Too Long a Time
The water was licking teasingly at his bare feet as he stood watching the ever-changeable powerful substance of the ocean.
“Funny, I always thought Vulcans would be afraid of water.”
He glanced sideways at the woman coming to stand at his side.
“The lack of something usually produces extreme longing for it, not extreme fear. Though Vulcans might find the idea of using water for recreational purposes disturbing.”
“Like a sacrilege?”
“An apt analogy. However, ocean water is not drinkable in its natural state, therefore invokes no such inhibitions.”
“No,” she smiled dryly, looking at the dark horizon. “Inhibitions of any kind aren't exactly in your vocabulary, are they?”
“I am certain I do not perceive your meaning.”
“I'm certain you do.”
She fell silent, biting her lip and looking at the wet sand and grey pebbles under her feet.
“This isn't going to work,” she spoke again in a while. “But I'm sure you knew that already.”
He glanced at her again, lifting an eyebrow in silent inquiry.
“He asked me to marry him,” she said with obvious strain in her voice. “When you invited us here, I thought it'd be great to have a wedding at the seaside. Romantic. But I can't do it.”
He turned to her, now giving her his full attention.
“He's... too much. Impulsive, unpredictable... unrestrained. There are depths in him, dark depths, which he hides from everyone. Layer, upon layer, upon layer. It's eerie. He wouldn't let me in, but even if he did, I... I wouldn't dive into this. Such darkness... It scares me to bits.”
There was a pause, while he contemplated her words, watching her intently.
“You do not love him enough.”
She winced, looked up at him sharply, as if ready to slap, and then—her gaze lost its edge instantly, broken at the steady, calm, non-judging understanding in his eyes.
“I don’t want to spend my life fighting his demons,” she said in a defeated tone, bowing her head. A soft bitter laugh escaped her lips. “He's like the ocean. And I—I've always been afraid of deep waters.”
Spock maintained his scrutiny for another moment, before turning back to gaze at the ocean.
Antonia nodded, sweeping away a lonely tear.
“Neither is he.”
Perhaps inviting Jim and Antonia to spend a week in his parents’ house on Cabo Verde wasn’t such a good idea, Spock reflected. But the temptation was too great for him to resist. Two years that had passed since that painfully memorable night in Jim’s apartment in San Francisco were filled with nothing but forbidding silence. Their correspondence was highly irregular and the messages contained little to nothing personal. Spock had mostly been off world, picking up the rare pieces of news from mutual acquaintances. From what he was able to deduce, Jim had only left his farm once or twice in all this time and never for more than a couple of days. It didn’t make Spock very optimistic, but once back on Earth, he could fight the urge no longer. He called.
To his relief, the conversation went smoothly. Jim appeared well. He was once again making an impression of a man, who didn’t know what a self-doubt was, who had never had anything less than complete confidence in himself. What was more, he was friendly. Spock detected some wariness, but he could sense none of the stinging anger and despair that were overwhelming Jim the last time Spock saw him. He even teased the Vulcan a little, and it didn’t come as forced or unnatural. Then Spock invited him, spontaneously, acting on impulse. He expected a rebuff, but to his surprise, Jim agreed almost easily.
And now he was here. The week was nearly over, and Spock still felt he was walking on eggshells. During the day, Spock was mostly working or going on errands, while Jim and Antonia explored the coast or spent their time on the beach. The three of them were usually reunited only during dinner, and the meals passed in polite conversation. Afterwards, Spock usually retired shortly, leaving the floor to his guests.
Jim seemed to be at ease around him. They discussed politics, new Starfleet initiatives, caught up on mutual friends. Jim asked and Spock told him about those of his missions that weren’t classified and was impressed all over again by the accurate insights Jim provided. There were moments when it almost felt as if both of them were back on the Enterprise at the time of their first five-year mission, and Spock could feel Jim was enjoying himself as much as he did.
Last night, which was also the last night Jim and Antonia were staying, Jim asked him with a familiar teasing smile if he wanted to play a game of chess. Antonia showed no interest in the game and claiming tiredness went upstairs early, leaving them alone.
For the first time during the week, Spock’s control slipped. He paid little attention to the game, concentrating on watching Jim instead. The way he frowned, thinking about the next move, the way his poker face was faltered by a triumphant glint in his eyes, the way he bit his lip when Spock’s move put him in a difficult position—Spock couldn’t help running through his mental catalogue, comparing, labeling, memorizing. It wasn’t long before Jim noticed, but despite Spock’s wariness, he wasn’t angry.
