In the warm haze of partial wakening, James Kirk rolled over, lifting his arm to embrace . . . His eyes opened; the space beside him was empty, cold. Then he remembered, three more days. It seemed like a lifetime no, not really but it was the longest they had been separated for many years. The idea of more sleep in the loneliness of the bed was not attractive. He got up slowly, showered, dressed. He wasn't interested in breakfast but habit was strong, and he collected a plate of toast and scrambled 'eggs' from the synthesizer. He looked over the news while he ate — nothing new or exciting; a call for more workers here; a request for specially trained colonists there; politicians squabbling, minority groups complaining; the price of this had risen sharply, while the price of that had fallen still further. The overall picture never seemed to change in times of peace. It was the little details that were so interesting, even at times exciting. He shut off the viewscreen, then dumped the eating utensils in the recycler. He collected a large flask of coffee and went out to the patio. He seated himself at the computer console, removed the waterproof cover, and activated the screen. While he sipped his first cup of coffee, he reviewed yesterday's work. This, too, was interesting, at times exciting.
Several hours and cups of coffee later, an old, familiar sensation pricked the back of his neck. He was being watched. He picked up the empty coffee cup as if to sip from it, and raised his eyes to look over the rim. There were two small Human boys, seated at the edge of the patio, watching him seriously.
"Good morning," he said, "I was not aware that I had visitors. Have you been waiting long?"
"No, sir," replied the older one. "Our mother says never to disturb a person working at a computer unless death or disaster threatens."
"Well, I've never heard it put that way before, but she does have a point."
"I think," the younger broke in, "that computers are boring. All they're good for is lessons and keeping parents from playing with their kids."
"Have you ever played games with a computer?"
"Our mother says that computers are not toys."
"I agree that you can't throw them around like a ball, but you can play some pretty good games on them. That's what I've been doing all morning."
"Playing games?" He was clearly disbelieving.
"Sure, haven't you ever played tic-tac-toe?"
Their expressions answered his question, so he stored what he'd been working on, and punched up a game to show them. After they had each won a game, he blanked the screen.
"There's lots more that I can show you, but that's the best one to start on." He looked at them, frowning slightly. "This is silly, you know. I don't even know your names. I'm Jim."
The older boy performed the introductions. "I'm Will, he's Bob. We just moved in next door and do you know where to find the Starship Captain?"
"The only Starship Captain around here has been retired a long time." His eyes twinkled as if at a private joke. "He doesn't always welcome visitors, but I'll introduce you sometime. Say, it's getting warm, isn't it? How would you like a glass of cold lemonade?"
"What's that?" asked Bob.
"It's an old Earth drink that's the best thing invented for hot days. When I was a boy, I used to drink so much my mother said she expected I'd float away." He grinned at them as he rose, stiffly.
They couldn't believe his being a boy but they smiled politely and followed him to the house entrance.
"Come on in and get it," he said. "It won't take long."
"Our mother says that we must not enter the house of other people," said Bob.
"That could be a problem, as I am unable to carry three glasses by myself."
Will looked at Jim, then made a decision. "I'm sure, sir, that she would not object if I went in, just to carry the glasses for you."
"Thank you Will, that should solve our problem. I think some peanut butter cookies are in order, too." They, also, were new to the boys.
Kirk leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed, while the boys sampled the lemonade and munched on the cookies. That trip to the house and back was twice the distance he usually walked without a rest. Slowly he controlled the trembling of his arms and legs. Then he opened his eyes to see how the boys were managing.
"Excuse me," he said to them. "I just had to catch my breath. The cookies are pretty good, aren't they? I'll have one then you'd better clean them up; they won't keep here in the heat."
"Jim," asked Will, "what kind of game were you playing with your computer?"
"It's a puzzle game. I am trying to guess the missing parts of a story from the clues I have. "
He activated the terminal and used it to illustrate the story. "On a certain planet, we have found pictures of a people, tall, slender, their bodies covered in wavering, multi-coloured plumage. They lived peacefully in high mountain valleys, and ignored the other people on the planet. But when it was invaded, we believe it was these people who organised planet-wide defences and drove off the attackers. The planet now is a barren, lifeless desert. I am trying to guess from what they left behind, how they could have defended themselves."
The pictures of the discovered artifacts started the boys' questions and soon all three were so engrossed with practical and impractical ideas that they did not notice the arrival of the boys' mother.
When the alarm began to chime, Ellen suddenly became aware of her surroundings. She reached across the terminal to silence the noise. Lunch time! She got up and stretched, now conscious of her aching back. She wondered where the boys were. Having raised them on a succession of different worlds, she was not worried. They were aware of the importance of adhering to local customs and would be careful not to offend, or wander beyond where they would hear her call. Still, she would be glad when they were settled into school and she had some help in the house.
