know how my mom did it, after my step dad left. At least Ben’s got help for a few days.”
“I wonder why they choose not to live on board the Enterprise?”
“I think it’s something about Ben’s job, though after what we just went through ... I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t put a kid through that. Where’s this picture, anyway?”
Spock tilts back the lid on a box the length of a pencil, sliding it open to reveal an illuminated image. He passes it to Jim without preamble.
“I gotta show this to Bones,” Jim says with a chuckle. “Uhura looks great but check out the mustache on Scotty! And would you get a load of those belts?”
“I surmised that you would find it humorous.”
“Incredible’s more like it,” Jim says breathlessly. “We spent our whole lives together.”
“There is more,” Spock says. He brings a fist to his lips and clears his throat. “However, I do not know if it is wise to show you.”
“What? Why not? Oh—you think it might affect my decision making?”
“It is an item of a personal nature. I am not sure he would have wanted it to be seen by anyone; however—”
“Hey, if it's something he wouldn't have wanted me to see, then don't show me. I get it.”
“However,” Spock presses, “I feel it is prudent to show you because it will help to explain what I want to say to you. And because the item in question involved your counterpart from the other timeline.”
Spock takes from his pocket a pendant on a woven chain. It pools in Jim’s palm and for a moment he’s confused, wondering why a necklace would be the cause of Spock’s uncertainty, but Spock nods toward it, eyebrows furrowed, and Jim understands. There’s more.
He explores the pendant with his fingertips, feeling over the spiral grooves in the metal until a depression fits beneath one finger. He presses, and he holds his breath as a small figure appears in the air above it. A tiny projection of James T. Kirk, singing Happy Birthday. Jim’s first instinct is to laugh. It’s just like Spock to be embarrassed by such a Terran manner of celebration, but Jim sobers as Kirk begins to speak.
“They tell me your first mission may take you away for awhile, so I’ll be the first to wish you luck, and to say ... I miss you, old friend. I suppose I’d always imagined us outgrowing Starfleet together. Watching life swing us into our Emeritus years. I look around at the new cadets now and can’t help thinking… has it really been so long? Wasn’t it only yesterday we stepped onto the Enterprise as boys? That I had to prove to the crew I deserved command… and their respect?
“I know what you’d say — ‘It’s their turn now, Jim…’ And of course you’re right, but it got me thinking: Who’s to say we can’t go one more round? By the last tally, only twenty five percent of the galaxy’s been chartered. I’d call that negligent. Criminal even — an invitation!
“You once said being a starship captain was my first, best destiny… if that’s true, then yours is to be by my side. If there’s any true logic to the universe… we’ll end up on that bridge again someday. Admit it, Spock. For people like us, the journey itself… is home.”
Jim is unable to speak once the message ends. He stares at the pendant in his palm. Spock stands at a distance, hands at the small of his back, but he is looking at Jim.
“I said nothing before, but I had planned to resign my commission within the year and relocate to New Vulcan to aid repopulation efforts.”
“I figured you were thinking about leaving.”
“I thought it was what the Ambassador would have wanted, but I see now it is not what he would have wanted for me, for the same reason he encouraged me to remain in Starfleet. I do not wish to live with regrets. I do not wish my final memory of you to be a hologram.”
Jim swallows. “What are you saying?”
“On Altamid, when I thought I would die, you are the one I thought of. It was the hope of seeing you one last time that kept me alive.” He takes a step closer. “Before this mission, we made a decision in the best interest of the ship and of the crew. I believed we were making the right decision but I never questioned how profoundly it would affect me, how much I would long for you.”
“I was staunch in my conviction. I was determined to overcome my feelings and I know you were injured as a result. I do not ask you to forgive me, but if you will give me a second chance, I would like permission to spend the remainder of my life by your side in whatever capacity you will allow.”
Jim’s eyes are wide and wet and he doesn’t speak. Spock comes to him then and folds Jim’s hand closed around the pendant, pressing his hand lightly, then steps away.
“The decision is yours. I will not mention it again.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Do not say anything. It has taken me years to reach this decision. It would be wrong of me to grant you anything but the same.”
