The wine-glass gave off a melodious tone when the neck of the bottle connected with it.
‘Here we go,’ McCoy said, handing the glasses around and then raising his own in a toast. ‘Happy birthday, Jim.’
‘Happy birthday,’ Spock repeated, turning his eyes at the third man of the party, who smiled at them both and raised his own glass. They tasted the wine, which McCoy had brought for him.
‘Not too bad,’ was Jim’s judgment when they had lowered them again.
‘”Not too bad”?’ the old doctor said incredulously. ‘Would you like to know how much I paid for that bottle?’
‘Preferably not, or I’ll feel bad about still getting you half-bad brandy,’ the other man answered, as Spock took another measured sip.
‘I find the taste pleasing, albeit unfamiliar,’ he said.
‘There – you hear?’ McCoy said. ‘Even Spock understands it. Only good thing with not drinking, I guess – keeps your taste-buds young. Wouldn’t trade it, though.’
‘I’m just pulling your leg, Bones,’ Jim admitted as he shifted his chair, and got a snort, communicating understanding, in return.
‘So, how does it feel? Being a year older,’ he then said, half friendly and half teasingly.
‘Don’t remind me of it,’ was the answer, accompanied with a sigh. ‘Old age’s breathing down my neck. I mean, look at us. We don’t even bother going out to a restaurant. I spent the afternoon cooking my own birthday dinner…’
‘I offered to do the cooking, and you insisted that you wanted to do it together,’ Spock pointed out, looking him in the eye for a moment. ‘Besides, I surrendered all parts of the cooking which you find enjoyable to you.’
‘That mostly means that I don’t have to chop any onion,’ Jim said to McCoy. ‘Well, not quite. But anyway. Then after said birthday dinner, we sit around drinking…’ He scrambled for his reading glasses around his neck and tipped the wine bottle to be able to see the name. ‘I can’t even pronounce that.’
‘It’s French, not – I don’t know – Cardassian,’ Bones pointed out.
‘Same difference,’ Jim answered. ‘Most solar systems are closer than Europe for me.’ Then he turned to Spock. ‘It was ages since we went to Europe. Shouldn’t we go soon?’
‘”Europe” is not a country, Jim,’ the Vulcan observed, but was unable to hide his smile. ‘You will have to be more precise.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he said, shrugging. ‘There are so many places – so much I haven’t seen. You spend your entire life in space, and then you realise you don’t know what a good part of your own planet looks like.’ He cradled the glass in his hand and took a sip of the wine. ‘I guess I won’t have time to find out all of it, either.’
‘Stop talking like you’re dying,’ McCoy said curtly. ‘Just because it’s your seventieth birthday doesn’t mean you’re about to kick the bucket.’ He too tasted his wine and then said: ‘Besides, I’m older than either of you.’ This was a usual reminder from the old doctor; since they retired, he had come to enjoy pointing out that he was their senior. Despite that, it was hard to imagine that he was past eighty; even if his hair gone completely white and his face was generously lined, there was still something boyish about his eyes, which made him seem considerably younger.
‘Doctor McCoy is correct, Jim,’ Spock said. ‘None of us are yet beyond the life expectancy of males in our respective species and previous occupation. Pessimism is quite uncalled for.’
‘At last the man says something which makes sense,’ McCoy scoffed. ‘What did Spock give you, anyway?’ Spock actually looked rather embarrassed at the question.
‘A book,’ he answered. ‘More precisely, a first edition of Mémoires d’Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar. A rather well-preserved volume, considering it is more than three-hundred and fifty years old.’
‘You also gave me socks,’ Jim said teasingly.
‘You are always in need of socks, Jim,’ Spock answered. ‘You have shown an almost admirable skill in loosing half of a pair.’
‘True enough,’ he admitted with a shrug. The Vulcan smiled with something which in a human would have been triumphant. Then he turned and looked at the old mechanical clock-works, which stood on one of the shelves on the far wall. Upon noting the time, he rose and said:
‘It seems to be time to retire.’ He looked at McCoy – ‘Doctor, good night’ – and then to Jim. ‘Jim. I will see you shortly.’ And in a flurry of robes, he left the room. An amused silence filled the room as McCoy raised his eye-brows inquiringly.