She patted her swollen belly; the baby was kicking again. It had seemed like such an ideal arrangement, a year's sabbatical at Delphi University. She could complete several papers, study with some of the top people in her field, and give Bill the baby girl he had wanted. At the thought of Bill, she felt the old, familiar ache. They might have been married 15 years, but she still missed him when their work separated them. It was just bad luck that he had been called back to the field, the week before they moved here. Since the house and all the work of moving was looked after by the University, his absence had made no extra work for her. But it would have been fun to share her explorations of the house and neighbourhood. Three more days to wait! One of his back-rubs would be very welcome. She had forgotten the discomfort of the last two months of pregnancy — the backaches, fatigue, sleepless nights, even with the lower gravity here. But the baby was her love gift to Bill. He had once said, "I would like a little girl, not a miniature of you, but one with something of you in her, and watch her grow." She had never forgotten and had been rewarded by the glow in his eyes when she had suggested this move.
She walked slowly into the dining area, considered the options for lunch, and pushed the appropriate buttons. They would have a picnic on the patio, while she heard about the boys' explorations. Carrying the tray loaded with sandwiches and drinks, she waddled out to the patio table. Normally, their stomachs would have had them waiting quietly nearby. There was the sound of laughter from beyond the shrubbery and she recognised Bob's high-pitched voice. She looked through a narrow gap and saw, on the neighbour's patio, her two boys and a strange man bent over a viewscreen. They were all laughing and as Bob moved to gesture at the screen, Ellen got a clear look at the man. He was very, very old, with a look of fragility, almost transparency about him. But the sound of his laughter was a distinct contrast to his appearance. It was warm and strong, with no hint of age. He turned to say something to Will, caught sight of her, and started to rise. "Good morning," he said.
"Excuse me, sir," she said, coming through the gap. "I apologize for the intrusion. My sons know better than to invade the privacy of others."
"Ma'am, they remained at my invitation. I assure you it was no intrusion." He gave her his most charming smile.
She hesitated; he did appear sincere and she had seen him laughing with the boys. He had seemed to be enjoying himself and he was really far too old to be all alone. "I am Ellen Kantona. We just moved in yesterday. I came to get the boys for lunch. Would you like to join us? It's already on our patio table."
"The name's Jim Kirk, and I would be delighted. Unfortunately, my legs will not permit me to walk that far. Could the boys carry it here for us?"
They did, and the four enjoyed their picnic together. Jim told them about places in the area that would interest the boys, and they told him about the last planet they had lived on. He had been there years before, when it had only been a number on a starchart and he was pleased to hear how it was being colonized. "I remembered a pretty good leave there once, poking around in the ruins of an old city."
Ellen started to ask him about that leave, when suddenly she remembered. "I'm sorry, I must go. Sometime I'll ask you about that leave, but I just noticed the time. I'm interviewing students for the job of 'mother's help' this afternoon and I don't have a list of questions prepared."
Jim looked at her, wondered if she'd think him impertinent, then decided to risk it.
"Would you like some moral support? I've had some experience judging people."
Her eyes lit up. "Oh, would you? Bill has a feel for people and I've usually relied on his evaluation of character. The only two people I've hired without him were disasters, no good at all with the boys. But you can't walk that far." She sounded disappointed.
"That's no problem. I'll get out the 'Hot Rod', my electric wheelchair. Now, tell me what you're looking for in these students."
They discussed the duties, he made a few suggestions, and she quickly had a preliminary list made. She rose to leave as they would both rest before the interviews began. He detained her with an invitation.
"Would you and the boys join me for supper this evening? There will be four or five people coming, quite informal. It will give you a chance to meet some of the local people. And," he added softly, "it will distract you from missing Bill."
Her eyes widened. "I haven't said . . ."
"Your eyes and your voice do, when you speak of him." He smiled gently.
"I've been told that after 15 years I shouldn't miss him so much, but I do and I'm glad." She faced him, waiting for the patronizing look she had come to expect from people.
It wasn't there. He was nodding his head with understanding. "Ellen, people who have told you that are empty, they've cheated themselves. If two people are right for each other and they work to keep it so, they will always miss each other when they are parted — even after 85 years." His last words were almost a whisper, as if spoken to himself. He rose slowly and smiled at her. "Have a good rest. I will see you at 1400 hours."
He walked slowly into his house while she shepherded the boys along the path through the shrubbery. She wondered if she'd heard him correctly. There was something about him that made her hesitate to ask him personal questions. Bill will enjoy meeting him, was her last thought as she drifted off to sleep.
The boys were sitting on the patio when he arrived in his chair just before fourteen hundred hours.
"Hi, Jim! That's the 'Hot Rod'?"
"Yup, are you two the welcoming committee?"
"Yeah, we introduce ourselves to the applicants, talk to them and take them into our mother when she signals. Then we decide whether we like the person and write down what we think about each one. Afterwards we have a family conference to help choose. "
"That sounds like a very sensible idea. Would you announce my arrival please, Will?"
"You're to go right in when you come," he said, leading the way.
Ellen was at her desk reading but looked up with a smile as they entered. "Did you have a good rest, Jim?"
"Yes, thank you. I have no trouble sleeping in the afternoon. Ellen, when you introduce me at these interviews, I am known as 'Professor Kirk' to the students."
"Fine," she replied. "What's your specialty?"
The first student arrived just then, ending her chance to ask more questions. The interviews went well, and after a brief consultation with Bob and Will they had a short list of three possibilities out of the seven interviewed.
"I'll check with their faculty advisors, see if they can help you to decide," Kirk offered as he prepared to leave. "Oh, and I will see you at 1800 hours for supper, won't I?"
