Jim gazed at himself in the mirror. The glass reflected back the image of a starship captain, specifically the starship captain, James T. Kirk, handsome, vital, powerful, 35 years of age. It was a relief to be back to normal.
Jim’s face darkened as he thought about the previous days. After landing on Gamma Hydra IV, everyone on the landing party (with the exception of Chekov) had contracted some unknown virus that had aged them rapidly. One member of the group had actually died of extreme old age, even though she was less than 30 years old. Jim himself had been stricken with a variety of old age ills, including severe reduction of cognitive functions, and had been relieved of command by Commodore Stocker, with the cooperation of his own First Officer, Commander Spock. That blundering ass Stocker had assumed command and practically gotten them all killed when he crossed the Neutral Zone and came face-to-face with a Romulan warship. Fortunately, the medical team had managed to find an antidote for the virus and restore Jim to his full capabilities, skills he quickly used to devise a ruse and escape from the Romulan trap. The Enterprise was back on patrol; Jim Kirk was back in the saddle. Everything was back to normal.
Jim frowned at his reflection. Nothing was back to normal.
The door buzzed. “Come,” Jim said, turning away from the mirror, his enemy and ally. He knew who it was likely to be.
Commander Spock, also restored to his proper age, walked into the cabin. He waited until the door closed behind him to cross the room and catch Jim in a desperate, heartfelt embrace.
“Jim,” he murmured, burying his face in Kirk’s neck. “Ashaya, I was so worried about you.” He gently kissed Jim’s throat, nuzzling close. Jim could feel Spock’s heart hammering more quickly than usual in his side. He eased back, gently smoothing his hand along Spock’s cheek.
“It’s all right,” he said, trying to speak normally, trying to ignore what he was feeling right now. “I’m fine.”
The onyx eyes looked into his. Jim knew that even after only a few months as lovers, Spock could read him as no one else had ever been able to.
“Jim,” he said softly.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Jim freed himself from Spock’s embrace and retreated across the room to his desk. “I’ve got a lot of work to catch up one; Stocker managed to practically bring the ship to a halt with his incompetence and inexperience. Why Command ever made him a commodore is beyond my comprehension; he must have friends in high places.” He sat down, busily—too busily—rearranging stacks of discs for his review.
Spock stood in the middle of Jim’s quarters, looking at the colleague, lover, and friend who had suddenly become a stranger. “Jim…”
Kirk looked up. “First Officer, I am quite sure you have work to catch up on as well,” he said formally.
Spock—flinched, there was no other word for it. But then Vulcan discipline came to his aid, and he straightened to his full height. “Yes, sir,” he said respectfully. He turned to leave.
“Spock.” Jim relented, stricken at the sight of Spock’s unhappy face.
The Vulcan paused and turned. “Sir?”
“Dinner here, 1900 hours?” Jim asked.
The dark head nodded, Spock’s face losing that pinched look. “I will be here,” he promised, and then he was gone. Jim turned back to his work, determined to take care of business, even as his mind wore itself out over the problem that was eating away at him.
The table was spread with the remains of their meal. Neither Jim nor Spock had eaten much. Conversation had been desultory as well, mostly related to ship’s status, which was fortunately unharmed by their recent detour into the Neutral Zone.
“Stocker came by my quarters about an hour after you left,” Jim said at last, toying with a brandy he didn’t really want.
Spock looked up from the cup of vaylaisa tea he had barely tasted. “Indeed? What did he want?”
“He wanted to apologize.” Kirk spat the word as if it were rancid. “He was sorry he took command and nearly got us all blown to Hell. I came within an inch of telling him that was no consolation to the people he’d almost killed.”
Spock hesitated, but it had to be said. “Jim…I am also sorry for my role in these events,” he said quietly. “However, according to regulations, I…”
Jim pushed back from the table. “Spock, I really don’t want to hear about regulations right now,” he said. “I know you did what you thought was right.” He looked at the remains of their dinner. “Ask my yeoman to clear that away, will you? I’m going up to the bridge. I’ll be back in 15 minutes.”
When Jim returned, Spock was waiting, as Jim knew he would be. But the look in the dark eyes was wary, uncertain—hurt. He rose as Jim walked in.
“Is everything all right on the Bridge?” This was the proper First Officer Spock.
