He knew it was all over as the last of his strength began to give away and he could no longer stop his backwards momentum. All of it, over. He closed his eyes and waited for the end, praying it was quick.
His backwards progress was suddenly halted.
Opening his eyes, he saw that the creature’s attention had been drawn away, it’s large tentacle retracted. A bright light was flashing, causing his eyes to wince at its sudden brightness in the dark. It was evident, however, that it was much worse for his assailant, as it screeched and began to withdraw.
As Jim watched, his vision cleared enough for him to be able to make out that the source of the light was a torch being waved violently back and forth, causing the creature to retreat from the alien element.
Advancing on the crimson-skinned monster, the figure wielding the torch continued to move forwards, waving the torch, until finally the predator realized the futility of its efforts and conceded both the cave and the hunt. Jim tried his best to get his breathing under control as he watched his would-be saviour toss the torch aside and turn to face him. Bundled against the cold beneath heavy furs and related synthetic materials, his rescuer was definitely humanoid. As his vision adjusted to the light and his strength returned, Jim could see that beneath the fringed cloak, the biped was a Vulcan. A very old Vulcan, but unmistakably a member of that now nearly annihilated race.
Although a part of Jim wondered at the chances of meeting another being of the race he’d seen almost destroyed not so long ago, the identity of his rescuer was really of no consequence to him. He would have gladly kissed the feet of a Netronian garbage macerator at that very moment. He staggered weakly to his feet.
The figure commented evenly, “Notoriously afraid of heat.”
“Whoever you are,” Jim gasped out, “thank you.”
His saviour continued to stare at him. There was a look in the oldster’s eyes that Jim couldn’t quite place and under normal circumstances it may have unnerved him, but he really couldn’t bring himself to care just then. He did wonder, however, given the Vulcan’s palpable great age, if he was perhaps senile? He sincerely hoped not. There were a great many questions that he wanted to ask, such as what was the elder Vulcan doing on Delta Vega to begin with? Had Spock known this Vulcan was here and that was why he had felt it reasonable to deposit Jim on such a hostile world?
As he debated how to proceed, the one who had rescued him shifted. If Jim didn’t know any better, he would say that something akin to surprised and perhaps hope was swirling in those dark eyes. Then he spoke and there was uncertainty in his voice as he squinted at the still exhausted human, the look in his eyes intensifying.
Jim couldn’t help his lower jaw from dropping. “How – how’d you know my name?”
The Vulcan stared back at him, dark eyes shifting and searching every inch of the human’s stunned visage. “How did you find me? Does Starfleet know of my presence?”
The light flickered and Jim was treated to a quick flash of colour in those dark eyes. An almost golden brown, different from the straight dark, aliens eyes he knew Vulcan’s possessed. He’d seen those eyes before, but in his confusion and exhaustion, he couldn’t place them.
“How do you know my name?” He repeated, hardly taking note of the oldster’s words.
No smile in response, no expression at all or was that just a slight upturning at the corners of the Vulcan’s mouth? A weakening of logic confronted by overwhelming emotion? Those eyes shifted again, becoming softer.
“I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”
The sentiment was spoken with more emotion that Jim had ever heard from a Vulcan, though the oldster’s features did not display them, and Jim couldn’t help feeling that, though he didn’t understand how or why, those words were important. He knew, somehow, that the words were meant to calm and comfort, but he only felt bafflement. Maybe the Vulcan confronting him was bordering on the senile. For saving him, Jim’s gratitude knew no bounds, but that did not mean he was ready to give into an old man’s fantasies.
“Look,” he began slightly unsteadily. “I’m sorry. I don’t know you. The only Vulcan I know isn’t exactly a buddy.”
There was another flash of something in those eyes before it was quickly shielded away, but the oldster’s confusion was obvious. He seemed to retreat into himself for a moment, pondering, contemplating, calculating, and a slight frown pulling the corners of his mouth downwards. His saviour’s next observation, when it finally came, was worse than confusing for Jim. It was downright frightening.
What made it worse was that the Vulcan recited it all with utter assurance.
“You are James T. Kirk. James, after your mother’s father and Tiberius, after your father’s father. Your father is George, as is your elder brother. Your mother’s name is Winona. You were born in the year twenty-two thirty-three on a farm in Iowa...”
Jim just stared back at the spectre that had saved him. “I was born on a ship. How d’you know those things about me? Who told you about my family, my past? Who are you?”
