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Author's Chapter Notes:

This fic is written for the T’hy’la Bang 2020. My artist partner is shyravenns (tumblr), and she has created really beautiful art for the big bang. Please give her artwork lots of love because omg I'm crying it's so beautiful!!!!! :O There’s some stuff from Discovery in here, just the fact that Michael exists in the Kelvin timeline and she appears in the fic, but there’s no spoilers for the show. Thanks so much to my betas for all your help editing this mammoth of a fic!! Any mistakes are my own.

 

 

Some links!

Masterpost on tumblr @thylabang.
My writing playlist for this fic! :)

 

 

Title from January White by Sleeping At Last

This year, we're starting over again
Letter openers in hand,
A chance to take a chance
I swear, I understand that the past will be the past,
And nothing changes that,
But the future is brighter than any flashback


 

Two months passed since the Narada incident, and Spock could not remember the sound of his mother’s voice.

It struck him at dinner with Nyota in the cafeteria. The room was packed with several students endlessly chattering about the important and nonsensical, and Nyota’s voice had difficulty carrying over the ruckus. Spock leaned forward to accommodate this inconvenience, only it proved insufficient. He saw her lips move, gleaned the barest traces of words, and fought to discern any actual speech. He tried to imagine Nyota’s voice as louder than it was, but his internal voice replaced hers. It occurred to him that given the absence of her voice, he had difficulty recollecting it.

Nyota so near, yet so out of reach, brought forth the visual of his mother upon the cliff. He saw her mouth opening, no sound coming out — he didn’t hear her last words, and he never heard her speak again.

Nyota rose from the table and walked around to sit down at the seat beside him. Into the shell of his ear, she said, loud and clear, “Are you done? Do you want to get out of here?”

He nodded.

They left to walk around the campus. The cold nipped at him. He longed for a coat, but it was against regulation to wear anything thicker than his uniform. Unfortunately, it was summer in San Francisco, and his uniform reflected that. He recalled a quote from Mark Twain: The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco. Indeed. He fought against the urge to clench his hands into fists, as well as the involuntary impulse for his teeth to clatter.

They strolled in silence until Nyota’s dormitory emerged. Spock halted and stared at it, not liking the sight. He hated when their evenings ended. They were so few and far between now that she was no longer his teaching assistant.

“Hey. Hey, Spock.”

Cool hands whispered across his cheeks, fingers twining behind his neck. He couldn’t meet her eye, instead looking across her shoulder to the man made gardens surrounding her building. Someone walked past them. Spock watched their fleeting footsteps hollowly.

“You seemed distant tonight,” said Nyota. “Is everything okay?”

Spock digested her words. “I enjoyed our time together.”

“We still haven’t talked about everything that happened.” Her fingers fidgeted. “I’m here for you.”

Two-point-six-five months had passed since the destruction of Vulcan and the genocide of its people, and Spock had yet to breathe a word of it to Nyota. She always inferred, correctly so, but Spock did not trust himself to not become emotionally compromised. The knowledge of her openness had been a great comfort, even if it was seldom utilized. As the humans proclaimed, she was his “rock.” Only they rarely met in private, their schedules too conflicting, and this semester neither had private accommodations. He shared a room with a third year student, not preferable but unsurprising as he was a graduate student, not only an instructor, finishing his degree alongside teaching. He had few classes as a student now, not feeling much like the student. The experiences of his roommate, at times, felt utterly alien to him. Life, in general, had begun to acquire a saccharine glow to it.

He had to respond. He didn't know what to say. So instead he kissed her.

Nyota hand teased the hairs at the nape of his neck. He longed to settle his fingers over her psi-points and possibly linger there — but Nyota never liked melding. They tried it once, but the experience of another in her mind, reading her thoughts as they sprung without her conscious will, disturbed her. Spock did not resent this; Nyota was human and telepathy an experience beyond her biology. Only — Spock had enjoyed it. Being joined in consciousness had been a unique pleasure, and in that moment, Spock felt deeply Vulcan, an experience he encountered many times on Earth in a galaxy without Vulcan. Social faux pas remained a common occurrence, and the weather was less than preferable, but the meld had been different — pleasant, comfortable, addictive. In the quiet moment after the meld had ended, he glowed with residual warmth. But they’d meld only once, never to happen again, and that left him cold, wanting.

