“I’ll be home in ten minutes,” he promised, forcing himself to smile at his husband even though he did not feel anything that would warrant a smile. He only hoped that it would go unnoticed that his eyes did not match the joy displayed by his stretched lips. By the minute way in which his husband’s slanted eyebrows drifted closer in disturbed puzzlement, his hope had been in vain. He could never fool Spock, and it seemed like he never would.
“Jim, are you alr—”
“I’m fine, Spock,” he interrupted. “I’ll be home soon.”
“If you would prefer, I could meet you and—”
He held up a hand in an unspoken command for silence. “I can walk home on my own. Besides, it’s getting colder and I know how you don’t like it.”
Spock’s confusion and worry became more evident in his face. “We have resided here for many years. I am quite accustomed to the colder climate than I am even to Vulcan.”
Jim offered a frail smile. “Nevermind, just—” He masked his troubled thoughts with a charming grin, the kind he’d often flashed at those he wished to persuade to his point of view. “I need some time to think today. Like when you meditate.”
Spock opened his mouth, then closed it. After a moment, he nodded. “Very well,” he said. “I have prepared a soup for tonight. Is that sufficient?”
The question jarred him. Between the two of them, there had been a long-standing and unspoken agreement that whoever arrived home first would prepare dinner that night. Sometimes Jim would feel an intense craving for a specific meal and would hurry to beat Spock back so that he could cook what he wanted that night. Lately, however, Jim hadn’t felt the energy to beat Spock home. Sometimes he would linger at the Academy, wasting time so that he guaranteed arriving home later than Spock so that he would not have to make dinner. Over the last three weeks, Jim had not needed to cook dinner once because he made sure he arrived home last. Spock had never complained, nor had he ever asked if his choice in cuisine for that night would be acceptable for Jim.
Until that moment.
“Of course,” he stammered. “Why would you ask that?”
Spock hesitated a moment. “You have not seemed yourself. In such instances, the human practice is to offer the affected person what, I believe is known as, comfort food.”
“I’m fine,” he argued. “I’m fine,” he repeated, a weak smile at his lips. “Make whatever you want tonight. Tomorrow I’ll make us dinner.”
Spock shook his head. “Tomorrow you are scheduled to lecture until approximately nineteen-hundred hours.”
Jim sighed harshly as he lowered his head in frustration. “The next day, then. I’ll cook the next day.”
Silence dominated his office. When he looked back up to make sure Spock had not disconnected, his breath left him at the sight of the open sadness in his husband’s dark eyes. “I have never kept score, T’hy’la.”
That word – that Vulcan term of endearment – undid Kirk instantly. He barely could manage, “I’ll see you soon,” before he quickly disconnected the call. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers for a moment, and then he swiped his fingers over his eyes to erase any trace of vulnerability that Spock had caused. When he opened his eyes again, he stared at himself in the now black screen.
When he had been young, James T. Kirk had never minded his own image. His appearance, his build, and his broadcasted confidence had earned the praise, admiration, and even lust of many species, genders, and ages as he’d been the Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise on her missions of exploration. His attractive qualities often had a tactical advantage whether to gain knowledge that could save himself, his crew, and his ship, or to distract his adversary in the same way that a showman distracted his audience with dramatics while his hands performed seeming magic all in plain sight. When he had been young, James T. Kirk had paid attention to his personal image. He had been proud of his handsome physique in press releases, and had taken the time to keep it that way without crossing the line separating a healthy self-esteem and narcissism.
But James T. Kirk was no longer young, and his own image became a thing to avoid.
Habit had made it possible for him to prepare himself to face his day and schedule without once looking at himself. That is, until he needed to shave. Even then, he did not let his scrutinizing gaze focus on anything other than the path of the razor. He looked only at the bristle that had dared to sprout and nowhere else. His daily routine at the Academy, however, forced him to observe his own hands frequently. The skin on the back of his hand, once firm and smooth, now displayed protruding blood vessels, his bronzed coloring long since faded and uneven. He only needed to look at his hands to know that handsome would no longer be the first adjective people used when they thought of him.