Jim nodded. “Yeah; I just wanted to check in and make sure the Gamma shift people understood that they need to keep an eye out for Romulans. I don’t think they’ll try to follow us, but I don’t want to be caught napping.” He stretched. “Speaking of napping, I think it’s time to turn in.”
“Agreed; the last few days have been—difficult.” Spock hesitated. Jim looked at him.
“Do you wish me to stay?” Spock asked in a low voice. Jim felt a faint prickle of self-loathing.
“Of course,” he said more gently than he had spoken to Spock all day. “You’re always welcome.”
Then why are you acting this way? Spock thought, but he didn’t say it. He simply inclined his head.
“I will return shortly,” he promised and disappeared through their shared door into his own cabin. Jim finished getting ready and got into his bunk. Within minutes, as promised, Spock came back, dressed in his usual night wear, a knitted silk tunic and pants. Jim was already in his usual night wear, which was—nothing, especially when they slept together, since Jim always raised the cabin’s temperature for Spock. With a low-voiced command, he did so now, as well as setting the lights to 10%. Wordlessly, Spock slid into bed with Jim, taking him into his arms, letting Jim’s head rest on his shoulder. They had been sharing a bed most nights for the last four months, ever since Spock’s disastrous pon farr on Vulcan. His bitch of a betrothed, T’Pring, had carefully set the stage so they were forced to fight each other. Lost in the madness of the plak tow, the hormone-induced blood fever, Spock had nearly killed Jim—would have killed him, if McCoy hadn’t slipped Jim a neural paralyzer, making Jim look dead and enabling Bones to beam him back to the ship. Lying in the dimly-lit cabin, Spock real and warm in his arms, Jim remembered waking up in Sickbay after that terrible experience, hearing Spock talking to Bones in the next room, catching just bits and pieces of Spock’s monotone soliloquy:
“No justification for my actions…No defense…turn ship over to Mr. Scott…surrender myself to authorities at Starbase Two…"
Jim had managed to drag himself off the bio-bed and stagger through the doorway into McCoy’s office. He’d seen Spock, his back turned, his shoulders shaking with grief. From somewhere, he’d found the strength to speak:
“Don’t you think you’d better check with me first, Mr. Spock?” Spock had whirled and seen him standing there.
“Jim!” For perhaps the first time in his life, Spock’s face wore a genuine smile, not influenced by drugs or aliens, but a heartfelt, soul-deep smile, as he realized that Jim wasn’t dead. He’d grabbed Jim by the shoulders, his hands digging into Jim’s biceps almost painfully. Bones had teased him, but Spock had scarcely noticed. He had kept his eyes fixed on Jim, as if he were afraid that if he blinked, it would all be a dream, and Jim would truly be dead.
“Come on, Mr. Spock,” Jim had said cheerfully, “let’s go mind the store.” They’d made their way to the bridge, and somehow, they’d managed to make it through their shift.
That night, Spock had come to his cabin. Jim had been sitting at his desk. For a long moment, the two simply looked at each other. There were no words; somehow, Jim knew exactly what Spock was feeling. In silence, the Vulcan had crossed the room in two strides and knelt down next to Jim, placing that sleek, dark head in Jim’s lap. His whole body had been trembling. Jim reached out and gently stroked the smooth, glossy hair, feeling it like warmed silk beneath his fingers, realizing that he had wanted to do this for more than a year, that every time he’d looked at Spock, he had wanted to touch him, to caress him, to claim him as Jim’s own. Slowly, Spock had raised his head, the tormented dark eyes looking into Jim’s reassuring amber gaze.
“I…I could have killed you,” Spock had whispered, “and I…I love you, Jim. I love you.” His voice had broken, and Jim had slid from his chair and into Spock’s arms, clinging to him, feeling the heat and madness still running through Spock’s being but knowing that he had the cure.
“Yes,” he’d whispered. “Yes. Oh, God, Spock. I want you, too.”
