I can't let you go
Can't let you go
You're part of my soul
You're all that I know
Can't let you go - Matchbox Twenty, "I Can't Let You Go"
When he'd lost Jim, he'd thought that that would be the greatest death he would be forced to face; to endure.
Jim, as Picard had observed when he had broken the news to Spock that the captain was gone, had scarcely faced his own.
"He grinned at me," Picard had said as he'd headed for the door, pausing and resting his hand against the frame. "Crushed, and dying. He grinned and said, 'It was fun'. He also said that you would say he was…" he trails off, apparently looking for the right words, fresh in his memory, "'An irrational, illogical human being, taking on a mission like that.'"
Spock's eyebrow had lifted, but he had no words. There were no words. Not then. Picard had nodded, and departed.
He had gone to Veridian III. There was no way to say to Jim that in all the ways Jim could have (should have) died, the one way Spock never wanted was for him to die alone. Spock had had the luxury of death with Jim Kirk on the other side of the wall, close enough that he could feel Jim's desperate grief.
Jim had died alone, with no chance of resurrection- no impossible fix. Just the sudden silence in Spock's own mind; the absence of a consciousness he knew as well as his own for over three decades, which had lingered for almost eight more during Jim's time in the Nexus.
Jim Kirk was gone.
He'd told Jim once not to grieve for him and until this moment never truly understood the flash of incredulity Jim's mind had broadcasted until Jim himself was gone. It was illogical to grieve; that did not mean it was not necessary.
And yet life went on, and soon he was the only member of that original expedition living; the guardian of their secrets and the keeper of their legacy.
And he lived, because not to do so would be illogical, because the final echo in his mind from Jim's voice was simply, "Live long and prosper." And Spock never disobeyed his captain- not really.
Which led him to pilot a very Jim-like mission to save Romulus, sixteen years after Jim's death, and almost a century since Spock had last laid eyes on him.
A decision that, at this moment, he is regretting deeply.
The loss of Romulus is catastrophic.
His capture by Nero is logical; the punishment is beyond thinking.
"Spock," Nero spits, vibrating and mad. Spock is learning that it has been twenty five years since the Romulans came through from the guard holding his shoulder; as though Spock is going to do anything more than stand and die.
He was too late; perhaps it is fitting (logical) that he die.
And yet Nero's hand clenches around his jaw, brings his face too close, close enough that Spock can see the lines of red in his eyes and the jagged edges of the tattoos which seem from afar smooth. It is a closeness that is too intimate, and he lingers there, his hand touching Spock's skin, and Spock does not hear the words he speaks, but instead feels the depth of his grief.
"I killed Jim Kirk's father," Nero whispers, and those words hit. The implications of that- that this universe could lack Jim, Jim, is- "Does that affect you?"
Spock does not close his eyes, nor do his shoulders slump. But there are pieces of him, pieces which broke when Jim was lost to the Nexus, and then again sixteen years ago when he was gone, well and truly; pieces which Spock had only just managed to put imperfectly into place again, and now-
The thought that Jim never existed because of Spock shatters him again, and the sharp edges of his grief will tear him apart more than any Romulan instrument. They tear mercilessly at the confines of logic.
"Now, you'll watch as I did. As I watched Romulus destroyed, you'll watch. Because now I have the red matter."
"Nero, if it's me you want, you have me. Spare Vulcan." They are Jim's words, so long ago, aimed at another madman in Khan.
"I want you to suffer," Nero tells him, so urbane, so companionable- so homicidal. "As I have."
"You are in this universe- you could warn Romulus- "
"SHE'S ALREADY DEAD!" he screams, the facade of urbane evil shattering to reveal the madness underneath, shocking enough to make even his crew flinch. "I have waited for twenty-five years for this- "
The second in command steps forward, and Spock is marooned on Delta Vega- too cold a planet for Vulcans to spend any prolonged period of time.