By way of response, the Vulcan gestured towards the back of the cave. “We need to get away from the entrance, where it is colder and where our scents can be detected. We have much to discuss...”
By the light of a fire and after Jim had ravenously devoured food provided by his mysterious host, the worthy proceeded to explain himself. Had he told Jim that he was the reincarnation of an ancient Terran deity, he would have been no less flabbergasted than he was by the actual truth.
“Though much of what I am about to tell you will be difficult to accept,” the oldster began, “the first thing you need to know is that I am Spock. One hundred and twenty-two years senior to the Vulcan you know.”
Jim considered carefully, watching his saviour’s eyes carefully. His response was, if not eloquent, characteristically terse. Under the circumstances, he could have been excused.
The Vulcan’s eyes twinkled. “I understand your scepticism. The odds of us meeting across space-time are so improbably that at the moment of actual confrontation I too wondered if I was dreaming.” Pausing, he looked away and Jim saw a very brief flash of that still elusive emotion in those weathered features, the Vulcan’s whole frame seeming to sag. “I have had too much time to dream and have dreamed too much.” He went silent.
Jim studied the face across from his silently. Though the quick flashes of emotion were out of character from what he knew of Vulcans, there were a couple of things he could not ignore. The gracefully sculpted angled plans of his cheekbones, his elegantly pointed-ears, less sharp than that of other Vulcans, and those eyes. Though his features were clouded with age, his rescuer’s eyes were the most telling. He now knew where he’d seen them before. They were the exact same shade of golden-brown as the Spock he knew, not some trick of the light as he might have first believed. Spock’s eyes betrayed his heritage. Though he hadn’t spent much time in the Commander’s presence, those eyes had stood out. Regardless of how much Spock had tried to hide it, those flashing eyes betrayed the emotion lurking within.
“It’s not possible,” he uttered, dawning realization mixing with rising astonishment. “It’s just not...but it is you. I’ll be damned.”
“While it is entirely possible that both of us may be, it is remarkably most pleasing to see you again, old friend, especially after the events of today.”
Jim was taken aback afresh and couldn’t help rising to his feet. “Old friend, sir?” He shook his head in disbelief, his mind playing over the aggravation that had been so clear in Spock’s eyes as he’d ordered him from the bridge. “I don’t know how you know what you know, but I don’t know you and if you really are Spock then you’d know that we’re not friends. You hate me. You marooned me here for mutiny.” His expression twisted. “Or for what you and you alone decided was mutiny. Or incipient mutiny. Or insubordination or whatever rationalization you concocted in that perpetually rationalizing brain of yours.”
Two separate emotions flashed trough the Vulcan’s eyes but the only one Jim could decipher was confusion. “Mutiny? You are not the Captain of the Enterprise?”
Jim was utterly baffled and he couldn’t help the sharp laugh that broke from his lungs. “What kind of perverse Vulcan game is this? You’re the Captain. Pike was taken hostage. We have no idea if he’s dead or alive.”
This information caused something to gel within the Vulcan’s thoughts as disparate bits of information came together.
“Nero,” Spock’s expression tightened ever so slightly. “He is a remarkably – troubled Romulan.”
There was something behind the way that Spock spoke the name that Jim couldn’t quite identify, something he was beginning to get frustrated with when confronted by this old man in a cave. If a human had spoken the name, it would have emerged as a curse and though all the menacing connotations were there, there was also something else. Something of sadness and loss.
“Yes.” At least they agreed on something, Jim thought. “We left Vulcan, the Vulcan system, to rejoin Starfleet yesterday.”
His host was silent, once more lost in deep thought. Studying him, Jim was ambivalent. He wanted, he needed to know what was going on in that venerable mind. It was the same as when confronted with his Spock (his Spock?”), that same urge to know and understand what was going on behind those dark eyes. He was reminded again of the attraction he’d first felt upon seeing the Commander as he’d risen and descended the steps at his hearing, something he had momentarily forgotten in the wake of his anger over being stranded here. He was drawn to the Vulcan. How or why, he didn’t know and at the moment he couldn’t really take the time to figure it out. He needed to know that mind, but at the same time, the thought of what he might find there unsettled him more than he cared to admit.
What he could not realize was that he was about to get his wish – or realize his fear.
Rising from where he had been sitting by the fire, Spock approached and extended a hand toward Jim’s face. “Please, allow me. It will be easier, faster, and more articulate than talking.”
His reflexes revived by the food, Jim shot a hand out to restrain the reaching fingers. “What’re you doing? The last time you came at me like that you put me out cold.”