“You’re saying you’ll wait years for me?”
“I will wait a lifetime.”
“You’re sure Bones cleared you for duty?”
Spock exhales quickly, a snort by any standards, but to Jim he might as well be laughing. “Please let me walk you back to your room.”
“I’m fine. I need some time to think.”
“Then allow me to have Dr. McCoy bring you a sleep aid.”
“Okay. Just don’t let him knock me out for too long. I have a meeting in the morning.”
“I can attend in your place.”
“No, I’ll be there,” Jim says. “But you’re welcome to join us. It’s at 1100 hours.”
Spock says nothing more.
Jim leaves, taking his time walking back to his room. The plaza below fills with a golden light; he glimpses movement behind curtains, hears the low timbre of voices behind closed doors. He passes someone else on the ramp descending to the lower level and nods in greeting. His eyes are heavy. He hadn’t thought about the station’s movement in a while, not since the diner. The dizziness he feels is connected to the pendant in his hand, to Spock’s words, too fantastic to be real yet he’s certain he isn’t dreaming. The pendant is as solid in his fist as the walkway under his boots.
Bones waits outside his door.
“There you are,” he says. He whips out a tricorder and holds it to Jim’s left temple. “I was on a long-range call to Dr. Marcus’ ship but your first officer tells me you still aren’t sleeping and demanded I get out of bed to check on you. Do I want to know what you were doing with him at four in the morning?”
“Nope.” Jim unlocks the door with his fingerprint and they go inside.
“It’s just insomnia, Bones,” Jim says, lying down on his stomach. He can hear Bones fiddling with the contents of his medical bag.
“Well, you’re the only one on the crew who’s suffering from it. I guess that solves the mystery of whether you’re accepting the vice admiral position.”
“How’d you know about that?”
“You left your cover letter on your desk a few weeks ago, and I received a communication from Commodore Paris asking for your most recent medical records.”
“Thanks for not saying anything.”
“Do I look like a Roylan to you? Who were you thinking of leaving in charge?”
“Spock, though it turns out—ouch!” Jim rubs at the sore spot on his neck to relieve the sting. “A little warning?”
“It hurts less if it’s a surprise. You’ll be out cold in a minute. Any last words?”
The drugs have already made him woozy, like alcohol in his bloodstream weighing down his tongue. He says the first thing that comes to mind. “D’you think I’d make a good dad?”
Bones drags a chair beside the bed. “Straight to the deep questions today, huh? You can’t be worse than me. Why do you ask?”
“Something Spock said.”
“I guess he told you about his plans.”
“He’s not going,” Jim says. He can no longer keep his eyes open. They close and the world begins to fall away.
For the first time in weeks, Jim sleeps for five hours straight and doesn’t dream.
The meeting goes as well as can be expected. Even years after the accident Jim is uneasy outside the warp core and Spock, who rarely displays emotion in front of the crew, positions himself between Jim and the chamber door. Maybe it's on purpose, maybe it's subconscious, but Jim hasn't seen him this unsettled since the day itself.
The AI is primitive but capable of realigning the core in the event of a catastrophe. The first in the fleet, only to be activated during an emergency. Jim declines a demonstration.
He's groggy from sleeping so little over the past few weeks and though he understands all of the points made in the meeting—improved seals on the warp core door, enhanced radiation shielding—the words come to him as slowly as they would under water. There's a film on his tongue left behind by the coffee Spock brought for him.
He spends the afternoon scanning and re-scanning the same passage in a book before he abandons it for another attempt at sleep.
He scarcely remembers offering to babysit until his comm chirps to remind him and he scrambles into the shower before rushing to Sulu's apartment.
They live six train stops over on arm seven, in a high-rise building overlooking a park. All of the arms that form Yorktown are multipurpose and contain a mix of residential and commercial buildings, but not all of them cater to the constant comings and goings of docking starships. Sulu and Ben live in an area largely filled with permanent residents, nestled in an arts and culture district. The exterior is designed to look like an old-fashioned brick facade from twentieth century Earth.