She had planned to refuse his invitation but something in the way he'd sprung the reminder at her had her accepting. After he had gone, she cursed herself. She knew she was no good at social events, never knew what to say to anyone and found most people boring. Oh, well, I can leave early, using the boys needing to go to bed as an excuse.
When he got outside, Kirk said to the boys, "I owe you an apology from this morning. That Starship Captain you were looking for? I used to be one but it's so long ago that most people have forgotten and I did not feel like remembering this morning. Some other day, I'll show you pictures and answer your questions, that's a promise."
"I thought you looked kinda funny when we asked," said Bob. Will poked him but Kirk noticed and they all ended up laughing as he left.
As he returned to his home Kirk thought about his new neighbours. He had never spent much time with children but felt sure that these boys were more mature than others their ages. Ellen seemed almost lost with them. She talked to them as adults, but had known nothing about the games they liked. Kirk remembered having read her application to study here. Her research was brilliant and she was a dedicated student. He decided that Bob had summed up the situation when he'd said, "Our mother doesn’t understand boys and games. Anyway, she gets an idea and forgets people." Her Bill and a ’mother’s help' were both badly needed, he concluded.
Ellen and the boys arrived promptly, all well-scrubbed and shining. Kirk had been seated in the large living room, furnished with upholstered chairs and sofa. "This is strictly an informal gathering," he told them. "There's only one rule, no shop talk."
"Is this a regular club or event?" asked Ellen.
"Actually it’s a conspiracy," he replied with a grin. "Our friends are concerned that I'm here alone, so a few come over every night, look after supper, and then spend the evening talking or listening to music. They take turns, so I never know who to expect, but most are associated with the University."
He showed the boys where they could go when they got bored with the grown-ups. "This is my study. You will not touch the desk or these shelves." His tone was not one to be disobeyed. Then he made sure they understood how to operate his computer terminal and showed them where he kept book and game tapes. They had just finished when the first visitor arrived, a tall Andorian female. She was soon followed by four more people, all non-Human, one more female and the three, male.
The entire evening was a source of amazement to Ellen. There was a mixture of respect and affection with which all treated Kirk. Also, the way she and the boys were made to feel welcome surprised her. The early part was filled with the meal, a mixture of foods from the different cultures. Afterwards, the time just flew and she was shocked to discover that three hours had past unnoticed. The boys had slipped away quietly and she had found herself expressing opinions about Federation policies, on worlds she had lived on, and asking questions quite freely. She hadn't stuttered or stumbled or lost interest all evening. She had noticed that Kirk would take care to keep everyone involved, but also that no matter what the topic he was well informed on the subject. She got up and found that the boys had fallen asleep on quilts left for them in Kirk’s study. She was wondering how to wake them gently when the Kaltanian, Hannis, joined her.
"I will assist you to take your young home," he said. He was tall for a Kaltanian at 1.2 meters, but, like all his race, he was heavy and muscular.
"Thank you. I had wondered how I would manage both of them." She accepted his offer with a smile.
"I'll just say good-night and be ready to go." She walked to Kirk’s chair and waited for a break in the conversation.
"Thank you very much. I'm so glad you invited me."
"I am so pleased that you accepted. Will you join us tomorrow evening also? It will be the last for a while."
He enjoys these evenings but has something he prefers, she realized, surprised at her insight.
"I would love to," she accepted with a smile.
"Fine. Oh, and please tell the boys they may come to visit after 1400 hours tomorrow. I'll be busy with students in the morning but I did promise them some stories."
"I will do that," she replied and said "good-night" to the others. Then she joined Hannis who gently draped one boy over each shoulder and followed her to her house. He laid the boys in their beds and helped Ellen undress and cover them.
She was starting to thank him as they walked together to the front door but he dismissed her thanks with the ripple of his facial scales that was a Kaltanian smile.
"We could not ’talk shop’ this evening but I want the opportunity to welcome you on behalf of our Astrophysics department. When will you come to visit the laboratories?”
”I called yesterday morning but was told that Professor Spock would not return till the day after tomorrow, so I figured I’d better wait."
"Unnecessary, he will be busy the first days after his return and we are anxious to meet you and discuss your last paper . . . I can accompany you while your young are with Professor Kirk tomorrow. Would you prefer to walk or drive the 1.3 kilometres from here?”
"Walk, please.” She looked down at Hannis, her excitement rising. It had been two years since she’d been face to face with someone who spoke her language. "I will be waiting for you at 1430 hours," she said. "And thank you, for everything."
Only one more night alone after tonight, she thought as she prepared for bed. Bill is going to be fascinated with Jim Kirk. Maybe he'll help me solve some of the mysteries. There are times when his dignity and formal courtesy remind me of a Vulcan, and other times he laughs with Will and Bob like I've never learned to do. He seems to have travelled everywhere and knows everything that's happening. She drifted off to sleep remembering Bill and how he loved mysteries and people.
Only one more night alone, after tonight. Kirk looked at the empty side of the bed with distaste. Knowing Spock had not wanted to attend the conference and that it had been his own persuasion that sent him, did not make it easier to sleep alone. When Spock worked late, Kirk had gone to sleep easily enough, but he would always awaken to welcome him, if only with a smile or a touch. Fatigue would allow sleep now, but in a few hours he would awaken to finish the night reading, trying to bore himself to sleep . . .
