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For the hundredth time Jim Kirk paused in his aimless pacing and glared balefully at the unheeding facade of the Guardian of Forever. He knew a little more now about its operation, and it was certainly not functioning as he had expected.
There were two methods by which a traveller could return - after a specified interval in the time to which he had gone, or by retracing his steps to the exact point of entry, and calling the Guardian to his assistance. Spock, uncertain how long it would take him to locate his own younger self, and to repair the damaged time-line, had opted for the latter method.
Kirk also knew that time passed differently when the Guardian was in operation - on that first journey into Earth's past he and Spock had been away for some weeks, while for Scotty and the landing party, only seconds had elapsed; and on this latest disastrous expedition he, Spock and Erikson had spent two and a half days in the Orion Empire, though in 'real' time they had been gone only thirty minutes.
So where was Spock? More than five hours had passed for Kirk since the Vulcan had stepped into the vortex of the Guardian; the Human had waited stubbornly, ignoring all attempts to persuade him to return to the Enterprise.
"He failed, Jim - accept that." McCoy had been the last to try. "But the ship is still here, and your friends... and Thelin's a good officer, I'll vouch for that."
"No!" Kirk snapped, sick with misery. Of course, Thelin was the only First officer this McCoy knew, he had no personal interest in the problems of a strange Vulcan... but Kirk could not forget a pair of dark eyes that gazed trustingly, half-smiling, into his. "I'll wait, Doctor."
And he did wait, for another interminable hour, the realisation gradually growing in him that Spock would not be coming back.
Time... So confused, so convoluted... They should never have meddled with it. Had not Edith's fate been warning enough? And now... Spock dead, at seven years, a small, bewildered and very lonely child...
Thelin was still on the ship... so the child had died... Or had Spock succeeded, then somehow been unable to return, become lost in the past? He had to know... Deliberately Kirk opened his communicator and called the ship.
"Captain! Are ye ready to beam up?" came Scotty's anxious enquiry.
"Negative. Send me down a Vulcan desert cloak, survival rations and a medical kit, Scotty."
"Sir! Are ye sure?"
"Mr. Scott, that was an order!" Kirk's tone was glacial, and he received in response a chastened, "Aye, Captain." Moments later the requested items shimmered into existence.
Kirk pulled the cloak's concealing hood around his face and advanced determinedly towards the Guardian. "I want to visit the planet Vulcan, just outside the city of ShiKahr; time..." He paused, remembering. "The twenty-first day of Tasmeen." That was the closest he could come, allowing that Spock had achieved his purpose. "And Guardian - set me down as close as possible to Commander Spock's point of entry. I will request return when ready."
"Time and place are ready to receive you," came the Guardian's sonorous tones. "The entry point coincides exactly."
Without a moment's hesitation Kirk stepped through the time portal.
He materialised on a barren, rocky hillside; almost at his feet a slab of rock bore a faint mark, Spock's indication of his point of return. He added his own initials, on the faint chance that Spock would even yet find his way here during his absence, and thus know that Kirk was looking for him. Then turning his face in the direction of the city, Kirk set out on his quest.
The route was familiar to him, for he had walked these hills with Spock; it was difficult to realise that in fact those expeditions lay in the future. Once within the city, however, his steps slowed uncertainly as he wondered what to do - it would be risky to call at the house and ask for Selek - Sarek was not easily deceived, and if he saw Kirk now he would surely remember the encounter when he boarded the Enterprise. It would create yet another anomaly in time, with unpredictable results.
Kirk halted across the street from Sarek's house, considering his best approach; then he shrank back behind a concealing pillar as the house door opened and Sarek himself emerged, escorting an elderly Vulcan dressed in the robes of a Healer. Behind him came Amanda, and at her side... It could only be Spock. Kirk stared in fascination at the child who would one day become his First Officer and friend; then realised suddenly that if the child was here, Spock must have succeeded in his mission.
So, where was he? The presence of a Healer... That was disturbing...
After exchanging farewells with his host the Healer turned to leave. Kirk thought rapidly, then making sure that the others had re-entered the house, he stepped forward and greeted the Vulcan.
"Forgive the intrusion," he said softly, "but may I speak to you for a moment?" He blessed the fact that Spock had taught him Vulcan so carefully - it was unlikely that the man would speak Terran.
"How may I serve you?" The Healer was politely curious, recognising the stranger as Human.
"I had arranged to meet an associate of mine, a distant cousin of Sarek's named Selek. He was not at the meeting place, and I thought to enquire at the house, but I do not wish to intrude if there is illness."
"No - no illness, Sarek merely wished to be reassured that his son was well - the child was involved in an accident last night. However, I fear that you are too late; Sarek informed me that his cousin Selek continued his journey early this morning. Perhaps you may overtake him on the road."
