If James Kirk found something truly terrifying, it was being out of control. Not to know, to be overlooked and to be unable to act, trapped within someone else’s power, was something which never grew less disturbing to him. This time he should have expected it – it was bound to happen sooner or later, even if not necessarily in this way. He should have been able to count his five years of control, and expect the repercussions of that the end of that time-period was approaching.
Still he was surprised when he felt a jolt of surprise through the bond, after which the mind on the other side of the connection was shielded from his. When he entered the cabin soon afterwards, he felt fear chilling him when he laid eyes on Spock. He was sitting at the desk, eyes locked on the computer, but he was pale as if from shock. Kirk did not bother to greet him.
‘Spock, what’s happened?’ he asked, crossing the room to the desk. During the few moments before he answered, Kirk came up with countless reasons for his distress. Some political crisis which threatened the Federation. His father. His mother. For that matter, Kirk’s mother. Something happening aboard the ship. Someone passing some xenophobic remark. Some worrying test-results from Bones. Plans of mutiny. The threat of pon farr…
Spock eyed through what he had been staring at on the computer-screen, then looked up to meet his gaze.
‘I have been offered a promotion,’ he explained.
Kirk stopped in his stride. He should have guessed – no, he should have known. They were coming to the end of this mission; of course Starfleet would be starting to dish out new commissions.
‘What ship?’ he asked, finding his voice hollow. Spock shook his head minutely.
‘I have not been given a command,’ he said. ‘They want me to become head of the command course at the Academy.’ Kirk exhaled audibly, impressed. Still his reply was a little too late.
‘Spock, that’s… that’s extraordinary.’ As he went around the desk to embrace him, he considered it. Starfleet only appointed the very best and experienced officers to the Academy, but Spock was the best there was. Still…
‘You are not pleased,’ Spock observed when Kirk drew away again and perched on the desk.
‘Yes, I am,’ he said quickly. ‘I’m just… a bit surprised.’
‘Jim,’ he intoned, and he looked away, unable to pretend. Even if they had not had the bond, it would be impossible to hide anything from Spock. ‘I am certain that they will inform you soon.’ He nodded and kissed him, and then decided to talk about other matters.
They evaded the topic for the rest of the day, but after they had gone to bed, Kirk asked:
‘Have you answered yet?’
‘No,’ Spock said, tracing patterns on his bondmate’s bare chest. ‘I wish to wait until you know where you will be posted.’ When the captain did not answer but bit his lip, he said: ‘It will not be like last time. We will not be separated.’ Kirk snorted.
‘How do you know for sure?’ he said. ‘It’s all up to Starfleet, not to us.’ Then, sighing, he said: ‘I should have known. Don’t understand how I could have been so damned stupid to not think about that the mission is about to end.’ Spock was still watching him, but now with a look which seemed worried or even hurt.
‘Within a few days you will know,’ he said and removed his hands from him, breaking all contact. The human knew it was a way to show that he respected his privacy and knew that he needed to think this through on his own, without his thoughts being sensed by anyone else. Despite that, when he curled up on his own side of the bed he felt lonelier than he had done since before the incident with V’Ger. Even if he could feel the heat from Spock’s body which was only inches from him, he was reminded of that there was no guarantee that they would still be together at the end of the year. He damned himself for not thinking of it; in ten weeks, their mission would be at an end and they would all go on to other commissions. He tried to remember what he had imagined would happen, but found nothing. When he had gotten command of the Enterprise again and Spock had come back to him, he had imagined that they would cruise the skies together for the rest of eternity. Still, it had been a five-year mission just like the first one, and now, however disinclined Spock seemed to leave him and go off to Gol, there was still the risk that they would be split.