He had been right. If Spock had been there, he would have rolled over against his warmth and lain till morning, dozing and waking, perfectly content. But he was not, and there was no more comfort or rest in bed now. A wave of longing swept over him, but he quickly squashed it. It did him no good and would only disturb Spock.
He got up, wandered around the house, then took a warm drink and went to sit where he could watch the stars. For them, too, he would not let himself yearn. He became aware of the ache in his back and hip. It was always present but only occasionally was he unable to ignore it. He remembered that this was the time of night one's defences were down, when sick or lonely people could lose their will to live. The excitement of the day was too much effort at night. It would be so easy to stop fighting, to take the painkillers, to blur his mind and then slip away when his body had weakened sufficiently. He shook himself out of the morbid fantasies. If he had been alone, he might have considered it, but he was not, and thirty-five years ago, he had been shocked into the resolution that he would stay alive for every second he could squeeze out of his body.
He and Spock had just returned from a successful mission to the planet Pakorna. He reported for the routine physical. After the examination, the doctor, an old friend Don Marshall, invited him into the office to discuss the results.
"You were quite ill while on Pakorna, Jim?"
"About three days of fever and aching joints but I didn’t let it delay the mission."
"It would have been better if you had. The pain level indicators are still registering high."
Kirk shrugged; his hip and back had ached for several years, only the chest pain was new.
"Well, you've passed the exam again, but this time, I'm putting a restriction on where you may travel."
"Jim, we've been friends for quite a while, but maybe I haven't been as good a friend as I should have been. Today I will be completely honest with you. Jim, you're 95. Since you 'retired' from the Enterprise thirty-five years ago you've been all over the Galaxy for Star Fleet. I would say that this has been more wearing on your body than life was with the Enterprise. I know lots of Humans are still going strong in their one hundred and twenties, but they haven't led your kind of life. If you are lucky, and continue as you're doing, you may have five years of active duty, no more, and afterwards, you'll be bed-ridden. There's only one way I know of to extend your life expectancy. Quit now and find a hot, dry, low-gravity planet to settle on. Follow a proper diet and exercise program, and you should be good for another twenty, twenty-five years. Modern medicine and Spock have kept you active far longer than you deserve, with your careless neglect of your body. But neither can continue to perform miracles. Think about it, Jim, then talk it over with Spock. I'm sure he'd not mind settling down, as long as you're happy about it. If you choose to go for the longer life, call me, and we three can discuss the details."
It could not have been any plainer and Kirk felt Don was right. All he said was, "Thanks, I've had that coming to me. I'll think about it."
He went directly home and started by taking a long, hard look in the mirror. It confirmed Don's verdict; James Kirk was old. His hair was pure white, the lines on his face and neck had become deep wrinkles and the skin, elsewhere, was stretched thinly over his body. He had lost more weight, and his bones were now sharply prominent. He still exercised regularly, but the normal routine had become painful and he was slow.
His self-examination was interrupted by Spock's return. The contrast between an aged Human and a barely middle-aged Vulcan shocked Kirk. Spock was so familiar that Kirk had not really looked at him objectively for a long time. His hair was still a glossy black, the lines on his face only slightly more noticeable than they had been forty or more years ago. In all these years Kirk had never noticed this growing disparity in their appearances. They had become two halves of a whole, interweaving their varied interests and shared activities into a rich and completely satisfying life.
And he is stuck with a disintegrating old hulk. Kirk turned away to hide his distress. But Spock seemed pre-occupied, and after a brief greeting, excused himself, stating a need to meditate. Kirk hardly noticed.
When they had become bond mates, the odds against surviving to retirement age had been so low, that the difference in Vulcan and Human life spans had been of no concern. They had admitted to each other their hopes that the bond would ensure that if one of them died, the other would quickly follow. This had not been a certainty, as not all bondings were that deep, and theirs had the added factor of being between a Vulcan and a Human. Kirk knew that, alone, Spock would have at least one hundred years of active, productive life ahead of him. He thought of how Spock would become absorbed in his studies, unaware of the passage of time, the gleam in his eye when he made a discovery or pursued an idea.
'In five years you'll be bed-ridden.' Kirk knew his Vulcan well. Spock would care for him, never resenting the hours stolen from his research. Kirk knew he was a bad patient, irritable in his frustration at being helpless, even with Spock, who would be aching in sympathy with Kirk's increasing helplessness. Don hadn't said how long it would take him to die, but the wonders of modern medicine would make it far too long.
What we have shared has been too good to let it finish that way. I could spare us that end — make a quick, clean break now, which would be far better than a slow disintegration. Sure, he'd miss me but he'd be free to study, to indulge his curiosity, unhindered by the wreck I'd become. Kirk knew very clearly that if his death would release Spock, give him those one hundred years, he would not hesitate. Kirk's love of life was no less, but he would not enjoy it at Spock's expense. Never before had Kirk considered suicide, but never before had there been a valid reason. But then he remembered that there was a very good possibility that his own death would kill Spock also, and that risk he could not take.