Kirk bowed. "Thank you for your courtesy, sir. I will do as you suggest."
The Healer watched him go thoughtfully; really, these Humans were not too bad when you got used to them. The Lady Amanda, for example, was a model Vulcan wife, and the young man who had spoken to him had been properly respectful. Yes, he thought, I will vote in council to further our association with Earth.
Kirk retraced his steps, frowning. Spock had left Sarek's house, and could only have been trying to return; but he had not reached the entry point. Had he, perhaps, been injured, sought shelter? Otherwise Kirk would have met him on the road... There were no dwellings the way he had come, but Kirk remembered suddenly that Spock had once shown him a complex of caves in the foothills... he might be there, unable to continue his journey... Kirk quickened his pace.
The caves were cool, and Kirk welcomed the respite from the blazing sun; but he knew that for Spock the temperature would be uncomfortably cold. At first he searched at random, but his usual clear-headedness reminded him that one of the caves contained a natural spring, and was therefore the most likely place for the Vulcan to be - if indeed he was within the caves at all.
He had forgotten that part of the cavern roof had fallen in, admitting a flood of light that revealed a huddled shape sprawled against the rear wall. Kirk hurried across and knelt to turn the limp body gently; it was Spock.
He closed his eyes, savouring for a moment the sheer relief of finding his friend alive; but as he pushed back the hood of the desert cloak he recoiled in shock when his hand touched the burning heat of the Vulcan's skin.
Gently Kirk opened the cloak, and saw that beneath the concealing folds the sleeves of Spock's tunic had been slashed to ribbons, stained green with blood. Long scratches disfigured his arms, the flesh swollen and angry. For a moment anger set him trembling - how could Sarek have allowed him to leave in this condition? - then he realised that Spock had probably concealed his injuries and tried to return to the Enterprise for treatment in case a Vulcan Healer detected the Human elements in his blood and became suspicious.
Kirk shrugged off his own cloak and opened the medical kit he had brought, carefully cleaning the vicious scars and bandaging them; then he covered Spock with both cloaks, and brought him water from the spring.
As he raised the dark head to his shoulder Spock's eyes flickered open; the Vulcan seemed to have some difficulty in focussing as he peered at Kirk through a haze of pain.
At last, with some difficulty, he managed, "Jim."
"Yes, of course. Drink this, Spock - you must be thirsty."
Spock swallowed avidly, the cool water soothing his parched throat. "You should not have come," he said at last. "It is dangerous... you could alter the future..."
"It was altered, for me," Kirk said, his voice rough with emotion. "You didn't come back. Thelin was still on the ship... I had to find you, Spock."
The dark eyes dropped before his. "Thank you, Jim."
Kirk produced a laugh that was very close to tears. "One does not thank logic," he quoted. "I didn't fancy trying to command a ship I didn't know, with a total stranger as First Officer, instead of... and besides, there could have been other differences that I didn't have time to discover."
Spock looked up again, his eyes lighting in his half smile. "Thank you, anyway," he whispered; then he shuddered as a spasm of pain racked him.
"Last night... the... the child ... was attacked by a le-matya; between us the sehlat and I overcame it. But... the sehlat died... and I am dying."
"No!" Kirk's arms tightened in instinctive denial.
"It is no use, Jim." The Vulcan sighed at his friend's vehemence. "The bite of a le-matya is poisonous to Vulcans... there is no cure."
"But you are half Human." Kirk was frantic.
"Yes; that has given me a little resistance, but no immunity. Death is inevitable."
Kirk stared down in horror at the tranquil face; was this how it was to end, in a confused web of Time's weaving?
"No," he repeated stubbornly. "There must be something I can do - I won't let you die."
"You have no choice, Jim. Even if I was able to reach the Guardian and return to our own time, there is nothing that could be done for me. But I am... pleased," his voice dropped to a whisper, "that you are with me."
There was no reply Kirk could make in words. He could only settle the Vulcan's head more comfortably on his shoulder, hoping that his physical presence and his touch - the only one from which Spock did not shrink - would comfort his friend.
After a time Spock seemed to fall into a light sleep and Kirk allowed the grief and worry to show in his eyes as he looked down at the pale face against his shoulder. Everything in him rebelled at this stupid waste - Spock had saved his younger self, only to die in doing so; what was the point? And he, Kirk - what awaited him now? What would he find on the other side of the Guardian? He shuddered at the thought of returning, his memories intact, to an Enterprise where Thelin held Spock's place... and there could be other changes, so that he would find himself a stranger in a world he had loved.
Worst of all was the grief he felt for the future Spock would never see now, the years of companionship that were lost to them both, all the plans they had made... And just as he had begun to accept his Human blood.
