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Story Notes:

So, there was this scene involving William Shatner that was ultimately cut from the Star Trek XI script. Spock Prime was going to show younger Spock a message from Kirk Prime to try and persuade him to join the ship. I took this idea and played with it a bit: instead of Kirk, Spock gets to view the messages of the entire Enterprise.

I mixed up a lot of canon, semi-canon, and occasionally non-canonical details into this story, culled mostly from the wonderful Memory Alpha and Memory Beta wikis and a rich history of fanfiction.

Finally, in some other archives, I've had to divide the story into three parts. it was, however, intended to be read as a single story.

Comments and criticism, especially with regards to characterization, is always welcome.

“This must be hard to believe.”

 

Spock might have called that tone of voice sympathetic. To hear such — emotion — coming from his own voice made him stiffen.

 

“No,” he replied, and his voice was sharp. He took a breath, calmed himself. “I am well aware that you are, as you say, me.” There was no need to voice the reason. This Spock felt the same thing: the same low hum of their telepathy, weak with human blood, but certainly able to recognize itself. “I am, however, also aware that your presence here, and the events that led to it, have inevitably changed the future you speak of.”

 

“I do not believe it to be changed completely.” His older self spoke with such confidence, confidence Spock rarely felt, outside of academia. But this Spock — he spoke of friendship, and potential. Of home and belonging. Of love.

 

He knew.

 

He must know, if he was dangling these dreams — these possibilities — in front of him like this.

 

Spock remembered, in his earlier Academy days, a lecture that had veered off into a discussion of an ancient parable from a long-dead civilization. When a man wanted, and wanted, but could never obtain, he would respond with an emotional blockage of the initial feelings of yearning by reversing those feelings into ones of hatred and dismissal. A man without friends would soon love his loneliness. Even if his greatest desire were to be given to him, he would refuse.

 

For once, his human classmates had been quick to point out how illogical such a response was, how overly emotional and short-sighted. Soon, the discussion returned to more relevant topics, and none of them noticed if Spock was more quiet and withdrawn than usual.

 

During that night’s meditation, he forced himself to confront the sense of unease that story had left inside of him. He had long since resigned himself to being apart from others. Leaving the Vulcan Science Academy was only one step. Continuing to keep his fellow students at a distance was another. He had considered it logical to discontinue pursuing the avenues that were closed to him; only now did it become painfully clear to him that he had blinded himself, instead, with a profoundly illogical defense.

 

No Vulcan would willfully allow illogic to guide his actions.

 

It wasn’t until a few months later, when a young cadet from one of his classes emerged from a giggling flock of female cadets and asked him, once in Standard, and then again in Vulcan, to accompany her to lunch, that he fully understood how much that realization had changed him. He accepted the offer, and, for the first time, found that all his years of choosing solitude were suddenly undermined by the simple pleasure of conversation.

 

While pleasure for its own sake still seemed overly indulgent, the social interaction proved to fill a need in him that he had only recently begun to realize.

 

He looked at his older self. Had this meeting occurred prior to that change within him, he might have found the offer more tempting — or perhaps more intimidating. To simply be told that these things he had, for lack of better alternative, lived without up to this point in his life, were simply going to appear before him…

 

Still, Spock could admit to himself that, now exposed to these feelings, he wished to continue to pursue them. However, he planned to do so in his own way, and at his own pace. Joining the Enterprise, befriending Kirk — these would not be the result of a future that was he had not created himself.

 

For all of his assurances, all of his appeals to Spock’s…desires…he was sure his elder self understood that he would not simply accept that these changes were going to happen.

 

“I believe I have something that might aid your decision.” His elder self spoke again, breaking the silence.

 

“From the future?”

 

“Yes.” Spock — other Spock, his mind insisted — held out his hand, opening it to reveal a small data chip.

 

Spock eyed the small chip warily. As he had told Kirk, he did not believe that this future of Nero and…himself…would still determine the events that were to come to them. There were too many margins for error, too many minute changes and altered pathways.

 

Nonetheless, there might still be some merit to watching. A scientist did not discard the failed experiments, nor completely rewrite a failed hypothesis. No, taking the unexpected deviations and comparing them to the expected outcome was what defined science. It would be logical to consider this information, not as determined fact, but as possibility.

 

His fingers brushed wrinkled skin, and sought the familiar hardness of the data chip.

 

“I hope that you may find it — ” the tiniest pause, .203 seconds in length, told Spock that his older self was searching for an alternative word, “ — enlightening.”

 

Spock gave a slight incline of his head, and turned to return to his rooms.

 

~~~

 

A few days passed. Everything had been a blur, between Vulcan refugees and expedited cadet assignments and the constant machinations of politics. Everywhere, there was noise, pressing in from every surface, filling up every space.

 

His days — and often his nights as well — were spent between departments, working on everything from adapting recent scientific theory into substantial plans for the Vulcan re-colonization, translating and handling diplomatic incidences, and trying to ensuring that the single remaining flagship, Enterprise, regained some sort of mobility for its next mission. The work helped give him a renewed sense of purpose, and kept him from thinking too long on all that had transpired. An idle mind lacked discipline, and made it easier for emotions to leak out.

 

Kirk wanted him aboard the Enterprise, no doubt following the same advice from the other Spock. He did not answer. Kirk would not stop asking.

 

“You see those stars, Spock? I’m taking us out there.” He looked at Spock, grinning. “I need a First. I won’t take anyone else.”

 

Spock simple inclined his head. “I will see.”

 

It was Kirk’s tendency, when he did not get his way, to continue to push and prod until whatever was in his way gave way. Spock did not wish to give him the pleasure of thinking his decision was, in any way, affected by these immature antics. Though he did find it, for lack of better sentiment, intriguing to be wanted so badly. Him, specifically. Even if it was only because of his older self’s prodding.

 

He had spent what time he could alongside Nyota. Her quiet presence calmed him, as did the soft murmur of her voice, in one language or another, as she worked alongside him. It was she who took him by the hand and into the commissary for meals, and her sharp voice that refused another sleepless night of working for the nameless, faceless men in charge. Yet even this eventually ceased to be enough.

 

The chip was all but forgotten on his desktop.

 

~~~

 

Even if he were to follow his older self’s advice, there was no guarantee that all would end as well. This friendship he was offering was no more substantial than any of a hundred other possibilities, and to treat matters any different was indulgent.

 

Yet, it was possibility that had, at least partially, proven itself true. Even if their meeting had been engineered, the simple truth was that Kirk and Spock had worked, and worked well, together. For a moment, they had indeed possessed Enterprise together. They were opposed in personality, yet these oppositions balanced, rather than repelled them. Friendship was certainly possible. A life on that ship, among that crew, was more than possible.

 

Back and forth, he argued: one logical point, another logical counterpoint. Finally, however, it was simple curiosity that won out.

 

Spock placed the chip into the computer system with a slight click.

