I’m still James Kirk, whatever else changes. Everything else changes in the end.
You don’t, though, do you? You are the constant around which my world revolves. Everything that seemed stable and immutable has turned out to be made of shifting sand, these past months, and it appears that my sense of myself and my place in the world is no less transient. Thoughts like these make me feel old. There are days when I feel the rush of years like a cold wind on the back of my neck and the fear bites into that hollow place in the pit of my stomach, and I suddenly remember that more of my life is behind me now than is ahead. Age creeps up in steady little increments, hiding behind the mundane and the familiar, and all at once another five years have passed and the shadows on the horizon have edged a little closer. Maybe I never really expected that I’d have to face this. Maybe that’s what the problem is.
I wake, abruptly, from the habit of years lived too quickly, and before I’m fully aware of myself I’m aware of you. You are part of my circadian inventory in that split second before consciousness completely claims me: danger—potential danger—bond—other half of me. Your presence is a warm, comfortable bulk against me; even now, after all these years, we always manage to find our way together in sleep. I can’t remember a single morning that we’ve woken in the same bed and I haven’t been wrapped around you or you around me. The sound and pace of your breath in my hair tells me that you’re awake; the small tightening of your encircling arms tells me that you’ve felt me wake too.
I reach my hand underneath the blankets to cover yours where it rests against my chest. “Good morning,” I say.
“Good morning,” you answer in that deep voice of yours, thick with sleep. For a moment we lie together, since there’s no need to move. I feel your gentle scrutiny, the warm brush of concern as you trail lightly through my thoughts, and I know you’ve been watching me sleep and wondering. I don’t have the words for you yet, and I’m sorry. I know you’ve been worried. But what can I do?
I stretch against you. This is a luxury earned slowly through many years of self-denial and never-enough-time, and it’s a little bittersweet now. My body buzzes a memory of our lovemaking as it presses against yours: remembered touches, tender circles of abused flesh where your hands still lose control as your pleasure rises and you grip too tightly—even after years of practice—and a residual satisfaction that trickles in my belly. I was restless last night and wandering the rooms and my pacing was spoiling your concentration, as, if I’m honest, I meant it to. I don’t like to feel useless, and useless is how I’ve felt, as my body segues into redundancy and yours enters its middle years, with decades of useful endeavor ahead. Your head was bent over a ream of papers in the study and I could have paced in the lounge or on the wide balcony that wraps the outer wall, or even thrown on a coat and taken to the streets, but I wanted to be close to you because I can feel the buzz of the bond humming between us when you’re near. It’s what peace and contentment feels like, and I needed some of that.
I was pacing because I felt old and purposeless and you were the same man you’ve always been - a little grayer, a few more lines - but still vital, still useful. I wondered if the quality of our love would change with me, as I ceased to be the man you fell in love with and the flame that only ever burned in the wastes of space went out in my eyes.
You let me pace for 17.4 minutes before you pointed out how long I’d been doing it, head crooked in the circle of light from the desk lamp and an air of heavy, tolerant amusement in your voice.
Jim, you said. I believe there is something bothering you.
Bothering me? No. I’m just working off some energy. But a bruised and aching part of me whispered, silently, Come to bed... Come to bed with me.
And you heard it, as you always do, as you always have, and you knew that I needed, and you knew what, and why. And I leaned against the door to the office as you stood, elegantly—like fluid shifting—and shut off the lamp, and crossed the floor in darkness. I let you come to me and stand in front of me, so close that your breath shifted the fine hairs around my face, for long moments before you dropped your lips to mine. We don’t make love like young men anymore, but there is no need to these days. We’ve had years of young men’s lovemaking, and now we make love like two halves of the same body: gently and with great tenderness. We fit together. That won’t change.
Your cool skin shifts against mine and you press your lips to the crown of my head. I feel your withdrawal before you start to move, and I’d like you to stay, but there are things to do today and it’s time to get up. The heavy covers—I think you must have fetched more during the night—lift, and fall air floods the warm cocoon, pooling in the empty space left by your vacating body. I hear you hiss your disapproval of late October temperatures in San Francisco and I smile into the pillows. It will be warmer on Vulcan, and maybe then we can sleep at night without the oppressive weight of a thousand blankets shielding us from the Terran weather. Or the environmental controls of a starship on the edges of explored space. It will be nice to finally be able to breathe in bed, is what I’m saying.
Perhaps we’ll go away first—back to Iowa, to Peter on the farm. Or to the mountains, to my uncle’s cabin. It will be just settling into winter there and you’ll wear four layers of clothing and your skin will still be flushed green with the chill; I’ll cook eggs in the kitchen that looks out over the valley and bring them to you in bed so that you don’t have to leave your nest of blankets. I will ride horses and you will watch and your anxiety will be a shrill whine in my skull and I will ignore it, the way you will ignore the amusement it engenders in response. We’ll remember all the days that have made us who we are, and, wrapped in memories, we’ll take our leave of this planet where I learned to be one man, and on another planet I’ll learn to be a man who sits quietly in an empty house and remembers other times.