Kirk had finally reached the point in his deliberations when he knew that he had no choice. Spock was entitled to those twenty-five years Don had estimated. And they must be good years for Kirk, if Spock were to enjoy them. Spock had frequently been offered research and teaching positions, but had always said he was content, keeping his studies subordinate to his Star Fleet duties. And while Spock had studied, Kirk had pursued his love of books and history, finding real pleasure in doing so. He was not certain that he would enjoy it full-time, but he and Spock had always found more things to interest them than they had time to investigate. And if Kirk were honest, he was tired of forcing himself to maintain the hectic pace. He had never found an effective pain-killer that had left him clear-headed so he had learned to live with his reminders of old injuries. There could be some very real advantages to remaining on the type of planet Don had prescribed.
So maybe it's time I grew up, stop playing 'Jim, the Galactic Hero' with his trusty partner, Spock. Let Star Fleet find someone else to clean up the messes. In fact, I might be more use showing them how to avoid the messes, or, at least how to clean up after themselves. This last idea caught his fancy. If I could teach younger people some of our accumulated knowledge and experience, not just let it die with us, I could get a lot of satisfaction out of that.
He wanted to share this idea with Spock, but he was still meditating, so Kirk restrained himself. He started to check on some of the places that had offered Spock a position. Several were large universities where Kirk was sure he could find people interested in the type of courses he'd thought of, and three were planets that were hot and dry, with a low-gravity. He looked through more information on them, then shut off the terminal. He could do no more until he had talked to Spock.
He felt for the bond; it did not have the withdrawn quality of meditation. In fact, now that Kirk was not shielding, he realized that Spock was doing a very poor job of covering his distress. Kirk hurried to Spock's study and opened the door quietly. Spock was kneeling beside his desk, his face buried in his hands. Kirk went to him and stood with his hands on Spock's shoulders.
"Spock, let me help," he said softly.
Spock looked up and shook his head. "Jim, it is too shameful. I cannot . . ."
"And I've never done anything to be ashamed of?"
"Not to hurt me as I would have hurt you."
There was no answer to that, but the one Kirk gave. He knelt beside Spock, embraced him, then buried his face in Spock's shoulder, letting his respect, love and trust flow through the bond. In a little while, he felt Spock's pain ease. He got up, took Spock's hand and led him back to their living room. They sat side by side on the couch and Kirk waited until Spock finally felt he could talk.
"I am so ashamed, Jim. I have said that I love you, but I am greedy, selfish, a coward. When you were sick and in pain on Pakorna, I became desperately afraid that you were dying, that you would leave me. Jim, I have now faced the truth and it shames me, but I cannot control it. I would fight to keep you alive, even in pain, rather than face living without you."
Oh, my god, what was I thinking of? After all these years, we are still learning more about ourselves and each other. He could not speak; his throat was choked with the enormity of Spock's declaration. He disengaged himself gently, stood up, then stepped back so that he could see Spock clearly. He doesn't notice that I’m a dying old bag of bones. He just panics at the thought I might leave him. I’ve always known I have needed him but I never understood that for him, it was the same.
It was too much, he dropped to his knees and buried his face on Spock's legs. He didn't know whether he was laughing or crying, likely a mixture of both, but by the time he had calmed himself sufficiently to look up at Spock, it was mainly laughter.
"I see nothing humorous in my shameful admission," said Spock indignantly, although he did not remove his hand from Kirk's shoulder.
"No, but you might, when I tell you my thoughts these past hours. Spock, if we don't retire from Star Fleet quickly, they'll commit us to a Home for the Certifiably Silly. Of course," his voice assumed a thoughtful tone, "if they put us in the same padded cell, it could be very pleasant. I had a long talk with Don Marshall today."
Kirk told him what Don had said, what his own conclusions were and, hesitantly, how he had arrived at them. Afterwards, Spock was silent, absorbing this new information.
"I have always known that Humans were overly concerned with their appearance, but Jim, your body is only a part of you, a very pleasing part, but still, not nearly so important as the rest of you. I did not know these missions were so harmful to you."
They took no more missions for Star Fleet before their retirement. They had several conferences with Don Marshall before they settled at Delphi University. Again Kirk beat the odds. It was now thirty-five years since Marshall's prediction. Don had died twenty years ago and Kirk was sorry he had not seen how well his prescription had worked. For Kirk had accepted the challenge of maintaining his body. If he were tempted to skip a meal or nutrient supplement, to slack off at an exercise session or miss a sleep in the day time, he had only to remember Spock’s desperate fear of being alone and temptation became easy to resist.
Kirk returned from his memories with a little smile. They had been very full years. From his initial idea, there had arisen a whole program of courses that were now required for Federation diplomats and Star Fleet officers. From active teaching, he later moved to the position of advisor, although he still conducted small classes in his home. Spock had continued his research, taught senior level classes, and, presently, was Chairman of his department. Kirk smiled to himself. Once he had decided that he had no choice, he had settled into a planet-bound life and was surprised at how much he enjoyed it.
It was nearly dawn. He closed his eyes and dozed for a few hours, still reluctant to face the lonely bed.
That afternoon, Hannis took Ellen on the promised tour, introduced her to the staff and showed her the space reserved for her. As they walked back across the campus, Ellen asked "Will you be at Professor Kirk's this evening?"