He sucked in an involuntary breath, jarring his own thoughts, and pulled away from their kiss. “I must grade exams,” he said. He, in fact, did have such exams. “I will send a message when I am next available.”

Nyota brushed her lips across his — he listened for footsteps even as his senses sang from her touch. “Goodnight, Spock.”

*

He awakened before his alarm clock, as he was prone to do, meditated, showered, partook in a small breakfast, and set out for work ahead of schedule.

Rain had fallen overnight, puddles in the concave sidewalk, and Spock longed for the luxury of his classroom and the office, where he could set the temperature. His roommate Rob, as a human, did not tolerate the settings he preferred, and given the general ease of warming up in contrast to cooling down, Spock acquiesced from pressing the issue of central heating and instead slept with several blankets and flannel pajamas. At times it was as cold in his dorm as outside, and this fact hastened his stride to work.

He arrived early and headed to his computer to begin amendments to the program that replaced the Kobayashi Maru. Instead of fear, this program targeted a calm logic in the face of a sudden, hostile adversary in deep space, communications cut off from Starfleet. He was immersed in his work by the time his colleagues arrived. He engaged in the culturally appropriate pleasantries, but otherwise did not leave his work. Chatter surrounded him that he did not join, anecdotes about his colleagues’ lives. Spock had no such stories to share, thus he did not arise from his desk to join in conversation.

“I discovered a new coffee shop a few blocks away, Spinner’s Gold. Have you heard of it?”

“No! Is it any good?”

“The bagels. Oh my god, the bagels. Matt tried their espresso because he’s a coffee nut and they have single origins.”

“Whoa.”

Spock had witnessed the phenomenon known as bagels but had not eaten it himself. Caffeine rose his anxiety levels by 7.6%, and so he did not drink coffee. His colleagues continued to discuss irrelevant life experiences, dispersing only once their supervisor arrived.

*

It hadn’t occurred to him until late in the night that he never sent a textual transmission to Nyota.

He lied awake, unable to sleep. His feet were freezing because of the window he hadn’t noticed Rob opened. He spent half an hour debating whether or not he ought to get out of bed to fetch woolen socks, since the socks would trigger a dilation of blood vessels in his warmed feet, only this involved exposing his entire body to the cold. As he contemplated the issue with rising irritation, a thought burst to mind that he’d forgotten entirely about contacting Nyota. It had been over 24 hours.

His PADD rested on his chest of drawers.

He ought to message her.

Given the insomnia and the neglect of his relationship, there was little logic in staying in bed. Spock suffered the cold to fulfill his duty.

*

Nyota’s schedule grew hectic in the advent of midterm exams. In her absence, his days were spent largely in researching the replacement for the Kobayashi Maru and spending as little time in his dorm room or outside as possible. Spock would say he had forgotten the sight of the sun, only San Francisco’s fog was relentless. Occasionally he checked for a transmission from her, but he typically went days without, forgetting that there was even a need to remember to communicate with her. Currently, they met once over the weekend and on average went 4.6 days without a transmission, which were often short sentences scheduling a date. When they met in person, Nyota talked and Spock listened. She made it clear early on that on the rare days they spent together, she did not want to discuss work or studies, but their common interests. Since Spock rarely indulged in an interest these days besides meditation, a hobby Nyota did not share, he did not know what to discuss.

On a Tuesday afternoon, a thought struck Spock to check his PADD. It had been 5.2 days since their last transmission. Spock had sent word that one of his research projects had ended, clearing up his evenings over both days on the weekend.

Nyota had replied just today: My roommate’s going out of town this weekend. Do you want to spend the night?

Anticipation licked at him. Nyota would raise the heating for him. He accepted instantly.