Spock paused, confusion in his eyes. “In the wrong hands, the mind-meld is potentially lethal. In my culture it’s a way of sharing experiences. You – leastwise another you –” his voice cracked slightly, “already know that. I repeat it to the you of this time frame.”
Time frame? Still Jim hesitated. The memory of the nerve pinch that other Spock (the younger Spock? The alternative Spock?) had delivered on board the bridge was still fresh in his mind.
“You swear you’re not going to knock me out and store me for food or something?”
Again a flash of sadness and something else appeared in those eyes, along with a faint amusement. “If I wished to do so, it would already have been done. I promise that you will remain aware throughout the exchange. It is impossible to convey the information to the unconscious.” Once more the barest suggestion of a smile played around the deeply lined face. “I speak from experience when I say that you would make an especially tough meal for anyone to digest.”
Jim stared back at him, seeing the desire in those old eyes for him to trust him. “Damned if I’m not starting to believe you.” He sighed, readying himself. “All right – go ahead. With whatever it is I’m supposed to be familiar with.” He released he oldster’s hand.
Gently, almost tenderly, the elder Vulcan placed his fingers against Jim’s face, fingers to cheek and temple, seeking particular nerve endings, probing for contact. Jim couldn’t help but shiver slightly at the contact, the feeling of déjà vu, or perhaps that eerie feeling of someone passing over his grave, taking him over.
His fingers in place, Spock whispered an ancient mantra of his kind. “Our minds – one and together.”
His eyes snapped shut. At the same time Jim twitched as if an electric charge had been shot through his entire body.
The world exploded before Jim’s eyes. The reality of the cave and the cold, of Spock’s gentle hand against his face, faded away.
Billions of stars. Swaths of nebulae, brilliant and flaring. The cosmos revealed. Infinitely vast – and yet all contained and restrained within his daze mind. He felt cast adrift, floundering in the empty space when there was suddenly another presence beside his own. Another intelligence, beside him and yet with him, holding him up as if he were made of glass, indefinitely fragile and yet cherished. Then a soft voice permeating it all, giving Jim something else to latch onto, speaking solemnly.
“One hundred and twenty-nine years from now a star will explode and threaten all civilization in this part of the galaxy. That’s where I’m from, Jim – the future. I was ambassador to Romulus. The Federation was mining in the vicinity of a nearby star when it unexpectedly went supernova. The consequences were predicted to destroy everything in its vicinity.”
Jim listened to the voice in a kind of stunned awe. He could barley imagine what he was being told, though the evidence of it was being flashed in his mind. This was Spock. He could feel that now in the way that the presence permeated every corner of his mind and yet he didn’t feel like it was an intrusion. He probably should have, but he didn’t. He couldn’t when he felt how much Spock felt in regards to him. There was completely and utter trust flowing from the Vulcan, and Jim felt overwhelmed. No one had ever displayed such implicit trust in him before, and yet this Spock did. He believed in him, believed he was capable of so much and it was a little daunting.
But beneath all that, beneath the trust, beneath the story the oldster was spinning and twisting before his mind’s eye, there was something else. Something that Spock was trying to keep hidden but whether recent events were finally getting to him or if it was merely a produce of age, he wasn’t being entirely successful at stopping it from seeping through the cracks.
Love; pure and unadulterated. It was completely unconditionally and was stronger than anything Jim had ever felt before. A part of him that he hadn’t been aware of flared vibrantly to life, soaking in that love as if he were a dried up river bed starving for moisture. He soaked it up, filling the cracks, turning the dry dust to moisture filled earth until it finally flooded over. Part of him knew this feeling, had been searching for it since the day he’d been born, saddened by a fear that it would never come...To much has changed. Jim didn’t know where the thought came from, but he felt that it was true. Somehow, a part of him – perhaps a physic echo of the reality that had been – mourned the lost of the life he should have had, of a relationship that had defined the James T. Kirk of the other reality.
Flashes of images accompanied the splashed of emotion. Of a James Kirk who was Captain of the Federation’s flagship, the U.S.S Enterprise. Of a Commander Spock who’d been his closest confided, his closest friend, his First Officer. There were images of laughter and intelligent debates, of adventures turned upside but both somehow coming through them relatively unshaved. Images of pale skin, soft kisses, touches and moans. And all the while, one word followed each image, each feeling. One word that Spock held so reverently, that caused him both pain and joy. One word that cut through Jim like a knife, for though he did not quite understand the meaning behind it, he knew with a certainty that almost destroyed him that he would never experience it again: T’hy’la.
