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The Test Of Time

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Kirk turned over, his arm coming to rest on the warm body next to him. He pulled Spock closer and buried his head into the hollow of the Vulcan's neck. He didn't wake, yet Kirk felt the tightening of Spock's arm around him. They had been lovers for less than three month, yet already it seemed as if they had always been one.

He glanced over at the chronometer and then let his gaze rest on the Vulcan. Four hundred hours. In forty-five minutes Spock would open his eyes and smile at him. Kirk knew that he would never get tired of that smile. That and the bone-deep contentment that had been his ever since his first officer had come to him the night after Kirk had almost died on the sands of Vulcan.

Spock had come to his cabin for their almost-nightly chess match, but his friend had been ill at ease. The easy camaraderie of earlier in the day was gone. Through two badly played chess games Spock had refused eye contact, though Kirk could feel the hunger radiating from the rigidly controlled Vulcan.

He had tried to get Spock to open up. His first officer was more tightly wound than he had ever seen him, even more so than before they had reached Vulcan. He had a pretty good idea what was going on, but he wanted Spock to say it. He wanted to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what he was feeling was real and true.

What had finally done the trick was when Kirk had grabbed Spock's hand as he reached for a chess piece. Spock had tried to pull his hand away, but Kirk had held on, refusing his friend an easy out. Spock's facade had crumbled. With stuttered words, his first officer had profusely apologized for some mysterious infraction. Kirk felt like shaking him, but instead had pulled their chairs close and calmly asked what was bothering him.

It had taken some coaxing, but eventually he had pulled from him the not-so-surprising information that they were bonded. Somehow Kirk had already known. From the moment Spock had grabbed him in sickbay and he had felt the charge of electricity course through his body, he had known. Whatever had been between them before was a pale imitation of what had been created as their minds reached out and lay claim to its other half as they fought.

His own reaction had surprised him. He had been attracted to Spock from the first. But the aesthetic face and the tall, lithe body, housing a brilliant mind and gentle soul had enraptured him, and as their friendship had grown, so had his desire. Love had followed soon after. He had assumed his first officer out of reach, so had never thought to act on it. Now offered what he wanted most in life, he grabbed at it with both hands. His hunger was as deep as Spock's. When Spock tentatively reached out for him, Kirk turned it into an embrace by wrapping his arms around his friend and bringing his mouth up to Spock's.

Spock was momentarily stunned. But after only a moment's hesitation, he returned Kirk's passionate response. Somehow they managed to get across the room and to the sleeping area, their lips still locked together as they tore at each other's clothes. They had fallen into bed, making love through the night until both lay exhausted and sated. Kirk smiled to himself when he remembered the way Spock had looked the next morning. Like the cat who had just swallowed the canary, his face held total satisfaction and deep contentment. Not that he hadn't looked the same.

"You should sleep." The deep voice cut into Kirk's reverie.

Kirk came up on one elbow and grinned at his lover. "It's almost time to get up. Besides, I was enjoying the view...and the memories."

"What were you remembering?"

"You. Us. The first time."

Spock gave him an indulgent look before pulling him down and bringing their lips together.

Kirk broke the kiss and lay his head on Spock's chest, letting the soft hairs tickle his nose. "We really don't have time for this."

"We will have tonight." Spock's hands slowly perused his body.

Kirk sighed. "Don't count on it. We're picking up a couple of passengers to deliver to Starbase Ten."

"Yes, Commodore Stocker and Dr. Janet Wallace."

Kirk grimaced. He would have to tell Spock about Janet. He wasn't looking forward to it. His past was something he wanted to stay just that—his past. Normally, it wouldn't have been a problem. But he remembered Janet's tenacity. They had parted amicably enough, but she had fought the clean break he had wanted. Leila Kalomi had reminded him of Janet.

"Jim?" Kirk could almost hear Spock's eyebrow go up in question. "Is there a problem?"

"No, no problem, not if we don't let there be." He pulled out his lover's embrace and sat up. He crossed his legs and leaned so that he was against Spock's body. Somehow, their touching made it better. "Janet...Dr.Wallace—"

"Is an 'old friend.'"

"How did you know?" Kirk asked in surprise.

"Your reaction every time she is mentioned. Your muscles tighten and your jaw slightly clenches."

Relief and chagrin chased across his face. "I didn't realize I was that transparent."

"Only to me." Spock laid his hand on Kirk's leg and started stroking his thigh, watching in obvious fascination as his captain's organ began to slowly fill.

"Are you trying to distract me?"

Spock didn't look up, but his hand moved further up to gently fondle Kirk's balls. "Why would I do such a thing?"

Kirk leaned back, resting his weight on his hands. "I don't know. Maybe because you think I'm feeling guilty about an old girlfriend being on board...again."

"I would never consider it. I am merely providing my captain with a service he seems to be in great need of."

Kirk softly gasped when the Vulcan's hand wrapped around his cock. He rocked his hips slightly as his organ slid in and out of the closed fist. After a few minutes he pushed his lover's hand away and got up to cover the Vulcan's body with his own. "Maybe we do have time for this."

^^^^^

 

They had picked up their two passengers and were now on their way to Gamma Hydra Four to resupply the scientists stationed there. Kirk's demeanor towards both of their guests was cordial—and very professional.