 

~~~

 

It was a holovid recording.

 

The image wavered slightly on his screen. Whoever was holding the recording device suffered from slight muscle tremors, and it appeared the auto-correcting mechanism had not yet started functioning.

 

Is this working?” came a man’s voice.

 

Spock did not recognize it. There was a slight dialectal inflection to the words. It reminded him, somewhat, of Mr. Scott’s unique speech pattern, though not nearly as pronounced.

 

The room was sleek and modern, with white walls and dark cherry wood furniture. All hard corners and lines. Masculine. Yet there were small touches that, as Nyota would say, “softened” the room. A small lamp on the desk, a framed painting of horses running across a wide green plain. Human. Filled with familiarity and history. In this, humans and Vulcans share a similarity.

 

The image moved left, towards an elegant glass window. Tree branches obscured the night sky. Then it moved right, towards an open doorway, before finally settling on a shelf of books — real books, bound in leather; a priceless collection of antiques. It was a Terran-style human dwelling, one of some standing. Spock wondered it the books were mere decoration, or indicative of the owner’s personal preferences. He would prefer the latter. He had an interest in the physical containers of information as well, and, for a moment, he wished to reach out and examine the books. The feeling of them, the smell — these were all sensually pleasing to him.

 

A flat image, however, held no such sensual value.

 

“Guess so. Janice is going to kill me if I mess this up. Oh, hey, I know. I can just — ”

 

The screen went black for a moment, then started again — this time, 3.34 centimeters to the right of the original image. Spock wondered if the future had not advanced sufficiently enough yet to find a better method of checking the working of a simple recorder than resetting it.

 

Recording is working. Guess I’ll just delete that first part. Now, who…” The recorder trailed off, and the image began to shake again, heading towards the door, and then a hallway.

 

She wants me to record everything, but just how am I supposed to do that? Guess I’ll just walk up to everyone and ask for a message. It’s just like her to work me like a dog. Just like Communications to work me to the bone. I don’t miss working there, no siree.”

 

There was a sigh, and the image stilled, peering down a small staircase. Suddenly, it twisted around, revealing the lower half of the recorder’s face. Pale skin, a shaved chin, and a flash of white teeth. The image dipped up and down, as if trying to find the correct angle, but never found it. The man’s mouth flicked up into a small smile.

 

When you get a hold of this, Janice, I’m kidding. You know I haven’t had a chance to see the Captain and everyone in years.”

 

A rather off-key hum filled the audio channel. Spock unconsciously winced. He was reminded of the human propensity towards singing to express emotion, even among those who were…untrained. Nyota had quickly learned that the pastime adored by many of her friends — she termed this offense to the ears “karaoke” — was not appealing to him in the least.

 

The unintended bouncing returned as the recorder traveled down the stairs. The recorder stilled again, before heading down a long hallway. At some point, the humming had progressed into mumbled lyrics. Spock turned the volume down. Thus far, there seemed to be little enlightenment. Still, his older self had evidently left in this part of the recording, so it must have some significance.

 

Oh, I will take you back, Kath…” The words faded suddenly, and, after a moment, Spock realized what had startled whoever was holding the recorder. He turned the volume back up. He could hear it.

 

A faint music vibrated in the air. Soft notes, slowly plucked on some sort of stringed instrument. Each note hung in the air, vibrating, beautiful; yet too far apart to discern the melody.

 

The humming had stopped completely, replaced with conspicuously heavy breathing. A few quick steps left the recording facing a half-opened door.

 

For…ev…er…” A woman’s voice, this time, deep and rich. Each syllable was punctuated with a pluck of the instrument. Some sort of stringed instrument, Spock thought, attempting to catalogue the notes. They were slightly different than the ones used in human music, yet familiar. It couldn’t be…but it was. A Vulcan lyre, like the one he had played as a child. But it was not him playing those soft, uncertain notes. No, not a Vulcan. Even an untrained Vulcan would not make such mistakes, and even a skilled one would not make such…oddities. Such innovation.

 

A hand darted out in front of the recorder, as if to push the door, but stilled.

 

“…is…just a day. Forever” — and those three notes hit, faster this time, more confident — “is just another journey…”

 

A few more notes hung in the air. Spock pushed down a twinge of impatience at whoever was holding the recorder. It was illogical to wish the recording to go any faster, illogical to want to call out to a person who would not exist until future days.

 

The hand finally pushed at the door, and a new room bloomed into view. A large, wooden desk, and large windows. In one of the chairs, the back of a woman clad in red. Her skin was dark, and her head covered in elegant curls, dark rings brushing against golden earrings. Long, bony fingers plucked at a Vulcan lyre — unpracticed but firm.

 

Tomorrow…” the male voice whispered suddenly.

 

Tomorrow a stop along the way…” the woman continued. “And let the years go fading. Where my heart is, where my heart is.” Her head moved slightly, swaying to the nonexistent music.

 

Her voice was beautiful. Spock found himself entranced by it, by the naked emotion in it, the yearning. There was a slight breathiness to the words, a tiny faltering in her fingers, and Spock could see the lines and wrinkles on her bare arms. Yet her voice was filled with a youthful passion belying her older body.

 

Where my love is eternally waiting.”

 

Except, again, the male voice whispered it next to hers, but she didn’t stir, didn’t acknowledge it.

 

“Somewhere, beyond the stars…”

 

The woman’s fingers lingered against the lyre for a moment, and Spock found his own breathing rate had increased, mingling with the man behind the recorder. It felt voyeuristic. Though that, too, seemed illogical, since the express purpose of recordings was to be watched.

 

“…beyond…” — her voice swelled to a single, clear word — “…Antares!”

 

Spock closed his eyes, trying to calm his rapid, irregular heartbeats. An emotional response to an emotional event, he told himself. Perfectly logical, to be moved by skilled music and voice. Acceptable. Appreciation for aesthetics.

 

Now, lad, what are ye up to?”

 

Spock jerked up in his chair, as the recording lurched.

 

Mister Scott!” the man with the recorder said in alarm, turning around so quickly the room blurred together.

 

The recorder finally settled on the rotund middle of what Spock presumed to be the future version of Montgomery Scott.

 

It’s fine, Mister Scott.” came the woman’s voice, and again, the recorder twisted around, to face —

 

She stood. Proud and beautiful as a goddess — as the representations, Spock corrected himself in less than a second, in traditional human art of such mythical beings. That sly smile he recognized. The glittering gold in her ears and the red wrapping around her round, feminine form.

 

Nyota!

 

Strangely, when faced with the older version of the woman he had become so close to, his first thought was that he regretted never having listened to her sing before. The timbre of her voice had always been pleasing, but he had never learned that she had any artistic ability with it. He had never asked.

 

He barely heard the mumbled, “I’m sorry, Lie — I mean, Commander Uhura. It’s just, you know, the last time I got to hear you sing that song — ”

 

It’s fine, Riley. I hope this one will be a better memory, at least.” Uhura motioned with an elegant arm towards the recorder. “What’s this all about?”

 

I was wonderin’ the same thing,” Mr. Scott added.

 

Oh, uh…” The recorder shook, and there was a slight thump as the image suddenly steadied. Now it was about waist-height with the three figures — Uhura, Mr. Scott, and Riley. Likely it had been placed on another desk of some sort. The one who was most likely ‘Riley’ pressed his hands against his uniform slacks, moving them nervously. “I’m recording messages for Commander Spock. It was Janice Rand’s idea. She thought it would be a great gift for him, to celebrate his getting the Ambassadorship and all. But, you know, the Excelsior might not be able to get in tonight — ”

 

Oh, she’ll be in tonight.”

 

Spock imagined Mr. Scott was nodding.

 

I can’t believe Sulu would miss this,” Uhura said. “You know, I thought I heard Chekov here earlier. He would know when Sulu’s arriving.”

 

Good idea,” Riley agreed. “I’d been wanting to meet the kid that stole my spot up at the Nav station.” There was a chuckle. “Might have to thank him. Never knew how much more fun Engineering is, right, Mister Scott?”

 

“Aye, Mister Riley. I was always glad to hae ye down there.”

 

Oh, yeah. Commander Uhura, you want to say something for Mister Spock?” The recorder was picked up, and again Spock was able to see her — Uhura.

 

She smiled. “Ambassador Spock,” she murmured, and Spock was fascinated by the way her eyelashes fluttered. “I don’t know where to begin.” She paused for a moment. “You said, once, that you didn’t know if a human could ever learn to play the Vulcan lyre.” She gave a rueful, almost embarrassed glance downwards, before raising the instrument up to her chest. “Yet, even though it was, well, illogical, you took the time to try and teach me anyways. Even after all these years, I still look forward to Tuesday nights.” She swallowed. Her eyes were wet — such a human trait, one he despised in himself, yet so fitting on her. “I’m going to sing tonight. I would be honored if you would consent to play alongside me again for the crew.” She let out a soft laugh. “Oh, but you won’t even be seeing this until after the party, will you?”

 

It was strange. The friendly intimacy Nyota was describing was at odd with her formal tone. Spock found himself wondering how their relationship had progressed in this other future. Differences, he reminded himself. Though she seemed very much like his Nyota, still: beautiful and self-assured.

 

Spock saw a hand go to Nyota’s shoulder, saw her wipe at her eyes, and shake her head. “I’m fine, really, Scotty.” She took a deep breath. “You were one of the best officers I’ve ever had the honor of working with. I’m sure you’ll go even farther as Ambassador.” Elegantly, she raised her hands, fingers spread. “Live long and prosper — ”

 

Spock’s fingers were at the console before he was aware of it. He stopped the recording, then played it again.

 

In elegant Vulcan, Nyota’s older self repeated the traditional well-wishing, and, without stumbling, added his full name.

 

Even his mother had stumbled over the uniquely Vulcan combination of consonants and vowels inherited from his father.

 

He could not recall ever having told Nyota his full name, though, as Communications officer, she certainly had access to it on his records. Spock tilted his head thoughtfully. He had not touched a lyre since his childhood lessons. Music was, of course, both aesthetically and mathematically pleasing. He had found it calming, and yet, as he grew older, it had come to carry less significance, compared to his other studies.

 

He could, perhaps, share this with Nyota. And, perhaps, listen to her sing.

 

Here, Mister Riley, lemme hae a talk with Mister Spock.”

 

The recorder moved away from her, and Spock pushed down the regret he felt. Now he saw Montgomery Scott, the man who had, in an admirable upheaval of every law of physics yet known to man, managed to transport himself aboard the Enterprise with little more than the clothes on his back and a cheerful smile. This Mister Scott had whitened hair, an amount of which was growing on his upper lip.

 

Mister Spock. It’s been a fine long year since we seen ye. ‘We’ bein’ me and the bairns, of course. I never got a chance to tell ye this, but…” For a moment, he trailed off, his face contorting into a slight grimace. He gave a choked sort of sigh. “Commander, for a man as smart as ye are, ye and yer boys up in Science never could get the synthesizer tae make a proper Scotch whiskey.” He shook his head emphatically. “It’s not yer fault. Yer a genius. But ye cannae compare movin’ molecules and changin’ proteins for the fine art of distillin’. Ye gotta hae the real barely from the Scottish plains and le’ it simmer ‘til it’s so sweet ye’d trade yer own mother for it. Ye jus’ cannae do it without a real still. It’s jus’ not righ’.” His hands, Spock noted, were highly animated, gesticulating in point and counterpoint to his words. “And…well, thank ye, Mister Spock, for never tellin’ ‘Fleet command that me ‘n the boys down in the engines were makin’ sure our lady never ran dry.”

 

Spock raised an eyebrow as he let that bit of information sink in. He felt an urge to sigh, as his mother often did when she was forced to endure the company of a particularly illogical ambassador’s attention. Surely, there was a bylaw in the Starfleet Regulatory Code, indexed under the prohibition against engaging in drinking alcoholic beverages while on shift, to further prohibit engaging in the creation of such beverages in home-made distilleries on board a Federation vessel (and, from what he had seen of Mister Scott thus far, he had no doubt that such a contraption as this ‘still’ was created by hand). If there was not, he could certainly petition for one to be added.

 

Surely there was no practical reason to create and consume alcohol on board a Federation vessel? Further, despite what Mister Scott had said, there was no possibility of replicated food or drink of any sort to differ from the original foodstuff. Both were molecularly identical. It was a purely psychosomatic response.

 

Another show of human illogic. Yet he — his older self — had not stopped it. Why? That was something that would require further thought.

 

Mister Spock knew all along? Well, there’s a way to make a guy feel useless,” chirped other voice. The one named Riley. “Here I thought we were being good and clever, keeping it secret.”

 

Mister Scott gave a deep belly chuckle. “And nex’ ye’ll be sayin’ ye didn’ know the Captain knew either.”

 

Oh, ha ha.”

 

Certainly the Captain would know, Spock thought. James Kirk seemed to have an almost gravitational attraction to alcoholic beverages.

 

More laughter followed. “Hey, I want to go next.” The recorder was quickly thrust in Mister Scott’s direction, and finally settled on a handsome man with brown hair. He looked at the recorder, opened his mouth, and quickly shut it again.

 

Well, lad, don’t ye hae somethin’ to say?” Mister Scott teased.

 

Riley put a hand through his hair. “Well,” he said suddenly, then paused again. “We didn’t have much time together, Commander Spock, what with you being First and me settling down there in Engineering. But I remember being on the bridge, with you and the Captain, and, well, I — we — I mean, all the younger officers, we all admired you.” He looked down at the ground for a moment. “I mean, we didn’t always tell you, ‘cuz you — you would get this look on your face, you know? And say something like,” — and here the man suddenly straightened up and put a stern look on his face — “‘It is illogical to praise me for carrying out my natural duty.’” He broke back into an easy-going grin. “But there were times when you’d be looking over my shoulder, and you’d suddenly say, ‘Commendable work, Lieutenant, on the evasive maneuvers you undertook during the Klingon attack last week,’ and…and nothing ever escaped you, you know? Good or bad. I just wanted to say, well, thanks. Thank you, Commander — I mean, Ambassador Spock.”

 

The recorder stayed on Riley for another moment before he grabbed for it awkwardly and stuck it back on the desk.

 

Spock had been aware that humans were emotionally aroused by gratitude and compliments, but it seemed he had underestimated just how much. Vulcans weren’t inclined towards giving effusive praise, unless such actions exceeded the required, the necessary, or even the possible by a significant margin. Even then, it was rarely considered to be extraordinary.

 

Nonetheless, it would not be difficult to vocalize positive thoughts and reinforcement more often to his human crew —

 

Spock stopped himself. If he chose to rejoin a ship, his human crew. Or, if an Academy post, his students.

 