They had gone 2.71 months without sexual intercourse. Spock made sure to shower and change clothes before walking to her dormitory, his hair a crisp line and his face smelling fine with the scent of aftershave. He rang the bell for Nyota’s room and she buzzed him in. His boots echoed along the tiled corridors, the elevator fast to arrive and slow to bring him to her floor.

Her door was ajar when he arrived. He pitched it open, noting the pleasant warmth burning his cheeks, and bellowed out, “Nyota? I am here.” Spock knelt down and removed his boots, setting them beside the row of shoes by the door.

“Spock!” She slid out onto the tiled entrance on socked feet, wearing a loose fitted gown and her long hair loose. She dashed off and kissed him, grabbing his hand and tugging him inside, closing the door behind him. “I was just fighting with the replicator to make us something other than macaroni with marinara sauce. My roomie’s an engineer and had the bright idea to reprogram it before she left.”

Nyota never managed to fix the replicator, and they settled on her bed with a PADD propped up with a movie, bowls of pasta in their laps. Spock had never tasted marinara or macaroni, but told Nyota no such thing. At her first bite, he noticed how her nose scrunched up in the way it did when she tried to hide her delight. Perhaps the replicator’s error had not been as unwelcome as she made it out to be. Spock tasted his food with trepidation nevertheless.

A scene played out in a tense, dramatic situation on screen, and Spock watched pensively as he took his first bite. Only as soon as the sauce grazed his tongue, Spock forgot entirely about the movie.

It was tomato, it was basil, it was garlic —

It was his mother harvesting herbs from their garden, her prized garden that Sarek always believed to be an illogical hobby, as the water necessary to grow the plants were costly compared the ease of replicators. Spock was too young to help cut the tomatoes, that task falling onto his older sister Michael, but he stood on a stool to wash the tomatoes and herbs beside his mother. He passed her sticks and leaves, and she ran them under the water, humming.

“What are we cooking, mother?” he’d asked. It was an Earth food, one that he intuited that Michael knew the name of, and it embarrassed him that she knew more about their mother’s home world than he did. All of this came naturally to her, whereas every experience was a revelation to him.

His mother kissed the top of his head, smiling. “It’s a surprise.”

No, Spock now realized, it was marinara.

He wanted to swallow the pasta whole and rid himself of the memories of his mother, but digestion first began in the mouth. It was illogical not to chew.

He finished half of his bowl before setting it on the bedside table beside Nyota’s.

Nyota curled up next to him, hugging his chest. A minute passed into the movie, then she peered up at him.

“Everything all right? You’re tense.”

Spock still tasted the memory of marinara on his tongue. “I am fine.”

She rubbed a hand over his chest. “Is it about work?”

It seemed the issue would not be set aside. “No.”

“Classes?”

“No.”

“It’s personal in nature, isn’t it?”

He closed his eyes, wanting to avoid this conversation altogether. He didn’t want to discuss his mother. He didn’t want to discuss Vulcan. He wanted life to commence as it had, and for Nyota to accept that. He did not know how to make her understand his position, but realized that he did not need to. The quickest way to avoid a conversation was to change it, preferably without words. Spock shifted onto his side, fitting his hand over her cheek — impressions of concern, apprehension, love seeping from their skin to skin contact — and ignored these feelings to kiss her.

Soon enough they kissed long enough that Nyota sat on his hips, her body shielding his view of the PADD, and the conversation had been successfully ended.

Thoughts of his mother returned, unbidden. He remembered the vision of her smile, her head conservatively tilted when a guffaw threatened to break through, her laughter void of sound. He remembered walking through gardens with his parents, his mother halting to admire a flower, taking out her PADD to capture a photo, his father intoning, “Illogical,” which at the time Spock interpreted as sincere, but now he knew to be a declaration of love.

Nyota tilted his chin to deepen the kiss. Spock sucked in a breath — in part because of her touch, in part because of the memories swirling in his head like ancient space dust. Absently, he recalled a time when he contemplated undergoing the ritual of kolinahr and wondered if not following through had been an error on his part.