“Stop it,” he said with a rueful smile. “I’m not going to vanish into thin air.”
“I apologize,” Spock said, instantly looking away.
“What’s wrong, Spock?” Kirk asked gently.
“Nothing. Only, I... missed you.”
A beat of silence. Then, softly, “I see.”
Kirk took a sip of his wine, staring into his glass thoughtfully.
“I didn’t tell you, didn’t want to speak in front of Antonia,” he began still watching the dark liquid. “I haven’t told her yet and I don’t think she’ll take it lightly. But I’ve decided to return to active service.” He glanced up and met Spock’s eyes. “I’m going back to Starfleet.”
“I see,” Spock said, trying to control his breathing.
Kirk grinned at him, the familiar mischievous twinkle lighting up his gaze.
“You think they’d find some use for a crazy old man in there?”
“With a possible exception for Doctor McCoy, I doubt there is a position in Starfleet for any such individual,” Spock teased back. “But I am certain they will find a job for you. In fact, I am convinced you will be in high demand. I was approached several times over the last years and questioned whether or not your retirement was permanent.”
“What did you say?” Despite the smile, Kirk grew very serious.
“That I do not know,” Spock replied bluntly. “But that I hope very much that it isn’t.”
Kirk closed his eyes for a moment.
“For my hope?”
“For not giving up on me. God,” he shook his head incredulously. “Spock, do you have any idea how long it has been since we talked like this?”
“Yes, indeed. Too long, my friend.”
On the table, he turned his hand upward and reached out. Spock took it without hesitation. The familiar resonance of the link stirred within them both. The corners of Spock’s lips curled upward. Kirk grinned openly.
“I was an idiot,” he said.
“You owe me no apologies,” Spock shook his head.
“I owe them to myself then. I wish I could—”
Antonia was standing in the doorway, looking sleepy and cold in her blue silk bathrobe.
“It’s two in the morning,” she complained blandly. “Spock might have Vulcan stamina, you don’t. Are you coming to bed?”
“Yes.” Kirk stood up abruptly, not looking at the Vulcan. “Thanks for the game, Spock. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”
“Of course, Jim. Good night.”
Spock stood up and packed the chess-set. He felt strangely restless, but instead of going to his room to meditate, he picked up an old cloak and walked out into the beach. He paced along the shore, with only the waves and the stars keeping him company.
Dared he believe this? Dared he believe this Jim, so calm, so confident, so at peace with himself, emanating nothing but complete acceptance? This was the feel of him Spock had almost forgotten; the feel, washed away by years of irresolvable conflict, anger, pain, the sense of injustice and jealousy; the feel that Jim used to surround him with everyday on the Enterprise when they were the best of friends; the feel that had been absent for so long that it now felt new. He wanted to believe it so much—it hurt, and yet he was wary to, almost afraid.
‘I guess I have simply forgotten that even Vulcans aren’t indestructible.’
‘No. We are not.’
Spock looked back at the last twenty years and realized that neither of them seemed to have really believed in that. Not judging by their actions, and it might have been just as well or he wouldn’t be even standing here now. But the moment came, and he felt a queasy sense of doubt raising its ugly head within him. What if this time would turn to ashes too? How much more of this could he take?
He shook his head and smirked ironically at himself. He knew the answer. However much it takes. There was no way he could give up, as Jim had put it. They had had the good times and they had had the bad times. Spock hoped, illogical as it was, that the best of times were yet to come, and that the worst would pass them by. He would talk to Jim again tomorrow. He would find a way to make it work this time.
Antonia joined him on the beach at dawn, and their conversation was as illuminating as it was painful. Spock had long ceased feeling anger towards the people who could not accept Jim the way he was, who wanted to somehow change him to better suit their needs. She was no better and no worse, but she was honest. He appreciated her candor, even though he realized that this very trait must have made Jim’s life with her difficult and full of concessions. But perhaps Jim needed this sort of mild oppression to remember his true self. If so, Spock was grateful to Antonia for giving him what he needed.
They were many, these people in both their lives who came and went unable to withstand the heat. It ultimately came to the two of them, always the two of them. Spock remembered his own words, which he said to Tora more than a decade ago. ‘He is the single most important person in my life, no matter what status we currently hold with each other.’ It was still true, and he doubted it would ever change. But that fact, genuine as it might have been, did not make it any easier.
