New York - 1930
Fair head and woollen cap bent together under a street light.
"Can you make your palm flatter, Spock?" Ten hours of heaving boxes of fruit had left both men's hands flecked with tiny, painful slivers of wood.
Square hands, usually so capable but now clumsy with cold, probed carefully, broken nails finding it difficult to grip.
"Sorry, Spock, I'm going to have to use my teeth." Spock shuddered as the mouth touched the pad of his hand below the fingers and gently drew out a wicked-looking splinter. Quickly bending his head again, Kirk sucked on the hand, drawing out the cleansing blood. He spat vigorously.
"There, that's as much as I can do in this light." He leant back against the slimy wall of the warehouse and held out a hand. "Better see what you can do about mine." The dark head bent over his hand, tilting it to catch the light. "I'll tell you one thing, Spock."
"Captain?" The long Vulcan fingers ran lightly over his palm, stopping occasionally to remove tiny threads and splinters.
"We can't risk your hands like this again - if they're damaged we're done for."
It was a measure of his fatigue that Spock thought of suggesting gloves but, even as the idea formed, he knew it was impractical. Their wages for the day, the magnificent sum of four dollars and twenty cents, currently rested in the back pocket of Kirk's pants, they had not eaten that day and the rent for their room was due the following morning. Kirk winced as a particularly nasty piece of wood was removed from the tender flesh between his index finger and thumb.
Spock dropped the hand and the other was wordlessly extended. Both men were exhausted. They had been at the peak of twenty-third century fitness when they had arrived but crushing anxiety, a poor diet, unhygienic living conditions, too little of the right kind of exercise and too much of the wrong were all beginning to tell. Spock in particular was starting to suffer from a lack of certain dietary elements that were not even present on Earth in this era. He knew Kirk was skimping on his own food to try and ensure his Vulcan friend got whatever fresh fruit and vegetables were available. He did not protest, not only because he knew this was something the human wanted to do but also because he genuinely feared that his body's weakness would affect his mind with consequences, not only for Earth but also for the rest of the Galaxy, that were too horrible to contemplate.
Spock finished his work on Kirk's left hand. "The remainder will have to wait until we return to the room. I fear we will have to use a knife on the deeper fragments."
Kirk grimaced. "That's going to be fun."
Spock did not even bother to raise an eyebrow and start a round of 'Captain, I cannot imagine under what circumstances such an activity could be described as pleasurable'. They were both too tired. Wordlessly they set off on the long trudge back to the cold, ugly little room on the other side of town.
The streets they passed through were shuttered and dark, drifts of anonymous rubbish lay in every corner and lean cats and worse prowled and scuttled in the shadows. The warehouse area they had been working in would be deserted now until the next day, when the daily tide of produce from the country started again. They had both been offered work the following morning, for even in their debilitated condition they were fitter than the other men who wanted it, and both feared they would have no choice but to accept it.
They walked in silence into one of the residential areas: tall houses that had once been the homes of substantial businessmen and ship-owners now divided and sub-divided into tiny apartments, perhaps a score of families huddled into a house that had once sheltered only one; pathetic shops with nothing in the windows and little more for sale inside; streets robbed by Prohibition of even the dubious animation supplied by alcohol.
After about twenty minutes of this dreary progression, Spock was forced to call a halt to remove a stone from his boot. Designed to be more or less disposable, their Starfleet-issue boots had soon worn through and, although Kirk had managed to find a pair that just about fit amongst the worn out clothing donated to the Mission, Spock had been reduced to padding the soles of his with newspaper. He sat down in a doorway under a street lamp and began the laborious business of unwrapping his foot, finding the stone and then rearranging the newspapers.
Kirk, restless even in his exhaustion, walked backwards and forwards under the light, beating his chest with his arms and blowing on his frozen hands. What he wouldn't give right now for a nice, juicy steak with all the trimmings! He heard his friend stifle a cough and decided to swap the steak for a bottle of vitamin J tablets, a couple of kilos of tlesh and some farasal; he was beginning to be seriously worried about Spock's health.
He looked up at the sky, grateful for only the second clear night he'd seen in all his time in this century of coal fires and industrial pollution, and let his mind wander through the well-remembered arrangement of the stars, unchanging, familiar and coldly clean. Then, after a few seconds, he cursed tiredly to himself as he realized he was trying to pick out the constellation nearest the Enterprise's last position. He grimaced as the eddying wind brought him the stench of nearby drains and quite suddenly he was so homesick for his ship he could scarcely breathe.