*

His head hurt, insomnia plaguing him last night from open windows and Rob’s PADD playing into the night. He slept until his alarm clock jolted him awake, a noise Spock ignored initially as he was not used to hearing it. He showered. Only his bangs didn’t dry properly, and Spock required a second rinse in the shower to tame them. Rob had begun stealing Spock’s toothpaste, as he had run out, which he took not by rolling the end of the tube, but squeezing the middle. Spock lost 5.86 seconds rectifying the matter.

As such, he ran behind schedule approximately fifteen minutes when accounting for drowsiness, redundancies, and avoiding Rob to the best of his ability in a 130 square foot dormitory, or else Spock might have initiated an altercation.

He resisted the urge to stow his hands in pockets as he sped through campus to hastily arrive to work on time. It was autumn, not yet winter, his regulation black parka and knitted cowl gathering dust in his tiny closet. His fingers ached, numbed from cold, but gloves were not permitted with the uniform. He keyed into the building with a quivering hand, but soon the central heating hit him with a burst of hot air, cheeks stinging green and warm from the sudden onslaught. He bowed his head upon passing people in the corridors, and barely managed to shoulder his way into an elevator.

“Hello, Mr. Spock,” said Darlene, a research assistant tasked with ascertaining the on-field accuracy of their educational program, upon his entry into the office.

He hated arriving late.

It meant he must engage in pleasantries for longer than preferable.

Darlene stood by the coffee maker with Roger, the project manager and assistant to the professor assigned to overlook their project. He had a coffee in hand, which meant that if Spock were to aptly socialize, he too needed to drink coffee.

Spock halted beside Darlene and inclined his head. “Ms. Lewis. Mr. Hogart.”

He slipped past them to start a decaf coffee that the machine spat out in a tiny plastic cup. He could not fathom why they did not use a replicator.

He sipped the coffee and toasted them. “If you will excuse me.”

And then he left.

Hushed silence remained behind him. He ignored it in favor of booting his computer and looking over his work on the project for a final time before it was administered to a program tester. The office was empty save for the three of them, so he heard it with ease when Roger whispered to Darlene, “Half-Vulcan, half-android. Yes or no?”

Darlene giggled. “Yes.”

Spock frowned. He’d misstepped.

After his shift, Spock went to the library.

Spock examined the spines of books on the shelves with a critical eye for critical references on the topic of the Kobayashi Maru’s replacement. His prior misstep necessitated that he provided an optimal performance in order to prevent any lacking on his part professionally.

He debated between a book on the top shelf when two harsh voices cut through from the parallel aisle.

“You’re a damn fool.”

“But what if — ”

“Braindead, dumb as rocks, infantile — ”

“Why do you always call me a child?”

“Because you are one, that’s why.”

They were oddly familiar, though he couldn’t quite place them, and elected to peer through the stacks of books to catch a glimpse of the speakers. His eyes widened fractionally. The voices belonged to none other than Cadets Leonard McCoy and James T. Kirk.

He hadn’t seen them since the USS Enterprise had docked.

“But — ” said Kirk, arms waving.

An unimpressed look hardened McCoy’s face.

Spock remembered his counterpart’s words, the message that convinced him to not seek out a role on New Vulcan but to remain with Starfleet. Because you needed each other. I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together, of a friendship that will define you both in ways you cannot yet realize.

Friendship was an emotional attachment, and therefore unnecessary. It did not involve the unique intimacy of sexual relationships, nor did it advance one’s safety net in life as did familial and professional relationships. “Deprive” implied a loss, an absence were Spock to stray from the path his counterpart deemed suitable, but in terms of captain and first officer, this made perfect sense.

Yet it did not seem logical to disregard the wisdom of an elder that was also himself.

In any case, he had no friendship with Cadet Kirk, and therefore he hadn’t approached him since they returned to Starfleet. During the first few days, he had entertained the possibility, but didn’t know how to “break the ice,” so to speak, after marooning him on Delta Vega, choking him to near death on the bridge, and garnering a tentative alliance solely in the face of imminent danger. It did not eclipse the notion of friendship, nor did it preclude a reasonable notion of acquaintanceship, and Spock’s busy schedule barely accommodated time with Nyota. Indeed, his counterpart’s words had seemed pivotal enough at the time to reject New Vulcan, yet as time passed, they proved a fleeting, ephemeral token of advice.