That evening at dinner Spock contemplated his captain while Kirk traded pleasantries with the man to his left. The Commodore was a tall, heavyset man. But he lacked the strength of will Kirk had in abundance, and his air of authority held the older man in thrall. Sitting to Kirk's right, Spock was able to watch the give and take between the two men. He was also able to see how Dr. Wallace was responding to being relegated to the periphery.

The woman sat between the Commodore and Dr. McCoy. But her attention was fixed on the captain. She intrigued Spock in some indefinable way. Perhaps it was her obvious desire for Spock's lover that brought his total concentration. He felt an un-Vulcan flash of pride that what she wanted was his. Whatever the case, he watched her as she tried unsuccessfully to engage Kirk in private conversation.

"Captain, I was wondering if perhaps a second tour of the ship's botanical gardens would be possible. We had so little time there this afternoon. I hope you can take a break from your duties to show them to me again." Janet Wallace wispy voice turned the request into an invitation.

Kirk smiled, but shook his head. "I'm sorry, Dr. Wallace. We'll be beaming down to Gamma Hydra Four in the morning to resupply the colony. But I'm sure one of my crewmen would be more than happy to give you an extended tour."

A frown crossed the woman's face. "Surely you don't go on every landing party, do you, Captain?"

"No, Doctor, I don't. But Gamma Hydra Four is located very close to the Romulan Neutral Zone. I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't personally see to the continued well-being of the colonists."

"Captain Kirk is well-known for his insistence on putting the safety of his crew above his own. His leading the landing party is only one more way in which he places himself between that crew and any possible danger," Spock said as he cast a glance at his captain.

A look of pleasant surprise passed over Kirk's face, and he returned the look with a knowing grin. "And Mr. Spock has made it his personal responsibility to be right there next to me."

"It is my duty as your first officer."

"Yes, and we know how important duty is to Vulcans." Kirk eyes danced with humor.

"Your personal well-being is of the utmost importance to the continued welfare of the ship. I am therefore obliged to make sure that no harm befalls you. It is an obligation I take most seriously." Spock lifted an eyebrow.

"You do it quite well...as in everything you set your mind to."

"I have always found that complete immersion in my studies brings the most rewarding results." The Vulcan mask slipped further, and the corner of his mouth lifted imperceptibly.

Kirk almost blushed. "I would expect no less from you."

Spock was about to respond when Dr. McCoy loudly cleared his throat. He glanced over at the doctor. McCoy had an odd look on his face, as if he was trying to tell them something without actually saying anything. Spock looked back at his captain and saw a strange mixture of embarrassment and guilt on his lover's face. Understanding hit him.

They had been flirting with each other. In front of the Commodore, Dr. Wallace and the command-grade officers of the Enterprise, they had been flirting with each other. For all to hear, they had all but proclaimed what was between them. Not that the crew was unaware of their status. They had never tried to hide the fact that they were together. But neither had they ever been so blatant as to their regard for one another.

Spock looked at Commodore Stocker and then Dr. Wallace. Astonishingly, neither seemed to have picked up on the relevance of the exchange. Commodore Stocker was busy with his meal and seemed to have totally missed their conversation. It did not bode well for Starbase Ten that such a phlegmatic and stolid man would be in charge of it.

Dr. Wallace seemed equally in the dark. Spock frowned and wondered if the woman simply assumed that Kirk would never be with another man. He also wondered if their repartee had been an unconscious attempt on his part to "stake his claim." He could have remained silent after Kirk's first response. Instead he had returned each volley with one of his own, deliberately prolonging the game of words they played. If McCoy had not intervened, to what point would they have taken it?

He remained silent for the rest of the meal, speaking only when necessary. This was a new part of himself he would have to analyze and relegate to its proper place. Vulcans were by their very nature a jealous people. When two minds became one, the thought of another interfering with that oneness could drive them to acts of aggression. If his planet held anything as sacred, it was the bond between two whose souls had been linked. Spock understood that Kirk had no interest in the woman. Whatever hold Dr. Wallace had had on his lover's feelings had died long ago. He inwardly smiled. Kirk was his. Nothing could change that.

^^^^^

 

"I thought McCoy was going to bust a blood vessel, the looks he gave us," Kirk said, as he stood in their shared bathroom drying off.

Spock came up on his elbows. As always, he had finished his nightly preparations first and waited for Kirk in bed. "I believe the good doctor was attempting to protect your reputation."

Kirk threw his towel into the laundry recycler and made his way to the sleeping area. He propped his pillows against the console at the head of the bed and slid under the sheet to lie next to Spock. Locking his hands behind his head, he gazed at his bondmate. "Do you think my reputation needs protecting?"

Spock turned on his side to face his lover. He looked down a moment to gather his thoughts. "Dr. McCoy believes that you would be embarrassed if Dr. Wallace were to ascertain your participation in a homosexual relationship. But since the inception of our bond, you have always behaved in a completely accepting manner. If it was a source of shame for you, I do not believe that would be the case."

Kirk seemed to study Spock before finally unlocking his hands and bringing one to Spock's face to gently hold his chin. All levity was gone. "You 'don't believe'? Don't you know, Spock? I could never be ashamed of what we have. Never. I love you. More than anyone else I've ever known."

"Jim—"

"No, Spock, let me finish." Kirk brought his hand down and took Spock's, interlacing their fingers. "You know my past. You know the lengths I went to to try to deal with my loneliness. A few times I even found love. But not like this, not like what we have. Do you honestly believe that the bond would have formed if I had any doubts about being with you, if I were ashamed?"