Spock looking up, caught sight of the up-turned face, yearning, rapt, the fair head haloed by the street lamp and clenched his fists until the knuckles showed pale beneath the grime.
For a long moment neither of them moved, both in their various ways fixed on the lodestones of their lives. Then Kirk shivered and glanced down as a long, black, expensive- looking automobile pulled up at the kerbside. He wondered idly what had brought the driver down to a seedy area like this in the middle of the night.
Then he found out.
The passenger-side window dropped down and a voice spoke out of the darkness within. "Looking for business, blondie?" The voice reeked of money and privilege; the voice of a man accustomed to buying whatever he wanted.
"Fuck off, mister." It was not the first time this had happened and he had learnt there was no point in being subtle about it. Even exhausted Kirk exuded more vitality then any half dozen of the usual inhabitants of this district and, in an era when a poor man was old and worn out at thirty-five, he was also quite startlingly good- looking and the combination of the looks of youth and the strength of a mature man had already attracted a certain amount of unwelcome attention.
"I'd rather fuck you, blondie." Insinuating, confident.
Kirk treated the driver to the sort of look usually reserved for pinning erring crewmen to the bulkhead and the automobile drove off hurriedly.
Kirk chuckled softly. "Come on Spock, let's stop hanging around under street lights. It's giving people the wrong idea about us."
Spock tucked the last flapping edge of paper under his foot and eased it back into the boot. He stood up and took a few experimental steps; it would have to do.
They resumed their journey and it was close on midnight when they got back to their room. The removal of the remaining splinters with a heated knife blade was every bit as unpleasant as Kirk had feared, the pain peculiarly sickening as small pains often are, the experience not improved by the salt and water which was their only antiseptic. Kirk was so tired and cold he could not control his left hand well enough to treat his right and Spock was obliged to do it for him, bending over the bowl of hot water, devoting to the task the same concentration he brought to everything he did. Only when he was satisfied that the wounds were clean, did he rise to dispose of the bloody water.
Kirk watched his back disappearing out of the door and swallowed a huge lump in his throat; he knew (and although he did not realize it, he was the only person who did know) just how much Spock hated the sight and smell of blood. But you couldn't tell it from his face, he thought tiredly. My Vulcan friend...
Spock re-entered the room to find Kirk lying on his back on the bed, an arm over his eyes and, thinking him asleep, tiptoed into the room, removed the sheet from his "hobby" and settled down to another night's back-breaking, eye- straining toil.
Spock said nothing. He still thought thanks were illogical.
There was a long pause then Kirk spoke again. "This isn't working, Spock."
"Captain?" It seemed safest to stay non-committal until he had more idea where the human's thoughts were leading.
"We can't go on like this, we're falling further and further behind schedule. That last short didn't just take out thirty hours work; it took out most of our combined earnings for the last two weeks. Doesn't matter how hard we work, we can't earn enough, fast enough to buy the stuff you need to catch up before McCoy gets here - if he isn't here already."
Spock said nothing, he had come to the same conclusion two days ago but, seeing no alternative, he had plodded on, repairing, refining, replacing.
"What do you need to accelerate progress? I don't mean bars of platinum or another tricorder, I mean what twentieth century technology do we need to get this thing to work and get it to work quickly?"
"Captain, I see no point to this speculation. Without the necessary funds we cannot purchase what we require."
The arm came off the eyes and Kirk sat up, spreading his hands in a familiar gesture. "Humour me, Spock. Given unlimited funds, what would you buy?"
"A soldering iron, thirty class A43 radio valves, ten meters of high quality cable, a voltammeter, twenty-five meters of copper wire, eight resistors and a small gasoline-driven electrical generator," said Spock promptly.
"Approximately $85 - Jim this is futile. I have devoted considerable effort over the last two days to attempting to identify some activity which would earn us more money, in a short space of time without (a) revealing that we come from the future or (b) introducing anachronistic technology into this time stream." Hastily, he caught himself as he almost shrugged. "I could think of nothing."
Kirk got off the bed and began to pace, only to sink back onto the bed as his stiffening muscles made themselves felt. "Time! That's the whole damn trouble. There's lots of things we could do if only we had more time." The ancient springs protested as, even sitting down, his restlessness made itself apparent. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and Spock recognized the signs of one of Kirk's headaches and a bad one too, if the paleness of his face was anything to go by. He beat down the familiar urge to offer the healing meld - effective but far too dangerously, far too seductively, intimate.
