What we don’t acknowledge enough in the relativity of the time we have spent is the factor of how long we also spent in transit through it.
Exhibit A: The Guardian of Forever. Humans have the oddest tendency to find comfort in nonexistence. (This doesn’t seem to line up quite right with their history, of course.)
Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise stands with both hands gripping the railing that curves around the observation deck and thinks about how things began, so long ago, in a place that no longer exists, or anything really exists in, least of all the two of them. There were parts, of course, genetic fragments, but not yet a theory, hardly an observation, a fleeting thought, the closest thing to nonexistence. He thinks about how all this moving back and forth through time bears a close resemblance to that loss of - or lack of existence. So much happens in transit.
On a less...metacognitive level - Now if there was ever any question of the suffering length of time it took to say any particular thing - in the linear sense, at least- he did admit it first over three hundred years ago.
Now to think a singular thing - a thought, for instance, said aloud - was released first into the air three hundred years ago, hastily and under the breath, of course, as if the breath it did take was the final of the trillions before it. To think those units of chemical themselves are exchanged through the atmosphere for years, and perhaps the smallest molecule of carbon dioxide will travel slowly around on the wind down a bit south and a bit west, to dance along the shells of ears as a remainder of something not yet said by someone not yet alive. That, eventually, it might catch in the mouth of a child with long, golden hair, and that they would not ever know its origin, or remember the way that exhalation felt in their throat when they take it in by chance a hundred times over in their later life.
To think, it takes centuries to gather the courage.
Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise standing at the railing of the observation deck imagines not for the first or last time the glass sagging inwards from the black water that it pushes past, and the crushing embrace of space consuming the floor and walls and ceiling and him and the man standing next to him - the only other one on the deck besides himself - and all they have ever known. If that return to nonexistence would come as a comfort.
The glass does not do anything of the sort, space stretches on infinite and courteous, allowing them to continue in gliding through its expanse of planet and planet detritus and pretend to be so absorbed in the happenings of it all that they don’t think at all about turning to one another, to exchange a few seconds breath or two. What could they say that would take precedence over oblivion?
It’s a silly instigator: the lights laid onto the ceiling dimming slowly as a sunset might - a new feature, Kirk notices - and , out of the impulse to see if he is truly the last to notice these things, looks to his side. It is a fleeting look, but long enough to make eye contact.
He takes comfort in knowing he is not alone in struggling to preserve silence. A comet suddenly bursts into his peripheral and cuts a clean, white line through the blackness surrounding the room on three sides, he inhales deeply in and out once, and closes his eyes.
“Spock, do you remember the Guardian of Forever?”
If his voice has an edge to it, it should be a result of some kind of desensitization to the many beings they two encountered on that famous voyage: in particular: the discovery of omnipotence as a commonality. It may be some other factor, the fragmented aftermath of the incidents he knows he may categorize under that codename: Guardian of Forever, one of which is what he speaks of anyways, as opposed to the Guardian entity themself.
No, the Guardian was another instigator. He might’ve associated with it, recorded it, remarked upon it to the Federation, and hardly thought about it again, if it were not for McCoy, and then, what astronomical fault was created by the good doctor, and whose basement him and Spock flung themselves into while evading the law in that so lawless civilization. But, for that matter, any of their split-second decisions during that time spent in that place - the past - was likely an integral element of the natural course of time.
If he had looked at her for a second less, or not have walked her home - but he was destined to love her, if only for a while, and every second between them he knew was vital, every word exchanged, every time they would brush hands or he’d touch her hair by mistake or realize she wore a cheap perfume that smelled like how heartache felt. Even then, even before he found out what was to happen. Perhaps that was why he stayed out with her, took the time to walk her to her door, turned away from the looks he would get when fumbling his way into their room probably smiling like some kind of teenager before stepping over to inoffensively ask after the state of the circuit, one hand on the back of the chair, one held to his face where she might’ve kissed him.
And then, there was Spock, who he’d lain down in the path of months ago, and who now regarded him with a smooth combination of professionalism and trepidation (that revealed too much for his own good how dissatisfying the comfortable distance they agreed upon long ago was for him as well). He hadn’t really talked to him in weeks, and was steadily building up a kind of quiet sensitivity that drove him to avoid Kirk’s looks and refuse to suck up and share the one bed in their apartment room not entirely occupied with the mnemonic conserver. He would claim once again that Vulcans “do not require as much rest as humans, and I remind you this is dangerous work on an indefinite timetable.” Kirk neglected to challenge it was likely just as dangerous work when sleep-deprived.