‘Well, seems like I need to chuck you out,’ Jim said and rose, wincing slightly as an ache shot through his arthritic joints. ‘Damned knees – they drive me insane.’
‘They’d probably get better if you bothered taking your medicine,’ the old doctor said. ‘Don’t think Spock hasn’t told on you.’
‘I do take my medicine,’ he insisted, and added: ‘Otherwise Spock nags me until I remember it.’ McCoy laughed slightly, then jerked his head towards the wall beyond which the bedroom lay.
‘Do you still…? You know.’ Jim could not suppress a grin. ‘Can’t see how you do it.’
‘What can I say? He keeps me fit.’
‘I really should get out of here, then,’ McCoy said. ‘Thanks for dinner and – well, happy birthday.’
‘Thanks, Bones – I’m glad you could make it,’ he answered.
‘Wouldn’t dare to miss it,’ he said, putting on his coat. ‘Good night, then.’ He patted his friend on the shoulder and left with a final nod. Jim lingered by the door for a moment, thinking that even if birthdays always depressed him as they reminded him how old he was getting, this had been a particularly good one. Then he turned to the bedroom; he felt Spock’s mental presence inside his head. When he reached the door, he hesitated, looking into the darkness of the room.
‘Spock,’ he addressed the shape sitting on the bed. ‘You all right?’ The shape straightened and he saw a characteristic half-smile flicker over his features through the gloom.
‘Yes, t’hy’la. Only pondering certain things,’ he answered. Jim approached and stopped in front of him to stroke his hair and touch the point of an ear.
‘What kind of things?’
‘Nothing of consequence – only the research I will have to deal with tomorrow,’ he answered, and placed a hand on the small of the other man’s back and leaning his face against his chest.
‘Sounds unbearably boring,’ Jim observed.
‘Indeed,’ Spock said, connecting their fingers. The bond seemed set alight at the touch. ‘I do hope that wine doctor McCoy got you has not made you drowsy.’
‘I don’t think it has, no,’ he answered, feeling desire stirring within him, even as he discerned an answering sensation in his bondmate. ‘Do you need to be… distracted?’
‘I was under the impression that I was the one distracting you,’ Spock said, swirling their fingers around and lifting his face.
‘Let’s make it mutual,’ Jim said languidly and leaned down to kiss him.
The screech of the alarm-clock woke Jim, shaking him unforgivingly out of the dream he was having. Automatically, he rolled over and stopped the noise, and rolled over to his other side. Spock would wake soon, he knew (from what his bondmate had told him, it always took him 1.6 minutes to wake up after the alarm had gone off), but he could not resist coming closer and putting an arm around him. Yesterday’s lovemaking still loomed fresh in the back of his mind. It must have gone on for hours, but he did not think even Spock could say for how long; it had been enough to make even the most logical Vulcan loose his controls. Jim still found it curious that they still managed, despite Spock’s alien physique, but he certainly did not complain. Of course it was not as frequently occurring as it had been twenty or even ten years ago, but the pleasure seemed only to grow. For a moment he remembered how frantically they had made love in the beginning, for fear that either of them would die during the next shift or mission. Over the years, that fear had receded as their duties had become less hazardous and they had grown older. Much as being retired annoyed him, he did not long for the constant fear which he had felt for his bondmate every time they beamed down to some hostile planet or encountered an enemy vessel.
He propped himself up on an elbow, still with his other arm around Spock. Despite his Vulcan heritage, he had aged noticeably. Part of his hair was still black, but it was stadilky turning white. His face had become lined without loosing any of its elegance. While Jim had steadily gained weight since his early forties, Spock had done the opposite since their retirement, which sometimes made him think they looked almost comical alongside one another. Some features of his aging were rather alien; green veins shone through the thin skin beneath his eyes, and his whites as well as the irises had started to darken. Jim thought he had never loved him more than that moment.
Spock suddenly opened his eyes and said:
‘Nor I you.’
‘You’re prying,’ Kirk pointed out jokingly, leaning in to give him a kiss.