"I did think of taking up prize-fighting but it would take weeks we don't have to get into a position where I was fighting for that sort of money."
Spock settled down in his chair to listen. Although he would never have admitted it, times such as these were one of the solaces of his existence: watching while Kirk worried at a problem like a dog with an old shoe; making his own suggestions and watching while Kirk picked them up and wove them into his decisions. The whole dogged, indomitable, hopefulness of the man seized Spock's heart in an almost painful and entirely physical grip.
"Frankly Spock, I've even thought of robbing a bank." He grinned, that juvenile part of his personality which in common with many humans, he had never lost, enjoying the mere sound of the words. Spock opened his mouth but Kirk waved him silent. "I know, I know. We can't risk it - if the wrong person goes bust or the wrong bank goes under we could undermine this whole fragile economy, not to mention the risk of the wrong person going hungry, the wrong baby not being born." He shivered and blew on his hands again, it was bitterly cold and even indoors both men were still wearing their coats.
Spock got up and began to make coffee, still unable to regret the 37 minutes and 83 cents it had taken to fabricate the small water-heating element. He glanced over at Kirk, he knew this part of the proceedings well, the small pause before Jim could bring himself to say something difficult but necessary. He had no idea what that thing would be but a cold sensation began to coil in his belly.
The coffee grounds had been boiled and boiled again and the resulting liquid was bitter and gritty between his teeth but at least it was hot and Kirk curled his hands gratefully round the warmth. He looked down and took a deep breath. "I've been racking my brains too, Spock and I've come to a conclusion. There is one thing I could do to earn a lot of money in a short space of time." He looked up to see Spock's eyes fixed on him in innocent curiosity and smiled crookedly. "And I could have started tonight with that guy in the automobile."
He watched as something - comprehension? revulsion? - flickered across the impassive face above him and was gone.
"Jim, you can't ... that's..." Uncharacteristically, Spock could not articulate the word and, characteristically, it was Kirk who could, intervening for him so that he did not have to say it aloud.
"Prostitution?" Kirk put his mug on the floor and looked at his hands. "Oh yes I can Spock. Apart from anything else, it wouldn't be the first time." There was a long silence. He flung back his head and a hand raked through his hair to massage the back of his neck. Then very softly, "You know I was alone on Tarsus. Did you never wonder what I had to do to stay alive?"
"You were a child!" Horrified, desperately trying not to believe.
"Yeah, well for some people that's an attraction."
For the first time since his childhood Spock felt physically sick. He had read of such things but had somehow always thought of them as part of Earth's violent past; a historical aberration as horrible and as obsolete as witch burning or female infanticide. He remembered a holopic Kirk had once showed him of himself and his brother Sam as children, two curly-headed boys in Little League uniforms and his throat closed.
Kirk watched him; he'd never told anyone the whole truth about Tarsus even though it had fed his nightmares for years. Poor old Spock, he thought gently, what a thing to burden him with. He met Spock's eyes and held them and his face quirked in the expression Spock thought of as his 'facial shrug', a little sideways hitch of the chin while the eyebrows danced upwards and the lips twisted.
"Don't look so worried, Spock," he said and from somewhere Spock found the strength to look magnificently outraged at the suggestion that he would do anything quite so emotional.
Kirk grinned, warmed by the old game between them. "Look," he said. "The only reason I'm telling you all this is because I was okay then and I'll be okay now. After all," he added lightly, "if I can peddle my ass for a rationpak, I can sure as hell peddle it for the sake of humanity."
For only the third or fourth time in all the years they had know each other, Spock touched him, a gentle hand on his ice-cold fingers. Kirk allowed the contact and then, after a few seconds, pulled away. "Leave me the bravado, eh Spock? I think I'm going to need it."
"There has to be another way."
"If there is, neither of us knows what it is," said Kirk reasonably. "And I've been thinking, we ought to replace the clothes we stole - the last thing we need is Zephram Cochrane's great-grandfather or somebody dying of cold because one of us is wearing his winter coat."
Spock could not disagree, the same thought had occurred to him although not quite in the same terms. He had done his best to calculate the probabilities on the information available and the resulting odds had been low but by no means negligible.
"So unless one of us can come up with a better idea by morning, that's what I'll do - and Spock, if we ever get back we don't tell McCoy. He's going to feel guilty enough without this."
