“It is good to hear from you, my old friend.”
Captain James Kirk laughed, and the smile on the old Vulcan’s face grew infinitesimally. Only Kirk would notice it.
Of course, that smile was only for Kirk. Spock – Ambassador Salek – was not picky about which Kirk.
“I thought you could use a break from not nerve pinching the council,” Kirk teased. There it was. That sparkle in those dark eyes.
Kirk thought his Spock might suspect that he maintained contact with the ambassador, and “Bones” McCoy knew he was protective over certain times during the week, but he doubted either knew he commed Ambassador Salek weekly. Each time he did, he watched those tired eyes brighten, and those worn lips would curve into a small smile. With each word from Kirk’s mouth, the weight lifted from the ambassador’s shoulders.
He looked young and warm and strangely tender, which Kirk found funny, like his mother found his father’s memorial funny.
“It is good to hear from you,” Spock said at the end, per norm, and Kirk put every ounce of warmth in his soul into his smile.
“Live long and prosper,” he replied sincerely.
Only when the screen went black did Kirk fall limp. The darkness sucked all the warmth from him and kept it. He only hoped that Spock continued to feel it on New Vulcan.
“Live long and prosper,” Kirk repeated, feeling old and cold.
For James Kirk the bedroom – or, now, his quarters – never meant peace or contemplation. Wait until dark and sneak out the window, fuck all night on a thin mattress, finish up on some last minute work on his desk. Rest, fuck, work. Just another place to get necessities done.
No. In Iowa, some random spot, quiet and isolated and beneath an endless sky, mean peace. On the Enterprise, the observatory meant contemplation.
Since the weekly comms began, Kirk often found himself in the observatory, staring at the stars.
My old friend…
He rested his hand on the glass and looked at the stars and all the tempting dark places between them. In between the darkness and light, his reflection looked back at him, impossible and sad and mocking, the dim mandatory lights giving his eyes an amber glow.
For one of the first times since he was named Captain of the Enterprise, Cupcake called him Captain and meant it. A mission gone well, a treaty bartered, and Kirk watched the respect for him rise among the Enterprise’s ranks, each day a challenge to prove he was more than the Kelvin baby, the Narada miracle, the cadet who should not be Captain.
Some nights, the stress of proving that he was worthy of being the Captain of the Enterprise which kept him awake. More often than not, it was not.
Spock had looked at him today and saw him, and that should not have been as terrifying as it was.
“So, you ever gonna tell me what’s bothering you?”
The smile came smoothly, almost naturally, clicking into place before Bones finished his question. Kirk twisted from the stars to face him, the soft lights forming a halo on the glass behind his head. “Bones! I didn’t hear you come in!”
The observatory was dark, the graveyard shift making up most of the still awake crew members, leaving the room still and silent and empty but for them. Only the barest of lights shone on Bones as the man crossed the room, the dim glow of orange and the white of long dead stars highlighting every scar and wrinkle and crease, aging him by decades. Suddenly nauseous, Kirk turned back around and stared into the black once more.
Bones didn’t say another word until he stood beside Kirk. Kirk couldn’t see his friend’s reflection in the glass. He didn’t look for it, could feel Bones’ eyes on him instead, and he studied the depth of the black. Long moments passed with only the hum of the Enterprise and their breathing.
“You know you can talk to me, right?” Bones asked quietly. His voice was low, gruff, a shot of whiskey to Kirk’s frazzled nerves. “Friend, doctor, what the fuck ever.”
Kirk’s smile never twitched even as something inside him twisted and writhed. A friend indeed, a possibility for something epic, like so many things on this ship. He reached over and clapped a hand on Bones’ shoulder, keeping it there for seconds too long, drinking in the southern warmth. “If I could tell anyone, I’d tell you.”
Clever, clever Bones didn’t answer, and he didn’t move away. He shifted so he pressed against Kirk’s side, a line of sunny warmth against the chill waiting beyond the glass.
Kirk had never loved him more, and that love made him feel all the more alone.
A single bathroom, nothing impressive or grand, separated Kirk’s quarters from Spock’s. Sometimes he would lie in bed and stare at it, and it felt like an entire galaxy rested beyond that innocuous door.
He would reach out a hand and think of Spock reaching out in the transporter room, realization and devastation ripping across his face like poisoned claws. His hand and arm would remember rising in another lifetime, fingers pressing against cold glass in a mimicry of a Vulcan kiss.
Each time, Kirk’s hand would drop, and the galaxy would spin slowly on. Time would spin on, decades and generations and laughter and tears remained locked behind that door.
If it was the ambassador beyond that door, he could stroll over and chat about the ship and the moon and the stars and the fucking color of his boots. The words never mattered. Only his voice did. Warm, laughing, familiar, a bright white light still shining on.