He pulled back sharply as Spock’s narrative closed, panting as he stumbled. The agony of Spock’s loss and his failure having communicated itself whole and entire to the shaken human and Jim almost collapsed under the weight of it along side his own.
“Forgive me,” Spock’s voice was rough and Jim knew he was still reeling as well. “Emotional transference is an effect of the mind-meld.”
Jim didn’t try and hide his surprise. “So you do feel.” He knew this, could still feel it and his mind and heart ached. How could he have ever thought that Spock was emotionless and cold? He felt more deeply then Jim had ever felt about anything until now.
Jim’s eyes were wide; trying to digest all that he had been shown and what he hadn’t meant to see. “Going back in time, you changed all our lives. Because of this, our futures will no longer be what they once were.”
Spock nodded solemnly, his eyes heavy. “Yet remarkably, events within our different timelines – characteristics, people – seem to overlap significantly.”
Jim turned back towards him, his eyes dark and full of pain. “But it’s not enough.”
Spock seemed startled by the pain in Jim’s eyes, somehow knowing it was more than just emotional transference. “Jim?”
Jim couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. “I never realized. I didn’t know, but somehow I always did.” His voice grew quiet. “It was supposed to define us and yet it’s done nothing but tear us apart.”
Spock stood before him now. How he’d moved so quickly, Jim didn’t know, and his eyes were searching, an emotion flowing through them that he couldn’t identify.
“Jim?” his voice was soft now with perhaps just a ting of regret laced in it.
Jim met the Vulcan’s eyes head on, seeing the concern and – yes, he could identify it now – the love that shone through. “Though you may be parted from me, never shall we be parted.”
Spock’s eyes grew sad, his posture weary. “Never and always touching and touched,” he completed his voice rough. “I’m sorry, Jim. You were not meant to see that.”
Jim shook his head, the strength he had regained from his rest and food seeming to drain out of him. “It’s not your fault.”
“Still, I apologize. I confess that I felt I had firm control on my metal shields, but recent events have caused some issues with my control,” he gaze soften, his fondness shining through. “Although I also suspect that it is more that I cannot hide from you, no matter the reality.”
Jim couldn’t help but smile at that, though it was a sad smile.
Spock merely watched him solemnly. “Many things have changed, Jim,” he began softly, perhaps hoping to give some reassurance. “The destruction of Vulcan is too large a change for there not to be consequences from it, but I have every confidence that things will end up the way they should.”
Jim shook his head, moving to sit back down by the fire. “You can’t know that.”
“Oh?” Spock’s eyebrow rose, even as he lowered himself down next to him. “Though Nero came into this reality twenty-five years ago and made changes that have vastly affected your life, you still managed to end up in Starfleet; still managed to get aboard the Enterprise, a ship currently being manned by many of the crewmembers whom which I myself are familiar with.”
“Bones got me on the ship,” Jim replied, staring despondently into the fire. “I was suspended on academic probation.”
“For the Kobayashi Maru simulation.”
Jim frowned, turning to look into twinkling eyes in confusion. “How’d you know about that?”
“As I said,” he sounded as if he was silently laughing at him now, “Not everything between our two realities has changed. You hacked into the computer software and changed the parameters of the test in my reality just as you did in yours. In mine, you won your case and went on to graduate the Academy. For the next eight years you served in Starfleet, climbing the ranks at an almost unheard of rate until at the age of 35 you took command of the Enterprise from Captain Pike, becoming the youngest Captain in Starfleet history.”
Jim frowned again, his gaze turned inward as his mentally followed what Spock was telling him. Did the old man realize how much he’d accidently given him in that meld? He was having trouble sorting through it all, but the oldster’s words were helping to organize what was there.
“You were my accuser there just as you were here.”
Spock nodded. “I found you to be cocky and unmanageable. The fact that you won your case both impressed me and irritated me to no ends.” The corners of his mouth twitched upwards again and Jim smiled faintly now that he understood the gesture. “I could see the potential you had, even then.”
The fire crackled and Jim watched it, sadness welling within him. “I wonder if he did.” He said softly, before turning his gaze back to the elder Vulcan. “You were lovers?” There was no hesitation in his voice as he asked; nothing in his gaze or body language that gave anything away. It wasn’t so much a question as a statement of fact. He knew the truth of it in the memories and emotions he’d gotten from the older man and even though he himself did not care for Spock in that way, he knew it would be all to easy to do so.