He considers standing there, waiting for the cold to overtake him (already he is turning sluggish and tired), but there is, as Jim would say, always a chance, and surrender is not an option.
And so he pulls the coat from the pack Nero transported down with him and heads for a cave, standing in the mouth and monitoring Vulcan in the sky.
Suddenly it begins to cave in on itself. There is screaming in the back of his mind- terrified screaming, and then that thrum of the collective Vulcan consciousness is simply-
It is as though in place of a hundred voices, there is now a whisper. Out of his time, alone- billions dead.
He does not know how to process it- how does one…
It seems suddenly so logical that Nero should go mad at the destruction of his planet. Mad enough blame the blameless, to wait for twenty-five years, to seek vengeance in the place of doing something constructive.
Part of him burns as though the plak tow has overtaken him: his blood burns not in defeated sorrow but in anger, genuine and terrible, and he does not move for fear of what he will do. There is a Starfleet base on this planet, and Spock is in no mood to be kind, even to those who do not deserve his rage.
For an hour, he sits in front of the fire in the cave, watching the ice melt and glisten at his feet. Meditation is useless- for the nearly two hundred years of his life he has controlled himself, but he does not know that he is strong enough to control himself in the face of this, and so he sits, where he will not be tested nor tempted.
It is impotent rage, which makes it all the worse- he can do nothing except be sure that Nero will now plot course to Earth, because as much as he blamed Spock, he also blamed the Federation, and after Vulcan, Earth was the next great symbol of that body of governance.
Earth will fall, and Nero will fell every planet in the Federation and then turn to Klingon, and there will be no one- no one to stop him.
And Jim Kirk never existed.
A panicked shout and the roar of a beast jolt him from his thoughts, and he stands, grabbing a piece of burning wood and running towards the source of sound- not thinking, grateful simply for an excuse to act. The creature flees at the flame, and Spock turns back to the foolish humanoid who was almost eaten, his anger growing again steadily- who would be so stupid as to venture so far from their base? Where was this idiot when Vulcan was vanishing from the sky? His rage is illogical, and yet in the seconds it takes him to turn from the creature's retreating form back to the humanoid, it has reached near-impossible levels. He turns and looks down and…
Jim pants before him, on his back, and it is- Jim is not yet thirty. Spock has never seen him so young.
"James T. Kirk." He cannot help it- something within him is being overtaken entirely without his consent by nothing less than joy, Vulcan for the moment fading into the background. The captain must have been looking for survivors and picked up on his life sign, beamed down and, inevitably, found himself in a predicament- Nero arrived later in the year of Jim's birth, and Winona must have survived either pregnant or in a shuttle- . The anger is dissipating in the face of Jim as though he were a sun melting the snow away
"Excuse me?" Jim demands, unnerved.
"How did you find me?" Where is the rest of the landing party? Surely Doctor McCoy is not far behind with hypos and complaints of hypothermia. It is impossible- Jim is impossible. That here, in Spock's darkest moment, it should be Jim who comes to him is… typical, actually.
"How did you know my name?" Jim demands after scrambling to his feet, recovering with typical alacrity.
Of course: he is nearly two hundred years old- it is not logical to expect that Jim should know him, and so he offers the phrase which has always defined them, although, as young as Jim is, it is possible that he has not yet reached the correct level of familiarity with Spock's counterpart:
"I have been, and always shall be, your friend."
Jim laughs incredulously. "What? Uh- hah- Look, I- uh. I don't know you, and- " He has the look of a man defeated- or near to it. He has the look of Jim Kirk preparing himself to twist the very fabric of the universe with the illogic of his actions.
"I am Spock." It occurs to him that perhaps this Jim does not yet know him; that if he is, in fact, as young as Spock estimates, it will be nearly a decade until he receives his commission for the Enterprise. He himself may be in space with Pike, and yet all of Starfleet would have converged upon Vulcan as soon as the distress beacon went out: it is not illogical to suppose that Jim has at the very least heard of him.