Spock pulled closer, closing the distance between them as he took Kirk in his arms. "Perhaps I chose my words unwisely. I know you have no shame in what we share. I admit to having reservations at the beginning. I was unaware, or refused to believe is perhaps a truer statement, that you returned my affection and desire. But I know you, Jim. It would go against everything that makes you the man you are, for you to engage in a relationship you found demeaning or shameful. It is one of the many things I love about you."

"One of the things? What else?" Kirk grinned.

Spock lightly kissed his lover on the mouth, before proceeding to the human's neck. "They are without number," he murmured, as he licked and sucked at the tender skin. Lowering himself, he bit at the hard muscles of Kirk's shoulders and then made his way further down.

Kirk gasped when Spock began to suck at a nipple, his lover's tongue laving over and around the hard nub. He moaned in pleasure and tangled his hands into Spock's hair. "God, yes...right there. Yes."

Spock needed no further encouragement, and went about exploring Kirk's body in earnest. He had taken the aggressive role tonight, more out of a need to exorcize old ghosts than any desire to overpower. And the man below him smiled in delight when Spock unceremoniously picked him up by the hips and took his cock in his mouth.

He loved doing this to Kirk. Why this particular act, he didn't know. But the feel of his lover's manhood in his mouth, sliding in and out as he sucked on the engorged member, gave him a feeling of belonging as nothing else did. Perhaps it was the way Jim gave himself to it, arching back and letting go, letting Spock give to him. So much different from when, locked in sexual congress, both controlled as they worked to bring the other fulfillment. As much as he loved burying himself in his lover's body, as much as he loved being taken, this is what sprung to mind when he thought of Jim's pleasure.

Spock could feel his own desire build and he wrapped his fist around his cock. The organ grew in his hand as he milked it to the same rhythm as his mouth sucked Kirk's.

Kirk looked down and his eyes went wide at the sight of Spock pleasuring himself. "Spock, I'm going to come," Kirk whispered. His body froze and a low moan issued from him.

Spock opened up his mind and met Kirk's waiting for him. Desire and lust raced through the bond and Spock shared his bondmate's orgasm with the bland-salty taste of semen in his mouth, and the emptying of his own loins onto the sheets.

Later, they lay in quiet contentment with Spock's head resting against Kirk's chest; Kirk's arm wrapped protectively around Spock's shoulders.

"I really needed that, you know." Kirk tightened his hold for a quick hug.

"You were in need of sexual release?" Spock lifted his head to study his bondmate.

"Always." Kirk lightly laughed but then sobered. "But more than that. I needed to be close to you, as close as I could get. I suppose in a way Janet being on board bothers me more than it does you. I don't want anything to come between us, Spock. Not ever."

Spock returned to his previous position and softly sighed. "That will never happen. I will not allow it."

^^^^^

 

Their brief stopover at Gamma Hydra Four turned into a race for time, with all but two of the colonists having died from what had looked like old age, no matter that none had been over the age of thirty. The briefing Kirk called to gather and process information helped very little, but he felt that they were at least getting a good start. He knew he could count on his crew. The unknown factors were Commodore Stocker, whose primary focus seemed to be on getting to his new post, and Dr. Wallace. He wasn't sure who would be the bigger problem.

With the meeting over, Kirk stood and started for the door. But when he turned he saw Janet Wallace still sitting, waiting for him. "Doctor, is there something I can do for you?"

"Well, a little less the cool, efficient captain, and a little more the old friend," she answered, a familiar pout on her face.

"How long as it been?" He moved away from her and propped himself against the briefing room table.

"Six years, four months, and an odd number of days. You mean you don't know?"

Why should he? Did she honestly believe he had clung to what had been between them? He almost shook his head. This was going to be more difficult than he had originally thought. The idea that she had counted, not just the years, but months and days was disturbing, to say the least. She had been with someone else, yet professed to be thinking of him all that time.

"It's been a long time. Things wouldn't change if it started all over again, would it? You have your job, I have my ship and neither one of us will change."

"You said it, I didn't." She settled herself near him, copying his position against the table. "In all those years I only heard from you once. A stargram when my husband died. You know, you never asked me why I married after we called it off."

"Well, I supposed you met someone you loved."

"I met a man I admired, a great man."

"And in the same field as you. You didn't have to give up a thing."

"No, just you."

Kirk wondered at her declaration. Was she saying she had used the man? Married him on the rebound? What did that say about her? He saw no reason to continue this. Obviously, he was going to have to tell her about Spock. That he, too, had met a man he admired, though admiration didn't even begin to cover what he felt for his lover. He stood and walked over to face her.

And he would have. He would have told her that it was too late, that he loved another. But just then Uhura's voice sounded over the intercom. Spock needed him on the bridge.

^^^^^

 

Kirk lowered his head and let the water stream over his back, the heat of it pulling the soreness from his muscles. He hadn't realized just how tense he was. The day was finally over, but as he'd walked to his quarters he'd become aware of a stiffness in his neck and back. Yes, it had been a bitch of a day; they still didn't know what had happened to the colonists and he had Commodore Stocker constantly on his back, but he'd had bad days before. None of them had ever affected him physically.

Not just physically.