The conversation that he had been anticipating wasn’t meant to happen. Spock had been summoned unexpectedly back on board the Ulysses before Jim even woke up. Spock tried to speed up the meetings and cursed inwardly at every new delay. When he was finally able to beam down, his guests were ready to leave. Antonia passed him with a muttered ‘Goodbye’ towards the air car, and he was barely able to step out of her way in time. He bowed slightly after her and walked towards the house where Jim was picking up the last of their bags. He straightened up as Spock approached and grinned at him regretfully.
“I’m glad you’ve made it back before we left,” Kirk said. “Didn’t feel right to leave without even thanking you for your hospitality.”
“I’m sorry I was detained,” Spock replied. “And you need not thank me. Whatever I have is yours whenever you want it.”
Kirk’s gaze turned wistful and he shook his head slightly.
“I will never ever understand your choice, Spock.” Spock tensed and Kirk smiled knowing the reason. “Don’t worry. I won’t question it anymore. I’ll simply accept it and be grateful.”
“Wise,” Spock approved. “Safe journey, Jim.”
“And to you, my friend. Wherever you roam.”
Spock remained outside until the sound of the car died out. He walked into the house then, debating returning to the ship at once. The house would feel empty now, too silent and stiff. An object had suddenly piqued his attention, and he had almost smiled the moment he recognized it. Jim’s hat. He had probably put it down while packing and then simply forgot it there. Spock picked it up, studying the traces the sun and rains had left on it.
He remembered the day McCoy had given Jim this hat. In the Yosemite park, when they went back there to finish their interrupted camping trip. ‘All frontier pioneers wore something like that, Jim. It’s time you showed your true colors.’ Jim laughed at the comment and tried the hat on. It didn’t exactly suit him, and McCoy lost no time telling him so, with Spock’s silent agreement, but Jim only laughed more and refused to take it off. Judging by the state the hat was in now, he really liked it a lot.
Spock was so deeply engrossed in his memories as his fingers caressed the coarsen leather that he didn’t hear the returning footsteps. Only when the door opened did he glance up, startled.
“Sorry,” Jim grinned a bit sheepishly, “I seem to have forgotten my... Oh. I see you found my hat.”
Silently, Spock handed it to him. Kirk took it and stood still for several long seconds, studying it. Then, tentatively, he lifted his eyes and met Spock’s. Swallowed.
“You are welcome.”
The fabric of spacetime rippled and stretched as they continued to look into each other’s eyes. As the turbulence reached its peak, Kirk dropped the hat to the floor and crossed the distance between them. Spock was ready. He caught the human in his arms as he walked into them, and then Kirk kissed him. Years of emotional turmoil, of denial and loneliness, years filled with the deepest, truest suffering of the soul were pouring into that kiss, making it almost painful, and yet so unbearably tender, so intoxicatingly sweet. Bittersweet. Cleansing. Not a kiss, an oblation. They broke it forcibly, when it became too much to endure, and stood clinging onto each other, unwilling to let go.
“I missed you,” Kirk whispered. “God help me, Spock, I missed you so much, I thought I’d die.”
“Stay,” Spock’s voice wasn’t any stronger. “Don’t go.”
Kirk shook his head rather feebly. “I must.” He stepped back on shaky legs, forcing himself to let go. “For a while longer.” He picked up his hat from the floor and looked at Spock again, almost imploringly. “I need more time, Spock. Just a little more, I promise.”
Spock visibly collected himself and nodded somberly.
“I will be here, Jim. However long it takes.”
Kirk looked at him for another moment intently, as if trying to memorize each little detail, each line, each shadow. Then, without another word, he turned on his heel abruptly and left.
“Don’t make it too long, t’hy’la,” Spock whispered in the silence of the empty house. “Please don’t make it too long.”
Jim said ‘a little more time’, and Spock hoped it would be soon. Neither knew that for them a little more time would mean forever. It took two months for the truth to hit him. He had left Earth in a rather optimistic frame of mind, despite heading for the Romulan Neutral Zone. The encounter had not only returned the hope he had almost lost, it gave him a heartwarming certainty that this time they would finally come together the way it should have happened a long time ago—without any obstacles, reservations, self-doubts and unresolved questions. They would have years and they would be happy.
The Romulan section of Starfleet Intelligence was debating issues for two weeks without any end in sight. More and more Spock was feeling that Starfleet was losing its perspective in the new rise of paranoia. It was in the end of one particularly frustrating meeting that Spock had noticed Uhura entering the briefing room quietly. She was looking directly at him and as soon as he met her gaze, she nodded subtly towards the exit. Spock rose up at once, trying to move as stealthily as possible in order not to interrupt the current speaker. He knew perfectly well that if Uhura called him out, it was bound to be important. He just didn’t know how important.