That is logical, and it eases the sting of Jim not knowing him- of Jim not smiling and saying "Of course, Spock."
Jim frowns at him, looks him up and down; piercing, evaluating based upon a familiar model; so they do know each other. "Bullshit."
And that is the moment Spock knows that this universe's Jim is hardly his own. But it is enough, and Spock turns, resisting the urge to take him by the arm, and says, "Come. I have a fire."
Jim follows, settling across from him, brooding on his own thoughts even while tracking Spock with his curiously blue eyes as Spock puts more wood onto the fire. It is illogical that a twenty-something Jim Kirk should make him nervous, and yet he is.
"It is remarkably pleasing to see you again, old friend. Especially after the events of today," Spock offers, finding he wishes the comfort of Jim's voice. Wishes to draw Jim from wherever his mind is and focus him on the here, the now, with Spock.
"Ah- look, I appreciate what you did for me today, but you should know that you- other you- and I? We're not getting along at the moment. You fucking marooned me here for mutiny."
Jim is giving off waves of being angry; furiously, inescapably angry, and yet tinged with guilt, which is interesting.
"Mutiny?" Why should he- this is most irregular.
"You are not the captain?" He cannot even comprehend this. Jim- not the captain of the Enterprise is…illogical.
"No, no-um- " there is a flash of bitterness there, fascinating "- you're the captain. Pike was taken hostage."
"What do you know about him?" He has Jim's full attention now, having revealed himself as useful, with insight to give that might assist the captain- the future captain, in this universe.
"He is a particularly troubled Romulan." He moves to meld, and Jim, after a quick glance at him, tilts his face up to be more accommodating. Fascinating.
Jim's mind is unexpectedly welcoming given that this is not his Jim, and Spock realizes he was unprepared for the fact that Jim might have melded before- his shields are not up as well as they ought to be. In his state of emotional compromise, in the face of James T. Kirk, Spock knows that he has no secrets, should Jim wish to find them.
And yet Jim is as giving as he has ever been- for all that he may be gleaning from Spock's mind, he allows Spock the same courtesy, and for all Spock wishes to learn about this universe, about this Jim, he focuses on the task at hand and once he has passed on the information which is relevant for Jim to know (and information he is sure that it is not relevant for him to know, and most likely in direct violation of the Prime Directive), he disengages.
A wrenching sob escapes Jim, and he turns away.
"Forgive me, emotional transference- " Spock begins.
"Is an effect of a mindmeld, I know," Jim gasps, scrubbing at his face and turning away, grieving as Spock cannot allow himself to grieve.
"Going back in time you changed all our lives," Jim says, but it seems not to be accusatory, and Spock is not entirely sure that the "you" is not referring to both himself and Nero, collectively as a unit. Jim is simply absorbing data, vocalizing the most important fact.
"Jim we must go. There is a Starfleet outpost not far from here."
"Wait. Where you came from- how did we meet?"
A strange question, but one Spock is willing to humor him and answer. "Upon your appointment as Captain of the Enterprise to replace Captain Pike. I was your First Officer. We met three months before the five year expedition took place."
Jim stares at him. "You didn't bully me into Starfleet."
"No. I was under the impression that you joined Starfleet in order to follow in your father's footsteps."
Jim continues to stare, and then shakes his head. "Right. Let's go, find this Starfleet outpost and hope Spock hasn't put it out on all frequencies that I'm a pain in the ass he's marooned. Or that Uhura didn't listen to him," he adds, somewhat doubtfully.
Spock frowns. So they are all there- or at least three of them are there, on the Enterprise, and yet fundamentally there is a difference which must be corrected.
Spock does not know this universe, but he does know himself, and knows alternate versions of himself; he needs Jim Kirk, and he is not meant to be a commander. Jim Kirk is meant to be the captain of the Enterprise, and Spock cannot imagine a universe where he is not meant to be at his side. It is illogical.