He grimaced, shaking his head at his own misstep. Or had it been? For the life of him he couldn't remember giving Sulu the same command twice. But why would Sulu lie about something like that? All Kirk could do was chalk it up to his own tiredness. He'd try to get a good night's sleep. That's all it would take. That's all it had ever taken before.

Turning off the water, Kirk stepped out of the shower and briskly toweled himself off. He brought one foot up and rested it on the commode seat. He dried it, and then switched over to the other. Done, he straightened, only to find his back seizing up.

Damn. He slowly brought himself to a standing position, his body allowing little choice as it grudgingly straightened. He pushed on the small of back, letting the muscles slowly stretch. After a minute, he seemed to be fine. He tossed the towel into the laundry chute and walked out to his bunk where he'd laid out his clothes.

Donning his trousers, he sat on the bed to put on his boots while thoughts of their situation ran through his mind. They'd missed something, he was sure of it. The comet. Yes, that was it. There was something about a comet nearby. Standing, he placed a call to the bridge. He knew Spock would still be there.

Later, as he made his way toward sickbay, Spock's words echoing in his mind, his body's latest protest a disturbing reality, Kirk was having a hard time convincing himself that everything was fine. But everyone was entitled to a bad day once in awhile, weren't they? So what if he'd forgotten about the—his mind stuttered, the word he was searching for out of reach. By the time he arrived at sickbay, the disturbing incidents had slipped his mind and he was completely unprepared for what he would find.

^^^^^

 

Spock lay on his own bed, his attempts to regulate his body's temperature not totally successful. His inability to do so had necessitated his sleeping in his own quarters—alone. With the temperature raised twenty degrees above normal, he was almost comfortable. Yet, whatever bodily comfort he derived from the warmth was negated by the empty feeling in his arms and in his heart. He and Jim had rarely slept apart since becoming lovers and he felt strongly that it was mistake to do so at this time. He could sense Kirk slipping away as the radiation sickness took its toll on both of them.

His lover's thoughts were not as strong as they had been, the light that always blazed from the human's being, dimming. Kirk, himself, seemed unaware of the change. He readily admitted to those taking place in his body, even though they were, as yet, almost imperceptible. Yet the human persisted in believing that his mind was unaffected, But Spock vividly remembered Kirk stepping onto the bridge right after the briefing. The human's aura had already begun to fade, though at the time Spock had not been cognizant of the cause. He had watched Kirk closely, his concern growing when Kirk forgot the orders he had just issued. His captain's parting words to the helmsman as he left for sickbay only exacerbated Spock's worry.

But he had heard the underlying thread of fear when Kirk had called him from the bridge to sickbay. Mere hours had passed since he had seen his fellow officers, yet Spock had been shocked at the changes already starting in Mr. Scott. Blood and tissue samples had been taken. So far, they had found nothing. Nevertheless, they all knew what waited in store for them. Only Chekov was unaffected, offering a tantalizing hope.

Turning on his side, Spock tightened his hold on the covers. He lay still for a moment, trying to get his own disjointed thoughts together. What was he doing here? He could tell from his face that Kirk had not wanted him to leave. They needed each other, now more than ever. Spock's place was at Kirk's side. His decision made, Spock pushed the covers aside and quickly walked through their shared bathroom and into Kirk's cabin. He slowed as he entered the darkened quarters, and then stood hesitantly at the foot of the bed.

"Jim?" He whispered softly. He was reluctant to wake him, but at the same time irrationally hoped that that was exactly what he would do.

Kirk stirred, and mumbled something in his sleep. He was lying on his side, but then rolled onto his back.

"Jim," Spock called again, a little louder.

"Spock?" Kirk opened his eyes. "What's the matter?"

He sat on the edge of the bed, feeling suddenly quite foolish. "I...I was unable to sleep. I am no longer used to..."

"Sleeping alone?" Kirk chuckled and moved over to make room for him. "Come on, climb in."

Spock wasted no time. He lay against Kirk's side, his head resting on the human's chest. And even though the room was much cooler, he finally felt warm.

Kirk threw the blanket over Spock and tucked it around him. "I don't want you to get chilled." He laughed softly. "You think you have enough on?"

Spock had layered himself in thermals and a set of pajamas he had not worn in two point seven months. Sleeping in the nude was something else he had readily gotten used to. His robe was belted securely over everything else. "It is sufficient—now."

Kirk kissed the top of his head. "I'm glad you're here. I was cold, too."

He looked up, and in the dim light noticed for the first time the gray that now streaked Kirk's hair. Spock brought his hand out from under the covers and tentatively touched his lover's brow. The hair felt thinner as he ran his fingers through the strands that had always been baby fine.

"Terrible, isn't it? My grandfather lost his hair when he was in his thirties. I thought I had dodged that bullet." Kirk grabbed Spock's hand and, placing a kiss in its palm, tucked it back under the covers.

"This is not the normal aging process. We do not know if this is, indeed, the way our bodies will manifest the ravages of time." McCoy had done some preliminary testing and more would be done in the morning. But there was so much they did not know. Spock looked intently at his lover. "You are beautiful still."

"Thanks, I needed to hear that, even if your opinion is slightly biased." Kirk quieted for a moment as if marshaling his thoughts. "It seems I'm vainer than I thought I was. It's really starting to bother me. I even caught myself wondering if Jan still found me attractive." He tightened his hold on Spock. "I love you. Don't ever doubt that. But still, it's there in the back of my mind. Am I still desirable?"