‘It is only natural that such thoughts will go through the bond, even if you were not projecting them,’ he observed, even if his bondmate knew this very well, and kissed him back even as he extended two fingers to stroke his. Jim would happily have stayed in bed more the most part of the day, but knew that neither of them had the stamina for it. When they broke the kiss, he asked:
‘You’re going to the library today, aren’t you?’
‘There are some articles I have to look over,’ Spock answered, caressing one of the other man’s round ears, which fascinated him just as much as his pointed ears intrigued his former captain.
‘Do you enjoy it, that project for the Academy?’ he queried.
‘You know of my need for intellectual stimulation, Jim. It is not ideal, but it is sufficiently satisfying.’
‘You’re talking about it like it’s half-bad sex,’ the human laughed.
‘Sex would be much more pleasant, but it is not – at least not primarily – intellectually stimulating,’ Spock answered, sitting up and kissing him again, which smothered his laughter.
‘If you stay we can see if we can figure out a way to make it intellectually stimulating,’ Jim teased, and got a raised eyebrow for a response.
‘I believe last night proved very well that my mental capacities do not function as well as they tend to in that particular situation,’ Spock pointed out.
‘Oh, all right then,’ he said, mock-disappointed as he got up and handing him his night-robe. ‘Let’s make breakfast.’ While he put on his pyjama trousers and vest, Spock got out of bed and put the robe over his Terran-style pyjamas, which he always wore in the night, even if he had waited to put it on until just before he fell asleep; the nights of San Francisco were too cold for him. He struck a rather stately figure in it, and Jim could not resist kissing him once again before they went to the kitchen. He occupied himself with making coffee and toasting bread, and was surprised when he sat down and found that the only thing Spock had prepared was his tea.
‘Is that all you’re having?’ he asked, and his bondmate nodded. The human was silent for a moment and then said: ‘Darling, are you all right?’ Spock looked up, sensing the concern in his words and through the bond. Jim only called him “darling” when he was feeling very tender or very concerned.
‘I am well, Jim. I am simply not hungry.’
‘You haven’t eaten much these last few days,’ he observed, but was cut off.
‘I am quite satisfied with only having tea – making myself eat more than I need would hardly be logical.’ At this, Jim half snorted, half laughed.
‘All right, then,’ he said, taking his word for it. ‘Is it just one of your contemplative phases or are you on an endocrine glitch?’ It was hard to know with Spock’s hormonal cycle; it had sent him into pon farr unexpectedly a few times, but more often it simply made him loose his appetite and turn a little short-tempered at times. But when he answered there was love and amusement in his gaze.
‘It would be what you call a “contemplative phase”. My endocrine balance, I assure you, is normal.’ Jim nodded and they went onto discussing other matters. An hour later, Spock had dressed and kissed him goodbye to go to the library. When the door had closed and he heard the footsteps descending, he returned to the kitchen and had another cup of coffee. After showering and dressing, he set about rewinding his mechanical chronometres and polishing the antiques he had not had time to take care of before his birthday. Even if it was dull work in reality, it distracted him well and filled up most of the day. He only stopped for lunch and when his nephew Peter called to wish him a belated happy birthday.
It was almost six o’clock when the door opened and Jim heard Spock enter and remove his shoes. He put the old pistol he had been cleaning back onto the wall and came to greet him. The Vulcan looked rather subdued, but smiled slightly when he saw him and accepted a kiss.
‘How was your reading?’ Jim asked when he pulled away.
‘Exceedingly dull,’ Spock admitted. ‘I hope the project will become more stimulating soon, or I will have to indulge in sex instead.’ He laughed, savouring the man’s humour, and taking his hand he lead him into the kitchen.
They cooked dinner in what to another person would seem like companionable silence. Still their minds extending and touching through the bond, and the space between them was filled by thoughts and feelings, rather than by words. They did not truly speak until after dinner, when Spock seemed to notice Jim flexing his fingers impatiently.
‘Are your joints causing you discomfort?’ he asked, reaching for his hand.