Fierce embarrassment warred with anxiety and lost. "This may be medically inadvisable. There are a number of sexually transmitted diseases in this era which their medicine cannot cure."
"If we get back I promise I'll get M'Benga to check me over, he'll keep his mouth shut if I give him a good reason." Neither of them mentioned that if they did not get back Kirk's health would be irrelevant anyway.
Spock wanted to argue, to prevent this happening at all, at any cost. The relentless logic of their situation clamoured for his attention and, for the first time in his life, he cursed the heritage that compelled his acquiescence. This was not right, this was not fair. His friend's restless sexuality had frequently baffled him but he knew beyond any shadow of doubt how vitally important it was for Kirk that any liaison - and so far as Spock was aware all those liaisons had been with women - should be a relationship of mutual consent and mutual pleasure. Unlike many in Starfleet, Kirk never visited the brothels that clustered round every spaceport in the Federation and was consistent and outspoken in his disapproval of those who participated in the inevitable exploitation.
A hitherto forgotten discussion re-presented itself. Kirk and Lieutenant Commander Mitchell in Rec. Room 3, Mitchell arguing for a free market in sexual, as in other, services and Kirk's quiet, "No one becomes a whore by choice, Gary." Only now did Spock recognize the depth of conviction in the softly spoken words. This cold coupling for money would be doubly distasteful to the human.
For a moment there was silence in the room, then, in one of the wordless conversations McCoy had been noticing for months, but which his two friends did not even realize were happening, Spock offered the open expression of his concern for his friend and Kirk, reading the drawn face, thanked him for that concern and projected his own brand of confident reassurance. Anyone looking into the room from outside would have seen nothing beyond tightened lips, a slight shrug, a grin and a raised eyebrow but, for the two men there, it was enough.
Silently they both prepared for bed but, while Kirk managed to snatch a few hours sleep before dawn, Spock lay awake all night, listening to the rise and fall of human breathing and mourning what he could not prevent.
Next morning Kirk looked at himself in the mirror and passed a hand over his bristling chin. "I'll go get a shave and a haircut after work and I'll see you when I get back."
Spock had been thinking. "Jim, I do not believe a chance encounter on a street corner will earn the money we require."
"No. But there are places... I asked around."
Yes, he would have done, thought Spock. Although Kirk welcomed opinion and argument, once he had decided on a course of action it would be pursued quickly and efficiently. It was virtually impossible to sway him once he had made up his mind, no matter how much Kirk himself longed to be swayed.
By an unspoken but mutual decision they did not return to the warehouse and instead spent the day working at the Mission. Edith was there, calm, competent and decent and for part of the day Kirk worked beside her in the tiny office, repairing a broken window.
Occasionally through the open door Spock heard the sounds of conversation and low laughter and wondered how much more grief his friend was storing up for himself. Whatever Edith Keeler's future was destined to be, Kirk could only share it if their purpose failed and Earth was launched into a cataclysm from which it would never entirely recover, a cataclysm so overwhelming that personal happiness for any of them would be impossible.
A picture of Kirk in twentieth century, military uniform presented itself to Spock with horrifying clarity and he knew with absolute certainty that, if war came while Jim was still in this time, it would be impossible to prevent him from fighting, from offering all that he was in a desperate attempt to dam this time stream and force it back into its intended course.
At six o'clock Kirk kissed Edith's cheek and left for an invented meeting with an old army buddy. Spock followed him out of the Mission but on the doorstep Kirk barred his way. "Time for you to go home, old friend," he said firmly. He grinned and tapped Spock on the shoulder. "And don't forget, if I get arrested the traditional response is a cake with a file in it."
He turned and strode off down the street and for all the breadth of the shoulders, for all the confident walk, the defiant carriage of the head, Spock suddenly saw how vulnerable his captain was, all alone, heading for a place that would be at once totally alien and yet terribly familiar and he might have wept had he known how.
He trudged back to the room and tried to settle down to the repair of the tricorder interface. The light from the single, bare bulb was harsh and under its glare he saw the hand holding one of the burnt-out valves was trembling.
For several minutes he watched with an almost academic detachment reflecting, not for the first time, how much easier it was to control in the presence of others. He knew he had not disguised the fact of his distress from his friend, if truth were told he had not even tried, offering it instead as his own participation in this difficult time. The depth of that distress, however, had been and must continue to be hidden.