"Oh, no, that was a rare opportunity. Five people in our department had wanted to go. I won the draw. Tonight's visitors will be from different departments."
Ellen found it strange that it was considered such a privilege to spend an evening with James Kirk. He had certainly seemed friendly and accessible to her and the boys. She did not know how to phrase a tactful question that would explain the situation, so she just nodded.
When they got home, she found the boys waiting for her. Kirk greeted her with, "Will and Bob have passed my inspection so don't worry about them getting ready for supper. Was your tour satisfactory?"
"Oh yes, thank you. I met the whole department."
"Good. Spock will be pleased that you did not wait for him. Hannis is a good, thorough sort and he would show you little things that Spock wouldn't think of."
Ellen was again surprised. Did Jim Kirk know everyone and everything that was happening? There was no time for further conversation as the visitors were already due and she must change.
Once again, the visitors included no other Humans. After an interesting mixture of supper dishes, the group went into the living room for their drinks. The Vulcan female, T'Danna, seated herself on the sofa beside Ellen. Kirk was talking about a group of new students that were coming from a planet newly admitted to the Federation. He stopped in mid-sentence and a look of severe pain crossed his face. He gripped the arms of his chair and his head fell forward. Ellen started to go to him but T'Danna restrained her. "Wait," she ordered.
The spasm seemed to pass and Kirk wiped his brow as he got up. T'Danna went quickly to him and spoke quietly in what Ellen recognized as Vulcan. He nodded and T'Danna pulled the communications console to where he could reach it. The other guests waited silently while he activated the screen and pressed a series of switches. The face of a Star Fleet officer appeared. Kirk gave him no time to speak. "Commander, this is James Kirk. Connect me with your Duty Officer, please."
"Sorry, but the Duty Officer is unavailable for calls. I'll transfer you to the Public Information Department."
"Commander, this is Admiral James Kirk. I will speak with the Duty Officer now."
"But . . ." he still hesitated.
"Check personnel access file, code 1707-7, then connect me."
There was a pause, then an older man's face appeared. "Sorry for the delay, Jim, these new young officers aren't up on everything they should be. Now what's the problem?"
"Anton, have you received any communications from the Calypso Princess recently?"
"That's the passenger shuttle due in tomorrow, isn't it?"
"Hold on, I'll check." There was a long pause. Ellen had stifled a gasp; Bill was on that shuttle.
Anton's face re-appeared. "Not a word since yesterday, Jim, so we assume she's on schedule."
Kirk's voice was toneless, as if repeating a memorized statement. "She's just had some problem that has severely injured at least one of the passengers. I suggest you check immediately in case she needs help." His voice softened, worry coming through. "Let me know, Anton, please. I'll be waiting here."
He cut the connection and leaned back in his chair, overcome with the force of the pain that assaulted him through the bond. He tried to shield his mind, to re-achieve some measure of control. He had been able to dampen it while contacting Star Fleet but was not strong enough to continue once the urgency of the call was gone. He could only lie there limply, feeling it with Spock, and desperately wishing that his sharing it could diminish Spock's suffering. Suddenly the pain was gone. The bond was still intact, so Spock was either unconscious or had received a pain-killer.
Kirk found he had been holding his breath. He took several slow, deep ones, trying to stop the trembling of his body. He opened his eyes and found his six visitors gathered around him.
"I regret that our evening has ended like this," he began, and was surprised to find that he could only whisper. "You all heard what I said to Commodore Nakin. I am sure you understand that this must remain confidential. When there is definite news, I will see that you are informed." He had to close his eyes again, to shut out the room that wavered before him. In the distance, he could hear low voices as the visitors left.
Ellen had not moved. She heard and saw everything, but only later would she absorb it, wonder about it. Now, her whole being was focused on Bill, and visions of him in all the accidents that could befall a person in space. She was brought back to an awareness of her surroundings by a hand on her arm and the sound of her name.
"Ellen?" She looked up. T'Danna stood in front of her, waiting. It took Ellen a minute to respond.
"Bill, my husband, is on the Calypso Princess," she whispered. She looked over at Kirk, whose eyes were closed. "How does he know? How can he be sure?" she asked, grasping at the straw of hope.
"He is in telepathic contact with one of the passengers.”
Ellen huddled back on the sofa and started to shiver at T'Danna's reply. "So he can't tell me about anyone else." Her mind fled back to the visions of Bill, hurt, in pain, dying. T'Danna shook her, forcing her back. "When is the baby due?"
Ellen looked at her blankly; she had forgotten the baby. "In five weeks."
"Who is your doctor?"
T'Danna nodded, covered her with a blanket, then went to the kitchen. She called both Kirk's and Ellen's doctors, then prepared warm drinks for both. Ellen drank hers when T'Danna insisted, and soon the mild sedative, prescribed by her doctor, calmed her, permitting her to relax.
When Kirk was roused for his drink, he gave it part of his attention; he would not neglect his monitoring of the bond. He looked at T'Danna suspiciously. "I must remain fully alert."
"I so informed your physician. I have added only a nutritive supplement that he prescribed."