That this Riley — evidently some younger officer he would serve with — had such emotional memories of his singular praise (and so, he claimed, did several others) made it clear that to do so would raise crew morale.

 

He was beginning to see why his older self had given his this recording. Indeed, it was enlightening on some levels, and yet — yet, he had not seen anything that he could not comprehend on his own.

 

“ — and I want to practice a little longer — ” Nyota was speaking again.

 

We’ll leave ye be, then.”

 

Spock consider rewinding the holovid again, but decided not to. A quick check revealed that there was still a substantive portion of the ‘vid left to watch.

 

They were moving again, watching as Nyota gave a graceful wave of her hand before disappearing. Soon, the notes of the lyre began again.

 

Aye…if there were ever a lady as fine as the Enterprise. Finest in the fleet, her and our Uhura,” Scotty said, and Spock could hear the naked affection in his voice.

 

Certainly, he knew there were several people who admired Uhura — the captain, often unfortunately, for example — but this seemed like more than admiration. It was affection. The normal human emotional response was anger, was it not? Yet that was illogical. Certainly a woman like Uhura was a woman to be admired and loved. She was certainly capable of deciding who could and could not admire her. And if there were still problems, she knew who to ask to intervene.

 

Ain’t that true,” Riley agreed. One fine lady, Commander Uhura. I’m almost jealous of the cadets who get her as their instructor.” He gave a soft sigh. “Makes me long for the carefree Academy days. Oh, well. But what about you, Mister Scott? I’ve been reading your latest on the transwarp theory…”

 

The two men fell into a heated discussion of the problems Mister Scott was apparently trying to surmount. Peculiar. If the Montgomery Scott of that age had not yet ascertained the method for transwarp beaming, how did this younger one manage to do so? It was either a highly improbable leap of progress in this universe or…the interference of his older self. Surely, his older self could see the repercussions of allowing such an advanced technology to exist so far out of its timeline. The destruction of the Narada was fortuitous, in that no person or planet had managed to obtain its superior technology and put it to destructive use. What had driven his older self to do such a thing?

 

And, having been given this knowledge so soon, what could Mister Scott’s potential create next? He surely had as-yet-untapped genius, as evidenced by his abilities to quickly modify the transporter to beam from two separate points simultaneously, and the insight to eject the warp drive into the black hole.

 

The Enterprise had joined together such a crew that it was impossible to calculate the odds of success or failure, because of its fantastic innovation. This, he was to be part of…? Overwhelming in its possibilities, like an ever-expanding, multi-faceted puzzle.

 

Enthusiasm, too, was an emotion, he reminded himself. Desire. Yearning. All must be cast aside for logic. Was it more logical to board this ship? Or to return to his people? He needed more facts.

 

His attentions turned back to the screen.

 

As Mister Scott and Mister Riley walked, the background noises began to increase. There was a party going on — varied and somewhat clashing music and a multitude of voices, not all in Standard.

 

They went towards a corner where the walls were shelved with a variety of bottles, and a dark wooden table covered in assorted glassware. A bar? He had assumed this was a residence. It did seem abnormally large, on second thought. Perhaps a rental hall.

 

A pity. He had wondered who owned the books.

 

Mister Scott walked around the table, and proceeded to pull down a variety of bottles and a pair of glasses.

 

Aye, this is what I’m talkin’ about. Real Scotch.” Glass clinked.

 

Both men pulled out chairs, and the recorder, still in Riley’s hands, twisted around to survey the scene. The lights were slightly lower that the standard for human eyes — about 88.9% lower, Spock estimated. Most of the people standing were human; almost all were humanoid. Among them, Spock saw two tall Vulcans in Starfleet uniforms, standing in a corner, stiffly taking in the surrounding noise. Two Andorians, wearing dress uniforms he recognized as belonging to the ambassadorial arm of their government, were holding a rapid conversation a few feet away, their antennae moving up and down excitedly. He caught the words ‘ship’ and ‘new’ and ‘launch,’ but Riley, evidently bored, swung back the other way to linger on the backside of a shapely woman. She turned suddenly, and shot him a sharp smile, white teeth glistening. Her eyes were black.

 

Betazoid, Spock recognized. And apparently not bothering to shield her telepathic abilities. The thought was distasteful.

 

Riley, fortunately, seemed to realize the same, and Spock found himself again staring at the wall of bottled beverages.

 

“Anything for ye?”

 

None for me. I’m back on duty in a few hours.”

 

An Irishman refusin’ a drink? What a day.” Laughter.

 

Well, ‘e eez perhaps not so lush as you, old man.”

 

The recorder swiveled again. The unique accent was unmistakable. Pavel Chekov had darker hair, Spock noted, combed to one side. His face was still visibly younger that Mister Scott, but he was distinctly adult. Taller, broader, standing more confidently. He looked well.

 

Chekov!” Mister Scott exclaimed. “Still drinkin’ that bairn’s excuse for a man’s drink?”

 

Eet eez called wodka, and I will have you know zat een Russia, any child can drink eet, but only a fine man can enjoy eet.” There was a silent stand-off, then the two men fell into a rough bear hug. “Oh, Meester Scott, you are looking well,” Chekov said.

 

Ye been good too, if I’ve heard right, Captain Chekov?”

 

Eez nozhing, really.” Chekov shook his head, and picked up a glass of his own, leaning up against the bar table.

 

It was reassuring, Spock thought, to know that the fine officers under the Enterprise’s command had as much potential as he’d thought they did. Future captains and commanders, down to even the youngest and brightest.

 

He had always found satisfaction in seeing those under his tutelage improve themselves. He was already highly satisfied with the crew of the Enterprise, even for the short time he had been there. There was still much to come, whether he was there or not.

 

So this is the famous Mister Chekov,” Riley broke in. He thrust out his hand. “Kevin Riley. I used to work Nav during the five-year mission. Please to meet you.”

 

Ah, I remember you, Meester Riley. You liked ze ice cream.”

 

Never could leave it alone. Must have programmed a dozen extra flavors into the replicator.”

 

The recorder shook as the two men shook hands.

 

Ye here alone, Pavel?”

 

Nyet, wiz my dear Demorashka.”

 

Your De-mash-ka, eh?” Mister Scott slurred the mouthful of syllables slightly. “A lovely little Demashka?” The hint in Mister Scott’s voice was bawdy.

 

Her papa will not be happy to hear you talk like zat, Meester Scotty.” A laugh. “And nor will I. My Demorashka eez not some silly leettle devotchka, she eez ze new Helmswoman, ” — and here, Mister Chekov broke into a smug grin — “of ze Enterprise-B.”

 

Well, congrats!” Mister Scott hit Mister Chekov’s back heartily, and Riley echoed with “congratulations!”

 

Enterprise-B? The very thought felt…strange. Still, it would seem to imply that their own Enterprise-A would see a long life.

 

Mister Chekov scanned the room, and waved a hand. “Demora!” he called, and then there were footsteps. There was a familiar clack of high-heeled shoes. The recorder settled on a young Asian woman, with black hair hanging to her shoulders and dark eyes. She wore the uniform of a newly-graduated cadet.

 

My grown-up leettle Demorashka,” Mister Chekov said fondly, the young woman blushed slightly.

 

Uncle Pavel,” she complained, but smiled brightly anyway.

 

Meester Scott, Meester Riley, meet Meess Demora Sulu.”

 

Mister Scott shook her hand, smiling broadly. “I cannae believe Sulu’s little bairn has grown up so fast! And so lovely,” he added, giving a gentlemanly kiss to her hand.

 

Spock raised an eyebrow. Mister Sulu would have a daughter. He was still far from the age when offspring would be considered…considered at all. For a moment, his thoughts travelled back to the new Vulcan colony. Was this what would transpire? The mingling of the living refugees, what remained of families and friends introduced to new life?

 

The thought, as his mother might say, left an odd taste in his mouth. Though how the taste buds were able to react to negative thoughts was still a biological mystery to him.

 

Oh, right!” Riley interrupted. “Have either of you heard about the Excelsior? Janice’ll be mighty mad if she misses the party.”

 

I just got off the comm. with Dad,” Demora said. “They’re getting landing clearance as we speak.”

 

Whoo-hoo,” Riley whooped, rather loudly. “I’m almost off ‘vid duty. Mister Chekov, Miss Demora — you want to record anything for Ambassador Spock?” He lifted the recorder.

 

Oh, no. I wouldn’t know what to say,” Demora replied, shaking her hand negatively.

 

Go on. I’m sure you can think of something,” Riley urged her.

 

Um, well…Ambassador Spock.” She straightened herself up, like a cadet about to address a superior officer. “Thank you for saving my father’s life. And my uncle Pasha,” she added childishly, throwing a smile at Mister Chekov. “It’s been…kind of weird, you know, knowing you, and being at the Academy. Hard to imagine that the famous Commander Spock was out there, in space, alongside my father.” She chuckled. “Well, or even that my father was a famous hero too. And my uncle. All my aunts and uncles. I looked up to you, all of you. And now, I — I’m going to be on a ship too. I hope we can have half the adventures you had. Maybe less of the problems, though. Um…that’s it.” She shook her head again. “That sounded terrible!”

 

Aw, t’was perfectly fine, lass.”

 

Spock took a moment to appreciate the irony of the fact that, of all he had witnessed so far, that they — all of them — were famous came as the least surprising fact to him. At least their success in this universe was not an anomaly.

 

The recorder moved towards Mister Chekov, but he waved his hand, the same way Demora had. “Give me a minute. I hawe to calculate…”

 

There was another round of chuckles as Chekov’s frowned, moved his fingers in some invisible pattern, and frowned again.

 

Demora, lass, ye wan’ somethin’ to drink? If yer Uncle Chekov gives the aye.”

 

Mister Chekov shot an annoyed look, likely at Mister Scott, sitting out of the view. “She eez old enough to drink for ‘erself, Meester Scott.”

 

“Jus’ checkin’. Now, I can recommend a good stiff Scotch…”

 

I’ll have…” Demora’s voice paused. “A vodka, please.”

 

Mister Scott’s groan was loud. “Ye corrupted her too? Oh, it’s a sad day when a young lass cannae drink fine Scotch.”

 

I will not try to argue wiz a man who will not appreciate wodka.” More of Demora’s tinkling laughter, and Mister Scott’s deep belly laugh.

 

Laughter… Spock kept hearing laughter, and seeing smiles. In fact, he was pressed to describe any emotion other than happiness thus far. Perhaps some small hints of sadness at the passage of time, or minor annoyances at one another, but…

 

Was this, then, the ‘friendship’ that his older self valued so much?

 

The verbal parrying was almost elegant. Measured at the steps in a dance, or the lines of a geometric step — each person knowing what to say, or do, just as surely as they understood what would be done in turn. This easy camaraderie was unlike any he had ever seen before. Of course, a man like his father, a diplomat, engaged in such battles of wits, but, to him, subtlety was used to wound, to attack weaknesses and expose untruths.

 

But this was purely affectionate. Teasing. Gentle.

 

Familiar. Familial. How strangely alike those words were in Standard.

 

Meester Spock.”

 

It took a moment to realize that the words, the elongated ‘e’ of the honorific and the rough spit of the hard consonant ending his name was not aimed at him, no, but at the other. The older version of himself.

 

No, this was not his world calling back to him.

 

He would not allow himself the indulgence of admitting that it could be.

 

I hawe always admired you, Meester Spock. You were ze one who newar treated me as child. You appreciated me.”

 

We certainly did appreciate ye,” Mister Scott interjected.

 

Quiet. Zis eez for Meester Spock.” He cleared his throat, and started again. “You always appreciated my studies. You newar said ‘stop Chekov’ or ‘zat eez enough Chekov’ or ‘shut up Chekov, we do not need ze entire encyclopedia.’”

 

A snorting laugh burst out from someone, but Chekov continued on. “I was sometimes…scared. I was only on ship because of my, how you say, my intellect. And I zought, eef I am not smart enough, I cannot stay here. But always, eet was ‘enough Chekov. Not need this.’ Not need, I hear, and I think…not need Chekov, then.”

 

Somewhere in the monologue, the laughter had quieted, before stopping completely. Spock studied the face staring earnestly into the recorder. The man was trying to smile, but his mouth kept twitching downwards.

 

I was sewenteen. I had nozing but books and books. Even my pretty girlfriends said, ‘Chekov eez cute, but he eez still a child.’ But you, Meester Spock, you let me study ze science wiz you, and when you were gone, you said, ‘I trust Chekov to do eet.’ You believed een me. You, and ze Keptin, and Hikaru, you all believed een me.” He paused again, and took a deep breath. “Ewen when I did not believe een me. I thought, eef I fail, eez all over. I lose my place on ze Enterprise, I cause someone to die, I cannot do anyzing right. I was a wery sad child. I would fight, and drink, and show off because I wanted to know I was really zere. But you were happy to talk wiz me. You wanted to hear me be me. And now…I am Keptin. Spasiba, Meester Spock. Zank you.”

 

A long arm draped itself around Chekov’s shoulder, and the recorder tilted slightly, until Spock could see Demora’s half-hug around Mister Chekov. He leaned in towards her, and shook his head. “Eez too depressing for such a happy time, yes?”

 

Spock’s hand hovered for a moment before pausing the holovid.

 

Pavel Andreyevich Chekov. Seventeen years old. A prodigy. Spock could name off the fine details of his records, but he had not interacted with the boy much. He was extremely competent, showing an almost Vulcan-like propensity towards his duties. He had brilliantly managed to single-handedly reprogram the transporter to lock onto two moving humans and beam them up safely while under fire. Exceptionally commendable.

 

How illogical it was for him to feel such a sense of uselessness. Illogical and harmful. He would have to do something to change those psychological habits before they became unduly influential on the young ensign’s mind. Errors were a natural part of life. To fear losing the Enterprise, or causing a —

 

It was suddenly easy to imagine the young ensign’s eyes, widened in terror. Why?

 

The ensign had been there. Spock’s eyes widened in recognition, and his heart — illogical term for the center of emotional response — gave that instinctual shock of pain he fought against but could never entirely conquer. The ensign had been at the transporter console when he saved Kirk and Sulu. He had still been when Spock had beamed down, and still when they returned. When his mother had…

 

He remembered. So much shock, and a voice that said “I lost her.” Not “we,” no, not the impersonal representation of crew. I. I, he said.

 

Illogical. Illogical. He could not blame himself…

 

Spock hadn’t grabbed her hand.

 

No, this was conjecture. Yet, if Spock could not repress the human feelings of guilt, then how could a young human, already predisposed towards it? It was logical for him to be feeling…illogically.

 

It was already late, but Spock’s fingers flew across his PADD, accessing the crew’s records. Medical. Psychological. Nothing. Then again, when had there been time, between Nero and now? Doctor McCoy was still trying to sort out the remaining medical officers into some sort of cohesive unit. He hadn’t started their medical evaluations yet, and probably wouldn’t for some time.

 

He had to speak to the ensign, but… Spock grimaced. His mother…he could not help but think, if only the ensign had been able to do for her what he did for Kirk, then…

 

