Jim still had two hours to go before he needed to pick Spock up. It was a good thing he was in this part of town where all the gourmet groceries and health food stores were located. It was cold outside, but he decided to walk instead of getting the car out of the parking. He put on his coat again. It wasn’t particularly light; but for Spock’s sake, Jim had foregone the down jacket in favor of a heavy vegan leather coat lined with faux fur.
He and Spock had moved back to Riverside, Iowa at the end of the five-year mission. He would have liked to serve another term on the ship but with the circumstances being what they were, he had chosen to take a ground job at the Riverside shipyard. It paid well, and it allowed him to give time to his other, more important priorities in life.
Spock, on the other hand, had had no choice but to leave Starfleet.
And even though he would never admit it, Jim knew how much he missed being up in space. There was very little to do in a small midwestern town like this and someone like Spock would normally feel frustrated with the lack of activity that came with retiring in nowheresville. But then again, there was nothing normal about their situation and so, the half-Vulcan had welcomed the peace and quiet of Jim’s quaint hometown.
Farinelli Food Mart—the royal blue sign read. The bold calligraphic strokes of the font intimidated Jim a little. For all his fame and fortune, he wasn’t used to shopping at fancy stores. And Farinelli was by far the fanciest, snobbiest grocery store in the city.
He steeled his nerves and went in. The bright lights from the chandeliers hurt his eyes. The polished Italian marble floor was so spotless that he felt guilty stepping on it in his ragged, muddy winter boots. Some of the richly dressed people around him wrinkled their nose at him. Others looked at him with open confusion on their faces, perhaps wondering if he had walked into the wrong store by accident.
Jim came from a well-to-do family, but he did not have the airs to go with it. Living with Frank had forced him to survive on very little. And then Tarsus had happened. He had finally gained somewhat unrestricted access to money only after leaving home at 20. And then too, he had been forced to scrimp and save wherever he could. Riverside had always been a relatively conservative town and even with his amazing computer and mechanic skills, he had found it hard to freelance his way to total financial freedom.
Starfleet had changed that. And captaining the Enterprise had taught him to value money and to use it well.
But unfortunately, it hadn’t included a crash course in nouveau riche shopping.
Spock was much more comfortable in places like this. He had the grace and the authority of a prince. Besides, he came from money. He had an eye for the artistic and tasteful fineries of life even though he claimed to have no use for them.
Jim wanted to run away but he kept his feet rooted to the shiny ground of Farinelli.
This was one of the few places that carried Vulcan greens like Salkimi, Tekot, and Algi-Galfi. The first two were somewhat like Arugula and baby spinach. The last one was a bright orange lettuce with a strong fruity-minty flavor. In addition to these, Jim also picked up carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, slivered almonds, canned chickpeas, balsamic vinegar, lemons, olive oil, and a loaf of freshly baked ciabatta—everything he would need to make tonight’s meal. He wished he could make something more substantial, but he wasn’t sure Spock feel up to anything heavier than a salad. Just to be on the safe side though, he also picked up a small box of firm tofu.
He passed by aisles that displayed naturally-perfumed essential oils, mineral salts that claimed to pack the secrets of eternal youth in a 6 oz. bottle, honey-mustard seaweed chips, and other stuff that would never be on his list. He stood in line to ring up his things. The woman in front of him was dressed in a floor-length coat that looked like it was made from real mink fur. It disgusted him to think people could actually wear animal skin like that and flaunt it. But what made it worse, was the strong floral perfume she wore.
The man behind him was talking to someone on his comm. unit. Mercifully, he wasn’t too loud.
At long last, it was his turn.
Farinelli was one of the only stores in town that employed human staff to man the cash registers. It was a part of the old-world-charm they marketed to their elite customers who wrinkled their nose at anything automated, mass-produced, and widely available.
The cashier, a pretty brunette with dark, cascading curls, smiled at him as she packed his purchases in handmade paper bags.
“You have a good day,” she greeted him as he finished paying. If she noticed his name on his credit chip or recognized his face, she didn’t show it; which was just as well. Quite a few famous people shopped here whenever they attended hipster events like Yoga retreats in Riverside and they would not appreciate being serviced by star struck salespersons.
Jim made his way back to the T’Nama Center. In half-an-hour, Spock would be ready to leave.
“Carefully, honey,” Jim said to his husband. “Take it easy.”