Jim takes the stairs.
Sulu opens the door in a button-down shirt and tie, color high in his cheeks, hair lifted as though he’s been running. Behind him in the apartment, Ben chases Mari around the living room with a shirt. He boxes her in against the sofa and, triumphant, slips the shirt over her head.
“As you can see, we’ve been busy,” Sulu says, gesturing Jim inside. Their apartment is bright and spare, flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. “Thanks for doing this, Jim. I can't remember the last time Ben and I had a night out alone.”
“I’ll have my comm on me if anything happens. The name of the restaurant is on the counter. If there’s time, we’re planning to attend a gallery opening. A friend of ours is being featured. We shouldn’t be more than a few hours.”
“There’s no rush. I don’t have to be anywhere.”
“Even so, we’ll try not to get home too late. If she’s hungry, she can have the rest of her dinner. It’s on the counter.” Sulu puts on a well-tailored gray sports jacket and flashes a smile at his husband. “Ready?”
Though she’s quiet at first, once Jim settles onto the carpeted floor so they’re nearly the same height, Mari warms to him. She communicates mostly through gestures: pointing to the toy she wants Jim to play with, shaking her head when he doesn’t fully understand her request. They navigate figurine starships through an imaginary asteroid belt. Mari declares Jim’s ship crashed and makes great, theatrical explosions with her mouth. Her ship arrives safely on the other side. She’ll be a great pilot like her dad one day.
They settle into a more domestic game. Jim is mid-princess makeover, imaginary rouge on his cheeks and a tiara balancing precariously on his head, slipping by the millimeter, when his comm goes off.
“Where are you?” Bones asks. “You didn’t answer your door.”
“Sulu’s place. I’m watching Mari while they’re out to dinner. Want me to send you the address?”
“I have it. Do you think they’d mind if I dropped by?”
“I can’t imagine why. I’m about to put her to sleep. You can keep me company until they get back.”
Two requests for water and one bedtime story later, Jim punches up an extra strong coffee and puts Mari’s leftovers away. The rotation doesn't feel as strong in this apartment. Maybe something about the building's construction. Starfleet buildings were designed to withstand tremors. The couch is nicer anyway, not the mass-produced stuff of temporary ‘Fleet housing. Jim has his head back, resting against the wall. A few more seconds and he might be able to fall asleep. He's in that drowsy state where each breath seems to come longer and longer, and his entire body is relaxed and heavy as though the gravity has been increased.
Bones knocks three times instead of ringing the chime.
“You think they could at least heat this place!” He barges into the apartment and rubs his arms vigorously. “It’s bad enough the only thing between us and all of that nothing this out there are a few inches of transparent aluminum. They don't have to freeze us to death on top of it.”
Jim quirks an eyebrow. “Long day?”
“Carol’s ship is docking here two weeks after we depart.” Bones sits heavily on the couch. “It figures the one time I find a woman who's interested in me, we’re assigned to different parts of the quadrant.”
“Maybe there will be a delay in construction.”
“I don't suppose you'd be willing to leave without me, let me catch up with you via transport.”
“What excuse would you feed Starfleet?”
“I wonder if a man can actually die of sexual frustration.”
Jim laughs. “Hasn't killed me yet.”
“Are you telling me you haven't had a good time since we got here?”
“I'm having a great time. I was just crowned princess of this station.”
Bones chuckles, and then his face grows somber. He palms his knee. “Listen, Jim, I didn't want to say anything this morning because you needed the rest and frankly I didn't want to get into it, but what exactly were you doing in your first officer's cabin?”
“There was something he wanted me to see among the ambassador's belongings.”
“At four in the morning?”
“We both happened to be up. I was taking a walk and ran into him.” Jim takes a long drink of replicated coffee and chases the muddy aftertaste by smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Bones, I want to ask you something, but before I do I want to make it clear I'm talking to you as a friend and not the ship's doctor.”
“If Carol hadn't transferred, if you still served together on the same ship, would you have pursued a relationship with her?”
Bones immediately infers the point of the question and makes a face like he drank his tea unsweetened. “Jim, didn’t you go through enough last time?”