No. Spock stood up, almost violently. Illogical. The same illogic he would need to persuade the ensign — no, Chekov — out of. Fault, guilt: these were emotions. Cause was scientific. Cause was the logical outcome of an event, the same every time within the same parameters. Cause would make the surface of Vulcan unable to remain solid, and give way after multiple seismic shockwaves. Cause would make gravity pull her down. Cause would make the timing it took for the transporter to activate exactly 2.1687598 seconds too late to catch her. Cause would determine if two men falling to their deaths lived, and one woman standing still died.

 

He could have done nothing.

 

Spock’s heart was beating faster than standard for a healthy Vulcan. He sat back down in his chair, willing himself down from the rush of adrenaline that had invaded his body. Calm. Planning. In the morning, he would ask for an audience with Chekov, and explain, logically, that the ensign was not at fault. He would search for any physiological responses indicative of excessive emotional trauma. Above all, he had to undermine the ensign’s potential towards mental instability. For his own sake.

 

He started the ‘vid again.

 

Chekov’s face was still there, trying to smile, with Demora’s arm still round him.

 

Ye never told us,” Mister Scott said, quietly, yet sounding slightly…angry?

 

Wiz Meester Spock, I newar had to tell.” He shrugged. “You know…”

 

Aye, I know.”

 

A moment of quiet contemplation. Spock allowed himself to enjoy the Vulcan-like instant of peacefulness.

 

Well, whatd’ya expect, with those Vulcan mind-tricks of his?”

 

The moment was broken with a familiar, gruff complaint.

 

Doctor!” It was hard to distinguish who cried out the title first.

 

Look at all of you sitting here, looking like you just had to shoot your favorite horse. I thought this was supposed to be a celebration.”

 

Chairs scraped, and a white-draped arm came to rest next to the recorder. Spock waited for Riley to move it, but, unusually, it stayed resting on the table.

 

Kevin Riley,” Doctor McCoy said. “Never had any side effects from that nasty poisoning incident, did you?”

 

No, sir. Thanks to you.”

 

Miss Demora, I’ve heard you’re going to be shipping out soon? Your father must be proud.” The doctor cleared his throat. “I hope he’s warned you sufficiently about experimenting with unknown plant life. Spores and pollens in particular?”

 

I’ve already had allergy inoculations against the seven known types of hallucinogenic plant secretions, including the ones from Archer IV. You gave them to me when I was twelve.”

 

And what about the other dozen they’ve discovered since then, hmm? You never know what some unknown space cactus is going to make you do or say. All that space, and all those diseases — ”

 

Report any unusual symptoms lasting more than twenty-four hours to my CMO immediately. Six hours if immediately following an away mission. I will, Doctor.”

 

That’s my girl.”

 

Doctor…” Mister Chekov started to say, and finally, the recorder moved, settling on the back of McCoy’s head. Chekov gestured off to the side, just out of McCoy’s visual range, and winked. “Doctor,” he said again, slyly, “we were talking about Meester Spock.”

 

I know that. Is that why you’re all over here looking like kicked dogs?” McCoy chuckled. “That pointy-eared sonnavagun isn’t even here yet and he’s got you all whupped.” McCoy turned suddenly. “What’s this?” he asked, glaring slightly at the recorder.

 

He looked…much as he did now. This McCoy parted his hair to the other side, had more lines around his face — “laugh lines,” as the humans idiomatically called them, though it seemed nearly incomprehensible to imagine the gruff doctor giving himself over to such expressions. He wore a plain white shirt, buttoned to his neck.

 

We’re recording messages for Mister Spock. As, uh, a keepsake,” Mister Riley explained. The image shook slightly, betraying his nervousness.

 

The doctor laughed. “That man doesn’t have a nostalgic bone in his body. I should know; I’ve put every one of those bones back together.”

 

Don’t you want to make message for Meester Spock?” Chekov was smiling behind McCoy’s back.

 

Now what do I have to say to that meddlesome, cold-blooded, logical half-Vulcan?”

 

There was a clink of glass, and the sound of liquid being poured.

 

Oh, nozing, I guess, but…”

 

But what, kid?”

 

Come on, McCoy, we know ye and Mister Spock aren’t nearly so dislikin’ of each other as ye pretend to be.” Mister Scott pushed a glass towards the doctor. “Truth be told, ye might even like each other a wee bit.”

 

Hmph,” McCoy grunted. He took a sip of the drink. “That’s a fine mint julep. You remembered.”

 

I remember the Doctor and Mister Spock used to fight all the time,” Demora piped in. “Mister Spock would say, ‘that is illogical’ and the doctor would call him a ‘green-blooded hobgoblin.’ I got in trouble with Dad once for telling Mister Spock what you used to call him, Doctor.”

 

That earned another “hmph” from McCoy. “I think I know what’s going on here. You all just want to hear me spill my guts out like some lovesick girl off in the woods with her sweetheart.” Chekov, at least, looked away guiltily. “Well, it’s not happening. I’m a doctor, not an ambassador. I don’t have to sugar-coat your damn pills to make you take them down, and I’m not gonna waste my breath sayin’ mindless things like ‘oh, Spock, you’re going to have a fine time out there in the bowels of uncharted space, meeting who knows what kinds of crazy civilizations that may or may not try to kill your pointy-eared head on sight.’”

 

Mister Chekov gave an exaggerated sigh. “Ah, as you say, eet was worth a try, yes?”

 

Aye, it was sure worth a try. I’m sure Mister Spock has heard more then enough from the good Doctor to last a lifetime,” Mister Scott added.

 

You want me to say something?” Doctor McCoy looked squarely at the recorder, a defiant look in his eyes. “Well, Mister Ambassador, you are lucky — and don’t try to say that luck is illogical — that Vulcans share a singular peculiarity among humanoids. That is, if someone decides they’ve had enough of your logic, they might just decide to stab you here” — McCoy feigned a blade stabbing into the approximate area of the human heart — “instead of here,” he concluded, moving his hand downwards to the Vulcan heart cavity. “Granted, they might nick a lung instead. He took another sip of the drink. “And with that rare blood type of yours, you should be sure to avoid any massive loss of blood if you can. Stains your clothes like hell, too.”

 

The doctor nodded once, and picked up his drink. With a final “hmph,” and a muttered, “tryin’ to trick me into being all friendly-like with that Vulcan computer,” the chair scraped again, and he disappeared back into the crowd.

 

Mister Scott was the first one to try and suppress his laughter, failing miserably. Chekov and Riley joined next, and, though Spock is able to see Demora shake her head disparagingly, she still begins to laugh as well.

 

Spock was somewhat puzzled by the doctor’s apparent animosity — extremely apparent, but lacking true hostility. The man did tend to be rather rough in his mannerisms, but his skills in medicine, particularly in crisis situations, far outweighed any lack of social decorum. Most patients were unconscious for the duration, regardless.

 

Then again, the man was exceptionally loyal to James Kirk. Perhaps he mistrusted Spock because of that fact. That did little to explain the various epithets sprinkled throughout his speech. He did not think McCoy to be a xenophobe. But neither did he think that McCoy was aware of the fact that being called “pointy-eared” and “green-blooded” and “Vulcan,” always “Vulcan,” were the highest compliments he could pay to a human half-breed.

 

The laughter slowly died out, and, with no addressing the recorder directly, it became harder to discern their conversations. Mister Chekov and Mister Scott’s accents were becoming less like Standard as they drank. The noise of the background conversations and music became unbearably loud, even though Spock realized it was merely his perception of the noise volume that had increased, not the actual volume itself.

 

He heard the buzz of a comm. unit, and Demora suddenly, excitedly cried out, “Dad’s here! They made it!”

 

A minor commotion began when the doorbell rang. Demora had already jumped up, with Mister Chekov close behind her.

 

Riley moved the zooming lens haphazardly before managing to get a clear view of the doorway. A crowd of people were cheering as a line of still-uniformed officers flowed in.

 

To the Excelsior!” someone shouted, and the cry was repeated by a multitude of voices and clinking glasses.

 

Kevin!” A woman’s voice suddenly sounded very close, and a beaming woman with blonde hair waved excitedly to the recorder. Despite her age, she had an energetic air about her. “You really did it! Oh, thank you.”

 

The recorder was none-too-gently put on the bar, and Riley leaned over to kiss the woman on the cheek. “I told you I would, Janice. Wow, you look wonderful.”

 

Flatterer.” She laughed anyway. “Our own Mister Spock, an Ambassador,” she added, a dreamy smile on her face. “How wonderful.”

 

“And you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Communications treating you well?”

 

It’s less work than being a yeoman.” She waved at the recorder. “Did you get anyone to talk?”

 

Anyone?” Riley echoed. “Try Commanders Uhura, Scott, Chekov, and Doctor McCoy!” he announced with a proud grin.

 

“You got the doctor to say something? Wait...did the words ‘green-blooded’ pop up anywhere?”

 

First thing he said.”

 

They laughed again. “It’s almost a shame,” the woman called Janice said, her smile fading a bit. “This could be an invaluable historical record some day. I wonder if Mister Spock would object to me keeping a copy.” She bit her lip slightly. “Have you…seen the captain yet?”

 

I’ve seen Captain Chekov, and Captain Sulu’s just arrived, and — ” Janice’s expression was hard to define, but she didn’t seem happy. “No, Janice, I haven’t seen him yet.”

 

Oh,” she said, and for a moment, she looked sad, pained. A moment later, she brightened up. “Only the Captain could disappear in his own house. I swear, when he wanted to avoid his paperwork, he would disappear off into the engine rooms or the biolabs or the astronomy deck for hours!”

 

This was Kirk’s house? Spock mentally retook a tally of everything he had seen. That would explain the presence of a fully stocked bar in a private residence.

 

He hadn’t known the captain had a taste for old-style Earth books. He tried to imagine Kirk leaning over an open book, and it seemed…strange. The captain seemed too dynamic to sit still and read.

 

Riley was still speaking. “I never envied your job. Captain’s personal yeoman. What was ‘Fleet thinking, giving you that job?”

 

You thought I couldn’t do it?” Her eyes glinted with challenge, but she was smiling.

 

Someone told me,” — Riley dropped his voice conspiratorially, — “that you were younger than Chekov when you started. How’d you get into ship duty, anyway?”

 

It’s a secret,” she replied, and giggled girlishly.

 

Riley stared at her for a moment. “Were you?”

 

I thought you were a gentleman, Mister Riley.”

 

Riley fanned his hands out in a gesture of surrender. “I won’t say another word, Janice.” He grinned. “As far as I and the ‘Fleet know, you’re older than I am.” He picked up the recorder and pointed it at her face. “Your turn now.”

 

Riley,” she complained, and a hand flew up to her head, patting down errant wisps of hair. “Look, you’ve got me all nervous like a cadet again.”

 

You look perfect, Janice. You always do.”

 

She shot him an annoyed look. “Ambassador Spock, I hope you’ll enjoy this little gift we’ve put together for you. I know Vulcans don’t approve of excessive emotional displays. Still, I know that you place a high value on memory, and history, and I thought, there should be something for you to remember us all by.”

 

Janice smiled, but it didn’t quite meet her eyes. Every word had been calm, but quick, as if she’d been holding it in, or rehearsing it, for a long time. She seemed as though she was trying very hard to smile and act as if she were happy. Spock recognized the tightness of her mouth — he had seen it, sometimes, on his mother’s face, when she worked alongside his father.

 

We humans…” She trailed off. “Well, there’s not point in trying to put it softly. We won’t be alive as long as you will, and even if you’re going off to all these new planets, I’d hate to think of you being lonely out there. You’ve spent all this time taking care of us, the captain especially, and we’re not going to be able to take care of you, except with this. With memories.”

 

Spock paused the ‘vid again.

 

Humans always seemed unusually preoccupied with age. Vulcan logic dictated that their lack of katra and relatively short lifespans left them highly aware of their own mortality. It was part of why they were so emotionally unstable, so eager to attempt statistically improbable, if not impossible, actions.

 

As a Starfleet officer, he was accustomed to dealing with death. That was different, however, from the knowledge that all of his human companions would ultimately die before him. His friends.

 

He was going to be alone again. His older self had already been alone, even before this aberration of timelines. Left with nothing but this recording…

 

Kadiith, he told himself. What is, is. Surak knew this in ages past, and countless Vulcans have known it before you.

 

It didn’t calm the thoughts in his mind. So he turned the recording back on.

 

We’re all going to miss you. It’s such an honor for you to get picked for an Ambassadorship. It’s kind of strange, too. I mean, back when we started the five-year, it felt like that was all there would ever be. You would always be the first, the captain always the captain, and me always his yeoman. But things change. Even if you don’t want them to, they change.” Her voice became quiet, and she added, nervously, “It can be so hard to leave and start everything over again.”

 

She paused for a moment. “I don’t know how to say this. I don’t even know if it would be useful to you. After all, you must be happy to be moving on to something new. It’s not like when I left at all.” She glanced off to the side, and her fingers met just above her stomach, twitching, twining together. “But if it is…” she continued thoughtfully. “You remember, Mister Spock, when I decided to transfer ships? I was heartbroken, leaving everyone behind. You know why. Everyone knew. I just couldn’t stay, not with the Captain…not with what happened. So I ran away.”

 

What happened? Spock repeated in his mind. Illogical human ambiguity. Something bothered him about it, though. About the way she would react to the captain. He could surmise that something had happened between them, something that led her to leave the ship. Strange.

 

Then again, he knew full well that the odds of having even the slight majority percentage of the people who began the mission stay on for the entirety was unlikely. Promotions, demotions, relationships, death. So much could happen in five years.

 

It was bad, for a while. Your entire world changes. Then you get all regretful. You start to wonder if you could have stayed, should have stayed. And if you had to leave, well, then why go in the first place?”

 

More human emotionalism. Allowing themselves to not only feel the pain of change, but to indulge in it, to wallow in it. Spock would not lie to himself and pretend that he didn’t feel attachments to places, to people. But time continued to flow, and things continued to change. To wish for something not to exist, because the pain of separation was too great was weak.

 

Was he to wish he had never embraced his mother, simply because he could never do so again?

 

No, regrets were largely illogical. It was impossible to take two paths, and to spend the time on one wishing for the other was the worst kind of blindness, because it made you miss everything happening in front of you. How could one compare the untaken path and all its potential to the realities of the choices made?

 

Janice shook her head. “I’m making it sound like I’ve been miserable since I left. I don’t mean to. No, I loved being there with all of you, but I also love where I am now. Captain Sulu…he’s asked me to consider taking the position of First Officer. I want to take it. I’m so proud of our ship, and our crew.” She took a breath, then continued. “I spent all this time trying to think of how to say this to you, but somewhere along the line, I realized I was trying to explain it to myself. I wanted to be able to look back, and be proud of what I did. But I’m also proud of where I’m still going.” She raised her hand up in a salute. “Mister Spock, no matter what happens, I hope you’ll remember us proudly as well.”

 