As he lay there, hearing how Spock’s breathing deepened and slowed as he fell asleep, he wondered whether it bothered him that it was Spock and not he who had received the promotion. Surely he was not so egoistic not to be able to accept that? He could readily say that he had never used his position as Spock’s superior officer in their relationship – at most it had been something which they had playfully enacted, but never enforced. That thought sickened him. Their relationship had always been as much an escape from the command structure as a subtle acknowledgement of it. Why then did it make him so uneasy that they would soon be the same rank? Perhaps it was simply that this might be the beginning of their professional interests going different ways. He knew Spock was a talented teacher and he would enjoy the kind of job they had offered him along with his promotion. On the other hand, Kirk wanted to stay in space until age cracked his back and Command made him retire. But what would space be without Spock at his side? And on the other hand, was his company enough for him to endure the tediousness and the routines of living dirtside? Besides, what would he do? If Starfleet offered him another command and he declined it, he was not certain what they would do. Even if Spock meant the world to him, he would never be content to be reduced to his accompanying spouse. Still, he knew Spock would never ask that of him – most probably, he would be appalled at the idea. But his wish to please Kirk worried him even more. He did not want him to decline the post in favour of Kirk’s company. If he did that, they would have the reverse problem.
His thoughts were getting far too confused. Rolling over to his other side and edging closer to the centre of the bed, he let his forehead rest against Spock’s neck and put an arm around him, trying in vain to sleep.
Rest did not make the matter any easier to understand. Therefore, after breakfast he asked Spock:
‘Would you take the bridge for a few minutes? I need to go see Bones.’ Spock lifted an eyebrow.
‘Are you not well, Jim?’
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘I just… need to run some things through by him.’ Even if he shielded himself when he kissed him goodbye, he felt through the bond that Spock knew very well what the issue was. He thought he could even feel content that Kirk had chosen to discuss the issue with the doctor; by now, he knew that his bondmate had a need to discuss things like these with his best friend.
When he entered the CMO’s office, McCoy was seated by his desk which was littered in reports.
‘Good morning,’ he said, only looking up briefly. ‘What can I do for you, Captain?’
‘A chat, Bones?’ Kirk asked. At the informal address, the doctor looked up again and put down his stylus.
‘Sure – have a seat. What’s on your mind?’ he said, crossing his legs.
‘Well, we’re ten weeks away from the end of the mission. What are you going to do after that? Do you know?’
‘Oh, I’ve had plans for ages,’ McCoy said and made a dismissive gesture. ‘Fixed the paperwork half a year ago. I’ve gotten so much material these past five years, I want to do something with it. I’m going to try to do some research in hybridology, and I’ve been thinking of actually writing a proper primer for xenoanatomy. There’s not one around, as far as I know. Besides, there’s all the Fabrinian material I never had time to look through when you drafted me in five years ago. So, academic stuff.’
‘Where? San Francisco?’ Kirk asked.
‘Hope so,’ the other man said. ‘It’s drawing close, isn’t it?’ The captain nodded, was silent for a few moments and then said:
‘They’ve offered Spock the job as head for command training.’ McCoy jerked to life.
‘Really?’ he said. When Kirk nodded, he sank bank into his chair. ‘Well, I’ll be damned…’ Then, looking at the other man, he asked: ‘What about you?’ He just shrugged. ‘Ah.’ They were silent for some time, before McCoy concluded: ‘So either way it’ll go worng. Either you’re without him, or you’re dirtside.’
‘Something like that,’ he sighed.
‘Still, they’re dishing out the new commissions over such a long time – they’re going to let you know soon,’ the doctor pointed out. ‘There’s a lot of people who haven’t gotten to know yet.’
‘Ah, the life of a military man,’ Kirk said ironically and lay back. ‘Always the subject of someone else’s whim.’
‘Not even a captain gets to decide everything by himself,’ McCoy said with a morose smile.
‘No. Wish it was different.’
‘I don’t think you’d ever go freelance, though.’
‘No, I can’t see that happening either,’ Kirk admitted. They sat in silence for some time, then the elder asked:
‘What do you want them to tell you?’ He considered it and said:
‘I don’t know. I don’t want another ship – I don’t want to live dirtside. I… just want the Enterprise, like it’s been the last five years.’ He would not admit it, but they had been the best years of his life thus far. Feeling McCoy’s eyes on him, he looked up, annoyed, and said: ‘Dammit, Bones, I don’t know. I can’t choose between Spock and the Enterprise.’ For a moment the doctor’s gaze grew serious.
‘I think you could – you’re just afraid of it. Too much of your identity is bound up in it,’ he said.