Spock had bent and captured Jim’s mouth with his, desperately, with a frantic awkwardness that nonetheless went straight to Jim’s cock. There had been great tenderness in Spock’s kiss but more, there had been hunger, an ache that had never been satisfied, a drive that had been sublimated in duty and friendship for far too long. Jim groaned as Spock’s lips ravished his mouth, lipping, sucking, and biting until Jim’s lips were swollen and tender, until the pleasure was almost painful. He’d wrapped his arms around Spock, feeling the Vulcan’s flesh burning right through his uniform, feeling Spock shudder as Jim’s hands traveled down his back, slipping beneath the uniform top and stroking that scorching, silken skin. Spock had pulled away just long enough to tear his own uniform from his body, revealing the hard, spare musculature, the skin flushed verdant with fever, the coppery nipples already proudly erect, that long, beautiful cock so swollen, so hard, that Jim moaned in sympathetic pain, the mere sound of his voice making Spock’s organ weep crystal drops of pre-cum along its length, Spock shuddering again as he felt that moisture slip down his cock, even that tiny bit of stimulation almost unbearable agony for his aching, neglected flesh. With a cry, Jim had flung himself forward, hands grasping that tender, inflamed shaft, caressing it with firm, long strokes of his palm even as his lips descended over the tip, eagerly sucking Spock into his mouth, craving as he never had before the taste of another’s flesh. Jim groaned as he licked and sucked, Spock’s shaft almost too big for his mouth to encompass, those exotic double ridges throbbing against his tongue, Jim’s own cock rock-hard as he savored Spock’s faintly spicy flavor, Spock’s hands tangled in his hair, trying not to force Jim down onto his cock but almost beyond himself, sobbing, “Jim, Jim, Jim” over and over as Jim pleasured him, drove him until Spock exploded, screaming, as Jim’s throat worked to contain the torrent of hot cream that flowed from Spock, so much, so delicious to his senses as Jim moaned around that hot load when Spock’s hands found his cock and with a few deft, twisting strokes, pushed Jim over the edge as well, Jim coming harder than he had ever come in the grip of those hot alien hands, thrashing and moaning as both their climaxes went on and on and on…
They had spent the next 36 hours locked in Jim’s cabin, joyfully riding the savage beast that was Spock’s thwarted pon farr. By the time the fever had burned itself out, they were deliriously in love, neither able to think of a life without the other. Spock had notified his parents on Vulcan, and as soon as they both had leave, they planned to return to Vulcan, to the Place of Marriage and Challenge. But this time there would be no fight. This time Spock would bond—with Jim.
Lying in bed now, four months later, Jim wondered at his certainty then, his complete confidence that together, he and Spock could face anything. That certainty was gone.
Spock lifted his head from the pillow. In the dim light, the great dark eyes regarded his love. “Jim, what is wrong?” he asked softly. “I can feel your…disquiet. Please, t’hy’la, let me help.”
Jim rolled over. “There’s nothing wrong,” he insisted. “I’m just…tired.” He felt Spock’s hand on his shoulder but he refused to turn. After a moment, the hand fell away, and Jim felt the feather-light brush of Spock’s lips against the nape of his neck.
“Then I will let you rest,” Spock’s voice said tenderly. “Sleep well, ashaya.”
That night, Jim did not sleep at all.
The next morning, as they often did when neither of them was scheduled for Alpha shift, they ate breakfast together in Jim’s quarters. Jim ate very little more than he had the night before, and Spock regarded him with open worry in that dark stare. Still, Jim did not seem to want to talk about what was bothering him, and with his always-keen respect for Jim’s privacy, Spock did not push it, He decided to introduce a more agreeable topic.
“I received a message from my father,” he said. Spock and his father had recently reconciled, right here on the Enterprise, after a nearly 20-year estrangement.
Jim looked up from his nearly-untouched place. “Oh?”
“Yes.” Spock took a sip of his tea. “He indicated that the date we have picked for our bonding will work with his schedule; he and my mother will be back from Earth by then.”
Slowly, carefully, Jim set down his own cup. “Spock,” he said quietly, swallowing hard, “there won’t be any bonding on Vulcan.”
All the color drained from Spock’s face, leaving him looking like an ancient Chinese ivory carving. “No bonding.” His voice was perfectly flat.
Jim looked at him, grieved by the pain he could see in Spock’s carefully-controlled visage. “I’m sorry; I should have broken it to you more gently.”
“How could you find a gentle way to break this news to me?” Spock shook his head. “Jim, why?” Those beloved onyx eyes were suddenly like those of an agonized animal, caught in a trap with no way out. “Why will you not bond with me?”