But he knew, when he found a job, or left to get parts, he would sleep for an hour, half an hour, because he would be working faster, with more alertness, when he returned, and the pillow later would smell faintly of metal and cinnamon. He still would not look him in the face when he tried to coax him into sleeping at the same time. Strange that he always managed to smell like cinnamon. At first Kirk imagined it was some kind of soap he used, but they’d been there for three weeks. Cinnamon didn’t even exist yet.
Perhaps the Guardian of Forever is at once a reference to the true entity, and to all three of them, in that place the Guardian sent them, and what they were all doing, the words exchanged between them, the breath shared. Perhaps the way Spock’s eyebrow lifts at that question, inhaling sharply and soundlessly, still perfectly straight and focused on some speck out in that blue/black everything, reveals his own interpretation of that question.
Kirk laughs, an impulse - an impulse around him - and if some of it is nervousness, or sadness, he knows Spock understands that more than anyone ever might.
“You already know what I’m going to say.”
He imagines Spock does. If by the bond that he doesn’t understand even now, or because it was the first thing come to his mind on its own, or recent events, he imagines he does, that he thinks of a certain, freezing night, one that has Kirk making a racket coming through the troublesome door that doesn’t lock quite right, throwing his coat haphazardly over the empty bed, and turning to the table along the window for the latest report.
“How’s it coming along?”
Spock doesn’t look up from the table, where he is attaching a wire to something Kirk doesn’t understand at all. The conserver has grown since he has been out. Sometimes it seems like it comes together larger than all the parts Kirk scrounges together and sneaks up to Spock like they’re two nesting birds.
“Captain, there is lipstick on your neck.”
He paws around his jawline without much true intent, already half out of one shoe, and attempting to untie and simultaneously turn up the heat on a small, old radiator-type thing that came with the room and connects to the wall opposite from the window with a thick cord. It is on its lowest setting.
“It’s too cold in here.” The dial clicks at the highest setting, and already is emitting a small, but significant flow of warm air. “How haven’t you been freezing this whole time?”
If he doesn’t answer, Kirk knows it is his concentration, or the Vulcan equivalent which resembles more of a trance, that blocks out his questions altogether - and probably the cold, for that matter. He almost wishes he was Vulcan, if only to possess that ability to calm the shiver that rises in him since coming inside - he swears it was warmer out on the street - and decides it wouldn’t be worth it at all in the time it takes to locate his uniform and drape it over the top of the radiator, and wrench himself out of his current dress.
There is lipstick on his neck, just under his ear, and when he steps over to place the undersized, but insulating stolen coat over Spock’s motionless shoulders, he stands in the glare of the window for a moment to remove it - though if it were not acknowledged in the first place, he would have pretended not to know of it, possibly let it remain there through the night, just waited for Spock to point it out for him, to acknowledge that she had kissed him, that she had thought him worthy enough.
“You know, I will never understand your ability to completely disregard basic fact.”
“What fact?” The expression does not change. Spock lifts a piece of metal from the table and sets it among some other bits of things before returning with no subtlety of emotion.
“Even if Edith Keeler is not fated to die, we will inevitably have to return to the present. You will have to disappear without explanation. You will likely not be given time to make amends, given we locate the doctor, we will have to beam away almost immediately.”
“I can’t understand why you do it.”
He turns and moves about the room again, exchanges his shirt on the radiator with one of the thin sheets off the empty bed, folded twice over itself, then his flannel shirt with the uniform one, then picks up from the floor between the beds the primitive screwdriver Spock has stopped to scan the table for, making his voice light as he holds it forward.
“I think you’re forgetting that I do not belong to you.”
There’s a pause, for the screwdriver to be held out between them, and perhaps the most painful silence of all where Spock looks up at the offering hand, blank as ever, then slowly up to the face. When he does extract the instrument by its blade, the slowness of his words speak louder than any more physical indication of offense, and Kirk could almost steal it back and drive it between his own fourth and fifth rib.
“I only speak out of concern for your emotional health.”