But he could approach Kirk now. Weight the merits of his counterpart’s words with empirical evidence. Perhaps under the lie of needing a book in Kirk’s aisle. He contemplated the logistics of such a falsehood.

“I dunno, Bones, it seems a bit — hey!”

McCoy had smacked his arm. “This is about a girl, isn’t it?”

Kirk’s countenance dropped with a look of utter defeat, eyebrows falling at the corners and mouth twisting in a frown. It was such an utterly pathetic combination with a slap that couldn’t have hurt and an accusation that bared little credence. Spock couldn’t help the spark of amusement that ignited in him. But then a smirk cut across Kirk’s face, the mischievous look causing Spock’s heart to thump in his side and his gaze to sharpen, soaking in the evolving contours of Kirk’s face as it grew into something rather fetching. Spock found himself holding his breath, keeping himself quiet in anticipation of Kirk’s next move.

“There might be someone in the lab.”

“Dammit, Jim. Lab partner, seriously?”

“We studied together last night.”

“‘Studied.’ Right. Sure you did.”

“We did! ...At first.”

“I’m not hearing this.”

McCoy stepped away from Kirk, and Spock calculated a 64.98% likelihood that they would soon leave the aisle. At Kirk’s fluid steps and outstretched hands to grasp McCoy’s arm, he raised it to 89.03%. He must make his move now.

Spock tucked his PADD under his arm, the list of books safely stowed away to peruse later on, and started for their aisle. Perhaps they could casually bump into one another. An excellent start to a life altering friendship.

But on his third step, Spock halted, a spike of distress flooding him.

What would he say?

McCoy and Kirk were engaging in a banter, fast paced and comical in nature. Spock’s humor tended to be accidental and the effect lost on him, presumably due the mistranslation of his thoughts to words, the logical efficiency lost on humans. How could Spock possibly contribute to a conversation organically? He would not encounter Kirk alone, but with McCoy, whose sharp tongue eluded Spock.

Would they discuss the Narada, their only shared point of interest? Perhaps Kirk did not wish to see him, given their last interactions.

Were Spock to possess a friendship that would “define [him] in ways [he] cannot yet realize,” then an excellent second first impression, given his less than savory previous attempt, was pivotal.

The tip of McCoy’s black boot toed across the aisle, and Spock froze. Illogically, a thought occurred to him that if he did not move, attention would not be drawn to himself, and thus he would not be seen. McCoy paced across the aisle, never once seeing Spock, and Kirk was too busy defusing McCoy’s assumption about his romantic life to notice Spock either.

Spock listened as their voices gradually grew quieter as they swept away from him, and the dull silence of the aisle in their wake was deafening. It felt like a burst of energy had been depleted from Spock’s personal reservoir. A hollow weight settled over his side, heart beat finally slowing back to normal, and he gazed at nothing for 3.5 seconds before resuming the task of selecting books.

*

Nyota sent a message: Dinner this Friday in the cafeteria? I have space between lectures and studying.

Of course, Spock hadn’t seen it.

*

What, exactly, presumed a friendship that would define not only Spock, but Kirk as well?

Friends communed. Talked. Shared life experiences, interests, and time. This assumed Spock would expend the necessary effort to allow Kirk into his circle, and Kirk would do the same. Obviously, Spock could achieve this as the interest had reawakened in him since the non-encounter in the library. But why would Kirk wish to achieve this? Spock had not made a worthwhile impression on him.

Kirk was witty. Vulcans did not joke. Kirk flirted. Spock maintained a relationship to the best of his ability. Kirk enigmatically inspired the people around him. Spock ensured his work went above and beyond expectations to offset the inevitably of cultural misunderstandings. Kirk had friends. Spock had a roommate.

Spock entertained the notion that in their brief time as captain and first officer that they possessed a certain chemistry that superseded the lack of a camaraderie Spock offered Kirk. Only they shared no academic interests as Kirk’s interests lied in command and Spock’s deep within sciences, and so his unique ability to provide a professional chemistry could not be utilized at the Academy. He had no recollection of Kirk introducing any of his hobbies, and despite the fact that Spock had none himself, he could not even pretend to share a common interest.