‘That’s not the point,’ he snapped. ‘I would want them to give me another command over the Enterprise, but I don’t think that’ll happen. She’s the best ship in the fleet, they won’t want me to keep her until I kick the bucket. Otherwise…’ He shrugged. McCoy smiled encouragingly.
‘Is it any consolation that it’s not your choice? All you can do is wait.’ Kirk sighed and stood up.
‘That only makes it worse,’ he explained and left for the bridge.
It took another two days before the wait came to an end. They were uneventful days of studying an uncommon kind of nebula, which meant Spock kept moving between his post on the bridge and the astrophysics lab. Kirk could sense his worry through the bond, and he damned himself for ruining this for him. He tried to make it completely clear that he did not grudge him the promotion, but the worry did not disappear. He was also worried that Command would split them up and Kirk did not want to make that worse, but he failed.
The message came in the morning or possibly during the night; Kirk noticed it when he got out of bed before the shift. He read through it twice and then fetched his coffee and Spock’s tea and went back into the living-area. Placing the cups on the bedside-table, he sat down, put an arm around the half-awake Vulcan and kissed his ear.
‘Jim,’ he murmured sleepily and rolled around. Then catching sight of Kirk’s face, which held a strange mix of relief and melancholy, he said: ‘Captain?’
‘Admiral,’ Kirk only answered. At that, Spock sat up quickly, prompting him to speak. ‘It came through – they’re giving me a promotion, and they want me for chief of Starfleet operations again.’
‘You hated that commission,’ the Vulcan pointed out. Kirk shrugged.
‘I didn’t have you then.’ Spock watched him sceptically.
‘Can I truly be your only source of happiness, Jim?’ he asked, his tone serious. The other man hesitated, then said:
‘Yes. Besides, I don’t have a choice. They won’t give me the Enterprise – they won’t give me another ship. We’ll be together – that’s what matters.’
‘Possibly you could ask…’ Kirk interrupted him.
‘Spock, I don’t want to explore space without you. I won’t like living like that at first, but I’ll get used to it. It’s worth it.’ He wrapped his arms around him before continuing. ‘We’ll get somewhere – somewhere which is ours. A home.’
‘It sounds… strange, but like something we could grow used to,’ Spock said, a small smile claiming his face, and let himself be kissed. When they broke it, Kirk said:
‘Besides, the Enterprise will be in as good hands as I could ever ask for.’
‘Who will command her?’ Spock asked, their faces still close. The captain drew back a little.
‘They’re retiring her, so to say,’ he said. ‘They’re going to make her into a training ship. As far as you’ll get a command… you’re getting the Enterprise.’
Disbelief made Spock’s eyes grow.
‘I could not,’ he said, starting to draw away. ‘I cannot take her from you…’ But Kirk caught his face in his hand and kissed him quiet. He seemed about to start protesting again, but the human said:
‘I wouldn’t want anyone else to have her – don’t you see? Darling?’ When Spock met his eye he seemed to relax, but he could still feel resistance within him. ‘She’s yours as well,’ he said simply, ‘and I know you’ll take good care of her.’
‘You do not grudge me her,’ Spock stated.
‘I know they wouldn’t give her to me again,’ he said with a shrug. ‘Spock, really, don’t worry – we’ll be fine.’
‘I merely maintain that you should have been granted another command,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘You are not a bureaucrat, Jim. This commission is not over a specific time-period either.’
‘Who knows what’ll happen?’ he said. ‘Besides, a ship without you… I wouldn’t want it.’
‘If you say so,’ Spock said and kissed him again. They were both glad that the shift did not start in another hour.
It had been the view over the bay which had made them pick that flat. When they had been to view it, Spock had stood for well over ten minutes at the window in silent awe. At last, Kirk had come to join him and placed his hand lightly on his. The real estates agent had hovered nervously in the doorway; even if the flat was empty and exhibited no owner’s personality, it seemed already like she was trespassing into someone else’s home. At last the desert-bred Vulcan pried his eyes from the water, and a silent decision passed between them.
The room where they had stood there had been the bed-room, and it seemed to Kirk like the sanctuary of the place. The first night they stayed there, they made love in the white, faceless room, claiming it for their own as if through some ancient rite. He seemed to feel their ecstacy lingering in the walls and the flashing light of the bond marking the air.