Spock had heard tales of Montgomery Scott from Starfleet for years before meeting the man. Arrogant, troubled: a genius, but best put on individual projects in isolated areas, as he would be a detriment to any crew. Keep him solitary and give him math and a lab and he would be, if not happy, content. Admirals had flinched when Jim had drawn Montgomery Scott out of isolation. They had nearly balked when Jim made him chief of engineering, but it was Jim Kirk, and as far as Spock knows he was rarely denied anything, by anyone.
Spock had never understood their concern, because Mr. Scott had been invaluable on the Enterprise, keeping up both morale and the alcohol content, working faster than, as he was so fond of reminding everyone, Humanly possible.
This universe's Montgomery Scott is straight from those reports- sorry, but not very, for putting a dog into transwarp stasis, and bright enough to take Spock being from the future in stride, protesting only when he remembers he is meant to be a skeptic. His reaction to Jim is immediate and trusting, perhaps drawn, as Spock is, to the fact that Jim is a picture of expectant competence: he expects Spock to perform at maximum capacity and therefore Spock does, and he expects Mr. Scott is also reacting to that aura which Jim was always so good at projecting.
Jim Kirk is excellent, Spock reflects, at marshaling the talents of others.
"You're coming with us, right?" Jim asks.
"No, Jim, that is not my destiny." It is dangerous for him to come- he has lived that life, it is not for him to affect what is yet to come any more than he already has.
"Your dest-" Jim breaks off, obviously frustrated. How curious, that he should show all emotions so freely- Spock cannot help remembering how his Jim Kirk opted for incredulity instead of frustration. "My- the other Spock is not going to believe me, only you can explain what happened-
"Under no circumstances is he to be made aware of my existence. You must promise me this," Spock replies, feeling a sense of urgency. He knows, from brushing the mind of Jim- of this Jim- that he and Spock's young counterpart are involved. The extent to which is uncertain in Spock's mind; possibly because it is uncertain in Jim's own mind. He does know that if he is acting as Captain, it means he has not yet realized the extent to which Jim Kirk is meant to be captain of the Enterprise. Jim has yet to prove it; Spock has yet to be forced into seeing it.
Spock has no illusions that he could have been a competent captain; his past work with cadets assures him of that. He also knows that Jim's talent for defying all of the odds, for inspiring loyalty and courage in his crew, is not a talent Spock ever possessed.
"You're telling me I can't tell you that I'm following your own orders? Why not, what happens?"
"Jim this is one rule you cannot break. To stop Nero, you alone must take command of your ship." He sees Jim's brain form the inference that somehow space/time would rend apart. Exaggerating.
"How, over your dead body?" he snorts, but he's thoughtful, now. Something in his chin has hardened, and Spock feels a twinge of… sympathy, he supposes, for his younger self. He recalls the incident Omicron pod plants, in which Jim provoked him into a blind rage. Jim is the only person who has ever provoked Spock into such a fevered emotional response; he has no doubt that this Jim will be just as successful.
"Preferably not. However, there is Starfleet regulation 6-1-9."
"…States that any command officer who is emotionally compromised by the mission at hand must resign said command," Jim finishes, once again surprising him. "So I have to- he goddamn marooned me because I was emotionally compromising him! This time it'll be over my dead body!"
Spock stares at him, troubled.
"You must get me to show it," he emphasizes finally. He does not think that security personnel will allow Jim to be killed- he always managed to rouse himself, and the crew was always adept at intervening in their own ways. "Jim. Nero requires immediate attention; he is far too dangerous to waste any time."
He nods as Scotty finishes programming, settling, and Spock turns to the controls. It will be all right.
"What you're doing right now?" Jim asks as he braces in the transporter mechanism, "It's cheating."
"A trick I've learned from an old friend." The grin is faint, but real, and Jim straightens, his mind moving away and to the next problem. "Live long and prosper."
He has never meant it more.