The week passed in a blur of monotony until Friday. Spock woke in the night shivering, the window once again open, and tried to ignore the cold. His efforts proved insufficient. He arose from bed in order to change his flannel pants into sweats and procured a sweater to wear over his shirt. He settled back into bed, annoyance decreasing his ability to fall asleep, and woke up less rested than he ought to be.

Vulcans could go weeks without sleep, yet they were not immune. Spock spent the day contemplating the logistics of having a coffee, perhaps at the coffee shop Spinner’s Gold that his colleague had lauded, but the hours swept by in that familiar monotonous blur, and it would have been unreasonable to have any caffeine, the hour too late.

He had a replicated dinner in the office before settling out in the brisk foggy evening, ears tinged white and nose insufferably runny. The further San Francisco left summer meant it sooner approached winter, and temperatures did not rise as the year progressed.

The cold nipped his ears, but he didn’t want to go home. The hour was still early, which meant he’d have to socialize with his roommate.

He passed by Spinner’s Gold. He stopped and stared at it from across the street, hesitating. He calculated the logistics of simply going in, possibly fabricating a story of eating one of the bagels and lending credence to the fable by providing an accurate visual description of the coffee shop. He calculated that the closeness it’d bring to his colleagues would raise efficiency by 2.8%.

It was settled. He’d go in.

A bell chimed as he entered, a short line at the register. The shop smelled of fresh coffee and toasted baked goods, not a replicator in sight. He settled in line, examining the menu and wondering if he ought to take a decaf latte. One of his colleagues “swore” by them.

“Carla, I’ve missed you so much.” Spock forced himself not to look, but his skin prickled with anticipation. Kirk. “Do you know that? I’ve missed you and I’ve missed your bagels.”

A woman chuckled. “Really.”

“Really. I missed how you spread the cream cheese in that way that you do. I tried to replicate the thing in the mess, but no. Nothing quite like it.”

“I’m guessing you’re ordering a bagel?”

“And an americano, medium.”

“Comin’ right up.”

Should Spock approach him now? Would it be deemed “awkward,” given their lack of a proper acquaintanceship? Spock remembered the last time they encountered one another, and tentative to professional, at best, described it. Kirk was not privy to his conversation with his counterpart, and Spock wondered if he would feel the same gravity over the declaration of their friendship in an alternate universe that seemingly transcended the professional.

What would he say, if he did approach Kirk? Spock had once assaulted Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise. Perhaps Kirk wished to avoid him, justifiably.

Of course, Kirk would wish to avoid him. Spock had given little in the way of camaraderie.

Spock glanced across the shoulder of the person in front of him, noted that Kirk was still paying at the register, and promptly stepped out of place in line to leave the coffee shop.

“Hey — that can’t be — Spock?

Spock froze, caught. He turned around, locking eyes with James T. Kirk.

Kirk strode over to Spock.“How’ve you been? What — what brings you ‘round these parts?”

Spock schooled his features. “I was drawn to the local cuisine.”

Kirk smiled, a golden smile, that lit up his face. It mesmerized. “What are you up to these days?”

“I am preparing the replacement for the Kobayashi Maru, a project currently without an official name. Launch will occur in three weeks.”

“I guess I saw that coming.”

“To what do you refer?”

“I ruined your simulation.”

“Ruining implies a destruction beyond repair, cadet.”

“And creating a backdoor program circumventing the simulation’s narrative doesn’t imply that?”

“Are you admitting to the charges?”

“Say it. I ruined your test, Spock.”

“As I said — ”

“Ruined it so bad it’s been shelved.”

“An electronically stored program cannot be ‘shelved,’ cadet.”

“You really get a kick out of calling me cadet, don’t you?”

Spock raised an eyebrow. “I assure you. My feet are firmly on the ground.”