“Spock,” she said quietly as they came to stand in a deserted alcove. She looked uncharacteristically rigid as if by holding herself as tightly as possible she could prevent the world from shattering to pieces. “There has been an accident at the launch of the Enterprise-B. They encountered a transport in distress. There was a rescue operation. They had casualties.”
She was forcing the words out with obvious effort, and Spock placed a hand gently on her arm in an instinctive gesture of support.
She looked up at him, her eyes big and carrying an expression of a wild animal, cornered and knowing it was about to die.
“It’s Jim, Spock,” her lips trembled and her breath caught, but she got a grip on herself. “Captain Kirk is listed as dead. They didn’t find his body, but there was no chance of survival.”
Spock’s hand dropped as he took a moment to process the news.
“That is not possible,” he said slowly. “He cannot be dead. I would have known.”
Compassion flooded her features.
“I spoke with Pavel, Spock. He and Scotty both confirm it. There is no mistake. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t understand,” he shook his head vehemently. “Captain Kirk and I are bonded. It’s not a matrimonial bond, but a bond nonetheless. It is not possible for him to die or even come close to it without my knowledge.”
“Spock,” she whispered with pain and sympathy, “there are almost seventy light years between us. You couldn’t possibly...”
“Yes,” he retorted passionately. “I would. Vulcan bondings are not to be taken lightly. When our partner dies, we feel it so acutely that there is always a risk of following. Yet not only do I not feel any void opening within me,” Spock reflected pensively, looking inward, “I detect no change in the link at all.” He fixed Uhura with a steady gaze. “It would not be possible if Jim were dead. I am not delusional. It’s simply not possible.”
“But how can that be, Spock?” she asked, her voice strained with desperation. “The section of the ship he was in was sucked into space. There was some spatial anomaly, but...”
“I need to know more,” Spock said calmly. “I thank you for informing me, but I need to know more before I can even consider accepting this. Excuse me.”
He walked past her not back into the briefing room, but towards the command center. Uhura watched him go silently, unshed tears glistening in her eyes. She was not a young woman anymore, and the part of her life during which she knew Spock was considerably longer now than the part during which she didn’t. For the first time in their long association, she had seen him succumbing to the irrationality of hope where no hope could logically survive. She tried to wish him good luck, but couldn’t. Something was telling her that Jim Kirk had exhausted his stock, and nothing Spock did would turn the tables around. However much any of them wished it.
By the time he reached Earth, he knew everything. Every scrap of information available was patched through to him immediately as though they had been expecting his request. They probably had been. They were smart enough not to offer condolences. In fact, they were so impeccably correct, it was almost incredible. By the time he reached Earth, there was nothing more for him to be learned from either the ship’s logs or eyewitnesses’ accounts. Spock had his explanation, but not his answer.
The morning air was a little bit too fresh for his comfort when he beamed down. Spock pulled his coat tighter around himself as he walked slowly up towards the old house, leaving soft dents in the dew-covered grass. The squeak of the rocking-chair had led him to the back terrace, and sure enough, the Doctor was there, staring at his rather untidy garden pensively. He glanced up as Spock approached, but didn’t rise. The Vulcan sat down quietly beside him on an old couch, steepled his hands and waited.
“How have you been, Spock?” McCoy asked blandly.
“Fine,” Spock replied just as evenly. “Occupied. And you, Doctor?”
“Tired,” McCoy said. “I’ve been tired for so long, I can’t remember how it feels not to be.”
“You look well,” Spock observed.
McCoy turned to look at him for the first time for real, and Spock noticed that his eyes were slightly red.
“Sorry, can’t say the same about you. What the hell have you been doing to yourself?”
Spock barely raised an eyebrow.
“I am not thirty-seven anymore, Doctor. What did you expect?”
“Well, I certainly didn’t expect you to look older than your own father,” McCoy drawled with a hint of bite in his tone.
That got Spock’s attention.
“You saw my father recently?”
“He stopped by a couple of days ago. Seemed worried about you. He heard the news, and you weren’t answering your messages. I told him you were well.”
Spock merely nodded. He didn’t need to ask how McCoy knew that or why his father thought that he might. Another round of silence encircled them, as the sun was slowly crawling up from the horizon.
“So where were you when—?” McCoy asked very quietly.
“Romulan border. You?”
“Back on Pacifica,” McCoy sighed.