That line of thinking always led him to Spock, his Vulcan husband and bondmate. Spock, whose dark hair still shone as black as the first day he’d met the Vulcan when Kirk had first taken command of the ship from Captain Pike. Spock, who still stood in perfect, tireless posture, who carried himself with somber and elegant grace with every step, and who looked at least a whole decade younger than his age. He looked younger than Jim did now, and Spock was older by a few years.
Jim huffed and stood from his desk, fastening his warm uniform jacket as he stood. He noticed the temperature more now than he ever had when he’d seemed impervious to cold. Now, he most definitely preferred it warm, sometimes even hot. Perhaps some time away to Vulcan would be in order. He knew that Spock, while he had acclimated to Earth and the San Francisco area’s weather conditions, sometimes longed for a warmer home. Spock enjoyed walking outside, even just reading outside, especially when the sun shined and he could bask in its warmth. Jim enjoyed those quiet, warm days with his husband, too, more and more with each passing year. Perhaps, once he finally retired after this last publicity stunt he’d agreed to do in ten months, he could convince Spock to relocate somewhere warmer so that both of them could be more comfortable. Whether that meant they would go to the dry heat of Vulcan or not made no difference to Kirk.
He crossed the street when the signal flashed that it was safe for pedestrians to walk. He enjoyed walking the streets after a day at the Academy grounds. Civilians did not always recognize him, despite being responsible for saving the planet from its own shortsightedness regarding environmental care and species preservation. There were some days, though rare, that he and Spock would acquire a day’s passage for the sole purpose of whale watching out on the ocean. Sometimes they could even get a glimpse of George and Gracie and their offspring. Spock, despite his many years proverbially at sea in space, did not always do well on the ocean. After a day on a rocking boat, Spock would need to seek the stability of the closest bench to their disembarking and immediately slip into a light meditation. Kirk usually took the opportunity either to walk along the beach or sit quietly beside his husband and wait for him to regain his grace. The best times were when Spock would permit Jim to hold his hand gently, to use Kirk as an anchor. It comforted both of them.
A very old man walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk caught Kirk’s eye. He was alone, and slowly walked along with the assistance of a cane, seemingly unconcerned with the ends of his scarf tossing in the brief gusts of wind. The old man stuck his hand in his pocket to remove a cloth, a handkerchief, and held it over his mouth as he coughed into it. For a moment, he wondered if this man needed help. Would he refuse it even if offered? By the time he asked himself that question, he’d already passed the man. But Jim turned back and watched him continue on down the street, his cane clicking each time he used it to support his weight. What stopped him in his tracks had not been the man’s age, nor his use of the cane. It had been the fact that he was walking alone.
Jim thought of Spock again. “Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old that we have outlived our usefulness?” Spock had asked him that in private after Jim and McCoy had been recovered from the Klingon prison Rura Penthe. In that moment, he had evaded the question. As he watched the old man on the sidewalk, the question came back to his mind. One day he knew he would outlive his usefulness to Spock. He wondered how soon that day would come. A year? Five years? Another decade? He was no longer young, and he only grew older with each year. His activity had decreased since the Kitomer Peace Talks and he returned to his teaching position at the Academy. He found himself becoming ill more often than ever in his youth, despite his remarkably decent health. He knew that he no longer exhibited a fit body as he had during his days as Captain of the Enterprise. More disturbing to him than all of that remained the longer stretches between the times he and his husband shared intimacy. Not that they no longer engaged in it, but he missed the contact. Jim snorted to himself when he realized that Spock had not been the one to refuse such moments. The reluctance came from him, and the realization saddened him. It was an injustice to Spock that he did not know how to fix. Perhaps he already began to lose his usefulness to Spock.