Kirk burst in laughter, eyes crinkling, and slapped his thigh, but as he did so, his fingertips brushed briefly over the back of Spock’s hand. Goosebumps rose in a wave as delight, amusement, yearning flooded his senses through their direct contact. Tentatively, Spock raised a hand and settled it over Kirk’s shoulder in a feeble attempt to calm him, though his naked laughter grew so infectious that Spock felt a lightless fill him up.

Spock wondered if he ought to lower his hand from Kirk’s shoulder, but it remained firmly planted. Removing it would raise the likelihood of ending the conversation by 14.06%, and now that Spock had the opportunity to build a rapport with Kirk, he was not inclined to end it prematurely.

Kirk shook his head and settled back, away from Spock, his hand slipping away. He looked hesitant. “Why not go back to the stars? You were incredible in the Enterprise.”

Because you’re here. The thought came quick, unbridled, with a raw tinge of desperation for this to be fact. He was emotional, illogical, drawing unfounded conclusions that six months’ time tarnished the plausibility of garnering a friendship with Kirk, and that he had not appropriately planned ahead for his future deeply troubled him. “I go where Starfleet places me,” he said. “I am needed at the Academy.” A falsehood, but Kirk needn’t know. Spock could have gone to New Vulcan or accepted a placement as science officer on a starship. Instead, he had chosen to remain on Earth.

“I suppose, uh,” Kirk said, shifting on his feet, “that it doesn’t have anything to do with Uhura?”

Spock waited for him to elaborate. When he did not, Spock said, “Explain.”

“Well, you know. She’s your girlfriend.”

“Irrelevant. I had been bonded for several years with my former fiance on Vulcan and myself on Earth.” Spock observed as Kirk blanched, never minding how much he had just revealed of his personal life. This was his first opportunity to begin a friendship with Kirk, and he needed to use his limited resources efficiently. Divulging in private matters was the line of least resistance.

Kirk struggled for words. “Is she…?”

“Deceased?”

Kirk nodded.

“She is very much so alive. Our bond is merely terminated.”

“Great. That’s great.”

A bell rang from the counter. “Bagel and americano for Jim!”

Kirk glanced over his shoulder. “That’s me. I gotta grab my stuff and study for an exam on Monday. It was nice seeing you again, Spock.”

Spock made to speak, only Kirk stepped away, sending a clear message. “Goodbye, Cadet Kirk.”

“Right, uh. Bye.”

Kirk left to retrieve his coffee and bagel from the counter, toasting Spock as he passed him by. The bell over the door rang at his departure.

Spock turned around. He strained his eyes to see through the window, but there was no sign of Kirk. And to believe there could have been an opportunity to see him was illogical.

An unease settled in Spock’s belly. His eyebrows furrowed, only he was dimly aware of it. He had forgotten to ask for contact information. He closed his eyes. Kadiith. What is, is.

Unsettled, Spock reassessed his plans and opted for a tea. Perhaps the buzz of other conversations and light music in the coffee shop would drown out the confusion befuddling his thoughts. He’d arrive home during the hours Rob typically watched television. He would then meditate in peace, conversation with Rob unwelcome.

His thoughts kept circulating around the encounter with Kirk. It was with absentmindedness that he found a table and sat down, his PADD flat on the table before him. He watched as steam billowed out from his tea, curling and spiraling into intricate designs before disappearing into nothingness. Spock wondered where the steam went, its form eluding him.

He was alone with these thoughts when a chair in his table pulled out in front of him. At first, he thought it was someone coming to steal a chair, only then a woman sat down. He looked up.

Nyota peered back at him, eyes inscrutable. Stunned, Spock wondered how long she’d been in the coffee shop — had he arrived first? Had she been there the entire time? The cafe was crowded, a distinct possibility that he had missed seeing her.

She looked down at his tea, then back up to his eyes. “I’m surprised to see you here.”

Spock didn’t know what to say. He did not reply.

“I sent a message for us to get together tonight.”

He considered this. “I have not checked our messages since Monday.”

She frowned, and they steeped into silence. Dimly, he thought to touch her hand and sense her emotions, feeling suddenly so far away from her.