“We’re talking about you right now.”
“I don’t know if I’d be comfortable dating someone who ranked beneath me or anyone I worked with directly. You think a ship’s small now—wait until you’re trying to avoid someone.”
“So you wouldn’t do it.”
“I didn’t say that,” Bones says. “It gets awful lonely in space. Aren’t there regulations in your case?”
“What brought this on?”
“He said he changed his mind.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what caused the problem last time?”
“Last time, we both decided that it was better this way.”
“Like hell you did. Jim, you looked like death warmed over for a month. I practically had to force-feed you.”
“It might not have been what I wanted, but I agreed to it. Spock was right. It wasn’t worth compromising our careers or the mission. We had no idea if this was gonna last.”
“How does Uhura fit into all of this?” Bones asked.
“I think she gave him an ultimatum. Not sure this is the outcome she wanted.”
Jim forms his hands into a tent and exhales in the space between them. “Would I be an idiot if I did this?”
“Yes.” Bones takes a deep breath and yawns. “You’d also be an idiot to pass it up if this is what you really want.”
“So I’m an idiot either way.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page.” Rising, Bones goes into the kitchen and pulls open cabinet doors. “Does Sulu have anything to drink around here?”
Once the confusion about Dr. McCoy’s presence has been explained away (“Mari’s fine. I happened to be in the area and dropped by in case Jim here needed a hand.”), Jim accepts a drink.
The liquor Ben offers, aged Andolian brandy in a bottle shaped like a cask, is thick like syrup but not as sweet. Jim drinks two glasses, settling back in a chair beside the window, burn lingering on his tongue, and watches.
Around Ben, Sulu doesn’t sit up as straight, leaning instead against his side, so minutely he might not realize, and they have a way of touching each other, innately, as though they’d once been a single being wrenched apart. Ben’s hand wanders to Sulu’s leg, and when they pass a bottle between them, their fingertips momentarily form a lattice against the glass. They orbit each other’s personal space.
There is a night in a hospital room, years ago, locked away with other memories Jim shouldn't revisit. Was it fear? Relief? They had both wanted it. He'd never been more sure of anything the first time he reached out and formed his hand to the shape of Spock's jaw.
Like it was meant to fit there. Like he was meant to fit. That both of them had found their place in the universe. If they had been born a hundred years earlier, this wouldn't have been possible. They would never have met. How remarkable to be alive now.
And he’d felt alive, with every stroke of Spock's hands over his skin, igniting him.
In the early morning, when the soft rose glow of Earth’s sunrise suffused the window, the sheets were tangled and Spock was gone.
They would decide together, later, that it had been a mistake.
He refuses Bones’s offer to see him back to his quarters and boards a high-speed train traveling the opposite direction, with the excuse that he's meeting an old friend from Earth, but he remains on board. The train whips and whips and whips him through the false atmosphere.
Character by character, the new serial number is painted on the ship’s disc and final checks on the ships various systems begin. Sulu and Chekov spend their days at the helm familiarizing themselves with the new navigation system.
Jim likes the new chair. It's slightly wider than the last one and the angle of the back doesn't force him to sit quite so forward in the seat. Uhura looks pleased with her station, admiring it with her hands on her hips. She's already made modifications to the hardware setup, rewiring the dashboard to her specifications. There’s dust on her knees and her hands; she cleans them on a pristine cloth stamped with the fleet insignia.
“Hey, you’ve done enough for one day, don’t you think?” Jim says, plucking a two-inch piece of blue wire from her hair. “Let me buy you lunch.”
They choose a nearby rooftop garden cafe. Their table is situated against a wall of greenery so high it blocks the surrounding chaos, but this high up, the artificial rotation is exaggerated. Jim orders water and focuses on his company instead of his stomach.
“Starfleet ought to compensate you for all the work you did instead of their technicians,” Jim says. “At the very least, they should’ve let you consult on the initial design.”
“I still would’ve had to fix it. I sent them a memo about it after I made improvements to the last ship. If I do it myself, I know it's done properly. I’m ordering a salad. What do you want?” She enters their order into table-side system and sits back heavily.