That was wonderful, Janice. Dunno what you were so worried about,” Riley said, and she laughed, then rubbed her eyes. They were wet. Just as Nyota’s had been. Just like his mother’s.

 

For a moment, it was like I was…back on the ship. Terrified and hopeful all at the same time.” She rubbed her eyes again. “Come on, let’s go get Sulu to talk to us.”

 

As they moved, passing a number of humanoid bodies, Spock wondered, briefly, if the older version of him had somehow…manipulated the tape. It was an interesting coincidence that the subject of regrets and choices would come up at a moment when he was about to choose.

 

That brought up other thoughts. Why had he chosen to become an Ambassador? All the people he had seen seemed to be in good health, most of them in their middle ages, by human standards. Starfleet had likely relegated the majority of them away from further exploration of space. Yet Sulu, and this Janice, were still on a mission. He, as a Vulcan, would be eligible for work for several more years. Why?

 

And, he admitted to himself, an Ambassador? He had never enjoyed his father’s work. Perhaps, if he had nothing else left…

 

But, it didn’t seem that way.

 

His older self wanted him to see these friendships, this sense of family, of meaning, of belonging. So why had he left it?

 

Here was the problem of taking this recording. Too many possibilities to explore. It was becoming significantly harder to focus his mind on a single topic. Too much. The future was a heavy burden, and he — his older self — so high to aspire to.

 

Yet, he felt an intense need to finish the recording. Everyone was so…friendly. So warm. So happy. It was like how his mother described dreams to be. Welcoming. As if it was a place where he belonged.

 

For a moment, he felt a flash of anger. The world he knew was far from welcoming. Was this, then, the illogic of sour grapes? Or had Nero really changed the world he knew from the world that should have been so much? Was this reality still possible, even if he couldn’t see it? Or was this merely another torment for him?

 

It didn’t matter, really, he told himself. Don’t let it matter. If it doesn’t matter, it can’t hurt. It can’t feel good. It simply is.

 

There was still Mister Sulu, who, it appeared, had done very well for himself. And the Captain everyone spoke so fondly of. The older Spock had said they would be close friends. This captain, the one who everyone seemed to adore, who kept books and held celebratory parties in his home — was this Kirk’s future, then? It seemed too tame.

 

Oh, Captain,” Janice called out in a sing-song voice.

 

Mister Sulu looked surprisingly young, assuming he was the same age as his counterparts. His hair was still black, and he seemed to be in fine physical shape. He was surrounded by a throng of people, smiling broadly and looking very comfortable and confident. “Excuse me,” he said politely, with a slight bow of his head. “My Communications officer needs me.”

 

They pulled over towards an unoccupied room. “Now I understand why the captain always tried to get out of going to parties,” Sulu sighed, once they were clear. “I suspect at least one of those women was trying to tear off a keepsake.”

 

Don’t they know a captain is married to his ship?” Janice added, her mouth going up in a little half-smile. “Captain, you remember Kevin Riley, right?”

 

Spock watched the recorder shake as Riley shook hands with Sulu. “Of course. We used to work side-by-side. What have you been up to, Kevin?”

 

I moved between ships for a while. Right now I’m helping out with the final work on the new Enterprise. In another week I’m catching a transport carrier out to the DS-5 for another five-year. It’ll be nice to settle down again.”

 

You always did seem like you couldn’t stay still in one place,” Janice said thoughtfully.

 

Yeah, well…I was, um, nervous, you could say. I didn’t like the idea of getting attached to anything. Still afraid of it all getting taken away, I guess.” A pause, and then, “Whoops. Didn’t mean for it to sound like that. Don’t tell the Captain, eh, Janice? He worries about us often enough as is, even now.”

 

The sudden change in tone was jarring. He wished he could see Mister Riley’s face as he spoke. The human face was often more readable than the voice. Another mystery, Spock thought. So, there were to be those kinds of secrets aboard the Enterprise as well.

 

Janice shot another odd look towards the recorder, but didn’t say anything. Sulu looked troubled for a moment as well. Instead, she turned to Mister Sulu. “I told you about my little project, remember?”

 

Of course.” Sulu’s smile was easy-going. “Mister Spock, I think I can safely say that I was able to approach my captaincy with a bit more confidence than most. Oh, I was worried about the usual things: if the crew would respect me, how I would lead them, how I would take responsibility for so many lives. Now, you ask, wouldn’t most men be more worried about, say, emergencies? Alien encounters, hostile Klingons, or bizarre changes in the temporal-spatial plain?” Sulu chuckled. “Oh, no, sir. After five years on the Enterprise under you and Captain Kirk, I think I can handle just about anything.”

 

Janice and Riley laughed. Whatever had bothered them before, Sulu had cheered them up. Such affable behavior was interesting in a captain. Though perhaps Sulu was not being a captain at that moment.

 

Well,” Sulu continued. “I suppose there was one thing I wasn’t prepared for. I’m just glad the two of you weren’t there to see it.” He sighed, and crossed his hands over his chest. “But Mister Spock, unfortunately, was.”

 

That makes me want to know all the horrible details, Sulu,” Riley said with a chuckle.

 

Sulu closed his eyes for a moment, and with a long-suffering sigh, finally said, “You’ve met Demora, haven’t you?”

 

Yeah. Heard she’s going to helm the Enterprise-B.”

 

Sulu smiled proudly, his eyes lighting up. “I wished I’d known that when Susan left her to me. She was already six, and I’d never been around children before.” He shook his head. “It was pretty bad. I have no idea what I would have done if Pavel hadn’t been with me. Sometimes I’d wonder if Demora was his daughter, not mine, from the way she took to him. Of course, I had to take her to meet everyone, whenever ships came in or new assignments were announced. I remember I took her to the Academy one day. She stuck her tongue out at the Captain and decided to run off into towards the science wing. I wanted to bolt after her, but the Captain just laughed and told me not to worry, because you, Mister Spock, were over there. And sure enough, not five minutes later, you came towards us, holding Demora’s hand, and she was smiling.” Sulu’s face was warm, joyful. “She came over to me and the first thing she said was, ‘Daddy, have you met Mister Spock? He’s a Vulcan. That means he could hear me talking from three hallways over.’”

 

How cute,” Janice said. “I never would have thought of Mister Spock as being good with kids, though.” A moment later, she hastily added, “Oh! Sorry, Mister Spock.”

 

Spock actually agreed with the assessment. He found the inquisitiveness of children to be extremely logical, but their other, baser needs required copious amounts of energy to provide. They were…tiring.

 

No, it surprised me too,” Sulu agreed. “Then again, how many of us even managed to have children between one mission and the next?”

 

This time, Janice’s face fell. “Not many,” she murmured. “But that’s probably for the best. Can you imagine any of us trying to raise a child on the Enterprise?”

 

I can think of one better,” Riley interjected. “I remember hearing about that virus you guys found, the one that made you age so quickly? One of my friends was joking around that, hey, wouldn’t it be wonderful to find one that could do the opposite? Make you young again? But,” he added quickly, “you read the old tall tales, and those things always end up making you too young. Imagine if the entire away crew came back needing diapers!”

 

Oh, don’t make me think about what else might be out there,” Sulu said, shaking his head.

 

It would be funny,” Riley insisted.

 

It would be mayhem,” Sulu said.

 

As a former yeoman, I can say I don’t think it would be much different than usual,” Janice said.

 

There was a quiet moment before Riley burst out laughing. “Good one, Janice. Oh, that’s really a good one.”

 

A comm. buzzed again. “Oh, shoot, I’m due on shift soon,” Riley said. “You’ll have to finish things up, Janice.” The recorder was thrust towards Sulu, and Spock could only see part of Riley’s arm and Janice’s back as they hugged. “Tell the captain I was sorry to have missed him. But I might have a chance to see him at the big send-off next week.”

 

It was great to see you again, Riley,” Janice said. “Maybe, after DS-5, you could see if you want to try giving space another try.”

 

Indeed, you’ll always be welcome to the Excelsior,” Sulu added. “Bye, Riley. I’m glad to see you’ve been happy.”

 

There were footsteps, and Janice’s arm moved. “You can go back to your adoring fans, Captain. I need to go find,” — she laughed a little — “the Captain.”

 

If anyone can, I’m sure it would be you. Have fun.”

 

Then it was back into the din of the party. And Spock was left to his thoughts — of what? Could he plan to bring all this change to this world by himself? How could he? Even knowing the future, he didn’t know what he had done or said to cause such change — if, indeed, he had been the catalyst at all.

 

Part of him wished he hadn’t seen this ‘vid. It told him too much. How could he look at any of his crewmates again with his own eyes? How could he stop himself from hinting? Or trying to change things? The pain Janice and Riley had shared — he would be tempted to undo it, if he could. However, if he interfered in one thing, who knew how many other threads would be frayed. What if he undid something good?

 

More than that, what if he couldn’t be the person he had been? This Spock was someone they all admired. Certainly not the man they’d looked upon with fear and horror after he’d strangled Kirk on the bridge.

 

Kad — no. It was not that what was, was. It was what he had done. Just as he had done when he was a child, allowing the foolish words of his fellow students to incite him to violence. Allowing his anger at Kirk for cheating on his test to nearly ground the most important officer of the Narada incident.

 

No. Guilt was an emotion. The past was the past. And Kirk had chosen to have all charges dropped. There was nothing he could do or change.

 

Was this, then, a chance to make amends in the future? His mother always forgave him, if he would only promise to correct his wrongs, and to make them better. Make himself better. Make others better. It was part of why he had taken on the role of an instructor, part of why he dedicated himself to scientific exploration.

 

Kadiith.

 

As Janice moved though the crowd, she would occasionally stop and speak to people, inquiring as to where the captain was. She was, as of yet, unsuccessful, but Spock learned that many of the ensigns who were under his command were highly grateful for the chance of having worked with him. Their thanks were largely brief, but still seemed sincere.

 

Ah, Christine!” Janice called out suddenly, and she began to push through a crowd of people towards a darker corner of the room. A dark-haired woman in a blue dress with a small tricorder — medical, Spock could see — was standing there, and next to her, Doctor McCoy again.

 

Spock as able to hear the doctor before either of them noticed Janice. “—and Joanna tells me, not only the oldest, but my youngest granddaughter is going to join ‘Fleet Academy too! It’s all your fault, she tells me, all sweet-like. You told them all those stories about being on the Enterprise, and now they can’t wait to follow you. And I told Jo right back, I told them stories about the death and danger of being out there in deep space. They didn’t get it from me, no sir. Their heads must be full of tomfoolery to think the ‘Fleet is a good idea!”

 

Now, Doctor, you can’t blame them for wanting a bit of adventure. After all — Janice? Janice Rand, is that you?” The woman broke off, mid-sentence.

 

Christine! Whatever happened to that lovely blonde hair of yours?”

 

Went the same way as that little bird’s nest you used to have, I’d wager,” the woman replied back, smiling.

 

Oh, not this again,” McCoy grumbled, waving a hand at the recorder. “I’ll need another drink.”

 

The woman in blue watched him depart. “What’s got him so riled up?”

 

Oh, I’m collecting messages for Mister Spock. Riley and the others got him to talk, but I guess he wasn’t too happy about it.”

 

The woman’s face fell. “Oh, Janice, I couldn’t…”

 

Come on, Chris. I know what happened, but…” Janice’s voice fell to a whisper. “Come on, you should at least tell him, once, how you feel.”

 

How I felt,” Christine corrected her. “I did.”

 

Janice gasped a little. “I’m sorry.”

 

Spock felt awkward. He was, contrary to popular belief, well aware of humans and their courtship rituals. That was to say, he understood why cadets often came to him, blushing and stammering, and he did try to be completely clear in his rejections. It didn’t make it any easier to watch their emotional reactions. In fact, the excess emotionalism usually made him cringe, since it, coupled with the usual close proximity of the infatuated person, made his telepathy hum unpleasantly. He couldn’t feel it, or see it, not the way he would if they were actually touching. But it was there, like a fine smoke choking his lungs. Pain, loneliness, thwarted desire and a tinge of lust.

 

He should have noticed it was not like that with Nyota. What he had thought to be a pleasant lack of stifling emotions was, instead, the pleasant sharing of emotions, a sort of synchronization that left him feeling calm instead of overwhelmed.

 

He hoped he would not have to hurt this Christine again.

 

Actually, I should…” Christine started to say. “I should apologize. Mister Spock — here, bring that recorder up.” The image settled, and Spock took in her face. A proud face. Not arrogant, but the look of someone who was comfortable in her own skin. She had probably been very beautiful in her youth. She still was. “Mister Spock, when we worked together, I was in a bad place in my life. My fiancée, as you know, had been missing. I had nearly given up. Then we found him, and it turned out he…” She bit her lip, took a breath. “He really had been dead all those years. I thought you would understand me. Understand the terrible loneliness I was going through. I was so blind. I thought I was so special, because I was the only one who could see you suffering.” She gave him an intense, pleading look. Her eyes and her mouth were so terribly emotional, terribly expressive. Spock’s hand instinctively clenched against the onslaught of pure feeling. “It took me so many years to realize it, but…you weren’t like me at all. You were able to change, and move on. And one day I saw that you weren’t sad or lonely at all anymore.”

 

The image stilled, and Spock drew back the hand he hadn’t realized he’d been inching towards the computer’s controls.

 

You weren’t sad or lonely at all anymore.

 

How could she say that? How…it was overwhelming, like an influx of data overwhelming the computer’s core memory processes. How could she say that, so simply and so plainly? How…

 

Nyota’s arms had been warm around him, in that moment when he was planning to give his life to stop Nero. Was that what it was like, to not be lonely?

 

Another question to be meditated upon later. Many of his nights were going to be occupied by the recording.

 

He looked back up at her face. There was something…something odd. No, not her face. Her voice. There was something about her voice, and the way she talked, that…

 

“Computer,” he said out loud.

 

“Yes, Commander Spock?”

 

She sounded like the computer. That was unusual. He needed further data. “Computer, I require a sample of your audio-vocal interface, please.”

 

“Affirmative. What would you like me to vocalize?”

 

“Computer, commence reading audio book 5410, from the first chapter.”

 

“Affirmative. Title: A Tale of Two Cities. Author: Dickens, Charles. Book the First: Recalled to life. Chapter 1: The Period. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

 

Spock allowed the computer to continue for 2.34 minutes longer than he needed to ascertain the voice match. The novel was a particular weakness of his, ever since one of his Academy professors had advised him to read it. A testament to the human spirit, the man had said, in all its bright glory and blackness. The sacrifice of Sydney Carton had been particularly appealing to him. Practical and logical, yet deeply emotional at the same time.

 