Birds were singing joyfully in the sweet late-summer air outside. Spock listened awhile, trying to discern a pattern. McCoy rocked almost imperceptibly in his chair.
“It’s a shame there’re no taped orders for us this time,” McCoy said. “I wish so goddamn much someone would tell me what to do.”
The rich smell of blooming roses was rising from the ground entangled in the invisible smoke of the evaporating morning dew. The garden might have been wild and uncared for, but it was still beautiful.
“The last time I saw him was almost three months ago,” McCoy spoke again. “With some woman. She reminded me of an Andorian animal tamer. It was nearly impossible to have a conversation without her telling either me or him how high we were supposed to jump.”
“Antonia,” Spock said flatly.
“You know her?”
“I met her.”
“Who the hell is she, Spock?”
“A woman Jim wanted to marry.”
“Oh yeah? Tell me, what the hell happened with you two? I never could quite figure out what was wrong, but I thought by now you’d have worked it out.”
“We almost have, Doctor. Last time I saw him, Jim said he needed a little more time. Just a little more.”
“Just a little more,” McCoy repeated with bitter incredulity. “Human arrogance. Vulcan arrogance. What makes you think you have all the time in the world?”
Spock didn’t answer. McCoy shook his head and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
“Are you going to the memorial service?” he asked blankly.
Spock sat up a little straighter.
“No. I participated in two memorial services for Jim in the past. Three would make a habit I would not like to keep.”
“Well, I’m not going either. They’re gonna make it a circus and I’ve had enough of Starfleet clowns, thank you very much. In fact, I was only staying on Earth waiting for you.”
“I... appreciate it, Doctor. I find myself strangely elated upon seeing a familiar face.”
McCoy chuckled softly, shook his head, and turned to look at Spock with an almost tender smile.
“Well, we are family, Spock. I dare you to deny it.”
Spock stood up, placing a hand on McCoy’s shoulder.
“I have no wish to deny it,” he said. “I am gratified that it is so. And as a family member, I would ask you to take good care of yourself in my absence. Or at least to allow Karina to take care of you.”
“In your absence, huh?” McCoy looked up at him, blushing slightly. “And just where are you going this time? Back to the Romulan border?”
“No,” Spock shook his head. “I am on extended leave from Starfleet and I do not plan on going back. It has been brought to my attention that a scientist on Caleb II might have information on the Nexus phenomenon. I intend to investigate.”
“Spock.” McCoy’s gaze turned suspicious. “Please don’t tell me you believe...”
The firm fingers dug a little deeper into his shoulder, and the Doctor fell silent, staring at the Vulcan intently. Slowly, Spock relaxed his grip and made a couple of steps towards the railing, facing the unprecedented beauty of the garden squarely.
“My faith is irrelevant,” he broke. “I must do this.” Turning around, he repeated firmer, “I must.”
McCoy nodded thoughtfully, letting out a long sigh. “Well, I can’t say I blame you. And I’d wish you luck, Spock, only...”
“Yes. I know.”
McCoy stood up, rather stiffly.
“I guess this is goodbye then.”
“Do not look so saddened, Doctor. Whatever I will find... or not, I will return to share it with you.”
“I’ll be here,” McCoy said. “Or, you know, on Pacifica.”
Spock smiled his thin smile and bowed slightly.
“Give my regards to Karina. She is an exceptionally wise woman.”
“Oh, shut up. You two are so fond of each other, it’s giving me the creeps.”
“Yes,” Spock intoned, studying him with would-be intense scientific curiosity. “As expected, quite illogical.”
McCoy felt his breath catch, as for a moment he saw a glimpse of that thirty years younger Spock standing on the Bridge of their Enterprise, fighting back in another round of their ever-going banter. Out of the corner of his eye, he could almost see Jim, laughing and saying, ‘Touché, Bones.’ The echo lingered in his ears, refusing to die, and he shook his head forcibly to cast it out.
“Well, if you’re gonna go—go now, Spock,” he grunted. “Don’t make it worse than it is.”
Spock nodded slowly, understanding and reflected feeling glinting in his eyes.
“Peace, Doctor. And long life.”
“Take care, Spock,” McCoy said. “And for God’s sake, be careful.”
“I will,” Spock promised, turning around the corner.
McCoy stood looking after him for a long while.
“Don’t make it too long, Spock,” he muttered under his breath. “I’m not getting any younger. Please don’t make it too long.”
But the roses had bowed their heads sadly, telling him that it would be years before he would see Spock again.