Spock gives him a look next that says I need another screw, and Kirk knows it pains him to be this disorganized, but that it’s this place, and this project and the cold and when he works on a short time frame he gets messy and misplaces screws and the least Kirk can do is go fishing under the beds for one.
“I know you do.” He finds one under a chair, silver and cold and rolled onto its side. It probably rolled off the table, and was kicked there, and he wonders how something so integral could be so easily kicked under a chair and disregarded. “I know, I - I didn’t mean to say that. I don’t think you’re resentful.”
He looks at him as if to say Do you need anything else?, as if it would account for anything, and Spock not-smiles as he takes the screw from his palm, and with the last of his willpower, Kirk maneuvers back around the wires and panels across half the room and falls onto his back in the bed.
They both work as if in limbo, quietly and unenthusiastically, and Kirk stares at the soft blue paper on the ceiling and the single, shining bulb on the wall at his head until it spots his vision. The room is so calm and bursting with the kind of aestheticism of an old photo, and with the wires all strewn about it now, it both presents a kind of dissonance when it comes to the time period, and the impression that it may have taken a bit after its primary inhabitant. He writes his latest log entry in his head, as he always tries to do when he finds himself stranded, until the occasional sounds from the table cease, and the hazy figure at his right leans back and twirls the screwdriver between his fingers and lapses into a not dissimilar trance.
“I’ve come to a sort of impasse, mister Spock.”
“How is that?”
Kirk turns his head and, seeing the folded arms and much more curious expression, drags himself up to rest more fully against the backboard.
“A year ago, when I was given the Enterprise, Komack told me to treat her as if she were my wife. That she’s a full commitment. I didn’t take that seriously enough, did I?” He presents it as a question, but takes it as a fact, and toys with the fraying edge of the singular, worn blanket below him, and doesn’t look him in the face, and realizes so much of their conversations lately are done without looking each other in the face. He can feel a headache coming on. “And now I’m realizing what that means. That she’s always going to come first, that I’m always going to choose her - have to choose her.”
“Do you think it’s my punishment?”
Spock finally looks up, directly at him, and raises the one eyebrow as he grips the screwdriver by its flat end and rests the hilt in the space between his lower lip and the top of his chin.
“I mean that out of the two people I think I’ve ever honestly loved, one may die, or I’ll have to leave forever, and the other will never allow it. Both I must abandon. A space-age tragedy. Never allowed to fall in love. Tied to my ship, for eternity.”
“Captain, I don’t think…”
“I’m being punished?” He presses, and Spock adopts the tone of voice he uses when explaining something scientific.
This is his Spock. That will challenge his beliefs, talk philosophy, and almost always come out on top without batting an eyelash. That kind of scared him with his raw intelligence, but mostly just made his heart jump in his throat when he would give up the monotonous air and raise his voice, cut him off, smile sometimes when he delivered a finishing blow and Kirk would look at him in silent defeat.
“By way of a half-truth? I believe I respect the Enterprise entity - as you believe her to be - more than assuming she would punish a human infidelity, much less use faulted means.”
“You believe my vices to be faulted?”
“In what way?”
“I don’t believe them fully true.”
For a second, the only sound is the general rumbling outside, the shifting sounds of Spock arranging things on the table, laying wires straight, leaning himself across the whole table with Jim’s coat still hanging off and brushing its arms against the circuitry, and Kirk swinging his legs off the bed to sit facing him.
“Perhaps the second.”
You already know what I’m going to say. Do you know that I operated for years under the assumption I’d never have you while I was Captain? That it was you or the Enterprise, and she wouldn’t let me have you?
“Captain, these circuits require my attention, or-” He stops without Kirk interrupting, the excuse fizzling out before he even gave it a chance.
He never told Edith. He didn’t think it right, somehow, thought it’s presence would only complicate his removal. If she knew he loved her, if he repeated it, what incongruence would that make with his abandonment? What incongruence that would make with his behavior? Spock finally looks at him, raw emotion in his eyes, the face blank except for that one telltale feature. He knows it would pain him. Already is, he’d bet.
“What does that mean?”
The austerity of their speech and demeanor that reigned from the second Kirk walked in is broken with a thankful exhalation and in one swift moment.
“You don’t have to answer that.” Kirk says suddenly, standing up and then steadying himself from the rush the sharp motion gives him. It takes hours to cross the room, a day to raise his hands to where the collar reaches too far up his neck, all the time they don’t have to press his entire self into the space between their lips and try to kiss him without fainting. He’s not thinking about time.