“Computer, stop.” There was a distinct similarity, but not an exact match.

 

“Computer, whose voice was recorded to create your audio-vocal interface?”

 

“The first officer of the Enterprise, serving under Captain Pike, as part of an extensive reprogramming effort. Name not recorded due to personal request.”

 

Number One. Spock remembered meeting Admiral Pike’s first officer, long ago, when he was still a cadet. She had been extremely Vulcan-like. He didn’t know her name. Perhaps a relative of this Christine? He made a mental note to look into the range of human vocal capacities and ascertain the odds of similar voices appearing in non-related humans. Since human biology, particularly the vocal tracts, was only able to take on a limited amount of variety (save mutations or changes from disease), it was possible that it was mere coincidence.

 

Still, it was certainly strange.

 

Back to the recording. It was closer to the end now. 87.97 percent complete.

 

Christine kept looking at the recorder for a moment.

 

You know, I don’t understand why you all think Spock is going to appreciate all these sob stories you keep giving him.” McCoy had returned, but he remained out of viewing range.

 

Christine’s eyes narrowed. “Doctor,” she said, with more than a hint of annoyance.

 

What is your problem, Doctor?” Janice was much more vocal. “We’re trying to show Mister Spock how much we appreciate him.”

 

And I’m telling you you don’t have to.” Before they could protest again, he added quietly, “He already knows.”

 

The look on Christine’s face was interesting. She looked surprised, then started to smile. “Of course, you would know that, Doctor.” She started to move off recorder, gently raising up her arm. “How many of those mint juleps have you had, anyway?”

 

I’m not drunk enough, that’s for sure.”

 

Again, Spock was struck by McCoy. The grumpy tone of his voice was at odds with the strangely friendly things he said.

 

Commander Rand, Commander!” Someone was yelling off-screen.

 

Ensign?” Janice’s voice was surprised. “What is it?”

 

The captain’s just been called back to the ship. I know you’re busy here, but I thought you should know. We had a problem with the refueling. One of the fueling tubes broke. There was a fire — ”

 

Christine looked alarmed, her eyes widening.

 

I’ll be right there,” Janice said. The recorder shook for a moment. “Oh, the captain. I still haven’t…” Janice said softly.

 

Give it here,” McCoy said.

 

What?”

 

You need to get back to your ship. You’re not gonna stay here, are you? I didn’t think so. I’ll go find Jim and let him do his thing.”

 

“…thank you,” she said simply.

 

The recorder was rather violently thrust into McCoy’s stomach, and he righted it, just in time to see Janice wave quickly and run off into the crowd.

 

Doctor, are you sure?” Christine’s voice again.

 

She needs to go. You know that girl. She needed a clean break from Jim, even after all this time. She’s made her choice.” A moment later, “Good girl,” affectionately. Then, “No, don’t give me that look. Go have fun. I’ll go talk to Jim. He’s up hiding in his room.”

 

Jim. Here was something that was like his Kirk.

 

His Kirk? What an odd thought. He hadn’t truly been thinking of the faces he’d seen as being part of his universe or his older self’s. They seemed like the same people. Older, yes, but essentially the same. It was only himself he didn’t understand.

 

McCoy walked briskly, sliding through the people easily, and went back up the stairs. He walked towards a large pair of double doors, likely the master bedroom — then took a sharp left, to the end of the hall. A small, unassuming door was opened. Spock pondered this for a moment. Either McCoy had lied about going to Kirk’s bedroom, or else Kirk’s tastes were very different from the expectations of whoever had found this residence for him.

 

It was a small room, probably intended for guest use. A four-post bed sat in the middle of the room, covered in a quilt with geometric patterns and large white pillows. There was a shelf on the left side, filled, again, with books. Spock paused the video. There was something odd about the angle of the books on the very top shelf — they leaned steeply inwards, forming a triangular hole. Nestle between those thick volumes was what appeared to be a decorative bottle. It looked similar to the ones Spock had seen at the bar, although this one was smaller, and filled with a dark blue liquid. It was, however, unlabelled. An odd place to hide a bottle of liquor, or whatever was contained within it, Spock thought. Suppose there were to be an accident? Those books would be ruined.

 

On the opposite end of the room was a small table, set up with a three dimensional chessboard. The pieces lay strewn across the board, indicating an incomplete game. Spock took in the pieces quickly. The white king was in danger. White could block, but it would mean sacrificing the bishop or queen. Using the bishop was logical. White was clearly outmatched, with only a pair of pawns that were unable to move and a bishop that couldn’t attack anything. The queen could be quite formidable, but if black was carful enough, it would pose no more threat than the pawns. White could likely defend for three turns before the black player checked and ‘mated with the rook. An amusing, if not terrible innovative, game. Spock would have liked to have seen it in its entirety.

 

Two large windows illuminated the room with moon and starlight. It seemed to lead out to a balcony area. Spock could see the faint outline of chairs and a table. He started the recording again.

 

McCoy settled the recorder on something, and leaned against one of the bedposts. “This is pretty stupid,” he said out loud, glancing at the recorder. “But I guess I’ve got a message for you too, you impossible Vulcan.” He fidgeted with the glass in his hands. It was empty. “Now Spock, you and me, we spent time together, some of it far too together for any sane man to handle. We were close, even when we — well, I — wanted to be as far apart from you as possible. And bein’ that close, it gives a man some insight.”

 

The doctor was engaging in some extremely exaggerated ambiguity. To ‘beat around the bush’ was the human phrasing. Spock tried to think of any circumstance that could lead to him and the doctor having mutual ‘closeness,’ as it were. Capture? An accident? It was an intriguing notion, being ‘close’ to someone. Close enough for it to have affected the doctor so greatly.

 

Was this the reason for his outward gruffness? Humans sometimes reacted this way to unwanted intimacy. Vulcans preferred to bury any discomfort under their logic, but humans sometimes buried their feelings even deeper.

 

I know I’m an emotional being. I need to be, to be a doctor. You’ve gotta understand a man’s pains — all of ‘em. Sometimes it’s a stubbed toe, sometimes it’s a broken heart. I know that it can cause us to act, well, illogically, as you say it.” He shrugged. “But you have to admit, it can give a man a great deal of strength, too. Kindness. Compassion. Fighting to your last breath for the things you care about.” McCoy looked directly into the recorder. “I know you have a heart, Spock — and not in the literal sense. I’ve seen it too many times to deny it. I know you feel things, even though you try your damndest not to. You get angry, you get scared, you love things and mourn when you lose them. You feel. Maybe not the same way humans do, but you still feel.”

 

Spock was not irritated. He was, however, able to formulate a logical course of argument in case he and the Leonard McCoy of his universe ever had a similar argument. Kindness, compassion, and bravery were hardly the sole domain of emotion. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was logical to assist others in need, in order to keep the general good of the social structure. It was emotional to decide whether or not a person was worthy of being helped. Thus prepared, he was quite certain he could easily win.

 

Still, McCoy was, in a roundabout way, trying to offer a compliment. And, Spock thought begrudgingly, one could argue that logic might follow a more Darwinian path, to use the closest human approximate. Survival of the fittest, not charity towards the weakest. That would certainly anger a man devoted to helping. He could, perhaps, at least hold back a few of his arguments so as not to overwhelm the good doctor. The man seemed to get flustered easily. Angry, as well — Spock could still remember the man’s acidic words after he chose to eject Jim from the ship for insubordination. Opinionated. Argumentative. He could see why the man would feel the need to apologize after so many years of working together.

 

Spock felt things. Of course he did. Any sentient being must. He simply put more effort into examining things than simply feeling them. Why McCoy felt the need to point that out eluded him.

 

On-screen, McCoy took another sip of his drink. It was nearly empty. “I was listening to Christine. Maybe I need to apologize too. I don’t know how she manages so much honesty. It’s taken me more booze than I’ve had in years just to get this far.” He tipped the glass back and swallowed the last of it. “Like I was saying…you do feel. But — damn it, that hybrid nature of yours has always caused me problems. All this time, I’ve tried to set you against human standards. Seeing you use all that Vulcan mumbo-jumbo about how evil emotions were was an…an anathema to me. You probably know the meaning of that word backwards and forwards. But I looked it up once, and it was interesting. Usually it means something that disgusts you, something that’s forbidden. And if you never understood it, I’m gonna tell you clear right now: I hate your lack of emotions just about as much as you hate my having emotions. Do you understand that?” McCoy scowled into the recorder. “The way you feel every time you get too emotional…it’s terrible to you, isn’t it? Well, hearin’ you act all cold and logical feels the same way to me. Makes me act on my instincts, makes me stop thinking because it feels so bad. Gives me the damn heebie-jeebies, if you want the truth.”

 

‘Heebie-jeebies’ was hardly a medical term, but, for a moment, Spock could understand. Doctor McCoy had deep-seated emotional responses, just as he had Surak’s teachings. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. They would simply have to have an amicable disagreement. Beyond medical reports and official ship business, Spock was unlikely to have to spend much time in the Doctor’s company, anyway. The captain enjoyed his company, but Spock had other matters to attend to.

 

 

But,” McCoy continued suddenly, “that’s not what that word always meant. Way back in the Bible, an anathema was forbidden, all right — it was the thing that was set aside to be sacrificed to God. The best of the best. Something that normal people couldn’t even touch.” He smiled, and it looked strange, yet somehow fitting. “Everyone always called you and Jim the finest command team in the ‘Fleet. It was probably true. Not that Jim needs to be told anything else to swell that head of his. No such thing as a no-win, that’s what he used to say. And for us — for you — there never really was. I guess…” McCoy trailed off for a moment, looking thoughtful. “I guess I should just say thank you, Spock. You and Jim ended up being the best friends I ever had. And now you’ll be leavin’ us again. Dunno how we’re gonna get through it this time. Back to being a plain, old-fashioned country doctor for me. And for Jim…” The doctor’s face narrowed into a scowl again. “He can get out here and tell you himself.”

 

A door creaked from one side of the room. The balcony.

 

Spock barely had time to wonder about “this time.” Or “getting through it.” Or even, most alarmingly, “best friends.” But he’d heard the words.

 

He could have stopped the video. Meditated. Made sense of it all.

 

But he wanted to see this Kirk.

 

How long were you spying for, Jim?”

 

Spying? Doctor, you wound me. I’m just happy to see members of my crew getting along together.”

 

Spock’s ear caught the first words of Kirk’s voice. Playful. Sarcastic. Confident in a way he never could be. Spock could steel himself down, of course, behind facts and truth, but he lacked Kirk’s ability to exude confidence, even when he had nothing. It was admirable in a captain, and infuriating everywhere else, if Spock allowed himself to indulge in petty anger. Kirk made him want to indulge more often, and sometimes his hands not only twitched, but started to shake with the amount of effort he had to extend to stop the feeling. The memory of Kirk’s throat under his hands was usually sickening enough to suppress the anger for another few days.

 

Whatever you say, Jim,” McCoy responded, rolling his eyes.

 

Never thought I’d see the day you were openly telling Spock how much you like him, but there are more things in heaven and earth, right, Bones?”

 

Spock’s ears pricked up instinctively. That was Shakespeare. Hamlet. First act, fifth scene. He’d heard of Kirk’s academic prowess when he’d looked into his files before lodging the complaint of academic dishonesty. But in their brief time together, he’d not seen any evidence of it. Intelligence, yes, but not knowledge of — why could he imagine Kirk’s self-assured voice calling it something laced with human sarcasm, like the ‘writings of ancient coots locked up in their ivory towers’?

 

The allusion sounded strange, but appropriate. Kirk worried about gaining respect from his crew, from the ‘Fleet command, because of his past transgressions. If he simply showed a bit more of his intelligence, he wouldn’t have to. It was quite impressive when he deigned to show it, and all the more shocking because he so rarely did. It was as if he wanted to be thought of as an idiot.

 

This Kirk had no problem doing so, and he had already made a far better first impression.

 

“Well, you’ve arrived just in time to deliver the coup de grace.”

 

Bones, you make it sound like we’re sending off our last respects, and not a friendly holovid.”

 

Now, how’d you know about that?”

 

I’ve hardly been up here the entire night.”

 

And you say you weren’t spying.”

 

A good captain is always appraised of the social workings of his ship. Or his home.”

 

The banter was light, and McCoy’s nervousness slowly faded away. He was smiling again, and Spock wondered when Kirk would step in front of the recorder as well.

 

So, you heard it all.”

 

Only the end, actually.” Kirk paused. “He’ll really appreciate it, you know. It’s hard for him to say it, but he will.”

 

Yeah. I know.” McCoy’s voice was oddly affable. “Well, I suppose it’s your turn. Did you need me to leave?” McCoy asked.

 

There was a warm chuckle. “I doubt there’s anything I can say that you wouldn’t be privy to as well.” A pause, and then, “But, if you really want to leave…”

 

McCoy’s expression was hard to read. His smile faded into a more neutral expression, his eyes staring off-camera, probably at Kirk. “I think I will. I’ve said my due, and you deserve the privacy to say yours.” He waved the empty glass around. “I’m pretty sure Chris has at least one alcohol neutralizer on her.”

 

Have fun getting your senses back, Bones.”

 

McCoy walked out of view, leaving only the bed again. For a moment, there was only silence, then, Kirk’s voice again. “Just you and me, Spock. It seems there’s been precious little time for us to talk lately.”

 

The recorder was picked up, and they were suddenly moving outside, to a clear sky. The moon was swollen, waxing, approximately 3.2 Earth days away from being full. Spock could make out a few familiar constellations. They’re in San Francisco, he could tell, but the lights of the city made everything too artificial, too bright and hazy to really see.

 

It’s strange to look out at the stars, after being among them for so long.” Kirk’s voice was surprisingly soft. Spock hadn’t had the opportunity to hear Kirk’s voice without anger or reckless enthusiasm. It sounded so much more…pleasant. Affable. “I was listening to Bones. He was being remarkably candid. But he was wrong about one thing. He thinks this is like the last time. He thinks this is the last time.” There was a pause, a rustling of fabric as Kirk probably shifted and moved. “I understand why you took this assignment. I may hate to play the political field, but I’m still able to obtain information. I know what they’ve offered you, Spock. And I know how much it means to you to be able to take this opportunity.”

 