Jim would age quicker than Spock. The process had already begun. He looked older than his husband already. The gap would only widen between their physical and mental abilities. He remembered when they had been prematurely aged during the mission that led them to Gamma Hydra IV. Spock had been affected at a much slower rate than the rest of the landing party. After they had begun their romantic relationship, this mission had always bothered Kirk. Was it a glimpse into their future? As a Vulcan, Spock had a much longer lifespan. When Kirk retired, Spock would just barely be entering the equivalence of a Human about to turn fifty years old. Kirk would in time require assistance in certain daily activities and the responsibility would fall to Spock. He knew his husband would not wish for a nursing staff to do such things in his place. Spock would take that duty upon himself as something required of a Vulcan bondmate. In time, Jim knew that he would become an undue burden on his husband. Spock was stuck with him.
He sighed as he turned the corner of the street to head up the next few blocks to their apartment. The old man he’d watched came to his mind again. What about Spock? Kirk would be abandoning his husband here alone. Who would care for Spock after Jim was gone? He would not be able to take care of Spock. He would never truly grow old with Spock. He would never see Spock age. Gamma Hydra IV would be the closest experience.
With a deep breath, Kirk unlocked the door to their home and stepped inside slowly. The scent of the soup hit him immediately. It smelled delicious, but his morbid thoughts killed his appetite for it. He removed his boots and set them to the side of the door.
“You did not arrive in ten minutes,” Spock admonished softly from the dining area.
Jim looked down at the floor. “I know.”
He heard the chair slide back, followed by the light and even tread of Spock’s footsteps. Jim didn’t need to look up to know that his husband stood before him. He could feel his presence. “I have not begun eating.”
Kirk shook his head, unable to look at Spock, unwilling to discuss his thoughts from his walk. “You didn’t have to wait, Spock.” He shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it on the back of one of the chairs in front of the fireplace as he headed on a direct path to their bedroom.
“Jim,” Spock called. “You are unwell?”
He stopped in his tracks, but didn’t turn around. “I’m just…I’m not hungry tonight.”
“You are troubled. Is there something I could do for you?”
“You already do plenty,” he snapped, then immediately regretted his tone. He turned to look at his husband and grimaced at the pain and confusion his temper planted in Spock’s eyes. “It’s—I’m just tired. I might just go lie down for a while.” He took a step back. When Spock began to follow him, Jim held up both hands, clearly asking for distance which Spock instantly granted. “But you should eat while it’s still hot.”
In a rare sight of saddened acceptance, Spock’s shoulders fell as he sighed. “I will check on you when I have finished?” It pained Kirk that Spock had chosen to ask it rather than state it.
“Of course, love. You don’t ever need to ask.” This was Spock’s home, too.
Spock nodded once, sharply, just as when Kirk had given him a command on the bridge, and then turned away to return to dinner. Kirk watched him walk away, feeling the sting of tears as he watched Spock lower himself into the chair at the table and begin to eat. Alone. Spock flicked his eyes up at the place opposite himself for only a moment before he tilted his head further lower to avoid looking there. Kirk’s chest tightened when he saw that Spock had set out a place setting for him, even having an extra hunk of bread on Kirk’s plate whereas his only contained one. Kirk closed his eyes miserably and entered their bedroom.
He didn’t go to bed. Instead, he diverted to the master bathroom. He didn’t know why, but in seconds he had stripped and truly looked at himself for the first time in what seemed to be years. Jim examined his looser skin, paler now than it had been in the past, his warm golden hair long since replaced by a much colder silver, and his plump body swollen from lessened physical activity over the years. How could anyone find this appealing? He turned and looked over what he could see of his sides and back. He barely could see the captain he had been. He had lost himself to time. “Look at you,” Finnegan’s voice taunted from his memory, “you’re an old man.” Yes, he was. Spock had often used the word appealing to describe him, to describe his attraction to Jim. How appealing would Spock find Jim when he became infirm and unable to care for himself? He leaned forward and looked closely at the many pronounced lines in his face, disgust overwhelming him. Who could possibly find him appealing?