"You shall always be so to me. No matter what the years may bring. You are more than a face, Jim. So very much more."

Kirk was silent for a few moments before answering. When he did, his voice was low and full of doubt. "I always romanticized us growing old together. But this is dredging up all sorts of terrible thoughts. You look the same, Spock. What's going to happen when I'm an old man and you're still young? Maybe you should have bonded with another Vulcan."

"Do not say that." Spock pressed his lips together and tried to still the rage and fear that had momentarily escaped his control. Another sign that the radiation sickness was affecting him just as much as the others. "I do not wish to be bonded to another."

"I know. I don't want you to, either. I'm just rambling, Spock. Don't let it get to you." He turned to pull Spock closer and wrapped his arm around his lover's waist. "We better get some sleep. We've got a lot to deal with tomorrow."

Spock nestled against Kirk's chest and returned the embrace. He accepted Kirk's reassurances, unwilling to contemplate the disturbing thought that his lover was being drawn once again to the woman from his past.

^^^^^

 

"Well, you're perfectly healthy." McCoy motioned to the Vulcan on the medi-bed.

"I must differ with you, Doctor," Spock responded as he came up on one elbow. "I'm having difficulty concentrating, which is most disturbing. My eyesight appears to be failing and the normal temperature of the ship seems to me to be increasingly cold."

McCoy shook his head. "I didn't say you weren't affected, Mr. Spock. You are perfectly healthy...that is for any normal Vulcan on the high side of a hundred."

Kirk watched his lover get to his feet. Spock looked the same. Not like him. Kirk's hair was grayer and had receded. And he ached. God, did he ache. He vaguely remembered Spock coming to his bed the night before. But the twinge of resentment he felt when Spock had dressed in the morning, all fluid movement and grace, was still very much with him. It wasn't fair.

Whatever problems Spock was having paled in comparison to the rest of them. Kirk motioned to Spock to escort Mr. Scott to engineering and then had to deal with Lieutenant Galway. The only woman in the landing party, she looked older than all of them. Yet Kirk knew she was a good ten years younger than he was. Instinctively knowing it was the best he could do, he ordered her to her post.

But why wasn't Chekov aging? With all the tests that had been taken, McCoy still didn't have the answers. Kirk followed the doctor into his office hoping for something, anything that might hold out some hope for a cure. So far, there was nothing. Slightly disgruntled, Kirk left for the bridge. He exited sickbay and ran into Janet Wallace waiting for him.

"I thought you were on your way to the biochemistry lab, Doctor."

"We're going in the same direction."

Kirk bowed to the inevitable. "So we are."

As they walked side by side down the corridor, he couldn't help but remember how things had been between them. It was strange how clear his memories were of that time, yet recent events were hazy, nebulous. Almost as if they had never been. His feelings were disjointed, and he was unable to call up the passion that had bound him only days ago. Was Spock doing something to the bond?

"Look, we know the problem. We know the progress of the affliction. Therefore, once we find the proper line of research, it's only logical we find the solution." Her tone was matter-of-fact, as if her saying it would make it so.

He couldn't help but argue with her. Her logic, to borrow a phrase, was suspect and he didn't appreciate her assuming that what she wanted he did, too. Even more, the thought that she had never loved Wallace, or not enough that she could now declare that she had never gotten over Kirk, made him angry, angry enough to snap at her when she dismissed that relationship out of hand.

"What are you offering me, Jan? Love? Or a going away present?" He walked away, angry at her and at himself. Why hadn't he just told her? He had loved her once, long ago. But that wasn't what was holding him back, of that he was sure. But more and more, he was becoming unsure of everything else. And his belief in the love he and Spock shared was becoming a casualty.

It had bothered him more than he would have imagined that Spock wasn't aging as fast as the rest of them. It was making him doubt the Vulcan's loyalty. The bond felt weak, as if it was being cut off, dampened from the other side. Spock's side. Maybe Spock really didn't want him anymore. Maybe he had been a convenient body. Someone to save the Vulcan from the rather unpleasant death of an unconsummated plak tow.

No, Spock wouldn't do that. Would he? Was Spock pulling away? And was he using Janet the way she had used Theodore Wallace? Something, someone to hold on to because it was better than being alone?

Kirk pushed the thought away and entered the bridge in a foul mood. It didn't help matters when his orders started being questioned. Even by Spock, telling him that he had already issued the message to Starbase Ten and making him look like a fool in front of Stocker. It hurt that his lover would take someone else's side. And it only reinforced his suspicions.

He slumped down in his command chair and rested his head against his fist as he leaned against the armrest. He was so tired, both physically and mentally. He closed his eyes for a second.

^^^^^

 

Spock was not aware of the change in the atmosphere on the bridge when he returned from the lab. He was too involved with his findings as he approached the captain's chair.

"Captain, I believe—" Kirk was asleep. It took all Spock's control to school his features into passivity. He had been gone only a few hours, yet the change in his captain was immediately evident. Kirk's hair was whiter still, and his face lined with age. Spock knew his own countenance had changed, but what was happening to his lover affected him so much more. He tenderly touched Kirk's arm.

"Captain...Captain."

Kirk jerked awake. "Um, Spock. I was just thinking."