He watched her, wondering what she was thinking, and he hadn’t realized how much he depended on her to be the one to do the talking until she wasn’t speaking at all. He pondered an avenue of potential conversation, only then her eyes lit up with emotion, and he leaned forward to welcome her.

“I hadn’t checked my PADD for a few days before messaging you, either. I messaged you partly because I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I was ignoring you. Ignoring a man who obviously needs someone — ” Nyota cut herself off with a grimace. Spock felt a prickling on his neck, nervous all of a sudden. “I worry about you, Spock. You don’t talk to me. I can’t get you to talk to me. So much has happened over the last year, and we don’t talk anymore. But at the same time, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to talk. The other day, all my classes were miraculously canceled. I spent the day doing nothing at home, watching old television shows, and it didn’t hit me until days later, the day I messaged you, that it hadn’t occurred to me to spend that time with you.” She reached across the table and grasped his hand. He found he couldn’t meet her eyes, because now that he had context for those brown depths — sorrow, compassion, regret — he didn’t want to look. “You deserve better than that Spock. You deserve to be someone’s priority. I think that’s why we don’t talk anymore. We’re not each other’s priorities.”

A glass shattered deep within him, nicking him as he attempted to piece it back together again. “You are my rock,” he said, devoid of inflection.

Nyota squeezed his hand. “I’ll always be your friend, Spock. I love you and that hasn’t changed. I’m here for you.”

His fingers shifted beneath hers, and she pulled away. Cold seeped over his skin in the absence of her warmth. “You wish to terminate our relationship,” he said, though his voice hitched at the end. Questioning. He was too shocked to register the emotion leaking through.

“I do.” Her fingers curled softly into her palm. “Some time apart, more than we’re used to… I think it’ll do us both some good.”

A silence fell upon them, and Spock contemplated it. As it stretched, Nyota began to fill it. “I discovered a transmission in the lab today,” she said, the topic changed. Discussion ended. His rock was gone. He struggled to remember the last time he confided in her, and could not. “My professor cleared me to use it as evidence in my essay.”

Spock didn’t reply, but he did listen to her.

A few minutes passed with Nyota talking, but eventually she excused herself to return to whoever she was with tonight. It was too early to return to his dorm, so for lack of anything better to do, Spock switched on his PADD. His thoughts drifted through a fog that rivaled the skies.

I think that’s why we don’t talk anymore. We’re not each other’s priorities.

Spock stared at the screen, not touching it, and the sleep setting inevitably came on, plunging the screen to its dull, blank grey.

His tea grew cold, untouched.

*

The glow from Rob’s PADD bounced off the white walls. It flickered and faded, then burst with chromatic rays as the scenes changed. Light chuckling sounded from their bed, just two strides away.

Spock’s toes curled in his woolen socks. Hoodie drawn over his head, knees aching despite wearing sweatpants, he ran a times table in his head. Four times four is sixteen. Five times five is twenty-five. Six times six is thirty-six.

His mother had taught him to do this. As his classmates liked to remind him, no matter how hard he tried, he still remained half-human. Emotions ran deep in Vulcans, but they also ran shallow in humans. His mother taught him that sometimes it was best to distract his mind, and timidly he’d asked if time tables would suffice as a reasonable enough distraction.

Seven times seven is forty-nine. His eyes ached, as did his throat. He clutched the innermost layer of a duvet in his hands, balling them into fists. Eight times eight is sixty-four. Nine times nine is eighty-one. Ten times ten in one hundred. Eleven times eleven is one hundred twenty-one. His eyes were leaking, the moisture stinging the corners. Spock didn’t notice until the tears grew bothersome on the tip of his nose, but the room was so cold, he didn’t want to unfurl from the blankets and dry it.

He remembered lying in bed as a boy similarly, his mother carding fingers through his hair and reading from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This was before Michael joined their family. When it was only the two of them and his mother still read him books. He remembered the words falling from her lips: If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?

But he didn’t think the words in her lovely voice, the one he’d heard all his life. It was his internal voice. Try as he might, he couldn’t conjure her pitch, enunciation, cadence, or inflection. He didn’t remember her voice. He didn’t remember his mother’s voice.

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