His Human blood... Kirk thought about that very carefully, refusing to allow himself to hope. It was ridiculous, illogical... but Kirk was too much of a fighter to let even the smallest chance slip by untested. Gently he laid Spock, down and turned to pick up the medical kit.
Kirk had just finished redressing the last of the scratches when Spock stirred and woke; aware of some difference he glanced down, saw the fresh dressings and raised puzzled eyes to his Captain.
"What have you done?"
"I was only trying to make you more comfortable." Trying to speak lightly Kirk lifted the water flask. "Would you like another drink?"
Suspicious, the Vulcan watched him carefully and saw that as Kirk moved he deliberately concealed his left hand. Spock reached out and turned the Human towards him; Kirk was not quick enough to conceal the bandage around his left wrist.
"What have you done?" Spock repeated.
"Spock, I had to try it," Kirk said. "I thought... the Human elements in your blood slowed your reaction to the poison. It seemed possible that Human blood might therefore contain an antidote. I gave you a sedative to keep you out, opened the scratches and dressed them with a mixture of antiseptic powder and my blood. I gave you more blood by injection..."
"And seriously weakened yourself in the process," interrupted Spock, seeing the pallor of the Human's face. "You should not have risked yourself. I cannot believe it will do any good."
"I had to try," Kirk repeated stubbornly; and Spock sighed, aware of his Captain's determination.
"Rest, then," he said, pulling Kirk down beside him. After a moment he continued, "Jim... I am grateful."
Kirk gave his arm a reassuring pat, and settled down. Despite his intention to keep watch he was soon asleep. Outside the cave the shadows lengthened towards evening.
Kirk awoke several times during the night. On the first occasion it was dark and very cold, so he used his phaser to heat a section of the cave wall. The dim glow from the heated rock was not bright enough to disturb Spock, but gave enough light for Kirk to see what he was doing as he drew more blood from the vein in his arm and injected it into Spock. He repeated the dose each time he woke, unable to tell if the treatment was having any effect, but continuing with it as the only thing he could do. The drain on his own reserves of strength was considerable, however, and at last he fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.
The sun was high in the sky when Kirk next awoke, its questing rays filling the alcove with a gentle warmth that held the promise of the scorching heat to come.
Kirk went to drink at the spring, then refilled the water flask and moved back to Spock; the Vulcan was awake, watching him with fever-filled eyes. Smiling a reassurance he did not feel Kirk reached for the hypo, but Spock's powerful hands closed round his arm.
"But I must try..."
"You have tried, but it is too late. I know I do not have long. It is pointless to weaken yourself further. I am dying, Jim."
The dark eyes held no fear, only concern and a wistful regret. Kirk's instinctive denial died unspoken as he accepted that Spock did indeed know his own condition.
"I wanted you to live," he whispered.
"I know. It seems that it was not meant that we should continue together. Jim, will you... will you remain with me until...?"
"Do you need to ask?" Kirk lifted despairing eyes to his friend. "Then what?" he asked dully. "What can I do... when...?"
"You will return to the Enterprise," Spock replied firmly. "Be her Captain as you have always been mine. In that time line you will be the only one who remembers that once I stood at your side... but Jim, look to your future - you have so much still to do."
"Without you, it no longer seems important, but I will do as you ask."
Spock's eyes lightened, and he reached out to clasp Kirk's hand firmly; the Human knelt in silence, watching the pale face intently, unwilling to lose one moment of Spock's companionship, one glance from those unshielded eyes. He was numb; his grief was contained for the moment, but he knew that when he returned to that unfamiliar Enterprise the absence of his trusted friend would be almost intolerable... and there would be no-one to understand, no-one to share his grief. Kirk's hand tightened as Spock's breathing grew harsher, more laboured. Slipping his arm under Spock he raised the dark head to his shoulder, gazing down in anguish.
"Jim..." Spock's hand rose, brushed Kirk's eyes. "Your tears... for me..."
"Don't leave me," Kirk choked helplessly.
"It seems that I must." Spock smiled then, his rare delightful smile that as always tore Kirk's heart. There was a moment's silence, then the dark eyes widened suddenly. "Jim... I was wrong... the other side... the other side of time..." His head fell back on Kirk's shoulder.
"What do you mean?" Kirk began, then fell silent in horrified realisation. The slim body was heavy in his arms, the skin already cooling; as he moved, the dark head rolled limply on his shoulder.
"No! Oh no!" With a groan of despair Kirk pulled his friend closer, burying his face in the silky hair; slow tears spilled from his eyes unnoticed as he wept quietly, bitterly.
It was mid-afternoon when Kirk paused at the entrance of the cave, turning back for one last look at the low pile of stones that concealed an unmarked grave; then heedless of the blazing sun he set his face to the path and walked slowly, determinedly, back to the contact point.