Kirk then accepted it and sipped slowly, unaware of it or T'Danna's taking the cup when he had finished. All his attention was re-focused on their bond. He did not expect to have the strength to keep Spock alive by force of his own will, as had happened in the past, but maybe he could follow Spock if he detected the bond breaking. They had promised each other that if one of them were near death, they would meld in a final attempt to remain together. But at this distance, he could only watch and try.
Some hours later he felt the change, slight at first, then stronger. Spock was regaining consciousness, and as he did so, Kirk's warm, loving welcome was waiting for him. T'Danna saw the change in his face and brought him another drink to strengthen him in his continuing vigil. During the next hour, Kirk knew that Spock was aware of him, and they rested together, basking in the comfort they gave each other. Kirk then felt a slight surge in the bond, then a gradual fading. He stayed with it for a few minutes, assuring himself of the different quality, then opened his eyes.
"He is now in the healing trance so I am not needed," he told T'Danna, who waited beside him.
"Then you may sleep," she replied.
As Kirk started to rise, he noticed Ellen who lay dozing on the sofa. He looked at T'Danna for an explanation.
"Her husband is on the Calypso Princess. She waits for news."
"And she knows nothing more than what she overheard me say?" He let T'Danna help him to the bedroom and cover him with a blanket. As she turned to leave, he detained her with, "I was fortunate that a Vulcan was among the guests this evening. No one else would have known what was required. You will rest now?"
"I have rested while watching you. Another Vulcan will replace me at 0800 hours and there will be a Vulcan with you until Professor Spock tells us it is unnecessary. Vulcans look after their own."
"Thank you," he said, knowing that anything more would be superfluous, perhaps distasteful to Vulcan ears.
He fell asleep quickly, his body insisting on the rest it had been denied so long. He roused a few hours later, rolled over as he always did, and woke completely when he encountered the empty bed. Then he remembered, and felt for the bond. It still had the withdrawn quality of the healing trance. He started to get up, heard voices and lay down again. He did not feel up to talking with anyone yet. He wondered if Ellen was still waiting to hear about her Bill. It had been so obvious, since he had met her, how she missed Bill. And yet, he could have died and she would not have known until someone told her. This made him appreciate even more his own, sure knowledge. What had befallen the shuttle was still unknown to him, but he had known of Spock's injury and that he was now recovering. What a unique gift the bond had been! As well as saving their lives on many occasions, it had enriched those lives. They could always respond to the other's needs and moods. When they disagreed, or fought, they had never been able to stray so far that they could not find each other again.
So many years had passed that it was hard to remember the time before their bonding, and before that, to when they had not been lovers. He remembered that Spock had been hesitant about suggesting that they bond. He saw now that Spock had known some of the problems they would encounter. But he had welcomed anything that would bring them closer, and had been confident in their ability to handle anything together.
For the first months he had lived in the golden glow of wonder at the loving closeness and the ever-present reminder of love and pleasure. It had been a shock to learn of the price this gift demanded. Afterwards, he wondered how he could have been so stupid as to not expect a price. But at the time, he had not thought of the day-to-day details of living.
His lesson started one morning on the bridge when they had been surveying uneventfully. As it did frequently, his mind had wandered to the previous night's lovemaking, and the memory began to arouse him again. Suddenly he felt as if he had been immersed in an icy bath. He swung around to look at Spock, but all he saw was an unusually rigid profile. The sensation of a frigid barrier between them continued all during their shift. He was able to perform his duties normally; he even discussed several technical matters with Spock, but the chill in his mind never wavered. When the end-of-watch routine was completed, he found Spock waiting for him in the lift.
"Captain, we must talk," he said stiffly.
"In my quarters, now." His mind swirled with confusion, anger, hurt, at the sudden change.
Once Kirk's door was shut, Spock gave him no time to express anything. "Jim, it is intolerable to be subjected to your self-indulgent fantasies and your emotional intrusions." He stood glaring at Kirk. The cold was gone, replaced by wave after wave of heat. Later Kirk would learn that this was Spock's frustration and anger, but then he could only feel the barrage, helpless to respond or defend. He extended a hand to the wall for support, as the room and Spock's face wavered in front of him. Suddenly the attack ended. Spock gripped his shoulders, steadying him, then drew him close and the gentle, warm feel of their bond returned.
"Jim, I am sorry. I forget your lack of training in the mental disciplines. You have never even learned what every Vulcan child has mastered before entering school. But you must learn, both to protect yourself and to save me."
Kirk could not now remember any more of that night's conversation. But as a result, they took an extended leave from the Enterprise and went to Vulcan, where a special teacher was found for Kirk.
For a Human, Kirk's mind was extremely orderly and well-disciplined, but by Vulcan standards, it was chaotic. Until their bonding, his only experience with telepathy had been the mind melds with Spock. He had not even known the basic techniques of meditation. Now he had to learn to discipline his emotions, to erect shields. It was the most difficult task he had ever attempted. The teacher was patient and set him exercises that sounded simple until he tried them. He could still remember the hopelessness and frustration of the first weeks. What mental control he acquired during those four months on Vulcan was due to Spock's unwavering help and Kirk's own stubbornness. They had both known that their survival had depended on his success. By the time their leave had expired, he had learned enough of the elements of mental control and shields for them to return to the Enterprise. But it took years of practice, and Spock's help, before he had the finely tuned control and automatic discipline he needed to protect Spock. Many times in later years, they had returned to Vulcan for him to learn more difficult skills, such as the control of pain and interpretation of variations in the bond's quality and feel.