“I hear there’s an Andorian spa in the next zone. You should pay it a visit, relax before we have to leave.”
“Pavel and I went last week. It didn’t help.” She brushes something invisible from her shoulder and fixes him with a hard look. “Permission to speak freely?”
“If I’ve got something on my face, just tell me.”
She doesn’t laugh. “If you aren't giving him an answer because you're afraid I'm upset, you should know I'm the one who encouraged him to do this.”
He shouldn’t be surprised at her candor, but he’s caught off guard and rubs a hand slowly across his mouth. “I don't get it. Shouldn't you be pissed at me?”
“Are you pissed at me?” she asks.
“Of course not!”
“You can't control how you feel any more than he can. You have been nothing but courteous and respectful of our relationship. You never tried to get in the way. It's not your fault he …”
She stops and looks across the cafe to a fountain positioned at its center. The sound of falling water almost masks the whoosh of the train when it passes. The airstream catches her hair and she purses her lips.
“You know, it's only when you understand a language and are capable of hearing it like a native speaker that you can understand what someone is really saying. The Vulcans don't have a lot of words for emotions but there's a particular word I’ve heard Spock use. It doesn't appear often in their modern written texts. It comes from before the Reformation when they were a warrior species.”
“I’m having a hard time imagining Spock with a sword.”
She laughs with her mouth closed. “The word means friend. It can also mean brother or lover. It can mean all three at once or a combination. Multiple meanings isn’t unusual in their language.”
“I remember. I struggled with that back at the Academy.”
“So it's important to know not only the context but the way in which the word is said. The meaning is found in the inflection.” She pauses. “Sometimes I hate having a good ear.”
Jim’s throat feels tight, like he’s reacting to one of Bones’s inoculations. “Uhura, you don’t have to do this.”
She looks back to him, a little sadly. “You might be content to lie to yourselves, but I’m not going to spend the next two years pretending I don’t know he’s in love with you.”
There was a time when he would’ve given anything to hear those words, but just now, they make him sad. “I can’t put my personal feelings above the well-being of my crew.”
“You’re the captain and first officer,” she says sharply. “This has already affected the crew. It’s been affecting them. Forgive me for saying, sir, but you’re a fool if you don’t realize that.”
“I’ve been trying to keep this from the crew so it doesn’t—”
A human server interrupts with their order, setting down twin salads and refilling their water glasses. Jim keeps quiet while the man is tableside.
Shame burns in his cheeks at Uhura’s rebuke. He’s been careful never to stare too long, catching himself when he begins to smile at Spock without reason. It happens less and less with each year, but there are times he can’t help himself. To avoid favoritism, they communicate through official channels. Jim ignores Spock’s insatiable curiosity and leaves him behind on away missions, citing regulations—they can’t risk both the captain and the first officer being lost if something should go wrong. Spock can’t argue with that. By Jim’s own reckoning, he’s been cold toward Spock for years. But maybe that’s what Uhura means.
As soon as the server has left them, Uhura begins to eat. Jim picks chunks of carrot out of his salad and says, “Maybe there are regulations against this for a reason.”
“Now I’ve heard everything,” she mutters.
“Kirk, if you’re too scared to take something you want, then admit you’re scared. Don’t blame me or him or Starfleet. The only thing standing in the way of this is you! And I’ve never known you to be afraid of anything.”
“I’d be afraid of losing you,” he says. “You’re the best in the fleet, Uhura. I’d do anything to keep you on my crew.”
“Then I guess it’s lucky for you the Enterprise has the most advanced communications system in the fleet. How’s your salad?”
Jim pinches a piece of lettuce. “Green.”
She rolls her eyes and flicks him with the condensation from her glass. “And here I thought you were actually maturing.”