‘They’re just a bit stiff,’ Jim said, but let him take it. He could hardly complain about this, even if his arthritic joints became only marginally better from Spock massaging them. Still, it was an intimate thing to do, especially for a Vulcan, and Jim cherished the way the man’s face filled with concentration and tenderness, his hooded eyes concentrated on his hands. Nevertheless, the human pointed out:
‘You look tired.’
‘I am,’ he admitted with an almost human shrug. Then he looked up, still massaging his hands, and pointed out with a small smile: ‘It is not surprising, considering how little time to sleep you gave me yesterday.’ He laughed.
‘I guess spending the day in the library didn’t help,’ he observed then, but took one of Spock’s hands and kissed the palm. It made him shiver, but he looked away.
‘An early night should be in order.’ There was some regret in his voice, even if the other man thought there should be no need for it, considering of the previous night.
‘Play a game of chess with me first?’ he asked hopefully, and to his content he was given a nod in return. They cleared away the dishes quickly and set up the chess-board in front of the lit fire-place. Spock, at first huddling in his robes against the cold, relaxed as the room grew warmer, and the flicker of the flames which threw his face in sharp relief made him hauntingly beautiful. He felt through the bond that Spock was watching him as well, but he pretended he did not know, and their gazes became as much a game as the chess. They knew each other’s styles in chess well by now, but they still managed to extend the game for quite some time. At last, Jim made his king fall and then took Spock’s hand.
‘Come to bed.’ That soft smile went over his face again and he nodded assent. Without letting go of each other’s hands they went into the bedroom. When they had changed their clothes and were getting into bed, Spock asked:
‘Will you be reading?’
‘No, don’t feel much like it,’ he said, turning to his side and embracing him. ‘I’d rather talk to you. How’s Vanity Fair coming on, by the way?’
‘I am enjoying it, even if it is slightly… peculiar.’ Jim chuckled.
‘That seems to be your opinion on most Earth literature,’ he noted. Spock turned around to give him a cocked eyebrow and then to kiss him.
‘I am always pleased when you give me recommendations what to read,’ he admitted, turning back and edging closer into his embrace. They were silent for a while, then he said: ‘There is a Chagal exhibition at the Louvre in a few weeks. Perhaps we could synchronise the Europe trip you wished for with that.’
‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Sounds great.’
‘I believe I am about to fall asleep,’ the Vulcan observed, even as the drowsiness through the bond grew.
‘I noticed. Good night, Spock,’ he whispered, snaking a hand under his shirt and kissing his cheek.
‘Good night, Jim,’ Spock whispered back, taking his hand. They fell asleep soon afterwards, their minds interlaced like their fingers.
He woke with a start, seeing only darkness. Something had woken him up – a sound, perhaps a shout… It was quite cold in the room; although he knew it would be fruitless, he fumbled in the sheets beside him, only to find that Spock was gone. Suddenly the sound came again, followed by an anguished scream.
He bolted out of bed, heart racing. Where is he? He rushed out into the living room, looking wildly around, and then spotted him in the glass alcove. The shape was almost indistinguishable in the darkness, curled up in foetal position.Only a moment of hesitation stopped him, then he rushed to his side, fell to his knees and grabbed his shoulder.
‘Spock, what’s wrong?’ The man whimpered, almost screamed, drawing his legs up and wrapping his arms around himself, as if in an attempt to quench the pain. Jim took a forceful grip around his arm and tried to look him in the eye. ‘What’s wrong? Where does it hurt?’ He whimpered once again, but in it was a word:
‘Where? Show me,’ he demanded, trying to turn him onto his back, but he resisted. Jim leaned over him and saw where his hand was placed, pressed hard against his right side. Once again he tried to make him look at him. ‘Please, Spock, talk to me, please – if it’s your heart…’ He could not bear to say more, but reached out and took his free hand to calm him, but at that moment, he gave a roar of pain which made him draw away. Fear was clouding his mind, alongside the distress he was feeling through the bond. He had never seen Spock show he was in such pain, not even when they had been in orbit around Deneva when the neural parasite had possessed him, not even after the mind-meld with V’Ger, when he had not been able to use his telepathy for weeks after. This was new in violence and intensity, and it seemed almost impossible for him to penetrate the impressions of the agony. Then suddenly Spock seemed to realise his presence, because he grabbed his hand and pressed it hard.