With his Spock, the words did matter. So much mattered. Even his silence spoke, shared gazes and shared moves on a Romulan ship a possible beginning. All Kirk had to do was reach out a hand, open that door.
Hand limp on the rumpled sheets, Kirk stared into the dark and let the silence swallow him.
“Scotty blew up a still today, but if anyone asks, it was an attempt to adjust some machinery gone wrong.”
“His subtlety left much to be desired.”
The ambassador smiled, faint and distant, and he rested a hand on his pendant as he talked. Kirk grinned and didn’t look at it.
“Bones let him know exactly what was desired, don’t worry.”
Kirk knew without asking exactly what the pendant was. He knew without ever seeing it what would play if the ambassador would turn it on. The pendent shone dimly, representing a dream a dead man was never able to fulfill, a never healing bruise.
“He is a good man,” Spock said quietly, and if he was looking through Kirk when he spoke, the look of adoration in those dark eyes helped.
Kirk was never sure when talking to him.
“Even if he disagrees,” Kirk agreed, and he wasn’t sure who they were talking about anymore. Those slim fingers kept stroking the pendent.
“Was anyone injured?” the ambassador inquired.
Those fingers drew Kirk’s gaze like a mouse staring down a hawk. “Just some small burns,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out how to write the report as is without bringing the admiralty on anyone’s head.”
Spock stared at him, and Kirk smiled cheerfully back. One of those burns stretched from his elbow to his shoulder. He allowed McCoy to heal most of it before he escaped. Spock had been there as well, McCoy working vainly to have him sit still long enough to finish healing his cheek.
It would have been his entire head if Kirk hadn’t pushed him away, taking the brunt of it instead.
“I assume everyone is well then,” the ambassador said mildly, and Kirk’s wrist throbbed where his Spock had grabbed him amidst the smoke and shouts.
“Just fine,” Kirk assured him.
The ambassador stared at him like he could see through him, and Spock had stared at him like he was trying. Kirk just grinned and didn’t touch the bruise.
During Alpha shift, James Kirk stared at the viewscreen, at the sprawling galaxy before him, and wasn’t quite sure if he was the star or the darkness. Under the influence of too much bourbon, Kirk told Bones that once. Bones laughed and told him that he would always be the star.
That was exactly what Kirk was afraid of.
The Enterprise cruised through the black, each member of his crew hard at work. Hunched over a PADD and scribbling his signature, Kirk hid his fierce love for each and every one of them in every droll word he read and every admiral he carefully placated. Chekov and Sulu quietly flirted in front of him, and he never had the heart to stop them. Uhura, regal and calm as she carefully ignored Spock, and it was adorable how subtle they all thought they were.
Today was a day when he couldn’t look at Spock.
Kirk thought he felt Spock look at him sometimes. On good days, he smiled back. He would tease him until he received a raised eyebrow. He would challenge him to a game of chess after their shift. The first time he won Spock looked at him with a gleam in his eyes that should have been a smile and challenged him to another game. It felt like Spock’s shoulder beside him in a battle, like Spock stepping on the bridge for the first time as his official First Officer, like the promises another half-Vulcan’s fingers had spread to Kirk’s heart and mind.
Last night, Kirk spoke with the ambassador and dreamed of a black hole and a fantasy which never ended.
Kirk carefully signed his name again and scrolled down to the next paragraph.
Space and thousands of glittering dead stars shimmered on the screen before him. Somewhere, Vulcan’s red light still shone and would shine for years to come.
Kirk signed his name again.
He felt Spock watching him and the bruise on his wrist ached.
Uhura’s and Spock’s break-up, like Sulu’s and Chekov’s relationship, was supposedly a secret, so naturally everyone knew.
Spock never mentioned it and Kirk never asked. They sat for hours around their chessboard and let their strategies speak for them, captain and first officer testing the other’s skills. Kirk focused on Spock’s tactical skill and not his brilliance, on his moves and now how his sensitive fingers looked as they slid over the pieces, how they looked like older fingers gripping an aged pendant.
Spock mentioned their relationship once, prior to the break-up, fingers on a black pawn. “How do you know if you are in love?”
Kirk smiled, because they always came easily, and stared at the lifeless white figures dotting the board. “When you do everything you can to spare them from heartbreak.”
Spock silently moved his pawn and took one of Kirk’s white ones. “I see,” and Kirk wondered if he did.
They didn’t speak again that night. Under Kirk’s sleeve, the burn from Scotty’s still slowly healed, as did the handprint Kirk refused to let Bones touch.
“Once and forever my friend,” the ambassador said simply, and Kirk heard the dead stars between the spaces.
Spock asked him for a game of chess that night, fingers tentatively brushing against Kirk’s, and Kirk refused with a smile.