Jim lowered his eyes to his plate, unable to stand the sight of Spock in such pain, pain he was inflicting. “Because…because of what happened on Gamma Hydra IV.”
Spock stood so abruptly that his knee banged the table, setting the dishes rattling. “You…you refuse to bond with me because of that?” His voice shook. “Because I went along with the competency hearing? Jim, I told you, I had no choice…”
“No!” Jim stood as well, suddenly angry. “That isn’t it, and damn you for thinking I’m so…so petty as to pull a stunt like that.”
“Then…why?” Slowly, Spock extended his hand across the table. “Jim, why? Tell me, please.”
The anger left Jim at that note in Spock’s voice. He slumped back into his chair. Spock re-seated himself as well, looking pleadingly into Jim’s face.
“Spock,” Jim said more quietly, trying to regain his composure, “Look at me. Tell me, what do you see?”
Spock looked bewildered now. “I see the man I love,” he said, his voice equally quiet. “I see the man I will always love.”
“Yeah, always.” Jim’s voice was bitter. He ran his hands through his hair. “You see the man you love—at 35.” He looked across the table at his lover, his Vulcan lover, the man who had 200 years ahead of him. “What will you see in 30 years, Spock? In 40 or 50? Jesus, I don’t know why I never thought about this before.”
“Jim,” Spock’s voice was whisper-quiet, as gentle as a breeze, “I will love you forever, no matter your age.”
“Really?” Jim mouth twisted. “Will you love me when you have to spoon-feed me? Will you love me when you have to wipe my ass, change my diaper? That virus we caught was just a preview of my old age—and I’ll be old more than a hundred years before you will. I’ll be old, Spock—old, wrinkled, flaccid, confused, and you—fuck, you won’t even be middle-aged.” He shook his head. “I can’t do that to you, to us. I can’t.”
“Jim,” Spock tried again, reaching his hand across the table, “Jim, we do not know what our future will hold. However, even if your hypothesis is correct, I love you. You are my life, my t’hy’la, the other half of all that I am. It would be my honor, not my obligation, to care for you if you needed care.”
Jim stood again, shaking his head. “I…I can’t.” He looked at his lover, hating the pain he saw in Spock’s eyes. “Look, Spock, we…we don’t have to change how we’re living now. We’re good together. I’ll be happy to be with you. But I won’t bond with you. I won’t tie you down like that. I won’t be your burden.”
Slowly, Spock stood as well. “You will not be my burden,” he said quietly. He looked Jim in the eye, his head held proudly on that long, elegant neck. “And I will not be your whore.” With that, he was gone, leaving Jim alone and desolate.
The only thing faster than warp engines on a starship is the gossip tree. It took little more than a day for everyone to know that Spock had moved back into his own quarters full-time and that he and Jim were barely speaking to each other, on or off duty. In the weeks that followed, everyone suffered. The Enterprise was running efficiently—with Jim Kirk at the helm, it couldn’t run any other way—but the cohesiveness, not to mention the sense that this crew and this ship would weather any crisis—was badly shaken. No one knew what was wrong or how to fix it. Most people wouldn’t even attempt to interfere.
However, Leonard McCoy was not most people.
“Bones?” Jim stood in the doorway of McCoy’s office. “You wanted to see me?’
McCoy looked up from his paperwork. “Hi, Jim. Come on in.” he rose and stepped to his sideboard. “Brandy?”
Jim shrugged. “Sure; I’m off duty for the day. I’ll chance it.” In truth, he had no interest in brandy—no interest in anything, really. Food tasted like cardboard; alcohol did nothing to numb the constant pain, and sleep—sleep only brought dreams, dreams of Spock, his eyes and his hands, his voice and his warmth, dreams that made Jim awaken in a state of aching arousal or a state of total despair. He sat down in McCoy’s visitor’s chair. Bones slid into his own seat, pushing a glass of brandy across the desk and taking a sip of his own bourbon. The shrewd blue eyes looked Jim over, marking the pallor and loss of weight, not to mention those new lines at the corners of his mouth. Jim Kirk, to put it mildly, looked like shit.
“Jim,” he began quietly, “you’re going to tell me this is none of my goddamned business, and I’m going to tell you that your health and well-being damned well is my business, so let’s skip that part of the dance. I need to know. What the Hell’s going on with you and Spock?”