’We need to call an ambulance,’ Jim said, taking command over the situation as well as his voice, which sounded less unsteady than it had felt. ‘I… something is very wrong, Spock. I’m still here, but I need to let go of you.’ Spock nodded minutely and slackened his grip of his hand. Reluctantly, he left his side and rushed to the comm consol, cursing that it was so far away. As he punched the screen, he desperately tried to concentrate while thoughts seemed to roar inside him. One part of him was at a complete loss at what was happening, another was painfully aware of what is must be. At last he heard a half-mechanic voice, which he could not say whether it belonged to a human or a machine.
‘Please state your name, your address and the emergency in question.’
‘Name – James Kirk. Emergency - my bondmate, Spock, is very ill… I think he might be having a heart-attack. He’s conscious, but in pain. Address – Bay Street 27, fifth floor,’ he blurted, not minding that the information got in the wrong order.
There was a moment of silence as what he had said was process, then the same half-human, half-mechanical voice answered.
‘A medical vehicle will be arriving shortly. Please keep calm.’ The display flickered and went out as he was disconnected. For a moment he lingered at the comm, resisting kicking it while still trying to tell himself that help was truly on its way, but then he turned back when he heard a whimper again.
‘Don’t move,’ he shouted when he realised that he was trying to sit up, still clutching at his heart. He rushed to him and, falling to his knees, ignoring how they objected to the treatment, he wrapped his arms around his bondmate, making him lean back. ‘There,’ he said, stroking his hair to soothe him. ‘It’s all right.’ Spock let his head roll against Jim’s chest, his face contorted with pain as he struggled for breath. Once again he spoke his name.
‘I’m here,’ he assured him, tightening his grip around him as much as he dared.
‘I’m dying,’ Spock said hoarsely.
‘No, you’re not – you’ll be all right,’ Jim said firmly, resisting to beg him to be. Those words seemed impossible to say; the implication was too horrible.
‘Stay,’ Spock whispered, fumbling for his hand. He took it and held it hard. The bond jerked to life at the contact of bare skin, and he could sense his pain and fear as if it were his only.
‘I’m not leaving,’ was all he could say. In a flash, he remembered his old persuasion that he would die alone. Perhaps, if he stayed with Spock now… He did not dare to think of what might happen if he did not. The man in his arms did not speak; instead, he pressed his head against him and then let out another scream. He had surrendered completely to the pain; all constraints and controls were gone. Jim could only hold him, trying to keep him steady, as he seemed to writhe around the centre of the pain. He could not say for how long it went on. Although it must have been only minutes – it did not grow light and the clocks did not chime – it might as well have been hours. The despair he was feeling seemed far too great for such a short time, and the moments grew longer, as if the fear and anxiety was fighting to make their prison bigger. A myriad of thoughts possessed him, all revolving around the pain-wrecked creature in his embrace. He seemed like the picture of mortality where he lay, in far too much pain to bear, unable to breathe and possessed by fear which ran deeper than he could fathom. Jim had never seen Spock like that – he had never seen him reduced to such basic patterns. Fear for what was happening and what was to happen seized him, alongside with the emotion he hated most, helplessness. It had always in some sense been the two of them against the rest of the universe, and Jim had always needed Spock to be at his side. Now, he felt utterly out of control, without the power to do anything. There was nothing he could do for Spock now, short of holding him and trying to soothe him. He wondered if these were Spock’s emotions rather than his own, but still, there was no distinct difference between the two. They had always suffered together, and Jim felt the other man’s pain, not acutely as he did, but like a distant but real memory. He heard himself babbling, but there was little else he could do than repeat words which in themselves seemed inane – ‘it’s all right, I’m here, darling, they’ll be here any minute now, hold on, don’t worry, breathe, I’m here’ – hoping that love would penetrate through the fear in the bond.