I shrug off the comforter and swing my legs out and over the mattress, touching my feet to the floor. You cross the room to the bathroom door, arching your back as you go, stretching out the knots that have formed overnight between your shoulder blades. My body is less forgiving than yours; it creaks and protests and my skin recoils as my soles touch the floor. A dagger of cold shoots up through my feet and makes me catch my breath, and I feel your amused glance in my direction at the tiny noise.
“You should talk,” I say affectionately. You are wearing three pairs of socks.
I follow you into the bathroom. It is not large or ostentatious; nothing about this apartment is either of those things. All we needed was something that was slightly more comfortable than a Starfleet state room and even that small luxury feels like the solemn period at the end of a long sentence. I’ve had a lifetime to adjust to the privations of life in a shell of metal gliding through the void and, earthbound, all this space seems a little obscene. The underfloor heating warms the tiles beneath my feet like the summer sun and you are peeling off the socks as I enter: long, lithe body folded in half in front of the vanity, all angles and spare flesh as your fingers work to strip the layers of wool from your feet. I pass you and head straight for the shower, setting the temperature dial to something just past pleasantly warm, and waiting for the cubicle to fill with steam before I shrug off my robe and step under the ribbons of sharp water. I have tilted my head upwards to let the jets fall directly onto my face in a comfortable tattoo when I hear the shower door open and feel the heat escape in a hiss of billowing steam. Submerged, I turn my head to see you step inside and behind me, feeling your arms encircle me at the waist, and your lips, always a shade too cold, pressing against the skin in front of my ear. I raise an eyebrow, mimicry borne of long association, and your eyes smile. You rarely join me in the shower and I rarely ask because I know you don’t like to be wet, but I like it when we wash together and you’re here this morning because you know that my mind is unsettled and that this simple act of solidarity will make me happy. Sometimes you’re still able to take my breath away.
The bond buzzes contentedly as I dress. It feels good to be putting on these clothes again—heavy, bulky and cumbersome, and my fingers protest a little over the finer points of some of the buckles and clasps, but, wearing them, I feel more completely like myself than I have done for several months. Wishing you were coming with me today spins a little tendril of melancholy as I check my reflection, and I feel your hesitation several rooms away as it registers, your question like a nudge at the back of my mind. I shake my head—because still, even after all this time, I can’t quite manage to convey these little silent messages outside of the meld—and I’m aware that you’re not quite satisfied, but the question recedes, replaced by an air of tolerant amusement that twitches a smile from the corners of my lips.
Yes, dear. Yes. Illogical. I know.
I follow the rich, chicory-scent of brewing coffee into the kitchen, where you are sitting at the table with a cup of that peppery, perfumed tea you stock up on every time we dock at Vulcan. Docked. Docked, of course: past tense. I must get used to this.
Of course, there will be no need to stockpile Vulcan delicacies soon. A rainbow of hard-copy real-estate brochures are neatly stacked on the work-surface, all Vulcan-obsessive and military precise, and I’d bet my last credit that their top edges are perfectly parallel to the wall. I rest my hand on your shoulder as I pass you on my way to the percolator—finally, finally, I can drink coffee worth a damn in the mornings—and their bright colors catch my eye. We’ll have to make a decision soon: ShiKahr, near your parents, or Vulcana Regar, which you remember fondly from your childhood? Or somewhere neither of us knows at all—T’Paal, perhaps, or one of the small settlements dotted around Raal? I like your mother; I like her easy warmth and the fondness in her eyes when she looks at you and I like the way she decided early on that we were co-conspirators in Human emotional deviance, quirked eyebrows be damned. It’s Sarek I can’t warm to. Maybe not ShiKahr.
I’ve never given much thought as to where I’ll spend the twilight years of my life. To gently fade on a desert planet is no different, really, than to watch the shadows lengthen here on Earth. The move makes sense for a lot of reasons, mostly because you need to be on Vulcan and I don’t need to be in San Francisco anymore, and I think it will be easier, while you are away on these missions that you can’t tell me about, to be in a house that holds no memories. I’m proud, very proud, of what you’re hoping to achieve, but it makes me worry that I’ve held you back. If I hadn’t stubbornly held on for so long and welded us both to Starfleet, to Earth, what else could you have done these past years of chasing my elusive glories? I know if I ask you you’ll smile with your eyes and say, Jim—regret is illogical. Kaiidth. It’s the sort of thing you can say, because your life is only halfway past. Talk to me another time about regrets, mister.
Funny how a year at thirty is like a week at twice the age. I used to fight against what people wanted to see in me. It didn’t make much sense to allow them to make me more than I was—what man is a legend? But in those days there was always more time: another day, another mission, another chance to reach inside and find in myself what they thought they saw. After today, I am just another man, crying how bright my frail deeds might have danced. These last months I've come to realize that legends shine most brightly in the past, and brightest still when they’ve passed from living memory.