The whispers began of Nurse Chapel flirting with Spock, and if Kirk hurried away from Uhura’s knowing gaze to Bones’ side, only he needed to know. He nodded and matched Bones shot for shot as Bones rambled drunkenly about Jocelyn and Joanna. Another night in a darkened room that should have reminded them of a dorm room and instead remained exactly what it was: a hidden, dark corner on a ship where so many responsibilities and hard choices waited right outside the door. Hypos rested at their elbows, just in case an emergency came and they needed to move. No more leisure of blackouts and hangovers, with all the peace promised by darkness and pain.
“You still love her, don’t you?” Kirk asked suddenly, and fuck, he had drunk more than he thought. He shook his head as if to clear the question from both their minds. All that happened was the room spun.
Bones laughed and Kirk heard tears there. He poured Bones another shot and his hand remained as steady as if he was holding a phaser. “Fu-fuck it all, yeah,” and his drawl was almost enough to drown out the soft crack in his voice. “Nuthin’ but fuckin’ heartbreak and yeah…”
Kirk poured his own shot and tried not to think of dark eyes staring through him, of a voice sharing memories he knew and never lived. He threw back the drink and let the burn sear away Spock’s grip on his wrist and Spock’s urgent voice. Everything shifted and blurred but the family portrait behind Bones’ head and the ache in his wrist remained clear. Kirk swallowed back the building saliva in his mouth and poured himself another shot. “Would…would you do it all over again? If you could?”
More tears than laughter. “Fuck fuck fuck I don’t know.”
When the world blurred again, Kirk grunted and put down his glass. Time for the hypo, he guessed. He reached for it, but he stopped when Bones’ shaky fingers brushed against his cheek. They came away wet with tears.
“Your mom and dad?” Bones murmured.
Kirk filled up his glass again.
Chapel ended up administering a hypo for them both and none of them said any more about that night.
When his quarters were completely dark, the ceiling lit up in glittering, fake, cheap constellations. Kirk could name them all. Sam had told him all their stories before he ran for the last time, legacies captured hundreds of years after the characters themselves were gone.
“We’re made of starstuff, Jimmy,” Sam confided. His split lip bled again when he smiled at his brother.
Kirk smiled at the ambassador when he told him live long and prosper and pretended he didn’t see Spock’s own smile fading when he ended the comm.
The handprint bruise on his wrist was long gone, leaving only white skin.
Two years into their five year mission and Kirk strode away from the black comm and walked straight to the observatory. He watched the stars shine through his reflection, watched his eyes shimmer white and gold. He blinked and the shimmer faded. Only then did he see the second reflection.
“You appear distressed,” Spock noted. He walked beside Kirk and Kirk could feel the heat radiating off him, reminding Kirk of when he had once rewarmed frozen fingers too quickly. Spock stood close, too close, his hand a teasing breath from Kirk’s thigh.
“Just tired,” Kirk said and watched the stars shine. His fingers itched to touch the cool glass, splay his hand over it to touch the darkness outside. His eyes stared unblinking at him. His voice was hoarse, he was surprised to realize.
Spock’s mouth pursed the smallest bit. “You spoke with Ambassador Salek for hours tonight. Is there news regarding New Vulcan?”
Kirk watched his own hand rise and press against the glass, palm open and fingers spread. His reflection met him, pale fingers pressing back. No warm flesh met him, no endless space: only cool, hard glass.
“No news,” Kirk said. “The ambassador only wanted to talk.”
Spock’s silence was disbelieving in a way only a Vulcan’s could be, his raised eyebrow an accusing exclamation point. Still, he held his tongue. Spock’s heat in contrast to the cool glass was dizzying. His gaze pressed into Kirk, insistent and coaxing like a hand pulling at his shoulder. Kirk didn’t turn to face him.
Several minutes passed before Spock spoke again. If he sounded resigned, Kirk could ignore it. “If you have nothing planned for this evening, I believe we have adequate time for a game of chess before Doctor McCoy enforces his…” Kirk smiled, warm and genuine, at the amount of disdain dripping from the next word. “Bedtime.”
Bones did not appreciate Kirk’s insomnia. “Sounds good,” Kirk agreed. “Black or white?”
“White,” Spock said, and Kirk did not flinch.
“Black for me, then,” he said, and Spock’s voice sounded nothing like the ambassador’s or McCoy’s as he discussed Kirk’s strategy in the last game. Kirk smiled and nodded and didn’t think of the ambassador’s whispered It’s always good to hear your voice, my old friend.
I’d give anything just to talk to you
Oh, it breaks my heart
Oh, it breaks my heart
All I can do is write these letters to you
But there’s no address in the stars
-Address in the Stars, Caitlin & Will