Jim’s mouth thinned, adding ten years to his appearance. “You’re right; it’s none of your business.”
“Fuck that,” Bones said sharply. “Don’t make me drag the two of you in here for psychotherapy, because I’ll dammed well do it!” He glared at Jim, who glared back. “Jim,” Bones said more gently, “I’m your best friend. Hell, I’m probably Spock’s best friend—aside from you, of course, and the two of you sure as shit aren’t very friendly now. Something’s gone wrong between the two of you, and it’s poisoning the whole ship. Efficiency ratings are dropping; the bridge crew keeps coming to me for migraine medicines and acid relievers—and you look like you’re headed for a complete breakdown. Now, you tell me what’s wrong, or I’ll get Spock down here and we’ll hit the couch together.”
Jim drained his brandy, which tasted like water. “All right,” he said bitterly. “You want to know so badly, I’ll tell you.” He related the gist of his conversation with Spock all those weeks before. Bones stared at him, astonished.
“You threw away what you have with Spock because of that?”
“I didn’t throw anything away,” Jim snapped back, anger flaring. “I told him we could keep on as we were. I told him I’d…”
“Be happy to fuck him but not commit to him?” McCoy shook his head.
“Watch your mouth, doctor,” Jim hissed.
“Grow the Hell up, captain,” Bones hissed back. “Even I know that’s not how Vulcans do commitment, and frankly, if you’d offered me the same deal, I would have told you to fuck off, too.” His anger died as he looked at Jim’s unhappy face.
“Jim,” he said, very gently, “all relationships carry an element of risk. Even if Spock was human, and you two were born on the same day, there is always a chance that one of you would eventually have to care for the other. Jesus, Jim, that’s one of the best things about having a loyal partner—the fact that you don’t have to face growing old alone.”
Stubbornly, Jim shook his head. “That’s not the point. I’ll be the one being cared for. Spock will be healthy and hearty, and I’ll be a sick old man.”
“Oh, so now you’re a prophet?” Bones looked at his friend. “Jim, I can’t force you to do what you ought to do, but I will say this. If you throw away what you could have with Spock—all the years of love and loyalty and companionship he’s ready to give you—if you toss that out of the airlock because of something that might happen a half-century from now, then you’re making the worst mistake of your life.”
Jim got to his feet, his face cold and shuttered. “It’s my mistake to make.” He turned and left.
“Kirk to Enterprise! Kirk to Enterprise!” Jim’s voice was frantic.
“Enterprise, Kyle here.”
“Beam us up, now! Spock's hurt! Have a medical team standing by!: Jim snapped off his communicator and held Spock close, seeing the green stain spreading through his tunic, seeing the blood spreading and soaking into the fabric, the hot liquid staining Jim’s hands, hearing Spock moan faintly from the pain of the old-style lead projectile that the natives of the planet Neural had fired at them. Jim held Spock steady as he waited for the transporter beam, looking down into the white, slack face against his shoulder.
“Hold on, Spock,” he whispered, even as the beam caught them. “Oh, God, love, hold on…”
A day later, Jim and McCoy beamed back aboard the Enterprise at the conclusion of their mission. Jim was drained; he had been attacked by a wild animal on the planet, and only the efforts of Nona, the wife of Jim’s friend Tyree, had saved his life. Nona, however, had been killed in tribal fighting, and now Tyree wanted guns from Jim to use to avenge his wife’s murder. With the Klingons arming one tribe, Jim knew he would honor Tyree’s request, but his friend’s world would never be the same.
Once aboard, the very first thing Jim did was go to the wall communicator. “Kirk to Sickbay.”
“Sickbay, M’Benga here.” This was the new physician on board, an expert in Vulcan physiology.
“Dr. M’Benga, status report on Commander Spock.” Jim was proud that his voice was steady.
“Mr. Spock came out of the healing trance about two hours ago, sir,” M’Benga replied reassuringly. “I sent him to his quarters; he’s off for the next 36 hours.”
“Thank you, Doctor. Kirk out.” Jim turned to see McCoy regarding him steadily.
“Lucky thing,” Bones said casually. “Spock could have died from that bullet.”