He drew himself bolt upright in his chair, closed his eyes, breathed deeply and reached for the familiar mechanisms of analysis and control. Carefully he examined the situation and his own reactions and forced himself to recognize them for what they were.
Much of his response was the grossest of sentimentality. He had allowed himself to construct what the humans called a 'worst-case scenario' for Kirk's reactions, based partly on his own anger at what Jim had been forced to face in the past and partly on his own ignorance of what he would be called upon to face tonight. It was time for him to recognize that his captain was an intelligent, capable and sexually experienced adult who could be trusted to do what was necessary and then to recognize that necessity. Given the events of the past, Jim could hardly avoid (he forced himself to adopt a neutral expression) an adverse reaction, possibly to the act itself and certainly to its crude commerciality, but a permanent scarring of mind or body? Spock thought not.
He forced himself down into the next level of analysis, much harder here and therefore much more necessary. Reluctantly he dragged the rest of his response into plain view - much of it was simple jealousy.
Within a matter of weeks of Kirk's arrival on board the Enterprise, Spock had recognized his response to his captain as love. Within a matter of days he had realized that his love embraced desire; but never once, in all their time together, had he thought it possible that his love, much less his desire, might be returned. Never once had he permitted himself to imagine, to hope and now a stranger would rest his head on that broad chest, feel those hands, those cool, mobile, human lips.... There was a loud report and he jerked into awareness to find that the vacuum valve he was holding had imploded in his clenched fist. He looked down at the glass imbedded in his hand and at the green blood oozing from the cuts - reminders and reproaches. Slowly and with infinite care he cleaned the hand and the spatters of blood from the floor covering and bent to his task, reconfiguring the installation to incorporate the new valves, the cabling and the generator, never doubting the necessity.
Kirk returned a little after four in the morning to find Spock still working. He leant against the doorpost and smiled affectionately. "It's been a long time since anybody waited up for me, Spock."
Spock turned, his meditation having at least given him control over the outward signs of his agitation. "There is still much work to be done on the interface," he said calmly.
Kirk grinned, entirely unfooled. "Oh well, so long as you weren't worried." He took his hands out of his pockets as he came into the room to reveal a new, white bandage round the knuckles of his right hand. His eyes followed Spock's down to it and he flexed his fingers to prove that the damage was not serious. "It's nothing - one of the proprietors of the establishment didn't approve of me leaving with my ill-gotten gains. He had a gun - I had to take it off him. I got it dressed at an all-night place a couple of blocks away." He took off his coat and yawned. "I'll never complain about McCoy's potions again. You have no idea how much iodine hurts!"
To Spock's anxious eyes he looked both tired and curiously clean as he sat on the bed and began to unlace his boots. "You can have all the hot water in the morning, Spock. They actually had a real water shower at ... where I was."
A ritual cleansing perhaps, thought Spock, and how much of this ease is assumed for my benefit?
Kirk lifted his head and caught the Vulcan watching him warily. "I really am okay," he said quietly. "I won't claim I enjoyed it but," he shrugged, "it's one thing at thirteen and quite another at thirty-four. If you give me a list I'll go shopping in the morning." He undressed; stripping down to the underwear he slept in as a concession to some presumed notion of Vulcan modesty, then lay on his back, hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling.
Spock undressed in his turn and, turning out the light, got into his own bed and prepared for sleep. In the darkness Kirk's voice was quiet and reflective. "It was a strange experience. I'm not quite sure what I expected but it was all kinda pathetic. They were so lonely and so afraid."
"Of being found out, of the police, of blackmail, of the people who run these places, of me, of each other. This is an ugly time Spock." A deep in-drawn breath. "I wish we were home."
Spock waited until the even breathing signalled sleep and, getting out of bed, he dressed himself and bent over the interface.
After that night their time on Earth seemed to hurtle to a conclusion. The next day the equipment he required and the replacement clothing were purchased. Spock realized that Kirk had some of the money left and for several days lived in dread of it being spent on food or on replacement boots for himself. It never was and a chance remark from Edith about an anonymous donation told him where it had gone. His own reactions he disciplined fiercely and stood beside his captain as the full horror of what would be required of him became apparent and afterwards.
Even after they returned to the Enterprise he stood - offering his own presence as an unchanging anchor for reality, a fixed point in a universe grown suddenly cold.
And in this there were consolations, the knowledge that he was valued, that his friendship was important and if it was not all that he desired, it was much and it was sweet and for almost two years it had to suffice.
New York - 1930