“Thank you,” Spock said and allowed himself to be helped into the car. His limbs felt heavy and unresponsive. And he did not have the energy to pretend otherwise.
Jim did not stare at Spock but one glance at him told him a lot. Spock was exhausted and hurting. It was to be expected but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. Even then, Jim managed to keep a genial expression on his face. Stress was the last thing his Vulcan needed.
They drove home in silence. Spock fell asleep to the lulling motions of the aircar. Normally, Jim liked to listen to the news on the radio while driving but he didn’t want to disturb Spock’s rest.
The twenty-minute drive felt like hours. The roads were mostly empty, and the dreariness of the winter chill was only matched by the dark desolation of the evening.
6:00 pm felt like midnight.
Unable to take it any longer, Jim turned on the stereo but instead of the news, he tuned in to a station that played classical music.
“... My heart at thy dear voice
Wakes with joy, like the flow'r
At the sun's bright returning!
But O, my dearest one,
That grief may lose its pow'r,
Say 'tis mine, thy heart's yearning!
Oh, bide here at my side!
Promise ne'er thou'lt depart!
Once more those vows so loving
Let me hear from thy heart!
Breathe that mine still thou art!...”
It was strange and discomfiting to hear the beautiful and achingly familiar strains of ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix’ in English, especially because he could understand the words. Such a pure sentiment, so much left to say, and the sheer emptiness of these lofty words that asked for an eternal promise.
Jim turned off the radio. He did not want to think about any of it.
For the rest of the drive, he focused on nothing but the road.
“Spock,” Jim roused him gently. “We are home. Let’s go in.”
‘So soon?” Spock mumbled. “I require a moment, Jim.”
Jim held the car door open and waited. With excruciating slowness, Spock first put one leg out of the car and then the other. His arm shook as he tried to grab onto the frame of the door.
“There’s no need to hurry, hon,” Jim reminded him.
Spock did not respond.
But once he managed to get out, he was able to walk to the front door with relative ease.
“We should get a garage built,” Jim said again as he covered the aircar with the snow-and-rain cover. “That’s gonna be the big project for the spring.”
He expected Spock to again say they didn’t need a garage, that they weren’t going to be here much longer, that he’ll go to New Vulcan, and that Jim would be welcomed back into the fleet with open arms.
Instead, Spock simply nodded.
“We can discuss that when the spring arrives,” he said after a moment. “I must change into my nightshirt. I will see you inside.”
Jim didn’t feel any sense of triumph.
Sure, Spock was finally in agreement with him but… but why? It did not make sense. And it left a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
He went inside and removed his boots. Their bedroom was just on the other side of the wall. He could hear the water running in the bathroom. A part of him wanted to go in and ask Spock if he needed help. But another part of him was afraid of the very idea that Spock might say yes.
It wasn’t that Jim was averse to caregiving. He was more than comfortable in the role of a nurse. After all, he had often had to take care of Frank after his drunken misadventures. Later, he had also looked after his own mother before she finally passed away, succumbing to a short but intense battle with Lupus. Her prognosis had been good, but a complication brought on by interstitial lung disease weakened her to the point that in a matter of months, she was gone.
It was then that he had left home for good.
But here he was yet again. And in a mocking twist of fate, this time too, he was racing against time, praying, and hoping for a miracle as he cooked meals, changed sheets, swept floors, and organized medication into a neatly labeled pill box. But unlike 11 years ago, the circumstances were a lot different. For one, Jim was not prepared. For another, Spock was too prepared.
Ka’aidth. What is, is. What will be, will be.
“Not if I can help it,” Jim said to himself as he shredded the greens and julienned the carrots for the salad.
At long last, Spock came out. Dressed in a toweling dressing gown and flip-flops, he looked comfortable. His face was still much too pale, but he seemed steadier and more alert.
“Dinner is ready, Spock,” Jim said. “I made us a salad. I wasn’t sure you’d want anything else. But I bought tofu and ciabatta. I can quickly made sandwiches if…”
Spock cut him off.
“Salad would be an acceptable meal,” he said with a small smile. “You made the correct choice.”
“Great,” Jim responded, relief evident on his face. “Do you want to eat on the table? We can sit on the couch too.”
“The table, please.”
As Spock took a seat, Jim portioned out the salad into two bowls.