"Yes, sir. Very understandable." He would not contradict his captain. Not again. He could not hurt him so.

"You have something to report?" Kirk asked.

"Yes, sir. I believe we have the cause of the affliction." Spock gave his report. The change in Kirk was startling as energy flowed through the human. Given something to hold onto, his captain came alive. And Spock felt a well of pride that it was he who had given Kirk that hope.

But then Kirk got up so he and Spock could take the report to McCoy immediately. Spock only wished they had, for his brief elation at Kirk's renewed vitality was quickly lost. His captain's use of the wrong code to send a message to Starfleet, followed by his insistence on issuing orders already given quickly destroyed any idea that Kirk was not fast losing ground. What made matters worse, was that he still wasn't aware of it.

"I know what it looked like, Spock. But I know I hadn't given that order to Sulu," Kirk said as the doors of the turbo closed behind them.

"Jim, there was no other way he would have increased the orbit."

Kirk didn't answer. The human's gaze was locked on the floor. He refused to look at Spock.

"You are angry with me." Spock pressed his lips together. The emotions he was picking up from his bondmate felt like they were being filtered through gauze. But Kirk's anger was so close to the surface, there was no way Spock could have misunderstood it.

Kirk finally looked up. "I just don't understand you. You're acting like I don't know what I'm doing. I do. Just because I dozed off for a second or two doesn't mean I can't do my job."

"I did not say you could not." He moved closer, trying to lessen the division that seemed to be growing between them. "I only wish to serve you. You must know that. Even if in doing so I must make you aware of things you might not wish to be made aware of."

The doors of the turbo opened and they walked down the ship's corridors in silence. Right before they reached the entrance to sickbay, Kirk stopped and grabbed Spock's arm.

"You'll stay by me then, won't you?" The hazel eyes watched him intently. "You'll back me up, no matter what happens?"

"You are my captain. I have tied my life to yours. I will stay at your side, always."

^^^^^

 

With a clear direction for their efforts now, they lost no time in setting up a work schedule. Spock and Dr. Wallace would use the science lab, while Nurse Chapel supervised the work being done in sickbay. Dr. McCoy would work in both, as liaison between the two groups.

Spock tried to keep his mind focused on the slide before him, but the image refused to stabilize. He had not slept well the night before, but he was well aware that that wasn't the only cause of his difficulty. Lifting his head from the viewer, he gazed over at McCoy and Dr. Wallace. He should have appreciated her aid in their endeavor; all their lives depended on it. Yet, at this moment, all he could feel was a growing despair and anxiety.

Spock understood that Kirk was no longer in love with the woman. Perhaps, never had been. Their brief affair had proved no match for their ambitions and both had gone on to find other...distractions. Yet he realized that she was a danger—more than she even knew.

He couldn't remember a time when Kirk had been so vulnerable. His captain's slide into this mimicry of old age was stealing everything from the man: his ability to command, his belief in himself. And perhaps worst of all, his belief in Spock.

They had never lied to each other, not when it came to their personal relationship. But now Spock was beginning to perceive a distancing between them. For some reason which he could not fathom, Kirk was perturbed with him, in a way that had nothing to do with what had happened on the bridge. He would not admit it to, but it was there, eating away at their bond.

In dismay, he realized that Dr. Wallace had noticed his scrutiny and was approaching him. He retreated, using the viewer to shield his eyes.

"Mr. Spock?"

He looked up again to find her standing next to him, her brow marred by a frown.

"Is there something I can do for you, Dr. Wallace?"

She grimaced. "I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me."

"Concerning?"

"Concerning Ji—Captain Kirk." She hesitated a moment. "I don't understand why he's acting the way he is."

Taken aback by her question, it took him a moment to respond. "He is suffering from radiation sickness. Surely, that is sufficient cause—"

"No," she interrupted. "Even before this happened. He's not the man I remember."

"I am not aware of how he was at that time. But you knew him many years ago. Much has changed in his life."

"I realize that. But I expected him to be more approachable."

Spock was sure that she did. But he was puzzled. "Why would you believe that I would have the answer to your question?"

"You're his friend, aren't you? Everyone I've talked to seems to think so. Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Uhura. Everyone."

"You are correct, I am his friend. I am also his first officer, a position which precludes my responding to your question. Any inquiries you may have I believe you will need to direct at the captain. But would not our time be better served applying ourselves to a much more immediate problem?"

She stared at him, as if surprised by his response. But then she nodded and walked away.

Spock replaced the slide and returned to his work. He caught her staring at him the first time he looked up, but soon after she left to return to sickbay. Somehow, that made it easier to work, though he still found his concentration slipping. They were running out of time.

^^^^^

 

Spock entered his cabin and moved directly over to the room's controls. He pushed the temperature gauge up again, as high as it would go this time. With no help from McCoy, he had no other alternative. He would need the added heat in order to sleep. Unable to stand the cold of Kirk's cabin, he had been forced to spend the previous night alone. It had been difficult.

He gazed at the dial, watching as the temperature reading inched slowly upward.

Stepping over to his desk, he placed the comp pad on its surface and wearily took a seat. He closed his eyes, though knew sleep to be impossible. Hadn't he found that out just the night before? He needed Kirk at his side, but after he sent the message he was even now composing, there was no way his captain would ever deign to sleep at his side again.