Though they generate more than one raised eyebrow, Uhura’s panel modifications pass Starfleet inspection on their first review and the bridge is declared complete. One by one, habitat levels are cleared for occupancy and the crew begins to move on board. Across a week, they fill their cabins with items acquired from Yorktown shops or sent from their various homeworlds to replace what has been lost. The few Vulcan artifacts Spock kept on board can’t be replaced, but Jim buys a gleaming duranium frame from a gift store, and finds a picture of Amanda Grayson in Starfleet’s records—apparently she’d been a renowned translator. He has the holograph printed and leaves it in Spock’s new cabin along with a blank sheet of personalized stationery when he combs over the senior officers’ quarters on his final check-through.
They meet in the hangar bay on Q Deck, which seems more than pure coincidence, but Spock brandishes a checklist and makes a show of inspecting the shuttle carousel.
“Hey, did you know there’s a bowling alley on F?” Jim says, approaching. “We’ll have to start a league.”
“Jim.” Spock ducks his head, holding his padd against his chest, and speaks only loud enough so Jim can hear. “I—I was moved by your gift.”
Jim sobers. “Sorry if I overstepped. I wanted you to have something that reminded you of home.”
“It was most thoughtful.” Spock faintly smiles. “And if I was unclear before, be assured that you are welcome to overstep, Captain.”
Jim can’t help but blush at Spock’s forwardness and they gaze at each other a little too long. Not long enough. There’s a supernova in his chest but with a press to Jim’s arm, Spock resumes his inspection, heading for docking port five. For the rest of the day, for the first time in years, Jim doesn’t punish himself for thinking about him.
He inspects the ship from the top down, culminating with the jacuzzi pool on U Deck, which seems an odd bedfellow for the reactor complex, but it’ll be welcome after a long day on the bridge. Everything on board is perfect: state-of-the-art biobeds in the expansive sickbay complex, pristine laboratories, the latest style and cut of uniform, newfangled replicators to replace the food synthesizers in the mess. They’re even installed in officers’ quarters. The bridge’s viewscreen, the largest installed on any Federation ship, displays a welcome message from Starfleet Headquarters. The warp core AI passes its final test and the Enterprise NCC-1701-A is cleared for departure from Yorktown station.
The day before their scheduled departure, Hikaru Sulu arrives on the bridge for duty, glassy-eyed, and slips a new photograph of his daughter and Ben into the corner of his workspace. Sulu's shoulders tremble as he tries not to cry and Jim realizes that there was never any question of what he would decide.
He waits until evening. Spock spent the day moving the last of his things on board the ship and Jim catches him once he’s returned to his empty room on Yorktown, in the midst of meditation.
Spock opens the door in a hurry, pushing it open wide enough that he can look Jim in the eye, but he doesn't remove his hand from the latch.
“Captain?” he says.
Jim touches his fingertips in a starburst to the door. Spock’s eyes drift down the length of the cord dangling from Jim’s hand, to the metal pendant suspended between them.
Spock’s nostrils flare and he sighs in a way Jim has never heard—quite human, though he’ll never say so. The door swings inward. Jim takes a breath and steps inside, and closes it behind him. He keeps his back to it. Spock crowds against him. He doesn’t wait for permission to kiss; Jim gives it by closing his eyes.
They have lost so much time. They have the rest of their lives.
When they break apart, leaning in each other’s space, Jim is the one to hold up Spock this time. Spock’s hands tremble against Jim’s lower back.
“Jim … am I to infer that you …”
“Yeah.” Jim kisses him again, slowly. “Yeah, Spock.”
Spock’s mouth curves into an almost-smile and everything about him seems to soften. He presses his mouth to Jim's hair. “We will need to inform Starfleet,” he says, ever practical.
“Tomorrow,” Jim says. “I’m exhausted. Take me to bed?”
They do little more than lie in the artificial twilight, under the weight of the last three years, but Jim is peaceful within Spock’s arms. There's so much to figure out, regulations to contend with, unavoidable emotional conflict, challenges among their crew, but later. Later.
He raises himself on an elbow and kisses Spock again to be sure he isn’t dreaming; he’d kiss him through the night if they didn’t have an early call. Yorktown continues to spin and spin and spin. Jim rests his head on Spock's chest, the pendant sealed between his palm and Spock’s side, and sleeps.