At last the door-bell sounded. He did not get up, but ordered the computer:
‘Unlock and open front door.’ It slid open and three people, a petite paramedic and two paramedics who manouevered a stretcher. Although Jim looked at them when they came inside, all his real concentration was on the man in his arms. His whimpers had almost gone completely silent; it scared him more than the screaming.
‘I’m Jess,’ the girl – because she was only a girl, he realised now – said, came to his side and sat down as she opened her medkit. Half-way through the motion, she looked up and stopped. ‘He’s Vulcan,’ she said, as if startled.
‘Half-Vulcan,’ Jim said almost automatically, unable to see why she sounded almost insulted.
‘You didn’t mention that when you called,’ she observed and took out a medical scanner of the kit. Moving closer she ran it over Spock, who gasped with pain. ‘There, stay calm,’ she said with trained tenderness as she pried away his hand from his side, concentrating the scanner on the heart. Without stopping, she glanced up at the other man. ‘We need to lay him on his back,’ she said, and they both manouevered him into the position between them. Jim returned the grip of the hand he had let go of momentarily, while Jess undid the sash of the night-robe and pushed the pyjamas shirt up to scan more thoroughly, placing the device against his skin. ‘If you’d mentioned he was Vulcan, they’d have sent a xenomedic with the ambulance,’ she observed, still intent on her work. Jim felt a rush of anger against the girl. What was she trying to say – that he had killed Spock with his forgetfulness? It offended him, but perhaps she was right… He pushed the thought away again, but could not help feeling offended as she had said it right in front of Spock; that made it seem to his confused mind more like a threat than a rebuke. What she said next, although supposed to be calming, did not have the desired effect.
‘It’ll take longer now, but I’ve got some basic training, so it’ll probably be fine,’ she muttered, reaching for a hypo. ‘Can’t give him some of the medication, though – we don’t have any for copper-based blood.’ Then she bent over Spock and spoke to him slightly too loudly, as if she were assuming he was hard of hearing. ‘Where’s the pain?’ He placed his hand over his heart and indicated how the pain spread across his abdomen and into his chest. ‘All right. Sounds like a heart-attack, but the scans are coming out a bit muddled. We’ll better get you to hospital now at once. I’ll just give you something for the pain.’ She injected the contents of the spray into his neck. Spock’s hand clenched for a moment around Jim’s, then relaxed as the anaesthetic took effect. His bondmate willed him to open his eyes and look at him to reassure him, but his features remained still. He felt the pain through the bond lessen, but the fear was still there, together with another emotion. Deep sadness was overtaking him – sorrow for all the things they would never have time to do, the moments that would be spent alone. Even as he heard the men with the stretcher approach, he took a better grip around the hand, leaned over him and said:
‘You’ll be fine, Spock – please, don’t think that way.’ He only felt a finger twitching at his words.
‘Could you please make room, sir,’ one of the paramedics said, sounding truly sorry. Reluctantly, Jim let go of the hand he was holding and backed away. He watched as they lifted him up with remarkable ease and started strapping him in place. ‘If you need anything, you’d better get it now, sir,’ the man said. For a brief second Jim thought that there was nothing he needed. Then he realised he was still in his pyjamas and with a quick look back at Spock he ran into the bedroom. Tearing off the bottoms, he put on the trousers he had had yesterday, and without removing the vest he had slept in, he put on a shirt which had not been hung into the closet yet. When he returned to the living-room, he was still buttoning it. One of the men was tucking a blanket around Spock, who seemed more still than before, while the other two paramedics were comparing scans. A moment after he had reentered, the team seemed to fall into formation. The men took their places behind and in front of the stretcher and lifted it, while the girl stayed close to the head of the patient. Jim crossed to them and fell in stride, resting his hand on Spock’s arm through the blanket. His breathing was uneven and his breath still caught with pain, but the anaesthetic was working. When he turned around and smiled at him, trying to seem reassuring, Jim thought he saw something changing in his half-open eyes. He tried to push the words we’ll be fine through the bond as so many times since he awoke. Still he did not know how it would do, because this was not like when they had been younger and faced danger together. This danger was of another kind than any they had experienced; there was no fighting, no bravery and no sudden rescue to be counted on. As they started descending the stairs, helplessness set in again.