He waited in eager anticipation as Spock took the first bite.
“You went to Farinelli.”
It was a statement. But there was a hint of emotion in his voice.
“I… I did,” Jim admitted. “Have you been there before?”
“I have,” Spock said. “A few months ago. Katrek, one of my father’s associates was visiting the T’Nama Center. His appointment was re-scheduled at the last moment. I saw him in the waiting room and offered to buy him a meal.”
“You’re such a softie,” Jim teased.
“It was logical,” Spock insisted.
“Oh yeah? How so?”
“Katrek is several years older than my father. He is a close acquaintance of the House of Surak. As a member of said house, it was my duty to welcome him and offer him what I could in the way of hospitality.”
“I thought guests offered hospitality to the hosts in your culture.”
“That is correct. I was a guest at the center. He is the planet-wide director of Vulcan Family Services. That makes him the ‘host’ of all the facilities administered by the VFS, including the T’Nama Center.”
“That is a technicality and you know it.”
“I do not. In any event, this salad is delicious.”
“Why, that’s a compliment, Mister Spock. Thank you.”
For the next hour, they talked about inconsequential things. Jim told Spock about everything he saw at Farinelli and Spock reacted appropriately in all the right places.
Around 8:00 pm, Jim noticed Spock’s growing weariness. His hands were starting to shake, and his shoulders were beginning to slump.
“Let’s get you to the recliner, Spock,” he said abruptly. “We can continue talking about Lady Cruella De Vil there.”
“Cruella De Vil?” Spock looked confused.
“Er… the villain from 101 Dalmatians? You know, the witch who wanted to make a coat out of puppy fur?”
Spock still looked confused.
“Never mind,” Jim sighed as he helped his husband to his feet. “I was talking about the woman with the fur coat, the one that was in front of me in the checkout line.”
“Was her name Cruella De Vil as well?” Spock questioned. “Surely human parents wouldn’t name their offspring after a fictional villain.”
“I don’t know her real name.”
“Then why did you call her Cruella De Vil?”
“Because that’s who she reminded me of,” Jim said, a little annoyed. “It’s okay. Don’t stress about it.”
Spock recognized the dismissive tone in Jim’s voice. He wisely chose to end the discussion.
Jim helped him into the recliner and raised his feet up before covering him with a blanket.
“There,” he said. “Let me get your medicine and a cup of tea. How does Oolong sound?”
“Jim,” Spock mumbled.
“Yes, Spock?” Jim answered. “Is everything okay. Do you need me to bring you something else?”
“Jim,” Spock repeated. “Please stay. The medicine and the tea can wait.”
Jim sat down on the chair next to the recliner.
Spock looked him in the eye.
“It is not working,” he said softly. “You know it as well as I do.”
“What’s not working?” Jim feigned ignorance. “The recliner? I can change the angle more…”
“Not the recliner,” Spock said. “The chemotherapy. It is not working. Advanced stage cancer remains as untreatable as it was two centuries ago. Healer Silban is aware of this. Dr. McCoy was aware of it too. I do not know why you insist on holding on to hope where logic dictates that we must prepare for the inevitable.”
“Spock, you are not going to die,” Jim said and stood up. “No. You are not allowed to do that.”
“I wish I could live, Jim,” Spock whispered. “I do not desire death. However, I have no choice in the matter. I am humbled by the devotion and love you show me. It pains me that I must cause you such grief by reminding you of what lies ahead. And yet, I must; because if you are not ready, my passing will devastate you. My T’hy’la, I do not wish that upon you.”
“Can we please not talk about it tonight?” Jim begged. “You may have decided to die but I haven’t decided to let you go.”
For several moments, neither of them spoke.
“I would appreciate a cup of Oolong tea, please,” Spock said finally. Jim went back to the kitchen to fetch the tea. He returned ten minutes later with two cups of non-caffeinated Oolong, the pill box, and a glass of water.
He helped Spock sit up and gave him his pills.
“I do not need the painkiller tonight,” Spock said.
“But you were hurting this morning.”
“I have no pain at this moment. If I need the painkiller, I will not hesitate to ask for it.”
“Okay, Spock. Whatever you say.”
After that, Jim put on a movie for them. “101 Dalmatians. Because everyone needs to know who Cruella De Vil is.”