He had believed Commodore Stocker to be a dedicated, though somewhat unimaginative officer. Now, he wondered if the man had always possessed this streak of deviousness that had picked the most inopportune time to rear its head. Commodore Stocker had waylaid him and then countered each and every of Spock's arguments against taking command from Kirk and had used Spock's own words to do so. How long had the man desired this advancement, so much that he was willing to destroy Kirk just so that he could reach his post a few days sooner?

Spock pushed aside his comp pad and, leaning forward, resting his head within his folded arms. It was hard to not give in to the weariness that had crept up on him, growing stronger with each hour. He had told Stocker the truth; he was not capable of commanding the ship. Yet, somehow, he believed—no, he knew, that Kirk was. At least, better than Stocker was.

He illogically wished them gone: Stocker, who was inadvertently driving a wedge between Spock and his captain, and Dr. Wallace, who he knew would be more than willing to fill the resulting void in Kirk's life.

Perhaps she would have her chance. Spock could still read his own body well enough to know he was dying. He would outlast the others by mere days. But he would live long enough to perhaps see his bondmate reach out to another.

"You are my captain. I have tied my life to yours. I will stay at your side, always."

Spock had been so sure of his words. But they were words that came back to haunt him as he informed Kirk of the competency hearing he was being forced to convene.

^^^^^

 

The hearing was over almost as soon as it began. Forced into the role of inquisitor, Spock carried out his duties as he had always done. Efficiently and thoroughly. But by the end, his body felt as heavy as his heart.

"No more questions, Captain. If you would leave the room so the board can vote." Spock stood next to the man he had just shown to the world to be unable to perform as captain of the Enterprise. His only hope was that Kirk would someday forgive him.

Kirk nodded and rose to his feet. "Good idea. Get this stupid voting over with so I can get back to running this ship. Most fool thing I ever heard of, a competency hearing when there's work to be done." He got as far as the door before he turned and looked at Spock.

They held each other's gaze until Spock could no longer meet his captain's eyes. But much was said in that look, and so much left unsaid.

"I'll be in my quarters awaiting a decision." Kirk glanced around the room, looking again at Spock before he finally left the room.

Commodore Stocker wasted no time in taking command, and Spock found the odious task of informing Kirk of their decision falling to him. All too soon he stood at the entrance to Kirk's quarters. Dr. Wallace had followed him, though she had been neither invited nor wanted. Spock was too tired to force the issue.

So she would be there as he buzzed for admittance and the door opened before him. She would witness Kirk's castigation of him over his role in Kirk's hearing. And she would be there to see as Kirk's verbal knife slipped easily into Spock. But Spock was well aware that it was he who had handed Kirk the weapon.

"I order you to take command." Kirk was angry as he had ever been with him, but Spock was still his first choice to replace him.

"I cannot, Captain."

"You're refusing a direct order?"

"No, sir. Only Commodore Stocker can give a command order aboard this ship." For a moment, Spock thought Kirk was going to hit him. He would have preferred it to the words his captain used to lash out at him.

Kirk tried to clench his pain-ridden hands into fists. "You traitorous, disloyal...you stab me in the back the first chance you get." Suddenly the anger dropped away, and only pain and confusion remained. "Spock..." Kirk looked at him with eyes full of sorrow and disbelief. But it was only for a few fleeting moments. The sense of betrayal went too deep. "Get out. I never want to look at you again."

Spock froze, trying to grapple with the ache that ate away at his heart. He wanted to grab his lover and force him to understand. But the woman was still there. As much as he might wish it otherwise, they were not going to be allowed this time alone. A scene that should have played out between just the two of them had become, instead, a drama for Kirk's interfering ex-lover. Spock turned and walked silently out.

^^^^^

 

Kirk couldn't watch Spock walk away. It hurt too much. He wanted desperately to call his lover back. To tell him he forgave him. He almost did. But as he turned to the door, still fighting the urge that shouted at him to go to Spock, he saw Janet Wallace standing at the entrance to his cabin.

"Jan..." He was confused and his mind slipped away from its original direction.

"Jim, I'm sorry. Truly I am."

Perhaps she was. But when it came right down to it, she seemed to lack the courage to see him through what would probably be his last day. He had the vague thought that perhaps this was her second time in such a position. He wondered how she had managed the first time.

But she had made herself perfectly clear with her feeble excuse of work and ultimately he could do nothing but let her go.

He wouldn't turn around as she walked away, wouldn't give her the satisfaction of seeing his need. Only after he heard the door swish open and closed did he unlock his rigid stance and walk stiltedly over to his bed. He lay down, pulling out one of the pillows from underneath the covers and hugging it to his body. He buried his face in its soft contours and wished for the strong lover he had exiled from his life.

He must have dozed. The lighting in the room had automatically dimmed and the chronometer showed that several hours had passed. He tried sitting up. It was difficult. His body had seized up even more, and the pain in his joints screamed at him as he pushed away from the bed and stood up. But the thought of staying in his cabin depressed him. He was alone and slowly dying. Spock would not come to him, not now. He decided to go to sickbay. McCoy at least would be there. On his way out, he passed by the mirror without a second glance. He knew too well what he would see.

^^^^^

 

After that, events moved quickly. And there was never any question in Kirk's mind as to who would get the first dose of the antidote McCoy had concocted. If it killed him, it killed him. He was dying, anyway.

"The aging process has reversed itself."