What would Kohlinar take from him, he wonders. Spock meant to forget him, and nearly must have. To massacre just about five entire years of his life - what would have replaced that? Empty space? How would he have lived with that kind of nonexistence in his past?
He wants to ask Spock if he remembered this in particular. As they stand on the observation deck and he forces out words he’s not sure string together so well, or perhaps more vividly remembers digging his fingers into Kirk’s arm and Kirk grinning with laughter and laying a hand on his face and saying “You are cold, you’re freezing” like he’s accusing him of a mutiny. Or the complete illogic of all the trouble they went to to stay bundled up against the cold coupled with that instantaneous need to remove it all at once. But he’s not thinking about time.
How could he stand to forget it. How could he not possibly remember being held like that when they were both so cold, just trying not to trip over the wires to the bed, and the exposed part of his neck so cold that Kirk makes a point of opening his mouth to breathe into it,
He could easily ask if he remembered, but it wouldn’t be anything he could answer. Not even a mind meld could not possibly reveal to him the turning in Kirk’s chest when Spock so much as looks at him, or the unsteady way his fingers find his and drag against them. When Kirk’s knees bruised the next day from hitting the floor when it didn’t seem that he could get on his knees fast enough. He realizes that it would be hopeless to wonder if he remembered any of it at all, though he had tried to make it easy enough, to make it worth it.
It occurs to him once more the reason why he started it, that if there was after all some small part of Spock that felt a more than casual affection towards him, he wanted him to know it was worth something.
Kirk can certainly remember kissing him, trying to talk through it, and only getting a mouthful of desperate breath, unforgiving, strict carbon dioxide, and not so much resolving to take what he can get as he is equally desperately thankful for just that much.
They don’t both quite fit in this kind of bed, but they make it so, still cautious of the way the springs screech with the slightest pressure, and Kirk wraps his arms under his waist until they numb and Spock whispers something in Vulcan that Kirk doesn’t think he’s heard before as he lays watching the wall across from them. He begins to ask about it, but Spock wouldn’t answer him anyways, and he seemed to be in that mood where he’d not do anything but stare vaguely in some direction and sometimes do something with his hands. His bottom lip has a mark in the center, Kirk remembers that, from his own teeth. Just to keep quiet, and he feels a twinge of anger at the fact that that was a necessity.
“I think it’s getting even colder.” Kirk says eventually, and raises himself to walk to the other bed and pull the sheets from underneath another part of the circuit. He watches Spock from the corner of his eye, dragging himself upright on his arms. “It looks like it might rain, too - might be already.”
“It would create a considerable obstacle for the morning if it froze.” He adds in softly as Kirk drops the sheets in his lap in a pile, then picks his own coat from the floor to wrap around himself as he moves to the window and pulls the curtains aside just as a distant roar starts up in the streets like a steadily breathing creature.
The first drops hit the window, throwing themselves against the glass that seems so primitive Kirk wonders if a heavier storm could fracture it. He can feel a cough coming on, wonders if he’s getting a cold despite his best efforts, and tries not to look towards the bed where he knows he’s being watched from, and tries not to think about turning around and collapsing next to him once again and burying his face into his chest and waiting until the rain passes.
Once, the Enterprise may not have wanted Kirk to love someone else, hardly allowed it when it did happen, but Spock was always different. He is just as much of the Enterprise as Kirk. The two are not so much mutually exclusive. If anything, they come together in his mind as a kind of trinity, one even the doctor doesn’t fit into, a kind of circle, something he even felt that Edith knew about. He remembered a night they had coffee across a table with rings all across the wooden top, and he mentioned Spock would wait up for him, and that he’d better get back, and she had rested her chin atop one thin hand, said that he’d better go then, and smiled in the confident, intrepid way she often did, and he had felt very exposed and almost frightened.
Another comet streaks through the blackness, and the window lights up as if with a rainstorm in deep contrast, and in an instant the stillness of him only that few feet away bears more resemblance to the glass on that window in the old room than this.
Kirk is pulled back from the reverie, turning from that window, watching him watch the walls, and realizing at once that Spock would do what he eventually did and leave, and that they would never be able to stay together at all, and that he was clinging onto something that would float away the second he released hold. It was a wonder something so perfect to him, the space between their hands, for instance - could be created so perfectly but not given the longevity it seemed to deserve.