He planted his hands on the counter, locked his elbows, and let his head hang forward. Only the feeling of warm and soft fabric being placed gently around his shoulders brought him out of his spiraling thoughts. He looked up in the mirror and saw Spock standing behind him, his hands lightly resting on his tense shoulders. Spock’s eyes shone with sad helplessness. “You did not rest as you said you would.”
Jim shook his head. “I can’t.”
“I can feel your discontent. Please tell me what it is that disturbs you.” Spock met his gaze in the mirror. “Have I done something to—”
Jim reached up and covered one of Spock’s hands with his own. “No! No, it’s not you. Don’t ever think it is.”
Spock swallowed. “I know that I am a factor in your distress.”
Spock silently convinced him to slip his arms into the sleeves of the robe as they let the quiet settle between them. Jim found himself turned by Spock so that the Vulcan could attentively fasten the robe closed. “As your mate, it is my duty and my honor to care for you.”
Jim grabbed both of Spock’s hands before they withdrew from the robe’s sash. “Even when I can’t do things on my own?” He kept his gaze on their hands, terrified to learn what he would see in Spock’s eyes. But Spock did nothing to force him to look at him. Instead, Spock stepped backwards and led Kirk into their bedroom, carefully avoiding the clothes his mate had quickly discarded. Wordlessly, he brought them both to a seated position on the edge of their bed.
“May I have your thoughts, sa-telsu?”
Jim closed his eyes and trustingly tilted his head to the easiest angle for his husband to comfortably touch his fingers to Jim’s psi-points. Spock muttered the ritual words and slid smoothly into his mate’s mind. Melding with them had always been easy, seamless. Through the meld, they communicated on a level that transcended words. Kirk did not need to go back and re-experience his morose thoughts from his walk home. Spock easily navigated his mind and found Jim’s doubts, his fears, and his insecurities. He analyzed them in silence, and then soothed them patiently with his affection. All of Kirk lay exposed to Spock, and all of Spock lay exposed to Kirk. They sought and answered each other wordlessly and in stillness, never and always touching and touched. When Spock began to withdraw from his mind, Kirk chased him wanting to keep them joined.
Kirk opened his eyes with a gasp and looked directly into Spock’s wounded eyes. “Spock, I—”
“Jim,” he whispered reverently. Spock lowered the hand with which he’d joined their minds, but kept the first two digits extended. Kirk reciprocated eagerly and immediately felt the warmth of their bond through the contact. “You will always remain appealing to me.” Kirk swallowed past the lump in his throat, trying to find his voice, but whether he intended to argue or return the sentiment even he didn’t know.
Spock curled his fingers around Jim’s as his other hand deftly undid the sash he had just fastened around his husband’s body. “You have earned this life you live,” Spock stated, keeping his eyes fixed on those of his mate, “and your body reflects everything you have known.” He abandoned the undone sash to lightly touch his fingers to the lines at the outer corner of Kirk’s eye. “This is your joy. It deepens with every smile.” He slid his fingers to the twin creases between Jim’s eyebrows. “Pain and grief,” he named them. He raised an eyebrow. “Many have injured you, Jim.”
Jim chuckled bitterly. “All of Starfleet helped with that.”
Spock his own regret to the surface. “Myself included,” he amended. He brushed his fingers along several lines in his husband’s forehead. “Wonder and puzzlement. The universe has challenged your intellect repeatedly, and surprised you often, yet you have always managed to answer those challenges.” He ran his hand along Jim’s cheekbone until he reached the deep frown lines around his mouth. “These are fascinating in that they reflect both your laughter and your sadness. They are contradictory and yet you cannot know one without the other.”
“Spock,” Jim whispered, not knowing why, or whether he spoke in an attempt to silence him.