Spock’s eyes saddened. “Yes,” his voice cracked softly. “For many years.”
Jim lowered his head, shifting his feet slightly in the snow.
“Jim, he was my t’hy’la,” Spock continued after a moment and there was something in his tone that made he look back up at the older Vulcan. “It stands to reason that you are his as well.”
Jim was already shaking his head. “Too many things have changed. He hates me.”
Spock was silent for a moment and Jim squeezed his eyes shut, raising a hand to rub tiredly against his face. He shouldn’t be letting this get to him so much. There were more important things to worry about then to mourn something he had never had. If they didn’t do something soon, Earth was going to share Vulcan’s fate.
Just as Jim was about to try and change the subject, Spock spoke. “While your observation may not be entirely inaccurate, I believe you are forgetting to take a few key points into account.”
Jim couldn’t help but raise his head and stare at him in confusion. “Huh?” Things had seemed pretty cut and dry to him. His still aching neck was proof of that.
“Your hearing was never concluded,” Spock began, and though Jim’s tried mind was begging for rest and relief, he attempted to follow along. “You snuck aboard the Enterprise when you should not have and then proceeded to show that you were in fact much more intelligent then most give you credit for.
“Then to confound matters, Spock was thrown into a command position he is many years away from begin ready for, Vulcan was destroyed and he lost his mother many years too soon. All of these events have cumulated to not only put him in a much darker place than I ever was at such young age, but have also hampered his ability and yours as well, to understand one another.”
“You think it’s all just a matter of misunderstanding?” Jim wasn’t sure if he could believe that. Spock had seemed unnecessarily antagonistic towards him from the beginning.
“Do you not think that had you and Spock first met under circumstances that did not pit you against one other, that you would have perhaps gotten along, even developed a friendship?”
Jim’s initial response was a resounding No! Spock was infuriatingly analytical, that rationalizing mind of his almost unyielding to anything that could not be thought about logical. He was uncompromising, unrealistic, and...and...
He stopped himself for a moment and actually thought about it, trying to imagine what meeting Spock outside of that hearing would have been like.
When he’d first seen Spock at his trial, besides the stray thought of the Commander’s attractiveness, he’d hated him. Not because of him personally, but because of what he stood for at that moment which was the destruction of everything he’d been trying to build for himself at that point. Looking back on it now, even though each word Spock had spoken in rebuff had agitated him to no end; he couldn’t help but admire Spock’s thought processes. His arguments against him had been masterful and it had been a challenge to come up with appropriate responses.
Looking at it all in that light, he knew that if he and Spock had met under different circumstances, he probably would have taken an instant likely towards him. Spock was different, he was interesting and, to borrow a phrase, he was fascinating. Jim had already admitted that he felt drawn to the Vulcan. Was it really just the circumstances to their meeting that had cause them both to view each other the way they did?
Jim met the Vulcan’s knowing gaze and nodded slowly. “I guess I see your point.”
Spock raised a hand and rested it carefully on Jim’s shoulder; he could feel the heat from the oldster’s hand though his many layers of clothing. “Jim, while many things still remain uncertain and I cannot in any way guaranty that things will work out in one way or another, I can tell you this: While we know far too little about the physics of such deviations that seem to exist between your reality and mine to determine actualities and can only speculate on how they function in the greater continuum, in both our histories the same crew found its way onto the same ship in a time of ultimate crisis. Therein lies our advantage. It suggests that whatever the future of this present may hold, it does not deviate so radically from mine that ultimate catastrophe can be avoided and that what was meant to be one day shall be.”
Jim wasn’t sure of everything in that moment, but he did understand the bottom line. Nothing was written in stone. Although he figure things had diverged too far for his relationship with Spock to ever be what it was in that other reality, he could still gain back his friendship...if he was willing to try.
“Now,” Spock said, pushing himself to his feet. “We should depart. If we intended to begin restoring time to its proper flow, we need to return you to the Enterprise. There is a Federation outpost not far from here. From there perhaps we can find what we need.”
“Hey Spock,” Jim said, and the older Vulcan paused in his motions, looking down at him. “Thanks.”
Though there was no outward sign, the Vulcan’s eyes warmer ever so slightly. “Your thanks is illogical as I was merely stating a fact.”
And where once a statement like that would have done nothing but annoy him, Jim could now only grin. There was hope for them yet.
.~...Possibly between the two of us we can yet do something...It was so, once. Perhaps it can yet be so again...~.