I think what I’m trying to say is that, of all the places I thought I’d die, I never imagined it would be in an old man’s bed.
All those years ago, when I’d just got you back from Gol and I was blindsided by your courage and the unexpected fulfilment of every hope I’d cherished for long, frustrated, lonely years, I remember asking you how it would feel when the bond was severed by death. I meant my death, of course, because neither one of us expected what happened in the Mutara Nebula, and you said you didn’t know, and I didn’t believe you but I didn’t push it. No—what you said, my logical, precise prevaricator, was that you had no objective data pertaining to the subject at hand and it was therefore redundant to speculate. And I knew that if you were evading the question, it was because it was something that you didn’t want to face, and I couldn’t entirely blame you. It never took me much imagination to conjure up in my mind’s eye the shattering, rending agony of losing you. I knew before it ever happened how it would be, and I wasn’t far wrong, only for the fact that nothing could have actually prepared me for the crushing, empty weight of it. And I know that, in your logical head, you had weighed up the prospect of finite joy and contentment against the agony of inevitable loss, and the equation came out balanced in my favor. So, yes, I know an evasion when I hear one, but I didn’t press it because I knew even then that the reason you didn’t answer was because there were no words for how bad it would be, and that it caused you pain to think of it. In those empty days without you, I knew loss and loneliness and a desolation that I thought might actually eat a hole in my belly, but the severed bond was only a little throbbing pain underneath the larger, human ocean of grief. If it will be worse than that for you, then I don’t want to know either.
You scent darkness in the air and swivel in your chair to lift an eyebrow at me, and I smile and pour the coffee and say, “Isn’t a man allowed to be a little morose on a day like today?”
“One chapter ends,” you say, “and another begins. This is not the end of things, Jim.”
“I know,” I say, lightly. There is no point, because I share my thoughts and half my soul with a telepath, but it pleases me to pretend that I am able to remain inscrutable. “We’ll have to let the realtors know by Saturday if we’re going to be out of here before the New Year...”
You also know an evasion when you hear one. You incline your head but your eyes let me know that you’re humoring me.
“I like Regar,” I say. “If you’re going to be away for months at a time, I’d like to think I’ll be able to see the occasional pair of Human ears to keep me company.”
ShiKahr is more cosmopolitan. I know you won’t suggest it.
Your hair is wet from the shower and it sticks too closely to your head. It’s the little things like this that slam into my gut and startle me with a dizzying rush of emotion. I press a kiss into its warm dampness as I stand up to stash my cup in the recycler, and resist the urge to muss it—you’ll tolerate a lot, but you get pissy about your hair getting mussed once you’re dressed for the day. I feel the prickle of your rising concern as I move across the kitchen and I want to reassure you but I don’t know how. I know you think I shouldn’t go, and I know you’re probably right, but I’m going just the same and I can’t explain it to you. You see, you closed the door on that chapter of our life and you, in your infinite logic, are not given to these Human fits of nostalgia; you feel no need to look back to make sure. All I can tell you is that the years stretch out ahead of me as a man I don’t quite know and his skin fits poorly on my bones. If I don’t say goodbye to myself today, I’m not sure how I can start to be this other man. And I can’t find any way to say this to you that I think you’ll understand.
So I press another kiss - a preparatory, goodbye kiss - to your lips, which taste of toothpaste and pungent Vulcan spices and copper and that undefinable, unmistakable flavor of you, and I say, “Last chance? Sure you won’t change your mind?”
“The Romulan delegation arrives at 1000 hours...” you start to say, and I silence you a grin and a wave of my hand.
“I know, I know,” I say. “I’ll give everyone your love.”
“I doubt that the assembled dignitaries will find this sentiment appropriate,” you say. You are a liar, Spock of Vulcan, whose family name I still can’t pronounce—to your mother’s unrestrained delight and your father’s sullen disdain—and I know very well that you know I’m being facetious. For this, I will risk your wrath and muss your hair and I know you will allow me to do so, today, because you are worried that the man you get back won’t be the man you sent out.
He will still be James Kirk, whatever else changes. Everything else changes in the end. But not you. And not me.
I pause in the doorway and look back at you. Once upon a time, when our story was very young, you might have been embarrassed or confused by this scrutiny, but the years have softened the edges carved into your kaleidoscope soul and you return my gaze with warmth in your eyes. Today, I will say goodbye to my ship. I’ll place her in the hands of someone I don’t know and trust him to keep her safe, to live the life I’m shedding like a dusty old coat that no longer fits, to make his own legend inside her shining skin. There’s another life for me. I’m still James Kirk.
“Taluhk nash-veh k’du,” I say, parting words as I turn to leave. Your face creases in a censored smile as I mangle the glottal stop once again.
“And I you,” you say.