He and Keenser take a shuttle to Earth, and Spock settles in Starfleet's temporary housing as a refugee while Keenser impatiently waits Mr. Scott's return, muttering about abandonment and a lack of gratitude.
Spock watches as the crew from the Enterprise arrive, stepping off the shuttle to Earth, makes note of the closeness of Jim and his younger self: there is a familiarity in their movements which confirms what he has suspected. He and Jim took longer to reach that level of familiarity, but it explains some of Jim's reactions- explains the lack of hesitation at a mind-meld. Explains why his younger self would have felt emotionally compromised by Jim.
He knows that if it had been him attempting to execute a logical plan after losing his planet, the prospect of a rebellious Jim Kirk would have been vexing to the point of madness: to factor into that tenuous situation an emotional investment (if not a bond) would have made pushed him to the precipice of emotional reactions, which he could not afford. He would not have been able to change what happened on Vulcan, nor have been logically motivated to give up his command; thus the logical reaction would have been to remove the volatile element: Jim.
He feels more secure in having determined this: he could not understand why Jim was marooned, possibly because Jim himself didn't fully understand- mistaking the conflict for a flare of temper.
Looking at the transmission he can see that Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, Scott, Chapel, and McCoy are all arranged behind them. Spock feels a sense of satisfaction: Vulcan is lost, he himself is an anomaly; an impossible thing. But this image, this arrangement of talent which impacted a galaxy in ways that were still being felt nearly a century later, is the most solid thing he has: if this exists, then all is not lost.
It is a rock which he can build a life upon. He attends the captain's ceremony, and indulges himself in a moment of wistful frivolity as Jim turns to look at those assembled with a grin which, while dearly familiar, can only be described as "cocky".
"Thrusters on full…"
"You have to talk to him- you- him," Jim says over video comm. His bruises are fading, and he looks…harried. "He's convinced he has to go back and I- "
"You cannot do it without him," Spock replies, understanding. His younger self had thought to progress without Jim and all had nearly been lost; Jim understood that to progress without Spock would result in the same catastrophe. "You must convince him- your destinies are intertwined," Spock urges.
Jim is quiet, and Spock watches as the corners of his mouth twist unhappily, and finally he makes eye contact again and his eyes are so very blue.
"I can't," he says softly. He is defeated in every line of his body- the slump of his shoulders, the slant of his eyebrows, the curve of his neck. He is defeated, and is asking Spock for help.
Spock never could deny Jim anything, not when Jim was so defeated; not when Spock was to be the ace up his sleeve.
Besides, it is illogical for both he and his counterpart to stay on the new colony.
He gives in.
He steps off the shuttle, and heads for the space dock where he presumes he will find Spock.
"Father," a voice calls. Surely his voice was never like that: what sort of influence would shift one's vocal chords into a mid-range register? And he does not look like his father, surely.
"I am not our father." He turns, and Spock sees some confusion on his younger self's face behind the grief and torment. He never could keep things from showing in his eyes; not from those who knew how to look. "There are so few Vulcans left we cannot afford to avoid each other."
"You are the mind which melded with his." An interesting statement; more interesting that Jim and Spock had melded after the events with Nero and yet Jim was still unable to convince Spock to come with him.
"Yes. I had not been aware you could detect it." He pauses, wondering if he should press the point. It cannot hurt, to remind him of his attachment to Jim. "It took us many years to reach what you have accomplished."
"The trajectory of this universe is somewhat altered from your own. I am curious- how did you persuade him to keep your secret?"
"He inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue should he break his promise." If there is one consistency in all universes, Jim Kirk has an avid imagination and can be counted upon to extrapolate the most fantastic conclusions from any given data set.
"You lied." As appalled as Saavik, or any young Vulcan Spock has ever encountered has ever been; Vulcans, after all, do not lie.
"Ohhh. I… I implied." He shrugs philosophically. Implications, exaggerations; tricks he learned from Jim. So much of who he has become is due to his friendship with Jim Kirk. He cannot imagine who he would be without him.