Kirk had not had a real home since before the Academy. Even during the few years he spent on Earth when he was admiral did not count; he had never made any attempt to leave an imprint on the place he stayed. Lori had done the little interior decoration he had had. During his many years aboard on various space-ships, especially the Enterprise, he had grown used to having few possessions and only a small living-area. Now, he suddenly had four rooms, not including the kitchen and rather fantastic bathroom. They decided to have one as a working-area and another as a library because if it were something Kirk owned in large quantities (although not enough yet to fill a whole room) it was old leather-bound books.
‘I might start collecting antiquities properly now,’ Kirk had said while looking around the large living-room. It had been his idea to install an old-fashioned fireplace, mostly for the look it gave the room, but the heat it gave off seemed more comforting than that of the climate controls. Spock bought a print of one of his favourite paintings by Marc Chagall, whom he was particularly fond of – when had first admitted to his weakness for expressionism he had said the art movement was ‘illogical, but strangely appealing’; now, when logic was not as important as certain other things, it seemed completeley natural that love could make you fly. Vulcan wall-coverings were mixed with Terran antiques, old scrolls written on le’matya hide with ancient codexs. Items representing them seemed to shape into a whole, and a space which was theirs was created.
A few weeks after moving in when they came back from Headquarters, Kirk could not resist, upon stepping into the hall, saying:
‘Home, sweet home.’ He had meant to say it sarcastically, but he found his voice surprisingly sincere.
‘Do you believe that old Earth cliché is applicable?’ Spock asked genially.
‘Possibly,’ he said, making his way to the bedroom, his arms full of the boxes he had been carrying all the way. ‘It’s getting quite… homey, isn’t it? Now, let’s see what they’ve got us.’ Spock entered as well and put down his boxes on the bed. ‘It can’t be worse than the last one – bloody disaster, that one…’ With that, he took the lid off the box and looked at the white, high-necked shirt in it. ‘Not too bad,’ he said and then looked up as Spock retrieved a pair of black bell-bottomed trousers with a red stripe down the outside leg. Then he looked back at his boxes and opened the largest one. ‘Now, that…’ he started, and lifted up the jacket. Spock had stopped unpacking the boxes with the new uniform to watch Kirk’s intent expression.
‘Jim?’ He laughed slightly, opened the jacket and looked at the facing and the clasps.
‘It’s a lancet jacket,’ he said. ‘Remarkable…’ Then he stirred from his thoughts and said: ‘I never thought Starfleet would get around to designing a proper uniform. This is the kind of uniform the navy used in the nineteenth century.’
‘That explains how taken you seem with it,’ Spock pointed out lovingly. That made the admiral put down the jacket and kissed him, pulling him closer. When they broke the kiss, Kirk’s hand lingered on his hot cheek, as if he had been frozen in the motion when he sunk into contemplation. Spock squeezed his arm and urged him through the bond to talk.
‘Is this what I’ve become?’ Kirk said, voicing his fear. ‘I’ve grown so old, Spock. I’ll even be wearing something which could almost be an antique – how long until I turn into one myself?’
Spock moved closer and rested his forehead against his. For a long moment, it seemed like there was no answer to be offered.
‘You will never solely be such a thing,’ he said at last. ‘This is merely a new beginning. Your old achievements will not be made ineffectual.’ Kirk sighed, and the Vulcan pressed his arm. ‘Jim. You will not lose that identity.’
‘A year from now, all people will see is a starship commander who’s played out his role and become useless,’ the admiral sighed. Spock took a step back and looked at him sternly.
‘It is only your decision which makes that happen,’ he said. ‘If you give in and let yourself be seen that way, it is then you will have changed.’ Kirk looked down and crossed his arms, then let them fall again.
‘How come you’re always right, Spock?’ he sighed. The side of the other man’s mouth twitched.
‘I believe that is something of exaggeration.’ That made Kirk smile and reach to take his hand. He looked at him gratefully and brought together their free hands in a Vulcan kiss. Celestial light seemed to linger in Spock’s eyes and his voice was like the music of the spheres, yet he was not the sky. Despite that, he was enough, and the stars still watched and waited.