Almost he wished the journey longer, dreading the moment when he would step onto the bridge without Spock's presence at his side. Instead there would be Thelin, an unknown quantity... but Kirk was aware that the Andorian, however competent he might prove to be, would never take the place of his Vulcan. If only McCoy had remembered too... at least then there would have been someone to understand, to share the pain...
So absorbed was Kirk in his sombre thoughts that he scarcely noticed when the swirling mists of the Guardian reached for him; only the cooler temperature of the ruined planet roused him for a moment, then he pulled out his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise - Scott here."
"Stand by, Mr. Scott." Kirk paused for a moment before saying the words. "One... One to beam up."
He started awake, roused by the insistent bleep of the intercom. "Yes?"
"The Captain is coming aboard, Commander."
"Thank you." He deactivated the screen and sank into a chair, pressing his hands to his eyes to dispel the memory of the dream... No, not a dream, he thought suddenly. What, then?
But he knew. Dressing hurriedly he left his quarters, heading directly for the transporter room. "Has the Captain beamed up yet?" he asked.
"No, sir." Kyle did not seem surprised at the question. "I've just been notified that he appeared on the sensors, but he hasn't given the order to beam him up yet."
"Very well. I will handle the controls myself. Dismissed." Alone, he waited only a few moments before he received the expected call.
"Kirk to Enterprise. Energise."
The familiar figure shimmered out of silver mist into safe reality, and his eyes were soft as he watched the arrival. "Captain?"
There was no response. Kirk's shoulders were slumped as though beneath an intolerable weight, his eyes cast down as he carefully descended from the transporter platform.
The bowed head lifted at that, and the dull eyes narrowed painfully. "Hallucinations already?" Laughter rasped harshly in the Human's throat. "Go away - you're not real."
"Jim, I am real." Spock stepped forward, catching Kirk's arms in a painful grip, shaking him slightly to emphasise the worlds.
"How...? I don't understand." Kirk shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. One hand rose and gently, carefully, explored Spock's head and face, seeking out the well-known features. "You - here? Then the Guardian..." The Human was trembling with shock. "You were dead... I watched you die, held you, buried you... I didn't imagine it, Spock; an illusion couldn't have hurt so much."
"You did not imagine it," Spock agreed. "I saw what you saw - at first I thought it a dream. Now I believe it was your mind reaching for mine across time."
"It's not possible," Kirk breathed, but hope shone in his eyes. "You went back to repair the damaged time line, and died as an adult. How can you be here?"
"The child survived, and grew to manhood to become your First Officer, Jim," the Vulcan replied. "I think we were caught in a loop in time - the 'I' who was Selek died of the le-matya's bite, but the child... I can detect only one difference, Jim - I did not travel with you to the Orion Empire."
"So..." Kirk hesitated. "All is as it was when we reached the Guardian?"
"I am sure of it. My memories are clear until then, but the events you recall since your return from the Empire are to me only a confused vision seen through your eyes."
"Even that. He saved me, but I understand now - he was not my adult self, as we thought, but the 'I' from a different time line. We are as we were, Jim - I do not think I could bear it if it were different." The last words were almost whispered, and Kirk, echoing the Vulcan's relief, sagged slightly, feeling the powerful arm encircle his shoulders in support. For a moment the two stood in silence, simply allowing their joy to flow from mind to mind; then Kirk drew a deep breath, and straightened.
"The Guardian..." he said thoughtfully.
"Is more dangerous than we knew," Spock finished for him. "I will report on this - we cannot risk using the portal again until we understand much more."
"If we ever do..." Kirk's voice was very soft. "If we ever do, Spock, it must be together. I couldn't go through all that again."
"Nor I," Spock admitted quietly.
Kirk's eyes were lifting to Spock's when the transporter room door opened abruptly, and he turned away.
"So there you are." McCoy's voice rang with indignation. "If you've quite finished playing hide and seek, Mr. Spock, I'm ready for your medical. My instruments are all recalibrated."
"You don't know the half!" Kirk chuckled.
"You might have had... to... recalibrate... for an Andorian!"
Even Spock seemed mildly amused at that, and McCoy snorted in indignation. "Andorian, Vulcans, whatever... I'll tell you, Jim Kirk, there are times when you're weirder than any of them!"
Author's note -
In self defence, this story was written many years ago. I realise now that Kirk's 'medical' treatment of Spock was fanciful, to say the least. I can only plead that it seemed a good idea at the time. However, I have a vague memory of reading something about the time this was written that gave me the idea - something about a blood transfusion from someone who was immune to an illness providing a cure for it. Of course, the blood groups would have to match!