Spock placed his fingers over Jim’s lips, joining them in both a Human and Vulcan kiss. “Here is your determination against all odds. Your refusal to accept defeat.”
Kirk felt his eyes moisten at Spock’s gentle recitation. He closed his eyes to keep his emotion unseen, but he knew Spock could not possibly ignore it if he noticed it. His husband slid his fingers back up the other cheek and guided them up into his silver hair. “Worry and stress,” Spock decided. “Possibly due to Doctor McCoy.”
Jim laughed. “Not just him.”
“No,” Spock agreed, running his fingers through his mate’s hair.
Jim leaned into the touch with a soft sigh. “Spock.” Before he could utter another syllable, his husband claimed his lips in the Human way. He reached for Spock until he found his neck so he could hold him there, desperate to feel his husband in that moment, both physically and mentally.
Spock’s hand left Jim’s hair and trailed down his neck until he found the smooth path of a faded scar. He stroked it with his thumb. “Hardship and struggle,” he said as he ended their kiss. He pressed his lips to each of the lines he had named, deliberately lingering longer on Jim’s sadness and pain, but ending once more with his mate’s lips. “You have earned these marks, Jim. They tell of your experiences, all that you have known. Each one is a monument of your life, a life that I am fortunate to share with you.”
Kirk finally allowed his tears to fall. “I don’t want to burden you when I get old, Spock,” he confessed. “I won’t be there for you when you’ll need me. I can’t take care of you.”
Spock brushed away the tears gently. “I will manage.” Kirk grimaced and he knew it was the incorrect phrasing in that moment. “Jim, even if you shared the natural Vulcan lifespan with me, there will never be a day I would wish to part from you. And the day on which our inevitable separation occurs will be one that will come far too soon. We do not know when that day will come, nor which of us will be left behind.”
Kirk sobbed and clutched desperately at Spock’s clothing. “I lost you once to death, Spock. Don’t make me go through that again.”
Spock licked his lips, at a loss momentarily. They did not often speak of his death aboard their former ship. It had long been a topic to avoid. He enclosed Kirk’s trembling hands with his own. “I have no intention of doing so. But if you do not wish me to leave you first, then I must endure your loss.”
Kirk pressed his lips together determinedly. “I don’t want you to go through that either.” Spock had no answer for him. One of them would have to endure the other’s passing. The potential of their passing on together seemed quite unlikely. He did not wish to give Jim false hope. Kirk looked at Spock and shook him by the grip he had on his clothes. “Promise me that day won’t come for a long time.”
Spock shook his head. “The future is always unknown. I cannot make such an oath.” Jim frowned and his expression twisted as he tried to prevent further tears from escaping. “However,” Spock said, catching his mate’s attention once more. “I can make a different oath.” He framed Kirk’s face with his hands and held his gaze. “I will treasure you until the end of our days, regardless of separation or death. You are my mate, my t’hy’la, and nothing will alter that. Not age. Not injury. Not infirmity. Not even death.”
Jim surged forward and crashed their lips together. Spock wrapped his arms around him underneath the soft fabric of the robe, touching his bare skin and sending his mate telepathic waves of his deep affection for him. Kirk embraced his husband in return, pulling the firmer Vulcan body close to his until he felt the fabric of Spock’s clothing against his skin. They separated from their kiss and pressed their foreheads together, basking in their closeness and their mingled breathing. “I love you, Spock.”
Spock pulled back enough to look into his mate’s eyes. “As I cherish thee, Jim.”
He saw his own love for Spock reflected in his husband’s eyes, and he felt it through Spock’s touch and their bond. From that day forward, that reflection would be the only one that mattered to him. If his bondmate could look at him, then there existed no reason why he could not look at himself without feeling the same pride he’d known in his younger years.
He had earned his age and lived long because he had been born to survive, but with Spock at his side, James T. Kirk prospered.