“I know.” Jim looked down at the deck. “I’ll be in my quarters, Bones.” McCoy watched him go, hoping to Hell that Jim Kirk knew a wake-up call when one blared in his ear.
Jim stood for a long time in front of the communicating door between his quarters and Spock’s. It wasn’t locked, but that meant nothing; Spock never locked his doors, a statement of Vulcan trust in his shipmates. And what kind of trust should he have in me? Jim thought bitterly. I broke his heart, and for what? McCoy was right; Spock could have died yesterday; we both could have died. And I threw away the time we’ve missed; I was ready to throw away the rest of our lives. Still he hesitated. Spock will probably tell me to go to Hell, and he’ll be right to do so. Finally, Jim took a deep breath and walked through that door.
Spock rooms were dim and warm, with a faint ghost of incense and green tea perfuming the air; the heat felt good to Jim’s tired muscles and jangled nerves. He walked quietly through Spock’s living area and around the partition. As he’d suspected, Spock was on his bed asleep, lying on his back as he often did, dressed in a long, warm black robe. The face was pale but peaceful; Spock’s chest rose and fell in a regular rhythm of breathing.
All of the love and longing that Jim had buried within in the last weeks rose up at once, all but choking him. He took two uncertain steps and fell on his knees beside Spock’s bunk, his eyes hungrily devouring his love. Oh, Spock. Oh, love, you’re so thin, so pale. How had he not seen that? Jim knew he hadn’t looked; he hadn’t dared to look. Slowly, his fingers trembling, Jim reached out and softly stroked those shiny bangs, letting his fingers caress Spock’s marble-pale brow.
The dark eyes snapped open. “Jim,” Spock said drowsily, the slightest, faintest smile at the corners of that beautifully-cut mouth. “Jim, I…” Then his mind returned. “Captain.” He started to sit up, but Jim’s hands gently pressed his shoulders down.
“Shhh,” Jim soothed. “Don’t get up.” He took his hands away, suddenly guilty at his presumption,. He had no right to touch Spock, not now. He looked down, unable to meet Spock’s gaze. “I…I just wanted to see that you’re all right.”
“I am quite well.” Spock’s voice was calm, but Jim didn’t miss the note of longing in it. “Thank you, captain, for checking on me.”
“I’ll…I’ll leave you now, let you get some rest…” Jim started to rise, miserable, unsure of what to say or if he should say anything.
That syllable froze Jim, still on his knees.
“Jim, please look at me.”
Jim forced himself to raise his eyes to meet Spock’s. There was no anger there, no condemnation—only the love and understanding that had always been there, that would always be there, whatever happened to them. That single look broke Jim forever. He flung himself back down, laying his head against Spock’s shoulder, feeling one weakened arm curl around him.
“Spock,” he whispered, choking on the tears that were trying to rise. “Oh, God, Spock, I’m sorry, so sorry. I was such an idiot. You tried to tell me; Bones tried to tell me, but I was too caught in my pride and fear to listen. Oh, God, asahaya, I could have lost you, and all I could do was…”
“Hush.” Spock’s hand moved softly over Kirk’s nape. “It is all right, my love, my t’hy’la. I am here, as are you. We are together. Come here, t’hy’la. Let me feel you close to me again.”
Jim raised his head to meet those dark, loving eyes. “Spock, I…”
“Come to me,” Spock repeated softly, and Jim couldn’t refuse. He toed off his boots and crawled onto Spock’s bunk, gently lifting his love into his arms, avoiding the still-healing bullet wound.
“I’m sorry,” Jim whispered again, burying his face in Spock’s neck, holding him close, stroking and caressing every inch of that beloved body that he could reach.
“Do not be.” Spock’s lips moved softly across his temple. “There is an old proverb among my people, t’hy’la: ‘Love without pain is not love at all.’ I love you, and this pain has not changed that.”
Jim kissed the warm skin beneath his lips. “I love you,” he whispered. “I will love you forever.”
Three weeks later, on the planet Vulcan, the matriarch T’Pau presided over a bonding between S'chn T'gai Spock of the House of Surak, and James T. Kirk, a human Starfleet captain. Everyone who witnessed the ceremony commented on the human’s youthful glow. He was 35 years old. He looked 20. As he touched his bond mate’s hand in a Vulcan kiss, he felt—immortal.