The next two hours helped them forget the bleakness of their situation. Spock’s leukemia, Jim’s refusal to contact the family lawyer, their mutual pact to never discuss Starfleet business, the unanswered letters from their former crew, the obstinacy of Sarek’s opinion that Spock belonged on New Vulcan—All of it was set aside as Jim and Spock engrossed themselves in the heroic battle waged by Pongo and Perdita for their precious children. Jim held Spock’s thin, cold hands and massaged them periodically while they watched the film. During the second half, he changed his position and pulled his feet into his lap and rubbed the tension out of them. Neither of them said a word but in the companionable silence peppered only by the sounds of the film, they experienced a semblance of peace. The two hours passed too quickly.
“Ready to go to bed?” Jim asked as the credits rolled down the screen.
“Affirmative,” Spock said, his voice barely audible. He had finally reached his limits for the day, which was just as well because it was indeed bedtime.
“Still no pain meds?”
“No. Not tonight.”
Dr. McCoy had a strange hunch. He called Jim every few days to see how he and the hobgoblin were doing. He knew his former captain was still hopeful. But as a doctor, he did not have the luxury of such illusions.
Spock was dying. It was only a matter of when.
McCoy’s heart thudded in his chest as he first rang their house comm. unit. When no one answered, he tried Jim’s personal code. And when that didn’t work, at last, he tried Spock’s code.
This could not be good.
Maybe they were outside in the garden.
For the next several hours, he busied himself in work. The Starfleet Medical Center in New York City was teeming with patients as usual. It was past lunchtime when he got back to the office.
Several message alerts were waiting for him. There were six messages from Uhura, one from the T’Nama Center, one from Mackenzie Law Firm, two from someone called Victoria Hansen, and one from Ambassador Sarek.
The strange feeling came back with a vengeance.
With shaking fingers, he opened the message from Ambassador Sarek first.
My son, S’chn T’Gai Spock of the House of Surak, died this morning at 4:04 am CST. I am certain of it as I am his father. The parental bond I shared with him has ceased to exist. It was an eventuality we had prepared ourselves for. You were his primary care physician on the Enterprise. I believe you are still listed on his medical record as secondary physician. I attempted to call Mr. Kirk’s residence, but he has neither answered nor returned my call so far. My son and he were bondmates. The death of a bondmate can have very unpleasant consequences for the surviving partner. I have alerted the T’Nama Center as well. Please respond to this message when you are able to.”
McCoy tried Jim’s comm. unit again before opening any of the other messages. He was terrified of what they would contain but before he allowed himself to think of it, he wanted to try just one more time.
No one answered.
Mrs. Victoria Hansen gathered their immediate belongings and packed them into boxes. A man by the name of McCoy was going to come and collect them. She did not know who McCoy was but he was listed as their emergency contact. She had left him a message earlier in the morning. He had responded to her only an hour ago. Someone else had contacted the lawyer and the doctors. They had already been here when she came in this morning. The bodies had already been taken away by the doctors of the T’Nama Center. Someone called Ambassador Sarek would come for those.
Only the things were left. Life was over and done with.
The larger things would be donated but the smaller things… perhaps the friends of the Kirk family would keep them.
Vicky Hansen did the housekeeping for several families in the area. She had looked after the Kirk farmhouse for over 35 years. In this house, she had seen too many deaths and too many funerals. The first had been George Kirk, the hero. Then Frank, the drunkard. Then Winona, the regretful mother, and now Jim and his Vulcan husband. She didn’t know how to describe Jim Kirk. It felt disrespectful to think of him as a hopeless Romeo who had followed his beloved in death.
And yet, she didn’t know how else to see him. She had hoped better for him. She had wished to see him grow old with the Vulcan, maybe adopt several little children and fill the farmhouse with laughter and happiness again.
In the chilly emptiness of these rooms, none of those hopes would ever have any meaning again.
Out of sheer habit, she emptied out the dishwasher, cleaned the stovetop and the replicator, and wiped down the counters.
But then she remembered this was probably her last day of work in this house. Maybe many years from now, another family would move in. For the next few years though, the house would remain locked. It was how things were done always.
For a reason she could not fathom, she washed the floors of the farmhouse till they shone, and she cleaned every inch of the house; under the nooks and crannies, behind the closets, and in between the shelves.
For her, this would always be the Kirk family home. And if someone from that family ever decided to come home, the house would be ready to welcome them back.