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They are standing on the edges of the park in San Francisco, not quite ready to return to the Bounty where she sits in invisible exile. There’s a picnic bench; Kirk uses it to spread out the visitors’ map of the aquarium where George and Gracie are being held. He doesn’t sit down, but taps at the map with a kind of obsessive unhappiness.

“Here. This is where they’d have been at 2200 hours. In the auxiliary tank, while they clean the public one. Now you tell me, why the hell did you jump in the pool in front of that damn tour group instead of checking the schedule?”

“I did not think to look.”

“Bullshit. You never fail to think of something.”

“I failed,” Spock says quietly. “Do you doubt it so much?”

Kirk sits down at the picnic table with a sigh. “I’m not used to you failing,” he replies, though it’s not really an answer.

Spock takes a long, evaluative look at the admiral. Then he walks around to the side of the bench and sits down firmly beside him, sliding closer so that their shoulders and hips almost touch. Kirk pretends not to flinch.

“I’m not used to any of this,” he adds before Spock can open his mouth. “I’m used to trusting you.”

Spock considers. “There is a vast difference between a lack of confidence in my ability and a lack of trust in my character. Which is it that pains you?”

“I don’t know. Both.”

“While I may not be as efficient as you remember from before my death, I assure you that my ratio of correct decisions to miscalculations has not been greatly changed by the fal-tor-pan. Careful review of my personal log books confirms this. My incorrect course of action in the whale tank was not unprecedented–nor was it entirely without merit, I submit. I did obtain valuable information.”

Kirk exhales in a soft, bitter puff. “Then I guess it’s your character, huh?” Spock can see it written on his face: I hate this, I hate being without… something. Spock isn’t sure what lack drives the expression. Most likely, it is some expression of their friendship which he has, once again, failed to give his former lover.

In his defense, he is trying. Kirk knows. Neither has hidden their truths from the other.

“What has eroded your trust in that character?” he asks gently.

Kirk takes a long moment before he replies. In the silence, Spock folds up the map and tucks it inside the flap of his robe. He places his hands atop each other on the table and waits patiently.

“I wonder why you didn’t tell me,” he says at last. “About katras. About the fal-tor-pan. About everything. You wouldn’t believe the sort of stuff I’ve come up with to explain your… omission.”

“Such as?”

“That you didn’t want me to carry your katra. That you had some secret I wasn’t supposed to know about, maybe. Or that you thought I’d hoard it, your soul in my head, exploiting you and refusing to return to Seleya so I could keep my command, that I’d be satisfied with the… unconscious shadow of you. Or maybe,” he said very quietly, “That you were testing me, and didn’t trust me to make the sacrifice for you. Or, hell, something else altogether–I can come up with a thousand uglier explanations, if I try. I generally try not to try.” He fell silent again.

Spock sits and runs his fingers absently over the bleached wood of the picnic table. He wonders, too. He had never left a log book on this subject. And with his memories only partially intact, how to answer…?

He looks at the man beside him, who is stubbornly refusing to put his head in his hands. Spock can tell that he wants to.

It comes to him. With an understated click, the memory is there. It sits in his brain with a vague sense of surprise.

“I believe…” he begins. And that would have been enough for the moment. But all of a sudden, it comes crashing down around him, and it really comes to him. His fingers tighten on the table. Kirk sits up fast at his audible gasp.

“Spock? Are you all right?” Urgency in the voice, a hand on his bicep. Slowly, over a minute or more, Spock calms the maelstrom in his head. He turns and looks at his human, his, for the first time in many months. It is shaky, but the foundation is there now.

“I believe…” he tries again, and in doing so reaches his free arm across his body to trap Kirk’s hand on his arm. Kirk freezes. “I believe I know why. I have remembered… some. The question you asked was a trigger of some kind. Do not be alarmed. I did not…” He takes a deep breath. “Had I told you of the transfer, you would have insisted that you be allowed to carry my katra. I could not lie to you. Had I given you my word, I would have had to confront you before leaving for my death, in order to perform the transfer. Had I confronted you, you would have been forced to make a decision: allow me to risk myself in the hopes of surviving the procedure, or sacrifice your own life to save the ship. I had no doubt you would have chosen the latter.”

“Logical, then. Logical to the last, Mister Spock.” Kirk’s voice is very neutral. Spock doesn’t like it.

“Hardly,” he murmurs. “I knew what it would cost you, that I left Sarek to carry my news. There was no logic which could justify such distress.”

“Then why?”

“I wished you to live. I would rather you risk your life for me than lose it for your ship. Can you understand that, Jim Kirk?”

“No. No, I can’t.”

Spock knows it is a lie. He does not want to understand, because it would give Spock some excuse for all the suffering he has inflicted upon his lover. And it would mean facing the fact that Spock valued Kirk more than his beloved Enterprise–the one thing Kirk cannot excuse in a first officer. The one thing he cannot excuse in himself.

Spock takes careful stock of the memories in his possession–not all returned, but many more than before, in a great rushing batch that is still settling in his mind. He holds them as though they are sword and shield, wrench and scythe, tricorder and phaser: the tools he requires for this mission. And with them in mind, he leans over and places a dry, but gentle, kiss just above Kirk’s cheekbone, beside his eye.

“If nothing else, please understand this,” he says sincerely.

And with visible hesitation, the admiral nods. Then he grins. It’s a kari’eyta gesture, a thing-of-comfort-against-all-odds, of which the intent is less to promise a good outcome than to promise good intentions. Logical. Not idealistic. Perhaps a little sad. The latter is to be expected with his human heritage. Spock approves.

“I have trust in thee, as a plateau has trust in the planet’s crust. I know not where trust in myself ends and trust in thee begins,” Spock tells him, a rough translation of the formal Vulcan. “I trusted thee with my future, and with thine, which art more precious.”

It used to be that the reverse was true as well. Now Kirk has no plateau, no planet to stand on in the void. He is heartsick with the frantic euphoria of falling, of knowing that one is already dead, is burning in the atmosphere, is conscious until the last heart-wrenching moment. Ever since Spock died he has been falling, and now he doesn’t know whether the impact will destroy him first, or the terror of numbness and fearlessness.

He read a passage last night from what little of Starfleet’s database was backed up on the Bounty’s computers. D.H. Lawrence–

And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
on the depths of the seven seas,
and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
and in the tropics tremble they with love
and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.

Kirk is still falling. But now water cradles him in his descent like an aquarium tank, awkwardly reassuring. And he knows desire again, simple real desire, to live, to be. To swim. To know something solid, albeit amorphous, after so much recklessness–isn’t that enough?

No.

But Spock is watching him. Kirk takes his hand and tries not to think about anything except whales, and curious dark eyes, and a thin body swimming, swimming through the artificial waters full of light.

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