"A gamble." His younger self ruminates on the possibilities that option has made available to him- Spock sees the moment he realizes that it does not matter, because he has elected to stay behind.
"An act of faith," he corrects as if he has noticed nothing. "One I hope that you will repeat in the future with Starfleet."
"In the face of extinction it is only logical that I resign my Starfleet commission and help rebuild our race." He says it by rote: he has repeated it often, and the hint of annoyance speaks to the fact that he has spoken of it often specifically to Jim.
"And yet you can be in two places at once. I urge you to remain at Starfleet." He notes, and yet chooses to ignore, the drawing together of Spock's brows in irritation. "I've already located a suitable planet on which to establish a Vulcan colony. Spock, in this case do yourself a favor. Put aside logic: do what feels right."
He gives him time to realize that it is not just permission; it is logical. When he sees the clearing of Spock's face he smiles to himself. There, Jim, he thinks.
"Since my customary farewell would appear oddly self-serving, I shall simply say: good luck."
Spock lifts his hand in answer, and Spock turns. There are matters to turn to; a colony to establish.
It is a trifling matter, set against the background of the events of the last year (the last twenty six years). His loss is inconsequential; dwelling upon it is a waste of resources and thus illogical. The person he mourns has never existed here, not as Spock knew him, and it is illogical to the point of being foolish to mourn that which never was.
But as Jim would say, "So what?"
The cruelest truth is that a small part of him wishes Nero had killed him- the part of himself which is most Human, which has curled into the pit of his stomach and lies in wait for his most vulnerable moments, moments when the black of space is too cold and too quiet, when the knowledge that he has outlived those dearest to him becomes too pressing, too true to ignore.
Living, he is doomed to watch a life he never led unfold. It is illogical to be jealous of oneself, and yet he would find himself hard-pressed to turn Jim down if the offer was extended; if he were invited once again to sit in his old chair.
It would violate all kinds of rules, not to mention the Prime Directive, but he is…regretful. The fact that he and Jim never said "goodbye" makes this new reality all the more difficult to endure- this is not his Jim, and yet he is, inevitably, James Tiberius Kirk.
He wonders how Jim would deal with it; if it had been him to hurtle across time to a universe so changed. If he would have adopted a separate identity and moved on, forward. He imagines Jim would have done so with far more enthusiasm than Spock himself feels.
And yet over time the grief lessens. He is distracted without time to contemplate his losses and loneliness as he assists in settling New Vulcan; commissioning Starfleet's Corps of Engineers to create new buildings- homages to what was lost, but not recreations. They will never forget, but it is not logical to attempt to recreate what is gone: logic, now more than ever, is their driving force.
The aching loneliness of all Vulcans compensates for his own: he lost his world, and yet so too did all Vulcans. Their entire universes have been as confused and altered as his has, and there is a strange comfort in the presence of survivors. Those Vulcans not compelled to stay with Starfleet and protect the galaxy have come to New Vulcan as though drawn, wanting to claim it as their own, to know the place the next generation will come from; to make sure the old is not forgotten.
The two moons pose new challenges in creating the architecture; their own calendar must be adjusted for the difference in the time this planet takes to rotates on its axis (.04 minutes slower than Vulcan) and around its sun (483 days, rather than the usual 512). Theories must be made about how it will affect Pon Farr (speculation is that the biological imperative will be confused and go into overdrive, and it seems to be the case for much of the population. There will be many children on New Vulcan in a years' time, though he suspects there would have been even if not for Pon Farr).
More than these logistical considerations, Spock finds comfort in the fact that Jim, any Jim, is in this universe. It makes it easier to exist, somehow. He sometimes finds himself thinking, illogically, Jim, we were never so reckless, as though he could ruminate on their younger counterparts with his own after news of the Enterprise's exploits reach New Vulcan. T'Pring had told him when he entered his first Pon Farr that she did not want him because he was becoming too well-known among Vulcans. However well-known he was in his own universe, he cannot imagine that he was as known and respected as this universe's Spock. The fact that he saved Earth; that he evacuated the Elders, that he destroyed Nero make him something Vulcans have always been too logical to have but the people on Earth know well: a hero.