He drifted off into a light sleep. When he awoke, he rose and went to the dining room area. Ellen and the boys were having breakfast in the company of Soran, a Vulcan student. Ellen cheerfully brought Kirk up to date. Bill was fine. Commodore Nakin had called. There had been an explosion in the shuttle, and thanks to Kirk's alert, a star ship had reached it in less than two hours. Passengers had been transferred to the star ship, which would deliver them tomorrow. Ellen concluded, "Commodore Nakin asked that you call him at your convenience, but it's not urgent, so you can have breakfast with us." Her joy gave the meal the air of a party.
When Kirk called Nakin, the Commodore confirmed what Kirk already knew about Spock. Kirk divided his day between telling Will and Bob about the Enterprise and resting. The strain of Spock's injury had left him weak and quickly tired. At Kirk's suggestion, Ellen also rested, and worked at her computer. Kirk and Soran had decided that between them, they would keep Will and Bob busy. Hannis and T'Danna joined them for supper. Soran left soon afterwards. Kirk did not feel like the conversation and music that he usually enjoyed with his visitors. He appreciated everyone's concern, but he really wished they would all disappear and leave him to his memories. There had been more of them lately and they lessened his loneliness. Well, why not?
He looked at Hannis and Ellen and smiled at them. "I'm sure you two would love to discuss your research. Ellen, why don't you and Hannis take the boys home and relax while you compare notes. I think I'm tired enough to sleep again."
Once they had gone, T'Danna saw that he was comfortable then settled down to read. Her replacement, another Vulcan student, saw Kirk to bed and kept vigil that night. Kirk was awake around dawn and felt Spock come out of the healing trance. It would not be long now and he would be less lonely, now that Spock was conscious.
Ellen woke, knowing there was something special about today. Bill was coming! She smiled, the extra day of waiting has passed and he was alive, well. When she was dressed she went to the dining area. Will had served breakfast for Bob and himself. They planned to explore the University campus and would return at lunch time. She watched them go with a sense of relief. It was fortunate that they were so self-reliant for she would not have known with what to suggest they occupy themselves. She really wanted to get back to that new paper Hannis had told her about. It had been the best evening since she'd arrived. They had talked and argued for hours, until her body had demanded sleep. She remembered now, that when Kirk had suggested they go and talk shop she had planned to ask Hannis some of the questions that still puzzled her. But Hannis had asked about a discovery she had made and everything else had been forgotten.
The questions returned now. Kirk! He had been living alone until the night of the shuttle accident. Since then, there had always been a Vulcan in his house. She had worked with many Vulcans and was used to their manner and their ways. To her, it seemed as if they treated him with more than the usual respect they gave to others. Thinking of Vulcans reminded her, Professor Spock had been expected back yesterday, but Hannis hadn’t mentioned him.
She placed her utensils in the recycler and stretched. Her back still ached. She decided to say good-morning to Kirk before getting to work. She had rarely found people to be more interesting than her work, but this man intrigued her.
I wonder what he was like as a young man. He's got an irresistible smile. The boys said he'd been a starship captain; that's right, he called himself 'Admiral Kirk' when he called about the shuttle accident. What did T'Danna say? Something about him being in telepathic contact with someone on the shuttle? He's got quite a history behind him!
She stopped at the gap in the hedge that overlooked Kirk's patio. He appeared to be sleeping on the lounger. She remembered her first impression of him, that of great age and fragility. When talking with him she had forgotten, now she remembered with surprise. She decided not to disturb him, but as she turned to go, a movement from the patio caught her eye. Another Vulcan! This one wore Vulcan travelling clothes. As he moved towards Kirk, she recognized his profile. Professor Spock! There was something in his face and the way he walked that arrested her. He stood a moment looking at Kirk, then knelt beside him. Kirk's eyes opened and a sudden look of joy appeared. She heard his "Spock" and saw the quick way they embraced each other. She turned away, knowing she was an intruder. Kirk's words that first day she met him came back to her now. "If two people are right for each other and they work to keep it so, they will always miss each other . . . even after eighty-five years." Some of her questions were answered. She entered the house to read the new paper while she waited for Bill.
Kirk relaxed in the early morning warmth. The latest in the succession of Vulcans who waited with him was studying in the dining area. She had seen Kirk settle on the lounger, then withdrew at his request. He wanted to be alone, to share with Spock the joy of coming home. Spock was shielding, but even so, his excitement seeped through. Then suddenly it was as if a cloud uncovered the sun, and he knew that Spock looked at him. He kept his eyes closed a moment longer, delaying what he had awaited so long. But his need was too great, Spock's face was close to his, and he could wait no longer. As they clung to each other, their mutual joy reinforced by the physical contact, Kirk heard Spock's promise, "Never again will I leave you." Their waiting was over.
in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined
And his arm lay lightly around my breast - and that night I was happy.
from 'When I Heard at the Close of Day'
by Walt Whitman