They were the first words Kirk had heard in two days that sounded clear and perfectly audible. He opened his eyes as the pain from the radiation antidote faded away. His first sight was of his first officer. "Spock."

The Vulcan stumbled forward. There was weariness to his stance, yet Kirk could see the love for him that Spock had never lost. "Captain."

Kirk sat up and got to his feet. Stocker was in charge of his ship and now she was in trouble. "Come on. We're needed on the bridge."

"Wait a minute, Jim." McCoy approached the two men. "I've got to check you out. And there's the little matter of giving Spock the antidote."

Kirk shook his head. "There's no time, Bones. You and Scotty need it first, anyway." He turned to his first officer. "You think you can hold on, Spock?"

"I can remain...functional a little while longer."

"Let's go then."

They headed for the turbo and ordered it to the bridge. Suddenly the ship was rocked by another hit, and the two men were thrown against the wall of the small lift. Kirk grabbed the Vulcan and held on tight until the ship leveled off.

"Are you okay?" He looked in concern at his lover. His arm tightened around Spock's waist.

"I believe so." Spock voice was rough.

Kirk didn't know if it was only because of Spock's condition or because of their close proximity. He didn't care. "We don't have much time right now. But whatever happens, know that I love you. And that I'm sorry for what I said. I didn't mean it, Spock."

Spock's arms came around and pulled Kirk against him. He buried his head into against Kirk's neck. "I have missed you so much, Jim."

They held each other until the slowing of the turbo signaled their approach to the bridge. They reluctantly drew apart, and when the doors opened it was to the command team of the Enterprise.

^^^^^

 

Spock had assumed from the first that Kirk would find a way to save the ship. It was not the first time his captain had done the impossible and won over impossible odds. It would not be the last. When the Romulans gave ground, taken in by the "corbomite" maneuver Kirk had used successfully before, Spock was not really surprised. And when McCoy came to the bridge to escort him to sickbay, he left readily enough, knowing the ship was safe and once again in the hands of its master.

The cure was not as bad as he had been led to believe. Afterwards, he lay in the small back room McCoy had prepared for him. The straps that had held him down as his body convulsed and the serum rejuvenated him had been untied. He opened up his mind and felt the presence of his bondmate fill the empty places, the bond reawakening. Kirk was near. The door opened and his captain walked in and approached the bed.

"How are you doing?" He smiled gently and took Spock's hand in his.

"I am well." Spock started to return the smile when a fleeting movement caught his eye. In the doorway Dr. Wallace stood with a pained expression on her face. He started to pull his hand back, but Kirk held on tight.

"No, don't let go. Don't ever let go again." Kirk twisted around to face the woman. "I'm sorry, Janet."

Long seconds past before she abruptly turned away and the door closed.

"Jim?"

Kirk turned back to Spock, a look of deep determination on his face. "Yes?"

"Was that the most expedient way to inform her of our status?"

Kirk relaxed and smiled and then shook his head. "No, I had already told her. After you left the bridge, I only stayed a few minutes more. I needed to see how you were doing, if you were all right. When I left, she followed me into the turbolift. I knew she thought we'd pick up where we left off six years ago, so I set her straight. I told her I was in love with you. That for all intents and purposes we're married." He shrugged his shoulders. "She didn't believe me."

Spock's eyebrows went up. "She assumed you were lying? Why?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe she never figured I'd be with another man. Finally, the only way I could think to convince her was letting her see us together. It might have been a bit cruel, but, Spock," Kirk leaned down and gently kissed his lover, "I wanted there to be no doubt." He straightened up and rubbed his chin. "But what I don't understand is why she thought we'd get back together again in the first place. Unless she thought she could talk me into leaving the Enterprise, because even if she had been willing to give up her work, she couldn't stay on the ship. So, what would have been the point? All I would have been able to give her would be a few days."

"You have had such relationships in the past."

Kirk thought a moment. "Yes, but Janet didn't want a casual affair. I'm not sure anymore what she did want. She kept talking about love. And she made it sound like all these years she never stopped loving me. Yet when I really needed someone, she wasn't there. She couldn't get away fast enough."

Spock looked away. "Neither was I."

Kirk placed his hand on Spock's face, demanding that he look at his captain. "Only because I forced you away. If I hadn't, you would have stayed at my side no matter how bad I got."

"I wished to."

"I know you did, love. I'm only sorry I was such an idiot. I hope you were right when you said we won't really age like that. I'd like to think I'll do it with a little more grace."

Spock sat up. "You were experiencing a radical form of radiation poisoning, not normal aging. You will be fine, Jim. And you will never be 'too old.'"

"I certainly hope so. I'd hate to test your theory."

"I believe our relationship will pass any 'test' the universe throws at it. And time will only add to what we have."

Kirk smiled. "'Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.' Is that how it'll be with us?"

"It is all I could ever wish for. As for now," Spock got to his feet and stood next to his captain, "I can think of no other place I would care to be but at your side."

Kirk put his arms around Spock's waist. "Well, McCoy's got us off-duty until tomorrow morning. What say we go to your cabin. We can spend the rest of the day being at each other's side."

"That would be most pleasant." Spock pulled out of Kirk's embrace and stood next to the entrance, activating the signal. The door flew open. "After you, Captain."

Kirk grinned and walked out. Spock was a half a step behind him.

 

Finis