It amuses Spock to no end to hear his younger self praised so.
On the Enterprise's second year into her mission, Jim sends him a message saying they'll be staying on Vulcan for their two week mandatory leave while the Enterprise is refitted. It is the first time in two years Jim has contacted him: he wonders if he is being given the opportunity to be off-planet.
Spock inquires where they will be staying: he would welcome them into his home gladly, but he is not certain that he could endure it. It is a strange thing; he feels… curious. Intrigued, and protective, and yet it makes him ache to even contemplate being around them.
Jim's reply is that Sarek has acquired a home for Spock in their clan's region of Vulcan. As each Vulcan clan has their own area- as Earth had countries or states- and as Sarek is de facto leader of their clan, as T'Pau is the unified leader of the council, it does not surprise Spock that Sarek would have acquired a living space for his son.
What does surprise him is that, when he comes to visit on their arrival (so as to get it over with, and return to his own home and business, curiosity sated), it is in a location undesirable to most Vulcans, who prefer dry heat to that which may be tainted by proximity to the grey-green ocean.
"Spock!" Jim calls, waving at him. Spock moves through the cool, open interior of the home and out to the plaza where his younger self is sitting in a chair. Spock takes the chair next to him, and they nod to each other.
"Next year, Iowa," Jim says, stripping off his shirt and making a face at the heated air. "I'm not moving," he announces to the planet at large, though there is no one to hear him but the two of them. "I am going into that water and I am not coming out. The gravity here is a bitch, and it's hot."
It is not his Jim. His Jim was far more concerned with appearances- with the respect of those around him. This Jim walks about barefoot and shirtless, and yet his comprehension of Vulcans and their culture is far deeper than his Jim's was. Jim tried, and after twenty years they had achieved the level of mutual understanding that their younger selves now enjoy. It is difficult not to be jealous when he thinks of the years he and Jim lost in comparison.
"He was a bartender," his younger self offers, following his gaze to Jim, who is wiggling his toes in the red sand of New Vulcan, stripped down to inappropriately small swim trunks which he wears without embarrassment as he examines the ground curiously. It is not quite the right color; more purple than orange, and neither is it the correct texture; a bit more granular than the smooth dust-like sand which swirled around Vulcan with summer winds. It is close enough to be comfortable, however, and Spock is content with it.
"A bartender," he repeats, attempting not to sound dubious. Jim was only ever a Starfleet captain, even when they were promoting him and he was retiring.
"Who did advanced mathematics in his head."
"He was a riddle you were compelled to solve," Spock realizes, and that is familiar. Jim Kirk in any universe is a puzzle that Spock in any universe will want to take apart to its base components: his inability to do so completely is what made Jim so dear. Familiar and yet surprising. T'hy'la.
He turns at the silence, only to find that his younger self is smiling slightly as Jim floats on his back in the calm water- a feat no Vulcan has ever succeeded in. "Yes."
"Have you?" He is genuinely curious, as Their familiarity surpasses that which Spock and Jim shared even after three years of romantic involvement; theirs is not a courtship but a relationship, and Spock speculates that it is possible that, given three years of involvement prior to their time on the Enterprise…he may have finally discovered the secret to Jim.
His younger self turns from his rapt contemplation of Jim, who is, for once, doing nothing extraordinary or attention-grabbing, to look at Spock. "I am still trying."
"T'hy'la," Spock says quietly.
His younger self turns to him, startled, and then nods perfunctorily: it is not something they speak of; it is unlikely something he is yet comfortable acknowledging (he is, after all, so very young). "Yes."
He remembers. And somehow, it is enough.