This Kirk felt familiar. Comfortable. Just like the others. Spock felt a strange twinge in his body, a tightening he usually associated with emotional excess, but he didn’t feel bad. He wasn’t sure how he felt, actually. This Kirk was his friend, he thought, and it felt unreal, because he had only imagined what a friendship must be like. I understand you, Kirk said. I don’t need you to explain, because I can see the logic myself.

 

How could Kirk, of all people…no. It was illogical to presume to know Kirk’s limitations based on their brief time together. If anything, he had proved how much potential he had to change. However unlikely that actually was. But when Spock had allowed himself to imagine a friend, a companion…he would be lying if he said he imagined anyone like his Kirk, wild and violent as a sandstorm. No, he had thought of someone quiet. Academic. Strong. A calm oasis of logic. Someone more like this Kirk.

 

What a strange thought. Kirk, his ideal friend. Just like his older self had said.

 

The recorder moved again. There was a metallic scrape, and Kirk let out a soft noise. He was probably sitting down. Suddenly, Spock was no longer looking at the stars, but at Kirk.

 

He had brown eyes. Plain brown human eyes, with none of the strange, radiant glow of blue in them. None of the pain, or the instinctive need to lock into Spock’s own in challenge.

 

His hair had also darkened — was that human trait of aging? — and he was somewhat larger, no longer all sleek lines of muscle. An easy-going smile. He looked perfectly at ease in a buttoned-up shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Fewer scars on his arms. He was relaxed, slouching a little, looking comfortable, not intimidating. He looked…happy.

 

I used to think that you would never follow your father. You have such a caring heart, Spock, far too gentle for politics. But I also know you have the strongest will-power of any being in this universe, especially when it comes to the ones you want to protect. This is about…” Kirk’s voice drifted off. “No, I don’t want to presume. It’s your business, after all.”

 

Gentle? It felt like an accusation.

 

He was as violent as his Kirk was, as viciously human and un-Vulcan as could be.

 

He felt anger. Distrust. Disappointment. Weakness. Human emotions he should have been restraining.

 

For a moment, the thoughts overwhelmed him.

 

He wasn’t the Spock they all adored, the perfect, gentle person who cared for them, who was loved by them. He wasn’t. And they all knew it, in this world. They had all seen it, watched the spectacle, his ultimate disgrace as he lost himself and tried to kill Kirk, tried to squeeze the air from his lungs and the life from his body. In that moment, he had felt so much and so badly and it was wrong, all wrong.

 

Even this Kirk couldn’t look at him the same way after seeing that.

 

Spock swallowed, feeling the methodical movements of the muscles contracting, one after the other, going down his throat. Logically, he had to fight back the instinctive self-recriminations. Just like he always did. Illogical to wallow in his failures. Logical to learn how not to fail again. He couldn’t fail again.

 

I only wish you had told me.” Kirk’s voice was upbeat, when it should have been pained, like his mother’s, whenever she told him the same thing. He settled his hands in front of his face, leaning forward towards the recorder, as if to conspiratorially whisper to Spock. “You were probably waiting for the right moment, when everything would be in order. But I imagine you’ve spent quite a long time examining it, debating it, trying to figure out your” — he chuckled again — “most logical path. I would say, you could have talked to us, but I understand that you need to examine everything for yourself before you even begin to think about letting others in. It’s just your way. But then HQ decided to announce it. I bet they never even warned you. And now you can’t refuse. But I know, whatever your motivation, you will triumph. We always have.”

 

Spock’s hand hovered over the computer. Kirk’s smiling face stared at him.

 

If not destiny, some cosmic irony was at work. A friendship that would define them both, the other Spock had said, and Spock could see it — with this Kirk. Yes, with this Kirk, he would have been friends. Logical friends, matched in intelligence and temperament.

 

But look at the Kirk this universe had given him. Highly illogical. Addicted to cheap intoxicants and physical violence that sent his adrenal glands into overproduction. Cheating instead of learning. Operating on instinct without thought, putting trust into such abstractions as luck and gambling that the possibilities would always fall in his favor. Flaring up as bright as a supernova for no other reason than to draw everyone’s attention. Broken in so many ways, broken and pieced back together haphazardly. Pushing and pushing, gnawing at him, forcing him to see and hear and feel everything he should have ignored.

 

What a world had been, he wondered, where he had been so loved, and Kirk so sane and whole? It was nearly impossible to imagine.

 

This Kirk’s voice was warm, friendly, accepting. Perfect. Exactly as he had envisioned a friend to be. Undemanding, wanting no explanation, not telling him or asking him or begging him. Just…accepting. It hurt.

 

That was it. It hurt, seeing all of this happiness. He had expected differences, of course, but he hadn’t expected them to influence him so much, to rouse his emotions so easily. He could work, of course. Do all the things he could infer that his older self had done. But there would never be a guarantee that things would turn out the same. It wasn’t his world. This wasn’t his Kirk. His Kirk was never this happy, not really, and likely never would be. His Kirk didn’t understand him the way he wanted to be understood, the way this Kirk understood him — hadn’t he seen that? They were too different, outside the heat of the battle. Kirk wanted him to be something else, something more emotional and human. He resisted. They couldn’t help but fight, and fight, until one of them fell. And he…he couldn’t be this Spock anymore than his Kirk could be this Kirk. Things were simply too different.

 

And, suddenly, he felt that being different might mean being bad. Worse. Never as good.

 

It hurt. It hurt worse to see this and know he could have had it, that he had had it, that it had been changed and taken away from him. He had been happy, in this other world. Happy in a way he couldn’t imagine, among people who cared for him. A world where his mother must have lived and his planet survived. A world where he hadn’t failed. Where everything was right.

 

This Kirk was perfect. This world was perfect. And he would be the only one to know. He would be cast out of paradise with only his memories, because he didn’t belong to this world. He was the anomaly, like always.

 

He shouldn’t feel bitter. Yet he did.

 

We’ve had our second chance.” Another warm chuckle. “And if there’s a way to a third, I will find it. But I’m not blind. I understand that things have changed. We always told ourselves, someday, it would be over. Someday, someday, but never today. And it isn’t.” Another pause. “Bones is far too practical sometimes. He sees…‘tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.’ I’d heard those words years before I knew who had said them or what they meant. I thought they were supposed to be optimistic. Eternity stretching out before you. Tomorrow always comes. How ironic that it meant the complete opposite. A tomorrow that is empty, void of meaning, or companionship, is the worst sort of torment. But for us, there will never be an empty tomorrow.” He swept his hand out, an energetic, optimistic gesture. “Together, apart, it doesn’t matter, not in this day and age. And really, Spock, I couldn’t be happier that you’ve chosen the Ambassadorship.”

 

He smiled, white teeth and shining eyes, smiled and kept smiling and…

 

Kirk’s hand darted out, and the vision swept back up towards the stars. “I’ll know you are always out there…and that part of me will also be there, with you. Can you imagine, Spock? Out in the stars forever,” he said, with a boyish joy.

 

There was silence.

 

For once, Spock’s mind was silent of thought and emotion and even the soft hum of telepathy. Overloaded. Burned out by the sheer intensity of the emotion in James Kirk’s words, reaching out to crash over him like a wave, through the years and the universes and the flat screen of his computer. It seemed Kirk had always had the ability to rouse his emotions, and he loathed it.

 

It was overwhelming, to be loved so much. Because that was all he could call it. Love. Love from all of them, from people he had never met, from people he couldn’t begin to know, from people who might not even exist.

 

Despite every rationale, every variable, every logical reason against it…he wanted this. Watching this video had proven that, had it not? He wanted to know these people, wanted to help them become as successful as he had seen. And, selfishly, he wanted them to look at him — not his older self, but him — with that same admiration in their eyes. He wanted to be friends with them, as illogical as they often were.

 

He had never felt such longing in himself before — not for his mother or his father’s love, not from his peers, not from Vulcan or from Starfleet. It strummed through his veins, like blood, like air. Want this. Want this. Want the Enterprise, want her crew. He wanted so much, and it was illogical, selfish, dangerous.

 

Logically, he should refuse. To indulge in his desires was un-Vulcan. He was needed on the New Vulcan colony, to rebuild, to teach, to help them grow again. Spock tried to imagine it. Tried to imagine leaving all of this behind. Tried to imagine looking up at the stars, every night, knowing that they were not together, that the distance was too great, that he was forgotten by the Enterprise and her crew.

 

It hurt. He would never be able to stop thinking about it. He couldn’t stop thinking about it now, even when he was so close. It was as if something were pulling at him, insistently, constantly. First, small enough to ignore. But the more he ignored, the harder it pulled. Just like Kirk. Until it began to choke him.

 

His chest felt tight, his breaths harder than they should have been. It felt as if he were tapping into something he was not meant to know, something dark within him. But he had to see it. He had to understand.

 

He tried to imagine suppressing the desire, every day. It would…burn, he thought. Yes, burn, slowly, under the surface of his mind, more than any other feeling he had ever ignored. Scorching him. Making him tremble with every action he took until he couldn’t function. It burned him even now.

 

A small hiss escaped Spock’s lips. If he opened his mouth, he would give voice to those desires. Make it real. He would fall, just as he had fallen before, in that blind rage and crushing hands, lashing out for want of that ship, that life, that feeling.

 

Want this, want this. Want the Enterprise. Can’t have this. Gave this up, and have to live with it, forever —

 

No!

 

Air escaped. It sounded like he was choking.

 

For the first time, he was nearly laughing. Or maybe crying. He’d seen humans do both, but never felt the need, or even the ability, to do so himself.

 

Spock took long, deep breaths, pushing away the emotions as best he could. His legs had curled up in the chair, and he had pulled himself tightly, as it to hide himself, bury himself, without realizing it. They were Vulcan emotions, he recognized. Not human ones. The deep-set, primal emotions of Vulcan. Terrifying. He didn’t want to ever feel like that again.

 

He would be miserable on New Vulcan, just as he had been miserable as a child. Cast out. Everything the opposite of what he wanted, perhaps even needed. The camaraderie, the satisfaction, and the acceptance he could only find on the Enterprise. He was still trembling, faintly. Even if it was less than this future, it was more than a future on Vulcan.

 

So, then…it was to be the Enterprise. He would have to contact his father, make arrangements. But Kirk, he thought, he would not tell quite yet.

 

Kirk, who couldn’t live without his ship, even in old age. It was so like him. Grandiose and challenging the entire universe. Perhaps there was some spark of his Kirk in this one.

 

The thought was startling.

 

It was so simple.

 

Had he misinterpreted? He saw himself as anomalous, yes — unlike his future self. But only because everyone else had seemed to be so like their current self. Everyone but him — and Kirk.

 

He tried to imagine such eloquent words, such poetic words coming out of his Kirk’s mouth, and it was intensely wrong. The sentiment — yes, he could see the sentiment remaining. Kirk’s emotions were just as intense. But the words were so wrong. The inflection, the cadence…all wrong. He was too calm. Too happy. Too much like a dream.

 

His Kirk would be appalled to see himself like that. “Christ, I sound like one of my lit professors. Or my father. Don’t tell me you like that sort of thing, Spock. What a load of self-sacrificing bullshit,” he would complain. “Me, wait on Earth? Fuck that. We’re going out there together, right now. Third chances, fourth chances — they’re gonna have to kill me to make me stop.”

 

As his older self had said, it was enlightening. He was an anomaly, yes, but so was Kirk. And perhaps that was enough reason to start a friendship upon.

 

An anomaly was not automatically a negative. No. It might be an evolutionary adaptation, the first change that led all the others into a new stage. Difference. Possibility. Then, he and Kirk might be the ones to change the future. Make everyone else anomalous as well.

 

How selfish to want that.

 

His thoughts returned to the beginning of the evening, the objective, the logical, before he had allowed himself to become swept up in the emotions. Make a new future. Don’t try to recreate the one that already existed.

 

Make it better.

 

Yes. Yes, if it couldn’t be the same, and he didn’t want it to be worse…make it better. Somehow. There had to be a way. Even starting with so much ruined, there had to be a way to ascend, and ascend even further than before.

 

The computer was still on. Stars. Calming stars, fixed points in the night sky, changing so slowly, so minutely, as to seem immovable.

 

Was there anything else? Did it matter anymore, now that he had decided?

 

Ah, only a few minutes left. How anti-climatic.

 

A vague roar started from the recording. “Ah, I do believe you’ve arrived,” Kirk said. The recorder was picked up, and Kirk began to walk towards the door. He stopped for a moment at the chessboard, and casually moved the white queen to protect the king. “Check in two, mate in four,” Kirk said, and Spock’s eyebrow rose.

 

Sacrificing the queen was illogical. The queen would be captured, leaving the king vulnerable again to — no. The white bishop would capture the attacking rook. And that left the white knight free to check the black king in two turns. Check, yes, but there was nothing to turn that into a mate. No, there was. Two white pawns to the side, one behind the other, unable to advance. Useless, unless white chased the black king into that corner. But to leave the two pieces crippled for the entire game, just on the slight chance that this outcome would happen? Illogical.

 

Your move, Spock,” Kirk added, and Spock’s hands twitched in surprise.

 

Completely illogical. Even this Kirk was completely illogical.

 

Somehow, the thought was comforting.

 

You know, Spock, this was supposed to be a surprise party. I don’t know who thought we would be surprising you,” Kirk said, reaching to open the door. “With your Vulcan ears, you could probably hear the party a mile away.”

 

Indeed, the volume of the world outside was getting louder. Spock suspected that more people had indulged in the alcohol. Slurred cheers and the throb of the music filled his ears.

 

Still, it was an effort. I wish I had been informed before my house was chosen for the reception, however. Scotty and Bones are going to clean me out of drink and home.”

 

Kirk was in the hallway, down the stairs. Back towards the main doors.

 

Spock!” Kirk yelled, and it was echoed, multiplied by other voices and languages.

 

Spock could see a small hole in the crowd, a parting, a glimpse of his own face looking back at him, lips twitched up at the edges in a faint, but joyous smile —

 

It went black.

 

He wondered if something had broken, but, no that was the end of the recording.

 

Spock stared at the black screen for a moment before ordering the computer to save a copy of the ‘vid to his personal files.

 