“The purest forms of beauty are the most transient. Who said that?”
The rain seems to cover the entire window now, and casts strange shadows on the far wall and over the two beds when it runs down the smudged glass.
“If I truly trusted that, I don’t think I would be anything but grateful right now. What’s the use of it? I may understand Edith, but I don’t understand you - I already get it, I already know how beautiful you are. I wish I could show that in some way, that I don’t need anything else to understand that.”
He thinks again about him floating away, and whether or not he would burn out and return back, run out of the breath keeping him afloat.
Exhibit B: Voyager. He does.
His weight is half the suit, and half bone, and it fleetingly occurs to Kirk that he can now claim Spock to weigh roughly one average spacesuit, just in case anyone ever asked.
Kirk drags him against the wall of the airlock, taps in the necessary functions, and sets about extracting both of them from their respective shells. The air inside is too warm, his hair damp, and the hand on Kirk’s shoulder, the scanner held across him, reaching towards Spock registers for one second before the head in his hands slips forward and the passage of time seems to choke in that room. He’s distantly aware of his own voice, repeating the name, struggling to hold all of him up at once.
His much desired sign comes in the form of one hand, coming up to grasp at his, and the usual - the post-near-death experience look, though half-sedated. The sudden, stuttering breathing, the eyes wide from exhilaration. The nails that scrape into his wrist he thinks look slightly blue in the dim of the airlock.
“He’s showing signs of neurogenic shock.” And Chapel is there, and she speaks over him without realizing he’s speaking at all. “Sickbay, Immediately.”
He stops for a second and looks at Kirk as they carry Spock away and shakes his head.
“You two really haven’t changed a bit.”
Time doesn’t work the same until Spock wakes up again, and suddenly, he’s back in the sickbay every other time he’s waited for Spock to wake up, back on the mission. Back before he left.
The city looked filthy without her in it, and so the Enterprise looked at first like a childhood home when he came back to it without Spock, the same spaces that played background to some of his best and worst memories perverted with other people’s renovations. Something about Spock showing up on that bridge, the way he stood out in full black against the new, much lighter walls, moved over the controls of his station like they hadn’t been redesigned almost beyond Kirk’s recognition of them, threw this perception. And after their conversation in sickbay - the sudden lack of fear, the sanguine glow of the memory itself that was comprised of a million little points in their speech and in Spock’s face and the grip of their hands and the startling realization -
“I thought I knew, is my point.”
And the look on his face -
Spock tilts his head in indication of his attention, but waits wordlessly as Kirk flounders for his next words, eyes at the juncture between deck ad window. Did he always blunder so much under Spock’s attention?
”I didn’t know then, and, to be honest, I don’t think I ever will - I - There’s just not enough of me, it seems.” He is distantly away of Spock turning, bracing one hand against the rail as he finds his eyes and seem to pull them up again. “It’s my fault that-”
“-Jim, I love you.”
He looks up, and Spock looks at him, and he smiles and Spock continues in looking at him.
Kirk takes a deep breath, stretches his hands out on the handrail, and watches his reflection in the glass.
“Taluhk nash-veh k'dular.”
As he predicted, Spock looks up, eyes widening as he scrutinizes his profile for the ten seconds of suspense he leaves between this expression and it’s explanation.
“Essentially the cross-cultural equivalent- I’m only about a second grade level, I started while…” Kirk finds himself laughing and then stopping short when he finds it returned, surprised with the way the sounds melt together. “While you were away. I remembered you saying it, right after I tried to get you to admit it. Funny I never made the connection, or looked into it on my own.”
“You were in mourning.”
“Were? I don’t think I’ll ever stop. That’s beside the point. I didn’t mean to undermine you. I’m glad you said it. Took you three centuries, but I’m still glad.”
It’s not so much finding something to take precedence over oblivion as it is becoming comfortable within it, he thinks, and decides that he doesn’t feel the need to cross the room and inhale some of his own breath anyways, because there would be time for that now, and thousands more chances. Point B. They’ve made it all that way, the three entire centuries, and now there would be time. Kirk can’t help but look at him again, and is comforted by the softened expression, the weight of that omission now gone.
“Is it cold in here?”