~~~

 

The next morning, he contacted Ensign Chekov. It was difficult to speak to him.

 

“Ensign Chekov, I have received information that concerns you,” he started stiffly. “I am, however, unsure if it is completely true.”

 

Chekov looked at him nervously. “Vat have you heard, sir?” His eyes were large, his hands moving slightly, tapping at his side.

 

“That you might…have some unfounded feelings of guilt about my mother’s death.”

 

Chekov’s mouth widened slightly, before he clamped it shut, a firm line.

 

That was answer enough. Spock tried to choose his words carefully, but he was unsure of how the younger man would react to anything he said. “There is no need to inform you that this is illogical,” he said finally.

 

“No, sir.” Chekov’s answer was short, clipped.

 

Another plan of action would be necessary, then. “Would it be emotionally satisfying to know that I also feel responsibility for what happened? It was I, after all, who was unable to hold her in place for a sufficient length of time.” He fisted his hands slightly behind his back. Admitting his emotional reactions somehow made them seems more real. Nothing and no one was responsible for his mother’s death, save Nero, and to wish vengeance upon the dead was truly illogical.

 

“Eet’s not your — ” Chekov started to say. For a moment, those big, wet eyes looked up at him, filled with anger and sorrow. He caught himself and looked away. “I know, sir. I try not to feel, but, I cannot…”

 

“I have similar…feelings,” Spock admitted.

 

“You, sir?” Chekov looked back at him, clearly startled. “No, no, eet was all me — ”

 

“I do not wish for you to feel guilt,” Spock said simply. “Your accomplishments are exceptional. I do not believe that it is fitting for you to only acknowledge the negative outcomes. You are as guiltless as I am, even if it is difficult to accept.”

 

Chekov looked at him. He didn’t cry. His eyes and his mouth moved as if he would, but he did not. “Zank you, sir,” was all he said.

 

Spock wondered if it was enough. He closed his eyes as Chekov excused himself. He could still see his fingers, stretched out into nothingness, the air still warm from his mother’s hands. It hurt, but…if Spock were to calculate it out, perhaps it had lessened by a percentage point. Perhaps two.

 

He could keep an eye on Chekov. Perhaps, in time, the pain would decrease enough to make it bearable for both of them.

 

Meeting with his older self was far more awkward. There was a decided intimacy to having seen the ‘vid, and it made him uncomfortable. There were questions he wished to ask, but he was unsure if he truly wanted the answers, or if the older Spock could give them to him.

 

Spock handed over the data chip wordlessly. His older self looked at him, and Spock wondered what hints were written on his features. “You chose to watch it,” his older self said. “I hope it helped you.”

 

“Your Kirk…” Spock started to say, but, suddenly, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask. “He was not what I expected.”

 

“Ah,” was all the other Spock said.

 

Spock had expected a more elaborate answer, and he raised an eyebrow.

 

“You saw Jim as he was many years in the future,” the older one said. “But, yes…the Jim Kirk I knew was different.” When Spock gave no reply, he added, “Not so different as you think, however.”

 

“I find that difficult to believe,” Spock said honestly. To him, they were like day and night, fed by the same illumination, but casting the light around them differently. It was still hard to think that he and this Spock were the same, and his Kirk and that Kirk as well. Little wisps of familiarity amid mountains of change.

 

“It may be hard to see, but Jim is in need of a friend as much as you are.”

 

It was logical to need social interaction, but Spock understood that his older self meant something more than that. Did he need friendship? He had never thought of it like that. He wanted it, yes. But needing it was so much more imperative. Needed, like sustenance? He thought back to the night, to the pain he had felt. It was worse than hunger. He had always been taught that to need anything was weak. But James Kirk was far from being weak.

 

Kirk… Spock thought for a moment. Kirk was surrounded by people, yes, but friends? Aside from McCoy, and perhaps Admiral Pike, Spock couldn’t think of anyone he had seen Kirk seem comfortable with. Behind the smiles and the clever language, Kirk often stood alone, just as he had on the first day Spock had seen him, at the Academy hearing. Both of them had been alone.

 

When he looked back, he could see the emotions in his older self’s eyes. It was still disconcerting. They spoke of ages and experiences he had not yet had, and emotions he was not comfortable feeling. “Jim had to deal with things no man should ever have to endure. Things he survived, things he decided. But he did make it, because of the people on the Enterprise. You. Doctor McCoy.” Older Spock tilted his head slightly. “It may seem obvious, but the human proverb, ‘a burden shared is a burden lessened,’ applies to this situation.”

 

“Indeed,” Spock agreed.

 

Older Spock’s mouth flicked upwards. A laughing smile. “Indeed. Perhaps fewer words are better. There are many things I could tell you, Spock, but even more that you will have to learn for yourself.”

 

Spock nodded. So many myriad differences. Even if events repeated themselves, they would react in different ways.

 

“I was surprised, however, to see that you’ve already seemed to learn the most important lesson.”

 

“Which lesson is that?” Spock frowned at the thought that he was somehow ahead of his other self. If anything, he was far, far behind.

 

“You can’t expect to change if you don’t let people in.”

 

Spock looked at his older self. Had he…? Nyota, yes. And now Chekov. His older self, of course. He thought back to his childhood. He’d had no friends. No comrades. And now…this crew. Yes. Perhaps he was more willing to lay himself out. To trust that no one would try and harm him. To trust that if he fell, someone might catch him, that someone would even try to.

 

“It is a lesson I am still learning,” he said, and even that sounded overconfident. “I did wonder…” He paused for a moment. “They spoke of editing the recording. Taking things out that were not mean to be there. But…it was not, was it?”

 

“I asked to have the entirety of it.” Older Spock flinched, ever so slightly, just the slightest quiver of his body beneath his robes.

 

Spock wondered if he should press on, but before he could decide, the other Vulcan spoke again.

 

“You may find,” his older self continued suddenly, “that every moment becomes more precious as time goes on. But you have many years ahead of you yet.”

 

There was still something wrong. Spock could only just perceive it. Still, did he really want to know? He contemplated for a moment. No. He had had enough of the future for now. “I understand,” he said. “There is one more question I have. When you first gave me the chip, you hesitated on the word ‘enlightening.’ You were going to say something else.”

 

“Yes.” Again, that smile. “I had hoped it would be…a comfort, to you, as it has been to me.”

 

“Thank you,” Spock said. “May you find peace and prosperity on the new colony.”

 

“You will not be coming?” The words were approving.

 

“No. I am going to the Enterprise.” It was the first time he said the words, and it felt…right.

 

~~~

 

He contacted his father as well. The Vulcan period of mourning was not yet over, but, like him, his father had thrown himself into work. Still, Spock knew that his father still kept his mother’s picture close at hand. He was dealing with the emotional backlash as any Vulcan did: with dignity, and logic.

 

To his surprise, the older Vulcan took his request to join the Enterprise in stride.

 

“It is logical, my son, to take a different path. Now, more than ever, Vulcans will turn to Vulcans for aid.”

 

Unspoken were the true sentiments: you will not be accepted here, even now. It was not a judgment. Simply a fact.

 

“Our role in the Federation, for now, will be diminished.”

 

It is logical to have someone remain in Starfleet to keep an eye on the internal politics. With Spock already in the public eye as a hero, he was protected, at least for a while, by public opinion.

 

“Live long and prosper, my son.”

 

Be safe.

 

Sarek had only lifted an eyebrow in response to Spock’s request to requisition him a lyre, if one was procurable. He agreed to maintain regular contact and keep appraised of the progress of the colony.

 

After that, he turned off his communications systems and began to pack. He had never owned much, but suddenly all the small pieces of his home had become much more valuable. The Enterprise was scheduled to leave tomorrow, and still had no First Officer. Kirk refused to name anyone.

 

He quietly had his things moved on board, trusting the few ensigns he called to keep the news from the captain.

 

If they were going to have an equitable working relationship, Kirk needed to know that he was not going to be in charge of everything.

 

~~~

 

Spock carefully timed his entrance.

 

The surprise on Kirk’s face quickly faded into a smugness that would have been irritating, if Spock allowed himself to feel such an emotion.

 

He appropriated some of Kirk’s own linguistic flair into his request, and offered, only somewhat facetiously, to provide character references.

 

When he saw he smile on Kirk’s face, and heard the earnest acceptance, it suddenly struck him: this familiarity of the banter was just like he had seen in the future.

 

Kirk clapped a hand over his shoulder, and he fought back the urge to stiffen. “Spock, you won’t believe this,” Kirk said. “I have a yeoman! My own personal yeoman.”

 

“That is to be expected for the captain,” Spock replied.

 

Kirk was — was he pouting? “Come on, Spock. It’s cool.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Tch, whatever,” Kirk muttered. “Come on. You get cleared by Bones yet? No, he would have been in here complaining to me. He’s gonna be angry, you know. He still needs to get everything in the medbay situated, although — shoot, what’s her name? He has a Second now. Blonde girl. Gorgeous legs.” He led Spock down towards the turbolifts. They weren’t set to lift-off for another thirty minutes, though Kirk should really have remained on the bridge to assist with the final readings. Far be it from Kirk to follow the rules, however.

 

“I am aware, Captain.” Spock had gone through the personnel, engineering, security and command reports before boarding.

 

Kirk stopped, and looked at him with the biggest grin. Spock felt a thrill of apprehension.

 

“What did you call me?”

 

Surak, guide me, Spock thought, gritting his teeth and repeating, “Captain,” knowing full well what Kirk was going to do.

 

“Yes, I suppose I am. And as Captain, I have my first order for you, Mister Spock.” If that smile could get any wider…

 

“And that order is?” Spock braced himself.

 

Kirk stopped walking, and stood directly in front of Spock. With surprising seriousness, he said, “Tell me why you decided to come here.” His eyes were particularly bright when he was focused, and Spock refused to look away.

 

How could words convey all that had transpired? All that he had seen, and felt, and learned? All the possibilities?

 

Ah. There was one thing.

 

“I believe it will be…fascinating.” He looked at Kirk, wondering what his reaction would be.

 

Kirk’s lips flicked upwards, a small smile. “Perfect,” he said, and clapped a hand around Spock’s shoulder. “Come on, Mister First. Those adventures aren’t going to start themselves.”

 

“Indeed,” Spock agreed. Time to start building that future that had impressed him so much. In the back of his mind, he thought, perhaps he would show Kirk the ‘vid some day. Somehow, he imagined, they would eventually make a future that would impress even himself.

 

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